practical tips

Bring the joy

I recently read the book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”*, and while I’m glad I borrowed it from the library instead of buying it, one concept in particular has stuck in my head – the tossing-out criteria that your possessions should bring you joy.

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?

  My grandmother's cast iron skillet, cooking arepas

My grandmother's cast iron skillet, cooking arepas

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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What Kind of Dinghy Should I Get?

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.)

  This might be on my wish list.

This might be on my wish list.

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. 

  See both dinghies?

See both dinghies?

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.

  Inflatable awesomeness.

Inflatable awesomeness.

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. 

  There's our 15 HP motor, on its bracket. How I love this engine.

There's our 15 HP motor, on its bracket. How I love this engine.

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.

  We were a 2-dink family

We were a 2-dink family

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?

  Cruising Venezuela, with 2 dinghies

Cruising Venezuela, with 2 dinghies

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How to Talk Like a Cruiser

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.”

  Sundowners.

Sundowners.

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.

For cruising:

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.

  Sometimes sundowners involve a beach fire.

Sometimes sundowners involve a beach fire.

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. 

  If you need this book, you probably didn't pick a good window.

If you need this book, you probably didn't pick a good window.

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. 

  Calypso in her slip.

Calypso in her slip.

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!)

*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Three Reasons to Go to a Boat Show

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.

IMG_7587.JPG

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. 

IMG_5298.JPG

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.

  Is it the perfect size sink?

Is it the perfect size sink?

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.

  Friends.

Friends.

  Friends.

Friends.

  Friends and food.

Friends and food.

Three reasons to go to a boat show? The people. The ideas. And the people. Sounds about right to me.

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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!

The Magic of Boat Names

Boat names are magic. With a few choice words, you can convey much about you, your desires, your background. Your profession. Your dreams and hopes and favorite people in the world.

When you buy a boat, it may already be named. You can stick with the name, of course (and there are many reasons to do this; in countries outside of the United States it might not even be legal to change the official name of the boat, for starters.) There is a whole other blog post to be done all about boat superstitions and rituals, though I’m not getting into it here.

  It really and truly is NOT this easy.

It really and truly is NOT this easy.

You may, however, choose to rename the boat. I’ve got a few tips for you.

1.    If you are planning to cruise, know that when you choose your boat name you are, in essence, choosing your own name. You will forever be known as your boat name. Nobody out there knows last names – we are Nica and Jeremy Calypso, or the Calypsos, and have been for over 25 years. Think about that before you name your boat something like “My Darling’s Diamond.”

2.    You will have to say your name on the radio countless times. Coming up to a bridge you need opened? You call the bridge, then repeat your boat name. If it’s something hard to pronounce, you’ll be spelling it phonetically. Imagine trying a name like Architeuthis  (a giant squid, since you’re a marine biologist and love the squids and think they are horribly misunderstood).

3.    Being clever and cute with a boat name (puns, bragging on drinking prowess, drug slang) can sometimes be attractive (not in a good way) to customs officials or even local marine police. Spliff, Drinks All Around, The Biggest Doobie – these might get you more attention than you want.

4.    Remember that radio conversation? If your boat name is a classic response to a standard question, you might be inadvertently playing Who’s on First? without even realizing it. This actually happened to our friends Carolyn and Dave on Que Tal, which they bought in Mexico and cruised the Sea of Cortez for years. Ooh, a boat named “What’s up?”? Sounds good! Think for a minute. You hail a marina. “Marina, marina, Que Tal!” “This is the marina. What is your boat name?” “Marina, Que Tal!”

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When we first bought our boat, she had been renamed Newsboy, though Mike had not gotten around to putting the name on the transom. The original name, Zurimum (the original owner was from Missouri and wanted a name that reflected that) was long gone on all but photographs. Mike had always, always wanted a boat named “Newsboy”, so he named her that on the Coast Guard documentation, and that’s what she was when she became ours in 1992.

The thing is, we didn’t have any attachment to the name Newsboy. We didn’t have any attachment to the name Zurimum either, if we want to be really clear. But what on earth could we name this boat?

I’m an English teacher. Jeremy’s an engineer. He’s French; I’m American. We both like music (his audio equipment collection in college, courtesy of Crutchfield and their tent sales, had to be seen to be believed.) There must be some combination that works, right?

This is in the early 1990s, before the internet is on the scene in any way at all (other than academic research institutions), so Google is not any help. The school library (since I am, after all, a teacher) is where I go every lunch break.

Muse of engineering! (hah. In case you were wondering? There isn’t one.)

Jolie Brise! (no. Wind puns? Just, no.)

Zephyr! (ugh. Overdone.)

 

The research continued. The ideas were brought home, rejected, sent back. At this point I can’t even think of any names that came “close”, other than Pate Brisee which for some weird reason made an “almost” list.

And then one day, a random, almost desperate, jaunt through the dictionary stopped me short. There it was.

Calypso. Noun. Classical mythology: a sea nymph who detained Odysseus for 7 years.

Also: A West Indian musical genre, influenced by jazz.

 

Seriously? How perfect is this name for us. A nymph who lured someone away from home for years AND a kind of music from the part of the world we want to visit?

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Calypso she became, luring us from home for years and singing her lyrics in our heads for years more.

And we were content, smug in our assumption that this was the most unique, most US name out there. 

About 6 months into our cruise, 3 years after we’d purchased her, as we were sailing across the Bahama banks, someone hailed us on the radio, calling for "the pirate-looking boat on the Banks."

We responded, using our boat name, of course. "Boat hailing, this is Calypso!"

Calypso! So, how long have you been fans of Jacques Cousteau?”

In the days of Google, you might, maybe, want to make sure you’re being as unique as you think you are.

 

Long Hair or Short Hair?

Someone said to me today, "Oh! Your hair is so long."

It is, sort of.

Compared to where it was years ago, it's not all that long. 

  Years ago, my hair was long.

Years ago, my hair was long.

What does the length of my hair have to do with going cruising, anyway? Make it whatever length you want, right?

And do guys EVER worry about this stuff?

There are pros and cons to whatever length you choose, of course. Aren't there pros and cons to any single decision you make in your life, like ever?

Here's what I like about long hair.

  This was yesterday, right?

This was yesterday, right?

  1. I can pull it back into a pony tail, or braid it. Instant "out of face" decision.
  2. If I go for a few days without a shower, and I pull it back in a ponytail or braid it, nobody is really the wiser unless they look too closely at it.
  3. It's easy to not really care about a hair cut - chop inches off or not. No need to find a decent hairdresser wherever I am.
  4. It's easy to make it look fancy. Sometimes "making it look fancy" means I have showered, washed my hair, and brushed it. 
  5. I still like to chew on my hair when I'm nervous. Sorry for the TMI.
  6. Wearing my hair down is an instant way to spice up date night, or sundowner night, or turn any evening into a special occasion. Given budgetary constraints, this is a cheap way to make an impression.
  7. There's no conversation about what to do with it at workout time. Ponytail it is!
  8. Earrings twinkle like surprises when they're in long hair.
  9. A baseball cap is an easy hat to wear - it serves as ponytail holder and sun visor all in one. I like multitasking things on a boat.
  10. My hair LOVES humidity - so long hair looks wavy and full and fun.
  11. Jeremy likes me with long hair. 

And here's what I like about short hair:

  Short hair!

Short hair!

  1. It is so easy to take care of.
  2. Save money on shampoo, and no need for conditioner.
  3. It dries in about 3 minutes flat.
  4. I can wear dangly earrings, or plain ones, or little tiny ones. They don't get lost in my hair.
  5. The amount of hair I shed is comparatively less.
  6. Come on - sassy and cute. Do I really need to say more?
  7. No need for a ponytail or scrunchy. Just wash and go!
  8. Easy water use.
  9. I think it makes me look younger. We can debate whether this is a good thing or not at another time.

The thing with long hair is that it's, well, long. There's more of it to shed, more of it to wash, more of it to feel scrungy and gross. It's easier from a few practical angles on a boat (mostly the "tie it back and forget it" angle, and also much less of a need for regular haircuts to keep it looking good).

I love my hair short. Jeremy likes it better long. I think, for practical purposes on the boat, unless I can get him to learn how to cut my hair well, I will need to go with long hair.

Wanna chime in?  

Give Me All the Books!

I'm a reader. I've been a reader since I was tiny, and it's not unusual for me to be found with my nose in a book, tucked away in some corner. The Kindle* is a revelation of an invention for my love of books (also it's a disaster - do you know how easy it is to buy a book on a Kindle?!!!) given that I sail on a small boat with limited bookshelf space. That electronic device holds hundreds of books in a space less than a regular paperback. 

 some of the books we have. 

some of the books we have. 

And you can borrow books from the library on your kindle. Did you know that? (Here's the link to my local public library system, which joins with libraries all over southwest Virginia.) They don't have everything, but wow is it cool to reserve a book and have it show up! Magic.

Books in general are magic, not just the ones on an e-reader. They carry us to worlds both real and created. They contain information, inspiration, and imagination.

And there are some books that have stood the test of time for us as cruisers, ones that will go on the boat on that limited amount of bookshelf. They've got salt-water stains, ancient address labels, dog ears, and post-it notes. Some are so loved that we're on to a second version; others are so important we've got a copy at home as well as on board.

There are reference books that get pulled out time and time again for boat projects.

This Old Boat (Don Casey) (as an owner of an old boat, this is as close to a bible as it gets. It's used for wood projects, refrigeration questions, fiberglass work, and canvas ideas. Plus tons more.)

 Edition the newer. We keep both editions handy.

Edition the newer. We keep both editions handy.

Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual (Nigel Calder) (Pretty much a MUST HAVE)

Brightwork: the Art of Finishing Wood (Rebecca Wittman) (Got varnish? Get this book.)

Marine Diesel Engines (Nigel Calder) (Calder, again. The end.)

There are reference books for wildlife identification, often area-specific, as well as cruising guides (none listed here - those morph as we go along!). 

Reef Fish Identification (Paul Humann) (The photographs are epic. Not for eating fish, but snorkeling and scuba identification. There's nothing quite like going for a snorkel and coming up to see what you saw . . . )

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There are general cruising books, tomes on "how to cruise" - at least one of these is totally outdated but we still have it on board!

The Voyagers Handbook (Beth Leonard) (So much great information about cruising styles and budgets, plus smart practical advice on organization and more.)

Cruising Under Sail (Eric Hiscock) (Classic. Maybe outdated, but fun to have around)

The Capable Cruiser (Lin and Larry Pardey) (As a fan of the "go small go now" philosophy, this book reassures me that it's really possible.)

Cost Conscious Cruiser (Lin and Larry Pardey) (Great practical reminders of how to save money afloat. Not all ideas will appeal to all, as is standard with any book!)

Voyaging with Kids (Behan Gifford, Michael Robertson, and Sara Johnson) (Have kids and want to/are cruising? This book is a MUST HAVE on board.)

Sensible Cruising, the Thoreau Approach (Don Casey and Lew Hackler) (I love the humor, the guidance, and the practical tips.)

Voyaging on a Small Income (Annie Hill) (Inspirational message and practical information. The line drawings are worth the price of admission.)

There are the galley books - and yes, I also carry a collection of cookbooks with me!

The Boat Galley Cookbook (Carolyn Shearlock and Jan Irons) (Hard to beat with so much incredible information and recipes, all geared directly toward life afloat.)

 Don't have this one? Get it. Now.

Don't have this one? Get it. Now.

Care and Feeding of the Sailing Crew (Lin Pardey) (I've had this on hand since the early 1990s; it's been updated. I love the format as well as the ideas.)

And finally, there are the inspiration books. I've read every one of these a few hundred times, it seems, and they'll STILL come aboard. Why all the Pardey books? Simple, really - their books are the reason we bought the boat we did in 1992, and the reason we're still cruising on her today. She may be small, but she is mighty - and if they could do it, so can we.

Cruising in Serrafyn (Pardey) (Have plans, will build and go sailing.)

Serrafyn's Oriental Adventure (Pardey) (24 feet of awesome, cruising in the Orient.)

Serrafyn's European Adventure (Pardey) (Still 24 feet long, still cruising, still loving life.)

As Long as It's Fun (Herb McCormick) (A biography of the Pardeys. You'll see some familiar stories presented in a new way.)

Taleisin's Tales (Pardey) (Taleisin comes to life as the 29' wooden beauty sails in the Pacific.)

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An Embarrassment of Mangoes (Ann Vanderhoof) (Practical, well-written travel book with recipes by someone who, like many, was invited to the cruising dream when she had no real idea what that entailed. The recipes are delicious too!)

There are a lot of links*, and you may be able to find a few (if not all!) at your library. Maybe not on a kindle, but maybe as an inter-library loan (remember those?) 

*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

What books are your MUST-HAVEs? Now that I have a Kindle, I can take more with me!

 

 

Projects Other Than Boat Projects

Today, the project was getting rid of the cork boards.

Yes, that was today's' boat project.

Because in all the focus on boat projects, there are boat projects that have nothing, actually, to do with the physical boat.

Really. As weird as that may sound, there are many many projects that need to be done before we can head off cruising - and so many of those are NOT on board.

  How many boat parts can you see?

How many boat parts can you see?

There's the garage (and the attic - but the garage looks at us every day when we get home from work. It feels more immediate.) Sifting, organizing, purging, and cleaning. We've lived in this house for over 18 years. That's a lot of Halloweens. A lot of camping trips. A lot of excitedly-started-and-just-as-hastily-abandoned projects. We have endless boat parts in that garage, some worth keeping, some worth selling, and some worth, well, a dumpster trip.

There's enough wood to build a dinghy, I think. And no, we can't take it all with us.

  Some of the wood we have. SOME.

Some of the wood we have. SOME.

And of course we've kept every moving box we've come across.

There's the books and clothes and old electronic equipment we have in closets and bookshelves, all of which need inspection and decisions. Do we take? Give away? Pitch?

We have a house that needs some work, since the plan is to sell it before we take off. Houses generally always need work, of course, but there are some projects that tend to be put off until later. "Later" has arrived.

  See the new wood?

See the new wood?

Other projects include parenting projects like helping the kids make college decisions. Get driver's licenses. Apply for jobs.

In the midst of all these projects is day-to-day life, which is pretty amazingly full as it is. Can these projects feel overwhelming? Yes. It's not like every single day I wake up raring to go, psyched to knock off 6 projects before breakfast. (actually, those days are rare. And not much happens before coffee in any case!)

But each project has a place, and a reason. Each project has steps I can take, and each step means it's that much closer to being done. Sometimes getting rid of one thing is taking one step, small as it is.

  Projects, started and abandoned.

Projects, started and abandoned.

And there are no longer any cork boards in that garage. Onward!

How to Learn to Sail

Boat projects abound. Still, it's fun to reflect on how I got to this point. A few people have asked me for advice on learning to sail, since that's probably a pretty important part of this sailing life. Right? 

  Optis ready for Junior Week

Optis ready for Junior Week

I learned to sail on a glacier lake in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, where the boats we have are old and water-logged and sluggish in the best of winds. My version of sailing, shared by others who also had no real clue about the sport, was one of flogging sails and a whole lot of paddling, spiced by a too-short tiller extension and a centerboard that slipped out if we heeled too far. I learned that sailing was a sport of independence, of frequent mishaps, and maybe, if you were lucky, some moments of sheer bliss. There was also a lot of paddling and swimming.

 

This is not the ideal way to learn to sail.

  Laughter, even in Averill.

Laughter, even in Averill.

My best friend in high school went on to represent the United States on the sailing team in 2 separate Olympic games. From her, I learned the importance of the proper terminology for all parts of the boat, as well as the joys of actually sailing a boat that moved with the power of the wind. When I had the chance to sail with her, on her family’s boat on Lake Ontario, I was treated to a world where the wind was your partner, not something you fought against every second of the time. I learned that sailboats are gorgeous, you can’t tell how much closer you are to the finish line than the other guy until you’re pretty close to it, and big boats shouldn’t involve swimming as a way to get back to shore.

 

This was a better way to learn to sail.

  Random dock photo. Just because.

Random dock photo. Just because.

When I got to college, I decided I’d further my sailing education and joined the sailing club. I went to the University of Virginia, which is situated in land-locked Charlottesville, and we practiced on a man-made lake 30 minutes away from the school. My skipper took pity on me and taught me about hiking out to keep the boat flat, the joys of a well-executed roll tack, and how to rig a 420 while trying to keep your fingers warm. We did, often, sail in cold weather. These college sailing days were filled with laughter and work, endless road trips and late nights of car rides and conversations. Friends introduced me to teaching at Sail Caribbean, a teen sailing camp in the Caribbean where I spent my days teaching teenagers on 50’ sailboats the joys of all aspects of life aboard. Sailing is friendship, cooperation, muscle memory, and travel – and maybe, if you’re lucky, a little money-making on the side.

 

This was, so far, the best way to learn to sail.

 

After college graduation, my husband and I bought our own 28’ boat and took off, spending 3 years wandering the Bahamas and the Eastern Caribbean before heading up the East Coast and settling down in Charlottesville. We had to be self-sufficient in ways no 20-year-old thinks about, and every 20 year old ought to experience. From learning the hard way that you better fill your water tanks to the brim before you shove off the docks the first time, to anchoring 5 times for 4 named storms our first year out, to blissful days tacking in and out of anchorages along Venezuela’s bay-studded coast – life was full of adventures both amazing and terrifying. 

  Then, when you get older, you can teach your parents.

Then, when you get older, you can teach your parents.

If I had to choose it all over again, I’d pick the last one as my favorite way to learn this sailing thing.

 

Maybe. Maybe not.

 

Thing is, all of these had one thing in common. Whether good or bad, all of these involved actually getting on a boat and shoving off from land. I learned something from every single encounter I had with a hull that had a mast stuck in it; actually, I still do. The best way to learn to sail is to get out there and sail, no matter how you get a chance to do it.

 

If you’ve got access to a cold lake and a heavy old boat, go for it. If you can learn from someone who’s the best of the best, go for it. If you pick up a book, or watch YouTube videos, and then get on a boat and try and try and try again – that’s a perfect way to learn to sail. If you have the opportunity to sail on a large boat in the sun-filled Virgin Islands, or somewhere in the tropics, I can promise you you will learn something.

  Start young, if you can!

Start young, if you can!

But what if you’re older, not starting out as a kid or in high school or in college. What then? Is it too late?

 

There’s a favorite saying that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next best time is now. Same holds true with sailing. You might have more patience now, more ability to be deliberate. You might listen better, or research more, or have the funds to pay a decent instructor. Don’t let age deter you from trying something new!

 

If you’re a parent, lamenting the fact that you are just learning and you want your kid to learn earlier in life than you did, get out on the water. Sure, let them join a junior program or do a sailing-focused camp or send them off to Sail Caribbean or another of the sailing schools designed for teens around the world. Just get them on the water, messing about in boats. Go with them, learn together, and play.

 

The best way to learn to sail? That’s the way you do it. Stop researching, grab your PFD*, and get out on the water. I bet you won’t regret it.

See you out there.

*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Privacy Concerns

One of the things we take for granted living in a house is privacy. Doors lock, the walls are thick, there’s another room you can escape to if you need your own space. On a boat, sometimes that privacy is hard to come by. (Read about living on a boat here!)

There’s privacy and there’s alone time, and for the purposes of this blog I’m using the terms somewhat interchangeably. I think of privacy as, well, things you want to keep to yourself. These tend to be items of the bodily function type, but they can be emotions and reactions as well. Alone time is just that – solitude. Feel free to shift the vocabulary to suit.

  Space and quiet and your own thing to do.

Space and quiet and your own thing to do.

When I’m living aboard, it’s on a really small boat. There’s not much inherent privacy in a space that’s 28 feet long from end to end (37 if you stretch from the tip of the bowsprit to the end of the boomkin), and one where there’s not a single door other than ones on cabinet fronts to be found. And I can promise you, as much as I love my husband and my children, there are times when I Just. Want. To. Be. Alone.

 

Granted, you are likely dealing with a larger boat than I am. What I’ve found, though, is that there are a lot of  similarities when you’re talking about boat living, no matter the size. Whatever boat you’ve got, there’s less privacy than in a house.

 

On land it’s easy. Different work and school schedules often result in at least some time where you’re alone in the house, no matter who you are in the family after about age 13. On a cruising boat, when your schedules are the same and there is little space that doesn’t serve multiple purposes, it’s a little harder. On land, you can escape easily by going for a walk or even just closing the door to your room. On a boat? Not so easy! Don’t fear! You can attain that much-desired level of privacy on board even a boat as small as Calypso, and though it takes a bit more work than it might on land, the trade-offs are well worth it. 

  You might choose to solo sail.

You might choose to solo sail.

First of all is the “take yourself for a walk” option. On land, you strap on your shoes, open the door, and off you go. On a boat, it’s more involved. Unless you’re tied to a dock, you need to get into the dinghy (whatever that entails) and head off. Wow is it worth it for everyone! It provides alone time, recharge time, for the person staying on board as well as the person zipping off somewhere in the dinghy. There are some natural times when this happens. Dinghy expeditions with a fellow cruiser, walks on the beach. Going off to help another cruiser with a boat project, or heading into land to clear customs. Laundry or shopping! I’ve had times when I’ve volunteered to stay on board to “mind the watermaker”, content to pass up a shore activity; Jeremy has done the same when I’ve had some small errand to run.

 

This aspect of alone time requires transportation, unless you’re in a marina or all you’re doing is snorkeling off the boat (which is a very fine excuse!). If you’re traveling with a family, having a second dinghy of some sort is a really worthwhile indulgence. It can be a simple kayak or even a stand up paddle board*, but a way to get ashore or off the boat is so helpful to keep tempers in check. This means that if someone has the big dink, someone else can also escape. Even on Calypso, we carried a kayak (2 of them) as well as the inflatable, and though we grumbled at times at the space they took up we loved having them – the kids could go off on their own and often did. At anchor in the Abacos, our son wanted to go build a sand fort; having that kayak meant he could just go do it. Another memorable moment was in Eleuthera, when our daughter, age 8, took a kayak by herself and went to the library in Governor’s Harbour. Safety angles for those who are concerned? We’d gone in as a family earlier in the visit, so she knew exactly where she was going. We could see her all the way in, and she had a handheld VHF which she knew how to use. She felt such a sense of independence, plus she loved having her own thing to do. Her mood was so much improved when she returned from that expedition!

  Kayaking (and swimming) in South Carolina.

Kayaking (and swimming) in South Carolina.

Even now, as we plan the next trip which will be just the 2 of us on board, we know we’ll have another transportation “device”, likely one which doubles as a water toy. They’re just good to have!

 

One thing worth mentioning – communication is key. Not only communicating where you’re going and when you’ll be back, but also respecting someone else’s need for alone time. If an invitation of a shore jaunt is passed up, don’t take it personally – it could well be that the other person just needs to chill on the boat without you there. And taking a handheld VHF is a very good idea.

 

What about times when you just can’t get off the boat? The high wind or nasty weather times. The passage times. The it’s almost dark and not safe to go off times. These times happen, and somehow it’s during those times when tempers run hot and privacy becomes critical. What then?

  Good headphones are awesome!

Good headphones are awesome!

 

Where in a house you can head to your room and close the door, boats sometimes don’t have doors. They sometimes don’t have dedicated rooms either. Our v-berth is the workbench, the head, and the spare food storage area. The quarterberth, where Julian slept, was also where we tucked the watermaker and the batteries. Though your boat might have more defined use spaces, my guess it it’s still much closer quarters than even the smallest apartment.

 

What we found, both cruising before kids and with them, is that each of us gravitated to a certain space on board. If our daughter needed to feel like she was really on her own, she took herself to the foredeck or tucked herself into the v-berth and hid behind the bulkhead. I snuck to the cockpit, wrapped in a blanket if needed. Julian and Jeremy pulled out computers and lost themselves in a game or video. There were times when the kids (ah, when they were small!) cuddled together in the quarterberth, laughing at some episode of "Gilligan’s Island" or a Looney Tunes dvd. The visual break was the critical piece for us.

 

When we were on board Totem in Panama in February, with 9 people on board, the same idea of space held true. Behan had her desk in the aft cabin while Jamie worked at the chart table. Mairen and Siobhan each sprawled on a separate settee. Niall had his space in his cabin, and Julian found a spot on the foredeck to call his. Bee claimed the v-berth for painting; Jeremy and I pursued our own stuff in different parts of the cockpit. We might not have had a physical barrier separating us visually from each other, but our attitudes and respect made it all work.

  Focus.

Focus.

To add to that visual separation, try some kind of audio blanketing. Good earphones or headphones, noise canceling ones, can be worth their weight in gold for keeping crew members happy. Fans in the head can help with the body noises we all would rather forget. Do they mean you don’t hear a thing? No. But it gives you the edge you may require to tune stuff out.

 

Privacy on a boat is mostly in the respect we afford each other. It’s about pretending you don’t hear the noises from the head. It’s staying in the cockpit while a modest crew member is changing clothing down below. It’s allowing your partner, or your kid, or your parent, who is deep in a project or book or something, the time and space to do that without interruption. It’s working to give people privacy instead of just assuming it’s there. And it’s communicating early and often about what you need to make it all work, including understanding that you might need an extra dinghy-like “thing” on board.

 

Still, in my opinion, it’s worth all the hassle.

 

See you out there.

*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Cruising Hacks, Totem-inspired

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This post is all about a few small items that can help with space, organization, or just simple tricks that make life easier. All of these pictures were taken on board Totem, during our unbelievable 10 days aboard in Panama. If you don’t follow Behan and Jamie and their kids, who at this writing are closing in on their circumnavigation after 10 years out, you’re missing out. www.sailingtotem.com

 Random shot of sailing on Totem, off of Panama's coast.

Random shot of sailing on Totem, off of Panama's coast.

 

1.     A pair of silpat baking mats* that you can roll out tortillas in between. I’d not thought about this trick, which will save flour, oil, plastic wrap – anything you might use to stop thin dough from sticking to whatever surface you’re working on. Of course, you can use the mats (one at a time, anyway) for their intended purpose and just bake cookies or pastries on them. 

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2.     A small white board pinned to the bulkhead near the galley, where you list items to be used up, items you need to purchase, and even (if you’ve got a large crew) who’s in charge of dishes for the next dish event. I particularly like the “things to use up” category, as even in a tiny boat fridge it’s easy to lose track of what you’ve got tucked in there. This list means you won’t waste food, an always-helpful aspect of life on a budget. 

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3.     Double magnet bars as a knife holder, pinned to the underside of the overhead or on a bulkhead or inside a cabinet. This trick takes advantage of otherwise unusable space. I’ve often seen a single magnet bar used in this way, which makes me nervous. The double magnet bar means the knives are attached on 2 strong points. Behan tells me the only time a knife has come loose in their travels is when someone has knocked it. The passage we did with them, a 44 mile slog in large seas that Jamie casually tossed out as easily one of the top 10 worst passages they’d seen, had those knives staying exactly where they were placed. 

 Note the TWO bars.

Note the TWO bars.

4.     Bins for organization in the fridge. Boat fridges are often top-loading, which can make organization and finding things a true pain. Add to that the constant concern about not leaving the fridge open too long (that cold is electricity which you have to generate, remember – I’d rather be keeping the beer and butter cold than pouring the cold into the air) . . . separating like items in bins makes it far easier to find them. Added bonus – you can store things under the bin, effectively creating layers that can be easily accessed. 

 Essentially small laundry baskets (way small) within the fridge!

Essentially small laundry baskets (way small) within the fridge!

5.     A refillable pump container for sunscreen that fits perfectly into a cup holder in a prominent place in the cockpit. Buying sunscreen in bulk is a good way to save money, but hauling out a humongous container every day (multiple times a day) will get old way faster than you can imagine. Keeping the sunscreen accessible and easily dispensed is a fabulous way to make it more used, and making sure the crew stays protected from the sun is important to long-term health. Sure, wearing long-sleeved shirts and staying in the shade is number one – but you’ll still need sunscreen!

 Fits neatly into the cup holder on the binnacle.

Fits neatly into the cup holder on the binnacle.

All of these save space, sanity, or some kind of resource. Sounds like the perfect cruising hack to me!

See you out there.

*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Fit2Sail - an Introduction

  Fit, in the dictionary

Fit, in the dictionary

Welcome to Fit2Sail, where I’m all about making you be ready to grind winches on an America’s Cup boat . . .

No. Back up.

My name is Nica Waters. I live, for now, in Charlottesville, Virginia, with my husband, Jeremy, our 2 kids, Julian (18) and Bee (16), and a recently-adopted 18 year old deaf cat named Noonie. We have owned our Bristol Channel Cutter, a 28' Lyle Hess designed fiberglass cutter named Calypso, since 1992. She's taken us on 2 extended cruises and we're gearing up for the next one. We spend a lot of time working on her, talking about working on her, and buying things to work on her.

                             A very old family picture, when the kids were both shorter than I am.

                            A very old family picture, when the kids were both shorter than I am.

 

I spend a lot of time working on being fit to go cruising again.

When I say that, when I say being fit to go cruising, what do you think of? Do you think of grinding winches and effortlessly hoisting sails? Gracing the bow of a boat looking all photo-shopped and muscle-y perfect? Not succumbing to seasickness on a daily basis?

 

Sure, there’s that. Maybe. But that’s just a part of a larger picture. When I talk about being fit to sail, fit to cruise, I’m talking about every aspect of being FIT. Adapted, appropriate. Physically sound and healthy. Suitable, happy, felicitous.

                                          Happy cruiser, doing schoolwork at anchor.

                                         Happy cruiser, doing schoolwork at anchor.

Being fit for cruising encompasses things like mental attitude and aptitude. Preparation for a different lifestyle. An attitude of adventure and possibility. It means being physically ready to handle the rigors of life aboard – which has absolutely nothing to do with what you weigh or what size jeans you wear.

 

I was in college when the idea of chucking it all and sailing into the sunset was first broached by my now-husband (for more of that story and how it all played out, check out the “When Does Cruising Really Start”!). After the initial euphoria wore off, the worry set in.

 

What did I know about sailing? What did I know about living in a small space? What did I know about cooking on board? Budgeting. Anchoring. Provisioning. Crossing the Gulf Stream. Mail. The list went on and on.

 

I muddled through. Learned a lot. And when we returned from that first cruise, in 1997, the world had changed – the internet had exploded onto the scene. Suddenly information that once took days or weeks to acquire and was limited to what books were available in your local library (hint, not many) could be found literally in minutes. Blogs appeared. Google became a verb.

 

When we decided to head off on our second cruise, this time with 2 kids on board, we chronicled our adventures on a blog. A chance encounter with a boat in the ICW that once would have been relegated to a line in the log book became the impetus for an email-enabled meeting in a far-flung island in the Bahamas – and we’re still close friends with the family from that boat. The internet has its place, there is absolutely no doubt.

                                                  Calypso, Osprey, and Kaya in the DR

                                                 Calypso, Osprey, and Kaya in the DR

It was on that second cruise, though, that I began to really realize that many people don’t realize that lifestyle is something you need to be ready to take on, with all the ups and downs it encompasses. It’s not all beach walks and sunsets – and it’s not all rogue waves and hurricanes either. Ease of access to information lulls some into a false sense of security; when you’re used to looking at wunderground.com for your weather each day, the idea of needing to learn and plan and research is a totally foreign concept. Stories of people who buy a boat for $1 and set off to sail around the world make you think anyone can do it – but what you don’t see is the hard work, endless setbacks, and horrifying amounts of money that go into making that dream a reality.

 

I’m a personal trainer and wellness motivation coach, so sure, I’m interested in the physical fitness of people aspiring to live the cruising lifestyle. But it’s so much more. It’s about confidence and understanding. Attitude and willingness to learn. Acceptance of the tough times, and gratitude for the moments of beauty and grace.

 

Cruising successfully takes a special kind of person. One who is truly fit to sail. Can't wait to see you out there.