Monday, December 30, 2013

It has taken a village to get us here - thank you

In the quiet between holidays, on a dock in Nassau, after a 10-day intro trip into the Exumas, and with most of our kids aboard for a visit, I am reflecting on how our new lifestyle was only possible because of all of you. 

We started the hands-on work towards our goal of cruising exactly one year ago this week.  With the preparation to stage the house and get last repairs done before listing it.  Our kids remember the huge hole in the bedroom ceiling caused by air conditioner condensate as I repaired the plaster work over the holidays.  From there we made lists and began moving out the furniture and keepsakes to storage.  Within two months we had the house staged and listed.  And two months after that we had sold it, two more months we were living downtown in an antique carriage house.  Two months after that we had driven a 45' road schooner to New England and delivered furniture and gear to our daughter in Burlington and to our summer retreat in Royalston.  And two more months we were full time liveaboards driving ourselves crazy in preparations to unhook and cruise. 

So here we are in Nassau Harbor awaiting the New Year and our second time to see Junkanoo.  The first, on Boxing Day morning, was a river of human fireworks and "Mooosic!".  The photos really don't do the spectacle justice.  And I had run my battery flat by the time the high-powered teams of Roots and Valley Boys showed up.  It is a community-wide competition involving a year of work to build the costumes and floats, many of the individual costumes weigh in at 100# and are clearly a serious physical strain to carry much less make them dance to the bands' mooosic.  Valley Boys won Round 1, but the Saxons are coming back strong we hear.

We have seen a small taste of the outer islands in the Exumas with beaches, lobsters, iguanas, and hammerhead sharks.  We have attended church at a charming very old Anglican sanctuary (think Thomas Hardy and Wessex era) with a rector who is a complete gas and clearly a positive force in his community.  We have dealt with mechanical failures, mast ascents to make repairs, sea sickness and strenuous weather.  We have not been plagued with balmy sunny skies and lounging about in swimwear (haven't had the full mainsail up since we cleared in to the Bahamas at Chubb Cay weeks ago).  And while we aren't sure of our new home, ourselves and our ship, we are getting more so with every encounter with the boundary of Adversity. 

This is what we came for, and we still wonder if we should be here, but we are here and we are doing exactly what we had hoped for, making discoveries about the world and ourselves which we didn't even know to ask the questions for. 

So as the New Year bears down on us:  thank you for all of your support as we stressed and strained, made seemingly weird decisions, walked away from easy ties to family and friends.  It was hard for you and hard for us.  So again, thank you.


Monday, December 9, 2013

First stop: Water World

We crossed the Stream on a window which started with a nice westerly but then went light and north as predicted.  Which made things pretty lumpy, even with just 5 kts of N wind against the Stream, enough so that everyone was feeling pretty green at the gills.  I don't want to even think about what a 20+ kt cold front would do.  So we lurched across under one engine and made it to Riding Rocks just at dawn and a slack tide.  Now that we know our way, we will do it again and cross in the dark.  We slide across the banks all day and saw one other boat.  We stopped in the late afternoon, just threw an anchor out in the middle of absolutely nothing.
The banks are amazing. No marine feature like it in the rest of the world that I know of. Hundreds of square miles of 15 foot deep water with just sand and some sponges.  It was like Water World - we were anchored in the middle of the Great Bahamas Banks near the Northwest Channel with *nothing* 360o around us but turquoise water. We swam and made dinner, watched the current shift from ebb to flood  (yes there are currents on this massive submerged mesa), saw no boats passing in the night. Then the next morning we set off again, but with the company of several approaching boats all trying to hit the Northwest Channel before the ebb tide current got to warring with the easterly wind there.

We cleared in at Chub (takes literally minutes and they are glad to see you since they have so little to do), fought our way across New Providence Channel into a nasty sea and a building easterly, and are now on our way east around the coast to meet a daughter in Nassau ..  but the memory of Water World will last for the rest of our lives.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Flash to bang

We are tucked in at Boot Key Harbor and preparing for the cruisers' Thanksgiving Day Potluck in a few hours.  We are all strangers who share a common bond and obligation.  Like when lightning strikes.

Two nights ago a fierce cold front bashed through here in the wee hours with many direct strikes in the harbor.  I remember one especially close strike allowed me to see through from the inside of my eyelids while trying to sleep through it.  I should have taken a clue from the unpercievable flash-to-bang time. 

We learned the next morning on the cruisers' radio net that two boats were hit, one lost their chart plotter electronics, another lost a lot more.  Somehow (in the oven?) they had saved their handheld VHF and put out a request on the net for any available assistance.  Boats all over the harbor responded with 12 volt fridges, spare parts, etc.   Others' dinghies were swamped and kayaks blown away in the corresponding torrential rain.  National Weather Service reported 40 kt gusts in the outer channel.

I thought we had escaped with just a dinghy full of rain water but last night we found our masthead anchor light (and later found our masthead navigation tri-color) were blown.  It is mercifully a modular (=$$$'s!) part and we happen to have one aboard.  But it means a trip to the very tip top of the 60' mast out in the harbor, a spooky task with which we have very little experience, to secure small screws against loosening, juggling a very expensive spare part, and trying to get the wiring joint all sealed against the weather up there.  That will will have to wait for Saturday when the weather is expected to back off a lot. 

In the meantime we are watching for our window to get Across and at least it doesn't look like it will arrive before I have a chance to get up the mast. 

So we wish you all a happy Thanskgiving, we are missing our families yet thankful ourselves for where we are and who we are with. 


Monday, November 11, 2013

Learning how little we actually need

Western culture is all about consumerist comfort.  Cruising is all about seeing the world under your own steam within a budget.  And boating adds a lot of cost to comfortable things that land-dwellers nearly take for granted.  So it boils down to how little can you take with you and still be happy enough to keep going. 

It starts with the boat.  The old saw says  "Get the smallest boat that will let you do what you want to do."  But what do you want to do, how do you know until you are Out There?  And you won't be Out There until after you have the boat, so what you are going to experience will be pre-constrained by the boat  you pick.  Many cruisers quit because their boat is just too cumbersome and troublesome.  But many never even get started becasue the boat is so small they can't comfortably live aboard it.  For us, we set some metrics ahead of time such as the boat had to have a built-in shower, not one of those hose-n-sink systems, anything less was extended camping.  But that means a watermaker to supply it, and that means a generator to power the watermaker, and that means extra diesel and spare parts, and all of that requires a larger boat to carry it all, ...   

And knowing the difference between what you need and what you are used to is a kicker, too.  Just because you like to chat with your kids and grandkids three times a day doesn't mean you need to.  And need becomes expensive, exponentially.  Coveniently (?!) there is now an enormous spectrum of options.  Chatting by phone requires a landline (ie ties you to a $100/night dock), a local cellphone ($0.80/minute and not more than 5 miles from established towns), or skype (free but ties you to <200 yds from a wifi hitspot, which are rare).  For getting completely off the beaten path radio-telephone services work literally anywhere on the Earth ($3000 radio gear and $1/min via WLO, but the connections are bad and cranky), satelite messaging like our InReach ($0.25 per txt mesage), or satelite phones ($10,000 for the gear and $2/min for the Iridium services).  So, how badly do you really need to reach out and touch people?

And it goes on from there.  How much do you need tabasco on your fried eggs?  Cheerios and fresh milk at every breakfast?  Weekly pedicures?   The presence of your favorite family antiques?  All those are possible on a boat, at some breathtakingly high costs. 

We think we have found our happy medium, we have certainly made our choices, and are about to find out where that line betwen Need and Want really lies for us... 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Dream vs Reality

The dream is becoming real.  Within two weeks we should be off the docks and underway.  So, of course, we are experiencing the reality behind the dream.  Loss of easy connection to loved ones.  Loss of ready access to communications and critical information (like weather).  Walking(sailing) away from life-time careers and colleagues.  And all those what-if-X-happens worries.  Our final trip to Texas starts today, for final visits to family, friends, and doctors.  Then .. yikes .. we are going to finally light this candle.

To paraphrase the Colonel in "Ender's Game", you are never totally ready but we think we are ready enough.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Progressive loss of recess?

When I was in the fourth grade, I came out of band class one afternoon and noticed the upper classmen (6th graders!) on the playground at their one recess of the day. Us fourth-graders had three.  I flashed on my older sister who had just started middle school and was talking about how there they got no recess at all, but did get to play a bit at lunch.  Then I thought about my dad whom I barely saw during a day because he left before dawn and returned about dark.  The pattern became instantly clear - life consisted of the progressive loss of recess. 

I railed against that principle for much of my life until I recognized the fallacy of it - I could go cruising!  And here we are, moving on to our boat and rushing around to get her ready to take to sea.  Is managing the many small-but-crucial repairs, ensuring all needed supplies and parts are aboard and accounted for, validating systems that we will need (eg SSB) are fully functional, getting my skills up to the task (how do you rig Jumar ascenders and which halyard is best to use to climb the mast?) not recess?  Certainly bobbing around a crystalline lagoon trying to decide to go spear fishing vs kayaking is recess.  But that's not the reality of the life aboard. 

The reality of life aboard is more about making your own way than it is about sunny-beaches-and-water-play.  I have an SBIR grant to complete, and the responsibility of ensuring the safety of Cerca Trova and her crew.  Weather, currents, bad holding, mechanical failures, and Murphy's Law lead to constant effort to keep the boat going and in secure situation.  Navigators talk about "staying ahead of the boat" because you have to be constantly thinking about more than the moment of Now. 

But all in all it is recess, on our own timetable, not the teachers'.  We plan to play for awhile and then return.  How long we are Out remains to be seen.  But when we return, I think we will be different people, and see the whole of life as an opportunity to take recess as we choose.   

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Prelude to the Sea

Our hiatus in New England has been charming and productive and is now running down.  We have set up our hurricane-season retreat, seen all our friends and family here, gone to all the down East sites like Gloucester, made applesauce and eaten our fill of $3.99/1b lobster, and we are getting antsy. It has dropped below 35oF twice in a week and the maples are clearly on the verge of changing.  It is time. To pack up and get to Cerca Trova.

This has been the longest we have been off the boat since we got her 2 years ago. We have had no adverse news from the skipper keeping an eye on her. And no hurricane scares. But still, what will we return to?  For one thing, a lot of work to get ready to cruise. We have been consuming all the wonderful published insights from friends on Take Two, Windtraveler, Irie, and all the other Manta owners too.  And we will be putting that to work as we dig into our 5 page To-Do list of preparations. Just today, I was making up a detailed list of items for our ditch bag.  And our Amazon wish-list has more than 100 entries of gear and supplies awaiting purchase (and we just spent the last year getting rid of all our Stuff!).  And that's only the purchasing.  The work tasks are immense as well.

One really valuable aspect of Manta catamarans is the vigorous and committed owners group that provides access to all the experience that exists with these boats, ie the current & past owners.  Sure, other production boats have owners groups.  Unlike Catalina, Hunter, etc. with thousands of boats, Manta only built 127 boats and yet the owners group is incredibly active and effective.  The most experienced gladly help the newbies with everthing from finding engine parts to sail trim.  And the newbies follow suit.  We get together in meet-ups, the next one is at Annapolis, and, thanks to Clark Haley, the tradition of Manta Migrations is up and running again.  Hope to join in this April in the Abacos.

But to do that, we have to get the boat ready, us ready, and GO! 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

.. over the brink, down the cliff, and out on the plains.

The worst part was Jennifer officially resigning from a well-paying, good-benefits, satisfying job as an expert provider in congestive heart failure care.  "What are we doing?"  But that was over in a flash and then we got so busy moving furniture, prepping kid's apartments, and pushing a 10 ton, 45-foot "road schooner", that we barely have had time to breathe, much less reflect.

The Road Schooner
The U-haul "road schooner" was loaded with the stuff for our hurricane-season hide-away in Massachusetts including our car on a trailer, and another apartment's worth of furniture and housegoods for a daughter in Vermont.  Pushing that along at traffic speed in and among the semis took both of us.  Jenifer to navigate in near-real time since it would not fit into any old gas station, and Royce driving.  We saw lots of near-miss situations with small "whipper-snapper" cars doing stupid things in front of speeding semis - imagine a ketchup packet stamped on by a large boot! - but no actual tragedies, thankfully. 

Looking out from Lookout Mountain

We got to spend a great afternoon/evening in New Orleans - sorry, what happens there stays there - and spent the night with friends on Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga.  Who knew there was such an enormous mountain in the midst of this elegant city and that so much of the Civil War pivoted on it's control?  Then, after a thousand miles of schoonering, a frantic partial unloading at our hide-away, dropping off the car trailer and a few crazy hours maneuvering large antique furniture up narrow creaky stairs, we have had a wonderful long weekend with our daughter in Vermont helping her put together her first household. 

My cousin in Vermont asked us "How's retirement?" at dinner last night.  We both looked at each other and replied nearly at the same instant "We wouldn't know, we've been working too hard!"  But now we get to find out, finally, what we have been working for so hard, for so long.  A few weeks of decompression at our hide-away to sit out the remainder of the hurricane season, and then off to Cerca Trova! 

How long do you think we'll be able to stand it before we just have to up-stakes and head for the boat?


Thursday, August 1, 2013

On the brink ..

Teetering on the brink of departure from San Antonio.  Our daughter is due in on Saturday night to load up with her share of the housegoods and then move in to Austin.  We are busy saying goodbye, trying to collect all the stuff going with us, running to see all the wonderful those-are-for-tourist things you never get to in your home town. 

It feels sort of schizophrenic, saying goodbye to so many close friends and so many people who seemed only peripheral in our lives, but turns out they were all pretty important. A little late on our part to have figured that out. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you're losing until it's almost gone?
And in limbo too.  We miss the boat and can't wait to get on the road.  We're killing time, a terrible crime, while we wait.  But we're having all kinds of fun at the same time.  Doing the Riverwalk, discovering restaurants we had heard of but never quite gotten around to going to, biking down the river into the Misison District, big brews and microbreweries. 
San Antonio is actually a pretty cool town (ha! take that Austin!)  and we will miss it here.  But the boat and the water call.  Like Tolkein's elves, having heard the seagulls, you are forever restless until you can cross west over the water ..


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Out on the street, but not on the road

The house sold two weeks ago and we are kicking back in the King William historic district, a temporary aprtment in an old carriage house.  Despite occasional and brief bouts of missing our wonderful house, we find ourselves saying things like "We'll never live in the 'burbs again!" and "Why didn't we move here sooner?!"  But the day to hit the road approaches.  We have about two more weeks here to get our affairs in order and then we're off for the open road with a load of furniture for a daughter in New England. 

We don't really want to spend summertime in south Florida.  It is beyond miserably hot and bug swarms turning the air black. But prices are low to get there and live there.  And we would be on the boat in case of threats from hurricanes.

Looking ahead, we haven't really made up our minds when to leave New England, just kind of waiting to see how it works.  I think that's just us practicing the attitude that the most dangerous thing on a boat is the calendar...    

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Paying the Piper

We are about 80% through the process of dismantling our home of 20 years. We have dreamed and worked for 10 of those years to go cruising and it's now around the corner. But right now the self-inflicted trauma of wiping out our home is pretty bad.

It is said that the price of loss is grief. That really bit down hard as we watched our dining table drive away. We all gathered there, us, grandpa, and our 4 kids, for more than a decade of family bonding and growing. Grandpa has passed and the kids are off living their lives, but that simple elegant table was the heart of our home and watching it disappear was heart-rending.

Sure, we could keep our table and our house, but not that and go cruising. When friends are joyfully amazed at our acting on the plans, saying "you're going to live The Dream!", we know the real cost of that dream and don't pay it lightly. We would never burst their bubble by explaining, but we feel it. And we now truly know that the really valuable things in life are never without high cost, in coin or another.

So we forge ahead. This week has been "a bad beat to windward" and we have seriously questioned our choices. But to not go, to back away from the adventure, when the family is already moved on to a new age and stage, would be to let that cost lose us our dream.

Stay tuned as we bump our way up to our daughters' homes with loads of house goods and then finally to Cerca Trova for good and all to cruise ...