Sailor navigates unchartered waters in pursuit of self-sufficiency

Chris Troutner graduated from college with a degree in electrical engineering and went straight to work, but never lost touch with his original intent: to spend as much time as possible in the San Juans. In fact, it intensified.

Some sailors dream of south pacific landfalls, while others hope to round Cape Horn. For full-time live aboard sailor Chris Troutner, a life of sailing and self-sufficiency, with a homeport in the San Juan Islands, will do just fine.

“I’ve worked my whole life to live in this place,” said the 32-year-old Troutner. “I feel like it’s been this slow migration north.”

And north he will continue to go, through the San Juans and Gulf Islands, into Desolation Sound and onwards towards Alaska all beginning, well, now. Troutner cut the proverbial dock lines from his marina slip in Anacortes the first week of April.

Getting to this point was a long time coming, eight years in the making, even earlier if you count from when he first developed an affinity for the islands.

It all started as an adolescent. Born and raised outside of Portland, Ore., Troutner took his first trip to Sucia Island when he was seven. From then on he begged his parents to take a San Juan vacation or send him to his aunt and uncle’s house in Bellingham for one week every summer.

Troutner graduated from college with a degree in electrical engineering and went straight to work, but never lost touch with his original intention to spend as much time as possible in the islands. In fact, it intensified. He decided he wanted to live in the area full time.

Post college graduation in Oregon, Troutner worked his way north to Seattle. From mega-corporations to little start-ups, he was paying dues in the workforce until everything changed.

“I’ve worked for some really good companies, but working in a cube has been hell,” he said. “I don’t have the temperament to be a good employee.”

So, he began engineering, building and selling electrical bicycles and a customer offered to trade a sailboat for a custom-built bike.

He accepted the deal.

The boat, a 25-foot U.S. Yacht, opened Troutner up to a different way of life. He fell in love with sailing but soon became dissatisfied with weekend trips. He wanted to live on the water full-time, in the San Juan Islands.

He moved to Orcas Island in 2009 and started looking for a boat as a home base. He CTroutnerfound his current boat, Solace, a 27-foot U.S. Yacht, and moved to Anacortes for yet another desk job. But there was light at the end of the tunnel. He was living aboard full-time, exploring the Salish Sea, honing his skills as an outdoorsman and outfitting his boat for an extended adventure.

His goals evolved from simply living in the San Juans to a lifestyle of minimal money, maximum leisure time, and self-sufficiency.

He harnesses the wind and sun to power his boat and has a backup generator that burns approximately one cup of gas per hour (and it only needs to run about that long to fully recharge his batteries). In the height of the seasons he catches all of his own seafood, like crab, fish, and oysters, and forages for wild vegetables like cattails and mushrooms. He also harvests seaweed and adds it to his meals.

“The proliferation of the natural world captures my imagination,” he said. “It’s a rare day when I can’t feed myself.”

He did all of his own work to make the boat a fully functioning floating home and in turn learned how to work with fiber glass, tune sails and service his outboard engine.

Troutner’s wealth is measured by how many days he can live on a budget of $500 to $1,000 a month. When the money runs out, or when the weather turns, whatever happens first, it’ll be time to return to the dock and go back to work. Friday Harbor is high on his list of places to winter over, but Troutner won’t be returning to a cubicle anytime soon. He plans to look for tele-commuting work in software engineering.

“I like working, I’m a productive person,” he said. “But I’d rather work 20 hours a week and live frugally than 40 hours a week in the city.”

To learn more about Troutner’s journey toward self-sufficiency and to follow his sailing travels visit