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.

Monday, July 9, 2018

small "g" gypsies

Blowin’ In The Wind settled onto the mooring ball next over from Kintala. Depending on which way the current is running we can sit in our cockpit and call over to Grand Kids sitting on her bow. There is pretty constant Ding traffic back and forth, and we usually end up spending a large part of each day on shore playing in the park with the kids, exploring the Library, and enjoying Beaufort. Sooner or later we will have to get back to concentrating on boat projects. Blowin’ In The Wind sat for a long time before being pressed into full time cruiser status, hiccups were to be expected. Kintala has a short list of things that broke as we came around the Keys, also to be expected.

The new city day dock, the Downtown Marina, and the mooring field in the background

Two family boats traveling together, one filled with kids, tend to draw some attention. To the curious, I have taken to describing our little band as a modern day gypsy family. We wander along with our overall plan (if you can call it that) driven by weather and the ease, or lack thereof, of living in the places we stop. We take odd jobs here and there, live off savings, generate a bit of coin from “internet income." Not a life of luxury, but one that suits us.

The Ladies Island Swing Bridge framing a full moon rise

(Should solar power and batteries ever improve to the point of carrying air conditioning suitable for a small boat, the “luxury” part will see a huge improvement!)

The label “gypsy” (small “g”) is often associated with “wanderer,” is mostly inoffensive and, in our case anyway, utterly appropriate.

For the most part people, as individuals, are curious and friendly. There is a bit of wistfulness attached to the idea of gypsies, a romanticism of being unencumbered. People like the idea of living that way in our increasingly frantic society. So, particularly with brief encounters, they tend to like people who have deliberately chosen a different path. That we are usually accompanied by three or four of the cutest grand kids on the planet (okay, just my opinion) likely doesn’t hurt.

Historically Gypsy (capital “G”) is a label not so well regarded nor inoffensive. The term is actually associated with the descendants of a single group of people who migrated from northwestern India about 1,500 years ago. Once they started to wander they never stopped. They called themselves, their culture, and their language “Romani”. To this day they are a persecuted minority in most nations, the ultimate “other” in a world where borders are the most important determiner of “who” and (sadly) “what” a person is. For some reason Italy has started an anti-Romani campaign, to the point where the government is breaking up families and taking children away from their parents.

Once in a while we bump into a little of the capital “G” attitude. Though we have heard of other cruisers getting harassed on a personal basis by an individual land dweller, our bumps come in the more impersonal form of official dictates about anchoring or shore access. (Think Miami and much of the central east coast of Florida.) At the moment about 3000 of us who use St. Brendan's Isle as our domicile, are facing a bump by the name of Chris Chambless. Mr. Chambless is a Florida Election official who is aiming to remove our voting rights because he does not approve of our lifestyle. It is possible he will succeed while being heralded by some as "protecting democracy." That this argument could eventually be expanded to deny millions of Americans currently not living inside US borders the right to vote is likely part of the plan. Will the courts, particularly this Supreme Court, go along with such a plan? If it ever gets that far I suspect they will.

Fortunately, there are so many other places like Beaufort, Oriental, Annapolis, or Fishing Bay that we can brush off the Miamis of the world with little ado. I also suspect a lot of us will figure out a way to vote in spite of Mr. Chambless and those like him. For myself, I will look for a way to continue to vote as a Floridian. I spend the better part of every year in that state, enough time that Florida law requires that both Kintala and the Ding be registered there. Because of the Electoral College votes count more in Florida than they do in some other states; at least when it comes to Presidential elections. In addition Florida politicians are often proponents of an agenda I enjoy voting against. Add those two things together and I love exercising my right to vote by voting in Florida.

All while I go about my small “g” gypsy way.


Note: here is a link to one of many articles about the Romani;

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jun/27/salvinis-italy-we-roma-fight-dignity

Here are two links to the articles about the St. Brendan's Isle issue:

https://www.passagemaker.com/trawler-news/liveaboard-voting-rights-threatened-florida

https://www.passagemaker.com/trawler-news/st-brendans-statement


Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Dare not forget

Just when I got used to being on the move, Kintala landed on a mooring ball in Beaufort S.C. with the intent to be here for a month or more. Next week Blowin’ In The Wind, currently docked a few hours south of here for a family vacation, is due to join us. There will be a week or so of doing boat projects and catching up on adventures. Then Deb and I will head to St. Louis for a couple of weeks. It has been far too long since we have seen Daughter’s Middle and Youngest, and their collective six, soon to be seven, of our grand kids. Kintala will be safe on a mooring ball with Blowin’ In The Wind for company.

Kintala in the center of the photo in the mooring field at Beaufort Downtown Marina




"Unforgettable"
We have been here a couple of days already, found a good ice cream place and an outdoor fresh market, borrowed the loaner car to get to some provisions, explored a little. There is a National Cemetery a nice walking distance from here. I find such places both compelling and sad, particularly ones with a lot of Civil War background. It is not nearly as hard as it used to be to imagine Americans killing Americans on a massive scale, which is not at all encouraging. Many of the grave markers here sport only a number. The “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” in DC is treated with the honor and respect it deserves, but it is sobering to remember that there are thousands like it all over the country.

We dare not forget them even if we don’t know their names.



A thing I found particularly encouraging is that African American Union soldiers were reinterred at the Cemetery, soldiers of the 55th Massachusetts Regiment. The soldiers were originally buried on Folly Island, South Carolina, the site of an 1863 Union winter camp. Their remains were transferred here in 1987, and they were buried with full military honors. Here. In South Carolina. And it is my thought that most South Carolinians would take pride in that fact.

Their names are also unknown.

All veterans are eligible to be buried here, and many of the graves were marked WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and Persian Gulf. Even better, the dates on many of the stones spanned 60+ years, men and women who survived their war to live a life full of families and friends.

This is a military town. Parris Island, the spiritual home of the Marines, is just down the river. Close enough that we have woken to the rumble of live fire exercises the last two mornings. Marines practice shooting, really practice shooting. There is also a Marine Corps Air Base that is home to six F/A-18 Hornet fighter-attack squadrons. They practice a lot as well. The thunder of the jets reminded me that I once flew one of the Navy’s F/A-18 flight training simulators. I have to admit that doing Mach 1.3, inverted, less than 50 feet off the ground, with the voice of “Bitchin’ Betty” repeatedly reminding me “Altitude - Altitude” was a memorable experience; even if it was a sim.

Getting good in that thing would take a lot of practice.




In any case I am looking forward to the next few weeks. This is an interesting and enjoyable town, with things to see and learn. Blowin’n In The Wind will be here soon. St. Louis beckons. And, after that, we will start figuring out this “two-family-boats-cruising” thing.

But the rows of tomb stones in Beaufort will join the ones in the Vicksburg National Cemetery, with Gettysburg, and the Vietnam War Memorial in DC, taking up residence somewhere in a quiet place in my mind.

We dare not forget.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

On Trying a New Genre

Reading is a huge part of the cruising life, at least for most cruisers I know. Tim and I each have hundreds of books in our Kindle Readers, many of which we read more than once. We're voracious readers, bad enough that my Amazon storage is nearing full. I don't often leave book reviews here, but when my friend Ellen Jacobson (of The Cynical Sailor & His Salty Sidekick blog) approached me to see if I might be interested in receiving an ARC (advanced reader copy) of her first novel, Murder at the Marina, I was happy to agree to help. I had the time, as we were just departing the boat yard where we'd been stationary for too many months to count. The next few weeks would have evenings in anchorages with a drink in the cockpit. A good book would be a bonus.

I have to admit that this is the very first “Cozy Mystery” I've ever read. I'm a pretty diehard sci-fi, techno-thriller, and spy, political, legal thriller reader. The more intense, complicated, and fast-paced, the more I enjoy it. But, like with food, I'm pretty much always willing to try something new. Having a long history with murder mysteries and zero history with cozy mysteries, I was first caught off guard by the light-hearted tone of the book. I was having trouble lining up murder with light-hearted. I stopped, went out on the internet and researched the cozy mystery genre, and began to understand the background for the story. For those of you with the same problem, here's a short excerpt from Wikepedia:

“Cozy mysteries, also referred to as “cozies”, are a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community...the detectives in such stories are nearly always amateurs, and are frequently women...dismissed by the authorities in general as nosy busybodies...the detectives in cozy mysteries are thus left free to eavesdrop, gather clues and use their native intelligence and intuitive “feel” for the social dynamics of the community to solve the crime.”

Ahhhh. Now I got it. Back to the book.

The intimate community in question is a marina. If you've never lived in a marina, you may not get this, but there is no more intimate community than a marina. When you're living in a 16-foot-wide slip and you can hear everything on the boat next to you, (not to mention seeing in the portholes that are right outside your portholes,) everyone knows everyone else's business. News travels faster than the speed of light, and rumors abound. Everyone  has an opionion about simply everything. The perfect background for a cozy mystery.

The protagonist, Mollie McGhie, has never been around boats or owned one, but her husband, dreaming of the two of them sailing away to paradise, buys her a sailboat for their anniversary. All she wanted was diamonds. All she got was a dead body on her new-to-her boat. Sensing the authorities are not as invested in resolving the murder as much as she is, she dives right in to solving the crime herself.

A parade of eccentric characters follows, from the owners of the marina who define the “opposites attract” expression, to pink-obsessed Penny Chadwick, to Ben, the pirate wanabe with the dream to sail around the world, (an example of whom can be found in every single marina,) to Mrs. Moto, the cat with much more going on behind the fur than is suspected. Mollie's inquisitiveness and persistance are a magnet for trouble, though, and soon she finds herself more invested than she wants to be.

As the story progresses, Ellen develops the characters well, combining them into a believable marina community. Mollie is intelligent, determined, not shy in the least, and more than a little quirky in her choice of professions. And did I say she loves chocolate? A lot? Her predilection for treating emergencies with healthy doses of chocolate immediately endeared her to me. Mollie's husband, Scooter, who at first glance seems kind of self-absorbed, becomes to the reader a loving husband with a dream to share something special with his “best girl.” Ben, dismissed by everyone around as a nobody, shows integrity and caring. Penny, who at first glance seems shallowly absorbed with girly pink, shows a remarkable devotion to her students. All through the book, the reader is led from false first impressions to a deeper knowing of some interesting characters. I look forward to seeing how Ellen continues to develop the characters in the next book of the series.

While the book is the first of a series featuring Mollie McGhie, the book is a complete, stand-alone story. It does not suffer from one of my pet peeves of self-published books, where each book is in reality just a chapter of a longer story forcing you to purchase many volumes to complete the read. I have also frequently put a self-published book down in the first chapter just because of the volume of typos, but Murder at the Marina had first-rate editing with flawless type setting and grammar.

Murder at the Marina is a fun read, a light-hearted look at the goings on of the typical, small marina, with characters that are fun to know. The story is full of surprises, and leaves you with a good sense of the kind of characters who choose this crazy way of life.

To buy or for more information:

Murder at the Marina on Amazon
Copyright© 2018 by Ellen Jacobson
Print ISBN 978-1-7321602-1-7
Digital ISBN 978-1-7321602-0-0
www.ellenjacobsonauthor.com