'Til the butter melts

Pursuing the cruising dream in 32' of sailing ketch

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March – the month in Numbers

Yes friends, it’s time for everybody’s favorite game show, “Where did it all go?” And where the heck are they, anyway?
We spent most of March on a mooring in Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida. It’s a pretty nice place if you like company – LOTS of company – and if you enjoy having continuous excuses for spending money. 

As planned, we dropped the mooring on the 25th (Well, one day late, but that’s as close to a plan as we get these days…) and headed west. We stopped at a number of lovely island anchorages, got hoisted up the mast to recover a broken halyard shackle, chilled briefly in Key West (City slogan: “You Can’t Afford It.”), then jumped off for the 26 hour passage to Fort Myers Beach before mostly motoring north to the Bradenton area – which is where we are now! 

So with March well behind us, let’s take a peek at the events (and expenses) that kept the crew and the boat happy and mobile during our month’s travels.

Here, presented in no particular order, are some numbers that I found interesting from March, 2017 or – where so noted – since we left Rockland In August. Enjoy!
By The Way: If you want to see where we are at each stop, look us up on Farkwar. It costs nothing and won’t try to sell you anything – it just lets your know when I post a new location. Follow along!
1 – Significant equipment breakages (Main halyard shackle. I had a spare)

27 – Nights in port(mooring) in March

225- Days since leaving Rockland

4 – Days underway in March

93- Days underway since leaving Rockland 

26.5 nm (nautical miles) (30.5 statute) – Average miles covered per day underway

Current Location – Manatee River, FL. (N27 31.8208/W82 37.8887)

188 nm (216 sm)- Miles covered in a straight line in March

327 nm (376 sm) – Miles actually sailed in March

1188 nm (1366 sm) – Miles from Rockland in a straight line.

2461 nm (2830 sm) Miles actually sailed/motored from Rockland
22.4 gal. – Diesel fuel purchased in March

163.4 gal – Diesel fuel purchased since leaving Rockland

*819 amp/hours – solar electricity produced in March
**$426.77 – Provisions purchased

$89.97 – Personal care. Haircuts, replace a skirt or shirt, etc.

***$40.00 – Cash/Misc.

$18.00 – Laundry ($6.00/load!)

$0.00 – Coffee/pastries purchased (There are NO good coffee shops until Sarasota)

$126.76 – Dining out. 

$0.00 – Propane for cooking purchased in March

$31.12 – Propane since leaving Rockland

$0.00 – charcoal for heating the cabin (It’s been warm!!)

$20.67 – Boat parts (spare belts, filters, etc)

$65.00 – boat maintenance (Diver to clean bottom)

$321.43 – Mooring/dinghy dockage fees for March

$393.06 – Diesel purchased since leaving Rockland

* 28% increase over February!

**Includes food, toiletries, paper products, booze, etc. 

***That “dark money” category. Who knows where it went?



Working – the search for Cruising Chips

“So how can you afford to go cruising?”

We’ve heard this question, in one form or another, several times since we started out on this little adventure. Actually we started hearing it before we started out, back when we were still planning and dreaming.  

And the truth of the matter is that we can’t.

Not that we haven’t managed to make it happen, but it isn’t like we’re just blithely rolling along, never a worry or care about money. We’re scrimping and saving and giving up things like a permanent land-home (sold the house and gave up the lease on our rental), and we’ve not been able to do many of the restaurants, museums, tours and sights we’d once hoped to enjoy. Those things all cost money, and with all my medical B.S. this last year, money is scarce. Read about The Eye Thing Here.

The good news is that Nicki and I are not without saleable skills. We once owned a business called “Handy-Hands Home Maintenance & Repair”, which we closed in order to go cruising, but we still have the skills…

So when we got an email a couple weeks ago from a friend back in Maine, asking if we were interested in picking up a little extra cash, it didn’t take too long for Nicki to say “Well yeah!”, and for me (who lives in a constant state of financial denial) to be convinced that we should take the opportunity presented.

So with Sionna safely tied to a mooring in Marathon and watched over by friends and fellow cruisers, we rented a car and drove the 7 hours from the Keys to St. Petersburg Florida. There, a friend we’d worked for back in Rockland had just purchased a condo that desperately needed some sprucing up – and we became her helpers.

Repair and paint three rooms, replace all the switch plates and outlet covers, replace both bathroom light fixtures, adjust numerous closet doors, install kitchen cabinet knobs, replace the fridge water filter, repair the ice maker…. The list gets longer as you work, much as it does for a boat. Unlike boats, however, in a house you do reach a point where you can say you’re “done”.

The before shot – quite a color!

And after! Same wall…

So that’s been our last week. But not constantly working, no. We also fit in some family visits (Nicki’s brother and family were down for several days from Vermont), as well as a get-together with Lisa & Tim, a Facebook-friend couple we’d not seen in person before. Turns out they’re neat people, and she makes very decent homemade wine – and shares it too! Plus they have two aging but very sweet bulldogs, so we got a little “doggy-time”, too.  

AND we made almost enough cash on this job to put the boat in storage for the summer!  

Now, if I can just avoid the medical industry…


December – The Month in Numbers

It’s that time again!  We’re snuggled into the anchorage in Fort Myers, Florida, the weather is generally warm (though today it’s 60 degrees and blowing stink), and we’re staying put for a few days. Now that December is history, let’s look back at the milestones and expenses – both routine and non – that marked Sionna’s progress toward warmth and sun. 

Here, presented in no particular order, are some numbers that I found interesting from the month of December, 2016 or – where so noted – since we left Rockland In August. Enjoy!

1 – Number of collisions with errant boats suffered by Sionna, causing significant but easily repaired damage to her mizzen boom. (Hint: Avoid marinas!)

1 – Number of mechanical breakdowns that required quick thinking, nerves of steel, and anchoring in the MIDDLE of the channel on the Intracoastal Waterway.

14 – Nights in port in December

17 – Nights at anchor (free!) in December

135 – Days since leaving Rockland

79- Days underway since leaving Rockland

22 – Days underway in December

24.7 nm (nautical miles) (28.4 statute) – Average miles covered per day underway

1216 nm (1398 sm) – Miles from Rockland in a straight line.
331nm (381 sm)- Miles covered in a straight line in December

1950 nm (2243 sm) Miles actually sailed/motored from Rockland

*493nm (567 sm) – Miles actually sailed in December
40.1 gal. – Diesel fuel purchased in December

127.5 gal – Diesel fuel purchased since leaving Rockland

**15.3 nmpg (17.6 smpg) – Sionna’s average fuel consumption in December

13.9 nmpg (16.0 smpg) – Sionna’s average fuel consumption since leaving Rockland

***$376.77 – Provisions purchased (Now includes booze, as separating that out was embarrasing)

$40.50 – Coffee/pastries purchased (which comes with Wifi!)

$260.00 – Dining out. It was a rough month.

$15.91 – Propane for cooking since leaving Rockland

$0.00 – charcoal for heating the cabin (It’s been warm!!)

$321.50 – Boat parts purchased in December

$345.05 – Mooring/slip fees for December (when we can’t anchor)

$294.04 – Diesel purchased since leaving Rockland

374amp/hours – amount of solar electricity produced in December

* This is more than twice the mileage we clocked in November.

** A 6 mpg improvement from November. We had better winds to help the engine.

*** Includes food, toiletries, paper products, booze, etc.


What’s for Dinner?

Or breakfast? Or lunch?

There’s something about a nice meal. It just settles the mind and eases the stresses of a day. But the opposite is true as well.  A lousy meal can take a hard day and just make it harder.

Eating ashore is one answer, but with what money? Once in awhile, absolutely, but all the time? This cruise would last about three weeks. The answer is to cook.

I think it’s relatively easy to eat well on shore, particularly if you have some basic cooking skills and the time to use them. (Don’t have time to cook? Here’s a great opportunity to work out your priorities!)  And when I say “Eat Well”, I’m not saying fancy, overly expensive, huge preparation times and $5000 8-burner gas ranges that would launch a hot-air balloon in 3 minutes on a cold day.

No, I’m thinking simple with high-quality ingredients. A fresh salad (lettuce, avocado, tomato, maybe some peppers, a balsamic vinaigrette), a loaf of fresh bread, and two lightly seasoned pork chops on the grill for five minutes a side. Add a glass of Merlot if you wish, and relax: This is that good life.  Can you do that on a boat? Of course.


But it’s a choice.  Like so many things in cruising, you choose where to spend your energies and time.  You can have a boat with every possible advanced and convenient feature, but you’ll work full time to pay for it or work full time yourself maintaining it if you do. For us, part of the fun of cruising is the two-fold process of hunting/gathering the raw materials for meals, and then experimenting to see what we can create with the relatively limited space and equipment we have available aboard.

(As a reference, I’ve got to put in a plug for a blog and book called The Boat Galley.  Carolyn does the blog, and she co-authored the book (available HERE) with Jan, who also has a blog of her own called Commuter Cruiser.  I can’t say enough good things about these two ladies, who are savvy, charming and helpful to a tee! Check ’em out.)

Mind you, our options will be expanding by a factor of many x 10 when we next take to the water.  2016 will be the first time we’ve had a boat with an actual, honest-to-God gimballed marine stove, the first time we’ve had an oven aboard, and the first time with refrigeration.  Previously it’s been a portable cooler and a Coleman camp stove, plus the propane grill on the rail.  Are we excited? You bet!


Maine Mussels, al la Keith & Nicki

So where do you get ingredients? Granted you can’t always eat from the bounty of the sea (and no, I’m not telling you where I gathered 25 pounds of fresh mussels in less than 10 minutes without even getting out of the dinghy) but when you can, you learn about “Fresh”.  As in, “it’s-been-ten-minutes-since-these-mussels-left-the-sea-floor” fresh, and “They don’t even know they’ve been harvested yet” fresh.  Difficult prep?  Yeah, it was rough: knock off the barnacles, rinse in salt water, put in a pot and add 3 cups of water, steam 8-10 minutes-just til they open. Eat.

No, feast. Dip in a little melted butter if you’re addicted to butter like I am, or not. If you’ve got some bread to go with, even better.

There seems to be a conception among many folks just considering cruising that you’ll be eating out of cans the whole time, or you’ll be stuck with camp-food the whole time. If that were true I wouldn’t be going cruising.
The reality is that you’re most likely to continue eating – or trying to eat – about the way you do ashore, with a few adjustments. That could be great, but it could also be unfortunate if Haute Cuisine for you has always been a package of pop tarts and a coke. After all, your home is now a traveling kitchen, and every country, region and town has its own culinary speciality.  Why wouldn’t you branch out and explore all those opportunities?

Except chicken-fried anything.  I’m not sure exactly what “chicken-fried” is, but I do know that deep frying is usually what you do to disguise something that isn’t really edible otherwise. Except french fries – I love good french fries.100_4262

Perhaps what I’m really saying here is this: Don’t let the fact that your kitchen (galley) is tiny scare you off from cooking. Wherever you cruise, every single person you meet eats, and most of them cook. Yes, you’ll need to make adjustments for the limitations of storage space and tools (my Kitchenaid mixer stays in the RV while we’re aboard!), but you can cook. You can create amazingly sumptuous meals from the provisions you find along the way in stores, road-side stands and farmers markets, and the simpler and closer to the source you provision, the happier and healthier you’ll be.

And yes, that lobster roll above was the 5th lobster meal in 3 days, when a charter crew handed us a plastic bag with nearly 4 pounds of picked Maine lobster in it, saying “our guests didn’t eat lobster.”  Wow – Pity that. Twist my arm a little…


Bon Appetite!

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Follow the Bouncing Ball


Where in the world is Sionna?

“Where are you headed?”  “How will we know where you are?” “I wish we could come…”

These are the sorts of questions you hear when you announce your intention to unplug from the ordinary and follow a dream.  Friends and family, and sometimes imperfect strangers; all would like to have a way to follow along.

Perhaps it’s to live vicariously through your adventures. Maybe they’d like to reassure themselves that you’re safe – the logic being that if you’re still moving, you must be ok. (Is that really logical?)

Whatever the reason, those questions, combined with the pleasure I’ve had following OTHER people’s adventures through their blogs and trackers, led us to search for some sort of affordable tracking system for our trip, so that we could let interested parties of all sorts know our position and kind of ride along with us.

Sionna does have AIS (Automatic Identification System) aboard, and there are several sites on the web that allow you to check in on all the AIS equipped vessels in a given area and see what they’re up to. (Marine Traffic AIS map is one)   The down side of Marine Traffic is that it’s not tracking any specific vessel – just every vessel (with AIS) that’s in range.

There are also paid services, such as that offered by DeLorme with their Inreach  system, but given our fetish with frugality, we’re not likely to go there.

However there is another option – it’s called Farkwar.

Ok, I don’t know how he came up with the name. But the basic idea of the service is that you create your own position reports when you have internet capability, add a comment if you like, then post it, and anyone who’s signed up to receive your updates will get an email telling them you’ve updated your position.

If you didn’t click on that Farkwar link already, check it out – that’s Sionna’s page, which shows that she’s currently parked in our yard in Warren, eagerly awaiting spring, and a completion of her pre-cruise refit.

As we all are.

So if you too would be interested in seeing where we get to and how long it takes, head on over to the Farkwar site and sign up to follow the sailing vessel Sionna: we’d be happy to have you along.

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Maintaining old boats

(Things that go “Tunk” in the night)

“Tack. Tack. Tack. Tunk…”

“Tunk” is a sound no boat owner wants to hear – at least no fiberglass boat owner. It’s a sound which invokes images of unknown weakness, possibly extensive and expensive repair work, and just generally bad things. Maybe. In any case, it’s a sound that rates right up there with “Plunk”in our book, which is the sound made by a dropped, expensive tool as it takes a dive for the freedom of the deep.

Good, solid fiberglass laminate (the alternating and intermingled layers of fiberglass cloth and plastic resin that make up a boat hull) makes a very clear, sharp “tack” sound when you gently tap on it with a light hammer or the handle of a screwdriver. It’s what you hope to hear when you’re inspecting the condition of a boat, whether you already own it, or are thinking of buying it.

But fiberglass has a serious weakness, which is that it’s not really waterproof. It’s very water resistant, yes, and if properly maintained will act waterproof, but if water does find its way into the laminate, it begins to migrate… The result can be a release of the bond between the layers of glass, or the wood core used between major layers. That break in adhesion creates a hollow, and that hollow results in the “Tunk” sound that brings despair to the boat owner.
…And joy to the boat repair shop. Delamination repair is labor-intensive (and therefore expensive), though it’s not particularly difficult.

Because boats have fittings and hardware and holes throughout, it’s a constant battle to keep the water out; both the water she’s sitting in, and the water that falls from the sky. Fittings on deck and through the hull must be regularly inspected, and not infrequently those on deck must be removed and re-bedded in sealant to assure that leaks don’t start, or don’t progress beyond the initial stage of “nuisance drip.”

When we were buying Sionna last year, we had a pre-purchase survey done by a very thorough fellow, and received a recommendation that we remove and inspect a couple of the chain-plates (which are original 1963 equipment), as well as repair a mild crack in the surface on each side of the deck near the aft end of the cockpit.

Starboard forward chain plate removed, which pulled up the surface of the deck.

Area just outboard of the cockpit’s aft edge, starboard side, after grinding
partway down, showing cracked surface and dark moisture staining of wood core.

These were both “You might want to look at these areas someday” recommendations from the surveyors point of view, but because the boat is insured, the insurance company gets to decide what THEY think is important – and those items got flagged.

So (being a staunch DIY kind of guy) I pulled the two forward chain-plates at the main mast for inspection. Both bronze castings passed inspection with flying colors, naturally, but not so the deck through which they had been pulled! A significant bit of the upper deck pulled away during the removal, revealing discoloration – a sure sign of water intrusion. I was about to have my first lesson in deck laminate repair.

On Sionna the decks throughout are a sandwich of ½” marine plywood, with a 1/8”-3/16” layer of fiberglass on each side. This is a common construction technique, though frequently balsa wood is used for the core, and in modern boats it’s now often a plastic honeycomb material instead of wood. In our case, because the damaged area was quite small, the answer was to grind out the fiberglass around the area to a shallow slope, and then use epoxy and glass cloth layers to fill in the resulting void, sand it out fair with the old deck, and then repaint it. With luck you’ll hardly know there was ever an issue, but more importantly, it won’t leak!

100_3376After grinding, the required number of layers of glass cloth are laid out, largest first, providing about 1” of under-lap all around where feasible.

100_3388The epoxy is then applied to each layer so everything is well saturated, and allowed to harden, with the chain plate in place.

100_3392Once the first layer is set, a form is created around the rough shape desired,
and filled with thickened epoxy to create the shelf around the chainplate.

100_3433The shelf is then filed and sanded to it’s final shape and smoothness.

100_3435And finally, paint is applied to protect the epoxy repair.

Once the repair and painting is complete, the final step is to bed the mating surfaces with a sealant, so that when there’s standing or flowing water on the deck, there’s no where for it to flow but AWAY. This I generally accomplish with a 3M company product known as “3M 4000” This is a very tenacious sealant and adhesive, so you want to be very sure it goes only where it belongs AND that you’re unlikely to need to take things apart any time soon. At least, unlike its sister product – “3M 5200” – it CAN be removed, though with difficulty. 5200 is permanent. (I’ve heard rumors of a solvent for it now, but I’ve never tried it.)

100_3466The chainplate cover, installed with 3M 4000 sealant, and four screws.
Strong, and waterproof!

And that’s really all there is to it. A rather dirty job, what with the grinding, but not hard, and once accomplished, it should be better than new for many years to come – which in my book is a perfect boat project!


Preparing to Cruise – Arranging One’s Affairs

“So what are you going to do with your house?”

“Where are you going to store your stuff?”

“Who’s going to run your business?”

“What are you going to do for money?”

These are just a few of the questions that get asked when you announce your intention to “sail off into the sunset”. Never mind that we’re planning to sail south and the sun sets in the west.

For most people, the idea of actually living full-time on a 32′ sailboat is totally foreign. Like, crazy-foreign.  Add in taking that boat from Maine to Florida while living on it, and “crazy-foreign” tends toward just plain “Crazy”.  Who would want to do such a thing?  What about all your stuff?  What about your favorite TV shows? What about pirates and crime and exploding boats and running aground…?

I recently started following another couple’s blog entitled The Cynical Sailor. It’s a great read, well written, and follows one couple’s journey along this same path – but they’re a couple years ahead of us in the process. A post that caught my eye was called “10 Steps To Becoming A Full-Time Cruiser”, and I was struck with how much is similar even when the names and locations are different.

One of my first posts mentioned that we’d sold real estate, bought an RV etc., but I thought a more complete description of the process of becoming truly portable might be interesting, and even useful.

The house Nicki & I currently live in is a rental in midcoast Maine.  Up until about a year ago Nicki also owned a house farther inland which was a leftover from her prior marriage.  We’d never lived there together, and had no interest in it, as it was way too far from the ocean for us. The path to selling it – with a recalcitrant ex-spouse tying things in knots whenever possible – was long and rocky, but it did finally pass from our stewardship early last year. Whew! So glad to be shut of that.

So we now own no real estate. When we move from this house next spring, it will be into the 5th-wheel RV that we bought last fall. (I should say Nicki bought, since it was the small profit she made on the house that paid for it.)

2001 "Prospera" RV, 36'

2001 “Prospera” RV, 36′

Now let me just say that I’ve never thought of myself as “RV People”.  But the older I’ve gotten, the less interest I have in maintaining excess living space just for the sake of having it. The RV is, actually, huge. Almost three times the living area of “Sionna“, but as a land base for our summers back in Maine (while the boat waits for us in Florida) it suddenly made a lot of sense to me.  Actually I’m pretty excited about moving in!

So that answers the house question.  No, we don’t own a vehicle to pull it, but since we have no intention of moving it from its current location in an RV park, that’s not an issue.  When we’re done with it, we can sell it, and moving it will be their problem.

So, what about our “stuff”?  I suspect this will be the hardest part of the whole move, actually.  I’ve moved several times over the last 10 years, and each time I’ve pared down a little more, but I’ve also been working on boat projects, and as a carpenter I’ve got more than the usual compliment of tools, so there’s stuff, for sure.  We don’t have much in the way of furniture compared to some, but there are a few sentimental pieces we’ll want to keep…
In any case, we think we can reduce the “keep” pile to something we can fit in a 5’x10′ storage unit, and my tools and spare boat parts should all fit in the 8 foot utility trailer I use for a catch-all. Our most excellent friends (and former-cruisers) Patti & Ray have agreed to let us park that little trailer at their house for a couple years, so that and a big yard sale should take care of “stuff”.

And the business?  Well, our little handyman business, which we’ve run for almost two years, has just reached the point where we were starting to be known a bit, so that was a bit of a wrench, but we made the decision to “live first, work second”.  Or perhaps it was “Work to Live, don’t Live to Work”.  In any event, December 31st we officially closed our business, referred our clients to other people, and took the phone off the hook.

Which raises the obvious question, “what are you going to do for money?”  Oh yeah, that…

Compared to many, our expenses are and will be relatively modest.  We started from the beginning subscribing to the advice of the Guru’s of modern cruising – Lin & Larry Pardey (landlPardey) whose mantra “Go Small, Go Simple, Go Now” has informed our every decision.  A small boat (at 32′ Sionna is quite small by modern standards, though she feels quite ample to us!), with simple systems and minimal electronic and mechanical jiggery-pokery was at the top of the list to keep expenses down. A simpler lifestyle is next, and we’re doing pretty well there.

As for income, we’re fortunate, though I don’t recommend being disabled out of your first career as a way to fund a cruising dream! Still, I’ve got a bit of a disability insurance thing that brings in a few dollars, and both Nicki & I are able to work productively, in spite of that prior issue, so with my stipend and working in Maine during the summer to collect “Freedom (cruising) Chips”, we’re pretty sure we can bankroll this thing if we’re really, really frugal and careful. Living on the boat SHOULD be slightly cheaper than living ashore. We much prefer to anchor, rather than paying for a marina slip or mooring, and I’ve enough skills to handle almost all the boat and RV maintenance that’s required of the lifestyle. It won’t be high-off-the-hog living, but we’ll do ok.

So that’s how we’ve handled those nagging questions.  Others have come up with different answers, of course, and I’m always curious to hear from other cruisers about their choices along those lines.

Oh, and the TV shows we’ll miss? Haven’t owned a TV in 10 years – and haven’t missed it a bit. Waste of a finite life, in my opinion.