First-Year Reflections

Our monkey, at home climbing trees on the beach in Luperon, DR.

One of the questions I received most often from friends and family while back in the States was, “So how much longer are you going to do this?”

Spoiler alert: I have no idea. It could be a few months, or a few years. But one person phrased it a bit differently. She said, in a completely non-judgmental way, “Are you done?”

She was asking because I had just detailed the laundry list of challenges we faced in the past year. As my response came tumbling out of my mouth, I surprisingly found myself uttering a succinct thought that I hadn’t voiced before, maybe hadn’t even realized before. But it’s at the crux of everything for me.

“I don’t want to stop living a life that challenges me, that kicks me in the butt, in the best ways and in the hardest ways.”

Crew Clarity has officially completed a full year of cruising. Strangely enough, the anniversary came and went in mid-July, while we were in the States, completely oblivious to the milestone. We were too busy to notice. Life in the States is defined by busyness.

But the time away from the boat allowed me to reflect on this crazy ride we’ve been on, to recognize what went to plan and what didn’t, to see the ups and downs for what they were, and to gain the perspective you can only find with distance – literal and figurative.

Here are some thoughts on our first year.

 

First-Year Projection: Life on the boat will be so much cheaper!

Reality: Not really. And this is for a number of reasons.

  1. Our first cruising grounds were the Bahamas, one of the most expensive places you can go in terms of the cost of food, the price to do anything on land (eat out, rent a car, book a tour), and the charges for having (much-needed) boat parts shipped from the States.
  2. While we don’t have a mortgage or car payments, we still currently have two boat payments. Yep, two. Our Pearson in Chicago still hasn’t sold. Sigh… It’s a long story. And for that one, in addition to the loan payments, we have yard storage fees. This is killing us.
  3. While healthcare in general is much, much cheaper pretty much anywhere but the States, certain atypical situations come with a hefty price tag. Like, say, sticking a bean up one’s nose. And then refusing to let any doctors try to get it out. Tallying up to $4,000 – yep, you read that right – our “bean incident” gave our cruising budget a huge blow, and this was only two weeks into our international travels.
  4. Boat crap is expensive. Sure, we anticipated having issues with the boat in our first year, as all cruisers do, and budgeted for that. But the issues and expenses we have had far exceeded our expectations. Getting the boat hauled out twice in the first year – once in the Abacos and once in Turks – no bueno.
  5. One positive moneywise that I will say is that, while a lot of people recommended budgeting more in the first year for staying at docks, to get more used to living aboard and giving yourselves some breaks, we really didn’t find the need to do this. We loved staying at anchor, and save a couple of short stops where air-conditioning and cable seemed like Christmas morning, we were completely happy living off the grid. The boat had a lot of problems, but it also rocked it in a lot of ways that allowed us to live comfortably without needing to “plug in.”

 

First-Year Projection: Life on the boat will be so much simpler!

Reality: Life is different, not simpler.

One of the reasons we pursued this lifestyle was to spend more time together as a family. In that respect, the biggest change would be that Aaron wouldn’t be going into the office. He would do work part-time from the boat, but would otherwise be able to participate more in daily “family life.” Certainly we’ve had more time together – how could we not – but for him, office time just turned into boat project time. There were always unsolved problems, systems that weren’t working properly, parts that needed to be replaced, and on, and on, and on. And boat problems have one deadline: as soon as possible. Aaron was often working on them at daybreak, well into the evenings, and through the weekends.

Claire’s 5th birthday celebration on the beach in Georgetown, Exumas, with her bestie, Henry.

Daily life also just takes longer. A decent portion of my day is spent just in meals – making them, serving them, doing all of the dishes from them, making sure we have enough groceries for wherever we’re going next. Then there’s the laundry that needs doing, cleaning, schooling for Claire, etc. None of this is bad – I just didn’t realize before we moved aboard how much daily time would be spent “living.”

Living and traveling on the water also requires an ongoing dedication to forecasting. We live and breathe the weather. Any sail requires planning – routes, wind predictions, wave expectations, tide schedule, and potential anchorages. And once we’re there, a constant monitoring of conditions is always in the background of what we’re doing.

 

First-Year Projection: These close quarters will drive us crazy!

Reality: This really wasn’t a problem for us.

We were fortunate in that, when we decided to do this, we already had an idea of what living together on a boat would be like, thanks to the month-long summer trips we took on the Pearson for three years. But, with those, there was always a definitive end-point, which changes your thinking. On Clarity, once we got past the initial unpacking and storing of everything we had brought from Chicago, we settled in comfortably. The only times I’ve felt confined on the boat were when we were stuck on board for days due to bad weather, unable to even go topsides, and when the boat was completely torn apart down below to troubleshoot a problem or work on a system.

Don’t get me wrong – life on board hasn’t been perfect. We get short with Claire, we get short with each other. But the further into the year we got, the better we were able to recognize when Claire just needed to run off some steam on the beach. Or when Aaron and I were arguing and all that was really needed was some time away from each other and the issue would disappear or work itself out.

Aaron and I are also both aware of making sure we each have the space to pursue our own things, especially when we’re in a place that affords us the opportunity to do so. Here in the DR, it’s been yoga mornings for me and evenings at the pool hall for him.  Have I mentioned yet that we love it here?

 

First-Year Projection: Having no break from Claire will be hard.

Reality: Yep.

This was one of the hardest adjustments, at least for me. I was anxious about transitioning from Claire being in preschool three to four days a week and having ample babysitting options to basically a childcare desert. Sometimes, I don’t even notice it – we just go on about our daily life and I forget. But other times, we would do anything for a break, for her to go somewhere, even if just for an afternoon. I think it’s healthy to check out of being parents every once in awhile.

Schooling has been another part of the challenge. Claire is a bright kiddo and it amazes us every day, how quickly she learns and how much she picks up from the world around us. Hopefully our lifestyle is helping out in that regard. But we are also gaining even more respect for teachers. It’s hard to play that role for Claire one minute, and then be mom or dad the next. As I’m sure is the case for a lot of 5-year-olds, some days, she’s great about it. Other days, it’s a fight – and Claire knows how to push all of our buttons, hard.

Aaron threading the reefs (the dark patches in the background are a few of countless) in the Turks and Caicos

One thing we should have done more this year is arrange some kid swaps with other cruising families. We were extremely fortunate to meet other kid boats almost everywhere we went, and it would have made so much sense to offer to take their kiddo for awhile so they could have some time to themselves, and then in return been able to drop Claire off for an afternoon and get some time ourselves also. Why didn’t we do this more?! I have no idea. We did make getting together with other cruising families a priority, though, and that alone was helpful – the kids with other kiddos to play with, the adults able to do some adulting.

Claire has also been witness to some tough times for Aaron and me this past year, when we were really struggling with boat problems or rough passages or things just not falling into place. That is another challenge – always having a little person around to hear every single word or experience every single mood. (We can’t even fight by ourselves! Ha!)

Here in the DR, we have Claire signed up for kindergarten at a local Montessori school in Cabarete from Aug. 21 through Nov. 1, possibly later. Monday through Friday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. It’s not cheap (although it’s a lot cheaper here than it would be in the States), but we thought she would really benefit from experiencing the culture here with other kiddos, from learning for a few months from other authority figures, and from the schedule that a school day affords. We have secured a short-term lease on a nearby condo on the beach and will briefly be landlubbers in an area we’ve already come to love.

Claire’s school time will also allow Aaron and me to work more hours, to get some time to ourselves, and for all of us to recharge a bit before we’re back on the boat full time after hurricane season.  Aaron plans to take up surfing and get back to scuba diving, and I plan to crash the yoga retreat that neighbors our condo building as much as possible and also become a ukulele master.

 

First-Year Projection: Being away from our friends and family will be extremely hard.

Reality: Yes – BUT – we were able to stay more connected than I thought.

This was another one of my biggest fears as we moved aboard. My family and my friends are the most important things in my life (aside from our little immediate family, of course), and I had come to rely heavily on my support network.

I also realized that my relationships were primarily based on one-on-one interactions. Think about it – when was the last time, aside from family, that you carved out time for a long, catch-up phone call with a friend? Or took the time to send them a long email?

Connectivity in foreign countries was also embarrassingly a bit of an unknown for me. I was pretty sure it would work itself out, but I didn’t know how.

Our cell plans with T-Mobile have been a lifesaver, at least for me. Though phone calls are an upcharge with price dependent on where we are, we have unlimited texting and unlimited (3G-speed) data. We’ve been able to text regularly with friends, set up free Skype and Facebook Messenger calls when schedules allow, and yes, as you know, check Facebook/Instagram/etc regularly. It helps me feel less isolated from the goings on of everyone back in the States.

Another misconception of the cruising life by those who are less familiar is this idea that we are out on our own, in the middle of nowhere, all alone. Sometimes we are in the middle of nowhere, but we are hardly ever alone. There are a lot of people, including families, who are living this lifestyle and we are a tight-knit group. We become fast friends and if anyone needs anything, we are there to help – sometimes almost too eagerly. The cruising community is nothing short of amazing.

 

First-Year Projection: This life is going to change us.

Reality: Tenfold.

This past year has been the hardest of my life. It’s also been the most rewarding, the most life-altering, the most transformative. I’m pretty sure those things go hand in hand.

Conch shells on the first beach we set foot on in the Abacos, Bahamas, after our Gulf Stream crossing from Florida.

I have more faith in our marriage than ever, and it’s not because life has been perfect. We’ve had our fair share of ugly fights and ugly crying, but one thing we’ve never given up on is each other. I already thought Aaron was a pretty rad dude, but being a witness to the dedication he puts into this boat and this family has been awesome, in the pure sense of the word.

I also sometimes need to remind myself of how far I’ve come. Before we started this chapter, I had never spent a night at anchor (can you believe that?!). I’d never sailed in a squall. I’d never done an overnighter. I’d never driven a dinghy. So, so many firsts that now barely even register, we’ve experienced so much.

I’ve learned that schedules are for the birds, that things don’t go to plan, that you will continue to be tested – especially if you think you can’t handle anything else – and that the rewards are immeasurable, both big and small.

On the bad days, I want to throw in the towel and give up. But I never do. And experience has taught me now to wait until we’re out of the immediate problem to make any lasting decisions about the future. Sleep-deprived and seasick, I may lament to Aaron, “I’m done! I’m shot.” But I’m not! How can I be? This life, this crazy life, has pushed me so far out of my comfort zone, it’s exhilarating, and addictive. I want to keep pushing to become the best version of myself.

My priorities have shifted and my needs have changed. God, do I miss Starbucks coffee and long, hot baths – conveniences not only in the availability of goods, but the dependability of services. But they’re not really needs, right? We can make do – happily – without them.

To me, the time we spend together as a family, the travel, the new cultures, far supersedes the balance in our checking account.

I used to be so concerned with how I defined myself. By my profession? By being married, having a child? By being an adventurer?

The truth is, who cares?! At least right now, I really don’t. While we were back in the States, a good friend said something to me in passing – something that surprised me and also resonated so deeply. She said, “You seem much more self-assured, more confident.” And I am! – that this is the life I should be living. That this is where I belong.

 

I have no idea where my mind will be at a year from now. I have no idea where our boat will be a year from now.  But I know that I’m here right now, in Luperon in the Dominican Republic, writing this blog post with the breeze from the trade winds breaking the midday heat, with Aaron and Claire back on the boat a short dinghy ride away, doing school, playing legos, preparing dinner, or maybe doing nothing at all.

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Roaches: You Can’t Live With ‘Em

Let me get two things out of the way.

  1. We do not currently have roaches and haven’t for awhile.
  2. I will not be posting any pictures with this post.

Before we moved aboard, I had read the horror stories on other cruising blogs and shuddered at the posts in the Facebook sailing groups. I was warned that in tropical climates with high humidity, like southern Florida and the Caribbean, roaches are more or less a fact of life. And I said to Aaron, like the novice cruiser that I am, “That will never happen to us.”

The truth is, sometimes, roaches happen to clean people.

It is with the beaten down soul of someone who was forced to face a real phobia that I admit that Clarity developed a cockroach problem. First, let me clarify that ours were of the German variety. Not the giant, small-rodent-sized black abominations that I witnessed in college in Baltimore. These were much smaller – but what they lacked in size, they made up for in resilience. They are the most difficult type to exterminate, which we learned after repeated defeats.

Likely, we gained these unwanted visitors in south Florida right before we crossed over to the Bahamas, when I did my three-month provisioning runs. Over the course of two or three days, I bought hundreds of dollars of food, and I meticulously repackaged it all. I got rid of all cardboard and used so many plastic bags that I should have bought stock in Ziploc. I rinsed and sprayed all produce. I took the labels off of every single can, wiping them down with solution and getting off as much glue as I could.

It seems that perhaps, I wasn’t quick enough. Or maybe it wasn’t from my provisioning at all – maybe when we were still at the dock in Fort Pierce, a few wandered over from another boat and climbed their way up our lines. We’ll never know. But all it takes is two, either fully formed or eggs, to make a problem.

I noticed one in our galley shortly after we arrived in the Abacos, and truthfully, as I mentioned these were much smaller than what I’m used to, we weren’t sure what they were at first. Not that we didn’t try to kill them right away – we did – but we thought a few beetles had found their way in through the hatches. When they kept appearing, not every day, but every few days, we investigated further to determine their identity. And then I died a small death.

There are a few other points of clarification I feel the need to make, now that everyone is imagining us living life with creatures scuttering about. First, they were localized to the galley and my side of the aft cabin, which is right off of the galley (lucky me). They were never anywhere near Claire’s room. Second, they are nocturnal. Aaron and I experienced them (oh joy), but Claire never did. Third, we never had a full-on infestation. But really, is any number of these okay? I think not.

The problem got worse before it got better, because as our lines of defense failed, their population grew. Another fun fact about roaches – they eat anything. Crumbs. Dust particles. Dead skin cells. And if it comes down to it, each other. Over the course of three months, we tried Raid, roach motels, a Borax and sugar solution, poison tablets, other natural remedies. Everything. Finally, we found a gel here that I had to apply in every single nook and cranny of the boat. Hours and hours of applications over the course of two days – because cruising boats are praised for their endless storage areas.

The problem was significantly reduced after that first round, but not completely solved. (Another fun fact I learned about pest extermination – even with the most effective treatments, you have to do at least two rounds, to make sure you’ve killed any juveniles that have managed to hatch after the first round.) So a few weeks later, I repeated the process all over again. And finally, success.

There’s an even more effective gel available in the States, the Advion Gel Bait – it’s the absolute go-to line of defense – and when our friends visited us in Georgetown, I had them bring us a package as a precautionary measure, as we will be heading further south into the tropics. Never again will I worry about being too cautious.

My compulsive approach to cleaning the galley has just become a way of life now. I spend as much time every day cleaning the galley as I do cooking in it. I wipe down the stovetop after every single use. I never let any dirty dishes sit in the sink – ever. Every time I do the dishes, I wipe the sinks dry, since roaches are attracted to moisture. I clean the countertops so many times during the day that it may be bordering on obsession. I check the cabinets for crumbs every few days, even though all food items are double-bagged at the least. Sometimes, I don’t even realize I’m wiping down the floors again until I’m halfway through doing it.

In my closet, I still have my clothes in large plastic bags on the shelves. Even at this point, with no reason to worry, I shudder at the memory that a few had been crawling through my clothes. I’m just not ready yet to put them back out. Also, going through every skein of yarn I had stored near the bed to make sure they were bug-free will forever be on my list of least-fun afternoons.

I continue to live in a constant state of paranoia. That black speck on the counter? Has to be a roach. That shadow at the corner of the floor? Roach. The breeze rustling my hair across my upper arm? Roach. The sudden loud noise from the other room? Aaron must have killed another roach. I’d like to say that these scenarios are unfounded fears. They are not.

I suppose, if there is a silver lining in this, it’s that I was forced to face my phobia. I tasked myself with applying that gel, knowing full well what I would inevitably find as I did my best to account for every last square inch. At the end, I didn’t scream for Aaron’s help every time I saw one. I dealt with it; I moved on. I do, however, look forward to finding other ways to challenge myself.

We have heard time and time again that the first year of cruising is the hardest. It certainly does seem like any and all obstacles are being thrown at us. But what can you do but work through them?

Livin’ the dream! That’s been our tagline these days. What – a minor roach problem isn’t part of your vision of living the dream? Ours either.

On the flip side, now that that issue is out of the way, Aaron and Claire are dealing with a bout of poisonwood – yay! But we are putting plans together for our departure from Georgetown, likely this weekend, heading south to the Turks. Getting out into open water, filling the sails and slicing through waves at a comfortable heel – that is truly the best medicine, and always a soul-fulfilling reminder of why we do this.

Time To Go

Our last trip to shore for a few final provisions before we set sail this evening!

Our last trip to shore for a few final provisions before we set sail this evening!

It’s been a lifetime of dreaming, years of planning, months of moving and refitting and working, and days of waiting to reach this point. Today is GO DAY!

Finally, the southwest winds have returned for a big enough window for us to cross to the Bahamas. We leave Riviera Beach tonight and sail across the Gulf Stream to reach the northwest edge of the Bahamas just after sunrise. Then, we’ll head to Great Sale Cay to anchor for the night before continuing to Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos the next day to clear customs.

The dropped pin shows Green Turtle Cay, where we will clear customs.

The dropped pin shows Green Turtle Cay, where we will clear customs.

I am like a kid on Christmas morning. I am like a Hallmark card, friends. Goals that seem a million miles away can be reached. Dreams can become realized. This life is a blessing.

We’ll see you on the flip side!

Hurry Up and Wait

Clarity at anchor just off of Peanut Island

Clarity at anchor just off of Peanut Island

And now, we wait.

On Saturday afternoon, we finally made it back to Riviera Beach, Fla., where we started this crazy thing five months ago, almost to the day. And because we’re nuts, that same afternoon, we had a technician on board bringing our watermaker online. Miraculously (if you’ve been following along with our luck regarding this boat’s systems), after a few filters were sorted, it worked! We are officially ready to cross.

Perfectly positioned at anchor just inside the Lake Worth Inlet, we wait for that desired combination of south-southwesterly winds and moderate seas that will make crossing the Gulf Stream as comfortable as possible. According to the marine forecast, we’ll definitely be here through Friday. I’m hoping for a Christmas Eve or Christmas day crossing – what an amazing memory that would be!

With the colossal (immediate) to-do list shortened for the first time in months, I finally have the mental bandwidth to think about how much has changed since we started, how far we’ve grown and what we’ve learned. Back when we hatched this plan and explained our decision to friends and family, our desire to “live a simpler life” was a regular part of the chorus.

Ha! There is nothing simple about this life.

It’s hard work – mentally and physically. It’s long days, sometimes unforgiving days, and “the weekend” doesn’t exist. It’s to-do lists that change, but don’t diminish. It’s constant learning, continuously adapting to new surroundings and new challenges.  As Aaron and I have worked and worked and worked to get this boat and ourselves ready to head to the islands, there are any number of times that I wished I could just have one day where I was sitting in an office, going to meetings, taking client calls.

What this life absolutely has been, though, is a shift in focus back to the basic needs. How much food does a family of three need for three months? How can I make it last as long as possible? How can I provision most affordably?

How can we make sure that we’ll always have enough power while on the hook to run our systems? Can we trust our solar? If we have a string of cloudy days, how can we best conserve our power? Has the generator been serviced? How much redundancy do we need, and do we have all of the parts to troubleshoot and replace when one system stops working?

Getting our water maker up and running

Getting our watermaker up and running

I’ve also never before had a clear understanding of just how much water a family uses in a week – but it becomes a critical calculation when you bring or make your own water wherever you go. We have two water tanks that combined hold a little more than 100 gallons. With full-time use, including drinking water, cooking, washing dishes, showers, cleaning, everything, we empty the tanks in just shy of two weeks – and that’s while we’re mindful of making every cup count (short showers, boiling water doubles as rinse water for dishes, etc.).

Luckily, our watermaker takes salt water and creates four to five gallons of fresh water per hour, allowing us to travel freely without worrying about our tanks running low. As long as it keeps running. Of course, we have the full complement of replacement parts for this, too.

Food, power, water. It doesn’t get more basic than that. But then again, we make our own power. We make our own water. There are countless other systems, too, that I won’t get into here, all allowing us to “live the simple life.”

I’m also aware, though, that this refit phase that we’ve been in since we moved aboard should slow down significantly now, with the big hurdle of getting the critical components squared away behind us. Also, our expedited timeline has been 100% self-imposed, our desire to just get out there and go already! Many cruisers spend a year or more getting their boats ready.

Checking the rig

Checking the rig

I suppose I’m not selling it very well – this time here waiting has allowed the exhaustion from the recent months to set in – but I’ve written before about the reasons we’re doing this, the freedom we’re seeking, this traveling lifestyle and the desire to get out there and see the world. It’s all still 150% true.

But here’s another thing I know now. We certainly aren’t solving the world’s problems, but at the end of each day, there’s a satisfaction that I didn’t feel previously, when we were living in our condo in Oak Park. The things that we do, the tasks we accomplish, directly impact our quality of life. They make it easier, better, more comfortable, more efficient. There’s an immediate result. I slide under the covers in our aft cabin each night, waiting for sleep to wash over me, and truly feel like I’ve earned it.

When we are playing on the beach in the islands, or snorkeling through the reefs, it will be with the certainty that our boat is safe and sound, waiting for us, equipped with everything we need, our own little island that we’ve created and sustained. There. Is. So. Much. Power. In. That!!

When we moved on board five months ago, I had never sailed on the ocean before. I had never done an overnight sail or spent the night at anchor. Those are the obvious things.

I also had no real knowledge of what the basic needs of a family amount to in watts of power, gallons of water, pounds of flour – things I blindly took for granted during life on land. Sitting in our condo the final weeks we were packing, I made a point of recognizing the luxuries that would be left behind – my dear, sweet bathtub, how I miss you! But I also shed a lack of accountability and ownership that I’m embarrassed to realize I lived with for as many adult years as I did.

All if this isn’t as sexy as saying we’re sailing off into the sunset to beaches and palm trees and warm breezes. I’m just realizing now, finally, that it’s equally as important.

rope-swing

Where there’s a rope, Claire makes a swing

For the rest of this Christmas week, we’re making the most of our time here, relaxing and indulging in “tasks” we didn’t have time for before (like Aaron getting his PADI cert to dive). Though we’re hoping for a holiday crossing, there are definitely no guarantees when it comes to weather, so if we’re not in the Bahamas come Christmas morning, perhaps by New Year’s.

Whenever that window opens up, our next chapter begins.

Two Weeks Until the Bahamas

claires-assistance

My little helper, practicing her letters and numbers by labeling my boxed wine. #MomOfTheYear

If all goes to plan, roughly two weeks from now, we’ll be in the Bahamas. Even typing that seems so crazy to me! It feels like we’ve been working toward this goal for so long, and at the same time, a year ago, we didn’t even have our condo listed yet. Time is a fascinating enchantress.

With our impending departure, our to-do list has been supersized and expedited, both with Aaron tackling projects himself and us scheduling technicians to come out and help. One of the huge tasks I’ve been handling is provisioning Clarity with everything we’ll need to eat (and live) comfortably for months at sea.

How can you plan meals for two adults and a 4-year-old with an endless appetite? How do you keep meals interesting and delicious with shelf-stable staples, as our refrigerator and freezer space is limited? And where the heck do we put it all?

Luckily, plenty of people have done this before and documented their tips and tricks, so I’ve been reading a lot of blogs and articles to better direct my efforts. We used three months as an arbitrary but practical period of time to plan for. Likely, by that point, we will have stopped in a big port with a sizable grocery store, where I will provision again. We met plenty of cruisers who spent the entirety of hurricane season watching for sales and stocking up on mass quantities of canned goods and other items. To my fault or success, I’ve managed to tackle our provisioning needs in roughly a week, with a few loose ends remaining.

Here is my master provisioning list. I’m pretty proud of it – many, many hours and beers went into the crafting of this document. Here’s how it all came together.

Believe it or not, people do eat in the Bahamas! But we plan to be at anchor the majority of the time, so we want to both limit how much our cruising plans are dictated by stopping at a port where fully stocked stores are available, and also keep the loads we haul back to the boat on the dinghy minimal. We also plan to pick up fresh produce and proteins here and there at the markets on the islands.

Here are a few of the considerations of what to buy:

  • Stores at the major ports have great inventory, but there are still some things that you just can’t get over there (like gin and cheap beer!), so we stocked up on our favorites.
  • Most everything there is more expensive, though the upcharge on some things is higher than others. We save a lot of money by bringing as much as we need with as possible.
  • Shelf-stable goods are key, as we have limited space in the fridge and freezer, but enough storage throughout the boat to stock up for months. We are now living in a floating world of cans.
  • Stocking up big time on basic items, like flour, rice, beans, etc., allows me to make more from scratch, which saves us money and extends how far our groceries will reach. Bye-bye, most prepared foods, hello homemade everything!
  • Staying realistic with what we’ll actually eat. I’m just not going to eat canned green beans or Spam. Ever. So though they are appropriate shelf-stable items, they will not be making the journey with us.
  • We’ll be celebrating Christmas and New Year’s in the islands (fingers crossed), so I got us a few special treats, like two bottles of Champagne and a bottle of sparkling grape juice for a toast to the new year!
Bags and bags completely filled - just with the excess packaging that I removed.

Bags and bags completely filled – just with the excess packaging that I removed.

I have never racked up grocery bills this high in my life. I might frame the receipts. All in all, including toiletries, medicine and first-aid needs, and more, we’ll easily be at $1k in cost. But the buying of the things was only part of this enormous job. Next was the repacking of the things. Here’s what had to be considered for this part:

  • Cardboard on a boat is the devil. It attracts moisture and bugs. So all cardboard had to come off immediately. And I mean all. Even the Ziploc bags were repacked into a bigger Ziploc bag.
  • Out with the cardboard goes any preparation instructions, so these must be written out in Sharpie on the Ziploc bags.
  • The paper labels on cans and the glue used to adhere them are also big no-nos. (Roaches like to lay eggs in the glue. I’m disgusted that I know this.) So off come the labels, and the contents need to be written on top, bottom and sides, so they can be seen no matter where/how the cans wind up being stored. Every single can also got a wipe-down to remove any excess freeloaders.
  • Though we bought some items in bulk, they needed to be repacked into small quantities. That way, if one of the packages spoils or is compromised, the rest of the packages are still in play, rather than the whole thing being ruined.
  • Dry goods, like beans, rice, flour, etc., are all double-bagged. In addition, bay leaves are added to each package to prevent weevils.

cansAnd finally, the storing of the things. One of the amazing things about this boat is all of the storage it affords us. It truly was designed with this lifestyle in mind. Having countless storage areas requires thoughtful planning of what goes where. What things should be most easily accessible? What can remain in the deep gallows of the boat for a few months? And how can we package tightly so that bottles and cans aren’t clanging every time the boat rocks? Everything had to be meticulously documented, from quantity to specific location within each storage compartment (ex. Canned black beans, salon, center compartment, starboard).

Again, behold my magical master spreadsheet! This will allow me to not only keep track of what we have, but also go “shopping” in a month, two months, and grab what I want fairly quickly.

Believe it or not, we still have a few loose ends to buy before we shove off, and plan to rent a car this weekend for one last run to the stores, but we’re nearly there. Weather-pending, we will be leaving the dock here in Fort Pierce, Fla., on Dec. 15 and doing a daysail down to anchor near the Lake Worth inlet. From there, we’ll do another daysail down to Port Everglades, where we’ll take care of a few final things before waiting for a weather window to cross to Bimini.

With each major task like this accomplished, we get closer and closer to making Clarity a truly self-sufficient world, to visiting remote islands where there are no grocery stores or markets, to the freedom of going wherever we want, whenever we want, and doing so comfortably.

This life! I’ve already learned so much, and we haven’t even yet left.

Anchoring Off Cumberland

Home sweet home, our anchorage in Fancy Bluff Creek

Home sweet home, our anchorage in Fancy Bluff Creek

Cumberland Island will forever be a favorite for me, both because it’s the first place we’ve ever anchored, and also because of its undisturbed beauty. After a month at the marina in Brunswick, it was the perfect place to reset our minds to cruising again.

The ties to the dock are strong ones – for all three of us. This was the saddest we’ve seen Claire as we’ve left a harbor. It was partly the immediate thought of leaving a community that absolutely adored her. But she’s also getting older and understanding the lifestyle more as we continue to cruise. As much as we say that we hope we’ll see them again in the islands, she knows that it’s unlikely, or at least, it won’t be for a long while in kiddo time.

For us, there’s also the hesitation in leaving a known variable. Being at the dock is extremely convenient. The basics (water, electric) don’t run out, and changes in wind and weather (aside from a developing hurricane, of course) require a changing or tightening of some lines, at most. You aren’t married to the tide schedule and there’s no passing traffic to monitor. It’s just easier.

When we leave the dock, wherever we go, whatever we do, must be a better trade. And while leaving good friends will always be the toughest part of this lifestyle, what’s out there never disappoints.

An hour into our cruise from Brunswick, Claire was still understandably upset by our departure. But as we set our course on the Atlantic, we began to see cannonball jellyfish just below the surface. At first it was a few, and then a few more. And then we realized we were sailing through a bloom that stretched for miles. Claire’s spirits were lifted, as were ours. As we rounded the inlet at Fernandina Beach to head into Cumberland Island, three dolphins kept pace alongside our bow. And that’s to say nothing for what we found on the island the next day.

We anchored in a little cove just off of the southwest corner of the island, with a secluded beach just a five-minute dinghy ride away. In a small stretch of shoreline, we found crabs and shrimp and recent prints from birds, raccoons and possibly wild pigs. We hiked through the maritime forest, watching armadillos hunt through the brush for snacks, and had a picnic lunch at the Dungeness ruins, what remains of a mansion from the Gilded Age. The absolute highlight of the day were the wild horses we passed as they enjoyed a leisurely afternoon. More than 100 live on the 17.5-mile-long island. The pictures at the end of this post show the beauty of the place that my words fall short of conveying.

The excitement was not without its stresses, though. We finally broke the seal and spent our first two nights at anchor, and she held beautifully. But the calm sea state during our first night changed dramatically midday Friday (as we knew it would). Winds built from the north-northeast to a steady 20-25mph and the waves kicked up, a steady thump all night long as they broke across our transom. The boat again held just fine, but it was an evening of constant vigilance with our anchor alarm, making sure we didn’t start dragging toward the few other boats anchored just north of us, or the shoreline. As we gain more experience and confidence with anchoring, the stress will decrease.

After keeping an eye on the marine forecast for a few days, noting the steady projected winds from the northeast, studying the local charts, and leaning on the knowledge of friends who had transited just a few days before, we decided to make way south Saturday morning on the Intracoastal Waterway. Waves of 4-8 feet were predicted out on the Atlantic for at least the next two or three days, and though there would have been plenty for us to do on Cumberland Island if we chose to wait it out, the anchorage wasn’t nearly as comfortable as when we had arrived, and we needed to make way south again, if possible.

Transiting the Intracoastal – yet another feather in the Clarity cap. The five-hour run was a whole different kind of adventure. But more about that in my next post.

For now, we are tucked down below this chilly November evening, a few games of Candyland just finished, with the wind whistling through the rig and the soft crackling of krill munching on our hull.

Ready About

silly-goofThe hurricane season is just about over, and finally – finally – we’re about to make our way south.

Brunswick was a wonderful surprise to me, and though I’m ready to get moving again, I feel as I often do when we’re about to leave: “We’ve been here forever! It went by in a blink.”

I’ve heard the term “southern hospitality” many times, and while I’m pretty sure it’s a foreign concept in Florida, Georgia seems to have it in spades. From our walk to town on the first weekend we were here, the business owners extended a warmth that at once felt like you’re pulling a chair up to your grandmother’s kitchen table. The library was a frequent destination, as was the coffee and ice cream shop. And as you can imagine, Claire made fast friends wherever she went, if only for moment to share a twirl or two.

What’s really made this past month such a satisfying one, though, is the community here at our marina. Brunswick Landing Marina has long been a haven for cruisers, whether passing through for a few months to wait out hurricane season, or spending the better part of the year. The social calendar is packed, with the clubhouse as the hub of activity.

There are game nights and craft mornings, potluck dinners, and complimentary wine and appetizer evenings (three nights a week!). There are impromptu jam sessions, sail-sewing lessons and bread-making demonstrations, movie nights, and FREE BEER SEVEN DAYS A WEEK.

jam-session

Aaron sitting in on an impromptu jam session at the clubhouse

Claire is the darling in the middle of it all, plopping herself down on the laps of her bestest friends, showing them her latest paintings and telling them all about her day. Getting her back to the boat to get ready for bed usually requires a robust round of hugs.

Having the scheduled events here has been helpful, otherwise I think we would have worked nonstop through the month. It’s funny: Back when we hatched this crazy plan, a few people asked, “What will you do all day?” There is no end to the work that needs to get done, even just in the day-to-day household things, and rather than reminding ourselves to get back to the to-do list, we often have to remind ourselves to put it down for a bit.

When Claire wants to spell words, we spell whatever she wants to, in no particular order :)

When Claire wants to spell words, we spell whatever she wants to, in no particular order 🙂

There’s three meals a day to prepare, and the ongoing pile of dishes that all need to be hand-washed. Laundry for three piles up quickly, too, and when you live in a small space, there’s no leaving the beds unmade or the shelves untidied, since those are significant parts of your living space. Everything in it’s place; never so true as on a boat. Oh, and there’s daily lessons with Claire, art projects, books to read, games to play, outings. Actual work deadlines fit in there somewhere, too.

We’ve also accomplished a lot this past month on the boat, with Aaron taking the lead on the vast majority of the projects. He’s had a lot of wins – and some understandable frustrations, too, with days that seemed like all work and no payoff. But we continue to ready the boat for our cross over to the Bahamas, and slowly but surely, we’re getting there. Our brand new mainsail will certainly put some spark in our step from now on! A true luxury we never experienced with our last boat.

So, in a few days, we’ll cast lines and head south, first to Cumberland Island to anchor for a few days, and then back to Florida, where we’ll make our final preparations. We’re finally starting to put together a more specific cruising plan, but more on that in another post.

Tomorrow is Halloween, and our fellow cruisers here are excited beyond words to have a crazy four-year-old pirate robot trick-or-treat down the docks. Almost as excited as she is.

After Matthew

Just down the river from our marina, this boat didn't fare as well.

Just down the river from our marina, this boat didn’t fare as well.

In the few days before Hurricane Matthew hit the coast, we heard that even during a mandatory evacuation, many choose to stay simply because they don’t know when they’ll be able to get home again after the storm passes. Now, to a certain extent, I understand their rationale.

A sailor on a neighboring boat at the marina stayed aboard during the hurricane, and as conditions deteriorated, he kept us in the loop on how things were progressing. A few small shifts east of Matthew’s path late Friday were just enough to prevent the eye from making landfall in Brunswick, and weakened the storm surge just enough to keep our docks on their pilings. By early Saturday morning, the eye of the storm had moved north and the worst was out of Georgia. Thanks to updates from our neighbor, as well as Facebook updates from the marina, we knew we were in the clear, at least from any damage visible from the dock. With a collective sigh of relief, we hit the road.

Our drive back, however, was more eventful than we would have liked. We headed east on I-26 from Columbia, S.C., as bands of wind from Matthew were very much still hovering over the coastline. We were grateful when we hit I-95 and began to head south, as the wind and rain finally started to subside, but both interstates were almost covered with tree debris.

Massive oak trees had been cleared off the lanes, in massive piles along the shoulder, and some downed trees were still blocking the road. Traffic was halted multiple times as emergency crews tended to cars that had hit trees and spun out into the median. We were detoured off of the interstate, as stretches were still under water. Military convoys accounted for a considerable amount of the traffic. And everywhere, it smelled like Christmas, the overwhelming aroma of freshly cut trees.

We slowly made our way to the Georgia state line, and then finally to the Brunswick exits, around mid-afternoon. In the pockets during the drive that we were able to get cell service, we checked the Glynn County news updates and learned that the mandatory evacuation had been lifted and residents could return. However, right around the time that we reached our exit, all exits off of 95 were shut down again – a miscommunication between the county officials, who had opened them, and state officials, who had not yet completed all proper checks of the bridges in the area. Had we been even 30 minutes sooner, we likely would have gotten in.

So began our next chapter of waiting, watching the exit from an empty parking lot. All hotels, restaurants, stores and gas stations in the area were closed and without power, so we had nowhere to pass the time but our car. With no timeline given by the Georgia Department of Transportation, we also had no way of knowing if they would reopen the exits that evening, or if we’d be forced to wait until the next morning – or even a few days later.

We crossed the state line to Florida, where some restaurants had been reopened, to grab some dinner. And as we were about to head to a hotel room in Jacksonville that Aaron had miraculously found (everything that was open continued to be booked solid), he checked the county website one last time and learned that the exits had finally been opened.

The utterly amazing climax to this story – god, what a story – is that there really isn’t one. We returned to Clarity and found her no worse for the wear. No damage. No destruction. Aside from some chafing and stretching of the lines, she was completely unscathed.

We drove around Brunswick on Sunday and found that overall, the town had weathered the storm extremely well, with minimal damage other than downed trees and power lines. We took the dinghy over to a marina on St. Simons Island (which is still not yet allowing residents to return), and though there were some visible issues, the boats were still floating. Similarly, Jekyll Island was miraculously spared. A blanket of spanish moss and leaves from the oak trees now covers the ground, and a few trees landed on roofs, rather than the road – but the forecast of devastation had been much worse.

Unfortunately, in situations like these, when some are fortunate, others are not; residents from the Carolinas have a much different story.

With the boat back in order, we are settling back into our routine, tackling our to-do lists in preparation for the islands. These tasks that previously seemed like such a burden, now, are an unbelievable blessing.

 

On Our Way

Clarity's address for the week

Clarity’s address for the week

This past week brought a lot of firsts for Clarity and our cruising life: my two longest sails yet, my first overnight sail, my first night squalls, our first time on a mooring ball.

Two months of hard work behind us, we’re finally starting to enjoy some of the unparalleled perks of this lifestyle.

After a month-long stay at Fort Pierce, we finally cast lines and sailed to Port Canaveral, about 60 nautical miles north. It was a lovely 12-hour sail. Though we had to motor-sail in the beginning, for the last two-thirds, we were able to shut off the engine and truly sail the rest of the way, and all four of us (three crew and boat) said a collective, “Ahhhhhhhhhhh.”

It was only our second sail on the new boat, and Claire and Clarity were in their element. Aaron and I brought the boat into port at high tide, around 12 a.m., while Claire was sound asleep, and tied the lines at the yacht club. We also learned at 4 a.m. how to properly tie the lines to account for five feet of fluctuation between tides :).

Port Canaveral was a huge change from where we’d been. It was lit up like a Christmas tree at midnight with expansive docks for cargo ships bustling through the night shift. A steady stream of container ships, fishing boats and cruise ships shuffled through the channel during our two-day stay.

The highlight was our visit to the Kennedy Space Center. Aaron had been there many years ago as a kid and I had never been. We were absolutely blown away – truly an awe-inspiring and humbling experience. Claire was a trooper during the long, hot day. She’s shown an interest in space in the last few months, a sponge for information on planets and astronauts and outer space. Her excitement when she saw actual rockets and strapped in for a launch simulator filled our hearts.

When we cast lines again on Thursday morning at around 8 a.m., the general plan was to head north to New Smyrna, another 60 nautical miles north, and another stop on our mandatory trek over state lines to Georgia for tax and insurance purposes. Aaron and I had talked about making the run all the way up to St. Augustine, another 40 miles north of New Smyrna, but hadn’t committed to it. A few hours into our sail, we decided, let’s do it.

The 100-mile run would mean that we would have to sail overnight – something Aaron has done many times before on the Race to Mackinac, among others – but something I had never done. It would mean that we would sleep/sail in shifts throughout the night, allowing each other some windows to recharge. As we tucked Claire in at around 8:30 p.m. and prepared for the evening, I was excited. We had both sails out and the winds had been steady. I took the first shift and it seemed like it would be fairly straightforward, albeit tiring.

It wasn’t quite as simple as that. We had checked the radar when we departed and the forecast looked good. But as can always happen, some unpredicted storms developed along the shoreline in the early evening that eventually crept out on the ocean as they intensified. The long and short of it is that Aaron and I wound up sailing through two squalls in the middle of the night. Lots of lightning, strong gusts of winds from all directions, rain coming in sideways. Aaron manned the helm, as the confused winds and seas were too much for the autopilot, and I ran around securing things down below and helping up top when I could.

Overall, the boat did great, we were perfectly safe, and Claire slept through it both times (?!!) – but it was exhausting, and going through a storm like that in the dark, with no horizon or shoreline to focus on, was disorienting, not to mention a little frightening. Adding insult to injury, during the squalls, we made no progress north and had even drifted backward a little.

The storms passed by around 2:30 or 3 a.m. and Aaron sent me down below to grab some sleep. We switched at around 4 and then he came up to join me at 6, when the first few signs of light were starting to show on the horizon. We watched the sun come up over the Atlantic together – an experience I’ll never forget and can’t wait to repeat – and by 7:30 a.m., Claire was up, ready to face the day.

The rest of the sail was lovely, as it had been the day before. Aaron and I rested a bit here and there, but for the most part, the adrenaline of finally getting to St. Augustine was enough to keep us plugged in. Aaron navigated us through the tricky inlet at around 1 p.m., and by 2, we were safely docked in our slip for the night. Utterly wrecked, we were also so proud. That sail felt like such an accomplishment, to both of us. Proof that we could do it, even if unforeseen conditions arose. Further proof that we were a good team, and that we could trust our boat. And also that Claire did so well, happily playing, getting good rest, excited for the adventures in the next port. Needless to say, we all fell asleep early that night and slept a LONG time.

St. Augustine has been a much-needed breath of fresh air, as so many people told us it would be. History, architecture, and endless places to explore. After our first night at a slip, we moved the boat to a mooring ball. It’s essentially like anchoring, except you hook your boat onto a fixed ball. Your boat swings 360 degrees with the tide and current, and you have no electrical or water hookup. It is as close as you can get to how we will be living the vast majority of our time cruising, without having to worry about the anchor dragging.

We signed a week-long contract, and it’s been incredible seeing the fruits of more than two months of work to make sure the proper systems are in order to live off the grid. Our solar panels charge up our batteries quite nicely, with plenty of power for all of our outlets. We filled up both water tanks before we left the slip and have plenty to accommodate showers, cooking, drinking and whatever else we need. Our dinghy takes us to shore each day, and last night when we got back to the boat, we kicked on our generator to run the air conditioning and cool down the boat for sleeping. We even picked up a few free local digital channels on the TV in the aft cabin. The only system we haven’t tested yet is our water maker, but we have a few months left to get that in order.

Life is good. Our hearts are full, our batteries are recharged. I’m starting to really believe that we can do this, and realizing that at the same time, we already are.

Permission To Board

Some throw pillows here, some new linens there, and some craft projects everywhere, and a boat slowly but surely becomes a home.

We were blessed to have close friends come and stay for a few days last week (what a treat!), and as I was getting things in order down below, it dawned on me that the condition of the boat, without tools everywhere and storage compartments torn open and beads and Legos staging a coup, was a rarity.

These are certainly not expertly staged, professionally shot photos. I had poor light and inexperience with capturing confined spaces. BUT – what I did have was a clean and tidy boat, and that seemed cause enough for documentation :). I threw in some pictures of the marina, too, since we spend as much time outside as we do down below.

Once we are truly settled, I will take more photos and make sure they’re up to snuff, including shots of the topsides. Until that most glamorous photo session, here’s a sneak peek of home sweet boat.