Tuesday, January 31, 2017

where to next?

That is the question on our minds lately. We’ve reached Vero Beach, Florida and it’s been lovely. When we’re ready to put down roots again, I could see this being a good option. Heck, even for the remainder of the season it’s a good option. Mooring is affordable, the beach, stores, and restaurants are close by and there is a free bus system that makes it all the better. Oh, and did I mention the weather? 80 degrees in January is a-okay in my book. And we have extremely awesome extended family here? And an awesome community of boaters who are beyond generous and interesting to hang out with? We have been here since last Sunday and have already made some friends and gotten the lay of the land in our way. Josh has struck out several days on the bicycle and towing stroller in search of supplies and Fozel has been to the park (once with me and another day with Josh) and the beach a few times already. What more could you need?

While we spend our remaining time here, the question is swirling around us. Fozel doesn’t care and Josh says he’s happy (he likes being productive) so in a way, it’s up to me. Where to next? These are our options.
  1.  We stay put for the season. We could stay until late April or May and then make our way north to at least Georgia (there is a great marina in Brunswick that would be a good fit) until November. Or we could just spend the summer and early fall going up and down the coast again. We loved Charleston (and have framily there) and the Chesapeake is a place people spend entire summers exploring. The sky is the limit. Another good thing about going north is that for next season, it’s a potential jumping off point if we decide to go to the Virgin Islands.
  2. We head south and then go further south. We’ve been tossing about the idea of heading to the Keys and making our way down to Mexico (Yucatan Peninsula) and beyond after meeting a family in a trimaran doing the same thing. They have a little 3 year old and have been doing it for the last 5 years happily. The benefit there is that when hurricane season draws near, you can go south to Central America to avoid the weather. Belize or Guatemala, anyone? That appeals to us also.
  3. We stick to the original plan. The Bahamas. Somehow this one has the least lustre to me lately. I love the idea of the Bahamas but I’m concerned it’ll be expensive. I’m sure we’d have an amazing time exploring the islands and waters surrounding them. It also doesn’t hurt that the sand is powdery and the waters are warm and calm. I just keep getting hung up on the difficulty in finding supplies and the cost. Maybe for our first year it’s okay to give it a go. I mean, I want to go there eventually so why not now? Supposedly Georgetown is a haven for those who like to be busy. There are organized yoga classes, seminars under the palms in the afternoon and playdates to be had at every turn. For some people this sounds terrible but for us, I think it might be our jam. At least for a bit. Especially while Fozel is young. Having an organized day is a great way to have some familiarity for all of us.

Friday, January 27, 2017

fitness afloat.

I like to work out. Nope, scratch that. I need to work out. Even if I’m not smashing some fitness goal, I need at least a little intense sweating every day. It makes me feel powerful, and more importantly, it makes me happy. Those endorphins are essential to a happy life, in my book. The little bit of exercise I get keeps me from biting everyone’s heads off (mostly…it’s not foolproof because even the best workout can’t always fix my bad mood or help me keep my cool during one of Fozel’s meltdowns) and helps me feel balanced. On land, I was a religious exerciser. Running, biking, and more recently doing HIIT (high intensity interval training). That has been my bread and butter since Fozel arrived on the scene. It was never easy to sneak away to the gym and I knew I needed that release, so I did some searching online and on Instagram and began to build my own workouts. Eventually, I added some equipment to my routines and I had a pretty nice set up going.

Living on the boat has changed all that. My routine became erratic and less than consistent. I’ll grab a run on land if we are in a marina or do one of my workouts on the dock, but when we are underway for more than just a day (across the Great Lakes and the short stint from New York to Cape May, NJ), had to be up with the sun, and when we began to anchor out, I really fell off the wagon. I could feel myself slipping. Not only did my mood plummet but my clothes didn’t fit as well. Yikes! On the boat it isn’t ideal to have to have a “skinny” and “fat” wardrobe, so I gotta get back on track.

As part of my laundry list of New Year’s resolutions, I’ve vowed to get in at least 1 workout a day. I would typically do two (equalling about 35 minutes) but at this point, until we get anchored for more than a night somewhere, I’m happy with that goal. My routines are full of a variety of squats, lunges, push ups and some weights. Unless we are on land, I forgo any jumping exercises, as I don’t feel confident about my balance (like today was pretty choppy and I found myself off balance even just doing lunges). In my bag of tricks of equipment I carry on board: set of 5 lb. hand weights, ankle weights, 15 lb kettlebell (I’d like to add a 25 lb one soon), a set of exercise bands of varying resistance, a trx trainer (suspension trainer) which will be used more once we have the dinghy off the deck, and a jump rope for land based workouts. My routines are made up of 5 different exercises. Each exercise is performed for 50 seconds and then it’s on to the next one until the circuit has been completed 4 times. Some people add in rest time, but when Fozel was little it added 4 more minutes to the workout that he wasn’t going to be happy about, so I just move directly from one to the other with no break. I have a handy free app called “Seconds” that I use to build my workouts. I scour Instagram and Pinterest for new exercises and “like” or “pin” them for later and build new ones every single day. It’s definitely a challenge but I’m in a better mental and physical place when I get that blood pumping and the sweat flowing!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

goodbye 2016.

This last year has been a blur, to be honest. Every port is exactly like the last and each anchorage is isolated and calm (well, most of them are). They’re not really all the same actually, but when you’re vagabond souls as we now are, there is a certain rhythm and comfort to encountering lots of similarities that makes them seem remarkably alike. However, there are things that stick out in their own ways, and they’re things we’ve learn in the miles we’ve covered. So, what follows is the list of our lessons from 2016.

People. People are awesome. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, more heartwarming than all the people who we have encountered on this trip. Some of them were strangers—fellow cruisers or locals, and many of them were friends (The Elmers, a special shoutout to the Norman family, Rod Lake, Coach Haberland, the Hensleys, Bill and Madeline from Scott’s Creek Marina, the Jones duo, the Hamiltons, Mike Brubaker, Jim & Linda LaVine, Kathy Root, and the Hudson family). Some of them gave rides, loaned cars, opened their homes to us in a variety of ways, and/or were just huge supporters. It fills my soul to bursting to meet smiling faces along the way, whether they be new friends or old acquaintances and we wouldn’t have kept going without them.

Sometimes it’s okay to stop and reset. We had a few missteps but rather than rush on and make some bigger mistakes in our haste, we made the decision a few times to stay put and gather ourselves, our courage, and our thoughts before carrying on, knowing that it was delaying our progress south. Since we aren't on a real timeline, there was no real need to barrel forward. In hindsight, even though I might not have been always on board, it was always the right decision by the captain. 

Teamwork truly makes the dream work. Cheesy, I know, but it’s not a thing people say for no reason, you know (apparently Josh had never heard this phrase, so is it just a sports thing I learned through countless years of riding the bench in various sports??). I haven’t talked too much about “pink” and “blue” jobs here but we’ve settled into a groove that definitely has it’s parameters. We each have our responsibilities and if one of us shirks them, the other would be left to compensate, which is no bueno for either of us. I do some of the on deck stuff but Josh does the majority of the heavy lifting. Below deck, it’s a little different. I rule the roost in all things domestic and for now it works for us. As we progress, things may shift but for now, it’s working.

Vigilance is key. This came up a few times early on (more than we care to admit) and could have caused costly mistakes. Luckily, all is well. Whether it be keeping an eye on the fullness of water and fuel tanks or simply the charts, Erie Canal signage, or just your surroundings, it’s something we could strive to be better at in the coming year(s).

There is beauty in solitude. It’s been surprising to me how much I think we’ve all enjoyed being unplugged. The encountering of wifi at marinas along the way has been lovely, don’t get me wrong. And there are times it’d be nice to have a tribe as most people have on land have, but in general, we’ve had plenty of fun finding new ways to explore, enjoy each other’s company, and just be. There’s less literal and figurative noise to be contended with out here and it is something that was sorely needed, at least by me.

You know what’s truly lovely?
Bathrooms on land. This year I learned to truly appreciate a hot shower and a toilet in which you can throw your TP. I’d say this is a silly one, but living on a boat has given me an appreciation of the actual small things in life. Like showering. Every day, if you want. I suppose we could shower every day on the boat, but it’s a hassle. Yes, showers are magical, and even more so if they’re roomy, preferably with a large private changing area and hooks for your clothes and a bench in or near the shower is also nice. Can you tell how many marina showers we’ve encountered? I have definitely acquired a taste for how I like my marina showers and they all include skin burning hot water temperatures. Showering in marina is also made more challenging by having to bathe not just myself, but also a toddler who is fond of “washing” his toys with mommy’s nice soap and generally just goofing around, that is, if he’s not screaming bloody murder about having to take a shower in the first place. Sigh.

Along with the above, have I mentioned how difficult things on a boat can be?
Yes, learning to deal with difficult circumstances has been another lesson. From figuring how to efficiently fill the storage we have (there is tons, and all irregularly shaped and therefore, terribly utilized—this one thing I’m still working on), to trying to let your toddler “cook” with you and literally having to have him stand on the companionway steps outside the kitchen because it’s actually only large enough for one person to inhabit, to just not cracking your head open when you climb into and out of the berths or reach in the fridge. Surprisingly, being the shorter of the two of us, I’m the one who bonks her head an inordinate number of times a week. There is also the constant upkeep and repairs that Josh, my main man and mechanic extraordinaire, can speak to. He does all of that with such patience, I am in awe. It’s always something different, often difficult and he’s learning as he goes if he doesn’t already know how to make it work.

Sometimes, you have to laugh at the absurd. There are days that are filled with little snafus (running aground at low tide, a tantrum throwing toddler, mechanical failures, and just ridiculousness). Even out here, things go wrong. There’s nothing to be done but fix the issue if possible and grin and bear it. Or at least grit your teeth and hold on until a better day. It’s all about your attitude. But isn’t it always?

If you’re not having fun (at least 95% of the time), you’re doing it wrong. Cruising isn’t for everyone. Getting out here on the water has taught me that, for sure. There are days where the fun factor hovers around 50% or lower and some days where every waking moment is a pleasure and I can’t wait to get up the next day and start all over again. The key is to balance those types of days. It’s hard, stressful work. The mental wear, the isolation you can sometime feel, the constant upkeep and maintenance, and the cabin fever can all make it too much. BUT, the benefits are immense. Did you see all the benefits we reaped in the above list?? For now, it’s working. For now, we’re all having fun. And that’s the key. We’ve said from the moment we left land that we’d do it as long as it’s fun. And my friends, I don’t think we’ve come even close to the most fun we can have in this new year.


Monday, January 2, 2017

the year in numbers

As an engineer, I like numbers. With the rolling over of the calendar to 2017, now is as good a time as any to look at our numbers so far. We spent a total of 55 days underway which will get me 15% towards the 365 needed for my Captains License. We have traveled 2585 since we left Racine, although that is including our “shakedown” in August (which Ann doesn't count) so we are actually 'only' 2235 miles from home (just south of Charleston, SC). The 47 miles per day number is biased a little high due to some days that we were on 24 hour runs on the Great Lakes. I don't expect that number to be as high in 2017.

The nature of route we have taken has necessitated a lot of engine usage. We have put 390 hours on it since we left. For those of you used to filling up large power boats, the next number is going to hurt; it took 464 gallons of diesel fuel to get us that far. With an average fuel price of $2.31 cents per gallon (thanks Obama) we have spent $1,071 at the fuel dock this year.

Dockage was another large expense as we transited the Eastern part of the country. We try to anchor out as much as we can, but there are times when that is not practical, either because there is not a good place, or more likely, we need to be on shore. The reasons for needing to be on shore range from needing groceries to mental health stops, to visiting friends, to working on boat projects. Of the $1753 we spent on dockage, almost $700 was between 3 places where we spent more than a week in each ( $144 in Reedville, VA, $270 in Portsmouth, VA and $275 in Charleston, SC).

There were several expected, and several unexpected, parts expenses that we incurred last year. There were several orders of filters, both fuel and oil. I'd still like to have more primary fuel filter spares aboard, but I now have a good supply of spare secondaries and spare oil filters. There have been a few oil changes (every 100 engine hours). I have also had to replace the bilge pump (shout out to Jon Norman). We are also on fuel pump number 4 ( with 2 more spares aboard now). I still haven't figured out what keeps causing them to fail, but as long as I can get them with 2 day shipping for $12 from Amazon, I'm not too concerned. (Maybe using $12 pumps has something to do with them failing?)

The last major cost of the year was $590 split between mast stepping and unstepping at either end of the Erie Canal. While we would have liked to avoid that, it was a necessity for us. As late as we left, the Erie Canal was the only option and I could not be happier that we got that experience.

These dollar figures are far from complete. I have not included any of our food costs or any of our other travel costs ( a few flights, car rentals, Uber rides) or any of the other activities that we did. The reason for this is that in our planning, I looked at a lot of people's numbers and it was always a challenge to decipher how their styles compared to ours. I have found that a lot of our land habits have translated to our life afloat. So these numbers should help anyone else who is planning a similar trip, just add your typical expenditures for food and entertainment. If you live on Ramen and enjoy finding free activities, you can get away with spending very little to get this far. If instead, you insist on only the finest dining experiences and must attend every concert along your route, you will spend considerably more.

55 days underway
2585 miles
47 miles/ day
390 engine hours
464 gallons of diesel
$1,071 in fuel bills
$2.31/gal average
$1753.20 in dockage
$75 in permits (Erie Canal)
~$1,000 in miscellaneous boat related expenses (bilge pump, pump outs, filters, parts)

$590 for mast unstepping and stepping (for the Erie Canal)