Elvis Has Left The Marina!

This week has been one big lesson in revising our plans. We flew to Ft. Lauderdale on Monday morning and hit the ground running – moving boxes and bins from our storage locker onto the boat, making runs to Target and Home Goods and Publix to start provisioning, and coordinating boat work with various contractors. Wonderful Randy left our boat in excellent condition, but we had some additional solar panels installed after closing and there were some unforeseen adjustments needed. We also needed to have the old name and graphics removed so our new name could be installed. I must say, I LOVE how it turned out. This boat really feels like ours, now.

After two very full days of this kind of work, our skipper arrived. Captain Richard is the very definition of an “old salt.” Very warm and friendly, and incredibly knowledgeable about cats in general but also Gratitude in particular – he has sailed this boat from Panama to San Francisco, and again from Panama to Key West, so he knows it inside out. So when he arrived, he started testing every system. This resulted in many trips to West Marine (the Home Depot for boats). If you have ever moved into a new home and had to make a gazillion runs back and forth for tools and supplies and spare parts, you’ll have some idea of how these days have been.

Andy and Captain Richard motoring out of the harbor

But we are now underway! We left our slip at the marina on Friday, instead of Wednesday, but it felt great to get going. We stopped for diesel, and I confess I was nervous as a new mom watching Captain Richard steer the boat toward the fuel dock. (Imagine me covering my eyes with one hand, peeking out from between my fingers, mentally screaming “Don’t hit it!” But, y’know, looking cool at the same time.) He, of course, could not have been more competent. So we filled both tanks, and motored along for about an hour or so, till we reached Lake Sylvia and dropped our anchor.

The sun was setting, so we didn’t go far!

The weather has been crazy for this time of year. It is in the 60s in south Florida, and the wind forecast for the next few days indicates that we won’t even THINK about heading offshore until Tuesday. “It’s blowing stink” is how Captain Richard puts it. The current plan is to motor along the Florida coast for a few days, and pull into a marina for Sunday night when it’s supposed to storm. We’ll keep checking the forecast. (We’re learning to read wind maps!) If conditions continue as predicted, we’ll get up very early on Tuesday morning and point the boat east.

I’ll try to update Facebook to let y’all know for sure when we are headed out for the open seas! Say a prayer for us. We’ll use good sense and take all precautions – but this will be our first big passage. Elvis is very happy to have Captain Richard here with us to show us how it’s done.

Almost Time

(By Andy)

The past several weeks have resembled a swirling slurry of activity: researching, procurement, preparation, packing, communicating, meeting, and trying to coordinate tasks that were usually intricately intertwined. Timing. Negotiating. Purchasing. Asking. Monitoring. Learning. Explaining. Managing. Occasionally arguing.

We made the decision to take a sailing sabbatical some time in September 2018, and from that point forward, I tried to do something related to the boat every day. Some days that might be as simple as filling out a form. Other days, activities would consume every waking moment until they spilled over to the next morning. Karen and I seemed to hit a good stride a few weeks in. We bring different strengths to the table, and when the Wonder-Twin powers activated, we checked things off lists at a dizzying pace. Sometimes I would go to sink my teeth into a task only to find that she had completed it. Ahhhh… that feeling when things go right!

One of the topics I became somewhat obsessed with (and not the only one, mind you) was what tools to bring on our journey. I enjoy tinkering with things, and I’m not as intimidated by repairs and maintenance as I probably should be, so this became a matter I approached with a zealot’s fervor. I raided my tool chest at home, watched hours of videos on this exact topic on YouTube (yes, they exist), read, asked friends, made lists, purchased some new items, and repurposed a few others.

All of this work culminated with our Bon Voyage party Saturday night. We took over a local watering hole, and friends, family, and coworkers came to see us off. It was an incredibly moving experience set to a backdrop of Buffet, Redding, Modest Mouse and others.

When we began planning for this back in September, we followed a path well trodden by project managers; using sticky notes and decomposing tasks into what became a multi-colored pyramid known as a work breakdown structure. It might have been overkill, but it gave us a way to organize (to say “tame” would be an exaggeration) the planning process. We took over a room upstairs in our house, filling it with boxes, books, clothing, personal effects, and provisions. It took time, but chaos gradually began to look like a little more like order.

Recently, over breakfast, a friend asked me, “What do you carry on a trip like this?” I could only blink and stammer, “A lot.” We had put hundreds of hours of thought, research, and action into that question, and that was on top of our ASA 114 training, which covers this topic in some detail.

Tomorrow we catch a flight to Gratitude and begin the task of muling all of our provisions from a brimming storage locker and what I anticipate will be several trips to Costco, Target, and Publix (plus one to Whole Foods if I get my way). I’m grateful that that this boat has a lot of storage and am simultaneously hyper-aware that storage is always at a premium on any boat. We have family coming down in the spring, and I already find myself wondering what we will beg or bribe them to bring that we forgot or cannot find in the Bahamas or Caribbean.

The countdown is almost complete. Here we come!

How To Upend Your Life So That You Can Go Sailing

This post is not going to be about how Andy and I got to the point in life where a sabbatical like this is possible. That one would pretty much require our life stories, and today is not that day. 🙂 Rather, this post is about all the practical stuff we’ve done in the last few weeks and months – the overwhelming but exciting steps toward our new boat life. 

1) Finding a boat. (See previous post about that one. It wasn’t easy.)

2) Buying the boat. This big step had a lot of smaller ones – figure out how we wanted to pay for the boat, get all the money together in one account, hire a documentation agent to file the right papers to make our ownership official with the Coast Guard, sign a bunch of papers (and send them back and forth in a flurry over several days), wire money to an escrow account, figure out last minute solutions to last-minute repair issues, and get some insurance. If all that sounds intimidating, IT WAS.  (The insurance paperwork alone gave me a lot more gray hair.)

3) Transferring a bunch of accounts over to our names. Some of this was fairly straightforward – with a few notable exceptions. For example, using our VHF radio and radar system (a basic safety must-have for all boats our size) requires that we get a license from the FCC, and a unique identifier number for our radio called an MMSI. After struggling through the maze of pages in the online-form-generator, terrified that I’d fill something out wrong and send our application into Bureaucracy Purgatory, I finally clicked on the “Continue to Payment” button only to get a message that THE FCC WON’T TAKE OUR CREDIT CARD PAYMENT BECAUSE THE GOVERNMENT IS SHUT DOWN! Really? The politicians decided to shut down a revenue-generating department? Sigh. I’m assured by those-in-the-know that it will still be okay to use our radio until they decide they are ready to take our money and give us a license.

4) Finding a captain to help us brush up on our sailing skills and learn all the systems on our boat. Wonderful Randy (the previous owner) put us in touch with a former delivery captain who has sailed our boat numerous times. His name is Richard Widmann, and he was available for our set-sail dates, so we will be meeting him in about a week. While we’re learning and practicing, we’ll also be sailing to the Bahamas, which means crossing the Gulf Stream. We are both happy that we’ll have an experienced captain/instructor on board with us to help us through this first passage.

5) Planning and purchasing equipment and provisions. While Gratitude comes with a load of techie-gear and equipment, there was still a lot we needed/wanted to obtain. Kitchen equipment, cleaning supplies, life jackets, new safety flares, diving gear – we created a bunch of Dropbox folders to help us organize all the lists we were making. And while you’d think the shopping for all this stuff would be fun – after a while it became overwhelming. Because… where to store all the stuff when the boat’s in Ft. Lauderdale and we’re in Atlanta? And how do we get the stuff we already have down to where it needs to be?

6) Renting a storage locker and arranging the transport of stuff! When I made my second trip down to the boat, during our pre-purchase survey, I found a storage facility near the marina and rented a unit. On subsequent trips, with the help of several friends, we managed to ship/shop/deliver that storage unit to mostly-full status by the time we closed on the boat purchase. And now that we’ve closed and taken over the boat’s slip rental at the marina, we can have stuff shipped directly to the marina for pickup when we arrive for good.

7) Setting up our communication channels. This was actually a bigger task than I first anticipated. I thought, “Ok, we set up a Facebook account and Instagram. How long could that take?” But Andy had a better, if more elaborate, vision. He suggested we get a logo that we could put on the boat, calling cards, and our blog. I loved the idea – but it took a lot of discussion and analysis to settle on a design we both loved. Then we had to configure that logo to work on all sorts of things: a new sail, different areas on the boat’s hull, our blog header, an ink stamp. It was cool – but a lot of work.

8) Arranging to have more solar panels installed. A big part of the appeal of sailing is the ability to live “off the grid” as much as possible. While our boat’s house batteries (the ones that power lights and air conditioning, as opposed to the engine batteries) can be charged by the engine alternators or the generator, it’s way cool to charge them cleanly, by the sun. So one of the first things we wanted to do, once Gratitude was really ours, was give her more solar panels. Randy helped us again with that, putting us in touch with his contacts at Just Catamarans (a boat outfitter in Ft. Lauderdale) so we could get on their very-full calendar and get the work done before our departure date.

9) Settling things at home to prepare for our absence. In the midst of all the boat preparation, we had a lot to do to get our home ready too. We moved our daughter into her dorm room and launched her first semester as a college freshman. We cleaned out our basement so our son could move into it and act as our caretaker – paying bills and maintaining our place so he could save his rent money for a home of his own, down the line. And we set up accounts, contacts, and channels of communication with the leadership teams at our businesses so that they could do their jobs well without us. We have outstanding, competent men and women running our businesses while we’re away. But it took some time to set things up so that they could make decisions and execute plans without our daily input.

10) Letting all our friends and family know that this was REALLY HAPPENING. This one was bittersweet. Everyone is excited for us… but they, and we, know that saying goodbye, even for a short window of time, is not easy. There were SO. MANY. QUESTIONS. Of course! And we were happy to answer them. But we knew that the questions were not always about getting informed, but also about seeking reassurance. Did we really know what we were doing? Would we truly be okay?

Was all the effort worth it? We’ll know soon. We leave for Ft. Lauderdale in less than a week.