It’s just after 5AM, and I’m sitting in the cockpit, bundled up in long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and a quilt, sipping hot coffee. The many cockerels of Salinas (where cock fighting a bit of a thing, apparently) are singing their morning chorus, although the sun won’t be up for another two hours, and there’s a manatee snuffling about just outside the cockpit. I know everyone who knows me is shocked and horrified that I’m awake before dawn, given my legendary dislike of early mornings, but I feel great — largely because I collapsed into bed at 8 last night, utterly exhausted after working my ass off for days.
Since the beginning of the new year, I’ve sewn new cushion covers for all the inside cushions, replaced the galley faucet and begun painting the entire interior. Oh, and hosted a friend for a week’s visit.
It was fantastic to hang out with Kacy. The cushion covers look marvelous, even though we have to keep them covered with old sheets to protect them from spills/cat hair/cat claws, etc. The faucet is something I should have done two years ago (in my defense, I couldn’t find one that would fit two years ago…) and only took a day; it would have taken two hours but for the inevitable ONE corroded, stuck bolt that had me on my back under the sink doing sit ups for three hours trying to release it. The first coat of new paint on the interior has made a striking difference, again prompting us to ask why we didn’t do these jobs two years ago. (Oh, right, we were concentrating on CRITICAL system repairs..) But the bottom line is, I’ve been BUSY, and it’s exhausting.
Which is why, when I was talking to my friend Rachel the other day and asked with some trepidation how I felt about returning to work, you know, working all day, my immediate thought was, “Wow, that sounds nice right about now.” You know, sitting in a chair all day, interacting with smart people, using my brain for something other than trying to figure out how to remove a bolt for three hours, actually having weekends when you don’t feel guilty about not working … nice.
But it’s not just that. I had to laugh because the boat “work” is only the beginning of boat work, and the second part of my response to whether I’m worried about returning to work was that I am very willing at this point to work for 8 hours of my day in exchange for the conveniences of modern life (like, say, water that just comes from a tap without having to fetch it in jugs) and enough money not only to afford normal, small luxuries, but actually pay people to do things for me, like, say, eat a meal out to avoid the labor of making dinner. There’s a wonderful freedom of living on a boat, and lots of amazing things you get to see and do, but the perception that most people have that you’re on vacation, or not working, or living the dream, is just total crap.
In that spirit, let me list some of the things I won’t miss (and, yes, I’ll let you know what do miss later on):
- Waking up in the middle of the night worried about a storm (that wouldn’t even have woken me up an a house)
- Cooking in a tiny kitchen with a two burner stove
- Not having refrigeration/hauling ice to the boat daily if we want cold food
- Having to re-arrange the entire fridge (now a cooler) just to get one little thing out of the bottom of it
- Taking Army showers (get wet, turn off water, soap up, rinse)
- Taking showers only every other day or less
- Hauling 4 5-gallon water jugs, which weigh 40 lbs apiece, from the marina to the boat in a dinghy, every two days
- Running around covering all the cockpit cushions and closing every window every time it rains
- Vacuuming every other day to keep the filth at bay in a tiny space
- Just how dirty boat life is
- Making up my bed each night (not making it, actually taking cushions off the couch and putting sheets on, etc) and disassembling it every morning
- The pump toilet
- Calluses from pumping the toilet (I’m not kidding.)
- Stinky bilge water
- Having to remove the cat litter, laundry, washing machine and various towels from the shower before taking a shower — and put it all back afterwards
- Getting to shore and realizing I forgot my shoes
- Schlepping heavy groceries several miles on foot, loading them into a dinghy, then trying to find space for everything
- Running out of cooking fuel in the middle of a dinner, miles from anywhere with a propane refill station
- Dinghy rides to shore in the rain
- Dinghy rides to shore when it’s windy/choppy and you get sopped in salt water
- Scrubbing the bottom of the boat every month (ew!)
- Doing push-ups to get in cabinets located behind the kitchen table
- Not playing music because it gobbles computer battery, and thus energy
- Limited electricity
- Slow/limited internet access
- Constant injuries from the motion of the boat and/or physical labor
- Never-ending repairs
- Limited budget = no luxuries
- Rolly anchorages that lead to not only injuries as you slip and slide, but totally make it impossible to sleep well
- Washing clothes by hand (seriously, a week’s laundry takes most of a day)
- Fear. Fear that my house will sink, or a nearby lightening strike will take out all the electronics, or something we can’t afford to replace will break, or we’ll get injured in the middle of a passage, etc.
Of course, the sky has just turned apricot as I snuggle with my kitty, lounging in the cockpit and writing, listening to the manatees and eagle rays disturbing the pink water around me. There will be a lot I’ll miss, too.
Yep, Bangkok. Thailand. Where one night makes a hard man humble, at least, if you’re a fan of cheezy ’80s musicals.
It’s not 100% definite yet (still need to sign a contract, could still fall through, etc., etc.), but basically I have an offer to consult with UNICEF (the awesome UN children’s agency) starting in February. It’s a three month gig to start, with the possibility of a year’s extension, so we’ll leave Pip here in Salinas while I do the three months, then if the job works out for a longer period, I’ll fly back here and we’ll take the boat to Annapolis and put her up for sale, then move to Bangkok again in (probably) July. It’s all rather fluid at the moment, but that’s the schedule at the moment. It changes daily, so stay tuned.
I’ll be working on a project to get finance ministries (you know, the budget guys) in the region to set aside more money to making children’s lives better. That’s the simple version, but you get the idea. I’m super excited about the project.
I’m also excited about Bangkok; when we decided to stop cruising this past summer, I had a bit of a crisis, wondering how — without the freedom afforded by a traveling home – I’d ever get the chance to really delve into some of the places on my bucket list: Tuscany, Turkey, Thailand… (Like the woman in Eat, Pray, Love, I like alliteration in my travel.) But Philip really doesn’t like this life, and I like Philip more than I like traveling, so we decided to head back toward DC and work for a couple of years while figuring out what the next adventure would be.
Then, out of the blue, comes an opportunity to move to Thailand, perhaps for 3 months, perhaps for a year and 3 months. ?Which just goes to show how important it is to remain open to opportunity. I’ve spent a lot of my life saying no to things, in order to have things I want later on. I’m really, really, really good at deferred gratification. Seriously, I was that weird little kid in second grade getting upset about an A- because I had to get straight A’s to get scholarships for college. That’s how we were able to have this big sailing adventure — we saved and scrimped and planned and learned for 10 years. And then we get out here, and it’s not working, and OMG, NOW WHAT????
For the first time in my life, I didn’t have a plan. No next step, beyond, OK, let’s start a job search and head toward the Mid-Atlantic in the spring and see what happens, maybe we’ll end up in Baltimore, or maybe not. It was liberating, and scary.
But the amazing thing is how the universe just came through on this one. If someone had offered me the opportunity to move to Bangkok and work for UNICEF four years ago, I would have declined, no matter how cool I thought the opportunity, because we had a PLAN to get on a sailboat and have great adventures. I would have missed the chance to have an amazing adventure, because I was planning an adventure.
Yoga (and Buddhism) talk a lot about non-attachment, the idea that the root of all suffering is grasping, or attachment, to people, stuff, ideas, or even just wanting things to be different than they are. Or attachment to your plans, and goals… If the cruising life has taught me anything, though, it’s how to avoid being attached to your plans and remain open to possibility. Cruisers say that plans are written in the sand at low tide, which is a goofy expression, but apt when you are living at the whims of the weather and bureaucracy and boat repairs. Over the past two years on the boat, we’ve finally learned that you don’t make plans in life, and it’s better to have big goals (like, visit cool places and be happy) rather than specific targets (like, I’m going to Colombia in September), because shit intervenes, or maybe you just realize that there are also awesome opportunities on a different path.
YESTERDAY, I learned to windsurf. It was AWESOME! Peter of Filia Maris gave me a long lesson – we covered the basics — tacking, gybing, etc., and since the wind was really light, he taught me a few freestyle tricks as well, including the 360 and helicopter.
So, yeah, I’m going to do THAT again — Too. Much. Fun. And perhaps there will be more wind next time.
Of course, I’m going to have to wait a couple of days because, after the lesson, I was fooling around on their pull-up bar and doing all sorts of flips and shit and I screwed up my back. Because I am an idiot.
LAST night there was a tremendous thunderstorm at midnight – thunder and lightening and wind, oh, my! I am normally not scared during storms; we’ve been in this spot for four months now (!!) and the anchors are well set, but since Pip is back in the States, I got a little wigged out. When there are two of us on the boat, I’m pretty confident we can handle whatever happens, but I’d be totally screwed if the anchors started dragging when I’m alone on the boat. So I popped a valium, threw the GPS and the computers in the oven (a natural faraday box – keeps electronics from being fried by a nearby lightening hit) and watched the nearby anchor lights for signs of movement, then collapsed in bed with two scared kitties at one AM. Thankfully, the storm wore out the cats, too, so they didn’t wake me up at 7AM for food like they normally do, and I got to sleep ‘til 10. W00t!
In other news, the local diesel mechanic, Jo, noticed that our engine alignment was off when he was on the boat a few months ago, and the other day he came by to fix it. Turns out the idiots at Port Annapolis Marina (the same guys who took twice as long and charged twice as much as estimated for our re-rig; didn’t tighten the jibstay enough, causing us to almost lose our rig; forgot to put the screws in the port side of the bowsprit platform, causing it to splinter in our first storm, AND crashed our boat into the dock, crushing the bowsprit platform) didn’t re-install the engine mounts correctly when they last worked on the engine, and one of the mounts was grinding metal-on-metal because the moron who replaced the bolts put both on top instead of one on the bottom for the mount to sit on. So Jo came by, and in 6 hours, not only re-aligned the engine but made two entirely new mounts — for only $265 of your earth dollars. Just so you have an idea how awesome this is, we probably would have paid that much just to have one mount created in the States. Go Jo!!
He says that we’ve been losing power because of the mis-alignment (not to mention putting the entire prop shaft at risk of snapping…) so the boat should get higher RPMs now. Double w00t!
I haven’t made much progress on the decks and hatch rebuild because it’s been raining almost every day, not all day, but the decks have to be dry for 3 days before I can caulk, so that’s been out. Instead, I finished about 500 loads of laundry (you’re welcome, Philip) and prepped the teak for the hatch for gluing. THAT was a long and nasty job, scraping off old glue, plywood and nasty caulk.
Last night, I went over to a new friend’s boat for dinner, which was nice, but the highlight of the evening was playing Uno, with people who believe that CHEATING is ok. For instance, you can try to slip a card that doesn’t match in, or place down two or more cards at once, or not draw as many as you are supposed to. Anyone who gets caught has to take two extra cards and forfeit their turn. Now, this is a really lame thing to be excited about, but it made the game too much fun, and even more evil. Of course, I was totally lame at it; I really suck at cheating. There is just something in me that insists on following the rules. But I was really good at catching people, so it all worked out.
We also, as yachties do, talked way too much about boat chores, but I learned a handy new trick I’m looking forward to trying. I’ve been trying to keep the bottom of the boat clean here, diving on the bottom about once a month — a massive task because when you sit in one place for a long time, you end up with a coral reef on the bottom of the boat. I’d been using a simple paint scraper to do the job, which takes FOREVER, but they recommended doing a little bit each day, and using a stainless steel joint taping knife, which like a scraper but about a foot wide, instead of the little 3-inch painters’ scraper I’ve been using. Totally going to buy one of those on my next trip to the store.
ONE of the hazards of ordering stuff off the interwebs is that sometimes the fact that you can’t see what you’re ordering can lead to fun surprises. Such as when we recently decided to replace our battered, tattered and dreadlocked American flag.
It’s required to fly your flag of nationality on your boat. The rule of thumb in the States is that the flag measure one inch on the fly (the horizontal) for every foot of boat length, which for us translates to about 40 inches, or 3.3 feet long. I was very excited to find, for only 40 of your earth dollars, a flag on Amazon.com made of heavy, sun-and-wind-proof material. Apparently, though, I am a total idiot, and somehow managed to order a flag that’s four feet long – on the hoist, or the vertical part. Which meant that when I pulled the behemoth out of its bag and unfolded it, I discovered to my horror that it was SIX FEET LONG. It’s big enough to serve as a bedspread, for chrissake!
Now, it’s a very pretty flag, and if we were in the States, I wouldn’t have hesitated to hoist the bugger up and fly it with pride. Abroad, however — especially in an anchorage in which we’re the only Americans around — I was afraid that everyone would see it as the prime example of rampant American patriotism and arrogance run amok. We’d already been mocked by Austrian friends because our regulation-size flag was so large compared to others’.
But given the tattered condition of the old flag, what’s a girl to do? Suck it up, brave the inevitable mocking, and hoist the thing. It looks gorgeous.
And you know what? Everyone else says so, too. So nyah, nyah.
EVER fall asleep at a slumber party and wake up the next morning with an indelible ink mustache? Well, apparently our friend Peter from Filia Maris never learned that lesson; after several sundowners and an enthusiastic fishing session that netted us two delicious red snappers caught right under the boat (with the unbeatable bait of dried out canned cat food, no less), Peter drifted off in the cockpit.
What started as an idle threat to draw a mustache with a Sharpie turned into a full facial South Pacific “tattoo” when he challenged us, “Go ahead.” His friends Harm and Hilde were happy to oblige.
I think Peter might not understand just how indelible a permanent marker can be. Can’t WAIT to see him at the potluck tonight!
Your anchor will generally hold you, so don’t sit up nights in those 35-knot gales worrying. We’ve dragged exactly twice in a year: the first time we had down only 3-1 scope (we were exhausted and got the math wrong) in mediocre holding when an unpredicted 45-knot gale blew up; Philip woke up immediately and knew we were dragging because the motion of the boat changed. The second time was in seagrass over hard coral pack in Carriacou; three other boats dragged and we ended up leaving the anchorage because we couldn’t get a good hold there.
Put out lots of scope, at least 4-5 to one in 15-20 knots, more in more wind.
Dive on your anchor and make sure it’s in; it’s easy to do, and kind of nice to jump in the water after a long sail.
Get and learn to use a stern anchor for the Eastern Caribbean – rolly anchorages are frequent, and a stern anchor keeping your bow into the swell can mean the difference between sleeping and tossing and turning (well, rocking and rolling) all night. It’s also great to be able to tuck into a beautiful, calm little spot that wouldn’t work without a stern anchor to hold you off the reef/shore/other boats.
Buoy your stern anchor: we ended up having to cast off the stern anchor in Bequia when a freak storm came out of the northwest (EH?) and turned the anchorage into an open sea with 5-foot waves; the buoy meant that we could retrieve it the next day. It’s also useful as a trip-line, letting you pull up the stern anchor (maybe; if it’s not too dug in) from the dinghy.
Mark your buoy “NOT A MOORING.” We heard lots of horror stories about folks losing their stern or main bower when some idiot in a charter boat comes by and picks it up, thinking it’s a mooring. Morons.
The boat came LOADED with tons and tons of spares, for which we are eternally grateful. We haven’t bought a screw or fastener in a year and a half, and it’s nice to know we have a spare starter motor and alternator tucked away somewhere. Sadly, though, so many of the spares were ruined (See Lesson Learned #6: Moisture) or obsolete. For example, the boat came with a Garmin chart plotter from 1998, for which charts are no longer made, a spare head unit for it, and another, older spare head unit – all fairly useless without charts, and therefore no more useful as spares than the $100 handheld GPS unit. We sold the old head units and freed up a square foot of space (which is A LOT on a boat). When you’re planning your cruise, look carefully at what you’d really need in a pinch (spare water hose in case the one to your water tank dies – YES) and what you can buy or order where you’re going. We’ve been in the Caribbean, where an Island Water World or Budget Marine (that stock pretty much everything) is rarely more than a day or two’s sail away.
Obviously, living on a boat, you expect that moisture will be a bit of an issue, but let’s just say I was rather surprised to discover that five pounds of flour, stored in its original packaging within two sealed Ziploc freezer bags, had gone moldy after 9 months. MOLDY. I didn’t know flour could mold, much less when enclosed in airtight bags. Even the unopened, airtight bag of Gatorade powder became waterlogged.
Water will get in everything. Ziploc bags, in fact, any plastic bags, are not enough to keep it out. I have several of those vacuum-pack clothes bags full of now-mildewed winter clothes. I had a Tupperware container of sugar that turned to sugar syrup, just from moisture from the air.
It’s a constant battle against the powdery white mildew that loves the interior teak on the boat, particularly the insides of cabinets.
What does work are waterproof boxes and snapware containers. And airing things out in the sun frequently. Tea tree oil helps kill mold and mildew – add 30 drops to a ½ of water in a spritzer and spray in the air and on surfaces.