'Til the butter melts

Pursuing the cruising dream in 32' of sailing ketch

That awkward age

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So what does a sailing blogger write about when they’re not sailing?

Good question, that. And I wish I had a good answer to it.

Once we’d packed up the boat and made our way back to Maine, I kind of lost my motivation for blogging. No boat, no adventures, no stories to share.

But of course there’s more to it than that. We’re in an unsettled phase.

The last two years of commuter cruising have brought to the surface a few things that had been hidden, some preferences that need attention. The act of living life in a somewhat precarious financial balancing act – hand-to-mouth – adds a layer of stress that’s thicker than we realized. It’s one thing to claim you’re going to see the Universe on less than twenty Altairian dollars a day, (with apologies to Douglas Adams) but it’s a very different thing to be out there, actually doing it. Altair is a LONG way from here, don’t you know.

And so we find ourselves in Maine, wondering what our next steps are. No longer can we blithely assume that we’ll be back to the boat in October – Nicki has decided she needs to become an active income earner again, and that’s going to take some training and time.

The only certainty I can see is that we’re uncertain. We’re not done cruising, certainly. We love our boat, love being on the water, and love the people who choose that lifestyle. But we’re not sure we want to go back to cruising on such a fine shoestring. I could, but Nicki can’t.

And just as we work together on the water, so we must work together on land. When we’re aboard, our rule is that the more conservative opinion rules: If one says “reef”, and the other says “Nah…”, we reef. Period.

So now, on land?

Same deal. If she thinks we need to change our financial picture, then that’s what we need to do.

Stay tuned for further developments.

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Flashback Friday

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 First tea aboard Honfleur in May, 2014. We didn’t know we would be buying a different boat (Sionna) that winter.

First tea aboard Honfleur in May, 2014. We didn’t know we would be buying a different boat (Sionna) that winter.

First tea aboard Sionna in May, 2015. Such a step up in “luxury”!

Many of my blogging friends have adopted the practice of sharing a photo of their “story” each Friday. A memory, a significant moment, a favorite place…

I’ve not picked up the habit in the past, largely because I didn’t feel like I had enough “history” to make it worthwhile. I feared it wouldn’t be interesting enough or unique enough to capture your attention.

And then I asked myself, “Why do you write a blog?”

Is it for me? Or is it for you, the reader?

Good question. With the development of social media addiction, it seems that the sole purpose of the internet has become self-promotion and ego stoking. Here’s hoping that’s not my motivation. But in the meantime, I’ll keep trying to share stuff that means something to me, and you can work out whether it’ interesting to YOU on your own.

Happy Flashback Friday! Where were you 3 or 4 years ago?

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Tucked in for the Summer

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It always feels like a mixed blessing, this seasonal cruising thing.

On one hand, Sionna is tucked away in a safe place, securely tied to the ground and well inland. She’s as safe in our absence as we can make her.

On the other hand, our home and magic carpet of nautical dreams is alone, baking in the sun, while we are waiting for summer, layering clothing, and looking for work.

And here we are, in “the most beautiful cruising grounds in the world” (as we were told by some folks in the British Virgin Islands) with no boat. It feels strange, and disjointed, and not a little disquieting.

But of course, this last season wasn’t without it’s challenges and down days. The two months we spent in Maine for eye surgery meant that we got to experience a real slice of winter again – a very good reminder of why we decided to do our cruising in the south in the first place. Being away from it made the whole season feel really disjointed though. We’d just about got used to being on the boat, the pace of the day, and then packed everything up and moved ashore. Then moved back…

So naturally we’re looking ahead, wondering how to arrange our next season aboard, but more immediately we’re trying to line up our summer work, so that we can afford to HAVE our next season on the boat.

There are uncertainties. There are concerns and quandaries, and choices to be made.

Our trip back north took 7 days, and included a visit with my (Keith’s) brother and sister-in-law at their new home in a clothing-optional community in western Florida – a very new but surprisingly comfortable experience for us – as well as visits with three sets of cruising friends in three separate cities. It was a social whirlwind from which I think I’m still recovering, but it sure was nice to see those folks again. It reminds us why we cruise.

Oh, and the sunsets, of course. We do miss those sunsets.

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That most bittersweet moment

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It is – unbelievably – that time again.

The time most cruisers approach with fear and trembling, and not a little remorse, but also some amount of relief.

It’s haul-out time.

(In this space, please imagine a fascinating video of Sionna in the slings, being gradually raised from the water and suspended in thin air. I do have the video, but it refuses to upload. I blame Google – those buggers are always thwarting my artistic expression)

If there is a more precarious thing than a sailboat suspended 20 feet above the water in a fabric sling, I don’t know what it is. It looks wrong. Add the emotions inherent in that boat being your principal place of residence, and haul-out day becomes more than just “another day”. It’s stressful.

In any case, she’s out. Nothing bad happened, no damage was done, and by the end of the day Friday, she’ll be cleaned, stripped and locked up for the summer.

Next year, we’re going to the Bahamas, come hell or high water.

Maybe.

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Boat Jobs in Paradise

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Because the work never stops, we cruise!

Above is what happens when a 20,000# boat snags your anchor rode and hangs from it in rough, windy weather. The green is bottom paint, rubbed off their hull, and the slightly hairy, frayed look is, well, frayed. And therefore unsafe.

The good news is that at the time we were dragged down on, we had deployed only 25′ of this 200′ line – the rest of it was still down below in the anchor locker.

The answer to that frayed spot, therefore, was to do what’s called “End-for-end” the line – use the other end of the line, and keep that weakened area out of the way, down below.

So that’s what we did – swapped ends, and started fresh, with a line that’s now only 175′ long, but sound as a silver dollar.

Meanwhile, I got to looking at the rode for the secondary anchor, which we hadn’t used in over a year prior to the Anchor-dragging Incident, and decided I didn’t like the look of one end – it had been spliced without a metal thimble, making it much more susceptible to chafe. The solution is to resplice it, using a thimble this time.

Above, at top, is the old end, directly spliced to the shackle with nothing to prevent wear of the rope against the shackle. Below that is the start of the new end, with a thimble being included in the eye, protecting the strands of the line.

The new end, about half-way done. Fun work, actually! Once the taper is completed, the fuzzy ends of line are burned off with a torch, for a smooth look.

So when it comes to boat projects, I’ll leave you with one, important thought:

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Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park

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Fort Jefferson, in the Dry Tortugas off Florida’s Keys, is (according to our amazing Tour guide) the largest masonry fort ever built by the United States. It contains over 16 Million bricks in its unfinished state, and encompasses the entire land area of Garden Key.

It. Is. Awesome.

That said, you look at where it’s located (67 miles west of Key West), consider that there is no fresh water out there (hence the name DRY Tortugas), and look around you at those vast miles of water to the west of the islands, and you have to wonder “Why?”

Why build a fort way out here where nobody needs to go?

Which was the first question answered by the guide. The reason, as always, is money. At the time the fort was being built, most of the goods shipped into and out of the new US interior (recently expanded by the Louisiana Purchase of the Mississippi River system) went by sea: Finished goods from the Northeast, down the coast, around Florida and up to New Orleans, and raw materials in the other direction. Huge volumes, huge money, the lifeblood of the country.

Now when the fort was begun in 1846, relations with certain world powers like Britain weren’t all that friendly, and the US had almost no navy. To protect that shipping route, something had to be done. If the US could control the corner around the end of the Keys, no navy could put an embargo on us (like we’d do to Cuba a century later).

And it worked. Even though the fort was abandoned in 1876 and never finished, it still served as the symbolic fortress it was intended to be. But perhaps even more to the point, it is beautiful.

An interesting side note here: Because the islands have no natural fresh water, something had to be done to provide water for the nearly 500 souls who inhabited the fort during its service as a prison and garrison. The answer was rain catchment. The entire roof structure was a catch basin, the water directed down through masonry plumbing, through a series of sand filters, and into cisterns built below the floors of the first level – cisterns with a capacity of 1.4 million gallons!

Sadly, though, the project engineers didn’t get everything quite right. The weight of the structure’s 8′ thick walls (literally cannon-proof in those days) was too great for the land beneath it, and settling began to compromise the cistern system’s integrity. Of 105 cisterns, only one was still intact within a few years of the start of building. That’s why the second level looks unfinished – it is. It was feared that the additional weight of completeing the second level would hasten the building’s degradation, so instead it was roughed in, and the third level – with its long-range (up to three miles!) cannons – was built instead.

Cool feature – this is a bird bath, for the song birds who wander off course on their migrations, and need water to survive.

The second level looks decidedly unfinished, especially from up close.

So that’s the basic story. The Dry Tortugas can be reached in three ways: Private boat, ferry from Key West, or seaplane from Key west. The seaplanes are a story for another day – they take off and land through the anchored boats in a manner that had this former commercial pilot decidedly on edge, but I have to admit, those pilots know their business!

Neat stop, and an item checked off our cruising bucket list, for sure.

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