Living Like Gypsies

Traveling is tiring! The elusive nap has returned :).

Traveling is tiring! The elusive nap has returned :).

We bought a boat today.

I say that with a period, not an exclamation point, because it’s been an absolutely chaotic process. And I say that because even though we made the decision to buy the boat a month ago (or more), we weren’t able to sign the final documents for the closing until today. It’s for a number of reasons – just a few of which are the fact that the boat was previously registered in Austria, which requires another layer of documentation, and also because both sides are executing the sale from out of state, so powers of attorney abound.

It’s fitting, too, because this morning, we also signed over our other car. We officially have no (land) home and no cars.

We will get excited – I know we will! But right now, we are just plain exhausted.

We have lived the nomad lifestyle as a family of three before, when we sailed Clarity on Lake Michigan each summer for a little more than a month at a time. Truthfully, we were at our best as a family then, which is why we are pursuing this crazy adventure. BUT – taking your home with you is drastically different than living out of a suitcase, and with no home, so to speak, that you’ll be returning to.

The reality has hit Aaron and I in different ways as we’ve spent the last week visiting family in Michigan. There was the time that I panicked because I couldn’t find my house keys. The times that I thought, “We can just handle that when we get ho… , wait, nope.” The times that I watched Tink settling in at my mother-in-law’s house, which she has beautifully, and thought with tears, we are no longer housemates. Aaron and I have both broken down at one point or another – luckily not at the same time.

Everywhere we’ve gone, family has been so welcoming and encouraging, and such great memories have been made that we’ll take with us down south and use to refuel us for months. But as much as I anticipated some tiredness from road-tripping back and forth between family and friends, I did not foresee the feeling of being unsettled that creeps in when the day’s immediate needs and activities ease up. Undoubtedly, the prolonged process to close on the new boat has been a big factor for both of us.

Now that we’ve dotted the last I, though – we’re done, IT’S OURS! – I’m feeling some of the pressure lift. I hope Aaron is, too.

We’ve spent the last week or so visiting Aaron’s family in Michigan, and today, we jump in a rental to visit my brother and his family in Indiana. Then, it’s back to Chicago to see my parents before trading in the rental car for a rental truck and packing it up for the trip south.

At times, our end goal has seemed a million miles away, rather than the hundreds it actually is, sitting quietly in a slip in West Palm Beach, just waiting for us. We’re coming – I promise, we’re coming!

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Weather Pending

Life at the boat has been pretty grand the last few weeks, despite this ridiculous weather. Last weekend, on Father’s Day, Aaron and Claire sailed the boat up to the club while I spent some quality time with my dad, and then Clarity had her first slumber party at the docks before the three of us sailed her back to 31st Street Harbor in the morning.

It was a great mix of quality time on the boat, at the club, and a little bit of time out on the water, though we’re hoping the latter increases if this rain and cold would ever leave for more than a few hours.

We’ve also been continuing to settle in to life juggling time at the boat and time back at the condo, including both of us working both places. In addition to his Talaske work, Aaron’s also been taking on more Clarity Marine Systems clients, and just did his first charter as a hired licensed captain this past week, which is extremely exciting. It took him a lot of studying, hard work and dedication to see that dream realized.

And, of course, throw into the scheduling dance that there are two homes to maintain and keep provisioned while managing a 3-year-old with no “off” switch (at least I haven’t found it yet), which means to-do lists never go away, they just multiply. Also, being at the boat is so exciting for Claire that the only time she has ever napped here aside from the first day of the season was during that short cruise last Sunday from the harbor to the club. Her Father’s Day gift to Aaron :).

As the 4th of July holiday rolls around next week, we can only hope that a new month brings more sunshine and less rain, more warm breezes and fewer days with temps in the 50s. And when those sunny, 80-degree days do make their rare appearances, we take full advantage.

November Sails in September

Mother Nature and Lake Michigan have not been particularly friendly to us this week, as we’ve been slowly but surely making our way south.

Cold, dreary, rainy, foggy – all those attributes you look for in a lovely September sail! It’s been highs in the 50s during the day and lows in the 40s at night. As I wore the same pair of pants three days in a row because my other pair was already in the laundry, I learned that I didn’t pack appropriately. And investing in foul weather gear might be a good idea before next year’s cruise. Helly Hanson, do you also make sets for toddlers?

After a bear of a day sailing to Frankfort, we had the same conditions all the way to Ludington the next day, and then we got socked in for two days as the wind howled and the waters got angry. The middle of the lake saw 18-footers on Wednesday. Tucked in safe in sound at Harbor View Marina, we enjoyed the library and the cozy fireplace, though we were bummed that the hot tub was closed for the season.

On Thursday, Aaron’s mother, Penny, and her husband, Brian, visited us with the best gifts we could hope for – jars of homemade chili, cornbread muffins and freshly baked chocolate cupcakes. We dug around town with a stop at the library (one of the best around for kids), ate some ice cream at House of Flavors and shared dinner on the boat before they headed home.

Friday, we caught a window before more storms set in and sailed to Pentwater. Our friends Jack and Dawn drove up to join us for dinner at the yacht club, and then we joined them at Muskegon Yacht Club, their home port, the next day after a six-hour sail. Hours of chats, laughs around a bonfire – they’ve become fast friends that I know will be friends for years.

Then today, it was on to Holland. I was looking forward to an easier sail – the last two had been rough, as the lake hadn’t calmed down after the cold front settled in. All of the forecasts called for waves of 1 to 2 feet, and the sun started shining just as we cast lines. Finally, a calm, sunny sail! Well, as can happen, the forecasts were wrong, and as soon as we were halfway through the channel and headed out to the lake, it got lumpy. We sailed 2- to 4-foot waves with 10- to 15-knots of wind the whole way down.

And a miracle occurred. I didn’t feel sick. In fact, I loved it! For the first time, I was able to fully enjoy sailing in those conditions, the jib out, us hauling down the lake, riding the waves at a 15-degree heel. It seems that my exposure to longer sails in waves has helped me curb my symptoms. Maybe if we lived full-time on our boat year round, I’d get to a point where I don’t get seasick at all :).

We sailed, rather than motored, up the channel to Lake Macatawa – something we did on the way in to the last two ports, and something that just felt good to do, seeing as we’re a sailboat. We got the boat settled at Anchorage Marina, Claire took a swim in the heated pool and we all collapsed in our spaghetti. And it dawned on me that today was our last full family sail day. If only we could do this forever…

 

Days of Detours

Well, the last two days were not our finest.

After we finally made a break for it and got out of Beaver Island Friday evening, we spent a lovely Saturday in beautiful Charlevoix. Family and friends came to visit, we dug through town, browsing the shops and tasting the latest local fare. Claire took a dip in the splash pad, I did some laundry… Back to “the usual” for cruising life.

With a need to finally turn this boat south and start heading back to the big city, we had plans to make it to South Manitou Island yesterday and anchor out, and put in a long day today, too.

I’ll be honest – yesterday I was not at my best. Claire woke up on the wrong side of the bed – no nap the day before, part of the cause – and was particularly crabby. And in order to make full days on the water enjoyable for all (which they definitely can be), Aaron and I have to be creative to keep Claire entertained. For whatever reason, I just didn’t have it in me, and when the waves started building about an hour after we crossed the bridge, nobody was happy, including the captain.

The wind was right on our nose, which meant no sailing, and it also meant we were bashing into the waves, which kicked up to four feet. At that point, we’re not a sailboat anymore – we’re a really, really slow powerboat. After a few hours, we cried uncle and headed for Northport, just inside Grand Traverse Bay.

We had visited Northport during a week-long charter five or six years ago, and I didn’t have fond memories of it. But Aaron remembered that they had put $500k into renovating the marina and coastline recently, and a friend had told us they were making great efforts to revitalize the town.

It’s now one of our favorite stops of the cruise. The marina was quaint and cute, with clean facilities and a little beach and park nearby. A hop, skip and a jump to town and we were browsing a beer, wine and gift shop that opened just three weeks ago in the old train depot, and the outdoor fireplace of the Northport Brewing Company invited us farther into town.

After sharing some flights of the local brews and some easy conversation with some fellow boaters, we happened on Tucker’s just down the main street. We treated ourselves to some pizza and bowling, and they treated us like a million bucks – the owner even had his wife at home just down the road pop out of the shower to bring us socks!

Another beautiful sunset and a lively chat with another lovely boating couple on the way back to town, and we were re-energized, prepared to really give it our all the next day.

Today started out well enough – sunny and bright, relatively warm, and calm seas in the bay. We had even made it off the dock before 9 a.m. – a first for the cruise! But early on, we couldn’t keep the main sail full – the wind was back on our nose – so down came the sails, with the engine on full blast. And then, the waves picked up again.

And they kept coming, and coming, and coming – a steady three to four feet, with an occasional five. Anyone who’s sailed the Great Lakes knows that the period between the waves here is extremely small (compared to waves on the ocean). From 2 p.m. on, it was as though we were skiing the moguls with out boat, and making terrible time to boot.

Unfortunately, we were too far past Leland to turn around and just head in, and knew we had quite a few hours to go before Frankfort. At that point, you just have to suck it up and keep going. I felt seasick, but managed to keep it at bay – I’m getting better at this with more time on the water. Claire did get seasick once, but then she was back to her giggly self.

Yet, even on days like today, there’s so much to be thankful for. As fussy as Claire was yesterday morning, she was a dream today, happy as a clam, even through the worst of the waves. Her happiness helped me keep things in check; I learn from her every day.

And though it was a rough ride, Clarity (and Aaron) got us to Frankfort safe and sound before dusk, the engine purring like a kitten the whole way (albeit a very loud kitten).

Tomorrow, we’ll spend a few hours letting Claire stretch her legs on land before taking to the seas again. I can only hope they’ll be a bit more forgiving.

Beautiful Beaver Island

This is our third morning on Beaver Island, and I have mixed feelings about this remote place. We’ve experienced some of our most memorable moments of the trip here – and it seems, the island doesn’t want us to leave!

We planned to stay just one full day, setting sail again on Wednesday morning. But Beaver has enveloped us in a bear hug of intermittent torrential downpours, winds of up to 50 knots, waves up to 11 feet out on the lake, and waves big enough in the harbor to splash up over our stern. All of the boats in the municipal marina here, including Clarity, become like bucking broncos during the storm peaks, trying to break free of their lines. Aaron’s diligently been checking and adjusting them to make sure we safely stay put.

While the extra days here have thrown a small wrench in our cruising plans, they have allowed us to truly experience this place – and it’s more than worth the time. After a bustling Labor Day weekend in touristy beach towns, we arrived in Beaver Island on Tuesday early evening – a day after the season closes here. And it’s a ghost town. Shops are closed. Restaurants are closed. Museums are closed. And there are only a handful of souls around.

But, what the Island lacks in population it makes up for in community. And though the islanders may seem quiet and reserved, if you strike up a conversation, they’re more than happy to chat with you. Claire, Aaron and I stopped in the St. James Boat Shop (which happened to be open), where they spend hundreds of hours crafting cherry stand-up paddleboards, canoes, dingys and more, and struck up a wonderful conversation with one of the owners. A year-round resident, her children are a few of the 68 students that attend the Beaver Creek Community School. High school graduating classes are often just three or four students.

I mentioned hoping to visit the Marine Museum across the street. “If it’s closed, let me know,” she said. “I’ll call the owner for you.” The owner of the Toy Museum a bit further down was a personal friend, too, and just a phone call away.

Based on a recommendation from a good friend, we popped in the Beaver Island Fish Market, where they catch, smoke and sell local catch. Unfortunately, the owner who had operated the place for decades passed away a month prior. But the current operator, a humble and tall drink of water still in his fishing gear from the morning, offered us samples of his cajun lake trout, genuinely asking our opinion. Our taste buds told us he’s doing just fine so far.

Those stops were all in St. James Harbor, the tiny town on the northern tip of the island where, we had to pause while a wild turkey and her three babies crossed the road. After checking the radar and realizing that we would be here awhile, Aaron and I followed the local bartender’s advice and rented a Geo Tracker from the marina down the road. In a few lucky weather windows between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, we drove all over the island, deer watching along gravel roads, climbing dunes, hiking through dense forests and relishing in an unforgettable sunset barbecue and campfire on the northern coast, with unparalleled views of Whisky, Squaw and Garden Islands to the north, and the Upper Peninsula on the horizon. (Did you know Beaver Island is one in a cluster of seven islands?!) I highly recommend that you do this if you’re ever in town. And buy the $5 map – it’s worth it.

Aaron and I also both had work deadlines while in town. He spent hours in the Shamrock Bar and Restaurant up the road, scarfing their WiFi to write proposals, while I spent a few evenings hunkered down on the boat, finishing up edits to a report for a client.

All signs point to the weather clearing out by midday today, and the waves should follow by this evening. I’m still trying to convince Aaron that a moonlit sail is in order, but either way, we should be casting lines by tomorrow late morning. Time to go, though I’m going to miss this place.

Frankfort: A Day in Photos

On Saturday, for the first time this trip, we spent the day in port, and it was a beautiful one.

Despite a forecast of high 60s and rain for much of the day, the clouds lifted by 10 a.m. We perused the farmers market just a few steps from our slip, where a strapping young lad working one of the stalls gave Claire a sunflower as big as her head.

We dug around town, trying out the coffee shops (I love Petals and Perks!) and making big teddy bear friends at The Bookstore. We even went for a stunning beach walk along the sand cliffs just north of the channel. All of the fun wore Claire out so much that she actually napped – a miracle in itself!

While she snoozed, Mark and Nikki, a lovely couple who also live in Oak Park and sail (they own a boat and Mark races with Aaron on Turning Point), met us on Clarity and then drove the three of us out to Landmark, their 40-acre playground about a 30-minute drive inland. The property includes inviting log cabins, a vineyard and a masterful red barn that everyone gathers around to eat and chat.

It was a relaxing evening of great company, with plenty of dirt for Claire to dig around in, trees to hide behind and caterpillars to befriend. She even went on her first dates – yep, that’s dates, plural. Two men in one night – Nikki’s nephews. Claire’s gonna be a heartbreaker.

We drove back to Clarity, got Claire down and collapsed. This morning, we took a quick trip to Point Betsie lighthouse before setting sail for Leland! More on that later. Here, some Frankfort snapshots.

 

Three Ports in Two Days!

Four days into our trip, and already plenty of adventures! Clarity is currently docked at the Muskegon Yacht Club, though that will change in another 10 hours or so.

Aaron’s sail from Chicago to Holland on Sunday took just more than 13 hours. Luckily, the sail was relatively uneventful, and Claire and I also had an easy drive up to Grand Rapids the same day.

We stayed with my mother-in-law, Penny, and had wonderful family time Sunday evening and all of Monday, when Aaron was able to join us. We also ate so many delicious homemade meals that I thought I might burst. My mother-in-law is an amazing cook and an excellent baker. I think she made five pies in the two days we were there.

Many thanks are also due to Penny and Brian, her husband, for all of their help. They watched Claire while Aaron and I both got some work deadlines out of the way, and Brian accompanied me on my epic shopping trip that afternoon to provision the boat as best I could for the next few weeks.

On Tuesday, Penny and Brian drove us to Clarity, where we waited out a storm before making the decision to set sail for Grand Haven. Also, after yet another failed nap attempt, Grandma and Grandpa offered to drive Claire up to Grand Haven to meet us. The change in routine had wreaked havoc on Claire’s sleep. Too many fun things to do with Grandma and Grandpa! I don’t need to nap! Sleeping through the night? What’s that?! But we knew that once we got into a routine on the boat, she’d fall back into place. And for the most part, she was in great spirits.

The sail up to Grand Haven just the two of us was a great introduction to our trip. The sun came out and we were able to sail without the engine a little more than half of the way. Claire actually napped for Penny and Brian on the drive, thank goodness, and we all had dinner together in town before getting Claire to bed on the boat – just in time to catch the musical fountain show, which is exactly what it sounds like. As much as I roll my eyes about how silly it is, the show is a cute idea for a seasonal town, and they’ve made some improvements to the lighting and sound since last year. Claire would dance her heart out to it – maybe next year, when 9:30 p.m. isn’t so far past her bedtime.

Penny and Brian headed home and we started sawing logs shortly thereafter – all the way until 10 a.m. this morning! Claire and I dug around downtown Grand Haven for a bit while Aaron tended to some work calls, and after a stop in Oddside Ales, our absolute favorite local haunt, we packed the boat up again and set sail for Muskegon.

Claire napped about half of the three-hour sail, and even though the wind shifted onto our nose halfway there and the waves steadily built, our first family sail of the trip was a memorable one. We grabbed a slip at the yacht club, home to just about the nicest people on earth, and Aaron took Claire for a dip in the pool while I got dinner ready.

Tomorrow, our plan is to keep heading north while the weather conditions cooperate – either Pentwater or Ludington, depending on how ambitious we feel.

It sure feels good to be back in the saddle again…

 

Boating Life: The True Story

Living part-time on the boat for half of the year is an incredible blessing, and one that we take advantage of for as long as we can. But along with that “glamour” of life on the water comes the reality that it’s a lot of work. Not double the work of one home. It’s at least quadruple.

My responsibilities of keeping up the household at home transfer to the boat, too, which means making sure both are fully stocked. This includes food, clothes, toiletries, cleaning supplies, diapers (hopefully for not too much longer), etc. Many times, I’ve been sure that I had plenty of wipes at the boat, for example, only to get there and realize that I really should have grabbed some from the box I just bought for the house. I’ve learned the hard way to become very intentional about keeping a mental checklist of what’s where, and for bigger trips, writing it all down.

Aside from the material things, there are two houses to clean. Sure, the square footage of the boat is not the same as the condo – if you only include the interiors. With s/v Clarity, keeping the topsides clean doubles the job, and in many ways is much more difficult than vacuuming the saloon and wiping down the head.

One of the pesky Chicago harbor problems that all boaters have to deal with is spiders. Spiders in mass quantities. As soon as the sun sets, they come out to play, weaving webs around the gates, the dock boxes, and in particular, the boats. We found a spray halfway through last year that keeps them pretty well at bay, but you still have to regularly hose down the deck and brush off the lines and the sails (whadoyaknow – actually sailing helps with this, too!). When we are gone for more than a day or two, we head back to the boat knowing that at least a couple of hours of work awaits us. The plus side? Out of necessity, I have faced my spider fear head on and can now manage it fairly well.

On the reverse side, when we’ve been at the boat for days, the condo inevitably gets dusty and Tink makes sure to coat a variety of surfaces with fur. And regardless of the zip code, there are always loads of laundry to be done, meals to be made, dishes to be washed. This doesn’t even take into account all of the effort Aaron puts in to make sure everything on the boat, like the engine, the steering, the toilet, well, works.

Maintaining the households and a toddler is a full-time job.

One of the other realities is that taking the boat out for day-sails is a lot of work. It requires unhooking the water, AC and cable (I know, first-world problems); stowing anything down below that may fall when the boat heels, like the television (again, first-world problems); getting Claire situated in her harness and tether, and with plenty of snacks and toys to keep her entertained while we cast lines and motor out; and more. And when you get back in, you have to put it all back.

CaptainAndFirstMateBut the work is worth it. This past weekend, we got to the boat on Friday afternoon and on a whim, Aaron and I decided to try taking Clarity out for a night sail and putting Claire down while we were out. Amazingly, she went to sleep like a dream, and we didn’t hear a single peep when we motored back to our slip and climbed around the deck to reconnect the lines, which was what we were most worried about. Then, on Saturday, a dear friend joined us at the harbor and we decided to take the boat out again for the afternoon. Claire went down for her nap about a half-hour after we left the dock and snoozed for three hours! Any families that sail with kids know that these chances to actually sail as a couple without one of you having to manage a kiddo are moments to be cherished, and we did.

I made us dinner back at the dock and we curled up down below with books for the night.

Sure, there were some loads of laundry thrown in there, and lots of scrubbing of the deck (thanks Aaron!). It was a perfect weekend.

 

 

Claire’s Corner: Naps are for Sissies

Tales from the Crib….

Naps are so overrated. In fact, I can skip my nap and not go to bed in a timely manner. Just ask my parents! I’m teaching them slowly but surely.

We’ve spent seven full days on the boat so far, and I’ve managed to hold out at nap time for every. single. one. Really, I’m starting to impress myself.

Let’s look at the reality. Here’s exhibit A, where they expect me to be sleeping:

Claire'sVBerth2014

Nice and cozy enough, but when I could be hanging on my mom’s leg instead and demanding cookies, it’s pretty boring in comparison. And here’s exhibit B – all of the toys I should be playing with instead!

ClairePlays

Not to mention all of the fun games that I can play instead of sleeping. Such as how far I can throw my stuffed puppy behind the crib so mom and dad can’t reach it. How many times I can jump around before smacking my head on the ceiling. Licking the mesh side of the crib, unwrapping the sheet, dumping my water on the mattress, and yelling almost every word I know at the top of my lungs, just to see how far my voice will carry. (At least partway down the dock.)

If I’m being honest, my parents aren’t really being fair about this whole thing. I mean, I’ve seen them on at least a few occasions sneaking up to the cockpit after putting me down and eating cheese and crackers – MY CRACKERS!. That’s just cruel.

Or they’ll try to time it so that, right as I’m supposed to be falling asleep, we’re heading out for a sail. Really? Like I’d want to miss that! And besides – if I’m sleeping, who’s keeping an eye on the ducks? You can’t let them out of your sight or they’ll steal your snacks (even MORE crackers gone!).

It’s also prime time for me to “get rid” of all of the food I’ve crammed down for breakfast and lunch. And who wants to sleep in that for two hours? Not to mention that I’m sure mom or dad would want to take care of it before the smell permeates the entire salon.

By me refusing to nap, I’m doing them a huge favor, and one they don’t seem to be appreciating. They’re pretty grumpy about getting me out. I don’t know what their problem is.

And I overheard once that the definition of insanity is … well … I think you know.

So, we’ll see how it goes tomorrow. It’s supposed to be a beautiful day, and I bet dad will decide to take the paddleboard out for a stroll right after they zip me in. Surely, he needs a partner for the ride! To keep an eye on all of those pesky ducks, of course…