Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Babies, Boat Shows and Sailing Idols

The boat show was a blast.  We got to catch up with some old sailing friends, meet up with a bunch of our great sponsors, and shake hands (and even exchange some hugs) with a few of you great folks.

Isla had a blast running around the aisles pointing out all the boats and, in general, just being her adorable little self.  Despite being at the show for over four hours, she was well behaved and happy - and even sat through an hour long seminar without making hardly a peep.  The "Earning While Cruising" talk put on by our friends Paul and Sheryl Shard was very well attended and Scott and I had fun getting our feet wet with presenting.  There were so many great questions raised and, in retrospect, I realized there was so much more we could have added so stay tuned for a more in-depth blog post from me on making a living while cruising because it's a very meaty subject that requires more discussion.

Another highlight was meeting some great sailing idols.  While I didn't get to attend their seminar, the intrepid John and Amanda Neal of Mahina Expeditions were there and we got to chatting about a possible collaboration in the future.  For those of you cruising sailors who don't know who they are, you should check them out now.  They were a HUGE inspiration to us and their website became (and still is) a go-to reference for us when boat shopping.

We also had the honor to be introduced to the esteemed Gary Jobson, editor at large of both Sailing World and Cruising World Magazines, sailing commentator for ESPN, former America's cup racer and president of US Sailing (among many other things).  Aside from all that, he just so happens to be a father of three girls, with one set of twins in that mix so it was fun to have that in common.  When he heard we were following in his footsteps he gave me a big hug with a knowing twinkle in his eye, which I wasn't sure to take as a warning or a blessing (haha).  We had a wonderful time talking casually with him and you'll see more of him on the blog soon.

While we weren't really at the show to shop, there was one product that caught our eye as something we would like to get for our boat.  The owner of ATN (you might remember we had their gale sail on Rasmus) was there demonstrating a single-handed mast climbing tool called the Mastclimber Both Scott and I were very impressed.  We have no affiliation with the product or company, but we plan on adding this piece of gear to our sailing kit when we head back out.  Hoisting Scott up the mast is hard enough as it is, doing it with three toddlers running around would be a veritable Chinese fire drill.

Another thing I learned at the show was that I am now at the stage of my pregnancy where I don't think I can be on my feet for five hour stretches anymore - at nearly 34 weeks, I am really feeling it if I over exert myself and so these next few weeks will be spent laying low and working on a few writing projects I have lined up.  Luckily for us, Scott's lovely mother has been in town this past week and has been a huge help in playing with Isla and helping me out so I can lay low and, quite literally, take a load off.  I'll gladly take the rest while I can because our lives are about to get (the very best kind of) crazy in the next few weeks!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Will We Be Seeing you at the Boat Show?

For land-locked boating enthusiasts who are kept from the water for one reason or another (in our case, arctic cold and operation "supersize our family"), there are few things more exciting than ogling new boat designs, perusing useful boat products, and - in general - wading through a virtual sea of what many of us like to call "boat porn".  Yes, people, I am talking about attending boat shows...and this weekend our home port of Chicago just so happens to host one of the very best.

Strictly Sail takes place every winter here in Chi-town and before we became cruisers, Scott and I spent many, many hours navigating the aisles of this stellar show as we fed our dreams and plotted our course to the future.  Anyone who loves sailing can enjoy walking around to see what it has to offer and if you are an actual boat owner, well, be prepared to drop some coin as there are often great deals on awesome products from ground tackle to galley equipment and everything in between.  It's all here and racers, day sailers, bare-boaters and cruisers will run around like kids in a candy store trying to see the myriad of booths and vendors that cater to each of them.

Before we set out cruising, Scott and I were particularly fond of the free seminars that would be offered.  They cover a whole host of topics on all things boating and cruising and there is definitely something to tickle the interest of every caliber of sailor from the newbie to the old salt.  One look at this year's seminar list and you'll see it's a virtual who's who of the nautical world with presenters like Nigel Calder, Lin and Larry Pardey, John and Amanda Neal, and John Kretchmer to name a few.  Pretty awesome if you ask me.  It's not every day you get to rub shoulders with the likes of those folks!

This year we are particularly thrilled because, as luck and fate would have it, we have been invited by our wonderful friends, Paul and Sheryl Shard of Distant Shores, to be guest speakers during their Friday seminar "Earning While Cruising" (ironically, the four of us also contributed to a recent blog post on the same subject).  While the presentation is all Paul and Sheryl (two of the nicest cruisers you can ever hope to meet, by the way) - they will be giving us the floor for a bit to talk about our experiences funding our dream as well as being a part of their Q&A session with audience members at the end.  So. very. cool!  

We are totally flattered and honored to be a part of this and we're looking forward to meeting a few of you wonderful folks as well!  If you plan to be at the show tomorrow, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for us and - if you have the time - stop by room 313 at 3:30 and have a listen (yep, Isla will be there too!).

OH! And in case you don't recognize us without out swimsuits and lovely tans, I'll be the one sporting the giant Buddah belly! (33 weeks pregnant today!!)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Living Legends: Ten Questions for Cap'n Fatty Goodlander

If you are a sailor and are not familiar with the name "Cap'n Fatty Goodlander," then you have clearly not picked up a single cruising/sailing/boating publication in the past twenty years.  Aside from being a stellar shoestring circumnavigator who has lived almost exclusively on boats since childhood, he might just be the most prolific sailing writer the world has ever seen with a slew of excellent books and hundreds upon hundreds (maybe thousands?) of articles in his wake.

While I have never met him personally, we share roots in Chicago and a background in theater, and I have read and enjoyed many of his touching/funny/witty stories.  He is humble, funny, kind and clearly loves the heck out of life (and his beautiful wife, Carolyn).  His smile is genuine.  His stories are colorful and entertaining.  His travels impressive.  It is truly my honor to share with you our online interview so that you can get to know this incredible man, this living cruising legend (and one of my idols), a little bit better.  I hope you find it as inspiring and enjoyable as I did!

1) First things first - how'd you get the name "Fatty"?

I was an actor as a teenager, and the guys on the corner in Chicago used to joke that 'I was FAT,' as in lucky. (If you rob a bank and don't get caught, you are even Fat City! ) This isn't new... Think of the Fat Buddha that the starving Chinese adored. But at 15 I purchased my own sailboat, Corina, and the guys were blown away. "He's Capt Fat now!" said one as I walked by. This rapidly turned into Cap'n Fatty, which everyone calls me - wife, mother, and child included. For years, I wrote for SAIL mag under my real name of Gary. But I wanted to write some funnier, truer, grittier stuff, and used Cap'n Fatty. Honesty always resonates with the reader. At SAIL, I started out pretending to be something I am not. I learned an important lesson. You can be okay pretending, but only great being honest.

2)  You are a living legend and an inspiration to so many boaters all over the world.  How does this pseudo celebrity status make you feel?   

Mostly great! I'm honored to earn my living with my pen. The readers are the people that ultimately sign my paycheck. I am grateful. And I feel each of the fans I meet deserve a moment of civility. I try to make each one feel special for a moment or two. 

3)  Born to "penniless sea gypsies" you say you were "blessed" to have grown up almost exclusively on sailboats.  Did you always feel this way or was there a time you felt like you were missing out on land life and longed for normalcy?  Or were you always aware that your lifestyle was a gift? 

I was born an outsider. We were misfits. We were broke. My father wore a skirt (pareo). We bowed to no god. The dreaded do-gooders even got court orders a few times to take me away from my loving family... It was a GREAT way to grow up. 

The only thing better than being a boat kid was raising [daughter] Roma Orion aboard! (Yes, we've already sailed many a mile with Sok├╣ Orion, our wonderful granddaughter.)

4)  If you had to pick one place you've been to stop cruising and settle down, where would that be and why?  

If I had to settle in an English-speaking place, that would be New Zealand. Luckily, I don't! When our health fails, we will retire to SE Asia. Or St. John, USVI, the nicest place under the American flag.

5)  You are a prolific writer (at one point sold over 200 articles a year for 10 years!) and seem to have articles in a sailing publication (sometimes more than one) every single month.  How much time do you spend writing and how do you maintain a work/life balance?  Does Carolyn ever begrudge all the time you spend in front of a computer?  

No, Carolyn never does, as she likes to eat as much as I do. Basically, I write four hours a day, from 8 to 12, minimum... and have done so for over 30 years. Each day, I am VERY excited to get to work. I do not really care about educating my readers; I want to emotionally touch them, make 'em laugh or cry. I believe I have written between 18 to 50 good pages in my life. I hope to write a few more before I die. 

6)  Speaking of Carolyn, behind every great man is a great woman and it is no secret how much you love and adore each other.  You met and fell in love so young and seem to have a charmed relationship, what is the secret to your obvious happiness?  

I do not know. She is very passionate, very smart, and very hardworking. We occasionally argue, etc, but we have always been there for each other since the age of 16. I can be a selfish little prick at times and we've been dead-broke for years at a stretch... chalking it all up to penis size seems simplistic. (Poor Carolyn has a permanent dent on her forehead from slapping herself and moaning, "I can't believe you said that!")

7)  Full-time live aboard cruising can be very challenging, and you are no stranger to the sometimes frustrating combination of project boat and low funds.  How, after over 50 years of living aboard, do you keep it fresh and not get "burned out?"  

I really like to sail, and Carolyn really likes to travel. We sail really hard for a couple of years (last year we sailed 10,000 miles and repowered) and then 'chill' with some coastal gunkholing for awhile. My boat is my everything: job, sport, love, passion, home, office, profession... I am still very turned on to living aboard, and feel that after 54 years... I am starting to get the hang of it! 

8) You've owned a bunch of boats and sailed a lot of miles on all of them.  When outfitting a boat for a voyage what are your top five pieces of equipment that you wouldn't head offshore without (aside from obvious things like sails, water and, of course, Carolyn)?  

I have a well deserved reputation for being cheap—but it is really VALUE which I seek, not price. The piece of gear I love most is my Monitor windvane. It is just about the only 'must have' piece of metal aboard. The AIS is a wonderful advance. I believe in Max props. Harken makes a wonderful roller furler. I prefer a tiller. Solar cells sure are swell. I grew up on a wooden boat with cotton sails and hemp anchor rodes and a sextant and a coal shuttle and kerosene running lights... so, yeah, I have seen a lot of changes. 

9)  I have a feeling you are not a 'regret' guy, but what is the biggest mistake you have ever made at sea or while cruising?  

I dunno. I've swam away from two vessels, so you'd think I'd have some! But most of my major mistakes are shoreside. (Pauses. Thinks) Mostly, I regret not doing stuff.  Sitting on your butt is boring. Fortune favors the brave.

10)  Are you shocked by how your life has turned out, or has the Universe conspired exactly how you thought it would?  Are you ever surprised or impressed by all your accomplishments?  

I'm happy. My boat is my magic carpet, my freedom machine. So I knew I'd sail. But I only went to school for five years.... 3 grammar, 2 high... and thus was worried I could not be writer. Luckily, I rapidly learned that good writing has little to do with intelligence and almost nothing to do [with] modern education. It's just transparency of personality on the printed page, that's all. It just takes a little grit. And I've got plenty of that. 

Want more FAT?  

First, Check out Cap'n Fatty's Facebook Page and Website and then buy his books, they are sure to give you a good laugh, a healthy dose of gypsy-tinged inspiration and maybe even tug at your heartstrings a little.  He is an expert story teller and his passion for life and living it to the fullest is infectious...

Books by Fatty:

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Baby on Board: Sailing Magazine and Family Cruising

Sailing Magazine's latest issue has a special on "Family Sailing" and guess who helped contribute to it?  Yep.  We did!  The article highlights tips and advice from a few cruising families with children and offers some great insights to what it is like to cruise with kids from infancy through childhood.  While the article only featured selected quotes from our email interview - I thought I would post it in it's entirety here (with permission from the editor) so other families interested in cruising with an infant/toddler might learn from it.  I hope you enjoy!

1) How is cruising with a child different from how you imagined it would be?

Right now, we are cruising with only one toddler which, I must admit, has not been difficult for us (I will almost certainly be singing a different tune in a year when we resume cruising with our toddler and impending twins). There were very few surprises and this was always what we wanted for our kids.  We cruised before we had our baby and so we had a good idea of what to expect.  Cruising with a child, for us, makes cruising more fun.  We revel in seeing the world through our baby’s eyes and watching Isla enjoy and utterly thrive in this lifestyle makes all the extra work and effort it takes totally worth it to us. 

2) What's the biggest challenge of cruising with a child and how do you overcome it?

There really haven’t been any unforeseen challenges* that threw us for a loop but for us, the biggest adjustment has been that our boat is more or less singlehanded.  When you cruise with an infant or (especially) a toddler, typically one person must be on baby duty at all times meaning they are not available to help out as much with the boat.  We anticipated this and bought a boat that is very easy to single hand because of it (all lines lead aft to the cockpit, roller furling main, jib and stays’l, autopilot, windlass with remote...etc). Even still, I am expected to keep watch during overnight passages and those have proven tough because my husband and I are sleep deprived and Isla is well rested and ready to go the next morning!

Another challenge is our baby schedule.  Every parenting style is different, and we are very relaxed and laid back about most things except sleep, which we are pretty regimented with (unsolicited advice: best baby book ever, in our opinion).  At twenty months Isla naps once a day from about 10:30 to 12:30 and goes to bed between 6:00 and 7:00 (usually 6:30).  This means our cruising and related activities revolve around this timeline whenever humanly possible which, obviously, can be a limiting (i.e. anchor down before she goes to bed, short sails during the afternoon nap, day time excursions after the nap, back on the boat and in for the night at 6pm so she can go to bed - no late night pot lucks or bar hops for us!).  From time to time we do make exceptions for special occasions, but we found that the pros of having a schedule (namely having a happy, well-rested, even tempered baby) far outweigh the limitations it puts on us.  It is a sacrifice we are more than happy to make for our child (and subsequent children), and it would be no different if we were on land. 

Another challenge can be keeping her entertained, particularly underway on long passages or when the weather isn’t good for outside play or beach time.  On land there are a million places to take kids; parks, play groups, libraries, tumble gyms, story times, organized classes...etc.  Also, most homes have a large safe “play room” full of toys to keep kids busy and entertained.  Here in the Caribbean and in a boat, those things are not as plentiful and some are non existent.  Isla has a fraction of the toys of her landlubbing peers and, in addition, our family is very adamant about limited “screen time” and no television at this age.  At twenty months she is not quite independent enough to sit quietly and play by herself for anything longer than 30 minutes, which means we do a lot of  “entertaining” ourselves by reading to her, singing to her, and playing with very basic, everyday things with her.  While it definitely takes more work, creativity and effort on our part, I must say these things have only benefitted our child’s development. 

3)  Obviously, safety is a concern for anyone on a boat but especially a child. What has worked best for you to ensure Isla's safety and your peace of mind?

Isla is twenty months and has been on a boat since she was six months old, as a result she is very agile and moves with ease around the boat, up the stairs, in the cockpit and on deck...but from day one our #1 piece of safety gear was her infant harness and tether.  If we are underway, she is clipped in.  Our primary goal is to keep her IN the boat - and when she is clipped in, she cannot go overboard.  She is comfortable (not wearing a hot and bulky life jacket) and secure (can only go as far as the tether lets her).  We do have a life vest that we use on the docks and during dinghy rides, but the harness is - bar none - what we would consider the most essential piece of safety gear for extended live-aboard cruising.  In addition, we have netting around the entire perimeter of our boat which we would not do without.  Some people say it provides a false sense of security (we obviously disagree) but even with the netting, one of us is always on deck with her and she is never far from our reach when on the boat.  The other aspect of safety is to constantly talk to your child about it (yes, even if they are young) to instill good habits.  The more they understand about the dangers, the more cautious they will be.

As a side note, we let Isla explore, climb and roam and instead of dissuading her and/or holding her back from these things we teach her how to do them properly (i.e. climb up and down the companionway stairs backwards) since, no matter what, she will try to find a way to do them anyway.  As a result, she is very independent, confident, steady on her feet and agile when moving around on a boat or on land.  The child has sea legs I tell you!

4)  What do you do when the going gets really tough, say on a particularly rough passage?

I am with the baby, either laying down with her on me in the cockpit singing songs or if it’s really rough, we’re down below.  If we know ahead of time it’s going to be rough I will give her a tiny dose (quarter of a pill) of children’s dramamine (because she gets seasick from time to time) and do whatever I can to keep her comfortable.  She usually can sense when things are not right and if it’s rough, she just clings to me and keeps quiet while I sing to her.   I should mention we do everything in our power (i.e. watch weather closely, try not to have a rigid cruising schedule, only move when conditions are favorable...etc) to eliminate rough passages because they are no fun for anyone, and are infinitely worse with a baby on board.

5) What's the best way to pass the time when the usual stuff isn't working?  

A toddler needs more entertaining than an older child, so for us the name of the game is distraction, distraction, distraction.  We have become masters of this.  When she gets bored and fussy, we distract, “Look at that bird!” “Oh, where is daddy going on the chart? Point to it” “Let’s look for dolphins!” “Oh - here are your blocks! Let’s build a tower!” and there is always the offer of a snack and/or water.  The key for us has been to focus on one thing at a time (instead of having her surrounded by a ton of toys) and when she’s had enough, we rotate.  There are moments when fussiness is inevitable and you just need to let it ride it’s course.  For the most part, however, distraction, healthy snacks and some select toys on a regular rotation seem to keep our baby happy.  If we are really desperate, we will bring out the iPad for her to play with (along with one of us to keep interaction up) but we have rarely had to resort to that.  Another thing that is an almost an instant fix for fussiness?  Grabbing one of her baby albums or scrolling through photos on my iPhone.  Babies are little narcissists and LOVE looking at pictures of themselves!

6) And what about stuff? i.e. what are the kid accessories that you wouldn't live without and what have you found is really not necessary?

The things we love the most and would consider essential are (in no particular order): 
  • Phil & Teds Traveller Crib(it’s secured in the v-berth and keeps her closed in and safe on all four sides).  I should note that the older generation, which we have, had a side zip and top zipper which we loved - the new ones do not have these features unfortunately.  It doesn't necessarily need to be this crib - but a way to secure the baby safely in his/her bunk (preferably on all sides and above) is a must.
  • Bumbo Seat with play tray addition for eating is all we ever have used for her on the boat, great for down below and in the cockpit - the seat is also handy on the low side if I am needed on deck.
  • Infant Safety Harness with tether (for underway), Life Jacket (with collar for easy hauling in and out of dinghy!) for docks and dinghies.
  • ERGObaby Carrier (or some type of carrier) for shore excursions and hiking. 
  • Books, books and more books. 
  • Bucket, shovel and lightweight beach blanket for the beach. 
  • Simple toys like blocks, puzzles, flash cards, glockenspiel, dollies (and some that are small and travel well for shore excursions).
  • Sunscreen, rash guards, and sun hats (with ties) and sunglasses (preferably wrap around so they stay on).
  • Crocs (simple slip on shoes that are great for water/boats) - Isla had 2 pair and never wore any other shoes ashore.  On the boat we are all almost always barefoot.
  • Healthy snacks that are easy to eat - we found things like small pieces of cut up fresh fruit, graham crackers,  squeeze pouches and organic granola barsworked well and we stocked up on these items any time we could (tiny snacks like cheerios just got everywhere, whereas these other snacks were easily handled by baby).
  • A Travel high chair proved useful for shore meals/happy hours at local restaurants because eating with a squirming toddler on your lap is no fun (most restaurants where we travel do not have high chairs).
  • While we hardly used it after Isla turned one year old, the car seat (which could be secured both above and below deck) was useful in the event that it was really rough and both of us were needed on deck (this never happened, but it was nice to know we had the option) - we also would use this if we rented a car (though in local transportation we always had her on our laps, such is the island way).
We believe very strongly in the “less is more” approach when it comes to baby stuff and we thought very carefully about what we brought aboard, doing lots of research and making sure things had more than one purpose and could be stored easily.  As a result, we found that we brought along very few things deemed “unnecessary” in retrospect.

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Interested in cruising with a baby?
Be sure to check out my other musings on the subject after sailing 5,000 nautical miles with ours:
* I should note that we got VERY lucky and cruised with a buddy boat for six months who had a child roughly the same age as Isla and I don't think our experience would have been as enjoyable without them - so not having other people in the same "boat" so to speak, I imagine, might be a challenge for some.  We just got very lucky in this regard.
Hey, do these folks look familiar?  That's Isla's bedroom up in the corner!
Still my favorite boating picture with Isla

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Reunited with Captain Daddy

This past Friday night, Scott returned from the islands.  Lucky for him he just missed the polar vortex that was Chicago, but he still looked very out of place as he stood in shorts, flip flops and a glowing tan in baggage claim among the backdrop of black puffy coats, pale faces and snow encrusted winter boots that signify wintery Chicago.  Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore.  Luckily he had some shoes and jeans in his bag to change into as well as the coat and hat I brought him.  While the 30 degree temperatures were positively balmy compared the -20 we had earlier in the week, it was still pretty dang cold out.  Especially for someone who just flew in from the tropics.

We're used to reunions of this sort in our family.  Since getting his job with Island Windjammers, Scott and I have endured many separations ranging from 4 to 8 weeks at a time which - while grateful for the opportunity - has been challenging.  Such is the lot of the captain's wife.   This particular separation was the hardest, particularly for Scott.  He told me that with me being so pregnant and Isla being so aware, interactive and soaking up life lessons like a sponge, he really felt a longing to be with us more than ever.  Not that it wasn't hard before, because it was, but this time was particularly poignant.

He landed at 7pm and Isla was fast asleep so we had to wait until the morning for the big reveal.  Isla and I had been counting down the days till Daddy came home for a week and Skypeing with him regularly, so she knew something was up - but I don't think anything could have prepared her for seeing Scott's smiling face as it hovered over her little tent bed when she awoke sleepily calling, "mama...mama...mama" on Saturday morning.  Scott wanted me to sleep in but I couldn't stand to miss seeing the looks on both of their faces when they registered one another, so I went with - for no other reason than to bear witness to the joy.

To say she was excited would be an understatement.  Her sweet, sleepy eyes immediately lit up at the site of him and almost instantly she threw her arms around his neck in a big hug.  "Daddy!" she exclaimed with a smile.  Scott, obviously, turned to mush in an instant and the three of us cuddled together on the bed with Isla drawing each of us closer together by working her little arms around our necks and saying "group hug!"  She's been so "go with the flow" her whole life that it never really dawned on me that she would feel a void that her daddy was gone or really grasp the fact that our family had been "incomplete" for six weeks, but clearly she did.  She wanted us together, she wanted to be in the middle and she was super happy to have him back.  It was yet another lesson in just how astute a tiny toddler can be.  She literally never ceases to amaze me with her childhood brilliance and innocence.

So we are back together and all is right in the world.

We had a lovely weekend as a family, hanging out together, catching up and, of course, Isla had to show daddy all her new tricks.  At 22 months, this child is talking up a STORM.  There is almost nothing she cannot say and she repeats just about everything we tell her with alarming clarity.  Needless to say we are having to be extra vigilant about "bad words" which is a bit of a challenge for this former potty mouth.  She's singing songs; ABC's, Itsty Bitsy Spider, Wheels on the Bus and Humpty Dumpty are a few of her favorites.  She's grown fiercely independent and the phrase of the month is "Isla do it!" because she wants to do everything on her own.  She continues to be a fearless climber and aside from going "up" - she's running, jumping, and taking all sorts of risks and tumbles which we are happy to oblige.  Her physical prowess and incredible balance (no doubt thanks in part to boat life) has led me to believe she can absolutely handle skis so we're going to take her skiing in the next week or two.  I can't wait.  While it hasn't come up much since this has been a sailing blog - Scott and I are huge into skiing (I started at age 2 and Scott lived in Park City for five years) and both of us have every intention of turning our girls into little rippers on the slopes.  We're so excited to share two of our biggest passions, skiing and sailing, with our girls in the coming years.

So that's where we are right now.  Lots and lots of together time and simply trying to enjoy every moment of these last few weeks before we go from three to five overnight.  Woah.

Catching up on world events....in the comics.
We do a LOT of crafting these days.  Here she is showing Scott her finger paintings.
Fun outing in the sled (Daddy LOVES snow!)
Here I am at 31 weeks!! (I am now a day away from 32!!) Whoo hoo!! On the home stretch.  Pun intended.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

And...She's Out: Asante on the Hard

Yesterday was a sad day for our beauty of a boat.  She was plucked from the water and is now sitting on jack stands where she will say for the next twelve to eighteen months (give or take) while we focus on "operation twinsanity".  Scott and my father worked around the clock the past few days removing sails, halyards, all loose deck hardware, fresh water flushing all systems and - in general - working to decommission our boat which, let me tell you, is not an easy job (huge "thank you" to my dad for his help.  Words cannot express our gratitude).  Scott and I have been down this road before and we are incredibly meticulous about the way we put a boat to bed, particularly if it's going to be for an extended period of time.  Doing things the right way now ensures that we will return to our boat just as we left her later.  That's the idea, anyway.

We had many, many discussions about what we would do with our boat when we made the decision to come home for more than a few months (which was our original plan when we thought it was only one baby).  There was talk about storing her in Trinidad as we did with Rasmus - it is outside the hurricane zone, and we already have a great relationship with a top notch facility there.  Ultimately, though - we didn't want to start sailing from that point again.  Then we thought that maybe delivering her to Ft. Lauderdale would better; we know the area well, have good relationships there and it would be an ideal place to get some work done.  The other benefit is that it would provide a great jumping off point to cruise the Bahamas again which would be an ideal place to begin cruising with three small kids (no long passages, easy sailing, beautiful and familiar to us...etc) - but we scrapped that idea too.  We even discussed delivering her back to the Great Lakes so that we could do work and sail/cruise with our kids starting much earlier here in Chicago.  But that was a logistical nightmare and we weren't sure the costs associated with doing this would be worth it based on how much we'd actually be able to use her (see: "operation twinsanity"), not to mention the fact that my parents have a sailboat in the city that they have said we can use and cruise whenever we please (as long as they're not, of course)....so where did that leave us?

Up until a few days before I left, we were going to store our boat in St. Maarten, but after looking further into it - Scott wasn't too impressed with the facilities there so we looked across the Anegada passage to the British Virgin Islands.  Ultimately, we decided to store our boat at Nanny Cay Marina on Tortola which is a top rate facility and a natural "hurricane hole" (a big deal as we will be in the "zone" this coming hurricane season).  We heard from one blog follower whose boat endured five hurricanes on the hard at Nanny Cay with zero damage.  That's not a bad track record.  The fact that there are a TON of excellent services (chandlery, sail loft, shipwright, boat guardianage, riggers, fiberglass repair services and custom woodworkers...etc) right on the premises was the icing on the cake.  It's not cheap, but thankfully because we will not be paying rent for a house while we are landlubbing, we can afford it.

Asante will be on the hard in a cradle and will be further secured to the ground with hurricane screws.  Her sails have been removed and will be properly stored in a sail loft.  Scott has commissioned for more hatch covers to be made to keep sun out and he purchased some very small solar panels to trickle charge our batteries (we remove our flexible solar panels and store them) so that our bilge pump keeps running.  A humidifier will be kept inside to keep mold at bay and we have employed someone to do monthly checks on her to make sure everything is as it should be.  Because we might have some custom work done while we are away, we have opened communication with a project management company that can oversee any work we want done.  Overall, we are very happy with our decision.

Another big consideration for us was where we wanted to begin cruising again as a family of five.  We have no disillusions about the fact that this is going to be a huge challenge for us and, in our opinion, spending a month or two in the BVI's to "get our feet wet" when we return in 2015 will tell us what we need to know about cruising with three tots in tow.  We think it will be a perfect training ground to practice living afloat with our three girls without having to do any long passages (hard enough with ONE baby!) and staying close to modern facilities (BVI's are very well developed), but still getting a nice dose of islands, sun and sand.

That's the plan for now.  But as we all know, plans are written in sand around here so who knows what the future holds for us...we're excited to find out.  One thing is for sure, Scott comes back to us on Friday after six weeks apart.  We can't wait to have our family back together again!  Time to hunker down and get ready for our girls to be born....and come up with some names for them (aye, aye, aye).

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Expectations, Experience and Equipment: A Recipe for Successful Cruising?

A while back, I wrote a blog post about two separate boats whose cruising dreams came to an end for various reasons.  I received a comment on that post that rang so true to me and I have been ruminating about expanding on it ever since.  The commenter noted that the two misadventures I highlighted in my post could be attributed to three things:  expectations, experience and equipment.  While I don't know enough about the two boats and owners mentioned in my post to agree with him in regards to those situations, after much thought I absolutely do agree that those three "E's" - expectations, experience and equipment - are three key ingredients in the recipe for happy and successful cruising.

I have always said that realistic expectations are crucial to enjoying a life on the water.  If you think that sailing off into the sunset is going to be a magical cure-all for whatever ails you, well - you have another think coming.  Yes, it can be incredible, inspiring, beautiful, magical, eye-opening, empowering and wonderful.  But it's also very challenging and requires a lot of hard work and sacrifice.  It is not an "endless vacation" like so many perceive and it is certainly not easy.  People who sail off into the sunset unprepared for the stark realities of cruising often find themselves quickly disillusioned and lamenting out loud, "I had no idea it would be this hard!"  Realistic expectations are key to enjoying a life of cruising.  This is not to say that there is no place for positivity, because how you handle the ups and downs of cruising are also significant to success.  There is definitely something to be said for a "can-do" attitude and hoping for the best, but there is a difference between being positive and being completely naive.  Keep it real and you will enjoy the experience much more than if you idealize it.

I have written before about what sort of experience I think is helpful for cruising, but there are plenty of folks who have cast off their dock lines with almost no knowledge of boating whatsoever.  Sailing is NOT rocket science.  We've met our fair share of folks on the water and some of these "cavalier" cruisers are incredibly impressive in their ability to learn on the fly and become excellent mariners while others have made us wonder how in the heck they are still afloat.  Then there are the truly experienced cruisers; circumnavigators, folks who've sailed oceans beyond oceans who will get struck by lightning, hit a reef or some other awful calamity.  No one is immune.  We all rely on a fair amount of good, old fashioned "luck" out on the water, but for it to be all you have on your side is not advisable.  While you certainly don't need spend gobs of money to complete every offshore sailing course, read a gazillion books on the subject of sailing and crew on every boat that crosses your path - a little know-how can go a long way.

That said, if you don't have much in the way of experience - I would recommend starting with baby steps...I have said many times that I think a large part of why Scott and I were successful in our transition from landlubbers to cruisers was because we allowed ourselves a very gentle learning curve (which I realize is an oxymoron when it comes to cruising) as we honed our skills.  Sure, we were experienced sailors beforehand, which helped a lot, but daysailing and racing are very, very different from live-aboard cruising and taking baby steps was really the biggest factor in making the transition smooth for us.  We left from our home port of Chicago, sailed the Great Lakes, traversed the ICW while also popping in and out to experience some Atlantic ocean sailing, cruised the Bahamas and every new "land fall" from there to Trinidad gave us opportunity to learn our boat, fine tune its systems and build on our skills at a comfortable pace.  Sure, there is something to be said for "just going for it" but when it comes to cruising, you will probably find you have a much more pleasant time starting small as opposed to trying to cross an ocean when you first head out.

Lin and Larry Pardey - two modern day cruising legends - have a very famous quote and give this advice to wannabe cruisers: "go small, go simple, go now."  While I do agree this is good instruction for some (but not all), I think it is often misconstrued.  I believe some read this quote and think it gives them license to buy the cheapest boat they can find (often ill-equipped for long-term cruising) and shove off.  Then the problems arise.  The engine fails constantly.  The sails tear beyond repair.  The halyards bust at the worst possible time.  Energy management is a constant problem.  The rigging gives way to the wind.  The electronics work only some of the time.  And then they learn the awful truth that fixing these things on a boat takes 2, 3, or 4 times longer than expected.  Sure, these things happen on even the most "prepared" cruising boats, but usually not all at once.

While there are some that truly enjoy cruising on spartan, simple boats with few to no integrated systems (other than the systems to make the boat move) - I don't believe the average person would enjoy living like Slocum or Moitessier (I certainly would not).  Scott and I are among the types of cruisers who believe that the more comfortable you are, the more pleasant the experience.  Yes, this does mean more money and more maintenance but it's a trade off that we are able and glad to make (having a very handy husband helps tremendously in this regard).  Of course this is our perspective;  like anything, what is "comfortable" to us might not be for you.  Our standards could be seen as downright basic and primitive to some, or maybe luxurious and unnecessary to others.  Everyone has different requirements.

We love our high output water maker and the ability to wash our boat or shower as regularly and freely as we please, we love having a cockpit mounted chart plotter with AIS overlay (although always carry paper charts as well), we love our sound system and the fact that all lines lead aft to our cockpit making our boat very, very easy to single-hand (a necessity if you sail with a baby on board unless you plan to take on extra crew all the time).   Our windlass has made life so much easier and we sure do enjoy the benefits of being able to re-locate without having to haul up over 300lbs of ground tackle manually.  We love our water toys and our RIB dinghy with powerful outboard.  We personally love our generator and the ability to make a bunch of power on the days our solar panels can't keep up.  None of these things fit the bill as "simple" - and many, many boats happily cruise without this stuff - but we'd be hard pressed to do without them.  To us, comfort is synonymous with happiness when it comes to cruising and sometimes that means having equipment.  It may or may not be the same for you.

Budget, of course, might dictate that you can have only a couple or maybe even none of the above systems/gadgets or toys - and that is okay too.  There are many ways to make your boat "comfortable" without having to spend a ton of money on fancy equipment and "bonus" gadgets.  But making sure the equipment you do have (sails, running and standing rigging, plumbing, wiring, engine, ground tackle etc.) are functioning properly and viable before you head out is key.  It is inevitable that things will break down so having the adequate spares for those systems (more equipment) and the manuals or know-how to fix them on the fly is also important. A big component of successful long-term cruising - in my opinion - is preparation.  Ya gotta have equipment, baby.

So there it is...

There's a business saying that clients can have something good, fast, or cheap.  They can choose two, but can't have all three.  You can have quality and speed, but it will not be cheap.  You can have fast and cheap, but the quality will be lacking.  You can have cheap and good, but it will not be done fast.  You get the picture.  I believe this can apply to other areas of life as well - including cruising - and perhaps the three "E's" fit into this somewhere.  Life is all about balance.  Perhaps if you have two of the three E's you'll be gravy, but if all three are lacking - you will suffer?  I don't have the answers but what I do know is that in order to follow and live your dreams, there has to be a little give and a little take.

Thoughts?  What would be your recipe for happy cruising? Can you boil it down to a few key attributes or is it more complex?

Sunday, January 05, 2014

An Update from the Arctic Tundra

They are using words like "arctic" and "polar" to describe the weather that will be hitting the Chicagoland area this next week.  It is moments like this when I channel my inner zen-friend (she's been on vacation as of late) and repeat mantras like: "This, too, shall pass", "Wherever you are, be there" and "Whether or not it is clear to you, the Universe is unfolding exactly as it should..." because sometimes I wake up and I think, "What the hell!?!" It was less than a month ago that I was living on a boat in the Caribbean and here I am - a world away - living back in Chicago during a winter of "record cold".  Man, talk about bad timing.  But, really, I'm not supposed to be too active at this point anyway so I guess it's a blessing in disguise that I get to be tucked inside a cozy, warm house with a hilarious toddler as a sidekick.  

Seems like I'm not the only one effected by the cold and missing the sunshine, though.  Isla now demands to watch our video recap of 2013 on repeat at least six or seven times a day, which kind of breaks my heart. "Video? Video?" she asks each morning in her sing song little voice.  She sits in front of my computer with her chin on her hands, tapping her fingers and bobbing her head to the music as she watches with a little smile on her face.  Up until now I would not have guessed that she missed the boat or the islands in the slightest, but the fact that I have now watched that video with her about thirty times is indicating otherwise.  I keep hoping we might be rounding a corner and "over it" but no such luck.  Just when I think her obsession has traveled over to the finger paints or toy cars, she'll suddenly drop what she is doing, climb up into the chair in front of my computer, look up at me with her soulful brown eyes and ask in the cutest voice you ever did hear, "video?"  Doh.

Scott is finished with work and after over 30 hours of travel via three islands, one "whoopsie" stop in Dominica and an unexpected overnight in Antigua he finally made it back to Asante only 22 hours after he was supposed to.  As the crow (and, you'd think, plane) flies - it's just over 400 miles from Grenada to St. Maarten but leave it to a Caribbean airline to play ping-pong in the air.  Luckily, we are well-versed with "island time" and he wasn't bothered in the slightest by the insanity of his travel day.  This little adventure was brought to him by Liat Air, which will surprise exactly no one who has ever flown that airline.

My father arrived in St. Maarten yesterday afternoon to help Scott deliver Asante to the British Virgin Islands.  While Scott was prepared to do the trip himself, putting a boat "to bed" for a year or longer is no small feat and having an extra set of hands to help haul the boat, get things organized, and pack up will be a huge asset.  It's a win/win really.  My dad and Scott are very close so not only do they get to spend some time together - but my dad gets to escape the coming cold snap (which is a gross understatement) and enjoy a ripper of a downwind sail while Scott gets some help and company.  They left at 3am this morning and should be arriving sometime in Tortola this afternoon.  I am anxious to hear how the sail went.  Hopefully better than our sail from BVI to St. Maarten.  Man, that sucked.

Moving along...

On the baby-baking front, I am now over 30 weeks pregnant which officially marks this pregnancy as the fastest pregnancy ever.  I mean, is it just me or has this flown by?  I can hardly believe that it is very likely that we will meet these two little fishies anywhere in the next 3-7 weeks (later would be preferred).  I had an ultrasound yesterday and got to see our little darlings.  They are both looking great and are clocking in at 3.5 and 3.9 pounds, which makes me very proud of myself to be growing them so well thus far.  The human body during pregnancy is so mind-blowing and carrying multiples makes it doubly so.  The fact that they are the weight of an average singleton at this stage is very promising as is the fact that they are within an ounce of each other (significant weight discrepancies can indicate problems).  There was one tiny area of concern; baby A's amniotic fluid was less than B's but the doc wasn't too concerned all things considered but to be on the safe side I have to see the maternal/fetal specialist next week to make sure we're all good.  Please send good vibes.  We'll keep you posted.

So that's the news from arctic Chicagoland.  Hope all is well (and warmer) in your neck of the woods!

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