Thursday, December 30, 2010

Inspirational Television
By Michael

Is TV still as bad? Yes.
Remember The Love Boat? In a weird way, that terrible and top-rated television show of the late seventies is responsible for my interest in sailboat cruising.

In 1979 I participated in a fundraiser for my 6th grade class, a magazine sales drive. About that time my folks returned from their first trip aboard a cruise ship, inspired by The Love Boat. Eager to read more about cruise ship vacations, they took a look at my list of magazines and bought a subscription to Cruising World. When the first issue arrived, it was clear they didn’t get what they expected.

Ten years later, they were still subscribers. I’d grown up without a sailboat, but with a magazine at home that gave me a knowledge and understanding of the cruising lifestyle. In my 20s, buying a boat and living aboard seemed as viable an option as securing an apartment. After living aboard for a short time, I learned that almost all of my dock neighbors were planning for departure. It took only a hint from a sailor I trusted to shift my perception away from the notion that I needed a boat designed by Colin Archer, Carl Alberg, or Robert Perry to plan a cruise of my own. The idea of a coastal cruise in my small production boat was born. For seven months spanning 1996 to 1997, Windy and I sailed from Ventura to Key West.
During our trip, we were on the lookout for other young cruisers and found few. Greg and Danielle Podlesney of Uhuru were among the few. Our wakes were in sync for a few months and we buddy boated. Eventually, we ended our cruises, sold our boats, and launched land-based lives. We settled on different coasts but kept loosely in touch and we each bought a house and had two kids. The Robertsons maintained careers, while the Podlesneys maintained their own businesses.
Now, 14 years later and all in our forties, both families are dropping out and heading off on paths radically different from how most Americans live their lives. Coincidence? This blog chronicles our big shift and Project Pragmatizo chronicles the Pod’s upcoming adventure in an RV they transformed.
My conclusion is that a taste of a different lifestyle should be encouraged for anybody in their second decade, if just to illuminate the possibilities. I think it helped offer us a unique perspective in our fourth decade. Of course, a big thank you is due also to Captain Stubing and his ABC crew.
P.S. -- I would love to find out where the first Del Viento is today—reportedly purchased from me by an Austrian couple for use in the Bahamas; I know that Uhuru was lost off the Pacific coast of Baja several years ago, two owners later.
--  MR

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Go Small (sort of), Go Now (5-year plan)
By Michael

When I planned my first trip aboard the Newport 27 Del Viento, I knew I needed crew aboard to manage that tender vessel. The Autohelm 1000 tiller pilot was not reliable. Even when working, it was often not quick enough to overcome the intrinsic weatherhelm of the Newport. Long days at the helm, and especially overnighters, wouldn't be practical. Yet, while doing my due diligence to find crew, a part of me retained hope that I wouldn't be successful, clinging to the romantic notion that I'd be forced to sail off alone, to join the fraternity of singlehanders.

Alas, I found my crew in the 11th hour and we sailed off together December 7, 1996. Less than three years later, we married. And now, 14 years later, we are on the verge of heading out again, with two little crew.

I no longer retain any desire to singlehand. Every future trip I imagine involves at least Windy. Yet, what a part of me now pines for is what we left behind when we sold the first Del Viento: minimalism. As we plan and outfit the Fuji 40 Del Viento, I miss the cruising aesthetics of the minimalists, the cruisers out there today on relatively small vessels making do with just what they need. This is a subset of the cruising community who are living the life purely, not cluttered by the trappings of a land-based life that turn the average cruising boat into something Slocum would not recognize.
The tub in the "spectacular master stateroom" of the Hunter 50

Minimalist cruisers eschew these things not because they are traditionalists or luddites: Lin and Larry Pardey don't have an engine aboard, but carry a GPS and use a solar panel; James Baldwin has never carried an EPIRB, but sings the praises of AIS. No, these successful cruisers are just plain practical. None has (or at least did not start out with) the resources to fill their boat with every boat show gadget and electronic device billed as a necessary safety item or comfort imperative. Accordingly, they launched their journeys afloat with the bare minimum aboard and allowed--paraphrasing Robin Lee Graham--the sea to teach them not how much they needed, but how little.
Over time every voyager comes to understand exactly what they need aboard. What is necessary for some seems superfluous to others. The distinction between the minimalist cruiser and the rest of us is how they determine what gear or system earns a place aboard.

Space, power consumption, and failure criticality are overriding considerations for every cruiser deciding what to bring or install aboard. Every purchase decision, for every cruiser--minimalist or not--means weighing these factors in a risk-benefit calculation. While nobody [in their right mind] questions the value of a cold beer or hot shower, that value is relative. A minimalist cruiser is likely to argue that refrigeration is a power-hungry system prone to failure, that a water heater adds undue complexity and risk of leaking a precious commodity, that neither earns a place aboard. Another cruiser may decide that either or both systems deliver a benefit that offsets the risk of failure and risk of being stranded in an undesirable location waiting for parts...and then sending them back for the correct parts.

In the same way that the overall size of a boat increases geometrically as the length increases linearly, the cost--measured in risk--of hosting systems aboard a boat increases geometrically with each system added. The hot water heater requires additional water lines, additional electrical generation capacity, a larger battery bank to store that power, and a pump/pressure tank to make a shower worthwhile. Of course, all of that means a bigger boat to hold it all. All of that means a likely increase in water consumption and stokes the need for a watermaker, which of course begets more of all the same. And how often then will you run the axillary for the sake of warming up that heat exchanger or generating power, thereby putting undue wear and tear on that system?

Of course, nothing is wrong with any of this. Even minimalists express contrary opinions about what belongs aboard their particular vessel. The danger lies for the cruiser who is not aware, or does not acknowledge this calculus.

The cruising minimalists I've read are the ones who endure, the ones for whom cruising is not just a phase or experience, but a life. Accordingly, they have earned our attention and consideration. As we prepare to head out there again, and with a relative paucity of experience, we plan to take a lesson from the minimalists--and from our former selves: to deliberately assess everything we bring or install aboard. Is it worth it? Are we prepared for its failure? Might we be happier without it? I aim to be able to present a very compelling, reasoned defense of every single piece of gear aboard our ship--and why we use it the way we do.

While my minimalist heroes have a lot to offer in terms of perspective, none are sailing and living with small crew aboard. (Yes, Fatty and Carolyn Goodlander raised Roma Orion aboard as minimalists. Yes, Dave and Jaja Martin sailed with two children aboard 25-foot Direction and with three children aboard 36-foot Driver, in relatively minimalist fashion. Yet neither the Goodlanders nor Martins transitioned as families from a land-based lifestyle to the cruising lifestyle.) We will have our own unique considerations.

If our girls are eager to end "this stupid boat trip" after a couple years, it will be over. We will not be successful afloat unless everyone is aboard (pun intended). Rationally, I suspect we will all look back ten years from now at my characterization above and laugh. But we will hedge our bets by cruising aboard a boat that is comfortable, homey, and kid-friendly. Beyond the obvious consideration we're giving to the increased energy and physical space demands of four people (so much for "go small, go now"), we are keenly interested in helping the girls to embrace and identify with the cruising life. Like at home today, I imagine kid art adorning the bulkheads. Like at home today, there will be no TV, but movies will play on the laptop and books-on-tape will boom from cabin speakers. Like at home today, cold milk for cereal will be at the ready each morning. Like at home today, hot water will be available for bathing before bedtime, when necessary. Like at home, Eleanor and Frances will share a cabin, but be afforded individual bunks and private space for their stuff.

Granted, this lifestyle will be radically different; that's why we're going. And we are not trying to reproduce aboard all of the creature comforts of home--we can't and we don't want to. There will be a lot of changes to which they'll have to adapt, changes that are significant and inherent to the lifestyle. But we aren't going minimalist, we just aren't. We are in a different class, as separate from the childless minimalists as the cruising couple is from the singlehander.

Like in all areas of life, about the best we Robertsons can do is to benefit from the experience of those we are following. At this point that means--as best we can--eschewing the hyper-consumerist mindset common to the preparing-to-cast-off cruiser. We've both pledged to see first what we can get by without, so long as we don't compromise our notion of what we need to ensure the safety of our girls (and so long as it means we can bring an iPad).

If Atom ever finds herself floundering offshore, James Baldwin can admirably walk his talk, testing for the first time the water-tight bulkheads he's prudently engineered on his 47-year-old Pearson Triton. In that instance, he won't have an EPIRB with which to hail assistance. But he will have enjoyed weeks of freedom afforded by the savings realized by not purchasing an EPIRB. He will be comforted by the fact that he is truly self-sufficient as he effects repairs and gets back under way. He may indeed be better off. Of course, he isn't planning to manage that situation while also managing the safety and well-being of two children. Accordingly, his reasons for going without an EPIRB are not relevant to us as we prepare to head off with our children aboard, and an EPIRB for each.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

First Christmas
By Windy

Eleanor and our tree
These days it seems everything is our last. Our fireplace mantle is graced with holiday cards, many inscribed somewhere with "final" or "last." We've had last birthdays and a last Halloween, a last Thanksgiving and now our last Christmas.

Weeks ago our tree became the subject of a battle between practicality and sentimentality. Mike wanted to sell the eight-foot plastic behemoth before Christmas (out-of-town neighbors offered us theirs). Eleanor was appalled at the potential tragedy of selling our tree--and on this, our last Christmas! Sentimentality triumphed.

This year Mike and I were thinking journals for gifts, not bicycles. The dearth of gifts under the tree caused Eleanor anxiety--she could do the math: three small wrapped presents divided by four family members equals Worst Christmas Ever. (We're working with her on the true meaning of Christmas.)

This Christmas was decidedly more spare. That is not to say we didn't receive plenty of generous gifts. Family and friends thoughtfully gave consumables (gift cards, tasty treats, cash) or portables (DVDs, Chico Bags). Donations were made to charities in the girls' names. We received two lovely handmade calendars. (Laura made hers extra small to fit nicely on a boat's bulkhead. Amy Jo considered ending her calendar in May, symbolizing our upcoming departure.)

With our lives shrouded in finality, I find significance in once pedestrian activities like going to a park. Casual gatherings with friends are often poignant, and holidays have an added layer of complexity. Interestingly, the Worst Christmas Ever was one of the best. Maybe it was due to an exaggerated appreciation for what we have, or maybe it was because it was short on material goods and long on time together. Perhaps this christmas is a harbinger of future Christmases. Perhaps this is not a last Christmas after all, but a first Christmas.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

First Contact
By Windy

Del Viento's home for now
Last week I saw our boat for the first time. (In fact, it was the first time any of us have been aboard since we took ownership last June.) I arrived at the small, private marina in Puerto Vallarta where we are renting a slip until we move aboard. After the bump and surge and dust of the local bus, the marina was positively serene. It is a postcard of cozy multicolored villas, skirted by palms and giant bird of paradise plants, and with a small, still harbor home to fishing boats, sailboats, and a couple large power boats. I walked down a brick and stone path and stood for a long moment regarding our boat with excitement and a pinch of fear.

Until that moment, I don't think I'd acknowledged, even to myself, my quiet fear. What if upon boarding I realize we'd made a big mistake? What if I find the cabin dark and claustrophobic? Most of all, what if I can't imagine our family living happily there?

The long, narrow, plastic ports squinted at me. The teal canvas looked cheerful and sharp. And then I was aboard and turning the key and shoving the companionway hatch open, feeling so completely focused and thrilled to be there.

Excited to be there!
Heat billowed out of the hatch, carrying the smells of diesel, mildew, and head.  I scanned the interior. Nothing obvious was wrong, but everywhere my eyes rested there were surfaces to oil, or polish, or clean. My strongest initial impression was that this boat really needed someone to inhabit it--which is what I was there to do, if only for a week. (Note: our boat sitters are excellent and conscientious. My impressions did not stem from any negligence on their part; on the contrary, they have gone above and beyond more than once.)

My mom arrived that evening and we spent a productive six days scrubbing, inventorying, measuring, and making a few simple repairs. Each evening we rested over a delicious meal and a margarita at a local restaurant, and each morning we started up again. By the end of the week, we'd covered every inch of the boat.
Aside from adding a thousand and one items to our to-do list, I learned that the Fuji 40 has an incredible amount of storage for the size of the boat, miles of headroom, and woodwork of rare beauty and precision--after 30 years each drawer glides smoothly into place and doors close with a satisfying click. The topsides are functional and free of ornamentation, with wide side-decks and and an expansive foredeck. In short, it is a lovely boat with a superb layout, and I can't imagine a better choice, either aesthetically (for me), or functionally (for my family).

Remaining are the needling fears I have been aware of since we began our 5-year plan. I fear for the safety of my children aboard--though rationally I know they will be safe. I fear for our finances--well that one isn't irrational at least. I fear leaving everything and everyone behind, not returning. Yet, I'm comforted that these fears amount to little compared to my overwhelming feelings of excitement for the adventure before us.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Violence Happens

Police aboard a panga, enroute to s/v Adena, anchored in Laguna
Diamante, near the mouth of Honduras's Rio Tinto.
La, Tela, Honduras, December 4, 2010
This week, Latitude 38 reported online that Milan Egrmajer, a 58-year-old Canadian cruiser of the vessel Adena, was murdered over the weekend by armed thieves. Adena, an Ericson 35, was anchored peacefully in a remote Honduran anchorage called Laguna Diamante. Little else is known at this time, but his adult daughter was aboard and survived, so we will soon learn more.

News such as this is broadcast quickly throughout the cruising community, via a real communication grapevine. Because friendships are made quickly before boats sail in opposite directions, the grapevine exists to shorten the seeming distance between geographically dispersed members of the community. In the couple years Adena has been out cruising, boats and crew she crossed paths with have scattered about the world. Some will hear about the tragedy via SSB radio nets, and will spread the news on morning VHF nets. Some will share recollections of their encounters with Adena and her crew in cockpit gatherings.
Cruisers will mourn the loss and be eager to learn where and how this happened, hoping to gain or reinforce knowledge they can use to safeguard themselves.
This tragic event is not isolated, but neither are attacks on cruisers common. In fact, these types of senseless, predatory crimes happen so infrequently, and their circumstances so peculiar, that their likelihood doesn’t merit much worry. What these crimes do is to:
  • open the big—yet quiet—debate among folks heading off cruising about whether or not to carry firearms aboard.
  • remind everyone to carefully consider whether or not you will fight intruders to protect your property, or cooperate fully to expedite the removal of your valuables and minimize the risk of conflict.
  • cause cruisers to evaluate the measures they can take to make their boat a bit less attractive to boarders, such as a very bright spotlight as a powerful deterrent to approaching vessels/people at night, such as alarms that are set to be tripped by boarders, and which can potentially scare off bad folks who aim to be stealthy.
  • encourage people to adopt best practices wherever they go, such as not flashing your relative wealth nor engaging in criminal commerce, such as buying drugs.
We don’t consider the risk of a run-in like this to be high. But should those odds fail us, we will do, and will have done, all we can to lessen the potential for a tragic outcome.

I am very sorry for Mr. Egrmajer, his daughter, his family, and his friends. I cannot imagine.


Friday, December 3, 2010

Hurricane Hugo, 1989

Aboard the Casey J II in Tortola, BVI
1988, the year before Hugo 
Like most, I'm loosely familiar with the devastation wrought by the biggest hurricanes to hit North America in my lifetime: 2005's Katrina and 1992's Andrew.

What's harder to come by is information about the impact of these events on the cruising community. Sure, I read the Katrina-related articles by cruisers in the sailing magazines. Years ago, I watched an intimate yacht club presentation by a cruiser who buckled down in Hawaii and survived Hurricane Iniki as it passed over. I read Toast's harrowing posts about weathering 2009's Hurricane Jimena in Santa Rosalia, Mexico. I've read the Pardey's account of December 1982's rare winter storm that put 29 cruising boats on the beach.

For all of that, I've never seen anything like the compelling video below. I've never seen anything that better describes the impact of a major hurricane on the cruising community.  It is an hour-long collage of interviews of a small number of sailors who survived 1989's Hurricane Hugo in the Virgin Islands. The video was made shortly after the storm hit and it ain't the cleanest, but the grainy, unpolished quality--and the fact that the impressions were recorded so soon after the fact--brings the thing to life.

Winds of Hugo were recorded at 200 miles per hour; 190 boats were wrecked ashore.

I found the link to the video on Fatty Goodlander's site, and he and his family are featured prominently. Fatty tells of trees blowing into his rigging and of stanchions pushed down vertically, straight through his deck and into the cabin--all the while with his wife and child taking cover on the cabin sole.

More amazing than the superlatives used by everyone in this video to try and describe their experiences (with a goat aboard!?!), are the descriptions of camaraderie, of cruisers helping cruisers before, during, and after this astounding meteorological event. Camaraderie is an ironic attribute of a community comprised of determined individualists, a community to which we will soon return.

Video by Virgin Islands Search and Rescue (VISAR)
and hosted by, a site providing video
hosting for the people of the British Virgin Islands.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

An Ode

Latitude 38, November, 2010
Tonight, I asked Windy to not renew our subscription to Latitude 38. It seemed to her a weird request.
Every month I look forward to the newest edition arriving in the mail. I've considered feigning sickness on those days, just so I could beg a bit of quiet time alone in bed, free of parenting and household responsibilities, to dive into the latest issue. (I subscribe because the magazine, while free and widely available on the West Coast, is no place to be found in D.C.).
I've been reading Latitude 38 since the early nineties. I recall quarter-mile walks from my boat to the marina village at Ventura Harbor to pick up a few copies of the latest issue for myself and my neighbors, spending the next few hours in the cockpit, making my way through it, reading nearly every word, tearing out snippets from other cruisers writing from the far away places I planned to visit. I remember when color first found its way into the newsprint rag, first on the cover, then on the insides. I remember as the world wide web dawned, the publisher, Richard Spindler, opining confidently that there really didn't seem to be a need for an online presense for the magazine, that things would remain as they were, analog.
I remember when Latitude 38 sponsored and launched the first Baja Ha-Ha in '94. In fact, I remember that when we untied the docklines and headed south in 1996, we didn't participate in the Ha-Ha only because the nominal (and reasonable) entry fee would have busted our cruising kitty. We were low-budget cruisers; the entry fee was something like $85 bucks. I remember while cruising Mexico, in Mazatlan, hearing on the morning VHF net that a fellow cruiser had returned from the States with a few copies of Latitude, hot off the press--and the scramble to get my dinghy launched in a bid to secure a copy.
So, tonight I asked Windy not to renew. Not to renew because--assuming we've sufficiently appeased the real estate gods and our house sells quickly after listing it--we will not be here for all of the next 12 months! It's hard to justify the $50 subscription when I can read it online. In addition to just plain cutting costs for the sake of this trip's kitty, we will be using a mail forwarding service and want to minimize the amount of stuff they have to ship to Mexico. Ending our Latitude 38 subcription is the first concrete step towards that effort and it really brings it all home. We...are...leaving. The chair I'm sitting in now as I type this, the living room around me, the sounds of the bedtime routine drifting down from upstairs: we are leaving it all. In months. Whoa.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Life Raft or Lifeboat?

© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Used with permission.
Back in July, I wrote a post about dinghies: what they are and why they're so important to cruisers (read The Cruiser's Car). I ended the post by describing the fine dinghy that came with our boat, and our intention to get rid of it: "Once back in the States, we plan to purchase a new hard dinghy and new motor…a very specific hard dinghy and motor. More on our dinghy plans and rationale in a future post…"
So here we are.
We plan to get rid of the dinghy that came with our Fuji 40 because it will not meet our needs. Why won't it meet our needs? Because we need our dinghy to be more than a dinghy.
We made a very deliberate decision not to carry a life raft aboard Del Viento. This decision flies smack in the face of the prevailing cruiser mindset. No life raft? Insanity!
Not insane, practical...logical. Instead of going to sea with the de rigueur blow-up life raft, we plan to outfit our dinghy such that it may be used as our lifeboat. To get an idea of how radical and contrary this idea is among cruisers, read the admonition in the recent Toast Floats post Preparing for Disaster. I'm actually surprised more folks don't adopt this approach (of course, it doesn't work with an inflatable dinghy and inflatables make such outstanding dinghies, it would be difficult to sway inflatable lovers). But none other than Lin and Larry Pardey are proponents of the don't-carry-a-life-raft-aboard-instead-use-your-dinghy-as-a-lifeboat philosophy, and they are highly regarded in the cruising community (though, now that I think about it, their respected choices are rarely followed).
If we wanted our dinghy to serve only as our dinghy, it would be difficult to justify replacing what we have. As a dinghy, our Mercury inflatable is large and stable, hard to beat. Even more surprising: Our Fuji 40 comes with a life raft too, a four-person Plastimo with a certification that expired in 2009. We'll sell this in the States too.

Some definitions: A life raft is usually either packaged in a valise and stored in a locker, or packaged in a canister and stored on deck. If your boat is sinking, you toss one or the other into the water and (hopefully) watch your new plastic salvation inflate. A lifeboat is what larger vessels carry--I'm talking ships (remember the lifeboats on the Titanic?). They don't inflate, they just are.

Of course, the reason most cruising boats and other smaller vessels carry life rafts rather than lifeboats is size. Now our boat isn't any bigger than the average cruising boat (a bit smaller actually, at 39.1 feet LOA), and we certainly could not carry a dedicated life boat. But by dual-purposing our dinghy, we won't have to.

While adopting this approach puts us in the minority (way in the minority), we think it makes total sense. Following are the points I think are important when comparing the life raft to the dinghy-as-life-boat (DALB), as I see them:

Points Supporting Our Approach
Portland Pudgy in full lifeboat configuration

  • A life raft, even recently serviced, may not inflate. This is not uncommon. [A dinghy-as-life-boat (DALB) is a sure thing, you use it daily and know it works.]
  • A life raft is passive, with no means of locomotion. [A DALB will have a sail kit stored aboard (sail, mast, rudder, lee boards). This may allow you to sail yourself ashore or into shipping lanes.]
  • A life raft is subject to puncture and chafe. [A DALB is hard, not subject to puncture or chafe, and is unsinkable.]
  • A life raft requires regular repacking at considerable expense. Though there are facilities worldwide, you will have to coordinate your travels carefully to be located near one when you need to have your raft serviced. [A DALB is maintained by you.]
Points Against Our Approach
    Typical life raft
  • A life raft with a hydrostatic release deploys automatically. If things go down hill quickly and you find yourself in the water, the raft will likely bob to the surface and inflate soon after. [A DALB will be secured on deck while underway and will have to be unsecured and deployed manually, perhaps in challenging conditions.]
While Lin and Larry built their own DALB, they are Lin and Larry and we are not. Fortunately for us, almost 10 years ago, David Hulbert, a retired engineer in Portland, Maine, designed and built a prototype DALB he calls the Portland Pudgy. His prototype was so effective he decided to make more and he built a company. They are not cheap, and many think they are not pretty, but they are awesomely practical. Mr. Hubert brought his Pudgy to the the 2007 Annapolis Sailboat Show. Windy and I talked to him at length and even sat in the thing, trying to determine if it would be big enough for our 2011 family. We decided at the time it was, but Portland Pudgys have not returned to the show, so we've not had a chance to confirm what we decided then.

Following is a video interview with David Hulbert demonstrating the boat for (read their complete review):

Also, the Pudgy offers other benefits over an inflatable dingy: it's fun to sail (doubling as an instructional water toy for the girls), it tows well (litlle resistance), it features internal storage (all of the safety and sailing gear are stowed aboard always), and it rows easily.

A couple months ago, Peter Neilsen, SAIL magazine's editor-in-chief, reviewed the Pudgy and wrote of the size: "The Pudgy is USCG-rated to carry up to four people, but they’d better be slightly built and very good friends; there are limits to what you can expect of a 7ft 9in dinghy with the floor area of a four-person liferaft."

He ended the review with the following endorsement: "It’s tough, functional and practical, and if the choice came down to climbing into a traditional life raft or boarding the Pudgy, I know where I’d rather be. For a cruising couple or a family with small children, the Pudgy makes a lot of sense."

Now, more on our dinghy motor plans in a future post...


Friday, November 19, 2010

Blueberries or Flies?

So back in May I wrote about an eye-opening article I read in Cruising World by columnist Wendy Mitman Clarke (see my post here: Along for the Ride [or Shanghaied?]). In her column, she questioned whether pulling her kids out of conventional society and taking them cruising is really in their best interests--as everyone assumes it is (read her CW column here).
I was so impressed by the column that I sent the following comments to the Cruising World Senior Editor, Mark Pillsbury, and he published them in the current issue. Pretty cool!
Blueberries for Sal or Lord of the Flies?
I found Wendy Mitman Clarke's "Child's Play" (Osprey's Flight, June 2010) to be refreshing and thought-provoking. While my wife and I are particularly interested in the subject matter--we're engaged in final preparations for taking off cruising with our two daughters--I think the piece likely resonates with many cruisers because it's a frank look at a topic that isn't heavily covered and is never represented in anything but a positive light.

Cruising isn't a permanent vacation; like complex lives lived ashore, it's enriched with positives and beset by negatives. Kudos to CW for supporting a writer who relates her even-handed take on the lifestyle even if that portrayal isn't always flattering. Her honesty is a hallmark of your publication, and it's exemplified monthly in the front of the magazine by Cap'n Fatty Goodlander and in the back by Clarke.


Monday, November 15, 2010


A while back, Windy found an excellent book swapping site called BookMooch. It’s literally that, a book swapping site. Not a dime changes hands (except between you and the post office). In short, you get a point for sending someone a book they request, and you lose a point when you request a book from someone. It is very cool, kind of like a babysitting co-op. You also get 1/10th of a point for each book you list and 1/10th of a point everytime you leave feedback for someone who sends you a book. If you send a book outside of the U.S., you get three points (and you lose three points when you mooch a book from overseas).

I don’t know how we accumulated the hundreds and hundreds of books we did, but we can’t take them with us on the boat, so I’ve been slowly getting rid of them over the past couple years. Everytime I’ve come up with a stack I am ready to part with, I list on Amazon those that are worth something, and give the rest away. Since discovering BookMooch, I’ve allowed folks to mooch about two dozen books I’d have given away. It’s gratifying to send these books to those who are eager to read them. Tomorrow a paperback copy of Thoreau’s Walden heads to Greece and Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is off to Canada.

Many of my sailing books have already been mooched, but I still have titles available from the Pardeys, the Roths, and Tania Aebi—mooch ‘em quick.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Why The Radical Life Change?

In early 2006, after our second daughter, Frances, was born, I had the mother of all epiphanies: we should quit our jobs, sell everything, buy a boat, and sail around the world. It took Windy about 2 seconds to agree. Within five minutes, we'd launched the five-year plan that is now wrapping up.
At the time I was reading All in the Same Boat by Tom Neale. In the book he describes the past 20 years of his family's life, cruising up and down the eastern seaboard, following the seasons from Maine to the Bahamas. Both the Neale girls were raised aboard and seemed to turn out to be respectable young women. I had two girls and I liked boats; it was easy to imagine myself in that life...
Now, to put this into perspective, Windy and I have been cruising before. In fact, it’s how we met. In 1996 I lived aboard a Newport 27 in Ventura, California and signed Windy on as my sole crew for a 7-month trip to Key West, via the Panama Canal (SAIL magazine published an article I wrote about this trip in their November 2007 issue). We had the time of our lives and dreamed of cruising again, someday. Of course, we would first settle down, buy a house, start a family, contribute to IRAs and 401Ks, join the neighborhood association, attend Back-to-School night, and hopefully take two weeks off each of the next twenty years to vacation. Eventually, our kids would get out on their own, we’d help pay for college, maybe a couple of weddings, and then buy a boat to pursue our cruising ambitions. This script was tried and true, the American Dream. So what happened?
On that March day in 2006, I realized an alternative might be more satisfying to us both. We’d grown up, gone to college, found careers, bought our first house, and made a family. All that appeared on the horizon was more of the same. Bigger house? Nicer car? Better vacations? More responsibility at work? For the next 30 years?
1. Wake up.
2. Go to work.
3. Eat dinner.
4. Return to Step 1.

I know that I’m painting a bleak, over-simplified picture, ignoring about a million factors that make our life pretty damn good by conventional measures, but it just isn’t enough. The primary shortcoming is that we are not living together. We are all under the same roof, but pulled in too many directions by economic and societal demands to be really living together.
Until December 2008, we were a two-income family. This meant that we dispersed every morning to live distinct lives. Windy to work, check. Frances down the street to daycare, check. Eleanor to school downtown, check. Michael to work, check. In their early years, most of the impressions that our girls were forming, the synapses they were making, were happening in our absence. Despite the second-mother-like daycare situation for Frances, and a safe, caring school environment for Eleanor, this situation was not sustainable for Windy. Her decision to end her career at National Geographic was an easy one. Because our cruising plans were by then in full swing, I was against her decision. "Stick it out." I argued, "We are leaving soon." It did not make financial sense to scrape by on one income at a time when we were trying to save as much as we could.

Since losing that battle, I have seen (in the 5-or-so waking hours I am with my family each day) a steady transformation in her as a parent. Her relationship with our girls and her parenting experiences mean everything to her. I no longer doubt the wisdom of her choice; I am grateful to her for making it. I am grateful for the direct, immediate, and tailored attention she offers Eleanor and Frances, all day long. We are both pleased with this outcome for their sake. 

But that still leaves me. While I have a good job and I work with many sharp, interesting people from all over the world, I'm not doing work that interests me. My job is not satisfying physically nor intellectually. I am not driven in any way to do what I do. Rather, it is a well-paying job that I do well, but which keeps me away from my family for the bulk of my waking hours. In fact, whole days go by where I leave for the office before anybody is awake, and return after the girls are back in bed--their little heads filled and expanded with new experiences and associations that do not include me.

Surprisingly, this is not intolerable. Maybe it's because I am a guy, because I'm wired differently? Maybe it's because I am not missing what I have not yet been able to know? However tolerable, it seems wrong. Too, it leaves me feeling guilty for those hours I steal away for myself, whether it is work that has to be done on the house or reading and writing that I want to do. How can I have so little time available for my girls and not spend every minute of that time with them? My justification is that they need to see me engaged in my own pursuits. They need parents who attend to self interests and who model the adult behaviors we want them to emulate. Today, Windy is able to offer both. I am not.

It is a problem of lack of time, the bane of families everywhere. My epiphany on that March day suggests a solution to this problem. In cruising, we envision the opportunity to spend nearly all of our time together. We could accomplish the same ends by selling everything and buying outright a small house or trailer in a small town in North Dakota or Mississippi. But in addition to togetherness, cruising offers a rich and varied life for a cost that is less than the U.S. poverty level for a family of four ($22,050 in 2010).     

So, we’re trying something new and radical, we'll see how it goes. We can always come back and rejoin this race, or find yet another path.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

West Marine v. Defender

"Thank you Auntie Julie and the Ryans!"

At the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis this year, we were on a mission: we were there to buy, we knew what we wanted, and we were price sensitive. On the first day, we walked back and forth between the West Marine and Defender booths, our lists in hand, taking notes and taking pictures of price tags with our iPhones. That night, we reviewed all of the data and surprisingly, neither retailer emerged as the clear winner. West Marine beat Defender in some cases, and vice versa. I was surprised because I expected Defender to undercut West Marine with few exceptions.
Before casting off on my first voyage in the mid-1990s, I lived two-and-a-half miles from the Ventura, CA West Marine store. During the three years I worked to ready the boat, I drove back-and-forth to that West Marine hundreds of times. I heard often from friends on the dock that Defender’s catalog prices were much lower than West Marine's prices, and they were. For the larger purchases that my big-boat dock mates made, I'm sure Defender made sense. But this was the pre-Internet era and Defender was strictly a mail-order operation. For the smaller, frequent purchases I made over that time period, the cost of shipping and the receipt and return hassle didn’t make Defender a better value to me.

Of course, over the past 18 years the marine retail landscape has changed. With Internet sales common, free or discounted shipping the norm, and sales tax the exception, the West Marine store’s brick-and-mortar value is diminished—especially given their recent dilution of their once legendary return policy. Young folks today never use the words "mail order" and Defender is now an online retailer--and so is West Marine.
Windy is planning a Mexico trip to the boat now, for the first week of December. She’ll take a bunch of measurements while there. When she returns, we’ll be able to finalize a list of the remaining items we need to purchase and bring south with us. I’ve already begun scoping out retailers for some of the purchases we have yet to make. I know now that it will not be just a West Marine v. Defender battle. At home, and now that the 'boat show specials' are over, there are hundreds of online retailers, including Amazon, competing in the marine retail area. Some are specialized ( and others compete more broadly--all of them are eager for our business.


Things We Will Miss: The Price-Bleimehls

With daughters the same age as ours, we've shared many milestones and adventures and margaritas with them. Dozens of birthdays, many Easter egg hunts in their backyard, clothes and shoes and toys perpetually co-mingled between our homes, sleepovers galore, and hundreds of good meals.

Every October they watched our girls while we spent 12-hour days at the boat show.

They adopted our chickens, our cats are going to be theirs, and they even offered months ago to provide care for our aged and much loved, but smelly and sometimes incontinent dog Honey--just to help us out. What can we say? Leaving this family is going to suck...

--WR & MR

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Empty Nest

Adorable Jewel
A few weeks ago our house swarmed with life. It practically bulged with the sounds, sights, and smells of two kids, a dog, two cats, ten tadpoles, two chickens, and at least twenty monarch caterpillars.

This morning it is quiet. The girls and cats are asleep. The tadpoles turned frog and are on Roosevelt Island, busily gobbling bugs and looking for protected places to hibernate. The caterpillars sprouted gorgeous wings and flew away (we'll meet up with them in Mexico!). The chickens moved across the alley to live with our good friends Jana and Shawn. And the dog, Honey, even she's gone.
We didn't expect Honey to live to sixteen, yet somehow we also didn't expect her to ever die. For years Mike has been saying, "What about Honey?" For about three years I said, "Don't worry, there's no chance she'll be around when it's time to leave. She's so old. She's so big." But over time I began to question our situation myself.
Over the past few years Honey had had two strokes and one strange period of several days, probably also some sort of stroke, where she lay, unmoving in her bed. (Mike and the girls were away and I feared she'd die and they'd return to bad news.) Yet, for all of these strokes--each time I absolutely knew it was the end--she recovered. In fact, for a dog in her teens she recovered brilliantly.

So it was a surprise when, on a day like any other, with no signs of infirmity, she quietly passed away. And it was sad. I felt no sense of relief, just loss. The girls and I cuddled up and we read The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, which a friend loaned us.
A while back I wrote about our pets and our tentative plans for them as we transition to the boat life. Seemingly overnight our pet predicament is resolved. Even the cats, that we will keep until just before we leave, have a good home waiting for them with Jana and Shawn.
Mexico Bound

Our home is getting quieter. The early morning sounds of clucking hens and the clicking of nails on hardwood floors are gone, soon to be replaced by the creaking sounds of our old boat and the gentle slap of water against her hull.

Spinnaker Fun

After we bought our Fuji 40, the gracious seller offered us a bunch of nautical stuff in his Arizona (read: climate preserved) garage--for nothing more than the cost of shipping. We are grateful that he took the time and effort to do this. (Thank you Merritt!)

Anyway, what showed up in two very large boxes (one weighed over 100 pounds) was three sets of foul weather gear, a Pacific Northwest chart guide, a hank-on fore sail, a furling-track-ready genoa, spliced sheets with shackles, and a lovely .75-ounce symetrical spinnaker.

Windy confirmed that two of the foul weather gear sets fit her beautifully. I confirmed that the sails and sheets are all in excellent condition. Then, on a warm, late summer evening, we and our good friends and their kids, took the spinnaker to the park next to our house.
We unfurled the sail and took a good look at her. There are a few minor tears in the nylon, but they will be easy to repair. The adults grabbed the corners and we lifted and lowered that sail until our arms were sore, the five girls running underneath and out, screaming with delight.

I've never flown a spinnaker--certainly not a real, symetrical spinnaker. Just the 110 genoa on my Newport 27 was a handful when the wind piped up. I've heard a million spinnaker-twisting, blow-out horror stories. Until I heard we had a spinnaker for this boat, for the asking, I had pretty much written off the idea of ever owning one. It seems every collection of racing pictures that Latitude 38 publishes includes at least one dramatic "crash" of a boat trying to fly a symetrical spinnaker. But, on the flip side, Lin and Larry Pardey praise the virtues of this old-school sail in their writings and videos, and that means a lot to me.

That night I watched as many YouTube videos as I could find that showed how to fly a symetrical spinnaker. In the end, I am much less daunted. We've got a solid pole aboard and the only question that remains is whether to buy a sock (or douser). I can probably get a used one at a fair price. I will first ask Merritt how he managed things.


Friday, October 15, 2010

We Left All Our Money at the 2010 Annapolis Sailboat Show

I’m surprised Jimmy Buffet hasn’t yet written a song called, “I Left All My Money at the Boat Show.”
As I wrote in another post: One of the responses we heard from a few people when they heard we were going to the boat show this year was, "But you already have a boat; why are you going this year?" Not only did we go this year, we went three days in a row (and in that time, we went aboard only a few boats).
Our main focus this year was acquiring the expensive gear we know we'll need, at boat-show-discounted prices. As you would expect at the largest in-the-water sailboat show in North America (the world?), more than just boats are on display. There are several large circus tents filled with vendors and exhibitors. Outside of these, there are vendors and exhibitors under smaller tents around the show grounds, and there are vendors and exibitors in open-air booths outside, everywhere. Literally hundreds of booths. I estimate that 75% of them are merchants with marine stuff to sell and 25% are manufacturers there just to offer information. For example, we purchased Standard Horizon radios from a vendor at the show after talking to the manufacturer in another booth. Same with our ACR EPIRB. I learned a ton of valuable info about our particular Yanmar diesel auxillary from talking to the guys at the Mack Boring booth. Same from talking to the PSS shaft seal folks. Same from talking to the Lofrans windless folks.
Our secondary focus was getting the girls on and around boats. On this front, we were able to get them rides in an 8-foot sailing dinghy, sponsored by a local sailing school. Then, after talking for a bit with the U.S. importer of the Torqeedo electric outboard we are considering buying one day, she tossed me the keys and the four of us jumped in an 11-foot inflatable to demo the thing (very nice motor, eerily quiet). Finally, we took the girls aboard a few boats just to further orient them and to hear their impressions.

Accordingly, we prepared for this show, our last show before heading out. We did our homework reviewing our vessel survey and my notes from the pre-purchase trip to Mexico. We created a laundry list of things we needed. We combed the Internet and Practical Sailor back issues to determine the exact makes/models we wanted.
  • Day One: We visited just about every booth that interested us, grabbing brochures, talking to people, taking notes, and taking pictures of price tags. It was a full day, but we did manage to enjoy a couple Pusser’s Pain Killers.
  • Day Two: We brought the girls. We made sure they went aboard a few boats, got rides in sailing dinghies, and got a ride in a regular dinghy—before they melted down in the heat. We left early and did not drink enough Pusser’s Pain Killers.
  • Day Three: Alone again, we arrived early to see Lee Chesneau’s seminar on marine weather forecasting (Windy loved it and plans to sign up for his marine meteorology seminar). After this, we stormed the show, armed with the information we gathered Day 1 and our knowledge from two nights of study, ensuring that every dollar we spent was spent on the right gear at the best possible price. We left all of our money at the show and did not drink enough Pusser’s Pain Killers.
What did we buy? Following is the list of our 2010 boat show purchases (gads!):
  • Auto-inflating life vest with integrated harness (Revere ComfortMax x2)
  • Auto-loading bit driver (Autoloader x2)
  • Boat knife (West Marine)
  • Boat knives (Wichard x2)
  • Boom brake (Winchard Gyb’Easy)
  • Deck key (Davis)
  • Ditch Bag (ACR)
  • Double lifeline tethers (Wichard x2)
  • Electronic LED candle (SmartCandle)
  • Emergency locator lights (Revere SeeMe x2)
  • Emergency strobe (ACR)
  • EPIRB with GPS (ACR GlobalFix 406 Cat 2)
  • Flare container (Pains Wessex)
  • Fixed-mount GPS (Standard Horizon CP-180)
  • Fixed-mount VHF (Standard Horizon Matrix 2100 with AIS)
  • Foam hull plug (Forespar TruPlug)
  • Handheld GPS (Garmin 76CS)
  • Handheld VHF (Standard Horizon HX751)
  • Headlamps (no-name cheapos x2)
  • Masthead tri-color with anchor light (Signal Mate 2NM LED Tri-Color w/ Anchor Light)
  • Men’s foul weather bib (Henri Lloyd TP1)
  • Men’s foul weather Jacket (Henri Lloyd TP1)
  • Opening stainless steel portlights (New Found Metals 3"x17" x7)
  • Ratcheting wire crimpers (Cruising Solutions)
  • Sailing gloves for Windy (Gill)
  • Sewing awl (Sailrite Speedy Stitcher)
  • Signal horn (West Marine)
  • Silicone repair tape (Rescue Tape! x2)
  • Stereo system (Fusion RA-200 with IPOD Dock and 2 speakers)
  • Two chart tubes (Weems & Plath)
  • Vinyl boat lettering (Del Viento 8" x2 and Washington, DC 4")
  • Water-tight plastic “wallets” with lanyard (Davis x3)
Damage? About 5 Boat Bucks. Ouch, but all of it anticipated.


Can't Escape Our Destiny

What is it with these fortune cookies? This is Frances's fortune from a DC restaurant tonight.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Getting Ready for the Big Life Change

This week we sent picture cards to friends, family, and acquaintances. This picture card is a formal announcement of the new 25,000-pound member of our family sitting in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
While we’ve talked about our "big life change" plans with many over the past 5 years, we’ve largely kept it behind the scenes and many are unaware. (Even people to whom we mentioned it early on, have forgotten, or doubted us!)
We are eager to keep in touch with the people who have been a part of our lives as dirt dwellers: friends, distant relatives, family, neighbors, and passersby. Hopefully this blog will help us to do that, to some extent, no matter where we are in the world.
So, you've found our blog, book mark it! Come with us, virtually. Totally upending our lives and doing something that is contrary to all conventional wisdom (and totally insane from a financial best interests standpoint) ain't easy, but it is surely going to make for good tales. You will find them here.
Of course, before the craziness can begin, we have a lot to do over the next many months. It seems as though nearly every aspect of our lives is geared towards getting ready. Time is flying by. Over the past few of weeks: 
·         We met with and hired our real estate agent for next spring’s sale.
·         We had a consultation with a designer recommended by our agent. (Life lesson: do this before spending 10 years in a home, not months before you move.)
·         I am organizing and moving digital media (pictures, videos, documents) to online storage so that we can sell our desktop computer/monitor and buy a second laptop.
·         I am learning everything I can about our Yanmar 4JH-TE motor so that I know what spares to buy and bring. (Just purchased a $42 impeller!)
·         Windy is getting ready for her December trip to Puerto Vallarta to check on the boat and take a million more measurements and pictures.
·         We are both making lists and otherwise planning for the 3 consecutive days we will spend at the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis this week. (Most common question from sailing neophytes: “Why are you going to the boat show if you already bought a boat?”)
·         I am prioritizing all of my house-prep work to those things that need to be done before we paint, so that we can paint sooner and enjoy the new paint for longer.
·         I installed new struts and springs on the back of the car last week, in preparation for the trailer and extra load we will carry on our big road trip to the boat after the house sells (will do the front soon).
·         Windy is digitizing all of our contacts (she is eager to toss the well-worn physical address book, we compromised that she will keep it in a drawer for 3 months to see how her new system works out).
·         Windy is sorting through the dozens hundreds of kid books to eliminate what is no longer age-appropriate.
·         I bought several heavy-duty, watertight, ice-chest-sized plastic containers into which we are beginning to put those things that will be going to the boat, and that we will not need until we get on the boat (boat show purchases, spare parts, winter clothes after winter, etc).
·         We sold our massive computer armoire and put in place a small corner table for the office.
·         Windy is working on a categorized, master list of things to do and buy (A=essentials, B=important, C=future project).
·         I cleared out and re-seeded the front and back lawns last week so that when the house is on the market in the spring, it will have the nicest lawn for miles.
It feels good to be organizing and lightening our load, less stuff. But at the same time, we are in consumer mode too, generating a long list of purchases necessary to transition to the new life—this in spite of our joint resolve to not get caught up in the frenzy of marketing to boat owners that demands we spend every penny we have to ensure we bring the comforts of land life aboard and that we are insulated from every calamity, however unlikely.
Life changes this big require lots of getting ready. It's a process we've been involved in for the past 5 years, but which is now accelerating.
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