'Til the butter melts

Pursuing the cruising dream in 32' of sailing ketch

Marathon

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What is a marathon? Where is Marathon? Are the two somehow related?

Well, a marathon is a long, arduous race, and sometimes the term is also applied to a process or an experience – or a business meeting… For us, it’s a pretty good description of the last few months, what with this eye thing of mine.

But we’re taking a break from all that. I function pretty well on one eye, Nicki’s got two good ones, and we’re tired of dealing with the promises and disappointments of the medical industry, so we’re back on the boat and enjoying a different sort of Marathon: Marathon, Florida.

Marathon’s Boot Key Harbor is a pretty unique spot.

First, it’s in the Key’s, so it’s warm pretty much all the time. 82 degrees on February 27th? Check.

Second, it’s cruiser and live-aboard friendly, meaning that when you tell someone that you live on a boat, by choice, they don’t automatically assume you’re either insane or running from the police. (Granted you MAY be both, but you’re given an opportunity to prove it. This isn’t the case in some areas of the state…)

And Third, there is a spirit here since Irma tried to erase it last summer that’s almost tangible. It’s throughout the Key’s, actually. Shit got real, a lot of people lost pretty much everything, but they didn’t loose hope. They took care of each other, took care of business, and they’re still standing. That’s worth a lot, and you feel it.

It looks like we’re here for about a week this stop. We need to make the 170 mile drive back up to Bradenton on Tuesday, for our court appearance on our Anchor light fiasco , then drive 170 miles back, but once that’s behind us we’re thinking to work our way east, along the Keys and then north along the Florida east coast. It’s an area we never really intended to visit, but without time to head to the Bahamas as we’d originally planned, and with an inclination to revisit a couple spots we enjoyed (Vero Beach and St. Augustine), plus a desire to be in position for the Bahamas NEXT winter, it seems to make sense.

That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.

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Traveling!

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The time has finally come to move again, and we’re pretty happy about that. Winter is – in our opinion – over-rated generally, but for Nicki and I, it’s just old news.

Thursday we packed up the little apartment which has served us so well, said good bye to dear friends who have loved us through the last two months, and pointed our noses… West.

No, not south, west. We needed to check in with some family (my mom & brother, and Nicki’s brother and nieces, all in Vermont) so we traipsed off to the land of colder and deeper for the weekend, proudly sporting new snow tires on the little red car. Here’s hoping we don’t have to test them out on this trip!

Sunday it’ll be a six-hour drive back to Rockland, put the car back in storage at the RV, then fire up a friend’s car for the two-hour drive to Portland ME. We’ll get a room for the night, and board a 5:30am flight to Tampa.

I have a feeling it’ll be an early-to-bed evening once we get there.

But there’s lots to look forward to! We’ll rent a car to drive back to Sionna in Marathon on Tuesday, and once there, we’ll start putting her back together so we’ll have a place to sleep, food to eat, etc. Local knowledge says that there’s little or no waiting list in Marathon for a mooring, so we’ll probably try to get one to make the departure preparations easier.

But there’s one more thing to do before we leave, finally, to resume a bit of cruising. We have to go to court.

You’ll remember, perhaps, Our little run-in with the Law back in December? Well that case is finally going to court on March 7th. Appearing in court will require renting a car and driving six hour up, waiting around, then driving six hours back. Which – I’m told – is why officers tend to target visiting boats for their tickets, rather than locals. What boater would be crazy enough to go to all that trouble and expense to challenge a $90 fine?

Well, I guess that would be me. We’ll let you know how it goes…

In the mean time, we’ve seen Robins and Cardinals in Rockland, Maine, so if you’re spending this winter in the frozen North, take heart! Spring really is somewhere around the corner.

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In the beginning…

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Set the way back machine for January 13, 2016!

'Til the butter melts

… There was a dream.

That dream’s first expression was detailed in my previous blog, (see A Yacht Reborn for that story of the boat we began to restore and then abandoned).  It was – and is – to spend a large chunk of time cruising on our own boat, spending winters someplace warmer than Maine, and living life as though it was something finite and precious.

That dream hasn’t really changed much since the days of Renaissance,  the boat we intended to restore and take cruising, but it has certainly accelerated.  In the last year, Nicki and I have sold all real estate, begun the agonizing task of sorting through and distributing or discarding anything we can’t fit on the boat and don’t want to pay to store, bought a 35′ RV as our summer home, closed our small home maintenance business, and just generally been really weird and…

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The Complications Poster Child

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It was supposed to be straightforward.

Of course it wasn’t. “Challenging” is the term used by the doctor to describe my last surgery, but he said it with a smile and a slight gleam in his eye – I got the impression he’d enjoyed himself.

This latest news, however, is just plain disappointing. Yes, the retina is well healed (except one little spot which has been tack-welded back in place with laser to make sure it doesn’t become a problem later). And yes, the new lens implant (one very expensive piece of plastic!) is in place and is beginning to settle in. The stitches on the surface of my eye have begun to dissolve, too, which is a relief, as they’re quite uncomfortable, rubbing against the inside of the eyelid.

But I still can’t see anything useful from that eye, and won’t be able to for at least another 3 months. Complications have begun.

Nicki’s research has revealed that development of a hazy layer next to the new lens implant is a fairly common (10% of patients) side effect of the cataract replacement procedures, and naturally, I’m sticking with the minority 10%! This layer is – they say – dead easy to remove, Star Wars fashion: It’s blasted away with laser, takes abut 10 minutes, can be done right in the clinic, out-patient style.

But it can’t be done now. Nor next week, nor next month…

“Just ride with it!”, he says. “Three or four months before we dare touch anything in there, we need to let it heal and stabilize, then we’ll take care of it.”

You may remember that our original intent was to wait until June (and the end of the cruising season – there see, this IS about cruising!) before we had this final eye surgery. But then there were complications… Looks like we’re on that schedule again, in spite of our best intentions.

Disappointing? Yeah that. Not a serious health complication, as such things go, but it has become a significant quality-of-life issue. We’re both completely sick of my being “The guy with the eye”, and from a practical standpoint, that hazy white view out my starboard port interferes in no small way with my total vision. Being right-eye dominant, my brain still tries to use the information from the right side first. It takes a constant effort to ignore that input, and the effort is surprisingly tiring.

I’m thinking of having a button made for my lapel. It’ll say:

It’s Complicated: Please don’t ask.

Would that be rude?

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Updates!

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I know, I know… this was supposed to be a sailing blog, but lately there’s been damn little “sailing” in it. I hear you cry.

On the other hand, keep in mind that this is supposed to be a Sailing LIFE, but there too, there’s been damned little sailing in that, either!

But there has been progress, (and needles and scalpels and sutures to go with it), so here’s a quick, G-rated update on where we and the good ship Sionna stand. Never fear, there will be no gory pictures – this isn’t Facebook.

On January 22nd Keith had his last (fingers crossed!) major eye surgery. The word from the surgeon afterwards was “Challenging” – meaning he earned his pay. The silicone oil that’s been in the eye for over a year was flushed out, a hyper-mature cataract was removed, a new lens implant was installed, and the healing process has begun. The new expectation is for uncorrected vision of about 20/100, correctable to near 20/20. Some people come out of cataract surgery with nearly 20/20 vision uncorrected, but those folks aren’t described as “Challenging” by their surgeon.

As for the rest of the winter, and sailing…

The recovery period looks to be about 3 weeks, so we’re here in Maine until mid-February, anyway. Then we can travel, but the Doc says he wants the eye looked at again at 7 weeks or so, so that’s a visit to the eye doctor in Florida in mid-march.

Of course our original “plan” (HA!!) was to spend a few weeks in the Bahamas this winter, but this is real life, and we’re watching that intention melt away like a sand castle at high tide. It just ain’t happening.

Disappointing? Yeah, a little. Frustrating? Not so long ago, it would have been mightily frustrating, but there’s a point where you either let go of the illusion that you control your life, or you become an angry, bitter old cuss that nobody wants to spend time with.

So we’ve been doing a bunch of visiting, seeing old friends, staying warm, and reading, including Eckhart Tolle’s latest, “A New Earth”. In it, he delves deeply into the workings of the ego and it’s creation of suffering for its own ends. Worth a look if you’ve ever wondered why fear and anger seem to rule our modern world. And if you’re a cruiser, and you’ve been through periods of depression and frustration and just felt like you needed to scream – yeah, that’s what he’s talking about.

Ask me how I know.

The Bahamas will still be there next winter, and with a bit of luck and following doctor’s orders, I’ll get to see them in stereo. Meanwhile Sionna’s had company, and someone’s keeping an eye on her ’til we get back home.

We’re doing alright.

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The Retirement Project

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I seem to be falling into a pattern here. Since we’re not aboard ourselves due to this eye thing, I find myself doing a lot of reading, and I feel compelled to share with you the good stuff I read – like This Blog.

Well let’s face it. It’s winter in Maine – what else am I going to do?

As I write this, another snow event is blanketing the Northeast in 6″-12″ of lovely white stuff (it really is very pretty!)

It’s slippery out, so driving anywhere isn’t an option in my snowtire-less little car. Even walking is challenging, so I might as well read – and you might as well reap the benefits of my reading, whether you want to or not.

Tim and Deb from s/v Kintala write a blog about their adventures and mis-adventures in cruising, aptly entitled
“The Retirement Project.” They’ve been at it a while, so the back story is involved and fascinating, but more importantly their writing is superb. As an added bonus from my perspective, they both have a background in aviation – my first and chosen career – so I feel a certain kinship, and share some of the characteristics (a methodical mind, a belief in standard operating procedures, respect for the power of nature) that give a pilot – or a sailor – a long and accident-free life.

This particular blog entry struck a familiar chord with me. How do you explain to friends and family what you’re doing as a cruiser? How do you explain why? Should you even try?

That’s the subject Tim takes on in his post called “Understanding” .

It’s worth the trip. Especially on a day like this.

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Good People Lessons

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There is progress being made, really!

Now that Nicki and I have settled into our new, temporary home (thanks to the loving blessings of our land-people, Kathy & George, who have GIVEN us a place to stay while this eye thing sorts itself out) and have learned – all over again – how to survive in a climate that is seriously hostile to water infused carbon-based life forms, we have a few minutes to look at where we are and really reflect on our New Year, thus far.

Gratitude: That’s where we’re at.

This whole trip has been a surprise, of course. The eye was supposed to remain stable for months yet, we were “good to go” wherever, and “see you in the spring.” Our northern home (the RV) was carefully closed up for the winter and uninhabitable, our southern home (Sionna) was welcoming and familiar and oh-so-warm, most of the time…

So how does one undo all those careful arrangements?

Well first thing, of course, is that you panic. I always find that a good dose of panic, (seasoned with a touch of anger, denial and resignation) sharpens the mind wonderfully. I become hyper-focused on all the details I can’t do anything about, all the obstacles to a positive outcome. I become a proper fear-based creature, survival mode only.

And then I stop.

Not instantly, no, but gradually. My Ego (God how I hate him) stops screaming to take a breath, which generally gives me a chance to stuff a sock in his gob and wrap some duct tape around it, just to be sure…

And then I sit for a bit.

I get pretty quiet at this stage. You might, if you saw me, think that I’m deep in thought, but mostly that’s a ruse.

No, actually, I’m just trying to remember how to breath. You know, breathe in, breathe out, repeat.

Then I start to let go, and ideas flow. My mind is actually pretty good at this, if I don’t think about thinking too much. If I can have some quiet, away from Mr. Ego screaming “YOU ARE GOING TO DIE! THIS IS THE END OF LIFE AS YOU KNOW IT!” and all those other unhelpful things he likes to say, ideas come. Solutions bubble to the surface. The sun comes out a bit.

Friends offer to store our boat at their dock for free. They’ll watch her, check her bilges, adjust her lines, give her a little love.

The airline has a special rate on Christmas Day flights to Maine. $84 each, one-way.

A big fat nasty winter storm rips through the northeast, but our destination gets just a few inches of snow, the flight is early, and Uber is running anywhere in town we need to go.

Friends back in Maine hear that we are coming back, and why, and say “We’ve got a tiny apartment upstairs you can have as long as you need, no charge, glad to help…”

So that got us to Rockland, Maine. It’s cold in Maine. It’s cold almost everywhere in the US, actually. But the apartment is warm and cozy (most folks would say it’s claustrophobic, but if you’ve lived in a 32” sailboat, this feels positively palatial), and we are with dear friends in familiar surroundings.

Of course, the unexpected still happens. Due to a snafu with our health insurance, we have begun the year – and the initial steps of setting up the surgery – uninsured. When you live as close to the line financially as we do, that’s not a little thing.

But that appears to be working itself out. I have had several very good (if disappointing) conversations with folks in doctor’s offices and insurance offices, and all agree that, strange as it sounds, company and industry policy really ARE more important than the possible loss of vision.

Yes, Mr. Davie, we are comfortable increasing the risk of you loosing your right eye rather than adjusting the effective date of your policy by a few days.” Ah, America, where healthcare is a privilege, not a right.

Enter those friends who said “Keith, don’t you dare delay getting the care you need. If you need money, we have it and you can have it, no strings. Go get it done.” These are not rich friends, mind you. These are folks with a little nest egg who choose to share.

See a trend here? I do, and I still get teary-eyed, recalling it. Maybe we won’t need to tap that offer, maybe it can sit in the bank and do nothing but collect dust. We hope so. But knowing the offer is on the table, feeling the love and care that comes from people who are just being good people because that’s who they are…

Priceless.

I’m not good at asking for help – never have been. And maybe there’s a lesson in there for me. When you’re in a corner, when it’s really dark, when the cupboard is bare: say something. Forget about what’s on the TV and in the news and in your fearful dreams, and ask.

Good people are still good people, and they still outnumber the less-enlightened by a considerable margin.

I’ll take that lesson and run with it. Happy New Year, everyone.

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