live aboard lifestyle

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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Overbuilt Boats - a Project Update!

Jeremy turned off the oscillating cutting tool* and the Shop Vac and looked at me. "There isn't tabbing on the underside too, is there?" I could hear him, barely, over the toilet paper we'd both stuffed into our ears as the best ear protection we could muster on a weekend we thought we'd only be working on the outside of the boat.

I nodded. "Unfortunately."

Yes, the shelf that needed to come out as the next step in PROJECT MAIN SALON BUNK was tabbed with multiple layers of fiberglass not only on the top, but also on the bottom. Half inch plywood sandwiched between layers of fiberglass that was close to 1/8 of an inch thick. ON BOTH SIDES. Sheesh.

Lovely, sturdy, and facing demolition.

Lovely, sturdy, and facing demolition.

The BCC has the reputation of being built like a tank. Lin and Larry Pardey talk about boats being priced by the pound, like a good steak, and this one must be a freaking filet mignon.

(Lest you get any ideas, let me tell you we bought the boat in 1992, from the 2nd owner, and it was NOT priced like a filet mignon. If we’d bought a new one, from the factory, it would have been. This one . . . luckily for us, it was more like hamburger. Good grade burger meat, but burger meat nonetheless.)

Burger meat, made into meatballs.

Burger meat, made into meatballs.

The Sam L Morse yard was one where standards were high and the finish quality was superb. Ours was finished off by a yard in San Diego, I believe – Bill Clark Custom Yachts, if I am remembering right – and I’d have to imagine the finish quality was on par with Sam Morse.

Unless it’s common to tab in a shelf with multiple layers of fiberglass tape and roving on BOTH SIDES? Maybe it is.

But damn we need to buy stock in an oscillating cutting tool company, or at least the blades. Cutting through fiberglass is hard work!

When the original owners had the boat finished off, at least as much as they did that anyway, they probably had no idea anyone would ever rip out the work they put time and money into. They felt that way, I am sure, about the gorgeously finished, mahogany sided cabinet for the stainless steel lobster pot that served as the boat’s first head. 

When we bought her, mast in a yard somewhere else. I didn't take a pic of the head.

When we bought her, mast in a yard somewhere else. I didn't take a pic of the head.

The first of many admiring curse words were flung at the builder at that demolition project, I can tell you.

And we’re right back at it as we tear out the port side shelf, once the proud base for our single sideband radio and bookshelf as well as kids’ clothing, games, and a whole bunch of spare batteries.

An earlier version of work on this space. Note the games, radio, and various amounts of STUFF.

An earlier version of work on this space. Note the games, radio, and various amounts of STUFF.

I’m not advocating going cheap or easy when you’re constructing any part of a boat. After all, even a lowly bookshelf has to be able to withstand forces and twisting we can only calculate if we’re mathematically (and doomsday) inclined. But it may be worth remembering, as you zealously craft perfection, that someday it's possible you’ll want to tear out whatever it is you are building.

Blank slate, ready for the next iteration.

Blank slate, ready for the next iteration.

Or maybe it’s just better to buy stock in those tools you’ll need to destroy your work now.

*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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.”



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.

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!”


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?


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 . . . )


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.)


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!



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.


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.





The Glories of One Inch!

We’re in the process of moving our double bunk from the forepeak, where it’s been since we “finalized” the interior in 1993. The initial thought around not putting it in the main salon was that I wanted to have a bunk I didn’t have to make up every night.



That space, as you can see in the video, is also where the head is. Where the main tool storage is. Where the extra food is stored. Every single night I had to make up the bunk, reworking sheets and blankets. For a “that bed must look gorgeous before I get into it every night” person like me, this was not what I had thought would be the case.


The “factory finished” Bristol Channel Cutters have this ingenious pull out pilot berth on the port side. By day it masquerades as the back to the settee, a book-less bookshelf, if you will. By night, it slides out to form a comfortable double bunk. Call it a Murphy bed for the vertically challenged.

This is the "closed" bunk on a friend's boat. Clearly in project mode himself!

This is the "closed" bunk on a friend's boat. Clearly in project mode himself!

Our boat, hull number 6, was built before the yard was even offering finished interiors. The original owners (we are owner #3) had it taken to San Diego from Costa Mesa to get her ready to sail; the man we bought her from had never really gotten around to doing the rest of it (other than removing the diesel stove). In 1992, we had basically a clean slate to work with, and putting a v-berth in was high on the priority list. That the head would be under the insert for the bunk was not a great worry; who needs to use the head in the middle of the night?

Calypso, as we bought her. Clean slate interior!

Calypso, as we bought her. Clean slate interior!

Ahem, that would be the almost 50 year old me, with her almost 50 year old bladder. No judging.


Between that and wanting any visitor to have more head privacy, plus the desire to have a place to shower down below, plus knowing that we’re cruising as a couple this time around (no kids), plus the realization that actually, Lyle Hess (the designer) knew what the heck he was doing when he figured out how the accommodations would work on this boat . . . we’re changing the interior to more closely mirror the factory finish, and we are so excited about it!


There are a couple of big things we won’t change. Our galley is to starboard, not port, without the oh-so-smart aspect of the sink bumped out more toward the centerline (for easier drainage!). Our floorboards are about 2 inches higher than on the yard-done boats, giving more room for larger water tanks but minimizing headroom for Jeremy.


The work on the bunk has begun in earnest as of this past weekend, when we had a chance to really sit and look and scheme and measure. Boat geometry is complicated in any case; it feels more complicated with a small boat.

demolition is the first step

demolition is the first step

We need to make the bunk as wide as it can be when it’s pulled out. Allow for as much head room on the outboard (under the side deck) side as possible. Make sure the backrest of the settee isn’t too low for comfort. Ensure that someone sitting on the settee to eat can do so without having to crunch his knees. And make sure there’s bulkhead room for lounging with your back to the bulkhead. All this while making sure the pullout section is supported. That’s a lot of different things to think about in one small space.


We’ll mock it up a few different ways before committing to anything, of course, but one thing that stood out as we were measuring and talking and trying things out. 

Blue tape? Where we could lower the backrest, to gain bunk width.

Blue tape? Where we could lower the backrest, to gain bunk width.

Inches matter.


Like literally, an inch will make a huge difference in comfort. It might mean between being able to sit up in bed or relax against the bulkhead – or not. It might mean the difference between a comfortable backrest while sitting or a contortionist’s nightmare while eating.

Can we find enough inches to make this tenable?

Can we find enough inches to make this tenable?


It’s incredible to be thinking in terms of inches. When so much of my life as a landlubber is consumed with more more more, when we talk about faster internet and acres of land and how much MORE can we have, there is something so satisfying in focusing on where to find one more inch of space.


It’s precision. Priorities. Looking and thinking outside of the box. Careful attention to detail. And a certainty that it can all work beautifully well together.

Very initial mockup.

Very initial mockup.


Where can you find your inches?