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

Thursday, March 28, 2013

sense memory

The smell of fresh cut grass. Fleeting carefree moments of childhood. The scent of patchouli. A tangle of floppy hair and collarbones and sunny college days blending one into another. Digging toes in hot sand. The warmth of the sun on my face. The smell of the ocean, the sound of crashing waves. At once so alive and so peaceful.

The stench of beer and liquor seeping from pores. Disgusted and repulsed. Leaned on, pawed, and petted. The burden of babysitting, politeness, codependency. The sound of beer cans popping, one after another into the night. Trapped and hopeless.

Sun catching dirty blonde floppy hair. Memories of my first love that make me smile. Wrapping fingers in dark Jim Morrison curls. Makes me curl my toes and sigh.

The sensations of life map out my haphazard course. Drawn to them time and again like a dancer's muscle memory. They sketch out light, darkness, passion, hope, anticipation. Perhaps it is sense memory of being in the womb that draws the liveaboards to be rocked to sleep by the sea. A time when the cruelty of the world had not yet been revealed.

I need to better heed my sense memory. Breathe deeply the fresh cut grass of springtime. Savor the musky, passionate scent of patchouli. Grab those Jim Morrison curls and don't let go. But do not sit quietly amidst the drunken mayhem; do not become the caretaker. Those years lost should be dead and buried, I served my time and earned my hard-fought freedom.

Gratefully, my legs remember how to run, remember how to balance as the boat rocks in the wind. At last I returned to my yoga practice this morning--the first time aboard. The cabin lacks clearance to raise my arms outstretched above, (sun salutations will have to be topsides), but otherwise accommodates my much-needed meditation, stretching, and balance.

I am looking forward to some spring renewal and rebirth; a return to running, eating better, drinking less, finding physical and mental balance in yoga and elsewhere. Somehow in all the spinning one must also maintain a focal point. I can't say that I know what mine is. Yet I always hold onto it, do not topple over.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

trust your gut

On St. Patrick's Day morning a year ago I awoke at 4AM to a loud noise and the whole house shaking. I thought perhaps a car had hit the tree in the front yard, but looking out the bedroom window on the side of the house I did not see a car or any people. I climbed back in bed. Maybe a large tree limb had come down on the roof.

A couple of minutes later the whole house shook again. It seemed as if someone was trying to kick in the front door of my house. But the dog did not bark. My car was in the driveway. No one would be so stupid as to try to break in with me home and a dog in the house. I began turning lights on in the house and headed downstairs for a perimeter check from inside. No windows were broken and there was no intruder inside. It must have been a tree-limb coming down and I was just being paranoid. Nonetheless, I was on edge the rest of the night, unable to get back to sleep.

When I got up and took the dog out in the front yard for her morning piddle something caught my eye: a large, muddy bootprint on the front door next to the deadbolt. I should have trusted my gut that something was wrong and I was in danger. I should have called the police at 4AM, not simply gone back to bed. I no longer assume an unsettling noise or feeling is something innocent like a tree limb. Unfortunately, now I am jumpy and restful sleep is often elusive. I tell friends to be wary of boarding the boat without first knocking on the hull and announcing themselves, lest they hear a pump action a little too close for comfort.

Security aboard can be a controversial topic. I don't want to risk the legal issues that can come from cruising with guns aboard outside of the US; others would rather risk legal problems but be armed to the teeth. Even if cruising without a traditional firearm, flare guns do take 12 gauge shells and one can purchase a metal barrel to pop in a flare gun to prevent melting the gun. However, we often have many items aboard that can become impromptu weapons, and liveaboards tend to appreciate finding as many uses as possible for each item to justify its presence aboard.

My go-to defenses aboard are fire extinguishers, knives, and fighting sticks. Eventually I will add a flare gun and a spear gun. I think a flare to the chest is rather likely to ruin a pirate's day. A fire extinguisher to the face will cut off oxygen, and then you can conk the intruder on the head with the canister, too. (Using a fire extinguisher for defense was an excellent tip from a fellow liveaboard friend!) One great thing about fire extinguishers is that there are likely many aboard, mounted within arm's reach of just about any place you may be.

One of the critical aspects of self-defense is to know yourself, to know what you are willing to do. The time to have the moral conversation with oneself about taking another's life is well in advance, not when under attack. Personally, I find it hard to wrap my head around a willingness to be killed rather than take another life. That was the floppy-haired sailor guy's asserted position. I am certainly not in that camp. As a woman I feel fully entitled to assume all intruders intend to rape and kill me. I am not going to ask them if they are only there to take my bicycle.

When my budget permits I would like to have some sort of locking grate fashioned for my companionway. I would love to have radius alarms that will turn on flood lights on the deck and/or sound a horn. I would love to have a couple of webcams on deck so I can see what's out there before opening any hatches. My boat is unlikely to ever be the fanciest one in an anchorage, so hopefully I will be a less attractive target for theft. But as a single woman aboard, intruders may target me nonetheless. I can often be too trusting of people, but my crocodile brain has a good spidey-sense. The most important weapon any of us have for self-defense and self-preservation is our gut; trust it.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

friends I haven't met yet

I never cease to be amazed and touched by the feedback about my blog that I receive from total strangers, or, as one reader put it, "friends I haven't met yet." I've had public, anonymous, and for-my-eyes-only comments left on the blog, as well as emails and private messages via forums. Some are long-time liveaboards or experienced boaters, others are new to the adventure or planning the move. It's incredibly touching to receive these wonderful comments and messages encouraging me, complimenting my writing, thanking me for sharing my journey, wishing me well in finding love, or reminding me that the floppy-haired sailor guy didn't deserve me.

I didn't set out with any particular purpose or focus in starting this blog. I just began documenting the process of boat-shopping and then moving aboard and it took on a life of its own. It became a diary, a place where I rant, and cry, and laugh. My blog provides a smattering of photos and occasionally before-and-after documentation of repairs, but little in the way of "how to" advice. I call it the soap opera of my life aboard. I sometimes think "Why would anyone want to read about my frustrations, heartbreaks, and little victories?" Even if no one does, it's my outlet and doesn't really need to be anything more than that. So I have been moved by the many messages I receive thanking me for sharing my personal emotional journey, for being honest and heartfelt. Not everyone is comfortable "spilling their insides all over the Internet," as one friend put it, but apparently I am.

I've already gone on quite a personal journey without hardly leaving the slip. In online forums I see folks who've circumnavigated and don't have a clue about life, and love, and friendship. As with everything in life, what you bring to the adventure and what you make it determine what you get out of it. As a runner, it makes me think of marathons and ultras. A marathon is a 26 mile tunnel of deep, dark self-doubt, and then .2 miles of glorious, shining personal victory. The success would not be so sweet if it weren't for the pain and the process of reaching deep inside oneself to learn whether you have the mental and emotional fortitude to come out the other side. Aside from obvious physical barriers, anyone can train their legs to run, anyone can learn to sail. But you can get so much more out of those experiences if you let yourself be vulnerable. Take the challenges, failures, and successes as opportunities to learn about your fears, weaknesses, and strengths. If you then embrace and harness them--that is when you find your center, your true north, your inner strength to bring yourself through the roughest seas of life.

My blog may not prepare anyone for winter aboard, or dealing with a full holding tank, or learning to sail. But perhaps it lets a few folks out there know they are not alone in their frustrations or their dreams.

A very heartfelt thank you to all of my readers, whether sailors or landlubbers, friends new and old, or friends I just haven't met yet.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

be nice to bunnies

Last year I decided to make any new purchases of beauty products be cruelty free. I looked at lists from My Beauty Bunny and the Leaping Bunny Program of beauty and household products that do not test on animals. I was surprised and extremely disappointed to learn that some of my regular brands, such as Clinique, Johnson & Johnson, and Neutrogena, are NOT cruelty free.

Virtually all make-up counters in department stores are brands owned by Estee Lauder and all of those brands have abandoned any cruelty free policies so that they can sell in China. If a brand sells in China, it tests on animals, period. China isn't content to poison our food and pets' food with melamine, not content to include lead in all kinds of products and lie about it, no, China also requires that a company torture animals if it wants to sell make up there. As if protecting human life is of any remote importance to them; what a joke.

Now let me admit at the outset that I'm not a vegetarian and I wear leather. I do believe that the majority of animal farming and execution practices are inhumane and I wish I weren't a part of that economy. I make excuses that I have food allergies and intolerances and special dietary needs due to vitamin deficiencies and being a distance runner. But there are ultramarathoners who are vegans and vegetarians. Perhaps at some point I will make the switch. But for now, I can at least refuse to participate in the entirely unnecessary and inhumane practice of testing beauty products on animals. I don't need someone smearing mascara in a bunny's eye to know that it wouldn't feel great in my eye, duh. (Girls who injure themselves applying making while operating motor vehicles are just getting what they deserve.)

This may be a small gesture, but it still reduces the evil in the world at least a smidgeon. So, here are some of my go-to cruelty free products:

From left to right, top to bottom: (1) Güd by Burt's Bees body wash (purchased at Target); (2) Yes to Carrots skin clearing lotion (I also love their pomegranate lip balm) (purchased at Target); (3) Alba 45 SPF sunblock (a little goes a long way and 45 is the minimum one should use every day--pale is beautiful and will keep you looking young!) (purchased at Target); (4) Dermalogica daily microfoliant ($50 at DermStore but Dermalogica products are amazing and this bottle lasted a year); (5) Ole Henriksen daily moisturizer (purchased at Sephora); (6) Trader Joe's mango honey shave cream; (7) Ole Henriksen eye cream (purchased at Sephora); and (8) Trader Joe's conditioner ($3).

Only three of the items above are pricier brands not available in grocery or drug stores. While there are plenty of high-end, expensive cruelty free beauty products, for a gal on a budget it's nice to find that I can get many products affordably and readily. I was thrilled to discover that all of Trader Joe's beauty, personal care, and household products are cruelty free.

If you have some fav cruelty free products or brands, share your favs in a comment on this post. Next time you're buying beauty or household products, take a second to check for a Leaping Bunny or other cruelty free logo on the packaging. It isn't that big a sacrifice in one's life to make the switch and it's always good karma points to be nice to bunnies.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

five months and counting

This past Saturday marked five months living aboard. I must not have been focused on that mini-milestone since it didn't occur to me until having dinner with friends who are soon-to-be-liveaboards and I asked "Is today the 2nd?" Indeed, it was, they confirmed.

That is one of the challenges I face living aboard and not having a traditional Monday-through-Friday office job: the days rather blend together. Instead of Mondays and Tuesdays I think in terms of "the day the tide was really low," "the day it never stopped raining," or "the day I filled the water tank." I guess that's not entirely fair, since I do remember certain days of the week have a great food or drink special at this or that local pub or eatery. I couldn't care less about the Wednesday night sailboat races, but I sure do love the "Wednesday night race tacos" at The Boatyard during the season. And just as the days seem to blend together, the day often passes by as I clickity-clack on my laptop unaware of the day slipping into night because my port lights are all covered with insulation. Thus, I tend to have a day or two a week where I don't head ashore to shower until five or six in the evening, and sometimes, like today, simply shower and get right back in my jammies. Like boaters who don't admit running aground, liveaboards who deny they have days like this are simply lying.

But Sunday was quite the event going for a mini-cruise across the creek. I had spoken with someone at a local marina and he agreed to let me bring my boat over to get pumped out as they made the rounds to their liveaboards. The City of Annapolis treats its liveaboard community like dirt so the city's pumpout boat "breaks" early and often. Even if it wasn't "broken" I trust the city would winterize it as long as possible rather than at least breaking winterization once a week to service the many, many liveaboards who stay through the winter here. Many of those liveaboards shrinkwrap their boats to keep snow off the decks and aid in insulation, so even if a dockside pump-out station was open those boats could not get to it. Why does it matter? Well it's all kinds of illegal to just pump overboard. I've heard the fine is $5,000. And, you know, it's kind of wrong and all. But have no illusion, the minor amount of waste boaters might dump into the Bay is pretty much de minimus. The runoff from chicken farms on the Eastern Shore is the culprit for the Bay's pollution. And when storm water causes the waste treatment plants to overflow into the Bay... sigh.  But despite science and reality the liveaboards are scapegoated and get constant wagging fingers about how important it is not to pump overboard. Too bad local, state, and federal government show virtually no interest in making year-round, publicly accessible pump out facilities available (whether dockside stations, pump-out boats, or pump-out trucks) so that complying with the law was not an amazing pain-in-the-ass. So, I was jumping up and down ecstatic at the prospect of cruising over to a marina that has a golf cart with a giant shit-sucking vacuum on it to pump out the boat.

A friend brought his daughter along for the "cruise" and we worked on departure preparations, including disconnecting the shore power and cable and removing the dog ramp, and even tried to start the engine. I wanted to be as prepared as possible before my friend who helps me captain the boat arrived; I am always on "Miami time," i.e., 15 minutes late, so I wanted to have things ready to go for once. But the engine wasn't starting right up and I wasn't sure how much throttle to give it to get it to turn over. For an hour he didn't have much luck either. I had been a bad, bad diesel owner and hadn't started it up in two and half months. Diesels hate the cold and hate to sit. I should be starting the engine and letting it run a little weekly. The four of us crossed our fingers, said little prayers, begged and pleaded, but the engine smoked and sputtered. I was close to giving up but headed below to make coffee for the older folks and cocoa for my friend's daughter. At last the engine turned over and we all jumped and clapped, and I gave a huge sigh of relief. Here we were on a blustery Sunday morning, winds blowing 15 to 20 knots, occasional snowflakes falling, but warming our hands with mugs of coffee or cocoa and off for a pump-out cruise across Back Creek!

It was great to have all of us aboard. My friend's daughter is great with the pup dog, so she was in charge of getting pup to the bow or back to the cockpit and keeping an eye on her. One friend at the helm while two of us handled lines was handy on arrival and essential when we managed to turn around in the fairway so that we could leave the dock moving forward. Reverse has much less maneuverability and we needed as much control as possible with the winds blowing us toward other boats.

I only took the helm for a short jaunt on the return. The winds were something to contend with and I still get nervous when I get particularly close to boats that look like they exceed my insurance policy limits. Over on Spa Creek I expect there were many boats out for the frostbite races, but I only spotted one other boat (also a sailboat under power) transiting Back Creek.

When we returned the tide had fallen enough that we couldn't get the boat far back enough in the slip to re-attach the dog ramp. For a couple of days the pup had to be lifted on and off, a precarious undertaking. She knows I'm not really strong enough to lift her securely and balks. At one point I had to sit, pull her onto my lap, and then lower her down to the boat. Even now that I have the boat closer the ramp keeps falling off as the boat shifts in the wind and tides. I am going to need to relocate the ramp and modify the solution so that it remains more stable.

After lunch we took a look at the shroud where I suspected a bad leak. When we pulled up the cover to see the chainplate connection through the toe rail, we discovered what looks to be plenty of dry rot. This cold and damp time of year is not ideal for addressing these problems, but at least some stop gap measures would be better than nothing. To use Git-Rot one really should dig out all the rot and get the area dry. That simply isn't possible right now. We went ahead and mixed the Git-Rot and started pouring it down beside the chainplate.

The void would seem to fill, then drain, fill, then drain. It drank up the entire batch. We topped off the remaining gaps with 3M 4200 sealant/adhesive and then coated the cover as well. We weren't really sure if that was the source of the leak, but it certainly needed attention and will get more thorough remediation in the Spring. A half hour later I looked over at the area on the cabin sole where the leak would manifest and lo and behold, the Git-Rot was coming out. I may not know the path that leak is taking behind the scenes, but at least now I know the beginning and end points. It's ironic how love of the water brings us to our boats, but the water quickly becomes the enemy we constantly battle to keep outside!

What's the moral of the story in this post? I guess that even when the weather is cold, windy, and gray, even when engines sputter and leaks abound, any time you can cast off the lines with good company is a good day. Living aboard is a challenge, nothing is easy, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Friday, March 1, 2013

time to reduce the takers in my life

It has occurred to me that I am far too nice. Too inclined to help people who need to help themselves. I would never want to be a selfish, unhelpful person. But there comes a point when helping others is an unjustifiable drain on one's own time and emotional energy. I knew someone a couple of years ago whose New Year's resolution was to reduce the number of takers in his life. I don't know if he was successful, but I think it's a good goal for me to incorporate into my life.

Sometimes we need to think more simply about our friendships. Contrary to the societal pressures to be friends with everyone, it is likely best to take a schoolyard view of friendships. There are kids who are fair weather friends, who invariably change their stories and talk behind your back, the ones who just want the cookies from your lunch but never share theirs, the ones who always have an ulterior motive. I've collected too many of these and will gladly let them go. It isn't my job to help them find happiness or whatever else they are after.

But I am incredibly lucky to have true friends, new and old, who say what they mean and mean what they say, who offer a hand when I need one and receive the same from me, who give and accept friendship without strings attached or expectations. Those friends are priceless and treasured.

Time to go do something just for me and one of my very best friends: a run in the sunshine with pup dog.