'Til the butter melts

Pursuing the cruising dream in 32' of sailing ketch


Long time, no news, but now…


There’s no other word that can summon up the same visceral combination of terror, anxiety and pure fretting in a sailor. We’d do almost anything to avoid dealing with the subject – except we didn’t.

“Anything” would have been bringing Sionna back north, or even not having taken her south in the first place.  But instead we DID take her south, and then we left her there, in a semi-tropical area known for it’s potential for hosting nature’s most destructive weather systems.

What were we thinking?!  Well, we were thinking warm. We were thinking adventure. We were thinking that you only live once. We were remembering that quote: “Ships are safe inside the harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.” (Source unknown)

Hurricane Irma has, as of this morning, intensified to a Category 5 storm, the strongest level. Anything she encounters at that level – whether at sea or ashore – is extremely unlikely to survive unless it was constructed for precisely that purpose.  

As of this morning, the “spaghetti chart” showing Irma’s likely paths has begun to coalesce into a narrow band of probability which takes the storm across the Florida Keys and on to south Florida, and north.

And yes, “on north” is where Sionna is stored. 

So we’re fretting about our floating home, yes, but we’ve also got dozens of friends in her path, spread out from the Caribbean islands of the Lesser Antilles all the way to Georgia on the US east coast.  If Irma misses us, she may hit them harder, and if she spares them, she could devastate us. So what do we hope for?

I guess we hope for the best, for all concerned.  We did everything we could to prepare the boat for just this before we left Florida, and I just got a call from the boat yard down in Florida reassuring me that – yes indeed, they did install hurricane straps just after we left, and they’re busy checking boats and snugging tie-downs even as we speak.  

Fingers crossed and prayers to the IS said, we wait. Batten down the hatches, my friends. We’re thinking of you.



“Newly Salted” & The Interview With a Cruiser Project

This week, I’m breaking with my general rule to only publish original work on our blog. Sort of breaking. 

You see, Nicki & I have volunteered to participate in something called “Newly Salted”, which is a sub-set of the “Interview With A Cruiser Project”. Newly Salted refers to cruisers “…who (have) been cruising fewer than 2 years, who (have) finished a cruise of less than two years, or who (have) cruised for more than two years but not outside their home country.”

So that’s us.   

Below, we’ll make introductions, and then answer 10 questions from the question pool provided by the project. Note that our answers aren’t intended to be a “This is the way to do it” resource, but rather a “this is what we did and here’s how it worked” sharing. 

Hope you enjoy!

Who are we?

We’re Keith and Nicki, a carpenter and a fitness instructor/realtor in the summer, and cruisers in the winter. Aboard our Triangle 32 Sionna (a center-cockpit ketch built in 1963) we left Rockland Maine in August 2016 and headed south via the Atlantic ICW, Okeechobee Waterway and the Gulf of Florida to spend our first cruise of 8 1/2 months in warmer weather than Maine can offer. 

 We are best described as “Commuter Cruisers”, a term I attribute to Jan Irons, who’s blog Commuter Cruiser was our constant source of information and inspiration during the planning stages of our transition back into the REAL world – the world of cruising aboard a simple, well-loved and well-built boat.

As of this writing (July 2017) the boat is stored in Florida, and we’re back in Maine for the summer living in our 36′ RV (we sold all real estate in preparation for cruising), working for enough dollars to return to the boat next winter and continue our cruising, most likely to the Bahamas in 2018. 

We love to connect with other cruisers and particularly wanna-be cruisers, folks who think they want to go, or KNOW they NEED to go, but lack information. We don’t know it all, but we know some, and we know a lot of people who know a lot more.  Contact us here on the blog, or email us at sionnaketch32@gmail.com. 

What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?

Expectations are the killer of more cruises than any other single thing. Your expectations, your partner’s expectations, even the expectations of the folks back home.  All will be an additional layer of stress and discomfort and – if not recognized and addressed – are almost certain to build up and become unpleasant. Even more challenging is that most of those expectations are probably sub-conscious, so how do you address an expectation that you don’t know you have?  Practice.

Tell me your favorite thing about your boat

Her size and (relative) simplicity.  Sionna is 32′ on deck, 35′ overall. These days, she’s considered to be very small for a liveaboard boat. She also has fairly simple systems compared to the “average”. Pressure and hot (only in the galley and cockpit shower) water, yes, and basic refrigeration, but we haven’t tried to recreate a suburban house on the water. Our electrical loads are low, our entertainments are simple, and we spend a great deal of time together. She is all the space two adults who like each other need to live comfortably. We couldn’t afford to cruise if we had a larger vessel.

Share a piece of cruising etiquette

Respect the enjoyment of others at least as much as your own.  I’m thinking of two specifics – generators and drones.  We all need to charge batteries sometimes, I get that. But if you need to run a generator for three hours twice a day, you’re simply using too much power, and yes, running your generator during those times when folks tend to be outside enjoying the scenery (dinner and sunset, for instance) DOES bother your anchorage neighbors and IS disrespectful to those around you.  And drones? Nicki and I have been the victims of “drone intrusion” three times, one was an outright spying – the drone hovering 100′ over the cockpit.  If you feel you must fly one, please be respectful both in where you fly it, and for how long. 

What did you do to make your dream a reality?

Downsized drastically. Over the three years we took to prepare, we sold our real estate, closed our business and reduced our work schedules. We let the lease on our rental house go, and downsized from two houses (totaling 3800 square feet) to a boat, an RV, and a 5′ x 10′ storage unit, for a grand total of 500 square feet. We sent 6000 pounds of “stuff” to the dump, untold trips to Goodwill, sold what we could… We borrowed from our retirement accounts to buy the boat – and bought a boat we could afford for $23,000.  We’re not retired, but do have a small pension income to supplement our summer work ashore – thus our “Commuter” style of cruising. 

What do you dislike about cruising that surprised you?

Basic boater ignorance. Nicki and I studied for years, learning everything we could about sailing and operating a cruising vessel in a safe, comfortable and efficient manner, and we still learn something new, every day. I was shocked and disappointed to discover how many boaters are out there with little knowledge and few skills, endangering both themselves and us in their fumbling. Partly I’m sure this is because we cruised in very populated areas, places that are easy to get to. As we cruise the Bahamas next season, we hope to move beyond the reach of the day-trippers and credit-card captains, and I remain optimistic that the issues we saw are unique to the ICW and Florida’s boaters.

What is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you found particularly accurate?

There’s a cruiser saying that “The most dangerous thing on a cruising boat is a schedule”, and we can attest that it’s true. Schedules cause stress. Schedules make you push the limits. They cause equipment breakage and injuries. And frankly, when you promise to be in “XYZ City” at a certain time, all the spontaneity and freedom you may have hoped would be yours in cruising goes right out the hatch. You’re back to expectations again, and it’s not fun.  We still let ourselves fall into the trap now and then, but we’re getting better at refusing to be bound by “Type-A” personality behavior. Expect us when you see us, and not before.

Is there a place you visited that you wish you could have stayed longer?  

Cumberland Island, GA & St. Augustine, FL.  Cumberland was lovely,   But a norther moved in the morning after we arrived, making all the anchorages uncomfortable, so we have no pictures, barely got to look at one small area…  We’d like to go back.    St. Augustine was also a lovely town with a friendly, welcoming cruiser community, but we were cold and southern Florida was promising warm, teal and turquoise waters. We left after 3 days, but could easily have stayed a month. Oh, and Vero Beach, Florida. And all of the Chesapeake Bay, which we skipped because we were cold…

Is there something you wish you had bought or installed before starting out?

More solar panels. We installed just one 100 watt panel, thinking that would mostly handle the refrigerator, which was the most power-hungry thing we’d added to the boat.  Well it did, except for the months of December, January & February, when the angle of the sun was simply too low for sufficient charging.  We’ll be adding another 120 watts this fall before we head out to the Bahamas, and hope that’s enough to make running the engine “just to charge the batteries” a thing of the past.

What is your most common sail combination on passage?

Reefed Mizzen, single-reefed main, roller-furling genoa. Sionna likes to be on her feet, and if the angle of heel exceeds 15 degrees, it’s slowing her down. She’s also faster with a balanced helm, which is accomplished by trimming the Mizzen appropriately. Unless the winds are consistently light, we’re likely to have one reef in the main, one in the mizzen, and the option of rolling in a bit of the Genny – or even all of it – if a squall comes up. We do have a drifter for light winds, but in 2400 miles and 8 1/2 months, we’ve yet to fly it…

When have you felt most in danger and what was the source?

Entering Manasquan Inlet to the NJICW.  (See The Thing About Inlets on our blog)  We had heard that inlets could be challenging with the combination of fast current opposing wind. We didn’t understand that “challenging” – in this case – is a boating euphemism for “You think you’re going to die”.  We timed our passage to arrive at the inlet at slack current, but the sailing conditions were much better than forecast, and we arrived in choppy, uncomfortable sea conditions over 2 hours early.   We thought “How bad can it be?”, and rather than standing off for two hours to wait for slack, we pressed on – and barely kept control of the boat.  We now understand that “challenging” is relative – it can be worse than you can imagine.


Learning the Ropes

Most likely you’ve all heard the phrase “Learning the ropes” – meaning someone is new in a task or job, and is learning how everything works and where everything goes.  But possibly many of you don’t know the origin of that saying.  Like so many, it’s origin is nautical.

Sailing vessels have lines. LOTS of lines. (As an aside, there are no “ropes” on a boat. Except in the case of this one phrase, they are all properly referred to as “lines” – please don’t ask me why, as I may start to whimper softly…)

Naturally the larger and the more complex the vessel, the more lines she’ll have, both to hold everything up and together, and to control the rig, sails, ground tackle, etc.  How many?A veritable forest!

Now the interesting thing about a traditionally rigged schooner like the Isaac H. Evans (on which vessel Nicki and I are serving as relief crew this summer) is that there’s a line for darn near everything you can imagine. Because of her age, (she was built in 1886)  there are very few cables, (called “wire rope” in sailing boats). My mental inventory counts just 22 of them, but a mind-boggling plethora of lines to hold everything together and make it move.  I’m not going to try to count – trust me, there are hundreds.

This photo at left gives an idea. This is the starboard fore-mast rail. Those black lines in multiples of 6 are the dead-eyes and lanyards that apply tension to each of the three stays (or shrouds) which hold the foremast up, keeping it from bending 

to port as we’re sailing with the wind on the starboard (right) side of the boat. The shrouds themselves are wire, everything else is wood or line.

To the right, we have the starboard mainmast rail. You can see the dead-eye and lanyard sets, and below that, the pinrail (built into the boat’s rail, in this case. Sometimes it’s separate.)

The first line (left in this photo) is the centerboard line, made off on it’s pin. The next back is the Mains’l peak halyard, the Mains’l lazyjack, another I’m not sure of (I’m still learning the ropes!), and farthest aft, the “Bit”.  
Still with me? I hope so, because there are four stations like this on the Evans (being a two-masted schooner), they all look this complicated, and NOTHING IS LABELED!   Well, almost.

I was into my 8th day working aboard when I suddenly realized that the halyards for the main, fores’l and main-tops’l are always made off to pins that are made of bronze.  And those are the only bronze pins on the boat. A light came on!

Though the light isn’t great in this picture of the port foremast rail, you can about make out that the far-left (aft) pin is dark wood, the one next to it (with darker line attached) is bronze, the next is reddish wood (I’m guessing red oak?), and the one after that is stained dark – perhaps white oak?  I’m starting to see a pattern.  

Oh, and all those lines? Here’s my test!  Left to right, they are:  I don’t know yet; Foremast peak halyard; Stays’l halyard; Bailey; and finally port lifeline (on the cleat).  That large line lying on deck to the far right of the photo is the port jib sheet.

The reward for all this new knowledge is, of course, the chance to be part of the team that makes her go and keeps her sound.  That’s owner and Captain Brenda “Cappy” Thomas at the wheel, former owner and fix-it man extraordinaire Captain Ed Glaser, accomplished sailor and friend Meriel, and First Mate of the highest order, Autumn Simpson, here relaxing under sail after what was – honestly, a bit of a tense morning, equipment-wise. 

For Nicki & me, it’s fun and challenging and interesting to be back in a “Crew” position  after spending 8 1/2 months aboard our own boat, very much in “Captain & Owner” mode. We do what we’re told as best we can, ask a ton of questions, and jump when we’re told to jump – even at 2:15am…

But that’s a story for a different day.

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Other People’s Boats

There’s a saying in boating circles that suggests that the best boat is always sombody else’s.  That is, a boat you can play on, but you don’t have to maintain/pay for.

It’s called OPB – Other People’s Boats, and it can be pretty attractive. And what would be the ultimate OPB?

How about a 60-ton schooner?

Yeah, I think that qualifies.

Way back in the winter, when we were warm and happy in the Florida Keys aboard Sionna, I had a casual conversation with the owner/captain of the schooner Isaac H. Evans, in which I wondered if she (Captain Brenda, or “Cappy”) ever needed extra crew – even volunteer crew – and she allowed as we could talk about that…

But that wasn’t our first contact with Cappy and the Isaac H. Evans. Oh no, and there’s a story there, of course!

Way back in the summer of 2015, when Nicki & I first launched Sionna, we took our first overnight aboard in a little place called Clam Cove, a usually quiet spot just a couple miles north of our home port of Rockland, Maine. 

So we’d just finished a light supper at anchor when we noted a schooner approaching the cove, under sail, clearly heading for anchor as well.  Now Clam Cove isn’t very big, and the north half of it is off limits to anchoring because of an electric cable, so it was pretty clear we were going to have some company.  Sure enough, the Schooner was the Isaac H. Evans, and we had the pleasure of watching this very substantial vessel approach, drop her head sails and run her chain within 50 yards of us, all without engine, in  a graceful ballet of seamanship one doesn’t see very often.  We were impressed!

We were even more impressed a bit later when Captain Brenda rowed over to us and inquired whether we had a dog aboard? They had a birthday party amongst the passangers, and were hoping to set off a few fireworks, if we didn’t mind?  We allowed as how we’d no pets aboard, and would welcome the show, thank you for asking!

But it gets better.  Dinner was announced aboard the Evans, a lobster dinner with all the trimmings.  Our light supper was beginning to set even lighter by this time, but never fear – “Cappy” to the rescue!  Here she came rowing again, this time bearing two steamed lobsters, a half bottle of champagne and two official Isaac H Evans logo mugs!  
So we have a soft spot for the Evans, and her captain.  And lobster.

So fast-forward a year and a half, and you have this conversation between Cappy and I, suggesting we might get a chance to sail on a Maine Windjammer if the stars align properly. We let her know that we were still interested, we showed up at the dock one day – unannounced – to help with a bit of the spring painting work, and got our invitation to come sailing for their first trip of the season, a 4-day trip with only a handful of passangers but a whole load of crew and interested parties – like us!  


 Holy Heavy, Batwoman!  The rig on a schooner is heavy. Raising sail – particularly the main – is a wicked heave, best done with gloves and a lot of help.

Out of Shape! The 17 year-old First Mate doesn’t look look a weight lifter, but she put me to shame in the muscles department. I need more exercise than I’m getting these days if I’m going to keep up.

Amazing Food! 

The galley isn’t just small, it’s SMALL, but the chef, Phoenix, pulled off culinary coups, every day.  On a wood stove. Even I could gain weight on the Evans. (And I need to – did I mention that rig is heavy?)
It’s a BLAST!  Really, sailing on a big boat (something over 120,000 pounds) is an amazing experience. Nothing happens fast because of inertia, but once it’s happening, it KEEPS happening for the same reason, and you’d best plan for it. Which Captain Brenda does, really well.  She sails that boat like an extension of her hand.

   So that’s our solution to the problem of being boatless for the summer! With the help of First Mate Autumn and Deck-hand Fitz (pictured below), we learned a whole lot about running a schooner, and have been invited to stand as relief crew for the summer.  That means that Fitz and Autumn can get an occasional evening off, and we get to help sail a boat that was built in 1886!  
So, have you ever wondered what it’s like to sail on a schooner? Check out the website link for the Isaac H. Evans – I promise there is no better way to see the coast of Maine!  And who knows – you may even cross paths with the crew of s/v Sionna!


Update on “Something to Sail”

Honfleur is for sale. Now.

After I wrote the last post, I actually sat down to an accounting of the expenses we’d accrue with the care & feeding of the second boat, and had to admit that it makes no sense to hold on – as attractive as the idea may be from an emotional standpoint.

Sionna must have her Genoa replaced before we can cruise again, and the cost of that sail nearly matches the cost of keeping the little boat – whether we actually launch her or not.  It’s time to release those memories and move on.  We have friends here in Rockland who have boats, so we won’t be entirely land-locked without the Tanzer. 

Farewell, Honfleur. May you find a loving home and able hand for your next 39 years. 

It’s been a lovely cruise.

(Update of the Update: The boat sold the day after we listed her on Craigslist.  Wonderful thing, the internet!  She goes on to another couple, just starting out in the sailing world. Just as we were when Honfleur came to live with us.  Very cool.)

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Something to Sail

We related back last summer the process we went through of selling our prior boat, “Honfleur”. She’s a Tanzer 7.5 (meter), a basic classic-plastic coastal cruiser from 1978.  I’d been given the boat back in 2008 (“If you can get her out of my pasture, you can have her!”), and had sailed her every season since, until we bought Sionna in 2015. 

Clearly we didn’t need two boats to maintain, so it made sense to find her a new home. The buyer who found us was motivated and determined, but lacking in experience and knowledge, so we spent a good bit of time preparing both the buyer and the boat before we left for our cruise. Sadly the burden of boat ownership became overwhelming as other life challenges presented, and eventually Honfleur came back to us – a little older, a little dirtier, but basically intact – so we’re a two-boat family again.

Eventually I expect we’ll try to find her a new owner again, but for now, we’re feeling like we owe her better than we’ve given her lately. We’ve been cleaning and painting the bottom and putting things in order, intending to launch her soon, and do a little small-boat sailing this summer, right here close to home.  Small boats are fun, and though she used to feel very big to me, after two years aboard Sionna she seems quite small indeed! 

It feels a bit like a return to our roots.  Now, if we can just get the outboard motor to cooperate…