'Til the butter melts

Pursuing the cruising dream in 32' of sailing ketch

My life as a home-wrecker


Here are a few photos to add to the mystery of our existence. If you’ve been wondering what the crew of the good ship Sionna is up to, (and of course you HAVE been wondering, because the doctrines of narcissism demand it) these should give an idea.

Stay tuned. We’ve got nine months to turn this place into something a bank would smile upon!


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A Letter To a Cruising Boat


Dear Sionna,

It wasn’t supposed to be this way, and now – at 2am with the temperature falling – I need to tell you so.

We’d planned it out so carefully; worked out the mileage, the time allotted, and how we’d make the pilgrimage from there, to here, and back.

This sudden shift has come as a shock, I know. When we left you there – jacked up, tied down, stripped of everything that made you a home for us – we were coming right back. We spoke as we packed of our return in the fall, and though you couldn’t hear it, we talked as we drove north of logistics. We’d do a bit of work on the car and then drive down ourselves in late October, store the car there where you’d spent the summer, finish those projects we’d started and this time – this time by God – we’d point your pretty bow east toward the islands. We’d make the Bahamas, like we’d promised we would, and drop the hook in foreign sand at last.

But it hasn’t happened that way.

I know we said we’d be right back. “Just six months”, we said, and we’d be together again. How could we know the wanderlust would fade? Who knew that adventure would lose its shine, in an instant, like the turn of a page?

You took such good care of us, and now it feels as though we’ve failed you. Abandoned you to the hurricanes and possible thieves in the boatyard, and the even more subtle thievery of time and heat and rain. You deserve better than our faithlessness.

I want you to know, it’s not your fault. You’ve done your very best and kept us safe from harm and risk and our own mistakes more times than I can count, and it tears my heart, sometimes, to see what has become of the plans we made together. You’ve done all that we could ask, and more, and done it very well.

I hope you can keep faith better than we, and know we’re trying. Somehow, someday, we’ll bring you home. Keep your spirits up and your bilge dry, as best you can, and wait for us. I swear, I’m not ready to swallow the anchor yet.

May my promise not sound as hollow to you as it does to me.

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Getting comfortable

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Now that I’ve accepted the idea that we’re not going back to the boat this winter (now that I can say that out loud without choking up) I’m suddenly discovering other cruisers who’re doing the same – or at least a similar – thing.

One of those is Ed Robinson and his wife, Kim.

Ed is a writer of some merit, and his book (I’m not sure if Kim helped – maybe “their book”?) “Quit Your Job and Live on a Boat” was one of many I read as inspiration and grist for my personal idea mill. For quite a while they maintained a blog, then called “Leap of Faith”, and now – after their move back to land – called “Creekside Musings“.

No, it’s not a cruising blog, but I take some comfort in the realization that it’s ok to take a break – even from something you love.

The future is never carved in stone.

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And then there was the mortgage


Well, maybe.

Step two of this gradual discovery of our path has begun – I’ve applied for a mortgage.


I know, what’s the big deal, right? All normal people have mortgages, some have more than one. It’s just life, right?

I suppose it is, but it isn’t for me. Nicki and I have been nearly debt-free (except for a small, private note for Sionna) for the last 4 years. That’s why we were able to close up our home maintenance business 3 years ago, get rid of most of our stuff, and go live on a boat for a large portion of the year. Debt owns you, controls your movements, limits your options, sets your schedule.

But debt can also be said to expand your options, if it’s applied properly, and hopefully we’re applying it right. We’re going to find out, anyway.

Home ownership isn’t something I ever aspired to again. I’ve been there twice in my life, and I’ve assisted in the process many times when I was a real estate agent. Yet even I feel the pull of “Home Ground” these days. I want to be sailing, yes. I want to go adventuring again, and again…

But I also am drawn towards identifying “home” as a physical, stationary, nearly-permanent feature. It must have something to do with my Capricorn nature.

Since Nicki has now embarked on her next business adventure by forming “Encore Ventures, LLC”, and I’m a carpenter who has considerable experience in rehabilitating and upgrading older houses, it seems to make sense that we, well, buy a house. For us.

And interestingly, once I had that epiphany, I became much more accepting of this whole change in direction that’s happening. Eager, even.

Eager, as in “Let’s get on with it!”

Mind you, I’ve not had a mortgage of my own in over 12 years, and we’re not high rollers. Property values in Maine have been pushing up steadily for several years now, even for the not-so-perfect places that are within our financial reach. It’s going to require some creativity.

But if we can come up with something similar to the one in the picture above, something that’s basically sound but in need of a lot of work, we might be able to swing it. We’re going to try, anyway.

And what about cruising, and Sionna? Well might you ask.

Sionna, of course, is in storage in Florida – hurricane central – and that makes us both pretty nervous. Since we’re clearly not going to be sailing her this winter, I had the thought that we might pay to have her trucked back home, here to Maine. Sadly that thought was quickly quashed – $6000 is a pretty good down payment on a house.

We could hire a captain to deliver her north, but first there’s a bunch of pre-launch work I need to complete – she still has a half-completed rudder post repair, and a couple other things need attention as part of recommissioning before she’d be ready for that trip. Too, delivery skippers take on a lot of responsibility, and are paid appropriately. That’s not happening either.

And then of course, we could go sail her home ourselves. That’s attractive financially, and it would be another on-the-water adventure, but how to find the time to do that, while we’re building Nicki’s new business?

For the moment, we’re stymied. Sionna is as safe as we can make her in the yard in Florida, so for now I have to be content with that. Once we’ve found some sort of winter shelter for ourselves, I can turn my attention to the problem of having one third of our family stuck in the sand, 1600 miles away.

But lest you think our summer has been nothing but angst and worry, we do have friends with boats, and a couple of them have been most gracious, inviting us aboard and – in the case of Sid, turning the boat over to us with a “there you go, take me for a sail”.

It was a thoroughly lovely day on the water, and a good reminder of what we’re working toward with all these changes and re-directions.

Thank you Sid!

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Cruiser? Or “Sailor”? Or what?


There are several blogs I follow pretty reliably. This is easy when they’re delivered straight to your inbox – maybe too easy. There’s a temptation to sign up for too many of them, too much reading material arrives, and now and then I’m tempted to ditch it all – the good, bad and ugly – and start over.

And that would be a pity, because there really are some great writers out there doing some wonderful work. The secret I’ve found is to be very selective about which ones I sign up for, and if I find a blog has headed off in a direction I’m just not resonating with, I unsubscribe. It saves my time, and inconveniences fewer electrons.

Now the point is not lost on me that when we announced that we weren’t headed back to the boat this fall, our readership demographic was likely to go through a shift as well – but that’s as it should be. Hopefully those who wanted “fun in the sun” 24/7 will find it elsewhere, and those who want to hear how we handle reintegration into what some folks call the “real world” will check in once in a while to see how we’re doing.

And the answer so far is “Not very well”.

Anyway, all of this is just a preamble to sharing a mini-conversation I had with a blogger last week, at a site called Yacht Kate. In the intro to her recent post, Heather wrote “…don’t even get me started on my dislike of the term “cruising.”

Which got ME thinking about exactly that – so naturally I had to “get her started”! You can read it yourself in the comments of that page from the link above, but here it is, in short form:

ME: “I may be opening Pandora’s box here, but I’m curious about your thoughts on the term “cruising”? As self-described commuter-cruisers (7 months on the boat someplace warm, 5 months on land working), we’re curious. Is there a stigma in some areas that we’re not familiar with, perhaps?”

Heather: “The OED defines cruise as: A voyage on a ship or boat taken for pleasure or as a holiday. I have always found the word “cruising” to make life on board to sound rather easy-breezy and vacation-y, when really it is hard work. There are wonderful, lovely times, but like anything worth while you have to put your back into to make those times happen, and to be able to enjoy them. “Cruiser” and “Cruising” are north american terms, and there is a culture associated with them. Many other places just say sailor or yachtie, and that has always felt like a better fit for us. Perhaps when you peddle words for a living they matter in a different way.”

Which brings me to what cruising is. And isn’t. And the way people who don’t live and travel on their private boat frequently seem to view that life when we use the term “Cruising” or “Cruiser”.

If your only connection to the term “Cruise” involves getting on a motorized city on the water with 1000 (or 5000) fellow humans, to be wined and dined by 2000 paid staff while said floating city is delivered to an artificial land city carefully constructed to effortlessly and (almost) painlessly separate you from every penny you possess (Say, Nassau, Bahamas), then when I say “Cruising”, the image in your mind is unlikely to match the reality Nicki and I lived the last couple of years.

Of course, Heather is absolutely right: Cruising is hard work. In fact, it’s almost exactly like real life in every important respect, except one. Boats sink. Houses don’t. Oh, and boats are really small, like, 150 square feet, in our case. One tenth of what most people think of as a “small” house.

So why do it? Because you can, I guess. Because of the opportunities it offers to experience life on its own terms. I lost count of how many times strangers ashore would find out we were living on our boat, “sailing” from Maine to Florida, and say some version of “I want your life”. It often happened that this would be a day when things had gone “less-than-perfectly” aboard Sionna, but of course we never mentioned that – we’d just smile and say “You can have one just like it if you want to/dare.” I don’t think they believed it.

So are Nicki & I really “Cruisers”, if we’ve suddenly made this abrupt (maybe temporary) course change and turned our backs on the lifestyle? Have we lost our “street cred”?

You tell me. Maybe we need a different handle. Maybe we’re just “Sailors”. I sure don’t feel like a “Yachtie”.

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Another Cruiser’s Perspective

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Sometimes something I write strikes a chord, and sometimes I miss the mark. More often, I fear, it’s the latter.

Still, my last post generated some great discussion, and I’ve learned something from all of it. Partly, I’ve been reminded that I needn’t take my angst quite so seriously!

Yeah, I do wallow in it once in a while. But maybe that’s good too? It gives my friends a chance to give me a gentle nudge – or a swift kick in the rear – to get me moving again.

So with gentle nudges in mind, I’m sharing a post by our dear friends Dan and Jay, from s/v Cinderella. Good folks. Good thoughts.


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Thinking of future time


So when are you going back to the boat?”

Simple questions don’t always have simple answers.

Having been such a vocal proponent of the “Go simple, go now” school of cruising thought, it feels a little strange to now have to write about how our “going” is – at this moment – very much in question. We just don’t know.

Which is not to suggest that we’re done with cruising, boating, living aboard, and all that wonderfulness. If you’ve enjoyed the last two years of musings, heavy on the topics of food, sunsets and poverty, have no fear – we’re not done.

But if you were looking to the crew of Sionna to provide a benchmark in time, with a known departure date for sunny climes, you might just want to find another reference.

Last winter aboard was pretty challenging for Nicki and me. Between the eye surgery stuff, the unexpected expenses entailed therein, and the broken-up nature of the season (three months on the boat, two months in Maine, two months back aboard…), both of us found that we just “weren’t having fun”.

And if it’s not fun, why do it?

Sure there were segments of last winter that were great, but there were long periods of not so good, and there were way too many times of saying – or NOT saying – “…this isn’t what I signed on for…” for both of us. After a while that thought becomes a heavy weight indeed, and it drags on your heart.

So once we realized the problem existed, it was time to look for answers, and the answer, as far as we can see, is that Nicki needs a job. More to the point, she needs to be able to see that she’s making a more tangible contribution to our over-all lifestyle than our recent “living-on-a-shoestring” track has allowed.

So we’re back in Maine, and we’re in transition. I’m working as a carpenter, as I have the last few summers, and that steady influx of cash is a welcome and necessary resource. It also gives me that feeling of accomplishment I enjoy, the same one I get from making Sionna move well and smoothly through the water. Meanwhile Nicki is studying to enter the business of real estate investment. To do that, she needs a home base, contacts, relationships with buyers, sellers, and investors, etc.

And so here we are, and here we shall remain, probably deep into the fall, possibly through the winter… we don’t know for sure. It is possible (and I would say likely) that we won’t be launching Sionna at all next season. It is certain that we’ll need to find a place to live this fall, since we can’t stay in the RV past October 15th. Maybe someone will need a house-sitter for a few months, maybe Nicki and her partner will buy a property with a liveable dwelling where we can camp out through the cold months…

We don’t know yet.

On balance, I suppose I’m mostly resigned to where we need to be, but it is not where I WANT to be. I want to go home, back to the boat, back to the water. But as I’ve said many times in these missives, it’s not just about me. It’s about us – and WE need to be here right now.

I think I’d better go find my winter coat.

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