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Monday, October 28, 2019

The Two Happiest Days

There’s an old saying that boaters like to say. It goes like this, “The two happiest days of a boater’s life are the day she buys a boat and the day she sells it.” A man said that to me yesterday. I answered noncommittally, “hmmmm.”

I can go along with most pithy sayings, but that one I’ve never liked.  First of all, I think that the saying makes too many assumptions about me. I’ve never been fond of sayings that demand wholehearted agreement.  I don’t want anyone to know what I will say, before I say it.

In Minnesota, for example, a common saying is, “Well, is it cold enough for ya?” Clearly, the correct answer is, “Oh, ya, it’s pretty darn cold, isn’t it?” Having a touch of rebellion left over from adolescence, I have tried going with a different kind of response, “Well, I actually like the cold…good for cross-country skiing,” or some such thing.  People just look at me funny after that, with one raised eyebrow that I interpret to mean, “O-K. You. Are. Different.” (“Different” in Minnesota-speak means something more than just a “variation from the usual.” No, in Minnesota “different” means something that the speaker is not in agreement with, is displeased by, or finds unappealing. Not to be confused with “unique” or “creatively inspired.”

Here’s what I would say about the two happiest days of a boater’s life.  The two happiest days of a boater’s life are the day she moves onto the boat (filled with great expectations of travelling by wind and water and in so doing, seeing things to be amazed by) and the second would be the day on the water that was so perfect that she couldn’t help but say these words aloud, “Now this is why I live on a sailboat.”

I’ve had both of those days already.  Many times.

Buying the boat was frankly, a little scary for me.  I had committed myself to the plan, but the reality of buying the boat felt enormous. And moving aboard was nearly a year after the purchase. Moving aboard was a whole lot better than the purchase. We’d retired by then and made all the arrangements to live aboard. It was exciting!

Having it sold will be a relief, I’m sure, so that we can move ahead with something more permanent on land. But that’s not the same as being the happiest day. And moving off the boat is definitely not the happiest day.

We are in the thick of that moving off process now. Our boat is in a slip at Bert Jabin’s Yacht Yard in Annapolis. We’ve rented a 5 X 10’ storage unit in Annapolis so that we can box up and remove every personal item that we’ve been carrying around with us on the water.  During this process, my husband has told me many times, “Just throw away anything that’s junk.” The thing is, I already did a lot of that over the course of the last year onboard. The physical sensation of tossing something into the trash barrel seems to comfort my spouse, however, so I agree now and then that he may discard something that I wouldn’t exactly call junk, but that I’m sure I can live without. I think it’s like a “symbolic cleansing” of the soul to discard things. Anyway, we did find some things that we gifted to others like child-sized life jackets, reading books, and a variety of Chart Guides to the Caribbean, which we gave to friends.  That felt good.

As of today, there’s little left on the boat, and a lot in the storage unit here. We have another storage unit is Duluth (10 X 20’) that is pretty well filled up. Our belongings in there will stay there until we figure out where we will live permanently. For the winter, we are going to rent a furnished apartment in Memphis. See how it feels to live there until the boat sells.  With a visit to Minnesota now and then.

This week, we moved off the boat for the very last time. Although we still have workmen coming to take care of some minor maintenance issues prior to putting on the market, and though we are still working on cleaning everything inside and out, and polishing all the brass, and the stainless, and fiberglass, we must move off because of two important things that will happen. One is that it’s late in the season and the boat must be winterized. Once that happens, we can’t live aboard because there will be no water. The other thing is that our boat broker was scheduled to come aboard Friday  to photograph the interior of the boat. His advice was, “Make it shiny,” so that’s what I’ve been working on. Plus some canvas repairs. Carl has tackled some things that will never shine no matter what…such as the bilge. Anyway, we can’t be living on the boat when it’s photographed. It must be pristine, so that means minus the detritus of Carl and Ardys’ habitation.  

For the short-term remainder of being in Annapolis,  we are renting  a Winnebago RV. It’s an older Winnebago and we won’t be driving it anywhere.  We’re just sleeping in it, while it sits in the backyard of an older couple (okay, just a little older than us) here in Annapolis. It’s an economical alternative to an AirBnB.  Should be interesting. I’ve never stayed in an RV, and certainly not in something that’s even smaller than our sailboat. While I do not have great expectations about the RV, we are already accustomed to narrow traffic lanes in our living quarters, so we should be able to take that in stride.  Once in the RV, we’ll start researching furnished apartments in Memphis.  I’m thinking about an industrial loft apartment, something without internal walls. Something completely out of the ordinary, you know what I mean?  Someplace where I would never think of living.

Friday, September 27, 2019

What I Saw this Morning

This is what I saw when I climbed up into the cockpit this morning.
Anchored in a bay off the Potomac River, called Breton Bay

The sun shimmering on the water, so intensely dark blue in this first hour after sunrise. There’s a long, low, white restaurant on the shore with outdoor seating. Glowing in the early morning sun. Empty of course, at this time of day.  A few houses tucked into the trees of the bay surrounding us.  

A football field length away, a middle-aged man in a small clean boat with a roof overhead. We mistook him for a crabber at first, but upon closer inspection, he must have been a scientist of some kind. Moving trays around on the small boat, adding something to some trays. Stacking them away and moving on to another spot on the water.

A Blue Heron (maybe a young Great Blue) standing on a channel marker, ostensibly guarding the osprey nest below him. No osprey to be seen anywhere. Through my binoculars there was another Great Blue Heron standing stock-still in the tall grasses on the shore. Thinking he was invisible, I suppose. Just a stick in the grass.

Great Blue Heron
We pulled anchor and got underway. There was an eagle far away, sitting at the top of a dead tree. Would never have seen him without the binoculars. Moments later, another eagle atop a green tree, his white head making him visible against that green even without binoculars. Then he flew, or rather, soared and flew in great sweeping gestures across the sky.

A flock of cormorants, flapping desperately, coming from somewhere low on the horizon and rising across the water to land one by one on the multitude of stakes that made up a fish weir, or trap.


A flock of Pie-Billed Grebe, flapping for all they were worth to maintain a short distance above the water. Their silhouettes with head lower than their feet remind me, oddly enough, of an old film clip—Esther Williams taking a swan dive off a tall board.  If I did that, it would turn into a belly flop.
See the Anhinga, lower right 

One Anhinga. I almost said “one lonely Anhinga” but why should I think an Anhinga is lonely. I always see them swimming alone, their long necks and heads the only parts visible above the water. I saw an Anhinga up really close one time, swimming beneath the walkway on land. The way his feathers spread out just a little so that his wings rested lightly below the surface, holding the bird in perfect balance kind of like a sailboat. Lovely.
He's caught something

Lots of Gull-billed Terns or Sandwich Terns (very hard for me to tell them apart) flying maniacally. Up, flapflapflap, then down, flapflapflap, and up again, and swooping flapflapflap toward one another. Like it’s some kind of bird soccer game, without the ball, of course.
Immature gulls, one here and there, flying, then resting on the water again. Immature gulls seem to be more plentiful up the Potomac. The mature ones are out at the ocean. Do they tire quickly? Is that why they spend more time sitting on the water than other birds we see?

There must have been fish on the last boat.
My husband putting on a long-sleeved shirt over his knit shirt. There’s wind on the Potomac today, on our nose. A fairly common experience for us. “Wherever we want to go, that’s where the wind is coming from.” We can’t sail directly into the wind, so we’re motoring again.

Sailing beneath flight path of Reagan Natl.
The American flag flogging in the wind on our starboard side. Our third American flag since living onboard.  It has some wear left in it before the wind tatters the loose end that whips onto itself and eventually frays.  I remind myself that our flag represents something much bigger than our current Administration.

Still on the Potomac
A cockpit that is in need of cleaning. The cushions will be spread out on a dock and scrubbed within an inch of their lives. The cockpit floor with its’ nonstick is scuffed and will require elbow grease to remove a stain from spilled wine, and another from some mystery liquid. Dust bunnies and dead bugs ready to accumulate on the scuppers when a bucket of water is thrown at them.

A lovely dragonfly
I see where I made errors in constructing some sewing projects.  I should have used black, not white zippers to attach the shade panels on port and starboard, like I did when I remade the aft panel. The bridge between the dodger and bimini was not sewn taut enough to keep the following edge from whopping back and forth in the wind. After 4 ½ years, should I bother to correct that design flaw before selling the boat?

I see my own feet wearing stockings inside a pair of Croc sandals. The socks are like new. Hardly ever worn over the past years on the boat. The Crocs have held up remarkably well, but at some point, something is bound to give way.
Potomac is wide

Behind me, in the galley below, the sink is full of dishes.  My husband fried eggs and made us toast on top of the burner this morning.  Good coffee, too. Made in an AeroPress©. It would hold its’ own in competition with Starbucks. Some folks might think that I would want to get those dishes washed up first thing after breakfast. I am, however, not one of those people, but they will get done…soon… probably. Sometimes writing comes before other more practical matters.

Lighthouse in Chesapeake
The Potomac shorelines are far away. The River is wide now and getting wider. By the end of today, we will have exited out the mouth of the Potomac and rounded the point in order to head back in to shore to anchor at Solomon’s Island, Maryland.

Sunset at last anchorage
After today, there will be just one more day on the water, heading north toward Annapolis, our final destination. I hope we can have one more day to sail. Shut off the trusty diesel Yanmar and just sail Northern Star one more time. Shake out the sails and listen to the sounds of the water and the birds. And the occasional plop of a fish hopelessly leaping for freedom. Can't blame him for trying, but it's important to know where one belongs. And I'm betting that fishes' fate is to be dinner for a bigger fish.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Staying Put

With Jax, Titusville, FL 2015
I got out my thesaurus and looked up “bon voyage” today.

There are oodles of synonyms. “Farewell,” “Godspeed,” “Fair winds and following seas.” Aren’t those lovely send-offs? “Have a safe trip.” “Good sailing.” They sound so full of hope and great expectation. So…desirable. So full of fresh wind and salty sea. Ahh, yes.
But coming back to land to stay? When a sailor says, ‘well, I’ve had enough exploring by water. I’m going to plant roots on land and become terrestrial again.’ Then how will we be greeted? Will people say, “Well, my my…Happy…Staying Put.” How does one make that sound like an appealing and wonderful thing to do, to stay put?

New York City
The thesaurus, apparently, harbors bad feelings toward sailors returning to live on dry land. Here are some of the antonyms that I found for bon voyage.  “Stay in place. Stand still. Immobility. Indolence. Stagnation. (gasp) Torpidity. Motionlessness. Idleness. Dormancy. Laziness. Blockage (seriously?) Diminishment. Failure. Worsening.” Jeez. I feel despondent already. I particularly worry about the “Stagnation” and the “Blockage.” Both conjure up images of getting stuck in stinky muck. They all make me nervous to think about the future. A little scared about what to expect next.

Maine, 2016
I remember quite well my anxiety 5 years ago, about moving from land onto the water. We’d sold the house and gotten rid of so much stuff. Lots of stuff! We retired early and I wondered ‘what do I do if I don’t like life on the water?’ There’s nothing to go back to. No home on land. I worried about leaving a life that I was perfectly content with for something quite different. Afraid I would miss the familiarity of a house and driving a car. Worried that my husband and I would find it intolerable to be alone with each other 24/7. Husbands and wives just do not spend all their time together…at least none of the couples that I knew on land did that. Surely it would be a recipe for disaster.

And then we were met with the anxiety of our families. “You know you’re going to die out there on the water, don’t you?” “What if you get caught in a storm?” “But you’re going to stay in a hotel when you get there, right?”

But it turned out that our boat has become our home. When we’ve been gone for a few days, it feels so welcoming to return to our home. It IS home. Our home. It’s not very big and we don’t have room for much of anything that’s not essential, but it’s comfy and I’ve never had any anxiety about being out on the ocean. I feel as safe in this home of ours as I do riding in a car. And much more relaxed.

The boat takes care of us. At anchor, she points into the wind, so that we get the benefit of the breezes to cool us. Sitting in the cockpit to watch the sky change colors at sunset and listen to the water and birds is a daily luxury. It’s hard to imagine not being able to do that when we move off the boat for the last time.
When I step off this boat for the very last time, it’ll be the end of a very good chunk of my life. The end of a way of living. A kind of life that we’ve never been able to adequately describe to anyone who has not lived a cruising life.  So, when it’s gone, there won’t be many people, at least in our near environment, that we can reminisce with about it.  Will that feel lonely?

I know who I am when I live on the boat. What do I mean by that? Not sure I can explain it, but I’ll try.

I know that I am someone who tolerates a change of plans. Weather makes lots of decisions for us.

I can tolerate discomfort; it is ordinary and often quite necessary. When we hit rough water and the wind is stronger than we anticipated, we’ll be bouncing and crashing into waves abruptly and we might be heeled hard, perhaps all day and throughout a long night.
When it’s really hot and still, the only respite comes from fans. We can’t run the A/C away from a dock. If we’re moving, it’s the drone of the engine all day. Sailboat now turned trawler.

I’ve become accustomed to showering less frequently than I did while living on land. Fresh water is something that takes time and energy to make, and anyway, when my spouse and I are equally sweaty and ripe, it doesn’t matter as much.

Marsh Harbor, Abacos 2017
Destroyed by Hurricane 2019
Things stop working sometimes and need to be fixed on the water. That happens on land too, but less often, I believe. They’re mostly small things, but sometimes major issues, too. We discover that the way we are doing something, is causing a different problem for us. The way I’ve been attaching a line is showing hard wear in one spot.  I replace it or make a cover to protect the vulnerable spot.
Oriental, NC 2017

There are places on the boat that need special attention, frequently. I find mildew developing on the ceiling in the head. Need more vinegar and bleach. The isinglass windows in the canvas dodger become smudgy and thick with salt accumulation. I forget to lock a drawer before we’re underway and a knife takes a nose-dive into our nice new teak and juniper sole. We aim for a mooring ball to attach up at our bow and find, not surprisingly, that the rope pendant is slimy and gross.  It’s not uncommon to find my hands in something that is unpleasant. Keeping a manicure has never been in the cards on the water.
I admit there are things on the boat, that I have never liked doing. Putting the fitted sheet on the Pullman bed is one. This usually takes place when I’m tired; crawling over the bed to reach the far two corners, bracing the top of my head against the wall in order to leverage the strength to lift up the mattress while stuffing the sheet underneath, all without wrenching my back.

Maybe my least favorite thing is this scenario. We desperately need some part or tool or some THING that we know is on the boat somewhere. Where is that thing? I remember seeing it. When? Not sure. Was it under the aft bed? Maybe. Was it under the Pullman bed? Did we shove it up into the anchor locker at the bow...because we thought we’d never need it? 
Annapolis 2019

So we tear apart the entire boat. Methodically of course. First one area. Put it back together. On to the next mess. Not there. Groan. The above routine has been repeated several times since we moved aboard 4 ½ years ago. At all times of the day or night. One memorable occasion was at 4:00 AM when we smelled smoke.

So, okay, those are two things I will not miss when we live terrestrially. We’ll still have to remember where we put things, but maybe won’t have to tear everything apart to lay our hands on it. Maybe?

Tangier Island, Chesapeake Bay 2019
When I live on the water, I understand the rules. Rules of the waterways. Rules about safety. Rules about using the VHF radio. Energy and water conservation. Rules determined by the size of our boat. We can’t go there…too shallow. We can’t anchor there…no protection, strong current. We can’t stockpile too much food…not enough room.  It may not work to do laundry and to walk to get groceries all in one day, if the two locations are far apart and both require a long walk back to the boat with our loads. These are practical “rules” that come with boat life.

Hopetown, Abacos 2017
Destroyed by Hurricane 2019
But there are so many wonderful “rules,” norms and mores.  When we see a boat on the horizon or next to us at anchor that we know, we will radio them or dinghy over to say “hi.” We were friendly last time we met them; now we are instant friends. “How long are you gonna be here?” “Wanna come over for sundowners?” “Hey, do you need help with that job tomorrow?” “I can come over and catch your lines for you.” “I know electronics…want me to take a look at that for you?”

And when we meet someone new, “Hey, didn’t we see you at the last port?” “Where are you guys from?” “How long you been living on your boat?” “Where are you going next?”

"Stay 500 yds from submarine"
I know my role in this life. I know what’s important. Taking care of each other. Eating healthy. Meeting people we enjoy. Helping others. Watching the weather. Seeing the sunrise and the sunsets. Relishing in the beauty around us whether in the islands or on the East coast.

Philadelphia, 2019
I’ve never been a retired person living on land. Somehow I feel uneasy about that. Living in one place. Every day, going back to the same place.  Our view at sunset, the same every day. The building we live in will not turn to face into the wind in order to catch every breeze. We will become dependent upon air conditioning. We will live indoors, primarily, rather than in and outdoors in the sun and breeze. Will we have anything in common with the neighbors? Will we be invited over for sundowners?

When we meet new people, and we’re asked where we’re from, or where we live, our answer will not receive the same response that we have become accustomed to. This is shallow of me, but I admit that I’ve come to like it when people respond, “Oh, you live on a sailboat…that is the coolest thing!” or some such response.  We will have to become accustomed to a different kind of conversation. It will never be like this. “We live in that building over there.” “Oh, a building! How cool is that?” See what I mean? I will miss that other conversation.
Washington D.C., 2019

So, here we are, currently in Washington D.C. On a mooring ball 200 yards away from our friends who live on their boat at Capitol Yacht Club. They became Jax’s parents until his death this last spring. We’ve met their new rescue dog, Mabel. She’s a sweetie.  Maybe someday we can adopt a rescue dog again when we live on dry land.

Tomorrow we will begin the sail back down the Potomac and up to Annapolis, a four-day journey in all, on our slow home. It will be our last sail. 

New Orleans, 2019
We will spend the next month getting the boat ready to sell in the same place where we bought her 5 ½ years ago.  Then Northern Star will come out of the water and sit on the hard, looking shiny and promising, waiting for new owners. People excited to sail her. Maybe she will get to Colombia yet. Maybe she’ll go through the Panama Canal. Maybe she’ll circumnavigate. I hope the new people take good care of her. She deserves it.
Returning from Caribbean, 2019