'Til the butter melts

Pursuing the cruising dream in 32' of sailing ketch


“Zephyrs” – the A to Z Challenge

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Today marks the last of the 26 posts for the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Since every other cruiser in the challenge will be writing about their “Zodiac” inflatable dinghy, I decided to write about light-air sailing!


Sailboats are neat. They make their way from port to port with clean and quiet pride, using no resource but the wind, making no waste, no pollution, no noise…

As long as the wind blows, of course.  And there’s the rub.

What do you do when the wind drops to a breeze, and the breeze tapers to a breath, and the breath eases to a zephyr…?  Well, that depends.  If you have light-air sails, you keep adding sail area to squeeze every yard out of whatever breeze there is. If you don’t, you either wait, or you start the motor.

In reality, light wind and no wind days are pretty rare, even here in Maine. But there is a period at the end of summer – say mid-August to Mid September – when being on a sailboat AND being someone who will only use the engine if there’s a medical emergency on board (or there’s a rum-based beverage waiting)  means a certain amount of frustration.  That picture above is one I took in Blue Hill Bay, Maine, of the schooner Heritage ghosting north in less than a 3 knot puff that kept coming and going like a campaign promise.  We were motoring because we couldn’t spread enough sail area to make use of what little air movement there was, but the Heritage was moving, if only a knot or less.

And that put me in mind of getting better light air sails for Sionna when we purchased her. You see, I really like to sail.  Not motor – SAIL. And to do that when the wind gets fickle, you need to be able to put a whole lot of sail up, particularly on a boat like Sionna, which is somewhat under-rigged (designed to have less sail area than optimal for her displacement (weight).  I won’t go into the details of WHY our boat is under-rigged, so just take my word for it – she is.


Drifter, set with main sail

And so one of my winter projects this year was to find a used (because they’re cheaper) large headsail called a “Drifter”.








Asymmetrical Spinnaker 


We could have gone for the ultimate light-air sail, known as an Asymmetrical Spinnaker,but they’re much more expensive, require specialized equipment to deploy and stow, and can be a bit of a challenge for two people to handle in some conditions.


The Drifter has some limitations, but as the first light-air sail in our inventory, it seemed like a good place to start. We can upgrade later if we need to. Meanwhile we’ll have a sail with an area of 300 square feet to fly when the winds drop below 6 or 7 knots, and more options for sailing downwind.  Can it keep Sionna moving when the wind drops to a zephyr? Stay tuned to “‘Til the butter melts” to find out!

And thanks for joining us for the A to Z challenge!




“Yelling” – the A to Z Challenge

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(Today’s topic is yelling, and why it’s a really bad idea aboard a cruising boat. It’s kind of a heavy, not funny post, but I hope you’ll bear with me. I think it’s important.)


There is only one acceptable reason for yelling on a boat.

Because someone can’t hear you over the ambient noise.

Really, it is that simple. And you may notice that I said “…for yelling on a boat”, not “…for yelling at someone on a boat.”  That’s because there is NO reason – no justification possible – for yelling AT someone on a boat.  Boats aren’t big enough to safely contain and then dissipate that kind of energy.

But does it happen?  Of course it does.  Things get tense and difficult and scary, and voices rise in pitch and volume until the folks aboard are, in fact, yelling.  And everyone else in the anchorage can hear every regrettable word that’s said, and make their judgements based on that miniscule slice of personal interaction between crewmates.

I can’t think of a single cruising how-to book I’ve seen that doesn’t include at least a paragraph on the subject of communication aboard and relationships aboard, and many have a whole chapter. Some even go into the details of deciding if you should allow yourself to be alone on a boat with this guy or gal. There’s a thriving business being created – complete with Facebook page (Sailing into Happily Ever After-for Couples) – to help people learn how to get along well enough to go cruising.
Don’t laugh.  According to my own, painstakingly intense 3 minutes of research, “He/She turns into an evil Captain Bligh the minute we step on board!” accounts for a regrettably large number of well-equipped cruising boats AND wedding rings for sale on the used market.

And don’t even begin to think; “It’s all this stress on land that makes him yell. Once we get away on our cruise, he’ll be a changed man…”

No, he won’t. And you (I’m speaking to the ladies now) will be stuck on a boat with him, miles from anyone and anywhere, wondering what the hell you’re going to do now.

You’ll have noticed that suddenly I switched to the masculine pronoun to describe the yeller, and of course there’s a reason for that: It’s usually him.  She may yell back, or she may not, but the vast majority of yellers are male.
I’m not sure why that is – why men as a group (and hey, I’m a man too) are so poorly trained in the ways of human behavior that they think yelling at someone is going to make them eager to help out and delighted to spend time with the guy who’s acting like an enraged rhino.  Pretty stupid. And counter-productive.

So here’s the take-away I hope you take away:
First, an unhappy, semi-functional relationship on land is going to become a miserable, non-functional and possibly dangerous relationship away from it. Fix (or replace) the relationship, THEN go cruising.

Second, Yelling at someone as a way of doing anything besides overcoming ambient noise is unacceptable behavior. The yeller has to learn how to control the emotion of the moment if they are to communicate effectively.

Finally, Captain Bligh has no place on any cruising boat. None. They don’t build boats that big.

Couple, Older


“Xenophobia” – the A to Z Challenge

We’re afraid of the unknown, the unfamiliar.

That’s normal, actually. Avoiding or being suspicious of what is new or different is a basic survival tool that’s programmed into our reptilian brain, right along with breathing and reproduction.

Well ok, breathing is even deeper than that, being an autonomic (involuntary) action, but a certain uneasiness with regard to things we don’t understand or haven’t previously experienced is as natural as breathing, anyway.

But it can be taken too far. At the extreme, we have something called xenophobia, which is defined as “…fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign”.   At its worst it becomes Racism, and it’s worth noting – in light of the current American political scene – that an incremental increase in the level of xenophobia in a culture or individual often goes un-noticed.  We become accustomed to a higher level of fear over time, and then a higher level, and then higher still…

But what does all this have to dokeeh cruising, my nominal topic?  Well, cruising involves travel from place to place, often from a place you know to a place that is – to you – foreign.  A place like Hoboken, New Jersey or Lewes, Delaware, say.  A place where you don’t know anyone and they talk funny and the food is different…



So it’s easy to feel uneasy about the place you’ve landed, the people you meet and the sounds and sights and smells that are unfamiliar. The key, of course, is an open mind: a willingness to believe – and sometimes consciously remind yourself – that by and large folks really are just folks, no better and no worse than you yourself.

It’s not always easy. That walk down a poorly lighted dirt road after dark is going to challenge your reptile brain, and the sound of footsteps behind will more than likely send it into survival mode.  And it’s true that not everyone you meet is friendly, and there’s even a very remote chance that you might meet someone who actively wishes you ill. It happens.

But it doesn’t happen often, and the chances are extremely good that it’s not going to happen to you.  So why choose to live in fear? At the risk of going all new-agy and stuff, wouldn’t you rather live in love? Wouldn’t you rather believe that everyone you meet is potentially your new best friend?


Seems to me that beats hell out of building walls – mental or physical – to keep all of “them” out.



“Working” – the A to Z Challenge

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For the month of April, I’m participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, wherein I create a blog post, related to cruising (in my case), with a topic beginning with the letter designated for the day.  26 letters, 26 posts, every day of the month except Sundays!
Today we talk about working while you cruise. Or not…


Should we work while we cruise?  Is this a vacation, or is it a lifestyle? Must we work? Can we work? MAY we work?

Nicki and I are fairly typical Mainers, in that we each usually have more than one income-producing occupation. A little of this, a little of that…   She’s a fitness instructor part-time and a real estate agent.  For a while I was a real estate agent, a massage therapist and a handyman all at once.  It’s a challenging way to make ends meet, but it’s rarely boring!

So what happens when we get on the boat?  Real estate is out – you have to be present for your clients. Massage therapy I gave up two years ago as economically unviable and physically wearing, and it’s hard to teach a Zumba Fitness class if you’re not going to be in town for more than a few days.   Carpentry is a possibility, I suppose, and in fact I am planning to bring a basic set of the tools of that trade with me, in case I get an opportunity (or we have a sudden need) to work while we’re away.  We’re even keeping our contractor’s insurance active while we cruise with that possibility in mind.

Still, we hope to avoid working for pay for the 8 months we’ll be aboard next year, partly (as I’ve described before) by saving now, partly by cutting our expenditures to the bone  and by squeezing every penny of value we can out of my disability income which – while not large – should cover most of our projected living expenses if we’re really, really careful.

And that’s why we’re commuter cruisers.  8 months on the boat, 5 months back in Maine working like mad men-and-women to build up the cruising kitty again, then back to the boat for a few months… and repeat as long as it’s fun!

Now, what about you?  Could you stand giving up the daily grind of income production and devoting your time to experiencing life full time instead?  Don’t laugh – a lot of 9-to-5’ers get 100% of their identity from their careers, and the very idea of not working leaves them empty.  “Who am I without my job?”, they say.

But I don’t have that problem.  Who am I?  I’m Keith, from Sionna.


And you? You’re Accountant, from Office?

How sad…


“Vive La Vie!” – the A to Z Challenge

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Long Live Life!”

Which on the face of it doesn’t really make sense. It doesn’t translate perfectly into English which – sadly – is my only language set.

But it does convey a concept, a feeling, an attitude.  And that’s the point of today’s challenge post.  Whether you translate it as “Here’s to life!” or “L’Chaim!” (the Yiddish toast “To Life!”), the emotional meaning is clear – Life is good, and here’s to more of the same.


But what if life ISN’T good in your corner of the universe?  What if your dog done up and died and your truck won’t start and your rent ain’t paid and the boss kicked your butt down the hall in front of everybody, and you just can’t take it no more?

What do you do then?



Well then maybe it’s time to change your thinking.  Maybe things don’t actually have to be like that. Maybe – just maybe – you have some say in the matter.

And for me, that’s where “Here’s to life” and “Joy in Life” and “L’Chaim” enter the picture.  I honestly believe that we create the world we live in by our belief in it, and that we can – with effort and intention – change the course of our lives.  Some folks go for the lottery ticket, but me, I prefer something a little more sure.

So yeah, I’ve been known to “Put on a happy face” when things are tough.  Sometimes it takes an awful lot of energy to do that.  Sometimes I just can’t even.  But I know from 50 years of experience that when I start seeing  the bad stuff as “normal” and dwelling on all that’s wrong, more bad stuff seems to be attracted to me.

Life is good
Yes, I’m perennially short of funds, and no, I don’t have a magic mailbox and a trust fund from a rich uncle that’s bankrolling our change from land-based to cruising.  We’ve busted our butts and sold everything we can and even raided our retirement accounts to make this dream come alive, because we BELIEVE that life is too precious to suck.

Is it really just attitude? Is it really that easy?

Think about someone you know who always has a complaint. Are they happy? Do they ever sit back on a GOOD day and really, honestly enjoy that moment? Or are they constantly waiting for the next sucky day, the next insult, the next bad hair day…

I’m not going to live that way.


The crew – Nicki & Keith

Vive La Vie!



“Unwinding” – the A to Z Challenge

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How long does it take a cruiser to relax?  How long do you have to be away from the “real” world (and which is “real” anyway?) before you actually arrive aboard?

I guess that must depend on the individual.

The last three years, Nicki and I have taken what we optimistically call our “Annual Summer Cruise”. Because it tends to be cool up here in Maine, “summer” only lasts about 3 weeks, and generally it’s around the end of August/beginning of September.  By then, the ocean has gotten about as warm as it’s going to (high 60’s F), and the sun is still strong enough to make for some nice daytime temperatures unless a cold front comes through.  Of course our average winds drop with the warmer water temperature, so sometimes August has basically no wind.

Sailboats need wind.

And how does all this relate to unwinding on the boat? Well, weather trumps everything.

If we’re set to head out for a couple weeks, and the weather decides to be rainy/nasty or windless, that causes a certain amount of consternation in yours truly. And consternation leads directly to frustration, which is in direct opposition to unwinding…

Now if the first two or three days of the cruise coincide with a stretch of nice weather
– warm enough to be relaxing, with enough wind that we get to actually sail the boat – then there’s a good chance that my shoulders will begin to soften and my face to relax by the third day aboard or so.

On the other hand if the first few days aren’t favorable, I might as well be back pounding nails for all the relaxing I’m able to do. I simply don’t “arrive” in cruising mode until I’ve had a chance to soak in a little good boating juju.

Which is a pity, because I waste precious time aboard with the woman I love and admire, all because mother nature isn’t meeting my expectations. Pretty dumb.


So that’s something I need to work on. Just because something isn’t “perfect” doesn’t mean it’s not good, after all.

The longest continuous time we’ve spent on a boat so far is 20 days, and unfortunately due to a bunch of unavoidable externals it took me 15 days to actually, honestly “arrive” for the experience.

I know, what was I thinking, right?  Obviously I wasn’t. One of my fellow “A to Z Challenge” bloggers at Little Cunning Plan just put up a post about anxieties, and the very real challenges that some folks face in dealing with traumatic situations.  Me, I just get in my own way by having unreasonable subconscious expectations, then blame it on the world, or my wife, or my Karma…

The next cruise is going to be longer – 8 months or so, and I’m really curious about what happens to my subconscious search for cruising perfection when I have that much time to sink into it.




Will I reach new levels of relaxation nirvana?  Will I get bored with it and want to move to Las Vegas?  Stick around and see!

So how about you? When does relaxing find you when you go off duty?



“Tender” – the A to Z Challenge

A2Z-BADGE 2016-smaller_zpslstazvib The A to Z challenge continues, with the letter “T”

“Tender” is the fancy name for a dinghy,  and a dinghy is a small boat, used to service, commute to, and haul to the mother ship.  In the case of cruisers, though, it becomes something more than just your way to the boat – it’s the family car.

The need is obvious. The larger the boat, the deeper its hull extends into the water, and the farther from shore it may need to stop if it’s not to run aground.

And running aground is never, ever a good thing.

Well ok, that’s not quite true. If you have a boat with a flat, long full keel, you might actually sometime want to deliberately run it GENTLY aground and allow it to “dry out” as the tide falls, giving you access to that part of the hull that’s usually under water.  They actually build boats in Europe with twin keels precisely for that purpose – the boat can take the ground and not tip over as the water recedes.

But that’s unusual.  Generally you try to keep the boat floating in at least a couple feet more water than it needs, so getting ashore now becomes a choice of swimming (in April in Maine’s 35 degree water?? I don’t think so!) or using a little boat to row or motor between the mother ship and shore – and so the tender.

So, what makes a good tender?  Depends who you ask.  If you look around the docks, you’ll find that probably 95% of cruisers have inflatable tenders, and there are good reasons for that. Inflatables look like a little pontoon boat, and because they’re soft sided, they can bump into things – like the mother ship or a dock piling – and do no damage in either direction.
Inflatables are also very buoyant and stable, which gives them the ability to carry a large payload, and to remain properly upright if the water in the anchorage is a bit rough.

On the down side, inflatables are eventually going to become DE-flatables, refusing to hold air, and since their cost is fairly high ($2-$3,000 for a very basic one without motor), that can become a significant recurring cost.
Inflatables also don’t row worth beans.  No, beans would probably row better. If there’s even a moderate breeze blowing from the direction you need to go, rowing an inflatable will get you in really, really good shape, but it won’t get you to your destination. They need a motor.  So add another $1500 to the cost, at a minimum, and more likely $2500.

So what’s the option?  A rigid dinghy – a craft made of wood or fiberglass that’s actually shaped like something intended to move through the water. Not quite as stable, usually, and not quite the payload capacity, but much less subject to damage, and quite reasonable and fun to row in all but the most challenging anchorage conditions.
And so we’ve made our choice – but not quite.  Two things we’ve changed:
First, last year we drank the kool aid and bought a used, 3.3 horsepower outboard for our dinghy.  It wasn’t really a thing we wanted to do – an outboard motor is a notoriously labor intensive piece of equipment, and in the salt water environment, even more so.  But I’ve developed a bit of tendonitis in my elbows, and much as I enjoy rowing, darned if that isn’t one of the things that makes it worse…   We still keep a set of oars in the dink, though, just in case.

And second, this year we’ll be installing a set of “sponsons”.  Basically an inflatable collar, 6″ in diameter and 7 feet long running from bow to stern on each side, just above the water.  Those should make the dinghy much more stable, allow it to carry more weight safely, AND make for a dryer ride as they deflect the splashed water from our passage through the waves.  They’ll also keep it from chipping the paint on Sionna while we’re getting in and out – a win-win situation.

All hail the mighty Tender!


“Storage” – the A to Z Challenge

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“Storage”, in the context of cruising, gets divided into two major sub-issues.

First, there’s the issue of owning a boat, and where you’re going to put it when it’s not in the water. The other quandary is what to do with your “stuff” when you move out of your house/apartment/hovel and onto the boat.

For anyone not familiar with boats, the question of where to put it when it’s not in the water might come as a surprise. I mean, it’s a boat, right?  So… it’s meant to be, like, in the water, right?

Well, yes and no.   At the moment, we live in Maine. We have this thing called “winter” up here, and during the winter water does this weird thing where it gets stiff and sharp and unpredictable…  You can leave a boat in the water here, yes, if it’s a sheltered location, but the risk of damage to the boat is significant, so as a general rule no one does – boats are hauled out when it gets too cold to be comfortable on the water (usually sometime in October, depending on the year) and stored ashore, hopefully under some sort of shelter, or at least a tarp to keep the snow and rain off.  The picture above is of Sionna in our greenhouse-style boatshed. (We closed off the end of the shed after putting her inside.)

But we’re leaving this rental house in July this year, taking Sionna down the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) to Florida, and next summer will be leaving her in Florida while we come back to Maine to work for the summer.  Oops, storage again!  Where do you put your boat when you’re going to be 1500 miles away for the 5 months of summer?

And what about your stuff? Furniture and clothing and knick-knacks and tools…

That’s where the storage unit picture comes in.  We don’t have a whole lot of stuff, really, (see “D” – Downsizing) but we have some, and we’re hoping we can wedge it all into a 5′ x 10′ storage unit in town. Except for the tools and boat parts, which will be packed into a 7′ x 8′ utility trailer and parked at a friend’s house.  For free – but he gets to borrow my tools any time he wants.

As for Sionna, she’ll be staying in a boat yard in south-central Florida while we’re gone, out of the water, and we’ll be watching the weather forecasts and praying no hurricanes decide to make a Florida landfall.  Cruising does have its share of worries, just like real life.


“Reality” – the A to Z Challenge

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So what’s your reality?  In my experience, Basset Hounds don’t fly – but does that mean they can’t?

Is the glass half full, or half empty? Are you a victim of life, or a creator of your experience? Do you make things happen, or does everything happen to you?

Nicki and I are strong believers in the concept of “manifestation”. This is A largely Buddhist concept, the basic premise being that humans – by their thoughts and intentions – gradually shape their experience and environment to their will. And while we’re not Buddhists by any stretch, we’ve both had enough experiences of dearly held desires becoming our reality to feel that we better be pretty careful what we wish for.

And conversely, if I get into a negative frame of mind (yeah, that happens!), it’s amazing and  frightening what painful, unsettling and downright unpleasant experiences I can create if I try. It works both ways.

Now, if you’re thinking this is all hooey and voodoo, you might find a quick introduction to  Quantum Physics intriguing.  I’d recommend the movie What the Bleep Do We Know?” (That’s a link to a 4-minute trailer). The movie itself is entertaining, enlightening, and thought-provoking.

Or you might decide it’s a load of crap, or just too confusing, or it might offend your sense of order or your religious beliefs or the gut need you have to know that everything is pre-ordained and beyond your control.  That’s ok too.

After all, you’re creating your reality right now.  But if I might make one suggestion?

Make it a good reality.


Life’s too short to write yourself into a bad novel.


“Quiet” – the A to Z Challenge

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We are not partiers.

We do enjoy company, and love to have guests aboard for visiting and meals and a little sailing, perhaps, but we don’t seek out crowds and parties and drinking and loud music.

Now GOOD music, that’s a different story, and for those of you who equate “LOUD” with “GREAT BAND” – well, have fun.  I won’t be there.

And I will go hungry – or go home – rather than try to have dinner in a restaurant with 16 wide-screen boob-tubes filling every corner…  There’s really nothing I hate more, actually.  Visual noise at it’s worst.

Cruising is a lifestyle you create, and like all lifestyles, it is created by the choices you make, whether conscious or unconscious. If you feel uncomfortable anchoring out, you’re making a choice to spend large amounts of money to stay in a marina each night, where you will feel very secure, perhaps, but also hot, rolly in a swell, and submerged in the moment-to-moment sounds, smells and sights of humanity in close proximity.  Again, that’s not our choice.

We go for quiet. We go for peace. We go – largely – in order to experience that interaction at the edge, at that border between who we are today, and who we will become in the future if we allow the Universe to direct our experiences.

Have you ever sat in the cockpit of a boat, in an anchorage of your own choosing, and listened to the sun go down?


That’s what I’m talking about.