cruising advice

Communications On Board - a talk with Sea-Tech Systems

Communications On Board - a talk with Sea-Tech Systems

Communications on board is not quite as simple as grabbing the cell phone and dialing a number. Sea-Tech Systems cruiser-owners Devon and Rich Anderson share their tips and thoughts with me!

Let's Talk Meal Planning

Let's Talk Meal Planning

Meal planning is what you’re SUPPOSED to do to eat well, right? Plan it all out, shop accordingly, and follow it to a T. Why is this so hard? Never fear - there’s a simpler way that translates perfectly to life on board!

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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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.

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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. 

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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.

 

Boating Friendships

A friend sent me a message on Facebook this past weekend, a picture of her and her husband holding a copy of the Caribbean Compass with a press release about the podcast, my picture prominently above the fold. They were on their boat, in Trinidad.

Janie and Autie! 

Janie and Autie! 

We’ve known them since the early 1990s, when we each lived on our respective boats at Portofino Harbour in Kemah, Texas. We shared numerous dinners, hosted potlucks in the marina clubhouse together, and shed tears when we headed off on our first cruise, leaving them behind. They came to our rescue when our beagle broke into the fridge the day after I’d gone grocery shopping and consumed (no joke) 2 pounds of cheese, a pound of chicken breasts, a pound of butter, a quart of milk, and a pint of half-and-half. He needed a few walks during the day the next day, as you might imagine, and we worked more than 75 miles away. Our friendship started in real life (actually, it started before the internet was even a thing) and has continued with the help of social media; we’re looking forward to sharing an anchorage when we get out there again.

Toby would eat ANYTHING. This is bok choy, after a market run in Trinidad.

Toby would eat ANYTHING. This is bok choy, after a market run in Trinidad.

This picture, after making me grin and shout and share it with Jeremy, made me think about cruising, and boating friendships. Is it that boating makes friendships easier, or more lasting? Is it somehow the mentality that allows someone to want to live with all the challenges and joys of life on a small boat (they’re all small. All of them) means they’ll be better friends? Or is it that we’ve just been plain lucky?

I sit here and think of the many cruising friends we’ve got. There are Lee and Sharon, who passed us our very first morning out on the Gulf ICW in 1993, helped us beach our dinghy in the Exumas with the words, “do you remember us?”, shared a memorable carnival in Trinidad in 1995, and gave me a hug last October at the Annapolis Boat Show when they came by the booth I was helping staff. I had not seen them in more than 20 years. They knew me instantly, and we chatted as if we just saw each other the day before.

Lee and Sharon!

Lee and Sharon!

There are memories tied in with the kids too, with people who we shared anchorages with when our only other crew was that same eat-anything beagle named Toby, and then again 10 years later when we had 2 kids in tow.  Eileen and David, and Jane and Dudley, appeared totally unexpectedly in Solomon’s in 2002, when we were headed north for a Lyle Hess reunion. We’d last seen them in Venezuela in the mid-90s. Eileen and David are Canadian; Jane and Dudley live in Maryland.

Knock knock, Merhaba Merhaba Calypso. Dudley poked his head out and his whole face lit up.

“JANE! GET UP HERE!!!!”

And Little Gidding’s Eileen, when we knocked on that hull, promptly invited us inside, enthralling 3-year-old Julian by singing Anchoring Dance in their mola-decorated main cabin with him chiming in. He’s 18 now, and still remembers that moment.

Lyle Hess rendezvous 2002

Lyle Hess rendezvous 2002

There are Rod and Lenora, friends we met in Houston as they were working on their Flicka, detailing fiberglass work to perfection with dental tools; the friendship has continued through their owning of a sister ship to Calypso and a move to Baltimore, and now as they prepare to retire, boatless, to North Carolina to be near grandchildren. Facebook messages and email allow us to keep in touch with them in ways we’d never have done before, though the memories are kept alive as photos resurface.

 

The internet has made friendships both more possible as well as easier to cement. There’s Wendy and Johnny, with their kids Kaeo and Bird, who passed us on the ICW in Florida in 2009, their kids and ours hanging in the rigging as they realized “There are kids on that boat!” A chance encounter that would have faded into memory if not for the power of email and the internet, with a little luck thrown in to boot – instead, we’re fast friends to this day, talking at least once a week and planning weekends together.

Wine tasting, anyone?

Wine tasting, anyone?

We got to cruise in Panama for a week because of Facebook, and the friendship we struck up with Behan and Jamie on Totem. Meeting face-to-face happened because we already “knew” each other; the bond we’d forged over many morning messages has been made far more solid because we can trade hugs when we see each other for real.

 

I podcast because of Carolyn Shearlock, a woman I knew from myth and legend and Women Who Sail; we met in person just about 6 months ago, and neither one of us could really fathom that it was the first time we’d actually laid eyes on each other.

 

Sometimes I think cruising forges fast friendships in part because of how fleeting the time together can be. When you are aware, always, that one or both of you will be moving on, the superficial dances around who you really are as people become less important. Time’s a wastin’ – gotta get to know you now, fast. Maybe we’ll fall in love. Maybe we won’t. But we don’t have all day to try to figure it out. This holds true even if you happen to be in between cruises, or if you’ve swallowed the hook for “good.” I feel like we hone in on the real stuff. How do you treat your friends? How do you treat the environment? Are you a decent human being? How old you are, what size boat you have, what your budget is – those things don’t matter.

When I meet you, will we be fast friends?

Can’t wait to find out.

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Looking Back to Look Ahead

There are times when it's fun to read old blogs, to see what the me-of-then was thinking. This one struck a chord with me - recognize any themes? This is a post from our SVCalypso blog, from the 2009-2010 cruise we took with the kids. The more things change, the more they stay the same, right?

Shiny winch.

Shiny winch.

August 26, 2009

I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days, and the concept gelled this morning as I shed some tears over my friend Lee's blog (last cruising entry for a while).  Her final lines are “We recommend to everyone that they take time now to fulfill that dream or vision.  There is no other time, only the present.”  Lee and her husband, Chris, took off a year ago and went to the Exumas and back, up to Martha’s Vineyard and back to Deltaville.  Reading their blog is a lesson in being PRESENT – a lesson I know I would do well to heed.

Kids, 3rd and 5th grades, first day of school.

Kids, 3rd and 5th grades, first day of school.

And that’s where I am struggling right now.  I have the hardest time being present to all that is happening.  Part of is the feeling that I have feet in a couple of different worlds, part of it is wanting time to hurry up and go by.  Part of it is, quite probably, a mourning for the stability and comfort of the routine we have shed already – with more to come in the next week, even, as I put in my final day at work on Monday.  And with that mourning is a frustration with myself – I am choosing this (we are choosing this) – why be sad about the choice?

Our transition began in the summer, really, when we moved out of our newly-renovated, much beloved house so the renters could come in with their boxes and different chaos.  We are now living in a one-bedroom apartment, all four of us, which I joke (semi-seriously) about being bigger than the boat. (It is, square footage-wise.)  The kids had to pack up their toys and books, and all they could bring with them (other than clothes) had to fit in a small plastic box*.  They are being remarkably resilient and accepting, except that Julian cannot kick a cold and Maddie is now grinding her teeth at night.  Hard, hard, hard to share with them (convince them? help them understand?) WHY it is so imperative that we do this cruising thing NOW.

School started for the kids yesterday.  They are in new classrooms, with new teachers and new friends.  But they know (as do their teachers and classmates) that they will only be there for 5 weeks.  Strange situation.  Possibly for them the hardest part (or the hardest part they can verbalize) is not riding the school bus.

I am frantically finishing up things at work (I have been the Admissions Director at a local private school for the past 5 years, and my job culminates on Monday with the orientation of the new kids the day before school starts), feeling like a bit of a ghost.  My colleagues are wonderful and supportive, but they (obviously) are caught up in the excitement of a new year while I am not involved at all with those details.

Jeremy’s replacement starts on Monday, for close to a month of overlap.  He is working hard as ever at work, trying to leave procedures and lists in place for his team – and then coming home to work on boat projects or research boat parts.

And through it all I am wondering how the reentry will be.  Lee’s blog has reminded me of my one real regret from last time – that I was too busy looking at what was coming next to appreciate where we were. (In reading the old journal from that trip, I can read 4 separate, distinct times when I wrote, “Now the cruising can really begin.”  What cruising did I miss while waiting for it to “start?”)

Stop, Nica.  Concentrate on the NOW.  Even as chaotic as it seems, it is what is going on.  If I look too far in the future I may well miss the present.

Pizza on the boat grill.

Pizza on the boat grill.

So bring it back to the present.  Yesterday was the first day of school for the kids, and they looked great (and all too tall) as I scrambled them into the car for the drive to school.  Today we made pizza on the grill for dinner – not all that exciting (for us) except that we did it on the boat grill and it WORKED!!! (We had been worried that it would burn before cooking properly)  Kids are in bed now, reading, and Jeremy and I are playing dueling computers working on different boat projects.  (This blog must count as a boat project, yes?)

There you go.  Rantings and philosophical wanderings and perhaps some self-centered whining from me.  Ah well.  At least I ate well tonight.

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