'Til the butter melts

Pursuing the cruising dream in 32' of sailing ketch

At “Home” again…

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Closure is an interesting concept. I guess I tend to think of it as a defined border, a line in the sand (or elsewhere) that you can look at and say “There, that’s where it happened, that’s the point of change.”

But for us, and this cruise? Not so much.

We haven’t so much closed as just stopped. Stopped moving, stopped striving, stopped fretting the weather and the logistics of being a nomad in a period in history which is distinctly unfriendly to Nomads.

The Rockland Breakwater Light, which we passed at 10:35am, June 8th 2020, officially entering Rockland Harbor for the first time in nearly 4 years.

Sionna is home. On Monday June 8th, 2020, Nicki and I picked up the pennant for our mooring in Rockland Harbor, Maine, slipped it over the port bow cleat, and ended our four-year, 4800 nautical mile odyssey to the sun.

It could be said (and indeed HAS been said, many times) that we have accomplished much, and certainly on one level that’s very true. If one counts such things as miles covered, sunsets admired, storms handled and repairs accomplished, there’s no doubt that we have done something significant in the three terms we spent aboard. If we consider friendships forged, relationships tested, skills honed… Yes indeed, something of note has been experienced.

Love Cove, Southport Island, Maine.

But not without cost. Sionna is loosing paint in sheets (we nicknamed this trip the “Paint-chip Tour”), and her gear and fittings are sorely in need of serious attention. There will be no 2021 season for her or us as we begin the refit to bring her into her 6th decade – maybe no 2022 season either.
Too, the stress on Nicki and I has not been trivial, and this initial time ashore after our arrival has been largely focused on rebuilding our emotional reserves and recovering from the chronic fatigue we’ve experienced these last few months.

The question has already been asked; “When are you headed out again?” I try not to laugh – or cry.

We’re not. At least, we have no plan at this point to go cruising again. Perhaps that urge will strike, once we’ve been off the water for a year or two, once Sionna is back in shape, and floating in the harbor again. Perhaps then I’ll look back and wonder how I ever thought I’d not want to head over the horizon once more.

And perhaps ours is a cautionary tale for others who have the dream to “Sell up and go Cruising”. Hindsight is 20/20, and learning from the experiences of those who have done what you wish to do is a sure sign of maturity and rationality.

Was it worth doing? I think so. But if I’d known the cost ahead of time, the wear and tear on both the boat and the marriage, I doubt I would have so blithely dropped the mooring that sunny day in August, 2016.

This is, I suspect, the final entry in this blog. There is more to the story, of course, but the rest is too personal, too raw, too fresh in memory and nerve to be offered here for any and all to view. Much has been learned, a few dreams have been fulfilled, but far more dreams have been scattered and lost, remaining just out of reach.

I guess that’s how it is with dreams.

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Good People Lessons

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A repost of one I need to remember in these challenging times…

'Til the butter melts

There is progress being made, really!

Now that Nicki and I have settled into our new, temporary home (thanks to the loving blessings of our land-people, Kathy & George, who have GIVEN us a place to stay while this eye thing sorts itself out) and have learned – all over again – how to survive in a climate that is seriously hostile to water infused carbon-based life forms, we have a few minutes to look at where we are and really reflect on our New Year, thus far.

Gratitude: That’s where we’re at.

This whole trip has been a surprise, of course. The eye was supposed to remain stable for months yet, we were “good to go” wherever, and “see you in the spring.” Our northern home (the RV) was carefully closed up for the winter and uninhabitable, our southern home (Sionna) was welcoming and familiar and oh-so-warm, most of…

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Life Lessons Taught by a Puppy – May 27, 2020

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We’ve met a bunch of interesting and delightful folks during our cruising travails, and Tara & Brian, from s/v Scout, are two of them. At the moment these two are caretaking a lighthouse off the coast of New England AND raising a new puppy!
Enjoy.

The Bakers Bulletin

When we decided to adopt a puppy, our discussion was more about making sure she would be friendly to everyone she met.  I have worked in veterinary medicine for many years and I thought I had a fairly good idea how to make this happen.  That was until I read an article over the weekend about a well-adjusted dog. The article was about the importance of a 20 minute sniff fest for the puppy vs. a 60-minute power walk to burn off energy.  The general conclusion is as a society we are constantly multi-tasking and on the go, go, go and this is the worst thing to carry over to a new puppy.  Puppies & dogs need to stop and smell everything around them to understand their world, and yours. When they are not given the opportunity to stop and sniff everything, they can become anxious in their surroundings which…

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Pressing on

The process of cruising is one of continuous adjustment and adaptation. We plan, we depart, and then stuff happens, be it weather, mechanical issues, fatigue, friendly distraction, or global pandemic.

As I write, we’re tied up in a marina in Cape May, New Jersey, watching as tropical storm Arthur – the first named storm of the 2020 season, and rather earlier than expected – works his way back out into the Atlantic ocean, loosing strength as he goes. The threat was mild – only winds in the range of 40-50 knots, but it seemed prudent to take shelter, as the Cape May anchorage is quite open to wind and chop.
In the event, winds peaked out near 35 knots (about 40 mph), so we’d have been fine out at anchor, but we were certainly much more comfortable here.

We have managed to put a few miles behind us in the last couple weeks, and we’ve left the dreaded Delaware Bay behind us, escaping with nary a scratch.
Dreaded, because the Delaware is famous for creating rough conditions any time the wind opposes it’s very significant currents – and that’s most of the time. This one Nicki and I planned and executed very well, though I say it myself. We staged for the 49 mile passage just 3 miles south of the entrance to the Delaware & Chesapeake Canal, got darn little sleep because there was a search and rescue operation (sadly not successful – why do young men insist on not wearing a life jacket in adverse conditions?) going on around us until 2am, complete with helicopters and spotlights on us throughout. By 5:30 am we were awake, by 6:00 we were underway, and we arrived at anchor in Cape May at 3:30pm, tired, but satisfied. The Bay was almost smooth, the current was with us for all but the last hour or so, and there was even a touch of wind to help us along.

And now? We wait.
Our next leg requires a bump “outside”, into the Atlantic ocean, going around the length of the NJ coastline from here to Sandy Hook and the mouth of the Hudson River south of New York City. That passage requires reasonable weather, winds from the west, and settled seas – something we’re not going to see for a bit as Arthur continues to churn his way slowly out to sea. Though we hope for sooner, the current forecast shows nothing for us for over a week. Sure, we’re on a boat, but with 90% of shore-side services and even walking trails closed or severely limited, we’re finding that being on a boat isn’t quite the dream we’d hoped.

And then, of course, there’s “Pandemic Hair”

According to my calculations, we have just 467 miles left to Maine, and this weekend I got a note from the fellow who services our mooring in Rockland Harbor, letting me know that’s ready for us, whenever we arrive.

As far as we’re concerned, that event couldn’t come too soon.

Never say Never

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There’s an old saying that goes “Never say Never”. 

It’s intended, I suppose, to acknowledge that you really never know what’s coming next; where life will lead you, what obstacles and opportunities (which is which, anyway?) the Universe is going to throw your way. 

I’ve been horribly lax about the blog this trip, and the phrase “Publish or Perish” applies in blogging as well as in academic circles. If you don’t post, your followers drift away to greener pastures as surely as tides rise and fall.

Still, for those few who have stuck with us and might be wondering what’s up, I thought I’d take a few minutes – anchored out for a couple days while yet another nasty weather systems passes by – to offer up some thoughts and revelations.

Heavy rain, 30 knot winds, temps in the 50’s. Every couple of days…

Revelations I: Self-isolating when you live on a cruising boat is very little different from normal Cruising. We worry a bit more about protecting ourselves from the virus because we’re a long way from home, and getting to the ER if we needed to could be a real challenge. Otherwise the lifestyle is it’s own form of isolation anyway.

Revelations II: Being unable to go ashore is very different from not FEELING like going ashore. We’ve often just stayed on the boat, day-after-day, not going ashore because we didn’t feel like it, but that has a distinctly different feel when compared to we CAN’T go ashore because everything is closed – including docks and marinas and boat ramps. Right now we’ve been on the boat continuously for 16 days, and it’s been cold/blustery/wet for over half that time, so we’re cohabitating in a room that has less than 50 square feet of open space. Neither of us has taken a full, normal-length stride (or a real shower!) in over two weeks. Sure, the whole country is confined to their homes – but those homes are mostly 2000 square feet or more. This is different.

Life in 50 square feet is… Different.

Revelations III: This isn’t fun, mostly. Sometime early in our adventures Nicki stated “I don’t do Endurance Sports.” In truth, I don’t either, although I think at one point my tolerance for situations requiring Endurance was higher than hers – and certainly higher than it is now.
But like it or not, the cruise north has become one long challenge of endurance. The weather has frequently been abominable; access to simple things like toilet paper and tofu is a distant memory; and we the crew of Sionna have become chronically weary. Certainly there are moments and days when the weather is lovely and our progress is smooth, but those have been few. That, combined with the limitations of this dear old vessel, whom we love like a sister, have led us to acknowledgement of the fourth Revelation.

Young black bear swimming in front of us on the Alligator-Pungo canal. THAT was fun!

Revelations IV: We three (the boat and us) are done long-distance Cruising.
Sionna has many fine attributes as a vessel and floating home, but her design was never intended to cross oceans, and that limitation has become obvious these last few months, even to someone as deep in denial as yours truly. Yes, she’s strong, and she would survive a storm at sea, but her ability to keep moving in adverse conditions while keeping her crew healthy and reasonably comfortable is simply lacking. She wasn’t built for it. Local cruising, a month or two, a few hundred miles from home? Of course. (Canadian Maritimes, anyone?)

And finally, Revelations V: Community matters.
With the Rehab of our house in Maine, Nicki and I became home-owners for the first time in our relationship. With that responsibility comes the desire to begin integrating fully into the community that surrounds our home. Nicki can build up her fitness class business again; I can find more outlets for my music interests (Guitar, Ukulele and vocals, if anyone’s thinking of starting a band!); the house can get finished and my workshop/boat shed built…
Above all, we can start living in Rockland as though it’s home, rather than just the place we go when we aren’t “home on the boat”. Sure it’s cold in the winter. But it’s heaven in the summer, and contrast is the seasoning of a happy life.

Goodbye to the sunny south.

We’re headed home, and home we shall stay – except for the occasional Home Exchange, if that works out. 

Provence, France, perhaps?

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Social Distancing, Act two.

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Or three, or… I really haven’t been counting. But in these troubled time, we’ve been cruising in an entirely different way, yet again. Avoid the towns and cities, avoid (mostly) the places where Cruisers tend to congregate. Avoid, even, the friends we would love to see and spend time with.

Two days ago we blew (literally, it was howling out of the northeast that day) through Charleston, SC without a backwards glance. If you’ve followed us for a while, you know that Charleston is where I (Keith) had my second eye surgery back in November of 2016. We got to see quite enough of Charleston then, thankyouverymuch.

We would have liked to see more of Georgetown, SC this time, but we spent only one quick night at anchor, did a nessesities shopping (there is STILL no toilet paper in the stores, people!) at Food Lion…

Oh, discovery time!! Both Food Lion and Winn Dixie grocery stores carry REAL Liverwurst, not that nasty crap you can find at Hannaford and Publix. If you’re a fan of Liverwurst as one of your earliest childhood memories, you’ll understand my excitement. If you can’t stand the stuff, I pity you, but that leaves more for me!

Oh, and flowers. It’s spring, of course, so things are in bloom, the wild creatures all have but one thing on their collective minds, and the weather is – on the whole – mild. When Nicki and I made our southward pilgrimage in 2016, we called it the “Til the Butter Melts” tour, since we were trying to find warm weather. This one we were calling the “Azalea Tour, because we were resolved to move north no faster than the Avalea’s were blooming, thus experiencing an endless Spring.

Azaleas – Georgetown SC, April 2, 2020

Looks like we’re just about on schedule.

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Cruising and Social Responsibility

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What with the spreading Covid-19 pandemic and the concerns for both our health and that of the populous in general, we’ve been giving a fair bit of thought to our rather unique (to a small group) circumstances.

The guidelines for “flattening the curve” of the outbreak include eliminating all avoidable travel – but what do you do when your home is a traveling device, and the only way to get to your other “home” – a house in Maine – is to travel? Is that travel avoidable? Or not?

Certainly we’ve taken the social distancing and hygiene guidelines to heart. We cancelled all our planned and long anticipated visiting in St. Augustine, and except for a couple of brief outdoor’s forays ashore we stayed isolated on the boat, contacting others only to the minimum extent necessary to service the boat, provision, and get out of town.

But is that enough? Could we do better?

I don’t think we could do better. By staying aboard and continuing our travels, I think we’re obeying the spirit of the guidelines to the fullest, perhaps having even less significant contact with others than we could if we were in “lockdown” at the house in Maine.

There are still some question marks ahead, though. We do need to stop at a marina – or at least at a dock – every 4-5 weeks, just to fill the water tanks, buy diesel fuel, and restock the cupboards. Is that different than what we’d be doing from a land base? We don’t think so – and we have the advantage here of plenty of fresh air, and no other people within 150 feet or more.

I guess we’re doing ok.

But it’s looking to me like we may not see much of the Chesapeake on this trip, either. We missed it in 2016 because of my eye, and we may just fly through this year due to Covid-19. That’ll be a disappointment, but it sets us up for a future cruise, too.

Looking for that silver lining!

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We’re fine, really!

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Sionna is in St. Augustine, FL. It’s a pretty neat city, however the internet service is – well – Weird.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it LOOKS like it’s working, but things disappear. Sometimes they disappear right away, and sometimes they stay for long enough to fool you, and THEN they run for the woods.

And photos don’t upload. So it’s kinda a boring blogpost this time.

If you’re following along (and there are still a loyal few who are, thank you!) we just wanted to say we’re fine, we’re being careful of ourselves and others (we canceled all the visits with friends we’d planned for this stop – just didn’t feel right) and will likely be underway again on Thursday, headed north.

It’s an odd world to live in right now, that much is certain. Y’all be good to each other and yourselves, and we’ll do the same!

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Waiting it out again in Vero Beach

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It’s blowing. Again. Just for curiosity we tuned in the the local reports of marine weather, and sure enough, winds at Vero Beach are 15-20 mph, gusting to 35.

So we’re glad we’re tucked in here for a couple days, chillin’ out, cooking (Nicki made bread, and I did an experimental dish using sweet potato and Cristophene. Call it “Scalloped Christophene & Sweet Potato” and you’ll have the idea.

What’s that, you don’t know what Christophene is? Poor you! It’s a Caribbean/Mexican veggie, considered a squash. In Mexico they call it Chayote Squash. Crispy-crunchy fresh, still a bit of tooth cooked, not a lot of flavor of it’s own but fun to eat, and no waste – the single seed is eaten along with the rest, and you needn’t peal it, plus they keep very well un-refrigerated on the boat.

And we have neighbors, too. In Vero Beach, you share moorings.

In this case, we’re sharing with the boat Katy, and wonder-of-wonders, they’re from Maine too!

Steve & Judy have been fine company – we handed over some fresh bread, and Judy sent over some of her wicked (as we say in Maine) Lentil curry. And to make the day complete, I pulled the plug in the bottom of Sionna and

ALMOST SANK THE BOAT…

Well no, actually I didn’t. But it’s ratings week on the blog, and since we don’t have any pictures of me cavorting nearly naked in the surf like most sailing blogs, I thought just a wee bit of drama induction would help us in the ratings. And I really did pull the plug in the bottom. Our speed log sensor is mounted through the belly, and it stopped working on our way up here Thursday, so I pulled it out to clean it, replacing it with the replacement plug provided for the purpose. We’ve never pulled it when we were in the water, so I wasn’t actually sure how much water would come in during the exchange, but it turns out the maker thought of that, and there’s a little valve-thingy in the hole that stops all but a trickle of water while you do the deed. Total anti-climax, but a relief to we-who-hate-sinking. And now we should have a speed/distance log again.

Plus some mighty good lentils and bread.

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Waiting it out and dodging bullets

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Weather.

Really, everybody talks about it, but nobody ever DOES anything about it! So here we are, waiting for it.

When we arrived here in Tarpon Basin, off Key Largo, we’d chosen it specifically for shelter from the strong cold front that was expected to come through Florida, and sure enough, it was a doozy of a “Norther”, as we call them. Characteristically, Northers come with a major wind shift, often nearly 180 degrees, and such things are hard on anchored boats. When you set your anchor for, lets say, a southern wind, and then the wind suddenly starts blowing hard out of the north, the anchor has to either turn around (unlikely) or pull out of the ground and re-set in the opposite direction. And it’s that re-set that’s often the problem.

In the case of last Wednesday, about 11:30 pm, Sionna had no problem. Our “old fashioned” CQR anchor either turned or reset and we never moved from our spot.

Not so, one of our anchorage neighbors. (Sorry we have no photos of the exciting part – we were kinda busy.)

I never did get the boat name, but it was white with a red stripe, and missed us by MAYBE 3 feet as it slipped by, anchor dragging merrily across the bottom. And that was a worry too, because if his anchor had dragged over our chain, he would have hooked us loose too, and then there would be two boats drifting through the anchorage.

The term “Fuster-cluck” comes to mind, and it’s happened many times in many anchorages – though never to us. Yet. (Never say never!)

It’s also interesting and pleasing to me that Nicki answered the sub-conscious call from a sound sleep, suddenly waking with an uneasy feeling, and she got up to take a look around, in time to see the dragging boat headed our way, but still a ways off. She called me to put another eye on the situation, we confirmed he was getting closer, and then the drill kicked in: I dove below for warm clothes while Nicki started the engine and began trying to move us out of his direct path, pulling our anchor chain along the bottom a bit without disturbing the anchor itself. Soon as I was back she jumped below for clothing, turned on the GPS chart, depth sounder and radio and got out the spotlight and binoculars (surprisingly useful in the dark, actually), while I sounded the “Danger” sound signal (five blasts on the air horn) to alert the rest of the anchorage to the situation, and kept Sionna moving away from his path.

As for the dragger, it took those poor folks over an hour to get things cleaned up and get anchored again – this time way back downwind of everyone else. In the dark of a new moon, that is not a fun job, let me tell you. We sat in the cockpit the whole time, watching the boats around us, of course, but especially the three that were upwind of us, but nobody else budged as far as we could see.

So now it’s Friday morning, we’ve been here almost two days, and it feels like time to move along a bit. North is the goal, and north we shall go. Sunday the winds are forecast to go south and southeast, which will be our opportunity to cross the very wide and very shallow (which combination can stir up some wicked chop in a north wind) Biscayne Bay toward Miami.

Now our original plan had been to go around the Miami-Ft.Lauderdale area completely, go outside on the Atlantic for a night run up to Lake Worth, FL, and skip about 30 draw bridges. But looking at the forecast, there just isn’t a weather window to do that with any hope of a reasonable ride, so we’ve resigned ourselves to doing the bridge dance for a few days as we work our way slowly north. Here’s hoping we can hold on to our sanity for the next week while we get this stretch behind us!

Meanwhile, here’s our destination for today, which, with a name like “Long Arsenicker Island”, has a lot to live up to. And it’s depiction on the chart is, honestly, a giggle waiting to happen. Sometimes it’s the little things!

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