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

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

spring is around the corner (right?)

Although today is a gloomy, rainy Tuesday, this past Sunday showed us a glimpse of Spring around the corner. Sunday was over 50 degrees and sunny. I turned off the heat, opened the hatch. Pup dog fetched a tennis ball ad nauseum. The cats came out and sniffed all around the docks, chewed some grass, rolled on the pier and the decks in the sunshine.

Perfect weather for...boat chores! And I am such a good friend that I let a couple of my friends in on the fun! We filled the water tank plus a dozen gallon jugs for drinking water (between water for my coffee/tea and for the pets, we use a little less than a gallon a day). Cut down the Christmas lights that had been zip-tied to the bimini top. We were going to try putting sealant around a deck fitting where I suspect a leak, but the sealant wouldn't come out of the tube. One friend really wanted to bail out the dinghy (seriously?) but I convinced him that insofar as I had the galoshes I was better prepared. They laughed as I bailed out the chilly water and kept saying "Yep, living the dream...I'm living the dream..."

Somewhere in the midst we managed to drink a few mimosas. You gotta love friends who bring the champagne, orange juice, and beer and also happily help with the boat chores; priceless! One of the guys installed the oar locks I bought at Bacon Sails (one stem is a little too wide...) and the keepers I was gifted by a good friend, then he rowed the dinghy over to a running light so we could remove the bulb I think needs replacing. I got talked into taking the dinghy over to the pub...only a four-block walk but a long way to row, especially against the wind. But it was fun to get out on the water nonetheless. I let the guys row her back after eats and drinks and I walked the pup dog home.

Yesterday was chillier, but still sunny. I managed to finish some of the chores I had set out to do Sunday: relocating fenders from the lifelines to the cars on the traveler--easier to move and no longer weighing down the lifelines. I also tied a fender between the boat and the dinghy so the dinghy wouldn't bang into the boat in the wind. Today we're actually rocking in our slip. I keep thinking someone is boarding the boat because we've been aground so much from the low tides lately that I'm not used to the boat moving in the wind anymore! The higher tides are bringing me almost level to the dock at times, what a change from being four feet below the dock and having to climb out onto the finger pier on my belly. (The neighbors will miss seeing me laying on the finger pier in my pajamas, holding on for dear life. Hopefully that's not on YouTube...yet...)

Yesterday I also managed to drag myself out for a run. Just 3.5 miles, not the usual 6 or 6.25, but better than not going. Good to clear my head. I feel I've rounded the bend from the damage the floppy-haired sailor guy did. Although I'm not looking right now and it may be awhile before I'm willing to open myself up again, I am glad that I can smile and laugh and dance again. I know that all my friends who say he was never good enough for me anyway are right. But it's still raw enough that I dread his return to my home port and my local pub. But the best revenge will be to leave him in my wake.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

don't count newbies out

I've only been living aboard and on a sailboat for a handful of months. But one keen observation I've made is that folks in both the "real world" and in online forums can be pretty fairly judged by how they treat newbies. And even it it isn't fair, I'm judging them, period. Strangers have welcomed me into their lives and onto their boats, generously shared their tips and tricks. Many of my newfound liveaboard friends will be dear friends for life, I have no doubt. But if you treat "newbies" like the dirt you so despise, if your immediate reaction to their dreams of being on the sea is to look down your nose and say "you really need to take sailing lessons," you won't be getting any rum shots on my boat, but I might make you walk the plank. Everyone was a newbie at some point. Just because someone has been doing something for twenty or forty years doesn't mean they haven't been doing it wrong. Just because I'm a newbie doesn't mean I don't actually know more or have a better way of doing something.

Not too long ago I "killed" my profiles on Cruisers Forum, SailNet, and I grudgingly revived the ones on CF and SN and do have some good friends there. I've had many blog readers come from those forums and I deeply appreciate the positive feedback on my blog that I've received from those folks. The forums have some useful information and some good people, but are often overwhelmed by self-righteous schmucks who spend so much time online it's hard to imagine they ever get their boats out on the water. They are snarky and unhelpful and clearly legends in their own minds. It is simpler for me to walk down the street to Davis' Pub, full of sailors, power boaters, liveaboards, and boat mechanics. I can achieve the same effect as posting a question in a forum by working my way down the bar asking for suggestions on my current project or challenge. There, I can tell if someone is an idiot, a jerk, wise, helpful, or too drunk to be handing out advice. The good folks generously share their experiences, both failures and successes. Rather than paranoid cautions of how ignorant you are and how dangerous the sea is, they readily admit that no one ever masters sailing and that if someone claims to they are full of shit. The good folks realize that plenty of folks teach themselves, no boat is ever ready, and sailors less experienced and with fewer wits about them have circumnavigated and lived to tell about it. It just isn't rocket science.

My advice to the newbies out there: buy some books; study up; use your noodle; use some common sense. Even if you're a newbie, you know more than a lot of self-appointed experts online and you bring your own unique experience, skills, and perspective. A little fresh air blowing through the sailing forums might do them good, but I'm too busy living my life. I do check the forums again, and try to post helpful comments where I have something to contribute. I'd like to bitch-slap some of the snarks, but they just aren't worth the drama. I already know of several sailors I'm likely to run across as I cruise but whom I wouldn't be willing to break bread with or invite for sundowners. The sea is a very dangerous place and I've seen from years of boating in Miami how quickly weather can turn, how quickly people can lose their lives. That is why I think having good "boating karma" is especially important. When I have the choice to lend a hand or to cut someone down, I'd rather be helpful than hurtful, and hopefully when my boat is being tossed about on a turbulent sea, Poseidon will show me the same kindness.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

love and the singlehander

Not that kind of singlehanding... singlehanding a boat. Now, I have to clarify that I am not technically a singlehander yet, insofar as I do not yet run or sail my boat without a more experienced boater aboard to keep me from screwing things up too badly. But I am a single gal living on her boat sola, (well, with two cats and a dog), and planning to be able to singlehand my boat this fall come hell or high water. So, I write this from the perspective of the single liveaboard and Valentine's Day seemed an appropriate day for this post, (although personally I don't wax nostalgic over this Hallmark Holiday).

A little over a month ago I had the realization that I don't think I could be with someone shore-based. It seems unfair, perhaps irrational to discriminate against an entire class of men because they live on land. (Because they are...stable?) But somehow I don't think anyone but another liveaboard could truly understand me. There is something fundamentally different about us liveaboards. We are simply not "wired" the same as everyone else, for better or for worse. Among both coupled and single liveaboards, (but especially among the single ones), I have heard many references to the relief they felt in moving aboard and ending the attempt to fit into society's expectations. So many of us seem to be nonconformists, unconventional, dancing to the beat of a different drum. How do all of us misfit toys find our match? Having loved and lost in my life, being now in the shadow of heartbreak from the floppy-haired sailor guy, I still think my odds of finding my soul mate and sail mate are better with another liveaboard and are better out on the sea than on land, online, or in a local pub.

I half-joke that most of the guy singlehanders out there are socially awkward, broken, and defective and have sailed away from society for that reason. Unfortunately, stereotypes like that arise because there is more than a bit of truth to them. Myself, I have to learn the lesson to stop picking the sad puppy at the pound, the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree of men, because as amazing as I may think I am, I cannot fix them. I already have a "project boat," and need to wean myself off taking on "project men," as it never ends well. And perhaps I am a bit broken and defective myself; I readily admit that I am bat-shit crazy.

But I think there are plenty of singlehanders, male and female, who are simply adventurers, philosophers, introspective, fragile yet brave, endlessly curious about the world around us, and who decide to sail away and lounge in the sun, ponder the universe beneath the stars, be rocked to sleep by the sea. As one liveaboard friend said, others either understand those feelings or they don't; you can't explain to someone else your exhilaration at something or the sense of being in the womb sleeping in the forepeak with waves lapping against the hull. The one key personality trait highly correlated to successful long-term romantic relationships is openness to new experiences. The reclusive curmudgeons who live and die, uncompromising, by their ingrained habits will seek each other out. And the adventurers, who want to see new sights, taste new flavors, experience new sensations, they will find each other. I think cruising liveaboards of the latter contingent far outweigh the former and hopefully I will find my fellow adventurer along the way.

Are singlehanders lonely? Perhaps some are; but one can easily be a hermit ashore or heartbreakingly lonely in a crowded room. I have been both. Being alone does not mean one is lonely. We are fundamentally social creatures, and it seems many liveaboards maintain active contact with the world whether through sundowners, telephone, or internet. Online forums are bursting with single sailors, so they must not all be holed up, living as total recluses on the hook. I've heard that singlehanders talk too much when they get the chance because they are starved for conversation. I've heard that singlehanders fall into alcohol abuse. These things may oft be true, but need not be. Plenty of folks ashore, with spouses and children, fall into the same traps. Are there plenty of "loners" among singlehanders? I assume so. They likely became loners because they did not fit into society's mold and learned to entertain themselves, to enjoy their own company. Making space in your life for solitude, for self-reflection, meditation, prayer--whatever form it may take for a particular person--that is very different from being anti-social. And perhaps that is why so many singlehanders are misunderstood.

Will I face more challenges in finding my love at sea? I expect I will. But moving around will let me see more of the world and meet more people. I am comfortable in my own skin and comfortable being single. Do I want to singlehand all my life? No. I do want to find my soul mate. But right now I am skeptical and guarding my heart closely. I would rather buddy boat with a lover for quite some time before I would be willing to share my home or dock my boat awhile and move onto his. I have settled before and will not make that mistake again. I am prone to writing messages to myself on the bathroom mirror with dry-erase marker. They usually say: "Just keep running." "Do not settle!" "Be the lioness, not the gazelle." Finding a sail mate who "gets" me may be a bit of a challenge, but I am strong, and brave, if too tenderhearted. I wish I had a chartplotter for my heart, but eventually I will drag anchor into the man of my dreams. Until then, I'll just be a barefooted mermaid on her boat, setting her own course, and living life to its fullest.

Visit The Monkey's Fist to find other posts on this topic.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

project: clean up the salon (before and after pix)

Let's just start out with the simple fact that I am not a very good nor diligent housekeeper. I would rather live in my living space than keep it impeccable in case of company. Am I a bit embarrassed that my home is always rather cluttered? A smidgeon, yes; but not much and not enough to motivate me to change my ways. Instead, when I have guests I ply them with liquor so that they will be in good spirits and hopefully ignore or forget the clutter. If having the settee and cushions "just so" is more important than good company, good drink, and good food, they probably won't long be my friends anyway.

That said, there is a point at which the space is no longer functional when piled high with clutter. Those who visited my home when I lived ashore know that moving aboard was a harsh intervention for this hoarder! So, admitting that one does actually need to be able to sit on the settee...I undertook to enforce some order upon the space.

Settee, piled high with clothes and "stuff"
Dinette, piled with tools, insulation, cushions and more clothes
Crew cuddle cups at the dinette
Nav desk piled high with tools, cleaning supplies, and running gear
Don't think for a minute that I don't know where everything is aboard. It may be crazy, but I can thrust my hand into the middle of a stack of "stuff" and pull out the tool or gloves I was looking for!

Cleaning up the salon was not simply about relocating the piles of stuff so that some surfaces were visible. Storage lockers needed to be cleaned, bulky housing insulation removed, and Reflectix insulation properly installed. The dinette was missing a cushion. Other cushions needed to be re-purposed.

Eewww! Wet, moldy housing insulation taking up needed storage space!
I am loathe to hack up items and risk ruining them. But that's silly. These huge cushions from some fancy chairs I got rid of in 2005 were taking up space aboard. They were four inches too big to fit the dinette.

24" x 30" when I need 24" x 26"... what to do?
Took the plunge, tossed the cover, and cut away the batting
Just need to trim the cushion down
Used my dad's river knife to trim the cushions
I saved the "logs" of foam I trimmed from the cushions and saved the batting. I now have my sewing machine aboard, so when I get around to it, I will make some roll pillows and sew up some nice covers for the dinette cushions. For now, some sheets folded around them will suffice.

The dinette seats two, if the cats will let you in
And the settee can actually seat a few guests, or I can stretch out for a cat nap.

The settee to starboard also has a large table that drops down from the bulkhead
I haven't managed to clear off the nav desk yet and the ample galley gear and provisions are still in the process of finding their "spots." I cannot afford to waste space and need every locker to be used in the most space-efficient manner I can muster. My djembe (drum) does double-duty as a laptop desk!

I freely admit I still have too much stuff, both in general and on the boat, but it is a process to weed out the items I really can put to good use and that which I can live without--and which is which is not always what one may first assume! Nonetheless, it feels good to make little bits of progress aboard here and there, chip away at the "to do" list, and meet wonderful new liveaboard friends along the way.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

miss you, dad

One year ago today was the last time I spoke with my father. He didn't speak much (unusual for him) and sounded so tired. He didn't sound at all excited for his birthday, two days later. He had the big heart attack the following night. I did not find out until I was about to call him for his birthday and received the call with the news.

Every year has been worse than the last, but this past year, losing my father, has been the worst by far. He was the singular person in my life who was always there for me, always supported me. Beyond childhood lessons about things like gun safety and friendship, he never gave me advice; he just listened--and probably bit his tongue a lot. I got my dad's hazel eyes and amazing ability to be cat furniture.

I didn't think of my dad as a boater; but he was a kayaker, built a beautiful wooden ocean-going kayak, he scubaed, and was involved with his local Power Squadron. But I know he had dreams of being on the water. It is bittersweet that I only have my beloved boat, my first home of my own, because of a little money left behind in his wake. I know he'd be sad to see me heartbroken, but proud of me for undertaking my adventure aboard. A river knife of his has already been put to work aboard and his binoculars will serve me well as I cruise.

I thought of him on my run today in crisp sunshine; he was a jock, a high school and college football and track star, and very supportive of my marathoning. I will have to get back to the rink in the next days for a skate; my favorite picture of me with my dad has always been when he was teaching me to skate in Montana.

He was a great father, deeply loved, and sorely missed.

Monday, February 4, 2013

you cook on your boat?

In a surprised tone, my current neighbor asked me that question yesterday. Uh, yeah; of course! I've got a propane stove and oven, though I haven't used the oven yet. The current neighbor is a guy crashing for a couple months on his friend's boat in the slip next to me. He picked the coldest two months to live aboard and from what I've heard is not loving it. Not long after he moved aboard I ran into him on the snow-covered dock; he looked at me skeptically and said "you do this all the time?" Uh, yeah, this is my home, I live here.

But back to cooking... not having the propane hooked up my first three months aboard was what made me feel like I was camping. I am used to cooking up huge meals and filling my freezer with lunch and dinner portions. I regularly bartered with meals and baked goods for pet-sitting, drinks, massages, hair cuts, and concert tickets. Last spring I briefly made myself nuts selling baked goods at a local farmer's market. The oven aboard is small, so I may have to focus on cookies, muffins, bundt cake, and biscuits, and let go my popular three-layer red velvet and piƱa colada cakes. (Anyone want to trade boat-repair assistance or sailing lessons for yummy baked goods or delicious meals?)

A few days ago I spoiled myself with quinoa smothered with braised chicken and a side dish of yukon gold potatoes, zucchini, and onion seasoned with garlic and paprika and topped with crumbled feta. Everything turned out delicious and, as I did not have any dinner guests, I managed to tuck several containers in the fridge and ate well, healthy, and affordably for several days.

Cooking aboard does present certain challenges. Chief among them is the steam generated inside the boat and resulting condensation. When I use my Fagor pressure cooker I aim the steam toward the hatch and crack it open so most of the steam quickly vents outside. The pressure cooker has already been used for three batches of pinto beans; the other liveaboards at socials tear through the bean dip I bring so it's nice to know I have a standby dish they like; it only takes 40 minutes under pressure to cook the beans, but I do have to remember to soak the beans overnight. I'll need to get some Arborio rice because the pressure cooker lets me make amazing risotto without having to stand and constantly stir for forty-five minutes.

I am very lucky that my boat has an impressive amount of storage space for its size. I plan to bring the rest of my cookware aboard this week so that I can really get cooking. I joke that I have every kitchen gadget known to man...I even have a little blowtorch for carmelizing sugar on creme brulee. Now I look at all the gadgets at Sur La Table or Bed Bath & Beyond and think what a silly waste of space and money most are. Before I owned a cheese grater I used to just dice the cheese so it would melt... it works, and on a boat with limited water for dish washing and limited space for gadgets, cheese graters are just a hassle of nooks and crannies to clean. Do people really need separate gadgets for dealing with every different fruit or vegetable? A few good knives, a few good pots, and a cutting board are really all we need... well, creativity helps!

So, here I am philosophizing on food. I love food and love to cook. Kneading dough and baking cakes and cookies are meditative for me. I am a "true believer" that breaking bread is a universal ritual that brings us together as human beings. But I am adamantly not a foodie. Food snobs are the worst thing that can happen to a good meal. (Sorry, correction: they are the second-worst thing; a date is the number one way to ruin a good meal.) If I discover a guy is a chef I run for the hills; the last thing I want to hear some guy blather on about is a balsamic-something-or-other reduction. Or the "crumb" of a bread. The floppy-haired sailor guy was a Grade-A food snob and enjoyed criticizing my scratch pizza dough, which he never tried, although several people have proclaimed my pizza the best they have ever had. (What can I say; I was annoyed but temporarily blinded by love and tried to see the upside that we both feel passionately about dough.)

Whether a dish is "comfort food" or haute cuisine, if it tries to intimidate or impress rather than comfort, then I don't want it. I like having friends who love food and cooking, are good cooks, and enjoy having potlucks and cook-outs. Sometimes the food is classic comfort food and other times more complicated or fancy-schmancy, but always infused with friendship, love, and generosity. If your cooking lacks those ingredients, it will never feed the soul.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

four months aboard

Today marks four months living aboard my boat, a 1976 37' Gulfstar coastal cruising sailboat. As I write this I am, perhaps crazily, sitting where I spent most of my time during my first several weeks aboard: outside in the cockpit. Although the temperature hovering around freezing means I have traded flip flops for Uggs, I have a nice cold beer to help keep me warm. As I look back on this brief period that feels so long, I am filled with one overarching regret: that I did not embark on this journey twenty years ago.

But that I followed a path that was never right for me is a decision that cannot be undone. What I can do now is live my life to the fullest, be as free as I possibly can, plot a course away from the grid, toward freedom, independence, and adventure. I still hold hope that along the way I will drag anchor into a like-minded soul who wants to raft-up together for this journey. Love is very rare to me, but I would rather hold out for it than ever settle again.

Skeptics were in no short supply when I announced in early August that I was going to buy a boat and move aboard. Within two months I closed on my boat and moved in. I joke to other liveaboards that the dreamers in online forums with their five, ten, or twenty year plans to move aboard and cast off the lines are really on a forty-year-plus plan and the closest they'll get to living aboard and cruising is a Viking funeral. No boat will ever be perfect, or ready, or have enough equipment or supplies. I wanted to be the master of my domain and of my destiny, and so I jumped in. I knew that life aboard had long been meant for me; in that, I have never doubted myself for even a moment. I never even planned to be a cruiser any time soon, do not yet know how to sail, yet now it pains me to be tied to a dock. I cannot wait to cast off the lines and let my real life begin.

Hunter wide-eyed peeking into the galley as I cook
Me and pup dog
That is not to say it has been smooth sailing these past months. We live in constant financial strain and I have shed many tears over frustrations with the pets, the boat, and the heartbreak of the floppy-haired sailor guy. My holding tank is full and all the pump outs are winterized. I struggle to get on and off the boat safely when the tides leave my boat stranded, aground, my deck three feet below the finger pier. My new marina offers me more privacy and peace, but lacks any wireless internet access...I used up my phone's high-speed data and have not been able to get online (and update this blog) when I want during the past two weeks. I am still trying to solve the internet challenge. I have to schlepp to a laundromat or use the laundry at my office across town. Living aboard with snow and ice on the decks and docks is no treat and presents many dangers. I seize any day where it hits 50 degrees to fill my water tank and several gallon jugs with water. I check my NOAA Weather Here Free, Tide Prediction, and BlueFin Marine Weather apps obsessively, often planning sleep schedules, errands, and showers around when the tides will facilitate getting on and off the boat. Today I bought canned beer only because it fits more easily in the icebox-turned-fridge. Yes, I sacrifice to "live the dream."

Living the dream?
Where's my fruity rum drink!
Yesterday I kept sensing that I was walking downhill aboard. I set a battery on the galley counter, but it stayed. A few hours later I still sensed it and tried the battery test quickly rolled toward the bow. It was a very disconcerting feeling. I was worried about damage to the keel and the safety of the boat. I reached out to an experienced liveaboard friend who offered another set of eyes and assured me it was simply a result of being aground in my slip. The depth sounder read 3.6 feet; my draft is 5. Some five or six inches of rudder stuck out above the mud, but at the bow the water was just kissing the boot stripe. I dislike being worried about the boat because I need more experience, but at the same time, I am pleased that I am so attuned to the boat's balance that I sensed the bow tipping forward long before any loose items did. My boat and I, we are going to know each other well and be together a very long time.

My view from the hatch door yesterday morning
Snow-covered decks
Gonna have to bail the dinghy out when the snow melts
Living aboard is not easy. It is not something to do on a whim; it requires compromises, creativity, and flexibility. I have much to learn both about my boat's systems and about sailing, but I know far more than most people anticipate and absorbed more than I thought during a decade tossing lines and drinking rum runners on Miami power boats. As much as some old salts act as though only they were blessed with the celestial knowledge of sailing, it really is not rocket science and where there is a will there is a way. But I entered this process in a trial by one-month anniversary aboard I got to ride out the edges of Hurricane Sandy and at four months aboard I face more snow and ice. Luckily, and from what I have seen unlike many of the dreamers, I went into this adventure focused on systems, hull soundness, winter survival, and a boat that serves my near-term purposes of coastal cruising and life aboard (not distant whisperings of circumnavigation). If one is focused on palm trees, sandy beaches, and fruity rum drinks, I think he or she may be ill-prepared for the realities of life aboard. That is not to say I do not see those tropical delights in my not-too-distant future, but they will be a happy side-effect of going into life aboard with my eyes wide open to the many challenges--and the opportunity to surmount them--so that I may be rocked to sleep by the sea.

Although the floppy-haired sailor guy (ab)used this song to seduce me, it rings true to my heart and I can finally listen to it without tears. My real life will begin out on the water, with the waves crashing over the bow. Waiting For My Real Life to Begin