'Til the butter melts

Pursuing the cruising dream in 32' of sailing ketch


Of sea cows and other wonders

(NOTE: The photos in this post (except the one of our dinghy) are not ours. We were too busy communing to take any silly pictures.)

When we first entered southern waters last fall, I at least was figuring we’d be seeing manatees on a regular basis. I mean, they’re everywhere, right? And all those signs for “Manatee Zone – minimum wake” can’t be there for no reason.

But we didn’t see them. At least, we saw traces a couple of times, but never enough of a view to even be certain that was what it was.

Until today!

This morning, Nicki and I dinghied up the canal on Longboat Key to the Longbeach Cafe – a place that’s become a favorite stop for us. Basically it’s a diner, with a more interesting menu than your average inland diner, and a patio on the canal with a sea wall that you can tie your dinghy to when you come for breakfast. Or brunch, if early mornings aren’t your thing. So of course we were there for brunch.

Anyway, after brunch, and chatting with another couple who were very interested in this crazy, off-the-beaten-track life we live, we got into the car… er… dinghy, and headed back out the canal. And a quarter-mile later shut the motor off to drift slowly through a herd of manatees! We think there were five, maybe six. They’d stick their noses (some big, some quite small) up to breathe, which is how we spotted them, and then a couple minutes later they’d do it again…

Now mind you, the water in the canal wasn’t as clear as in this photo, but we could still see them clearly when they were nearby. Pretty cool!

And then – on a whim – I stuck my fingers in the water next to the dinghy and wiggled them gently…

And one came to see me! Very curious, bumped my hand with her nose, sniffed my hand, then very slowly moved forward, inviting me to scratch the top of her snout and the back of her head… Leathery, soft, covered with sea moss, and warm…

Hey, I may be easy to amuse, but damn that was cool!

I don’t care who you are: Sea. Cows. Rock!


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!


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!


When the “eyes” have it

…by Keith
When last we left our heros…

Perhaps that’s a bit too much drama. Without going into gory details, let’s just say that surgery to reattach a retina is an amazing use of Star Wars technology, for which I’m extremely greatful, and hope never to encounter again. Lasers are a wonderful thing – but aren’t we all the time being warned not to shine them in our eyes?

Just sayin’…

The extended stay in Hampton, VA which my eye surgery required was very much a new thing for us in many ways. It was only the second time we’ve been in a marina slip, and the first time we stayed for long enough (17 days!) to become recognizable as “regulars”. Boats leave, new boats come in, we make friends and share the good spots in town we’ve found, and serve as the welcoming committee for each new cruiser.  

Need a sugar fix? We can help with that! 

It was also the first time we’d attended a cruiser “rally” – in this case the 4th annual Hampton Snowbird Rendezvous. This gathering of 50+ boats and twice as many people is a great place to learn everything you can about following the sun along the ICW (IntraCoastal Waterway), and though we had no idea it existed, by our second week at the dock it was a welcome distraction from our enforced stop-over.

Hampton Snowbird Rendezvous departure breakfast.

But finally the day arrived. My two-week checkup with the surgeon showed the eye healing nicely, and no reason we needed to stay close. The day after we recieved the ok to travel was spent preparing the boat to be a boat (rather than an apartment) again, and the next day we departed. First to the fuel docks for 22 gallons of diesel, then south through Hampton Roads, Norfolk Naval base, and the Portsmouth Navel Ship Yard. Military stuff. Huge. Scary. And very nervous about little boats getting too close. It can be kind of tense. 

USS Zumwalt, and an un-named submarine. Busy place!


But we did it! And nobody shot at anybody or even got testy. We spent our first night at the free docks in Portsmouth, right next to the ferry dock. This is really significant only because it marked the first time I docked the boat with the use of only one eye. It’s a strange feeling, bringing 14,000 pounds of floating home up to an immovable object, and having to guess – based on memory – how far you are from contact with said object! But it actually was not as hard as I feared: Nobody screamed, nothing went “Crunch!” No drama at all, actually – except the anticipation.

Sionna docked in Portsmouth, VA

From Portsmouth, we officially entered the ICW – Mile 0 was just 100 yards from our dock. The next 5 miles south are simply an industrial zone of shipyards, military enclaves and commercial piers, smelly, noisy and crowded with tugs, ships and barges. And believe me, after almost three weeks of living in the city (see my earlier blog on light and noise) we were simply aching for a quiet anchorage, away from all things human. We didn’t quite get it, as there were a couple other boats anchored with us and the Navy has a practice area for their pilots near by, but it was, at least, not in the city.

Anchored off marker Red “32” on the Atlantic IntraCastal Waterway

But first, we had to get there. The day included nine bridge openings, most of which we didn’t even have to wait for because there are so many boats traveling south that we’d just adjust our speed a bit, arrive when a bunch of boats did or when the bridge was due to open, and through we’d go.

Bye bye Portsmouth!

We also got to do our first lock! The water level between Portsmouth and Pungo Ferry, Virginia can be as different as 4 feet, so there’s a lock along the canal to bring the boats up or down as required. Due to the run-off from hurricane Matthew, the difference when we came through was only about 9 inches, but still, transiting a lock is a pretty neat experience, and something else boat-related to add to our list of “firsts”.

“Locking up” at Great Bridge, VA

With a forecast of substantial winds for the following day, we elected to sit tight in our anchorage and let the blow pass by. For us, it was a noisy but comfortable night – but for one of our neighbors…. Not so much. 

See that second boat behind us?  He did NOT have a restful night…

Sometime before midnight I woke up, sat up, and had this feeling that “something” was not right…. I slid the hatch back and took a quick look around the anchorage and was confused for a moment – where there should have been two other boats north of us, there was only one. Oh wait, there he is, off to one side and floating sideways across the channel…
Now it’s a characteristic of boats that when anchored, they face either the wind or the current – whichever is stronger – but when the anchor doesn’t hold for some reason, the boat will drift off sideways, laying perpendicular to the wind. This guy was asleep, and in trouble.
So I scrambled top sides in my birthday suit, grabbed our portable air horn, and started giving a series of five blasts on the horn – the international marine signal for “Danger!” First set – no sign of life aboard. Second set, a light comes on inside. Third set, more lights, and a hatch opens…

And what followed was the most impressive boat rodeo I ever hope to see. It included drifting, backing at high speed through a dark anchorage, going aground in reverse, at least three attempts to re-anchor, and finally the successful anchoring of a 42-foot sailboat in the middle of the channel, followed somewhat later by the irate blasting of a tugboat’s horn as a rather large barge was squeezed by in said channel, in the dark. This poor guy did basically EVERYTHING wrong – but he survived, to drag yet again the next morning when he finally tried to get out of the channel.

I’m starting to think compulsory training and licensing for pleasure boaters is a very good idea.

So that was our exciting first two days back on the water! And today we covered another 36 miles, crossed into North Carolina, and have tucked up in another creek to wait out tomorrow’s little blow before crossing the Albamerle Sound.  

Written October 27, 2016 from Oriental, North Carolina, where we’ve stopped for a couple days to wait for mail to catch up wit us from Maine.  If you’d like to get short update e-mails from us as we move dow the coast, consider signing up for our Farkwar page! Nothing t buy, just enter your email to get a short note to say where we are.  And please take a minute to comment here and tell us what you think! We love to hear from you, field questions about boating and cruising, etc.  Thanks!


Cruising and Social Media – shall we, or shan’t we?

“You’re going to be posting your trip on Facebook, right?

Well, maybe…  And maybe not.

So far, I’ve been responding to that question with a “probably”:  Kind of a definite maybe.  I’ve had a personal Facebook page for several years now, and I’ve experienced the good stuff that comes with the medium: Connecting with old friends and classmates, finding interesting groups and businesses, etc.   There are some great resources and social aspects too, and I’ve enjoyed them.

But there are some serious drawbacks, as well.  There is no better waster of time – and therefore life – than “just checking” Facebook.  It’s as addictive as heroin (hence the nickname “Crackbook”) and as easy going down as a rum punch after a hot day.

Don’t think it’s addictive? Well perhaps it’s not for everyone, but I’ve found myself unable to walk by the computer desk without “peeking” more times than I can count, even when I’d made a solemn promise to myself that I wouldn’t ‘Book until after 5pm…
If that isn’t addictive behavior, I’ll eat my metaphorical hat.

So now I’m thinking we probably won’t have a page for the trip, and the reason ties directly into the very motivation for this upcoming lifestyle change.  Time.

We’re going cruising because we want to simplify, slow down, and really experience each moment of the life we’re living. We want to actually BE THERE as participants, not witness it as observers or reporters. Facebook sucks time like a black hole sucks galaxies, and I’m not willing to spend my limited time in this life that way. This blog will be bad enough.

And then there are the trolls.
Call me a sensitive new-aged guy, but the constant stream of political idiocy, racist and sexist vitriol and outright vicious attacks that Facebook is so justly famous for just tear my heart apart. I try not to read it, I unfriend people who spout it, and yet I keep getting hit with it. Privacy settings notwithstanding, it finds me. And it hurts.

So no, we won’t have a Facebook Page for the cruise to Where the Butter Melts. Interested folks will have to find us here or – better yet – go make their own, real live adventures. Or both.

But I hope you’re not planning to follow us instead of taking the leap yourself. That would be most unfortunate.


Get out there. Live. Love. Be.


“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?



“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.