First-Year Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some thoughts on our first year.

 

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

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

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

 

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

Reality: Life is different, not simpler.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Reality: Yep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Reality: Tenfold.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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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.

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.

Getting Settled

Claire swam for the first time without a floatie on Monday. On Wednesday, we were back at the pool with full snorkel gear for the whole family to practice for an outing this weekend to a nearby hotspot. She never wanted to come up to the surface!

My two favorite fish!

Claire swam on her own for the first time a few days ago. Something clicked at just the right time, she remembered what she’s learned from classes and practice, and was brave enough to get over her fear. And once she started, she never went back.

It happened in the middle of the day on Monday at a nearby pool, when Aaron normally would have been at the office all day. Except that he was there, encouraging her to keep swimming to him a little bit further, a little bit further each time. We were both there to see it.

That’s one of the many reasons why we’re doing this – to experience these amazing life moments together.

We’ve been here five days now (has it only been five days?!), and we’ve already had some amazing highs. The lows have been there, too. When we arrived at the boat, I was overjoyed and felt the same immediate sense of “this is home” that I experienced when we flew out to see her for the first time. But truthfully, those first three or four days, I was not at my finest.

After the long road trip from Oak Park, we got here and immediately dove into unloading all of our life possessions from the rental van. In the grand scheme of things, we didn’t bring much, but in cruising terms, we had triple what we should have. We were again buried in boxes, and you all know by now how well I do with that.

It also doesn’t help that our boat is in a slip that is about as far from the parking lot as you can possibly get, so Aaron and I had to haul countless loads of boxes in small dock carts in heat so oppressive you’re almost immediately drenched. We still aren’t done unpacking, but finally, in the last day or two, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel of “stuff.”

We’ve also shifted course a bit from our original plan to maintain our sanity (or find mine) and to not dive head first into absolutely everything at once (after all, isn’t moving across the country onto a boat enough for one month? 🙂 ). Originally, after getting here Saturday afternoon, we were planning to return the rental car on Wednesday and leave Riviera Beach City Marina, on the Intracoastal Waterway where our boat is docked, within a few days. We had our reasons and they were good ones – this marina is extremely expensive and with hardly any amenities, and we are still planning to head north to Georgia or South Carolina to wait out hurricane season.

But the next logical port is about an eight-hour run away. We managed to get all of our boxes out of the van, but our things were by no means put away yet. Aaron and I both had work deadlines. Boat issues had to be fixed (the air conditioner needed attention, there was a fuel leak with the generator, etc.) Not to mention the fact that we have had no time to get the boat off the dock, even for a short run to hoist the sails and check the engine.

Oh, and we have a 4-year-old 24-7 now who needs our attention, too.

It was all just too much pressure, and we thought, at least for this first month, let’s just give ourselves a break. We signed a lease for another month here (though we will likely leave sooner than that), and since there’s not really anything in walking distance here, we thought, what the heck, let’s just rent a car for another week. Sure, all of these decisions amount to more money than we were planning to spend this month. But sometimes, you have to make a decision based on what’s best for the family. There’s plenty of time for us to settle into this lifestyle a bit more gradually.

It’s been a trip, to be sure, but as I mentioned, there have also been unbelievable moments of joy. Like when Claire lit up in a monster-sized grin when she saw her room for the first time, or when she felt the ocean on her feet for the first time. Like when she swam on her own, or when we drove to the local snorkel/scuba outfitters and got gear for the whole family. We immediately went to the pool to have her try out her mask and tube, and right away, swimming underwater opened up a whole new world for her that she refused to leave all afternoon. There’s a highly rated snorkeling spot called Peanut Island almost spitting distance from our boat, and we’re planning to head there in the next few days.

Tomorrow morning, I will wake up with the sunrise, brew some coffee, sneak out while Claire and Aaron are still sleeping, and drive to the beach to start my day with the rhythm of the waves . I think it will be another one of the highs for this first week. And also, something that becomes part of my daily routine. What an amazing thought…