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.

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.

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.

 

Landlubbers in Sturgeon Bay

Fall has descended on Sturgeon Bay! A week ago, we were gladly dipping our toes in the chilly Lake Michigan water, cooling off from the 90-degree days in blissfully oppressive sunshine. Today, for a trip to town, pants and fleece jackets were in order, and I found myself wishing I had a pair of gloves.

I was prepared for colder weather up north, but frankly, this is just ridiculous. Fifty-degree days and winds steady at 15-20 mph, for at least two days now. And with the wind from the west, the waves build as they head east to Door County and max out at five- to seven-footers. That’s pretty much a sailing death sentence for Claire, as she gets seasick in fours, and likely for me, too. So, we’ve had plenty of time getting to know the ins and outs of this port.

Luckily, Sturgeon Bay is a gem, with plenty to keep us busy: Toy stores and book stores that keep Claire entertained for hours, friendly neighborhood coffee shops and bakeries to satisfy my caffeine addiction (I’ll admit it – coffee shops are my security blanket). And Sturgeon Bay is a bustling maritime community: Aaron and I have both enjoyed window shopping at Palmer Johnson Yachts and ogling the barges and freighters lined up for fixes at Bay Shipbuilding.

We’ve also been fortunate to be spending the extra days at a marina that has a gorgeous clubhouse, where I can fix our dinners in a full kitchen and we can cuddle up on the couches and catch some cable before heading back to Clarity.

The weather is supposed to break a bit tomorrow, with the waves dissipating and the temperatures slowly creeping their way back up throughout the week. The plan is to finally cast lines tomorrow morning, after four (GASP!) nights here, and head to Egg Harbor. Fingers crossed that a fish boil is in our future!

Land, Ho! Milwaukee!

We did it! Clarity is cruising once again!

As many cruisers know, casting the first lines of the trip is often the hardest part – so much tethers us to land. There are so many reasons that we should stay in Chicago and do the daily grind. But as soon as the skyline is in our wake, I remember why we do this.

See pics from our weekend sails here!

On Saturday, we sailed with 10-15 knots out of the northeast and were able to fly both the jib and the main for six hours out of our eight-hour run. It was overcast and a bit chilly out there. I was also reminded as the waves kicked up (unforecasted) to occasional three-footers, that yep, I do get seasick. A few seasons under my belt helped me keep it in check, though, and overall, it was a great trip up to North Point Marina in Winthrop Harbor, just south of the Wisconsin border.

Sunday morning, a lovely couple saw our Columbia Yacht Club flag and invited us to the Winthrop Harbor Yacht Club for their $5 breakfast (we get reciprocal rights with most yacht clubs). We swapped sailing tales over scrambled eggs and pancakes and they helped us cast lines late morning as we pointed north once again.

The plan was to make a quick run up to Racine; the wind was straight out of the north and on our nose, so we wouldn’t be able to sail anyway. But just before we put the blinker on to turn left into port, the wind shifted to the northeast and the fog started to lift. Claire was happy as a clam and we thought, let’s just keep going! We cut the engine, rolled out the sails, and five hours later, we tied up at Milwaukee Yacht Club.

We’ll be here for a few days, meeting up with friends and taking advantage of the high-speed Wi-Fi to knock out some work.

It’s hard to believe it was so hard to cast those lines back at 31st Street…

November Sails in September

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Days of Detours

Well, the last two days were not our finest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See Ya Later, Chicago!

ClaireSunglassesFinally this boating season, stars and schedules have aligned! Tomorrow, we cast lines and head to Michigan for three or four weeks.

The plan? Live on our boat full-time, make our way north and see as much as possible before throwing the trip in reverse. We are so excited and blessed to be able to do this. Also, the decision to pull the trigger and go was not one we took lightly.

Interested parties can find any number of sailing blogs out there, though I don’t know of any others focused on sailing the Great Lakes with a toddler. But many families are cruising the Caribbean, or even circumnavigating the globe, and documenting their experiences. I’ve actually gotten frustrated reading some of those blogs lately. The pictures are beautiful, and the stories are alluring! But I don’t find them altogether honest. I’ll always be honest here.

Aaron and I had countless conversations about whether or not we should take this trip – not because it wouldn’t be an amazing experience, but in order to make sure we really wanted to take on all of the extra weight that comes with it. Last year, we did a similar trip, and for a similar length of time, so we have a pretty good idea of what we’re in for. With any sailing trip, though, there’re bound to be surprises.

What if weather and waves kick up while we’re sailing? I will likely get seasick, though I’m finding better ways to manage this. Also, if I’m sick, it’s almost a guarantee that Claire is, too. And then the bulk of the responsibility for sailing the boat and getting us safely to shore falls on Aaron. And that’s a heavy burden for him if I’m not at my best as co-skipper.

What if Claire gets a cold while we’re gone? What if she enters another lovely phase of being 2 years old, testing even more boundaries? What if, an hour into a six-hour sail to our destination, she decides she wants off the boat? And then refuses her nap?

What if we’re out and the autopilot quits? Or the steering fails? Or our engine or batteries shut down? Do we have a back-up plan for as many situations as possible? Are we prepared for emergencies?

What if Aaron and I get into a fight while we’re out there? Clarity’s 36 feet can seem pretty cramped in situations like that, and it’s not as if one person can just go for a drive to burn off steam.

(I bring all of these scenarios up because they’ve all happened at one point or another.)

And can we get things organized enough at home to be comfortable leaving for that long? What about work, for both Aaron and me? Oh, and somebody has to stop in on Tink regularly, too!

Then, of course, there’s the financial consideration. Sure, we will be taking our “home” with us wherever we go, but unless we anchor out, we will be paying for slips in every harbor we stop at. These can run anywhere from $35 to $75 per night, sometimes even more, depending on if we stay in a relatively basic municipal marina or a fancy private one with a swimming pool and a hot tub (yes please!).

The truth is, while we’re gone, we will be paying for our condo in Oak Park, paying for our slip at 31st Street Harbor, and paying for our transient slip. G. U. L. P.

I mention all of this to explain that, in order to do this, you really have to want to do it. And you have to accept the inevitable challenges of a trip like this – and embrace them!

Luckily, Aaron and I are both realists, and at the same time, adventurists. With as clear a view as we can have, we are so excited that everything came together and we are able to “take to the sea” once again.

So, here’s the plan:

Aaron will be sailing Clarity over to either South Haven or Holland tomorrow (something he felt was important to do on his own), and I will be driving with Claire to Grand Rapids to visit with his family for a day or two. Then, while Claire and Grandma have some bonding time, I will do my big shopping trip to provision the boat for the next three weeks.

Aaron will likely take the boat one more stop up to Grand Haven and we will rendezvous there as a family on Tuesday, spending a day getting settled before pointing the bow north and seeing where the wind takes us. We will both be working remotely while we’re gone (how fortunate is that?!).

There will be lots of adventures and lots of pictures – I’ll be sure to share them with you! And I’ll be taking notes on each port to create a guide for anyone who hopes to follow in our footsteps, either wet or dry, with their kiddos.

Inevitably, there will be some trying times, and I’m sure we’ll get into some pickles. We always do. I promise to share those moments, too.

See you on the flip side!

OctopusWindex

A Sailor Prone to Seasickness

It was five hours into our crossing from Chicago to South Haven, Mich., last summer when I knew things were going to go downhill.

The sail started out great. Minimal waves, good breeze and a nice but non-threatening overcast that prevented the sun from beating down on us. Then two or three hours in came the swarm of biting flies, so thick that you couldn’t see white on the deck and so hungry for a place to land that all three of us had to put on pants and long-sleeve shirts just to maintain sanity (and even then, I don’t mind saying that I lost it a few times).

But finally, all of a sudden, as quickly as the flies had come in, they were gone. We could breathe again, though the wind disappeared and made actual sailing impossible. It was getting to be lunchtime, so I put Claire down below for her nap and Aaron and I grabbed a bite on the bow while our pal Auto drove us through glassy water for awhile.

And then we realized why the flies had left. Slowly but surely, the wind established itself in a new direction and began to build as the storm approached. We had checked the marine forecast fastidiously before we departed in the morning and though there were some storms forecasted, they were supposed to be closer to shore, near New Buffalo and St. Joe – a fair distance southeast of our course. But, as can happen, this one tracked further north than was predicted.

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Calm before the storm… I wasn’t really up much for taking photos once the waves kicked up…

The pouring rain wasn’t that bad, really. Aaron and I have sailed in it before and, though a little unpleasant, it’s perfectly manageable if you’re wearing the right gear. The height of the storm only lasted 15 or 20 minutes, and Claire slept through the whole thing – a miracle!

But what the storm lacked in length, it made up for in shifting winds, kicking up the waves and making Lake Michigan a washing machine. And it stayed that way, after the storm passed, after the sun came out. Also, by that point in the day, we just wanted to get to South Haven as quickly as possible. This required sailing in the ditch – the absolute worst approach to the waves.

When I felt that first pang of seasickness, I knew it was just a matter of time, and I perched over the side of the boat, fingers and toes clenched, and waited. And it came. Again, and again, and again.

I’ve had bad motion sickness for most of my childhood and all of my adult life. Those twirly rides at carnivals, simulation games, tiny planes, and yes, big waves – these are my nemeses, to be avoided at all costs. But as soon as Aaron and I started dating, I was out on sailboats more and more and became determined to overcome it (especially after some embarrassing dates early on).

I’ve tried it all – Dramamine, Bonine, motion sickness wrist bands, prescription patches behind my ear, ginger pills, ginger ale, ginger beer. Most have had little or no effect on me – Bonine being the most successful, but even the non-drowsy version made me so loopy that it wasn’t really an option. (Taking care of Claire while we’re sailing is my No. 1 job.)

BUT, contrary to what my doctor told me, it has gotten more and more manageable the more time I spend on the boat. In all of the sailing we did last year, I only got physically ill twice – first, during that South Haven crossing, and then during a sail from Racine, Wis., to Milwaukee – a story for another day.

I even do relatively well in bigger swells now, and I can go down below in most conditions. Heck, I’ll even fix us lunch in the galley while the boat is tossing anything that isn’t secured like popcorn in the microwave. It’s predominantly when the winds and waters are confused and kick the boat around in every direction at the same time that I can’t overcome it. And in most cases, the best medicine for me is just to have a job and stay focused on it, keep my mind off of it as much as possible.

Incidentally, Claire also became seasick on those two occasions, and on that crossing to South Haven, when she came up from her nap, it took her about 15 minutes or so of sitting on my lap in the cockpit before she got sick on me as I was sick over the side. I have never appreciated solid ground and a hot shower more than when we finally docked at South Haven that night. Unlike for me, though, who stays sick for the rest of the day once it’s set in, she was smiling and singing songs again as soon as it had passed.

You can’t foresee everything, but the marine forecasts are pretty reliable. And that’s why, on some perfectly sunny, warm days – such as this past Sunday – we’re docked at the harbor. These same days sometimes bring winds of 15-20 knots and 6-to-8-foot waves. Not my prescription for a pleasure cruise.

I don’t think I’ll ever fully shake the seasickness, but life on the water is worth it to me. And if it means we’re a little more conservative with when we go out than other boats, so be it. I must keep remembering – we’re cruisers! Having fun sailing isn’t just desirable – it’s required.