'Til the butter melts

Pursuing the cruising dream in 32' of sailing ketch


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Real? Really?

Since we left the boat and returned to Maine, many, many people have said something similar to “Welcome back to the real world”. I realize now that I can’t agree…. 

Real world? I don’t think so.
I think what most people call the “real world” is in fact a cultural construct designed to strangle the spirit and drown the soul in despair, all while distracting the ego with the meaningless candy of consumerism.
The REAL real world is sunrise and moonset, rain and wind, sand bars and sunshine and light so pure it brings tears to your eyes and a song to your lips and you can hardly breathe for the beauty of it.
That’s what I learned from 9 months on a boat.

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On meeting heros…

Perhaps “hero” isn’t the perfect word here, but it’s pretty close.  

We all have one or two people in our lives who inspire us and motivate us, who help us keep striving for more during those dark moments when it seems the universe is only offering less…

Well Behan and Jamie are two of mine.

We’ve been following the adventures of this sailing family  for several years now – I believe they were just leaving the Western Pacific when I first learned of their blog. Since that time, we have watched them gradually working their way around the world, raising their three children as they explored the depths of each stop along the way.

A word about those “depths”. There are many ways to cruise aboard a boat, but it seems to me that it can all be reduced to something I’d call “depth of experience” – that is, the degree to which a cruiser dives into the locale in which they find themselves each day.

Many cruisers seem to skim. They arrive, stay a day or two, walk the beach or the Main Street of town, and then declare that they have “done” that stop.  Be it St. Augustine or Brisbane, they arrive, refuel and re-provision, check out the t-shirt shops and a restaurant, and they’re off to the next.


Conversely, there are folks who immerse. Cruisers who arrive, take a breath, and then dive – head-first and (figuratively) naked – into the unknowns and opportunities before them, ready to be overtaken and re-made by this new and alien culture and landscape in which they’ve landed.

And that last perfectly describes the Gifford family and their eight-year (and continuing!) journey.

Nicki and I had the great good fortune to finally meet this family last week. As the s/v Totem family is working their way down the East coast toward the Bahamas and – ultimately – the completion of their circumnavigation in Washington 

state, they’ve made several stops to give seminars and visit with cruisers and wanna-be’s from Connecticut to Miami. We had hoped last year that we might entice them to the Seven Seas Cruising Association Penobscot Bay Gam, which Nicki and I organize in Rockland each July, but they weren’t able to make it that far north.  We kept track of them, though, and when new friends Dan & Jaye from s/v Cinderella here in Marathon invited us to take a road trip to Miami to hear them speak, well… I couldn’t say “Yes!” fast enough!

Now the truth is that Nicki and I are very unlikely to ever attempt a circumnavigation of the world.  We both find the idea of landing in a foreign country – whose language we don’t know and whose customs are strange – to be rather intimidating. (Honestly, South Carolina was challenging enough!)

But we’ve learned so much from the writings of Behan and Jamie that it hardly matters. There is a cruising attitude that makes all the difference between being a tourist versus becoming a participant, and the Totem crew has perfected it.  I can’t claim that we on Sionna have consistently managed the latter, but I do know that their example has helped. They have made us better cruisers, better citizens of the water, better emissaries of the cruising world, and – undoubtably – better people.

So here’s a doff of the hat and a blast of the conch horn to Behan, Jamie, Niall, Mairen and Siobhan. We may not follow directly in your wake, but we do try to follow in your footsteps. Your love, care and generosity are an inspiration to many, many people, and for that, you may be proud.


 Thank you!


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Loving the Journey, but…

So why don’t we write more often?  After all, the success of a blog – I’ve been told – is determined largely by the output of the writer.  Blog advisors (yeah, that’s a thing) will tell you that a blog should be posting new content every day. Every. Single. Day.

Which probably has something to do with the Sesame Street effect.  If you’re not familiar with it, it seems that a criticism sometimes leveled at the long-running children’s program “Sesame Street” was that its format of short (30 to 60 second) skits and videos (which were designed to engage and hold the childs attention most effectively) actually produced an entire generation of adults with the attention span of a Cocker Spanial.  

In the blog world, that means if you don’t publish every day, your readers forget you exist and wander off to something more interesting, like the American election circus or a MacDonalds commercial. So if you, gentle reader, feel the need to do something more scintillating, like eating a Big Mac, I can hardly blame you: It’s Big Bird’s fault.

So why don’t we write every day, like a good blogger should?

Because we’re tired.  We’ve spent the last four days driving our home along a sometimes narrow, occasionally confusing and not infrequently shallow canal that is never the same two days in a row.  Sand and mud move and flow, marks are moved, barges sweep the banks, and houses and docks are added every day. 8 hours of that and you’re ready for a stiff drink and a long sleep, let me tell you.

Grand Dunes Bridge, Mile 358 of the ICW

So we end up going to sleep about 8:30pm, wake around 6:00am, get underway by 8am, and once the anchor is down, it’s supper, secure the boat for the night and repeat.

But oh, that 8 hours of driving…

Reds to the right – or left. Huh?

 

I assumed – when we were planning this trip – that the actual travel days on the ICW (or “The Ditch”, as it’s called out here) would be basically boring.  Follow the markers, keep the red ones on the right and the green ones on the left, and try to stay awake.  I was wrong.

First off, I only have one eye working still.  Since we’re moving south, the morning sun is off my left side, which is often pretty blinding, what with the reflection off the water and all. Without. Right eye to fill in, I find that it’s sometimes a it of a challenge to see where we’re going. That’s tiring.

Second, the markers are sometimes confusing, and rarely they are actually wrong.  that’s due to something called “Shoaling”. Shoaling is the movement of mud and sand in the channel, when that loose material from, say, a hurricane, decides to build up right where last week there was a clear channel.  Yes, the Coast Guard is out here putting things back to rights, but that takes time, and the shoals change every day.  It can be pretty tense working your way through some of those changeable areas, and more than once we’ve heard the depth alarm go off, requiring a mad application of reverse and much hissing of “where’d the water go?!” before things are resolved.  At the Shallotte Inlet in North Carolina (mile 330) we actually had to ignore the markers and navigate using advice we received from friends, plus an image Nicki located on the Army Corp of Engineer’s website of the depths – and we still came within 6 inches of grounding before we felt our way through. Whew!

No wonder I’m not sleeping so well some nights. I lie awake replaying the day’s lessons and trying to plan tomorrow’s route…

Sionna going 5.4 knots over dry ground. Cool trick!

Oh, and technology?  Not 100% That’s a picture of the screen on our chart plotter – a nifty little device that projects the GPS position of our boat onto a digital chart.  Hmm… we seem to be sailing over dry land… And at over 6 mph!  This is why you watch the marks first, not the screen.


And finally there’s the trash.  Trees, sticks, floating garbage, sunken boats… They’re all out there, and they’re not fun to meet up-close and personal.  We’re constantly looking for such things, in addition to other boats, barges and markers, and the combined effect is that we get to the end of a day exhausted and ready for a nice rum beverage, a warm meal, and an early bedtime.

So that’s why we don’t write every day.  We’re loving the journey, the experience and the adventure. But sometimes, we just don’t have the energy to get creative at the keyboard.  We hope you understand. 

But you can always watch the election news if you need more stimulation!


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Around Town

If you’ve listened to any country music in the last 20 years, you’ve probably heard a song that goes “If you wanna hear God laugh, tell him your plans.”

Yeah, that.

We planned to spend just a couple days – maximum – in Hampton Roads before continuing south on the ICW.  Buy some provisions, some fuel, a little propane and fill the water tanks, and we’d be on our way.

But then I (Keith) suddenly had a need for medical care – emergency surgery for a detached retina – and a little storm called “Matthew” seemed to have the mid-Atlantic coast in mind as a good place to visit.  Suddenly Hampton. VA became our temporary home while we sorted things out, and we’ve been here since October the 4th.   We’re calling it our personal velcro harbor – we just can’t get free.

So let’s look at the good side.  We accidentally landed where the City Piers are new, strong, and sheltered from storm winds and surge. One of the country’s leading retinal surgeons practices right here, and took me in instantly.  And the fourth annual Hampton Snowbird Rendezvous was happening right there on the docks where we were tied up. Snowbirds. You know, folks that can’t handle the cold in the north, so they run away from it. Folks like us!

And to top it all off, downtown Hampton is just lovely.  Particularly a street – just a block from the City Piers – called Queen’s Way.  Restaurants, bars, shops, etc.  No crowds that we saw, but friendly people who say hello to strangers and just a general feeling of relaxed, gentle fall living.

We hven’t done half the things we’d thought we would by now. There’s the Virginia Air & Space Museum (which we may make it to yet), and a neat restored 1913 carousel that we plan to ride (only $1).  Forts to tour, nearby historical sites like Jamestown, Yorktown and Williamsburg…  The list goes on.


We’re ready to move on, it’s true.  Our boat is starting to feel more like a small apartment than a vessel, and I fear we may have a garden growing on the bottom due to lack of movement. Over the last couple of days boats have been leaving in droves, and it’s hard to stand on the docks, watching new friends and old depart while we wait here.

We’ve got itchy feet, that’s certain.  We’re hoping my next eye check-up will say there’s no reason we must stay close, and if so, we’ll begin a slow migration again, following in the wake of the hundreds of boats that have already departed in the last couple days.  The ICW is crowded right now, and our preferred route to North Carolina – the Dismal Swamp Canal – is closed for the rest of the fall due to damage from Matthew.  Waiting for the crowd to thin isn’t a bad thing either.

But we want to move south again.


Want to know where we are? Subscribe for updates on our position through Farkwar! Free, no commercials, just updates and short messages from Sionna when we arrive someplace new.


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“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.

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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.

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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?

 


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“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.

Toast

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