Wednesday, January 14, 2009
For those times we are anchored out, not attached to the shore power, hand-operated appliances are key. Here, the issue - in addition to space - is power usage. Things that use electricity to make heat, like a crockpot or toaster, are very inefficient and use huge amounts of battery power. After having a coffeemaker since college days, I'd almost forgotten that you can make coffee the low-tech way by pouring almost-boiling water through coffee grounds in a filter or French press.
Anchoring out does not mean "camping out." Although many of our meals aboard are one-dish soups and stews, we've done some pretty elaborate 4 or 5 course meals, even without electric appliances. Our favorite show-off meal is a cheese souffle. We once made this meal for our good friend and sailing mentor David Kummerle, and this led by a not-too-circuitous route to one of our favorite airport security stories. (Doesn't everyone have at least one?)
David has lived aboard a boat which is the big sister ship to ours for many years in the Virgin Islands. He hosts private learn-to-sail vacations there, where he also serves as gourmet cook. Every year, he visits us for a week sailing in the Chesapeake, and we visit him for a week sailing in the VI. One year when he was visiting, we made our signature souffle, using an old hand-crank eggbeater to whip the egg whites. (How many people have those any more? Where would you even buy one outside of an antique store, now that most cooks have KitchenAid mixers and their ilk?) He was suitably impressed with the final result, and speculated about learning to do this for his charter guests.
So the next time we flew down to visit him, we packed a house gift in our luggage - a beautiful white ceramic souffle dish and an eggbeater. Going through security at BWI was no problem, but somehow, by the time we changed planes in Puerto Rico, something raised a red flag. One screener frowned and called another one over and pointed to something on the monitor while they carried on a discussion too rapid for me to follow with my limited Spanish. Then they asked (in English) if I would mind if they searched my luggage. So while I'm smilingly saying "No, of course, go ahead" I'm thinking "Yikes! What are they seeing?"
Well, it seems the eggbeater showed a puzzling shape in the xray machine. The first screener didn't know what to make of it - is this a weapon? - but another woman working with him snatched it up with a cry of delight and started cranking it in midair. We couldn't make out most of the conversation but I caught one word - abuela (grandmother) - and the body language said it all. She hadn't seen one of these in years, but her grandmother used one to make birthday cakes. Next thing we knew, she had "borrowed" our eggbeater and was in the next screening lane, still madly cranking the air. There was laughter, and they called another woman from yet another lane over.
Finally when traffic had been disrupted for long enough and laughter and reminiscing had died down to a chuckle, a smiling security guard returned our tool and waved us on to our plane.
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Life Afloat on Facebook!
|Our galley aboard looks tiny at first glance but works perfectly|
... and has everything we need
From my favorite writing spot at the nav station I look across to the galley for inspiration. Several boat guests have described it as one of the best laid out galleys they've seen, yet by land standards it's utterly cramped.
In what seems to be a former life, Dan had a kitchen design-remodel business. For most clients, bigger was definitely better, for the small percentage of those who didn't want walls moved, it was about adding bigger appliances, long unbroken sweeps of counter space, maybe an added island or peninsula. In 15 years of the business, no one ever asked us to make their kitchen smaller. Yet our galley measures 4'x6' - about the size of the powder room in our townhouse.
We get our share of "the cobbler's children always go barefoot" jokes about the kitchen designer's tiny floating kitchen, but they miss their target - there are reasons for most of the design anomalies aboard. By land standards, or by the rules of kitchen design, the space between range and sink looks cramped. The kitchen design rules want the space between parallel counters to be 4 feet or wider; here it's a smidge under 2 feet. That narrow space, though, means you can lean against something solid if you're cooking at sea - and a wave can't hurl you across the cabin as it could in a more open plan. The apartment-size stove means I'll never roast a 20-lb turkey, but it's mounted on gimbals to stay level even if we're heeled (leaning sideways) underway.
The fridge is a pair of deep boxes that open from the top rather than the front, so that neither cold air nor food can spill out when it's opened. You can just make out the brass rings that are used for lifting the lids, directly below the spice rack. The boxes are so deep in fact that only 6-foot-tall Dan can reach the bottom of the box when it's time for cleaning and defrosting -- and we could certainly tell stories about the amazing things that were forgotten on the bottom that we rediscover weeks or months later! All the lockers have latches and the shelves have lips to keep things stowed when it gets lumpy out.
I'm so accustomed to small kitchen appliances, though, that giving them up was the most dramatic adaptation we had to make when moving aboard. I've got so many stories to tell about that adventure that it'll have to be saved for another post. Meanwhile, not to tread on fellow blogger Louise Kirk's territory, dinner turned out to be a fish chowder brightened with carrots, red bell peppers, corn, and black beans.
We were absolutely dazzled by the elaborateness of the displays, some serious, some humorous, but all generous gifts of the skippers' time and energy to the community. Proof that the holiday mood is indeed contagious, the restaurant staff came outside and served us all hot chocolate - unexpected, unasked-for, and hence doubly warming.
Sailboats are naturals for decorating with holiday lights, with their tall masts and rails to hang lights from. Ours sports a swirl of green rope lights, a sketch of an Xmas tree topped with an anchor light in lieu of a treetop star - a sort of nautical visual pun. But that's nothing compared to the extraordinary energy put into the displays for the parade. One of my marina neighbors explained just how much energy. Christy had been a liveaboard until she reluctantly gave up the liveaboard life in 2005 when the long hours demanded of her job as a lawyer made the commute to Annapolis ridiculous; she still describes herself as a part-time liveaboard. She volunteered her boat to do the parade for the Singles on Sailboats club simply because it was an opportunity to do something different. "I've never been in a boat parade before. You can keep your boat pristine and perfect if you keep it at the dock and don't do anything." Christy and fellow club member Frank Florentine began work on the display in September, for a project they described as "simple" compared to that of previous years. Frank's day job is as lighting designer for the Air and Space Museum, so he had perhaps an edge and he brought those tricks, as well as with meticulous computer drawings of the planned display. and 10 club members worked every weekend for the last few weeks to bring it to completion.
photo caption: Members of the Singles on Sailboats club Ron Pence, Jody Hutchins, Terri Craig, Mary Ann Bleeke, Christy Tinnes work on a display for tonights parade. Frank Florentine is up the mast.
Last month we went on vacation for two weeks, and when we came back it was definitely no longer autumn. We went to the shed and removed the box labeled "winter." In it are scarves and gloves, Xmas lights and small space heaters, and we prepared to hunker down for another episode of living aboard in winter.
When winter comes, we turn the boat with its bow to the northwest, in the direction of the strongest anticipated winds. Luckily in our case, this also puts the stern to the dock for safer, easier access - although easier is a relative term. Even the lightest dusting of snow or frost can make the dock very slick, and a fall into that chilly water while weighted down with winter clothing...er, rather not think about it. So we have yaktrax cleats from an outdoor store to put over our shoes when going ashore in the morning. Actually, 2 pairs - one on the boat, for going ashore; and one in the car in case it starts snowing while we're at work, so we can get back aboard. Long periods of strong winds from the north can also blow the water out of the bay. This seiche can be much more extreme than the mild tidal fluctuations we ordinarily get here in the Chesapeake. Because our docks are at a fixed elevation, when the water level drops so dramatically it can be a real challenge getting on or off the boat. The dock is waaay up there overhead and you can't simply step off. Hmmm, a novel reason to call in and skip work for a day? My equivalent to being snowed in - being seiched in?
We spent the next day exploring some of those possibilities within walking distance. So many choices! We strolled the red brick walk around the harbor, stopping to watch the students practicing acrobatic skills at the trapeze school (I have to admit I never really thought about a school for trapeze artists before), and past the science museum. We decided to soak up a bit of history an visit the old Constellation. The first thing that impressed me was the scale of the ship, not dwarfed against the skyscrapers as our little boat is. I was noted the contrast between the spaciousness and elegance and privacy provided to the officers, and the rows and rows of hammocks that sketched life for the ordinary seamen. We saw demonstrations of how the sails were hoisted that made us appreciate the modern winches and smaller scale of our boat. We learned the reason for the odd setup with two wheels back-to-back for the helm station. In very rough weather, it took the strength of more than one man to hold a ship of this size on course. We watched (with hands over ears) as they fired the cannon. After the tour came pizza and beer for lunch, then the big decision - what to do next? Visit the aquarium? Do some shopping at Harbor Place? Tour the historic submarine, lightship, Coast Guard cutter?
I found myself wondering, what my life would be like if this marina were home? Would this be a cool place to live year round? Would it be better than Annapolis? Would the advantages of the big city, with everything within walking distance, outweigh the to-us-major disadvantage of having to motor for an hour or more down the river to get to the Bay to go sailing?
I realized that when visiting a new place, I often mentally try out living there. There's always a sense that life would be just a little bit better if I could just find the right location. And, since the right location could be just one town over or across the country, then it's my own fault if I don't do enough homework/research to find that spot to settle. Sometimes I think this restless sense comes from living on a boat. Unlike the land-based, for us moving doesn't involve a house to sell and new house to be found, in order to experience a new place. We simply up anchor or untie dock lines, and go. No packing, no unpacking. Having a home that can so easily be moved to a new place in that sense eliminates one more possible excuse for not seeking the optimum place to live happily ever after. Another possibility is that this desire to find the perfect place is in our national character. After all, the U.S. was the place that people came when they were seeking more opportunities to make a good life than they were able to find in Europe. On the other hand, maybe my search for the perfect place comes from my personal history, having relocated so many times "in service to Uncle Sam." Dan and I count between us 23 moves since college, climates from the snowy pines of Michigan to sun-baked Arizona, and we still haven't experienced all the variety this country has to offer.
In the end, though, the fantasies of an alternate location remained just that, as we slipped the docklines and turned the bow towards Annapolis and the cars we'd left in the parking lot. We might spend some future winter in Baltimore. Winter - when we don't sail and the long trip downriver to get to the Bay would be a moot point.
The boss who hired me, mentioned in "Getting Started," has retired. My new boss takes his job seriously. At the same time, he totally "gets" that we're more interested in living a rounded life than in building a career. So I didn't think that I was taking too big a risk when I told him that my work was totally caught up, and I'd like to take advantage of what could be the last good weather of the season to take a week off and go sailing. Sure enough, he agreed.
Thus we found ourselves last Thursday loading the boat with provisions and, joined by good friend and sailing mentor David, taking off on a rollicking sail with the wind behind us, headed for Rock Hall. We smugly looked at traffic jams on the Bay Bridge as we breezed by under the bridge, and before we knew it, we were carefully following the buoys to avoid Swan Point Bar, the sand bar that shelters the harbor. We had two options for spending the night. We could drop anchor somewhere up Swan Creek, which would give us a quiet night surrounded by undeveloped land, marsh grasses and natural beauty. The price to be paid for this was that it was going to be a cold night if we couldn't plug into shore power to run our heater; and a long trip to get into town. The second option was to pay to stay at a marina within easy walking distance of town, with floating docks and plug-ins. Because of the predicted chilly temperatures and our curiousity about the town, we chose option "b."
Cruising has a much slower pace than other forms of being a tourist, and perhaps we are entertained by simpler things. We had a leisurely breakfast aboard, then strolled into town on a perfect October day. Town was quiet as most of the summer people were gone, what remained was at the same time more authentic, and a fantasy of what 1950s small town America was like. We had time to walk past the schoolyard where kids were playing soccer. We wandered into the drug store and sat at the soda fountain for malted milk shakes. We had time to learn the mystery of the low doorknobs on the old buildings in town. They were at the "right" height when the town was built, with macadam roads, but as time went by street level rose as the roads and sidewalks were built up and paved with concrete around the antique buildings.
Fortified with our sugar buzz, we walked back to the marina and took the dinghy for a tour of the harbor. We saw boats of every kind, but the highlight of the tour was watching the watermen come in to unload their catch. We'd heard so much about the declining industry that we'd expected the watermen to be grizzled old salts, but most of these men were young and fit. Not so surprising in retrospect - as we watched, we realized just how physical a lifestyle theirs is.
Next day there was no wind for sailing, so we took the dinghy again for a tour of Swan Creek. We went out of the harbor and around the point and into the creek. At first the creek didn't look like much, but every time we thought we were approaching the end, we went around another bend and more intricate little twists and turns, grasses and coves, were revealed. Like the Energizer Bunny, it went on and on and on and on. At the end of two hours, our backs were tired and we were chilly and ready for lunch, and we hadn't seen all of it - just enough to put on our list to come back when the nights are warmer.
"catch of the day" being offloaded
David had especially wanted to visit Baltimore, so that was our next destination. (To be continued in next post)
sunset from our marina slip at Rock Hall Landing marina
We went on to detail our purchases. We can be excited about "girl stuff" - she bought the same nesting cookware I bought last year, and I got new shades for our portholes (expensive, but hey, this is my home). But we are sailors after all, and got equally excited about boat hardware - a snatch block for her and a 6-part purchase for me.
In our crowd, no one asks "if" you're going to the boat show; they ask "which day(s)?" And the only topic of conversation in the evening is "Whadjaget?" Answers can range anywhere from "a couple of keychain floats, beer coozies, and a t-shirt" to big ticket items like solar panels, watermaker, or sails. New breathable rain gear (or "foulies" as we call them), and binoculars were other popular items.
Our boat had been used as a daysailer and floating condo before we bought it, and we're gradually getting the systems up to standard for extended cruising. Dan and I went to the show on Friday, and spent 6-1/2 hours walking through the vendors' tents. Some really clever ideas in boat gear to explore, others I can only describe as "solutions to problems you didn't know you had." For us, it was equal parts Christmas morning (without the cold), and shoppers with a mission as we had quite a list of products to research. We barely had time to look at new boats, but we certainly contributed to the local economy and now there are a fistful of receipts on our board. And in the aftermath of the show, I'm blogging and Dan's bending pipe cleaners into a model of the arch he wants the steel fabricator to build for our boat.
Of course, it's a boat show, after all, so we had to look at the boats themselves. We're not in the market for another boat, being totally happy with the one we live on, but that doesn't stop us from shopping for ideas. A lot like going to open houses and looking at model homes, I learn the most in my own price bracket or slightly above. We tend to look at boats that are more or less within our own size range - 30 to 36 feet. I can't wrap my mind around the luxuries aboard an 80-foot megayacht. The boats at the show, and their prices, were impressive for the most part. Some of the production boats were forced to make some changes, compromising on materials to keep the boat in a certain price range. (Melissa Renee confirmed this with one of the sales people at the show.) Sad in that sense, but I'm all for anything that will allow more people to get into sailing.
Most of all, I love the energy of the out-of-town crowds, the chance to meet/reconnect with friends from far away who've come in for the show. We had parties or friends over almost every night, and I had more than my fill of pizza, munchies, beer. One particularly fun gathering was a group from an internet sailing site - some of us have been emailing for years, and now have a face to put with a screen name. Mike and Christie won the 'distance award' for that group, having flown in from Colorado for the show. Now the powerboaters are in town, and its a totally different vibe. Hoping to get downtown for some good people-watching this afternoon!
Mike and Christie, taking a break from the show
Rowing in to the party certainly made for a dramatic entrance and a great conversation starter. I even managed to keep my white pants clean, no mean feat when the dock was high enough that I had to climb out on my hands and knees. The guests were a fun mix of their neighbors, soon-to-be-inlaws, and boating friends like us. Many photos were taken of the happy couple with the sunset and the anchored boats in the background. Time passed way too quickly, and it was dark by the time we went back to the dock. The tide had risen and it was an easy step back into the dinghy for the row back home.
Next day, we had hoped to have our friends over for coffee in the cockpit, but they were just too overwhelmed with the party and their houseguests, so we decided to save that for another time. Instead, our day included a long chat with the folks anchored next to us. We took the dinghy and rowed up to the very end of the creek, far too shallow for our "big boat" to go. A man in a kayak smiled at us and said not a word as we watched a heron stalking the shallows, moving in that odd, articulated, mechanical way they have. It felt like another world, although less than an hour by boat from our somewhat congested home on Back Creek.
But it *was* time to go back to reality, so we packed up and headed out, trying to time our arrival with the every-half-hour bridge openings at the Spa Creek bridge. After all those times we waited in traffic behind the open bridge to get downtown, or Dan stressed behind the open bridge wondering if he would be late for work, now the traffic was stopped for *us*, as the bridge tender raised the bridge and through we went.
The poor sea turtles! If that wasn't bad enough, when they do try to get a jellyfish meal, they can be far too often tricked by an imposter in the form of a plastic bag. We tried a little experiment:
Here's a jellyfish we photographed in Mill Creek last month.
I doubt this was what the City of Annapolis had in mind when the plastic bag ban was being discussed last year. I hate seeing plastic bags caught high in trees or pasted to fences, and we've seen them, and mylar party balloons fallen back to earth, 50 miles off shore in the emptiness of the Atlantic. On the other hand, I'm not particularly a fan of such things as bans, it seems to me awfully like trying to regulate common sense. We bring reusable cloth bags to the grocery store (when we remember). Whether we do paper or plastic is so much about how we can reuse the bags after they've carried our stuff home. Paper bags so rarely work in our boat life - they are heavier, bulkier, and besides - you can hardly use them to pack your wet swimsuit home from the pool!
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
We don't have quite the same worries as our friends who are in houses. We're not as concerned about flooding, for example, we just float up on the rising floodwaters. Nor are power outages a big deal - we're designed to be self-sufficient and make our own power. You couldn't very well run an extension cord to the middle of the Atlantic. On the other hand, if the folks in houses do it wrong, they or their furniture might get wet. If we do it wrong, we might sink!
One of our Caribbean liveaboard friends told us it takes four days to have a hurricane: a day to prepare your boat, a day to have the storm, a day to rest and recover, then a day to put everything back together. And that's if there's no damage!
Almost as soon as it was light, before the breeze came up, we took off the jib (forward) sail and the bimini (the canvas shade awning over the cockpit), both to decrease the area we expose to the wind, and to keep them from damage. We lashed the dinghy down on deck, topped up the water tanks and moved our cars to high ground. We packed our abandon-ship bag with computers, cell phone, cash, meds, a couple of energy bars, and water. Still working on the dock lines - for Isabel, we tied a spiderweb of 17 dock lines holding us in our slip against wind from any possible direction. They were extra-long so we could ride up on the storm surge. We went around the boat about every hour through the night, easing lines and making sure they didn't chafe through. In between times, we tried to read. I gave that up when I realized that I'd been staring at the same page for 45 minutes, and I had no idea what it said.
Two more pictures from Isabel: our dock-neighbor Bill's boat at normal water level, and then in high water after surviving the storm. Hoping we all do as well this time!
Here's part of the spiderweb of lines holding us in place, as the waters started to rise:
Those barges? They look to me like doublewides on pontoons. And despite the manufacturer's claim, they aren't boats - can you imagine being in even mild waves in one of them? It is generally accepted that they don't move often, if at all. There are waiting lists for boat slips at many marinas here for recreational boats - do we really want to further decrease the opportunities?
I'll admit to my obvious prejudice - I live aboard because I love boating. The waterfront view and the community are tremendous plusses, but most of all I live this way simply because I like to sail. Most of all I think what offends me is this: Annapolis has tried hard to preserve its maritime heritage and feel. Enterprise zones to encourage marine industries to stay on the waterfront instead of ripping out marinas to replace them with endless condos. These housebarges impress me as a disrespectful way of trying to do an end run around that zoning.
My very favorite thing to do as a tourist is to walk and people-watch, and the weekend didn't dissappoint. It was the first weekend that the plebes from the class of 2012 had liberty, so downtown was full of mids in dress whites. Each one seemed accompanied by at least 4 or 5 others - parents, a kid brother or sister, a girlfriend or boyfriend. Lots of people on City Dock looking at the boats in the harbor - hey, that's us! And of course my very favorite Annapolis anachronism - tour guides in Colonial dress, on Segways. We did all the tourist things - checked out all the shops, bought the obligatory ice cream, went out to dinner (grilled salmon in citrus butter, yum!).
Somehow this visit had a different 'vibe' than I'm used to when we go to events downtown and I wondered what it was. Maybe just that our boat/home was right there? Then I realized ... parking! Anything we do in town is twice as enjoyable when there's no roaming the streets looking for a spot, or paying the meter. We simply took the dinghy, tied it at the restaurant dock or a public dock downtown, and started walking. There's a moral in there somewhere, but it'll have to wait for another time <*grin*>.
Parking Dilemma Solved at City Dock
"So," asked my new colleague Trish sociably, "how're you settling in?" I had just moved here from Michigan and it was Day 4 of my new job at Headquarters. Husband Dan was still in Michigan finishing his teaching commitment; he would join me at the end of the semester.
"Well," I told Trish, "I'm still experimenting. I still haven't figured out the right time to leave to miss the worst of the traffic on the Beltway."She rolled her eyes at my naivete. "Have you tried 4 AM? Why Annapolis, anyway? Why not somewhere closer to the office?"
So I told her about our love for sailing and the water, and how we couldn't get this close and not take advantage of the opportunity to live in a place with such a distinctive character. Then she casually asked the question I'd been expecting and dreading: "How about your new place?"
Choosing my words very, very carefully, I answered, "Well, it's reeeally reeeally small, but it has everything - a place to socialize, a place to sit and think, a place to cook, and a place to sleep. And, if I look out the window over the range I can just see the boats going up and down the creek."
Every word was perfectly true...and perfectly misleading. Because the part I'd left out was that our new home on the water was "on" the water in a literal sense - we were planning to live on our sailboat.Why the secrecy? Well, I didn't have a sense of how my new boss would react - he was old-school gracious and stunningly conservative. Would he have second thoughts about his newest employee, wondering if he'd hired a hippie rebel, and how would she fit in? Nor did I know how Dan and I would react, if we would find friends in the people around us, and if even after 20 years of marriage we could fit our lives into a 33 foot boat. If our great experiment was to be a failure or a career-inhibitor, I wanted as few witnesses as possible.
Fast forward 5 years.Living on a boat has been, most of all, fabulously fun. I've learned a lot about boats, and weather, and Bay ecology, and downsizing. I've learned how to figure out what things really matter. I've got a different relationship with my "stuff." I've found a tremendous sense of community in my fellow boaters and liveaboards. And my boss? My fears on that score were groundless. Most people were more curious than judgemental.That curiousity is what inspired this blog, random thoughts about what day-to-day life in Annapolis is like, when "home" is a sailboat.
(An article about living aboard by the same title first appeared in the Capital on 5/27/07)