Everything takes longer than it does.

Hi everyone. We write you today from a dock in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. We had hoped to be back in the Bahamas by now, but God just chuckled at our plans. Here’s an update on the last couple of weeks.

Our sail back home to the US was uneventful, blessedly so. We did catch another fish – a tuna this time. Andy is great fun to watch when the reel begins to spin – he gets both excited and uber-focused! The tuna was just large enough for us to get a couple of meals out of him – we cooked it for lunch, while still underway. I decided that I will not cook that way again – too much motion on the boat, even though the sea was relatively calm. Lots of sailors pre-cook their meals when preparing for a long passage, and now I know why.

We arrived back in Ft. Lauderdale in the early afternoon and headed for our marina. There we had another “adventure.” We radioed the marina and followed their directions to our slip… only to discover that the slip they’d assigned us (right beside a big cement dock) was a few feet too narrow for our boat to fit. And another boat had followed us into the docking area, so there was no room to back out. It was a struggle to keep the boat out of harm’s way, but thankfully the other boat caught on to our situation, pulled out, and gave us room to back away from the dock. The dock master sent us to the other side of the marina, where there was plenty of room to maneuver and a spacious berth for Gratitude. But we were both sweating buckets until we got the lines tied.

This incident gave me a couple of insights. One, I’ve decided I’m going to be a lot more assertive from now on, when making marina reservations. I’m going to make sure, on the front end and right before pulling in, that the folks know all the dimensions of our vessel, and ask them for the biggest slip they will give us. I’m not making assumptions that everyone else knows what our boat needs.

The second decision may not be fully in my control, but to the extent that I am able, I am going to stop worrying so much about whether we hit something. If we do, we do. Right now the fear I feel is disproportionate to the risks we are taking. We’re taking it slow and not making big crazy moves. If we damage our boat, we’ll fix her. If we damage someone else’s property, we’ll make it right. As long as no one gets hurt – and in all our scary situations so far, the closest we’ve come was Andy falling into about 10 feet of water in a bay – we are okay. This incident showed me that I’ve been afraid – too afraid – of looking foolish. I know from experience that that is a fear that is based on a lie. So that’s where the battle is, for me and this boat – to remember the truth that learning always involves making mistakes. And we’re allowed our share. It will be okay.

Once Gratitude was docked, we set to work getting her cleaned up, because we would welcome friends aboard just a few hours later. Dan and Tracy flew down from Atlanta to spend a weekend with us, and we had such a good laid-back time. We ate at Coconut’s (twice), lounged around the boat, shopped at West Marine (Dan was like a kid at Christmas!) and generally soaked up precious time with friends. It did both our hearts good.

Dan and Tracy left on Sunday, and the next Thursday I flew home for a short visit. Andy stayed with the boat, to oversee the repairs. I saw all my kids, some dear friends, and my Mom and sister. Worked out (of course!) and went to church. And saw Fleetwood Mac in concert. I would have loved more time and more visits with friends, but I also missed Andy and our boat. Which helped me recognize (not for the first time) that we’d made the right decision, buying Gratitude. She already feels like our new home.

I flew back to Ft. Lauderdale with our son Kyle and Andy’s dad Theron. They are with us now, and we had hoped to sail with them back to Nassau and give them a taste of the Bahamas. However, our repair work has hit various delays, and we learned yesterday that someone made a mistake in fulfilling an order for parts, so now we have to wait again for the right ones to be shipped. Which means that we will not be leaving Ft. Lauderdale by this weekend. It’s disappointing – but on par with what everyone has told us about boat ownership. To quote one of my dearly departed and much beloved college professors, Dr. Brewer: “Everything takes longer than it does.”

Overnight to Bimini

We had the notion to make the 95-mile trip from Chub Cay to Bimini on Wednesday, but we knew we would need every minute of daylight and then some. We tried to tried to weigh (raise) anchor well before sunrise so that we could arrive at our destination and make a docking or anchoring decision during daylight, but the winds were very strong, and we ended up scrubbing the entire idea and going back to bed. We decided it was easier to weigh the anchor around 5:00 pm and travel Wednesday night. We made good time, taking shifts at the helm, and arrived at Bimini as dawn was breaking Thursday morning. We dropped our anchor in Honeymoon Harbor, which is a beautiful and uncrowded anchorage, and we immediately had a visitor come swim to greet us!

A sea turtle – just like the one in our logo

The wind has been quite strong, and because we are close to numerous rocks, I swam our anchor (once at high tide and then again at low tide). Our Rocna anchor had dug in to the sea bed perfectly and had not budged an inch. I will sleep better tonight knowing that.

We are headed back to Fort Lauderdale to have one of the ship’s antennas relocated, which is a definite kink in our plans. About that… the one significant modification we made to Gratitude was installing more solar panels. A. Lot. More. Solar. That just fit the vibe we were going for. We have a water maker which desalinates sea water and makes fresh water, and having a lot of solar capacity seemed like we were closer to being off the grid and self-sufficient.

The trouble is, we were not in Florida when they did the work, and the contractor relocated the large KVH TracPhone satellite antenna directly into the path of the sheets (ropes) that adjust the main sail. These sheets come under a jaw-dropping load at times, and if they get accidentally wrapped around that antenna, it will happily deposit the whole system into the ocean in about a quarter-second, and that would be a very costly mistake.

The Antenna Problem

After a short time of sailing on our own, Karen and I decided that disaster was only a matter of time, and we scheduled an appointment to return and have the antenna moved. Right now, we are about ¾ of the way back to Florida from where we started, with only the notorious Gulf Stream left to cross tomorrow morning, and forecast conditions appear favorable for that.

One more note – I caught my first (edible) fish!

First mahi-mahi caught aboard Gratitude. I didn’t have time to get properly dressed.

Just before we set sail, my friend, Dan, gave me three beautiful salt water fishing rods and reels as a bon voyage gift (and an epic one at that), and he and I went shopping to stock up on the necessary tackle and lures. I rigged everything the best I could (I’m not going to be nominated for any knot-tying awards just yet), and after having my confidence shaken by pulling up three consecutive barracuda (non-edible monsters with ridiculously long, sharp teeth), I caught a beautiful mahi-mahi. It was a thrill! I cleaned it on the back of the boat, and Karen marinaded it in salt, mirin, and sherry (we didn’t have sake), and we grilled it for dinner that night. We enjoyed four large, delicious servings.

Same mahi-mahi. The best tasting fish is the one you catch. Right?

One fisherman commenting about trolling a lure through the Gulf Stream in the days and nights surrounding a full moon wrote “the fun is, you never know what you might bring up.” That’s the conditions we are headed for tomorrow morning when we sail to Fort Lauderdale. I’ll have my lines out. I’m hooked!

Nassau to Spanish Wells

Well last week we finally left Nassau. It’s been an eventful two weeks so I thought we might fill you in.

Nassau was not our favorite locale. It is a great place to grocery shop and eat out; but it is also crowded, touristy, and very expensive. One thing that frustrated us a little there was that there are not really any good anchorages. We found a couple that provided adequate shelter, but not much to do once you arrived. Perhaps you could take your dinghy to shore, but then it would be a $20 cab fare each way to the grocery store. To get close to things like Starbucks or restaurants or provisioning, you had to stay at a marina- with its daily fee and extra $$ for electricity and water.

After a few days of trying to find a good anchoring spot, we gave up and headed to a marina in anticipation of our son Clint’s visit. He and his girlfriend Sierra arrived in Nassau February 7, after their cruise celebrating her birthday. This was our first visit from home! We decided we would do some sailing and anchoring at an island off the coast near Nassau, then return to the Atlantis resort marina for the final part of their stay. This allowed them to manage their luggage and cab rides with ease. It also gave us all some variety throughout their visit. Atlantis, while expensive, was still a good value compared to renting a room there. The price of the marina stay included access to the pools, restaurants, and water park. We had a very enjoyable Sunday there cruising the water slides and trying out a few of the restaurants. I don’t know that I’d rush back there, but it was fun to try once. I will say that the marina was top-notch. Docking was relatively easy, and the ambiance around the place was upscale. Definitely a step up from your average marina.

I must confess that I was a bit blue when Clint and Sierra left us. It was a wonderful visit, and it made me not homesick, but perhaps family-sick. I did really soak up the time with people who know us and love us. It made me look forward to the next visit with family.

The next morning we cast off the lines and motor-sailed all day to Eleuthera. It was a little bumpy; we were sailing into the wind and the seas, which is not comfortable as compared to sailing with the waves coming from behind you. But we really, really wanted to get somewhere other than Nassau. And we were glad we did! It took us about 6 hours to reach an anchorage at Royal Island, an uninhabited island on the northern end of Eleuthera. The next morning we did some laundry, worked out, cleaned up, and motored one more hour to Spanish Wells, where we picked up a mooring ball right near the town.

For our non-boating friends, a mooring ball is like an anchor that you sail up to rather than bring with you. It’s usually a heavy object (stone or concrete) with a buoy and a line attached. The line has a loop at the end, and you attach to lines from the bow (very front) of your boat through the loop and back to your boat. It is usually very secure. It is also, we discovered, difficult to pick up with just two people.  We got a line attached to one side of Gratitude but were having trouble getting a line in from the other side. (We decided we need some longer dock lines for occasions such as this, to make it easier.) Fortunately, a guy in the boat moored next to us got in his dinghy and paddled over. He ran the second line through the loop for us. Turned out he was a fellow Mariettan! His name was Thad, and he lived in Marietta for about 11 years. We dinghied over later that day with some beer and our profuse thanks and had a nice visit with him.

Our time in Spanish Wells was very laid-back. We checked out the local restaurants and rented a golf cart for a few hours to explore the town. It is the opposite of Nassau – a working town, no glitz and not touristy, except for some rental properties for a few families who vacation here every year. No resorts, just a quiet secluded beach. Great seafood, because their primary industry is fishing. Two supermarkets, but not like Publix back home – more expensive, less selection, but you can find almost everything you really need.

You may have seen on Facebook that we took one day away from the boat and visited Harbor Island. To get there, you go to Pinder’s Supermarket the day before and tell them you need a taxi to the ferry dock. They’ll tell you what time to be back there the next morning. The water taxi takes you across the channel to North Eleuthera. The captain ties up his boat, gets off, and disappears for a few minutes – he’s gone to get the passenger van. You transfer yourself into the van, which takes you to the public ferry dock on the other side of North Eleuthera. The captain tells you what time he’ll be back at that public ferry dock, and that if you are even one minute late he will be OUTTA THERE. (He’s quite emphatic about this.) Then you get on the government ferry boat (one is always leaving or arriving within about 10 minutes of each other) and you ride over to Harbor Town.

Our captain (a very crusty elderly gentleman with some interesting stories) told us that Harbor Island was Sin City and that he guaranteed we would not want to stay long. What does it say about us that we absolutely LOVED it? Ha! It is clean, full of friendly people, and has the Pink Sand Beach, at which I could happily have stayed for a week. You rent a golf cart right across from the dock. You drive that cart about three long blocks to the public beach access. At the end of the access road is a fabulous (albeit crazy-expensive) restaurant and a little shack that rents chairs, umbrellas, towels, snorkel gear, paddle boards – anything you might need for a beach day. And bottled water. And Cheetos.

We plopped ourselves down on two chairs and beached, all day. It was heavenly. The only thing I neglected to do was take a picture of the pink sand. Truth be told, the pink is very faint. It is mostly white, with a pinkish tinge, from coral they say. But it is glorious, because it was the softest sand I have ever walked on. Not hot at all – cool and smooth beneath your feet. If I’d had a little more time, I’d have rented snorkel gear too and swum out to the reef to see if I could find some fish. That’s okay, though – I have already decided I will find a way to come back here.

The only bad thing that happened to us this day was having to leave to go back and meet Captain Crusty at the ferry dock. Oh, and our dinghy had some water in it when we got back. We don’t know why – it wasn’t alarming, but it’s yet another problem to solve. So we counted this as a very successful day.

Today we spent the day cooking and cleaning. We are going to start tomorrow sailing back toward Ft. Lauderdale. We knew when we left that we would need to go back in a few weeks to get some issues resolved with our newly-installed solar panels. And our time away has revealed a few other things (like that busted eye on the dinghy that sent Andy crashing into the sea!) that need repair. So tomorrow we will leave Spanish Wells for a series of day sails – back to New Providence (anchoring away from Nassau), then to Chub Cay in the Berry Islands, then a long sail to Bimini, where we will be only 50 miles from Florida. We hope to be back in Ft. Lauderdale on Friday.

After our return, the plans are to host some friends on the boat for the weekend, then for me to get a quick visit home. I’ll return to Gratitude with our son Kyle and Andy’s dad (“Papa”). They’ll be with us for a week, and I can’t wait! I’m also excited about touching base at home, seeing my family, and of course working out with my Crossfit III squad. Andy will supervise our boat work and see if we can get ready for a return to the Bahamas, Part II. But of course, we hold these plan loosely. We’re learning.

Dinghy Drama (A Joint Post)

Andy: Karen and I have both been surprised as to the way we have had to problem solve together. For example, the other evening after shore excursion and a nice dinner out, we lowered the dinghy into the water and inadvertently spooled the line all of the way off of the winch. No big deal, right?

Wrong! The dinghy is rigged to a heavy-duty rack called the davits, and this is connected with a system of pulleys and cables that all came undone when the line spooled off. Now we had a dinghy in the water that was far too heavy for us to lift by hand (I estimate at least 600lbs with the engine, but it could be much more), and the davits more or less collapsed on top of it. To add to the fun, waves were pounding the boat, causing the davits to bang violently against the dinghy steering wheel and console. Due to the collapse, the carbon fiber line that attached everything would no longer reach the winch.

We were up against the proverbial wall and had to problem-solve, and we had to do so quickly. We cut a piece of spare nylon line we had bought a few days earlier for emergencies and tied a sheet bend knot to the carbon fiber line to create an extension. We rigged up the davits again through the eyes and pulleys, and we were finally able to use the winch to hoist the dinghy up out of the water.

Karen: I want to interject that the time it took for all of this to occur was probably about 45 minutes to an hour, up to this point. We were tired, wet from riding the dinghy back to the boat, and eager to get inside and dried off. And, it was getting dark. Instead, we kept fighting the dinghy, the davits, the waves, and then the cables. Then running from locker to locker searching for the right tools and gear and lights to rig a solution. If all this sounds like chaos, trust me – it was!

Andy: Things were looking much better until everything just stopped. The winch breaker had blown. I figured that too much water had splashed into the dinghy, making everything too heavy. After all, water weighs 8lbs/gallon, so I leaned in to remove the dinghy’s drain plug to let the water drain in order to ease the load on the winch. Hilarity ensued when one of the steel connection points attaching the dinghy to the davits snapped clean, and the entire system fell suddenly into the sea – with me tumbling right in with it.

At this point, it was dark, some of our possessions were floating away with the current, and things had basically gone from really bad to worse. (Note: when I hit the water, my first thought was that I was so glad Karen was on deck, and I knew everything would be okay).

Karen: Ok, my first thoughts are a little too salty to repeat here, but they basically ran along the lines of “Are you ok? Are you ok? Let’s get you back onto this boat NOW.” And then I saw one of Andy’s shoes floating away, and thought, well, we’re kissing that pair of shoes goodbye. We gotta get Andy back on this boat!

Andy: I swam back to the boat (after chasing down that shoe), Karen helped me back onboard, and we regrouped. This development was not good, but we did keep our heads and were able to focus on the problem. Before long, we had the dinghy out of the water again and more or less held in place with a system of our own ropes and straps. Which meant we could finally go to bed.

The next morning, we reassessed the situation. Using spare rope, we made new lines and connections to create a greatly improved support system for the dinghy. It had occurred to both of us, overnight, that the last people to work on the boat had rigged the dinghy to the davits incorrectly. They were set too low for us to get the dinghy down to the water, and that was the root cause of our difficulty.

It became evident in the whole process that Karen apparently paid more attention in knot school than I did (we received quite a bit of formal training in sailors’ knots), and she was a rock star at making lines fast and tying knots that would not give or loosen under load. This saved the day!

Karen: Don’t let Andy fool you. He stayed way ahead of me in evaluating and assessing the situation each time it got worse. It was his idea to tie a leader-line onto the cable so that it would reach the winch, and I think THAT is what saved the day. But of course I’ll take his compliment on my knot-tying, all day long.

Andy: Several times in my life I have gone through team-building exercises where I solved problems together with my teammates, but being on a boat has dialed that up to 11 for us. We have had a couple of situations now where we had no choice but to keep our heads and work together. It took both of us to rig our dinghy safely. We are a team.

Karen: My lessons learned: Everything is harder, more complicated, and more time-consuming on a boat. Everything. My hope and belief are that we are on a learning curve, and that maybe things will get easier and quicker and more intuitive over time… and yet I can see that boat life is already very, very different than land life. As we say at CrossFit III: “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.”

Sails Up!

We had our first successful sail on Saturday (we sailed on Friday, but I would not describe that as a particularly stellar success – more on that another time).

Saturday, we climbed back on the horse (or the Leopard in this case), motored out to sea, and unfurled the jib. The jib is a smaller, but by no means “small”, foresail at the bow of the boat. We trimmed (adjusted) it, and the boat seemed so happy. You can feel when the sails are right, because the boat rides and performs just the way you want her to. Once the jib was fully out, we shut the engines off. That is when things truly felt amazing. She was making 7+ knots (about 8mph) on 13 knots of wind. The solar cells were generating over a kilowatt of electricity, charging the batteries. Everything was quiet, controlled, efficient, and… just perfect. We sailed around the ocean for hours, tacking into the wind to adjust our course.

We also spent our sail time desalinating about 80 gallons of water, doing laundry, cooking, and cleaning the boat inside and out (or as cruisers put it, “keeping things yachty”). It was a fantastic day.

That night, we dropped anchor in a cove on the quiet side of the island where we would be sheltered from the wind, but I didn’t like the way the anchor addressed the seabed. I ended up “diving the anchor” to have a look at it, and I was still not comfortable with it. We tried three times to get it to dig in and set properly, but it simply was not having it with this floor. Consequently, I was up most of the night, checking to ensure we weren’t dragging. The one consolation was that the stars were brilliant. My worries turned out to be unfounded; by morning, we had not budged an inch. I think a lot of new boat owners have similar experiences.

Very limited internet has requiring a bit more adjustment than I expected. That said, I think it’s a good thing that I don’t have it 24/7.

Building Our Skills

Where to begin? It was only 10 days ago that we left our home in Atlanta and arrived to Ft. Lauderdale to move onto our boat. Honestly, it feels like 2 months. So much has happened, and we have been in constant motion, with very little time to reflect on our experiences. For this reason I’m grateful for this blog. It’s primarily a way to keep everyone we love up-to-date and reassured that we are safe. But of course there’s value in sitting down and remembering where we’ve been, what we’ve done, what we’ve learned.

(Side note – I tried to upload some photos to this post – but I had some difficulty. So if you’re on Facebook, you can see a video and some photos on my profile page. I’ll get the hang of photos on the blog, eventually. )

Our time with Captain Richard was a whirlwind. From the moment he arrived, there was a continuous stream of knowledge flowing from him to us: how to run the water maker, the gas stove, the shore power hookup, the generator, the air conditioner, and (believe it or not!) the heat! (I know, I know, you were much colder – but there are no heavy blankets on this boat, and I wanted to sleep rather than shiver all night long.) And then, as I wrote in the last post, we puttered around the Florida coast a few days, preparing to cross the ocean to the Bahamas.

What’s it like to drive a boat across the ocean? During the day it’s like regular sailing. The seas were calm, winds were about 10 knots (that means 10 nautical miles per hour), and we used both our mainsail and our foresail, which is called the jib. We kept raising, lowering, and trimming the sails as needed to accommodate changes in the wind. This part was pretty straightforward and gave us an excellent chance to practice what we already knew. It was after dark when things really got interesting.

Sailing at night (which wasn’t technically sailing, as we used only our engines) is like traveling at about 8 miles per hour down a giant interstate, in pitch-darkness, with no headlights. There is only starlight to guide you until the moon rises, and our moon was a slivered crescent that did not appear until about 2:30 a.m. During the day Captain Richard showed us how to find other ships on our radar. With the system we have, we can click on another vessel’s icon and see its name, size, speed, and – most importantly – the Closest Point of Approach (CPA) to our ship. And the TCPA – the Time to that Closest Point of Approach. So, for example, we can see when another ship is going to be a mile away in 28 minutes. Or .4 miles in 10 minutes, when we probably want to alter course a bit to put more distance between usand the other boat.

Doing this in daylight is a pleasant exercise. At night – well, it’s nerve-racking! Especially doing it for the first time. We took watches – meaning we all took turns sitting at the helm throughout the night, a couple of hours each watch. What this feels like is…

Every 3 hours or so you’re being roused from sleep to go take a solitary post. You sit there trusting the radar is working as it should, and that the other boats are using their radar too. You can’t immerse yourself in anything else, like reading; you have to stay alert and keep checking the screen for other ships traveling much faster than you are. And if you see a CPA and TCPA that is too close for comfort, you need to figure out whether you are supposed to get out of his way, or he’s supposed to get out of yours. There are rules about who gives way – but generally if that other boat is a great big freighter or cruise ship, you’ll be the one to move. With smaller ships, it can be dangerous to change course when the other boat is the one that’s supposed to give way. So you have to remember and follow the rules.

Can you see now why sailors are superstitious? I can only imagine how worrisome it was in the days before radar and GPS.

We arrived in Nassau an hour ahead of when we’d thought – top score! It is gorgeous here – clear turquoise water and temperatures hovering around 70-72. (The climate alone makes it worth the long trip.) Once we were docked at our marina, we showered, got some lunch, then said our goodbyes to Captain Richard. We were so incredibly blessed to have his expertise guiding us. And we were like sponges, soaking up everything he had to teach us. It was cool, because he let us get inside his head – showed us how he thinks about things, from boat maintenance to handling the lines and sails to navigating to choosing a spot to anchor. And now we are eager – and yes, a little nervous, but I think that’s healthy! – to put our knowledge to the test, on our own.

We’ll be heading out of Nassau this morning to go to Eleuthera. It’s a day’s sail away. We don’t have to do any more long or overnight passages for quite a while now… which gives us time to practice, gain more experience handling this boat, and build our confidence and our knowledge of these islands.

I spent some time praying early this morning, and the Lord reminded me that I am always dependent on Him… whether I am doing things I’ve been doing for years (like driving a car or living in a house) or doing things at which I am a beginner (like living and traveling on a sailboat). It struck me that being a beginner, at the sailing/cruising life, is an excellent way to get back into a daily – no, moment-by-moment – awareness of God’s presence and love for me.

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.

How We Found Gratitude

S.V. Gratitude is new to us… but not new to cruising.  She’s a 2015 Leopard 48 catamaran that has sailed around the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico, and the western coast of the United States. (Photos to follow, as soon as we have a really good one!) Moreover, she’s a YouTube star! More on that momentarily… Here’s how she came into our lives.

After Andy and I finished getting ASA certified for bareboating catamarans, it didn’t take long for us to decide we wanted a boat of our own. The more we discussed it, the more convinced we became that we wanted to spend an extended period of time traveling by sail – months at a time, not days. We knew that our window to travel this way would not stay open forever; eventually work, or our kids, or our parents would need us closer to home. So we decided to look for a used boat in great condition that we could sail for a year or two, then sell when we had accomplished our goals and it was time to come home.

Our first step, besides Internet research, was a trip to the Annapolis Sailboat Show. There we toured catamarans of all makes and sizes: big manufacturers like Leopards, Lagoons, and Fountaine-Pajots, as well as smaller, custom boats by Balance, Maverick, Antares, and a really incredible Xquisite (that left us drooling). We came to the conclusion, after standing at the helm of boat after boat, that we wanted something under 50 feet. Anything larger just felt too big for a boat for just the two of us. Something around 45 feet, give or take a few, would provide plenty of interior space without requiring a back-up camera to help us dock it or extra crew to help us sail it.

We also discovered, at Annapolis, that we were entering the boat market at a very interesting time: In late 2017 Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated a large portion of the Caribbean. Many boats were destroyed outright, and even more were damaged to the point of needing extensive repair. Charter companies in the Caribbean gobbled up every available newish-but-used boat for sale, and claimed every available spot in the new-boat production line for 2019, to replenish their diminished fleets. Anyone else wanting a new boat at the end of 2018 would be waiting a minimum of 2 years for it.

Boat shopping, therefore, was a tricky and somewhat discouraging process. We hired a broker to help us, but we missed out on a couple of promising boats because they were snapped up before we could make an offer. We finally decided, rather reluctantly, on a sparsely-equipped 2014 Leopard 48. Neither of us loved the idea of having to take the first few weeks of 2019 to outfit her, but it was the only way forward that we could see.

A few words about how boat-buying is done: Most people make an offer sight-unseen, based on the broker’s listing. The offer is always contingent on a thorough inspection, called a survey, in which a trained professional goes over the boat with a fine-tooth comb, testing engines, systems, and hull integrity. The day of the survey is often the first day you see your potential boat in person. Then, when the boat’s issues are evident, you can accept her as is, reject her for any reason, or re-negotiate your offer.

We scheduled our survey for the Monday after Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, we started planning for all the refurbishment and upgrading we knew we would want to do to this boat. That’s how I first got to know Randy Smith. His YouTube sailing channel, hHappy Together, chronicles his adventures with his wife Lennie aboard their Leopard 48 catamaran. Randy and Lennie had outfitted their cat with every feature we could possibly want in a sailboat. So I emailed them and asked their advice about how to go about upgrading ours, assuming our offer resulted in a purchase.

Randy wrote us back immediately, generously sharing advice and even spreadsheets detailing every upgrade he had made to Happy Together, including who did the work and how much it cost him. Moreover, he added our email address to his mailing list – which is how, a week before Thanksgiving, we happened to receive another email from him, announcing that Happy Together was for sale.

When I first read his email, my heart leaped with hope! That may sound overdramatic – but it’s the truth. We weren’t in love with the boat we were scheduled to survey – and here was Happy Together, a boat we had watched Randy sail, and upgrade, and maintain to perfection, about to go on the market.  She had everything on our wish list, and then some.

Having learned from previous mistakes, we acted quickly. We wrote Randy back that same night and expressed our interest as well as our time-constraints, with the date of our survey approaching. Randy and Lennie once again showed their generous spirits and went out of their way to help us find an immediate date to visit Happy Together in person.

That’s how we found ourselves in Ft. Lauderdale, two days before Thanksgiving, getting a personal tour of Happy Together. Honestly, we were blown away – not only by the boat, but also by Randy and Lennie as people. They were just as warm, friendly, smart, and helpful a couple as we’d seen on YouTube. We toured the boat in the morning, went to lunch together, and after lunch sat down with the paperwork to make Happy Together our own.

The rest was, in many ways, very easy. There are a million to-dos in buying a boat – but Randy gave us advice, contact information, and guidance that smoothed the process. And that made the renaming of Happy Together a slam-dunk. We’d been trying on different boat names ever since taking our certification classes. Once we knew Happy Together might be ours, though, the name Gratitude stood out as the clear winner. We had so much in our lives for which we were grateful – and now we could include a beautiful, well-equipped catamaran, as well as new friends in Randy and Lennie Smith.