For anyone who’s grappled with the choice to live minimally or has asked the question, “Am I living my dreams?” Dave Robb is a beacon of choice and a nod to a life that honors simplicity and a deepened connection to the natural world. His contagious laugh gives him away as a jovial soul and a man approaching his 60th year doing exactly what he’s envisioned will bring him happiness.
A “live aboard” at Squalicum Harbor, Robb sold his house on Camano Island last fall and has been calling a 27-foot Catalina 270 named ‘Pegasus’ his new home. Robb always had a boat moored off Camano Island, but eventually traded his multi-generational island life for a slip up north, where he’s had various boats docked for the past fifteen years.
Robb has a lineage of nautical family members but he’s the only full-time sailor among them. He fondly remembered a childhood filled with one and two-week summer trips to the San Juan Islands and Canada. “We always got along well on the boat,” he remembered. “My dad was at his best and I loved it.” His father maintained a small craft but rented a boat every summer for their adventures. Robb’s grandfather had been boating in the area since the 1920’s. “My brother worked in the trades and was always into boats too,” Robb said.
At age 28, Robb found himself boat-less for the first time. He’d sold his powerboat, went on a three-month trip to Europe and returned to construction work. In Port Townsend he purchased his first sailboat – a 25 foot Lancer. He didn’t know how to sail, but for someone who’d grown up on the waters of Puget Sound, the transition from horsepower to wind came as second nature.
Robb fixed up the boat through the course of a winter and by spring a friend of his cousin’s gave him a two-hour crash course on a vintage, double mast, whaling boat – letting Robb and his cousin figure out the rest. “After two hours he looked over at me and said, ‘It’s pretty simple.’ He just threw the sails up and I think sailing can really be that simple,” Robb assured.
Robb’s first sailboat was dry docked in Arlington, at his grandfather’s tire shop. There he could have it undercover, take it apart, work on the mast and get to know the inner workings of the vessel. His construction skills would assist him but he explained he’s always been one to work with his hands and figure things out. A combination of determination and a laissez-faire philosophy has served him well.
“I think that’s how I approach everything. I don’t see anything as overly complex,” he said. “So that’s how I learned to sail and that’s how I live my life. I learn by doing. I simplify things.” Robb took sailing classes at a community college and has attended many boat shows and lectures since. He joked, “I took classes after I already knew how to sail and I was the best sailor in the class. I got an A.”
Robb has changed a few of his habits since becoming a full-time live aboard. He doesn’t shop at Costco anymore because he doesn’t have that kind of storage and his “days are a little slower,” he shared. His consumerism is down to purchasing boat parts and trips to town for shopping.
“You’re a thickness of a hull away from nature, so you’re in it all the time. The wind blows and you appreciate the simple things more,” he said.
As much as we’re addicted to Wi-Fi, driving or any of our modern conveniences, we can also become addicted to quiet, stillness and simplicity. “When you’re out in nature everything is all right, everything works together and it simplifies your life,” Robb remarked. “It takes about a week to break my connection to the news cycle. I don’t have my smartphone in Canada, for example, and I find myself running up the dock to get online. But then, pretty soon, it’s a week and I don’t have any connections and then I don’t need or even want to look.”
Sometimes major change feels insurmountable. Or perhaps we think of mastery before ever getting out of the boat slip. Maybe we overthink and over-plan only to realize how easeful things can be on the other side. In Robb’s case, selling the home and six and a half acres of land he’d lived on for twenty-five years, (completely remodeling the house over the course of the last five years) and downsizing his life was fifteen years in the making.
Leaving his shop, his tools and the security of a livelihood was a process. He’d always logged weekend trips and spent off-seasons on various sailboats, but never had he been a full-time resident of a boat without a home on dry land. To move away from the past was to start a new life in the here and now. “This works out great for me, living on the boat,” he said. “I love water and boats so it’s easy for me to be out here on the water full-time.”
Although living on a boat isn’t for everyone, the Pegasus provides a cozy retreat. Living on a “roomy small boat” promotes a social life off the boat. Robb had already been familiar with Bellingham as a cyclist and a runner with the Greater Bellingham Running Club. He also dabbles in the local yoga scene and plans extended bike trips with long-time Bellingham friends. He maintains an office space downtown in one of Bellingham’s classic brick buildings and has a storage space.
When asked if he thinks he’ll ever return to dry land he replied, “I don’t know when I’ll go back to living on land really. I don’t have the desire to. You know what they say, you never get your youth back … and I’ve never regretted time on the water.”