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

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

ship's cats

In undertaking my move aboard, my crew didn't get a vote on this new lifestyle, though it has many implications for them. My "crew" is made up of two cats, 10 year-old littermate brothers, Maximus and Hunter, and a 6 1/2 year-old yellow lab, Buttercup. Their antics, hijinks, challenges, and silliness are often regular tidbits among my blog posts. For The Monkey's Fist I am taking a moment to focus on the experience of having cats aboard.

My guys are older and cats in general do not like change. I have moved often and work hard to minimize the stress of moving on my guys. We've lived in some small digs, but the boat would still be quite a downsizing for us all. But cats love to find nooks and crannies to explore and small, cozy spaces to snuggle up in. For that, boats can be perfect. My guys enjoyed having their cuddle cups atop the lockers in the stateroom; they were up high and also next to port lights to peer outside. Even as I reorganize the boat as I settle in, they never have trouble finding a spot to nap. The dog and cats are fast friends, and in the close confines of the boat the cats seem more apt to snuggle up with the dog and not mind sharing space with her.

Just shy of one month aboard we rode out the edges of Hurricane Sandy. While all my shore-based friends were telling me to abandon ship, and I was out in the wind and rain every hour or two adjusting lines, the cats (and dog) slept through the whole affair. The cats had gone through several hurricanes and tropical storms when we lived in Miami, so the noise of the wind whipping outside was at least not a new experience. But I figured the boat's rocking would upset them. Nope; they just curled up napped.

The two biggest challenges I have had are litter boxes and escapes. The litter box presents a few issues aboard: space, litter type, and dog-proofing. Space being at a premium, it's crazy that I have two litter boxes aboard. I would like to "wean" them down to one, but I feel the combination of two litter boxes and the litter they prefer has kept us from having "out-of-box incidents" that made life afloat very unpleasant at times. I don't think I can fit a litter box behind the companionway steps as s/v Dos Libras does, but I may see if I can make it work. Right now we have a "top-entry" Clever Cat box that is on a small settee so the dog can't reach to get in it, but it needs to find another home because it blocks access to a locker I need into frequently. A litter pan with a small raised rim to help lessen (but definitely not eliminate) litter being kicked out is located under the navigation some prime storage space I could really use for tool boxes or provisions. I am hoping that eventually I will work out a better space-saving solution.

Not wanting to lift heavy clay litter onto the boat, I switched to corn-based World's Best Cat Litter. Unlike the clay I use, it is not scoopable. In theory, the corn absorbs all the pee and you just scoop the poop. Ditto for the Feline Pine. Both left the boat smelling like a litter box, the cats regularly protested by going outside the box, and just as much (if not more) litter was tracked outside the box. As heavy as the Fresh Step clay is, and as big a carbon footprint as it has, it simply does the job and keeps my guys happy.

Keeping the dog from getting into the litter boxes looking for "treats" is much more difficult aboard. Ashore, the litter box was in a utility closet with a door ajar enough for the cats to get in but too narrow for the dog to access. Now I have to either find ways to keep litter boxes up high enough that the dog cannot get into them or create barricades so she cannot access the boxes. A tower of random items blocks the dog from getting to the one under the nav desk, but also makes it very inconvenient for me to clean that box or get to anything in the nav station. I have a fledging plan to use wooden garden trellis to close off the area under the nav desk and cut an access port for the cats. The trellis will keep the dog out, but allow ventilation.

The other challenge I have had is escapes. My guys have been inside-only cats their entire lives. It doubles their life expectancy when they do not face the cars, illnesses, cat-fights, wild animals, and other dangers of going outside. I was hoping perhaps they would stick to the boat and be able to experience the outside, with all the smells, bird-watching, and patches of sun to lounge in. Unfortunately, both cats now seize opportunities to head topsides, wander down the dock, hop on other boats, and generally make me frantic. Cats don't exactly "come" when called, and they prefer to go on walkabouts when I'm urgent to leave the boat for something or other, so I run below cursing and rattle a cat food bin until they come running back in expecting dinner or a treat. When the weather is mild, I would much prefer to be able to leave the hatch open, but will need to make a screen dropboard to prevent escapes.

My experience so far has only been one of marina life. I expect I will face additional challenges when we hit rough weather at sea, ports that don't have our preferred food or litter available to purchase, and whatever other surprises may arise when cruising with cats. Pets aboard definitely make cruising more difficult due to the space taken up with provisions, bedding, toys, et cetera for pets, and due to the restrictions on entry of pets into various countries. But I made a commitment to my pets for their lifetimes and they give me their unconditional love. 

With all the hassles and compromises, why bother having ship's cats? Well, in the winter they are great little space heaters. It never hurts to have a mouser aboard. But most of all, they are wonderful companions who listen no matter how many times I've told them the same story and who come nuzzle me when they sense that I'm down.

There are also the little surprises... the other day I came aboard and found water all over the galley floor. The sink half-full of water for dishes couldn't have been rocked enough by the winds to spill all over. I wiped up the mess and cast it off as another boat mystery. About fifteen minutes later Hunter appeared on the dinette and one look told the story:

I guess someone went for an accidental swim in the galley sink; oops!

Bottom line considerations:
- Having pets aboard will limit your ability to travel; I can jump through some hoops and take them to the Bahamas, but my beloved Barbados is a no-go due to quarantine requirements.
- Finding a pet-sitter is more complicated aboard--you need someone who knows enough about boats to at least "do no harm" aboard.
- There is no better mouse (or rat) trap than a cat; they'll have more than earned their keep if they keep vermin from chewing through hoses!
- There are safety risks for boat cats, from osprey to cat-overboard incidents.

For more posts on this topic, visit The Monkey's Fist.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

winter wonderland

A rare night of uninterrupted, peaceful sleep a few nights back. When I awoke I looked up at the port lights and saw snow. That would account for sleeping well, snow brings a peaceful hush over the world as it falls.

Also a rarity--the amount of snow received was exactly as predicted: one inch. Usually, we would either get half a foot or nothing based on such a prediction. When I went ashore about 8AM it was 15 degrees outside, 60 inside the cabin, and 45 in the engine room. More ice than I am really comfortable with was forming even in the deeper slips.

I have been staying warm enough, but am used to keeping the thermostat down to save money. My concern now is all about keeping the engine and other systems from freezing. Getting on and off the boat in the snow is definitely more perilous and I try to minimize trips ashore because every time I have to get on or off the boat I risk slipping. With the very low tides, I often have to sit down on the finger pier and then jump down on the deck. Sitting in the snow, and laying or kneeling in it to get off the boat, are not so fun... yep, "living the dream" as they say.

The pup dog doesn't let a little snow stop her from playing ball and chewing sticks. But on these very cold days she has frequently stopped, yelped, and hopped with a paw in the air when little chunks of ice got between her pads. At least she knows to look to me to help her; she hops and then lays on her side for me to remove the offending snow and ice and warm her pads up a bit. Last night her ramp was covered in snow, but she went right up and down it without a hitch; she's a trooper!

Quite a bit of ice had been forming in the slips and I was happy to get the go-ahead to flip on some of the ice eaters. They really move the water and break up the ice quickly.

Even got to plow through a little ice on the bay taking a dinghy ride across the creek to visit friends for happy hour. Heading out by dinghy while the snow is falling certainly shows commitment to the liveaboard life, or insanity, or both.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

ice on the water

This morning the floating dinghy dock was aground and surrounded by patches of ice.

Although outside it was a mere 16 degrees, light bulbs and heaters had managed to keep the engine room about 45 and the cabin about 65. As I walked along the dock in early afternoon it had warmed to 20, and some of the neighboring ducks swam over to see if I had bread (not today, sorry). Only five slips down from me the ducks were dodging chunks of ice floating in the water.

I see the ice eaters plugged in, but they do not appear to be running, so perhaps they are off at the breaker on the shore panel boxes. I can't plug in the one in my slip unless I unplug one of my shore power lines, which would mean losing my needed battery charger and my rooftop heater.

Tonight we are supposed to get snow. It is likely to come, mostly because I took down my tarps yesterday. Surprisingly enough, the bungie-corded tarps stayed through 20-knot winds and higher gusts, but the dodger frame would not stay put and kept collapsing down. I think the only way to keep it up is to put the dodger back on, but the eisenglas is torn and yellowed and it has to be folded down to see well when underway. The wind whipping through the tarps was pretty noisy, I'll admit. Now that I have a smaller 8 x 10 tarp, if I expect a lot of rain and want to protect the HVAC unit I can just tarp over that somewhat simply.

During times of intense financial stress, like now, I tend to have serious nightmares. Sometimes gory. Often involving being surrounded by sharks. A few nights ago I had a nightmare that I was sleeping in an inflatable dinghy, with blanket and pillow. I awoke to find my dinghy had drifted away from my boat and others I was anchored with. I looked down into the water and saw a small shark, very small, perhaps the size of a cat. But I knew where there were little sharks, there would be big sharks. I had no oars, but paddled with my hands a bit. The dinghy came close to shore, hit a piling, and quickly deflated completely. The next night the sounds of my hard dinghy hitting the boat and the tarps flapping in the wind kept waking me to adjust lines, but also seemed to fuel nightmares of my boat taking on water and frantic searches for sources of leaks. I keep hoping a day will come when I can sleep soundly, not worried about bills hanging over my head or intruders breaking in. That day seems so out of reach, but living in constant financial, physical, and emotional "fight or flight" mode begins to wear one down. Some day I just want to nap in the sun on the deck while the sea gently rocks us, at peace.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

turning up the heat

Pardon the pun, but it is a chilling feeling as a liveaboard to look a few slips down the dock and see ice on the water, as I did this morning. This week will be one of the toughest challenges I have faced in my brief time aboard so far. Highs of less than freezing are predicted all week. Lows around 12 degrees predicted several nights. I have not winterized any systems and am concerned with keeping the engine, the raw water intake and exhaust, the holding tank, and any below-the-waterline hoses from freezing. I moved the work light from sitting atop the engine to the back of the engine room and upped the wattage from a 60 to a 75 watt bulb. I added a 40 watt bulb on top of the engine. I frequently check a thermometer resting atop the Racor fuel filter; yesterday it was 50 degrees, today it has fallen to around 45. I crawled into the engine room yesterday through a lazarette and found a socket for a light bulb, but I have been unable to locate a switch to turn it on.

Staying warm myself is less of a concern. I have warm clothes, a down comforter, the dog, and two cats to keep me warm. In my quest to circulate warmth throughout the length of the boat to protect the various systems, I am attempting to balance running multiple heaters. I am occasionally cycling off the rooftop HVAC unit so that I can run the water heater...both to have warm water for washing dishes and to generate residual heat in the engine room. I am testing the limits of my core shore power line by running two space heaters on it at once, though each is at half capacity or less. The problem is that shore power line is not linked to my ammeter, so I can only guesstimate how much strain I am placing on the electrical system. One space heater is an oil-filled radiator, kept aft near the galley, engine room, and the settee where I currently sleep. The other heater is a Vornado fan/heater on a low setting, aimed to blow warm-ish air forward to the V-berth and head. With three heaters (two space heaters and the rooftop one) running, the cabin is still only 60 degrees. I generally keep it between 60 and 65, but that rarely involves running more than one heat source at a time. Just to be on the safe side, I also had some cocoa with peppermint schnapps.

The dog ramp has been a godsend, but I'm still working out the kinks. Pup was nervous that it didn't seem entirely stable and I was worried about it falling off the boat and/or dock. (A line is tied to the ramp just in case and I have learned that it floats...) I spent some time at Bacon Sails chatting with an employee there, browsing the aisles, and brainstorming a fix to affix the ramp to the boat, while allowing it to move with the tide and be readily removable when underway. A swiveling shackle and pad eye solution looked enticing, but the cost of nice hardware was less palatable under current budget constraints. I opted for drilling holes through the ramp and using quarter-inch nylon line to tie the ramp to a stanchion and the backstay (half hitches are my friend... "two is secure and three is for sure" as the floppy-haired sailor guy taught me). The ramp is secured to the boat, has enough "give" to move with the tide, and can be removed and stowed for cruising in just a couple of minutes.

I still need to develop a solution for the telescoping of the ramp. I want it to be able to telescope to adjust to the tide, but it can compress as the pup dog runs down it... the ramp and pup almost went in the icy water but I stopped it from sliding just in time.

The tides have still been incredibly low. This morning I had to lay across the finger pier, hug it, and pull myself over and up. I went to a training event that perhaps I should have worn something business-y for, but in light of the tidal issues, they got me in yoga pants and boots. Safety first!

Last Saturday I faced the sad realization that the holding tank is full. I was surprised to have made it six weeks, but now I am forced to go ashore 100% of the time until I can get the boat pumped out. It appears that all the marinas have winterized their pump out stations, so my only hope may be getting one of the larger liveaboard marinas to let me come into a transient slip and use their dock cart pump out; I will call tomorrow and see if I can swing it. Otherwise, I am facing a couple of months without being able to use the head aboard at all. And I still need to replace the vent hose...a job that will be much less painful if the holding tank is empty at the time. I just do not understand why there isn't a pump out truck to service the many, many liveaboards who stay aboard throughout the winter here in Annapolis. Any investors out there want to help me buy a "honeywagon?"

Friday, January 18, 2013

pink jobs and...more pink jobs

Over on this liveaboard/cruiser blogroll The Monkey's Fist they've been posting links to various bloggers' posts on "pink and blue jobs," i.e. the division of labor aboard. Having such a division of labor is a luxury I don't have since I am the only one aboard with thumbs. (My crew are one goofy Labrador and two high-and-mighty cats). So, there are jobs I know how to do (pink jobs), jobs I do anyway (yep, pink again), and jobs I have to learn to do (pink again!). It's a good thing my favorite color is purple--a perfect blend of pink and blue!

Back when I was married, I left certain things to my now-ex: killing beast over fire (a/k/a grilling), lifting heavy stuff, and reaching tall stuff. Then I realized buying a hand truck for heavy stuff and a step ladder for tall jobs was a lot less expensive (financially and emotionally) than being married. I tell dads to arm their daughters early with these simple tools so they don't have to depend on some guy to do stuff for them. Guys just break everything anyway because they have a tendency to try to force things to fit where they won't (and, yes, I do mean both when assembling IKEA furniture and in the bedroom).

The lack of blue jobs started even before I moved aboard. The realization hit me the morning Hunter proudly left a dead mouse on the kitchen floor two years ago and there was no guy to remove the icky dead thing from my home for me. I had to suck it up and "man up" (an odd phrase since women really do have better pain tolerance and endurance) and do for myself. There are things I do have to get help with because nothing I do will ever give me the upper body strength of a guy and there are jobs where I just don't have the technical knowledge yet. For those jobs I enlist a guy to help who will show and teach me every step of the way so in the future I can minimize the need for helpers. But even the biggest, strongest guy needs someone to catch a line or help with the many two-person jobs on a boat, so I don't kick myself too much for being willing to both accept and offer a helping hand.

So, my pink jobs include the usual cleaning and galley duties, but also changing holding tank vent hoses, cleaning the bilge, filling water and fuel tanks, plugging hoses, tracking down leaks, and storm preparation. I'll be the one to change the oil, learn how to fix the diesel engine, and troubleshoot the various things that constantly break on a boat. And that's just fine. I kick myself every day for sitting back much of my life and letting guys do all the dirty, hard "guy" jobs. That complacency left me at a huge disadvantage being dependent on others for many things. Even if one has a guy to handle all the "blue" jobs, what if he has the big one or falls overboard at sea? I want to be able to at least passably handle whatever job may arise on the life, those of my pack, and my home depend on it.

I long believed that in a relationship it is important for each person to have their "territory" the other doesn't try to take over. That is why I left grilling to guys and they were only allowed in my kitchen as prep cooks and dishwashers. They get their turf and I get mine. I still think having such territory is important and healthy, but I think both parties should know how and be able to do every job in case of emergency, illness, death, or just relationship implosion.

On my boat, I guess all the jobs are purple (and, yeah, Go Ravens!).

For more posts on this topic, visit The Monkey's Fist.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

blue all around (a/k/a project: tarping over)

Yesterday I did a most "craptacular" job at tarping over the boat. Using cord was a hassle and difficult to adjust. I wasn't able to get the angles and tautness I wanted. Today I bought two additional tarps and set out to do a better job. I removed all the cord and went with my initial plan: bungie cords. I used an entire bag of 18, and will need to buy more so I can add the third tarp on the foredeck. But today I did manage to tarp over the side decks and get the rooftop air conditioner covered--rain had come through it and onto my blanket a couple of nights ago. I also put a small tarp over the bimini; snow and rain can still settle there, so I will still need to knock any off, but it will ease the strain on the aging canvas and be far more water resistant.

It's definitely darker inside with the tarp up, but the windows now provide a blue glow and it may provide a little bit of insulation to the boat; we'll see how it holds up. The bungie cord strategy makes it easy to walk to the outside of the tarp because I can pull the tarp away from deck edge with my toe before I step--cord would not provide that sort of "give." I can also scurry underneath the tarp along the side deck if I want; either way, it's not too difficult to get up to the bow to adjust lines if needed.

The weather reports had predicted possibly 5 inches of snow accumulation, then this morning it was down to about an inch, and then it never bothered to rain or snow at all (as of this posting anyway). I credit that to my having put so much time and effort into tarping over. (You're welcome, Annapolis.) It's just like being in Miami, putting up all the hurricane shutters, and then barely getting a gust. It's the converse of the phenomenon where the bus only comes once you light a cigarette.

On my way back from the hardware store I stopped at the SPCA. I had been told they sometimes have dog ramps that have been donated and they sell them very reasonably. To my surprise they had exactly what I was looking for and for $20 I went home with a ramp that would have cost me about $250 new. (Many thanks to whomever donated it and to the SPCA; this will make a HUGE difference for us and I could not have afforded a new one.) Buttercup took to it pretty quickly. It is not secured currently, but tomorrow I will pick up hinges and attach it to either the boat or the dock (I'm leaning toward the boat, so it will move with the tide and be easy to use when traveling).

The other big task of the day was bailing out the sailing dinghy. A lot of rain in the past few days had filled it up and I was concerned about the predicted heavy rain and snow. A couple of days ago I had made a "bailer" (and a handy tub for mixing epoxy). I tied a good length of nylon cord to the bailer and around the forward bench of the dinghy.

I had not actually gotten into the dinghy before, or used the swim ladder, so I asked a friend (thanks!) to come spot me in case I went overboard during this little exercise. I decided the best time to do this was after my run so my clothes would already be wet if I went in the drink. I knocked out a 6 mile run and luckily my friend warned me my running shoes would be waterlogged if I wore them in the dinghy. I went and swapped them for galoshes and glad I did--that water was icy! The bailer worked perfectly, the swim ladder held, and no one went for an unplanned swim.

Three successes in one day! I really wasn't waiting for the other shoe to drop...but I think it did. I had the rooftop heat running and happened to glance at the ammeter and see it was on zero. The heater generally draws about 17 amps. I checked just in case I had accidentally put it on "fan" instead of "lo heat." Nope, the setting was on heat. But only cold air was blowing. I have an oil-filled radiator space heater, but it runs on my "main" electrical line with any other AC appliances/outlets other than the water heater and battery charger, so it limits how many electrical gadgets I can operate at once. I have two space heaters, but worry that together, and combined with powering the laptop, charging my phone, and playing the stereo, they would exceed the 24-amp limit for the line (it's a 30 amp line but it's ill-advised to regularly run more than 80% of its capacity).

Then I was cooking dinner and chatting with a friend who stopped by and I noticed the sound of something running. Was it the fridge compressor? Yes, looking at the DC ammeter, 5 amps was likely the fridge and the other 2 the light in the galley. But the noise seemed louder than the fridge compressor and continued to cycle on and off. I had a sinking feeling... I flipped the breaker for the water pump and the noise stopped. The brand new water pump is now angrily, noisily, running continuously. My understanding is that it has a pressure-sensitive switch, so open pressure (from a faucet, or a leak) activates it. Now I will need to call the boat guy who installed it and get his help tracking down the problem...likely a leak somewhere. A couple of setbacks that concern me, but happy to have made other positive progress today.

Just like when running a marathon, I have to keep moving forward no matter what. I have to remember that: to keep moving forward mechanically, financially, and emotionally, no matter what. Sometimes easier said than done. When I moved aboard I was stressed but happy to be moving forward in my life. I was happily single, not looking, considered myself "single but not available." It had taken me three years to fully recover from "the evil one" but I finally felt I could open my heart again, that I was done with any playing around, and that a real, long-term commitment would come along when the time was right. I was a fool to fall for the floppy-haired sailor guy. I actually put off projects I wanted to and should have completed when the weather was still good because I wanted to maximize my time with him before he left. In his time of need, I offered him everything I have to give. It is clear now I was an interesting new toy for a couple of weeks, and after than he hardly uttered a kind word to me. Now I am bruised and circumspect again. I just hope it doesn't take me years to pull myself back to where I was before meeting him. I have to remind myself every day that my pack and my boat come before any guy. I am just grateful to have them and to have wonderful friends, new and old.

Here's a sweet couple who lives nearby.

Monday, January 14, 2013

crying over split sangria

Friday night I was heading over to Port Annapolis marina for a Happy Hour en Español. I was really looking forward to it, and planned ahead to make sangria, which really benefits from marinating overnight. Although I did not have the Gran Marnier I often like to add, or a dash of pineapple juice to toss in the mix, both the red and white sangria turned out quite good nonetheless. For the white I used about 64 ounces of pinot grigio, a shot of Bärenjäger honey liqueur, half a bottle of ginger ale, half a Gala apple, half a Valencia orange, and half a D'Anjou pear.

For the red I used a double-bottle of merlot contributed by a fellow happy hour-er, a bottle of ginger ale, half a Gala apple, half a Valencia orange, and half a D'Anjou pear.

I also made my "not quite refried" beans in the pressure cooker. My first truly scratch item cooked aboard on my propane stove! A half pound of pinto beans soaked overnight, a medium-sized sweet onion quartered, three minced garlic cloves, salt and pepper, a couple tablespoons of olive oil, and three cups of water. 40 minutes under pressure and they were done. I had forgotten my stick blender, which gives them the smooth texture of refried beans, but smashing them in the pot with a wooden spoon worked just fine. I layered the beans with salsa and some nice queso fresco, threw a bag of tortilla chips in my bag, and headed out. As my usual compatriot who drives the dinghy across the creek was under the weather, I planned to drive over by car and stop on the way to let him sample the sangria--he did supply the red wine.

En route to the car the container of red sangria slipped from my grip, crashed to the ground, and shattered. The bathhouse door looked like a crime scene with red wine splashed several feet up and across it. I was stunned and frustrated. I put special effort making it for my friends and had so looked forward to enjoying it with everyone. I stopped by my sick friend's to at least let him try the white sangria but ended up drowning my sorrows in pretty much the entire container of white sangria. I never made it to the party, and had to re-learn the lesson that anything more than two glasses of wine doesn't stay down in my tummy for long. I seem to really struggle with that lesson. How is it that I drank about a pint of bourbon neat one night with the floppy-haired sailor and didn't puke, but even white wine now sets off the little acid pumps in my stomach without mercy? Sigh.

Yesterday may have been the first day in a month that the boat was level with the dock! What a difference to be able to get the dog off the boat a few times with relative ease. The cats have both now decided to be serious escape artists, however. They perch at the top step and leap out as soon as I open the hatch door. Max runs right ashore, but cries out at regular intervals in this odd little Marco-Polo game. I'm glad he does it so I can keep track of him, at least. I assume it means he's unsure and wanting to let me know where he is. Hunter tends to stay aboard, but gets more interested in the water and the dinghy than suits my comfort level. I want them to be able to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air, but will feel much better if they only go out when we're away from shore. They just don't understand the perils of the world--cars, mean dogs, mean people, raccoons, osprey, and more.

Hunter looking intense and ready to pounce

Hunter was rubbing his cheeks on everything to mark the topsides as his territory.

Here are some photos of a foggy evening on Back Creek with the water smooth as glass.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

home sweet home

Relieved to be back home. The week-long trip to Florida took its toll in excess stress and expense, and especially lack of sleep. My home may be small and cluttered, but it is my little kingdom. Leaving the pets aboard while I was gone was entirely too stressful, so the next time I have to make a trip I think they will have to be boarded somewhere, as much as I hate to move them around.

Here are some photos and notes from the Florida Keys trip.

Relay Team Van 1 members in Key West

Here I am at Mile Marker 0
I did very little shopping on the trip because the budget has crashed and burned. But I did buy these little mementos, as well as a Conch Republic deck of cards. I couldn't pass up the 7 Mile Bridge shotglass since that was my last, hardest, but fastest leg of the race.

The one thing I wanted to do in the Keys was snorkel. During my years in Miami I snorkeled often, whether in a swimming pool, Elliot Key, Key Largo, Marathon and Duck Key, Looe Key, the Bahamas, or Barbados. I wanted to head out to Looe Key but the dive shop I booked with did not get enough people for a morning snorkel trip. I prefer morning to afternoon for snorkeling and knew the weather would be getting rougher, so I scrambled to find an alternative. I ended up rushing to downtown Key West by cab to make a catamaran snorkel cruise. It only offered an hour of snorkeling, but I figured that would be better than nothing.

I've never been a strong swimmer, but got generally comfortable snorkeling and always preferred to be without a flotation vest, but they are often required on commercial snorkel trips. I never dive below the surface, content to float along above all the action below. While the 70-degree water temperature may sound warm to northerners, I couldn't really imagine comfortably swimming in less than 75-degree water, and 80 is much better. I knew I would need several minutes adjusting to the cold water before attempting to snorkel, and just getting used to it again since I hadn't snorkeled in several years. I had mostly been spoiled going out on days the sea was glassy, but I remembered a couple of trips with little waves and how sore one gets from having to swim in those conditions. It was pretty choppy on this trip and I had a feeling I wouldn't want to be in the water long. I made the mistake of turning my back to the breaking waves and one broke over my snorkel--so I got a mouth full of seawater when I was expecting air. I choked and panicked. As would be my luck, it was the one hot guy on the cruise that was nearby to save me. So humiliating. I never want guys to see me as a damsel in distress; I want them to see me for the strong, independent girl I usually am. He and a girl with him tried to calm me down and helped me get back to the catamaran. I put air in my flotation vest and was going to try using a noodle float, but getting continually bounced around by the waves just wasn't fun. I opted to enjoy taking sun on the deck and getting a little cruise. At least I am comfortable aboard; several folks around me were complaining about being seasick.

My view taking sun on deck
I am loathe to swim in the murky Chesapeake, but will have to force myself to get in the water and get comfortable with my snorkel and fins again. I also need to practice holding my breath and swimming under water. If I get caught up in crab pots and foul my propeller, I don't have anyone else to come save me, so I'll have to learn to do it for myself. But I'll still be looking forward to someday being back in the clear Bahamian waters for a pleasant snorkel watching colorful fishes--hopefully sans sharks and barracuda.

The night before the snorkel cruise our group went out and about in Key West. One of my friends had had enough to drink that we could convince her to get a henna tattoo, and we were waiting there for her to get it done. Rather than stand on the crowded sidewalk I wandered into the little t-shirt shop to kill time. I was quickly confronted by a store employee asking if I needed help. I explained I wasn't really shopping and just waiting on my friend getting tattooed. As we stood there chatting, (okay, I'll admit here he was really cute, and I don't usually go for blondes), somewhere in the conversation my being from Annapolis came up and he mentioned stopping in Annapolis recently when sailing his boat down from New York. Naturally, my eyes lit up and I told him I'm a liveaboard. He looked so familiar that I wouldn't be at all surprised if he stopped into Davis' Pub in Eastport and I had been checking him out there. I belly-ached a bit about the travails of winter aboard and he encouraged me to sail down to Key West right now. I balked that the weather window is long past, but he brushed off that notion. Even if the weather cooperated, I don't have the resources to sail away yet. But I said I'd likely be down there in the fall and listened intently as he described the costs and amenities for living aboard in Key West. He had moved ashore, but advised that many liveaboards in Key West do not sail and are only aboard because they cannot afford an apartment there. Apparently, actively sailing liveaboards are more likely to be found up in Marathon. When I needed to get going with my group I introduced myself and got his name, but he said he wouldn't be there anymore by the time I arrive if I wait until fall. He's heading off to meet his brother in Nicaragua and make a circumnavigation. I should have told him that although the oceans are big, it's a very small world; you never know when you'll meet again in some nearby or far-off anchorage.

Seeing that there are other floppy-haired sailor guys out there was good for me. "The" floppy-haired sailor guy has utterly blown me off after knowingly, recklessly, and purposefully making me fall in love with him. But he cut me down more than he ever lifted me up. I am so thankful I did not cave in to some of his requests since all those sweet nothings were apparently...nothing. He occasionally proclaimed that he cared about me, but actions speak louder than words. I would never treat someone I cared about the way he treated me, and even someone I lacked or lost interest in would have been treated with respect. I can count on one hand the men, (well, perhaps all were and are boys...), whom I have loved romantically. My love is a rare thing the floppy-haired sailor was a fool to squander. But such is life. The heart wants what it wants, often without rhyme or reason. Although I am heartbroken, I know I deserve better and someday I will find my partner to raft up with. The challenge is that I don't think I could be with someone land-locked but the sailors may always sail away.

Key West was in our rearview and the last three of our running group headed for Miami. Along the way we stopped at Bahia Honda beach where I attempted to rescue a Portguese-Man-O-War left stranded on the beach. I had photos of it, but the lens on my phone's camera had some schmutz on it that left all those photos blurred. We then stopped at Robbie's in Islamorada. We browsed the little stands with art, clothes, and knick-knacks. Had a drink at the waterside bar. Fed the tarpon.

Great egret
My new flip-flops

Rachel fed the tarpon

Great egret

The pelicans were very pushy

Great egret; gracefully perched

Me and Rachel at Robbie's

Sunday, January 6, 2013

cayo hueso

Finished my 200-mile relay race from Miami to Key West yesterday. I had three segments, 4.5 miles through the worst neighborhood of otherwise beautiful Coconut Grove, 4.7 miles (acutally 5.2 per GPS) in the dark through the Everglades on a narrow dirt road with gator-infested canals on either side, and 9.1 miles in the Keys, including the 7 Mile Bridge. Expected that each leg would be slower than the last as sleep deprivation took its toll. Surprisingly enough, however, I ran each leg faster than the last. The total mileage for me was less than a marathon, but the race was more challenging than I had given it credit for...mostly owing to the lack of sleep doing an overnight race and the lack of "real" or "good" food, due to the logistical demands of leap-frogging your runners along the course to make the different relay exchange points. Although the race is far too much "hooplah" for me and I think it would be much better to have a single van ultra team, it was an interesting experience and I had a van full of great folks. Now I am trying to relax a bit in Key West. Trying to minimize spending since the money is running out and the boat needs every buck I've got. But hoping to at least make it out for a good half-day snorkel trip to Looe Key tomorrow and I'll probably buy a couple touristy Key West shot glasses since you can never have too many shot glasses on the boat.

Here's the newest addition to the fleet...a hard sailing dinghy. It was delivered during my trip, so I can't wait to see it in person!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

three months aboard

For those of you who may have had a line on how long I'd last on the boat, today marks my three-month anniversary of moving aboard. Like the extreme tides we've been having, I've had some highs and lows even in this short time afloat. Living with pets aboard is a challenge that complicates life when simplicity is often the goal, but the cats seem to have adapted well and the dog is managing, though she certainly dislikes the narrow finger pier after slip-sliding down it on Christmas.

A flurry of activity from the neighbors when I tossed some bread off the bow this morning.

I had looked seriously into living aboard a few times prior to this adventure and although it would not have worked in those particular times, places, and circumstances, I wish I had taken this leap of faith much earlier in my life. But better late than never. It is certainly not the lifestyle for everyone, nor the romantic one many imagine. Gratefully, I went into it more focused on managing systems, winter challenges, and repairs, and less focused on sunsets and palm trees.

Among the less glamorous aspects of my life aboard, I disposed of a large bucket full of rotting fish and line that had been left some months ago on the dock and which pup dog had repeatedly gotten into. One night she threw up pieces of line; very dangerous. This was definitely a task I should have donned a face mask for to dull the smell, but going into it, I did not know quite how bad the contents of the bucket would be. The photo really doesn't capture the full ickiness of it. Yuck!

On the upside, this little milestone date was marked nicely by my first somewhat "real" meal cooked aboard: veggie patties and quinoa cooked on my propane stove. I first tried out the Kitchen Aid tea kettle for a cup of coffee; the kettle never whistled because the lid leaks steam, so it will likely be returned and replaced with a better quality one. Having the stove working ends the feeling of "camping" that I had anticipated would last about three weeks, but turned into three months.

Good fortune also came to me by way of an inflatable dinghy being gifted to me. I'll have to patch a leak and come up with an outboard for it, but it will be a nice addition to my nascent fleet and a good addition for mobility around town. I am also still looking forward to a hard sailing dinghy I am being given, as well. It will let me get comfortable with fundamentals of sailing and a "feel" for the wind on a simpler scale than my boat. I guess my deposits to the karma bank are paying off.

Liveaboards are different. Both "different" meaning "odd," and different because of what they do and don't take for granted, different because they have to be especially adaptable, creative, and patient. The tide will go up when it will, and no amount of pulling, pleading, or money will change that. And even though some liveaboards are loners, for the most part they seem to be an especially communal bunch. No matter how skilled one is, there will always come a time he or she needs someone else to catch a line. The liveaboard friends I have made in this short time are priceless.

I don't think becoming a liveaboard has changed who I am. But I do think it has unshackled me from the trappings, "things," and roles that somehow begin to define us and box us in. I lost my real self a long time ago to the expectations and demands of others around me. Somehow moving aboard let me break free from that curse and be the bare-footed mermaid I always have been.