The Beautiful Exumas

We’ve been in the Exumas now for about two months and in Georgetown for almost a month – such a long stint that, quite frankly, we’re starting to worry that our anchor is growing roots.

This island chain has brought us both extremes. When we first crossed over from Eleuthera, we entered the Exuma Land and Sea Park, which was the most remote location we’ve experienced to date. No settlements, no stores, no restaurants, no connection, for miles. In a few of the anchorages, we were the only boat in site. But there was unparalleled beauty in untouched beaches, ragged cliffs, vibrant reefs and waters in varying shades of blues that pictures just don’t completely capture. It was the most beautiful place we’ve ever been.

As we made our way south out of the park, we came to settled islands, like Staniel Cay and Little Farmer’s Cay, and the reintroduction to civilization was a bit strange. (Where did all of these people come from?!) But the warm embrace of conversation with others and a meal I didn’t have to prepare myself was magic.

Eventually, we made our way to Georgetown, the capital of the Exumas, and a cruising mecca. Some boats cruising the Bahamas make Georgetown their southernmost stop before heading north back to the States and to Canada. Others stop in for a month or two before venturing further south to the Turks and Caicos and the Dominican Republic. And still others drop anchor here and don’t leave. Never before have we seen so many cruisers in one place, with bays off of Stocking Island lit up like Christmas trees every evening from the bevy of swaying anchor lights. Hamburger beach, honeymoon beach, sand dollar beach, volleyball beach – each anchorage its own little community.

Every morning at 8 a.m. on VHF channel 72, the cruisers’ net is broadcasted. It includes the forecast, the events for the day (morning water aerobics, afternoon coconut painting, volleyball games, trivia and poker nights, etc.), general boating inquiries, and arrivals and departures. Even without organized events, the beauty of this area lends itself to countless activities.

Town is a dinghy ride from our anchorage across Elizabeth Harbor, and you can find most things that you need, provided your expectations aren’t too high and your wallet is fairly padded. The grocery store is decently stocked, especially if you go right after the mail boat has docked, and there’s a cute little library that’s open sporadically. Imagine – the full complement of The Magic Treehouse books, here in the middle of nowhere!

One of our favorite spots is Driftwood Café, with tasty food, excellent coffee and sassy staff. They know me and Claire by name, of course. And I buy fresh organic eggs from one of the women who works there. She brings them from her home, where she and her husband tend to more than 100 chickens. Because that’s how we roll in the Bahamas.

Most of Claire’s birthday presents were purchased from the Straw Market, a tent of fold-up tables were local artisans sell their wares. Some items are sourced from Nassau, but Claire picked out a reversible doll from one of the stalls that the woman sewed herself, and I watched another woman make a larger version of the colorful straw basket I bought for Claire.

Between adventures with other cruisers, outings to town, boat projects, work deadlines, beach bonfires, lovely visits from friends and family, and countless other things that unfold each morning, we’ve settled into quite a comfortable groove here.

Still, that wanderlust is starting to creep in, wondering what’s around the next corner…

Something about boat problems and making lemonade

"A little higher, guys, and a little to the left... I can't hold her all day!"

“A little higher, guys, and a little to the left… I can’t hold her all day!”

The bad news: We had to get hauled out this week.

The good news: We’re back in the water and finally on our way to Eleuthera tomorrow!

So here’s what happened. After slowly traversing the Abacos from north to south, we had finally made our way down to Little Harbor, our gateway to cross to Eleuthera. With the boat safely anchored, Aaron donned his snorkel gear and dove down to clear what we thought was a clogged water inlet for our watermaker (turns out it was just an air lock in a pump which, once found, was fixed in seconds). But while he was down there, he noticed that our sacrificial anodes, or zincs, were in bad shape. The one on our propeller had fallen off (the bottom cleaner we hired in Florida installed it for us and apparently didn’t bolt it on correctly) and the one on our saildrive was just about shot.

We had another propeller anode on board and Aaron was able to do a quick replacement. The saildrive anode, however, was another story. We didn’t have a replacement on board – a definite oversight. And, to boot, replacing it meant disassembling the propeller and reassembling it. Newer saildrives allow zinc replacement without removing the prop… what a concept! Some props simply come off in one piece, but of course, we have a fancy, feathering propeller that folds up when we’re sailing to reduce drag. Great, except that to remove it, it has to be taken apart in many pieces (see photo). Not something easily done under water with scuba gear – at least, not the first time, which it would be for us.

The saildrive. Imagine disassembling this and then reassembling it while in full scuba gear under the boat. Nope.

The saildrive. Imagine disassembling this and then reassembling it while in full scuba gear under the boat. Nope.

For those who are unfamiliar, sacrificial anodes are pieces of zinc, a less noble metal, that stray electrical currents slowly eat away at, rather than the propeller, saildrive, or other underwater metal parts of the boat. They can originate in a number of ways – either from neighboring boats in a marina, or from an electrical issue on your boat. Aaron figures it was a combination of other boats in marinas back in the States, as well as an electrical issue of our own that he found and fixed during our first month on the boat this summer.

The anodes are very, very important and replacing them is just a matter of routine maintenance, not an issue of the boat malfunctioning. He had been keeping an eye on the propeller anode and had it replaced shortly before leaving the States.  However, this being our first boat with a saildrive, we didn’t realize there was another anode for it.  It should have been changed back in the States as well.

So there we were, perfectly positioned to head to Eleuthera the next day, and we had to make a decision. We could cross – the anodes needed attention, but we would be okay for another few weeks or more. But, Eleuthera is even more remote than the Abacos. We started frantically researching how we might get the anodes shipped there, and though there seemed to be a few possibilities, they were questionable at best, and definitely wouldn’t be speedy.

Clarity's Saildrive

Clarity’s Saildrive

The bigger problem, though, was that there aren’t any yacht yards in the Eleuthera island chain that could haul out the boat. So, either we swallowed our pride, turned the boat around and stayed in the Abacos to get the boat hauled, or we continued on and either got the parts shipped somewhere in Eleuthera and did all the work underwater in scuba gear (don’t drop anything!), or hoped the old anode held up long enough to get to Georgetown in the Exumas and got hauled out there. Honestly, we were extremely lucky that Aaron noticed the problem the day before we left, when we were still in a place that afforded us some options.  It’s amazing how a $20 part can bring everything to a halt.

After a day of letting the bad news sink in, we bit the bullet and ordered the anodes to be delivered to Marsh Harbor, as we had done with the engine shift/throttle mechanism a month or so ago. We called the Marsh Harbor Boat Yard and got on their schedule for a haul out the soonest they had an opening, a week later. And we tried to make the most of the time in between. It’s all just time and money, right? A lot of both.

hauledUltimately, it all turned out fine. Sure, there were hiccups. Our package was delayed clearing customs, which pushed us back a day. And the delay meant that we missed our window for a short-haul of just a few hours to replace the anodes, and instead had to be fully hauled out and blocked for a night. But, we also rented a car in Marsh Harbor to maximize our time. We did a big provisioning run, filled our propane tanks, got diesel for the boat, stopped at the bank, made a few trips to the hardware store, and even managed to get a few birthday presents for Claire. Her birthday is at the end of March, and toy stores and Amazon shipments just don’t exist here, especially not where we’re headed. Marsh Harbor was our best bet, and luckily, I found just what I was looking for – a kickboard.

Those pesky anodes

Those pesky anodes

Aaron also put in two grueling days of hard manual labor, taking advantage of the boat being out of the water to take care of as many things as possible in addition to the anodes, like cleaning the bottom of the boat, resealing and cleaning out some throughhull fittings, fixing our underwater speed sensor, reinstalling the rubber fairing around the saildrive (lots of sanding and gluing), and overseeing some workers fixing our broken window and changing the oil in the saildrive (it has to be drained out and pumped in from the bottom).

The boat was hauled on Wednesday midday and was back in the water 24 hours later. By mid-afternoon Thursday, we dropped anchor again in Little Harbor, where it all started. And tomorrow, we will cross the Atlantic 65 miles to Eleuthera – with two new anodes in place, and two spares of each on board.

While Aaron was taking a break from working on the boat, he walked across the yacht yard to several men working on a beautiful catamaran. Feeling somewhat gloomy, he thought, “If we could only afford something like that, we wouldn’t be fixing stuff all the time.” The boat is two years old and valued at roughly $550,000. What could they possibly be fixing on such a new, expensive boat?

Both rudder shafts were apparently cast with inferior steel and had swelled in place. The result: The owners were barely able to steer the boat. It was hauled out and had been there for quite some time while new parts were made, others were ordered from France, and many, many hours of hired labor were put in to tear apart and rebuild the steering system. Someone’s cruising plans had not just been delayed, but completely canceled.

We will always have problems to fix, parts to replace, and maintenance chores to do, as this boat is many times more complex than our previous one. Weather conditions will delay plans, freak medical conditions will pop up. The lesson here is to not let these things kill your spirit. I think we’re getting better and better at that.

Life In The Out Islands

Cosmo, the black kitty here who lives around the Hope Town Lighthouse, most definitely operates on island time.

Cosmo, the black kitty here who lives around the Hope Town Lighthouse, most definitely operates on island time.

When most people (myself included, until a few months ago) think of life in the islands, simplicity comes to mind. Ease. Life without worries. But when you start realizing the complexity of sustaining these small, remote communities, getting on “island time” is as much of a necessity as it is a luxury.

First, a definition. The Abacos are considered out islands of the Bahamas. Out islands are any of the hundreds of islands that are “out” from Nassau on New Providence Island (the biggest city in the Bahamas – home to around 80% of the Bahamian population). Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco Island is the biggest city in the Abacos and serves as the heart of the island chain, from where all goods and services flow, to the even more remote islands, the out-out-islands, like Man-O-War Cay and Great Guana Cay.

Stores on the more populated islands are open Monday through Saturday and most of them close for lunch from 1 to 2 p.m. every day. Stores on the out-out islands are open more or less at the whim of the owner, and nothing is open on Sundays.

The out island grocery stores get shipments in by ferry from Marsh Harbour, and Marsh gets supplied primarily by Nassau, which is primarily supplied by the U.S.  Not many things grow successfully on these islands, and attempts at sustaining livestock have mostly failed. Given the song and dance required to get a gallon of milk, you begin to understand the pricing.

I snagged these massive carrots at the grocery store in Hope Town. They were supposed to go to one of the restaurants on the island, but the deliveries got crossed. Also, no fresh fruit available, so time to get creative with canned guava! Turns out guava pureed with yogurt makes a pretty tasty popsicle.

I snagged these massive carrots at the grocery store in Hope Town. They were supposed to go to one of the restaurants on the island, but the deliveries got crossed. Also, no fresh fruit available, so time to get creative with canned guava! Turns out guava pureed with yogurt makes a pretty tasty popsicle.

While staples like dry goods are consistently stocked, other items, like fresh fruits and vegetables, and dairy, are happenstance. If you see something you want in stock, buy it, because they might get something completely different the following week. Sometimes, the shipments to the restaurants and the grocery stores get mixed up, and you just make do with what’s available.

And when there’s inclement weather, cold fronts, kicked up seas, etc., the shipments are on hold. When we visited the grocery store on Green Turtle Cay the second week of January, their shelves were low, as a boat hadn’t come since before Christmas.

It may not be obvious, what with rainbows of shimmering blue in every direction, but drinkable water on the islands is a precious commodity. There’s no immediate fresh water source, like rivers or lakes, so most islands use reverse osmosis and also catch rain water in cisterns. In almost all restaurant restrooms, there are signs to use the water sparingly.

Mail is also very much weather dependent and processed on “island time,” and the post offices run on a whimsical schedule.  The small office may or may not be open, and if it is, your mail will make its way down to the mail boat pickup whenever it does. Once the mail boat picks up the outgoing mail, it’s off to Marsh Harbour. But even there, it gets sorted when it gets sorted. The same goes for the reverse. Friends that we met in Man-O-War in late January were still awaiting a Christmas card that had been sent to them in early December.

A side note regarding addresses: In the out islands, a car is a rare siting. Most everyone travels by golf cart. But some also live on archipelagos where there simply aren’t roads, their dwellings accessible only by boat. Which also means that streets are absent in their addresses, and as such, their properties all have call names. “Sue Jones, Sunset Splendor, Dickie’s Cay, Abacos.” Sounds as magical as it does remote.

Each island that has residents has a bank  – or, I should say, they have a building that serves as a bank. In Hope Town, for example, the bank is open only on Tuesdays, and only for four or five hours. A representative from the Royal Bank of Canada handles the needs of the islanders, but the transacting is more rudimentary. For instance, we needed to get more cash and ATMs on the island do not exist, including at the bank, even when it was open. We queued on the Tuesday we were in town for 15-20 minutes and then Aaron requested a cash advance on our credit card – the only way we could get the paper money we needed.  The bank did not charge any transaction fees, other than what Visa charges us, and it was a rather easy affair.

With views like these from your porch, why would you be in a hurry to get anywhere else?!

With views like these from your porch, why would you be in a hurry to get anywhere else?!

Islands with more residents have health clinics, though these are not the emergency walk-in facilities frequented in the States. They are staffed mostly by nurses, with doctors who visit on specific days of the week to assess specific cases. Like the stores, these clinics are open Monday through Saturday, closed on Sunday, and if you visit the building as a walk-in, you may see a sign on the door that the staff has gone to do a house call and will return later. There are no emergency numbers to call for after-hours consultations.

Communication also works a bit differently in the islands. Given that the islands are all very much maritime communities, much of the correspondence between friends and businesses is done on designated channels on the VHF radio – including for those who live on land. Work also does not happen at the nail-biting, life-or-death pace that courses through our veins in the States. If you call a business to inquire about inventory, or getting work done, they may or may not call you back the same day. They may or may not respond to email. And if you have a verbal agreement for them to come out and assist, they may just get too busy that day. “It will get done.”

When we first arrived in the Abacos, I initially saw all of the negatives in this less-structured framework. What if I need groceries on Sunday, and what if they don’t have what I want? What if I can’t make it to the clinic before 5? Should I even bother to send postcards? It took me awhile to shed the heavy burden of immediate gratification in all things.

But the longer we’re here, the more I develop a calmer rhythm, and I respect, as I should have all along, that all people, including business owners, should be able to spend Sunday at church or with their families. Having certain businesses, like banks, only open one day a week has made us both more intentional about our schedule and more relaxed.

With a complete absence of convenience, I’m redefining “need.” I’m becoming more adaptable, more flexible, more resourceful.

Island time…. I think I’m just about there.

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.

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.

Bracing For Impact

radarAs we locked up the boat yesterday and started walking to our rental car, Claire said, “Mom, can you promise that we’ll come back to our boat?”

I didn’t know what to say. I hope for the best, but didn’t want to make a promise that I couldn’t keep. We’ve been trying to keep Claire aware of what’s going on in a way that she understands and that doesn’t scare her, but even at her age, she gets the seriousness of the situation.

As I sit here typing this from our hotel room in Columbia, South Carolina, the winds in Brunswick, Georgia, where our boat is, have already reached 30 to 40 mph and it’s been raining steadily for a few hours now. The conditions will get much worse before they get better, and all we can do is wait.

When we shifted our life gears and bought a boat in Florida, Aaron and I spoke a lot about hurricane plans. We decided to wait out the season on the east coast, heading north to decrease the likelihood of us being affected by a named storm. Aaron even put together a hurricane evacuation plan – a requirement for our insurance company – and something he did not take lightly.

If we were to rewrite that plan now, it would look much different – one of those things that you unfortunately learn best through experience.

Clarity currently sits in a “hurricane hole,” which is a marina or anchorage that’s designated by insurance companies as a safe haven (relatively speaking) during a named storm. Location, location, location – not just a real estate tenet. The marina sits miles away from the ocean inlet, past Saint Simons Sound, through Fancy Bluff Creek, and up a channel that dead-ends just past the marina. The waves and the storm surge have a lot of ground to cover before they reach our marina. The surge is still our biggest fear at the moment. But more on that in a minute.

Getting your boat to an optimal location is only the beginning. Before evacuating, Aaron and I spent two-and-a-half days preparing the boat for the storm. Some of it was common sense, some of it we learned after researching, and some of it was insight we gained from the other boaters in our marina, many of whom have been through hurricanes before. Here’s the list:

  • Double and triple up all of our dock lines, sometimes reaching not only to our dock but the next over, to spiderweb the boat in and prevent as much movement and bucking as possible, accounting for waves, tides, wind and storm surge.
  • Put chafing gear anywhere the lines touch anything, including other lines, cleats, the boat, etc. With tremendous winds and pressure on the lines, chafing could quickly compromise the lines, rendering them useless.
  • Minimize gear on the topsides to reduce windage as much as possible. For us, this included taking down the furling head sail; removing many excess lines (ropes); stowing all covers including winch covers, the grill cover, hatch (window) shades, sun shades, and more. Anything can become a projectile.
  • Our boat has a hard dodger and bimini, which is a blessing in many ways, but with a hurricane, can be dangerous. After Aaron put considerable time into determining which direction the wind was most likely to generate from at the height of the storm, we turned the boat around, facing the bow into the wind and allowing the gusts to pass right over the dodger.
  • Plug all vents (dorades) that normally allow for fresh air to pass in and out of the cabin.
  • Fill our water tanks to make sure we have full supply upon return, as we may not be able to fill up for days.
  • Close and lock all hatches and lazarettes (our storage areas up top).
  • Down below, close all seacocks (throughhulls) except for bilge pump exits.
  • Check all boats around us in the marina, to make sure they are as prepared as possible. If they don’t reduce windage, for example, anything on their deck could become flying debris. If they don’t tie their boat properly, it could come barreling right into ours.
  • For insurance purposes, take pictures of absolutely everything, to submit with a claim, if needed, and prove that we prepared as much as we could.
  • Book a rental car and hotel room in advance.
  • Pack for evacuation, planning on two or three days but possibly more. This also includes packing up any essential documents and items (passports, boat registrations, computers, portable hard drives) that we would be devastated to lose should we return to a total loss.

By the time we hit the road on Thursday afternoon, we were EXHAUSTED. Also worth noting, though, is not only what we were doing to plan, but what we were planning the boat for, a lot of which wasn’t even on my radar before this. Here are those considerations:

  • The winds: Both the force, and if they’re gusts, or sustained winds.
  • The rain, which causes immediate flooding and raises the overall water height.
  • The waves, which can get as high as 15-20 feet due to the force of the winds on the water. This is certainly more of a concern for the coastal communities, less of a concern as the waves work their way to the inland waters.
  • The storm surge – our biggest concern. As the wind and rain and waves build offshore, they push more and more water toward the coast, creating a surge above and beyond the forecasted waves and tidal fluctuations. For Brunswick, the surge is supposed to be six to nine feet, and it’s looking like it will hit close to the worst time – high tide.
  • Inland tornadoes that can be caused by the systems generated when the hurricane hits land.
  • Loss of power and water, which can last for a few days or even a few weeks, depending on the severity of the storm.
  • Compromised roadways (either by flooding or debris) that prevent us from returning to our boat.
  • Security. With mandatory evacuations, many homes and businesses are abandoned, leaving a wealth of property for vandals and looters.

We are confident that we did as much as we could to secure our boat. Our biggest concern right now is the storm surge. Our marina consists of floating docks, which in theory is ideal, as it allows for the boats and docks to rise along with the increased water. However, the pilings are only about six to seven feet higher than the waters at high tide. If the surge hits at high tide, as it’s supposed to, and it reaches higher than that, which is a possibility, our entire marina could then float up and off the pilings and break apart.

Conditions will peak overnight, and come morning Matthew should have moved up the coast. We’ve planned to hit the road early in the morning tomorrow and get back to the boat as soon as possible to assess things. As long as the damage is minimal, we will be fine, even if the power in the surrounding area is out. Our water tanks are full and we generate our own power. Our batteries will also keep our fridge and freezer running for days.

This is the first hurricane of this magnitude, with this trajectory, to hit the Georgia coast in more than 100 years. Of course it is.

Plan for the worst, Hope for the best. And remind yourself that homes can be rebuilt. All that truly matters is your health and your heart.

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.