'Til the butter melts

Pursuing the cruising dream in 32' of sailing ketch


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The first week aboard

The first week back is bound to be interesting.
Realistically, you can’t expect to walk away from something like a boat or a house for five months, in a hostile climate, and not have a few issues to deal with when you start to use it again, so we expected a few surprises.

But what’s been most surprising to me – in a good way – is how few and how minor those surprises have been. A couple little leaks to deal with (like that Dorade box, above), a few sticky, corroded bits of metal that didn’t move when they should, a leaking urine holding tank… 

Basically, though, Sionna woke up and went right back to doing what she does best – taking care of us.

So in the week or so since we launched from the boat yard, we’ve slept every night and eaten every meal aboard, plus we’ve sailed a grand total of 27 miles – from the yard in northern Charlotte Harbor to an anchorage called Pelican Bay, just off Cayo Costa State Park. That week has confirmed one critical, enormous, wonderful fact: We love our boat!
After we were launched last Thursday, we filled up the water tanks at the dock, (the diesel tanks were filled in the spring for storage, and the propane tanks were topped off before we re-installed them in the yard) said goodbye to Nicki’s incredibly patient and helpful parents, (who hosted us in their home and loaned us their car for the 8-days of recommissioning work) and motored out the canal from the boat yard to the man-made lake that feeds the canal – about 3 miles. There we set the anchor and settled in to re-learn boat life. How to move, how to sleep, how to cook. All the little peculiarities of living in a tiny home afloat came back surprisingly quickly.

And with those skills came contentment. We were home.
Oh, a word about sunsets. It’s possible that those of you who’ve never lived on a boat may not understand my obsession with sunsets, and I get that, I really do. I even had someone comment recently: “We have sunsets here regularly, you know.”

Yes, I recognize that the sun also appears to settle below the horizon where you live too. But sunsets on a boat are different. They last for an hour, sometimes. They begin in the west, but then they spread across the sky, until frequently we have a 360 degree sunset, like this one. Oh, and don’t forget the second sunset! Just as the initial glow is fading, round two kicks in. Pour another spot of wine and relax – you’ve got nowhere to go.

Anyway, after a couple days there, and having done all we could think of to make the boat ready to sail, we hoisted the anchor again and started north to exit the canal. We actually managed to sail a good portion of that trip, the wind being favorable, and discovered immediately that our one major purchase of the summer was totally worth it. The new sail ROCKS!

Two years ago we were told by a sailmaker back in Rockland that our headsail (or “Genoa”, because of its size) was on its last cruise. The fabric was too stretched to hold a proper shape or to be repaired should it rip. 

“One more year” he said, “Especially if you take it south for the season – the sun will eat it up.”

And sure enough, by May when we left the boat, you could see daylight through every stitch, and we were moving slower and slower in a given wind… our 13 year old Jenny was tired.

So we worked overtime during the summer, and had a brand new replacement sail made in Indonesia, which we brought with us on the trip back south. When the wind settled down briefly one evening while we were anchored out in the lake we installed and rigged it, and once we started moving, we unrolled that big piece of expensive cloth into a fresh breeze, and Sionna stepped out like a scalded cat. Marvelous! 

And that’s how things are, so far. Little steps, one day at a time, and face the tasks as they arrive. We’ve made a list (a rather long list) of food and condiments and such that we wish we’d brought aboard already, so the next time we have a chance to provision, we’ll do better. My list of projects to tackle isn’t getting shorter yet, but it isn’t getting longer either.  
I’m holding my own against entropy, so why complain? 

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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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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!


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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.


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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!


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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?