Big Changes & Dirt Dwellers

Most of our friends are on FaceBook, so this blog has had less attention lately. It’s time to catch up this blog, so everyone knows what’s happening in our world.

Minnie declines her meds, “No thanks” with both paws.
One of the biggest changes in our world happened on October 25th 2011. We had to say good-bye to Minnie, our favorite cat in the whole world. She was 18 years old, and had a wonderful life full of adventure ever since Rhonda found her as a kitten in New Orleans SPCA one day in 1993. Minnie bravely dealt with cancer and daily chemo for about 2 years, until eventually he kidneys grew tired and her little body had enough. We are grateful for the wonderful times the Minnie gave us.

Since our last update we have moved ashore (become dirt dwellers) and moved to Seattle. Our online store has done well, but the growth has forced us off the boat, then off the island, and totally onto the mainland.

Since Shoe Shopping Spree was doing so well, we decided to complicate things and open a second store. This new store is called Crush Footwear, and caters to a slightly older demographic, with more expensive shoes. Rather than just add a new online store, we are also adding a brick & mortar store and have been hunting for a good location. We have almost finalized that decision, and it looks like we will locate Crush Footwear in downtown Kirkland.

Thanks to friends and family who have given us encouragement and support! Watch this space for updates as we develop the new store.

Conquer The Islands – Conquer The World

This is a brief post to keep our friends and family updated on our activities and plans for the coming summer.

When we arrived on Roche Harbor for winter, we started a new business, with the entire operation based aboard Sea Quell. After a few months we outgrew the boat, the cramped space became unbearable and Minnie-cat grew tired of us constantly in her way. So we escaped to Las Vegas with our computers, portable photography studio, and some of our inventory. Of course Minnie came along, wedged between shoe-boxes. We attended some trade shows and worked from the hotel room for a few weeks in Nevada.

On our return to San Juan Island, we decided to rent some space near Friday Harbor to use as an office. This would allow more space for Minnie to run around on the boat, and we wouldn’t have to leave little paths among the shoe boxes for her to pass through. We’ve furnished the office with odd bits of furniture as we can find on the island, and have been using the space to take product photos and to keep our websites updated. Attached are a few pictures, on the first day of moving in (yes it’s a mess).

Shoe sales are growing day by day, and we’re adding more styles and colors. Although our Shoe empire is expanding, and it’s a lot of work to conquer the world of online shoe’s, we must remember to take some time to relax during the summer. So here are some rough plans for now..

We’ll most likely stay around the San Juan islands this year, possibly visiting Port Townsend and other nearby destinations. Canada is unlikely to be on our schedule, as are any distant adventures, because we will need to receive more shoes at out photographic studio in Friday Harbor. We do expect to visit most of the islands for short trips, but will keep Roche Harbor and Friday Harbor as our base. There is a chance that we will go to Las Vegas again in July, for more shoe-buying trade shows.

If you would like to visit for a weekend or so this summer, let us know so we can put you on Minnie’s social calendar.

Trade Shows and Spring Inventory

During the past month, we attended our 1st trade shows for footwear and it was quite a learning experience. During the 1st two weeks of February we traveled to Las Vegas for 3 shows!  For any of you wondering what’s a Shoe Trade Show all about, its a frenzy of activity where shoe suppliers and retailers meet in one place to view the present and upcoming shoe collections.  Buyers from large department stores, small boutiques, and online retailers (like us) attend to order their inventory.   There were thousands of shoe brands there!   Two of the shows also had apparel and accessories.   The shows are a great place to order for the upcoming seasons and to see the footwear in person, to review the quality and see details that photos in a catalog don’t capture.   We also met the sales people that I’d been working with by phone over the last few months and found some new brands to add to our inventory.

Aside from the shoe buying, it was also great time to escape the Winter gloom here and enjoy some sunshine!  Vegas had lots of it!  The road trip was fun and Minnie, despite her illness, traveled well.   On the way back from Vegas, we also stopped in Ellensburg for a quick visit with Ian (Neal’s son) at college.

Portland Show

Our latest trade show was in Portland this past weekend. We split our time between the show and a visit with friends in Vancouver, Washington. We had relaxing weekend and a wonderful time catching up with Jamie and Rick! At this point, I think we are done with trade shows for awhile. All in all, it was very successful. We ordered all of our Spring and Summer inventory which will arrive over the next few months. We even pre-ordered some of our Fall inventory. It’s hard to think about boots when we can’t wait for Summer to arrive here in the Northwest, but somehow we managed!

Now the work continues.  We have shipments arriving in the Kentucky warehouse nearly every week.  We are still doing our own product photography, so one of each color/style is to be shipped here to Friday Harbor.  We’ve rented a small office in Friday Harbor where we can have space to work and keep our photography equipment set up permanently.

Other developments with our new shoe business include expanding our online presence.  So, in addition to our online store, we have an Ebay store and will soon be selling our shoes on Amazon as well.    All of these venues must be integrated.  For example, if we have a sale on the website, then the inventory must be removed from Ebay.   So far, we’ve fully integrated our online store with Ebay and will be working on integrating with Amazon in the coming weeks.

We are still enjoying our life aboard Sea Quell and will be moored here in Roche Harbor through the end of April.   As most of you know, we usually go sailing and anchor around the islands during the Summer.   We’re still discussing our plans for the Summer and will keep everyone posted!

What In The World Have We Been Up To?

As Neal hinted about in his last post, we’ve been working on a large project since we settled in Roche Harbor for the Winter. Since October 1st 2010, we’ve been working on our 1st e-commerce site and are very excited about it. A new online women’s shoe store! Why shoes, you ask?  Well, it’s true that I do love shoes, but that’s not the only reason we decided to start this business.  Shoes (clothing & accessories) are some of the most commonly purchased items online, as are books, music (think, and electronics.

Actually, the website was just part of this project.  During the 1st 2  months, we’ve ordered all of our starting inventory (about 1200 pairs of shoes!), outsourced our inventory storage and order fulfillment (packing and shipping to customers) to a company in Kentucky, and survived a crash course in product photography.

Now that the website is live and fully functioning, we are putting our internet marketing skills to work so that we can build traffic to the store and hopefully gain name recognition and a customer following over time.  There’s a lot to learn as we are both new to the shoe retail industry.   As of January 31st, the results are very encouraging. We’re going on a buying trip to 3 trade shows in Las Vegas, the purpose is to expand our inventory investment by 200%.

Currently our shoe inventory consists of lower end shoes (a decision that allowed us to carry a much larger range that will appeal to more people) but we are planning to carry higher end (mid-range) shoes as we grow the business.

To the left is a screenshot of the website. Just click the image if you’d like to check out it out!  Any comments or feedback are certainly welcome.

The most appealing aspect of this new venture is that we are building something together.  Prior to my quitting my job in pharma just over a year ago, I had been looking for something different to do…. Something creative and completely unrelated to science and research. I never imagined it would be web design, internet marketing, and now online retail! And I never imagined that I would enjoy working full time with my best friend and partner so much. As you know, the boat is both our home and office. It’s a bit tight, and can even seem claustrophobic at times, but we love our life aboard Sea Quell and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Although our shoes are stored and shipped from the warehouse in Kentucky, we do have some sent here for photography. It’s really cramped on the boat when we have our our shoes on board!

Our total inventory is too large for the boat, so we have them in a warehouse in Kentucky. That location is great for speedy and cost-effective shipping to our customers, and gives us room to move around on the boat. Below are photos of our shoes in the Kentucky warehouse waiting to fit on some happy feet.

While our work has been intense, we did slow down and take time out to enjoy family and friends. We enjoyed having Neal’s Mom (Joyce) and son (Ian) visit us in December.  And during January we have shared the island with Sherry, Mike, Julia, Susan, and Jamie.

February we”ll take our road trip to Las Vegas, with stops along the way to include a visit with Therese and Barry in Montera CA.  Neal says that Barry does a good impression of the color “Yellow” and also the letter “G”. What does that mean?

Sailing, Dreaming, Goals, Passions

First, we must apologize to everyone for falling behind on blog updates… Several friends have wondered what happened, was the boat alright?

We have been totally absorbed in a new project for the past few months!  Totally!

While sailing in paradise, our minds turned to our dreams for the future, and we gave a lot of thought to the things that we like to do, and things that are important to us.. We decided that we really need a project that both of us can work on, something we build together, something that will be challenging, rewarding, exciting, risky, and sometimes even fun..

We decided on a project and have had little spare time for anything else since! This is a huge project, and completely absorbing. Some days we wonder if we should have started this, some days we can’t stop working on it.

It’s a secret. We’ll announce this project sometime in the next month, when it’s ready for public viewing.. I’ll give you a clue.. If you know Rhonda, you know she has a passion for footwear, yes she’s nuts about shoes. That’s all I’ll disclose for now..

What about us? Winter can be uncomfortable, and the summer was coming to a close. We had all these creative ideas about our project, our minds churning, and we needed shelter for Sea Quell.. We like San Juan Island, so decided to keep Sea Quell at the dock in Roche harbor for the winter. Today Sea Quell is bobbing happily in the water, and we love Roche Harbor! Above is a picture of a recent sunset from Sea Quell.

Yesterday was our second anniversary.  Two wonderful years, two lucky people.  To honor the day, we forced ourselves away from our new project/obsession, and went exploring on the local islands. This is the day before Halloween, so we enjoyed the decorations too.

While we were in the grocery store at East Sound village on Orcas island, they had pigs heads for sale. The heads look yummy and they don’t charge for the rats and snakes.

If you want to visit us sometime, drop us a note. We promise not to cook for you!

Beautiful Kwatsi Bay

Leaving Greenway Sound, we headed South.  It was cloudy much of the day and by afternoon a constant wet drizzle and fog had set in.  Even in this weather, the scenery was beautiful as mountains could barely be seen through the mist and other boats on the channel suddenly appeared out of the fog.  Visibility was fairly good within a short distance of Sea Quell, but we needed to monitor the radar carefully to “see” beyond a half mile.

At Anchor in Kwatsi Bay

We arrived Kwatsi Bay about 7 p.m. and already, with the overcast skies and increasing fog, it was starting to get dark. Luckily (and amazingly!), no one was anchored in this beautiful bay. It’s very deep (nearly 100 feet!) and we needed to put out all 350 feet of our chain to anchor and ensure that we would not drag. Being the only boat here, we had good swing room and were comfortable that we wouldn’t hit anything.

I think Kwatsi Bay is the most beautiful place we’ve anchored.  I could have just sat on the deck of the boat and looked at nature all day!  The bay was surrounded by steep, evergreen-covered mountains, with peaks covered in clouds and mist.  Had it been earlier in the Summer, we would have seen waterfalls all around as evidenced by all the white mineral deposits on rocky cliffs.  In fact, we could hear a stream with running water nearby, but could not find it in the dense green forests.  There were fish jumping in the water near the shore and big splashes not far from where we were anchored.  We later discovered it was a baby seal and its mom catching fish.

The next morning we got in the dinghy to explore the bay and visit Kwatsi Bay Marina at the far end of the bay.  When we were in the middle of the bay, the motor died!  We think we may have flooded it with fuel.   So we rowed the dinghy across the bay…..I had forgotten how much I love to row!  It was so peaceful and we could hear nature everywhere.  I think, in the future, we’ll cut the motor more often and row!

We weren’t here very long as we left the next afternoon for Lagoon Cove.  However, this will definitely be on our list of places to spend time in the future.

Desolation Sound And The Broughton Islands

Desolation Sound was wonderful and, as you’ve seen from our pictures in previous posts, the scenery is absolutely stunning. Desolation Sound is a designated National Park and, as such, the land is well-preserved (there is less logging and commercial development) and the creatures and their habitat are also protected.  Living in a town or a city year-round, the senses are heightened when spending time in an area like Desolation Sound. While each anchorage can be described similarly….beautiful trees, inlets and coves at every turn and interesting landscapes with rocks rising straight up out of the water, I never seem to get tired of looking at it.

As we’ve traveled farther North, we noticed that there were fewer boats…especially sailboats. This is due in part to the fact that we are now traveling North during the later part of this short Summer season.  However, even during the peak season there are fewer boats that go North of Desolation Sound because boaters often have time constraints and are limited in the distances they can travel.  We are so lucky that we can enjoy this trip while still working along the way!  Anyhow, fewer boats also means more space to comfortably anchor or dock in a marina.

Beyond Desolation Sound, small towns and settlements are speckled throughout the islands.  There is a thriving logging industry which means the landscape does look different in some areas that have been logged. But that is the reality of our society. Our widespread use of paper and wood products necessitate this industry. The government regulations and rules for responsible logging and replanting create what I believe to be a reasonable balance. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case in the history of logging here in Western Canada and Western U.S., but now we have ‘watchdog’ groups and government that create legislation to protect the environment. Whether it is done correctly or enough is a topic of much debate here and, since this is not a political blog, I will not get into that debate.

Remnants of the past, such as abandoned buildings, boats and other equipment can be found everywhere.  They tell a story and you need only talk to the locals in this area to get the scoop.   Like many places, this area appears to have been dramatically affected by the economy as quite a few of the resorts and marinas are up for sale.  But we hope things will recover in time as new owners and staff make the beautiful Broughton Islands their home.

We have enjoyed anchoring in quiet coves, sometimes with no neighbors, as well as those with commercial docks. The small businesses that operate the docks provide a variety of flavors, some more upscale, others rustic and funky. We anchored in Lagoon Cove, within view of the marina. Bill and Jean Barber have operated this facility since 1992, providing friendly service and excellent prawn cooking to boaters, with fuel supplies and ample fresh-water too.   They don’t have a website but you can see someone’s collection of photos here;  and some more photos here.

Pierre’s Echo Bay is very popular for their pig roasts and pot-luck dinners. When we arrived, their docks were completely full, so we were directed to tie up on the dock across the bay.  The dock was covered in bird droppings!  Apparently, “Wind-Song Village” used to be here, and it has been abandoned for a few years.  So we stayed only long enough to stop in at the store for some provisions. When we left, we had to clean the feathers and bird droppings off our shoes before departing for nearby anchoring in Shoal Harbour.

The next day we proceeded to head North through the Broughtons and got moorage at Greenway Sound Marine Resort.  This is a beautiful place, surrounded by mountains.   My favorite were the sunsets and the rolling mist over the tops of the mountains.    New owners have recently acquired this marina and have worked very hard to upgrade the facilities. We highly recommend a stop here.  Oh, and the prawning here is also excellent!  A neighboring boat, Mental Floss, had caught so many prawns that they gave us a huge bag of large prawns.

The Broughton Islands have been fun to explore and I wish we had more time here. I so enjoyed the beauty, the history, and the people of this area. We’ve only been to a few places here and there is so much more that we’d like to see.

Here are a few pics that highlight our explorations….

Time is running out and Summer is nearly over! We will start heading South in a few days and will definitely plan to explore more of the Broughton Islands in the years to come. Next time we may bring some crab and prawn traps, and perhaps even some fishing gear.

Far Reaches Of Technology

I know it seems like we are out having fun on the water everyday, and we are, but we also both have to work online. We strive to find a good balance between work and play, but one of the challenges we have is finding good internet service in these remote areas. So far, the cell phone/internet antenna that we had installed up the mast earlier this Summer seems to be working fairly well as we travel North.

Lead Line Survey - Alaska 1942 (Image Source: NOAA)

The early explorers to this area would drop a line with lead on the end to find appropriate anchorages. Oftentimes, they lowered their lead-line but were frustrated at not finding the bottom. Many bays here are very deep! Today we have electronic charts, so we know where the bottom is.

Our modern day challenge is to find the internet.   Instead of a lead line, we have an antenna that extends 63 feet up the mast, and sometimes it doesn’t make contact with any cell towers. So, in a way, we are like the early explorers…only we are exploring the far reaches of our amazing cell phone/wireless internet technology!

Yesterday was the 1st time that we were not able to get internet at our planned destination- Walsh Cove. It’s not surprising as we were surrounded by land that rose straight up out of the water to heights that made it impossible for any signal to get through.

Approaching Lewis Channel (Desolation Sound)

So we continued on and, with my laptop in the cockpit, we checked occasionally for a signal. Eventually, we got a strong signal on Lewis Channel (between Cortez and W. Redondo Islands). Since we weren’t sure that we would have this signal where we were going to anchor, Neal recorded his daily updates for his subscribers while we drifted aimlessly in this channel.  Afterwards, we headed North another 2 hours to Frances Bay.

There are mountains everywhere so we had assumed that we would not have internet here but, amazingly, we do! As we go further North however, the cell phone towers are few and far between. For any other boaters that need to work online as they sail, we found a map of all the cell phone towers in this area (something we weren’t able to get from the cell phone company!). While it will not tell us exactly where we will and will not have internet/cell coverage, it does give us an idea of where we are likely to get it.

The views here in Desolation Sound are stunning. Most areas are remote but we were surprised to see a few fairly large houses being built in such remote areas. These houses are being built off the grid, with no utility services such as water or electricity. They will need to use generators or solar power and their potable water needs to be drawn from a well or possibly a watermaker (similar to what we have on Sea Quell).

Here is our latest selection of photos from our trip from Grace Harbour to Frances Bay (near Raza Island)…

Rhonda’s Ingenious Contraption.

Once we sail north of Vancouver, a stern tie is more common. A stern tie is a line from the back of the boat, tied to something ashore, and is used in addition to the usual anchor that we set off the bow. Many bays up here are small, so there is limited swing room. A stern tie limits the boat’s swing around the anchor, caused by wind and currents. This allows more boats to fit into tight spaces. Up here, we often anchor in bays where the ocean floor falls away steeply. So we use a stern tie to shore to keep our anchor in the shallows, for a safe night’s sleep. Most often, a polypropylene line is used for a stern tie because it floats (keeping it away from our propeller), and is colorful so other boats will avoid running over it.

Our anchorage in Grace Harbour is the first time we are using the stern tie this season. Since we use this technique so rarely in the USA, we don’t bother to have a manufactured rig to manage the spool of line. We hastily suspended the reel with some thin line, and Rhonda wrestled with it while I took the dingy ashore to loop the line around a tree. Our method worked, but it’s a clumsy operation. I’ve done it this way for many years, usually with teenager participation, so have become accustomed to it. Rhonda was thinking about a better way..

This morning, the first thing Rhonda did, even before coffee (a sign of true inspiration), was to make a drawing of a strange contraption. “This is a better way”, she said. And it is. Not just a pretty face, you know. So later today I dug out some lumber from the bowels of Sea Quell and made this thing. It works! See photos of the original setup, and the completed project. Compare the finished contraption to the engineering specifications, did I get it right?

I hope we have an early morning because I can hardly wait to see tomorrow’s drawing.

Pender Harbour To Desolation Sound

Although there was no wind and we motored the entire trip from Pender Harbour to Desolation Sound, the trip was approximately 6 hours of spectacular views and interesting sights the entire way.   We stopped in the town of Lund, BC for a couple of hours and walked along a waterfront boardwalk and got a quick lunch and some ice cream before we continued further North.

We were going to anchor in a nearby bay in the Copeland Islands for the evening, but the bay was full.  So, we decided to go another 2 hours into a vast area of islands and coastal inlets known as Desolation Sound.   The additional time added to our trip was well worth it!

The route to Grace Harbour took us around Sarah Point and through some narrow but beautiful channels with islands on either side.  Navigation was a bit tricky with rocks just beneath the surface in some areas so we had to be vigilant as we used our charts and monitored the depth.

We were a bit concerned that, like the anchorage in the Copeland Islands, Grace Harbour would also be full as it was getting late in the day and boaters would be settling in for the evening.  Grace Harbour is a bit off the beaten track and many boaters bypass this place for more popular anchorages and we were hoping that there would be room for us.  And luckily there was!

Grace Harbour is a little oasis completely surrounded by tree covered mountains and lush vegetation.   The bottom of the bay is rocky and drops off steeply from the shore, so when we anchored we also tied our stern to shore with a rope so that we would not swing and our anchor come loose!

It’s been raining on and off since we arrived….a welcomed change from the last 3 weeks of sun and heat.  In between rain showers today, we were able to go ashore for a hike and some exploration of the area.

Here are some pictures from our trip.  Some of the landscape pictures are a bit hazy due to about 300 wild fires that have broken out in interior British Columbia.  Just click the icon in the bottom right corner of the slide show to see larger images.  Enjoy!