PENINSULA WOMAN: Women create peaceful place to rest at Sequim resort
By Diane Urbani de la Paz
for Peninsula Woman
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There was also a track star-turned-physics teacher in Aberdeen.
Now the two are partners, a pair who have found their place on the peaceable shore of Sequim Bay — and who want to share it, year round, with families of all kinds.
After the busiest summer ever, Lavon Gomes and Tracie Millett are loving the fall and relishing the idea of winter at Sunset Marine Resort, the eight-cabin haven off East Sequim Bay Road.
“We try to maintain that laid-back, ohana feeling,” says Gomes, a daughter of Portuguese farmers who settled in the Hawaiian islands.
Ohana refers to one's extended family: blood-related, adoptive or chosen. It means no one is left out or behind. And it's a fitting theme for the Sunset Marine Resort, where the simply furnished cabins attract people at just about every stage: brides and grooms wanting a seaside setting for their vows, young marrieds with children splashing into their first saltwater experience, couples celebrating milestone anniversaries, families saying goodbye to a loved one by scattering ashes.
Instead of television sets, there are kayaks: nine of them, including three doubles. The bay and the beach provide an abundance of entertainment, from clams and crabs to the ever-changing movie of sea and sky.
At first sight
“I'll never forget when I first saw the property,” Gomes says. “I had that feeling: This place is it.”
She was afraid, though, to call the owner to find out how much he wanted for it. So she kept a photo of the place as her computer wallpaper for two months.
Finally, she emailed the owner who, it turned out, was asking an affordable price for the 4.5-acre property. Gomes and her then-partner were able to get a loan, and took ownership of the resort in 2001.
Each cabin has a personality and a history. There was the Cliff House, an old ranger's house with a wood stove and a rustic wooden dining table. Smooth rocks from the beach are inlaid in the shower wall. And towering over this stretch of land are glorious trees: firs, spruces, madronas.
Despite the official name, guests always called this the Treehouse, Gomes adds. So she adopted that. “Our attitude is: Listen to people,” she says. “You think you know best” about your business, “but you've got to listen to people.”
Gomes, 47, also believes in listening to her own instincts. She did so when she found the Boathouse, a cabin on the water, with emphasis on “on.” The two-bedroom place perches on pilings over Sequim Bay, so the tide flows beneath it, and the windows gaze into the blue waves.
The Boathouse used to be closed down in wintertime, on the premise that it was too cold inside. But Gomes, who holds a degree in architecture from the California College of the Arts, couldn't accept that.
“I said, uh-uh. We're going to put heaters in. This is the cabin,” she remembers.
Often overcome with enthusiasm, Gomes tends to blurt her feelings, unencumbered by grammar.
“This cabin, during the winter: Awesome,” she says. “It's wavy. You've got the fire going.”
For the Boathouse and the other cabins, Gomes and Millett are offering reduced rates this fall. They want to increase off-season business, of course, so they're offering weekly specials on their website, www.SunsetMarineResort.com. Recent specials include $75 per night for the Skipper's Quarters, which sleeps four and usually rents for $99.
The Boathouse, meantime, is one of the resort's greatest hits. The two-bedroom cabin is booked so much of the time that Gomes and Millett can't get in to fix it up much further. A mother and her three daughters come every July for the Sequim lavender festival, for example; they've already reserved it for 2012.
Eventually, says Millett, they want to put in a large glass door, to open onto a deck, to extend the cabin over the bay even more.
The number of guests who return again and again to Sunset is “unbelievable,” adds Gomes. The families have “their” cabin to come back to: Osprey's Nest, Captain's Quarters, Eagle's Nest, the Landing, the Clam Cottage or the Skipper's Quarters.
No need to work out
Summer is crazy-busy, and 2011 is a year to remember. There was the day when all eight cabins turned over, so Gomes and Millett cleaned each one, stem to stern, between 11 a.m. checkout and 3 p.m. check-in.
Between May and Labor Day, the women don't go to a gym to work out, what with loads upon loads of laundry and miles of vacuuming.
Come fall, though, life changes pace. Gomes and Millett renew their membership at the Sequim Aquatic Recreation Center, where they play racquetball. Millett, 42, was an athlete whose track and field prowess won her a full ride scholarship to the University of California, Los Angeles, and a trip to the U.S. Olympic Trials — but Gomes is the hot racquetball player. She is virtually unbeatable at SARC, Millett says.
At Sunset, the pair shares a small house below one of the guest cabins; it has a stunning bay view, but when they moved in, no kitchen. Millett and Gomes didn't have time to remodel until last fall.
Now, they have a simple kitchen and call their little place “a work in progress.”
Living and working together here suits them, thanks to a spirit of cooperation — and obvious joy in each other's company. One of their favorite outings is driving a load of cans and bottles to the Jefferson County Recycling Center and then going to Sirens pub in Port Townsend.
Millett and Gomes met about four years ago; after Gomes and her former partner split and it became clear that she and Millett's relationship was the real, right thing, they began to plan for a future at Sunset.
This took some doing — and a lot of driving. Millett was teaching physics and coaching track at Aberdeen High School; she had the summer off, so she worked at the resort in June, July and August 2009, and then returned to Aberdeen in the fall. For the next school year, she logged 2,000 road miles per month.
“It was a crazy life,” she says.
By summer 2011, Millett had resigned from her teaching job. And she and Gomes, of course, continue to learn from the daily challenges of running a business.
“People sometimes ask us: ‘Who does the maintenance?' They don't think we're the owners,” says Gomes.
The women aren't afraid to try things. They have each other for encouragement, after all.
“Tracie and I totally complement each other. I can do a lot of the stuff myself. But she brings it to the next level,” Gomes says. Her partner doesn't shrink from the grubby tasks,
Then there was the time they went to Fall City in King County to pick up a 2,500-gallon water storage tank for the resort. The thing is 8 feet across and 8 feet tall and weighs around 400 pounds. They could have bought a new tank and had it delivered, but they prefer to recycle. And this used tank, at $600, was a deal.
They did not know, though, that the tank was in the woods. They had to haul it 100 yards, over stumps and around trees. So when the women pulled up with their boat trailer, the man selling the tank took a good look at them, put his chin in his hand and asked, “You didn't bring any friends with you?”
It took Gomes and Millett three hours to bring the tank onto the trailer. Throughout the process, the former owner took pictures of them instead of helping.
“We were covered in dirt and grime,” said Millett.
No matter. It was a memorable experience and, she said, a classic example of their “well, why not?” attitude.
Back at the resort and throughout the year, the women have plenty of support from their families. Millett's mother Sharen Gusa and Gomes' mom Wilma Rogers help with Sunset's website and Facebook presence and with interior design of the cabins.
The women also enjoy having a resident dog: Kukui the “bug,” a Boston terrier-pug cross who scampers the beach and dock.
Gomes and Millett seek a balance between laid-back and attentiveness to guests.
“We're paying attention to how people are doing,” says Millett. “But we try to step back” and let them create their own experience. The cabin and beach “belong to them. It's theirs; we just take care of it.”
The family's faces
Gomes and Millett love seeing the moms, dads and kids walking on the beach together. And when the clams get to squirting, they listen to the music of giggles from children just now discovering those beach creatures.
Last summer, they watched as a 6-year-old girl took to her kayak like a swimming seal. Every year, Millett says, the parade of species dazzles, from the sea stars visible through the limpid water to the bald eagles cruising high above the bay.
Sunset Marine Resort attracts the non-fussy type of customer, Millett adds.
Returning guests tend to clean up their own cabins, and even offer to baby-sit Kukui while she and Gomes go out to run errands.
“One of the most requested things,” adds Gomes, “is for us to leave a cleaning product and a broom,” so guests can neaten up the cabin. They also want to rake the beach sand, in a kind of meditation.
There was one afternoon last summer when Millett took some guests out in their motorboat. Then, out went the tide, so they were stranded on the little island known as Middle Ground. Gomes paddled out to pick up the guests, but they wanted to stay. So she went back to the resort, cleaned some cabins in time for guests to check in, then brought lunch out to the island.
“If you're stuck, you can either figure out how to get back, or relax and enjoy it,” Gomes says. “That was probably my one day off,” in summer 2011, adds Millett. Not that she's complaining about the busy season.
One guest asked Gomes and Millett if they targeted gay travelers. The answer, Millett says, is that “we welcome all families, whatever shape they come in.”
Last modified: November 05. 2011 11:15PM