Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Funding your cruising

One of the most common questions we get from people is how they can fund their cruising. Since a vast majority of cruisers are of retirement age they are depending on fixed income, usually investments they made while they were gainfully employed. Those who are young have usually worked for some time and set aside enough funds to cruise for a specified time, maybe a year or two, before they settle down to raise a family, with plans to cruise once again whenever the kids are on their own. A good many cruisers across the age spectrum are working part-time jobs, taking mostly seasonal retail positions in whatever port they happen to land for awhile, making enough money in four months' work to fund the other eight months. A small minority of cruisers is working full-time from their boat. Most of these are in an IT capacity like a friend of ours who is a software developer, but some are start-up businesses that sell anything from canvas work to home-crafted jewelery. An even smaller minority is depending on contract writing jobs, writing for sailing and cruising magazines and blogs.

We've had many of our blog readers tell us that they enjoy our writing and that we should write a book. We do both enjoy writing and are fairly good at it, thanks in part to being avid and voracious readers and thanks in part to genetics, but with all the distractions of the first year of cruising and the debacle that was The Bear, we haven't had much time to do anything other than concentrating on blog posts.

Writing is hard. Ask anyone who has published and they'll sigh deeply and tell you that the agony of producing a written work is always more difficult than the compensation received for it. I can echo this without any doubt. The first thing I published was a short article for Cruising World in the 35th anniversary edition October 2009. It was part of a special tribute section to Murray Davis, the founder of Cruising World Magazine who had recently died. For my troubles I received a Cruising World hat and duffle bag. I still have the hat, but the duffle only lasted about as long as the magazine issue. It was still slightly more profitable than my next article, an article for the May 2012 issue of Latitudes & Attitudes which was supposed to yield a whopping $75 of which I was entirely and unceremoniously stiffed due to the immediate demise of the publication shortly after my issue was printed. So far Tim holds the dollar value winner in the form of an article he wrote for Flying magazine which brought a mind-boggling $100. So I'm sure you can understand our hesitance in pursuing a writing career to support Kintala.

That being said...a few years ago while working my last aviation marketing job I became quite proficient in an open source graphics design program called Gimp. After being unceremoniously dumped from the job and being short on funds, I began to fiddle with the beginnings of a children's book that I hoped to print out for my grandchildren for an inexpensive Christmas present. The story evolved, I got better at the illustration and design, and before long the idea that it might be publishable began to enter my mind. The story had lain dormant for some time during our frantic, last- minute cruising preparations but after the financial drain of the three months on the dock I found some motivation to pick it back up. I finished the book while we were anchored here in Middle River and began the final editing and formatting process by showing it to Tim for the first time. He was impressed, and it's pretty hard to impress him with a children's book. My art critic and editor son-in-law was next with positive feedback.  I was buoyed, and submitted it to, Amazon's self-publishing company, for approval. After 3 weeks and as many revisions, the book has been published and is ready for your perusal. If you have any children on your holiday gift list in the toddler to third grade range,  this book makes a great holiday gift. You can either get it on or on I get more profit from the latter, but if you're shopping on the former and just want to add it to your cart, go for it.

A little background on the story and the main character is in order I think. The book is the first in a series of books with the main character, Maryssa Mayberry, who is a young sailor who feels very passionately about the ocean and is sailing around the world to educate kids about the problems with the oceans and how they can help. This first book introduces her and is a fun story about working together to accomplish things. The next book will begin to deal with the pollution of the ocean with trash.  There is also a companion blog for the character, 

which has more in-depth information on the issues and resources for both kids and parents on how to get involved in helping. There are also some coloring pages, puzzles and games there to entertain the kids. If you happen to notice the author name and wonder about it, it's DeMa, the nickname my grandchildren fondly call me.

I can assure you that you won't be disappointed with the quality of the book. I have one in my hands right now and I have to tell you that I've been extremely impressed with the quality of printing done through Create Space. It's a print-on-demand service which I was leery about at first, but the book I ordered was printed the same day and I had it a few days later. It was a user-friendly interface and I look forward to working again with them in the near future with the second book. By the way...rumor has it that there will be a co-authored book for our adult blog readers coming up in the near future as well so stay tuned.

I'd love to have your feedback on this book, so please feel free to leave comments. Please try to be kind and constructive in your criticisms if you can. One of the other things that makes writing for pay so difficult is that you lay yourself bare out there. You tend to get attached to your characters since you spend so much time with them, and publishing a book leaves you feeling very vulnerable. But then, like cruising, any venture without risk is a venture without reward.

I hope you enjoy.

Dropping, stepping, and setting

A friend from my aviation days called. We flew little tail-dragging airplanes together back about the time his corporate flight department was being closed. Which was a couple of years before mine did the same. He flew for an "All American Company" that decided they could add a few tenths of a cent to the stock price by pushing the more experienced Captains out the door and replacing them with cheaper, less experienced airplane drivers. My friend was one of those being pushed. A short time later the "All American Company" traded red-white-and blue for black-gold-and red, selling itself to a foreign manufacture. I heard it described as one of the biggest sell-outs in American history.

The stock holders took the money and ran. The new owners laid off a few thousand workers and closed the flight department entirely. A little bit later they discovered that America is a big country with domestic airline service that sucks. Last I heard they were starting a new flight department; smaller, less capable, and none of the original crew were invited back. (The last TV add I saw for the company still touted its "All American" image.)

Anyway, my friend wanted to know if I was still in the St. Louis area, unaware that we had moved onto a boat and sailed away. When I told him that we were just starting our second year as cruisers, his response was,

"Oh, you dropped out."

Actually, I was thrown under the bus of corporate America during a Board fight of egos, got a hold of a bumper to keep from getting run over, spotted a soft spot to land, jumped, and managed the timing well enough not to get too badly bruised. The fact is, we were already standing in the aisle and reaching for the "Stop Requested" cord. We landed a bit short of our original destination (meaning we had less money on the back than we wanted) but at least had an idea of where we were going.

There are a lot of different reasons for being "out here". Some, as I suggested a few days ago, are near the end of their financial rope. A cheap boat parked in a free place is better than living under a bridge. Since they are marginally mobile there is a spark of hope that things can get better. And I really believe that moving onto a modest boat might be the best way to stretch minimum dollars into maximum living. Those doing so are, maybe, some of the best of us who are out here. We have met such who are endlessly creative, capable, and at least as happy as most land dwellers we have known. I love that we can share an anchorage with such fine excuses for human beings.

Others are more like Deb and I. Retired, maybe with a little less, funds wise, than we would like, but doing okay and learning our way around. Our boats reflect more of what we thought important than just what we could find cheap. For all of our struggles, Kintala has also been a bit of a "hobby boat". On land I had airplanes, motorcycles, a work shop, built things, fixed things ... hobbies. Kintala fills that roll now, sometimes too much so, but still keeps my hands calloused and gives me things to do. She looks, and works, as good as I feel like making her look and work. In any collection of cruiser hulls there will be a few that are clearly providing someone with an excuse for staying out of trouble. And yes, I admit to being one of them.

Others quit land exactly when they wanted, with the funds they wanted, on the boat they wanted, and do anything that they want wherever they might be. We don't know too many of those folks personally, but their boats can be seen pretty much anywhere. People like this are important to the cruising world. They take the "shine" off of a boat and, when they move on, some of the rest of us can afford to move in. They spend lots of money when they stop somewhere, making the rest of us look good to the business owners who have a big say in our access to places. And, one must admit, a lot of them are running really, really beautiful boats. I am not talking mega-yachts, but 35 to 50 foot cruising boats that sparkle in the sunshine like jewels. It is a pleasure to have one anchored nearby.

Of course there is nothing at all wrong with the well traveled cruiser. In fact, they are some of my favorite boats to have anchored close by. Every one of their nicks, scratches, stains, and faded bits were clearly well earned far out of sight of land, baked in the sun and soaked in the salt. There is a dignity to such boats, maybe just a slight aura of arrogance. Of all of us "out here", they are the ones who have been "out there". They, and their owners, carry the thousands of miles covered with a self-assurance that cannot be bought, only earned the hard way. I like when they are around, though sometimes I feel like a kid with his plastic toy tools walking through a truck maintenance shop and pretending to be a grown up mechanic.

Are we all "drop outs"?

Maybe, but I like to think that we all just decided to play a different game, take a different path, or see the world from a different place. Not so much quitting, but changing the rules to something that makes more sense for us. Less dropping out, more stepping up...

or just setting out.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Rocking and Rolling

Kintala has always been a skittish boat at anchor. A tall mast and soft turn at the bilge makes for a top heavy, funny shaped bowl sloshing around in the water. With our staysail now set on a furler there is even more stuff up high for the wind to get hold of. We have been rocking and rolling since yesterday afternoon.

Since this is the only place our Mantus anchor has ever failed to hold, last night was a kind of unofficial anchor watch. We have been set for more than 3 weeks and haven't moved, but with the wind gauge occasionally registering gusts near 30 knots, neither one of us slept much. Add the unaccustomed motion to the lack of sleep, and by this morning I was feeling decidedly sketchy.

One of the great things about this life is, when one is feeling decidedly sketchy in the morning, one need not get up and go to work. There is no need to stuff one's self full of medications and shuffle off to the office. There is no need to sit miserable through a day hacking away at some task barely in focus, willing the clock numbers toward quitting time. I took my bare-footed and sketchy self out to the cockpit, settled in with a warm mug, and watched thick clouds hurry across the sky. I was a happy man, not having to report to an office on this particular morning.

All of the boats in Middle River were scalloping around, dancing in the wind and the current. More than one crew could be seen going forward to check that they were still firmly holding onto the river bottom. But outside, with a cool breeze blowing and a solid horizon just a couple of hundred feet away, all that motion wasn't bothering me much. I was pretty content though feeling a bit detached and not completely "with it".

A loud "clank" reverberated from the bow. The boat lurched backwards, banged against the anchor chain, and lurched again. Surely we were loose once again on Middle River. Brain still not fully engaged I jumped up and headed forward, slamming a naked toe into the starboard side winch. Pain jolted up my leg and into my brain, but we were loose and the shore was close by. After a moments hesitation to limp and curse, I headed forward once again.

We have this giant "C shaped thing Mantus sold us to hook the anchor snubber onto the chain. It is a solid chunk of kit that, once engaged, there appears no way for it to get forced off the chain. I'm still not sure how that could possibly happen given the load it was under, but it did. And it came free with a bang. Kintala had fallen back against the extra chain played out to keep the snubber taut, fetched up against the anchor windlass, rebounded, and fallen back again. She had moved as far as she was going to.  (I always keep the anchor chain on the windless with the locking paw engaged and the clutch set tight.  It is a suspenders and belt kind of thing that worked in our favor this morning.)

The snubber went back on just like it should and I laid out a few more feet of chain for good measure. Then I limped back down the deck careful to not put any pressure on, or touch in any way, a badly bruised and stoved in toe. A toe that was promising to make for a pretty miserable day. I went below, stuffed myself with medications, and shuffled out to the cockpit.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Anniversary muse, muse ...

I started thinking about this "part two" as soon as was "An Unexpected Anniversary Muse" was published. That post was incubated in the aftermath of having gone into night waters as Deb mentioned. The person needing a little help falls into the category of young, poor, somewhat trapped, with few options and an uncertain future. On that night she chose to cope by drinking it all away. For just a few brief minutes that choice put her at a serious amount of risk. Though the risk to me was slight, and I was glad we were around to offer a hand, I wasn't expecting to go night swimming in a tidal river to pluck a person I had talked with exactly once, out of the waves. It kind of put the whole issue of people struggling to get along on the front burner as her situation is by no means unique or unusual "out here". But I knew there was another side to the story I would have to wrestle with, for this life is different than others and labels are slippery things when soaked in water.

Over the course of our summer here in southern FL we have made friends with more than a few in the same boat as our night swimmer. (Sorry.) Actually, they were spread out over four or five different boats. All of them are good people. All of them willing to help another in any way they could, yet all of them struggling to keep going themselves. They talk of how hard it is. They are tired and frustrated, not sure where or how some particular problem can get handled. They are often ill, some with chronic symptoms unresolved since health care is a real issue for much of the cruising community. I can't help but think of them as living poor, because they are. But I suspect they would shy away from that label. "Broke" might be their choice. "Hurting a bit" if you ask how they are doing. Most will admit to having to "fill the kitty" before they can go any further. (That means flat broke, by the way.) To me "poor" is an economic label, having nothing to do with the spirit. But maybe to others it means something else.

I never really expected this to be such a large part of the cruising community, and it may not be as large as it looks to me. For the obvious reason marinas and mooring fields have noticeably fewer struggling boats hanging around. It is the same in the Islands. Here, in America's anchorages, are where those hanging near the edge hang out the most. It is where Kintala hangs out as well and many struggling through each day are friends of mine now. Come out here and they will be friends of yours as well. At least they should be.

But then things get a bit more complicated. Most of the cruisers that we know (including ourselves) are people with very few belongings. We get tired and frustrated, and are sometimes not sure how some particular problem can get handled. We have no permanent address, live off the power grid, dwell the fringe of normal society, mobile and uncommitted with, it must be admitted, our own collection of eccentricities. There is very little difference between the way my poor friends live, and the way we live.

But we are of the Kings and Queens in the world. There is no desire for belongings or a permanent address. We don't need the power grid and are committed to living light and free. We wander at will through whatever part of the world we fancy. As for eccentricities, we revel in them. We are not really like “normal” people, and that is more than fine. And my friends, those whom I think of as living poor, who have described themselves as just "hurting a bit", would say the exact same thing. They would like to not be "hurting a bit". But if that doesn't happened they are still of the Kings and Queens in the world. They are still cruisers. And they are still friends.

Not hurting as much might mean trading up to a slightly nicer boat, maybe new solar panels, a water maker, some new rigging, an additional sail. They might get an engine fixed or a refrigerator running, maybe add a bit of new navigation gear. Or maybe not. Mostly they would not be worried that any given day might be the day that they lose their grip and fall into the abyss. Smiling would come a bit easier with problems a lot less daunting. And that, to me, is the difference between poor and not poor. It is the difference between being able to move and move safely, or not being able to move at all. It is the difference between worrying about how to keep the boat functional, and just keeping the boat going as a matter of routine. Is is the difference between feeling threatened, and feeling capable.

So I'll let my previous post stand as is. There are a lot of struggling people “out here”, and they are very, very exposed. Being that exposed is a tough way to live. They know it. They live with it. They would rather they didn't have to, but they take a fierce pride in managing it as well. If one comes this way and finds themselves "hurting a bit", but lacks that fierce pride? The edge is going to be very hard to hold onto.

Veterans and young people do seem to have an especially difficult time keeping ahead of the poverty curve. Should they venture this way they need to be especially careful to be prepared. But, at the same time, the standards are different for those "out here" than for those living as land dwellers. "Poor” means a different thing to people who care mostly about what they can do, where they can go, and what they can experience. And care little about the things they might own.

If one is lucky enough to come this way without much of a struggle, be pleased. It takes a lot of work, a lot of planning, and a bit of luck, to pull that one off. Anyone who has done it can take their own bit of pride in choosing a different way. The beaches, sundowners, clear waters, and warm temperatures are well and truly earned. It is a good life.

But it doesn't always work out that way.

Monday, October 20, 2014

An unexpected anniversary muse ...

The cruising life enshrined in the glossy pages of sailing magazines and boat show halls usually involve nights on the hook in some of the world's most beautiful places. They are “near the edge” or “off the grid”, and it is grand living indeed. What they don't mention is that those are usually short visits made by people living something other than the life that, many of us who are cruising, live.

A large portion of those living here in long term, no-fee anchorages don't live near the edge. They are sitting on the edge with their feet dangling over the abyss. Many are over the edge, barely hanging on with bloodied fingernails. The crew of Kintala, by comparison, is sitting comfortably within view of the edge, hoping no more earthquakes trouble our world for a while.

Sailors take pride in “well founded boats”. There are not many of those around these anchored parts. Faded paint, decrepit teak, and torn canvas are the norm. Scavenged solar panels supplement noisy generators to keep the lights on and the food from spoiling. Decks are buried under cast off items that may prove useful in the future. There is very little money out here. That bit of dock line lying around cluttering up the place may look ratty and ready for discard, but next year it may be the best bit of line on the boat. Tossing it now may mean having to dig up the bucks to replace it later, and by later that hole might already be empty. Take a picture of a common "cruising boat".  Compare it to a picture of a shack in the poverty stricken Appalachian mountains.  The two will look remarkably similar.

To put it bluntly, the “This Old Boat” cruising community is a community largely trapped in poverty. This seems particularly true of two sub-groups of the cruising clan; veterans of America's never-ending love of wars, and young people.

Young people are especially vulnerable. Those who spend their 20s and early 30s “living the dream” are likely to find themselves locked in. For all of their worldly experience and independence, they have no solid footing. There are few skills the water dweller can trade to the land living for income. Some itinerant boat work in a yard, stray contract work here and there, maybe a few weeks of a minimum wage - part time schedule at a little place within walking distance of a dink landing sight, are what pass for “work” in the cruising world.  It isn't much, and there isn't much of it.  In addition the young cruiser likely has no social network that is “home” and lives outside the reach of America's expensive and limited version of health care. Unless very carefully considered, the choice to go cruising while young can easily become a permanent life of poverty.

Many dream of writing for pay to fund their lifestyle - the reason for all of these blogs perhaps.   Alas, even living modestly off of a keyboard is less likely than making the bush leagues in almost any big name sport, let alone the Big Show.  One must be an excellent word-smith and have access to good editing, with entertaining stories to tell or a keen eye for commentary. Even then one will be most likely have to remain content with writing for the love of art, not for the money.

Cruising is a simple lifestyle that doesn't take much to sustain. But food, boat parts, maintenance, health care, fuel, and travel expenses are mostly non-negotiable. Going from having little money to having no money is a small step financially, one that means going from a simple life to an impoverished one. Floating or fixed, living poor is living hard.

On land, poverty is institutionalized. The poor are born into poor neighborhoods, attend poor schools, suffer the indignities and harm of poor law enforcement, and only have access to poor food and even poorer health care. It is a social problem Americans simply don't care about enough to address. But poor people don't move onto cruising boats to escape poverty.

People living on a boat usually think they were making the choice to live modest and light. Cruisers don't start out living poor on a boat, they end up living poor on a boat, often the result of a string of bad personal decisions and/or unexpected personal or family responsibilities or tragedies. It is a risk of choosing this life that simply isn't mentioned very often. But it needs to be.

Some will insist that living poor is not, itself, a bad thing. They are welcome to their opinion.  But I doubt many of them are living poor, and by choice. Come “out here”, run out of funds, be anchored somewhere for months because there is no money to move, have no way back to land, and no options. Pick up a cruising magazine.  Look at the pictures.  See if that makes it any better.

That may sound like I am down on the “cruising life”.  That isn't true, though I am a bit down on the cruising media.  We love living this way. It is simple. It is modest. It takes very little from the planet but offers a lot for the heart in return.  If one wants to live well while living modestly, this is a good choice to make.  But we have been out here for a year now. Those living well outnumber those living hard, but there are more living hard then I ever expected. It is far easier to move from a good life to a difficult one than most will admit, and it can happen very, very, quickly.  No one will be out here long before they anchor next to someone struggling to get through each day.

Though this must be said as well: even those struggling, who wish it was easier, would still rather be struggling on the water than struggling on land.  If they would rather be living easier on land than struggling on the water, is a question no one asks ... and no one answers.  The fact is, once one is living hard on the water, it is damned difficult to get back to land without help.

Coming out here without thinking of how easily this good life can turn into a hard one, is a good way to find one's own story changing into something much different than what was expected.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A year in review

October 19, 2013 we were pulling out of Oak Harbor Marina in Pasadena, MD for our first ever day of cruising. One year ago today. Anniversaries always beg for summing up and analyzing, and I had grandiose plans of  giving you this great list of all the places we went this year, and how we spent 170 days in marinas (ouch), 73 days on mooring balls, 122 days on the anchor, and prior to leaving we spent 69 days in boatyards.

But then we found out that the Publix very close to here has a Redbox and we haven't watched any movies in forever since we never have enough bandwidth to actually use our Netflix.

And then we found out that watching movies in the cockpit with the sunset behind the screen is actually pretty cool, especially when accompanied by a Coconut Rum drink. And then...

...our more than slightly inebriated neighbor in the anchorage fell off her boat with no ladder to get back on and was in the process of drowning which required a slight break in our movie-watching so Tim could take an early evening swim.

Yup. Happy one year anniversary.