Thursday, December 31, 2015

Virtual New Year's Eve Party

We're  having a "virtual" New Year's Eve party here at Life Afloat.  We're sitting around the fire, sipping bubbly and chatting about the year in review:

* What was your favorite memory or most memorable day of 2015? Being at sea for the Perseids meteor shower in August. A close runner-up, acting the part of a "shipwrecked sailor from 1740" at a candle-light open house at a historic fort here in St Augustine last January.

* Someone new you met this year? Oh, so many people! The whole crew of the Spanish tall ship, and their friends and girlfriends, the whole extended family. The ones who stand out the most in my mind are ... oh, never mind, that would be all of them.  I learned from the genial cook David; and the bosun Xoco, who had participated in the initial construction and remained so passionate about the ship; the steady presence of Xavi the first officer; a volunteer that I sponsored who turned out to be a great fit -- she was both a (US) Navy brat and an archaeologist; 2 college student volunteers -- even though we were literally as old as their grandparents, it was fascinating to me to be friends with them as equals, shipmates; carpenter Juan who managed to be a good friend to Dan even though neither one of them could speak more than a few words in the other's language; engineer Ramiro, at 6'6" the ultimate gentle giant, he was always so protective of me;  effervescent photographer Karen, I know some great artists who are tortured souls and seem to draw inspiration from their pain, she gets her energy from utter joie de vivre; fun-loving yet hard-working agent Fernando and thoughtful, helpful teacher Kiki; Jenny, the only woman on the engineering staff; quiet competence of chief engineer Angel; and safety officer Gonzalo, who everyone totally trusted to distribute the shared tip moneys, he was so careful and detail-oriented; Roger who patiently instructed me on the basis of Spanish politics...and that's just part of the crew! Also newly met this year, several friends' new babies, Mallory, Ainsley, and Rina.

* Did you say goodbye to anyone this year? No deaths in my close circle, thankfully, but I allowed some unfulfilling friendships to fade away. (Hint: several of them supported the "wrong" candidate in U.S. politics. One of my friends pointed out that if you can let politics divide you, you weren't really friends in the first place, and I think that's true. At the same time, some things so clearly show your basic character/values that a friendship cannot heal.)

* Something you did for the first time in 2015? I strayed 100 feet from my comfort zone -- straight up, and straight down! I went deep diving in Aruba in February 100 feet below sea level, and climbing the rigging of the tall ship, 100 feet above sea level. Ate chicken. (Well, that wasn't the first time ever in my life, but it was the first time in about 30 years).

* Someone or something you influenced? Gotta be, the kid around 8 years old who, after learning that Dan and I live on a ship, looked in amazement and said, "You mean you don't have to have a house even if you are a grownup?" Close runner-up: A couple of years ago we did presentations for a homeschool group about navigation in the 16th century, and real pirate history. The kids made a day of it, dressing as pirates, etc. Afterwards much of the class, still dressed in their pirate clothing, and parents went out to dinner at a local Chinese restaurant buffet. I remember shocking all the kids by the example I set -- instead of healthy food selections, I went directly to the dessert bar and took 3 helpings, cake and pudding and pie.  "Hey," I defended my selection, "a pirate's life is likely to be very short before they are caught, remember I told you about that in class? Life's uncertain, eat dessert first!" (They loved it! LOVED it!) Two years later I got a note from our hosts.  She had overheard the kids playing "Two truths and a lie," a game where you make 3 statements about yourself and the other players have to discern which is the fib. One of the kids used, "I've eaten dinner with pirates at a Chinese restaurant," which of course was so outrageous that everyone would naturally assume that was the fib.  (But of course, it was true.) What delighted us was that 2+ years was a quarter of this kids young life, and what stood out was our wacky event. Now that's having an impact with living history!

* Something you are looking forward to in 2016? Spending another season with El Galeon, yes, but mostly, traveling with our own boat. We're considering moving it to Key West for next winter.

* What did you learn last year (new skill, something about yourself, anything)? This was surprisingly difficult! I've learned lots of facts, like how to say "dawn" in Spanish or that rice works better if you add salt to the cooking water. I've re-learned that I'm fine living in group settings, and that I'm okay spending the entire summer with only about 40 pieces of clothing.  That included warm- and cool-weather, t-shirts and shorts to long-sleeve pants and shirts, long underwear, hat, gloves, jacket, and foul weather gear, nice going-out-with-friends clothes and ship's uniform shirts.  My previous experiment in living with 33 items for 3 months stood me in good stead here. I was surprised to learn how much mental energy we spend just keeping our lives going (blog post on this soon!). On the ship, someone else worried about what to cook for dinner, someone else worried about maintenance, about where to visit next, etc; even about what we should wear that day (your uniform, of course: blue for coming into port or leaving port, white for talking with the public). How EASY life was, even though we were working very hard long hours every day, when we didn't have to spend our off-time just maintaining ourselves. The other thing I was surprised to learn was how much I **HATED** having my brain get fuzzy during the deep dive, even though we were warned it would happen. You would think, if I hate to have my brain get fuzzy, that I would not enjoy drinking wine or beer, hmmm....

* Did you make any resolutions last year? How did they turn out? Will you make any for next year? Only one: Have More Adventures, which I think came out rather well. (**ahem**). So for 2016, I'm going to repeat that one, and add "Ditch Some Baggage" (both mental and physical); and hope to continue writing/blogging.

(Feel free to add your own answers, in the comments below, or on Life Afloat's Facebook page)

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Inspiration and Motivation: Going Cruising Again!

It started because we were trying to do someone a favor, and ended up here:

Image by Stefan Kokemüller, from here

A couple of folks here in St Aug were taking their boat down to the Keys, and they needed someone to drive their car down to their new marina.  And since we're always up for an adventure, we volunteered.

Note to self: I know that you love road trips, and are more than willing to drive, especially if it involves meeting new interesting people, helping people out, and going to fun places.  I get that.  But next time before you volunteer, maybe, maybe, check out some details first before plunging in headlong, okay?

We met the couple who needed the car delivered, a couple of older circumnavigators with great stories.  Good folks. The date was somewhat flexible; their original plan was that they'd spend several weeks cruising down from St Augustine to the Florida Keys in their new-to-them boat, and we were welcome to use the car while they were traveling, as long as we got it to their new marina on or before the time they got there.  Win-win.  Except: boat commissioning rarely goes according to schedule -- as the big things are fixed, they allow you to see other small problems that were masked by the big ones, delaying your departure. More frustrating for them than for us, I'm sure, but the net result was that as their departure date was pushed back, multiple times, they also had to delay turning the car over to us.  Finally, we were running up against our deadline that would give us a chance to see our friends before they left town for their holidays and we would be back in time for ours, or we would have reschedule our road trip until after New Years, so they turned the car over to us on the last possible afternoon, and we left early the next morning. We didn't get the use of the car around town as was originally planned, but we were still looking forward to that road trip!

We nicknamed the car "Ol' Blue." It was a sturdy old Volvo from 1987, and they had done a good job taking care of it, but still, things get old and break and no replacement parts are available for a car that old. They had some clever, or would that be, funky, work-arounds. A broken switch was replaced with a toggle from Radio Shack; a flexible solar panel provided a trickle charge to the battery when the car was parked for long periods. The interior was covered with helpful pink sticky notes: "This switch turns on the fog lights" (Glad you mentioned that, I definitely wouldn't have thought to look for a switch under the passenger's side of the dashboard.)  "This gauge sometimes sticks, tap on the instrument panel with your fingernail." (It was a bit stickier than that, I learned, a tap with a fingernail wasn't sufficient, more like a major thwack or two with the side of a fist.) They made a point out of making sure we knew how to work the heating system, which also had some (*ahem*) creative repairs to the controls. Um, folks, thanks for that, but we're going to the Florida Keys. It's 85 degrees there. I don't think heat will be a big concern for us.  In fact, just the opposite.  What they had neglected to tell us was that: (1) there is no air conditioning; and (2) the passenger side window does not roll down. A closed-up blue car on a sunny, warm Florida day ... mmmm, running the heat was not going to be high on our list of priorities!

Ol' Blue, ready for adventure!

But before we got to the Keys, we were planning a stop in Ft Lauderdale to visit with some of our friends who had relocated there, Tony and Michelle were friends from St Augustine Cruisers Net, Phil and Kay had traveled from Annapolis to North Carolina with us; they still had their boat but were now settled in an apartment in town; and Mike and Lori were fellow cruisers who had recently left St Aug southbound and just happened to be in town. A long and hilarious evening at a local Mexican restaurant followed, and the next morning we started the drive to Key West.

Laughing with "St Augustine Cruisers Net South" -- a.k.a. Fort Lauderdale. Note those very tall margarita pitchers -- you can't reach to pour your own, but you can pour for your neighbor, and s/he can return the favor.

The road trip itself was simultaneously energizing and relaxing. Although I'd been skeptical of the car -- there was one time I turned the key and absolutely nothing at all happened, and another time when the little indicator symbol told me to upshift for better efficiency (Upshift how? The car is automatic, I don't have control of the gear like I would in a manual!) -- it got us there without serious incident. Some sightseeing and exploring time, and then we picked up a Hertz rental car for our return trip and dropped Ol' Blue off at our acquaintances new marina ... which we loved! Warm clear water, palm trees, white sand beaches, a very Caribbean Island feel without dealing with the logistics of being out of the US for an extended period, all inspired us. The whole pretty drive back through the Keys, we were alternately thoughtful, and chattering excitedly. After a delicious pizza for the road we headed back to Lauderdale to spend another night on Phil and Kay's sofa before continuing back to St Augustine.

We remarked that we had just passed a somber milestone -- it has been a year since Cinderella has been out of her slip.  We ourselves have been off having adventures, scuba diving in Aruba last winter and then sailing with El Galeon during the summer, but our poor boat has been parked for a year. The four of us chatted about cruises past and future, and a plan started to form.  After hurricane season 2016 we are going to buddy boat to the Keys, and we'll rent a marina slip for the winter, yes at the marina we just delivered the car to.  (BTW, unlike most of our inspirations, alcohol this time was not involved, Dan was on antibiotics for a tooth infection so no beer for this party.)

We got home to Cinderella and turned in the rental car, and even though it's almost a year away, started realizing how much we have to do. Projects that have been procrastinated need to be restarted; items that have been left on flat surfaces need permanent homes so they aren't hurled to the floor while we're underway; systems that we haven't needed while dockside and plugged in to shore power need maintenance and recommissioning.  Possessions need decluttering and streamlining; wardrobe and electronics need updating.  Lots of work ahead ... and we're suddenly eager to do it. "Bring me that horizon!"

I'll miss St Augustine's Nights of Lights, but I'm thinking next winter will have more beaches, snorkeling, and sunshine!

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Place We Keep Coming Back To (Annapolis, MD, -- again!)

As we wound down from our incredible, spectacular summer on El Galeon, it was time to get back to everyday life. Being grownups, we knew that we would now have to get after the chores and errands we had postponed in order to go exploring.  One of those chores was the dreaded "medical monitoring marathon" with our specialists in Annapolis.  The second chore, long delayed, was the sorting and emptying of our storage unit in the same city. And while we were in town, not a chore but a treat, was the chance to check in with several of our area friends.

Annapolis! (Photo by Rdsmith4 under creative commons license, image from here)

We spent 6 years living aboard and working in Annapolis, then after retirement and becoming snowbirds, we came back most summers after wintering in warmer climes.  I love the amazing sailing and gunkholing available in the Chesapeake, one of my favorite places for spending summer and early autumn afloat.  I think of misty sunrises and miles of shoreline with intricate sheltered coves for anchoring, no tides or currents to worry about, pretty towns and old brick streets and colonial architecture. But those are summer memories.  The medical marathon as well, is usually a summer project, while we are in the area; but this year we were going to make the trip in (gulp) dark, chilly November. This trip was going to be by car, not boat, and we'd be staying in a motel, not at anchor. On the other hand, a trip that generally takes us 6-8 weeks of ICW and offshore sailing, would take only about 13 hours by car.

All my Chesapeake Bay icons in one photo: misty dawn; heron on a daymark fishing with the Bay Bridge in the background

Of course, not even delicious ease of cruising or pretty scenery is sufficient to make a place "home," though Annapolis has as solid a claim to the title as anyplace we've ever set the hook.  Add in our many wonderful friends there, and an environment more congenial to our left-of-center political leanings, (let's face it, north Florida, while interesting, and warm, isn't exactly a hothouse of liberal intellectualism), and Annapolis wins front-runner status. Then, add the just flat-out convenience and freedom of having a car again for a while, and the chance for some silly stuff, like stocking up on some of our favorite specialty food items (Trader Joes and Whole Foods and Fresh Market, all within a few blocks of each other!) to the feeling of going "home" and suddenly instead of being overwhelmed with errands, we're looking forward to a road trip.

One warm Saturday we were busy playing pirate in St Augustine, next morning we got in our rented mini-van and drove 13 hours, with stops for indulgent waffles for lunch and broiled fish for dinner, (at the last minute gotta eat healthy before our blood tests) before checking into a comfortable motel just outside of town for the night. Early Monday morning began what was destined to be our pattern for the incredibly tightly-scheduled week: every day had one (or more) doctor's appointments; numerous afternoons included shopping for things that we just haven't been able to find in Florida or that were simply easier to get while we had a car; every evening -- and a few lunches -- our reward for our work was meeting one or more local friends for a meal at a different restaurant, mostly our old favorites but also some new to us.  Also on that crammed and confining schedule were several blocks of time dedicated to the dreary task of cleaning out our storage unit.

Originally the storage unit held a sparse collection of cruising gear like jerry jugs and spare dock lines; and off-season stuff like our winter enclosure and space heaters during the summer, the sails and inflatable kayak and snorkel gear during the winter; and some practical stuff like tax records that we have to keep for 3 years. But over time it also accumulated souvenir t-shirts, books we had read and wanted to keep (but not necessarily keep on board), leftover materials from boat projects, and other randomness. We planned to sort through it all, bring the good stuff back to St Aug with us, and jettison the rest.  

Boxes of books and papers and tools and clothing came to the motel room to be tried on, sorted, repackaged as compactly as possible.  We had a large stack of cardboard boxes at one end of the room "to be sorted," and another stack of (mostly) plastic boxes at the other side "finished."  Slowly the "to be sorted" stack decreased and the "finished" stack grew. Some of the stuff we revisited was greeted with incredulous looks, "Why did we save this?"; some clothing to my delighted surprise fit me well and looked good again after the weight I lost over the summer. We had a competition to see who could find the silliest, most useless thing we had wasted storage space on.

Pizza with a subset of our Annapolis boating friends ... and "adult beverages"
Then we'd go out to lunch or dinner to meet with our sailing friends, or or meet someone's new baby, or shop for favorite foodie items.  For all that it seemed we hadn't been away that long, there were lots of minor changes in town -- a new restaurant here, a road there -- and more changes in our friends' circumstances -- Juan and Maria were selling their boat; Bryan and Sharon had a new baby for us to meet; Jen had a new business; John and Penny were going on a ski vacation while John and Diane were going on a tropical vacation; Keith and Kim were talking retirement; "S". was getting divorced; "J.'s" cancer was in remission; Eric and Carleen were all about their grandchildren; it was like we'd never left and simultaneously hard to believe that all these changes had come about in just a little over a year since the last time we'd been in town. It occurred to me that the cliche "ebb and flow of life"  was a cliche for a reason. The phrase was used a lot, because it was, well, true.  The results of our own medical monitoring marathon were coming back excellent, but it was good that we had done the blood tests on the first morning of the first day -- over the course of the rest of the week, all that catching up over meals, eating out and drinking was putting on weight.

The week was winding down but what wasn't decreasing at a parallel rate was the volume of stuff we were planning to move to our newly-rented storage unit in St Aug. We were sorting, packing, repacking every day.  We made multiple trips with boxes of donations to The Clothes Box, laughing with the volunteers there that we could donate winter coats and boots and heaters because we were snowbirds now and headed to Florida.  We also made multiple trips to Office Depot to buy more plastic storage boxes for things we were keeping, and multiple trips to the dumpster to throw away things that we could neither keep nor donate.  We were feeling the pressure and the space constraints. In the chilly dark on the last evening we started making bad decisions: at one point Dan declared a carton of odds and ends "trash" but fortunately before we pitched it I noticed that it was strangely heavy. In the dark neither of us had noticed that our router (power tool, not the tech item) was in there -- saved just in time! But speaking of tech, he also handed me a rectangular item just after we'd been talking about the dead old netbook computer that we had kept, and I hurled it into the dumpster. 1,000 miles later when we were unpacking in St Augustine I found the netbook ... so what did I throw away there in the chilly dark in Annapolis? A month later and I still can't identify anything missing; what does that say about the nature of our storage?

Van interior on arrival in St Aug. Stuffed!

The van was so packed (thank you Chrysler "Stow and Go" folding seats) that I'm almost afraid to post a picture of it lest Enterprise revoke our rental privileges for misuse -- but here's a picture anyway. Still it was seriously the most comfortable vehicle we've ever rented. The van was so full that the passenger had a backpack in their lap (no other space for it) and our box of marine stainless steel fasteners between their feet. And Jaye drove the entire way because we couldn't push the driver's seat back far enough for Dan's long legs. But we made the trip without incident and within a couple of hours had everything offloaded into the storage unit. We used the now-empty van for a trip to get groceries and to just gaze at the ocean for a while, and then settled into the feeling of being "home" with our stuff, missions accomplished.

So why are we moving our stuff to St Aug, changing our drivers' licenses, and giving every indication of settling here if we think of Annapolis as home? All other things being equal, there are tax advantages to declaring ourselves Floridians instead of Marylanders, and we legitimately have equal claim to both states. In our minds, Annapolis is our long-term home, St Aug is home-for-now. In past years, we spent 4 months of winter in St Aug, 2 months traveling north, 4 months of summer in Annapolis, and 2 months sailing south, so we have equal claim to both cities, some summers we didn't make it to the Chesapeake, and some winters we went further south than north Florida.  Both cities have a good access to water and a supportive boating community, a nice mix of educational and entertainment options -- what we consider and at the least the right ratio of bars to bookstores -- the ambiance of being a university town. Both have all the characteristics of a place with a high comfort level that we will keep coming back to.