Saturday, December 15, 2012

Downsizing Tips for Moving Aboard (and everyone else)

As long as I’m on the general subject of downsizing – and I’ve got to tell you, I was utterly over-the-moon blown away by the feedback I got on “Take It or Leave It;” thanx everyone – I thought I’d mention a few more strategies that got us through the transition.  Of course keeping our possessions from accumulating, and keeping them organized is an ongoing project as we evolve, and things that once were useful or spoke to us are no longer relevant.  We take on new interests and let go of old ones, we learn what we needed to from books and pass them on, and technology changes.  And no matter how logical we are, those pesky emotions and sentimental attachments to items sometimes just have to be respected.  These downsizing strategies worked for us in the extreme constraints of moving to a small sailboat; a looser interpretation would apply to downsizers on land as well.

On land, decluttering days were guided by British craftsman William Morris’ dictum: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” The equivalent guidance for selecting things to move onto the sailboat was given us by friend and fellow cruiser Linda Glaser: “First safety, then tools, then ‘everything else.’” Okaaaay, that puts it into perspective … Given that overarching principle, here are the tips we used.

Go “shopping at our house.”  Take everything – Every. Single. Thing. out of your kitchen cabinets and put them in the basement.  Then, live your normal life.  When you need something, go to the “store” downstairs and get it, use it, then put it away in the cabinet.  At the end of a month or so, you’ll have a kitchen (sparsely) filled with things you actually use, and a basement full of things to give away.  Repeat with clothing, tools, etc.

Break up sets. I can’t figure out why people, me included, have so much angst over doing this.  Honest, the karmic balance of the Universe will not decrease if you don’t keep sets together.  When we had our kitchen design/remodel company, we once helped build an Indian restaurant.  The owners gave us a thali set with platters, cups, and various-sized small dishes and bowls that filled two large boxes.  The problem when moving aboard, though, is that the set is really not very useful for serving meals other than an Indian feast, and takes a lot of space.  So if we kept the set together, we would be able to bring … nothing.  Instead, only six small shallow bowls came with us.  They are used almost every day as ingredient prep bowls, and remind us of the clients-who-became-friends every time they are used.  That single piece is just as effective a reminder as the whole set can would be.  Similarly, when we lived on land we had dinnerware to serve 14.  Here, we only have room to seat 4 at our table, so the excess flatware is just that – excess – and stayed behind.

Reimagine uses for ordinary things. You are not bound to use things as the manufacturer intended. We don’t like to fish, but there are several tackle boxes aboard.  One keeps nuts and bolts sorted, another holds my earrings and keeps them paired up.  A medicine-cabinet organizer from CVS sits on our nav station and holds pens, scissors, and small electronics and their cords.  And even though we don’t drink beer aboard, a foam beer cozy makes a nifty cover to protect the blades of our immersion blender.

Use technology -- it is your ally.  We scanned photos, stored music on an iPod, and turned cookbooks into tidy computer files.  Some reference books are still paper, but our recreational reading is almost all on Nook, Kindle, and iPad.  Now I joke that my entire library and all our family photos fit in my pocket, and won’t ever get moldy.  We keep everything backed up to an external hard drive, with a second copy ashore.

Make your things do double duty wherever possible.  That specialized multi-wire gizmo to slice hard-boiled eggs?  Mmm, no.  Good kitchen knife that slices hard-boiled eggs and many other things?  Yes.   The pillows and bolsters on our settees are really stuff sacks that hold guest linens and off-season clothing.  Every shirt goes with at least two different pairs of pants, and every pair of pants goes with at least two different shirts – so if one piece gets dirty you can still use the other.

Figure out where each item is going to live before it comes aboard.  Everything needs to be stored somewhere where it won’t go flying when you’re underway, or drive you claustrophobic in port.  If it won’t fit in one of your lockers, you probably shouldn’t bring it.

Finally, pay attention to scale.  Things look smaller in the store than they do when you bring them on board.  A fair number of cute baskets ended up being given away as they totally dwarfed the space I had envisioned them in once I got them home.

Now, staying organized on a boat is a different issue. It’s not one that I plan to write about because, honestly, I’m not qualified – I’m not organized!  Things don’t necessarily end up in locations that land-based logic would dictate.  On land, you learn to store like things with like, and store things near the place they’re used.  On the boat, sure, it’s nice to put kitchen-y things in the galley, but other characteristics of lockers may triumph over location.  Some lockers are dry and others more subject to temperature swings and moisture.  So the dry lockers – wherever they’re located – are prioritized for sensitive electronics, papers that could grow moldy (passports and ships papers), medicine.  Lockers closer to the centerline of the boat and low down are good for heavy things like tools, to minimize their effect on the sailing characteristics of the boat.  (Heavy things, high up, could heel us over more).  Wine also loves to be below the water line where the temperature is relatively constant.  And there’s the matter of shape; we have relatively few big open lockers that could hold larger items, and lots of places to tuck smaller things.  The combination of shape and size and dryness can lead to some interesting organizational challenges.  So, some kitchen tools are in the galley and my bread bowl, too big for any of the lockers in the galley, is behind the settee on the other side of the boat, while a nice, very dry locker in the galley is full of screwdrivers and wire cutters and our handheld VHF radio and chartplotter, and a bit of prime storage real estate in what looks like it should be the top dresser drawer instead filled with first-aid equipment easily accessed in case of an emergency.   (This is why many cruisers keep lists and spreadsheets of where things are located.  Not me, though; I’m fine at making those lists, but not so good at keeping them updated.  I’ve tried a couple of times and failed, and came to the conclusion that that’s just a bit too anal for me.)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Take It or Leave It

In an upscale suburb of Lansing, Michigan, a woman walked through her living room.  She picked up a perfectly shaped, intricately detailed red lacquer Chinese vase, and turned it over in her hands.  “Singapore,” she thought.  “1982. With my parents.  I spent almost a week’s wages for this thing; I’m not very good at bargaining.”  She sighed and replaced it on the shelf it shared with a stack of books, a crystal bowl from her wedding, and some oddly-textured cholla cactus wood from a vacation in New Mexico.    All of these things, these pieces of her history, were going to be left behind.  Who else could ever cherish these as she did, and understand their stories?

I half-recognize her, pensive and overwhelmed.  She’s me, 10 years ago, sorting through a houseful of possessions deciding what to let go of, what to pack into storage, and what to take along.  It was a very emotional transition, disengaging from the accumulated treasures of half a lifetime, keeping only the most basic, practical and durable of essentials to fit the limited space, moisture, and jostling of the sailboat she would move on to.  I remember her feeling of disorientation, of rootlessness, as the souvenirs and heirlooms were packed away.  I wish I could tell her that it was going to be okay, that the most important things in life aren’t, um, things at all.

Despite the moodiness, mostly what I remember of that time is excitement, a sense of looking forward.  So many people dream of chucking it all and sailing away to the tropics; we were doing it -- if we could just figure out what to bring, and what to do with the rest.  I had learned how to downsize and declutter and adapt to new living spaces from many previous moves courtesy of the U.S. government, but this was going to be qualitatively different.  Not only were we moving to a very small space, we were moving to a different kind of life.  At first, it had been like a game.  “Shopping at Our House,” I had called it, as visions of palm trees swayed in my mind.  The approach was not like the decluttering I had done prior to other moves – i.e., subtracting items from our house’s contents and bringing what remained.  It was more like packing for a voyage, selecting just a few critical items in each category and adding them to a box.  The lawn mower and the sofa went to a garage sale – we were moving onto a sailboat!  Winter scarves and cross-country skis went into the “donate” pile – we were headed for the tropics!  Those things that were just too wrenching to get rid of, including the red lacquer vase, went into the basement of close friends for long term storage. I’m convinced that there’s a special place in heaven for people like those friends, who help others achieve their dreams.

I imagined that life afloat would have wonderful amounts of leisure, reading and creative cooking and art that there had never been time for with two crazy-busy careers and a house to maintain.  I packed intriguing books that I had never gotten around to reading, a machine for making homemade pasta, a box of pastels I hadn’t really allowed myself to get lost with since college.

Much of that creative time never materialized, or maybe it’s more correct to say I never created it.  Under way, there was so much to look at! Along the shores as we traveled the ICW there were little towns and busy harbors and mazes of swamps, boats and bungalows and birds and bears.  Offshore, I was filled with the wonder of the open ocean experience, and the incredible shades of blue.  I spent hours just gazing, sometimes at the sky, sometimes at the horizon, sometimes at the glittering water just alongside our hull.  The books I thought I’d read on passage were mostly unopened, and grew moldy on their shelves.  In port, the pasta machine never came out when there were new local foods to be explored (which was, essentially, all the time) and those quiet evenings that I’d imagined sitting at anchor sketching a tropical sunset were replaced with hikes and explorations of new cities and happy hours with fellow cruisers.

They say that being at sea teaches you about yourself.  And what I learned is that I’m just not wired for introspection, contemplative peace and quiet.  I’m wired to seek new experiences and learning and if there aren’t any to be found, then I’m wired to create my own fun. I had packed well for the life I thought I was going to have … but because I wasn’t exactly the person I thought I was, I ended up making a life that was quite different from the one I thought I'd make, but that suited me better.  

This was written as part of this month’s Raft UP and I seem to have taken the story in somewhat of my own tangent.  To address this month’s questions more directly: What did you bring that you didn’t need? What did you leave behind that you wished you’d taken? What are your space splurges? What do you wish you’d known, that first year?  Here goes:

Despite the massive downsizing, there were things that we took with us that we didn’t need.  One was most first-aid supplies, but those are a different category because you take along but don’t want to need.  The others?   The books and the pasta machine and the pastels?  Once we settled a bit into our new lives, I did get back to reading; although many of the books now are not the ones I brought; many of them came from independent bookstores in the places we visit and are specific to the local areas we’re in. The pasta machine is rusting in a bag somewhere as our creative cooking instead has evolved to incorporate new foods and styles as we travel – West Indies pumpkin, Southern grits.  I’m holding out hope for the pastels, though. Still unused, they’re waiting on my special shelf along with some still-blank white paper.  Maybe I’ll yet find that inspiring harbor and sunset.  Oh yeah, and talent.  Not yet sure where to find that.

What did I leave behind that I wished I had brought?  Very little, but that winter scarf, for one.  The Caribbean is warm, but there’s the small matter of getting there.  There was one uncomfortably cold day in North Carolina on our first trip south.  I ended up wearing 3 layers of clothing and foul-weather gear, every single article of warm clothing I had, and a cute green sundress I had optimistically brought along was pressed into service as a neck wrap.

There’s a sort of Zen of getting excess out of your life to leave space for new things to come in when you’re open to the unexpected and unscripted.  This may be a philosophical truth, or maybe, less poetically, it’s just that Nature abhors a vacuum.  Our empty lockers didn’t stay empty as they were filled with collected sea shells and local art.   The practical items in our lazarettes, the sea boots and tools and life jackets and ever-so-space-efficient folding scooters are now crammed to one side to allow room for the clear-bottomed inflatable kayak we found at the LL Bean outlet store in Maine.  I never would have predicted the ultimate space splurge once we discovered living history and maritime reenacting – almost 1/3 of our drastically limited clothing storage space is devoted to articles more suitable for the 17th century than the 21st.

Finally, what I wish I knew that first year?  That mold gets on everything.  That books, condiments, and t-shirts have a way of multiplying until they outgrow their assigned storage space, and then more.  That not everything made of glass has to stay ashore.  Crystal serving bowls, for a boat our size, maybe yes, but my plastic measuring cup just never did it for me and after almost 10 years I’m back to Pyrex.
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Monday, December 3, 2012

We're In a Bit of Hot Water (I wish!)


We're In a Bit of Hot Water (I wish!)

English: Drop of water falling into a glass of...

Our hot water heater died.  Fairly dramatically, as in “spewed water all over the cabin sole while the pump ran every few minutes” died.   This might be tolerable for a while in July.  But in chilly late November, hot water at home is one of those things we take for granted that I definitely did not want to do without.  So while Dan twisted himself into an impossible shape to climb into the locker and remove it, I got busy on the internet shopping for a replacement.  He was successful.  I wasn’t.

Just a couple of weeks ago I had given a talk to a group of retired environmental scientists about our life on the boat and the science tidbits we encountered while cruising, and at one point talked about average water use in the U.S. and how we had to be careful of our use aboard; how we could make 120 gallons of fresh water for cooking, drinking, and bathing last 3-4 weeks when the average land-based person in the U.S. uses 35 gal per person per day for this.  That extravagant water use led to some complications for us.

When our boat was built it was tightly designed, every square inch was used and nothing wasted.  That included the locker that housed the water heater.  In its day the heater was quite ingenious: it could be heated either by electricity when we’re plugged into the dock or the heat of the running engine when we’re underway.  It was also compact and … small, a bit less than 4 gallons. Apparently in the 30 years since the boat was built and everything else domestic in the U.S. was upsized, the minimum size for hot water tanks was upsized also.  The statistics from my talk earlier in the month were very much on my mind.  Seems no manufacturer thinks people can live comfortably without massive amounts of hot water.  (Funny, we’ve been doing it comfortably for years, guess I never noticed.) I found lots of 6 gallon options, and 10, 15 and bigger, but nothing small enough to fit without major carpentry and bulkhead removal.  We looked at instant-hot tankless options, but decided that wouldn’t work in our situation.  Finally, we found one in Europe that was made of all stainless steel, so hopefully wouldn’t need replacement again any time soon.  And more important, that assumed people could in fact be comfortable and live well while conserving water; it was small enough to fit our locker.  Not sure why this seemed meaningful to me, maybe disappointed that once again, Europe was ahead of us in things “green?”

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Pink Jobs and Blue Jobs

Dan knows how to sew and cook, and this summer I learned that bluest of blue jobs, rebuilding the carburetor on our outboard. 

Dan's grandparents divvied up chores on the farm this way.  Anything indoors was Mom and the girl children's responsibility, cooking and cleaning and laundry; and anything outdoors was Dad and the boys' job, plowing and harvesting and feeding the cattle and reroofing the barn.  And so many cruising couples we know do essentially the same thing: "she" cooks and cleans and stores provisions and chooses the window covers.  Sometimes she sews, even including the sails.  "He" makes the boat go and gets it there, changes the engine oil and takes the helm and chooses the anchor.  Um, yeah.  Having lived through the 1950s once (at least part of the 1950s, even though I was too young to really remember it) I have no wish to do it again, but that's what these roles remind me of.

A fellow writer was working on an article about women and cruising and was asking a group of us for advice we'd give to new women cruisers.  Hey, I should be able to help with that, after all, I've been happily living aboard this boat for ten years now.  And yet I was drawing a blank and couldn't figure out why.  "Don't have any advice specifically for women," I emailed back, "and maybe that is the advice.  At sea, there are no gender roles, there are just tasks that need doing. You don't have to be able to do them well (or as well as your spouse, if that's who you're cruising with) but you have to be able to get the job done." I'm not as good at sail trim as Dan, and he's not as good at navigation as me, but each of us knows how to all the tasks we need to to make our boat move.  We each have our comfort zones, but the biggest comfort is that whatever the world throws at us, Team Cinderella has two brains that can try to tackle the problem.

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Of Well-Funded Adventures -- Or Not


Of Well-Funded Adventures -- Or Not

The Most Intriguing Thing I Ever Learned Over a Cup of Coffee

So I had met this guy who called himself “Joe the Cobbler” in a sailing forum online.  We found ourselves arguing opposite sides of discussions on the value of a college education (even though he’s a college graduate), of anchoring rights (even though he’s meticulous about honoring the rules of the places he visits even when he doesn’t agree with them), who knows what else.  Ever since, we’ve eyed each other a little bit warily online…then came a discussion a few weeks before the election, when tensions were high everywhere, that looked for a moment like it was going to turn downright nasty and class-warfare-ish, and instead became a startling breakthrough that not all members of a labeled economic group like the 1% or the 47% think alike. Yes, of course this insight is not all that profound in “real life,” but on the internet -- where all you have to communicate with are words, without tone or body language to give you clues -- it’s incredibly easy to categorize anyone and hard to think of them as more than two-dimensional, or sometimes even more than one-dimensional.  We both dumped a few stereotypes and became, if not yet friends, at least more sympathetic to each other. 

Anyway, Joe posted that he and his family were anchoring in Annapolis for a few days.  They were on their way to Florida for the winter – even though November is late for southbound boaters to be this far north, Joe casually said they’re from northern NY and used to the cold didn’t bother them. We agreed to meet for a cup of coffee at one of the shops near City Dock.

Now, Joe’s the kind of book that you might judge negatively from his cover...and then missed all the wonderful stories inside.  If I’d seen him on the streets of Annapolis, well, I might not have crossed the street to avoid him, but we probably wouldn’t have gotten to talking, either.  The word “scruffy” seems to have been invented for describing Joe.  Not unclean-scruffy, but colorful-character-scruffy, the bushy beard and old coat and rucksack made him instantly recognizable from the description he’d emailed me when he, along with his wife and daughter, came into the coffee shop.  We ordered coffee and snacks and grabbed a window table so we could people-watch.  Then the stories started.

Joe led a rollicking life that included a stint in the Army and driving a truck and running a shoe-repair business (hence the moniker).  He talked about the people he’d met bartering handy skills like carpentry and welding in exchange for free dockage at quirky little towns along the coast; Dan talked about midshipmen he’d coached while in the Naval Academy’s OSTS program.  Joe and Dan compared stories about serving in Korea, 20 years apart.  We talked about coastal cities we’d visited and favorite anchorages and learned that Joe’s wife Kim had an engineering background like Dan and me.  They told about staying in NY one winter so their 8-year-old daughter Maria could experience snow (they nicknamed her “Marina the Cabin Girl” over her objections, and she was as self-possessed and comfortable interacting with grownups as are most of the homeschooled cruising kids I’ve met) and Dan reiterated that the only ice he prefers to see is the ice in his drink glass.  We talked with the barely-stopping-for-breath urgency that cruisers often have when they know their time together is short and their paths may not cross again for months or years, and there’s just so much to cover.  The coffee was long gone cold and the sky was dark when we separated to go back to our respective boats, as they were sailing south again in the morning.

In the conversation and even more in reflection, I realized how many of the adventures happened partly because Joe and his family embraced spontaneity, but also precisely because of limited finances (or choosing to live frugally).  If they had just stayed in the marina the night he described in one of his stories, they would have had a pleasant, comfortable but unremarkable evening.  Lacking the money or inclination to pay for a slip, they instead traded labor for just-caught fish and an evening’s free dockage on a rickety dock … and acquired a story as well as meal.   As Joe’s tales unfolded, one thought that more than anything screamed through my head was the ultimate truth of a Sterling Hayden quote I’d once come across:

 “To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen, who play with their boats at sea - "cruising," it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about.”

Fair winds, my new friends, for now we’ll see you online.  May you always remain slightly short on cash and rich in stories, until we meet again.

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Hurricane Prep Checklist


Hurricane Prep Checklist

Satellite view of Sandy (photo: NOAA)
So, by the way, what did we do to get the boat - and us - ready for last week's superstorm?

Our marina slip is new, it was rebuilt only 3 or 4 years ago.  It is surrounded by 8 stout pilings each about 8 feet tall, and it's oversize for our boat.  A 33 foot long by 11 foot wide boat in a slip that's 50x18 has lots of room to rattle around in.  And its sheltered from open water.  All of these were considerations in our deciding to ride out the storm in the slip instead of going to a mooring, anchoring in even more sheltered water, or hauling the boat to endure the storm on dry land.

Our good friend David K. lives on his boat in the U.S. Virgin Islands and has survived numerous hurricanes. He warned us that it takes 4 days to have a hurricane: a day to get the boat ready, a day to have the storm, a day to rest, and then a day to put the boat back together - and that's only if there was no damage!  He was right; there's a lot of work to be done to get the boat ready to weather a storm safely.

So, here's what we did to get Cindy ready for Sandy:
  • Topped up the fuel and water
  • Took off all the canvas - headsail, staysail, mainsail, dodger, and bimini - both to decrease the amount of windage we presented to the storm, and to protect the canvas from wear and damage
  • Tied all the docklines to sturdy points, around stringers or pilings instead of cleats which could pop out of the dock boards under load
  • Made docklines super-long so they could rise with storm surge if there should be any
  • Doubled up all the docklines, with the second one slightly longer and heavier than the first.  The theory was that if one broke under the load, there would be a backup already in place to take up the slack.
  • Wrapped canvas chafe gear on the lines where they went through the chocks or tied to the dock.  When we ran out of canvas, we used rubber hose and old t-shirts.
  • Turned our boat in the slip, to point bow out for a quick getaway if necessary, which was also the direction of the strongest anticipated winds
  • Centered ourselves up in the slip so we wouldn't rub against the pilings.
  • Made sure our mast was offset from our neighbors, so when the wind got the boats to rockin' our rigs wouldn't tangle
  • Moved our cars to high ground, away from trees and storm surge
  • Charged everything that had a battery

Then we packed some food and books and our computers and prescription meds and passports and cellphones and their car chargers (and rum!) in an emergency bag and headed for the marina's lounge to ride out the storm.  We'd ridden out 3 hurricanes aboard before this one, but something about Sandy's size made me uneasy.

Provisioning Up


Provisioning Up

Every cruising blog seems to have a photo like this.  Shopping for all this food was the easy part.  I'm going to stow it where exactly?
“You should bring enough food to be able to live off your stores for 3 months without ever seeing a supermarket,” advised our experienced cruiser friends as my eyes widened.  “And 6 months for things where you really want your specific brand.”  It was late springtime in Annapolis and we were planning our trip to the deserted Bahamas Out Islands for the coming winter.  “Okay, then,” I responded with a calm I definitely did not feel, while trying to decide if I needed my regular brand of organic, fire-roasted, petite-diced canned tomatoes or just generic canned tomatoes.  This was going to be the real deal – just us, deserted tropical islands.  No grocery stores.  No people.

That summer was the planning time.  For months, I kept grocery lists to figure out our shopping patterns.  If I had it to do over again, I would have written my lists in a small notebook; much easier and neater than keeping the odd collection of envelopes and scraps of paper that I actually use.  At one point I even built a computerized list, organized by the aisles in our local grocery store.  We’re vegetarians who added limited species of fin fish into our diet at the advice of the nutritionist after Dan’s cancer surgery; at least we weren’t going to have to figure out how to store steaks and bacon.  From studying my accumulated grocery lists, we learned that we generally eat 1-2 fish meals per week, and 3-4 bean, grain, or pasta meals, and 2 cheesy dairy meals.  In theory.  In practice, we eat out once or twice a week, and have one “meal” that is really just a couple of glasses of wine with snacks and friends.  Non-food supplies like shampoo and paper products and plastic bags, had to be accounted for as well.  Want to know how long a tube of toothpaste or box of laundry detergent lasts?  Write the date you put it into service on it with magic marker.  We both cook for fun as much as sustenance, which means there are also condiments and spices to contend with. Inevitably I’ll complain that there’s nothing in the fridge – but the fridge is not empty, there’s a bunch of space taken up with half-bottles of salsa and maple syrup and mustard and mayonnaise.   There are partial bottles of Trader Joe’s sauces, flavors that we tried once or twice and liked, so we bought several more to use again, only to grow bored after the novelty wore off and leave behind while we headed in new directions.

Provisioning sounded like simple math.  3 months, 12 weeks.  If we have pasta twice a week, that’s going to be 24 cans of chopped tomato and 8 pounds of pasta.  48 cans of vegetables.  12 pounds of rice.  24 cans of tuna.  12 pounds of coffee.  We also planned for things that we knew would have to be different under way than at home.  Fresh bread wouldn’t keep for 3 months and we didn’t have the space to keep it frozen.  Instead, we’d make bread from scratch or do without.  Add to the list 15 pounds of flour, “some” powdered milk, sugar, and honey.  Onions probably won’t keep, better get some dried onion flakes.  When we’re on overnight passage at sea, we don’t really cook, we just want food that can be eaten out of hand or mixed with boiling water.  Add instant oatmeal, ramen noodles, and some energy bars to the list.  Toilet paper and paper towels!  Everyone warned us that paper products in the Caribbean were either ruinously expensive, or simply not available in the soft, cushy quality we’re used to here in the US. 

Still, making the list was the easy part.  After the big shopping trips to CostCo and Giant and Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, we had to find places to store everything.  First came the repackaging.  Cardboard never comes aboard, both because it can harbor roaches - they love to eat the glue - and because it can hold moisture and spoil whatever is stored in it. We saved the plastic containers of things we bought regularly; they made nice uniform-sized canisters for storage of bulk things like dried beans as well as anything that originally came in a cardboard package.  We bought a restaurant-size jar of bay leaves and put handfuls of the leaves in with the flour and rice to prevent weevils.  We split the cost of a vacuum sealer with our friends and broke bulk packages of coffee and granola and crackers and blocks of cheese into smaller servings and shrink-wrapped them.  We also vacuum sealed prescription medicines and Q-tips and spare parts, anything we wouldn’t use right away that would be damaged by moisture. 

After repackaging, then we looked for creative stowage locations.  One huge dry locker under the v-berth cushions became our primary long-term storage pantry that we’d get into once a month or so, to restock canisters of staples that were in more accessible “day use” locations.  We tucked things in unlikely places: drawers are rectangular but the hull is curved, which meant that there was wasted space behind the drawers.  Wasted no more, that space was promptly filled with supplies.  Heavy things went below the waterline and bulky but light things went higher.  Finally, with a water line an inch or two lower than normal due to the extra weight we had crammed aboard, we were ready to sail to the Bahamas, and live off what we had with us.

We spent more time than we expected to in the little islands of the Exumas.  There were small stores there; the local people had to eatsomething and get their food somewhere, after all.  We could learn more about life here by following their lead.  Maybe we couldn’t get broccoli, but we could get cabbage and kale, and grapefruit and limes.  The stuff we had in storage stayed in storage.  Then we headed for the Out Islands.

You know what the kicker was?  Because of the weather, we never made it to those deserted Ragged Islands.   That weather trapped our friends, along with several other cruisers, on moorings in the national park, for about 3 weeks, where they happily ate and drank everything they’d brought, per their own advice.  We were wonderfully lucky to be “trapped” by that same weather on more-developed Eleuthera, where we had access to the biggest grocery store we’d seen since leaving the U.S., and even pizza.  Why eat canned tuna and canned string beans when there was fresh-caught fish and pineapple available?   We never needed many of the supplies we’d so carefully stowed, and many of them came back to the U.S. with us.  (Except, of course, for the alcohol.  No trouble using that up!)
Stowing the good stuff!

Locker diving in that deep locker to get a favorite snack

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Provisioning is the subject of this month's RaftUP (which I'm embarrassingly late contributing to; blame it on a combination of Superstorm Sandy, conflicting deadlines and some personal-life drama.)  You can read other cruisers' take on this topic at:

Still to come: 

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Loss of the Bounty


Loss of the Bounty

Bounty, in happier days

Well, here’s the post I didn’t want to write.  While we were hiding from hurricane/superstorm Sandy, the wonderful historic ship was sailing from New England to their intended winter port of St Petersburg, FL, which meant that they were sharing the Atlantic with Sandy.  And as you probably learned by now, it’s been all over the news, they didn’t make it.  The Coast Guard staged an heroic rescue, saving 14 of the 16 aboard; the ship sank in the Graveyard of the Atlantic off Cape Hatteras.  The captain apparently went down with the ship – poetically appropriate for the period, tragically romantic, but horrible – and another crew member was lost.

Why were they out in the storm?  Were they so schedule-driven as to take a foolish risk?  The same modern weather forecasting ability that told us the storm was coming, also allowed them to know where the storm was.  According to their reports, they were able to navigate around to the back side of the storm, avoiding the worst of it.  They were in gale-force winds and heavy seas, which were unpleasant but they should have been able to survive that had nothing else gone wrong.  But other things did go wrong. They were taking on water faster than they could pump it out, lost power and propulsion.  At that point, there was no way they could keep themselves from turning sideways to the waves and broaching.

So, what do we learn?  Was it risky to go out when there was a storm?  Probably.  But any time you leave port, you take a calculated risk, because forecasts are good but not perfect, even for a day sail.  Any time you go out on passage, you go beyond the range of the weather forecast, and statistically, if you’re out for a week or more, at some time on your trip you will get rained on, or find yourself in a thunderstorm or squall or heavy wind.  Staying in bed isn’t even safe!  People “safe” at home died from this hurricane as well.  Some stayed in their bedrooms, and a tree fell crushing the roof.  Some avoided the falling tree risk by sleeping in the basement, and were swept away in a flood.

“A ship in a harbor is safe,” reads one of my favorite quotes, “but that is not what ships are for.”  After its appearance in the movie it was built for, what was this ship “for?”  Entertainment, education, and most of all, inspiration.  Getting kids hooked on history, dreaming of far horizons.
As long as there are far horizons, there will be dreamers to be inspired by them.
On the Bounty in Annapolis harbor, June 2012

Coast Guard photo of the sunken Bounty

Track of the Bounty's course, apparently showing them clear of the storm on the back side.
And then later, on the back side of the storm.  The storm was moving north, winds circulate counter-clockwise so the winds where they were would have been blowing north to south, and the northward movement of the storm would be subtracted from the strength of the winds, making this the relatively milder side.  But the Gulf Stream moves south to north here - wind opposing current makes for nasty seas. When they were picked up by the Coast Guard, they were in 40-knot winds and 18-foot waves.  What went wrong?

While the Bounty visited Annapolis in June, we spent 3 days aboard, volunteering for their educational mission, talking about maritime history and posing for photographs.  I wrote about it here and here.

I'm distressed to read the bashing of the decision to go to sea, that's showing up on the internet, and waiting for the results of this Coast Guard investigation into the sinking.  But here's what I know right now:  The sea is big and sometimes scary.  If we can convince ourselves that other peoples' dumb decisions are the cause of their problems, then we can convince ourselves that since we would never make a dumb decision like that, we would be safe no matter what, and we don't have to face the real truth, that whenever you go to sea, however much you prepare, however vigilant you are, sometimes things will happen that put you at risk that you cannot control.

Sandy (Part 2)


Sandy (Part 2)

Back aboard, we and the boat are chilly but ok.

Wind gust of 90 reported last night at Bay Bridge. Storm center (not an "eye" because it wasn't officially a hurricane when it came ashore and mixed with the cold front according to NWS) stalled over Baltimore area last night at midnight - we noticed an eerie drop in wind speed around that time before it abruptly started up again.  Had we been aboard, we would have watched the low pressure peg the dial on our barometer (938 mb?)

Water here at our marina is to the stringers but not over the docks; or about 2-3 ft above normal. No major casualties; a couple of shredded biminis. . Taking the day off to rest, recover, and process the storm. And to raise a glass to all who were on duty during the storm yesterday - Navy, Coast Guard, LEOs, ... and our excellent marina staff.

Sandy! (part 1)


Sandy! (part 1)

We've stayed aboard for 3 other hurricanes - Lenny (St Thomas), Isabel and Irene (Annapolis). But this Sandy scares us. Not so much it's strength, done that before, but the immense size = long duration. We took ALL the canvas off Cinderella and tied her with 14 docklines. She's centered in the middle of that giant slip we live in; we almost needed to use the dinghy to exit.  The slip is ridiculuously overbuilt - 33 foot boat in a 50 foot slip, plenty of room to rattle around in, and 8, 8-foot pilings.

 We left about 5 PM yesterday, and are hanging out in our marina's lounge. With its leather sofas, flat-screen TV and microwave, etc, we have all the comforts of home. More comforts than home, actually, we don't even have those things on the boat. Plus, we're on the second story, no flooding, no trees around to fall on us, and a good view of the creek. Met up with friend Dave last night, he's riding it out on one of the city's hurricane moorings, and had pizza.

Mostly I was surprised at the quiet during the evening and overnight, compared to the sounds of the wind whistling in the rigging when we left, it's nearly silent here, and it doesn't rock. Got coffee for the morning, granola and boxed milk and canned tuna and snacks, and rum. Lots of rum.

A Bit of Public Speaking


A Bit of Public Speaking

(Image from
There’s an oft-quoted statistic in business and self-help books that says it is very common to have a deep fear of public speaking. I was most definitely born without that gene. What can I tell you? I’m a Leo, and if you study astrology it claims that Leos like being the center of attention. So when a friend asked if we would please please pleaseconsider hosting a session on resources for cruisers traveling the ICW, I secretly considered it an opportunity to accomplish several things with a single act. (“Two birds with one stone,” and all that, but I hate that analogy, since dead birds just don’t make me happy.) We could pass on to other cruisers the wonderful mentoring that we had received from James and Ellen before our first trip, and … we could get the requester in our debt for doing something that was really not very unpleasant at all. Never know when this might come in handy if we need a favor in return.  Ooops, now that I’ve admitted that publicly, I guess I’ve rather ruined the impact. Sigh. I know said requester reads this blog.

Anyway, I need to back up a bit. On September 19, “Talk Like A Pirate Day,” we put on our pirate garb and went to the Eastport/Annapolis Neck library where we entertained the kids for their pirate-themed event. (pix on the library’s Facebook page; one even appeared here in the Capital next day.) “Remember,” we warned the kids, “we’re just playing here. Real pirates are bad guys, okay?” But I don’t really have a lot of qualms about being perceived as glorifying the bad guys. I learned from other historical-reenactor friends, you meet the kids where they are. Do what it takes to get their attention, get them hooked on history, and then use that as a springboard for the messages you really want to deliver.

“Library? What good is a library to a pirate?” I asked the kids. “Most pirates can’t read, because they think the first letter of the alphabet is “aaargh,” I joked with them. (Kinda corny, I know, but it plays pretty well to 5-year-olds.) “Though pirates do not be needing a library, the library needs pirates,” my friend Beth, wise mother of a challenging 4-year-old, responded later. “For children of all ages need inspiration to sail out into the unknown and find adventure. Many a true tale was inspired by Treasure Island.”

And just over a week after that, we gave a presentation about resources for traveling the ICW from Norfolk, Virginia to Florida to some grownups who may once have been those inspired children of whom my friend Beth spoke. I’m not much of a “joiner” of organizations or yacht clubs, etc; we generally tend to go our own way and associate if anything more with other locals than other cruisers. If we didn’t value independence, after all, we wouldn’t be traveling on a sailboat. One cruising organization we did join, however, was Seven Seas Cruising Association. It’s an organization of cruisers helping cruisers with everything from advice to rides to the grocery store.

We had sailed down to the Rhode River for the SSCA gam the weekend preceding the boat show. (A “gam” is a social visit or friendly interchange, especially between sailors or seafarers) where we met many friends old and new, and others we’d typed with for months or years online and had never met in person. There were 60 or 70 anchored boats arriving for the event, and more people who drove in, almost 500 attendees in all. Being me, I stressed mightily before the presentation, but enjoyed it while interacting with folks, and overall it seemed very well-received. Of course, the fact that we’d been up until 2 AM the night before, chatting under the stars (“gamming” indeed) and sipping rum with Melissa and Anne and Donna and John might have had something to do with that stress…

Giving the presentation got us chatting with a lot of interesting folks and certainly contributed to the fun we had overall at the event. And, as is often the case, the best way to really learn something is to try and teach it. In preparing for our presentation, in pulling the resources together, reviewing guidebooks and websites and apps and charts and finding out what tools are out there, we learned a lot that will probably make our own next ICW trip even richer and more rewarding – and hopefully, even more comfortable.  I've posted a summary of the presentation that includes links to the websites and other resources. I’m trying to crowdsource this, so if you have favorite websites, guidebooks or apps that aren’t on my list please tell me a bit about them in the comments.

My third talk this autumn was the most complicated to prepare, and in some ways, the most fun.  November 5 found us in Herndon, VA, talking to a group of retired geologists and hydrologists about some of the science tidbits from our cruises.  It was an after-lunch talk.  You know what that means, high expectations, a need for some eye candy slides, and a tremendous likelihood that the combination of food and lights-out means half your audience will be snoozing by the end of your timeslot.  I got the highest compliment one can have - I ran over time (eek!) yet no one got restless and even among the older attendees, no one nodded off!  I'll probably never have the right audience to repeat the talk (wow, all that prep for a onesie?  but it was fun!) but kept an approximate transcript with the slides of the talk called "Reflections on Hydrology from a Life Afloat." (Cute how I keep working that "Life Afloat" title in, huh?)  

Life Afloat is also on Facebook!

Raft-up: Fear


Raft Up: Fear

A bolt of lightning = a bolt of fear for me
My grandmother was a fearful person and a famous in our family for worrying.  If we were late arriving for a visit, the cause wasn’t simply that we were delayed in traffic.  Undoubtedly we had gotten into a serious wreck, or gotten lost in a dangerous area of town and been attacked, or (who knows?) washed away in a flood or struck by lightning or eaten by dinosaurs.  She gets a by on this fear: there are family stories about how she, and her brothers and sister, were smuggled across WWI Europe as a nubile teenager.  I don’t doubt that the things she saw and experienced in those days earned her the right to nightmares.

My mother grew up with a mother who was always, always, looking over her shoulder and imagining that bad things had happened/were happening/were about to happen to her family.  So, growing up with that kind of discomfort, no matter how much she worried about her kids’ safety when we ran around exploring, she swallowed her own fears, put on a brave face, and did her best to make sure that my brother and I grew up with a healthy respect for the world, but without being saddled with that kind of phobia.  Her sacrifice worked extremely well; when we first moved aboard and started voyaging, I had, perhaps, rational concern for the power of nature, and concern about the logistics of being far from home, but no fears about our new lifestyle.

Ah, innocence that did not last long!  I did not remain a fearless WonderWoman sailor.  So here’s the catch.  I was also the kind of kid who only had to touch the hot stove exactly once to learn caution.  As kids, we could explore our world, try just about anything, imagine scenarios and how we’d act in them, make mistakes and learn from them, but it wasn’t okay to make the same mistake twice.

I loved watching the terrible beauty of thunderstorms when we lived in Colorado, what my friend Nancy called the “land of passionate weather” – no gentle misting rain here, but blizzards in winter and thunder in summer.  But we lived in a sturdy old house on the plains, and any bad weather looks better from the vantage point of a sofa and viewed through a pane of glass!

My first thunder-and-lightning storm at sea was indeed terrible beauty:  it was July 4 and the Independence Day fireworks displays were puny compared to Mother Nature’s.  Lightning crackled 360 degrees around us (somehow, magically, we weren’t hit) and tossed shimmering phosphorescent green water around us and over the bow.  I wasn’t scared during the event, but was awed.

My second big thunderstorm experience occurred at anchor in North Carolina on what was supposed to be a peaceful night, and it’s the one that really changed my outlook.  It was one of only two times that our anchor failed to hold as lightning crashed around us and a tornado or microburst pushed us into the shallows.  (The only other time our anchor dragged was also in a thunderstorm, do you see a pattern here?)  Dan processed that storm as one of many things in life that you cannot do much about, so just have to deal with when it happens.  For me, though, that storm was my hot-stove moment, some kind of nautical PTSD.  I’m just too acutely aware, now, of how small our boat really is, and how we’re sitting right at the bottom of a lightning rod disguised as a mast, and how strong the winds can be. It’s not a crippling phobia, I don’t shiver under the bunk the way our dog did during storms or fireworks, but still, I seem to react disproportionately.  Years later, and as little as a 20% or 30% chance of storms in the forecast is enough to get me going.  When gray clouds start to build, I (as chief navigator and weather forecaster of Team Cinderella) will take us miles out of the way to a secure anchorage or marina, where we can both observe the storm as I prefer – through a pane of glass.

Visit the other blogs in the Raft Up:
1st October - Dana:
2nd Behan:
3rd Steph:
4th Stacey:
5th Tammy:
6th Ean;
7th Lynn;
8th Diane:
10th Jaye;
11th Verena;
12th Toast;
15th Dana;

How to Make a Month Fly By


How to Make a Month Fly By

Yikes!  Can it really have been an entire MONTH since I’ve blogged?  While we were on the hard this summer, waiting for the boat to dry so we could put on the new copper bottom paint, time seemed to just crawl by.  Summer days are long, of course, but this was something else.  Time just dragged.  Finally, after being out of the water for the oddly symmetric dates of 7/9 through 9/7, the job was complete and we were back afloat where we belong.  And the clock, which had been ticking so … very … slowly … day … by … day, now speeded up and time passed-in-a-breathless-blur-of-friends-and-events.  Every one of them reminds me of how lucky I feel to have this life and the opportunities and connections it generates.
Even the sunset in Whitehall Bay was copper-colored!
We celebrated the completion of the Coppercoat paint job by hosting a “copper” themed party that Saturday after we splashed: Fordham “Copperhead” Ale to drink in shimmery orange cups; a variety of appropriately-colored food served on russet-hued plates (golden curries, pumpkin, and butternut squash featured prominently); shiny copper mardi gras beads for folks to wear; I was even dressed in the slinky shiny bronze pants I wear for fun evenings out.  The day before, we had taken the boat to anchor out overnight at Whitehall Bay just to clear our heads.  We sailed gloriously FAST – don’t know whether it was the chemistry of the new paint or the meticulous job our marina did with the fairing and application, or both – but it was delightful!  Even the sunset that night was copper-colored, as if the Chesapeake was celebrating with us and welcoming us back.
There came throughout September and into October a series of big events worthy of separate posts, and smaller meetings and trips and parties with a swirl of friends.  Christmas may be the most wonderful time of the year according to the carol, but religious implications aside, my vote for most wonderful time of the year goes to boat show season in Annapolis.  The days are still warm and the nights are cool and the winds are a bit stronger for sailing.  It’s the time when people who spent the summer in Maine or Canada to escape the heat (and potential hurricanes) are passing through Annapolis on their way southbound to warmer climes.  Boat Show time in Annapolis!!! Don't know what I love more, seeing all the shiny new boats and gear, or seeing all the friends old and new who come to town for the show.  Yes, I do know.  What’s best of all is getting both: friends Tony and Michelle from St Augustine were here with their new boat A La Mer(To The Sea) which appeared, beautifully decorated and staged, in the show.  

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Thanx go to reader “Paul” who commented on my last post about COLREGs for everyday interpersonal interactions that technically, the rules we refer to as COLREGs apply in international waters.  The collision that sparked my post occurred in the Magothy, so inland, not international, navigation rules would apply.  When I first pitched the idea of this blog to the Capital-Gazette, I billed it as a sailing blog for non-sailors, to help people understand this nautical obsession that is so much a part of Annapolis culture.  I didn’t think our adventures were quite bold enough to interest serious sailors, we’re not crossing oceans, after all.  Sometimes, especially in stormy weather, the Chesapeake is plenty big enough for me.  Always delighted to learn that other sailors and liveaboards as well as dreamers are finding what I write useful and entertaining.  Thanx, all, you keep me on my toes!