Saturday, August 31, 2013

Planes, Pains and Automobiles

The Bahamas are even the most beautiful islands from the air!
Traveling with a toddler has perks, and they begin and stop with priority line access.  Other than that, there aren't many.  A full day of air travel with a little one, spanning two flights and four hours of wait time in airports, can be tricky - and we have only one child!  Don't get me wrong, Isla is an awesome little travel companion - she's not fussy, no fits, no screams - but what's tricky is the fact that 48 hours of travel can really throw off a child's sleep patterns (and we all know what a sleep freak I am) and keeping a very energetic and curious infant still/entertained while riding on your lap for a total of six hours is no easy feat (hooray for the airplane plastic cups which happily kept her at bay for most of our two flights), and then to strap that same child (now sleep deprived) into a car seat for seven hours the next day can be...a challenge.  Especially when that child has grown up mostly in places where car seats are just not the norm and sitting on momma's lap is...sigh.

Anyway, we are here in Northern Michigan and couldn't be happier.  It's beautiful up here and it's so great that Isla gets to spend time with her cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents.  She's loving it and so are we.  There's talk of bonfires, pontoon boating and beach time.  Ice cream parlors, golf and s'mores.  Scott even whipped up a batch of Painkiller's last night to give his family a taste of the islands.  They were good...really good.

So that's us right now.  Unwinding.  Enjoying friends and family.  Chilling out, Northern Michigan style.
Sweet home Chicago.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Wet Island Tour in a Clown Car

Cowering under an awning to stay dry.  I have a mouth full of delicious honey roasted peanuts.
Yesterday we had big plans with our good friends on s/v YOLO to tour the island.  There was talk of waterfalls, distant villages, monkeys and crater lakes.  We packed our bags, borrowed our friends car (thank you Zeke and Crystal!) and were ready for a full day of adventure.  Unfortunately, the weather had other plans.

Rain is something that happens frequently this time of year but, typically, the tropical shower is nothing more than just that: a shower.  You see the clouds approaching and - if you are familiar enough with the area and the patterns - you can almost time when and where the rain will fall to the second.  And fall it will... for five, ten, maybe fifteen minutes.  Then it passes, the sun resumes shining and all that is left of the downpour is a glorious rainbow and a few puddles.  But yesterday?  Yesterday was full-blown all-day rain fest.  These types of days are few and far between.  It was so gray and cloudy that not even one measly rainbow was spotted all. day. long.  A day in the Caribbean without a rainbow?  Well, that's a serious lack of sunshine.  The plus side, of course, was that yesterday also marked the first day where I was not drenched with sweat by 8am and our baby didn't smell of butter (Scott thinks Isla smells like butter when she is sweaty and hot, which is all the time.  I disagree, she smells of sweet baby sweat to me, pure heaven.)

Did the rain stop us from piling four adults and two toddlers (with respective car seats) into a five-seater Suzuki Vitara?  Heck no.  Did it stop us from ever really getting out of the car except to forage for food in the town of Grenville?  Yes, yes it did.  We did do a little off-roading when a sign made promise of a "petting zoo/donkey farm" (?) down a dirt road but when we arrived, we were told it was too muddy/rainy and the animals wouldn't want to come out.  Yes, they were divas.  It was a bust.  So, while we might not have taken in any sites (except those which we could see from the car windows), and we might not have done anything worth noting (except discover the deliciousness that is the local honey roasted peanut) or learned any fun factoids about Grenada (except that there exists an elusive petting zoo), we managed to spend the day with our very good friends and have a good laugh in spite of ourselves, and no one loves good friends and a good laugh more than me.

In other news, tomorrow we hop a plane bound for Chicago for a (much needed) three week visit home.  At this very moment we are in a desperate scramble to get the boat (and ourselves) ready for our impending departure.  So far we have done absolutely nothing in preparation, which is very unlike us.  I have, however, edited my packing spreadsheet and printed it out (Yep. I'm one of those.  Don't knock it till you have a kid!) so I feel semi-productive and ready to start ticking things off.  Speaking of lists, I must run because we have a boat to clean, a dinghy to store, a fridge to empty and food to get rid of because we are homeward bound...

If you are curious what we do to prep our boat for a water-based short leave, check out this post.
A tight fit! Darcy (bless her cotton socks) took one for the team and sat in the back where her butt almost caught fire.
Cutest couple in the Caribbean.  Or ever.
These two braved the rain to see the view.  Photo taken from behind a closed window in the car.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Top Ten Tuesdays: Ten Things that Make our Life Easier

The Grateful Dead once sang "'Cause when life looks like easy street, there is danger at your door".  Well, I suppose there is some truth to that...but that doesn't mean that this family does things the hard way just for the sake of keeping danger at bay.  While it's true that working harder for something does tend to provide more gratification and a great sense of accomplishment, sometimes, finding little ways to make life easier can have a profound effect on your happiness, comfort and blood pressure.  I'd go hear Uncle John's Band any day, but I'm going to bring myself a nice crazy creek chair and a Tervis tumbler of something refreshing, alcoholic and cold so I can take a load off while doing it.  Catch my drift?

This post was inspired by and written for The Monkey's Fist website.  Please check out this link to find more great posts by other cruisers on this same subject.  While each of us might feature different gadgets/products (and some overlap), each list will provide some great tips and insights into boat life that you might find helpful (I know I did!).  And here we throw our hat into the ring...(these items are in no particular order):

Ten Products that Make our Life Easier
  1. Olympus Tough Camera - My "good" camera is a Canon G12 but, honestly, the one that is with me all the time is this one.  Like the name implies, it's tough.   It is my everyday, everywhere camera.  I can toss it in my purse when going for a walk, throw it in our beach bag and not have to worry about it getting wet or sandy, and I don't freak out if Isla starts fiddling with it.  It's shockproof, waterproof, and - dare I say - babyproof.  It's perfect for people with kids...and boats.  You can actually SWIM with this thing and take underwater photos and videos without having to set up a complex waterproof case.  This camera undoubtedly makes taking photos easier.
  2. The Absorber Brand Drying Chamois (pronounced 'shammy') - I've written about these before and I am a little obsessed with them.  They are AMAZING.  In fact, they are what the ShamWOW claimed to be, but wasn't.  (I know, I got suckered into ordering some because I am a marketing team's dream...don't waste your money).  We have a lot of these on our boat.  They are great for sopping up wet messes.  When it rains and our cockpit is all wet? We bust out our chamois and in no time it's bone dry.  When a wave poops our cockpit?  Again, the chamois to the rescue.  A chamois and a bucket of fresh water has also been known to give our boat a quick bath.  We have mini ones for the bathrooms as well so if any water pools on the counters from washing our faces and what not, we can mop it up without using paper towel or dirtying a washcloth.  Seriously, every boat should have at least one.  These things are the bees knees of absorbing towels!  [Note:  in order for them to stay absorbent, you must keep them damp in the case they come with - never hang them dry.  Also, beware of knock-offs].
  3. Vinyl interior cushions - when we first saw the vinyl cushions in our boat we weren't really into them...but boy oh boy do we love them now.  I'd read how vinyl is all "sticky" and uncomfortable in the heat - but we have not found this to be the case and, in our opinion, the pros far outweigh the cons.   Isla can happily fling her food everywhere when she declares "done!" after eating and (while we're working on her etiquette) I don't freak out because the mess is super easy to clean with a paper towel and some water.  Sauces, oils, mashed up fruits and veggies and even grease wipe right off these things and - as long as we have babies on board - vinyl (or something similar) will be our interior upholstery of choice.
  4. DC outlets/products/chargers - we are 12 volt happy on our boat.  On our first boat we installed 12V outlets (like the kind you have in your car that used to be a cigarette lighter) all over the place and we added several more to this boat as well.  When you can power something with a 12V plug, you are running off the boat's batteries and therefore do not need to invert or run the generator - both of which are really annoying (and energy consuming) if you just want to charge your computer.  I bought as many 12V appliances I could and for the things that did not come in 12V versions, I scoured the internet for the 12V chargers.  Not all appliances have 12V chargers, but it's worth hitting the Google man for.
  5. Museum Putty - boats move and keeping things from falling all over the place is a constant work in progress.  I discovered Museum Putty from The Container Store when we were outfitting our first boat and I've been a lover of the stuff ever since.  It is great for keeping the small decorative items you have on your boat in place.  We've mounted so many trinkets with the stuff - a sand dollar, a small vase, a wood carving, some shells...etc. and I've even kept our fruit basket in place with it!  It's a great product for those of us who like to "decorate" and personalize our boats a bit.
  6. Non-skid dishes/mugs - There's lots of gadgety-cruiser-stuff you'll see at boat shows that will lure you in and having you doing the "I must have this now!" impulse-buy dance while at the booth (trust me, I know this dance well).  Most of these items should probably be avoided, but if you find these dishes for a good price - I would strongly suggest them (unless, of course, you are the type of person who prefers glassware - we have met folks who eat and drink out of glass and glass alone).  We skipped on this type of galley ware with our first boat but sprang for it this time around when we saw them for a great deal at a boat show and have been singing their praise ever since.  You might not think that a little bead of non-skid means much to you now, but it sure will when you are trying to prepare bowls of soup or cups of coffee and the boat lurches from one side to another!
  7. Microfiber Dish Drying Mat - I mentioned the impulse buy gadget dance?  Well, we bought one of those foldable dish racks during one of those weak moments and guess how many times we've used it?  Exactly zero.  Instead, I use a very simple dish drying mat to lay out our dishes after they have been washed.  It's small, it's easy to clean and it does the trick perfectly.  Highly recommend one of these.
  8. Collapsible/nesting kitchen stuff - by now we all know that space is at a premium on a boat, so anything that maximizes space and/or uses less of it is a good thing.  Nesting pots and pans as well as collapsible silicone kitchen gear (we have a collander, measuring cups and recently ordered a collapsible salad spinner) are all very useful on a boat. Yes, even for the galley-challenged like me.
  9. Packtowls - Big, fluffy beach towels are not practical on a boat.  They take up a lot of space and take a long time to dry.  We have found the extra large pactowls to be great for beach outings and we have three smaller ones that act as our kitchen towels.  I love these things. 
  10. Good quality backpack - we love our Sailor Bag blue backpack.  It's our main pack for beach trips and any outings that will last longer than an hour or two (like our recent hash).  It has plenty of room for everyone's gear (including baby), features two mesh water bottle holders, three separate compartments, and it's water resistant, durable and looks pretty cool to boot.  The awesome folks over at Sailor Bags even embroidered ours for us with our boat name and website.  I'm not saying you have to get this backpack, but a roomy, good quality pack would probably be useful to most cruisers.  (side note:  their tote bag is my primary everyday 'purse').
And now - DING, DING, DING - a bonus ten (since so many of you write to tell us these are your favorite posts).  Consider this a "two-for-one" Tuesday.  These are more related to boat systems, but definitely make cruising more comfortable and a little (or a lot) easier for us:
  1. Aft deck shower with swim scoop - so great for rinsing off after swimming, cleaning gear and with our length of hose - we can even clean a large portion of our boat with this shower.  Aft deck shower is a MUST for us.  Similarly, having a little platform off the back of our boat has made getting in and out of the boat from the dinghy (particularly with baby!) SO much easier.  We stand on it to shower, it's great for loading groceries and - all in all - we love it.  A swim platform/sugar scoop (again) is a MUST for us.
  2. AIS - I personally believe this is one of (if not the) greatest pieces of technology to hit the worlds oceans in recent history.  We LOVE our AIS.  AIS is short for 'Automatic Identification System' and it can be a real lifesaver if cruising in busy shipping lanes during inclement weather or at night.  We both transmit and receive data which means not only can we see cargo ships long before their lights appear on the horizon, but they can also "see" us.  Not only do they show up on our chart plotter, but we can see the closest angle of approach, estimated time of when and where they will pass, where they are going and - most important - if we are on a collision course.  Not every boat has this so AIS does not replace keeping a prudent watch, but it has given us peace of mind on umpteen occasions. 
  3. RogueWave Wifi Booster - what would us cruisers do without internet to research boat projects, cruising destinations and - of course - blog?!  This booster has been awesome at picking up wifi signals from our surrounding area.  The only downside is the signal must be unlocked, and more and more folks are starting to wise up and secure their signals which means one must either go ashore and get a pass code or purchase internet time from one of the growing "hot spots".  If you are a cruiser who doesn't want to completely disconnect, consider a wifi booster as one way to get online.  If you are doing this to disconnect from the interwebz, I applaud you.  You are a stronger soul than I.
  4. Cockpit mic - I wrote about this before.  Having a mic for your VHF radio in the cockpit makes all sorts of sense.  We love ours, use it all the time.  Another must for us.
  5. Bimini and dodger - I have no clue how people cruise in tropical climates without these.  Protection from the elements (i.e. sun, ocean and rain) really, REALLY makes life more comfortable...and easier.
  6. Roller furling main - I know, I know...there are people out there who "wouldn't be caught dead" with a roller furling main and who are uber opinionated on the subject.  We were too.  And then we bought a boat with it.  And we never have to leave our cockpit.  And our boat can (very easily) be single-handed and we can reef almost instantly.  And it has not given us any problems.  And we are the envy of all our friends that have to wrestle their mains.  And now we love it.  End of story. (Our "dream boat", incidentally, would have a roller furling boom, not mast).  They have their downsides, for sure.  But we're converts.
  7. Windlass - I admire those folks who hoist up their anchors manually.  I admire them while I am pushing a button with my toe as ours raises itself and then I feel really grateful.  A necessity?  No.  But something that makes life easier?  For sure.
  8. Autopilot (or some other form of reliable self-steering) - there are folks that absolutely love hand steering and those that don't.  I don't know anyone who loves hand steering for multiple days at a time.  On a race course, taking the helm is invigorating.  When cruising, it's invigorating for the first couple of hours and then you just want to kick back, adjust your course with the push of a button and read a book or something.  At least that's how we feel about it.  You might happily hand-steer across the Pacific, but you would absolutely be in the minority.  More power to you.
  9. Refrigeration - having cruised with and without it I can say emphatically that life is much easier (and maybe a little better) with it.  Cold drinks, leftovers, food that stays fresh for longer than a day...the benefits of the fridge are many.
  10. Dinghy Davits - we love, love, LOVE our dinghy davits.  They are not only a thing of beauty, but they are super strong and functional as well.  Many a passerby has stopped to ogle and admire them.  Not only do they house our dinghy with tremendous strength and ease, but we can jump off them and take very cool sunset photos.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Baby's First Hash

Things have been slow around here, I know.  Lack of activity on the blog however does not mean lack of activity in fact, quite often it's the opposite.  We've been busy, working on ways to enjoy the outdoors without completely melting and/or going insane, all to get Isla off the boat.  It's amazing the impetus kids are to get out and do something interesting for their sakes.  If it was just me, I would happily waste away these excruciatingly hot months in the belly of our (air conditioned) boat surrounded by books and popping my head out of the companionway now and then to take a breath of fresh air and accept gifts of food.  Alas, we have a little one whose brain is growing exponentially before our very eyes and we want to keep feeding it.  So out we go...

Yesterday, we took Isla on her first "hash".  Scott and I have participated in these "hashes" before.  In it's most basic form, a hash is a hike (or run for the insane/extremely ambitious) through barely-marked trails in the countryside.  Typically these "hashes" are enjoyed with throngs of people and the treks always include copious amounts of beer drinking afterwards (for those so inclined).  If you've never done a hash - they are definitely worth experiencing for not only is it a great way to get exercise (yesterday's walk was about two hours and included some of the steepest hills we've ever walked!) but it's an even better way to get to see a place.  The hikes usually have a few different options (one for the hard-core runner types and one for the "namby-pamby" walkers - we are the latter) and are almost always "off the beaten path" offering spectacular views that you'd be hard-pressed to see any other way.

Unfortunately, we had to duck out of this hash a bit early because little Isla needed to eat dinner and get to bed before 7pm (this was a LONG one clocking in around 7 miles and baby sleep is sacred!).  We were lucky that this route took us to a main road (not always the case with hashing) where we could hop on the #1 bus back to our marina to get showered up and fed.  It was a great way to kill an afternoon, see some new places and meet some really great people.  Not to mention the fact that Isla's brain grew approximately 3%* during the afternoon activity, deducting - of course - what she sweated out in the extreme heat.

*I have no scientific basis for this whatsoever.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Bedding with Butyl Tape

Leaks.  They are, quite possibly, one of the more (if not the most) annoying malady to befall the cruising sailboat.  If they are below the waterline, they can prove catastrophic (as in; your boat can sink).  If they are above, they can be madness inducing, teak-tweaking and gear-ruining.  Lucky for us the leaks we have had have always been topside, and - even luckier - their origins have always been obvious.  There are plenty of accounts of leaky boats who's sources are nothing short of a mystery.  It is not unusual to see water coming into, say, an aft hanging locker - only to trace it all the way to a poorly bedded cleat up on the bow days, weeks or months later.  Water, being what it is, has a way of migrating before entering the interior of the boat and playing detective in this regard has been known to cause some cursing.

Speaking of bedding (and, no, I am not talking about the new queen set that you found on, the majority of topside leaks will come from poorly bedded deck hardware.  For those who have no idea what I am talking about, the art of "bedding" deck hardware is mounting and installing it to the deck.  Cleats, portholes, chainplates, stanchions..etc.  Don't be fooled though.  This is no small task!  There are literally hundreds of holes drilled into our deck for various pieces of hardware which means there are hundreds places that water can potentially enter our boat, so the job must be done with painstaking care.  Nothing will make you curse the previous owner of your boat more than discovering what a crap job he/she did bedding deck hardware and, for better or worse, the attention they paid to this crucial job is pretty indicative of the way they maintained their boat.

So far, our only leaks have come from our portholes (aka 'windows') in our cabin.  We need to re-bed about six out of fifteen.  I have mentioned before that being a full-time boat mommy has pretty much nixed my ability to help with boat work (dang!) but one thing I am still very, very good at is research.  When investigating the best bedding compound, I discovered (and kind of fell in love with - in a deep respect sort of way) "Maine Sail" of Compass Marine.  He is all sorts of awesome and his site is full of how to do a litany of boat projects the right way.  It was through him I learned the beauty of Butyl Tape.

Scott got to work removing our old porthole, and discovered that it was bedded with the dreaded silicone.  Silicone SUCKS.  Say it with me people, "silicone sucks" and, in our opinion, has no place bedding deck hardware.  After spending a few hours painstakingly scraping away all the silicone remnants, he epoxied the inside of the window cavity (so that if any water gets in, it's not absorbed by the core) applied the butyl tape around the edge of the porthole, and wedged it in.  He then - for good measure - applied some 3M 4000 UV to the outside casing of the porthole and put the thing back together.  Between the epoxy, butyl tape and 4000, we are 100% leak-free (and yes, it has been put to the test!)

Since we're far from experts, that's about as step by step as I want to go, but if you are curious about using butyl tape to bed your deck hardware the proper way*, please check out this article.

*There's more than one way to skin a cat and I am sure plenty of you have leak-free boats that swear by other products, but for us butyl tape is the way to go for bedding deck stuff from now on.
The role of butyl tape

Scrapey McScraperton.  This is the most annoying part of the job for sure.
So it helps to have a very good friend around for moral support.   Ben Affleck and Jake Gyllenhal in the Hiz-OUSE!
Applying some butyl.
Peek-a-boo! Clamping the porthole into place.
The outer edge of the window was sealed with some UV400.
Tools of the trade.
Look, ma!! No leaks!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Top 10 Tuesdays: Ten Things Freshman Cruisers Should Know Before Shoving Off

Motoring away from our home port in Chicago for the last time September 2010
I was asked to write this post by a soon-to-be-cruiser for her series on The Monkey's Fist which is a site that collects the perspectives of a bunch of bloggers on specific topics related to all things cruising.  Since I tend to like top ten lists and am always happy to help others, I thought I would oblige - despite the fact that I still feel very strongly that we are "freshman" in this vagabond existence.  Even still, we have learned a thing or two over the past few years and perhaps others can benefit from these snippets...or not.  Of course lists like these are totally subjective, and the ten things I am going to rattle off will almost certainly differ from the ten things someone else might list, but for what it's worth, here are ten things we are glad we knew - or wish we did - before shoving off:

Ten (okay, eleven) Things Freshman Cruisers Should Know Before Shoving Off
  1. Fixing your boat is going to get old. We've all heard the cliche, "cruising is doing boat work in exotic places!" Yawn.  Yes, it's true.  But not all of us are slaving away on our boats every single day chasing down problem after problem.  Just like everything in life, some have it harder than others.  How much work you end up doing depends on a couple things, namely:  your boat and how well you maintain it.  If you left the dock two days after buying a boat on Craigslist for a song, you will most likely be doing a lot more work underway than the person who put a little more money and work into their boat before leaving.  But no matter what, no one gets away Scott-free.  Stuff will break.  You will have to fix it.  This will get tremendously annoying from time to time and, yes, it will get old.  The more handy you are, the more you will enjoy cruising.  There is a direct correlation in my opinion, so get a how-to book and start practicing! 
  2. Do not underestimate the value of good cockpit cushions.  Bottom and back!  Seriously, if you are going to be spending a lot of time on your boat, you'll spend a lot of time in your cockpit and a little added comfort goes a VERY long way for your tush.  On our last boat we had foam cushions covered in Sunbrella which were great but got wet and required drying out after a rough passage or wet weather, this boat came with closed-cell foam cushions which are - bar none - the best.  No maintenance, all the comfort.  We also have four "outdoor" throw pillows that live in the cockpit as well, and despite the fact that Scott scoffed at having throw pillows on deck ("this is a BOAT, Brittany") he has since changed his tune and thanked me for them on more than one occasion.  Our cockpit is comfy-cozy.
  3. Beware of advice from others.  Take it with a grain of salt.  Take some (particularly that from the anonymous "arm chair" pundits) with a bucketful of it, in fact.  I'm talking about all advice here: advice on forums, advice from peers, from other cruisers, and - yes - even advice you read on this blog.  Cruising is so very much like parenting, nobody does it exactly the same - and there are about a million ways to do a million different things.  Best cruising grounds, what sort of cruising gear to get, best boat model, type of safety equipment, how to organize, when and where to go, what to make for dinner...the list is endless and everyone has an opinion.  Do your homework, use your boat and figure out what is best for you.  
  4. Baby steps, people.  For those of us who leave from the East Coast, we have a huge advantage in that there is a natural progression of difficulty as you head south and east.  The route we went first took us through the Great Lakes - which was fun and helped us get our feet wet.  Then, we traversed the Erie Canal - got some experience with unstepping and stepping our rig, introduced us to locks and acquainted us with running our engine and the regular maintenance that requires.  From there, we did the Husdon River which soon gave way to the Atlantic Ocean.  Sailing offshore on the East Coast was challenging (we got our first lessons in how inaccurate weather prediction is!) and exhilarating (big winds, big seas) and from there we found ourselves in the Intracoastal waterway which introduced us to anchoring and the wonderful world of currents and tides.  From there, we cruised the Bahamas which is without a doubt the beginning cruisers dream.  It's easy sailing, easy anchoring, no long passages are necessary and you're never too far from facilities and help should you need them.  After the Bahamas, things got more challenging.  More attention had to be paid to the weather, we dealt with much bigger seas, longer passages, more overnights, more challenging anchoring scenarios...the list goes on.  My point is this:  each stage was a milestone that, once graduated from, prepared us better for the next.  We feel very lucky that this is how we got our start.  Though I have zero experience with it, I would be hard-pressed to suggest any new sailor hop on their boat and cross an ocean.  I'm sure it's been done, but I think the learning curve we experienced was a beneficial one.  Baby steps.  Rome was not conquered in day, and you have nothing to prove to anyone.
  5. Recognize the difference between wants and needs.  This is a big one, especially if you are doing a refit.  I could go on and on, but my bloggy friend Behan wrote an excellent piece on this subject.  Read it.  The jist is this: make sure you don't spend a fortune on the wants (i.e. new corian countertops for the galley, recovering interior cushions), when you should really be investing in the needs (i.e. rebuilding engine, replacing standing rigging).  I admit that this can be hard to do, but it is important to always be mindful of.  After all, the goal is to cruise, right?  Not to have the prettiest boat.
  6. Have realistic expectations; about cruising, about the islands, about your plans.  This is a huge one.  Expectations can have a huge impact (positive or negative) on your trip.  I cannot tell you how many people we have met who were "disappointed" by cruising or by certain places because they simply didn't match their expectations.  So many people shove off on their boats and expect their life to be a gypsy-veiled dream.  They expect the islands to be beautiful, pristine and postcard perfect.  They expect steel drum bands, swim up bars and fun little beach shacks to grab a burger and a beer.  While this type of scenario does exist, the only places we have seen it are the ones that have been overrun with tourism (and many people avoid these types of islands for just these reasons - to each his own - we enjoy the touristy stuff from time to time).  Many islands are far from postcard perfect.  We had some friends who were so excited to go to Dominica because they heard so many good things about it only to be really disappointed because it was (their words) "a total dump".  Do some homework so that your expectations are realistic and understand that just because the majority of cruisers "love" a certain place, doesn't mean you will.  There is a tremendous "herd" mentality out here and lots of folks jump on bandwagons just because.  The same goes with cruising, make sure you read about the dark sides as well as the good because if you are too idealistic, you will be sorely disappointed.  ALSO, be FLEXIBLE about your plans.  Be ready for them to change.  In fact, count on them changing. Think you're going to circumnavigate in two years?  Sure, it's possible...but it's also really unlikely.  Set goals, make plans and prepare to change tacks from time to time.  I don't think we know a single cruiser who's cruising itinerary followed exactly what they had envisioned before shoving off.  I know for certain ours hasn't!
  7. When selecting an anchor, go bigger.  This is well documented advice all over the place, but it bears mentioning.  Your anchor is one of the most important pieces of gear on your boat - it can keep you safe and even save your life.  Don't skimp on it (or them).  We have three anchors on our boat; a 73 lb. Rocna as our primary, a 63 lb Mantus as our secondary (sidenote: we LOVE Mantus Anchors, review to come!) and a 35 lb Mantus for our stern.  Also, if you can swing it, a windlass is your friend.  By no means a necessity, but definitely nice to have!
  8. Do NOT skimp on you dinghy/outboard setup.  When we left Chicago on our first boat the whole dinghy/outboard thing was a total afterthought.  We had a thirty year old Johnson 2-Hp motor and an equally old inflatable and this setup was not ideal.  It was incredibly limiting and we stayed back from many excursions and outings because we simply didn't have the propulsion to get there.  That dinghy died (a blessing in disquise?) and we got a new one (including an outboard!) for $300, which should have been our first warning.  That dinghy was no better (in many ways, it was worse) and for about five thousand nautical miles we cursed the fact that we didn't invest in a better setup from day one.  We now have a 15 HP Yamaha and a 10 foot RIB and love this set up.  We can get to far flung beaches, and faster than a snails pace.  Think of your dinghy as your car, you want something reliable, practical and useful.  Choose wisely because it can really open up a world of possibilities for you. 
  9. Invest in good paper charts and cruising guides.  I am so alarmed by the number of cruisers who rely only on their chart plotters for navigational information.  This, my friends, is NOT prudent boating for a myriad of reasons.  For one, they can die...and then what?  You gonna bust out that old sextant Uncle Joe got you from a garage sale?  If you are, good on you.  But the majority of us do not know celestial navigation and trying to figure it out when the "bleep" hits the fan is not advisable.  Furthermore, chart plotters have been known to be wrong.  We met one unfortunate cruiser who's boat was a complete loss because he went through an "inlet" that was clearly marked on his chart plotter, but in real life was actually land.  Land, people.  Buy paper charts.  Also...don't underestimate the good ole Lonely Planet guidebooks.  Great for land-based tips and up-to-date info.  Not every book you own must relate to cruising and cruising alone.  
  10. Prepare for serious ups and downs.  This life is not one of "moderation".  I know, I know...I am beating a dead horse here - but it's true, be ready to feel a little bipolar from time to time.  I've said it before and I will not stop saying it as long as we are blogging:  high highs and low lows people.  There will be days you will curse your boat, this life, the islands, your spouse, the weather...whatever.  You will dislike cruising from time to time, you might even hate it sometimes.  But... in between, there will be many moments that will enrich your life in ways you never imagined, you will learn more about yourself than you ever thought possible and - most important - you will collect a lifetime of stories to color your soul.  You might do this for a while and find it's not for you - and that's okay too.  At least you gave it a try and collected some great stories along the way.  And who doesn't love a good story?
...and one more for good measure: you WILL screw up.  Many times.  Hopefully, (because you are prudent with boat maintenance, watching weather and being cautious) your screw ups will not be of the "colossal" variety, but of the minor to major annoyance or even the "wow, that was embarrassing" type.  Embrace these hiccups.  These are the times you will learn the most.  You will be humbled (which is always a good thing to be at sea).  You will be scared.  Frustrated.  Enlightened.  And the learning curve?  It never ends.  Cruising is like golf, it can never be "mastered" and as soon as you think you are on top of your game and get a little cocky, you can rest assured that the Universe will find a way to knock you down a peg.  Respect your boat, respect the ocean, keep your mind open and hang on tight because it's one crazy, beautiful ride. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Rough Weekend with a Sick Baby on Board

Despite a fever, she still found the energy to help daddy re-bed a porthole...more on this later!
Nothing puts a damper on a weekend like a sick baby.  Poor little Isla suffered fever after fever (ranging from 101°-104°) since Saturday morning which lasted through last night.  We'd keep it at bay with infant Tylenol, cool washcloths and limited clothing when it got out of hand, but for the most part - the poor little thing rode it out.  It was heartbreaking.  We cuddled on the settee all day watching cartoons on my computer (we don't do t.v. at all in normal circumstances but this was an exception) and snuggling.  She wouldn't sleep without physically touching me, so I camped out in the v-berth with her the past two nights, waking with her every two hours or so to ease her cries and try to help cuddle her pain away.  Needless to say, neither of us got much sleep at all.  In the states we most certainly would have brought her to one of the many 24-hour care clinics available to us but being here in the islands, the only option is the hospital - which we didn't think necessary.  We tried "paging" the one pediatrician on the island we know of but no one got back to us, which left us with Google.  We're not worrisome parents by nature, and we never got overly concerned with Isla's symptoms, but seeing your typically happy baby miserable and writhing in pain is tough on anyone.  We're taking her to the local pediatrician today to rule out any sort of treatable infection, but already it seems she's on the mend.  Right now, she's giggling with daddy, squealing in delight as he tickles her and she seems to have her (abundant) energy back; running around the boat like it's her personal obstacle course, doing "ballet" on her tippy-toes, and jumping around like a little bean.  Very welcome sounds and sites, for sure.

We'll be back to our regularly scheduled program tomorrow or the next day.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Making a Boat a Home: The Art of Decorating A Boat

Many of you write us asking what the inside of our boat looks like.  I've got some older pictures posted on our "Boat" page, but - as I mentioned back in the British Virgin Islands - we have been doing some redecorating, so things look a little different.

Let me start by saying that I am the type of person who revels in her surroundings.  I need to live in a nice space.  It doesn't have to be expensive or fancy or perfectly coordinated, but a clean, cosy and organized living space is a must for me.  Some might call it a a trait of the "fairer sex", but believe me when I say I've met several women who could care less about their boat's interiors.  To each his own.  But for me?  It's gotta look nice and it's gotta be comfortable.  To me, comfort is synonymous with happy cruising.  Call it OCD, call it 'being anal' call it what you will - but clutter and chaos make me edgy, antsy and all out of sorts.  Luckily, we bought a boat with so much storage we still have a load of empty spaces, so being clutter-free is not a problem for us.  Point for the bigger boat...

Even still, when living on a boat function must always take precedence over form, so the phrase "interior decorating" is laughable.  While there are plenty of ways to personalize and get creative, when it comes to a boat's insides, for the most part, what you see is what you get.  There's no moving things around or rearranging furniture and your affinity for feng shui will have to fly out the porthole. You must be very mindful of anything frivolous and non-essential that you mount, place or hang, lest they become projectiles on a rough passage.   That said,  the inside of a boat and how "pretty" it looks should be the least of your concerns when boat shopping, but still - gorgeous interiors have sold more of their fair share of shoddy boats so it goes to show that not everyone is all function out here.

I like to think of us as a little of both (form and function); sure Scott could care less about our new throw pillows or the colors of our bedspread, but he also knows these things make me happy and so he let's me go about my meager decorating attempts with little resistance.  I tend to veer away from the "nautical" theme that so many seem to favor out here...after all, we do live on a boat, I don't think we need lighthouse pillows and seashell wall accents to punctuate it - but that's us.  To personalize our space, we added some cheap non-skid floor mats, some professionally framed posters that have special meaning to us (we are from Chicago, we met and married in St. Joe).  We also added some nice, colorful throw pillows, some custom baskets and storage containers and a few special knick-knacks we've collected here and there throughout the islands.  Everything is mounted either with industrial strength velcro or museum putty (I love the stuff!!!) and we have been in pretty rough seas with nary a casualty.  "A place for everything and everything in its place" as they say...

So with no further ado, here are some pics and a little tour of how we made our boat our home...
Looking forward into the salon from our to our starboard settee which we converted from two seats to one.
The same view, port side.  We made the custom sink cover/cutting board out of starboard.  Extra counter space!
Our navigation station with all of Isla's toys underneath.  We plan on converting this to a forward facing nav station with a be continued...
Our walkthrough to the aft cabin.  This is where our computers usually live.  We keep the shelf behind here very organized and neat with baskets.  "A place for everything and everything in its place" is our storage motto.
This is looking aft at the expanded view of our walk-through - TONS of storage here.  Full engine access is to the right.
Looking froward through the walk through from the aft cabin.  Note the double doors to engine room.  Awesome.
Looking aft again from the walk through into our aft cabin.
Aft cabin. Again, tons of storage, king sized bed and we each have a built in "night stand" of sorts (not pictured)
Our aft head with separate shower
Another view of the aft head - we have old fashioned rum labels mounted on wood on the starboard side - you can only see one but there are four.  Very cool and brighten up the bathroom.

A view of our main salon as seen emerging from the walk through, companionway stairs to port (left).
Our galley.  As much as I despise cooking, I love this galley.  Huge refrigerator with top and bottom door access as well as a HUGE locker for pots, pans and all the other kitchen equipment I hardly ever use.
Our bookshelf got pared down when we both got e-readers.  But reference books are best kept in book form in our opinion.  Ganesh, the "remover of obstacles" sits contentedly in the middle.  Our boat full of Hindu and Buddhist influences, we have three Ganesh's throughout the boat and we're also big fans of the "eye of Rah".
Our little Buddha sits happily atop the small desk light in the nav station - thanks to museum putty.
The "om" symbol is affixed to the door of Isla's room.  It carries with it a lot of meaning and symbolism, but suffice it to say it embodies the "essence of the entire universe"
Isla's room.  The one place where clutter reigns.  She loves her little area and we are firm believers that while you CAN have too many toys, you can never have too many books!
Her collection of books and binkies.  She is almost paci-free now, only for naps and bed.  Baby steps...
The forward "guest" head.  Very light and roomy.  Again with tons of storage.  A full length mirror is on the left.
This is what I remind myself of always.  It is hanging in our forward head.
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