'Til the butter melts

Pursuing the cruising dream in 32' of sailing ketch


Out of time

(This post was actually written prior to the one just published about hauling out, but due to a freak wormhole which opened up in the space-time continuum, the publishing order was reversed. I hate wet paper bags…). (That was an inside joke for you Douglas Adams fans out there. The rest of you can just pretend it didn’t happen.)
It appears that I’ll be breaking my own rule about this blog.

I’ve made it a policy to post chronologically these last couple of years. It seemed the fairest way to present the story, easier for readers to follow, and easier for me to avoid repetition.

But as our time in this first cruise runs down, I’ve become strangely reticent about investing the time in keeping the story current. In part, that may be due to the temperature: it’s May 3rd as I write this, and it’s been 90 degrees this afternoon, even in the shade under the sun awning. It’s hot, and there’s hardly a breeze. Weather like that doesn’t give you much motivation.

Or perhaps it’s just an unwillingness to spend time behind the keyboard when I could be spending it watching the pelicans, or the osprey, or the sardines that congregate in the shadow of Sionna whenever we stop for more than a few minutes…

Today we moved Sionna into the canal which leads to the boat yard where we’ll be storing her – on the hard (out of the water) – while we return to Maine for the summer, more eye surgeries, and hopefully some paid work. When we set out for this trip, we had many expectations that we tried to suppress, and we had dreams and plans which we have – largely – followed. Much of that we’ve accomplished, while some – like sudden blindness and surgeries – was more adventure than we’d ever have chosen. It’s been good.

But we’re left wondering, too. Wondering about the paths we didn’t take. Wondering how we may have changed in this 9-month odyssey. Wondering how Maine and Rockland may have changed, and who we’ll see first as we greet old friends? 
And we wonder how it’ll feel to leave Sionna – very much our home, and now very much our partner and friend – in the hands and land of strangers.


Staying put? Or stuck?

Sionna has arrived. Apparently.

After 2200 miles of moving, we’ve now been anchored in Boot Key Harbor, Marathon FL for over a week, with no particular plans to leave.  That’s a new thing for us.

Always before it’s been a given that we had somewhere else to be, somewhere farther south and warmer, but having arrived in the Florida Keys, we seem to have suddenly grown roots.

And it’s true that Boot Key Harbor is a cruisers Mecca, combining all the facilities that cruisers need, a very pleasant town to wander, and even a cruiser community that provides – among other things – yoga classes, botche ball, a softball league, volunteer opportunities and advice on everything from maintaining your boat to raising your children. It’s a busy place.


But it’s also expensive.  Everything in the Keys – including fresh water – has to come from the mainland, so prices on all goods are 25%-50% higher than we’re used to.  When you’re a couple of semi-retired people with outstanding medical issues trying to see the Universe on less than 30 Altairien dollars a day, that’s a problem.  Living on the boat was cheaper than living ashore through a Maine winter right up until we got here.

One of two dinghy dock areas.

But it gets worse.  We CAN’T LEAVE.  We’d lose our spot.

Moorings in the harbor cost the same as anchoring, and the moorings are generally closer to everything significant than the anchorage.  Since we figured to be here for a bit, we put our names on the waiting list for a mooring – and that wait is 2-3 weeks right now.  But the catch is we have to be HERE – in the harbor – to stay on the list.  If we go off exploring for a couple days, we risk missing a mooring and getting bumped back to the bottom of the list.

And then there’s the anchorage. We found a good spot to anchor when we first arrived, but those spots are now scarce as hen’s teeth.  If we pull up our anchors (we have two down to keep us from bumping the closer boats – it’s that crowded) to go for a sail, we won’t have a spot when we get back.  That’s another reason to want a mooring. Once we have it rented, we can leave it and come back with no risk of loosing our spot.

So we’re kinda trapped, a bird in a gilded cage.  Yes, we’re safe and have all we need – including way too many opportunities to spend what money we have left. But we can’t use our boat for what it’s intended (sailing), and we’re not able to explore the rest of the Key’s unless we want to loose our foothold in Boot Key.  It’s a quandary.

Do I sound like I’m whining?  I don’t mean to.  But I guess it never occurred to me we might get stuck in the quicksand of Velcro Harbor.

At least it’s warm!


After the rush, the waiting…

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.
…by Keith, Oct the 14 ’16

We’ve written a bit about the events that brought us here to an unplanned, extended stay in Hampton, VA. Of course, life is often composed of the unplanned, and indeed many of our most significant experiences are a result of going off-script, whether intentionally or forced by circumstances. And so it is with us.

The short update is that my brush with blindness in my right eye has – like our encounter with Hurricane Matthew – been only a brush.  The emergency surgury to re-attach a detached retina was successful, I have full light sensitivity again, and we wait now for the after-effects of the procedure to dissipate and restore normal function to the eye. 

We wait, impatiently. Going into the operating room was all a rush and blur, with little enough time to calm frayed nerves, much less ask all the questions and digest all the answers.  So it’s understandable that we’d miss the part about ultimate recovery time following the operation.  Turns out that a return to a functional level of vision is expected to take about 6 weeks, and totally “normal” vision may take as long as a year…

Or not.  I have a long history of healing faster than expected, often confounding the expectations of the few doctors I’ve worked with, so I remain optimistic that we can continue our travels sooner, rather than later.  But in the mean time I’m beginning to feel – and probably act – like a caged lion. 

Pacing, pacing…

The biggest factor in my impatience is not – as you might expect – my eagerness to continue our cruising. That’s a little of it, but only a little.

No, the real issue for me is lack.

Lack of silence. Lack of darkness. Lack of wildlife. Lack of motion.

You see, we’re in a marina that’s located just downstream of a highway bridge that’s 24 feet above the water, so there’s almost no boat traffic and no wave action. We may as well be living in an apartment in town for all the “boat motion” our floating home exhibits. 

By the same token, we’re parked in downtown Hampton, VA. Street lights, traffic sounds, car horns,  and the conversations of passing pedestrians are all a constant presence, always in the background, sometimes in the foreground. Rarely we hear a single call of a gull or a heron, but frequently we hear the trucks going through all 13 gears as they climb the grade to the bridge. 

And light? True darkness is a memory. If you wake in the night, you have no idea – from the light level – whether dawn is breaking or still hours away, and there will be no sound of morning birds to help you decide.

I’m most appreciative of the place to be while we work out my vision issues, but I’ve realized that I’m not sleeping well, not resting, not comfortable in this very urban environment.  It provides shelter, but no solace. A place to be, but not to live.

A cage, but not a home.


Roll, roll, roll your boat…

We love our boat. She’s strong, capable, amazingly roomy for her 32 feet, well built and well equipped. Sionna is the perfect boat for us. But she does have one vice.

She likes to roll.
Any time the wake of a boat or a sea comes along at anything close to broadside to our old fat boat, she sets up a motion that’s like riding a round-barreled pony who’s determined to roll in the grass. Baaack and forth, Baaack and forth…. Every boat around us is gently riding to the swell, and Sionna is tossing dishes across the cabin while Nicki and I hold on for dear life. And sleeping? I don’t think so.

Hence my latest project – creating a “flopper stopper” – a device to catch hold of the water next to the hull and use its weight to reduce and dampen the roll.

The idea isn’t new, and it isn’t original. I’ve read several articles over the years about various designs, and a couple of fellow cruisers have shared ideas as well. The one I made is based pretty closely on a recent article in “Good Old Boat” magazine, so here’s a shoutout to a truly excellent publication!  

Materials are all found items: An old milk crate Nicki’s had since childhood is the base, the fabric is an old sail from the boat we didn’t restore (thank you Renaissance!) the weight was in Sionna’s bilge when we got her, and the line and clips were repurposed from various corners of the boat.

Once deployed, the flopper-stopper is below the waters surface, but it acts like a weighted bucket with a one-way valve in the bottom. Water can come up into the bottom easily, but is slowed significantly in escaping, using the weight of the water to slow the roll of the boat side-to-side.

The horizontal pole just holds the unit at a distance from the hull, creating leverage, and the two lower lines keep the whole works out perpendicular to the hull. The support is a halyard from the top of the mast.

Does it work? Certainly it helps, but there hasn’t been a huge amount of wake or swell this afternoon to test it. Mostly we seem to be riding up and down on the swells, with only a little roll thrown in.

 Cautious optimism reigns until proven unfounded!


“Storage” – the A to Z Challenge

A2Z-BADGE 2016-smaller_zpslstazvib

“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.


The New “Do”

Same blog, a new look.

Not because I think we need to change the look every few months. Actually I’ve had the same hairstyle going now for over 30 years (except for that brief experiment with a mullet… please don’t ask me about that.)

No, I just wanted more options in the display for the blog – side-bars and drop-downs and all that googy stuff.  So now all the fun tools and widgets should display on the home screen, as well as the new picture of Sionna, reefed down and flying across Rockland Harbor in a stiff Sou’wester last fall.

I think the new theme is easier to use, more readable, and with more options and information for your reading pleasure. Hope you agree!

In the mean time I’ve been suffering through a visitation by a fellow named “Influenza”, which means I’ve done almost nothing on the boat these last four days, and nothing at all on creating posts for the A to Z Challenge, which starts April 1st. Going to have to get busy.

But lest you think I’ve been wallowing in illness, I have managed just a couple hours on the boat most days, working to add shelving in the aft cabin.  It’s going to totally change our lives, since we hope to use the aft cabin as our primary sleeping space as we head down the ICW.

The aft cabin originally was set up for two single berths, oriented fore-and-aft. I made the two inserts to fill the space between them, and created…





The existing mattresses, turned 90 degrees, fit the space fine, though there is a triangle-shaped gap at one end which we’ll have to fill with a separate piece.

But look at all that unused space where our feet used to go. Hmm… can’t let that go to waste!

So I’m building shelving to take advantage of all that space. Once it’s painted and trimmed out in varnished teak, it should blend in nicely – and think of the storage! The lower shelf will be easily removable so that we can convert back to two single berths if needed, but meanwhile, Nicki and I will have a comfortable, dedicated berth to share. No more tearing the salon apart for bedtime and rebuilding it for breakfast – at least when the weather is settled.

Now, if I can just figure out where the drip is coming from that lands on my right hip when it rains…


Getting a taste

Escape from Winter

There was a time, not so long ago, when I scoffed at snowbirds. Laughed derisively, even. “Weak-spined individuals, the lot of them”, I thought. “With the constitution of a three-toed-sloth…”

I’m not sure exactly what happened, but I’m not laughing anymore. Maybe it was the cumulative erosion of my psyche by 54 northern winters. Perhaps some fatal flaw in my character has finally been revealed.

Or maybe I’ve finally grown up. Whatever the reason, since last year, the words “I’m a” and “snowbird” have somehow found themselves combining in my mind and speech in a most agreeable way, which leads to the current adventure of the crew of Sionna: We’re vacationing in Florida for two weeks!

It’s not all play, though. While here, we’ve been working hard, researching for our trip south in the boat next winter. Really we haven’t had a moment to ourselves, and of course there’s been no time to rest, recreate, kick back, notice that the sun is warm, the days more than an hour longer than back home, and it’s February and yesterday I wore SHORTS, for goodness sake…

Ok, maybe we’re enjoying it just a little bit.

But we have accomplished some very important work, too. We’re spending some great time visiting with Nicki’s parents, whom we’re staying with here in Bradenton, for one thing.

Last Friday we spent a day at the Miami Strictly Sail boat show. I’m sorry to say the only pictures I took suffered from severe operator error on the part of the camera man (me), so you’ll have to trust my descriptions, but it was an interesting experience, and honestly not one either of us feels the need to repeat. The drive getting there is long, and Miami traffic is simply horrendous. The show really isn’t awfully well organized and run, unfortunately, and signage is frequently confusing or missing at a critical moment. Worth doing once, and it was warm…
There were new gear dealers, but no more than we see in good old Rockland Maine at our annual Boats, Homes & Harbors show in August. There were a lot of boats there; most new, a few used. We’re not in the market for a boat, so maybe that effected my interest more than expected, but I found myself growing bored looking through “yet another new party boat”.

Or maybe it’s my “cruisers eye”? Every boat I see, I look at from the perspective of how it would meet the challenges of long term live-aboard cruising for a couple that likes to sail, that will spend much time anchoring out (not tied in a slip), and who will, on occasion, face challenging sailing conditions and need to deal with them. I always find myself asking, first; “Can this boat take it”? And second; “Would the crew be safe and comfortable?”

And the new boats we saw – from a dozen manufacturers from around the world – mostly left me wondering “What the hell were they thinking?” All had great features, yes – but all had gaps that the “fix-it-yourself, worse-case-scenario” guy I am found troubling. But we weren’t buying a boat, so I guess that’s ok. I feel sorry for the newbie with plenty of disposable income and not much knowledge, though, and we saw a bunch of those, being bombarded with bad advice by the boat brokers. Yikes!

We did, however, see one product (and only one) that we both sighed over, and if we had the budget would so pursue: Soft decking.

I love the look of teak decks, but wouldn’t have one because of the maintenance, and the certainty of leaks. One of the boats we toured looked like it had a very blond teak deck, but when you kicked your shoes off (required to tour a boat at a show) and stepped aboard, the deck had just a little give to it. It was a dense, closed-cell foam of some sort, and gave the surest, most comfortable footing I’ve ever found on a boat. Delightful!

Anyway, enough of the show. We stayed the night with some family who live about an hour north of Miami (a drive which took us three hours – did I mention Miami traffic?), and from there headed to Indiantown, FL, and the Indiantown Marina. The author of one of my favorite cruising blogs – The Cynical Sailor – is spending some time there, and we’ve been considering it as a place to store Sionna when we leave her in Florida the summer-after-next, so we thought it would be great to view the marina AND maybe meet Ellen of s/v Tickity Boo at the same time. Surprise, surprise, we managed both! Ellen proved to be gracious and charming, as well as willing, and gave us a complete tour of the facilities (which are very nice, and relaxed at the same time), as well as a recommendation from her experiences. We’d barely stepped out of the car before some folks enjoying the patio invited us to join the cruisers BBQ that evening (which we sadly had to decline, but next time…!) The folks in the office were smiling and helpful, and, well, the whole thing just felt right.

K&N at Indiantown
(Photo credit: Ellen Jacobsen)

We’ve found our Southern base of operations. Thanks Ellen!

Other highlights? Well, it’s been warm. And sunny. And since we left Maine they’ve had three snow events and temperatures consistently below zero (Fahrenheit!). We went for a walk in Desoto Park yesterday and it was sunny. And warm.


Did I mention it’s been warm? I may be turning into a three-toed-sloth.


I’m ok with that.