Thursday, April 23, 2015

The World Lost a Bright Light

Photo of Kitty, posted with permission
I don't even know how to begin this post.

Today I heard the tragic news that a fellow boat mother lost her precious little girl. Off their boat. In the water. At the dock.

They found her body this morning.

I am sobbing as I type this.

She had just celebrated her fifth birthday. She and her family were going to begin their circumnavigation in the next year. One minute she was on the boat, the next she was not.

And a bright, shining star of a child has left this world forever.

And it could have been us.

It very easily could have been us.

It could have been us. It could have been us.


Just the other night Isla went running down the dock ahead of me after dark. I lost sight of her and panicked. In a split second I imagined the horrific scenario of her falling in the water. My heart was racing. The whites of my eyes alive. All this happened in a split second. "ISLA!" I screamed in that panicked pitch that every parent gets when they fear the worst for their child. "ISLA!" I yelled again, louder, my heart thumping hard in my chest as I started down the dock, frantically looking.

And suddenly my little Isla came running into view. Curls bouncing. Eyes shining. Smile beaming.

I got LUCKY.

It could have been us. It could have been Isla.

My fellow boat mom did not get so lucky. Her little girl will not be running into her arms. And my heart is beyond broken. I grieve for this family, for the tremendous pain I can only begin to imagine they are in, for the fact that one minute the world had darling Kitty, and the next she was gone. Tragedies like this don't make sense. They make you question the laws of the Universe. They make you wonder "why". And there are no answers. Just collective grief. Sharing. Talking. Crying it out with loved ones. Community. Love.

An accident. A single, terrible, horrible and tragic accident. And every parent's worst nightmare.

It's just too close to home.

I do not know this family personally, only online through blogging and various sailing groups. But it was very obvious that Kitty was a force. Beautiful, spritely, wise beyond her years and full of spunk. All this was clear in the way her mother wrote about her and evident the pictures she posted. Her images captured a child full of vivacity with a little hint of mischief and a whole lot of sweet. Kitty was deeply, deeply loved by her family. That, too, was obvious. A beacon of light. A happy little girl who brought a hell of a lot of joy to her family.

It could have been us.

What I have learned in all this is perspective. I can hold my daughters tonight. I can wake up to their smiles. I can squeeze and hug and kiss them all over. This is all that matters. Everything else is just noise.

My friend Behan's research tells me that a typical funeral in the USA costs about $10,000. But what no Google search can tell you the many OTHER costs. Like how much wage disruption can hurt a family unable to work while mourning, which the Family and Medical Leave Act won’t do much to help. How the stress of financial strain compounded on grief takes a toll on families. How they need to keep their lives normal, while coming to terms that it will never be the same. If you feel so inclined, please help if you can by contributing to the GoFundMe Page set up for the family by a close friend. Every little bit will help.

Hold your babies close tonight. Say a prayer for Kitty and her family. Light a candle for heaven's new angel. Turn on your anchor light in her honor. Don't speculate. Don't shame. Don't talk about the should'ves, would'ves or could'ves. Show empathy. Put yourself in their shoes. Send light and love out into the Universe. Be grateful. Be kind. For Kitty.

*With love for the fellow boat mamas who grieve collectively with me: Amanda, Amy, Anne, BehanCindyDiane, Karen, LaureenLaurieNica, the Victorias, and the rest. Today we dilute our wine or coffee or water with salty tears, and hold our boat kids a little closer.*

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Parenthood and Cruising: Two of The Hardest Jobs You'll Ever Love

We got away from the marina for a solid two days. That's something.

But, alas, we find ourselves back here at Nanny Cay.  Except this time, instead of greeting visitors, we are waiting on marine mechanics to help diagnose why our generator went on the fritz.

So back to "work" we go.

"I am literally fixing something every day," Scott lamented over coffee this morning, "Every. Single. Day," he punctuated. And it's true, he is. Cruising really and truly is fixing your boat in exotic locations. Sometimes the fixes are simple and more of the preventative nature, like re-sealing a slightly leaky porthole or stitching a torn sail ... other times it's more serious, like the ceasing of a major mechanical system or breakdown of something structural. These things usually require much more time and effort (which is usually synonymous with money) like the attention of a professional, time at a marina, and/or a special part flown in. These are the issues many cruisers lament. Our current conundrum is one such issue. <sigh>

For many "self-sufficient" sailboats, a generator is something of a luxury, these boats have enough solar and/or wind power to keep their batteries topped up and usually have minimal power demands to begin with. We are not that boat. We are what I like to call "cozy cruisers." Our boat is more than a vessel made to take us places, it's also our home and, as such, we like certain amenities. We enjoy our three speed fans, we prefer our water to be pressurized (and warm if we feel so inclined!), we enjoy having ice and cold drinks, we have gadgets (both personal and boat-y) that need to be charged pretty regularly, and we LOVE fresh water. Lots of it. While we have a nice little solar set up that can usually keep our batteries topped up at anchor when the sun shines unobstructed, we will almost inevitably fall behind after two or three days.  Which is when we make water. We run our generator to make precious H2O for two or three hours after which we have full water tanks, charged up appliances, and boat batteries that are fully loaded. It's a nice system that works really well for us.

Until our generator craps out, of course. Then we are kind of screwed.

Which is why we are back at the marina where I can take the girls to the beach or on a walk so Scott can work on the boat, something that is almost impossible with three little ones aboard.

Let me tell you, chasing around three small children is exhausting. My day is a blur of diaper changes, meal preparation, nursing sessions, playtime, tear wiping, hazard removal, snack-plying, soothing and near-constant tidying up. I almost never stop moving. Like any full-time, stay at home mom I have very few precious minutes to myself. When the babies sleep, I am usually cleaning, doing laundry or running an errand. If I am lucky, I have an hour or two every few days of computer time in which to blog. Don't get me wrong, I know that I am beyond blessed. Being a mom is the greatest thing in the world to me and I love it more than anything (for real) - but holy crap, it's a lot of work.

And this is where cruising and parenting are very similar: they truly are two of the hardest "jobs" you will ever love. And despite the fact that both come with more stress and responsibility than any "paying" job ever will, you will not, in fact, get paid for raising humans or keeping a sailboat afloat. Wah wah.

So how, exactly, are cruising and parenting similar you ask?

The Daily Grind
With cruising and parenting every day is, indeed, an adventure, but both require a pretty rigorous daily grind of SOP's and routines. And, believe me, it can be a grind. Both are incredibly challenging, exhausting, frustrating and sometimes you will question what the hell you are doing. Though there are a million books, blogs, and articles on the subjects - neither come with a manual and much of the information you find out there is either bogus, a matter of personal opinion or contradictory. There is no "one size fits all" approach to cruising and parenting, and we all must do what works best for our boats, situations and families.

Lack of Control
With both cruising and parenting, there is an almost complete lack of control; kids are not robots who can be programmed despite our best efforts (oh how lovely it would be to hit the "sleep through the night", "stop tantruming", or "do as you're told" buttons!) and, as cruisers, our lives are often dictated by mother nature and/or our boats (and their finicky systems!) despite our personal wishes. For a major "type A" person like myself, this one is a hard one to deal with.

Raising children and living on a cruising sailboat require a tremendous amount of responsibility. As cruisers we have to be riggers, plumbers, electricians and mechanics to keep our boats running. As parents, we must be teachers, role models, disciplinarians and supporters. Our kids' health, happiness and safety falls entirely on our shoulders. We all hope to screw up as little as possible - even though screwing up is inevitable and par for the course in both parenting and cruising. The primary goals are to keep the kids alive, raise good, happy people and keep the boat afloat and working smoothly. Pretty tall orders.

The Hours
Boats and babies will demand your attention 24/7. Both will wake you up in the middle of the night on a regular basis. Children, like boats, require a tremendous amount of attention and TLC to keep in good order. If neglected, you will pay dearly in either a mini Spencer Pratt or a derelict boat - both of which have the potential to be the bane of your existence. We do everything in our power to avoid such outcomes, and to avoid these outcomes, you've got to put in the hours. These are jobs that you can never step away from. There is no break room out here.

Like parenting, cruising is a life of extremes where a day can go from hunky-dory to "oh $*@*" in a matter of seconds. One minute you are a boss mom with three well behaved little ones at the park, the next your toddler is pitching a fit because she's mad at the wind while one twin is wandering into the street and the other is eating a cigarette butt. One minute you are a boss sailor enjoying a lovely beam reach, the next minute you blow a halyard, your autopilot craps out and all hell breaks loose. Zero to utter mayhem in the blink of an eye. For real.

The Stress
Living in tight quarters is stressful. Approaching storms are stressful. Dragging anchor in the middle of the night is stressful. Rough passages are stressful. Breaking stuff is stressful. Having sick kids is stressful. Dealing with tantrums is stressful. Three children running in different directions is stressful. Having to chose which crying infant to pick up first is stressful. You will worry incessantly about your kids getting hurt, bullied or worse. You worry regularly about your boat being holed by a floating object or catching fire. The anxiety of what could happen is ever present and must be kept at bay. This is not easy.

Taking risks and facing the unknown are regular occurrences as cruisers and parents. Sometimes you have to put trust that your boat and your kids can weather the storms thrown at them. Parenthood, like cruising, can - and will - scare the #*$& out of you daily. Both will force you to take a good, hard look at yourself. Both will show you what you are made of, and both will be glaring reminders of what you need to work on. Sometimes, you just gotta "let it go" and trust that everything will be okay. Again, not easy for someone like me.

The "Ick" Factor
Cruising and parenting are dirty jobs. Working in an engine room is messy. Changing oil is messy. Replacing a hose is messy. Dealing with snot and puke is messy. Feeding babies is messy. Injuries are messy. Changing diapers is messy. You will deal with a lot of poop, this is a fact.

Cruising, like parenthood, will test you in almost every way imaginable.

But it will be so worth it.

Because despite of all this (or possibly because of it?) there is the potential to be rewarded in ways you cannot even imagine. Cruising and parenthood will teach you about life and the world. They will make you a better, more thoughtful person. They will teach you to live in the moment and appreciate the "now". Both will enrich your life and change you forever in the most profound ways.

So we keep moving forward. We put one foot in front of the other day after day, despite the frustration, the exhaustion, the uncertainty and the seemingly never-ending task lists because we made the (very conscious) choices that brought us here. Always on the hunt for that perfect passage, that incredible beach, or that serendipitous meeting that results in a life-long friendship. Every day is a search for that deep belly baby giggle (best thing ever), the spontaneous snuggle that melts your heart (best thing ever) and the promise of being greeted by those precious, adorable smiles every morning (best thing ever) - day after day after day. It's all about the love.

And because of this, we take the good with the bad. We count our wins and learn from our losses. Because all of the cliches are true: Life is short. It goes by in an instant. Enjoy every moment. We only live once...

So we do what we can to make it count, because - at the end of the day - it's just a generator. And as frustrating as getting that damn thing working again may be, it's all part of the journey.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Grandparents, Marinas and Projects, OH MY!

My parents arrived last week which was a pretty big event around here. Isla has been excitedly telling anyone who will listen about their impeding arrival for weeks, so to have them here in the flesh made her positively bubble over with joy. Their arrival has meant a lot of things; getting spoiled by meals off the boat, extra hands to help wrangle babies, great talks over wine when the kids are asleep, and the appreciated perks of marina living.

Because our boat is pretty much maxed out on space with our family of five, we don't have room for guests to stay aboard (except for my sister, who's the best boat guest ever). As such, we have returned to our "home away from home" at the Nanny Cay Marina where my parents can enjoy their own hotel room only steps away from our boat in her slip. This beautiful marina boasts a beach, a pool, a coffee shop, two restaurants, a beach bar, a chandlery, grocery store and more - so everything we need is right here. The convenience cannot be beat, and with three small children convenience is a must. It's certainly much more pleasant than cramming four adults and three kids onto our boat at anchor, and the perks of being at a marina are wonderful: unlimited power and the ability to charge anything whenever we want (and not just while the generator is running), luxurious long, warm showers (not cold ocean showers followed by a fresh water rinse off the back of our boat), and wide, paved sidewalks on which to use our umbrella strollers (with these snappy stroller connectorswhich make two strollers one) to take the girls on walks, which they love. Of course, this all comes at a cost, $1.40 per foot per night to be exact, but for a week here and there, it's a nice change of pace.

But marina time isn't all about fun and games, it is also synonymous with work.

I have been wanting to tackle some sewing projects for a while, but nap times, bedtimes, three small children running around and inadequate space free from tiny prying hands were inhibiting my ability to get anything done. My parents' hotel room turned into the perfect work shop for me. I brought out our awesome Sailrite LZ1 sewing machine and got to work covering a cushion (1 inch foam, $42 for a 30x80 inch piece) for the twin bunk in the v-berth (with the extra I made a new mattress for Isla's bunk as well). While Haven and Mira are more than secure and happy in their cozy room, every now and then Scott and I would hear a loud thud from up there and, depending on whether or not the thud was followed by a wail, we knew it was either their legs or their heads banging.  I took care of that with a nice, fitted cushion to soften the blow. Combined with the new sheets I picked up from a local store for $10, I think their room looks bright and fun.
The sewing of the twin bunk cushion in the v-berth. The final two pics in this series show Isla's bed and her new book pouch
I then made a little book sling for Isla's bunk. While she has loads of books in the book shelf in our main salon, she didn't have any at the ready near her bed. A small pouch affixed to the wall with some industrial strength velcro (sewed onto the back of the sling and then the matching side stuck to the wall) works wonders. She now can entertain herself with books for at least 1/2 hour when she wakes up in the morning (at 6am), meaning mommy and daddy get a few more zzzzz's. That right there is a win.

I always say that boat babies don't go "out" they go "up", so in the name of baby-proofing I also sewed a simple step cover to prevent the twins from climbing up the companionway stairs into the cockpit when I'm not looking (something they are very good at!) Both are stellar climbers now so keeping their inner monkey's at bay was necessary. Simple is always better on a boat, and months ago I had the idea that a piece of canvas snapped around the bottom two steps was all we needed, and voila! It worked. Disaster: (hopefully) averted. (Note: I used my awesome Pres-N-Snap Tool for this project, if you live on a boat and plan to sew - you need this!)
No more, "Look mommy! I climbed up the stairs while you were peeing!" moments
Scott's not slacking either. We have a new thermometer to install on our engine, a leaking mast to re-seal (using Spartite), and a boat that is in desperate need of a good scrub. If there is one thing that you must know before cruising with small children, it's that the window get even the simplest projects completed is hugely reduced, if not closed entirely. Keep this nugget of information in mind if you buy a project boat thinking you can work along the way! Everything, from routine maintenance to unexpected repairs, requires much more time and planning.
Many people assume that when grandparents visit it means a big break for us - like we can kick back and just enjoy having babysitters. While the extra hands are certainly a HUGE help, it's not that easy. There is pretty much nobody we'd leave alone with all three of our kids (unless they are sleeping), but taking just one child off our hands for an hour or two is a huge relief. Often, my mom will take Isla swimming while the twins nap in the morning, leaving Scott and I a solid hour and a half to work on our respective projects. It's rare we leave anyone with the twins since to say they are a "handful" would be the understatement of the century, but yesterday I left my mom alone with Haven and Mira on the beach and when I returned thirty minutes later, she gave me the most hilarious validation ever when she said:

"Truthfully, Brittany, I don't know how you are doing this. Honest to God."

We both had a good laugh at that one and then I went straight to the bar to grab us two painkillers. If I've learned anything being a mom of three little ones, it's that a stiff afternoon cocktail really "takes the edge off." Sad, but true. Don't hate.
So, yes, it's been a busy, busy week around here and in between the general mayhem that is our daily life, we are having so much fun hitting up the beach, the pool and - yes - the bar, quite regularly. It's going to be so sad to see my mom leave (dad had to go back yesterday), but we're already looking forward to her next visit. Grandparents are the BEST.

Monday, April 06, 2015

How's It Going With Three (small) Kids on a Boat?

The other day I was interviewed by a journalist about a possible piece in a popular parenting magazine. "How's it going with three kids on a boat?" she asked, "Harder than expected? Easier?" I had to think about how to answer this - because I don't want to make it sound like living on a boat with three little ones is easy, but I also want to be truthful and say that living on the boat with our three kids is going, more or less, as we expected.

Does that mean just anyone would enjoy life on a boat with three kids? No. Definitely not.

While I'm all about telling people to "go for it" (we get lots of email from parents wanting to do the same) - I also want to be realistic. I know for a fact that our adjustment from land to sea with "three under three" would not have gone as well if we'd never lived on a boat or cruised before. Living on a boat with three little kids is NOT easy. It's a lifestyle, not a vacation.  And, luckily, we knew what we were getting into by graduating to where we are. Our cruising career has occurred in stages; first as a couple, then with one child and now with three. Each step gently and methodically prepared us for the next. Each time we adjusted accordingly.

For example, cruising as a couple (from Chicago to Trinidad) gave us confidence in all areas of boat handling and passage making. We learned about the nitty gritty stuff that acts as a slap in the face to the idealized “I live in paradise on a boat” image.  For example: the importance of watching weather, the never-ending attention to boat maintenance, the somber realization that fixing stuff is a constant and very necessary evil, and the fact that a cruising boat's systems are running, at best, at 80% at any given time. We also learned (and are still learning!) how to live 24/7 in very close quarters with your loved ones (newsflash: not easy) and what sort of gear was essential (to us) and what was unnecessary. When we brought Isla aboard (at 6 months, started cruising with her at 10 months) we had already cut our teeth on the cruising lifestyle. We then honed in on what we learned and bought a new boat with features that jived with kids and family-style coastal cruising in mind. Boat selection, fyi, is a huge factor in how easy it can be to cruise with small children and, luckily, we chose a boat that was up for the challenge.

From there it was about learning to cruise on our new boat with a baby. Things like: securing her safely, teaching her how to move about the boat properly, respecting her sleep schedule, making passages as safe and smooth as possible (hint: during nap times) and attempting to have the anchor down by bedtime. We sailed over 5,000 nautical miles with Isla (from Florida to Grenada and back up to St. Maarten) and a thousand or so of those mile were logged while I was pregnant with the twins (we cruised right up to my third trimester.) We had a lot of time to prepare and envision what life might be like with more children on board. And we learned a few things: We knew that rough passages with an infant aboard sucked. We learned that overnights while great in theory, are still super exhausting when you have to be 100% "on" at 6am with a bouncing baby the next day. So when the twins came, we knew enough to know that there was no way we were bringing them aboard until they were at least ten months old and (*hopefully*) had a more reliable "schedule." This proved wise.

Sailing with one baby also drastically changed our dynamic. We were no longer equal partners in running and maintaining the boat. While we were still very much a "team", it was more of a "divide and conquer" strategy: I was on baby duty while Scott single-handled the boat. When we learned we were pregnant with twins I knew it would be an even bigger adjustment and that I would be even less active in sailing and maintenance. If long, rough passages were hard with one baby they'd be damn near impossible with three (two arms for three babies is not enough, fyi). Because of this, we planned to cruise in an area where we never had to sail more than a few hours at a time and where we would never feel pressed to sail in rough weather to get from point A to point B: the British and US Virgin Islands. Another smart decision we made, based on experience.

Which brings us to today.

Long story short, the transition from land to sea has gone really well (minus our first day, this anchoring fiasco, and the poop incident) because our expectations were very real and based on personal experience. We knew we wouldn't be "cruising" like most people our age do. We knew we wouldn't be yucking it up at any full moon soirees and we wouldn't be socializing with the masses at potlucks and parties. We knew that our days would revolve around naps, hugely limiting our time to explore and play. We knew that sailing would be a challenge and more of a means to an end rather than a way to unwind and relax. We knew we wouldn't be traveling far or crossing oceans anytime soon. We're adjusting in small, digestible chunks. Which, for us, makes it enjoyable. The payoffs of spending so much quality time together and watching our kids thrive in this lifestyle are worth the challenges.

That said, we still face all unpleasant stuff every parent of young children does. We deal with tantrums, melt downs, blowouts, bumps, bruises, screams, fevers, fights, sleepless nights, early mornings and the never ending question of what the hell to cook (ugh). It still takes us forever to get "out the door" and simple outings require the type of preparation most people reserve for, say, a weekend camping trip. Just like any red-blooded mom, I have days where I want to throw in the towel and book a one way ticket to (drown myself in) Wine-ville, USA. We still have to discipline and we still have to create boundaries. We still educate and encourage sharing and kindness. We, too, have days where we pull our hair out and wish we had a nanny or even a simple two-hour break in which to take an uninterrupted nap. We might be in "paradise" (and, yes, the view is lovely!) but we are parenting 24/7 and it's no joke.

But, again, we were prepared for all this. We knew what we were getting into.

So how is it going?

In short: It's extreme, it's exhausting, it's exhilarating... and I totally love it.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Sailing on a Superyacht (once you remove the dollar signs, they're not that different than us)

s/v Marie and s/v Wisp neck and neck to the windward mark.
"Hi hon. Sorry, but we blew the jib and the staysail, and we had to drop them off at Nanny Cay so it looks like I won't be home until after 6pm." It was 5:30 pm, the time that Scott had assured me he'd be home to help with the dinner/bedtime madness (and it *is* madness) and to give me a little break from solo-mommyhood.  Luckily, a) I am totally okay handling the three girls on my own and b) I was already two (pretty stiff) rum cocktails in with my girlfriend, Genevieve, and all our girls (that is five if you are counting) were happily playing on our boat so this little bit of news didn't bother me in the slightest.

But, turns out, removing sails on a super yacht is no small feat. Given the fact that they weighed upwards of a thousand pounds each (the jib was two thousand pounds, to be exact), took sixteen people to flake (aka "fold"), and required the use of not one, but two fork lifts to heave into a sail loft (one crew member, fearful of the sail falling was quoted to say, "I'm getting out of here, this is not worth dying for!" which struck me as utterly hysterical), meant that Scott actually didn't get home until well after 10pm. At which point I was pretty well sauced. Being alone with three kids on a boat all day will do that to you.

After sharing drinks and swapping stories in our comparatively modest cockpit with our good friend Gonzo and the first mate, Sal, I learned a few things. Turns out, sailing a super yacht isn't all that different from sailing a "regular" yacht; they, too, constantly chase problems. They, too, break important gear at inopportune times. They, too, jury rig solutions with what is on hand. And they, just like us, begrudge and bemoan how quickly things fall into disrepair and how much effort it takes to stay on top of it all. Yes, they really are just like us in many ways. Minus the fact that they deal in millions where we deal in thousands. Which, I guess, is a pretty big difference.


Most of us cannot even fathom the dollar signs needed to bask in the joy of mega yacht ownership. I mean, the monthly internet bill alone is 20K, not to mention the nine full-time crew and their very decent salaries. It takes eight (eight!!!) solid hours to fill up with fuel which costs significantly more than most people's yearly salaries. It is not unusual to spend 13K on a week's worth of provisions and the champagne budget alone would make most of us gasp. If you want to charter this boat, you'll need a cool 200K per week to do it. Yep. Only the richest of the rich can play in this elite field and to get a glimpse into the window of this world is a rare opportunity indeed.

So when Scott was invited to race on Parsifal III, a beautiful 180 foot Perini Navi luxury super yacht, it took him about a half a second to say "yes."


The first day of racing was a complete bust considering both sails tore before the first mark and, instead of racing, they made the twenty-five mile sail to Nanny Cay, the only marina with a sail loft that claimed they could repair the sails. I think everyone was doubtful. The sails, according to Scott, were as thick and tough as rawhide.

The next day was touch and go. The sail loft said they'd drop the sails off before 7am which, again, seemed like a very aggressive (and unlikely) promise. But, sure enough, around 8am we saw a small barge chug into view - the hulking sails strapped to the roof - and so began the process of getting them back on the boat. Significantly easier than getting them off. Racing commenced.
This photo and cover photo were taken by Mark Gonzalez
A few times Isla and I dinghied out to the boat to wave daddy off as she pulled out of her slip. Our little tender was positively dwarfed by her magnitude. "Is daddy sailing on that cruise ship?" Isla would ask each time she saw it. After the final day of racing, I got all three girls into the dinghy to welcome the boys back into port. From up on deck the crew waved and yelled, much to the delight of our girls. Our buddy Gonzo cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled down, "Can you grab our crewman and take him ashore to get the tender?" At first I thought he was joking, but he wasn't and before I knew it the entire back of the boat was lowering down, exposing a giant garage of sorts. I dinghied over to what was now a full-on dock protruding from the transom, and there was Scott and his crew mate, Will. Scott grabbed the twins out of their dinghy seat by the handles of their life jackets, Will hopped into our boat for the lift ashore, and the trade was complete. No doubt this was quite the spectacle for anyone watching.


So what's it like racing on a super yacht?

Well, according to Scott, you kind of forget you are sailing. These boats are so big you don't really feel too much motion, it's like the difference between a hang glider and a 747. Our friend Eben said that, sometimes, when you would walk forward on deck, it felt very much like being on one of those moving airport walk-ways. Everything is touch button, from the sail hoisting to the jib trim. Everything is massive, from the winches to the cleats. There's a chef on board preparing pretty awesome meals and a crew of no less than twenty. Unlike racing on smaller boats where weight is a huge factor, there is no "hiking out" on a super yacht. In fact, there was a lot of milling about. But it was, without a doubt, "awesome" according to Eben and Scott.

Of course there are some things that are similar or the same to "regular" sailing; despite being fifteen feet from the water, when the boat crashes through a big wave, the deck still gets wet. When dolphins are seen, people still get giddy. When stuff goes wrong, everyone pulls together to find a solution. And when you're cruising along under full sail at a good clip, it's every bit as exhilarating.

Just like the wealthiest man in the world puts his pants on one leg at a time like you and I, a luxury yacht still catches wind to move it forward, just like any old sailboat. Sailing is sailing, after all.


That said, I'll take my 44 foot boat over a super yacht any day. Much more simple and straightforward (not to mention less expensive!). We prefer - and enjoy - having our champagne views on a beer budget. But we definitely appreciated the chance to experience a glimpse into this world first hand.
Our buddy Gonzo on the bow. Love him.
Backing into the slip, "med moor" style. A process that took no less than 30 minutes. 
The twins are getting the first taste of the "good life". If they turn out to have expensive taste, we can pin point why.
One of the outdoor dining areas.
The girls, playing on the mega yacht dock. They could've cared less about all the commotion. It was all about the crocs.
Here she is, in all her beautiful glory!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Welcome to Paradise, Please Unclog our Toilet? (Auntie Chelsea is Here!)

Nothing says "welcome to boat life" quite like being asked to plunge out a clogged head...from the water

"Ask Chelsea to keep plunging and if she see's anything coming out" Scott yelled to me from our (very clogged) aft head. I was confused. She'd jumped into the water for a swim ten minutes earlier...but...plunging? I asked Scott what he was talking about.

"Well, she was going in the water anyway, I thought while she was in there she could try plunging from the thru hull while I pump to see if we could dislodge the clog." He shrugged.

"You what?!" I gasped. I looked over the rail and sure enough, there was my sister, under water, donning a mask, a snorkel and an oversized toilet plunger.

Welcome to paradise!

She popped her head up for air, chuckled as she removed the snorkel from her mouth and smiled, "This is really disgusting" she said matter of factly before replacing the snorkel mouthpiece and diving down to try again.

Long story short, it worked. There was corn. And quinoa. Among other things. It was revolting but necessary and she was up for the job (hashtag boatlife). While there have been jokes about staph infections and pink eye, Chelsea's come out of it unscathed. Maybe stronger. She didn't even complain.

We sure know how to initiate 'em.


Having my sister here is amazing. Obviously the above story is a testament to her sheer awesomeness as a boat guest and a person. Not only do I adore her to pieces, but she is a truly wonderful aunt to our girls. She gets down and dirty with them, truly plays with them and - because she is something of a big kid herself - genuinely enjoys getting to their level and just having fun. The squeals of delight from our girls indicate the feeling is mutual. 

Having her here is also a huge help. Having spent much of her early twenties as a nanny, she doesn't miss a beat with the girls. She scoops them up when they fall, changes diapers when they need them, and is quick to distract when tantrums are threatening. She is a salve to my soul and having her here makes life approximately 45% easier. If there was any way to convince her to move aboard and live with us full time I would do it, and while she would be keen ("I love your life!"), she has her own wonderful life to live (she's an incredibly talented illustrator, in case anyone is looking) and responsibilities back in Portland, OR.

Not only did she unclog our toilet, but she came down bearing loads of "gifts". Anyone traveling to a cruising boat will undoubtedly shepherd goodies from home for the crew, and this visit was no different. She brought clothes for our growing girls (okay, some for me too), more jammies and swimsuits for Isla (we are still in the jammie stage), and a new slew of products from one of our favorite supporters, SailorBags (giveaway to come soon!). Everything down here is ridiculously expensive so utilizing visitors to bring stuff from home is necessary and cost effective.


We're already half-way through her trip (sad face) and after spending a couple days enjoying Trellis Bay, are back in Virgin Gorda for a diving excursion (she's a bonafide mermaid and free-diver after living in the Bahamas for a year). She's soaking up family love, general island awesomeness and having a blast. We're enjoying the extra hands, the awesome company and, of course, a working toilet.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Cruising with Kids: The Ugly (and Poopy)

As I wrote the title for this post I realize we aren't really cruising with kids. We are cruising with babies. Which is really, really different for obvious reasons (not to mention the fact that we have two of them!). For example, people who cruise with kids (and for the purposes of this blog I am calling a "kid" a child over three) rarely have to clean up that child's poop in their cockpit. Poop, mind you, that's been smeared - Picasso style - by the pudgy hands of the children that made them.

And so I bring you the moments when cruising with kids, er, I mean babies, isn't so awesome.

The day started normal enough. The girls stirred from their nightly slumbers sometime between 6:15 and 6:45 am, at which point Scott and I did our best to pretend not to hear them in order to snag a couple more zzzzz's. This is much easier said than done on a 44 foot boat with doors as thick as cardboard.

"Maaaaaaaaamaaa!!" Isla whined in a semi-sleepy, but very much awake voice, "I'mmmmm aaaaaaawaaAAAAAaaaake. The suuuuuun is uuuuuuuuuup" she moaned as she stretched like a cat in her bunk. "I 'm doooone sleeeeeeepin'" she punctuated, sitting up.

Because I am a) still nursing multiple times a day (exhausting in an of itself)), b) wake up at least once a night to feed the twins, and c) (according to Scott) am not a "morning" person, Scott takes breakfast duty and tries to keep the littles quiet enough until 7:30 or (if I am *really* lucky) 8 so I can "sleep in". This gesture is sweet and much appreciated, but "sleeping in" with three children under three is pretty much impossible unless you have a soundproof bunker that can be locked from the inside and/or have taken a narcotic sleeping aid. Shrieking, squawking, laughing, banging and screaming ensue in various pitches and tones on our boat and when you are not more than fifteen feet from the source of those noises, you hear them loud and clear. So usually I just lay in bed feigning sleep until I smell the heavenly aroma of caffeine wafting through our boat, at which point I consider it "safe" to go in.

After the breakfast rigamarole we dropped our mooring ball and started the upwind sail just as I was getting the twins down for their 9am nap. Sailing with three little children, mind you, is not exactly fun (kudos to those families who make long passages with more than one baby, that is so not our bag - with one baby, it was fine - more than one? No thank you). In fact, the other day during a particularly rough moment when we all took a wave of saltwater to our faces while seated on the high side I believe I said, "I love living on a boat, but I hate sailing". And, at that moment, I did. "There it is!" Scott said with a menacing, almost maniacal chuckle. Because of this, we try to sail as much as possible while the twins are sleeping in their bunk because it is infinitely easier (and more pleasant). This is, at the very most, a two hour window. Most sails these days are three or four hours, leaving at least one or two hours where I am playing "whack-a-mole" and doing nothing more than desperately plying children with snacks (vanilla wafers are cheap and seem to do the trick) and making goofy faces while singing made-up songs in attempts stave off a mutiny in the form of multiple tantrums in surround sound (aka the tenth circle of hell).

We were sailing from Cooper's Island to Trellis Bay. Scott had originally wanted to sail all the way to Virgin Gorda, but after telling me it would take about five hours I demanded that we break it up and stop half way. After exiting the harbor into the strong headwinds and rough seas, he agreed. Yes, Trellis would do. There's a fantastic little art studio there and a small grocery store where I could replenish our meager provisions (for a fortune - grocery prices here are highway robbery, but that's another post all together). By all means this sail is easy. A strong, steroid ridden arm could probably throw a baseball between the two islands but being that we had unusually powerful winds "on the nose" meant that we had to make many tacks in order to get from A to B, essentially quadrupling the distance we needed to travel to our destination.

"How much longer?" I kept asking Scott, slightly agitated knowing that the babies would be up soon.

"I don't know, look at the chart" he replied, dryly.

We weren't making very good time and there were lots of squalls on the horizon. Squalls make me nervous these days what with all the babies on board and what not.

We pulled into Trellis Bay in perfect time for lunch, which - really - is the ideal time to arrive. Lunch can be served with ease, and in an hour it's nap time again. Things were going according to plan.

I fed the babies their pasta with marinara sauce and immediately realized why they eat Kraft macaroni and cheese 90% of the time. Sauce. Was. Everywhere. In their hair, dangling off their eyelashes, on their chests and, I later discovered, even in the confines of their diapers.

"Mama, the babies are really, really messy" Isla noted as she gobbled up a spoonful of pasta. She is nothing if not astute.

I decided that instead of trying to towel them off with wet wipes, I'd just hose them off and give them a shower on the back of the boat. I stripped each baby down to their birthday suits (something they thoroughly enjoy) and went down below to get fresh clothes and diapers for them.

When I came up both babies had laid fairly large, impressively stinky poop eggs in the cockpit and both were trying their hands at finger painting with them.

"Scott!" I yelled desperately "I need you!"

He swept into action removing the babies from the crime scene while I scooped up the poops with paper towels and flung them overboard. I grabbed more paper towels and spray cleaner with bleach, frantically disinfecting the entire area with visions of eColi and pinkeye dancing through my head. It was about that time that Isla woke up prematurely from her nap declaring she had wet the bed. It was also about this time that the decent squall I'd seen on the horizon blew threw with vigor, thoroughly drenching the boat and our cockpit and, in general, wreaking havoc for a solid eight minutes.

What's that they say? When it rains, it pours. Yes. Yes it does.

Scott went down below to change Isla and settle her back down, and I was left with the poopy (and still very sauce-y) babies.

I grabbed Haven and brought her to the aft deck to hose her off and clean her hands. Once I was convinced she was poop and sauce free, I replaced her in the cockpit and grabbed Mira to repeat the process.

I was just toweling off little Mira when I heard the dreaded "thud-silence-wail" sequence. All parents know that the pregnant pause before a scream usually indicates a pretty serious ouch, and I looked over and saw Haven on her back after having slipped on our wet cockpit while trying to summit the combings. Her eyes were wide and mouth agape for another split second before she started howling like a banshee (this child does *not* hold back) with a healthy amount of blood coming from her mouth.

"Haven's bleeding" I casually yelled down to Scott, giving him a little update on our goings ons. He was struggling with a full-blown tantruming Isla who felt that fifteen minutes was a perfectly acceptable nap and he is far more patient with that stuff than I. Fighting with a (seemingly) possessed three year old is on my list of the top five things that will drive me insane, so I was happier to be dealing with the upper deck issues. I will take blood over tantrums any day.

I put Mira down in the relative safety of the cockpit and scooped up Haven to assess her injuries. Luckily, I am not squeamish and blood doesn't bother me. I was pretty sure she was more scared than hurt, and I was right. Her bottom teeth had cut a bit of her top gum and although there was a lot of blood, it was nothing serious. I held her tight to calm her, let her suck on a wet, cold paper towel and once she was calm and happy again I finished the task at hand.

By the time everything was sorted out, it was time for the blessed second nap. I nursed the babies, tucked them into their bunks and retreated back to the cockpit where I wish I could say I kicked back with a nice, cold and highly potent adult beverage but we were plum out of alcohol, adding insult to injury. So I just closed my eyes and relished in the quiet.

Cruising with babies*. Where a day can go from fine to crappy (pun intended) in the blink of any eye.

But at least we always have a killer view. That's definitely good for something.

*I realize that you could replace "cruising" with "living"...on land or sea, three under three and parenting in general is always an adventure!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Catching up: Daily Life

Sorry I have been so remiss about blogging. It's not easy to find time to write, particularly if we can't get a decent wifi signal on the boat and I need to go ashore to get online (we use a Rogue Wave wifi booster which works amazing when there are open signals, but these days most are password protected). As such, most of my "updating" has been via cellular data to our Facebook Page (point for smart phones!). Luckily, I have decent boat-based wifi at the moment, and instead of spending hours I do not have on all the wonderful individual posts I want to write, I'll just post a bunch of pictures and a mini-cram-style-missive to show you what we have been up to. A photo is worth a thousand words, right? This will be much more efficient I think, and it will get the point across. In the meantime, I will work on more detailed posts offline on a variety of subjects to post in the coming days and weeks.

So where are we now? Well, we made the upwind slog to Virgin Gorda from St. John. Winds have been unusually high these past few weeks - ranging from 20 to 30 knots every minute of every day - so it was indeed a "slog" taking us a rather pathetic three days of tacking back and forth to make this meager twenty-five mile "passage". We came here for Scott to race on the super yacht Parsifal.  Note that I said "super" and not "mega". Apparently there is a difference and though I cannot be sure, I think it amounts to another trifecta of zeros on a given bank account. It's not every day you get asked to crew on a 180 foot luxury sailboat and Scott could not pass up the opportunity, even if it did mean leaving me to be a single boat mom for five days. Though I gave him a hard time for abandoning me to go play both in truth and (mostly) in jest, I couldn't deny him this chance. Being former racing sailors has it's perks, that's for sure. We have so many sailing friends and several who work in the yachting industry that every now and then we get some opportunities to do things and meet people other people only dream of. I'll write more about the super yacht experience in a later post, but I must give a big shout out to our good buddy, Gonzo, for always thinking of us and inviting Scott to participate. It was pretty awesome, even from my vantage point from the deck of our boat. More to come...

As for other goings ons, we continue to get the opportunity to meet great blog followers and friends alike as this area is positively teeming with boating enthusiasts and blog readers. Paul and Sheryl Shard, of the television show Distant Shores, are here as well and got some great footage of our family to use in an upcoming episode for their show. That was fun and it was great to catch up with them again after seeing them at the Chicago Boat Show last year. We'll keep you posted on that interview and when it airs you can see for yourself if things are going as well as we allude to on this blog, or if it's all a ruse and we are teetering on the brink of insanity. Or maybe it's a little bit of both. You decide (wink).

Life on a boat continues with ups and downs and non-stop projects. We are always chasing up issues, from diaper blow outs and tantrums to battery problems and gear that has fallen into disrepair. Each morning before racing Scott fixed a new leak that would spring up. The first two were from faulty hoses from our sink faucets; easy, quick, fixes. The last leak, from our manual head pump (aka the way we flush our toilet), was more difficult. We are still dealing with it and while it's not bad enough to be considered urgent, it is a (pretty gross) nuisance to have seawater slowly trickling in from a blown seal on your toilet. Walking into a bathroom (or "head" as we call it) with a wet floor has always been one thing that has made my skin crawl. Even as a child I would tip toe into the stalls at the pools - their floors all slimy and wet - so disgusted at the thought that what I was stepping in might actually be pee and not pool water. As I even type that sentence my face is contorted into a disgusted grimace. Shudder. Not looking forward to the final fix as it will no doubt result in fecal matter getting on our skin. We'll just keep putting it off until we can't.

We have lots of fun stuff coming up to that does not involve poop or faulty hoses, not the least of which is the fact that many friends are coming to charter in the area (including AJ, who helped us out earlier this season) and my amazing, beautiful and crazy talented sister, Chelsea, who made a last minute decision to spend her spring break with us. Cannot wait for her arrival. And for all the goodies she will be bringing. Because if you ever visit people living on a cruising boat in the islands, you will be bringing them stuff from the homeland. Be warned.

So that is that. We are loving life and feel very much at home down here on our boat. I think we are past the "beta test" stage and I can say with resounding confidence that this is actually working, despite what most people - and even I, in my darkest moments - thought. Talk has now turned to how to make this viable in the long-term (aka operation "make money" in the islands), which is a complicated matter for sure. For now, we'll just keep on keeping on and letting the Universe guide us where she will. So far, so good. I'll let the pictures do the talking for now...

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Haven and Mira turn ONE: Island Style

I am not a Pinterest worthy mother. Other than the fact that I do keep our living space pretty tidy, I am a terrible cook (the babies' eat mac and cheese more than I care to admit, but they are still nursing 4-5x a day so it’s okay, right…right?), I don’t dress our babies in super cute clothes with equally adorable hair-do's, and, as much as I wish they were, crafty DIY projects are simply not in my wheelhouse. Add to this the fact that 100% of our children's birthday parties - the mommy Pinterest-post mecca - have been totally thrown together last minute with almost zero thought. I'm a sort of haphazard mommy when it comes to stuff like this.

That said, the twin’s first birthday - like their big sister’s before them - was off the hook. 

Okay..."off the hook might" be a bit of an exaggeration, but it was a fantastic little get together full of love, friends, fun and rum. One that will never be forgotten.

Earlier in the week several boats arrived for our friend Genevieve’s, 32nd birthday. (If you want to read about those shenanigans, check out >>>this post<<< spoiler alert: all the ladies jumped of the upper deck of the floating bar, Angel’s Rest). One of those arriving boats was the couple behind Where the Coconuts Grow, fellow bloggers we had grown to know and love online, but had never met in person. It was so great to finally meet Jody and Peter and make it official. Since they had made the upwind slog for Genevieve’s festivities, they of course stayed for the twins’ party as well. What a treat this was as Jody is a gifted photographer who took the most amazing shots of our day. If you want to see some of the absolutely beautiful pictures she took, please, please check out >>>her post<<<. We are forever indebted to her for capturing this special day so perfectly.

We also had the pleasure to meet some blog followers who just happened to be chartering in the area and dinghied over to say hi. What an awesome couple they turned out to be. As we chatted in our cockpit, Lauren and Brian mentioned that they wanted some upwind sailing experience with another hand on deck, which was odd since Scott needed a lift to Soper’s hole (upwind) where he had some day work as a captain. It was decided then and there that Scott would help them handle the boat and give them some pointers, and they’d drop him off where he could get to work. How’s that for serendipity? Brian and Lauren were, of course, invited to the twins birthday party the follow, so they turned around and made it back in time for the festivities. They were a wonderful and very natural addition to the party. Fast friends and fantastic soon-to-be full time cruisers.

And so our girls turned one in style, and in good company. 
Heading to the beach for the party 
Possibly my favorite picture EVER
Isla and her pals from s/v Necesse who, incidentally, were there when Isla turned one!

So now for the sappy bit...

Of course it’s cliche to mention how fast time has flown, but I don’t care. It feels like yesterday that I gave birth to these little monkeys.. This year has, without a doubt, been the fastest year of my life. I'd been warned that twins would do that. These babies are incredible and I can honestly say that our surprise "two-fer" has been the wildest, most amazing, ride of my life. Of course there were the very difficult days in the beginning when I wondered “why me?” but it has become clear that these babies, and twins in general, are a humongous blessing. To raise two babies at once is truly a magical experience. I mean, these two little monkeys kiss each other on command. You have not seen cute until you have seen two babies plant big wet kisses on each other when asked. It is beyond adorable. Watching their unique bond blossom is something else.

Speaking of 'blossoming', their personalities are coming in loud and clear. And what's more is the fact that the girls are night and day. Night. And. Day. Haven is wild eyed and happy. Easy to smile and flirt with anyone who will look her way, but just as quick to turn "off" and harumph in frustration if she doesn't get her way. She has the most insanely hilarious (maniacal?) giggle, which she lets out all day long to the joy of anyone in earshot. She is into EVERYTHING. She is truly the female “Denis the Menace” and definitely a “full on” little imp. And, yes, she is still very loud. Everything she does is with gusto, from smiling to screaming, and she is definitely not a “look before leap” kind of kid. Head first is her way. Everyone who meets her falls instantly in love since she is pretty much the Gerber Baby, but not before shaking their heads and laughing as they say “you will have your hands full with that one!". She is very physical and is mastering the large motor skills. She is walking like a pro and, much to our chagrin, there is no area on the boat that she cannot summit. She is a high octane bundle of love and energy and makes us laugh all day long. 

Sweet Mira is just as happy as her sister, but - like Isla before her - a little more discerning about handing out smiles. More mellow and quiet than Haven, she is thoughtful and pensive. She is also the best little snuggler around, and will nuzzle up to your neck and settle right in for a good long cuddle which, as any parent can attest, is pretty much the sweetest thing any baby can do. She is a full blown mimic and loves to try to dress herself, put on sunglasses and fake “read” by holding up a book and “talking". Her baby babble is very advanced, and when she talks it almost sounds like playing a record backward, which of course makes us wonder if perhaps she is a genius baby. She is still a little peanut (20% percentile) and not quite walking yet, but she creeps along furniture and can climb like a little monkey. She is quick to hand out kisses to everyone who asks and her gentle, sweet demeanor melts the heart of anyone who snuggles her. Her greatest joy is to make people laugh and if you giggle at something she does, she will repeat it over and over. She is small but mighty and I seriously could snuggle and kiss her all day long.

These two little fish are so happy and lovable that it takes everything I have not to eat them on a daily basis. That is how cute they are. I know that sounds weird and strangely cannibalistic, but it's true. Must. Eat. The. Babies.

As for me, well, as I mentioned a while back, I have been put to the test as a mother more times than I can count - and I have failed more times than I care to admit. But I have also excelled at times and I feel very proud of those successes. At the end of the day, we have three healthy, happy children who are loved with such hopeless abandon that, truly, nothing else really matters. It’s all about the love. #Thankyouuniverse.

So it was a very happy, very special first birthday party for Haven and Mira. Maybe even Pinterest worthy. We did it. We survived the first year with twins, and maybe even thrived here and there. What a trip. The future is bright for these little fish, that is for sure.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

A Sailing Swing

One of my fondest memories of being a boat kid, is when my dad would make a halyard swing with the bosun's chair for us. We'd be underway - sailing upwind - and when we got a good enough heel, we'd launch ourselves of the side of the boat and skip across the water, tip toeing along the waves and laughing hysterically as we charged forth alongside the hull. It got especially fun when a good gust would come through giving the boat that few extra degrees of heel, dunking us thoroughly into the cold, fresh water or when we'd get too close to the boat and have to kick off to get back out over the water. Shrieks and gasps and wide eyes would ensue. It was good, clean - possibly dangerous - fun.

Such is life on a boat, right?

Isla is a monkey. I think I have mentioned it before, but one advantage of bringing babies on boats when they are very young is the simple fact that by the time they are two or three, they are seasoned little sailors or, at the very least, adept at maneuvering around on a sailboat. Isla roams free on our boat, no area is off limits to her. She understands the consequences of getting too close to the edge, knows exactly how to move along a sailboat's odd angles, instinctively avoids cleats and dodges lines, and embodies the cardinal rule of "one hand for you, one for the boat". Some might call us "reckless" for allowing her to play freely on deck, but we think of this sort of play as "skill building". She is never more than fifteen feet away from either of us at any given time and let me tell you, this kid can climb.

The other day, I was down below making breakfast while Isla was playing on deck, watching for turtles with her little binoculars and climbing around on the rigging. "Mama, come see me swing!" she yelled from the bow. Swing? I thought. I went up on deck and found her hanging on the jib sheets with a huge, beaming smile plastered across her sweet little face. Scott decided then and there she needed a proper swing. So a proper swing was made.

Needless to say, she loves it. We hoist her ten feet off the deck and swing her out over the water. Some might see a boat as one big hazard for kids, but to us - and certainly Isla - it's one, big playground.

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