Wednesday, August 16, 2023

What We've Lost


For my birthday we got up well before sunrise and used our flashlights to hike into Elktonia, a Black beach from the history of segregation. The entrance is unmarked; you have to have been told or shown where it is. As a result, few people know about it and it's always peaceful and private. 

I was struck by the fact that these people were never given the best sites, so if this forgotten beach was that beautiful still ... what must the other, "better" beaches have been like? What beauty have we lost? Maybe, though, the joke's on them -- this little piece of shoreline was too crappy to develop, and so was left untouched when all the prettier places around it were developed into condos. 

When we were in Alaska and I felt small and a little scared by the vastness and power of the landscape, I wondered if the first Europeans to arrive at the relatively placid, but still wild, Chesapeake would have felt that same human insignificance? We need big landscapes in our lives to inspire us to awe.

It was a peaceful morning, the oftest lapping of tiny wavelets on the shore and a sentinel heron standing on a ruined piling, as the sky went from mysterious deep dusty blue, to pink, to orange, to gold, and then down to the brightness of an ordinary day. We breakfasted on giant cinnamon rolls from the bakery at our marina, and tried to process our thoughts from the early excursion. And coffee. Lots of coffee.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

"Salty" Insight


A jar of salt! (I'm used to salt being sold in a cardboard box or cylinder.)

I've always been fascinated by ephemera – those humble, utilitarian objects designed to be temporary; fragments of ordinary life, that when moved from one culture to another, turn out to be not ordinary at all, and give some unexpected insights into the ways people in other parts of the world live.

That's perhaps one of the joys of cruising, of being able to deeply immerse yourself into a new place, staying for longer and being outside of the typical tourist hotel bubble. And though we're not actively cruising right now, we're still cruising-adjacent. 

Annapolis is a great place for meeting people who are starting – or ending – their cruising careers. We once had some dock neighbours who were ending, after exploring the Mediterranean, crossing the Atlantic to the Caribbean, then coming up the coast here to sell their boat. In their final scurry to empty the boat of their personal possessions before turning it over to the new owners, we ended up being the casual recipients of a very eclectic group of leftovers completely out of context – a colourful t-shirt, two wine glasses, a screwdriver, a jar of olive oil, a jar of salt.

This salt jar now lives on my kitchen counter. It's thoughtfully designed with a flat spot on one side so it can be used standing up in a cabinet, or leaning over next to the stove as a kind of “salt pig” to grab a pinch of salt while cooking. I used Google Translate to read the label, which informed me that it was crystal sea salt for grinding at the table. Only, I had a small typo the first time I keyed it into my phone. That is how I learned that in Turkish, the words for “grinding [salt] at the table” and “arguing at the table” differ by only a single letter. And now I have a mental image of a big table laden with exotically-spiced food, boisterous family gathered around for a dinner filled with laughter and good-natured “grinding” -- in both senses of the word. 

Seemingly unusual to American eyes, the jar can stand on its base or its side.

Looked at up close, the grains are a wide range of sizes, and show the square crystal shapes that hint at slow evaporation, perhaps in the old-fashioned way, in a shallow pond in the sunlight

(Note: this casual jar of salt crystals is especially poignant to someone who grew up in a very different style, someone whose parents' table just miiiiight have included individual crystal salt cellars with tiny glass spoons at each place setting.)

Thursday, May 26, 2022

The Blue-and-Yellow Challenge (for Ukraine)


Almost immediately after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, our neighborhood turned blue and yellow. There were Ukraine flags on the houses, Ukraine bumper stickers on the cars, yellow sunflowers in blue flowerpots on porches. My Facebook page was filled with images "in support of Ukraine." And I was thinking, yeah, that's all quite nice, but ... how about some tangible support? And thus, my very own blue-and-yellow challenge was born. 

This little guy was posted on the first day, March 31. I promised to donate $1 to some relief effort for each person who commented on the picture. Later in the challenge I expanded it to include some intriguing facts or stories about each picture. 

That first photo obligated me to donate $47, by my own rules. There's a local restaurant that was sponsoring refugees in a tiny village in Slovakia and doing a fundraiser of their own. I liked the idea of direct giving, and of closing the loop -- this was the restaurant that hosted our sea shanty pub sings in happier times -- so they got our first day's pledges.

The second day's photo came with the story "...we have seen blue bioluminescence edging the waves like a strand of diamonds, camping overnight on a beach near Savaneta on Aruba. The next day was j’ouvert morning. The party started at 4 am so we didn’t want to waste money on a hotel room we’d only sleep in for half the night. And it turned out the beach camping was a glorious part of the adventure!"

Ukraine blue and yellow challenge day 3: Italian Deruta ceramic. Right before the world shut down at the end of February 2020, Dan was in a very serious scuba diving accident. We rented a beautiful furnished townhouse in Crescent Beach across the street from the ocean for him to heal. The townhouse was filled with lovely travel souvenirs, expensive musical instruments, and more, all graciously offered for our use. We were super careful with everything, but in the very last week we were there, we broke a ceramic spoon rest. I couldn’t find an exact replacement, but found this one instead that seemed to vibe with the owner’s style. Liked it so much I bought one for ourselves as well. And now every time I use it, (which is, um, every day) I’m reminded of the peaceful sunrises, reconnection with nature, and happy visits from friends we had while there. 

The owner of the townhouse we rented was one of the commenters on my photo of the spoonrest. So it made perfect sense to have her choose the recipient of that day's pledge money; she selected a way to support a music-festival fundraiser. Doubly meaningful because she was personally affected. She's Russian and still has numerous family members in both Russia and Ukraine.

Ukraine blue-and-yellow photo challenge Day 4: colour palettes. Sometimes a work of art becomes the inspiration for something else, like the color scheme for decorating a room. In this case, Van Gogh's famous "starry night" painting inspired this unique yarn. Shout out to my crafty knitting friends!

Ukraine blue-and-yellow photo challenge Day 5: US Navy precision flying demonstration team "Blue Angels." They perform their amazing aerial stunts every May in Annapolis, they are inspiring. This fancy flying is a stylized version of something with an important purpose -- in a wartime situation these would be the techniques they'd use to avoid radar, or come in fast and low and then quickly rise out of range, or fly together so precisely that radar perceives only one object instead of 4, as the attached photo shows. FWIW, when we lived in Denver we learned that rodeo is similar in this regard - performance of a stylized version of what were everyday tasks (in that case, ranching). 

I was having fun, finding blue-and-yellow images everywhere! And I could tell that my challenge was growing and catching on; a friend who was a USNA grad saw this picture and offered to match the amount I pledged as a result of comments from that day. Another cruising friend told us about someone she knew personally, who was gathering baby food and medical supplies in the Czech Republic and bringing them into Ukraine under cover of darkness; we sent the day's pledges to him via PayPal.

Ukraine blue-and-yellow photo challenge Day 6: Abstract. This wasn’t the photo I had planned for today, but in light of the news of deliberate civilian casualties, here’s a reminder that we think of war as a distant abstraction (but it’s not!) As in the past, for each person who comments on the photo of the day we will pledge $1 to charity. Costs you nothing.

Ukrainian blue and yellow photo challenge Day 7: Pysanka. These are Ukrainian decorated Easter eggs traditionally they are not painted but dyed. The designs are done using wax to protect areas of the eggshells from taking on dye, and the wax is either painted on with a pinhead (!!) or scratched in. The designs are incredibly intricate and colourful; if you google it it will look like a rainbow exploded on your screen. 

Ukraine photo challenge Day 8: Damselfish and Macaws. Kinda hard to top the intricate eggs from yesterday with anything else human made so I’ll let Nature show itself off today with tropical fauna of air and sea. (On FB this was side-by-side with the following photo)

On Day 9 I was already approaching $250 of my own money plus $100 from our USNA friends so I started thinking about wrapping things up. I challenged other people who had been playing along to flood their timelines too!

"wrapping up"

Raise a toast -- we did it! Why did I say "we" did it? Because every comment my friends made -- even the snarky ones -- encouraged the algorithm to show it to more people, and then more and more ... and maybe, just maybe, made some people think.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022



The term "laget om" (which translates to "around the team") dates back to the era of Vikings. It’s said a bowl of mead would be passed around in a circle and it was important that everyone only sipped their fair share so there was enough to go around. This evolved into the Swedish word "lagom," a lifestyle and design concept meaning just the right amount of anything.

“Minimalism” may be the new design buzzword, but I call our apartment “minimal-ish.” Not austere, but not richly layered, either. More like, everything we need, and nothing we don't. Just like the boat does, the apartment offers us a place to sleep, a place to socialize, a place to cook, and a place to sit and think. These places are filled with useful tools and a few beautiful objects, just the right amount of each. I continue to be delighted at how easy it is to put everything in its place, how everything has room to breathe, and how comfortable that feels to me.  Turns out, that sweet spot, that Goldilocks zone, has a name, and its name is “lagom.” A Swedish design concept of “just enough.” Well-styled, neat, calm, balanced, in equilibrium. Handled with restraint, and very individual. 

When I first started working at Rocky Mountain Arsenal, I went to the office supply cabinet and got what I needed, providing for myself with a few pens and binder clips, pads and file folders, and my favorite coffee mug. One day I was out at a meeting and my colleague Jeff had to find a document from my desk. “You have the exactly right amount of everything,” he said admiringly. “Your desk is so easy to find things!”  

“Well, of course,” I thought to myself. “I haven't been working here very long, I haven't had time for the mess to accumulate. I have the advantage of having started from the supply cabinet to fill a blank slate. Just give it time, and I'll have a chaotic messy desk, just like I left from my last job.” 

I had accidentally discovered lagom at that job, but doubted I'd be able to maintain it. Our apartment was “lagom” also, and again accidentally. I'd again achieved it by starting with a blank slate. What was sobering to me was that except for the furniture itself, almost everything in the apartment came from the boat. If that amount of possessions was “just right” for the apartment, no wonder it had felt choking to have that same amount of stuff in the far smaller confines of the boat! The challenge will be to see if we can take this newfound insight and put “just enough” back aboard when we move back to the boat in the spring. Meanwhile, here's a mini-tour of the apartment. 

Almost all the books on these bookshelves, and the items in the baskets (though not the baskets themselves) lived on the boat! Only the swirly lamp in the corner, and the blue glass canister, are new.

Feels odd to fit in a land-based kitchen again!

Desk area is a bit different than the nav station on Cinderella! I've still got my beloved beaded bird. The blue glass vase on the lower left is probably close to 100 years old and belonged to my grandmother;  I'm fascinated by the way its shape echoes the base of the desk lamp we bought at Target last autumn.

Rattan and glass dining table, and amber rope lights around the window in lieu of a chandelier.

The massive stone fireplace is a dominant feature in the living room. 

Moving day! Trying to guess which piece of furniture was which, when everything is hidden in bulky moving blankets. Wondering if we'd still like the choices we made when we packed this stuff away 20 years ago.

The sculptural black "spiral chairs" were an indulgence we could barely afford back in the 1990s when we fell in love with them. Happy to report we like them just as much now. A feng shui consultant had us rearrange the room and put them in front of the windows instead of by the fireplace, and swap places with the sectional sofa, as you perhaps noticed in another pic. 

It's Not Luck (or at least, not “just” luck)


Lucky? Synchronicity? Or something else? 

On our very first time in St Augustine we met historic reenactor James, who was telling the story of Black history connection to the town. He looked at us and said, “You guys don't seem like tourists. You're not just after photographing yourselves in front of the typical postcard hotspots, posting it online, and then moving on, I can tell. You are travelers, and you are trying to go slow and really understand the places you visit.”  He was right … but also, he intrigued us enough to make us want to learn even more. We slowed our northbound sailing trip, lingered in town for a while, learning more and more about it and its unique contributions to the character of Florida and the US. That interaction with James was the syncronicity, the lovely coincidental meeting that started us on the path to eventually moving to St Augustine and making our full-time careers about living history. 

Our magical little historic town!

I was having a conversation with friend Stacey about syncronicity in life, and whether it was unusually prevalent in cruising:

“You know the way a soldier can put himself in harm’s way? I believe you can put yourself in luck’s way as well,” I told her. Cruising is built for this … as you make yourself available to opportunity. Jaye was standing in line to get our mail and chatting with the person in line next to her. That person turned out to be the manager of the Spanish tall ship docked in town. She invited us to stop by for a tour. So we did. That was the first step -- then it was “oh you have historical garb? Come by, we are doing a photo shoot and could include you.” And again, we did. Next thing we knew, we were volunteering as tour guides on the ship, Dan was helping with the carpentry, and Jaye was learning to cook a few Spanish menu items. And then, “Bring your passports, you’re in bunks #9 and #10, we’re going sailing.” Wow! Sign me up! We became members of the crew, put thousands of sea miles under the keel, and had the most amazing experiences for the next 4 summers. 

“So being open, and having the garb because you have a passion for history, etc.?” Stacey asked. 

I think it was about being open and flexible to adjust our schedules to take advantage of the opportunities offered. In our case it was having the historical garb that opened the doors (or paved the way or whatever metaphor you'd like to apply), but it could have been anything.  Someone else might have had knitting needles and would offer to teach, or a camera or charcoals to offer to make images, or ... hmmm... musical instruments to offer to play, it would have been the same. Freely offer your unique talents, let those make connections, and then follow where those connections lead you. 

Are we lucky? Sure, luck played a part in our having adventures. What if James hadn't been working at the park that day? What if the person in line at the post office wasn't in a sociable mood that morning? That part was luck, but we put ourselves in luck's way as well, by responding to those opportunities. They didn't take us where we expected to go, but in the end, when we followed where chance led, those opportunities took us to a place that was even better than the one we could have planned for ourselves. In the words of my idol, mathematician and Danish WWII resistance member Piet Hein, “We can only hope … but not ONLY 'only hope.'” 

Dan says this photo makes it look like they are headed out to sea and he's looking back at the shoreside pleasures he's leaving behind. But I think he's thinking that St Augustine is too darn cold to spend the day greeting visitors on the foredeck of the Galeon!

NB: I'm excited! This is my 500th Life Afloat post! I definitely wouldn't have believed that I'd be able to keep that momentum up when I started blogging.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

“Begin With The End In Mind” (A Decluttering and Minimizing Lesson Plan)


"Some things are in your life for a reason, some for just a season..."

Once we reconciled ourselves to the fact that streamlining and organizing our possessions wasn't a job that was done once and stayed done, it became, if not easy, then at least easier to begin the process of reevaluating everything that would continue to live with us. There were actually two destinations we would consider for our stuff – one for what would move back onto the boat with us, and a second for what would live in our ultimate apartment (not the one we were currently in, but hopefully years in the future when our boat life was done). Additionally we would end up doing the evaluation for what to keep twice – once when moving into the apartment, and once again when we moved back aboard; hopefully with less stuff, but with each piece being more meaningful. That was the “end” we had in mind. We were going to touch and think about every single item, many of them more than once. 

We had learned a lot about downsizing when we first moved aboard from the house in Michigan to the boat (can it really have been 20 years ago?) and had to choose perhaps a tenth of everything we owned to bring with us – and still ended up with too much! Further complicating the thought process back then, it was an era when the opportunities for digital books, music, and photos was still quite limited and labor-intensive to create where it was possible at all. The strategies and insights and approaches we used then worked even better this time around. Two major insights helped us frame things in our minds, and three strategies got it done.

Major insight 1: Have a “litmus test” or “guiding principle” – a question, or series of questions, that would have yes/no answers to make the process of deciding automatic. Our guiding principle would be a blend of William Morris' classic advice “Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful” (and my own addition, “or that makes you smile”) and cruising mentor Linda's advice to prioritize “first safety, then tools, then everything else” when packing. Almost 20 years aboard, plus the uncertainties of pandemic-era supply chain interruptions, had us with too much of some things, and not enough of others.

I've heard lots of other litmus-test questions: the trendy “Does this spark joy?” question never sparked joy for me. “Would you save this if there were a fire and you had just a few minutes to get out?” reminded me of a friend who lived in California; during wildfire season, he packed his priority possessions, vital documents, medications, hard drive, and dog in the car every time he let home for an errand in case his home was engulfed. “Would you buy this again if you saw it in the store right now?” didn't resonate for me; most of the things I value most have value not because of their worth, but their memories. “Would you pack this if you were moving overseas?” had me thinking of M's move from the sunny Caribbean to chilly gray northern Europe. I channeled our several hurricane evacuations and started thinking, category by category. Basically everything had to be useful, or beautiful, or make me smile. Then I refined it again – is this the best version of the thing? Is it possible to have something else do the same job as this thing just as easily and well? Would it be better to get rid of this particular thing and treat ourselves to an upgraded version of the thing?

Major insight 2: Deciding what you want to keep is a very different mindset than deciding what you want to get rid of. We couldn't just subtract out the clutter and assume that everything that remained would magically work out. We'd very likely end up with a random jumble, too much of one thing and too little of another. (This was most apparent in clothing – just subtracting the pieces I didn't like, I'd still end up with too many shirts and too few pants, too many dressy clothes and too few casual clothes, and those that remained didn't necessarily match or work well together, or cover the range of activities in our lives.) Instead, the only thing that worked for us when we did the initial downsizing to move aboard, and then again this winter, was to start with a blank slate, and only add to it what we knew we needed/wanted, by “shopping” our own possessions. It was also much easier when we decoupled the two questions “Do I want to keep this?” from “What's the best/most lucrative/environmentally friendly/charitable way to get rid of the things we no longer want?” No guilt – “Like leaves on trees in autumn,” I reminded myself.  Similar to the work clothing that I donated when I retired, some things were helpful in my life for a season, but now it's time to let them gently fall away. 

We promised ourselves that we wouldn't get rid of anything that made us resent the entire process. Most especially artwork, souvenirs of our travels, and other memorabilia, might not all fit on the boat, but we didn't want them permanently gone from our lives. Pirate garb and swords, collections, heirlooms, out-of-print books … anything that couldn't be replaced simply with cash by buying it again when our boat days were done, would go into the rented storage unit. 

So, knowing we wanted to end up with intentional things only, we started by category, and had a few fun strategies for each.

The auto-fill strategy:

For the kitchen, we modified a trick Dan had used to advise his clients when we had the design-remodel business. “Empty the cabinets completely and put everything – Every. Single. Thing – in the basement,” he'd advise. “Now, go live your ordinary life. When you need something, a pot or a gadget, whatever, simply go down to the basement and get it. Use it, and when you are finished, wash it and put it away in the now-empty cabinet. Occasionally as time goes on you'll feel too “lazy” to go downstairs to get something for a specialized task, and will improvise by using something that's already in the kitchen, and that's okay. In fact it's good, as you'll realize in a minute. At the end of a month or so, you'll have a kitchen (sparsely) filled with things you actually use, and a basement full of things you really don't need.” Without a lot of introspection, this process made the sorting job pretty much do itself. The apartment didn't have a basement, but it did have an inconvenient cabinet reachable only by a stepladder, that served the same purpose in the scheme. The tupperware freezer containers made the grade. The special fluted tart pan with the removable bottom … didn't.

The shopping list strategy:

When it came to clothing, I found I wanted to be a little more analytical, and incorporate some of what I'd learned by having to live so minimally during those 4 tours of duty on the tall ships, plus elements of my experiments with capsule wardrobes in a single colorway and a foray into limiting myself to only 33 items of clothing for 3 months. “Imagine you had lost all your clothing in a fire,” I fantasized. “Now you're standing in a huge, posh department store with a generous insurance settlement check in your hand. What would your shopping list look like?” Now, write down that list, starting from scratch, and “shop” it from what you already own. If the list says you need 4 t-shirts? Pick your 4 favorites and let the rest go. Need a pair of black pants and don't own any you like? Well, get rid of the ones you don't like, and buy an upgrade to a better quality better fitting pair you do like.

In my working days, with two weeks between laundry trips, for each season my list would have included something like: 5 pants, 10 tops, 3 blazers for work days all in one coordinated colorway; 1 or 2 dark suits. 2 jeans, 4 t-shirts and a hoodie for weekends. 2 sparkly outfits for going on the town, 2 outfits suitable for Sunday brunch with friends and a visit to a museum, 2-3 high-tech fabric outfits for backpacking, something for a wedding, 2 or 3 things for working out, and something grungy for painting the boat, plus 5 things that aren't strictly necessary but are just plain fun. I have an oversize rainbow sweater that fits this category, and a bright-orange Hawaiian shirt. In simpler retired pandemic times, and with a washing machine right in the apartment kitchen, I ended up with 4 t-shirts, 2 jeans, 2 chinos, 2 nice pants, 4 nice tops, 2 hoodies, 2 sweaters, a fleece long underwear and a wool one; and the backpacking, workout, and painting clothes from before. Hiking boots, walking shoes, tennies, sandals, and one dressy flats, 8 pairs of shoes total. So easy! Everything I needed to own, would fit in two airline carry ons.

The Space-A strategy (military shorthand for “space available”):

I've seen people do this with kids who tend to be overwhelmed. They get a cool toy box and are told they can only keep what fits in the box, so choose your favorites. News flash – this same technique works for adults too!

When we lived in Colorado our bookshelves and display cabinets were just jammed with books and art objects. There was so much “everything” that you couldn't appreciate “anything” and books were stacked two layers deep. One day we took everything out and put it on the dining room table. We took turns placing things back, starting with our favorites. As soon as either of us felt a shelf was pleasant but not overly full, the space available appropriately used, they could call that shelf complete before they took their turn. The rest of the things had to go away, to be given away, or kept in storage to be rotated in and out museum style. We felt quite accomplished – until, when we put the house on the market, friend J. staged the house and subtracted half of even what was left!

Most art objects, if they were going to stay in our lives at all, were going to stay on the land side. If they stayed on the boat they'd become clutter and were likely to be tossed around and broken in even moderate seas. So it became a decision process of just making sure we didn't over stuff our availabe space. (We found more things that we loved than we could comfortably display at one time, so plan to do a rotation, museum style.)

As for the books themselves, my plan had been to replace some that you read linearly (like novels) with their digital versions for space-saving purposes, and keep some of the most special ones in hardcover – reference books, coffee table books with big luscious pictures, and out-of-print classics. I had grandiose plans to unpack the dozen or so cartons of those (mostly science fiction from the 1930s-1960s) and reminisce. (Of course, I also had grandiose plans that retirement would consist of life in a little stone cottage on a bluff in New England, with long after dinner walks on crunchy leaves. A tweed jacket and a pipe may also have been involved. Yeah, none of it worked out that way.) The thing is, that many of those visions from the 1960s didn't age that well. The bolder the visions were, the more likely they were to become cringe-y as the world didn't evolve along those lines and the baked-in prejudices and assumptions of the era came glaringly to light. Instead of gentle nostalgia they were probably just going to bring me dismay. Not for nothing, I also learned that the cost of replacing some of those books would add up to more than I was willing to invest. So it was kind of back to the drawing board in that realm. 

Despite the fact that it was startling to see how much stuff had been on the boat – enough to spread out into a whole apartment! – what we ended up with felt calm, orderly, spacious, intentional. Every single thing felt chosen, important, used. And putting things away was easy, no more locker-Tetris! Now to see if we could get to that level on the far greater challenge of the boat, with less space but more necessary items for tools, safety, and, you know, actual sailing.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Ashore Again

A massive stone fireplace is the first clue that we're definitely not on our sailboat at the moment! (The chimney needed to be cleaned out, so we couldn't light a fire. The rope lights swirled in lieu of logs on a whimsical moment) 

Once again we find ourselves temporarily living on land. We had several very practical reasons to be off the boat for a while. Being reluctant to face a second Maryland winter aboard was one, and this winter promised to be snowier and colder than the last one. Also we were needing a place for Dan to recover from the FUS treatment. We had been were warned that the treatment could affect balance for a while after, and though luckily that phase passed quickly, we hadn't known that at the time. And when you're having balance issues, stepping from an icy dock onto a moving sailboat is probably not the best option. We'd been a bit disillusioned with the suburban location at the marina anyway – too far away to easily, spontaneously participate in the cultural opportunities of downtown; and yet not far enough away to give us the restfulness of pristine nature. We sort of had the worst of both in a car-centric location. (Funny bit of trivia – birds in suburbia chirp louder than forest birds, due to having the sound competition of cars and lawnmowers and trash trucks and other suburban conveniences.) And then, at exactly the right time for us, an opportunity presented itself of a cool place to rent, 10 minutes drive away from the boat and 15 minutes walk to downtown.

But in addition to the practical reasons, we were also feeling an increasing need to hit a giant reset button and sift through our possessions again. In every single category it felt like we had Just. Too. Much. “Our boat is choking on our stuff!” Dan complained. It was true. There wasn't a single locker that wasn't packed with absolutely all it could hold. (Hey, no worries about things shifting and breaking if we are rocked by a wave! Things are absolutely jammed in, holding each other in place, no where to go!) Getting anything out required taking three other things out first, then carefully putting everything back in precisely the right order, interlocking. It was psychologically exhausting and the lack of air flow around things made it a more likely breeding ground for mold.

So what had first started as a hurricane evacuation necessity for us years ago has since become a regular practice of emptying all our stuff to somewhere and sorting it into what needs to stay aboard and what goes into storage. Hard to believe after our trip with Big Yellow Truck little more than a year ago we were feeling the need to do it again, but it seemed that was the case, so we were off and packing. 

And the weirdest thing happened – all our stuff fit smoothly, comfortably into the rental. That sounds unsurprising … until you realize that our stuff shouldn't have fit. We lived on a 33-foot sailboat. We were moving into a 1000-square-foot apartment. There should have been tons and tons and tons of space left over. But there wasn't. 

Our kitchenware spread out and filled an ordinary smallish land-based kitchen. Granted that things were spread out more than they were aboard, and hence were easier to access, but still, they “shouldn't” have needed that much space. There was an entire drawer with a silverware organizer instead of a small tube that held our forks and knives and spoons all together in one end of a small drawer, and a crock next to the stove for tools  instead of aligning them in the other side of that same drawer. Our canisters of rice and beans neatly filled a couple of pantry shelves instead of being carefully tucked under the heavy electric wire that ran along the top of a locker to power the windlass. It wasn't difficult to put everything in its place, it was just surprising that we had so much. How had we ever gotten it all into the boat to begin with? No wonder we felt choked! 

Our clothing fit in the dressers; there was enough room around everything to put things away easily. But I would have expected whole empty drawers left over after we'd put our things in, which didn't happen. Our books didn't over-fill the book shelves, but they filled them. Et cetera, et cetera. The end result was an apartment that felt comfortable and calm, certainly not stuffed but not minimal either. And a lot of head scratching – how had all this ever fit onto the boat to begin with???

Sorting, decluttering, streamlining, minimizing – we've got our winter's work cut out for us. The hope is to use the space in the apartment to (once again) rethink what we have, and when we do move back aboard to do it with less accumulation. 

The furniture, of course is not included in what feels like our glut of possessions. On the boat, everything was built in, so on land we needed to source a desk, a bed, a table, some chairs, etc. It was fun to revisit things we had packed away 20 years ago, when we thought we'd only be cruising for a few years before moving on to the next fun thing, and realize we still liked the choices we had made back then. 

We “shopped” from the items we had in storage to furnish the apartment. It was quite the guessing game to figure out which lumpy piece, meticulously wrapped in padded moving blankets, was which. And it was stunningly unhelpful to find boxes that some mover had written “picture” with a black sharpie. Um, yes, thanks, I can see that, since the box is pre-printed with a label that says “glass, picture, do not lay flat” on all sides. (But it really would have helped to have known if it was a picture that came from the living room, or the office, or the bedroom.) My favorite was a 7-foot roll labeled “rug.” Not quite sure what else it could have been mistaken for…

We felt like the apartment was set up, but Dan pointed out what was all around us but had not been acknowledged. We had “moved in,” but not really settled in.  We were just here temporarily. We never hung artwork. We never unpacked our very most precious antique furnishings, favorite lamps, Grandma's quilts. Partly that was by design, to keep the calm, light, minimalist vibe the apartment seemed to require.  A spiritual friend who visited said she felt a very light aura, but whether that was the ghost of the former owner or our decorating style or both she couldn't say. To me artwork on the walls draws the eye, defines the mood, and also is an anchor that grabs the eye and stops its flow, demanding attention. The blank walls, on the other hand, gave nothing for the eyes to purchase, just glided past, receded. But also, “We've never really taken ownership of this place,” Dan observed. We don't want to, I think. If we really move in, surrounded by things that have deep meaning for us, would it be the first step toward transitioning off the boat and back to land-life, our adventuring done as we approach old age? Or even simply harder to uproot ourselves again at the end of winter? We do like the in-unit washing machine, and the solidity. The apartment doesn't rock in the wind like the boat does. In fact, we barely notice the weather outside, wind or rain or cold, with a massive system to keep the temperature constant. Better not to get too comfortable, because for all its rewards our life afloat does require some sacrifices. For now we are in a fabulous apartment in a superb location … and we can't wait to get back to the boat. C'mon spring!

Thursday, January 13, 2022

A Fort You Can See, and a Fort You Can't

I alluded in a previous post about how different the Castillo felt, nearly empty of visitors. Perhaps that contributed to my lack of feeling any emotion at the visit. Had an email exchange with a friend who is one of the park rangers stationed there: "Saw [mutual friend X] at the Castillo when we visited last week ... it was weirdly empty and quiet without school kids or soldados, etc. Hope everyone stays safe and we're back to normal (or "new normal" whatever that looks like) soon." 

"It has indeed been strange, for those of us who remember the Before Times!" my friend replied. "What's also interesting is, we have a number of new employees who have come on board since March 2020 who have no idea what "normal" looks like for this place." So, a brief photo tour, of the Fort you can no longer see, and what it looks like now. 

In the "Before Times" costumed reenactors helped visitors understand what things might have been like. 

Special night events, candlelight tours, added the aura of mystery. We've attended and participated in many of these events, often portraying shipwrecked sailors. Next morning, energized by my interactions with people, I posted that my garb smelled of woodsmoke, black powder, and adventures.

Preparing to visit last week ... what a difference!

The weirdly empty courtyard. During the sieges the entire 1,500 townspeople stayed here for 1-2 months. Today, not a visitor in sight.

The casemates were originally used as storerooms for food, tools, gunpowder.

Then later during the British period the walls were expanded and these rooms were used as living quarters.

After this visit, and the administrative work which had been the primary motivation for our trip complete, we spent an hour or so the last morning at the site of Fort Mose, 2 miles north of the Castillo. I delight in the rarely-told story of this place; the first free Black settlement in the US; the place where escaping enslaved people folloowed the Underground Railroad south instead of north from Georgia and South Carolina, to the then-international border between England's and Spain's colonies. In the US, we tend to think of ourselves as derived from the British – Boston Tea Party, 13 original colonies, 1776 and all that. We forget that New York was Dutch, Michigan and Louisiana were French, and Florida was Spanish. Unlike the Castillo, this fort is gone and its struggles remembered only in stories, the landscape given back to the birds and marshes. 

The long boardwalk to the site, dubbed "Walkway to Freedom."

It looks so peaceful, but it's anything but quiet, filled with the squawks, chirps, and quacks of the birds making their living fishing in the marsh.

An Accident of Time and Place (How We Saw the Town)


Seen through a car window, the lights are ... underwhelming

We continued our short visit to St Augustine that night. We drove around town looking at the famous 3 million white holiday lights, and I felt nothing. I was an observer of the city, but I wasn't “of” the city any more. I felt on the outside, looking in. Maybe it was my heart, protecting itself again. Or maybe it was the difference between being in a car, and walking. 

I was texting about this with a friend the next evening, and he agreed. If we hadn't docked in the municipal marina, in the middle of the action, and had to walk everywhere, we'd never have seen and appreciated the city's fine details. We'd never have spent long enough to learn the history in more than the broadest-brush overview. We wouldn't have had the chance to play pirate on the Black Raven, or gotten to volunteer at the Castillo or on El Galeon. We'd probably never have fallen in love with the city. 

In the city, of the city; strolling the plaza during Nights of Lights in the Before Times

This was probably the most profound lesson I learned from 4 years of touring with the Spanish tall ships and 8 years on our own boat. Every port we visited, we saw the city the way it had originally evolved, growing outward from the waterfront. And we'd learned about it human-scaled, walking scale. These narrow cobbled streets were laid out long before cars were even a dream. Our frontier was maritime long before Hollywood glorified the “wild West.” And coming into town by car, coming in from US-1 and the brightly lit strip malls; historic downtown seemed just a dusty crowded inconvenience, with no real story to tell. (Also, coming into town as a crew member on a dramatic tall ship, I was a rock star. A far different reception than I would have gotten as “random retired lady driving a minivan!”)  

We think so much depends on big decisions (“What state shall we move to? Colorado? Florida? Maryland?”) But sometimes it's the tiniest microclimate -- downtown marina, walkable but parking is a major hassle? Or one that's a little further away but car-friendly? -- that has the biggest impact on the way we perceive the place. 

[FWIW, this may also explain why we haven't felt at home in Annapolis yet either. Our marina is located in suburbia: not rural enough to enjoy the peace and quiet of nature while living aboard, yet simultaneously not central enough to really participate in the downtown vibrancy and experience (Covid notwithstanding). Hopefully things will settle to the point where we can get more involved in the future.]

Monday, January 10, 2022


A pile of rocks, or stones with souls? This is part of the western wall of the gun deck. An accident of geology led to the almost magical resilience of the coquina walls to cannon fire, which in turn is why the Castillo never fell in battle, but only changed hands by treaty. 

Gun deck and sentry tower January 2022 ... almost empty of visitors

Us, dressed as soldados in almost the same spot eight years previous. The Nao Victoria is behind my right shoulder on its way to a visit of St Augustine. Little did we know how much that ship and the others from the Foundation would shape our lives!

We made a quick trip back to St Augustine to renew our driver's licenses. There's probably an easily-explained reason this couldn't be done online (in the middle of an ongoing pandemic (!) ), but the person who can do the explaining … isn't me. An-y-way, we packed our bags, scheduled as many get-togethers with our local friends as we could orchestrate on the calendar, and we were off.

As it turned out, we bolted out of Annapolis the day before we had planned to, due to forecast bad weather, and good thing too – there was a massive, massive traffic disaster that would have had us stuck in sub-freezing weather on an ice-covered I-95 for more than 24 hours if we had left on our original schedule. Hey, an extra day in St Aug? I'm not complaining!

Actually I wasn't quite sure what emotions to expect, going back. It about tore my heart out to leave St Augustine for Annapolis a little over a year ago and ever since, I've been splitting my loyalty between the two cities. I claimed that I've got “one foot on the boat and one foot on the dock”.  As you can imagine, that's a pretty precarious place to be, much wiser to make a commitment to one or the other, because with one foot on each, a minor shift and you're off balance and fallen into the water between the two. Which about describes my mental state, this past year.

With an extra half day unscheduled, and the weather warm and dry, we headed immediately to our favorite bit of history in town, the Castillo. From our very first visit I had been drawn to this place and its story. I had spent so many hours dressed as a soldado (Spanish soldier), standing on the gun deck gazing out to sea exactly as my predecessors would have done 300 years earlier, dressed in the very same uniform. The difference of course is that my duty was far less stressful – they would have been fearing for their lives and looking for enemy ships while my biggest fear was being asked a question by a tourist that I couldn't answer!

“There are people with hearts of stone; there are stones with hearts like people.” This quote was the hook to a popular Israeli song (protest song?) from the 1960s, more lyrical in the original than my translation. It was written about the remaining wall of the temple in Jerusalem, but stones with hearts or souls seems to me to apply to other special places as well. I've always thought the Castillo had a unique aura and attributed it to the fact that the place had never fallen in battle but had safely housed the city's residents through two long English sieges. I'd felt the reassuring “my walls will keep you safe” vibe the very first time I'd visited, and every other time since, through public crowds and  special events and night events and private after hours tours that were closed to the public just staff and volunteers only. Now with attendance still limited by pandemic restrictions, no school kids or cannon firings and a smaller number of visitors, I thought I'd feel that again. 

Instead, a different quote came to mind. I was reminded of the heroine of a fantasy/sci-fi story I had read as a kid. She'd been given a pair of magic spectacles, and when she'd put them on she was able to walk through the wall of the place in which she'd been imprisoned and escape. Next time she got into a jam, she tried the glasses again, but this time got no help. Maybe they were meant to help just that once, she mused. “But now, the magic has gone out of them, and they are simply glass.” 

The park staff had done a commendable job of setting up vignettes in the different casemates to tell the story of the fort through time in the absence of costumed living history reenactors, but some of the magic had gone. The walls were … just rocks, silent. Though sometimes I wonder whether anything had changed at all, really, and my lack of feeling anything was just my heart's way of building protective walls around itself, to prevent being torn again.