Tough Decisions

Claire gets chummy with the Luperon immigration officials

The last month or so on Clarity has been a grueling one – one that’s made both of us consider quitting. It seems, the hits just keep coming.

One of the reasons we decided to visit Turks and Caicos was to get the boat hauled out there for a bottom job – a biannual task that had come due. But while the boat was prepped for new paint, it became clear that our saildrive, a critical part to our propulsion, was severely corroded. In fact, we realized that it was not a new problem – that the previous owner had patched the problem, painted over it, and failed to disclose it to us.

There we sat, already with a steep yard bill just for the work we had anticipated. We could either buy a new saildrive – $10k, not including shipping or labor. Or, we could do another patch job, cross our fingers and buy ourselves some time to get the boat to Puerto Rico, where we’re planning to spend the latter part of hurricane season, and decide what to do then.

During this first year of our journey, we’ve found ourselves regularly coming back to the question, “When is enough, enough?” I won’t outline the running list of what we’ve dealt with just since crossing to the Bahamas, but suffice to say, it is extremely lengthy, and extremely costly.

The simple response, though, is that it hasn’t been – at least not yet. We’re still here; we’re still doing this. The boat is not for sale.

But we are exhausted. Aaron, who has the lion’s share of responsibility when it comes to boat maintenance, is particularly exhausted.

Often times, our friends and family will try to help us put things in perspective. “If you were back in Chicago, you’d be dealing with a leaking roof! Your basement would flood! Your windows would need replacing!”

I see the parallel, but then raise the challenge of, would all of those happen within 10 months, or would that be considered a really bad stroke of luck?

And back at “home,” we could just step outside if there’s an emergency. We could get on the phone and call any number of experts in the area, and then pay them to deal with the problem. We could maybe decide to let this particular problem go for a bit and deal with it down the line.

We wouldn’t be constantly making decisions that weigh our own safety and account for what would happen if said problem or part fails when we’re on passage, a hundred miles away from land.

Are we being too brazen? Are we putting our lives at risk if we don’t fix this? If we go the middle route, instead of the most expensive route, are we just running the risk of it breaking down again in a year? Or are we shelling out money we don’t really have and playing it too safe?

Keep in mind, too, that parts are not available locally. Everything is shipped internationally from the States with the associated shipping fees, customs forms, duty costs, etc. We are now well-versed in getting things shipped and cleared in the Abacos, in the Exumas, and in TCI. I wish we didn’t need to know these things.

Also, shipping and clearing is not a quick ordeal. For instance, if we decided to buy a new saildrive and have it sent to us in Provo, it was going to take a week or so to get parts. In making our decision, we had to factor in the cost of a one-week stay on the island, as well as a rental car to get around. Roughly $1,000, just to “wait” for parts.

So far, in most cases, we’ve erred on the side of caution and spent the money. This is our home, after all, and especially with the kiddo on board, we must make sure that it’s safe. This time, after hours of back and forth, we decided to do the patch job. We paid a much smaller fee up front to postpone the larger bill down the line, allowing us to keep our forward momentum. But the monthly budget that we reasonably estimated for this lifestyle before we moved aboard has been so far blown out of the water, I had to laugh when I looked back at the numbers.

Did we get a lemon of boat? I don’t necessarily think so, but maybe. Did we get dealt a bad hand for the first year? I think so, but maybe it’s always like this. Does it truly matter, though?

We feel how we feel. We have had truly life-altering, awe-inspiring, humbling experiences this year, and have felt incredible joy. But the overall scale has tipped more to making really tough decisions and solving really complex problems that have taken an enormous toll on our wallets and our mental fortitude.

And just when we feel like we can’t take anymore, we get more.

The passage from Turks and Caicos to the Dominican Republic was a harrowing one – one that I hope will stay on the books as our worst, but likely will get replaced. We made a short (and very pleasant) sail from Provo to stage the boat in French Cay for the crossing, and departed early the next morning. Aaron had done extensive reading and research on the best weather, wind conditions and heading for the trip, and estimated that we should be able to make it to the northern coast of the Dominican by 8 a.m. the next morning.

Shortly after we got off the Caicos bank the conditions worsened. The seas got rolly and the combination of the swell and the waves became extremely uncomfortable. In addition, though we had planned on the winds picking up the further out into the Atlantic we got, they increased sooner, and much stronger.

Adding insult to injury, our autopilot had been slipping prior to the sail. Though Aaron had fixed it, the sea state during the crossing was too much for it. Handsteering was the only option, and Aaron sat at the helm for 18 hours straight. It was an unbelievable test of endurance for him, as the conditions made it extremely difficult to stay on course and keep the sails full, and I am not anywhere near as experienced as he is in steering  in those circumstances. Though I relieved him a few times, my responsibilities were everything else: all things Claire-related, fixing and serving meals, keeping watch for other boats in the early morning hours as we got closer to land, and monitoring our AIS.

In addition, I felt sick. Claire got sick. The waves built to six footers, with the occasional seven-foot wave broadsiding us and turning our cockpit into a swimming pool. Even with our careful preparation, the heel of the boat and constant bashing of the waves made down below a wasteland of stuff that had fallen everywhere.

And, though I had tightened them as best I could, our hatches were not fully secured. As the waves continued, salt water leaked into our cabin. Aaron’s phone was ruined. His computer, which was out on the nav station running our AIS, was damaged (but repairable once we return to the states).

In the midst of all of this, Aaron realized that keeping any easterly direction in our heading was untenable, and bore off to make landfall further west and then motor up the coast in hopefully calmer water/weather at night. It was the right call, and we dropped anchor off of Monte Cristi at around 4 a.m. But over the next three days, we motorsailed east along the coast, leaving at daybreak and making as much distance as we could before late morning, when the daily trade winds here set in from the east and kick up the seas once again. Finally, we limped into Luperon, exhausted. But, the lush, mountainous coastline that we sailed along to get here was the most breathtaking backdrop I’ve ever seen.

The question, again – when is enough, enough? Is this enough?

Now that we’re here, we’re not planning to move Clarity out of this bay for at least a month, maybe longer – a much-needed break from traveling. Just in the last two days, we’ve already met amazing people, both fellow cruisers and locals. As Luperon is one of the best, if not the best, hurricane hole in the Caribbean, it’s a popular hub for the cruising community, and as a result, there are a lot of resources here, as well as activities like karaoke night and movie night at Wendy’s, the bar where “Gringos are welcome!”

Our eyes have been opened to a whole new culture that I’ve never experienced before. My years of Spanish in school have come in very handy as we communicated with the officials to clear in and handle necessary tasks like getting money exchanged and buying groceries. It’s a wonderful breath of fresh air to be in a place that pushes me to be more engaged in everything that we do, simply because Spanish is not my first language.

We make smart decisions and are apprehensive and hesitant when appropriate, but everyone has been very friendly and happy to help. Roosters and dogs have the run of the streets, motorcycles speed past in a burst of noise, and local music is blasted from speakers set up on the sidewalks – all just part of the culture here.

And Claire is immersed in it all, the beauty of everyone’s eye.

“Why don’t they speak how we speak?” – a rewarding conversation for both of us ensued, simply because of what she experienced walking down the street. At her prompting, we spent an hour looking up any word she liked in Spanish.

I overheard her playing with her stuffed animals, setting up an “office in a new place,” where her bunny reminded her llama to have his passport and important papers out.

She now greets everyone in Spanish, and even told some locals that if they forget how to say “thank you” in Spanish, she could teach them.

She played with her ocean-themed sticker book and asked about the Great Barrier Reef. “Can we go to Australia, Momma, and visit? Can we sail there? Show me where it is on our map.”

Her eyes are opening to this great big world in ways I could never have imagined.

This. All of this, is why we do this. Little by little, our batteries are restored. The scale tips again to the good. And we think, how could we not work through the difficult times, when these experiences are the reward?

Enough? Not today.

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.

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.

The New Plan

Trumpet

Creativity at its finest! Boat parts as instruments.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned since this new chapter began is that plans and schedules are for the birds. Anything that’s not based first on the weather, second on boat preparedness and third on finances is quickly scrapped. And our sanity fits in there somewhere, too :).

Based on my last post, the plan was to stay in Fort Pierce for a few days and then continue heading north, with the next stop being Port Canaveral. I was jazzed about this plan. Finally, Clarity could spread her wings! We wouldn’t be tied to a dock!

We’re tied to a dock. And here’s why. Once we guided Clarity in safely after that full-day sail last week Thursday, Aaron and I were tired, both from the sail and from all the prep the days before departure to get the final necessary boat projects sorted to move her. We spent Friday and Saturday exploring town and Saturday night, we started looking more in depth into the forecast for a Monday or Tuesday departure. Sure, sunny skies (with occasional passing showers) were forecasted all week. But a comfortable sail relies on a lot more than that.

For Monday and Tuesday, the seas would be calm, but the wind was forecasted to blow straight from the north, which means we would have been fighting it the whole way up the coast, and Port Canaveral is about a 14-hour sail from here. From Wednesday on, the wind was more favorable, but the seas would be kicked up to 4-foot waves. As Claire and I get acclimated, we’ll be able to handle these fine, but this early on, we’re just not there yet, so likely she or I or both of us would be sick. I like to avoid that whenever possible.

You may also remember from my previous posts about Riviera Beach that here in Florida, once you’ve paid the transient rate for about seven or eight days at a marina, you’ve paid for the month. That’s just how it works. So, if we left after the seas calmed down some, we’d be leaving and paying the transient rates at these new marinas while this slip that we already paid for for the next three weeks would be sitting vacant, and with this lifestyle, we just couldn’t justify that. So, after a day or two of going back and forth, we signed the contract. Harbortown Marina is our home for the next three weeks, and this past week has proven in spades that it was the right decision.

First, it allowed us to take the throttle off the long list of boat projects that still need to be done and do them at a more leisurely pace, and while we weren’t also trying to make headway north. We work on the boat every day, but we have time to play, now, too, and not feel like every minute we’re spending family time, we’re getting behind. This also allows us some time to practice, both with the dinghy and with the boat itself. I’m getting more comfortable launching and driving the dinghy myself, and in the next few weeks, we will practice anchoring the boat in some of the protected coves here in the ICW, so that when we do head north, we can stay on the hook in a few of the ports and save the transient dockage fees.

Harbortown is also a lot more comfortably equipped than our last marina. We have a pool right at the end of our dock, really nice (and CLEAN!) showers, and a boater’s lounge with desks, couches, and games and books for Claire. It’s also a safe marina, meaning that if a hurricane does develop, we can leave our boat here (if you’re not in a designated safe marina, they kick you out). And there’s a lot more that we can bike and dinghy to here in Fort Pierce – a quaint downtown, an aquarium, the local library, museums, beaches, islands, grocery stores, etc.

We’ve also been able to establish more of a routine for Claire. Generally, we hang around the boat in the morning, having a leisurely breakfast before getting into reading/writing/crafting time until lunch or so. Aaron and I will trade off, one of us with Claire while the other tackles boat projects or work deadlines. Then, in the afternoon, we spend time as a family, whether that means launching the dinghy and heading to town or a beach, or sticking around the marina and enjoying the pool and the lounge. We’re usually back on board in time for me to get dinner started.

The cherry on top has been that a few days after we signed the contract, we met another liveaboard family just a few slips down on our dock. The couple is fantastic – warm, friendly, down-to-earth, fun. And they have a six-and-a-half-year-old son, Leo, who gets along great with Claire. They’re here getting their boat ready to head to the Caribbean about the same time we are, and it’s been such a breath of fresh air finally meeting some boating buddies and developing new friendships for the three of us.

So where do we go from here? We are “definitely” heading north mid-September, port-hopping our way up the Florida coast to Brunswick, Georgia, right over the border. Since we bought the boat as out-of-state residents, we are required to vacate the state within 90 days of the purchase. We’ll choose from a few safe-harbor marinas in the area and spend the month waiting out the rest of hurricane season and continuing to ready the boat before we make our way back south again and cross over to the Bahamas.

Slowly but surely, we are settling in, and every day, it feels more and more like home.

First Family Sail

DSCN2682There were times in the last month that I thought, we are never going to leave this dock. Our boat is literally putting down roots in this slip. Projects will weigh us down and drown us before we ever fill her sails.

But she sails. Beautifully. Comfortably. This floating home and her crew are finally finding their bearings.

After a very busy and exhausting month, all the way through the night before departure, we cast lines on Thursday morning and guided the boat out to the Atlantic Ocean. We had tested and readied as much as we could with the engine and other critical systems, but truthfully, we weren’t completely sure how the day would unfold. Would the engine quit? Would there be problems with the rigging? We haven’t developed the trust in this boat yet that we had in the Pearson. But this first family sail was the beginning.

With a slow but steady breeze from the east, we put up both sails and made our way north with some aid from the engine. Sure, hoisting the main took more effort, since the sail is older and baggier and doesn’t slide easily through its track. And yes, it was really choppy through the channel out to the ocean Claire and I both started feeling it and once we were out, though the waves were minimal, there was a steady swell. But once we got the sails hoisted and the boat flattened out, so did our tummies. A bit out of practice, we are reminding ourselves how to best tackle these longer day passages. We didn’t need a perfect sail; we needed an uneventful one, and we got it.

We made it to our slip in Fort Pierce at dusk, exhausted but renewed, and have been exploring town the last few days with some boat projects thrown in. The plan is to leave tomorrow for Port Canaveral, roughly 60 nautical miles north.

The vast to-do list is still there, the challenges and adjustments to our new life continue, but finally with some forward momentum, it feels as though a huge weight has been lifted.

It’s funny – we’ve been at this a little more than a month now, and looking back, we’ve already come such a long way, earning our stripes as we go.

 

Getting There

Aaron troubleshooting the fridge, with Claire keeping her worker on task.

Aaron troubleshooting the fridge, with Claire keeping her worker on task.

I’ve been struggling for awhile with how to write this next post.

Life transitions are hard – that’s not news – but how much should you share? Who wants to read something negative? But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve reminded myself that positive or negative, people just want to read something honest. So here’s the truth.

This has been really, really hard – much harder than we anticipated. It’s for reasons that we know are temporary, and circumstances that we know will improve – but day to day, we just keep hoping for more wins than losses.

When we moved aboard three weeks ago (almost four now, wow!), we unknowingly moved ourselves onto a boat that needed a big refit. Issues that we knew needed attention turned into bigger projects, new systems quit on us, problems that we thought we had fixed reoccurred. I say we, but Aaron has taken the brunt of this. As much as I need and want to learn all of these systems, right now, there isn’t time for him to be both teacher and engineer/mechanic. So he focuses mainly on executing, while I focus mainly on the daily running of the household.

Just to name a few “challenges,” our new air conditioning quit on us multiple times. The refrigerator quit with a full grocery shop of food. The freezer seemed to be a lost cause. The shower didn’t work. Outlets were miswired and non-functional. We had a small water leak in the engine room, a fuel leak in the generator. The list goes on.

For those of you who have lived through remodeling your own home, it’s like that – except that every time you need to fix or work on anything, you have to rip apart your entire living space to do it. With three people living aboard, it gets really cramped really fast. Imagine eating dinner in your woodshop, or working on the engine to your car in your bedroom.

The previous owners left bins upon bins of old and replacement parts, leftover fabrics and materials, and more in the catacombs of storage under Claire's v-berth. The only way to know what we had, what we needed, and what we could toss, was to haul it all out, one bin at a time.

The previous owners left bins upon bins of old and replacement parts, leftover fabrics and materials, and more in the catacombs of storage under Claire’s v-berth. The only way to know what we had, what we needed, and what we could toss, was to haul it all out, one bin at a time.

Once we pulled out the bins, we dragged them out to the dock and went through them piece by piece before cataloging it, repackaging it and hauling what was left back in.

Once we pulled out the bins, we dragged them out to the dock and went through them piece by piece before cataloging it, repackaging it and hauling what was left back in.

And it means that any free time that we don’t intentionally assign to down time gets sucked away just with solving problems – not to mention work deadlines, making meals, doing dishes and laundry. You know, life. We have never earned our sleep more, and never slept harder.

The other part of the equation that’s been increasingly frustrating is our location. We absolutely made the right decision to stay here – we were 100% not ready to move the boat anywhere – but Riviera Beach has not been an easy adjustment, especially since we returned the rental car. There’s nothing within walking distance, and strangely enough, there really isn’t much within dinghying or biking distance either. So even when we find a window of opportunity to take a break, the options have been limited. It’s made the transition from our prior life to this one that much more extreme.

If I’m being brutally honest, there have been moments when I’ve wanted to throw in the towel and just go back to what’s easy. Just moments, though.

Our silly goose, having a tea party with her toes in our aft cabin while we make some progress on boat projects.

Our silly goose, having a tea party with her toes in our aft cabin while we make some progress on boat projects.

I don’t mean to paint this all as doom and gloom – it’s certainly not. It’s funny – at least a few people have asked, “How is Claire doing with all of this?” The best of the three of us, by far. The weather gods have been quite grumpy the last few days, and I just realized this evening that she hasn’t been off the boat, except for right on our dock, in two full days, and you’d never know it with how happy she’s been. Sure, she’s used to someone playing with her all the time, be that classmates at school or friends during playdates, so she wants constant attention, and we are working on that. But for the most part, build that kiddo a fort and put out tea for her stuffed animals and she’s content.

I’m trying to keep a positive attitude and remind myself that this is not what our life is going to look like. We will always have work that needs doing, it’s the nature of owning a boat, but it won’t be all-encompassing. For me, the impetus of this life change was the adventure, traveling, meeting new people, taking to the sea! We haven’t even tossed the lines once yet. But we will, we will. We will get there.

Slowly, the wins are starting to overcome the losses. The fridge and freezer are now working, the shower is finally working, leaks have been fixed. The air conditioning is running smoothly and we are just now getting to the point where we can put down-below projects on hold for a bit while we get the topsides ready for sailing.

Our month here is up in a week and a half, and then we’ll cast lines, fill the sails and make our way up to Fort Pierce. Somehow, I just know that once I feel the wind on my face and the waves on our bow, I’ll be recharged, ready to tackle whatever comes next.