Saturday, April 30, 2016

Blogging from A to Z: Z is for Zout and Zwarte Peper ("salt and black pepper," in Dutch)

During the month of April last year, I participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge - one alphabet-themed post per day (except Sundays).  I had such a good time with it that I'm doing it again this year.  I'm loosely organized on the theme of downsizing, minimalism, and small-home living that I've learned in 14 years of living on a small boat.  I'm starting with A is for Anchoring Out, Anger-ing Out, and ending with Z is for Zout and Zwarte Peper (Dutch for salt and black pepper). Click on the A to Z logo on the lower left sidebar for links to many other bloggers participating in the challenge.

Chayote (image from here) will forever be associated with Hilda in my mind.  Awkwardly, I later learned that the Jamaican nickname for this mild, zucchini-tasting vegetable sounds remarkably similar to a Spanish slang word for a portion of the female anatomy. 

When we first visualized exploring the US East Coast, Bahamas and Caribbean by boat, I imagined lots of opportunities to explore exotic foods. And to be sure, that happened. Almost twenty years of friendship with my Jamaican friend Hilda began when I asked her, then a near-stranger, how to use an odd greenish vegetable I found in the supermarket. 


I have no idea what these are, or how to eat them. If their name doesn't translate to "porcupine fruit," well, it should!

I'm as happy, no, happier, browsing a new grocery store than I am in a jewelry store. I'm just curious about how people from other cultures make their way in the world. 


Part of a pickup truck load of pineapples

Trinidad's version of the Saturday morning farmer's market
Of course, you can't roam the Caribbean without thinking spices, and we were always on the lookout for the exotic -- especially those without too much extra heat.  (You know you're in trouble when the haban~ero sauce is labelled "mild.") Yet one of the most intriguing things I found in my wanderings was also one of the plainest: salt and pepper. Mixed together in one jar.  


St Martin/St Maarten, I think.  At least, it's labelled in Dutch on one side (zout & zwarte peper) and French on the other (sel & poivre noir). 80% salt mixed with 20% ground black pepper, in one shaker. Handy for picnics or the ultimate minimalist.

As we've downsized and streamlined and minimalized and downsized some more, the topic of cooking ingredients in general -- and spices in particular -- took up a disproportionate amount of space in our minds and on our boat. We would invariably bring back a packet of something exotic to try and recreate an interesting flavor, only to be disappointed months later when what we did failed to match our memories.  In fact most of our carefully-selected herbs and spices resembled jars of gray sawdust more than the bursts of flavor we were aiming for. That, we learned, was because heat and sunlight and humidity -- all things we have in abundance aboard -- are the enemies of freshness. We tried different kinds of jars and transitioned to blends instead of individual spices, reasoning that if we had less of each, we'd have a decent chance of using them up before they went bad, and save space at the same time.  Our lockers are now full of blackened fish rub, curry blend, chili powder, Italian seasoning mix, sweet baking blend (ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves) ... but we never thought of the very simplest and most basic combo. That, to me, is the ultimate benefit of travel -- to reexamine ordinary things you've always taken for granted.

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This concludes my "official" A to Z posts.  The challenge was fun, and tiring, and, well ... challenging. I met some interesting new bloggers and had lots of fun following 5 other boat bloggers (listed in the lower right sidebar). I'll be back to posting roughly weekly, or whenever I have something cool to talk about, next week.

The Monkey's Fist has some truly outrageous grocery "finds" in other countries here.  The Boat Galley lists some hints for storing spices here.




Friday, April 29, 2016

Blogging from A to Z: Y is for "You Never Know"


During the month of April last year, I participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge - one alphabet-themed post per day (except Sundays).  I had such a good time with it that I'm doing it again this year.  I'm loosely organized on the theme of downsizing, minimalism, and small-home living that I've learned in 14 years of living on a small boat.  I'm starting with A is for Anchoring Out, Anger-ing Out, and ending with Z is for Zout and Zwarte Peper (Dutch for salt and black pepper). Click on the A to Z logo on the lower left sidebar for links to many other bloggers participating in the challenge.

You never know. (image from here)

One of the biggest challenge for me is finding a balance in living simply.  On the one hand, we want to live with less and be open to new experiences.  But on the other hand, when we think about having what we need to be self-sufficient when we're off the grid or at sea, we can get into almost hoarder territory. You never know if you're going to be able to find a marine supply store if something breaks, better carry a supply of spare parts. You never know if you're going to find friends in the next anchorage and want to invite them over for happy hour, better provision with lots of snacks and munchies. You never know if you will (somehow) find a way to reuse the  piece of teak left over from the last boat project you did, better store it somewhere. And, my particular challenge: finding a special food ingredient or condiment that I love and learn to depend on. Knowing I'd be frustrated if I couldn't find it again when I wanted it, so stocking up on lots.  All too often, it sits in the lockers slowly aging when I find a new enthusiasm. 

It reminds me of the parable about the traveler who was walking to another distant village and found the path blocked by a wide river. He cast about in the woods and gathered materials and made himself a raft. He crossed the river safely.  The rest of his voyage, though, was terribly burdened, because he decided to bring the raft along, just in case he came to another river. 

The moral of the simple-living story, of course, is that the lesson of the raft can be taken two ways. Certainly experience has taught our traveler that there are rivers that need crossing, and it's handy to have a tool to cross them with. But experience has also taught him that he's creative and can build a good-enough raft from materials at hand. He might have to repeat his work if there is a second river, but in the meantime he can travel lighter.

So while I try to prepare for you-never-know-what, I have to also learn that I don't need to prepare for everything; it's also okay, even advisable, to leave room for spontaneous solutions so I can travel a bit more lightly. Our boat's waterline will appreciate it.   

= = = = 

(Except for knowledge, of course. I love filing away random bits of knowledge, that you never know when they will be applicable. Besides, knowledge takes no space!)


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Blogging from A to Z: X is for eXpressions


During the month of April last year, I participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge - one alphabet-themed post per day (except Sundays).  I had such a good time with it that I'm doing it again this year.  I'm loosely organized on the theme of downsizing, minimalism, and small-home living that I've learned in 14 years of living on a small boat.  I'm starting with A is for Anchoring Out, Anger-ing Out, and ending with Z is for Zout and Zwarte Peper (Dutch for salt and black pepper). Click on the A to Z logo on the lower left sidebar for links to many other bloggers participating in the challenge.

X marks the spot! (image from here)


For "X" I really wanted to do "X marks the spot" on pirate treasure maps. But I get so tired of explaining that galleons weren't pirate ships.  In fact, they were pirate targets, for their contents. But pirates wouldn't really want the ship; it's too slow, not maneuverable enough to be a great fighter, and needs too many crew.  Of course, the captured galleon may be in better condition than their own ship; you know, they're pirates, they may not have done the regular maintenance on their own ship because they're not anticipating a long life span!

Anyway... on to expressions.

Intriguing to hear that many of our common expressions originated in the work world of several hundred years ago.  Fellow A to Z blogger Counterweight Press explained how the phrases "all out of sorts" and why we call letters "upper case" and "lower case" (go to the comments in the previous linked blog post) came from his world.  A couple of weekends ago four curious visitors to El Galeon asked me what phrases came from our ship.  They were a great audience, every time I walked them through one their eyes got big and they smiled and nodded appreciatively. Here are a few of the phrases I told them:


Learning the ropes: Our ship has 6 miles of rope rigging. The first thing a new recruit must do is understand which does what, to raise or lower or otherwise adjust the sails.  So today when you start a new job, it takes a few months to "learn the ropes."



Down the hatch: This is the cargo hatch on the main deck.  They would remove the grill and use ropes and pulleys to lower items two levels down into the cargo hold. At the end of the day, when you chug your beer and say "glug, glug, down the hatch," this is the "hatch" where that expression comes from.




Feather in your cap: The plumes in my tricorn (depending on where and when you are) signify that I've acquitted myself honorably in battle, or that I'm an officer. So now when you complete a project that looks great on your resume and enhances your reputation, it's a "feather in your cap."


Knots: To measure boat speed, they throw the wooden end off the stern of the ship and as they sail away the line unreels. There is a knot tied in the line every 50 feet, and they’d count how many knots slip between their fingers in 30 seconds. 50 feet in 30 seconds is 100 feet in a minute. 60 minutes in an hour, 6000 feet = 1 nautical mile per hour, and that’s why we measure boat speed in “knots” even today.

I have no idea why this picture is vertical instead of horizontal; it's correct on my computer. When I figure out how to rotate it I'll modify this image.

Lock, stock, and barrel: This is my replica 18th century flintlock pistol (a bit late for the galleon period, but it's the only one I could find that was Spanish-made).  It has 3 parts: the flint-and-steel spark-producing mechanism is the "lock;" the handle is the "stock;" and the gold-colored "barrel." So when we describe "lock, stock, and barrel," we mean you have the entire thing. 

Flash in the pan: A small amount of gunpowder is placed in the outer part of the flintlock firing mechanism, called the pan. The spark ignites this, and it in turn ignites the larger amount of powder that is placed in the barrel to propel the musket ball.  But sometimes there is a misfire and the powder in the pan ignites but fails to set off the remaining powder, resulting in a "flash in the pan" meaning something showy but that fails to have lasting or significant effect.

(Note there are many more nautical phrases that have made their way into common English, though some of them come from a later period than our galleon.)


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Blogging from A to Z: W is for Writing


During the month of April last year, I participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge - one alphabet-themed post per day (except Sundays).  I had such a good time with it that I'm doing it again this year.  I'm loosely organized on the theme of downsizing, minimalism, and small-home living that I've learned in 14 years of living on a small boat.  I'm starting with A is for Anchoring Out, Anger-ing Out, and ending with Z is for Zout and Zwarte Peper (Dutch for salt and black pepper). Click on the A to Z logo on the lower left sidebar for links to many other bloggers participating in the challenge.

I don't find a blank page intimidating. In fact, I love a blank page -- so many possibilities!

Earlier this year, fellow blogger Ellen posted thoughts on her own personality and how it shapes her writing process.  It got me thinking about my own.  

I'm an extrovert, intuitive, enjoy connecting disparate ideas, love openness and possibility, get bored easily, dislike structure and deadlines and details, and tend to view circumstances as situational rather than having many overarching principles. I think the most important part of a cathedral is the spire, not the foundation. In Myers-Briggs terms, I'm a ENFP. Actually, I'm very strongly E, N, and P, and near neutral on F/T, meaning I have some characteristics of an ENTP. So, what does this mean for me writing?

I love new ideas and new experiences. I'm extroverted, so I want to share them with you, and know what you think about them.

I suck at deadlines. Last year I first learned about the A to Z challenge on April 1. So I had a totally valid excuse for writing my posts on the fly just before (or in some cases, at or slightly after) the deadline. This year, I had no such excuse, but I'm writing on the fly anyway, because structure and I just don't get along. To me they're not deadlines, just due date suggestions.  As for posting, even though I have good intentions, I'm just not regular in my blog updates. When I have something interesting to say (and a solid internet connection), I'll post. When I don't, you may not hear from me for weeks. I don't do structure or consistency well.

I'm a big-picture girl. If there's an unlikely connection or leap of logic, I'm probably going to find it. Or invent it. Whatever. 

I get bored easily. Although Life Afloat is nominally a sailing blog, it's really a "what's-on-my-mind-right-now" blog.  That means it might go off on tangents about math, cooking, history, environmental science, or the metric system at any given time, without notice.
In the final analysis, no matter what personality traits inspire it, I just like the entire blogging process. I like the connections I make through writing, I'm much richer for the things I've learned from other bloggers, and I like the fact that it forces me to sort my own thoughts.  Glad you're here!





Blogging from A to Z: V is for Virtual Privacy


During the month of April last year, I participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge - one alphabet-themed post per day (except Sundays).  I had such a good time with it that I'm doing it again this year.  I'm loosely organized on the theme of downsizing, minimalism, and small-home living that I've learned in 14 years of living on a small boat.  I'm starting with A is for Anchoring Out, Anger-ing Out, and ending with Z is for Zout and Zwarte Peper (Dutch for salt and black pepper). Click on the A to Z logo on the lower left sidebar for links to many other bloggers participating in the challenge.

When we tell people we've lived together on a 33-foot boat for the last 14 years, they often ask how all that togetherness affects our relationship. Actually, I reply, it makes it better, since we really get in sync with each other's moods. But still, we are two strong individuals, and sometimes we need space. On the one hand, we've got the entire outdoors to get away in should we need to.  On the other hand, sometimes the space you need is more psychological. There are two essential tricks we use to give each other that.

No shoulder surfing!

We can’t give each other physical privacy, but we can respect each other’s mental space with “virtual” privacy, courtesies familiar to any cubicle dweller. No shoulder surfing or reading each other’s drafts without permission. (It helps to have illegible handwriting!) No commenting on overheard cellphone conversations (or *bathroom noises.*) Of course you heard it, but you pretend you didn’t, and don’t comment unless invited.

There’s very little discretionary space aboard the boat. Once we’ve filled the lockers with food and tools and safety gear there’s not a lot of room left over for personal gear (clothing and hygiene) and even less for toys. Still, although almost all the lockers are communal property, each of us has a personal locker that the other doesn’t access. We call it the "don't ask, don't tell" locker.

My private DADT locker, full of seashells and sentimental keepsakes and sparkly things

In mine, I can store frivolous items like collected beach glass and seashells, silly sentimental keepsakes, or the pastels that I keep thinking I’ll miraculously acquire the talent to put to good use, and Dan doesn’t get to comment on how that precious storage space could be put to better use storing something that will, you know, actually serve a purpose.

In Dan’s he can also store, without comment … um, I have no idea what he stores there. That’s the entire point of a DADT locker.

Those two very simple solutions have worked for us, and set up our expectations for when we summer as crew on El Galeon, where each person's private space is just one bunk shielded by a green curtain.

El Galeon crew dorm for sixteen. I can do this!

Parts of this blog post appeared previously in Women And Cruising blog.  To read the original go here.



Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Blogging from A to Z: U is for Uniform


During the month of April last year, I participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge - one alphabet-themed post per day (except Sundays).  I had such a good time with it that I'm doing it again this year.  I'm loosely organized on the theme of downsizing, minimalism, and small-home living that I've learned in 14 years of living on a small boat.  I'm starting with A is for Anchoring Out, Anger-ing Out, and ending with Z is for Zout and Zwarte Peper (Dutch for salt and black pepper). Click on the A to Z logo on the lower left sidebar for links to many other bloggers participating in the challenge.

What do you think about wearing the same uniform every day? (Photo, US Naval Academy)

When I was in (public) elementary school, several of my friends were in Catholic school, and they had to wear uniforms to school every day. I thought it was weird. Still do, in fact. Being a kid or adolescent is a great time to learn to express yourself and differentiate yourself, and doing so by your fashion statements is one way. My friends were distinguishable only by their hair color or styles, while I loved plaids and stripes, magenta, blue-green, and sapphire. Together. I distinctly remember my dad telling me that people don't dress like rainbows, before sending me back to my room to change before we went ... somewhere. I no longer remember where, but I still remember joking with him in later years about his sartorial advice.

Kids in school uniforms in India. (Photo by Byronkhyangti, licensed under Wikimedia commons, from here)

Conditions are very different for an older adult than for a school-age child. I experimented for a while in my 30s with a daily work "uniform" of blue jeans and a gray sweatshirt. I enjoyed not having to think at all about what to wear, or spend time and money shopping for it. The lack of focus on clothing was great until I was promoted and required to dress corporate. Yet now, 50 years later, when I wear my uniform for work as a tourguide, whether it is historic sailor garb or shirt with ship's logo, I remember how simple mornings could be.  It must be something human that we take something so straightforward and artificially complicate it. I mused about what a waste of energy micro-decisions such as choosing clothing are, as part of last year's A to Z challenge. Now, I'm somewhere in between mindlessly wearing the same thing every day, and having fun with my clothing and "dressing like a rainbow."

I'm getting ready to sail on the Galeon again, and using my experience last year, as well as my experiment two years ago of dressing with 33 items for 3 months, to make my packing list. I'm not limited to 33 items this go-around but simply limited by space(I found that last time I did the clothing challenge too -- on the boat, volume matters more than number of pieces; 33 wool sweaters take up a ton more space than 33 swimsuits! For this summer cities tour I will have about as much clothing space as I do aboard our sailboat -- about the equivalent of two airline carryon bags. Making it more challenging is the additional constraint that we need to be prepared for hot summer weather as well as night watches in chilly Canadian waters. On the other hand, it's night watch, so no one cares about -- or can even see -- whether what I'm wearing matches!

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If you're really curious, here's my packing list:
warm jacket: navy blue with ship's logo
fleece sweatshirt: dark teal
sweater: gray wool
foul-weather rain jacket and pants
5 t-shirts with ship's logo (3 navy blue, 2 white)
4 shorts: khaki, black, blue, gray
2 stretch jeans: khaki
2 summer weight pants: khaki, off-white
3 t-shirts for off-duty: 2 short-sleeve & 1 long-sleeve
orange Hawaiian shirt (fun for BBQ nights aboard)
2 cute tops for exploring in town: pink/black/white/tan geometric print, and abstract blue rainbow criss-cross neck
nice black semi-dressy pants
long-sleeve silver sunblock shirt
2 warm turtlenecks: dark gray, light blue
Keens (closed-toe water sports shoes)
tennis shoes (black, so they can fade into the background to wear with the black pants)
flip-flops
wool hat, gloves, scarf, fleece long underwear
Tilley hat for sun
scrimshaw "ship's anchor" earrings with pink, blue, and diamond studs
backpack
purse
swimsuit
one raggy outfit for painting in
oversize t-shirt and shorts for sleeping
other stuff:
prescription sunglasses
head lamp
energy bars
name tag
rigging knife and Leatherman
phone and universal charger for European power
notebook and blank paper
small camera
sleeping bag, sheet, pillow
decaf tea
chapstick

Blogging from A to Z: T is for Take a Tenth of Your Tools and Toys (and get some help from Technology!)


During the month of April last year, I participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge - one alphabet-themed post per day (except Sundays).  I had such a good time with it that I'm doing it again this year.  I'm loosely organized on the theme of downsizing, minimalism, and small-home living that I've learned in 14 years of living on a small boat.  I'm starting with A is for Anchoring Out, Anger-ing Out, and ending with Z is for Zout and Zwarte Peper (Dutch for salt and black pepper). Click on the A to Z logo on the lower left sidebar for links to many other bloggers participating in the challenge.

Moving aboard, we were able to take about a tenth of our possessions


We got a letter from our then seven-year-old godson, asking us to describe what life on the boat was like. We told him that it was like being a turtle, 'cuz we went really slow, but we got to take our home with us everywhere we went. And that even though it was very small, it had everything his home did: a place to cook, a place to sleep, a place to hang out with friends, a place to sit an think. He got a charge out of hearing that our bed -- a.k.a. V-berth -- spanned wall to wall so we could never fall out of bed no matter how rough the seas got. (We didn't go into the fact that in rough conditions we'd actually sleep on the settee in the main salon with a lee cloth; too much information.)

But what really got him was when we explained that we didn't have room for very many things.   One in ten, we told him.  For every ten toys you own, you get to pick one to take with you.  Same thing with books, and t-shirts.  And we had a conversation about what you'd pick, and why; and if two small toys would be as good as one big one.

That simplification closely mirrored what we actually did. We had moved from a 2,800-square-foot house, to a boat with less than 280 square feet. And when we did the extreme downsizing we called "shopping at our house," for each category of possessions, we ended up with close to a 10:1 ratio of things we had to get rid of to things we could keep to bring aboard. Tools, we ended up with a bit more than 10%, and kitchen gadgets a bit less, since we only brought hand-operated things and big electric items like a waffle iron or popcorn popper or stand mixer wouldn't be practical.  Clothing was right on, and most toys.

Things that could be replaced simply with cash, like a sofa or a car, we sold. For the sentimental or meaningful stuff, we got a storage unit. Technology was going to be our ultimate savior, we reasoned. All the music we owned, plus all we could borrow from friends or the library, would take the exact same amount of space -- essentially, none -- if we were willing to rip CDs to the computer or iPod. Every family photo could come with us, if we took the time to scan it. Every book I could ever read would take the same negligible amount of space on an e-reader if we were willing to repurchase it in digital form.

Interesting that our sorting rule for those things became, "Do I want to take the time and effort to scan/rip/digitize this?" The process gave a totally concrete meaning to the downsizing advice to look at each item and ask yourself if you saw it in the store today, would you buy it again if you had it to do over again?


Saturday, April 23, 2016

Blogging from A to Z: T is for Time Out to Travel




During the month of April last year, I participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge - one alphabet-themed post per day (except Sundays).  I had such a good time with it that I'm doing it again this year.  I'm loosely organized on the theme of downsizing, minimalism, and small-home living that I've learned in 14 years of living on a small boat.  I'm starting with A is for Anchoring Out, Anger-ing Out, and ending with Z is for Zout and Zwarte Peper (Dutch for salt and black pepper). Click on the A to Z logo on the lower left sidebar for links to many other bloggers participating in the challenge.




My plan for today was to write how we could only Take a Tenth of our Toys, and Technology coming (somewhat) to our rescue.  But instead, I'm taking time out to travel. We had an unexpected opportunity and we've rented a car (a treat in itself!) and are headed to meet up with a blog friend I made while doing A-Z last year. When we get back on Monday or Tuesday, there will be stories, and I'll write about Toys, and Uniforms, and Virtual Privacy...

Blogging from A to Z: S is for Storage, and Stuff

During the month of April last year, I participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge - one alphabet-themed post per day (except Sundays).  I had such a good time with it that I'm doing it again this year.  I'm loosely organized on the theme of downsizing, minimalism, and small-home living that I've learned in 14 years of living on a small boat.  I'm starting with A is for Anchoring Out, Anger-ing Out, and ending with Z is for Zout and Zwarte Peper (Dutch for salt and black pepper). Click on the A to Z logo on the lower left sidebar for links to many other bloggers participating in the challenge.

A whimsical beaded bird, similar to this one from Beadworx, is one of the things I wasn't ready to part with

As we started grappling with the massive downsizing that would be necessary to cram our previous land-lives into a 33-foot sailboat, the reality was enormously intimidating. It seemed it would be impossible to fit even the essentials of everyday living into the space we would own, much less the impractical or sentimental stuff.

 And yet, as I read the books and blogs and websites, they all seemed to require the first painful step: get rid of everything. Nope. Not gonna happen. There were things I didn't want to part with, things that had a history that mattered, or merely, things that made me smile. Fortunately, no, more than "fortunately" -- sanity-savingly -- we had made a pact with each other at the start of this venture. We weren't going to do anything that would make us resent the process. Either one of us had veto power, no questions asked.

Note to self: All those internet pix of adorable tiny houses, with every precious thing perfectly in place? They are staged. So if you've been feeling like a failure because you can't quite match that Zen state in real life, you can stop fretting now, and stop comparing yourself.  You can't get there in real life because they aren't real life.  Real life is a bit messier -- where do you put the 8-pack of paper towels in those pictures (that you bought because they were on one of those weird sales where the 8-pack was cheaper than the two pack)? The dirty-laundry bag? The stack of books to return to the library? Worst of all, where do you put the box of wine or the bag of chips?

On the boat, the impossibility of that standard is magnified. There's more stuff to store (spares, tools, life jackets, foul weather gear, sail stuff, and sufficient provisions and other things you need if you're going to be off the grid for a while). And between lockers that can get moist or moldy, and the need to protect things that could be tossed around by the sea, there are fewer places to store things.  Somewhere between minimalism and self-sufficiency, the desire to be prepared for anything would leave us with no space left for actual living, to accommodate the storeroom.  We'd need a ten-foot-longer boat just for storage.  Yikes, no thanx!

So we have storage on land.  We (*gasp!*) rented a storage unit.  It houses some mundane things, summer clothes in winter, winter clothes in summer, things we needed once and are likely to need again but not right now, income tax records and other original paperwork that needs to be saved for legal purposes, materials for some boat projects, books we want to keep in our lives, but don't need immediate access to. But it also has sentimental items or souvenirs we've acquired in our travels. Yes, it goes against the conventional wisdom of minimalism to pay money to store things we don't absolutely need. But at the same time, that storage unit costs 1.8% of our pension. I consider that a teeny tiny price to pay, for the saving of my sanity. And my beaded bird.


Friday, April 22, 2016

Blogging from A to Z: R is for Rebaselining


During the month of April last year, I participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge - one alphabet-themed post per day (except Sundays).  I had such a good time with it that I'm doing it again this year.  I'm loosely organized on the theme of downsizing, minimalism, and small-home living that I've learned in 14 years of living on a small boat.  I'm starting with A is for Anchoring Out, Anger-ing Out, and ending with Z is for Zout and Zwarte Peper (Dutch for salt and black pepper). Click on the A to Z logo on the lower left sidebar for links to many other bloggers participating in the challenge.




"I'm going to be offline next week," my friend Jorge told me. "I'm going on vacation and I'm so jazzed -- we're going to be on a liveaboard sailboat, we'll sail to a different island every day and we can just jump off the stern to go scuba or snorkeling."

"But Jorge," I had to chuckle, "you've just described my everyday life! When I go on vacation, I want to live on land, in a fancy resort, with a big shower, and a car."

In business management, rebaselining refers to adjusting project status when a project is delayed or external conditions have changed so much that the original timeline is no longer feasible. (definition from here) Adjusting expectations when external conditions change is also a feature of long-time living aboard. Our life afloat is rich in luxury for the spirit, not so much for luxury of the body.

It's actually been kind of cool, as we've developed a new appreciation for ordinary things. Our shower is the size of a phone booth and fresh water very limited so we do water-saving "Navy showers" -- turn the water on, wet your body, turn the water off, soap up, turn the water on, rinse off. In fact on the Galeon at sea, showers were with sea water, and each crew member was rationed one gallon of fresh water in a plastic jug for final rinse off. So now, a long shower in a big shower stall, with sit-down space and all the hot water you want, is my version of a spa day. And the odd thing is, it gives me just  as much pleasure as a spa would have when we lived on land ... because in each case you appreciate whatever is more luxurious than your baseline. Adjust the baseline, and it takes such little, ordinary things to make a big impact. We have a small freezer aboard, but in order to keep it cold enough to keep ice cream we would use an inordinate amount of power. So instead of being something we can grab whenever we want, ice cream becomes a special, infrequent treat to savor when we're in a new port.  Same is true of fast internet, washing machine, walk-in closet, all sorts of mod cons. Amazingly, doing without these things on a regular basis has increased our happiness -- because such small things now make us happy.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Blogging from A to Z: Q is for The Quest (Best Writing Prompt EVER)


During the month of April last year, I participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge - one alphabet-themed post per day (except Sundays).  I had such a good time with it that I'm doing it again this year.  I'm loosely organized on the theme of downsizing, minimalism, and small-home living that I've learned in 14 years of living on a small boat.  I'm starting with A is for Anchoring Out, Anger-ing Out, and ending with Z is for Zout and Zwarte Peper (Dutch for salt and black pepper). Click on the A to Z logo on the lower left sidebar for links to many other bloggers participating in the challenge.

Here's a magic formula for writing great stories. All you need to do is fill in the blanks:

"I went to ______, looking for _____ and was surprised to find _____, which taught me _____."

I got this tip from this great writing book by Paul Spenser Sochaczewski, who describes this prompt as essentially turning your story from "I went here, and did this, and then that, and ate that, blah blah bor-ing," into a quest.  From the profound to the mundane, it has worked for me every single time.

"I went to every bar in St Augustine, looking for the best margarita in town, and was surprised to find that I gained ten pounds, which taught me that I don't have the metabolism of a 25-year-old any more." I ate a lot of tasty Mexican food along the way, as well. It was a great quest for starting conversations with the locals -- everyone seemed to have an opinion or a suggestion for a place to try.





"I went to Jerusalem, looking for God, and was surprised to find ... nothing, which taught me that it had to come from within, where it had been inside me all along." In my mind, I remember buying biblical-looking sandals and walking ancient stones tinted gold by the late afternoon light and trying to feel something bigger than myself.

"I went to the Caribbean, looking for peace and quiet and relaxing in the beauty of nature, and was surprised to find I had arrived in the middle of Carnaval season, which taught me that in order to have the best times, you have to go with the flow."

What I thought I was getting: view from a hike, Virgin Gorda, 2004


What I found: Carnaval parade, Aruba, 2015 -- high energy excitement, loud music, and partying 
Try it yourself in the comments -- fill in the blanks: "I went to ______, looking for _____ and was surprised to find _____, which taught me _____." And if it inspires a blog post of your own, please post a link!

Blogging from A to Z: P is for Perfectionism


During the month of April last year, I participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge - one alphabet-themed post per day (except Sundays).  I had such a good time with it that I'm doing it again this year.  I'm loosely organized on the theme of downsizing, minimalism, and small-home living that I've learned in 14 years of living on a small boat.  I'm starting with A is for Anchoring Out, Anger-ing Out, and ending with Z is for Zout and Zwarte Peper (Dutch for salt and black pepper). Click on the A to Z logo on the lower left sidebar for links to many other bloggers participating in the challenge.

Photo by Lyn Lomasi (Wikimedia commons, here)

If you are a friend, you would describe my approach to details as "relaxed;" if you are a detractor or competitor, you would describe it as, um, "sloppy" or "lazy."  I have many quirky character traits, but perfectionism isn't one of them.  As it turns out, on a boat that's a good thing.

The harsh conditions of sun and salt water make it impossible to keep the appearance "perfect" all the time without spending significant amounts of time and energy polishing, waxing, and varnishing.  We gave up on "perfect" (not that "'perfect" wood trim or shiny hull was high on my list of nautical priorities since it didn't make the boat safer or sail faster). and settled for really-good-but-not-as-glossy-as-the-sales-brochure. That relaxed approach was good enough to protect our wood trim while we had lots of time left over for actual, you know, sailing. Even if I had been a perfectionist before, the sea would have taught me to find a better balance. 

There were other places where the quest for "perfect" would have caused us trouble. The "perfect" boat for us was out of our price range.  So we got a "really-good-but-with-a-few-problems" boat.  If we were waiting for perfect, we'd still be saving up money, and dreaming. Not trying to make all our boat systems "perfect" right away let us move aboard at the marina sooner. And that meant we were no longer paying rent and saving money to spend on either boat projects, or fun adventures. We were living with blocks of ice in the cooler of food the first year while we learned about living aboard and figured out exactly what kind of refrigeration system would work best for our needs.  By not insisting on "perfect" before we left, we were able to start cruising sooner. Although we lived in a bit of disorganization the first year, and improvised some systems, we learned as we went along, which meant that ultimately we were able to make smarter decisions about what we really needed.

You know that quote about how perfect is the enemy of good? For us, life afloat showed us that "perfect" is the enemy of fun. Now the only thing in our lives that's perfect ... is our balance of work to play!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Blogging from A to Z: One Square Mile Living (Oh the Irony!)


During the month of April last year, I participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge - one alphabet-themed post per day (except Sundays).  I had such a good time with it that I'm doing it again this year.  I'm loosely organized on the theme of downsizing, minimalism, and small-home living that I've learned in 14 years of living on a small boat.  I'm starting with A is for Anchoring Out, Anger-ing Out, and ending with Z is for Zout and Zwarte Peper (Dutch for salt and black pepper). Click on the A to Z logo on the lower left sidebar for links to many other bloggers participating in the challenge.

A little more than one square mile around our present home marina (image modified from Google Maps)
There were 3 separate periods in my life when I drove more than an hour each way, each day, from home to work. In all 3 cases, I had an awesome job and lived in an awesome location, and didn't want to give up either one. So I drove. A lot. I remember hating how spread out my life was, and how little time I had to actually enjoy my home town, and wanting to literally "get my life together" by getting everything in one place. Wouldn't it be wonderful if everything we needed in life, school, work, shopping, home, play, was all within close proximity?

There was lots of talk about "one square mile living" around that time. Of course, this describes any downtown of a big city ... but I don't really want to live in, say, Manhattan. (BT, DT, no thanx not again). There are also new planned developments that had shops and offices and restaurants on the ground floor, and apartments above, you could walk to everything and didn't need a car.  Truly, one-square-mile living. Everyone, it seemed, was hopping on the small-footprint bandwagon, except us. I drove about an hour and a half north from our home to my job, and Dan drove about an hour south.  Sigh. We'd occasionally declare a car-free day one weekend day, enjoying the novelty of being no further from home than walking distance for 24 whole hours.

Fast forward to retirement and cruising, and finally had the opportunity to do the one-square-mile-living thing ourselves.  Had to, in fact, since we couldn't very well have a car as we sailed the boat from place to place. We found ourselves drawn particularly to smaller historic port towns -- Annapolis, Beaufort, Southport, St Augustine. Walkable by their very nature; they were all laid out before the invention of cars. Although we truly didn't need a car, we'd rent one every few weeks just for the weekend, to run errands conveniently, and to explore the surrounding areas. The irony? Now that I have that, and we've been car-less for going on 4 years now, I'm longing for wheels again, for roaming more widely.

"Be careful what you wish for, you may get it." Indeed!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Blogging from A to Z: N is also for Net-less

Apologies for not getting back promptly on comments; we are having internet issues here at the marina.  Will write in as soon as I have better net!

Blogging from A to Z: N is for Nautical Priorities (Litmus Tests)


During the month of April last year, I participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge - one alphabet-themed post per day (except Sundays).  I had such a good time with it that I'm doing it again this year.  I'm loosely organized on the theme of downsizing, minimalism, and small-home living that I've learned in 14 years of living on a small boat.  I'm starting with A is for Anchoring Out, Anger-ing Out, and ending with Z is for Zout and Zwarte Peper (Dutch for salt and black pepper). Click on the A to Z logo on the lower left sidebar for links to many other bloggers participating in the challenge.

(image from here)
Back in the 1990s, the buzz in corporate America was "mission statements." Developing a mission statement for our unit was a requirement in one of my leadership classes. And while I thought it was more than a little hokey, I went through the exercise anyway. I was the supervisor of a group of scientists doing environmental research, and my final mission statement was something about creating an environment where people were inspired to do excellent science that was valuable to our agency and the scientific community and the general public and blah blah blah. I distributed funds and assigned work and approved hires, and I was also a bit of a buffer, insulating the scientists from the incessant adminis-trivia imposed on us by the bureaucracy.

Something interesting happened along the way, though. Having this statement written out led me to a super-easy litmus test benchmark for all kinds of decisions about where to invest resources for my group. Subscription to a pricey journal? Will it help them do better science? New piece of lab equipment? How about preparing that annual report on our activities for Headquarters? Should we spend a lot of energy on it, or just do a bare minimum job? Every one of these questions became a very simple yes/no, when seen through the lens of whether it would help them do better or more valuable science.

That lesson, of having a litmus test that simplified decisions, carried over perfectly in our downsizing and our life afloat. On land, our house on its better days adhered to the William Morris dictum, "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful," although "beautiful" in our case was expanded to also encompass the beauty of items that had sentimental meaning even if their aesthetic was lacking.  I suppose that making us smile wistfully when we looked at them and remembered how they came into our lives, was both beautiful and useful!

In our radical downsizing to move aboard we overlaid a second litmus test onto the Morris one. This one came to me courtesy of cruising friend Linda G.  When deciding what to bring aboard, she advised, your priorities should be: first, safety; then tools; then "everything else." It was a simple, effective hierarchy.

During the hectic years of getting ready, living aboard at a marina, working at conventional jobs during the day and doing boat projects in our not-so-spare time, we developed a third litmus test. This one was, "If it doesn't make the boat safer, or sail better/faster, it's a lower priority." So the early times involved a bigger anchor, new engine, and oversize windlass. It was only much later that we got around to things like painting, and converting the icebox to actual refrigeration.

Now that we've got the boat pretty much the way we want it, projects are just regular maintenance (although there's always some cool shiny piece of newly-invented gear to covet).  Our priorities litmus test is more about what we want to do with our lives than what we need to do with the boat. It's simple, and it was also my New Year's resolution: Be together. Be happy. Have more adventures.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Blogging from A to Z: M is for Minimalism

During the month of April last year, I participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge - one alphabet-themed post per day (except Sundays).  I had such a good time with it that I'm doing it again this year.  I'm loosely organized on the theme of downsizing, minimalism, and small-home living that I've learned in 14 years of living on a small boat.  I'm starting with A is for Anchoring Out, Anger-ing Out, and ending with Z is for Zout and Zwarte Peper (Dutch for salt and black pepper). Click on the A to Z logo on the lower left sidebar for links to many other bloggers participating in the challenge.

This idyllic cabin belonged to Teddy Roosevelt (image in public domain,By Podruznik at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Feydey using CommonsHelper., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7826516)

"Some people want a big house, a fast car, and lots of money. Others just want a small cabin in the woods away from those kinds of people." So goes the internet meme, and we count ourselves among the people who want the cabin in the woods ... or in our case, boat in an anchorage.

Way before minimalism was cool, we found we had to design a minimalist lifestyle simply to fit into our new maritime world.  We have fewer possessions and spend less money on "things" partly as a conscious choice to free up more of our time and respect the environment, but also of necessity.  We have so little storage space, we had to figure out what "just enough" of everything looked like. We learned that the fewer things you have, the more you value each one. I experimented with having 33 items of clothing instead of a closet full -- and of course, none of them need to be ironed or dry cleaned.  We have room for a decent collection of hand tools, but we no longer have a full woodshop. And if you come over for dinner we'll serve you healthy tasty food, but you'll be eating it off of Corelle plates and drinking your wine from plastic wine glasses -- we won't be impressing you with table service of breakable crystal and china, though we value your company.

The real attitude adjustment, though, was realizing that a simple life isn't necessarily an easy one. Heating our suburban house took a simple turning of a dial or pressing a button; heating the iconic cabin in the woods probably requires hours of work splitting and stacking logs. Simple, not easy.  So too on our boat -- those memorable moments in that pristine anchorage require the navigation and timing of the tides and reading the weather, and leaving may require raising a heavy anchor and washing the mud off the chain. (Luckily we've now got an electric windlass to handle this task!)  And since we're carless, because how could you move a car from island to island, we walk, bus or taxi everywhere ... slowly. That also requires additional logistics -- how will I get my purchases home if they are heavy, or if it starts to rain?  Simple, not easy.  Getting anything out of a locker or putting it back involves a 3-D game of Tetris as we negotiate efficient use of our limited storage space. Without space or water supply or sufficient electricity for washing machine or dishwasher that get things clean with a push of a button, we do those tasks by hand as well, which takes a lot more time and work.  Simple, not easy.

Putting in that effort, though, makes things feel more valuable, more focused.  Dan, working with a chef's knife, gets into a rhythm he calls the "Zen of vegetable chopping" that is unachievable  with a food processor. Our recreation often consists of sitting in the cockpit reading, or paddling our inflatable kayak or going for walks or dinghy rides. Of necessity, this life is slower, and each task fills our minds as we do it. Simple, not easy. And we wouldn't have it any other way.


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Blogging from A to Z: L is for Leaving ... on a Jet Plane

During the month of April last year, I participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge - one alphabet-themed post per day (except Sundays).  I had such a good time with it that I'm doing it again this year.  I'm loosely organized on the theme of downsizing, minimalism, and small-home living that I've learned in 14 years of living on a small boat.  I'm starting with A is for Anchoring Out, Anger-ing Out, and ending with Z is for Zout and Zwarte Peper (Dutch for salt and black pepper). Click on the A to Z logo on the lower left sidebar for links to many other bloggers participating in the challenge.

For the times that traveling by sailboat is impractical (NASA image from here)


This is a blog about boating ... so why am I writing about airplanes? Dan and I sail in order to travel (on a budget), and while being on the ocean is an extraordinary experience, we are travelers first. Traveling by boat, for us, enhances the experience in many ways, as I wrote in a previous post in this blog:
...we like to visit fewer places, more deeply.  Stay long enough to really understand what makes a place special, what unique solutions the people who live there have discovered to ease the problems of everyday living.  Traveling by boat gives us the platform for that travel in a way no other kind of transportation could offer.  It lets us visit places literally “without leaving the comforts of home” because our home, turtle-like, comes with us.  It lets us visit these places on a budget.  And, when we’re tired of cities and civilization and people, it lets us get away and recharge close to nature.  (Sometimes, during storms, a little too close, as “nature” splashes over the deck or whistles in the rigging!) My absolutely favorite benefit of boat travel, though, was completely unexpected.  Explaining that we live this quirky life is a never-fail conversation starter with just about everyone we meet, whether they’re other cruisers or total landlubbers, travelers by more conventional means or homebodies.

Still, there are a lot of logistical considerations that make traveling by sailboat far from our only option.  Some destinations are impractical to reach by sailboat in a reasonable timeframe, or would take too long to reach to be practical given the amount of time we'd like to stay there. Or they involve passages unsuitable for this sailboat; while our boat is physically capable of crossing the Atlantic, it would not be the wisest choice for that trip.  For one thing, we don't have the capacity for enough food, fuel, or water to make what would likely be a month-long voyage. Some passages would be unsafe given the season that we want to visit the destination.  Some destinations on our someday list are downright impossible to visit by sailboat -- they have no ocean frontage!

Most importantly, we've learned from multiple trips that about 3 months is our preferred away-from-home limit. That could be 3 months out of country on our boat, as we did when visiting the Bahamas on our first cruise,or 3 months away from the boat, as we did last summer on El Galeon, or when we lived in a townhouse for the winter with our boat docked a few miles away.

Initially, we expected to sail away forever when we retired.  After all, we have neither dependent parents, nor dependent children, no dogs, cats, not even houseplants to bind us.  Why not spend forever in a tropical paradise? That expectation came before we learned about our 3-month limit. It came before some significant health scares. And we learned that we didn't want to live exclusively on tropical islands any more than we want to live exclusively anywhere -- the world is just too big, there are too many things we want to experience. Tropical islands forever are just too claustrophobic, and I'm not all that great at languages, I don't like thinking about hurricane season.  We've been through 3 hurricanes aboard and two more ashore nearby our boat, and I'd be delighted not to experience another any time soon. Finally, and happily, some old financial decisions worked out in our favor, and the budget is not quite as tight as we thought it would be.

At this point in our lives we've evolved to make our peace with becoming what Stephanie in her blog SV Cambria describes as regional cruisers, in our case along the US East Coast, at least when traveling in our own boat. Visiting the nooks and crannies and back roads and undeveloped anchorages, spending a month or two in an area and then moving on, when it would only take a week or two (anchoring at night) or passages of only a few days (sailing through the night) to get to a new state, sounds delicious.  For farther-away destinations, there are hotels and rental apartments and jet planes.


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Blogging from A to Z: K is for Kickback (and, Kickin' Back)

During the month of April last year, I participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge - one alphabet-themed post per day (except Sundays).  I had such a good time with it that I'm doing it again this year.  I'm loosely organized on the theme of downsizing, minimalism, and small-home living that I've learned in 14 years of living on a small boat.  I'm starting with A is for Anchoring Out, Anger-ing Out, and ending with Z is for Zout and Zwarte Peper (Dutch for salt and black pepper). Click on the A to Z logo on the lower left sidebar for links to many other bloggers participating in the challenge.

Jus' kickin' back -- photo by Mike Baird via Wikimedia Commons


When I worked in government contracting for the Army in Colorado, kickbacks were a very bad thing.  If you google "kickback" you will find it is "a payment made to someone who has facilitated a transaction or appointment, especially illicitly." In other words, taking a bribe to make a decision about awarding a contract that may not be to the best candidate, and not in the best interests of the taxpayer whose dollars you are spending.  Illegal. Jail-able.

The kind of kickback I want to do today, though, is different.  I want to kick the limelight back onto some of the other blogs I've been enjoying at this point nearly halfway through the A to Z blogging challenge.  And I also want to enjoy the other meaning of the word "kick back" -- put my feet up and relax about generating thoughtful blog content today.

Shoutouts to my fellow boating bloggers in A to Z Challenge:

SV Cambria - Blogs from the Boat
The Cynical Sailor and his Salty Sidekick
The Larks of the Independence
Till the Butter Melts

And a few other simplicity/minimalist/alternative life blogs in the Challenge that I'm enjoying:

Quietude Road
Roaming About: A Life Less Ordinary
Second Thoughts First
Pain-Passion-Purpose

And a couple of blogs about things I never knew anything about about before the Challenge:

Counterweight Press
The Multicolored Diary
Finding Eliza

Just fun-to-read:

WordSplash
The Girl Who Wrote It All Down
Lissa Johnston
Working in Words







Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Blogging from A to Z: J is for the Joneses

During the month of April last year, I participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge - one alphabet-themed post per day (except Sundays).  I had such a good time with it that I'm doing it again this year.  I'm loosely organized on the theme of downsizing, minimalism, and small-home living that I've learned in 14 years of living on a small boat.  I'm starting with A is for Anchoring Out, Anger-ing Out, and ending with Z is for Zout and Zwarte Peper (Dutch for salt and black pepper). Click on the A to Z logo on the lower left sidebar for links to many other bloggers participating in the challenge.



Who are the Joneses, and why are we trying so hard to keep up with them? The phrase "keeping up with the Joneses" refers to comparison with your neighbor as a benchmark for social status.  And the way it leads to a materialistic arms race of conspicuous consumption -- big house, shiny car, designer clothing, exotic vacations, on and on and on -- as people confuse cause and effect.  It's a great advertising scam -- if I buy the fancy things, that will give me the higher status.  As Will Rogers put it back in the 1960s, "Too many people spend money they haven't earned to buy things they don't want to impress people they don't like."  There's a corollary, too, that you don't know if the Joneses' life, that looks so glamorous from the outside, is actually happy on the inside. They could be broke.  But when we lived in suburbia, it was definitely a thing, that nearly inescapable competition.

When we first moved onto the boat, we hoped we were done with that.  But we found that "keeping up with the Joneses," or at least, making assumptions about peoples' status based on outward appearances must be a human nature, because the maritime variation of that theme is all around us.  Its neither better nor worse than the suburban version, just ... different.  To a certain extent, people group themselves by boat type -- although we all are doing this because we love the sea, people in small fishing boats meant for day use or maybe a weekender are not going to have that much in common with the goals of people who are in the process of traveling around the world by sailboat, and someone in a 100-foot shiny megayacht is probably not going to talk to the likes of us. Unlike the hypothetical Jones family in suburbia, where outward appearances don't necessarily give a true picture of the real condition of their quality of life, the different boat types in the marina give a pretty good indication of the owners' priorities and plans -- and the size and age of the boat is a good proxy for finances.

In some ways, in a marina the Joneses comparison is even more in-your-face than it is in suburbia.  Neighborhoods tend to be at least somewhat homogeneous and houses within them are similar in cost; it's rare to find an old cottage or bungalow next to a McMansion. In a marina, the boat docked in the slip next to you may be new and glossy or one step away from sinking, fast or slow, power or sail ... and may be sailing away again tomorrow.

Where we finally did escape the keeping up with the Joneses, was when we started cruising, actually traveling around by boat. In an anchorage, no one ever asks you what do (or did) for a living.  Many of our boat friends, we don't even know their last names, they are just first name, boat name: "Joe and Sandy on Windswept." There is almost a reverse status thing going on: the only "keeping up with the Joneses" we encounter is how far you've traveled, and often the older, sea weary boats earn more prestige than the new shiny ones with wealthy but inexperienced owners.






Monday, April 11, 2016

Blogging from A to Z: I is for In The Beginning


During the month of April last year, I participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge - one alphabet-themed post per day (except Sundays).  I had such a good time with it that I'm doing it again this year.  I'm loosely organized on the theme of downsizing, minimalism, and small-home living that I've learned in 14 years of living on a small boat.  I'm starting with A is for Anchoring Out, Anger-ing Out, and ending with Z is for Zout and Zwarte Peper (Dutch for salt and black pepper). Click on the A to Z logo on the lower left sidebar for links to many other bloggers participating in the challenge.

Beginnings are such wonderful times! (image from freeios)


Dan grew up on a wheat farm in landlocked southwest Kansas. Jaye's parents met cute at the beach, but rarely took their children there. We met when we were living in landlocked Colorado and were more intrigued with mountains and snow than oceans.  So how the heck did we end up living on a sailboat?

Like many paths in life, the journey incorporated a combination of taking advantage of spontaneous opportunities and structured planning.  The beginning was all spontaneity. At the time, Dan had a kitchen and bath design/remodel business and Jaye worked in an office. One of her colleagues approached her to ask if Dan could replace the countertop on a small sailboat.  We now refer to this as "the most expensive job we ever did."

The project was quick and easy -- so quick in fact, that when the colleague asked for the bill, Dan said "Hey, you know, this was such a small job its almost embarrassing to bill for it.  Tell you what. I've got about 3 hours labor in this; why don't you give us three hours on your sailboat in return and help us understand why you enjoy this so much?"

One lovely Saturday we drove to Lake Granby in the Rocky Mountains northwest of Denver where the colleague kept his boat. We sailed for a bit, dropped anchor and had lunch (for some weird reason I still remember that we brought homebaked rolls filled with chopped mushrooms), sailed some more, and returned to the mooring.  And that was all it took. Dan was utterly, completely hooked.

Six months later in the snowy winter, Jaye's office mate was hosting a candle party.  Also attending the party was the office mate's best friend, who was a charter yacht broker representing boats in the Virgin Islands. A tropical vacation sounded really good right about then, so next thing we knew, we were booked on a one-week liveaboard/learn to sail cruise.

Sailing our first boat on a light-air Lake Michigan summer day


The rest of the transition was more about planning than the initial luck, except that once we started, things seemed to come our way a bit faster than we expected.  An opportunity came up to move to Michigan (lakes! big water for sailing!) and three weeks after we arrived we bought our first sailboat, a 1975 Erickson 27 named "Bassackwards." We weren't crazy about the name but vowed not to change it until it no longer accurately described our sailing skill.  We kept it on a mooring in Northport and left home every summer  Friday afternoon at 3 PM for the drive to the boat, staying aboard, practicing our sailing skills and escaping our city lives, returning late in the evening on Sunday.  We never did get around to the name change; a few years later we were able to trade up to our far more liveaboard friendly current boat instead.  Hadn't planned on buying it so soon, but a good enough deal came up that we just couldn't pass it by.

 Fast-forward 4 years and we were relocating again (not entirely by choice) to Headquarters near Washington, DC. We quickly learned that even with a cost-of-living differential, we weren't going to be able to maintain our former standard of living -- what we had paid for a three-bedroom house on the river would about cover a studio apartment with a view of a brick wall.  What to do? Well, we were going to have to find a place for the boat anyway, right? And, we were planning to move aboard anyway someday, right? Why not just save the money we would be paying on rent, and accelerate our plan to move aboard right now? It would take some frantic downsizing, and a rather longer commute than I preferred, but indeed, why not?

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Blogging from A to Z: H is for the Horizon

During the month of April last year, I participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge - one alphabet-themed post per day (except Sundays).  I had such a good time with it that I'm doing it again this year.  I'm loosely organized on the theme of downsizing, minimalism, and small-home living that I've learned in 14 years of living on a small boat.  I'm starting with A is for Anchoring Out, Anger-ing Out, and ending with Z is for Zout and Zwarte Peper (Dutch for salt and black pepper). Click on the A to Z logo on the lower left sidebar for links to many other bloggers participating in the challenge.

Looking forward to a calm night at sea on El Galeon


"A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for," reads one of my favorite quotes. It's a perfect blend of realism and bravado. Indeed, the feeling that we get when putting our stern toward land and sailing directly away toward the open ocean horizon is indescribable -- nervousness and wonder, paradoxical stress at what could go wrong (and what, maybe, we forgot to do) and anticipation of the relaxation that comes when we give ourselves to the timeless rhythms of the sea. Reliant only on ourselves and our little boat, an ocean trip is totally different from a trip parallel to the coast or up the ICW, where we are never out of sight of humanity and its constructions -- and rarely more that a few hours away from help or safe harbor to tuck into. (And BTW, even the galeon is a little boat, any boat can be a little boat, in the wrong sea conditions!)

There is scientific evidence for the existence of a "wanderlust" gene, and that makes evolutionary sense; the people who wander when resources are scarce may be more likely to find new resources, and hence survive. Of course, it's also possible that they could run into danger and not survive, but it was also absolutely certain that if they just stayed where they were, they would keep getting what they already had gotten (presumably insufficient).

For us in 21st century America, thankfully, resources like food and water are not scarce. But still, the wanderlust gene kicks in.  This time around, it's not survival resources that we wander in search of. With few possessions to weigh us down and a boat-home to take us places, we seek other intangibles -- new ideas, experiences, friends, outlooks.  Adventures.  Bring me that horizon!