A Message From Louise

When the wonderful Wisconsin couple found our message in a bottle last weekend, it was Pat, the husband, who originally reached out to me. We exchanged a few emails, and it was so surprising and exciting to learn that our bottle had been found!

A few days later, his wife, Louise, also reached out to me. I fancy myself a writer, but Louise shares her experience like a true storyteller.

Here’s what she wrote:

Last Sunday it was delightfully warm on the beach in Wisconsin. I was “beach combing” after the winter, as we walked looking for stray toys and such that we typically need to clean up or find when I spotted your bottle in some grass way up from the edge of the water. Truly one of the most delightful fun surprises of my life!  Who would have ever imagined actually finding a bottle with a message in it?!  Stuff of literature and movies, but actually?

I considered saving it to open with my grandsons but couldn’t wait. Don’t worry, as you can see by the picture, I carefully replaced everything and will let them explore and enjoy it for themselves this summer. I know my two year old granddaughter will love the necklace. I placed the refilled bottle on a mantle in our house with other treasured natural mementos from walks on the beach like driftwood, turkey feathers, sea glass, a monarch butterfly, zebra mussel shells, coal, rocks, pine cones and a vase that was my great grandmother’s.

My husband and I have 8 kids and so far 10 grandkids. We love and respect the lake in all seasons and weather. It constantly changes and surprises. It reminds us of our place in this awesome universe and our responsibility to live well and respectfully in it. I will think of your family and wish the best for you whenever I look at my unexpected gift from the deep.

Bless you and safe travels.

Our message in a bottle, displayed with other treasures on Pat and Louise's mantle.

Our message in a bottle, displayed with other treasures on Pat and Louise’s mantle.

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Final Days

Pirate Princess Claire

Last night was our last night on Clarity as a family – definitely for the season, and possibly for forever – as Aaron and I will deliver her to the yard this weekend for winter storage.

On the face of it, it was not a particularly eventful day. We took advantage of the random 75-degree day to dig around at the beach one last time, have Claire run around up top wielding her feisty octopus kite, snuggle up for dinner down below as the sun was setting, and stretch out in the salon with pillows and blankets to watch a show together while Claire snoozed.

It was like any other day at the boat. It was perfect.

Though we still have one voyage left, it’s just not the same when it’s not the three of us. And with Claire’s toys moved off and no laundry waiting for me and the fridge nearly empty and the cubbies wiped down, well, now it’s just a boat. It seems like such an injustice to her, leaving her empty and alone in the cold. I hate this time of year.

As we continue to move forward with our “plan,” we will still push to sell Clarity this winter. But I can’t help but smile at the thought being able to splash her again come April. If she doesn’t find another owner, what an honor it would be, to fill her once again with laughter and love.

To Sell Or Not To Sell

BreakfastWe’ve been back for only two weeks, and already, our cruise seems like ages ago. I’m always so surprised – and so disappointed – at how we just slip back into the daily routine, even if we are still splitting time between the condo and Clarity. The roots of what’s familiar, what’s expected, what’s known, grow like weeds.

I think that’s one of the reasons why we’ve decided to sell Clarity.

For something bigger and more equipped for living aboard full time, and in places other than the Great Lakes. For a boat where the list of projects to reach living aboard longer isn’t so long that we lose motivation (though ongoing projects are a reality with any boat).

We are selling Clarity so that we are one big step closer to realizing our dream, in whatever form that takes, still to be determined (staying in the Great Lakes, sailing down the East Coast to the Caribbean, etc.). It’s time to actually take action toward something we’ve been talking about for years. Otherwise, those roots of what’s comfortable and what’s expected, will strangle us.

We’ve told friends and family about wanting to live this lifestyle more permanently for awhile now, and I’ve come to expect (understandable) reactions of surprise and confusion – I myself was more prone to this reaction five, even three years ago.  How will we work and make money, is another question I get – but more on that in another post. What’s shocked me the most, though, is how much concern is expressed about Claire not being in school.

It’s not that I don’t value what organized school provides – in fact, Claire started preschool just two days after we were back in Chicago, and she attends two to three mornings a week. She absolutely loves it, and I have no doubt that she’s learning so much, even just observing the other kids there.

CupsBut though I can value the school setting, why is it so hard for others to value non-traditional settings? Why has it become the expectation for kids to sit in a classroom and learn about adventures, rather than live them? Why are the parents thought to be not putting their children’s best interests at heart, when they’re committing to both being present, teaching and learning alongside them?

And why is it more important to socialize with the same classmates every day, rather than to introduce yourself to new people, in new places, with different cultures? Claire is our social ambassador, after all. She’s never come across a person (or puppy, for that matter), that isn’t immediately informed of her name and what special treat she’s had that day.

Again, I’m not discounting proper schooling – I already see the benefits for Claire! I just struggle sometimes as to why the definition of it is so concrete. We are blessed as a family to even be able to consider this lifestyle. Why would we let it pass by? And of course, if Claire was unhappy on the boat, we wouldn’t even be considering it. But unprompted by us, she asks to go back when we’re not there, and the pure joy that makes it so hard for her to not skip or run down the dock when we get there speaks for itself.

There’s no time like the present – when Claire is still at a young enough age where we feel confident that we can teach her the milestones that are included in the curriculum. And when she isn’t yet tethered to a schedule of whatever sports or hobbies or activities she’s involved in, because we want to give her those opportunities, too. (Whether or not she develops the passion for sailing that we have.)

So, wheels are in motion, so to speak. We’re decluttering and giving Clarity a deep clean, and I’m trying to write a listing that will do her justice and convey her importance to our family in between the lines of dimensions and specifications. It could take a year for her to sell, or it could take a few months. And if she doesn’t sell in a somewhat timely manner, we will likely go back to that long list of “must-haves for long-term cruising” and just commit to executing.

There’s an old Scottish proverb, “What may be done at any time will be done at no time.” It’s time to go do.

 

What Cruising Does To Marriage

The Happy CoupleOn our first morning back in Oak Park, I happened to run into our neighbor, Carol, who naturally asked about our trip. “You lived on the boat for more than a month straight?” she asked. “You must have a strong marriage.”

Her comment made me smile at first. Of course we do, I thought. But it stuck with me, and I started to reaffirm for myself how unusual our situation is. How challenging, and also how rewarding. Don’t get me wrong – we got into it a few times on this trip.  But we worked out our arguments quickly and were on to the next thing. And I always think Aaron and I end these trips stronger as a couple than we began them.

For most people, either one or both spouses does the daily grind, 9 to 5 (or later), Monday through Friday. For the first three years of our marriage, Aaron and I both did this. If you have kids, the evenings are then spent having dinner together, getting the kiddo(s) to bed, and collapsing for an hour or two before sawing logs. Similarly, weekends are devoted to family time. Talking strictly in terms of hours, you’re married more to your job than you are to your spouse or your family.

During these cruises, all day is family time. Every evening is together time. Weekdays and weekends run together. We are together All. The. Time. I will admit, the first summer we did a long cruise, this took adjusting and a lot of deep breaths. I’m used to my freedom, even with Claire, and so is Aaron. But this cruise, our third, we settled into it like a familiar routine.

A big part of it is shifting our mindsets. We’re not just husband and wife – we are captain and co-captain. We simply have to work together to sail the boat from one place to another (and manage Claire to boot). The dynamics change a bit when we toss lines: To a certain extent because he’s more experienced, Aaron becomes my boss. I know my role, have settled into my own responsibilities, and he tells me what additional things need to be done. I know that whatever he asks me to do, he’s asking to help us go faster, keep us safer, etc. That, in and of itself, took some settling in for us. But it works because we respect and trust one another. And when things do get a bit heated, we try to remind ourselves to extend each other some grace.

When we are in port, I think we’re also both mindful of allowing each other some space to breathe. I’ll encourage Aaron to head to the pub in the evening to get some time away, enjoy a pint and swap sailing stories with the locals. In the same vein, he will happily take Claire for a few hours so that I can peruse the shops and find a new favorite coffee shop. We both did that a bit on this cruise, but to be honest, it always amazes me how little either of us takes advantage of this. Sometimes, just knowing that we can is enough.

Another big part of the equation, too, is that Claire is always there. She’s a smart girl and she already picks up on a lot – even if no words are being exchanged, but there’s tension wafting in the air. Having someone else there, bearing witness, naturally makes you a lot more accountable for your actions. It’s not that we never have disagreements in front of Claire – that would be unrealistic. But when we do argue, it reminds us to take a deep breath and step back. And to show her that, though it happens, we love each other and we can resolve the issue.

Every year when we get back to 31st Street, instead of heading for the car as soon as the engine is off, we spend an extra night on the boat. We have a lazy morning the next day. We talk about the trip and we always, always, wish we had more time. More time to explore. More time to spend together. And that, I think, is a true testament, to our marriage, and our family.

Our Own Adventure Island

Running along trails in dense forest, building inuksuks on rocky beaches, watching the sun set on Clarity from what once was a party palace for a wealthy Chicago inventor, and cuddling up for campfires a stone’s throw from our bow.

Rock Island was a dream of a place that wasn’t even on our radar. Tied off in Sister Bay, we were planning to try for Washington Island, the island just north of the tip of mainland Door County. But Aaron happened to strike up a conversation with our friendly dock neighbors, who encouraged us to head for Rock instead. There was a tiny dock there, they said – big enough to hold three or four sailboats, and just enough depth for us. As we set course, we weren’t even sure we would be able to get in there.

As we approached the island in late afternoon and the boathouse started to come into view, I think Aaron and I already had a feeling that this was going to be an unforgettable adventure. We landed the boat without a problem, greeted by the hospitable ranger who got us settled. From that point on, we pinched ourselves regularly, reminding ourselves how lucky we were to have found this place.

The entirety of the island is a 912-acre state park. No cars are allowed. No bikes are allowed. The only way to access the island is by boat, either private or ferry, and the only thing they sell, other than a few trinkets, is a bundle of firewood for $8 (“must be artisinal wood,” as a fellow sailor joked one night around the campfire). Rustic campsites line the southern border of the island, and there’s no cell service.

The majestic Viking boathouse that greets all visitors is the only remaining building of wealthy Chicago investor Chester Thordarson’s party compound, built in the late 1920s. Claire and Aaron enjoyed a riveting game of chess in the grand ballroom.

And what more? I’ll let the pictures below speak for themselves. We spent two days here, and it wasn’t nearly enough.

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!

Cute Kewaunee, then Door County

Our batteries recharged in this sleepy community, a welcome reprieve from our last port. We honestly knew nothing about this town, other than that it was a stop on the way north, and were pleasantly surprised by its charm, with a picturesque lighthouse, scenic downtown, rural trails and friendly residents.

While Aaron took advantage of the Wi-Fi in Amy’s Coffee Shop to get some hours on the clock, Claire and I went adventuring. We toured the WWII tugboat permanently docked along the river, just off of Main Street. We made fast friends digging holes at the beach and went on a scenic marshland walk. And we managed to find some delicious local custard – with sprinkles, of course.

We spent two full days in town – a half-day too long, in my opinion, since it is quite small – but Aaron’s work schedule and the five-to-seven-foot waves out on the lake after Tuesday night’s storms and the cold front that followed pushed back our departure.  The extra time allowed me to make a grocery run and knock out some laundry – the less glamorous but necessary elements to these cruises.

Friday morning, with the sun blazing and brisk temps in the 50s, we bundled up, brewed a French press and cast lines for Sturgeon Bay, the southernmost city in Door County. For the past year, as we’ve visualized this cruise, that’s been the goal – but schedules can change, weather may not cooperate, the boat could have issues. Regardless of planning trips like this, where you wind up is never a given. I’m proud that we’ve already made it this far.

Well, They Can’t All Be Winners…

One of the things we’ve learned as cruisers is to trust your gut. If the forecast reads great but you’re unsure of what’s brewing, wait it out. If you’re out sailing, or in the middle of peaceful sleep, and you hear the boat make an unfamiliar noise, you should probably check it out, immediately. And when you feel bad juju in a place, run.

Manitowoc was a mess from the start. The sail up from Sheboygan was peacefully uneventful, but as the city came into focus Monday afternoon, so did the S.S. Badger, pumping ash from the coal in a black cloud that hung over the entire city. I had called ahead to reserve a slip at the marina, and though I had given the staff our length, width and draw, it became clear as we tried to dock that the slip they assigned us was too short and the width allowed us only six inches on either side thanks to a wooden pylon separating our slip from the next.

After some minor scrapes on Clarity’s rub rail, and some minor scrapes on our feet from cleats planted directly in the middle of the dock, we kindly alerted the office to their oversights. The bad vibes had already taken root, but I wonder, if a thunderstorm hadn’t passed through shortly after we docked, if we wouldn’t have turned around.

When the skies cleared a bit, we grabbed our umbrellas and walked to town. Or, I should say, what I’m sure was a bustling town some years ago. We were met with deserted streets, vacant storefronts, credit unions, and the county jail. Ahhhhhh, yes…. Just what I’m looking for in a picturesque seaside getaway.

We tucked in for the night, and if I’m being honest, Aaron and I had a nice chat that quickly evolved into a not-so-nice argument, with us both going to bed in a grumpy funk that persisted the next morning. Those bad vibes were getting stronger.

We had planned to spend a day or two in Manitowoc so that Aaron could put in full work days. After some frustrating searches on spotty Wi-Fi and cellular connections, I decided to take Claire to West of the Lake Gardens, a privately run botanic garden on the lake about a mile-and-a-half north of the marina, and save the maritime museum for the next day, which was supposed to be rainy. Thankfully, the mother of one of the marina staff members offered to give us a ride there, so we only had to do the walk one way.

As we pulled up, it looked promising. The grounds were small but beautiful, with plenty of great spots for hide-and-seek. Claire and I got to it, and within 15 minutes, a male staff member ran up to me (literally), proclaiming that I couldn’t allow my daughter to run ahead of me. Right at that moment, Claire, being a normal 3-year-old, picked up a few rocks on the path. He then said that, unless I held her hand the whole time we were there, we had to leave. I felt so terrible, trying to explain to Claire that we had to head back while she begged me in tears to stay and run around.

So, off we went on the Mariners Trail, back toward the marina, with the lake on one side and a CVS on the other. While Claire dug around at the beach that qualified more as an unsanitary sandbox, Aaron texted me: “Want to head to Kewaunee?”

In speeds formerly unrealized to me with a 3-year-old, I got that kiddo off the beach, showered and back on the boat, and we cast lines within an hour. As soon as Manitowoc was behind us, we instantly felt better, lighter, happier, with a three-hour sail to dust off the last of that black cloud. Suffice to say, unless at some point in the future we desperately need refuge in a storm, we won’t be returning.

Aaron will put in a full work day today, so Claire and I will again be left to our own silly devices. I have no idea what Kewaunee has in store for us, but I already know it’s going to be a better day.

Adventures in Port Washington

As soon as we cast lines in Milwaukee and pointed north, Clarity was on new cruising grounds!

Our first stop was the cozy harbor town of Port Washington, with shops in pretty Victorians that line the Main Street like stairs, leading up the hill to the majestic St. Mary’s Catholic Church. As always, we managed to get into plenty of trouble, touring downtown and out to the lakefront until our Jell-O legs begged for reprieve.

We’ve been cruising the Michigan ports for years (back to when Aaron and I were sans kiddo), so I find myself making comparisons, and so far I’ve noticed a few differences. On the west side of the lake, cafes and wineries are replaced with smoke shops (both fish and meat) and German brauhauses – definitely not a bad thing, though I’m grateful that we’re inherently walking off our purchases :).

The beaches, however, are another story. I was planning on colder water as we headed north, and rocky shores, rather than sandy. But I did not anticipate waves of E.-coli-friendly weeds, black sand and the smell of rotting vegetation that’s impossible to ignore. Even so, Claire and I managed to find a fairly decent patch pretty far down, and while I held my nose, she made drip castles and dug for rocks, happy as a clam.

After a full day in port, it was time to pack up the wagon, pull in the laundry drying on the lifelines, and make wake once again. Next stop: Sheboygan!

Thanks for the memories, Milwaukee!

BoatKid2

I think we packed an entire summer in three days in Milwaukee, and racked up countless miles on the Radio Flyer. While Aaron put in full days working, Claire and I explored the area on foot (and in wagon), skipping through the parks, picking rocks on the beaches and singing “I’m a Little Teapot” at the top of our lungs at Milwaukee’s finest kite shop (I guess Claire just got inspired!). We also may have visited Colectivo, my favorite local coffee shop, a time or three.

The three of us spent the late afternoons at the Milwaukee Yacht Club pool and hot tub; we went on a walking adventure one night, and enjoyed dinner with friends at the tiki bar another. Yep, the yacht club also has a tiki bar, not to mention a gorgeous clubhouse and showers that rival a five-star hotel.

Anxious to reach new cruising grounds, we cast lines mid-afternoon yesterday and arrived at Port Washington just as the sun was setting. So excited to explore this charming little town today as the three amigos – Aaron is officially on vacation!