Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Raising Kids: It Takes a Village. Not a Call to the Police.

"Mommakong" original artwork by Chelsea Stephen Illustration
I suppose that living on a sailboat in the Caribbean with my husband and our three small children indicates I have a slightly different take on "risk" than most. That said, I consider myself a pretty good mom. Like all parents I tend to swing the pendulum... At a baseline my kids are bathed, fed, clothed, hugged, kissed, entertained, and know they are loved tremendously. On my really, really good days, I think I'm above average, maybe even a "super mom." On my really, really bad days, I try to calculate how much therapy will un-do the screwing up I have inevitably done. Most days, I live somewhere in the middle. However, the day the cops were called on me for what another parent viewed as neglect? That day I felt pretty damn crappy.


Let me preface this by saying I am, by my own choice and innate instincts, a pretty "laid back" mom. Some call it 'free range' others call it irresponsible. I call it 'parenting without instilling fear.' I do not operate on the assumption that everything and everyone is out to get my kids. And while I know that the world can be a scary place, I make a very conscious choice not to to put fear in the driver's seat of my life. Turns out, I parent this way as well. I'm the mom at the park sitting contentedly on a bench while my eighteen-month old twins climb an apparatus deemed "above" their age limit. I'm the mom at the library thumbing through books to read later to my girls while the three of them run amok in different play areas. I give them a wide berth to explore this world and intervene when I see something I think is too dangerous.  While I believe this makes me the polar opposite of a "helicopter" parent, I certainly don't think it classifies me as a neglectful one.


I was scheduled to take all three girls to the pediatrician for shots while my husband was out of town and realized we were out of ibuprofen right before leaving. Not good. Any mom of multiples will tell you that staying one step ahead of the game is key to survival: not only would ibuprofen help take the edge off the pain of the shots (each twin was getting three), but we always like to have it on hand in case of a fever spike (not uncommon when you have three kids three and under.) Without this kind of forethought, it's too easy for chaos to reign (and believe me, chaos reigns from time to time.) It was 10:50 am. Our appointment was scheduled for 11:15. We’d finish no sooner than 11:50. Lunch time at 12:00. Nap at 12:30. When - and how - would I be able to stop at a drugstore while alone with three very active toddlers?

I hopped in the car after wrangling all three girls into their seats (not an easy feat) and was on my way. I had 15 minutes to pick up my aunt who kindly offered to help me with the girls during their appointment and get to the doctor. I made the quick decision to stop on the way at my local Walgreens because waiting until after the appointment risked pushing past lunchtime with very cranky, sore and hungry kids. Not the best time for errand-running.

I pulled the car into a parking spot right in front of the pharmacy doors and quickly weighed my options, keeping in mind we had 15 minutes till 'go' time: Option 1: Wrangle all girls into the store, with no stroller or baby carriers, and try to contain them as I shuffled to the medicine aisle. My (easily) 10 minute option. Option 2: Put the car in park, crack the windows, lock the doors and run in to grab the medicine by myself. My (easily) two minute option.

I chose Option 2. THE HORROR!

I gave the girls a big smile, told them I loved them, reminded them to be good and ran into the store. I know the layout well considering our home is mere blocks away. I ran right to the aisle for the meds and grabbed a few cheese sticks from the refrigerator on my way back down (in case our appointment ran late and the girls needed something more substantial than Cheerios.) Just as I turned the corner to check out, the clerk pointed at me with wide eyes and announced, "THERE SHE IS!"

I knew immediately what was coming.

"What's going on?" I asked as I picked up my pace.

"Those are your kids in the car, right?" she questioned. "The police are on their way. That lady out there called the cops. You can't leave your kids in the car" she said, shaking her head in disbelief as I ran past her.

I dropped my basket and ran outside. My heart was racing. I quickly came face to face with a squat middle aged woman who had an attitude to share and a cross to bear.

"Are those your kids? You can't leave your kids in the car!" she said as she lumbered toward me, he husband meekly lurking behind her. "I called the police" she shrugged with a smirk.

"Are you SERIOUS?" I said, struggling for words, trying to assess whether or not she was bluffing while I fumbled for my keys, "I'm alone with three small kids, we have a doctor's appointment in ten minutes...I was getting them MEDICINE. I was in there for less than TWO MINUTES..." I stammered off and hoofed it over to my car.

"Well, I had *four* kids and I *never* left them alone in the car," she yelled after me matter of factly with an air of superiority, really punctuating 'four' and 'never'. I shook my head in disgust and hopped in the driver's seat. I turned around and looked at my three happy girls entertaining themselves - luckily with no idea what was going on.

I started the car. If she truly had called the cops, they were going to have to have to come and find me. I wasn't going to wait around when it would mean missing the coveted (and very difficult to acquire) twin vaccination appointment with our favorite pediatrician. I put the car in gear and drove off with my heart racing.


I know that leaving kids in cars is a big hot topic these days. We’ve all read the worst of the stories whether accidental or due to misguided parenting.

But this was not that scenario. Or maybe I've spent too much time in the Caribbean where parents are more relaxed and where I have carted my kids around in the back of pick-up trucks and other such atrocities.

I had assessed the situation and calculated my risk before I'd made my move: The car was off with no keys. The girls were secure in their car seats. It was a comfortable 70 degrees outside. The windows were cracked. The doors were locked. No small toys or snacks in arm’s reach. Happy attitudes. No tears. What could go wrong?

Sure, an axe wielding madman could bash open a window and maybe wrestle one child out of her seat before I returned. And, yes, I suppose it is possible a meteor could come falling out of the sky and land on our vehicle. I've read of sinkholes before, so there is always a chance that one could swallow our car in the few minutes I'd be gone. And I guess there is the remotest possibility that I could suffer a heart attack or aneurysm while in the store, leaving my children alone in the car until someone noticed. Spontaneous fire? Alien abuduction? Attack by a stowaway squirrel? The list of goes on... I weighed the risk and felt pretty confident none of those things were going to occur in the time I would be in the store. Call me crazy.

What I did not factor in was a busybody looking for her moment to shine at my expense, which is far more insidious - and common - than any of the other scenarios I considered.


To say this experience shook me is like saying I like a glass of wine every now and then… I was rattled and kept playing it over and over in my head. I went through with the appointment, managed to get the girls fed and in bed for their naps, and then, driven by the incredibly unnerving feeling that maybe cops were going to show up at my door, I hit the internet. I wanted to know a) if what I did was, in fact, illegal and b) if I needed to be ready for police and/or the Department of Child and Family Services to show up at my door with a warrants. A quick Google search taught me that laws vary state to state, however here in Illinois, it is perfectly legal to leave a child in a car for less than ten minutes. Phew.

Knowing I hadn't broken the law certainly eased my nerves, but did nothing to quell the terrible feeling of being humiliated and 'mommy shamed' by the clerk and woman outside. I called the store to complain, after which they apologized and told me that the police had not, in fact, shown up. The woman was either lying to me to prove a point or the cops didn't see reason to follow up. Either way, the whole situation made me think.


As a child of the '80's I don't ever remember being in a car seat. My siblings and I spent plenty of time waiting in the car while our mom ran a quick errand. We would regularly walk to the neighborhood park, without an adult, and play for hours. On weekends, we were set loose in the neighborhood in the morning and expected to be home at dinnertime. I was regularly sent door to door to track down my little sister who, at the age of 4 or 5, was prone to wandering off in search of a neighbor to give her a cookie. If we fell off our bike a neighbor or sibling would carry us home. If we ran late our parents would start calling around to track us down. That was parents trusting their children, their own instincts, and each other.

Yes, it takes a village to raise children, however MY village is one where we look out for one another and our children – NOT one where we try to find the best way to point fingers and play sheriff. If what that woman had really cared about was my kids, she could have waited by my car for a minute to give me a chance and then assess the situation. She could have had her husband run into the store and have the clerk call me on the loud speaker. Witnessing my kids in no distress and no immediate danger did not warrant a call to the police. Had she waited that single minute more, she would have found a slightly frazzled, very rushed, and very alone mother of three who left her kids in the car for less than five minutes to grab some medicine.

Don't get me wrong, I believe in safety and being vigilant about what’s happening around us… Car seats, bike helmets, and laws protecting the most vulnerable are all important. But, so is supporting each other. So, instead of pointing fingers, judging and - for heaven's sake - calling the cops... Perhaps we take a moment to offer a hand.

If we do this, the world we be a much less scary place. I promise.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Junior Captains: Send Your Children on an Epic Sailing Adventure

Every parent wants to do the best by their children. It is one of our (many) jobs as parents to provide our children with the tools that will give them the best shot at a successful and (more importantly) happy life. Of course these "tools" vary for all of us as we each have our own parenting styles and priorities, but I think that most parents can agree that a child who is - in one way or another - exposed to the world, definitely has a leg up in life.

Of course most of us do not have the means to take our kids to the Serengeti to see African wildlife in it's true habitat, or fly with our kids to Nepal to teach them about the roots and principals of Buddhism, or live as roving gypsies aboard a sailboat bound for a circumnavigation.  Luckily today; thanks to the internet, Skype and modern technology in general, the world is a much smaller and more accessible place. Teaching our children about other cultures, religions, and countries can now be done from the comfort of our very own homes.

Junior Captains is the brainchild of Bo and Alli, the adorable powerhouse of a couple behind Sailing B+Aand aims to "send your children on an epic sailing adventure without ever leaving home." 

How does it work? First you sign up. After ordering, you will receive instant access to Chapter 1 so your "Junior Captain" can begin the adventure. In a few days, your child will receive the "starter kit" which contains all the goodies necessary to follow the adventure. And, finally, you and your child will follow along as Bo and Alli send postcards, videos, and stories about each new destination!

Sounds pretty rad, right? Right. And it is! Check out this recent testimonial from a current "Junior Captain":

>>>Right now they are hosting a giveaway! <<<

If you are a parent who is more interested in gifting your children experiences rather than things,  this is for you.

Here are the details:

1st Prize: A real life sailing trip + a free lifetime subscription to the Junior Captains program. (We’ll take them sailing with us for a day, or pay for them to go on a daysail on a charter boat in the location of their choice if it isn’t feasible for them to sail wherever we are.) ($926 value)

2nd Prize: 1 year free subscription to the Junior Captains program + free copy of The Boat Galley Cookbook ($170 value)

3rd Prize: 3 months free subscription to the Junior Captains program + free copy of Voyaging With Kids ($61 value)

This ends Sunday Oct 25th. Prizes will be announced and awarded the following week.

Sign up today and give your child or grandchild the gift of world travel!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Sailorbags: A Bag for Every Sailor

Spoiler alert: Giveaway at the end of this post!

A long time ago I wrote a post on having guests aboard where I outlined a set of tips on how to be good sailboat crew. One of them was: NO ROLLY BAGS. Bags are one of those things that you just need on a boat, but not all bags are up for the test. The marine environment is rough, storability is key, and function must outweigh form. Long ago, we discovered SailorBags and began what has been an amazing partnership with them. I cannot sing enough praise about their bags and, believe me, we've used a lot of bags on our boat. We've even turned a few of our friends and family onto them as well.  So what do we love about them? Well, we have a bunch of favorites and each bag has a special place and purpose on our boat.

Here's a quick run down of what we've got and why we love it:

>>>>> The Back Pack<<<<<
I could sing this bag praise forever. Anyone who knows us and/or has spent any considerable time with us will attest to the fact that we use this bag every. single. day. It's large enough to pack a bunch of stuff to accommodate a family of five on a shore trip, but small enough that it doesn't feel like a burden.  Scott used this pack as his luggage when he went to Florida for a week and there is no way we'd travel by land, sea or air without one. There are three compartments to help organize gear, and a wine water bottle holder on each side. The material is durable and water resistant, and our pack has been chucked in and out of our dinghy countless times. Our only critique is that after four years of use one of our zippers broke, but SailorBags has an amazing guarantee and replaced our backpack free of charge, no questions asked. Great products backed by excellent customer service? Amen.

>>>>>  The Stow Bag<<<<<
While I do most of our laundry by hand (I actually really enjoy it!) there are occasions when I will hit up a laundry mat to clean a bunch of clothes that have piled up and/or bulky blankets (blankets are tricky to clean in a 5 gallon bucket!) Enter: the stow bag. Ours is the extra-large size and you can see it holds a good amount of gear. With a drawstring closure and a shoulder strap, this bag makes trips to the laundromat a breeze. The fact that it's water resistant and made out of tough sailcloth means it's always up for the trip, come hell or high water! 

>>>>>  The Mini Tote <<<<<
SailorBags sent this little tote for Isla for her birthday (yep, they are thoughtful as well!) and we love it. To be completely honest, I use this bag more than Isla because it's the perfect size for for a night out (they are rare, but they happen!) When my "everyday" tote (see below) is too big, and bulky to lug around for an adult-only dinner, this little bag is the perfect purse. Easily holds a phone, VHF radio, wallet and small items like that. Durable, mega water-resistant, and stylish.

>>>>>  The Drawstring Bag<<<<<
This bag was a sleeper hit with our crew but when we started using it, we never stopped. The drawstring bag is perfect for those times we do a quick run out and only need to pack few things. It's the perfect bag for a run to customs, it's a great "light" bag to bring along on a hike, and perfect for a short afternoon trip to the beach. It can easily hold a large water bottle, a few granola bars, a VHF radio and a turkish towel.  Bonus? The mesh pocket on the outside is great for collecting sea shells in without filling your bag full of sand. It's a great "mini" day pack that is equally functional on the beach, trail or road.

>>>>>  The Medium Tote<<<<<
I'm not sure which bag gets more use, the backpack or this medium tote - but suffice it to say, both are used every day. This tote has been my main "purse" for a few years and I love it. I was something of a pack-rat before I had kids, and motherhood has made me hone this skill even more. I'm always prepared for anything; a hungry kid, a dirty diaper, a second application of sunscreen, the means to disinfect a child who picked up a mystery mushy thing from the road...you name it. Because it's white, the tote does show dirt and will not stay pristine (at least not the way I use it) and no amount of washing it will get it to the former glory, but I think it just adds to the bag's character. It zips shut (essential for me when it comes to a purse that's tossed around a lot!), is big enough to hold a lap top and more, durable to sit on the floor of dinghies and bars, and perfect for every day use. Oh, the stories this bag could tell!

>>>>>  The Square Duffel<<<<<
We've done a LOT of back and forth traveling over the last five years. Every time, we do - these bags are what carry our stuff. We have seven of them. One extra large duffel is enough for all of my clothes for the boat (or, okay, most of them) and Scott can usually get away with a large. The twins share a large duffle for all of their clothes and belongings and Isla has a medium one for her things. I love that all our bags coordinate and the white really stands out for easy picking out of the baggage claim. Again; water resistant, durable, stow-able and perfectly functional.

>>>>>>>>> GIVEAWAY TIME! <<<<<<<<<

Now that I've shown you some of our favorite bags and their uses,I want to give one of you a bag to show you that it will quickly become one of your favorites as well!

If you would like a chance to win a back pack from the brand new, super sleek, SILVER SPINNAKER COLLECTION (an $109 value!) simply comment on this post with why you would like this bag, and I will chose a winner at random in the next week!(*conditions apply)

WIN THIS BAG >>>>>>>>>>>>>

And as an EXTRA SPECIAL treat, use the code WINDTRAVEL over at sailorbags.com for 20% off!
(Good thru 11/16)

*No substitutions. Ground shipping is included to a domestic US shipping address. Winner will be announced on Facebook and Twitter, as well as a final comment on this post. Be sure to watch!

Thanks for playing!

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Just add Water: Eleven Ways Cruising Friendships are Different Than Others

One of my fundamental beliefs in life is that people need people. We are, by nature, social creatures and making real and deep connections with other human beings goes down as one of the most rewarding gifts of life. I have been very fortunate in my life to have always been surrounded by amazing friends. I have high school friends, college friends, sailing friends, mama friends, blogging friends, older friends, younger friends and Scott and I even have what we call "couple friends". My best friend and I go all the way back to first grade (she knows me better than I know myself and I literally thank the Universe for her daily.) Friends are friends and, to me, each "type" of friendship is purposeful and meaningful, with every person bringing value, experience and perspective to an individual.

Since leaving on our boat we've even added a new category of friendship to our repertoire: the one which we call "cruising" friends

These friendships are very, very different from any other type I've experienced. Scott always says, "There's something special about friendships formed on water" and it's true. Don't get me wrong, not every cruiser is an immediate friend - just like on land we "click" with some people and not with others...but when you *do* make that 'real and deep' connection with someone on the water, a little bit of magic happens. In an effort to explain what a cruising friendship looks like, here are eleven ways in which I find they are different than others:


1) They are formed fast and furious. Friendships blossom fast on the water, one minute you are helping someone rescue their dinghy from floating away, the next you are sharing cocktails in the cockpit like old friends. There is an instant familiarity between cruisers and, even if you only spend one evening together, you usually cut right through the small talk and get to the meat of the matter. It takes almost no time for cruisers to start acting like old friends, despite only spending a few days together. Just as marriage in a boat is amplified and condensed (1 year on a boat = 4 years on land) so is friendship. When you click, you click and that is that.
Jost Van Dyke, BVI 2015. The McGuire Family are blog-follwers turned friends who we were lucky enough to cruise with for a bit during their epic 5 month charter. We love them like crazy and there is not a doubt in my mind that we will be friends with these people FOREVER and because they live in the midwest, we know we'll be seeing them again.
2) Time spent together is intensified. Because most cruisers are retired and/or semi retired, we don't have the rigorous work and social schedules that are common on land. As as result, when you do find those people that you connect with, you spend a lot of time together. When we cruised with our best buddies, the Soeter's family ,we spent no fewer than three hours a day together for months and months. That's a LOT of quality time! To this day they are still some of our very best friends and we consider them more like family. Stay tuned for our epic reunion in a few weeks! (They are moving to Tortola on their boat where we will be living too!!! GAHHHH!!!)
Lee Stocking Island, Bahamas 2013. These two have a very special place in my heart. Genevieve, one of my very best girlfriends, of s/v Necesse (currently in the USVI) and Karina of s/v Kazaio (currently in the South Pacific)
3) You help each other out. I think I've driven the point home pretty well on this blog, but in case it hasn't gotten through: boats break a lot. Ninety percent of the time you will be trying to fix and/or diagnose your boat woes with your cruising buddies. We pool our supplies, tools and spares and do whatever we can to help a fellow cruiser out because a) you never know when it will be your turn to need help and b) the cocktails afterward are that much nicer! Out on the water we can only rely on ourselves and our friends - and the cruising community is unrivaled in it's ability to rally for one another.
Tortola, BVI 2015. Eben of s/v Necesse helping Scott install our new battery bank.
4) You are "like minded." It takes a certain type of person to live on a sailboat. While we cruisers are all different, there are definitely some core values that almost all of us share: a love of travel, an appreciation for the "tiny house" movement, a love of simple living, an eco-friendly mentality, a desire to ditch the 'rat race' and a hefty dose of self-reliance to name a few. We're a tough bunch and when we get together, connections are not hard to make and the conversation is often easy and interesting. We're all members of the same tribe and proud of it.
Georgetown, Bahamas 2010. In this bunch are our very first cruising friends and what an epic group it was. Brian and Lara of Forest and Fin, George and Kelly of Earthling Sailor, Sarah and Miguel and Jay and Nicole.
5) You probably "know" them before you meet them. This is a new one since the world of 'cruising blogs' has literally exploded in the last couple years. When we started blogging I would say there were maybe one tenth of the blogs that are out there now. Today it's rare if someone doesn't have a blog or website. This is an interesting phenomenon because it's made the cruising community that much smaller. I'd say there's no more than two degrees of separation between cruisers and chances are, you 'know' fellow cruisers through their websites and/or niche Facebook groups before you ever meet in person. This has been a really neat development over the last few years and adds some depth and ease to making new cruising friends because we already know so much about each other by the time we meet.
Tortola, 2015. Carly of the fantastic blog, Salty Kisses (they just competed the Northwest Passage!!! INSANE.) We only hung out together a short time but have spoken via email and chat a BUNCH of times. Her little boy, Crew, is only a week apart from the twins so we have a lot in common dealing with our little ones on board. 
6) You get unusually comfortable together. Our closest cruising buds have seen us at our best...and at our worst. They've witnessed the tense and stressful moments where we are most raw and celebrated our victories with us. They've been privy to our domestic disputes, wiped our tears when we're overwhelmed with our kids, hugged us when our boat's give us another doozy of an issue and, more likely than not, have seen our nekkid bottoms when showering off the back of our boats. My girl Darcy (of the Sunkissed Soerters) has undressed me, put me in bed and held my hair back as I puked after consuming one too many Killer Bee's on the island of Nevis - not my proudest moment, but boy was I glad to have a friend like her. You go through a lot with your cruising buddies and, as a result, become more like family than friends.
Our very best family friends, the Sunkissed Soeters. We have spent so much time with this family and get along with them so well that's it's almost bizarre. We love them like family and we'll be reuniting with them in a few weeks!! GAH!!!
7) You will have incredible photos together. Palm trees, epic sunsets, island tableaus, and crystal clear water are the usually the backdrops of our photos. The scenery make the memories that much sweeter.
Gerogetown, Bahamas 2013. This is where Genevieve and I first met and formed our awesome bond. We reunited three years later in the Virgin Island after a LOT of trying to convince her to head that way on my part. Those of you that love her blog can thank me, I helped convince her to write one - probably not long after this photo was taken ;)
8) Everyone has a story. They are often very interesting. We've met so many incredible people since we left, and I mean really, really cool people doing some really incredible things. They are writers, photographers, single-handers, mountaineers, activists, botanists, researchers, fisherman, surfers, kite boarders, extreme minimalists, chefs, and philosophers. We've met people who've been held at gunpoint in Columbia and others who have been shipwrecked on the Indian Ocean. This lifestyle tends to bring a certain personality type out of the woodwork and it's often very adventurous, well-traveled people who do things on their own terms. We also tend to imbibe quite often which is always great for story-telling.
Tortola, BVI 2015. Maggie and Wiley were just making the transition from live-aboards to full-time RV'ers (Harmony on Land). I still laugh at Wiley's stories and we love this couple a LOT. So much fun and we wish they were still floating!
9) They cross social, cultural and economic boundaries. Our cruising friends run the gamut and while we do tend to stick with fellow kid boats for obvious reasons, we have made friends from all over the world that cover every social class and represent every age group. The only other time in my life when I felt like friendships crossed these barriers was when I was an expatriate living in Tanzania. There, we were all "outsiders" and that fact alone was enough to bind us together. My core group of friends and I would most likely never have met in the 'real world' but there, in that little cowboy town that was Arusha, we bonded. The same holds true with cruising. A cruiser's get together will host a whole slew of nationalities, and our friends are French, Iranian, Canadian, Argentinian, Australian, Dutch and British (to name a few). We have a virtual United Nations of friendships and this really expands our worldview more so than almost anything else I think.
This is our beautiful French-Canadian friend Karin. We first met her and her husband Mario in Ft. Lauderdale, and now they live in the BVI and run a luxury charter boat. We've run into them on and off over the years and now we all live in the BVI's. They are some of our best friends and even though English is their second language, we understand each other completely.
10) They get "it."And by "it" I mean everything. Fellow cruisers just get it. The ups and the downs and everything in-between. You don't need to explain to a fellow cruiser how shitty it is to lose your engine/blow a mainsail/kill a dinghy motor/drag anchor...etc...because they can empathize. They understand what it's like to be stuck somewhere waiting for a part, they feel the pain of trying to diagnose a mystery problem and they know the hell that is a rolly anchorage. Adversity brings you closer. Cruising is a wonderful lifestyle, but it can come at a price. Complaining about these things can seem unappreciative to our land-based friends, but cruisers know and understand that the downsides of cruising are all too real. They also know how amazing it is to have a 'perfect' passage, finally fix that mystery leak, discover a great new "galley hack" and capture that incredible sunset. No matter how hard you try to explain your life to land-lubbing friends, they just won't get it. Just as parenthood cannot be fully understood until you yourself are a parent, the same holds true with cruising.
St. John, USVI 2015. Jody of the awesome blog, Where the Coconuts Grow, and Genevieve again. Three peas in a pod!
11) Goodbyes are inevitable and hard. This is, by far, one of the hardest aspects of the lifestyle. Because of it's transient nature, your friends will come and go and parting is such sweet sorrow. I'm emotional and wear my heart on my sleeve, so when I say 'bye' to our very best cruising friends, there are ALWAYS tears. Always. Luckily, with Facebook and blogs it's really easy to keep in touch with one another, watch each other's children grow, follow awesome adventures and plan those epic reunions. It's never "goodbye", but "see you later!" the world is round, after all.
Scott with Mike and Melanie (blog followers turned friends), me and my super girls, Lisa and Nicole (an arial acrobat!)

I could not possibly capture ALL our cruising friends in this one post, so to all of you who we love dearly who are not pictured, sorry!! I was going bug-eyed looking through photos and it was SO hard to just chose these few!

Monday, October 05, 2015

How NOT to Buy a Cruising Boat: A Review

When Scott and I set out cruising, we made one glaring, huge, and pretty colossal mistake: we bought the wrong boat. Don't get me wrong, our first boat, Rasmus, will forever have our hearts and souls tied up in her - and she was in every single way a fantastic boat (strong, sturdy, beautiful, and a steady and patient 'teacher'). But - in hindsight - she was not the "right" boat which was why, not even two years after cruising with her, we found ourselves in the market for another boat.

When Deb Akey of the blog The Retirement Project, shot me an email to see if I was interested in reading and reviewing her book, "How Not to Buy a Cruising Boat", I jumped at the chance. Not only was I very interested in the subject matter considering our first 'mistake' (no regrets!), but knowing that we still do not have what we would consider our "forever" boat, I thought that perhaps I could learn a thing or two. (Universe, we would *love* a three cabin Hallberg Rassy 46, just in case you are wondering!) 

I started reading and after two chapters I felt compelled to write Deb this email:
Hey Deb! I am plowing through your book - just wanted to let you know that I am THOROUGHLY enjoying it!!!! I will probably have a review up in the next week...I'll give you a heads up, but - wow - so impressed!! I love it! You and TJ are great writers (odds of BOTH of you being equally entertaining?!?!) and there's so much good knowledge in there - can't wait to share my review. Thanks again for the great read. xo
If that doesn't tell you how I honestly feel about this book, I don't know what will.

I would absolutely put "How Not to Buy a Cruising Boat" on the 'short list' of essential reading for any aspiring cruiser. And, believe me, I have read a LOT of great books about cruising. This book has earned a place at the top of the ranks. Why?
  • It's a quick and easy read, yet full of fantastic tips. They truly cover all the bases with enough info to make you 'dangerous' but not too much information that it becomes a tome. For example, they ask the question: Are you really going to "sail around the world" or are you content to island hop around the Caribbean? Making a sound and realistic decision on this can save you many thousands of dollars on the boat (and gear) you "need".
  • It's written from a "his and her" perspective. One thing that amazed me the most was the fact that both Deb and TJ write this book, and both authors are equally knowledgeable and entertaining. They alternate perspectives and chapters and it makes for an interesting read. I wasn't expecting that and was pleasantly surprised by this unusual style.
  • They walk you through it all. Deb and TJ began from zero. No sailing background, no family boating ties...they did it all from scratch. From searching for boats on Yachtworld.com to your first survey, they'll walk you through the entire process of buying a boat and yet it doesn't feeeeeel like they are walking you through the entire process of buying a boat. They're just friends telling you a story. How did they do that?
  • It's based on experience. Next time Scott complains about our boat, I'm going to make him read this book. Holy hell. It's really quite amazing that Deb and TJ have not a) thrown in the towel or b) gotten a divorce as they seemed to be living the "Marley and Me" of boating life. Learn from their mistakes.
  • They keep it light. This is not your average, dry, "how to" reference-style book. More than once I laughed out loud at their recounting of a mishap or experience. As a fellow cruisers, these two speak the truth and with a great sense of humor.
  • They are thorough. Deb and TJ are cruisers who went "all in" and by that I mean, they are really, really well researched. TJ also comes from a long line of mechanics and was an airplane technician in his former life so these two know what they ar talking about from a maintenance/mechanical perspective.
  • They Keep it Real. For better or worse, they really drive home what it means to be a cruiser in this book; the good, bad and ugly. Anyone thinking of jumping into the cruiser lifestyle will not only find this book to be a treasure trove of great information on boat buying, but a really good glimpse into what it takes to live the lifestyle. Deb and TJ ask tough questions that will have you taking a good, hard look at what you want to do and why.
  • They mention us. Okay, this is no reason to buy this book, but holy cow was it crazy fun to see "www.windtraveler.net" listed in print as one of twenty blogs singled out as helpful to them in their preparation! Not gonna lie, I squealed, took a screen shot and sent it to my best girlfriends. Big honor. Hugely flattered.

I loved this book and I think it's a really important read for anyone in the market for a boat. Your vessel will HUGELY impact (and I mean "make" or "break") your cruising experience, so this is a purchase that should be taken very, very seriously from the design to the integrity, from the mast head to the keel. There may not be such thing as the "perfect" boat, but there is definitely such a thing as the "wrong" boat and this book will definitely help steer you clear of mistakes that many cruisers make to end up there.

Deb and TJ: Saving potential cruisers from headache and heartache one crappy boat at a time.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Cruising Perspectives: Fourteen 'Side Effects' of Living on a Boat

Note: I was invited to write this post back in June of 2013 (!?!?!) by the lovely Tammy of Things we Did Today for the great 'hive mind' site, The Monkey's Fist. I am only now getting back to it with the time to flush it out. Check out other blogger's takes on this great subject here.

Living on a boat: it doesn't take a genius to realize this is very different from living on land. There are a million ways in which the cruising and/or live-aboard lifestyle differs from that of a land-lubbing existence, too many to list in fact. Living on a boat is certainly no utopia, but it can be pretty great - and many of us find that we have strengths we never knew we had, hobbies we never knew we loved, and skills we didn't think we possessed. These are great perks of the lifestyle. Then, there are some other more unexpected things we get from the lifestyle, I call these: side effects.

Here are 14 "side effects" that I have experienced from five years of boat life:

1. Water usage: Sure, we have a high output water-maker and carry 120 gallons on our boat. But still, even that is a finite and limited supply and must be monitored so as not to run out. Remember that time I carried 60 gallons of water to refill our tanks? I have not forgotten it. Even on land we use water sparingly and letting a tap run for any extended length of time feels wrong. Letting it run while you don't need it, i.e while brushing teeth or in-between doing dishes? That's just criminal.

2. Storage Envy: Houses are full of pretty right angles and nice, square (or rectangular) storage spaces. THIS IS A LUXURY, PEOPLE. Boats have none of those things. We have oddly shaped 'cabinets' and 'cubbies' which make general storage annoying, difficult and - in some cases - impossible. We have gear stuffed so deeply in the rabbit-hole recesses of our boat I'm pretty sure we'll never see them again (in fact, we never did find that spare mast-head light in our last boat...). Gear is stored on a priority basis because you simply have no other choice - which means items used daily or regularly are semi-easy to get to, and things that you don't use daily or regularly require blood, sweat and sometimes tears to get to. All those years of playing Tetris paid off. Luckily, our Brewer has a ton of storage - but even still, it's a struggle to get to and when I see boats with nice, big closet-like spaces (cough-catamarans-cough), I get a little twitchy.

3. Everything is a Compromise: I just mentioned that our boat has a ton of storage, and it does. But guess what? It comes at the cost of living space. The sides of our boat are so chalk-full of cubbies and cabinets, that our living area is significantly more narrow to accommodate it. Boats who are smaller in size, can end up feeling much bigger than ours because of this. That is just one of a MILLION examples I could give you. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING on a boat is a compromise. You install a freezer, you become a slave to your generator. You spring for the wind generator, you get the noise. You re-configure for more galley storage, you loose your microwave. And on and on it goes. Be prepared. Nothing comes on or off the boat that doesn't have a price, both literally and figuratively.

4. Spacial Awareness: When you buy anything for your boat, the first things you will think about is, "Do we have room for this?" and secondly, "Where will this go?" because, at least on our boat, the golden rule is: A place for everything and everything in it's place. This comes very easy to me because I am by nature an incredibly OCD 'tidy' person, but for those of you who are less inclined to put things away, going sailing will be a messy ordeal because, NEWSFLASH: boats are prone to rocking side to side and items not stored properly can and will go flying. 

5. Power Struggles: When you are not concerned with space, you will be concerned with power. Amp hours are another limited commodity on a boat, and even though we have a nice array of solar panels and a decent sized battery bank, we still need to run our generator from time to time to keep up with our energy needs. Rare is the boat that has all their power requirements met by sun and wind day in and day out. Want to bring aboard that Vitamix blender that you love? First of all, see #4 (space) and second, better check out how much juice that thing will suck out of your batteries. Before you buy that system or appliance, you will (or should) be wondering "What does this draw?"

6. Hoarding: I realize this sort of contradicts #4 (space), but hear me out...Living on a boat where simple chores like grocery shopping can become one hell of an ordeal, not to mention the fact that certain places don't have certain things, mean that you try to stock up when and where you can. The Exumas in the Bahamas had grocery stores that looked like they came right out of socialist Russia and the grocery stores in the smaller islands of the windwards had cans on the shelves that were over ten years old! When you get somewhere with good bounty, you'll want to stock up. The same applies to boat parts/supplies. If we order a new "O" ring for our generator's heat exchanger, you better believe we're ordering an end cap, gasket, cover and capscrew as well, and two of each!

7. You Wait for the 'Other Shoe to Drop': I wish we could say we were in the types of cruisers that falls under the 'minimalist' category, but we are not. While Scott could probably swing that way, I like certain creature comforts. I love our water-maker. I love our generator. I love our engine. I love our cockpit speakers. I love our refrigerator. I love our AC (at the dock.) These things make our boat more comfortable and livable for us but, sadly, they come at a price (see #3 - compromise).  As much as we appreciate these systems, they are prone to breaking. They say a cruising boat is in good order if 80% of it's systems are running and truer words were never spoken. It is ALWAYS something. ALWAYS. From the mundane (polishing ever-rusting stainless) to the disastrous (a leaking fuel tank) you will never not have something to fix.  As the 'worrier' of our duo, I'm always looking ahead and wondering, "What's it gonna be next?" The windlass? The stereo? The main halyard? The autopilot? Scott always says, "We're always just one ring-ding away from disaster!" Sad, but true. Boats break. A lot.

8. Heightened senses: An odd vibration under foot, a faint waft of an unusual odor, a dull yet different sound emitting from the engine? All of these things will not only put you on high alert, but set you into action to figure out "why?" You will grow to know every creak and groan your boat makes, you will be unusually familiar with the 'normal' vibrations of your engine and you will know *immediately* if any of your pumps, from those in your bilge to those in your water maker, are acting up. On a boat ignoring these sounds, feelings and odors can be detrimental so you'll be hyper aware of it all. Fun fact: You'll also be able to predict wind speed within a knot or two based on the sounds it makes through your rig. 

9. Resourcefulness: The need to be 'resourceful' has been a bit atrophied in this day and age when we can pretty much have whatever we want or need in a matter of hours, but in the islands this is not the case. Sometimes (actually, a lot of times) we must improvise. Lack of facilities, under-stocked stores, and public holidays are all things that can wreak havoc on you getting that part, talking to that agent, or finishing a project. As such, you need to be resourceful and use what is on hand. Scott has become a veritable McGuyver as a result of living on a boat and his handiness is a mega asset.

10. Hitting the Road (on foot): We walk, a lot. It's so funny to me how little islanders walk or how they seem to judge distance. A very normal conversation will go like this: Us: "Excuse me, but could you point us in the direction of the grocery store?" Islander: "You're not walking, right? It's too far to walk!" Us: "How far, would you say?" Islander: "Oh, I don't know...a really long way." Us: "Okay, well, we like to walk - is is this way?" Islander: (Shaking head with a laugh) "Okay, yes - just up that road there..." And then we walk and it's, like, two miles away. But, yeah, when we're moving around on land we walk a lot to get from point A to point B.

11. Putting it all Out There: Underwear on the line, bras hanging from the the mast, food scraps in a bowl in the cockpit (ready to be tossed overboard later), and sometimes, donning nothing more than our birthday suits, cruisers are not a shy bunch. We tend to put it all out there because, well, we don't really have room to put it any place else. We shower off the back of our boats and sometimes greet our cruising buddies in our underwear. Every year of cruising trades few more social mores/graces for a little more 'heathen' I think.

12. Patience: I am not, by nature, a patient person. It is yet another of my less-than-desirable traits and perhaps the one that I do battle with most regularly as a cruiser because a) a sailboat is S L O W and b) "Island Time" is more real than you can ever possibly imagine. Whether it be having to wait two weeks for your simple package to clear customs (sorry, it arrived during Carnival!) or sailing into the wind and making almost zero VMG for twenty-four hours, living on a boat in the islands will test your patience daily. As a result, you will have no choice but to become more patient or drink a lot to take your mind of the frustration. 

13. Settling for Second Best: When you combine #7 (things break) and #9 (resourcefulness) you sometimes need to settle for a solution that is for sure second-best. Boats are constantly breaking down under the UV of the sun and the corrosion of the salt and unless you have a staff, you will not be able to stay on top of all the work and maintenance your boat needs, meaning you will get used to having certain things not working and/or not looking pretty. Our teak toe rails are a disaster. In fact, all teak on our boat - both inside and out - needs a good re-doing, but we just don't have the money or time right now. And that's okay.

14. Bi-Polar Tendencies: And finally - if you are anything like we are - living on the water will make you bi-polar. You will, at times,  have a love/hate relationship with: your boat, the ocean, the lifestyle, the islands and (most likely) your spouse. High highs and low lows across the board. We can't have it all, right?

Sorry I was so ridiculously late Tammy! Thanks for the great thought-provoking post idea!
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