'Til the butter melts

Pursuing the cruising dream in 32' of sailing ketch

Cruiser? Or “Sailor”? Or what?


There are several blogs I follow pretty reliably. This is easy when they’re delivered straight to your inbox – maybe too easy. There’s a temptation to sign up for too many of them, too much reading material arrives, and now and then I’m tempted to ditch it all – the good, bad and ugly – and start over.

And that would be a pity, because there really are some great writers out there doing some wonderful work. The secret I’ve found is to be very selective about which ones I sign up for, and if I find a blog has headed off in a direction I’m just not resonating with, I unsubscribe. It saves my time, and inconveniences fewer electrons.

Now the point is not lost on me that when we announced that we weren’t headed back to the boat this fall, our readership demographic was likely to go through a shift as well – but that’s as it should be. Hopefully those who wanted “fun in the sun” 24/7 will find it elsewhere, and those who want to hear how we handle reintegration into what some folks call the “real world” will check in once in a while to see how we’re doing.

And the answer so far is “Not very well”.

Anyway, all of this is just a preamble to sharing a mini-conversation I had with a blogger last week, at a site called Yacht Kate. In the intro to her recent post, Heather wrote “…don’t even get me started on my dislike of the term “cruising.”

Which got ME thinking about exactly that – so naturally I had to “get her started”! You can read it yourself in the comments of that page from the link above, but here it is, in short form:

ME: “I may be opening Pandora’s box here, but I’m curious about your thoughts on the term “cruising”? As self-described commuter-cruisers (7 months on the boat someplace warm, 5 months on land working), we’re curious. Is there a stigma in some areas that we’re not familiar with, perhaps?”

Heather: “The OED defines cruise as: A voyage on a ship or boat taken for pleasure or as a holiday. I have always found the word “cruising” to make life on board to sound rather easy-breezy and vacation-y, when really it is hard work. There are wonderful, lovely times, but like anything worth while you have to put your back into to make those times happen, and to be able to enjoy them. “Cruiser” and “Cruising” are north american terms, and there is a culture associated with them. Many other places just say sailor or yachtie, and that has always felt like a better fit for us. Perhaps when you peddle words for a living they matter in a different way.”

Which brings me to what cruising is. And isn’t. And the way people who don’t live and travel on their private boat frequently seem to view that life when we use the term “Cruising” or “Cruiser”.

If your only connection to the term “Cruise” involves getting on a motorized city on the water with 1000 (or 5000) fellow humans, to be wined and dined by 2000 paid staff while said floating city is delivered to an artificial land city carefully constructed to effortlessly and (almost) painlessly separate you from every penny you possess (Say, Nassau, Bahamas), then when I say “Cruising”, the image in your mind is unlikely to match the reality Nicki and I lived the last couple of years.

Of course, Heather is absolutely right: Cruising is hard work. In fact, it’s almost exactly like real life in every important respect, except one. Boats sink. Houses don’t. Oh, and boats are really small, like, 150 square feet, in our case. One tenth of what most people think of as a “small” house.

So why do it? Because you can, I guess. Because of the opportunities it offers to experience life on its own terms. I lost count of how many times strangers ashore would find out we were living on our boat, “sailing” from Maine to Florida, and say some version of “I want your life”. It often happened that this would be a day when things had gone “less-than-perfectly” aboard Sionna, but of course we never mentioned that – we’d just smile and say “You can have one just like it if you want to/dare.” I don’t think they believed it.

So are Nicki & I really “Cruisers”, if we’ve suddenly made this abrupt (maybe temporary) course change and turned our backs on the lifestyle? Have we lost our “street cred”?

You tell me. Maybe we need a different handle. Maybe we’re just “Sailors”. I sure don’t feel like a “Yachtie”.


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Another Cruiser’s Perspective

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Sometimes something I write strikes a chord, and sometimes I miss the mark. More often, I fear, it’s the latter.

Still, my last post generated some great discussion, and I’ve learned something from all of it. Partly, I’ve been reminded that I needn’t take my angst quite so seriously!

Yeah, I do wallow in it once in a while. But maybe that’s good too? It gives my friends a chance to give me a gentle nudge – or a swift kick in the rear – to get me moving again.

So with gentle nudges in mind, I’m sharing a post by our dear friends Dan and Jay, from s/v Cinderella. Good folks. Good thoughts.


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Thinking of future time


So when are you going back to the boat?”

Simple questions don’t always have simple answers.

Having been such a vocal proponent of the “Go simple, go now” school of cruising thought, it feels a little strange to now have to write about how our “going” is – at this moment – very much in question. We just don’t know.

Which is not to suggest that we’re done with cruising, boating, living aboard, and all that wonderfulness. If you’ve enjoyed the last two years of musings, heavy on the topics of food, sunsets and poverty, have no fear – we’re not done.

But if you were looking to the crew of Sionna to provide a benchmark in time, with a known departure date for sunny climes, you might just want to find another reference.

Last winter aboard was pretty challenging for Nicki and me. Between the eye surgery stuff, the unexpected expenses entailed therein, and the broken-up nature of the season (three months on the boat, two months in Maine, two months back aboard…), both of us found that we just “weren’t having fun”.

And if it’s not fun, why do it?

Sure there were segments of last winter that were great, but there were long periods of not so good, and there were way too many times of saying – or NOT saying – “…this isn’t what I signed on for…” for both of us. After a while that thought becomes a heavy weight indeed, and it drags on your heart.

So once we realized the problem existed, it was time to look for answers, and the answer, as far as we can see, is that Nicki needs a job. More to the point, she needs to be able to see that she’s making a more tangible contribution to our over-all lifestyle than our recent “living-on-a-shoestring” track has allowed.

So we’re back in Maine, and we’re in transition. I’m working as a carpenter, as I have the last few summers, and that steady influx of cash is a welcome and necessary resource. It also gives me that feeling of accomplishment I enjoy, the same one I get from making Sionna move well and smoothly through the water. Meanwhile Nicki is studying to enter the business of real estate investment. To do that, she needs a home base, contacts, relationships with buyers, sellers, and investors, etc.

And so here we are, and here we shall remain, probably deep into the fall, possibly through the winter… we don’t know for sure. It is possible (and I would say likely) that we won’t be launching Sionna at all next season. It is certain that we’ll need to find a place to live this fall, since we can’t stay in the RV past October 15th. Maybe someone will need a house-sitter for a few months, maybe Nicki and her partner will buy a property with a liveable dwelling where we can camp out through the cold months…

We don’t know yet.

On balance, I suppose I’m mostly resigned to where we need to be, but it is not where I WANT to be. I want to go home, back to the boat, back to the water. But as I’ve said many times in these missives, it’s not just about me. It’s about us – and WE need to be here right now.

I think I’d better go find my winter coat.

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Boatless in Midcoast Maine

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The best way to share your life is in pictures!

Yes, sometimes we really do things the old way! This is “Blackjack”, a 118-year-old Freindship sloop, newly restored by volunteers at the Maine Sail, Power & Steam Museum, right here in Rockland, ME.

And here she is, about to be lowered – by human power – into the water, for her first taste f salt water in over 30 years.

Our temporary ride for the summer. A friend’s boat, our mooring, and a way to get out on the water now and again.

Smiling helms woman. She declined my offer to give her a break from the tiller…

Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse, from the cockpit of the other boat. Don’t tell Sionna we’ve been unfaithful!

The little boat doesn’t have a vang, so I was assigned the task of keeping the boom under control…

How I spent my summer. Carpentry isn’t a bad gig, actually. At least I’m mostly outside!

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That awkward age


So what does a sailing blogger write about when they’re not sailing?

Good question, that. And I wish I had a good answer to it.

Once we’d packed up the boat and made our way back to Maine, I kind of lost my motivation for blogging. No boat, no adventures, no stories to share.

But of course there’s more to it than that. We’re in an unsettled phase.

The last two years of commuter cruising have brought to the surface a few things that had been hidden, some preferences that need attention. The act of living life in a somewhat precarious financial balancing act – hand-to-mouth – adds a layer of stress that’s thicker than we realized. It’s one thing to claim you’re going to see the Universe on less than twenty Altairian dollars a day, (with apologies to Douglas Adams) but it’s a very different thing to be out there, actually doing it. Altair is a LONG way from here, don’t you know.

And so we find ourselves in Maine, wondering what our next steps are. No longer can we blithely assume that we’ll be back to the boat in October – Nicki has decided she needs to become an active income earner again, and that’s going to take some training and time.

The only certainty I can see is that we’re uncertain. We’re not done cruising, certainly. We love our boat, love being on the water, and love the people who choose that lifestyle. But we’re not sure we want to go back to cruising on such a fine shoestring. I could, but Nicki can’t.

And just as we work together on the water, so we must work together on land. When we’re aboard, our rule is that the more conservative opinion rules: If one says “reef”, and the other says “Nah…”, we reef. Period.

So now, on land?

Same deal. If she thinks we need to change our financial picture, then that’s what we need to do.

Stay tuned for further developments.

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Flashback Friday

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 First tea aboard Honfleur in May, 2014. We didn’t know we would be buying a different boat (Sionna) that winter.

First tea aboard Honfleur in May, 2014. We didn’t know we would be buying a different boat (Sionna) that winter.

First tea aboard Sionna in May, 2015. Such a step up in “luxury”!

Many of my blogging friends have adopted the practice of sharing a photo of their “story” each Friday. A memory, a significant moment, a favorite place…

I’ve not picked up the habit in the past, largely because I didn’t feel like I had enough “history” to make it worthwhile. I feared it wouldn’t be interesting enough or unique enough to capture your attention.

And then I asked myself, “Why do you write a blog?”

Is it for me? Or is it for you, the reader?

Good question. With the development of social media addiction, it seems that the sole purpose of the internet has become self-promotion and ego stoking. Here’s hoping that’s not my motivation. But in the meantime, I’ll keep trying to share stuff that means something to me, and you can work out whether it’ interesting to YOU on your own.

Happy Flashback Friday! Where were you 3 or 4 years ago?

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That most bittersweet moment

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It is – unbelievably – that time again.

The time most cruisers approach with fear and trembling, and not a little remorse, but also some amount of relief.

It’s haul-out time.

(In this space, please imagine a fascinating video of Sionna in the slings, being gradually raised from the water and suspended in thin air. I do have the video, but it refuses to upload. I blame Google – those buggers are always thwarting my artistic expression)

If there is a more precarious thing than a sailboat suspended 20 feet above the water in a fabric sling, I don’t know what it is. It looks wrong. Add the emotions inherent in that boat being your principal place of residence, and haul-out day becomes more than just “another day”. It’s stressful.

In any case, she’s out. Nothing bad happened, no damage was done, and by the end of the day Friday, she’ll be cleaned, stripped and locked up for the summer.

Next year, we’re going to the Bahamas, come hell or high water.


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