Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Far from home

I am back in the "normal" world for a while; suburbia, cars, traffic jams, sirens, guns, noise, and news. I have put more miles in driving the last 4 days than I had in the last 7 months, and I'm having trouble remembering why I used to enjoy it as much as I did. On the other hand there is ice cream in the fridge, cold milk, (that doesn't cost $12 / gal) and pretty good and consistent Internet access. Not sure the balance comes out in favor of "normal," but it isn't all bad.

Being 1000 miles away from Deb and the ocean? That is pretty much all bad.

Being away is also giving me a chance to take a look at our new life from a little different perspective, an opportunity to think about where we were, where we are, and how it looks like we are doing.

One thing that stands out is that full time living aboard and cruising is a far, far different endeavor than sailing, chartering, or living on a boat as an alternate to having a house or an apartment. It is its own, completely unique, thing. Even more, it is different for every person who is "out there" doing it.

As much as I loved sailing on Carlyle and appreciate the things we did learn about handling and living on a boat there, it really wasn't much preparation for what we are doing now. Having a boat as our one and only home is a far cry from visiting the lake on weekends. Mostly those years allowed us to get a lot of work done on our soon-to-be ocean going house, and make some life long friends.

I'm not sure chartering is much like living aboard either. We did take three week-plus training / cruising trips that might be counted as charters. Truth to tell they were not much of a hint as to what living aboard full time is like. Provisioning, watering, finding pump outs, 24 / 7, 365-days-a-year weather watch, these are our constant companions now. For many of us full time cruising means going "all in." There is no alternative, no plan B, no place to fall back to if it all goes bad. Virtually everything we own floats with Kintala. Every weather decision, every day under way, every harbor entered or Current Cut attempted, is an all or nothing deal. Flub it badly and we are homeless . . . at best.

As valuable as those trips were for us choosing a boat, the fact is both Deb and I are pretty sure the Tartan 42 wasn't the best choice. It is too much the racing boat and not enough the living-on boat. Romping across the Gulf Stream was great. The total time required to go both ways was less than two full days of sailing. (Biscayne Bay to West End + Bimini to Biscayne Bay.)

Living on a Tartan 42 is often a trial, and we do that all the time. For us, a boat just has to be as stable as possible riding to its anchor or a mooring, has to have sufficient storage, and has to have a cockpit comfortable for near full-time occupancy. An island bed would be nice and, contrary to what I had been told, would not be a problem on a passage. Neither of us sleeps in a bed on passage; short handed crews don't often get that far apart.

Once upon a time I claimed a center cockpit boat was a better idea than an aft cockpit, low free board boat because, "I didn't want the ocean that close to my ass." Now I would take an open transom boat without a second thought, so long as the cockpit was big, roomy, and comfortable. It would also make getting on and off the boat from a dink a lot easier. Yet a center cockpit ketch rig would be an excellent basic platform for a live-a-board cruiser. Not because the ocean isn't that close to my ass, but because the sail plan is easy to manage, the aft cabin can be a great place to live, two heads are pretty standard, engine access is likely acceptable, and storage is better.

The cruising community is not much like America. These are people with different motivations, different ideas of what it means to be responsible, with a close and personal relationship with the natural world. Many are from Canada and Europe and are not nearly as impressed with Americans as Americans tend to be with themselves. Most know well their turn will come to need a little help, and so they offer the same with little hesitation.

It isn't that religion and politics are left on the beach, but even among American cruisers no one wears them on their sleeve. There are a few gun nuts, some religious fundamentalists, but none have been offensive or overbearing. Not once have I been told I am going to hell and no one has waved a gun around. Individual political leanings deemed important on land haven't disappeared. But they don't mean as much as they once did. Maybe it's because the ocean will drown Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Tea-partiers, Socialists, people who like their universal health care, and even Texans, with equal enthusiasm. Being capable on the water is the measure that matters once any nation and its politics fall below the horizon.

Even for us Americans who have only accomplished a single "ocean crossing" to the Islands and have managed to live there for just a couple of months, the world appears bigger and the center of the map isn't - automatically - the US-of-A. There are whole other societies doing things in a whole other way, with a history completely different from this country. There is a whole planet where people screw things up in new and unique ways, not just American ways. (The Democratic and Republican ways of screwing things up are getting repetitive. We need to come up with some new material.) Being arrogant about "being an American" works inside these borders, where boasting counts more than doing. Outside these borders it makes you look like a wanker.

As much work as living on the water might be, no matter that a different boat might make that life a lot easier, being back for a visit has made it clear that I really don't want to be living anything but a cruising life. Most mornings on Kintala I take a cup of coffee out to the cockpit, sit back, and start my day slow and easy. I actually look up to see if it looks like the forecasts are reasonable. The sky and the sea fill my senses. Sometimes we are in the middle of a city, sometimes surrounded by other boats . . . and sometimes not. Any way I look at it, it is a good way to start a day. Most days end in pretty much the same way except the drink is cold and has a bit more horsepower.

My new world feels far, far, away at the moment, and I long to be home.


Rick said...

Nicely written post Tim.

I think though that in spite of your disillusion with life in the USA, there is one thing that you can be very grateful for. Your ability to cruise 12 months of the year within US waters. Yes, you still have to move for seasonal temperatures, as well as hurricane season, but at least your moves don't have to be 2000 miles long, as it is for us.

I wrote a post about it on my blog ( - hope the link paste is okay with you). This is something I think I knew about before, but perhaps never really fully understood. So many of the cruising blogs I follow (yours included :)) are of American cruisers that don't have this issue, so it probably wasn't an item that was thought about that much as we formed our ideas of our future cruising life.

So there you go. In spite of anything else that may make you want to turn your back and point the boat away from the center of your nationalistic world :-), there is at least one thing to be thankful for there. :-D

Unknown said...

One of the best analogies of America I have read. We Americans need to learn the we are part of this world, the world isn't part of us. Well done Tim.

Unknown said...

loved reading your comments and agree fully. I also think that a centercockpit although the rage with some cruisers wouldnt be for me. I like to be down at the water with much less pendulum motion the higher you sit up, less windage, and an open cockpit, so every little drop of water can easiliy and fast go back out of the back. No clocked undersize cockpit drains etc etc .. and a big nuff place for one peep to nap while the other one is steering the boat, besides having 8 peeople sitting for cocktails .... lol

we miss you guys at the lake

TJ said...

Rick, I'd take a little planning inconvience in exchange for having workable health care at a reasonable cost. At the moment it looks like Deb and I will be uninsured by the end of the year. (Our home State is one of those Red "do nothing to support that Black Man in the White House" States.)

Thor, we miss you guys too. The only thing I really like about the center cockpit is the interior of the boat that is under it. Aft cabin, engine access, etc. You are right about the rest of it.

Unknown said...

Your desire to be back on board is comforting having followed the blog while the engine and weather were giving you issues.

Diann and I took stuff to. Habitat again today.

I was Interested in your comments about full time being a different perspective from repetitive chartering. My expectations have so far been that full time cruising will be like extended tight budget chartering with constant maintainable as the surcharge- LoL

TJ said...

Alex, I don't want to dismiss the learning potential of chartering. But to me the differences between chartering and cruising are substantial. The main reason, to me, being due to a matter of scale. A charter ends after a week or two, the boat gets returned for cleaning, reprovisioning, and repair before the next customer arrives. The crew heads home after hitting all the “hot spots” in the charter area. Even a hard charging charter customer will likely put on less than a few hundred miles from start to finish, maybe a lot less.

For the cruiser cleaning, reprovisioning, and repair are often the main focus of the day. Just shopping can easily fill a day; humping water another. A clean boat interior will take the efforts of at least one really full day, probably two. Cleaning the bottom of our boat takes two of us two days free diving. It will wear your ass completely out and is enough to have me rethinking making room for basic SCUBA gear. Just these will account for about 10 days out of 30. Add boat repairs and exploring, bright work modifications and equipment changes, and it is a wonder that cruisers manage even 1 day out of 10 under sail.

The biggest difference is that cruising is long term stuff. Our first cruise lasted just over 200 days and covered about 2000 nm; Oak Harbor to Byscane Bay to the Bahamas and back to Byscane Bay. Kintala is our only home, there is nowhere else for us to “go”. It is a change of perspective as profound as any I have experienced in 59 years of wandering this planet.

Unknown said...

Awesome reply.
We got a taste of what you just described when rebedding one of our Gemini hatches. It took two whole days to extract, clean, and rebed. I had to go to a New. Bern hardware store to purchase, and modify, a putty knife to get to the overly adhesive caulk. The previous owner had used the more is better theory and oozed caulk beyond the deck surface.

My upcoming project is replacement of the Raritan toilet. We discovered a crack in the pump assembly,
Which will have to be corrected. Having to create, and change, a "diaper" for the toilet every fourth flush is incentive enough. I expect this to be a time consuming messy job as the holding tank is reached by an upward hose.

Hopefully such activities will be more adventure than ordeal.

Thank you for your level of detail. Deb's info on Dinner Key and Coconut Grove was excellent for us as we plan to winter there as our Florida base.

Latitude 43 said...

Good read Tim. You guys have come a long way in a short time and I'm not talking Nautical Miles.

You are spot on about our country. Sometimes I wonder if it will ever get its head out of its ass long enough to save itself from the seemingly inevitable oligarchy.

Hope all is well with Mom and Dad and you get back to your bride soon. We'll catch up to you along the way.


Sainted said...


You and Deb have become my favorite bloggers because of your well written, evocative and insightful posts.

I've lived aboard, done some long offshore passages, and some long deliveries (NY to FL off shore and on the ICW), so everything y'all have written resonates with me.

As to center cockpit boats, I have one (a Stevens 47), and its a good configuration. The only real bitch is the long and steep companion way. Otherwise, its the way to go as far as I'm concerned.

Anywho, keep at it.


Deb said...

@Scott - can't be any worse than our companionway already. We have the kind that only opens on the top, not on the front, and it has 7 steep stairs.

Thank you all for your kind comments. said...

I'm so glad to hear that all the work you put into your boat was worth it, in spite of your feelings about maybe having chosen the wrong boat. Spot on about the attitudes in our country and this is something I really look forward to leaving behind, and possibly even showing people from other places that not all Americans are like what they see on TV. Here's to hoping you can find some kind of healthcare insurance, although probably the penalty you'll pay for not having it is less than what you would pay each month for an individual policy in your 'we ain't givin' an inch' state. I needed to read this post today. Sometimes, from the comfort of my middle class home with the big yard and lovely gardens, I have trouble seeing the big picture because I'm too busy looking at all my trees. Thanks for the uplift.

Mike Boyd said...

I'd like to add my accolades on your well written post Tim. I know you guys have had your share of trials with the boat and preparation to go so it is great to hear that, even if you don't feel the best about your choice of boat, that you have connected so deeply with the lifestyle.

I can't agree more about the Ameri-centric view most of the U.S. has. Stepping outside the country for any length of time, even a few weeks, can certainly do a lot for your perspective of how the U.S. is as a member of the global community.

Hope your family matters are going well and you can get back "home" soon.


Unknown said...

Really enjoyed this post, and I plan to go back and read your previous posts as well.

Very nice to hear that there are some Americans out there who don't think everything American is better than anywhere else.

My husband and I will be leaving In a week for our first 4-month cruise. We know that our previous 10-day stints aboard haven't fully prepared us for this kind of trip, but we're trying to be as well-prepared as possible.

We're on a powercat (an Endeavor TC36), not a sailboat, but I think a great deal of your experiences will apply to us and vice versa.

Deb said...

@frogphotog - where will you be heading on your cruise? You're absolutely correct, most of what you read here will apply. There is actually very little difference in the cruising between power and sail other than the fact that you will in all likelihood be more comfortable than we have while you learn.

Unknown said...

We live on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, on a creek just off the Chesapeake, so we'll be heading north up the Chesapeake. Long-range goal is Nova Scotia via Maine. First goal is New York City, where my son lives.

We're 66, so we decided to go for a trawler rather than a sailboat, because we know that as we get older, we will appreciate that the trawler is easier to handle.

I've started a blog for our boat, Escape from Reality. I'm looking forward to connecting with other boaters as part of the adventure.

Unknown said...

I have clicked thru on your link.

When you have begun to populate the blog, please let me know.

Tim- hope you don'tmind me using this format for meeting a fellow boater. If not, let me know.

Deb said...

@Alex - What better way to meet fellow boaters? We think it's great!

SV Pelagia said...

Hi there, been awhile.

Nice post.

Pelagia is resting in Mazatlan as we spend a few months back "home" in Vancouver. We feel like we are on vacation.

In a somewhat different vein from your post, we agree that most folks back home just don't "get" our cruising life. And you are certainly right about the cruising community being a real community. Back home in a city in Canada, we just don't see this community (although the cruisers out there have one; just not once on land).

FYI, West coast of Mexico has been great!

David & Michelle
SV Pelagia

Unknown said...

I can only imagine how much you missed your boat those days, but it’s nice to know that you still managed to cope with the norms of the society in-land. Anyway, how are things doing for you nowadays? Thanks for sharing this with us, TJ. Have a great day!

Kent Garner @ Whites Marine Center