Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Traveling Like a Rock Star

Paparazzi greeting us as we docked in our slip in Morehead City (not really, but that's what it felt like. Image from here.) 

I think of life at sea as requiring traits like independence and self-reliance and the ability to deal with a bit of loneliness.  Our boat is a tiny bubble of light and warmth in a big, uncaring ocean.  (And no fooling – there’s times that even a relatively sheltered bay or estuary can seem plenty big and threatening when the weather acts up.) We and we alone are responsible for making sure we have power and water and generally maintaining our own comfort and safety as we live and travel.

In the weeks since we made our trip south, my memories have softened into a collage, and here’s a paradox.  I didn’t feel independent and alone when we traveled; I felt part of a wonderful tight community of cruisers, whether I met them underway, at the dock, or just as voices on the VHF radio or online.  Most of them, like us, were getting away from winter.  We relied on each other for help, advice, simple favors and companionship, and all were generously given.

Dan and I traveled like rock stars.  Not because we traveled in opulence – traveling by slow sailboat is anything but luxurious in physical comfort terms – but because the trip was organized not so much about the way we were going as the places we were stopping, and the people we could connect with there, like performers on a multi-city tour.

To some extent we had planned the stops on our trip south around familiar ports, or new cities we wanted to explore, spaced the appropriate distance apart (40 miles a day, give or take) and 3-4 days between marina stops unless bad weather forced otherwise.  But really, the entire trip was also organized around seeing friends in those ports.  Fellow traveler Kay was intrigued to hear an unfamiliar boat hail us when we were crossing the Elizabeth River; the boat had recognized our name when we were talking with the Coast Guard on VHF, and just wanted to catch up and compare plans.  And then a few miles later, it was our turn to hail a boat who we’d heard talking, and try to figure out where we could hook up, since we had a book of theirs to return.  “It seems Cinderella is famous in these parts, from Jaye’s presence online,” Kay wrote in her blog. Traveling with you is like traveling with a celebrity, she told me.  “Everyone knows you.”

Kay wasn’t with us when we pulled into our slip in the marina in Morehead City, NC after making some brand-new friends in Oriental, or she would have really been amazed about traveling like a celebrity; I know I was.  There was a small group of people watching us pull into the slip.   And one or two had cameras pointed at us.  My first thought was, “Huh? Wow, paparazzi!  They’ve obviously mistaken us for someone, wonder who?”  My second thought was, “Eek, I hope I don’t do anything awkward on this docking with all these people watching!” Satisfactorily for my dignity, the docking was drama-free, and then I figured out who the audience was…and they hadn’t mistaken us for anyone else, they were there for us.  One of the greeters was a marina dockhand, and there were also a couple of guys who had happened to be on the dock who stuck around just in case their help was needed – it was windy and the current was running – but the other two, and the source of the cameras – were fellow-bloggers Tom and Sabrina.  We had been in touch online and they had known that we were “probably” coming in that day; we had set up to meet for dinner our first chance to meet after following each other’s blogs for years, but it’s impossible to express how wonderful it felt that they’d been listening to the VHF to learn exactly when we were coming in and were there to welcome us.

As we continued down the ICW, our paths would interweave with other boats, we’d hear them on the VHF radio and then find ourselves sharing an anchorage; we’d meet someone on a dock and then find ourselves waiting for a bridge together a week later.  So different from the solitary majesty of travel on the open ocean, our ICW trip was extremely social.

And then, we got to St Augustine. As we came in the inlet, and saw the Castillo (the old fort) completely dominating the horizon, and we saw a puff of smoke and heard a bang of cannon fire – my brain knew it was just by coincidence the scheduled display for the tourists but I live a rich fantasy life and of course that cannon salute was to celebrate our arrival! After we docked we were again greeted by friends that we’d been in touch with online since we left here a year and a half ago; they met us on the dock before we could even reach the shore, and they greeted us with smiles and “Welcome Home.” Welcome not to a physical home, (we bring that with us, floating wherever we go) but to home in that most crucial sense -- the place where you are surrounded by people that know you, care about you, and will help you -- our cruising community.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Just a Few Random Photos and Thoughts From the Second Half of Our Trip

We're in the land of real tidal extremes in southern South Carolina and Georgia.  Here, a daymark sticking waaay up, easy to see at low tide.
And 6 hours and 30 miles later, if the tide was much higher this daymark would be submerged!

Not one but two bald eagles sharing this tree.  (sorry for the pixelation, this is an extreme blowup on my iPhone) 

I absolutely love the beach in winter -- at Isle of Palms, just a little north of Charleston, SC.

Looking forward to a beautiful night at anchor in the marshes.

Big tidal range means strong current.  You can see it at the base of this daymark.  The current is flowing left-to-right.  You see the water piling up on the left (upcurrent) side of the pole, and swirling on the right (downcurrent) side of the pole.  Unfortunately for us, we were traveling against the current this day.

The sign on the shack with the dock says "Fresh Shrimp." And considering that the boats tied up to either side of it are local shrimpers who tie up there to sell their wares, I'd say there's a good chance that this place is an example of truth in advertising. 

The Georgia marshes are so beautiful and unspoiled.  Here's s/v Seneca motoring along at high tide.  Georgia has no sand beaches on the mainland, just on the barrier islands.  Here on the mainland, just marshy ICW frontage.

And glorious sunsets!

The lighthouse at St Simon's Island.  Last time we saw this was in the summer during our delivery up from Miami, as we were coming in from the sea.  This is the view from the ICW out toward the Atlantic.

We visited the Georgia Sea Turtle Rescue on Jekyll Island.  Amazing place.  These two little guys are recovering from too-close encounters with automobiles.

This marina had a cool liveaboard community.  They'd get together every evening on the dock to play music and watch the sunset ... and their prime place was directly outside our cockpit!  Fantastic!  Here, the gentleman known to the others as "Doc" for his biology degree shows me the workings of his reproduction antique French "button box." (Really, though I understand music theory and used to play guitar, since an accident damaged the nerves in my left pinky and ring finger, the only musical instrument I play is the iPod.)

My SIL adores Myrtle Beach so we planned a stop to see what appealed to her so much.  We went for a walk on the boardwalk on a November day, trying to imagine this place packed with summer tourists.

View from the boardwalk out to sea.

We spent a few hours walking around Brookline Gardens.  I'm fascinated by the texture of the trees and the Spanish Moss that drapes them.  The walk is decorated with strands of holiday lights.  Echoing the drape of the moss, the lights are hung in strands that sway in the breeze.  I still can't wrap my mind around Xmas decorations with sand and palm trees instead of snow and pines, but the effect of the hanging lights was beautiful, sensitive, and artistic.

This channel marker is seriously off station!  (Cuz really, you don't need the marker to tell you not to bring your boat too close here or you'll run aground.) 

Sea turtle surgery.  A (boat propeller?) took a big hunk of shell off this guy's back, the turtle rescue center put it back with special glue and something that looked a lot like radiator clamps and zip ties.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

On Friendliness and Friendship

Nostalgia for a small-town, front-porch kind of community -- in Oriental, NC
"Have you folks come from a boat?"  the elderly woman in the supermarket asked.  Odd question to be greeted with, though her tone was kind.

"Uh-oh, are we that obvious? What gave us away?" I chuckled my reply, while frantically wondering if our clothes smelled of diesel, or which of my friend Tammy's nine wardrobe rules for not looking like a cruiser we had violated, or if, like some of our friends' kids, we had grown so comfortable wearing our life jackets that we had forgotten to take them off now that we were safely ashore.

"Well," she said, "mostly the way you work together.  You are in tune with each other."

I thanked her for the implied compliment, and realized she had picked up on something I had noticed before and loved about our life afloat.  Living in such a small space has definitely made our marriage better.  It has made us super sensitive to each other's moods.  We talk more, and coordinate priorities better, than when we lived in a big house on land.  I hadn’t realized that it showed in even something so mundane as how we moved around each other loading items in a grocery cart, though.

"We love our boaters in this town," she continued.  "Do you need a ride back from the supermarket to your boat with all your groceries?"

Thank you, but, no, we didn't, since the boatyard had loaned us a car to do our errands with.  But that friendly kindness and openness is so typical of what we have found in this part of North Carolina, and in most of our travels in general.  That old small-town warmth, the generosity of strangers, isn't available just in nostalgic sentiment.  We've seen it since we've been traveling by boat to some of the smaller and more out-of-the-way places here in the southeast, never expected or taken for granted, but always welcome, but never more than here in Oriental, sailing capital of North Carolina.  We think of it as a “front porch” kind of town, where people actually sit on their front porches and chat, and know their neighbors.

My wise older cousin Lydia once told me, when we were both living in Colorado, that she found it easy to find friendliness in the western towns, but it was much harder to find [deep, soul-sharing] friendship.  I never forgot that distinction.  

Many cruisers, ourselves included, describe cruising friendships that become very close, very quickly.  I think there are two aspects to this.  First, friendship grows with unusual intensity because you just don't have very much time -- you are in a port together with someone for a while, then you'll go on your separate ways and may not see each other again soon.  Second and perhaps more important, there's a bit of self-selection going on -- other cruisers are necessarily going to share some of the same values you do, those values are what attracts us all to this life in the first place, and so you have a statistically better chance of finding friendship with other cruisers you meet than with random people met in other circumstances.

And in Oriental, we magically found both friendliness and a real friendship, during the 10 short days we were at the boatyard.  I think it started with our chainplates.  (For the non-boaters, these are the things that hold the cables that keep the mast up.  If they break, the mast falls.  Not a pretty picture.)  The chainplates are susceptible to rust and corrosion on our boat’s design so they have to be inspected regularly.  But they are not easy to get to, requiring emptying lockers to see them from below, and disconnecting turnbuckles and digging out sealant from above.   Nor can we disconnect them all at once, because, you know, as I mentioned, they are the things that hold the mast up.

So one or two at a time, Dan exposed the chainplates, and had the yard’s rigger come by to check their condition.  Then Dan would reseal the inspected plates back up and go on to prepare the next ones.  And during the process, we chatted with the rigger – about chainplates, and then about boats, sailing, priorities, life in general.  And then, because there’s only so much chatting you can do while on the boatyard’s clock, invited him over for a beer after work.

And here’s where the friendliness became friendship, in typical cruiser fashion, zero to sixty in a record short time, because we met his girlfriend Cathy as well, and the two couples just “clicked.” We talked for hours, about so many things, and as each evening ended we urgently made plans for the next one, to get in as much time together as we possibly could before we had to be gone to continue our southward voyage.  At one point we talked about how awkward it feels to have met someone on line, then arrange an “IRL” (In Real Life) meeting, because you sort of know each other already, and there’s the tension of figuring out if the real-life person matches up with the person you have come to like online.  The whole situation is especially daunting for baby boomers like me, who did not grow up with the internet.  But with Cathy, for the first time ever in my life, it went the other way … We had first met and become friends the old-fashioned way, in “real life,” and then during conversation, she mentioned that she was a member of an online women sailing group, and I told her I was a member of the same group.  “What’s your screen name?” she asked, and I told her, and we realized we already “knew” each other online.

I love this life for its simplicity, for being able to be in touch with nature in a way I never could when living in a house on land, for being able to be self-reliant and to take our home with us when we travel to interesting places, but most of all for the community we have become a part of.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The First Half of Our ICW Trip, in Photos

Although every time we travel the ICW is a different experience, and we learn something new on every trip, I'm not blogging a travelogue this time.  The mile-by-mile writeup of our first trip begins here, and then just keep clicking "newer post" if you want to see how we viewed it all through new eyes.  This time, I'm really interested more in the vignettes and the unusual experiences in port and at anchor and underway.  But it wouldn't be a travel/sailing blog without pix, right?  So here we go.

Check out the compass heading -- due south!

We're leading two other boats, both first-timers to the ICW. This is Seneca, a brand-new 37-foot Beneteau.

And at the opposite end of the spectrum, sturdy old 27-foot Catalina Catmandu. They are also writing a blog about their trip.

All the way down the Chesapeake, 3-1/2 days, the weather was warm, calm, and sunny.  Look at this glassy water near Wolf Trap light, we only unfurled the sails for a few hours one afternoon.  (BTW, I'm happy to report that the "Wolf" that was trapped here was a British ship by that name that ran aground on these shoals during the colonial era, and not a wild canine.)

At Norfolk, one of my favorite stretches because there's so much to see.  This Coast Guard cutter, much bigger than it appears in this photo, first appeared as a silhouette in the mist as we were crossing the Elizabeth River.  Silhouette of a warship on my stern?  A true Captain Ron moment!  It was fun to hail them and make arrangements to cross paths without colliding (partly as a teaching tool to show the boats following us how this is done on VHF, but mostly because I just like talking to professionals on the VHF).  And speaking of talking, as we were traveling we were hailed by another sailboat, Samara, saying hi.  We met these folks online several years ago and they recognized our name.  Phil and Kay on Catmandu said traveling with us was like traveling with a rock star, we're pretty well known on the ICW because of our online presence.  We plan our voyage and port stops around where we have friends (more on that later, and all part of the fun.)

Big as the Coast Guard cutter was, it was dwarfed by this container ship.

The famous (infamous) red daymark that marks the official start of the ICW, Mile 0.

Jean-Luc on Seneca following us through the bridge. 

Catmandu tied up to go through the lock at Great Bridge.

I always like stopping at Great Bridge, we stay at Atlantic Yacht Basin where the people are so helpful, and its a great yard for boat work if you need it.  There are also those things that cruisers look for - a good grocery store, clean laundromat, (liquor store).  And restaurants.  In this case a personal favorite of ours, Mexican food and big margaritas.  But, this was too much of a good thing.  We were trapped waiting out the high winds and rain from the remnants of Tropical Storm Karen.  I kept thinking I had over-reacted in suggesting we wait it out, the winds weren't that bad ... until I stepped out from the shelter of the slip they had us in and went for a walk.  Yes, the winds were that bad; glad we stayed.  Making the most of our time, here's Dan giving rope-splicing lessons.

Finally underway again.  Love this picture of gray-hulled Seneca in the mist.  Catmandu had only 5 weeks to get to Florida so they went on ahead, while we stayed an extra day to let the winds abate further.  We caught up to them next night at Coinjock and they said that crossing Currituck was horrible, winds 25 gusting 30.  It was still 20 when we crossed.  But then again, I've never had a calm crossing of Currituck!  We ate at the well-known restaurant at Coinjock, then planned to leave the marina early next morning and anchor at the head of the Alligator River the next night.

Catmandu underway under gray skies.

Seneca, anchored at the head of the Alligator River.  This proved an eventful stop.  After a calm night, we planned a half-day travel then a marina break at Dowry Creek, an easy half-day away.  But Catmandu's engine wouldn't start.  They encouraged us and Seneca to go on ahead to the marina, while they called TowBoat U.S.  That was where we discovered that our VHF wasn't working properly, we were in a cellphone hole so our phone didn't work either, so we pretty much were out of communication.  After a cascade of errors, they finally showed up at about 10:30 PM, tired but safe.  They and Seneca stayed at Dowry for several days, Catmandu to effect repairs, and Seneca due to insurance restrictions (his coverage wouldn't let him go south of Cape Hatteras until after hurricane season.)  Meanwhile, we had to hurry ahead to Oriental, where we had appointments to keep.    

Shrimpers at the dock. 

And at work.  There's apparently some kind of rule, or convention, that they don't leave port before noon on Sunday.  By 1 PM it was like shrimper rush hour on the Neuse River.  But the weather was perfect, and we tied up safely at Deaton's Yacht Service in Oriental in time for our appointments.  

First order of business at Deaton's -- figure out why our VHF wasn't working!  This is a much more comfortable way to get up there to work on it than climbing the mast.  And that meant that the guy doing the work could focus on the job, not hanging onto the swaying mast.

Houses along the ICW.  Each comes with a pretty view, and its own boat dock.

Some of them are really boldly colored.

Port stop in Morehead City, NC.  Delightful opportunity to connect up IRL ("in real life") with fellow bloggers  and fellow Kansas sailors Tom and Sabrina (on left), and fellow maritime-history reenactor Robbie.  We joked that although we had never seen them before we recognized Tom and Sabrina from pix on their blog.  On the other hand, although we had met Robbie at numerous events, we were always dressed as pirates or sailors; we might have trouble recognizing him in plain old t-shirt and blue jeans!

Drinking local beer at the Ruddy Duck Tavern in Morehead City.  Tom and Sabrina made plans to connect up with Jean-Luc when they both reach the Caribbean.

Another colorful house.

My friend Dave is developing a webinar on the ICW and one aspect of it is VHF communications.  My contribution is to record conversations with bridges and barges we pass.  It took a while to figure out the logistics of having the cellphone in one hand and the VHF mic in the other.  We met this tug coming up the Cape Fear River as we were getting a fast ride downstream on its 2-knot current, and recorded our conversation.  I'll provide a link to Dave's course when it goes live.

Waterfront property is priced by the frontage foot, so houses tend to be rather like townhouses, tall and narrow.

Calabash Creek, our first anchorage in South Carolina.  This boat was anchored behind us.  In the morning, look who had decided his masthead would make a lovely fishing perch!  Back when we lived at Port Annapolis, we disliked it when birds as small as crows would sit on our windex.  But a pelican?? I can only imagine.

This was our view astern most days, leading several boats south.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Karma, Southern Bridge Style

My view for most of the day: me on navigation and communications, Dan at the helm ... and a series of boats following us.
You know all that stuff about karma?  It doesn't particularly work for me.  Feels too passive.  I'm all for karma getting back at people, but, you know, rather than sitting back and letting karma fight my battles for me, I'd kinda like to help the process.  

So I have to tell you about yesterday, and karma.  We're headed to a fixed bridge, late in the afternoon, first in a line of 4-6 boats.  The two boats at the end of the line, who apparently had a faster cruising speed than the rest of us, start speeding up to pass everyone.  They don't call first on the VHF to arrange the pass, which is considered somewhat rude in the constrained stretches of the ICW.  By the nautical rules of the road, the burden is on the overtaking boat.  Generally the overtaking boat will ask permission to pass, and say something like, "I'd like to slide past you on your port side" [or starboard, depending on the circumstances].    This will give the boat being passed lots of options.  They could ask the passing boat to do whatever they think is reasonable to make the pass safe and comfortable -- slow down to make the pass easier and decrease wakes, or they could alert the passing boat to hazards they might not be aware of, or arrange to pass on the other side for whatever reason (once we were trailing instruments from our starboard side and would make sure people passed us on the other side, for example), and on and on.  Anyway, so here come these rude boats, barreling on ahead with radio silence, apparently in a blazing hurry to get to the anchorage first.  They got to us at just about the time we were approaching the constriction of the bridge, and there wasn't room for two boats to go through side-by-side.  I was really, really, ticked; to avoid collision (!!) we had to throw our boat into reverse and get way over to the shallows outside of the channel.

So I'm on the VHF to them: "Cinderella to the boat overtaking on my stern, it is NOT advisable for two boats to pass through the bridge at once!"  They never slowed but steamed on past. I saw in their cockpit as they passed us, he reached for the VHF mic but changed his mind and put it down.  She waved.  I didn't flip them the bird, though I wanted to, I improvised an angry gesture and shook my head.   And of course, they were making for the same anchorage we were, just a couple of miles down the waterway from the unfortunate bridge.  We anchored as far away from them as we could.

(For the record, while I steamed, I reviewed what I really should have said: "Cinderella to the boat overtaking on my stern, it is NOT advisable for two boats to pass through the bridge at once! As I am the stand-on vessel, request you THROTTLE BACK and pass me AFTER we have cleared the bridge." I also decided I hated cruising, drank an extra glass of rum, wished that the jerkboat would have exactly the trip that he deserved, got into a long chat with the boat next to us, who was also headed to St Augustine, and decided I didn't hate cruising after all.)

So next morning at low tide, we left the anchorage leading 3 boats, including our new friends from St Aug (who had jokingly asked if we minded if they followed us, so they could see if we ran aground and they'd know where to stay away from).  A little later that morning, the jerkboat that passed us yesterday and his friend appeared at the end of the line.  Each time we approached an opening bridge, I'd hail the bridge for the whole group: "Mudpuddle Bridge, Mudpuddle Bridge, this is southbound sailing vessel Cinderella.  I'm the first of a group of six southbounders traveling together, requesting an opening please."

The "jerk" stayed behind us all until after the second bridge, then again started to speed up.  But this time, apparently chastened from the day before, we heard him calling each boat in turn on VHF to arrange the pass before passing.  Cool!  My mission accomplished! When he got to us at the head of the line, he even asked us to switch to a private VHF channel, where he apologized for crowding us at the bridge the day before.  Lesson learned, I think ... but karma apparently thought he needed more reinforcement.

At Bridge #3, the guidebook warned that the bridge operator preferred boats to go together in groups, and although the opening times were on request, he made boats wait between openings so openings we at least 15 minutes apart, to clear road traffic that had stacked up behind the bridge.  Jerkboat is now about a mile or two, 10-15 minutes ahead of us, and he calls the bridge to request an opening ... and the bridgetender replies, "Well, I see four more boats just a little way behind you, [us and our companions!] and I'm going to wait until they get here so I only open once and you all go through together." Just this once, at least, karma really did all work out.  And I hadn't had to say a word.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Cruising: The Highs are Higher, the Lows are Lower, than Life on Land

Cruising boats in the anchorage at sunset -- living the dream
Cruising, and living on a boat in general, seems to me to be life in saturated color.  The good times are more intensely good than the good times on land.  The scenery, being in touch with nature, the amazing friendships that grow so deep, so fast, because on some level we know that our time together is limited as cruising itineraries draw us apart as quickly and capriciously as they drew us together ... all combine to make this life spectacular.  The bad times are correspondingly worse than land life -- something's always broken, or moldy, or impossible to fit in or find in the cramped spaces of our floating home.  Despite careful navigation and planning we can be hurled about by rough weather.  When we lived on land, we never worried about waves or collisions capsizing our house!

Our friends James and Ellen described their cruising experiences through the life-in-the-moment eyes of their dog: If it was a good day, and beautiful on the water, then all days cruising were always good, and always would be good.  But if the next day was bad, then cruising sucked, it always did suck and always would suck.  I'm the same way ... if its unexpectedly threatening weather, then I hate this, I'm DONE, let's go back to land.  Then when we get to a pretty anchorage, or an interesting city, and are sharing sea stories with friends, ooh, I could live on a boat FOREVER.  Other friends, Jane and Ean, describe this phenomenon as the reason cruising has made them bipolar.

And that set of alternating extremes is exactly what the first part of our southbound cruise has been like so far.  However reluctantly we released our Annapolis ties at the end, release them we did.  With two companion boats, Seneca and Catmandu, we set out southbound.  Our first stop was the Seven Seas Cruising Association's Gam (old nautical term referring to a gathering of boats/sailors to exchange news and information and gossip) on the Rhode River just 2 hours from Annapolis.  The weather was perfect and we reconnected with old friends and met some new ones.  We again presented our round table discussion on books and digital resources for making the ICW trip, and it seemed well-received.  But Dan had an intuition that we needed to hurry out of the Bay.  With 3 days ahead of predicted light winds and clear skies, the three boats motored (mostly) and sailed (a little) down the length of the Bay, about 8 or 9 hours of travel each day.  While it was beautiful and warm and sunny, it felt a bit like "work" to be underway all day.  Each night, we dropped anchor and Catmandu (the smallest boat) rafted up to us (the heaviest boat).   Seneca anchored nearby and came over by dinghy.  Each boat took turns making dinner. We'd sit in the communal cockpit and share dinner and stories.  These days were like the fantasy of travel by boat, personified.

The fourth day was to be a half-day of travel, but with lots of new experiences, going through the first bridges; passing the immense commercial shipping traffic and Navy yard at Norfolk; and transiting the one and only lock of the voyage.  I love this stretch for its incredible variety and many sights to see.  After we were through it, we would tie up at a marina to take a day off, do laundry, go out to dinner, and reprovision.  Then, weather permitting, we'd move on - a few more underway days, then another break.

Except, the weather didn't permit -- Tropical Storm Karen and her remnants may have been what tickled Dan's earlier intuition.  At the end, we stayed a week at the stop that was supposed to be a single layover day while the NENE (never-ending nor'easter, my friend Bill termed it) brought winds and rain.  One day I expressed frustration that we had overreacted, the winds weren't that bad ... until I decided to go for a walk.  Then I learned that the secure hurricane slip they had tied us up in was fully living up to its reputation.  I hadn't thought the storm was that bad because we weren't out in it.  As soon as I got out from the shelter of the slip ... there were the winds.   Alrighty, then, we'll stay put and wait it out, thankyouverymuch.

Once we finally started moving again, we had a series of days that included misty gray ones and sparkling sunny ones, a rough passage,and the most acrobatic dolphin display I've ever seen, in rapid alternation.  Midway between "all too soon" and "after a passage that felt like forever" we tied up at Deaton's Yacht Service in Oriental, NC, our go-to small town boatyard for big systems issues.

But the biggest work that I want to attend to is my own brain.  I'm seeking a new think about this whole issue of the binary nature of cruising.  It's probably true that any given moment is either wonderful or terrible, with little in between (except maybe for boring; cruising has also been cynically described as hours of boredom punctuated by seconds of terror).  To reframe this I'm thinking of my excellent physical therapist Jen.  Her world is binary too, but the word "terrible" isn't in her vocabulary.  Situations in her world are either "awesome" or "challenging."  That's all - either great as they are, or opportunities for growth.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Do the First Part

Back when I was a manager in the business world, I attended a team-building/leadership retreat (actually, I attended many, but this one stood out in my mind for several reasons).  One of our group’s exercises during this retreat involved a 5-gallon bucket brim-full of water.  We had to move it without touching it or spilling any of the water, using only some ropes of varying lengths that we were given.  There were a convoluted set of rules: for part one, we had to move the bucket down the hall without setting it down; for part two we had to get the bucket to the middle of a 10-foot circle that none of us was allowed to set foot inside.  If any of various fouls, faults or “accidents” occurred along the way, our team would incur a penalty and have to complete the exercise with some members blindfolded or one-armed.  

We planned how we would do part one, suspending the bucket on a rope stretched taut between two team members, and walking it to the edge of the circle.  But we were unable to reach a consensus during the planning meeting about how to manage part two: if we tried to drag the bucket across the circle using a single line, would we risk spilling it?  If we tried to stretch the line from part one with a couple of team members on opposite sides of the circle, would we be able to lift it high enough? Would we be strong enough?  Back and forth the ideas went.

“Hey, guys, listen,” I said.  “We don’t know how to do part two, but we know what we want to do for part one.  So, let’s do part one, and stop when we get to the edge of the circle.  Maybe we’ll learn something doing the first part that will help us figure out how to do what comes next.”

During the debrief, the instructor pointed to this as a leadership moment.  Wait, leadership?  Who, me?  I got credit for it, but, all of you are my readers and my friends, so I’ll let you in on a secret.    If that moment was leadership,  it was accidental leadership, a byproduct of impatience.   I was just frustrated with standing around, I wanted to do something. We couldn’t figure out what to do next without more information, and we couldn’t get more information just standing around speculating about how the bucket would behave without actually, you know, manipulating the bucket.

. . .

There are some new cruisers-to-be on our dock, diligently getting their old boat ready to go.  Timing a departure is always a careful balance, and even more so in the autumn.  There’s a narrow weather window – leave too early and you risk hurricanes, leave too late and there are bitter cold winds and nor’easters.  You want to take the time you need to make your boat safe and ready and comfortable, but the clock is ticking and Old Man Winter is nipping at your heels.  Our neighbors were suffering a bit of analysis paralysis.   Last week it was about anchor chain.  The previous owner had left them several anchors and 300 feet of chain, which was sufficient for anchoring in the varied and extreme conditions of a round-the-world voyage.  But  most of the chain had rusted into an unusable mess.  The new owners were able to salvage 75 feet of this and attached it, along with 200 feet of rope rode, to the best of the anchors.  Then they began researching the best way to replace the other 225 feet, the best kind of anchor to attach it to, and the best way to store it to keep the rust from happening again.  They asked lots of people for advice and what to do, including us and our friend Dave.  But it was Dave’s answer that was the most startling.  Because what he advised them to do was … nothing.

Seventy-five feet of chain, plus 200 feet of rope rode, with the anchor they already had, Dave explained, was all they needed for their planned trip down the ICW to the Bahamas.  Once they had done that trip, they would know if they wanted to make living on a boat and traveling a permanent lifestyle and go further, or whether it was just a pleasant interlude and they were done and would sell the boat and move back to land.  If they decided this life wasn’t for them, they wouldn’t have invested unnecessary time and money in additional anchors. “If you decide to keep going,” Dave said, then you’ll need more that that 75 feet that was adequate for the first part of the trip.  “Just move that 75 feet to be your backup anchor, and get a new bigger primary and more chain. By then, you’ll know what you need for your boat and the way you like to cruise.”

In other words, do the part you already know, part one – get off the dock and GO.  Maybe you’ll learn something doing that first part that will help you figure out how to do what comes next.

Friday, September 27, 2013

And Here We Go!

Provisions waiting to be stowed.  I didn't have a clue how we'd fit it all in.

About 3 weeks ago, I posted on Life Afloat's facebook page a photo of the utter chaos that is our main cabin, with an insanity of provisions yet to be stowed.  It didn't look much better yesterday, but we followed the advice of friend Debbie when we were leaving for our first cruise: "Get Off The Dock!."  Pick a day and go.  You'll never be 100% ready, she said, but if this is to be your new life, then live it.  She advised us to just go around the corner to a nearby anchorage, drop the hook, and do all the stowing there.  At least we would have begun the adventure.

So yesterday, that's what we did.  We had already sold our cars and given up our marina slip, the last "things" that tied us to land.  We motored away from our (former!) marina, in pretty weather, but no wind, hence the motor instead of sailing, and headed for the Rhode River.  We would join the SSCA gam (sailors/boats gathering) and at the same time, just hang out and organize our stuff.  Two other boats would join us, and after the gam, weather permitting, we'd start our southbound journey in earnest on Monday.

I'm really struggling with the idea of leaving, this time.  Previous trips were just winter commutes; our cars and marina slip were waiting for us when we got back "home."  But this time is different, as everything we own is with us, except for the sentimental heirlooms in long-term storage with friends in Pennsylvania.  The good thing about this impending rootlessness is that travel is, after all, what boats are for.  The bad thing is that I haven't found in our travels any place I'd rather be than Annapolis.  Sure, Florida was fun and Aruba was beautiful, but culturally the Annapolis/Washington DC area is where I feel at home.  Its weird that we don't have that many friends of the deep friendship kind here, though we have many friends of convenience, and many of our deep friends have moved on.  But still, random people I meet are more likely to share my values than are random people I meet in, say, Wyoming.

As we went about our last days, we had been commenting to each other, "Wow, I sure won't miss THAT," while pointing to things like our neighbor the hoarder or the other neighbor with the stinky cigars, or town politics or our sketchy internet connection or the bad water quality in the creek.  I don't like this negative attitude in myself.  Partly I think this finding flaws in our living situation is our way of easing the ache of pulling up those roots, and intentionally self-serving "sour grapes" attitude that we're doing to ourselves just now, these things were only tiny annoyances before.  I wonder, though, if its really the opposite: have we always had to have a protective Pollyanna shield to make life here pleasant, and are we now for the first time seeing our town having taken off the rose-colored glasses we've worn for the last 11 years?

More than anything, what I think I'll miss is what writer Mary LoVerde calls being known.  But at the same time, I am also attracted to Suzanne's statement that she would never again lock herself into an annual marina contract, because it would prevent her from moving when she was ready to.  My friend Stuart says that the best guarantee of successful cruising and living aboard is to own nothing -- NOTHING -- on land.  That's the only way you can truly be mobile, no strings at all.

Its crazy, when people ask us our plans.  They are so nebulous.  We hope to return to St Augustine for the holidays.  After that, well, it depends on how the winter weather shapes up.  If its cold, we're going to head further south, maybe the Florida Keys or the Gulf Coast.  If it's warm, we'll hang out, and maybe do the northern Bahamas in the spring.  We have every intention of coming back to Annapolis, probably in about a year and a half.  But first, I want to explore the southern Chesapeake Bay next summer, and North Carolina's Outer Banks.  I want to try for a while to live in this un-anchored way.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Things That Make Life Better: My Favorite Low-Cost/No-Cost Liveaboard Hacks

My bloggy colleagues over at The Monkey's Fist are making posts for the wonderfully helpful topic of things that make life aboard better and of course I love lists, and tips that promise to make my life better, so I had to join in!  Hmm, things that make my life aboard better ... let's see, a cold alcoholic beverage, a bright sunny day, 10-15 knots of breeze on the starboard quarter ... Nevermind.  

Over the years we've done a lot of improvising, new uses for items the manufacturer never dreamed of, to solve the unique problems of living aboard.  Here are a few:

Paper towel weight: When we're tied up in a marina slip the wind can sometimes come in from the wrong direction and unroll the paper towels all over the cabin.  A simple weight hanging over the top of the roll (in this case, a small seashell on a gold ribbon) keeps them from running away.

Solar cockpit light: inexpensive solar-powered LED garden lights can cost less than $5 and serve as cockpit lights, courtesy lights for boarding, or just to help identify your boat at anchor.  Bonus: the stake on this one fits perfectly in the top of the jibsheet winch!

Small electronics storage: small food-storage containers keep all our cables and chargers and mscellaneous accessories together and organized in the locker ... and dry!
Small electronics storage

Jewelry organizer: Small fishing tackle boxes sort my earrings, and is easy to store.  

Electrical parts storage: A bigger fishing tackle box holds electrical connectors in the lower tray, and screws in the upper.

Trash can for the head: a receptacle meant for feminine hygiene products in a commercial restroom makes a perfect trash can in the head.  It's about the right size, can be wall-mounted, and the lid is useful if you get shower overspray.  (purchased from a plumbing supply store)

Laundry quarters: An empty vial from prescription medicine is the perfect size to store quarters for the next laundromat trip.

Dinghy bailer: made from a cut up bleach or vinegar bottle
Fuel indicator: our boat has two fuel tanks.  You can only read the gauges by taking off the settee cushions.  A simple piece of paper helps us remember which tank we're running on, and sliding the paper clips makes it easy to know approximately how much fuel is in each.  We check the gages and record twice a day when we're underway.

Sprayer: Meant for garden chemicals, but the small size pump up sprayer (clean, new, of course!) is great for everything from cockpit showers to camping.

Chart protector: This simple sewing project, made from scraps of Sunbrella and isinglass, keeps charts in the cockpit clean and dry.  It seals with a strip of velcro.