Sometimes a journey across the world will take you to places that you never thought you would venture to. While Seattle may not have been a “must-see” destination for the Ellingford family, extensive boat renovation plans brought them to the Emerald City where they discovered surprisingly warm people despite some very chilly, wet winter weather.
Claire Ellingford, comfortable in blue jeans and a sweater, reflected on her first impression of the city: “It’s just got a bit of an authentic kind of groove, you know. We found it was really accessible.”
Dressed casually in shorts and a button up shirt as he sat with Claire at the newly finished salon table of Pendana, James Ellingford seems far removed from his days as a corporate executive, working on some of the biggest video game titles in recent memory including Grand Theft Auto.
“Spent my life in an airplane, basically…we always knew that we wanted to get a boat,” he reflected. After years of the corporate life, James decided to retire at the age of 42 and realize a dream of world travel on a boat.
A Boat Named Pendana
Six years ago, the Ellingford family bought a 62-foot Nordhavn trawler named Pendana, a Swahili word meaning “to love one another”. “The vessel was named Pendana when we bought her and being somewhat superstitious around boat names we left it as it was,” James noted.
In 2015, the Ellingfords set off from Sydney, Australia with two cats and one Bernese mountain dog to cross the Pacific Ocean and beyond.
For many voyagers, it’s tough to pick a favorite place, but to the Ellingfords, two spots on the planet stood out. (Well, aside from Seattle of course): Kiritimati and Southeast Alaska.
The Middle of Nowhere
James glowingly described the rare peace he felt on Kiritimati. Kiritimati. Otherwise known as Christmas Island, Kiritimati is the largest island in the Republic of Kiribati, a small island nation 1,251 miles from Hawaii. “It is the middle of nowhere.”
“The people were amazing. It was so quiet and peaceful…No electricity, no telephone, no nothing, small population…It is your quintessential Pacific island, untouched by mankind. And without a doubt the nicest people of any of the islands we went to,” James reflected. “So remote.”
“(On Kiritimati) we were waiting for a bus that never came to take us into town. I called the Coast Guard on channel 16, and they said that they would send someone to get you. It was like a four mile walk in 40-degree (Celsius) heat, like 110… bloomin’ hot. This guy came, picked us up, drove us to town, wouldn’t accept any money,” said James. “They wanted to be helpful, and it was so hot!” Claire chimed in.
After spending winter in Hawaii, the family finished their Pacific crossing when they made landfall at Kodiak Island, Alaska.
“When we first raised the idea of crossing oceans, even I thought it was ridiculous but as time progressed and planning took hold we soon realized that it was possible so long as we wanted it enough and were prepared to do the hard yards to achieve the goal. We all have doubts but those doubts can now be laid to rest as here we are on our tiny little boat tied up in Kodiak Alaska!” James wrote in his blog.
The family loved Alaska, both James and Claire speaking in glowing terms of the gorgeous scenery and wildlife. Unfortunately, the famed fishing of Alaska did not pan out for the Ellingfords.
“We are not fisherman,” James dryly noted.
“How long did you test out that lure?” Claire teased, knowing the unfortunate answer. “7,000 miles” James said offhand, “and I caught nothing. Maybe 5,000 miles (of testing).”
“And of course everyone wants to help him,” Claire chimed in. “But now he calls it (fishing) the F-word.”
“The black arts,” added James. “I gave the gear to the port captain at Waikiki, and he went out and caught a tuna with it straight away. At least I got the tuna.”
“We had the guys from ‘The Deadliest Catch’ behind us in Valdez. And we got chatting on the radio and they said ‘James you are the guy who can’t fish. Come over and I am going to set you up.’ I denied him. I said, ‘No mate, I am not coming over. There is no more fishing on this boat.”
If the professional fisherman of Alaska weren’t going to teach James how to fish, no one was. Though the family does enjoy fresh seafood, they concluded they are much happier with food they don’t have to catch.
Pendana spent the summer travelling through the southeastern coast of Alaska, enjoying the peacefulness and stunning scenery of Prince William Sound. “Prince William Sound is just beyond remarkable. We had the place basically to ourselves,” James marveled.
As summer ended, Pendana motored south, docking in Seattle in October 2016. Pendana Blog details the massive amount of work that they had done to Pendana during their six months in Seattle. Now, after six months of work on the boat, Pendana looks brand new, and is ready to take the family exploring the south end of Puget Sound for a while, then up north to the San Juan Islands. But their stop in Seattle wasn’t all about boat work.
While in the city, the family made the most of exploring Seattle and the surrounding area while the girls also keep up with school work. Abbi has been diligently studying through the Stanford Online schooling program, and Bianca through Laurel Springs School, a text-based program. Though leaving Australian friends behind and staying focused on education while travelling across the Pacific can be challenging at times, the girls seem to be taking the journey in stride.
Seattle seems to have been a welcome respite for the family. The girls have enjoyed going to movies, shopping and travelling around the area. The family also spent time exploring some of interior Washington. “Oh yeah Winthrop! That was a kick of a town,” chuckled James with a nod from Claire.
It is often said that Seattle’s weather can be difficult for people who are not used to it, and after spending most of 2016 in South Pacific, it was understandable that the Ellingfords are not exactly enamored with the Seattle winter weather. But in the Ellingford’s defense, this has been one of worst/most dreary/wet winters in the memories of most Seattleites. Given one good summer in Seattle, and the city probably could have swayed the family’s feelings toward staying longer or investing in property.
So, what do the Ellingfords love most about Seattle? Everything but the weather, but especially how nice the people are—warm, welcoming, genuine. No “Seattle Freeze” to be found. “Everyone’s been lovely,” Claire noted.
When asked about any places that they liked the most, both James and Claire jumped in with Ballard’s Paxti’s Pizza. Both also mentioned that they have enjoyed almost every other place they have been to—Pike Place Market, many other restaurants, cafes, and attractions like the Seattle Great Wheel–but Paxti Pizza won the hearts of the pizza-loving family.
Looking out from Pendana across Elliott Bay at the Seattle skyline on a cold, rainy afternoon when the gloomy weather is trying to obscure the view, it must be true love the Ellingfords feel for the Emerald City. It certainly can’t be said that they are fair-weather fans.
James Elllingford’s book, Cruising Conversations, is available on Amazon.
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