Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Top Ten Tuesdays: Ten Great (Toddler) Toys for Space Conscious Parents

I'm going to be captain obvious here when I say that raising small kids on a sailboat takes a bit more effort than on land. It's not necessarily 'harder' (different, yes) but it does take a little more forethought, planning and innovation. Storage, particularly toy storage, is one amenity most boats lack. We don't have basements, closets or toy rooms which means we boat parents need to be very thoughtful about what sort of toys will give us the most "bang for our buck" while simultaneously taking up very little space.

While I am very much of the "less is more" mindset for children's toys (our girls have more fun playing with pots and pans than almost anything!), I don't want to deprive our girls of toys completely and I put a lot of thought and research into exactly what toys I brought aboard. After five months of use, these ten really shine as fantastic toys that not only stimulate creative play and hold up to toddler (and baby) abuse, but take up little room and store very easily. Most of our toys are kept in their own sub "bins" and we bring out one "bin" at a time to keep the toy mayhem (read: mess) at a minimum and stay organized.
  1. Safari Ltd Miniature TOOB Sets - These are my favorite. We have about five different tubes of these and store them all in a small bin. The animals are small, so probably not great for babies (though we let our babies play with them), but they have entertained our girls for hours. Thanks to these toys, Isla can now easily identify various reef fish and even an armadillo. Great learning tools and great for independent play.
  2. Melissa & Doug Water Wow Paint Kit - markers are messy and Isla has never been a fan of crayons. These Water Wows are amazing. They each have five pages (or 'scenes') and come with a pen that you fill with water. Once the water touches the pages, the color shows up. Once it's dry, it's good to go again, and again, and again. Great for taking out to restaurants or road trips where crayons and markers aren't always the best option. We're actually fans of pretty much all Melissa & Doug Toys for our girls.
  3. Matchbox Cars and Airplanes - Like the zoob tube animals, these are small and fun. We have about twenty of them that stay in their own special bin and the girls love to dump them out and play. They "drive" the cars and "fly" the planes all over the boat.
  4. Large Lego Set - we were gifted a cheap set of Duplo-style legos that have their own container. Again, a simple toy that promotes thinking skills and creativity. Seriously cannot go wrong with legos in my opinion. Hours of fun. Looking forward to when the girls are older and we can get some more complex sets!
  5. Magna-Tiles - another winner in my book. These are different shaped tiles with magnets built in that you can connect together and build with. I hemmed and hawed on whether or not to get these because they are not cheap, but in the end, I did and I'm so glad for it. With a tag line like "where math, science, and creativity meet" I figured they'd be worth it. They're a little too complex for the babies (though they love to make them "stick" together) but Isla loves to build complex structures and "homes" for her mini animals (see #1). She'll sit and entertain herself for up to an hour with these tiles and we love to build different structures with her. What's best? They store practically flat in their own bin.
  6. I Can Read! Paperback Book Box Sets - there is no such thing as too many books in my opinion. As an avid reader and lover of books, I want to instill the same love of the written word  in my children.We have a bunch of these box sets which are great, as well as The 20th-Century Children's Book Treasury: Picture Books and Stories to Read Aloud which has about fifty books in one. We prefer paperback to hardcover because they are much easier to store and lighter to carry. Our girls love their books and it's not unusual for all three girls to sit and "read" for long chunks of time together (even though none of them can actually 'read' yet). We also love all books by Julia Donaldson , Kevin Henkes, and the Berenstain Bears series.
  7. Preschool Color & Activity Books - These toddler "work books" by Roger Priddy are great. Super colorful, fun, and full of stickers - what toddler wouldn't love them? When the twins are napping, Isla and I will sit together for an hour or so coloring pages, working on puzzles and putting stickers in the right places to fill out scenes. It's a great brain boosting - and bonding - activity for us. We have several on board and they provide lots of opportunity to learn.
  8. Beach Sand Toys - our girls go to the beach at least once a day (sometimes twice) and while they really can entertain themselves pretty well with the sand, surf and swimming, having some shovels, pails and cups to play with is fun. Our friends on s/v Necesse have a little plastic tea set and the girls love to make "tea" and "cupcakes" at the beach and serve it to us mama's. We keep these toys on our aft deck in a mesh beach bag so that we bring minimal sand on the boat. I suggest not spending too much on these because they don't last long with the combination of daily use and harsh UV rays.
  9. Musical Instruments Set - What child doesn't love making a good, loud ruckus?! Our girls love their "band in a box" and it's frequently the toy they are reaching for when digging through their play area. We've added a few more instruments (an egg shaker, some more maracas...etc) and they love to make "music". Don't go calling us the "Partridge Family" just yet, but we have high hopes.
  10. iPad - I'm loathe to admit it, but we really love the iPad on our boat and, let's face it, whether we like it or not it's the world we live in today (did you know they give iPad's to high schoolers now where all their classwork is?!) It's a special treat and not something Isla plays with every day, but there really are some great educational toddler apps that keep Isla happily playing (and learning) when we are having "quiet time" on the boat or if the boat needs both mine and Scott's attention. We use this protective toddler case and a few of our favorite educational apps are: Tozzle (great puzzles that entertain and teach), Endless ABC/Endless Reader (teaches letters, definitions of new words and spelling in a super fun way), Tangrams (mind puzzles where kids make interesting patterns out of simple shapes) and Phonics Farm (many games to help learn kids identify words, sounds and develop skills for early reading).
Of course we also have a hefty craft cabinet and our girls love to play "dress up" and "kitchen" with whatever is lying around on the boat. But these ten toys have earned their space on our boat. What are you favorite toys and apps for kids in small spaces? We're always interested in learning more! Share in the comments.
What parent can't sing praise about legos? They are great. 
I have a LOT of pictures of this reading scenario. Never to early to foster a love of books. Even if they are reading them upside down ;)
Cars and planes are two of her favorite things.
This is where 98% of their toys are kept. Not that big of a space!
These small animals provide a ton of entertainment, and there are plenty to go around so battles over who's is who's are less
Magna tiles are brilliant.
This is our "imgaginets" game, not on the list - but similar to the magna tiles. Lots of fun.
Water wows have provided us with HOURS of entertainment.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Boats Break A Lot. Or: Why Sailors Drink Rum

Boats are ticking time bombs. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but - really - the fact that our home is floating in one of the most corrosive environments on the planet (sun + saltwater... have you seen what these things do to stuff?!) means that everything from bathing suits to booster pumps (and, sadly, skin) have a severely truncated shelf life out here. Combine the harsh natural environment with the fact that a boat is constantly in motion with gear that is heavily used (and sometimes abused) means stuff breaks. A lot. Scott reckons he could be fixing and/or maintaining something every single day for several hours a day if he felt so inclined. And our boat is in "really good" condition.

And this is the part of cruising that drives many to denounce this lifestyle. This is even the part of cruising that wears down others enough to actually 'swallow the anchor' and move back to land. Most landlubbers have no idea how much work it takes to keep a full-time cruising boat afloat and in good working order. "I had no idea how hard this would be" is a cry I've heard from many a new cruiser. It can be a real shock to the person who envisioned cruising to be all that it looks like from our Facebook Pages (which, understandably, share predominantly the good stuff...and, don't get me wrong, there's a lot of good stuff).

What's worse is the fact that if you don't know how to fix the systems yourself, you are paying handsomely to have someone else do it for you.  I've written before on the virtues of having a handy person aboard, and it warrants repeating: if you want to live on a boat in paradise, get ready to roll up your shirt sleeves. It's work. Not "desk job" 9-5 work, but back-breaking, jury-rigging, bang-your-head-against-the-wall, contort-yourself-like-a-freak-show and sweat-a-full-bucket-while-you-do-it McGuyver-style work. It's unpredictable, it's sink or swim, and it often comes at the most inopportune time (example: engine dies as you are navigating a rough cut between islands). And before you tell me that "it sure beats XYZ", know that once the cruising honeymoon wears off, constantly "fixing your boat in exotic locations" (and possibly in hairy situations) can be incredibly frustrating, discouraging and downright maddening. Because it's not just the fixing that needs to happen, but the diagnosing (sometimes the hardest part of all), the sourcing of parts, and the research as well. Throw three small children into the mix who require a lot of attention and need naps at various times throughout the day (read: shhhhhhh!!!!) and it gets pretty tricky staying on top of it all. Sometimes, from our perspective, your cozy traditional home with unlimited power, water, amenities, proximity to child care and Trader Joe's looks just as appealing to us as our palm lined white sand beaches look to you. 


Don't get me wrong, it's the yin to the yang and the price we willingly pay for the tremendous benefits of this life afloat... but that doesn't mean we love it all the time. That is just life. There is no Utopia. For me living on a boat in the tropics with my family is about as close as it gets, but every rose has it's thorn and while I don't write this to complain, I do strive to paint a realistic picture.

I digress...

To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, here's a condensed list of what has broken on our boat in the last five months. It's important to note that we are not doing any "hard core" sailing or long passages, so wear and tear is way less on our boat than, say, a boat that is doing more serious miles or an ocean crossing. We do short (>4 hour) day sails and island hops, but sail often and all our our systems (from watermaker to windlass) are used regularly. These breakdowns are in no particular order and don't include the litany of things we fixed immediately when we came down here, nor do they include the impressive amount of general maintenance (must. polish. stainless.) that has to happen regularly. It also does not include the high priority "want to do" things like rewiring certain areas of the boat, finding a new home for our fridge compressor, getting our freezer up and running and re-locating our battery bank.

Here's whats broken this season:
  1. We discovered our starboard side aluminum fuel tank has corroded and developed a pin hole leak. This is what you would consider a "BIG" (and probably very expensive) problem. Luckily for us, we have two very large fuel tanks and the leaky one was just about empty. Scott put together a pump to remove fuel from the leaky tank to the good tank with an old pump (read: sub-project) and we are still figuring out how and when we are going to deal with this issue.
  2. Scott has had to repair the "boost pump" on our water maker three times (by literally taking it apart and fixing teeny tiny pieces that I think might be called 'scrubbers') and he's now just installed a brand new boost pump to hopefully remedy this issue. This job required electrical know-how, plumbing savvy, the mind of a Tetris champion, the hands of a surgeon and a lot of patience. (If you are counting, there are four fix-it projects within this one.)
  3. Our mast was leaking. That needed to be fixed, stat. We used Spartite, it has proven effective.
  4. Our generator's heat exchanger needed something super important. I can't remember what. I was chasing babies, managing tantrums and changing diapers. But it was a big thing, I remember that. Scott was in the engine compartment for a long time. Something about the raw water pump perhaps?
  5. Our generator's battery died and needed replacing (we've since reconfigured our battery bank, see #10). A simple fix, but a nuisance none the less.
  6. When letting out all our chain to see exactly how much we had marked, our windlass died and started sparking. Turns out, it was wired wrong and actually was a huge fire hazard. (Bullet: Dodged). Scott put on his electrician hat and fixed it. Now it works better than before. Oh, and now we know for sure we have 275 feet of chain marked. Win/win.
  7. We ran out of propane. No biggie. Luckily we were able to have it refilled quickly (not always the case) but it sucked none the less.
  8. The wooden seat on our bowsprit broke off in some nasty waves. Whatever, we never used it anyway. It sits in our cockpit locker until we have the "time" to fix it. Hahaha!! Time?!?! What's that?!?! Let's be honest, this is so low priority it's not getting done for a loooong time. Or ever.
  9. Our engine's thermostat needed replacing because our engine kept giving us a false overheating alarm. We did it, but it seems our issue is back, though our engine is not overheating. Hmmmm. The plot thickens.
  10. Our chart plotter has gone on the fritz and is more or less unusable. Thanks, Raymarine. Point for backup systems (handheld GPS) and paper charts!
  11. A hose clamp came loose from our forward head sink, so that every time we used the water, most of it ended up in our bilge. Simple fix. But tracing back where all that water was coming from and why the bilge pump was going off was a bit tricky. 
  12. Our galley plumbing consists of some cheap house-hold plumping (note: must replace all of it...later). One of the pipe fittings came loose under the sink gushing impressive amounts of saltwater into our bilge. Simple straightforward fix, but a bit alarming when Scott first noticed the bilge pump running non-stop and even more alarming when I looked into the bilge and saw a hefty river of saltwater rushing into our boat. This was all before the morning's first cup of coffee, mind you. I don't function well these days without coffee (see #7).
  13. Our house battery bank died. Turns out, the crappy batteries we bought for a small fortune in St. Kitts were not a good "long term" solution (we had no other options at the time) so we needed to replace them. While doing this, Scott rewired our start battery and reconfigured our house bank (read: job within a job). We're pretty happy with our new setup. Our battery situation was far from perfect so this was a blessing in disguise. Side note: Boat batteries are not cheap (and my God are they heavy!)
  14. Our outhaul snapped. We tied it to a u-bolt on the boom with a bowline, called it good and said we would fix it properly "later". This was about three months ago. Again...time?! What's time!?!
  15. Our aft head clogged and needed to be unclogged. My poor sister was the one to do it (unclog it, I mean.)
  16. Our aft head needs to be rebuilt.  When our toilet began to seep in seawater, it was a minor annoyance. Scott switched out the forward and aft head pumps and that solved our issue for a while, but the issues persists and it's clear we need some new o-rings and seals and a new toilet pump shaft. These items need to be sourced from the states and shipped down here. Not an urgent matter, but stepping onto a wet floor near a toilet (even if it is only seawater) is...gross.
  17. All of our portholes need re-bedding and a good polish. We have eighteen of them. This is an incredibly laborious job that we just haven't had the time for. Say it with me folks...Time!?! What's that!?!?
  18. Just about every wooden surface on our boat needs re-varnishing. Again, suuuper low priority and very labor intensive. Aka: This is not happening.
Hmmm...I think that's about it. Not too bad, really. But we could do without the leaking fuel tank. That one's gonna be a doozy.

And this right here might answer the age old question of "Why do sailors drink so much rum?" Answer: Because you need it at the end of long, fruitless day spent in a 110 degree engine room trying to diagnose why your thermostat isn't reading properly, or after a full day on the phone calling various islands trying to source batteries for your boat, or after four hours dealing with cranky customs people only to find out they're not the agency you need to deal with. You especially need it to celebrate the wins; the parts sourced, the cost-effective DIY that worked like butta, the problem solved... Okay, that and the fact that rum is literally cheaper than water down here. But still, like parenthood, cruising is a job that is not recognized as such. No one pats you on the back and says, "Well done" and the moments where you truly shine are often unseen. We don't do this for the accolades. Like parenthood, cruising is one of the most rewarding and gratifying jobs' you will ever love, despite the all the "work" it takes to keep going.

Until the next thing breaks, of course. But then, there's the rum.
What would us cruisers do without Nigel? 
The leaky fuel tank. This really warrants it's own blog post. Huge can of worms right here.
Scott jury-rigging a pump to siphon fuel from one tank to another.
Eben and Scott removing and installing our new battery bank.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Fins to the Left, Fins to the Right: Babies Playing in Shark Infested Waters

How could we possibly top seeing pink flamingos in the wild? Seeing a bunch of baby sharks in a feeding frenzy, of course. Duh.

Our beautiful friend, Jayde, who has been working term charters down here for several years now and is very much 'in the know' when it comes to off-the-beaten-track adventures, wrote us immediately when she heard we were in Anegada. "It's shark breeding season right now, and you are guaranteed to see loads of baby sharks this time of year..." she went on to tell me where to find them, and punctuated what a unique and cool experience it would to be. I took the bait; hook, line and sinker. We were going shark sighting.

The secret spot where the sharks were promised to be was reportedly "very far" from the dinghy dock, so we inquired about a taxi. After quoting us a price of $12 per adult (there were four of us) and $6 per child (five of them) - we decided, literally, to take a hike.

We started walking, forlorn at the prospect of having to abort our shark excursion when an open safari-style vehicle rolled up, asking us where we were headed. If there is one advantage to traveling with children, particularly very small children, it's that hitchhiking is a breeze. Who can turn down two families with five (very adorable) small girls between them? The dreadlocked driver started giving us directions to the area where we might see the sharks when he paused mid sentence, suddenly taking in all of girls... a pitiful smile came across his face and, slightly defeated, he motioned with a chuckle, "Come on in, I'll take you". We were all very grateful for this gesture, as the distance we covered by car would have easily taken us an hour with all the kiddos in tow. When we arrived at our destination (seemingly in the middle of nowhere) we hopped out of his truck, each family giving him a $5 bill and a heart-felt 'thank you', as he waved us off with a smile.

We found ourselves on a concrete bridge overlooking a very active salt pond and a small estuary. Frigates and pelicans were having a field day in the sky above us, dive-bombing the water with torpedo precision and coming up with great gulps, tiny fish zipped around under the water in schools, while soldier crabs tip-toed along the shore. A few dead minnows floated by in the current, easy picking for the more vulturous birds in the area. We kept walking, keeping our eyes on the lookout for fins, when - at the shoreline in water only calf deep - we found them.

It took a while to see them as the water was murky and shallow, but they were there, their predatory silhouettes unmistakable. The baby sharks, only about 2-3 feet long, were darting about this way and that with lightning speed and precision, honing their hunting skills before heading out into the open ocean. Occasionally you'd see a dorsal fin or an angry splash, but then they'd disappear. "There's one!" someone would yell, but before you could get an eyeball on them - they'd be gone. "I see one! Over there!" but you'd turn your head, and you'd catch a glimpse of a diminishing tail. I was amazed to watch them in action - these super-predators in training - they were remarkably fast and incredibly stealthy. But once our eyes adjusted and we knew what we were looking for, we saw them en masse.

Try as we might we couldn't lure them closer to shore get a good picture when Eben got the brilliant idea to collect a few of the dead fish we'd seen in the estuary to feed them. We threw a few minnows near our feet and waited. Sure enough, our little sharks came like puppies to treats. The girls were having a field day, splashing the water with their hands on the surface, "Here, sharky sharky".

After about an hour we started the trek home, this time walking along the shoreline to explore a bit more, when our twins made it clear they needed dinner - stat. We headed back up to the road, hoping for a ride, when another safari taxi drove by just in the nick of time. They stopped, we hopped in, and for another $5 per family, we had ourselves a ride back to the beach bar where the adults spent our saved taxi money on rum punches, and the kiddos ran amok like the little island heathens they are.

Can't you feel 'em circlin' honey?
Can't you feel 'em swimmin' around?
You got fins to the left, fins to the right,
and you're the only bait in town.
You got fins to the left, fins to the right,
and you're the only baby in town.
- Jimmy Buffett

The salt pond and small estuary to the ocean. 
Exploring the little salt pond. Lots to see in these waters if you look close!

Sea birds everywhere, that murky water is where all the sharks were.
The shark in the foreground here had just snatched up a dead fish that Eben fed it.
Believe it or not, there were probably five or six sharks in this shot, the murky water however makes them invisible.
Mira, our newly minted walker, chilling on the sea wall, watching sharks go by.
Haven's all, "I'm not scared!" She is a total fish and wants to swim NO MATTER WHAT (we didn't let her)
Fins to the left and fins to the right!
Arias calling, "Here, sharky, sharky!" See the shark? Look closely!
Mira and Isla, shark spotting.
Haven happily playing on shore as a baby shark lurks in the background.
See that little fin?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Suffice it to say they found the "pink reef" referenced in my earlier post. The twins and I missed the excursion because of their morning nap, which was probably a blessing in disguise as the seven mile dinghy ride was not only very long, but very bumpy. Not easily swayed by some wind chop, our intrepid troop persevered - keeping a sharp lookout for the requisite pink tinge on the horizon - and sure enough they found it. The girls got to see real, live pink flamingos in the wild and I'm told it was well worth the trip (and achey backs). So far, Anegada has not disappointed.

Another logbook-style note for those of you who might head this way: the Anegada Beach Club is well worth a visit. We've now spent two full afternoons there. Not only are their happy hour prices hard to beat (two for one rum punch and painkillers!), but there's a ton of fun for the kids too. Hammocks are strewn throughout the property, a volleyball court is ready for play, a small fresh water pool beckons from the beach bar, and just over the dune is a spectacular ocean-side beach with super inviting tented rooms overlooking the ocean (for a cost!). There's a great restaurant on the premise serving everything from pizza to their trademark,the BLLT (that extra "L" is for lobster!), and the vibe is chill and casual. It's a great place where three or four hours can easily be wiled away. 

We took the free taxi (a pick up truck with seats in the back that reads: Anegada Beach Club) from the Lobster Trap restaurant which makes the excursion all the more inviting. If you head over that way tell Eugene, the driver, we sent you. He's a fantastic and super accommodating gentleman. Just remind him of all the babies in the back of his truck, he'll remember us for sure. Kind of hard to forget five girls five and under.

This afternoon's exploration agenda? To see the shark breeding grounds over by the Windless Bight...keep an eye on Facebook for pictures!
These cuties were on the lookout - and they found them! 

They couldn't get much closer than this. The pretty birds were a bit skittish.
A nice view from Cow Wreck Bay where we spent a (sargosso filled) hour or so.
No shortage of fun and action here! Anegada Beach Club pool. The bar is a convenient few steps away.
Another view from Cow Wreck Bay
On the way home in the pick up truck
Quote from Eben: "If people think we're reckless with our kids on boats, they should see us in vehicles!" Haven, feeling the wind in her hair. So begins a love of convertibles??
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