the adventures of a girl, her dog, and two cats.

Monday, December 30, 2013

auld lang syne

We seem to expect the new year to carry such a heavy load. Somehow that stroke of midnight is always supposed to bring something magical. Suddenly true love appears. Suddenly our lives are transformed. And so, year in and year out, we are left feeling empty and disappointed when that magical moment eludes us.

Three years ago I had my best New Year's Eve Eve, which was better by far than any New Year's Eve celebration I've ever had. I partied so hard on the 30th that on the 31st I was toasting with ginger ale and praying for it to stay down. But that NYE Eve was worth some pain the next day. A cute guy with those dark Jim Morrison curls I can't resist. Bubbly and sake. Broken champagne glasses in the bathroom sink. His New Year's resolution was to "reduce the takers in his life." A very good resolution.

Times long past. I wish I could turn back the clock and do so many things differently three years ago. But alas, time marches on whether we learn our lessons or not, whether we are ready for it or not. I was stronger then in many ways... 20 pounds lighter, a running machine, a party animal... but seeking out pain to remind myself I was alive. I'm stronger in other ways now, having survived the loss of my father and other heartbreak. Somehow I need to find that girl from three years ago. I'll bring her more balance, a focus on being free, and the patience to get there on her own. But I need her determination, physique, and passion.

I do think I need to reduce the takers in my life. I keep letting people drag me down because I'm too polite to say I just don't really need to know them or take care of them. I feel bad for the Charlie-Brown-Christmas-Tree guys, the awkward ones no one wants, but they always mistake kindness for something more. And when it comes to "something more" I must be a ruthless, merciless bitch. I have to remember not to settle. I must be the lioness, not the gazelle.

So, when I'm feeling that everything and everyone around is trying to pull me down, that my past will always haunt me, that I don't deserve happiness, love, and freedom, I have to find a way to forgive myself, "throw yesterday in a fire," and "live like a warrior." [For mobile/email readers here's the YouTube link as I don't think the embedded video works for mobile/email:].

NYE is a big happy 11th birthday to my babies; they'll always be kittens to me. They have kept me alive when my days have been dark. They are so much loveness, and I am blessed to have them. Best wishes to all for health, wealth, and peace in the new year.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

solitude, freedom, and starry nights

I'm not anti-social. I simply choose to be social on my own terms, when, where, and how it suits me, rather than society forcing its social expectations upon me. The ringer on my phone is off 99.9% of the time, I respond to texts and emails if and when I feel like it, and I don't feel obligated to answer when someone knocks on my hull. While many people see running as a social activity, I prefer to run alone. Going out for a run is my meditative time, my time to both focus and let my mind wander, and sometimes my spiritual space.

My willingness to go out and be social definitely ebbs and flows. Although I enjoy new adventures, I am also inclined to be a homebody. Before I moved aboard, I could easily spend a week without ever leaving my house, just letting the dog out into the yard to exercise and throwing a ball all over the house for her. I am perfectly happy to putter around in my pajamas reading, writing, listening to music, watching television, cooking and baking, and napping whenever the moods strikes me. This past Fourth of July I stayed in all day and night happily watching the entire first season of Game of Thrones. I recently went on a three-day binge of the latest two seasons (i.e. 24 episodes) of Homeland. But I can easily do without television, and just entertain myself with writing, reading, or working on a variety of half-finished projects.

Some people simply cannot handle silence or being alone. The Most Annoying Dockmate Ever (well, so far) is this kid who simply has to be constantly talking. He lives alone on his teeny tiny boat and although he is now two slips over, one can hear him on the telephone around the clock. Aside from the fact that virtually everything that comes out of his mouth is misinformed or insulting, what is most annoying is the inability to just be quiet. A lot of people are plagued with this affliction. Just because you are in a car with someone does not mean you have to engage in conversation the entire time.

Other people cannot handle being alone. They don't necessarily have to chatter on the entire time, but they either don't want to be left to entertain themselves or don't like going places alone. I'm used to doing most things on my own, whether eating out, running errands, going to a movie or museum, or traveling. I don't mind my own company, and enjoy being able to change my plans without conferring with anyone. I can also enjoy doing those things with others, but it's not a deal-breaker for me the way it is for some people.

When I overhear people checking in with their spouses and significant others it makes me so grateful that is not part of my life anymore. I don't have to check in, be anywhere any particular time, or answer to anyone. Well, I do have to answer to the pets, who need to be fed and cared for. Sometimes even that responsibility somewhat overwhelms me, but they are my pack and I am so thankful to have them; they are worth sacrificing a bit of my freedom for.

This rant was partially inspired by someone making the mistake of dock-mothering me.  Twice dropping by uninvited, once with a snow shovel, though I already have two aboard. Calling me to say the pump-out boat was out, as they are every Saturday, which I obviously already knew since I hail them on the magical VHF radio when I need them. Emailing me to tell me what the tides would be. Seriously? That's pretty much where I snapped. I tried to be kind, said I know he just wants to be helpful, but: don't dock-mother me.

I had made the mistake of mentioning offhand that I had taken the boat out and the tide was too low when I returned for me to get the boat all the way back into the slip. In the winter there just isn't much water in my marina and I was threading a narrow needle to get out and back in at high tide, but there just wasn't enough water at the bulkhead end of my slip and the rudder stuck in the mud. As with many people who are poor listeners, the dockmother must have heard not a simple statement of fact, but a desperate plea for help that simply wasn't there. I waited 24 hours for a better high tide and easily pulled her in to where I wanted her; pup dog could once again happily use her ramp to board and disembark.

The rub was that this guy just presumed to plan to come over and pull the boat in (cringe), and to tell me the tides, as if I don't know what the tides are doing (guess what? there's an app for that... indeed, I have several!). I know I sound overly sensitive. Perhaps I am. If it was just one of these things, I'd concede that. But taken as a whole and in combination with other past behavior, I think he was out of bounds. I should have stopped him in his tracks the first time he dropped by my boat unannounced. He had a very bad habit the year before of just boarding the boat next to his. I know that because I was sometimes on that boat when he did so. Sometimes the owner of that boat and I were in a state of undress when the dockmother would step aboard and say "hey, what are you guys up to?" It really pissed off the guy that owned the boat, but I don't think he ever said anything. So, it's an issue of boundaries. The dockmother doesn't respect them enough and I'm very aggressive in defending mine. Not a good combination.

Also related to privacy and freedom from meddling, I've been more upset lately about the lack of Fourth Amendment rights aboard. I am constantly amazed at the number of boaters who do not realize they have no Fourth Amendment protections aboard when it comes to the Coast Guard boarding a vessel. It's been the law for over 200 years but that doesn't make it right and it should change. The anemic lobbying efforts out there to protect boaters are ineffective and are prone to roll over to state and federal wishes rather than take a stand and offend the powers-that-be. If you're living aboard or cruising in the US, we really need to start organizing and fighting in court, at the ballot box, and in the legislative process; being polite has not worked and never will. For more background on our lack of rights aboard and what it means as a practical matter check out this SAILfeed post and this thread on Cruisers' Forum.

Now that I may be heading to Florida, I'm particularly concerned about rights aboard. Florida is notoriously anti-liveaboard/cruiser. Florida pretty much views all people living on their boats as derelicts, homeless, pumping sewage overboard. Quite frankly, the people I know who do illegally pump overboard are the very wealthy. Most of us impoverished folks on our boats are sort of hippy green environmental types who don't pollute and have a low carbon footprint. But god forbid the facts ever get in the way of Florida and others trampling on us. *Sigh* They also like to say we don't pay taxes so we shouldn't get any services. That isn't actually how our system works in this country, but just because someone does not directly pay property taxes does not mean they are not paying them indirectly (just as a tenant does) or that they aren't paying plenty of other taxes, such as the exorbitant sales taxes in Florida. In Florida's attempt to rid their waters of boats with people living on them, a few areas of the state are in a pilot program to allow local government to "regulate" (read: eliminate) anchoring in their waters. One of the purported goals of the program is to increase access to the state's waters, but since the actions taken under the program involve replacing anchorages with paid mooring fields and instituting rules and regulations aplenty in the mooring fields and government docks, the regulations are actually an impediment to using Florida waters. In the Keys, the pilot program requires having proof that one's boat has been pumped out in the past seven days. Seriously? It takes 5 or 6 weeks to fill my holding tank. I understand that some boats may have smaller tanks and/or more people, but a weekly requirement is extreme and intrusive. I couldn't believe it when I saw that Miami's Dinner Key mooring field requires pump out every 72 hours. Wow. These people are just far more involved in my bodily processes than can possibly be reasonable. Most liveaboards don't pump overboard. But even if they did, it is a drop in the pollution bucket. Our waters are polluted by shore-based waste treatment overflow, agricultural and golf course fertilizer runoff, et cetera. I would at least have more respect for Florida if they would just state the truth: that they are trying to outlaw poverty. My stomach sort of turns at the thought of going back to Florida. I haven't had time to research the federal case law, but I hope the guy who is challenging the pilot program kicks some local government ass.

OK, rant over, for now.

So, how did I end up only partially docked in my slip the other week? I dragged a friend out for a quick one-hour anchoring lesson. I motored out into the cove before Back Creek proper. We discussed the various steps I should be taking in preparation for anchoring solo. I got the boat stopped and we went to the bow. I measured out about 60 feet of rode and cleated it off. My friend showed me how to figure eight all the rode on the foredeck so it is free to run once I lower the anchor. I dropped the hook and we backed down to set it. Then came the "fun" part. Rather than motoring up to the anchor, I pulled us there with the rode. I had a hard time pulling the anchor in, so in the spirit of learning and doing it myself, my friend showed me how to run the rode back to the jib winch and I slowed grinded it up. Definitely a workout for the arms and back. Once the anchor was pretty close I went up on the bow sprit and tried to lift it out. The problem was that this anchor was mounted on a bracket on the bow pulpit, so I needed to lift it around the bow sprit and up onto the bracket. Easier said than done, trust me. I had some tough moments with my broken finger not too pleased with the process, but finally managed to do it. My friend suggested using the larger Bruce anchor in the future; it is mounted beneath the bow sprit so it will be simpler to bring it up solo. He also suggested setting up a remote release with a snap shackle tied to a small line that I can pull from the cockpit to drop the anchor and then back down on it once the rode has run off the deck. We were going to do another practice round but I nervously looked at my watch and suggested that we were one hour off the highest tide and should get back before it dropped too far. Well, you know the rest of the story... But I did do a very nice job docking her; no fending needed and (knock on wood) never even bumped anything.

As were were going in and out of the channel I was nervous about clearing around a trimaran that has been anchored there for over a month. It is probably home-built, and certainly has a lot of DIY work, including a wild paint job. We snapped this photo as we went by. The next day I asked the pump out guys what the story was and wondered why he was still there when others had been ticketed in that spot. The harbormaster's guys, to their great credit, told me not to worry about him and that he's a really nice guy, not bothering anyone. (Talk about 180-degrees from the treatment he'd get in Florida). I had been worried about not being able to get past him when coming and going, and bitched about it a few times (shame on me), but admittedly I didn't end up having any problem and I think either way he swings in the wind I could squeak by on one side or the other.

The next day I was filling my new back-up propane tank at the hardware store and there was a guy just finishing up ahead of me. He was wearing foulies and had a bicycle with a cart attached. I noticed the bicycle had this crazy yellow/red/blue paint job and all of a sudden I realized "Hey, are you Lapisi?" His eyes lit up and he smiled and nodded. He's a very friendly French-Canadian with a thick accent. We chatted for a while. He mentioned plans to leave soon and even offered to buddy-boat south with me, which would actually be very cool. I could still be on my boat solo but have someone experienced (and experienced at doing it on the hook and on a shoestring budget) to provide some back-up and moral support. He confirmed he's got a little wood stove aboard for heat and said that despite the cold, he could never be in a marina. His boat doesn't like to be tied up like that, he said. She needs to be able to swing in the wind and he wants to be able to see all the stars. It was a beautiful little glimpse into the soul of a cruiser. One with his boat. Not wanting her to be tied down any more than he is.

"Living the dream" isn't about palm trees and fruity rum drinks; it's about not being tied up or tied down, swinging with the wind under the stars, and being free.

[Post script: I later learned the trimaran is named Lapis Lazuli.  I mistakenly thought the name was Lapisi because of a chainplate or other linear hardware painted blue and that appeared to be an "i" at the end of "Lapis." "Lazuli appears on the starboard side.]

Friday, December 13, 2013

me, myself, and i (+ project: port lights)

Well, actually, it's me, pup, and the cats. My intrepid crew. Although I would prefer to make the trip south with just my pack, enjoying the solitude, making our own adventure, and setting our own pace, it would certainly be simpler and faster if I had crew along to help. Going solo means being stuck at the helm the entire day under way, with no one to take the wheel for even a few minutes here and there so that I can piss or make coffee or check on the pets. I will likely need to bring every item I'll need for the day up to the cockpit with me and forego drinking much coffee along the way. It also means no one to help me watch out for crab pots, to help me with anchoring and docking the boat, or to help with getting the dog in and out of a dinghy to go ashore.

Despite my preference for being on my own, it isn't that I haven't tried to round up crew. I am loathe to ask for help but I sucked it up and asked virtually everyone that made any sense, many who did not, and random strangers, to boot. Between the cold weather, an old boat, and the furry crew, I guess folks just don't see the appeal. Clearly, they haven't had my butterscotch brownies.

A smattering of people think I can do it and tell me to just cast off the lines and get going. Most think there is no chance I can do it on my own and that I'll be heading to certain death. *Sigh.* I'm not talking about taking my boat solo past Cape Hatteras (the "graveyard of the Atlantic"). We're talking about 21+ day trips down the intracoastal waterway. It's a slow bird-watching trip with lots of time spent idling waiting for bridges to open. Yes, I'm worried about various areas with notoriously strong current since I haven't had to deal with much of any current here in Annapolis. Yes, I will have to time tides because the water is shallow in the ICW and I don't want to run aground constantly. Yes, I will have to wait out weather at times and carefully plan my weather for crossing the Albemarle Sound. But as I have said before, stupider, drunker people in less seaworthy boats than mine have circumnavigated and made it home alive. Surely I can make it down the ICW in one piece.

It's disheartening the lack of faith people have in me, but I guess that's why I'm a single girl on her boat with a furry crew. It's me and my pack, we're used to being on our own and just having to believe in ourselves and keep on keeping on.

I'm probably most concerned with anchoring, docking, and locking through by myself. Those are the times that a second set of hands really comes in handy. But I'll just have to buckle down and practice the anchoring and docking as much as I can before I go. Unfortunately, being aground in my slip much of the time during winter means I can't get my boat out for that practice and no telling whether I'd have enough water under my keel to make it out of the slip when I got a decent weather window to head out. Yesterday I picked up my new Gill offshore foul weather jacket. When I bought bibs and a jacket at Annapolis Performance Sailing, I had wanted to walk out with everything that day. The women's jacket that fit me was in red, which isn't my thing, so I went with a men's jacket in graphite. After further consideration, I decided having a jacket with arms that extended a couple inches past my fingertips was not going to work out. And this gear isn't exactly inexpensive. The guys at APS were great and readily exchanged it for me, called to press Gill to get the new ladies' graphite one shipped out, and gave me a Black Friday discount that hadn't been applied earlier. APS may be racer-oriented and on the pricier end, but every experience I've had there has been great. They patiently answer my questions and never talk down to me because I'm a "girl," (a universal experience at West Marine). OK, I'll admit it doesn't hurt that they have some cute young guys working there... anyone who reads this blog knows I have my weaknesses...

The pre-departure punchlist is rather lengthy and I was set back on progress by a cash flow crunch, several days of snow and rain, and being stood up by my handyman. I'm eager to leave, ready for an adventure, tired of Annapolis. But my current thinking is that I'll try to stay in the general area for another couple months to knock out work on my boat where I know vendors. Heading out in March would still be chilly, but if spring comes early it could be quite nice, days for the transit would be longer, and I may be able to line up a crew member to help. The latter is tough. I'd absolutely prefer to make the trip alone and not have to be in tight quarters with someone, getting on each other's nerves. Even the dearest friend can grow tiresome quickly with no way to take a break from each other. But if the right cute, young, floppy-haired guy came along...

Sunday night's mix of snow and sleet left about a quarter-inch of ice all along my pier, plus icicles on the boom and lifelines. Good thing I had plenty of ice melt to put down.

We're about a week into a new litter "system" for the cats. I told the cats it's not just any litter box. No, they are fancy, important cats that get a "system." The Tidy Cats Breeze had been recommended on The Boat Galley via a cruiser with cats. Naturally, it uses special litter pellets and pee pads to lock you into ongoing purchases, but I found those things on Amazon at not unreasonable prices. The box has a grate in the bottom and the pee goes through the grate and into a pee pad in a tray below. After one week the pad was totally full, but there wasn't any cat pee smell at all. I'll likely change the pad more than once a week since I have two cats aboard. The pellets are sort of large and hard. The poop doesn't stick to them at all so you just scoop out the poop very easily and the box is clean. No gritty litter getting kicked and tracked everywhere. The cats seemed unsure at first and we had one "out-of-box incident," but it looks like I have compliance now and this system is noticeably less smelly. One very important benefit: instead of going through 30 pounds of bulky, hard-to-store clumping litter a month, this will use just one or two 3.5 pound bags of pellets. Much lighter to carry aboard and far easier to store.

Project Screen and Gasket Replacement: I bought new gaskets and screens from Beckson several months ago but hadn't gotten around to replacing them. All the screens were ripped and a few of my port lights would leak when it rained. I happened to have an afternoon that was sunny and dry, with snow and rain expected the following days, so I decided to tackle the project. It doesn't seem like a tough project and the only tool required is a wooden mallet. But the frustration level over those gaskets can get pretty high. They just don't want to go in the little groove. Then you get it in and when you think you've finished the last corner you step back and one of the other corners has popped out. Arrgggghhhh! OK, deep breath. As the guy at Beckson had told me, the first one was definitely the hardest and they would each be progressively less hard (I can't really say "easier" with a straight face). For one port I had an internal rain shield so I can leave the port open for ventilation without rain coming in. It's basically a piece of smoked Lexan with a screen at the top half and two louvers to keep the rain off. I expected the gasket project to have been an utter failure and rain to be gushing in everywhere. But to my pleasant surprise, only the port in the head leaked. I tightened down a couple of the dogs and voila, leak stopped. Where I actually see water coming in on most of them is at the screws, which has nothing to do with my gasket replacement project. Once I get some nice weather I'll go topsides and put a little silicone over the screws and a bead of silicone along the bottom and part-way up the sides of the ports even though it's probably overkill. Here's a "before" with a crappy-looking ripped screen, and then an "after" with a shiny new internal rain shield installed. Definitely a classier look.

Ah, but the port lights still looked pretty junky from the inside because I have pieces of silver Reflectix insulation in each of them to keep heat in and condensation down. I had commented on how nice the little inserts over a friend's ports were and she told me they just bought place mats at Michael's and then cut them to fit as sleek little "curtains." I happened to have some place mats with an interesting texture and which seem to be some kind of heavy duty paper or possibly bamboo that may hold up for a while. The color isn't my first choice, but I figured this was a good way to experiment. So...

Take some 3M Super 77 spray adhesive (note: expect this to make a major mess of your nail polish if you forget to put on gloves... ask me how I know), add green place mats, and let's see what happens!

That third photo is a different little project I just tackled, too. I read a comment on Cruiser's Forum saying that an aluminum mast is a heat sink sucking all the warmth in the cabin up and out. I had my heater running on high next to the mast. I felt the mast and it was very cold. Hmmm... I had a huge roll of Reflectix laying around so why not. I wrapped the mast in the insulation and duct-taped it, then slid it around so the duct tape is hidden. I think I'll take an old sail and make a cover to zip or tie around over the insulation instead of having this shiny silver disco pole in the middle of the salon.

OK, back to the "curtains." I sprayed each piece of Reflectix on one side with the adhesive and then pressed it down on the place mat. Then I just followed around the shape of the insulation to cut away the excess place mat. I'm actually quite pleased with how this came out. I'm not huge on green, but it's OK for now and I may just make another set from an old sail or other fabric I like. I have four other larger windows which don't open, and now I just need to cover the insulation in them the same way. Guess it's time to start hacking up that old sail!

Off to a holiday party tonight and tomorrow is the lighted boat parade here in Annapolis. The lights are pretty but this will be my fourth year and I expect it will be the same decorations I've seen for the last three years. It sure would be nice if they required the entrants to change things up.

Saturday, November 30, 2013


A friend recently asked me why I decided to start a blog. Why, he asked, would I want to share all my personal stuff all over the internet? He had brought that up before, as have others, so it is clearly something that makes some people uncomfortable. And despite spilling all my insides all over the internet here, I actually value my privacy greatly.

Although it seems as if every liveaboard/cruiser has a blog, I find many are dull and poorly written. Many are pictorial travelogues meant to keep family and friends "back home" up-to-date on the trip; there is nothing wrong with that, but without any personal story to it, it simply doesn't pull me in and make me wonder "What's going to happen next?" "Will they make it?" Then there are the "how-to" fix-it blogs. It may be interesting or helpful for a project to see how someone else did their solar panel installation or rebuilt their engine or organized their galley, but, again, if there isn't an interesting protagonist there, I'm unlikely to keep going back to follow progress and would instead think of it as an occasional reference material. I'd be far more likely to seek out YouTube videos of repairs if I'm looking for detailed technical assistance for a project. I guess what I want to know when I read the "how-to" project or the travelogue is "why was that important?" "how did it change you?" "how did it make you feel?" "why was it a challenge?" I can buy a textbook on engine repair or a travel guide to the islands; when I read a blog I want to know the personal side of the story that I can't get from that textbook or Fodor's.

So, there are countless bloggers out there living aboard, cruising, sailing, fixing up their boats, and having adventures. Do we really need yet another one? Maybe I should stop all this writing nonsense.

So, why did I do it? One reason is that I think my blog is not just like all the others out there precisely because I spill my insides all over. I'm smart and determined, but I'm also tackling things that are new and challenging to me. My blog isn't full of success stories. It's full of hopes, fears, half-starts, failed projects, laughs, tears, temper tantrums, and the occasional victory. It's full of reality. Not edited to just show the sunsets and good times. I think it's because I truly put myself out here, let myself be vulnerable, laugh at myself, and share my failures, that some readers out there connect with my story and follow along to see "Will she do it?"

I'm sharing a heartfelt diary and even if no one follows along I enjoy writing and will be able to look back some day and read it and wonder...why the hell did I start a blog? Is it arrogant to think I have something to say that anyone cares to hear? I guess so. But then I guess any musician who plays a song is arrogant to think anyone would want to hear it or any author who writes a story is arrogant to think it deserves to be read. I don't know that I accomplish it, but I try to express some feelings and challenges that many of us face in life but not all are willing or able to share. If I could point a reader to only one post on this blog it would still be love and the singlehander from last Valentine's Day.

This blog will not teach anyone how to sail, how to fix much of anything, or how to live aboard. But it will show people what it is like to live on a "project boat," to survive winter aboard, to learn to sail. Although the backdrop is a boat, it's really a story about a single girl re-building her life, dealing with love and loss, facing self-doubt and rising to challenges. I'm sharing my personal journey with whomever cares to come along for the ride with the outlook that orbis non sufficit: the world is not enough. 

Thanksgiving supper was...
yummy chocolate porter.
First ice on the water today, brrr.
P.S. Annapolis is not enough. s/v Ambrosia is preparing to cast off the lines and looking for crew. Who's brave enough to go down The Ditch in the winter with me? Tickity-tock... we're trying to head out before Christmas. And perhaps folks will be wondering... "Will she do it?" "Will she make it?"

Thursday, November 28, 2013

bienvenidos a miami

It's been a hectic couple of weeks since my last post. A project took me on short notice back to my old home: Miami. I had to get packed and make arrangements for the pets on the fly. I quickly called my local vet to see about boarding the cats since I wouldn't be able to leave a heater running to keep them warm while gone for several days. I'd be departing the next day, and the vet's office said they'd be open until 7PM, so I'd drop them on my way to the airport. Pup dog would stay with a friend. I didn't want to leave so much stuff visible in the car while it was parked at the airport, so I brought several items aboard, including a black ballistic duffel I planned to use on another upcoming trip.

I packed frantically, somehow fitting everything for five days in a little roll-aboard and satchel, with room to spare. I was running late, of course. As anyone with cats knows, catching them and putting them in carriers is an art. I managed to get them in their little black carriers, loaded my suitcases in the car first, and then went back to collect the cats. I set the carriers on the deck and locked up the boat. When I picked up one carrier I said to myself, "Gee, this is really big; how is the cat filling up this entire thing?" Then, "$hit, f*ck, f*uck, f*ck! It's a suitcase!" Yep, I left one cat carrier below and was about to drop off a black duffel bag at the vet. Of course the lock was a hassle to get back open and when you're in a hurry everything takes ten times longer or at least feels that way.

OK, cats in the car, on the way to the vet. Breathe. I'm running late but it'll be OK. Breathe. I race to the vet and pull up in front. I scramble out of the car and set the carriers down on the sidewalk. I look at the door and my heart sinks: Closed. Hours, Saturday 8AM to 1PM. It's 3:40PM. I have a 5PM flight. I now need to be at the airport in 20 minutes, but am a 30 minute drive away, have to then get from the parking to the terminal, and... I still have CATS!!! I started hyperventilating. The cats will freeze to death. I will miss my flight. Arrggghhhh! I call the friend who will be watching the dog. He agrees to feed the cats daily. I drop them back on the cold, unheated boat. I had a light bulb on top of of the engine block but plugged in some other lights for the cats to maybe let off a bit of warmth. I tell them I am so, so sorry.

I raced to the airport. My flight was departing at 5PM. I arrived at the parking lot at 4:22PM. I told the shuttle driver that I was having a panic attack, that my flight leaves at 5PM and I don't know what to do. He tried to keep me calm and rushed us to the terminal. I ran in frantically yelling to the gate agents to just tell me what gate I need. I run to the security line. Of course I forgot that this is BWI, not MIA. There are only about 3 people in line instead of 100. I get through security and run to my gate. I look at my watch: 4:30PM. Miraculous. People were just coming off the plane, so it'd still be 15 minutes before they even board. After an hour of heart palpitations I ended up being the first person on the plane; I relaxed in primera clase and enjoyed a couple glasses of wine.

On less than 24 hours notice my awesome friend Heather (pictured below) fetched me at the airport. We went to Catch of the Day for dinner and drinks. It's a great super-Latin spot with cheesey singers and people dancing on the outside deck. I had baby churrasco with chimichurri, black beans and rice, fried yuca, and some delicious tostones. I do miss Miami food.

I was back in my old stomping grounds in Coconut Grove, where I lived much of my many years in Miami. Breakfast on Sunday morning was right by my hotel at Berries in the Grove; I love the wraps there but somehow didn't end up having a wrap either time I went on this trip. Well, change is good; right? The Sunday afternoon crowded craziness in the Center Grove hadn't changed a bit since I left. Heather met me at Scotty's Landing, where I had a nice big Rum Runner, we watched the boats, and enjoyed the breeze. Scotty's is a nice locals spot right on the water. My one complaint is that they actually say on the menu that they aren't responsible for well done orders; so, I avoid the burgers there and stick with mozzarella sticks, chicken fingers, and the like. (I refer to this style of food as "deep fried crap in a basket," but that's not to say it isn't good.) OK, my other complaint is that the live music was often Jimmy Buffet cover band stuff. I may be a boater, but I'd rather chew glass than listen to Jimmy Buffet. We saw a bunch of jellyfish at the adjacent fuel dock; I rarely saw jellyfish when I lived there, though they are abundant in Annapolis.  Scotty's is also next to City Hall, where I spent so much time my last several years in Miami. So, some interesting walks down memory lane.

I took a 4 mile run that felt like 6 because of the heat and humidity. But it was so beautiful running through the Grove and right by the water. A route I have run countless times before. Passing over a wooden foot bridge I looked down and saw lots of needlefish; they seem to be everywhere there. On my run I passed a cute floppy-haired guy walking his dog; maybe there's potential in Miami to find a floppy-haired sailor who wants to go adventure on the seas with me. We'll see.

One night I spoiled myself with dinner at Le Bouchon du Grove. I stuffed myself on a basket of amazing bread and drank half a bottle of rosé from Provence. When I asked the waiter to tell me about the Chicken Fricaseé he was clearly enthusiastic about it, saying it was the best item on the menu. But it has bones. I don't like to deal with bones. I asked about the filet mignon in a green peppercorn sauce. His reaction was lackluster. I know from personal experience if your server tells you to order something, trust them. They see what gets devoured and what gets left behind. So I "lived on the edge" and got the chicken. It was delicious, served with a creamy cheesy risotto. Easily enough for two to share. I tried my best to finish it but just couldn't. The waiter offered to wrap the rest to go. A while later he returned to my table and looked at me quizzically; where was my chicken? I said it never came back. He looked for it but it had disappeared. It really wasn't a big deal, (and turns out I did not have a mini fridge in my hotel room as I had convinced myself), but he gave me a complimentary glass of lovely dessert wine nonetheless.

Despite this post being filled with my gustatory conquests in Miami, I was there to work on a project and work I did. People have this image of Miami as a vacation hotspot where everyone is on island time and lazing by the pool. The reality is that people who would be "rich" in many American cities, the doctors, lawyers, and accountants, are the Miami middle class. And the hours they work are New York hours. Intense, fast-paced, long hours. Locals don't have tans because they spend their time running from air conditioned house to air conditioned car to air conditioned glass office building, day in, day out. That Monday I worked from noon until 4:15AM. Got to sleep at 5AM. Back up at 8AM. Out the door to catch a train downtown at 9AM. When our meeting wrapped at 6:30PM it would have been nice to call one of my friends working on Brickell to grab drinks. But no chance any of them could slink out of the office before 8:30PM, so I didn't even try.

When I was walking from the Metrorail to the meeting that morning some guys were walking just behind me and I hear "Hey, fancy-dress lady, you erasing that tattoo?" "Yeah," I explained, "but it won't all come out." His friend says "Yeah, you can't have that now you're in the Brickell life." I looked at them and laughed, "Oh, no, I left all this bullshit behind," I said, waving at the skyline of awful glass towers. "All these people," I told them "they work too hard to buy shit they don't need." The friend says "Oh, you live off a lot of savings now." "No, no; I'm just poor." He seemed to think that's bad. "Being poor is good," I explained, "it keeps life simple."

Miami is so many things, so many contradictions. So fake. So focused on money. Everything is about shopping and conspicuous consumption. No one can ever have enough. But then there is all the natural beauty. The tree canopy. The water. The needle fish and wild peacocks and iguanas. When I lived there balance was impossible to find. Values become warped. I love Miami. Its beauty, its vibrancy, even its seamy underbelly. But it is a place one has to fight every minute to maintain balance, a grip on what is real and important.

These little Cars2Go are all over Coconut Grove
Tropichop and fried yuca from Pollo Tropical... yum!
I had been planning to crew on a major Pacific passage and had the opportunity while in Miami to catch All is Lost, about a singlehander lost at sea in the Indian Ocean. When the movie ended Heather grabbed my arm and said "Don't go!" The couple sitting next to us said, "We're not going sailing tomorrow." I enjoyed the movie and Redford, but there are 100 or more things any serious sailor would've done differently. We debriefed about the movie over eats and drinks at a new-to-me spot in the Grove that Heather recommended: Lokal. Definitely worth the trip. Burgers are their specialty, but the blue cheese wedge salad was amazing.

Sailboat Bay view from Coconut Grove Sailing Club
Sunset on Spa Creek
Totally unrelated to seeing the movie, I did pass on the Pacific trip. It's not the right trip right now. Other opportunities will arise. Nonetheless, I am likely casting off shortly. Despite the cold and blustery weather, I am trying to mentally, physically, and financially prepare myself to head south for a while. Trying to rustle up some crew to help me make the trip. Trying to get various equipment installed and little fixes taken care of. So now I am consumed with trying to figure out marinas, mooring, a reliable dinghy, moving, and boat insurance that will triple if I stay south of latitude 36 come June 1.

It doesn't have to be forever. I won't ever let myself be tied down, it defeats the purpose of living on a boat. And I can't go back to the Miami grind. But it's time for some adventures, a change of scenery. I feel ready to move on from Annapolis for a while. It was a necessary stop, a respite where I could heal and center myself. And there are so many things I love about Annapolis. But "home" will never be a metropolis or a village for me; home just means something very different to me now that I'm aboard; my boat is home, and so home is anywhere, and everywhere. My boat is this vast potential to call "home" wherever the wind and sea allow.

Annapolis sunset on Spa Creek
A chilly 22 degrees in Naptown
Hard aground
It was 45 degrees on the boat when I got home. Chilly, to be sure, but certainly survivable, particularly with cuddle cups to curl up in. But the cats wouldn't even look at me the first few hours I was back. Nonetheless, it wasn't long before they both crawled on my lap for a snuggle and all was forgiven. At least now I know I have someone who would stay aboard with them so I wouldn't have a repeat of the stress about whether they were OK.

Following up on my last post, kudos to my local True Value, which readily swapped the oil-filled radiator for a new one, despite my not having a receipt, box, et cetera. Unfortunately, the replacement heater died within 30 minutes. Rather than try for a third, I returned the replacement and used the credit toward a DeLonghi oil-filled radiator, which is keeping the boat toasty warm. (It actually got up to 75 last night and I had to turn it down because that is too warm for me!) The heated mattress pad continues to be fantastic; highly recommended for anyone wintering aboard. I have also been gifted a heated blanket, but haven't broken it out yet.

This past Saturday a fellow liveaboard on the other side of Eastport called me: "The pump out boat is running. It's heading under the Spa Creek bridge right now." I quickly got on the radio to hail them. The buildings between us made the connection spotty and they asked me to call on their cell. They put me on the list to visit as soon as they came to Back Creek. Yes, I clapped and jumped for joy because the pump out boat is running in winter! It's a liveaboard thing.

When I'm very stressed I tend to have these recurring nightmares that I'm surrounded by sharks. I've never actually seen one in the wild, but I have a paralyzing fear of them. I can't even swim in a swimming pool without looking behind me to make sure there aren't any. Seriously. Sometimes the sharks are circling and I have to get the cats, dog, and myself to shore from a sinking dinghy. Gratefully, I haven't had the shark nightmares in a while. But lately I'm having a new set of recurring nightmares. We're on the boat and awaken to find that someone has untied all our lines and set us adrift. It's too cold out to get the diesel engine started. I'm trying to navigate the boat adrift in a maze of a marina without colliding with anything. Who would be so cruel to us to set us adrift this way?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


The oil-filled radiator I bought last winter already gave up the ghost. That was the one heater safe to leave running when I'm away from the boat so the pets aren't shivering and systems stay above freezing. I had to borrow back a small space heater I had given a friend. We're getting by with it, but I don't feel safe leaving it running when I'm not aboard. I may try taking the oil-filled one back to the True Value to see if it is still under warranty, but it'll probably have crapped out on day 366.

It's hard to see because of the boat's shadow, but if you look carefully you can see the rudder extending above the water in the first shot below. In the second shot you can see that the water is at the boot stripe above the bottom paint toward the bow, but the bottom is more and more exposed moving aft.  I have a boarding gate amidships, lined up just before the end of the finger pier. It's a long walk down that narrow little pier late on a gusty night.

I've been checking the depth sounder frequently to get a sense of how low the water levels are getting already.  A couple of nights ago it was at 4 feet. Last night it was so low that the sounder simply wouldn't give a reading at all, just a series of dashes on the screen. This morning we were at 3.3 feet. The downhill walk in the boat is noticeable and small loose items quickly roll toward the bow. The boat is resting on its keel in the mud, tilted forward, and with the rudder sticking a few inches out above the water. Farther down the dock, the "dinghy dock" is high and dry and the slip beside it has only a couple of inches of water and only on one side of the slip. A neighbor has left his small powerboat aground and doesn't seem concerned.

Last night was perilous and stressful, for both me and pup dog. I measured the distance from the deck to the finger pier: 36.5 inches. Even when sitting on the pier there is still a good distance from the bottom of my feet to the deck, and just too far to reach even if I scoot to the edge and stretch my foot forward. I have to summon some courage and all at once reach down for the stanchion aboard with my right hand as I push myself off the pier with my left and try to firmly plant my feet on the deck. If I slip and fall between the boat and the pier I'd only be in a few feet of water, but I would probably sink in the mud, the water is already very cold, and I may hit the boat or pier on the way down. With no one else in the marina, no one would hear the commotion or calls for help. There aren't any ladders along the dock, so I'd have a hard time getting out of the water and back ashore. It's much easier to handle getting on and off the boat in these conditions during the day because the visibility seems to make it much less psychologically challenging. On the other hand, during the day it's more likely neighbors are chuckling to themselves watching me pull myself up, laying flat hugging the narrow pier, inchworming to pull myself up the electrical pedestal, steadying myself to turn around, and then carefully walking down the pier to get ashore.

Once I got safely aboard last night that was it; I was in for the night. It is just too frightening getting on and off the boat in these conditions. But as I worked away on the computer the pup dog sat at the base of the steps staring at the door. I put down a piddle pad in the head and told her she absolutely wouldn't be in trouble if she went there. She would sniff it and then just sit down and give me the saddest look, with her ears back, begging me to take her out.

I told her she wouldn't like it. I told her she should just go on the pad. I finally broke down and took her topsides. She balked at the ramp, as I knew she would. But she had to "go" badly enough that she finally went up it. A huge mistake I really must not make again. Once she was ashore she refused to come back down the steep ramp. I can better ensure the ramp doesn't fall off the dock if I am on the boat holding it than if I try to hold it from on the dock. And I didn't want to risk getting on and off the boat again. I begged and pleaded with her. I commanded her sharply. She would try, and then whimper pathetically and lay down. Lights were on in the marina owner's house, so I called to ask for help. But they were already in bed. I tried calling the club across the street but just kept getting voicemail. When we heard the car there start and drive away we both knew for sure we were just on our own. If I didn't have any friends close by I could call at 10:30PM to help us, I certainly didn't have any at 11:15PM either. Any friends I might have asked for help were long asleep.

I thought propping the ramp on several cushions to raise the end about 8 inches, flattening the angle of the ramp, was pretty ingenious, but pup dog still wanted no part of it. I tried to ply her with treats and with a bowl of kibble. I kept pleading and commanding. Even when I broke down and cried she just whimpered and refused to come down the ramp. At one point she ran down the dock and then toward the gate and barked very loudly, very aggressively, imploring the neighbors (who never so much as nod a hello) to come help us. I finally resigned myself to going ashore. I wasn't sure if I'd have to put the heat on in the bathhouse and have her sleep on the bathroom floor (I should've taken some towels for her, just in case), or if I'd actually be able to shove her down the ramp. She tried to get away and I had to pick her up, legs flailing, and set her on the ramp, begin shoving her butt, and hold onto the ramp as best I could to keep it from retracting and falling off the dock. She balked at the end of the ramp because she had to then hop down into the cockpit, but she finally did it and then inhaled the bowl of kibble sitting there. She knew I was pretty mad at her and I knew she was just scared and didn't want to be in trouble. I gave her a big hug and told her she was brave and smart, but we just can't do that again. Somehow we managed to get through the process this morning, but the tide was a couple inches higher and the light of day seems to make it less scary for us both. Still, I have got to train her to use the Astroturf door mat on the deck. It's increasingly tempting to move the boat as soon as possible even though I have to pay through the end of the year at this marina.

Note the snoozy counting sheep on the label.
On the upside, our heated mattress pad arrived yesterday. I unpacked it, read over the instructions, and then tried to make the rectangular pad fit in some logical way on my almost-triangular mattress. I set each side on high and let it get started. A note mentioned that it will not feel hot to the touch. That was a little disappointing. But the note reassured that once in bed, the warmth from the mattress pad would be noticeable and relaxing. I don't know if the pets were able to feel it through the duvet, down comforter, and top blanket, but under the covers it was definitely cozy. A few times I wanted to kick the covers off a bit, but then the cold air would nip at my toes and I'd tuck myself under the blankets again. The instructions say to keep it away from pets and not jump on it to avoid damaging the wires...yeah, no way around a 55 pound dog jumping up and down on it several times a day, so fingers crossed it holds up. So far, definitely worth the $110 investment.

Circa 8:30AM this morning, weather report:

Outside: 32 degrees.
Inside: 55 degrees.
Engine room: 50 degrees.
Time to brave the cold again to shower ashore. Can't put off washing my hair any longer, that walk coming back from the bathhouse is gonna be chilly! I might prefer a warmer climate soon, but even with the daily challenges I wouldn't trade living aboard for anything.