Being grateful isn’t normally thought of as an important component of downsizing. But it is!
This is especially apt when we’re going through our 19-years-of-life-in-the-same-house stuff, preparing to move onto our small sailboat. It’s apt for the kids as they prep for college, though they’d look at me sideways if I used that criteria when talking to them about their belongings. They already think my love of personal development is a tad over the top.
My bookshelf can stand some weeding. The books on there have all, at some point in time or other, brought me joy (that, or they were a good deal, or a gift); for some of them, that joy is past. It’s time for someone else to have those. For some reason this idea isn’t daunting. I love my books. I love being surrounded by books. Yet the idea of shedding 95% of the titles that are on the shelves feels right. I can have the ones that matter most with me, and I can have room on the shelves for ones that appear along the journey.
My clothing is an entire different story. I think wholesale donation or a “buy nothing” group or consignment is in order. Do I dare just do that in one afternoon? I might be wearing the same outfits 10 days in a row. Would anyone notice other than me? The dilemma on that one is that I’m in full penny-pinching mode, trying hard NOT to spend money on non-boat things. This concept does not play nicely with my loathing of shopping consignment or thrift; I detest the hunt for a decent outfit in the mismatched displays. I am not a confident clothes shopper, and sifting through racks of things is just not something I enjoy.
Still, I’d love to put on clothing every day that brings me joy, from my undergarments to a coat. Imagine what that would do to my outlook on the world, to start the day from a place of joy. And when we’re cruising? Why not enhance it any way I can?
This concept hits me over and over again in the kitchen as I cook, one eye to the food prep and one eye to the tools I use. I’m noticing my choices, that I gravitate to the same pots and pans and bowls over and over and over again. They tend to the solid, the brightly-colored. Using them brings a smile to my face. Are they the practical choices? Of course not, not from a traditional “good boat material” standpoint. They’re ceramic, not stainless steel. Cast iron. Wood. The French press is a glass one. Most pieces have a story with them, a story of how or why they came to be in my possession. As I write this I realize that all of them require some degree of care, much like the cruising lifestyle requires some degree of care. Is this part of what brings me joy, that they need to be cared for?
I’m looking forward to carefully choosing the items that will come with us on board. The book has given me a way to sift through what we have, a question to ask to help frame the right answer. Cruising is a lifestyle that’s intended, at least the way we do it, to bring joy. Everything on board should be able to do that as well.
See you out there.
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Our dinghy was the first boat we had together, or at least we had all the parts of the dinghy as our first boat.
When we graduated from college and drove across the country to Texas from Virginia, we had hours to discuss our plans. We’d already decided we were going cruising, and the moving truck we’d rented had all of our college furniture inside it. That we had found some of that furniture on the curb where someone else was throwing it out didn’t matter one bit – we were just going to deal with it for another couple of years. Why buy new?
Part of the conversation was about the dinghy.
When you’re cruising, your dinghy is kind of like your car. Scratch the “kind of” – it IS your car, unless you’re planning on marina hopping all over. You anchor the boat somewhere, then get in the dink to get you to shore, or to a neighbor’s boat for sundowners, or to find the cool river to explore. It’s what takes you and snorkel gear to nearby reefs, and helps you maneuver in tight spots. We’ve used it to scout anchorage entrances, armed with a boat pole to check depths. (Side note – some people use awesome handheld depth sounders*. This sounds like an excellent birthday or Christmas present.)
But the question about what kind of dinghy is about as fraught with “IT DEPENDS” as the big boat question. And, like much of the cruising lifestyle, there is not one right answer.
We moved to Houston and in with Jeremy’s parents until we could find our own apartment. Jeremy’s job had wanted him to start even before graduation, which wasn’t happening, so our available time to housing-hunt was non-existent. We arrived on a Saturday, unloaded the van into the garage on Sunday, and Jeremy was off to the office on Monday. It took weeks of driving around (this was before the Internet) and calling to finally find the perfect spot, which had a spare room.
The dinghy room.
Jeremy had his heart set on building a dinghy. He’d ordered plans from WoodenBoat Magazine for a 7.5’ long dinghy and talked about the craftsmanship he’d employ. He loves working with his hands and building things, and this felt like a way to really focus the boat-owning experience if it took a long time to find the boat we wanted.
Heck with finding the boat, which was ours within 9 months. It took a long time to finish the dinghy. So long, in fact, that he put the finishing touches on it (permanently installing the bench) in Naples, Florida, about 3 months after we’d shoved off the dock from Kemah. Putting the last planks in was a matter of rushing to complete it before our apartment lease ended; it needed to be stable enough to move to another storage spot.
Dinghy #1: A wooden dinghy. These are fabulous and tough, beautiful to look at gorgeous to row. You can fit a sailing rig to it, and even a small outboard motor. They’re traditional, relatively stable, and simple. If you’re going to use it for snorkeling a lot, you will want to figure out a ladder system so you can actually get yourself out of the water, but this is a challenge even on an inflatable.
When we got to Grenada, we were a little tired of the wet, slow ride our gorgeous dinghy afforded us with its appropriately-sized 2 horse engine. We’d pulled out the sailing rig exactly twice. We hate rowing. These are good things to learn about us and how we work. Time to investigate the idea of an inflatable.
Inflatables come in a number of flavors, most of which have to do with the floor you choose. You could choose just a flexible floor (think a pool toy raft kind of floor), but I don’t recommend this option for active cruising. You’ll be carrying trash to shore, water and groceries and laundry to the boat, and schlepping people around. Choose a floor. You’ll be happier.
There are rollup floors, with slats of different materials. There are inflatable floors, or air floors. There are solid floors, called Rigid Inflatable Boats, or RIBs – which basically pair a solid floor and keel with buoyant tubes. You’re looking at a compromise of price, weight, convenience, and size.
We’d heard that Trinidad had great prices on engines, and that the place to buy a dinghy was Venezuela. Since we were loosely planning to go to both of those countries, operation buy-a-dink was set into high motion.
You’d think, with a 28’ boat, that we’d be looking at small, light, and stowable for our inflatable. A small Zodiac, maybe, or an Avon roll-up.
No. We chose the biggest dinghy, with the biggest engine, we could conceive of. I don’t know if back then there were dinghies with consoles, but in any case that felt insane even to us. We decided on a RIB, either 9 or 10 feet long, that we’d buy in Venezuela, where Caribe and AB both had dealers or manufacturers – the details are a bit fuzzy. And for either of those dinks, a 15 horse motor is absolutely the right size.
Why a RIB? Jeremy had horror stories about Avons that didn’t hold air, and a Zodiac that was a nightmare to pump up every time they wanted to use it. We wanted a dinghy that was ready to go always, no pumping required. And the wet rides in Soca, the wooden boat, made us long for a planning hull. A RIB it was.
We bought the motor in Trinidad a good 6 weeks before we headed across to Venezuela, building a custom bracket for it to sit when we were on passage.
The engine for the boat? A 10 horse, single-cylinder, hand-crank Sabb. The dinghy, weighing just about 100 pounds, would have more power than our 14,000 pound boat. Ah the irony.
And when we got to Venezuela, sniffing out chandleries in Isla Margarita where other cruisers had told us they’d bought their dinks, it didn’t take long or much justification to go with an AB (we liked the interior volume and the bow locker) that maxed out our size range. We’d have kids eventually, we reasoned. Go big or go home. What’s an extra foot? The cost difference was negligible, the weight difference also tiny. Toby, the beagle, would love the space.
We looked very funny for the next year or so as we towed around 2 dinghies. Coming up the ICW to the Chesapeake Bay, a trip that’s marked with more motoring than sailing, we got in the habit of hauling the dinghies out on either side, looking for all the world like a weird trimaran. We got used to the cracks about the dinghy being larger than the boat.
There were issues. Stowing the big dinghy, which we call Chutney, is a pain. It fits on the foredeck barely, rendering the windlass and the staysail unusable, so last minute lashing happens after the anchor is up, and coming into an anchorage means dealing with the dink until we can get it all done. And not having the staysail, for a boat designed to sail her best with the use of one, is just not sustainable.
So now, 25 years after we first bought the boat, 22 years after we brought our first dinghy on board, we are back in the conversation about what dinghy to have. Our plans include crossing oceans. We need to access the windlass. The staysail is an important part of our sailing world. As much as we LOVE Chutney, the bigger-than-life RIB we bought in Venezuela, a country that currently sits on our personal “off limits” list? It’s too big.
So we’re measuring. Thinking. Asking lots of questions at boat shows.
Here's the thing with dinghies, and it's like a lot of other boat conversations. 1) There's not one perfect answer for anyone. We started out wanting a wooden one, to show off skills and have it fit with the look of the boat. We shifted to wanting as large a dink, with as big a motor, as we could figure out how to use. And now we're onto the idea that the dinghy needs to stow well in a certain area (under the boom), be light enough to deal with effectively, and doesn't need to be huge.
As our lives have changed, so have our requirements for a dinghy. Don't think you're stuck forever with whatever you decide to get now. Flexibility is important for so many things in this wonderful boating world of ours.
Meanwhile, we’ve got 2 dinghies for sale. A wooden gorgeous one, and a 10.5’ RIB. Anyone want one?
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When I was in high school, long before I started sailing for real, a friend of mine asked me to proofread an essay she wrote. She’s a sailor; the essay was a lovely, personal memoir-type essay about her family and their boat. I made a few corrections and handed it back to her with the comment, “You may want to change the language to make it accessible to anyone.”
She disagreed. “It’s an essay about sailing; the intended audience is someone who sails. They’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.”
It may well have been my first real lesson in the power of audience and writing for your audience, though I’d been practicing it for years. It also brought to mind, quickly, the nuances of vocabulary.
Any lifestyle, like any geographic location, has its own special vocabulary, and it goes a long way to helping you fit in when you can speak the lingo.
There’s insider speak on the internet. LOL. (laugh out loud) TLDR (too long; don’t read). ISO (I seek other) and IKR (I know, right?) and BRB (be right back). On Women Who Sail, the constant questions around “So what IS DH anyway?” (dear hubby, deck hand, dick head – multiple meanings depending on the context) are a reminder that it’s helpful to have a guide to the language.
Boating is, of course, no exception to the “let’s create our own language” phenomenon. There are standard boat terms, all of which help with communication from a safety standpoint. When you understand that bow and stern and port and starboard are ALWAYS in relation to the boat, not where you happen to be standing, yelling out “hazard to port” saves confusion and time. Boat parts and their names are often one of the first things taught in a sailing school for good reason.
But what about the rest of the words? What about going cruising and wanting to fit in? What about when you’ve bought a boat and are on your own, bringing her into a marina for the first time? What special vocabulary might you want to know so you understand? You already know port and starboard, and hopefully you’re at least partially acquainted with the engine and how it works. Here are a few more.
Sundowner: a special drink (alcoholic or not) at sundown. When you’re invited for sundowners, it means you’ve been invited to hang in the cockpit chatting while the sun goes down, an event everyone watches. Take your own drinks and a nibble to share.
Provisioning: stocking up on whatever you need for food, drink, and various other items on the boat. It’s like grocery shopping for the boat.
Dinghy dock: special spot to leave your dinghy when you go ashore.
Reading the mail: listening to other conversations on the VHF. Everyone does it. Don’t think any conversation on the VHF is private, even if you’ve got your “secret” channel.
Weather window: a period of time when the weather appears to be favorable for a passage you want to make. You can help yourself find one by using FastSeas, a weather routing site designed by my husband, Jeremy. And in any case, this book* is great to have on hand to learn about tactics to use when a window slams shut unexpectedly.
Cruiser’s Midnight: 9 pm.
The Net: local vhf radio call-in at a set time, usually in the morning. Organization varies depending on location, but generally includes some weather, general announcements, and a time for new boats to introduce themselves. If there is one, it’s a great source of information especially if you are new to the area.
And, to honor my friend and her high school essay, I wanted to include a couple of marina scenarios. If you don’t know the lingo, these questions/statements could totally throw you for a loop.
Marina: What do you draw?
Answer: “Draw” means “how much water do you need to float.” This matters not only for where they put you, but also because sometimes the way in to a marina has restricted depths. It’s a good idea to ask about the APPROACH depths too.
Marina: What's your beam?
Answer: This is how wide the boat is. It matters because they’ll put you (hopefully) into a slip that you fit without the need of grease or a shoehorn.
Marina: Okay! You have slip B-12. Starboard tie.
Translation: Slip? The dock space you’ve been assigned to. “Starboard tie” means you’ll be tying up on the starboard side – IF you are going bow in. If you prefer going stern in, then you’ll be tying on the port side. Get your lines ready and fenders out.
Obviously, these aren’t the only special words you need to learn. But it’s a good start.
(and the word I wanted my friend to explain? Slip. If she had explained it, it would totally have ruined a wonderful essay. Vocabulary and audience – they both matter!)
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Boat shows are ubiquitous, at least at certain times of year in certain parts of the country. This past weekend, April 20-22, there were at least 2 I know of and more I’m sure I’m totally oblivious to.
I went to the one in Annapolis, Maryland, on the east coast of the US.
Unlike the fall show, where there are hundreds of boats and thousands of vendors, with deals on everything from foul weather gear to anchors to autopilots, this one was far more intimate. Last spring I made it a point to get on every single boat at the show; this year, I wasn’t interested at all in stepping on board boats but made the rounds of talking to vendors and seeing what interesting stuff might be out there. At first glance, it was a bit of a let down.
If you like jewelry, or clothing, or overpriced hand lotion, you’d be in luck. Lots of those spots. They competed with charter companies and boat insurance and refinancing booths.
Among those, though, I found a few really interesting places selling niche products that the people had created because of a lack they found in their own cruising experience. There is Ugo, for example, that sells a waterproof wallet/purse so waterproof they fill it with cash, cards, phone, and more – and float it in a water tank from which they fish it to show off the truth in advertising.
There was Weems and Plath, the navigation tool people, who I talked to about our old compass that needs a new dome. They couldn’t do it – but they steered me right across the way to J. Gordon and company, who talked to me refurbishing antique compasses and took a guess about what kind ours is, a guess that was confirmed as correct by Jeremy when I reached him on the phone.
The spring show at Annapolis may be tiny, but the bonus with tiny is that you can spend all the time you want talking to people. You can poke on boats without a salesperson trying to show you every nook and cranny (which gets old in a house; imagine on a 40’ sailboat!). You can get boat cards, be referred across the way, hear about how someone came up with the idea they now are selling. There’s no worry on either side about the fact that you might not be buying – it’s not like there are 10 people lined up behind you, credit card in hand, making both the seller and you nervous about spending too much time just shooting the breeze.
Even if it’s fall, though, if you want a collection of people selling boat stuff all in one place at your fingertips to chat with? Go to a show.
So one reason to go to a show? You can see a lot of boats and boat products, all in one space. You can talk to other people about why they’re looking at that particular one, and what else they’ve considered.
Another reason to take you and your wallet and your feet to a boat show is in the realm of ideas. Every time I step on a boat, I get an idea about layout, or storage, or even fittings down below. When I have 400 boats at my disposal, I may only step on 50 of them, but that’s more than I get on during the course of a season. I take lots of pictures, bring home lots of brochures, and spend lots of time dreaming. My preference is to focus on one certain thing – I’m currently on a sink kick, since we will be replacing ours – and look for options and different ways to think about the problem.
But by far the best reason to go to a boat show is the people. There are the people who are selling things, of course, who are generally incredibly knowledgeable about their products and being on the water with them. There are the other people at the show, people who don’t think this boating lifestyle is weird or different or out of the ordinary. When you are surrounded by a society that tends to think in terms of the “norm” (which includes a ranch 3:2 with a white picket fence and the minivan parked out front), the energy you gain from a group of people who at the very least are investigating the possibility of life on board . . . it’s impossible to underestimate that value. And finally, there are the friends you see at the show. These might be friends you’ve met online, or friends from previous shows. They might be people you start talking to while waiting in line at the portapotties or for painkillers, and it turns out you’re simpatico and actually keep your boats 2 marinas apart.
Three reasons to go to a boat show? The people. The ideas. And the people. Sounds about right to me.
I’ll be at the Annapolis Boat Show in the fall, working at a booth we call the Hugs and Smiles booth (officially Lin Pardey's booth, L&L Pardey Publications). If you’ll be there, stop by – it’s next to the Hendricks Gin Barge and the line for hugs will be unmistakable. And if you want even more of dose of cruising information, sign up for Cruiser’s University; I'm teaching a seminar on provisioning as well as one on the myths and realities of cruising.
Hope to see you out there!