Saturday, November 10, 2018

Patch it up and keep it moving

Kintala is pressing on toward Titusville. Well, trying to anyway. The timing from Dolbow Island, where we spent the night after making a 10+22 / 45.2 nm run from Bulkhead Creek, meant having the anchor on board just as the sun broke the horizon. That was the only way to clear Jekyll Creek before the outgoing tide drained most of the water out of it. I am not a big fan of early mornings, but the anchor was up on time and we headed off down the Mackay River.

Jekyll Creek lies on the other side of St. Simons Sound from where the Mackay River enters. Just as we approached the mouth of the river Deb came up from below with the news that there was oil in the bilge. About that same time the radio came alive with reports that visibilities in the sound and at the approach to Jekyll Creek were less than 1/4 mile in dense fog. There were also reports of boats hitting the ground while trying to bluff their way through. While we debated what we should do next Kintala ran bow-long into that same fog. St. Simon Island and an anchorage we have used before lay just ahead, making the decision to abort an easy one. For the first time since we left to go cruising, the horn was brought into play, one long blast every two minutes, as we gently poked along. Within easy ear shot, a barge was tooting long and two short, underway not making way. Not bumping into someone was high on the list of things needing done at that moment. The anchorage lay just outside of the worst of the fog, making it much easier to park the boat and drop the hook.

Once settled in, we discovered that oil wasn’t the real problem. We have been hunting down and eliminating a few oil leaks for a while now, and there was no evidence of a new one. What was new was water leaking out of the pressure relief valve on our water heater; water than ran through the engine pan, collecting up some oil as it flowed its way past our engine blankets and into the bilge. We cleaned up the mess and, until we can get a new relief valve, used a union and a couple of clamps to bypass the water heater. That joint still leaked, so for now we keep the water pressure pump “off” unless we are actually using water. While doing all that, Deb said  she smelled a touch of diesel as well, but all I smelled was normal hot engine stink. We cleaned up, closed up the engine covers, and took it easy for the rest of the evening.

The next day we pressed on, making it to Cumberland Island. This time the post flight engine check left no doubt, the engine blanket was soaked with diesel and the stink could make eyes water. I was not in a particularly good mood as we dove in to see just how badly hurt we might be. After some frustrating troubleshooting we found a pin hole in the fuel line from the lift pump to the fuel filter. I was sure that the Navy Submarine Base nearby would have the facilities necessary to make us up a new one in about 20 minutes. But even if I could afford the kind of prices the military pays for things, the gun boats prowling the base entrance suggested not trying to bang on the front door to ask. (As it turned out a missile sub pulled in an hour or so after we dropped the hook. That explained the gun boats.)

With no replacement parts within sight, we went into full backyard engineering / repair mode. JB weld, some carefully sculpted rubber pads, and a couple of worm clamps later and the hole was no more. The next day’s run to Sisters Creek in Jacksonville proved the repair water-worthy. And while poking around snugging up this and that while looking for the fuel leak, we also manage to noticeably slow the flow of oil.

Now we are riding to a mooring ball in St. Augustine. The original plan was to spend a few days here, enjoying the visit with the crew of Blowin’ In The Wind. It is a bit depressing to be here without them, so the plan is to head to Daytona in the morning. One day after that should see us in Titusville.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Heart shots...

Yesterday Kintala and Blowin' In The Wind dropped their Beaufort, SC mooring lines just as the sun was peaking over the horizon. Laughter danced across the water as the grand kids helped get their boat underway. Months after catching up with each other in Beaufort we were finally setting off to cruise together. It would not be as long a trip as we had hoped. In Titusville Blowin' In The Wind would head off for a couple of seasons of work in the Tampa area. Kintala would not be going that way. I knew that would be a hard day. We have been just shy of a single family for more than a year now. The boys? Ah, the boys and Grampy T, carving, playing Ukes, taking "wizard walks" and visiting those places only Grand Dads and Grand Sons being together get to visit. The new baby? Already walking and smiling at me. And Mia...Mia has completely stolen my heart. But that goodbye was still weeks away and I simply ignored its approach.

It was cool, almost cold, clear, with just enough wind to keep the main sails full as the ebb tide carried our tiny flotilla down the river at better than 6 knots. Our two boats where actually in the middle of the long line as we joined the parade of southbound cruisers. There may be things more fun than sailing with grandkids sailing along side on the next boat over, but I have no idea what that may be.

The last time Blowin' In The Wind crossed the Port Royal Sound they took a pretty good thrashing, so nerves were strung a little tight as we rounded red marker "246" to look East toward Africa. Four of the boats ahead of us turned, clearly taking to the outside to head south. We continued across the Sound into Skull Creek with nearly perfect timing. The tide had shifted and we were now riding a flood tide and its rising water. That same tide slowed us a bit as we crossed the Calibogue sound, then carried us on toward Fields Cut. Fields Cut is one of the thin spots along this part of the ICW. Passing through on a rising tide is always a good idea. We ghosted over a thin spot without problems, snuck through some narrow spots, and were quite pleased with just how well the day was going.

That was a thought we should never have allowed.

Just before we exited Fields Cut into the busy shipping Channel that leads to Savannah, Blowin' In The Wind called with news that their little engine was spewing oil. The nearest place to anchor was just on the other side of that shipping channel near Green 35 and, of course, a container ship was headed in the channel. There was just enough time to get both boats across. Deb tucked us as close to shore as seemed safe while I scrambled to get the anchor wet for the first time in months. A quick splash and set and we were ready to catch Blowin' In The Wind into a two ship raft up. As the lines were made fast I called the container ship by name on channel 13 to explain why we were where we were. The Captain of Ever Lucky was as professional as could be, slowing and moving as far from us as possible as soon as he heard that we were rendering aid to a boat in trouble. He then laughed a bit as he explained that he would have been far less accommodating had we been a couple of goober weekenders dropping a hook for lunch in such an inopportune place. His giant ship passed giving us only a gentle rocking. Of course, just a few minutes later, a power yacht blew past at full honk, setting our two boats to banging into each other and nearly tossing one of the grand kids over the side. (In my perfect world there would only be full displacement hulls. Its a freaking boat, just what is your hurry? If you want to go fast, put some skin in the game and buy a motorcycle.)

Blowin' In The Wind's engine was a mess. Most of the oil that had been inside was now dripping off this and pooling in that. There was so much oil that is was hard to see just where it had escaped, and nothing showed on the dip stick. A second container ship passed by, also going as slow as he could but still way too close for comfort. I sopped up all the oil I could, filled the engine with fresh oil, and watched as my grand son fired up the engine. The leak still wasn't obvious so I insisted we get the boats out of there and anchor someplace safer. They dropped away while I went forward to haul the anchor and chain out of 25 feet of water.

The offending pump, cleaned up
A few minutes later Daughter Eldest called to say that they were spewing oil once again, and she had spotted the breach. Clearly their little engine was running on borrowed time. The nearest safe anchorage was up a place called St. Augustine Creek, just a mile or so away. We pulled in, rafted up again, and started digging. It appears that the water pump seals have failed, engine oil and raw water spraying out of a weep hole. I am a moderately talented mechanic, but we were miles away from anyplace where parts were available, and I am not that talented.

We made arrangements to get Blowin' In The Wind safely moved to a boatyard were repairs could be made. Sadly, Kintala can't hang around and wait. We need to be in Titusville ASAP for a different commitment. The goodbye I have been dreading came unannounced. Brave hugs were exchanged as Sea Tow set the lines to pull my family away. Then the lines that have been holding Blowin' In The Wind and Kintala together for well over a year were finally, painfully tossed. As they were making fast to the dock we passed by heading south to an anchorage a few miles further along, exchanging final goodbye's and "I love you"s.

I hope to be able to breathe normally again by morning.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Time to vote...

So Deb and I voted today via mail. I’m not going to say anything about how we voted, though those who know me can probably guess. I like voting by mail, it allows time to research each person and each item on the ballot as I go down the ballot. Something nearly impossible to do at an actual voting place.

It was possible to look up the resume and political history of each candidate even, (in some cases) to follow the electronic footprints of their social media contributions. It seems the most prudent thing to do is try to find words written by the candidates themselves, though a small dose of skepticism is warranted. What their opponents might say about them also has some merit, but must be taken with a huge helping of skepticism. Often what they say about their opponent says quite a bit about the kind of person they are themselves, and what kind of representative they might be.

In the case of voting to leave judges and justices in office, it helps to see on which side of an argument they often fall. Just who appointed them to the bench in the first place is also a pretty good indication of where their allegiances lie. Finding some of that information takes a bit of digging.

The real benefit of voting by mail comes when considering the list of state constitutional amendments. Those often seem to be deliberately written so as to be as confusing as possible. It is a puzzle why that would be. People voting by “giving it their best guess” would be as likely to get it wrong (according to the authors of the amendment) as to get it right. Wading through the verbiage to get to the real intent of the amendment can be a daunting task.

An additional problem is that many of the amendments bundled several, completely unrelated issues, into one vote. Voting for an issue for which one approves often means also voting for a different issue on which one is vehemently opposed. Balancing the “what I would like to see” from the “what I really don’t want to see” against each other can often lead to a near draw. In at least one case on this last ballot I voted against an amendment just because it was a near draw. First, do no harm. (Or, as in the case of a lot of voting these days, do no MORE harm.)

Of course anyone can do the same amount of research before going to a polling place, and all of us should. But the daily rush of normal living sometimes makes it hard to set aside the time to do so. It helps me to have ballot, black (or blue) pen in hand, access to information, and all the time I need to poke around as much as I want on each issue or candidate. I suspect that is about the only way democracy has much of a chance.

So our votes are cast and I can go back to not paying a lot of attention to the daily shenanigans of those in power. On the one hand I consider voting to be a near moral imperative. It is about the only way we have to voice an opinion that matters. On the other hand I’m not convinced it actually makes any difference, particularly on the national level. There is nothing about the electoral college, the design of the Senate, or the gerrymandering of the Congress, that is the least bit democratic. The majority opinion as regards those institutions is proving to be utterly inconsequential.  So, though I think we should all vote, and approach the privilege with near reverence, I also ponder the accuracy of the words once shared by the late comedian George Carlin.

“Everybody complains about politicians...”

But where do people think these politicians come from? They don’t fall out of the sky. They don’t pass through a membrane from another reality.

No, they come from American homes, American families, American schools, American churches, American businesses, and they’re elected by American voters. This is the best we can do, folks. It’s what our system produces...

So I vote, but with huge helping of skepticism thrown in. My deepest suspicion is that riding along on an empire in decline might be a bumpy passage, and there seems little chance that we can change the course of that history at this late date. But a minute chance of changing course is still better than no chance at all. Voting by mail makes it possible to do so as carefully and responsibly as I can.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Two Books...One Boat...Two Views...One Mind

The blog has been uncharacteristically quiet for the last couple of months.  Part of the reason is that we've been sitting still in Beaufort, SC and there hasn't been much to talk about. But the real reason is that our writing energies have been going new books.

It's an odd thing that each of us were writing new books separately and yet, somehow, managed to finish them both at the same time. As any of you who have written anything of any length know, those last few weeks before release are a flurry of edits and re-reads to the point that you have difficulty even focusing on the words. With each edit you think you're done, only to have a proofreader find yet another typo or formatting mistake. At long last, though, both are finished. And that brought up a whole new issue – how to release two such different books at the same time.

 I posed the question to a Women Who Sail writing group that I belong to, some of whom suggested that we should stagger the releases to allow for sufficient attention to each one. Great idea, but we wanted both books out in time for the Christmas gift giving season so there's insufficient time to do separate releases. Then there was the idea of setting up a marketing contest of sorts, allowing our readers to choose which book they wanted released first. After thinking about it, I realized I didn't want to pit our works against each other in such a way.

The longer I mused, the more I realized that the situation embodied our relationship. One of the reasons we have succeeded in cruising for so long is that we get along really well. We are a melded unit of nearly fifty years, with the kind of relationship that allows complex thoughts to pass between us with just a glance and a smile. Though we share that kind of bond, we also allow each other space to be independent characters, are happy in our own skins, and content to sit, sometimes for days, in total silence in each other's company. The new books are our individual reflections on two different subjects, reflections of two different individuals who happen to share a small boat as a living space.

Tj's is a short little book reflecting on the ways in which learning how to play a ukulele at age 63 changed his perception of the world around him. The uke was gifted to him by four of our grand kids nearly a year ago, and the book was birthed by far-ranging philosophical discussions between Tj and our eldest daughter about those changes. She – the poet writer – encouraged him to write them down, and Learning From a Uke – a small book for a small instrument was born. It's a short little book, thought-provoking and honest, that touches a bit on the difficulties of aging gracefully and the joys of learning something new at any age. It's one you can pick up over and over, each time finding something new.

My book came about because I was cleaning out and sorting the thousands of photos in my computer pictures folder the day after having another of the discussions we often have with new cruisers about how to get started. As I browsed through the photos, remembering those years of preparation prior to embarking on this adventure, many of them reminded me how easy it was to get totally wrapped up in the “how” of accomplishing it, and to lose sight of why I was doing it in the first place. I began to gather those in a folder and to write a short bit about each one. Being a writer, I wanted to capture in words the essence of this lifestyle that the photos captured so well. The Essence is a collection of those photos and vignettes that touch on what it means to me to live this life with the sea.

Both books are available in Kindle and print format; the print formats make for great holiday gifts. If you do read them, please leave a review on Amazon. It can't be emphasized enough how important reviews are to self-published writers. We also love to hear from our readers, so feedback is greatly appreciated – it's the way we learn to write better, and learning something new to improve yourself is always a welcome thing.

We hope that you take from them as much as they have given us in the writing of them.

Reflections on another hurricane

As has become our habit, we decided to scamper away from the oncoming Michael a bit earlier than originally planned. Even a modest ramp up in winds, consistent 20s with guests into the 30s, would rough up the waters between the boats and the dock more than we should risk with the little ones. In addition, unloading the boats in heavy rain is just more work with everything being slippery and heavy; not helpful when the Dink is already bouncing and banging around in the wind and waves. So we bailed a day early, still had bouncy rides back and forth from boat to dock, and got a little wet.

Settling into the hotel always comes with sigh of relief. Then it becomes a waiting game, fidgeting as the hours tick by while wondering just how hard a turn our lives are about to make. A turn over which, in the physical sense of a storm’s path, one has absolutely no control or influence. It is good exercise for my everyday, working philosophy; which includes accepting that most things that steer a life are outside of my control and are, therefore, not my responsibility. My responsibility is making sound and intelligent choices in the face of those things. Do that and be content with the outcome, whatever it might be, for that is the best anyone can do.

There was always a reasonable chance we would come through unscathed and, though we haven’t been back to the boats yet, there is no reason to think otherwise. The storm is now north and west of Beaufort, not even disturbing our sleep as it passed in the night.

Tomorrow we will return to the boats and go about returning to what is normal living for us. Many discussions will follow as to what to do next, where to go, and for how long. Dodging bullets is expensive, though not near as expensive as catching one. Establishing an income stream of some sort will be necessary for a while. Sorting that out will have much to do with the direction Kintala’s bow points over the coming months. Cruising, for us, was never about retiring onto a boat. So far it hasn’t been about just learning to live on a boat either. Instead it has been a matter of learning to make a living while living on a boat. We are working on it.

It would be silly, not to mention an act of awesome arrogance, to think a hurricane was the least influenced by anything any individual might do. Yet having to shrug off a little bit of “survivor’s guilt” still comes with the event. This makes the third time in 13 months that utter disaster has passed within a whisker, disrupting millions of lives, yet leaving ours basically untouched. Somewhere, deep inside, a soul knows that just isn’t fair, that it is pure luck to land in the “unharmed” side of the equation. People far more deserving of a stroke of luck landed on the opposite side; people with fewer choices, fewer resources, alone, now destitute, facing the bleakest of futures. There is something wrong with a heart that isn’t touched by that, that isn’t left puzzled, that doesn’t wonder “why?”

Then again, Daughter Eldest and family that includes four young kids, are among those who deserve a bit of luck. Maybe Deb and I didn’t catch an undeserved break so much as ride along in their bubble of fortune.

Anyway, it is time to get back outside. Three days in a hotel, sitting with walls on every side, a roof overhead, and a floor that doesn’t move with the wind and the water, is okay. The air conditioning is nice, the staff here a delight, snuggling under the covers at night a treat. We paid for three nights, nonrefundable (based on the forecasts) and so will make the best of our little vacation. But, even after a vacation, it is always good to get back home.

Our home is more exposed to Mother Earth than most. And it is clear She doesn’t much care about human kind one way or the other. Some might even suggest she is getting a bit testy over our collective choices, displeased with our stewardship, and short-tempered with our irresponsibility and short-sighted greed. I can’t say, and can’t change it anyway. What I do know is that three of the most powerful storms in US history have now passed close by and, no matter what path they took or what else they might have done, some of the people I love most in the world were out of their direct reach. That is the world we live in, the home that we have chosen. We live in it the best that we can.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Weather weary...

Knowing that, come morning, decisions will have to be made in the face yet another hurricane, makes for a poor night's sleep. Come morning we made a run to the dock, and were surprised by the best rainbow we have seen in a long while. We took it as a reminder that making the best decisions we can is all we can do, and the rest will unfold as it will.

It looks like Hurricane Michael is going to give Beaufort a solid thumping, putting the boats in the north east quadrant of the storm as it passes early Thursday morning. The leading edge of tropical force winds is due to arrive Wednesday mid day and last through Thursday, maybe into Friday. Hours of winds up to 70 mph is a long, uncomfortable, scary ride on a boat riding to a mooring ball for any adult. For kids it would be downright terrifying.

So here we go again. This time we will be staying in Beaufort, heading for a local hotel rather than renting a car and running inland. That will help ease the debris field that is our bank statement every time we have to do this, "this" being the third time in 18 months. Which is why we are "weather weary." Prepping for storms and evacuating is a high workload, high stress decision. Always, in the back of your mind, is the thought, "Is this the one that tags us?"  Carrying that thought around is a load, all by itself.

Michael will (Should?) pass inland of us, which is another reason for not running too far. We would have to put a lot of miles in to avoid riding out a tropical storm in a hotel. We can do that just as easy here. Besides,  I'm not sure we have enough of a head start.Thirty-six hours ago the debate was over a low pressure area that might develop tropical characteristics. This morning the debate is over how major this major storm is going to be, with just two days warning for friends in the great bend area. By the end of the day it seemed clear that Michael is going to be a big deal indeed.

We have taken 60 knot winds without damage several times before, but are doing a near full boat prep anyway.  Clearing the decks and tying the main sail down to within an inch of its life only took a couple of hours. The new mooring lines are still on, and we will add the safety lines on top of those. It helps that, in a fit of mild paranoia, we didn’t put the head sails back up after Florence. There wasn’t any reason to think that Mother Earth was done cooking up hurricanes this season. Worse, She appears to have a recipe for microwaving up a storm in just a few days, and they have been consistently big, powerful, and serious. The only good news is that Michael will have to plow its way across a good chunk of land before it gets here, so there is reason to think all will be well after a couple of days in a hotel. But staying on the boat means betting one's life on that being true, and I'm not that much of a gambler.

Big storms do big damage. This one doesn’t have to shift very far to the east to be a serious, serious threat to the entire south east coast of the US. So this will be another week of work and worry. Truth to tell, one of these days, some careful thought will have to be given to just how viable living on a boat in the south east US might be. But for now, all we can do is make the best short term decisions that we can based on what we know at this moment. That means getting to work to prep that boat and getting people we love into a stout shelter to ride out the storm. It is the best we can do to insure there are more rainbows in our future.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Things I used to do

We are back to the “living in a mooring field” routine. We have just about decided, whenever Kintala runs out of water, to drop the mooring lines and head to the dock. It doesn’t take any more time than repeated runs in the Ding hauling water jugs, is easier on the back, warms up the oil in the Beast, and wakes all the accessory gear out of its slumber to make sure it all still works. It is also some practice for one part of running a boat where I could use some practice, getting on and off a dock. Not serious practice since the fuel dock here is really easy, an open face dock that sits parallel to the current flow. The only trick is to wait for something other than peak for that current, and not go in on a weekend. I’m pretty shy about the current, it can peak out at near two knots here, and I don’t want to push my luck.

It didn’t used to be that way.

Once upon a long, long time ago Deb and I owned a little Cessna 150 airplane. It was equipped with an engine having 50% more horsepower than the original, and modified wings. All which added up to impressive short take off and landing capabilities. (STOL in pilot speak.) It could also fly at very low indicated airspeeds. (And do a pretty decent loop and barrel roll, though don’t tell anyone I told you that.) One day I didn’t have much to do and the wind at the airport where we based was howling directly down the runway at something like 40 knots. So I went out to fly, doing repeated take offs and landings just for fun. (Touch and goes in pilot speak.)

Normally one flies a rectangle pattern around an airport. But that day launching into that wind was almost a vertical take off. Accelerating to near cruise speed while in a slight climb would bring the far end of the runway underneath.  Then the 150 could be slowed and flown at a low enough airspeed for it to drift backward down the runway at about 20 knots, still nose into the wind and under full control. When the approach end of the runway passed below, putting the nose down and accelerating would get the wheels over the runway, then, if the power was played just right, they would touch down and barely spin. I don’t recall having managed a perfect hover landing, but I got pretty close. It was a hoot. But now I can’t imagine what I was thinking or why I would try such a thing. And yes (for those who know a bit about little airplanes and big winds) taxiing to the runway and then back to the hanger was, by far, the most difficult part of the flight. Forty knots worth of wind is enough to put a 150 on its back if one taxis without paying attention.

These days I would not even try to bring Kintala to a dock in a 3 knot current, even with a clear approach path. It should work. Drive up close at a shallow angle, use the Beast just enough to equal the boat speed to the current, and hand a line over without comment. But back in my Cessna 150 days I was too young to know better, too sure of myself to think of all the things that could have gone wrong, and was a far better airplane driver (then) than I am boat pilot (now).

We’ll wait to near slack current to go fill the water tanks.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Too much TV

It was 7 nights on the run, staying in 4 different hotels, before we were back onboard Kintala. For all practical purposes Florence never made an appearance in Beaufort. A day or so of rain and wind, less than usually comes with a batch of thunderstorms, was about it. As for all of the work prepping the boats, and the expense of being on the road for a week, we have not a single complaint. The best anyone can do is make decisions based on what is known at that moment. We came through a close brush with a hurricane without a scratch…again. No matter what the storm might have done, we were never in a position where it could threaten anything but the boats. And boats can be replaced.

Even the boat mascot, Bean had his bag packed
Florence, in fact, jostled me out of a bit of a funk when it came to keeping up with Kintala’s maintenance needs. When sitting like this it takes some discipline to keep things ship shape and ready for action. Putting things back together after the storm has gotten me back in the swing of spending part of every day just keeping up. Deb did a bunch of repair work on the dodger before it went up. I cleaned places that have long been hidden, chased petty corrosion back into its corners, worked on some minor modifications, and addressed shoddy looking lines. There is always something that needs done on a boat. Setting aside a few hours every day to keep up seems reasonable.Ten to two, most days…we’ll see.

Once the boats are prepped and the rental car loaded, there isn’t much to do when running from a hurricane. Drive a few hours, carry some bags up to a room, and wait. Hotels with pools are good when there are little ones around. Unfortunately about half the group, including Deb, is now struggling with ear infections. Food is always an issue. The best description I can find for most restaurant food is “mundane” and “expensive.” We tend to eat sandwiches in the room for dinner, scarfing whatever is edible at the hotel breakfast in the morning. It being hard to concentrate on serious reading or writing when a hurricane lurks nearby, TV becomes a major distraction to help get through the day, particularly when one doesn’t watch TV in normal life.

The roads were pretty empty because we left early this time.
It was a weird week for watching TV. I don’t think most news is “fake,” but it is getting surreal. The hurricane hysterics of TWC were entertaining.  I was running from the storm with, for a while, everything I own at risk. I wasn’t near as cranked up about it as was Jim and crew. All they really had to say was “A big assed hurricane is coming. If you can, get the hell out of the way. If you can’t, good luck.”

That would have covered about 99% of the “reporting.” The rest was put out there just to keep people tuned in to watch the commercials. Though I did enjoy the bit of flying through the storm on a Hurricane Hunter…the first time I saw it. After a while we switched away from TWC and found the storm overage on other news channels to be just as good, and not quite as cartoonish.

Which is how we became privy to the big political news of the week. All they really had to say was, “Paul Manafort, onetime Campaign Chair for the Trump organization, pled guilty to multiple federal and state crimes. Here is the list. He has agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department in the hopes of not spending the rest of his life in jail. What happens next is anyone’s guess. When it happens, we’ll let you know.”

But, of course, they couldn't let it rest at that. Hours were filled with expert lawyers, the opinions of the various talking heads, and "panels" debating what would happen next. It was just like TWC's hurricane "news," put out there to keep me watching the commercials. Since I didn’t have much else to do, except watch the hurricane and swim with the kids, that actually worked. I hung around to see what they had to say. But watching the fill didn’t teach me anything about Mr. Trump and his administration I didn't already know.

Speaking of commercials, late one night I was watching a movie. A few scenes would be played, followed by 20 commercials (yes, I counted). A few more scenes, than 20 more commercials, mostly the same as before but in a slightly different order. The movie wasn’t that interesting, so I turned it off. Whatever the advertisers were paying to air those commercials was wasted money on me. I don’t remember a word of it or a single item being pitched. And I saw the commercials twice.

Back to the boats, both completely unharmed.

Fortunately just one week of TV was all that was needed to wait out the storm and get back to living on the mooring. I'm really not sure why people still watch TV, but it is still a free country and they can do what they like. The good news is I have a lot to do to keep me busy. The bad news is the National Hurricane Center is already watching another system, and early indications are that it could well be heading this way. I don't need to be THAT busy.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Tales from the refugee road…

Life would be a whole lot easier if hurricanes would make up their minds earlier, then let all the social media outlets know what’s going on. Our little family caravan has been in three different hotels the last three nights, scooting along hither and yon based on where the latest guess of where Florence will dump the huge load of water she has dragged across the Atlantic these last couple of weeks. We didn’t have a reservation at the first hotel we stopped at in Augusta, GA; having left a half day early to be on the leading edge of the refugee wave. We know what it's like to worry about the gas gauge nudging empty, crawling along with thousands of others on bumper to bumper four-lane highways, short tempers and crazy people in the driver’s seats. Once in a lifetime was enough.

The decision to leave early was a good call, and we landed in a nice hotel after an easy drive. But it cost well over $100 / night. The next night we moved to the hotel where we had reservations for a week, one where the cost was modest. Unfortunately, the accommodations were far more modest than the price suggested, and when the forecast put Augusta well within the flooding and tropical force winds it didn’t seem a good place to stay. There was no inside hallway so the door faced the outdoors. Even closed air, sunlight, and insects had easy access around the edges. Rain would surely just pour into the room when the weather folded, and the families would either be jammed into one small area for the duration or isolated from each other with no inside access. The windows were paper thin and not well mounted. It wasn’t hard to imagine a wind gust driving them right across the room. We decided to bail and head further inland.

The new destination was Chattanooga, about a 4 hour drive away. But the youngest member of the crew, the 8-month-old, went into full volume protest the minute we left the parking lot. She has no clue what is going on; all she knows is that her routine is upset so, so is she. She didn’t settle down even after nearly two hours on the road, Mom and baby both needed to stop. The next exit was Madison, and that’s where we landed.

This hotel has inside access, it also has a toilet that runs continuously, the phone is broken, there is no elevator to our second floor, the ice machines don’t work, there was no toilet paper on the roll or in the room, and the advertised internet connection isn’t. All ours for just shy of $100 / night after taxes and fees. Normally I would bail on such a place, but the little ones don’t really care about any of those things and they are just not up to making four moves in four days. So we will ride out the storm here.

How long that will be is still an open question. It looks like the brunt of the impact will be north and west of Beaufort, SC. There seems a pretty good chance that the boats will come through, so we will have homes when we return. Power, flooding, and road access will determine when we head back. Until then we will settle in here and make the best of it.

I was an airplane driver for decades, and put about a quarter of a million miles on motorcycles while wondering around the country. I have spent more than my share of time in hotels. There have been good ones, bad ones, and average ones uncounted. But it seems to me that, on the whole, “average” has dropped several notches in the hotel industry, while the price of “average” has gone way, way up. I would love to list names and addresses' of the hotels in question with the idea that if no one complains nothing gets fixed. But I don't have that much faith in the "customer service" side of America's economic system any more. I would love to believe that companies have some commitment to providing the best service they can at a fair price. But what I know is that their main, perhaps only, concern is how much profit they can make. I fear the cost of fixing things, if they were fixed at all, would fall on the people who work here instead. Costs to fix the facility would be found by reducing the workforce, cutting pay, cutting benefits (assuming there are any), while increasing the work load. That was my experience even in the high end world of aviation operations. I can't imagine hotel workers are fairing any better.

All and all I would much rather be on the boat. I just wish the hurricanes would cooperate a little more.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

C Sharp, not B Flat

Almost all of the forecasts suggest that the Beaufort Area is going to be in the preferred southeast quadrant of Florence, with the eye of the hurricane far enough north that tropical storm force winds will be about the worst we can expect. We were about all set to go, with the plan to pick up the cars Monday and get them mostly packed, finish up the prep work Tuesday morning, and head off. We picked up the cars and were gliding along getting things done, me in the cockpit thinking about just when I should start pulling the solar panels. It was around 3 PM, with good amps still flowing into the batteries. I wanted them stuffed full before we closed up Kintala and left her to her own devices. Deb came up from below,

“The Governor of SC just issued a mandatory evacuation order, and we are in it.”

We looked at each other for about 10 seconds, thoughts dancing back and forth between us as often happens with people who have been together for a long time. Then we shifted into full tilt boogie mode. Having shuffled out of FL a year ago, one among millions with a killer storm closing in on our heels, getting out of dodge ASAP was the new plan.

It took about 7 hours of relentless effort. At 10:30 PM the kids were buckled in and we pulled out of the parking lot, the rest of the crew of Blowin' In The Wind following in their own car.  Getting away from Beaufort by auto is mostly done on 2 lane roads, roads that were still mostly empty. It isn’t hard to imagine what they will look like over then next 48 hours, but it will be two cars less thanks to the Governor's declaration.

Hotel mirrors are infinitely fascinating.
So we sit this morning in a hotel room, watching Mother Nature do her thing out in the Atlantic, and wondering what it will mean to us. We know a lot of people are going to get hurt, a lot of others will mark Florence as a, perhaps the, major event of their lives. And the amount of physical damage is almost sure to be astonishing. When we sat through this with Irma, just a year ago, the thought was we were likely to lose everything. At the last moment the storm turned away. This time around it appears Florence will land just far enough to the north that Beaufort will seen nothing but a small storm surge and 30 knot winds.

On the one hand, I have little confidence that it will work out that way. This is a big storm and (in my humble opinion) there is way too much confidence being put into one set of models, with only passing mention being made of those models that show the eye of Florence landing further to the South. On the other hand, we had the resources necessary to move out of harm’s way, and now sit in an air conditioned hotel room, dry, comfortable, food and shelter assured for some of those we love most in the world.

There is a homeless man who lives in the waterfront park in Beaufort. We often see his bed made up on one of the swings when taking an evening stroll before heading back to Kintala for the night. I’ve talked with him a few times. His name, he told me, is “C Sharp” not “B Flat.” I didn’t get the story behind the name but, having recently taken up learning music, I had to smile. (I suspect "C-sharp not D-flat was what he meant but, he made up the name, not me.) Like most of the homeless people I have met, he clings to a fierce independence as one of the tools he needs to survive.

We didn’t see him during our hurried prep to get going. I have no idea how he will fare if Florence moves his way, but I know there are thousands of people who can’t make the choice that we did. That is enough to know that we can count ourselves as among some of the most fortunate people the world has ever known. Sure, we have made some good choices. But they were also choices that were within our reach, but were not within the reach of others.  Something Florence, and Irma before her, has taught me to never, ever, forget.

Friday, September 7, 2018

On the Run, again

It was exactly one year ago to the day that hurricane Irma turned us into weather refugees. We weren't sure when we made the run to Atlanta that there would be anything left of our cruising life when Irma was done. At the last moment she wiggled just a bit to the east and we came through unscathed. Tomorrow we will start stripping Kintala and Blowin' In the Wind, prepping for the arrival of hurricane Florence.

Florence isn't near the monster that Irma was, but all indications are she will be making landfall near here. Like Irma, a track difference of just a few tens of miles will likely tell the tale. Unlike Irma, the boats will be riding out the storms on the water. There is simply no where to run, no boat yard close enough that has room to get them hauled. We are pretty far up the Beaufort River, 10 miles in from the coast line, with trees, low hills, and marsh lands all around. It could be worse.

We will take all the precautions available to us over the next two days, pick up the cars Monday afternoon, and beat feet inland first thing Tuesday morning; with Wednesday / Thursday being the estimated time of impact. I would have liked to put another 24 hours of buffer in there given the mad rush we experienced of millions of people trying to get out of the way of Irma. But this time we are running straight inland rather than trying to get off a peninsula, and likely 50 miles would be enough to be safe. The hotel is 120 miles away.

There is, as usual, some chance that someone else will bear the brunt of the hit and we are going to a lot of effort for no real reason. The problem is that we can't know that until it is too late. So we will prep, get to safety, and see what happens.

I don't know if this is the "new normal". If it is, it needs to be part of the calculations for those thinking of living this way. Five years we have been out, and this is the third serious threat we have faced from hurricanes on the east coast. One has to wonder if sooner or later the odds just have to catch up. But I'm not sure there are any options better. Gordon basically bashed its way up the Mississippi River, surely a rough ride for at least a few "Loopers." Land dwellers have fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, mudslides, and a daily exposure to driving cars, to reach out and rattle their world. We have hurricanes.

So this weekend we will prepare. Then we will be on the run once again.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Internal Calendar

One of the things I stumble over when sitting for a long time is forgetting just how special it is to live on the water like we do. When moving, my internal calendar logs days of resting at anchor after a day’s travel, watching the sun set over a new horizon. There are days of exploring new places and other days of visiting favorite places not seen for a while. We will have flown sails, gotten on and off of docks never seen, worked navigation details, fussed over the weather, and been enchanted by the antics of wildlife. All things that are special to this life.

It is different when sitting. The internal calendar logs days we ran out of water, that we needed to provision, that the Ding needed its bottom scrubbed, and that diver came to clean the bottom of Kintala. We do all these things while underway of course, but they pass mostly noticed, just part of the traveling. When sitting they become the major event of the day.

Days sitting also amplify the feeling being vulnerable. I doubt that we are any less vulnerable sitting secure on a mooring ball than when out wandering. When out wandering it feels like we are, at least, a moving target rather than sitting ducks. It is hard to cling to the illusion that one is the “Captain of one’s fate” when one’s boat is collecting barnacles on the bottom far faster than miles in the log.

It doesn’t help that the hurricane train in the Atlantic is starting to crank up. Nothing kicks up that vulnerable feeling like having an ocean full of storms.  Hurricane Florence which, until this morning, was expected to struggle to just make hurricane status, is now a major hurricane. Even more fun? The National Hurricane Center has all but admitted they have no clue what this storm is going to do next. I extrapolated a course based on its actual (rather than forecast ) course from the last few days. Should it decide to just keep going the way it is going, which is supposedly highly unlikely, it will show up on our door step in about 10 days. There is at least one spaghetti track floating around that shows it doing exactly that. By the end of next week there looks to be a good chance there will be three named storms out there dancing around. The end of hurricane season suddenly seems like a long, long way off.

For all of that, come every evening after the sun goes down the cockpit calls. The air is warm bordering on comfortable, insect assaults are infrequent and easily ignored, dolphins often puff and snort, cavorting around the mooring field, and all is well in our watery world. That makes for a pretty good day to log on that internal calendar.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Motionless blues

It seems likely Kintala will ride out the rest of the hurricane season in Beaufort, SC. It isn’t really a plan, just the way life seems to be unfolding at the moment. There are days when I get restless to the point of distraction, but there is much to be said for being here. Blowin' In The Wind remains on the next ball over. Good friends Paul and Deb stopped by for a visit on the way to time with their own grandkids. Having just of few of the people you love most in the world nearby is far better than having none, though you are constantly reminded of those still far away. We are slowly getting around to boat projects that really need done, and there are writing projects in the works. Writing, for Deb and I, is a craft; something we do for the shear joy of word-smithing. Occasionally, we manage a project that other people appreciate, which still amazes me. On the rare occasion where the appreciation is expressed with a few shekels coming our way, well, that's okay too. Sitting leaves some time for writing.

When one is motionless like this, there is much good to be said about being tied to a dock. For the most part, the boat is as safe as it can be while still sitting in the water. Shore power is available so air conditioning is an option. Not only does it make for better sleeping at night, dry air in the boat helps in keeping an upper hand on the war of the mold. Keeping the water tanks full is easy and quick. There is often a long, hot shower just steps away, greatly easing the burden on the water tanks. And, most convenient, getting on and off the boat is almost as easy as walking through the front door of a dirt dwelling. But docks are expensive. Unlike our stays in the Tampa area, the money flow here is all one direction, out.

So we are in the mooring field. It is often just on the far side of being comfortable with the sun, heat, and humidity. Battle with the mold is, at best, a stalemate. Filling the water tanks will consume much of a day’s effort. And getting on and off the boat requires the Ding.

I don’t know much about horses and have certainly never relied on one as the primary mode of transportation. But it seems the Ding and a horse have a lot in common. The Ding needs constant care. To get going in the morning the fuel needs checked, the night’s rainfall needs pumped out, and some air will likely need pumped in. It has to be tied up whenever left to its own devices, otherwise it will wander off. Sadly, unlike a horse, it will never find its way back to the barn all by itself.

The Ding’s little motor is, at best, temperamental. I swear the thing has the equivalent of moods; best described as manic / depressive. Sometimes it starts on the first or second pull. Sometimes it doesn’t start until the last pull before you give up and start taking it apart. Sometimes it idles too fast to shift, requiring momentary use of the cut-off / safety switch to get into gear without a damage inducing “thud”. (Some really old airplanes used ignition interruption instead of a throttle, which is where the idea came from.) Sometimes it will not idle at all. And sometimes it will putter away as if it was the most well behaved engine human kind ever invented. (Okay, that doesn’t happen very often.) And when the Ding and motor need cleaned it is a smelly, dirty job.

The worst it's ever been - Stuart, FL  in 2015

In barely a month, the menagerie of critters, creatures, and botany that lurks in these waters will accumulate to where the little motor struggles, the Ding wallowing through the water like a small horse carrying a Sumo wrestler up a steep  hill. Worse, the critters are literally disassembling the Ding from below. They worm their way past the cement seams of repair and reinforcement patches, peeling them back so water leaks in and air leaks out.

I have serious concerns about the dingy davits on a lot of boats. But having them just to keep the little boat out of the water when one is on an extended stay is now on my list of “good things to have.” Kintala’s stern is far to narrow and crowded for such things. Once upon a time we tried to come up with a way to lift the Ding on a halyard every night, more out of deference to thieves than to critters. But we couldn’t come up with a system that worked very well, relying on a stout cable and hefty lock instead. We are going to give it another try lest the Ding be utterly destroyed before it is time to leave this place.

That doesn’t happen when one is on the move. The Ding stays in the water for a week or less at a time. Each time it comes up on deck in preparation for the next departure, what few critters and little slime has accumulated get wiped away, often in less than an hour. There is no damage done and we are on our way. Sometimes when we stop for a day or three, anchored in some remote place or waiting out some weather, the Ding never gets wet. Instead it is hoisted up like a breeze catcher, high enough to open the v-berth hatch while keeping the foredeck in the shade.

The Ding on its better days

Occasionally, when on the move, stops coincide with docks. For a night or two the boat will be plugged in. The water tanks will get filled regardless, the holding tank usually emptied as well. Getting off the boat is an easy step. A long, hot shower may be just steps away.

And the Ding stays safe on the deck.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Plans, and the lack thereof...

Kintala is well into her second month of riding to the same mooring ball in Beaufort, SC. This wasn’t really part of the plan when we left Tampa Bay. Then again, the only real plan we had when we left Tampa Bay was to rendezvous with Blowin’ In The Wind and keep going north. It took longer than anticipated to meet up and we didn’t really manage that until we got here, already a good bit north of where we started. And, from here, we had a plan to visit St. Louis for a couple of weeks. It was a great trip full of fun and laughter, including a day spent in a climbing gym belaying grand kids up and down a 50 foot climbing wall. How cool is that? Deb and I even made a couple of our own climbs, belaying each other. The people who run the gym went out of their way to make it a good day.

When we left Tampa Bay I had thoughts of aiming for the Chesapeake Bay.  It has been a while since we cruised those waters and I like the place. And though not perfectly safe from hurricanes, it is still far less likely to get blasted than places further south. I used to think, compared to places south, that it was cooler up there as well, And it is, for part of the year anyway. Right now spot checks of the weather suggest this summer in Baltimore has not been appreciably more bearable in the heat department than Beaufort. In fact the rumors are that the Chesapeake is a bit of a rough go at the moment. Constant rainfall, a flood of debris, and a bumper crop of biting insects have taken some of the fun out of living on the water there.

It is impossible to say what the hurricane season will turn out to be like. So far the Atlantic has been quiet. The Pacific, on the other hand, appears to running a hurricane production line at full speed. I can’t decide if that is a good omen for this coast, or a bad one. But Beaufort, SC might not be a bad place to be either way. We are miles up the river from the sound and more than 10 miles inland from the coast. We asked the people at the marina where the locals take their boats when a hurricane comes. We were told they bring them here, to this marina. Apparently they have never lost a boat off of one of the mooring balls or at the dock. Our hurricane plan might consist of nothing more than stripping the boats, adding multiple lines to secure them to the balls come what may, and getting inland another 50 miles or so. Better, perhaps, than we could do if caught flat-footed at the mouth of the Chesapeake.

Blowin' in the Wind on the ball to our stern

So maybe this is a far north as we are going to get this year. The weather is bearable and, on some days, down right pleasant. The thunderstorms have been far less threatening than those in Biscayne Bay and often come late in the afternoon. Giant air conditioning systems that cool the boats and the air, hide the sun for the worst part of the afternoon, and offer up a good night’s sleep. Surprisingly, though there are marshes all around, insects have been a non issue on the boat. Expect to get nibbled on a bit if in the park as the sun goes down, but that is about it.

One downside to this place is just how fast stuff grows on anything that sits in the water. The Ding really needs cleaned about every two weeks. I cringe at the thought of laying to an anchor and 100 feet of chain. What a mess that would be to get on board when it comes time to move on. The cost of the mooring ball is (almost) worth not having to deal with that. The good news is that the dive service that works the marina and mooring field is a first rate operation. They charge by the hour which sounds a bit scary at first. But they are honest about the time it takes to do the job right. The charge is less for those on the dock. (There is a long waiting list for a full time dock.)

Another downside is the current that flows though here, first one way, then the other, for most of the day. New and Full moon tidal ranges are impressive. If yours is a rowing dink, expect a good workout. Blowin’ In The Wind has a sailing dink. The other day Grandson Eldest and I took it out in light winds and full current. At first we made couple of hundred feet of headway against the flow. The winds eased just a bit and the best we could do was hold station. The winds eased a bit more and we needed to call the Mother Ship to tow us away from the marina docks. The Merc had its little, 3.5 horsepower hands full, pulling both boats home.\

For now we are less cruisers and more live-a-boards…again. That will likely change…again. We just don’t have a plan for when.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Does size matter - take two (Five-year Review Post #2)

Ed Note: As we complete our fifth year of full-time cruising/living aboard, we've been taking stock of a lot of things and evaluating the life. We will be doing a series of posts about it called The Five Year Review. They will be tagged as such and can be found in a sidebar list on the right.

“Go small, go simple, go now,” always seemed a pleasant little bit of mythology to me. It conveyed an idea, a sentiment, suggesting a bit of wisdom wrapped in a nice little phrase that called to the inner wanderer in all of us. Then we bought Kintala. She was the biggest boat that we thought the two of us could handle and cost as much money we could find. She is small when compared to the houses most people live in, but at the large end of the average cruising boat. There is nothing "simple" about her.

Cutter rigged, with a narrow stern, small cockpit, and companionway immune to down flooding, she was well equipped for the blue water cruising that we thought we would be doing. Unfortunately, she was not the boat she was advertised to be and we spent a lot of effort and money in the two years we had her on the lake to overcome those issues. We got her (mostly) squared away before our jobs disappeared. With few options on the table for paying the mortgage and a boat we could live on sitting at the lake, our "go" decision was a bit forced but inevitable.

Once on our way, we discovered we were not the blue water wanderers that we thought we would be, making Kintala a bit of a mismatch for our lifestyle. She is more of a sailing boat than we need, her sailing prowess compromising her liveaboard comfort.  But then there was the storm on the Albermarle sound, the storms while sitting in Oriental, Charleston, and Foxtown, the night passage from the Abaco Islands south, then a couple of years later from the Abaco Islands west, two of our trips across the Gulf Stream, and hammering our way into Tampa Bay the last time around. In each and every case I would have given my eye teeth for a boat longer, heavier, with a more capable auto-pilot, an easier-to-handle sail plan, a helm better protected from the elements, and 100 more hp. Had Kintala been an any less capable boat, there is a fair chance we would not be out here still, writing a five year review.

We have watched many “go small, go simple, go now” boats depart. They often throw off dock lines that should have been thrown away. The hulls sometimes boast body putty repairs where there should be fiberglass. Bagged out and badly repaired sails get hoisted aloft on frayed running rigging while the standing rigging is spotted with rust and hasn’t been tuned since the day it went up. Once “out here” they swing to undersized anchors on questionable rode. The outcome of such cruising attempts is nearly inevitable. The boats end up clogging any anchorage that has adequate shore access, not having moved in months or years.

Sometimes the crew remains on board because there is no other way to keep any kind of a roof over their heads. They really are nearly homeless, often living in conditions that would not pass even a cursory review by any health official on the planet. It is easy to end up struggling to get by like this. An unexpected health issue can bankrupt nearly anyone in our society. (And, really, aren’t they all unexpected?) Companies fold and expected retirement funds disappear, even those that were supposed to be “safely invested”. Sometimes those funds are hijacked by judges to pay off investors. Sometimes they are invested in the same market as 401 plans, and subject to the same economic dramas. So far as I can tell no one has a clue what is going to happen to the Social Security income my generation was promised in return for the lifetime of taxes paid. In any case, it is very easy for a fixed income to become an inadequate or nonexistent income, and to do so with very little warning. If "going now" means "going with minimum resources" it can easily lead to "going broke".

Often the “small, simply, now” boats end up abandoned. Come a good blow they are the ones that drag, rampaging through the anchorage putting everyone at risk. Some end up as piles of wreckage on an expensive bit of waterfront property, the owners of which then (quite understandably) howl in protest to any politician willing to listen. For those looking from the outside in, the “cruising community” isn’t really a group of people living an alternate lifestyle and spending a lot of time “in the Islands.” We are drifters one step away from living under a bridge.

“Go small, go simple, go now” suggests that living on a boat and exploring the world’s oceans (or even just the ICW and Islands) is something easy and safe to do. It can be (relatively) easy and mostly safe, but it doesn’t come that way naturally. Even a small cruising boat is a big piece of intricate machinery working in a hostile environment. It will take a continuous infusion of pumps and parts, knowledge and effort, to keep things ship shape and in working order. There is a ton of stuff to learn about navigation and weather, planning and provisioning. "Small" and "simple" are simply not part of the equation. All of which means that, “going now” is a really horrible idea unless “now” comes at the end of a long session of preparation, thought, hard choices, and careful preparation. Too often, “Go simple, go small, go now” turns into going under equipped, under prepared, and careless. Those who are not part of our community notice, and they are not impressed. Truth to tell, we shouldn't be either.

Of course, a large part of cruiser DNA is to not care much about what other people think. Cruising is an individual thing and the cruising community an extremely small demographic. For whatever reason, we have deliberately chosen a life that flies in the face of convention; eschewing the “cookie cutter" one size WILL fit all authoritarian dictates that we must buy a house and stuff it with consumer goods in order to be happy and productive. We live close to nature, letting the ocean and the sky set the rules we need to live by to be happy and productive. We tend to look out for each other because we know the ocean and the sky will not bother. 

But we would not be doing ourselves any harm if we presented the aura of thoughtful people deliberately choosing a challenging lifestyle that requires preparation and care. One that is focused on individual responsibility, sustainability, and living lightly but well on a planet that is covered mostly by water and is the only home the human family has ever known.

No one would ever say, “Go small, go simple, go now” to someone planning to climb a mountain. No one would give such advice to anyone planning a flight around the world, or intending to take on any major life change that entails definable and unavoidable risks. Why do we offer it as a bit of wisdom for those planning to take themselves and people that they love out to live on and explore the ocean?

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Does Size Matter? (Five Year Review Post #1)

Ed Note: As we complete our fifth year of full-time cruising/living aboard, we've been taking stock of a lot of things and evaluating the life. We will be doing a series of posts about it called The Five Year Review. They will be tagged as such and can be found in a sidebar list on the right.

When you first begin to consider the life of full-time cruising, the first thing you're likely to hear espoused is, "Go small, go now!" It has its merits, as many a dreamer has waited to go cruising in a bigger boat only to discover that either they or their traveling companion have developed health issues and they can't go at all. There's also the younger couple wishing to travel on a year sabbatical before kids, or the solo sailor taking a gap year before college who would benefit going small, cheap, and soon. Its success, in my opinion, depends largely on having a short-term designated cruising period in the plan. You can endure many less levels of comfort if you know that you're going to return to your landed, comfortable life in a year or two. When we decided to go cruising, we went all in. We sold everything and moved onto the boat with an indefinite and unspecified cruising plan. We don't fit into any of the short-term categories and, after five years of cruising and after a good cruising friend began struggling with the topic, I wanted to address this issue of "Go small, go now" for any of you who might be thinking of taking the plunge.

First of all, I realize that the phrase has become the Holy Grail of cruising circles. Its authors are well-respected in the cruising community and we benefited from their knowledge as we prepared to leave. I'm grateful for their contribution to the knowledge base but, as with any generalization, this one falls short of applying to all who desire to live on the water and ply its depths. Their mantra does apply to a very large percentage of those wanna-be cruisers, but the retiring couple who wants to coastal cruise is probably not one of them.

First, let's take a look at the typical coastal-cruising retired couple. Usually (again there are exceptions) the East Coast coastal-cruising couple travels north along the coast during the warm summer months to avoid the heat and hurricanes. The trip south is made in the fall and may involve a long stay somewhere in Florida or a trip to the Bahamas over the winter, ergo the moniker "Snow Birds." Again, there are many who do not fit any mold, but the vast majority of the retired coastal cruising couples we run into fall into three categories:

  1. Those that have a home paid for that they keep as a destination for when they quit cruising. The home is rented or is lived in by family members who care for it until the couple quits cruising and returns to the home. Large amounts of possessions are either stored in the home or in a rented storage facility.
  2. Those that are "commuter cruisers" like our friends Dave and Jan Irons on  Winterlude. They live on the boat for 6 or 7 months out of the year and live in their home the rest of the year. This group also includes folks like our friends Paul and Deb on Kelly Nichole who cruise eight or nine months of the year and spend the other months in rented apartments near their girls and grandkids. Some others like our friends Bonnie and Craig on Odin the Wanderer cruise six or seven months a year and tour the country in their RV the rest. A variation of this are our friends Robert and Rhonda of Life on the Hook who cruise during the fall/winter/spring and then take their boat back to Pensacola to a marina for the hurricane season. 
  3. Those that sell everything and move permanently onto the boat, traveling to different lattitudes throughout the year in order to dodge hurricanes and to find a comfortable temperature in which to live. That would be us.
So here's the kicker: the determining factor as to which group you may fall into is almost always decided by one thing: money.

It's an ugly fact of life (one we like to ignore) that money does in fact buy happiness to some extent, at least when it comes to full time cruising on a sailboat. Living on a severely restricted budget adds a level of stress to what can already be a stressful lifestyle change. There are many out there who say they can live comfortably on less than  $1,000 per month while cruising on a sailboat, but we are just not them. We have a very modest boat, we rarely eat out, and we rarely visit tourist attractions that cost money. We're not independently wealthy, having been forced out of our jobs in the aviation industry about two years before we had adequate funds to sustain our cruising indefinitely. As a result, we've had to stop to work along the way to replenish the cruising kitty.

Before we left in 2013 we knew that we would have to stop to work, but hoped that it would be short stints at something we really enjoyed. We had a goal to make it through to Social Security age, at which point those benefits would fund the majority of our budget and our investments would fund the balance. After a few years of cruising along with a couple unexpected medical bills and boat maintenance issues, it became painfully clear that our budget was much higher than we had estimated and that the benefits we would receive through Social Security at age 62 would not fund our life aboard. We were, in fact, going to have to wait until nearing 67 before claiming benefits. As a result, seventeen months of the five years have been spent on the dock working full time in a boat yard in Florida in the summer heat. Not exactly what we envisioned when thinking about Living the Dream.

In order to try to curb the work time, we began to look at trying to curb expenses to fit the available funds. Spending is a very personal matter, and only you can determine what you are able and willing to live with. In a sidebar of the blog we have listed links to a group of cruisers who are willing to share their cruising expenses (including ours although I'm behind on updating them) but they are merely guidelines to help you plan.

Behind our budget is the base issue that we have lived in poverty and have absolutely no desire to do so again willingly. When we first got married we were living on $1.74 an hour that I made working at a mall pet store. Our early years of marriage were a string of shared housing with friends (because none of us had enough money to afford rent by ourselves,) shared vehicles (because none of us had enough money to keep more than one of them running at any time,) and our entertainment was sitting around the one floor heater drinking hot chocolate and telling stories. Sound romantic to you? Not so much. Laying on frozen ground under a VW bus trying to get it running for work the next morning, all the while peeling tools from your frozen fingers is not something any soul on earth would volunteer for willingly. We have had an intimate relationship with poverty and simply do not wish to spend our remaining years reliving that experience. Trying to cruise on $1,000 per month feels way too close to that life.

So how does one define their personal level of comfort when preparing a budget for full-time cruising? While everyone's comfort level is different, at some point comfort greatly effects the fun to suck ratio. Too little comfort and the ratio tilts heavily to the suck side. Here are some things to think about in trying to define your comfort level. The list is in no order and is not inclusive.
  1. Food: Do you cook? Are you willing to prepare most meals onboard? Do the areas you want to cruise in  have inexpensive food that you like? If you eat out a lot, how much do you typically spend? Do the areas you want to cruise in have restaurant prices that will fit your budget?
  2. Alcohol: Do you like to drink socially? If so, you can expect your alcohol bill to increase exponentially. Cruisers are known for drinking socially and unless you either plan to curb your intake or budget for it, this area can sink you (pun intended.) Drinks in bars in a lot of cruising destinations are much more expensive than those in the US and definitely more than buying ingredients in a store and preparing them yourself. I once read a budget post on a blog where they stated that certain things weren't included in the list. Alcohol was one of them and I immediately disregarded their budget because alcohol can easily become a significant part of your budget if you drink even moderately.
  3. Communications: Phones, internet, satellite communicators...Can you do with one phone between you or do you plan on having two so you can communicate when one person goes ashore and the other remains on the boat? How much access to internet to you want? Access to free wifi, even with a booster, is a myth in many cruising locations. Passwords are often changed daily in restaurants and bars, requiring you to purchase something to get a new password (see #2.) Do you want a DeLorme InReach satellite communicator or even a sat phone so you can reach help when offshore? Do you want to be able to Skype with your grandkids on a weekly basis?
  4. Health Insurance: Ours has almost tripled since we left and has less coverage and a bigger deductible. Can you afford out-of-network medical costs? Will you want an emergency evacuation insurance policy like DAN?
  5. Boat Maintenance: Do you do all of your own work or do you hire it done? Will parts be easily available where you intend to cruise? An aside here - we do all of our own maintenance and I used to be an aviation parts manager so I know how to source parts at the best price. Still, the boat maintenance bill has been much higher than we expected. As an example, one thing we neglected to include in our estimate were bottom cleaning by a diver when we're in places that we can't do it ourselves, an average bill of $87 per month.
  6. Dockage: If you choose to spend time on the dock, plan on it being more than 50% of your monthly budget. The average along the East Coast is $2.00 per foot per night but dockage can be found in the Bahamas for $.75 per foot per night and in Miami for $4.75 per foot per night so it varies wildly. Mooring balls are anywhere between $18 a night and $250 per month on the low end, to $45 per night and $600 per month on the high side. Agreed, this is one place where going small is an advantage.
  7. Ice: If you're going to cruise in warmer climes, and you're not going to run your air conditioner on a dock, and you don't have an ice maker on board, you can either drink warm beverages or you buy ice. A lot of people don't need ice, but ice is one of the comfort items I choose not to live without. While living on a mooring ball this summer in Beaufort, SC, our ice bill is averaging $60 per month. Cold drinks are the only thing that are making it possible to endure the 105° temps.
  8. Laundry: When we're in the Bahamas I have the luxury of time to do laundry by hand. I have a really wonderful hand-crank wringer and the sun and wind dry the clothes for free. In the States, I'm going to a laundromat for the most part, and even in the Bahamas I don't do sheets by hand so I'm using a laundromat there. On the low end it's $1.75 per wash and $1.75 per dry. On the high end, it's $5.00 each in the Bahamas.
  9. Water: In the US it's usually free everywhere except for the Keys where it averages $.20 per gallon. In the Bahamas we have paid as much as a dollar a gallon. You can have a water maker for anywhere between $1500 and $5000 but fuel and maintenance (filters, pickling when not using, etc.) are not inexpensive.
  10. Fuel: How much do you want to travel? Right now the fuel is still reasonable at an average of $3.25 a gallon for diesel but we've paid almost $5.00 per gallon in the five years we've traveled. Are you comfortable rowing a dinghy to and from an anchored boat or do you plan on having an outboard that requires gasoline?
  11. Miscellaneous Supplies: One of our biggest categories. It includes the myriad of things that don't really fall into any other category: postage, shipping, printing, paper products, ziplocs, cleaners, toiletries, odd boat bits like tie wraps, tape, glues, flashlights and batteries, phone chargers, bungees, and on and on. It adds up incredibly fast. How much of it are you willing to do without?
  12. Clothes/shoes: Can you live in the same shirt and shorts for five days or do you plan on changing every day? Can you make a pair of Keens last for a year (with multiple repairs) or do you need five pairs of shoes? Do you have good foul weather gear?
  13. Safety: Will you have an EPIRB, PLB, a satellite communicator, an SSB radio, will you keep a liferaft and have it serviced every two years at $1,000-2000? Will you replace your lifejackets and activators as recommended? Will you be able to replace your flares and fire extinguishers as needed?
  14. Power: Will you need to add solar or a portable generator? How much power will you need for refrigeration and charging on your chosen comfort level?
  15. Sea sickness: Can you tolerate the additional motion of a smaller boat? Can you tolerate the slower cruising speed?
  16. And lastly, Space: Are you willing and able to live 24/7 with your cruising partner in 250 sq ft? Will you need a place to go to be by yourself?
Determining your comfort level and trying to get the best estimate of its cost is the single most important thing you will do to determine the viability of your cruising plans. While some are content to row a mile each way to shore to buy groceries or walk their dog, it's not for me. The exercise would be great, but there would be many days that a trip to shore would be prohibited by the current or waves and my ability to counter them. And reliable internet access? It's the only means I have of maintaining communications with my grandkids. Without that access, our cruising lifestyle would be very short-lived.

Does size matter? We made the decision to look at boats in the 40-44 foot range because we wanted the stability and sea-kindly ride that a boat that size offers, but we see cruisers out there in 28 foot boats that are perfectly happy. Each end of the spectrum has its advantages, but whether you're on a 42 foot or a 28 foot, where size matters is very definitely in the savings account. While successful cruising is not guaranteed by a hefty savings account, it's our experience that it eases the way. "Go small, go now" might work for some, but if we had heeded that advice, we wouldn't still be cruising today.