Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year: The Joy is in The Journey

I wish I had the time for a really well thought out blog post. I wish I could post an awesome "Year in Review" video like I did last year, or come up with some great way to share a solid re-cap of all the stuff that went on this past year.  But I am showing up here with nothing prepared. I just put all the kids down for a nap and realized that it's New Year's Eve and I don't think I should let 2014 go down without a few words. It was, after all, one of the most life-altering years of my life.

Then again, aren't they all? At least in one way or another?

The truth is, this year went by in a blur. A total fog of newborn twin-ness. I always joke that if I set up a GoPro camera in our home and played it back on high-speed, you would see me bouncing back and forth all over the place like a ping-pong ball. Picking up babies, chasing babies, feeding babies, playing with babies, cleaning up after babies and basically running a veritable marathon between the halls of this house. It's been busy, and we all know that when we are busy, time just flies on by. Whoosh.

This year has taught me so much. SO much. I don't have the time to adequately ruminate on the countless ways this year - and primarily the twins - have rocked me to my core, but they have, and in the most profound ways. Haven and Mira are proving to be my greatest teachers. First of all, they have taught me that the heart does in fact grow bigger, even though no parent can ever imagine loving subsequent children as much as their first. They have taught me the beauty of genetics and how two people can create three incredibly different and distinct individuals. They have taught me that, no matter how hard I try to control things, sometimes I have to go with the flow even though this can be very hard for me to do. "If you don't bend, you break," Scott gently reminded me one morning when I was starting to get agitated that things weren't going *precisely* to plan. As much as I hate to admit it, "going with the flow" goes against my nature. I can play the part for a while, but ultimately I like to be in the driver's seat of my life and - well - the twins have taught me that sometimes, we're not in the driver's seat, we're just along for the ride.

And what a ride it has been.

"The joy is in the journey." This phrase hangs dead center in Mira and Haven's room and it's a mantra I have found myself repeating in a "serenity now" sort of way.

I have not been the best "me" this year. Unrivaled sleep deprivation, plus a colicky infant, twins and a very willful two year old, mixed in with a hefty dose of uncertainty about life has, at times, brought out my ugliest side. I learned a lot of not so great truths about myself when push came to shove and I discovered that I have some serious mental housekeeping to do. My patience was put to the test on a daily basis and many times I did not rise to the occasion. On multiple occasions I failed as a daughter, friend, sister, wife and mother and I do not cope well with failure.

But, like everything in life, there is a yin to this yang, and that "yin" is the people who surround me. I am beyond blessed with an incredible network of people who counterbalanced my failures and irascibility with an incredible amount of love and support. My amazing parents, my beautiful friends and my incredible husband were all so instrumental to me (and my sanity) this year, I cannot even begin to tell you. They were strong when I was weak, kind when I was cruel, giving when I was selfish and each of them let my roller coaster of emotions and twin-induced hormones run their course. They laughed with me, cried with me and picked me up over and over. They had my back in a million ways, large and small, and I cannot thank them enough for it. To have people like that in your corner...well, that's when you have won a sort of lottery in life, I think.

And then there are the babies. Our amazing, incredible, beautiful, awesome babies. There are not enough words to describe how blessed and thankful I am that we have three happy, healthy children - they are seriously joy personified and I have no idea how we got so lucky. As challenging as this year was, it has also brought me more happiness than I could have ever imagined. Funny how life has a way of calibrating like that. Sometimes I lay awake at night just thanking the Universe over and over and over for what we have been given. Even though I don't know how I could possibly be more grateful, it never, ever feels like enough.

2014 has been a year of big changes but mostly, this year has been about love. Life-changing, course-altering, soul-shaking, heart-bursting LOVE. I can only hope that 2015 - and every year after - follows suit. I am beyond grateful. Asante sana, Universe.

Thank you all so very much for following along on this crazy, crazy ride. Happy New Year to you all.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Land Yachting

While Scott and I have taken countless "leaps of faith" in our life together, baby steps is the name of our game. When we brought Isla on our boat, we started out nice and slow, cruising the Bahamas and then beyond. When we found out we were pregnant with twins, we decided to come home during my third trimester and adjust to life with multiples on land. When we decided we would, in fact, be returning to our boat - we decided to do a little test cruise with the babies on Lake Michigan to get a glimpse of what we were in for. When the prospect of a seven-plus hour drive with three small children in a rather compact SUV made us want to jump off a bridge, we decided to rent an RV instead.


Yep. We're "land yachting" for the holidays (thank you, Rorke, for the phrase!) Look out, Uncle Eddie.

While the decision was made primarily with our sanity in mind, there was some rhyme to our reason and a secondary bonus to making this call: driving in an RV will be yet another little glimpse of what life on a boat will resemble. Another "baby step" toward what we are in for in less than a month. Say what you will about motorhomes and trailers, but the fact of the matter is that "cruising" in a vehicle and "cruising" on a boat bear some very striking resemblances.

Scott and I had talked about renting an RV to drive up to his mom's in Northern Michigan before. It never happened because it was really, really expensive. After three solid weeks of having all kids sick with pretty much everything but Ebola (no joke: pink eye, influenza, stomach bug, respiratory infections, colds, crazy fevers and more) he got nervous about such a long car ride with very fussy, uncomfortable kids and brought up the RV rental again. Of course I was game (duh!) and I suggested he get a few quotes. Being that this is "low season" for the RV-renting set, we got ourselves a killer deal on twenty-five feet of a rollin' home that will be our 'tenement on wheels' for the week of Christmas. Scott has been doing seasonal work for UPS to top up the cruising kitty, so the prospect of taking to the highway in a twenty-five footer isn't *as* intimidating since he's been driving a big brown truck ten hours a day. File all this under the hashtag "winning."

So there you have it, our little adventure before our big adventure. Packing up three small children and all associated accouterments for a week in a cold, snowy climate - over Christmas no less - is no small feat (another bonus for the tropics: less clothes!!!) even for us who try to be minimalistic with toys and gear, so, of course, I am making lists and checking them twice. It's a heck of a lot to organize but again, it will be good preparation and pruning for the big "pack up" back to the boat. Neither of us have ever done the RV thing before so it should be an adventure. Needless to say, we'll keep you posted (check in with us on Facebook for more frequent updates). We "ship out" on Tuesday morning! Yee-haw!
Clark: So, when did you get the tenement on wheels?
Eddie: Oh, that uh, that there's an RV. Yeah, yeah, I borrowed it off a buddy of mine. He took my house, I took the RV. It's a good looking vehicle, ain't it?
Clark: Yeah, it looks so nice parked in the driveway.
[Raises glass to his mouth]
Eddie: Yeah, it sure does. But, don't you go falling in love with it now, because, we're taking it with us when we leave here next month.
[Clark nearly chokes on his drink]
- National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 

Friday, December 19, 2014


I am a wuss. I know that might come as a surprise to some of you, but it's true. Prior to any passage longer than twelve hours my belly swarms with butterflies and my mind wells up like a balloon with millions of "what if's." As we haul anchor and set sail, my worry manifests itself into fidgety hands, darting eyes and nervous questions like, "Are we sure this weather window was a good one?" "Do these waves seem bigger than predicted?" "Does the engine sound funny?" and "Wait a it Friday? (Gasp) We can't leave on a FRIDAY!"

Scott just looks at me and shakes his head.  I should know better, he says. I'm not like other girls, he reminds me. Scott is a pragmatist and, for better or worse, he treats me like an absolute equal on the boat. He doesn't coddle me or placate my worry, he simply tells me to suck it up and either a) take the helm or b) get some rest (depending on who takes the first watch). Scott spends no time hemming and hawing, he doesn't believe in unnecessary worry, nor does he pay any mind to sailing superstitions. If the perfect weather window opens on Friday, then we leave on Friday. Mother nature > superstition. Simple as that.

Truth be told, if it were up to me we'd never go anywhere, my worry can - at times - be paralyzing. I need to be pushed out of my comfort zone. Sometimes even dragged kicking and screaming. But once I am out, I love it. I am better for it. Which is just another reason why I love the cruising lifestyle so much - the constant growth into new territories. But that first step? It's a doozie for me.

Being something of a control freak (one of my least favorable traits and the one I do battle with daily), means I have to constantly suppress my need to know *exactly* what will happen and when. This obviously doesn't bode well for the cruising lifestyle (or life in general, really) where control is hugely limited and we must, quite literally, go with the flow. The sea, weather and boat form the trifecta of dominion in our lives - not us - and those three things provide lots and lots of surprises. "Plan" is just another dirty four letter word.

I think this is precisely why many sailors cling to myths. A quick Google search of "marine superstitions" will keep you busy for hours. In fact, I even wrote a post about them years ago, before we set sail. Clearly I am not the only one who finds this loss of control slightly unnerving. We as cruisers are constantly at the mercy of mother nature and live a lifestyle where the feeling of "control" is replaced with that of "adventure." If not bringing bananas aboard your vessel or refusing to look back after you've left port puts your mind at ease and helps you to take that first step, well then, I say to each his own.

Despite this, there are very few superstitions that hold any credibility to me (I already told you Scott's take on the matter). Turns out, most nautical superstitions were born from biblical times and many of them have either been debunked or are simply irrelevant these days. Women are bad luck on a boat? If that was true there'd be a lot more of those awkward single handers I mentioned earlier. We can't all be that bad (Right?) **** crickets****

In place of superstitions, Scott and I are pretty meticulous and methodical about how we care for and maintain our boat. We watch weather closely and sail very conservatively. That's not to say we haven't been bitch slapped here and there, because we have. But no amount of nautical juju is going to keep your engine purring if you don't change it's oil regularly. That said, I do say a little "prayer" to the Universe before we leave and I am always "thankful in advance" for our safe journey. I breathe a little easier if there's a red sky the night before a long passage and I take dolphins swimming at our bow as a very auspicious omen. I think we all have our little beliefs and rituals that we cling to when at sea. After all, the ocean is a constant reminder that we are not in charge, an ever present measuring stick that shows us precisely how tiny and insignificant we are.

So if you do happen to sail with us, please don't whistle. Ever. No need to summon a gale. Thanks.

When you believe in things that you don't understand then you suffer. Superstition ain't the way.- Stevie Wonder

So what about you? Do you have any rituals or superstitions you observe? LOOK Insurance are doing a study and would love to know if you are superstitious on your boat. Take thirty seconds and fill out their very simple three question survey (no need to fill out email address or anything so it's very painless!) and help them out!

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Awesome Sailing People: KatieandJessieOnaBoat

I don't really know how to properly introduce these beautiful women other than to tell you that very few blogs keep my attention these days (one word: babies) and their blog is one of them. It's a cut above the rest. I can't really put my finger on why it's so, but it is. It's obvious that Jessie is a gifted writer and stellar photographer, and Katie's quirks and incredible sense of humor make for some great stories - but it's more than those things...What can I say? The blog and the women behind it just have that special je ne sais quoi.

Meet Katie and Jessie, two best friends in their mid-twenties who decided, more or less on a whim, to take on "The Great Loop" in a small sailboat together. Some of you might know of, the blog chronicling their trip, but on the off chance you don't - do yourself a favor and take a look. "Refreshing" doesn't even begin to describe it. It's honest, genuine and - most importantly- it's really good. Jessie is one of my favorite writers on the internet these days and even though 'envy' is an emotion I don't often entertain, when I read her I find it hard not to turn a shade of green.

Yes. I have a total "girl crush".

I am beyond inspired and excited by them. After emailing back and forth I'm certain we are kindred spirits and I am thrilled that we share a Great Lake (and midwestern roots) which means the likelihood of our meeting each other one day is high. Katie and Jessie are going places. They might not know when or where, but believe me, this is not the last you'll hear of them.

These two are the full package: beauty, brains, brawn...and, as if that wasn't enough, they have pretty fantastic sense of humors to boot. Read 'em and weep:

1. Give our readers the cliff's notes of your journey. The why, where, and how...

WHY? I spent a lot of time looking for jobs on boats when I was 22. After turning down a job opportunity on a 100 foot yacht with a crazy Spanish man, my Dad encouraged me to buy my own boat and sail to the Bahamas myself - but not just me - Katie too. We were all in my truck together and the conversation went something like this;

"Why don't you girls buy a boat and sail the Bahamas? Take your own boat trip" - Dad

"I wouldn't suggest that too seriously if I were you" - me

"Why don't you do 'the loop'? " - Dad

"Okay. We will. Katie? Sound good?" -me

"Sounds good to me." - Katie

"Okay we will leave in one year. Deal? " - me

"Deal" - Katie

We left one year later.

WHERE? We spent two years traveling in a very large circle, beginning and ending in Lake Michigan. Heading south towards Chicago we entered the Illinois river... and continued onto the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, and Tombigbee waterways reaching the Gulf of Mexico. Skirting the coast over to Florida and crossing through middle of the state via Lake Okechobee. Sailed to the Bahamas, and spent three months island hopping. The intracoastal waterway brought us all the way up the East coast to New York City. The Hudson River, Erie Canal, and Trent-Severn waterway in Canada eventually dumped us back into the Great Lakes. Thats a lot to take in - I know. And no, we never knew where we were going until the day of.

HOW? Found "Louise"online. Quit our jobs. Moved back home to Michigan. Left our boyfriends. Drained our bank accounts. Spent a summer tearing apart our new home and making her seaworthy with help from our knowledgeable fathers. Left for our journey September 4th, 2012, completely unprepared and full of unanswered questions.

2. How did you two meet? Describe your friendship.

Jessie: Katie and I met when we were babies. Our dad's were high school friends. It wasn't until we were in 7th grade when we realized that we were both on a different planet. My first memory of our friendship is her and I sleeping in drawers that you could pull out from underneath a bed. Sleeping in a normal bed was boring. In high school - we were bad. Always getting into trouble together. Driving around in our parents cars after they fell asleep, before we even had drivers license's. In college we independently roamed California, but always ended up in the same place, talking about where we would go next.

Katie: We have known each other our whole lives, our dads are best friends, from what I hear it all started when Jessie's dad Jimmy was in Grand Haven for summer school, and was out on the lake in a sailing dinghy when it started to sink, a friend of my dad's helped him out and introduced the two of them. 

3. You both come from sailing 
families, how did this effect your lives?

I didn't cared about Sailing as a kid, and never thought twice about how a sailboat worked. I always wanted to be in the water, or running around on land. Every year my family went on a week long sailing trip, it was just what we did. I took it for granted, I assumed everyone went on sailing trips. At 22 when my dad presented this idea, it seemed feasible. How hard could be it be sail? If I hadn't grown up around sailboats, I certainly would not have taken a sailboat on the Great Loop haha. But it is certainly in my blood, I just didn't appreciate it until I grew up.

4. What's so "great" about the Great Loop?

Jessie: I could write a novel about this (stay tuned) The answers are endless. But to sum it up - the people. Not just the people themselves but the situations, and reasons you end up meeting each of them. 

Katie: Traveling through our beautiful country at 5-10mph is what makes the Great Loop so great, slowing down and smelling the roses, meeting so many people along the way.

5. Each crew member on a sailboat has strengths and weaknesses. What was one strength and one weakness both of you brought aboard Louise?

Jessie: I am a hot mess when it comes to throwing lines, tying knots, and using the boat hook. I don't like to follow rules and enjoy taking chances. I can be naive. I often take the easy way out. There were multiple instances I didn't trust Katie when I should have. I am a bitch when it's too hot outside.

My strengths were being at the helm for countless hours every day. Making friends. Documenting. Bleeding diesel engines. Changing oil. Plumbing.

I don't know what Katie's weakness was. She talks a lot when she get anxious, eats too many cookies, and can't function without Reggie (her dog).

Katie is incredibly Intuitive. If you ask her she will say she's psychic, which I translate to "intuitive". She took care of every day logistics. She submersed herself in guide books, and kept detailed records of all statistics. She is a good judge of character, and kept me in line with who I was making friends with.

Katie: I'd have to say Jessie’s biggest strength would be, well being able to do just about anything well, I’m not kidding, you name it this girl can get it done, with the exception of throwing anything, and lefty-loosy righty-tighty… she can stay calm in just about any situation, which balances out my tendency to totally freak out ;)

As a pair the only thing we can’t handle is the heat, I’d like to think we could at least survive anything that could be thrown at us, until it gets too hot, that’s when the bad attitudes come out… or the Budweisers.

We both have our fair share of flaws we have just been lucky that we don’t have too many of the same, I mentioned before Jessie’s issue with righty-righty lefty-loosy, well I just plain don’t know left from right… there was this time in Tennessee… we were trying to loosen the oil drain bolt for maybe an hour, prying it with everything we had, kicking it, using different loosening solutions, until we finally came to realization that we had just been tightening the damn thing… with a change in direction, and a little elbow grease to counter everything we had done before it came right off… would have saved us a bit of time, to know left from right, but also starved us a couple laughs at least we weren’t strong enough to do any damage…

6. If money were no object, what would be your next adventure (does not have to be sailing related)?

Jessie: I would build a tree house ... Swiss Family Robinson style. Or ride a donkey across the country. One or the other.

Katie: Donkey wagon train across the northern part of the country.

7. Describe a low point in your trip.

Jessie: I questioned myself a lot. Compared my life to others. The grass was always greener. There were moments when this kind of thought process repeated itself over and over again ;

"I am 25, single, and unemployed. I look like shit and if you saw me in the street you would assume I just got out of work at Jiffy Lube. There were ants in my breakfast, my lunch was moldy, and I don't even care to heat up my soup anymore. It's pouring rain and every thing I own is soaking wet. Over it."

More specifically the time when Katie had sea urchin spines piercing through her fingers, Reggie was covered in hot wax from a candle spilling and I got a black eye from my canon 40D flying off the shelf in the middle of the night. We were alone in the Bahamas, out of ibuprofen, and out contact. The weather was horrible, the anchorage was horrible. I was worried about Katie, I was worried about bashing into nearby rocks, I was worried about getting struck by lightning, I was worried my nose was broken. I wanted to go home. 

Katie: There are a few times where we just wanted to be home, mostly due to weather, being our boat, is basically camping, if its hot and buggy it can be miserable, if its cold and raining it can be miserable, if it goes on for too long it wears on you, makes you wanna go home.

8. Trips like these have the power to alter one's course significantly. How has this journey changed you?

Jessie: Also the kind of answer I could write a novel about. It has taught me to slow down. I eat slower. I speak slower. I take time making decisions, and think very deeply about everything I do. I am even typing slower. It has changed my priorities, what is important, and what is not important. I know myself, I know my body, and I know my mind. I have been given the time to think about every decision I have made in my life, every scenario, why I made particular choices, and why I've ended up in each situation. I literally spent two years thinking. 

Katie: Well besides totally and completely changing who I am… I know what I am capable of and what I am not willing to settle for.

9. If you could give me advice on how to raise three bad ass girls like yourselves, what would it be?

Jessie: Set them free. Let them make mistakes. Be confident in them, no matter what. 

Katie: It has been so important in my life that whatever crazy idea I come up with my parents have always been supportive, it might help that my sister is a straight A student in college and really succeeding at doing the “normal” thing ;) that they can handle having one wild one.

10. So you've ticked a pretty impressive line item off your bucket list...what is another bucket list "to do" you want to accomplish before you turn (let's just throw a number out there...) 30?

Jessie: You know, I turn 26 in February. For years I have told myself... "when I have to pay health insurance, I will become an adult. I will have things figured out" Well, that is a bunch of crap. I am an adult. I do not have things figured out what-so-ever. All I want to do is run around the world, take pictures, and find good conversation.

I want to turn this adventure into a book. I want to inspire people. I want to introduce "The Great Loop" to younger generations. Oh and I would like to make one million dollars after winning "The Amazing Race".

Katie: At this point “fresh off the boat” I really just want to want to stay put, but I'm already getting over that ;)

Friday, November 28, 2014

On Being a Cruising Kid...

I never really considered myself a "cruising kid", but I also never remember life without sailing in it. My parents always had a sailboat, the first was a Pearson 30 poetically named "Tenacious" - she took me on my maiden sail when I was only a couple weeks old and was same boat I put into gear and tried to drive out of Monroe harbor at the tender age of two. The second was a well-reputed 35 foot Pretorian, "Lancashire Lass" (after my mother), with a pretty blue stripe and a little more room for our growing family (my younger brother and sister had arrived by now). The next was a sleek Frers 41 (also a "Lancashire Lass"), which was bigger still and would be the boat responsible for my love of racing.  My dad has since built two custom aluminum boats of the same name - but the bulk of our cruising vacations were spent on the Pretorian and Frers. Every summer since I can remember (up until the apex of my angst-ridden teen years), our family of five would spend a few weeks cruising along the shores of Lake Michigan like...well, cruisers.

This was very strange among my friends. None of their families ever sailed and they certainly didn't own sailboats, so my disappearing over the summer on one was something I usually had to explain. Because many of my friends did know the concept of "lake house", I would liken our boat to my family's version of a "lake home", only ours moved from port to port and was kind of like camping. We slept in "bunks", we cooked in a "galley" and went to the bathroom in a "head". Sometimes it was stormy. Sometimes we threw up over the side. And sometimes we'd be stuck in a town longer than expected due to weather. One thing we could count on? It always took a really, really long time to get wherever it was we were going. Patience was a lesson that was always reiterated on the boat.

I never knew the term "cruisers" back then and I certainly didn't know that anyone ever lived on their boats. That wonderful nugget of information didn't come until after I read "Maiden Voyage" at thirteen or fourteen years old. Nope, where I grew up kids like me lived in houses with their parents, attended school, participated in various extracurricular activities, and eventually ended up going to college. If people were living outside the parameters of mainstream society (like...on boats), they weren't doing it in our suburban neighborhood.

When Scott and I left Chicago on our first boat Rasmus in 2010, we were inducted into another world - one where people did live on their boats and traveled the world in them. These were modern day gypsy caravans that floated. Some of these wonderful people even had kids on their boats. They were free, fit and fun. They were articulate, creative, intelligent and well-mannered in a way I hadn't seen in most land children. They were "boat schooled" and travelled the world with their families. These were cruising kids. Never did I consider that in my youth I had been one of them.

But I was, in a way. It wasn't full time and it wasn't to any foreign or exotic port, but our humble bouts of family cruising on beautiful Lake Michigan left an indelible mark on my character and had a huge impact on who, and where, I am today.

I don't remember the trips in enough detail to piece together a whole vacation. I know that we buddy boated with my aunt, uncle and cousins some times. I remember tons of fun. I remember being outside. I remember riding on the bow, holding on for dear life and excitedly feeling my stomach drop out from under me as we pitched over waves. I remember how cold Lake Michigan could be, even in August, when we ran and jumped in off the docks. Mostly my memories are just vignettes: a rainy day playing Old Maid on the boat, a rough passage where we all got sick, a family dinner in an out-dated lake side restaurant, and an impromptu dress up party on the dock(when I cleverly turned a bunch of garbage bags into a respectable hula costume). I remember water-balloon dinghy fights, fishing off the dock at sunset, pan-fried perch drenched in butter and building sand castles on the beach. I remember halyard swinging, dinghy excursions and exploring the rocks of countless break walls with my brother and sister looking for fool's gold. I remember my dad would always play classical music at bedtime because I couldn't fall asleep without it. Pachelbel's Canon in D will forever bring me right back to my bunk, back to the boat, listening to the gentle splash of waves against the hull.

Mostly I remember feelings: happy and free.

Despite this, I am pretty certain I was never excited about these boat vacations back then. I'm sure I whined that I would miss my friends, lamented that I would miss out on all the "cool" stuff summer had in store, and of course we all bemoaned having to live on a boat and sail every other day or so. Sailing was so very boring, so very slow. My parents obviously ignored our whining knowing full well that kids in particular are the most adaptable beings on the planet and in a few days time we'd  get in our groove, find our fun and forget all about whatever it was we were whining about. As we got older they started to allow us to bring along a friend on these vacations. It was when we could share this "strange" lifestyle with our peers that we started to see the "cool" in it. They would always be amazed by boat life (something which was so normal and natural to us) and, in turn, we'd find a healthy level of pride in our unconventional vacations. For a time, anyway.

We'd pack up the boat and usually my dad would single-hand the one 12-hour overnight across the lake from Chicago to the Michigan shore while we all slept down below. Once there we would leisurely skip from town to town along the coast. He knew not to push us. He was patient. He would learn to make us love sailing in short, digestible chunks. The love affair would take over a decade to mature in my brother and sister and I, the appreciation of what our parents were giving us during those summers didn't come until we were all grown up.  The sailing part was a means to an end for us kids, because what we loved about these trips was not sailing but coming into a new port. Each little beach town offered something exciting: New parks! New restaurants! New dunes! New ice cream and fudge shops! New books! My brother, sister and I are all voracious readers and we credit our deep love of reading to these cruising stints. We lived a very "unplugged" life on the boat. No television, no video games and of course this was well before cell phones were ubiquitous and in the palm of every hand. We didn't check in on Facebook, we didn't post pictures on Instagram, nor did we "tweet". When we underway, if we weren't building forts on the bow or playing games down below, or being dragged along in the dinghy (something that made us squeal with delight) we were reading. We'd find our comfy spots and tuck into our books. On "long" passages of five hours or more, we could knock off a book a day. Thankfully our parents never said "no" to replenishing our library at the next port. The excitement of new books on the boat was palpable.

My memories of the harbor towns along the Michigan shore - from Mackinaw Island to St. Joseph -are vivid. Cobblestone streets, bright red lighthouses, colorful storefronts, sandy beaches for miles... It wasn't until I sailed into these ports on my own boat twenty years later that I realized just how much I remembered. "Oh my gosh!" I would exclaim to Scott, "That is the park where my sister buried her rain coat, never to be found again!" or "That is the restaurant we used to go to every time we came here and play "killer" (a family game whereby the 'killer' winked people around the table 'dead')!" or "I remember fishing off that pier with my little Snoopy pole!" The memories all came flooding back with such fondness, it was like coming home. The familiarity of these places, untarnished after two decades, surprised me. Looking back, our cruising vacations made me fundamentally suited for a life afloat.

My dad always says that the greatest gift you can give to your kids is your time - and not just 'quality' time, but 'quantity' time...because beautiful moments where bonds are strengthened, difficult moments where security is developed, teachable moments where integrity is built and challenging moments where character evolves are not scheduled. They are there, in every second of every single day. They might be fleeting and they might be subtle, but they are always there. These cruising vacations gave our family the priceless gift of quality quantity time. Cruising kids get this kind of time from their parents in spades, it's a huge bonus of the lifestyle, for sure.

There was no way of knowing back then just how much impact those short but intense bouts of cruising would have on my life, but every day I am reminded. Hindsight, of course, is 20/20. It's rare we truly appreciate something for what it's worth when we are in the moment, particularly when we are children. Yet so much of who I am can be traced back to the boat, back to those cruising vacations and that time spent with my family: my love of reading, my appreciation for classical music, my intrinsic knowledge of the parts of a boat and sailing, my deep respect and admiration for the water and all things 'nature', the close bond with my family and - most of all - my unflinching desire to give the same experiences to our children.

So while I might not have been a full-time "cruising kid" - I was indeed one of them. And, as Frost so eloquently says, that has made all the difference.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Letters from the Twin Trenches: 8 Months In

Back story to our "Letters from the Twin Trenches" series...When we were in the BVI's we met up with some blog followers.  They were young, fun and we enjoyed hanging out with them (and the left over provisions they gave us from their charter when they flew home the next day).  Fast forward to months later when I announced our twin pregnancy on the blog...  Imagine my surprise when I got an email from Kimberly telling me that she, too, was pregnant with twins and only a week ahead of me.  "Must have been something in those painkillers!" she wrote... And so began a pretty incredible and prolific E-pal friendship chronicling our respective pregnancies and birth stories that continues to this day.  Her beautiful fraternal twin girls were born (full term) two weeks before ours and I have to tell you, sharing our (eerily similar) journeys via email has been very cathartic for me.  Solidarity.  If there is one thing you need as a parent of twins it's community.  We need to know we are not alone when it seems our sanity is teetering on the brink, which it will do from time to time when there are two newborns in the house.  Particularly if those newborns are screaming in unison.  These are some letters to her...they tell it like it is.  The good, the bad, the ugly...

November 11, 2014


It has been way too long. I know it's my fault and I am so sorry. I have written you a hundred emails in my head and SO many nights I have gone to bed thinking "I have to write Kimberly" because, well, you will either a) feel my joy or b) (more likely) feel my pain. Alas, time just disappears. The old adage "days are long but years are short" doesn't really apply to people with twins I don't think because my days FLY by. One second it's 7:30am and I'm finishing a pot of coffee (yep, finishing a pot of coffee) and then POOF!!! It's 6pm bedtime. It's crazy. Twins are a total time sucking vortex. Granted, it's a cuddly, adorable and pretty hilariously awesome one - but a vortex none the less.

SOOOO....what is new? Both our girls' are 8 months. INSANE. Before you know it they will be a year and we will be like "WHY ARE THEY STILL NOT SLEEPING THROUGH THE NIGHT?!?!" Haha...I joke. Kind of. But wow, it's been a trip. So how are things? How is work? How is your mom? How are YOU? and, most important, how are the beautiful A and M? (Note: Please send a recent pic!) Oh...I guess I should ask how poor Michael is too - how is he holding up in your estro-house? ;)

I think you guys went to the Annapolis Boat show? Am I remembering correctly? How did it go? I think I saw it was successful? Did you quit your jobs and buy a boat? ;)

Things are good in our camp. We are finally in the guest house now which means we have our own space which is wonderful. Not that living with my parent's was horrible, because they were just about as awesome as they could be and we will forever be indebted to them for all their help, but a family of five needs their own space. It's been great to have it. So there's that...

I will start with the good news: the babies are awesome. Seriously, they are the happiest, most smiley little babies ever. Especially Haven. Yep. Crazy Haven; the child who screamed her head off and could not be put down for an entire three months is now the happiest baby on the planet. Always smiling. Always happy. At least in the daytime she is (I'll get to this later). She is a full-blown mama's girl and if I am in the room, she is at my feet, on my lap, eating my face or climbing up to snuggle. She's a mama-seeking missel and she is so nosy and curious. She is standing and "walking" along on furniture which is crazy. Her nickname these days is "The Steamroller" because if anything is in her path (including her poor sister) she'll just plow right over it. We reckon she will be walking by eleven months. We thought Isla was our Olympic athlete (you should see her at the playground!) but now it's looking like Haven might just be our ticket to the Games. We shall see. She is something else, let me tell you.

Mira is still chill and sweet as ever. I call her my "angel baby" because she is just so soft and delicate - I just want to eat her up. Obviously you know about the hospital stay which was awful - but, in a way, it felt almost like a vacation. Meals delivered to me? No cleaning up to do? Only one baby to tend to? Ability to sit down for more than five minutes? Sleeping more than three hour stretches?!?! File that under the hashtag: "you know you're a mom of twins when..." She's healthy as a horse now, though no where near as big and sturdy as her sister. We are actually getting her evaluated by a physical therapist just to make sure she's not delayed since I do have some concerns, though it might just be pronounced in the wake of her rather 'advanced' twin. She is only now starting to sit up on her own and still has not mastered crawling on her hands and knees for any length of time. She drags herself around like a zombie a la "thriller" and, I might add, she is damn good at it. She does a mean army crawl too. It's hilarious. She also loves to sing and bob her head to music which is the funniest thing to see since her head is so big and her little neck sometimes wobbles to support it. She's definitely got music and rhythm in her bones, she "sings" along with me by doing this hilarious open mouth monotone "aaaahhhhhhhhhhhh" - we're working on pitches. One thing at a time.

The bad news: These crazy babies are still not sleeping through the night and while naps are (dare I say?) better, they are nowhere near the consistency and length that Isla's were (they go down at 9am and 1pm every day and most days Haven will do one forty-fiver and then - if I am lucky - an hour, Mira, the better sleeper all around, will usually do an hour to an hour and a half each time thankfully). As for nighttime sleep, on a good night I get up only once or twice to tend to a child/nurse babies (Isla wakes up too now which adds insult to injury). On a bad night, I'm getting up anywhere from four to six times to nurse the babies or calm Isla from a bad dream/get her water/pick up her blanket that fell...etc and it really takes it's toll on my sanity. If you carry the two after subtracting times woken up vs. hours left for sleep - that is a maximum of two to three hours of consecutive sleep a night. It's crazy, and literally wearing both my body and my mind thin.

We did a modified cry it out out two months ago out of sheer desperation (back when the twins were waking every two hours for weeks and weeks on end), and it did work to a point (meaning only waking up at 1am and then at 6am), but I think we're teething again (both girls have their bottom two teeth) which is wreaking havoc on sleep and, of course, my mental state. Scott is sleeping with a full-blown trucker; I drop more "F" bombs in the middle of the night than I care to admit. When that monitor goes off, my heart literally skips a beat when I look at the clock and see only two or three hours has gone by, I get PISSED. Then I calm down. I try to remember this is only a sliver of time in our lives - and go and nurse them, which guarantees slumber. Sometimes I let them cry for a while to see if maybe just maybe they'll fall back asleep, but when I do that it almost always results in Haven waking the whole house which is total mayhem and I usually do what I can to avoid that, probably to the detriment of "sleep training".  Ahhh....sleep is overrated, right?....WRONG. It is not, but whatever - we're almost at a year and before we know it they'll be two and three and four and this will be nothing more than a blur, just like all the other twin moms who's kids are older tell us. But I still really want to hurt the mom's who say, "My babies slept through the night - ten hours a night -  at 4 months old!" I honestly believe if our girls slept well at night, I would be 100% a-ok. I mean, our days are awesome and I can handle all three no problem - we have our routine and our fun and all that good stuff - but the nighttime shenanigans wear me thin. Literally. I am now at my pre-baby weight and still shrinking. I guess that's the silver lining? I will definitely be bikini ready for January. No doubt.

But, sleep deprivation aside, all in all - life is so good. I am so in love with these little munchkins and they are such sweet love bugs. I never really thought I could love another child as much as I love Isla but - lo and behold - I totally do. If I had a dime for every time I say, "I cannot handle how much I love these kids!" I'd be buying that Hallberg-Rassy 46 in no time. I feel so lucky and so blessed with our girls. Isla (though fully in the throes of the "terrible twos" and full of "challenging moments") is such a joy and the twins' personalities are really coming out. I'm just DYING to see what they are like in a year. It's going to be so fun when the three of them can really play and interact - I'm getting glimpses of it now and it's fun to imagine what the future will look like with these three little ladies in it. 

It's also fun to imagine a solid 8 hours of sleep. Sigh.

Miss you - write when you can! 

Much love,
Like this series? Check out my other "trenches" posts:

Breastfeeding Twins: A Delicate Balance (notes on successfully establishing breastfeeding)
Letter from the Twin Trenches: From One M.o.M to Another (4 weeks: letter to a fellow twin mama)
Letters from the Twin Trenches: Four Months In (Out of trenches? Not quite)

Friday, November 14, 2014

Living Legends: 10 Questions with John and Amanda Neal

John and Amanda Neal are not your average sailing couple. At first glance, they look like any other pair of cruisers you'd see at a dockside pot luck; good looks, sun-kissed skin, Hawaiian shirts and easy smiles. You'd never guess that they are bonafide modern-day adventurers and incredibly accomplished sailors who have literally sailed circles around the vast majority of us. I met them last January and they are as unassuming as could be. But don't be fooled, they are anything but "normal". Having logged over 600,000 miles between them, it's hard to tell based on numbers and stats alone who is the 'saltier' of the two. At the tender age of 22, John took the helm of his 27 foot sloop and singlehanded from the Marquesas to Samoa (4000 miles) and wrote a best selling book about it. As a teen, Amanda sailed from New Zealand to Vancouver with her parents and in 1990 she completed The Whitbread Around the World Race (now The Volvo Race) as rigger aboard s/v Maiden, the first all-women Whitbread boat. Individually, their resumes are impressive and together they complete the dynamic duo behind Mahina Expeditions; the hard-core, hands-on, live-aboard sail training school that takes place in waters that most sailors only dream of.

I have been a huge fan of their website, which hosts a wealth of information on all things voyaging, since the beginning of this blog (check out their "boats to consider for offshore cruising" page for starters) and I still find myself referencing their site from time to time. These two are the real deal and it's my honor to present to you my interview with them:

1.  They say the #1 rule of cruising is to not have a schedule, yet you run a successful offshore sailing school that requires one which I imagine must be stressful at times. How hard is it to plan your itineraries and stick to them?  

It isn’t hard at all. I spend a lot of time researching the routes plus I’ve sailed most of them several times over the past 40 years and have a fairly good idea of what to expect, weather wise. I also crank 30-50% extra time in to the plan, so if we need to wait for better conditions we can drop some places we would normally have stopped to explore.

2.  You have done your fair share of sailing in both the big and little latitudes. Do you prefer one over the other? What stands out in your mind as the biggest difference between the two and what do you find the most challenging about high latitude sailing? 

We find the high latitudes more challenging, more difficult and more rewarding. Tropical sailing is lovely, and when we’re in Patagonia or the Arctic getting knocked around and cold and wet, we sometimes say, “What are we, crazy? Remind me why we left the tropics for this abuse?” We don’t prefer one over the other. We’ve just left the South Pacific after five incredible, over-the-top years. It was quite sad leaving several countries, but we’re already looking forward to return, although probably not for several years. (The biggest difference is:) The stronger winds, substantially larger seas and faster speed of movement of the weather systems. For instance, nearly each of the 15 or so times we’ve made the 2700 mile passage from Auckland, New Zealand to Tahiti on the northern edge of the Roaring Forties we’ve seen 50-60 kts and very large seas. On this passage we find professional weather routing very valuable.

3.  You do a lot of sailing instruction with people who are dreaming of taking the plunge into the live-aboard life. What would you say is the most common mistake or misconception your clients make/have when it comes to sailing/cruising? 

We frequently hear that folks find ocean passagemaking more physically demanding than expected and that their boats require substantially more time and money to maintain than anticipated. Another common mistake is waiting too long to reduce sail – which frequently results in damage to sails or rig.

4.  Similarly, you do a lot of consulting with people to help them find the perfect cruising boat. What is the one piece of advice you would give to people shopping for a boat? 

Give yourself plenty of time to find, repair and outfit your boat. Currently, the selection in North America for good offshore-capable boats in the under $100K and under $200K categories is quite slim. Unless the seller has just spent a substantial amount of time and money upgrading and preparing their boat for offshore, the purchaser can easily spend 100% of purchase price and 1-2 years in repairing and outfitting for passage making. The older you are, the newer the boat you should purchase, even if it is smaller, if you really want to go cruising.

5.  You and Amanda are both very skilled sailors with impressive resumes. What is one skill each of you possess that you found the most useful in regards to the cruising lifestyle? On the flip side, what is something you wish you were better at that would be helpful with life aboard? 

Amanda has an amazing situational awareness – when something breaks or there is a critical time, she can instantly figure out exactly what needs to be done and make repairs. I think this is partly a result of her extensive offshore racing background including completing the Whitbread Around the World Race as rigger aboard Maiden and surviving two hellacious Sydney-Hobart races in boats that slowly disintegrated. She wishes she had more interest in following the weather. I’ve found the ability to keep the big picture and plan ahead for everything helpful. Although we can both speak and understand basic French, I wish we had better language skills, particularly Spanish and Portuguese.

6.  Amanda is a very accomplished racer turned cruiser. Many women who cruise are following their husband's dreams and a rare few are as competent on a voyaging boat as Amanda. What is a piece of advice she would give to other women who are looking to boost their confidence and/or sailing skills?

  • Discover your learning style. Most women learn differently then men. Cruising World magazine commissioned me to write this four-part series of articles on women cruising.
  • Take the learning at your own pace and keep it fun and enjoyable. Don’t beat yourself up if something goes wrong.
  • Don’t forget to take time out for yourself and your own passions/interest, whether sewing, bird watching, dancing, reading, yoga, fitness or whatever. I often find the most interesting and happy cruising women are ones who take time to incorporate their own interests.

7.  If you could give one piece of advice to people who are starting out cruising, what would it be? 

Get off your boat and explore every chance possible. Don’t let your boat become all-consuming. Follow your personal interests and passions while cruising. Use your skills and ingenuity to make a positive impact on the places you visit and people you meet.

8.  You have made your life's passion (sailing/voyaging) your work. How do you not get "burned out"? 

We are never on the boat 12 months a year, and find most people who are, get burned out with cruising. We always plan ahead and find a safe place ashore to leave our boat during hurricane or winter storm season. As much as we love being on the boat, we’ve found it very healthy to have 4-5 month breaks each year. In the beginning it was because I’d always run out of money and need to head home to work for a few months. Now, even if we didn’t need to come back to work, we still would as we really appreciate the change of focus and pace. It’s a joy to catch up with friends and family and mentally stimulating to work, but by the time we head back to the boat, we are both really looking forward to it. 

9.  You sail on a Hallberg Rassy 46 (coincidentally our *dream* boat) - why did you choose her and if you could change one thing, what would it be? 

We looked worldwide for several years before ordering a Hallberg-Rassy 46. Some of our criteria: great sailing performance, protected helm position (the factory option of a permanent hard dodger is brilliant), substantial build quality as we sail in some fairly extreme weather conditions, extensive tankage (265 gallons water, 1400 mi range under power), simple and sturdy rig, moderate draft (6’1”) and tons of storage space. We’ve now sailed Mahina Tiare III 181,000 miles, the equivalent of seven times around the world and she is still in excellent condition. (For more, read John's review of the HR 46). The one thing we would change would be no teak decks. We tried to get HR to skip the teak decks, but as they’ve never built a boat over 34’ without teak decks, they have no non-skid pattern in the deck mold and wouldn’t do that.

10.  Of all the places you have sailed, is there one that keeps calling you back? I know it's almost impossible to ask "what is your favorite" - you have a favorite destination? 

Amanda: The Azores – they are so fresh, small and romantic. We really love and are drawn to isolated, small offshore islands and the very interesting people we find there. Some examples: the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland, Norway’s Lofoten Islands, the Shetlands, Chiloe Island in Patagonia and the tiny, isolated islands of the South Pacific like Mopelia. 

John: I would add Vanuatu and Fiji for the islanders infectious zest for life and crazy sense of humor and Antarctica and Spitsbergen for the 24 hours of daylight mid-summer and how everything seems like it is in 3D and larger than life.

Want more of the Neals?

John and Amanda will be presenting at the upcoming Chicago, Seattle and Vancouver boat shows.
Sign up for their in-depth full-day seminar on Offshore Cruising (which covers 18 topics and includes their 260 page cruising companion) or check out their smaller free seminars on everything from storm tactics to outfitting.

Check out John's book Log of the Mahina - A Tale of the South Pacific about his journey to the South Pacific.

Aside from being an accomplished sailor, Amanda is a talented cook as well. Check out her book: The Essential Galley Companion - Recipes and Provisioning Advice for your Boating Adventures
All photos used in this post are by Tor Johnson and used with permission.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What's the Top Sailing Destination?

"What is your favorite destination?" is probably the second most common question that cruisers get asked by landlubbers (after "How can you afford this?") It's a hard one to answer because it's kind of like asking a parent, "Who's your favorite child?" Each place is so unique with it's own special appeal and when it's all said and done, most islands and destinations end up balancing out based on their features, attractions and -yes- minor detractions. Some islands are known for their inland adventures, some are better known for their sea life. Some locals are friendly, some more aggressive. Some offer fun social activities whereas others are uninhabited. Cheap vs. expensive, beach bars vs. beach combing ....yadda yadda... All of the above work in a yin/yang sort of way depending on the destination, so to say what's the "best" is not only totally subjective but really hard because there are so many variables to consider.

So when LOOK Insurance Services ran their own list on the "Top 5 Most Exotic Sailing Destinations" and invited us to chime in, I decided to use their criteria of: 'climate', 'scenery' and 'clearness of the water' to come up with our "top destination".

So, based on those three things, the winner is (drum roll please)....The Bahamas. Hands down.

Granted, we've only covered a tiny sliver of the planet by boat but for us - based on our travels thus far - it doesn't get much better than the Bahamas.


To say they are "awesome" really does them no justice. But they. are. awesome.

When we were first planning our trip five years ago, we were going to skip this island chain and sail right for the British Virgin Islands. Our (embarrassing) mentality was, "If they are so close to the USA, then they can't be that cool". I know, what an incredibly ignorant way to think. More planning and the desire to take "baby steps" finally put this incredible island chain on our sailing itinerary and for that I am very, very grateful. We've cruised the Exumas twice and plan to spend a full season in the Bahamas in the near future. So what's the deal? I'll break it down for you:

The Climate:
Sharing the same latitude with much of Florida means the Bahamas are almost a temperate -yet still tropical - climate. We cruised there between the months of February and April and we never felt uncomfortably hot. Daytime it was bathing suits, shorts and tanks and evenings almost always required a light sweatshirt or long pants. After having spent two summers in Grenada (out of the hurricane zone) where it is hotter than Hades, I really enjoy/appreciate a place where you don't stew in your own sweat 24/7.

The Scenery:
When I scan through the sixteen thousand photos I have from the past four years (note to self: must organize photos) - the best are, bar none, the ones from the Bahamas. They are almost cliche in their "tropical island-ness" and each one looks like a photoshopped postcard. Except they are not. Low lying sun-bleached islands surrounded by water that covers every shade of blue and green from cobalt to topaz, from teal to hunter with endless vistas of sea and sky for as far as the eye can see. It's spectacular.

The Water:
Sigh. It's all about the water. The average depth of the Bahama banks is something ridiculous like ten feet. It's also as clear as the day is long. Literally. You can drop your anchor in twenty-four feet of water and watch it dig in to the pillowy, white sand (added bonus: anchoring in twelve to fifteen feet of clear water is so much nicer/easier than anchoring in thirty feet of dark water). When you are sailing, you can look over the rail and see red starfish thirty feet down. We have yet to go anywhere with water as beautiful as the water in the Bahamas (the Tobago Cays in the Grenadines come close, as do the Turks and Caicos). The windwards and leewards don't even come close to the kind of water clarity that the Bahamas dishes up each and every day.

....and I just can't stop there....

Other bonuses of the Bahamas:

The Safety:
This is a biggie. The only place we ever locked our dinghy up was in Nassau (which is the capitol and where something like 75% of Bahamians live, leaving many many islands completely uninhabited) and never needed to raise it or lock it at night (not the case just about everywhere else we've travelled). We never worried when we left our boat and we never felt threatened or harassed by the locals. Tourism is the countries "bread and butter" and they work hard to maintain a great reputation. Furthermore, because most of the islands in the Exumas can only be accessed by boat or small charter plane, locals in these very small communities really respect and love the visitors they do get. There is a peacefulness and serenity that is unique to the Bahamas and to experience it is something quite wonderful.

The Variety:
The Bahamas offer over 700 islands, cays and islets to explore. There are so many places to see that you can cruise the Bahamas for ten years and still discover new and interesting spots that you've never seen before. It's no wonder so many folks return year after year. Within the Bahamas are a slew of "distinct" island chains that all have their own 'feel' and offer up something a little different. From the Abacos to the Berrys, from the Exumas to the Raggads there is truly something for everyone.

The Solitude:
There are not too many places in this world where you can feel like you have your own private place. The Bahamas are one such place. We could travel with the "herd" and be among other cruisers when we wanted, but if we were craving some solitude - it was only a short sail away. With so many islands and so many anchorages, you are never too far from your very own paradise.

The Sailing:
Because of the way the Bahamas are situated, you can access most islands without ever having to sail in the open ocean.  The Islands of the Bahamas act as a natural wave barrier so if you stay "inside" the banks, you get all the wind but almost none of the waves making many passages in decent weather true pleasure sails. Also, because there are so many islands you can almost always sail where the wind takes you and end up in a great little anchorage. Furthermore, because the islands are so close together, you almost never have to do a passage longer than a few hours (aside from crossing the gulf stream) which is also nice for those just starting out or traveling with small children.

The People:
Bahamians are among the most generous people we have come across in our travels. We've been invited into their homes, their businesses and their churches with open arms. They have not been embittered by mass tourism and are just plain good. Considering that a large part of the enjoyment of travel is connecting with the locals, this is a biggie for us.

The convenience:
Being so close to Florida and the good ole' US of A has its perks and many cruisers sail to and from the states in a single season to either store their boat, do repairs or re-provision. Also - because the many islands of the Bahamas are all united under a single flag, you can travel between them without having to clear in and out of customs (which can be a royal pain in the butt), not to mention the fact that you can use a single SIM card to stay connected while you are there (as opposed to the windwards/leewards where you must check in and out and where you might need a new cell provider from island to island). The Bahamas truly are, "So close, yet so far away."

So there you have it. Just a few of the reasons we love the Bahamas.  So what do you think? Do you have a favorite sailing destination?  I also did an additional Q&A I did on the Bahamas for our good friends on s/v Necesse if you want to learn more!

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