Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How Does This Story End?

No, these aren't my new shoes.  But I live a rich fantasy life.

I’ve been in a major funk.  Major enough to make Dan ask, “Is it over?”  (“It” in this context referred to our time of living on the boat, not, thankfully, our marriage.) “Do you want to move ashore?”

Maybe the funk is contagious.  I’ve been thinking recently about the variety of reasons that the cruising/liveaboard dream ends.   Money runs out, health deteriorates, family needs help.  One couple we know ended the liveaboard phase of their lives when their boat proved unseaworthy and started twisting and flexing in a storm.  Another couple moved back to shore after they successfully completed their planned 4-year voyage around the Atlantic.  But for some other friends, nothing concrete, reportable, or dramatic marked the end -- they simply decided that cruising wasn’t being fun any more, and put their boat on the market.  “I miss long hot showers … and toast,” Ean explained in an email to me. "Turning live fish into dead fish makes me a little sick to my stomach. … I don’t even like nature.  You know what they say, ‘you can take the boy out of the city...’ You hear ‘secluded anchorage;’ I hear ‘solitary confinement.’ What WAS I thinking?” 

But I think the thing that put me into a funk was my BFF Karen’s cute new shoes.  We visited her a couple of weeks ago, and I complimented the shoes, and she suggested going to the store where she had just bought them – on sale! And she had a 30% off coupon! And they had them in my size!

The question was not in finding or affording them, but where to put them.  Every liveaboard we’ve ever known has had the issue of limited storage space aboard.  Our total indoor living space is, after all, less than 200 square feet.  Personal possessions are minimal in this lifestyle.  Generally that minimalism has felt freeing.  Sailnet poster “elspru” explains that “being on a travelling sailboat isn't so much about luxury of the body, unless very cozy simple living is your version of bodily luxury, it's more about luxury of the soul and mind, having many different experiences, seeing beautiful scenery, interacting with new people.”  So here were these cool bronze and black ballet flats -- that were right in front of me, that I had in my hand and could easily afford.  But I couldn’t have them -- unless I could find a storage space for them. The situation just awakened my inner girly-girl and she was pissed! Thus my obvious funk.

Remember the old Monty Python skit about “The Royal Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things?”  That’s what my storage life is like, all the time.  Our galley is a study in organization, nesting pots and pans and bowls, collapsible silicone colanders, and multi-use gadgets.  Two cubic feet holds what would have filled an entire cabinet in our kitchen on land – but it’s impossible to get any one item without moving four more items first.  And the shoe locker we share has room for about six pairs each, no more.  Compared to the space available, it sometimes feels like we have just a bit too much of everything, in every category – too many clothes, too many shoes, too many books, too many tools. (I know, I know, a very “first-world problem” to have, right?) So I either take my best estimate of the most useful item in each category and move the others off the boat – and then get frustrated when I later discover that the one that would meet my needs perfectly, is just the one I got rid of a few weeks ago – or I keep them all and cram them into an already-overstuffed locker and can’t access any of them easily.

Was this going to be the way our liveaboard lives ended?  Not with a bang, but with a whimper?  I always joked that our “exit plan” when we get too old and feeble to live on the boat, is to find or fund an assisted-living marina.  Was I really going to cut it short instead just for storage space for pretty new shoes?  Dan was super supportive through all of this angst (obviously, it was about more than the shoes).  Karen reminded me that every lifestyle, every situation, every decision, includes an element of compromise. (Wise girl, it’s not for nothing she’s my BFF). 

This story doesn’t have a happy ending, or a sad ending, or a funny ending, or really, any ending at all.  Because our life afloat didn't end over this mini-crisis after all. Karen’s right, it is all compromise.  This life afloat isn’t exactly perfect but it’s pretty darn good.  And it’s a balance, because even the best life has some bad days.  I don’t remember exactly what got me out of my funk and got me back on track; there was no specific event.  There’s still gonna be some great days, and some grumpy days.  My funk just began to lift, and then lift further.  We sorted through lockers and organized shelves and donated items to Goodwill and The Clothes Box.  We still store all our things on top of other things.  I can have anything I want; I just can’t have everything I want. (At least, not all at the same time). 
All our galley stuff: neatly stowed

The exact same stuff, no more, no less, spread out. (The nesting pot-and-pan set stows inside the pressure cooker, which is why you don't see it in the first photo.)

= = = = 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Why Liveaboards Don't Do Sailboat Races

(from my friend Steve P.  Thanx for my daily chuckle.)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

Tidal height predictions for Rock Hall for May 26.
For the holiday weekend we planned to sail to Rock Hall with friend Phil.  He’d never been to the little historic town on the Eastern Shore.  The weekend getaway also would be an excellent chance for us to see how compatible our two boats were on a longer trip – handy to know, since he was one of the folks we had planned to sail south to Florida with this autumn.

The first test came with the weather forecast for Saturday: near gale-force winds.

“What do you think?” Phil asked.

“I can’t tell you what to do,” I replied, “but I’ll tell you what I’m going to do … which is to delay my trip until Sunday.  This is supposed to be fun, and beating into a gale for 4 hours is not my idea of fun.”

I was encouraged when he agreed.  We called the marina to change our reservations; they were really quite understanding about it all.  Even though it was a holiday weekend and they had a cancellation policy that entitled them to charge us the first night’s dockage, the manager told me she’d waive the fees.  “I’m not going to penalize you for weather beyond anyone’s control,” she told me.   Ah, small-town friendliness!

So we got together in Annapolis Saturday afternoon to go over some of the trip details.  Phil is an engineer by training, like Dan and me, so the planning was careful.  “Here’s my dilemma,” he explained.  “I have a small boat and not a lot of extra power, so I’m trying to decide when to leave.  If I go early in the day, the wind is light, but the current against me is the strongest.  If I wait until later, the current is milder, but the wind will be stronger.  It sounds like a trade-off, can’t win.”

I was remembering some challenging times in big currents in Georgia, and was pleased that our future travel companion was taking trip-planning seriously.  “Actually,” I countered, “current isn’t such a big deal here in the Chesapeake.  The worst foul current on the trip will be near the Bay Bridge, and that is only about ¾ of a knot; not very much or for very long, and certainly not something that will control our trip planning.  But I’d like to consider the height of tide when we get into Rock Hall Harbor; the entry is known to be shallow, and low tide tomorrow is at about 3:30 PM, right about the time we’d come in if we leave mid-morning.  Ideally, we’d come in on half-tide rising, but that’s not going to happen; by the time it’s half-tide rising it’ll be getting dark and the marina staff goes home at 5.”

Back and forth we went, plotting the wind against the tide and the time of day against our convenience to make the trip ideal.  Every scenario had its drawbacks.  Pour another glass of wine and think some more.

I pride myself on my navigation, but I just couldn’t make this simple 4-hour trip come out without leaving at 5 AM, or getting in after 8 PM, neither was an acceptable option.  Or fighting foul currents, or risking coming into a shallow, unfamiliar harbor when the tide was at its lowest.  I was staring at the tide chart again when it struck me: I had been so focused on not arriving at the bottom of the tide curve that I forgot to look at the total size of that curve.  Phil is from Maine where the tides can be 11 feet; and I was thinking of the 8-9 foot tides in Georgia, so that’s what was the back of both of our minds as we framed the problem.  Crossing a shallow spot with 8 feet of high tide adding to the water depth would be stunningly easy; crossing that same spot at dead low tide could be tricky.  But we weren’t in Maine or Georgia, we were in the Chesapeake.

“Phil!”  I called excitedly. “I had a revelation!  Do you know what the difference between high and low tide is on Sunday afternoon?  Ten inches!  Ten inches!  We’re both so used to places with big tides that we never thought to check.  We’ve been driving ourselves crazy for less than a foot of water difference between high tide and low!  We can travel in comfort and come in whenever we want!”

Moral of the story: Big problems can seem insoluble until you put them in context.

(PS: We had an absolutely spectacular sail and came into the harbor carefully, at low tide, lightly touched bottom once but that was due to inattention, not channel depth.)

Originally published in the Annapolis Capital-Gazette, May 28, 2013

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