Cruising the Bahamas: beauty at our back door

Girls hiking in the Bahamas

snorkeling coral reef BahamasHard won miles to windward from the cerulean blue of our last Bahamian anchorage, some perspective on our months in the islands is sinking in. I went in with a mixed bag of expectations: friends who have sailed around the world claim it’s among the best cruising to be had (don’t we all love our first major destination?). Other cruisers who don’t have that far-reaching basis for comparison rave about it (was there narrower base of comparison at play?). It put me on guard: were we REALLY going to like it that much? How could islands so close to the USA possibly offer that kind of exceptional experience?

Confession: I spent too much of our time there being jaded and just needed to get over it. So what if the Bahamas didn’t measure up in discrete specifics to more exotic locales? On its own merits, the islands are a spectacular cruising ground, and there is a lot to love. These are the reasons it stood out in our experience.

It’s spectacular. There is almost nothing more to say. We’ve seen a lot of mesmerizing water on our way around the world, and the Bahamas (tie: Bermuda) is at the top of the heap. It’s as though it is lit from within: and it is, in a way, as sunlight reflecting off a white sandy bottom is what lends the vivid blues. Stunning shades of aqua in the winding inner channel of the Exumas are now my benchmark. A gift for cruisers starting out from the US east coast: their first international step can transport them to some of the best! UNDERwater is another story, but we’ll save that for later.

Photos can't do the colors justice, but offer a suggestion

Photos can’t do the colors justice, but offer a suggestion

It’s a DAY trip! Sure, there is a meaningful bit of water to cross and the Gulf Stream deserves all the respect and planning you can give it. But at the end of the day, well… at the end of the day in which you depart Florida, you can be relaxing on the hook in Alice Town or West End, and rightfully feel like you have transported yourself a world away to an island paradise where you can beachcomb for intricate shells, paddle in turquoise water, gawk at mountains of conch shells, maybe even swim with dolphins (all features of our point of arrival, Bimini).

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How to describe the feeling of being approached by a playful dolphin?

This proximity also helped when Jamie and I had to fly out. I was gone a week for the Annapolis spring boat show; Jamie hopped around Florida and the Caribbean checking out boat listings with a few of our coaching clients. Even in what felt like relatively remote islands, flights were easy to book on relatively short notice and fares weren’t terrible. What a great way to cruise in a place that’s relatively easy to have visitors! And if you’re sailing back to the US, it’s likely to be with the wind at your back…and an easier task to find a date to cross the Gulf Stream in comfort.

If you came for the sand you’ll be in paradise. If you came for the avocados to make guacamole to go accompany nacho chips that cost $11/bag, then carry on to Puerto Rico!

Sure, you may want to provision up anything you must have; you might not find it and it will cost more when you do. But it’s a corollary of “close to home,” these islands aren’t in the middle of an ocean. They’re regularly supplied by mail boats (or planes). Costs can be eyepopping (especially for our hungry crew…wow the kids were easier to feed when they were little!), but that’s if you’re trying to recreate your Publix shopping cart at a market on Eleuthera. Mitigate expense with advance provisioning or switching your diet to local style: market rates or government subsidy keep many staples affordable. Get out the fishing gear. Shift your habits. Eat on board instead of ashore.

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Conch at a pier on Eleuthera: 7 for $10

Ultimately, availability wasn’t as bad as I expected from reports. In George Town, it as possible to get everything from kale to mushrooms and shallots. Markets in Staniel Cay had surprising breadth: asparagus anyone? (thanks I’m sure to the higher-end charters frequenting the area and providing a ready market to supply.)

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Bounty after the mail boat: George Town, Great Exuma

If you need boat parts, it’s a little different. People don’t need diesel mechanics the way they need food. But help is there, and parts are just a DHL shipment away. Many corners of the world are a lot more complicated, and lot slower / more costly, if it’s necessary to source and deliver boat bits. So you may have to wait a bit…there are few places that wouldn’t be lovely to be required to wait around!

We started out by using our existing US T-Mobile plans. T-Mobile’s customer service crowed about the 4G we’d be living in the Bahamas, leveraging the BTC cellular network that’s already in place. Well, there was broad coverage. That’s incredible, really, considering the dispersed islands and thin population. But the service was throttled back to 2G. Fine if you’re just checking email, but really not good enough for what it cost. No problem: swapping our T-Mobile SIM card for a BTC SIM was affordable and easy. $15 for the SIM, and during our stay, 15 gigabytes cost only $35 – much better value than our paused T-Mobile plan and about the cheapest per-GB rate yet.

Despite being entirely off pace with the seasonal flow of the Bahamas, the islands lived up to their reputation as a social hub for cruisers. Our timing meant that we experienced it on a smaller scale (George Town peaks with more than 300 boats; there were maybe a dozen transients when we came in). But we were able to meet up with “internet friends” passing on the way to the states, and make new friends who, like us, had plans to point to the Caribbean for hurricane season.

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An overdue meetup with the Tookish crew, plus friends

US east coasters in particular seem to make a big deal about shallow Bahamas water limiting access to all but shallow draft boats. Depths require attention, but it is NOT a big deal. Shallower draft boats can anchor closer to the beach. Once in a while they can take a shortcut that we can’t, or skip waiting for higher tide. Repeat: it is not a big deal. We draw 6’; we spent time with a boat drawing 7’, neither of us felt compromised in our anchoring or locked out from cool spots.

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Siobhan peeks under Totem’s keel: at times we only had a few inches at low tide

The Bahamas was largely a straightforward place to cruise. Same language, much of the same cultural context, it’s safe, there are oodles of blogs and other resources to help plan a trip. Currency is 1:1 with the US dollar, and US currency is accepted everywhere. It really does not get much easier! But I can appreciate that for cruisers who are reaching beyond the US coast for the first time, it may feel …not easy. And of course, it’s Not America, and with that may creep in some uncertainty. The cure for that is the Waterway Guide. Updated annually, it includes exhaustive detail to relieve any worries a new cruiser (or, newly international cruiser) might have from the clearance process (an overall view and details what to do / where to go at each port of entry) to understanding the unique dynamics of the tide in the Bahamas (they have a great description that helped it make perfect sense to me) – along with all that normal logistical guide stuff of places to go, conch shacks to patronize, and reefs to snorkel. It’s the only book you need.

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Late-season flock anchored off Monument Beach, George Town

The same folks who think you need shoal draft boats to cruise the Bahamas warn about bad charts and currents and tides and dragons. Dunno about the dragons but just like depth, current/tide merely requires attention. It’s not unduly complicated, but may be new for boaters accustomed to channel markers wherever you might need them and aids to navigation for any hazard. Possibly that’s why the Explorer charts have developed an otherwise puzzling cult following. After being at the receiving end a mountain of FUD, we finally conceded to buy a set. They WERE good charts, but along our winding path from Bimini through the Exumas to Great Inagua, Navionics charts (used with the iNavX app) were pretty much spot on (save a few places where we found more depth than they indicated). And speaking of FUD, that’s what Explorer throws at boaters who just want to anchor. In one anchorage after another Explorer reported bad holding where we set the hook very well, thank you. They also advertise a lot of marinas…

We maxed out the three months we were granted on entry to the Bahamas. What we didn’t max out where the opportunities to explore. Always good to leave something wanting? One aspect is certain: the further away from the US we got, the better we liked the Bahamas. Had our earlier plans not relied on pauses and airports while Jamie and I took care of business, I kinda think we might have tipped over into full-fledged the Bahamas cheerleaders. There were just a few things that held us back, though, and that’s the next post.

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Drones-eye-view to the north at Stocking Island, Exumas

Beautiful everyday Bahamas

sailboat in clear blue water

pinterest beautiful bahamasTotem floats in water so crystalline she almost looks suspended in air; her shadow paints a dark splotch on the sand below. One anchorage after another, the incredible water of the Bahamas is the stuff of magazine covers that were surely photoshopped (maybe not, after all!); so beautiful it defies belief.

High clouds chasing the horizon serve as reminders for the march forward and the factors out of our control. The goal to reach Grenada in July feels remote, as the easterlies–which should be backing off–have sent up one day after another of 15+ knots coming out of the exact direction in which we’d like to go. Day-hopping puts a few miles away, but the magic feeling of flying along under sail is elusive.

Still running counter-current to the flow of boats, and that’s OK. The short term routing plan changes with every shift in the weather as we look at our options and work out how to go the “wrong” way most comfortably, while squeezing in as many of the spectacular anchorages of the Bahamas as possible along the way. Maybe eventually these turquoise blues fade into the everyday sameness, but that’s hard to imagine.

There is no hardship in the slow pace, and days of wonder slip by as we incrementally progress. Headed in our direction are boats we’ve “known” for years without meeting in person, and it’s been a joy to intersect. They bring reminders of the mellower pace of a convivial cruising life we’ve not had for a while, the better side of cruising, and many things to be thankful for!

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To days on the beach, sand between our toes, taking the time to talk story, enjoy wildlife, and just hang out.

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To nights with just enough rum – or maybe a little bit too much! – and the fuzzy pictures for remembering them. And these kids! How lucky do we feel to have another great bunch around, even it it’s just briefly?

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To the discovery that people who we’d only known remotely were, if possible, even more wonderful in person, and who indulged my Pavlovian response to the word “hug” from people I care about.

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To finding new friends headed down a similar path, and the anticipation of shared anchorages ahead.

beach days

Old dogs are learning new tricks on slower days, and having fun playing with the tools, although there’s a looooooong way down that road! Last December, we picked up a deeply discounted DJI Phantom 3 Pro during the frenzy of holiday sales. It proceeded to spend most of the following months languishing in the original box as we scared ourselves with stories of newbie drone-flying disasters. We finally got over it.

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A “practice drone” (read: crashable) from our friends Scott & Sara made for great raining wheels, and the Phantom is FINALLY getting put to active use. The images it provides– from Totem floating in the Stocking Island monument anchorage at the top, to the flyover our anchorage at Conception Island below– capture the feeling of these places for our permanent digital memory in a vibrant new way. Now we’re on the lookout for the next trainee to pass the practice drone to; if that’s you, raise your hand!

For bang-for-the-buck photography fun, the winner is the dome we got for our GoPro (make sure you get a cover: they scratch very easily!). For around fifty bucks, the half above / half underwater shots are just tremendously cool, and it’s fun to keep trying to get the “perfect” shot of Totem in the glorious Bahamian water. We’ve gotten a few winners but none to beat the one with a nurse shark just hanging out down below. They are slow, docile creatures but this one practically posed for Jamie!

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Despite appearances, things haven’t been perfect, and it’s more than the easterlies. I’ll regale anyone who wants at a later time about the problems with our new battery bank, with the aft head pump mechanism that broke (again), with the portable generator that’s wheezing, with the shoddily installed headliner that’s dropping, with the mysterious spiny things that got into Ruby and Siobhan’s feet in the lagoon, with… you get the idea.

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Sharing the less glowing realities of cruising is fine. Great, even, because I don’t want to be unrealistic. Today I’m choosing to revel in the highs of the last stretch instead of the lows. And yes, in a none-too-subtle nod to how we assume our lives often appear from the outside: there were actually UMBRELLA DRINKS served recently… on a sweet catamaran (it’s for sale!), with an even sweeter family, nibbling on Cuban guava paste on imported cheese. Because more often than not this cruising life is just that honeyed.

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Archetypical Bahamas, sort of

sailboat tropical sea cruising the bahamasCruising boats flow back to the US for hurricane season this time of year. Our path is counter-current thanks to our seasonally late departure from Florida and slow pace through the Bahamas. It’s less than 300 miles to Florida from where Totem lies at anchor near George Town; more than 1,100 nm of sailing stand between us and our hurricane season destination of Grenada. Compounding our situation: it is against prevailing conditions (easterly breezes) instead of with them. Yes, it really is time to get a move on!

Being off-sync means missing out on some of the expected (and anticipated) experiences of these beautiful islands. I have a long list of “must see” spots, favorites from respected friends seeking to share their love of the Bahamas. We’ll miss most of those spots. I don’t know how to justify our acceptance of this without sounding jaded, but we aren’t too fussed at the prospect of missing many of lauded Bahamas cruiser experiences. We’ll do we do best: make the most of where we find ourselves.

Meanwhile, Totem crew is hardly missing out on the rituals of Bahamian cruising life with various rituals and shenanigans to indulge in though a handful of stops in the Exumas–near Staniel Cay, and at our current anchorage near George Town.

At Big Majors Spot, sundowners were hoisted each evening on “Pirate Beach” (there’s a sign and everything) at 5 sharp.

Jamie brings in our Meori trug: nibbles on one half, beverages in the other side's nested compartment.

Jamie brings in our Meori trug: nibbles on one half, beverages in the other side’s nested compartment.

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Sailboat 50 50 underwater photo Bahamas clear blue water

Boston whaler, Float toy, and red wine: what could possibly go wrong?

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The same setting held a handful of health-conscious cruisers gathering to exercise in the morning.

5- vessel relics hang over the potluck buffet

The gentle workout is led by former nurse and unfailingly upbeat Laurie from MV Forever Young, who lends her considerable positive energy to make fun for all: she organizes potlucks periodically too, typically to share from the bounty of mahi she and her husband catch.

Anchor lights come up as dinghies head home

Anchor lights come up as dinghies head home

Game time on the beach: whiling away an afternoon in the shade playing Mexican Train dominoes with new and familiar cruisers.

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Beautiful view, cool drink, good conversation, and a fun game—OK!

A few minutes dinghy ride away are the pigs. THOSE pigs, the famous Bahamian swimming pigs, which now crop up on Cays all over the islands but reputedly originated here. They’re cute—I guess? Juvenile piglets are charming, but the bigger pigs—and they get BIG—have a reputation for literally biting the hand that feeds them. I think I know more people who were injured by the pigs than not! We had to check them out but with some apprehension.

pig girls beach bahamas

Mairen and Siobhan’s body language express how we all felt

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This large sow (300 pounds?) did an effortless lap around the dinghy hoping for a handout. Pork belly!

The anchorage would fill and drain cyclically with weather forecasts, as boats took advantage of good conditions to get across the Gulf Stream. Silver lining: as boats intersect heading in the opposite direction, we’ve been able to have some memorable meetings. Many moons of following Allison and Bo from Sailing B+A, messages traded, and they were even more fun in person than I ever imagined.

Love meetups with people we've 'known' online!

The dynamic and engaging crew of Selah: love meetups with people we’ve ‘known’ online!

Snorkeling with them and the awesome Ruby Rose crew, Nick & Terysa, to Thunderball grotto and taking advantage of Bo’s skill for the “us-ie” to get a group shot:

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Biggest treat for the kids: TEENS, as we converged with multiple kid boats in their age range. A real treat and one that buoyed their spirits.

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Speeding their way to hang out with other teens on Allegro

Tracks that converged, intersected, and moved on in different directions refreshed an aphorism of the cruising life. Goodbyes happen all too often. It can be especially hard on the kids, who have fewer opportunities to hang out with peers.

beach sunset

Teen conversation circle on the beach

The flip side: these encounters grow a circle of amazing people in our lives. Goodbyes aren’t forever, and the other reminder is that in a round world there are ample opportunities to meet again. Next to Totem: SV Infini, who we last shared an anchorage with in Thailand more than three years ago!

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Land your dinghy by the kiln-looking rock, then look for cairns to find the path

I do wish we could have stopped in more of the “amazing—you’ll love it!” spots along the Exumas. We made a few and tips from friends and readers here lead us to great spots, like the cave north of Little Farmer (thanks Jessie!).

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20 sweaty uphill minutes later, Mairen cools off in a stalactite hung cavern

But the out-island experiences we hope to find ahead draw me even more! We’re stocking up in George Town, with an eye on winding through out islands on our way to the BVIs. This is THE scene for cruisers in the Bahamas, with over 300 boats during peak season a couple of months ago. Organized activities cover every day and night of the week, from “beach church” to water aerobics and poker / hold-em nights. I’m pretty sure there’s a coconut painting class. The small-scale taste of this near Staniel Cay was a lot of fun–the bigger cast, not quite our bag. A blast for folks who make this their home-away-from-home but the quieter, more remote islands ahead are what I’m excited about. That said, WOW is George Town convenient for getting things done! We filled a propane tank, topped up some diesel, and chose from a grocery store spread that included such Bahamas-luxury-items as asparagus, leeks, shallots, and mushrooms… and the best price on lettuce I’ve seen since we arrived in the Bahamas. I think there are 11 heads of romaine in our fridge right now!

With luck we’ll have weather to go offshore from Mayaguana and make easting; the route is as certain as the forecast two weeks out! Along the way, enjoying wherever Totem’s anchor drops.

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Happy boat kids, happy boat

0 kids in the berrysCruising is great for families! Cruising grows healthy kids! Cruising kids are exceptionally well socialized! Cruising can provide kids a broad world view! These are true, but oversimplifications. For all the great benefits to be derived from this lifestyle, it won’t work for a family if the kids aren’t happy, and you can’t take happy kids for granted. Starting young, it’s less complicated; older kids who have to separate more meaningfully from routines and friends in particular are more challenging.

We started in a magic window of ages when our kids (newly turned 4, 6 and 9) mostly wanted to hang out with mom and dad. Friends were important, but our nuclear family was most important. Every child is unique and every family will experience this differently, but I believe it to be generally true and a circumstance that’s fostered and maintained close relationships in our family.

2 tight family relationships

As kids grow older, it’s progressively important that they have other kids to hang out with. Nomadic kids have a lower bar for friends to enter that playgroup circle: they quickly unlearned the false importance of age, gender, interests, or other artificial boundary lines.

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Niall’s happy to go off with parents and a young boy as buddies for a dinghy adventure

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Niall plays airplane with Mathilda while sisterhood happens with boat kids in a range of ages

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It’s not uncool to play with a three year old.

That next best friend isn’t an anchorage away.  Occasionally, yes, but it takes planning more than serendipity or you’ll have lonely kid(s). This costs a big element of control for your route planning: not easy, especially for families planning a shorter sabbatical cruise with a vision for where they want to go.

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Four kid boats, middle of the Indian Ocean…not by serendipity, but by planning.

If an important driver for plans needs to be finding and connecting and hanging out with the other boat families…HOW do you do this?
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Every region has a hub and a season where boats gather: get yourself there, and you’ll connect with families. Those families may become your buddy boats, or the boats that connect you with your kids’ next best cruising kid friend. Marathon / Boot Key Harbor, Florida, collect cruising families as boats stage to head to the Bahamas for the winter; as the season picks up, it’s George Town, Bahamas where you’ll find them. Prickly Bay, Grenada, gets the biggest kid boat call during hurricane season and St Martin / Sint Maarten seems to be a crossroads in general.

Every other boat has a blog/Instagram/YT channel/Facebook page. Dial into the kid boat community online, and use that as a way to find, track, and connect with other families. This is one of the reasons SailingTotem has an active family blogroll page to browse.

Another good resource is the Kids4Sail group: there’s an admin post around the first of the month with regional check-ins to help families find each other.

The anchorage mapping tool we use for Totem, Farkwar, has a “fleet” for kid boats. At one URL (and a bit of clicking/dragging) I can see which boats in the fleet are near us—and follow boats in our region that we hope to catch up with (like the three teens on Allegro!).

Farkwar screenshot

Each of those waypoints is a boat with kids: several with teens, even!

Don’t just follow families, reach out! As a parent of teens on board I LOVE IT when another family with teens reaches out to see if we can connect when they see we may be in the same region. We help each other out with introductions to each other, since plenty of families aren’t as active in social media.

West coast cruisers have it much easier: cruising boats flow in a linear path along the coastline. In the South Pacific, they migrate along a seasonal route, the so-called Coconut Milk Run, westward with a dip down to New Zealand or Australia during the southern hemisphere cyclone season. Boats arriving in French Polynesia from Mexico will have known each other for months already; new friends enter with the Caribbean fleet sailing down from Panama.

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Shoes, still overrated.

The myriad of routing options from boats departing the US east coast for the Caribbean complicates things; it’s less likely to happen organically, especially for tween/teens. I’m told the Mediterranean is similar, where again there are a wealth of options for routing instead of a linear progression followed by most cruisers. And some regions, well, they’re simply off the beaten path: South America. The Indian Ocean. We loved our year in remote Papua New Guinea and eastern Indonesia, but it was many moons without another family boat and were REALLY READY for socializing by the time we reached more trafficked cruising grounds. Being around other kid boats is a choice that requires engagement.

On Totem we’re lucky to have a built in tribe. Our kids are tight, and their reliance on each other has surely strengthened this bond.

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After a presentation in Miami last month, Niall responded to a question from the audience about the social side cruising as a teen. He has perspective on the pros and cons, but summarized it by saying “my sisters are my best friends.” I might have teared up a little, but it’s true.

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Wonderful as it is that they are so tight, they also need OTHER kids. Staying in touch with cruising friends through email and texting is important: they routinely use Google Hangouts to chat with friends across several continents, maintaining long term relationships. They’re important, but not a replacement for in-person interactions.

With teens aboard, the happiness calculus gets more complicated. FOMO goes to a whole new level for kids that rely on phone/internet to feel connected. There’s a whole chapter in Voyaging With Kids dedicated to the unique needs and perspective of teens.

The teen bonfire, carefully spaced away from their parents

The teen bonfire, carefully spaced away from their parents: Maldives 

Personal space is key (Siobhan and Mairen have already worked out who gets Niall’s cabin when he leaves for college). For families looking at moving aboard, it’s not just the physical space but how they personalize it to make it theirs. As teens build and connect with their growing identities as young adults, we support them as parents by giving them a voice in planning. Family planning is a round table where everyone’s goals and desires are taken into account. Their desires matter, whether it’s plans for the day or the season.

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Niall’s desire to complete the circumnavigation before college changed our plans significantly, and that’s just fine. On the beach in Eleuthera this week

We’ve had a long stretch with few boat kids in their age range (getting within a three year spread would be great). There have been intersections that provided critical injections of camaraderie, but we’re all feeling it. Leaving Florida so late in the season put us out of sync with the migratory fleet. It’s pulling us to shift our summer plans, and look at hustling south to Grenada sooner rather than later. It’s partly the promise of the a gathered fleet during hurricane season, but mostly because another kid boat—friends we’ve crossed an ocean with—are sailing there soon. Hurricane season worries factors in, too; we have no insurance coverage during named storms, and Grenada is relatively safe from historical storm tracks. Parts of our plans more fixed than flexible (Niall is keen to cross our circumnavigation track in Pacific Mexico before college next year), but this is a shift we can make.

It throws our calendar up in the air again, but that’s a kind of status quo for us lately. This much we know: as great as our kids are at flying together as a solo tribe, we’re looking forward to connecting them with kids closer to their age again soon.

Siobhan watches sunset in Thailand

Siobhan watches sunset in Thailand

Mairen on the windward side of Eleuthera this week

Mairen on the windward side of Eleuthera this week

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Precious provisions: planning for scarcity and economy

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_DSC5309“I miss salads already!” Mind you, we’ve just finished a delicious salad for lunch thanks to lettuce gifted from the crew of Mahi as they cleaned the fridge out before flying back to the US for a visit. But Niall’s reaction reflects that we’re unlikely to have lettuce again for a while. What we brought from Florida is long gone, and nothing in the small refrigerator case in Bullock Harbor was going to fill the gap. “Milk, lettuce, and bacon… I’m going to miss them.” Salad aside, today was the day I cracked into powdered milk as the last of four gallons we brought from Fort Lauderdale consumed.

We don’t provision as deeply as we used to. People everywhere have to eat, and you can almost always meet your needs wherever you are in the great wide cruising world–it just may not look like the grocery shelves at home. There are a few scenarios where it really makes sense to provision deeply:

  1. Weeks of passage making (or, remote destinations without supplies)
  2. High costs in the cruising destination ahead
  3. Low selection in the shops ahead

I’ve skewed to relying more on what we find locally, using pantry locker space for specialty items or things we don’t dare run out of (coffee!). Adapting your diet is part of the fun, if not occasionally an adventure! But in the Bahamas, we’d have both #2 and #3 on the list: fewer shops (and not as much on the shelves) coupled with higher costs. For the first time since leaving South Africa last year, it was time for major provisioning.

Preparation began weeks before we left, stocking up on household products like tissues, paper towels, and kitchen sponges, plus staples we’ll go through like coffee and tortillas. Grateful for friends with Costco memberships, thank you Patty!

When deep provisioning like this, I turn to old-school tricks for storing food without refrigeration: we have a shoebox-sized freezer, and the usual top-loading boat fridge that only holds so much. I started by canning a dozen pint jars of chicken for my omnivore family (see my canning how-to here). New friend Jim invited me on his weekly venture to a massive swap-meet-style open market early one morning in Fort Lauderdale.

3- FLL market

photo credit, and gratitude, to Jim Beran. Wow, it really was chilly enough for a foulie jacket!

4 canned red bell peppersBargains abounded for produce on my list like limes, potatoes, cabbage, and red bell peppers ($3/each at the store, $0.50 at the swapshop!). The peppers won’t keep but canned easily. Sweet corn relish is another easy-to-jar vegetable that brightens up sandwiches and salads. Jim later gifted us with papaya from his garden; that’s now jars of chutney, and all this goodness in in the pantry instead of the refrigerator, waiting for when we need it.

Three weeks later, the green tomatoes I bought in a Fort Lauderdale open market are still in stages of ripening. Limes, lemons, cabbage, potatoes, and carrots are stashed for long term storage. I had to refresh my knowledge on storage techniques, and read Carolyn Shearlock’s (of The Boat Galley) new book, Storing Food Without Refrigeration just in time. Which fruit has to be far from the potatoes? Which vegetables can be in close proximity? It’s all in this comprehensive reference of techniques to extend your pantry on board. Our fridge is full but the tips within help me make optimal use of our storage.

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Canning inspiration at the Jacksonville farmer’s market

Stocking up meant cleaning out and inventorying the contents of lockers. I’m a little embarrassed at the “finds” which emerged, but they’re a sweet little travelogue. A package of Knödel mix—a German potato dumpling, purchased in Namibia—had fallen behind boxes of pasta and carried up the Atlantic. Niall made a PBJ sandwich with preserves from South Africa and a jar of peanut butter that—reading the label—I’m pretty sure we bought in Maldives. Yes, that was about two years ago. Yes, it’s fine! The lockers are now packed up again, with a list of the contents taped to the inside for us to strike off as they’re consumed.

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Arriving in Bahama’s Berry islands was sweet. I’ve traded email with Carla (SV Mahi) for a few years and looked forward to meeting her and her family in person in Great Harbour Cay. With help from another cruiser (thank you Jay!) we were trundled into vehicles and got the full tour of the island.

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Part of our introduction included a pass by the grocery stores, which validated everything we prepared for. The first market in Bullock Harbor charged about 4x the cost per roll of TP. Milk? The UHT boxes on the shelf added up to $15 per gallon. OUCH. This, Niall, is why I’ll be mixing up powdered milk we bought in Florida for your beloved Grape-Nuts cereal. Below is about half of the area of the grocery store : a pallet of flour, cases of bottled water, a couple of chest freezers, and the refrigerator section.

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…and this is the other side, with dry goods. Some items are subsidized and relatively affordable: butter, cheese, and grits. Hello, cheese grits!

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Photo: Brittany from SV Gromit, @afamilyatsea

There will still be favorites from home you simply can’t buy, another reason to provision: specialties and treats. For the Mahi crew’s little boy, Ethan, that treat is chocolate flavored rice cakes…so we brought him some from Florida. His reaction was priceless!

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The Mahi crew had recently stopped in the big town of Nassau to provision, where as Carla related, a grocery cart that might have run $150 at home was over $300 at the register. But proximity to the US and frequent flights meant the selection is similar to home, and thus the lettuce. “I miss salads,” said Niall. “And I’ll miss milk, and bacon.” Don’t worry…we have enough bacon for a few months.

Ending with a triptych of photos from Carla: because life is all about the people who fill it!

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Provisioning posts are tagged: read more here.

Poised for the Bahamas

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“I hear you’re putting Totem on the hard.” “Will you go out again?” In fact, we have no plans to park Totem for an extended stay on land (or in the water), and have never considered remaining in the US. But given the dearth of information in this space about what 2017 holds I can understand the speculation. We are on the cusp of departure and thrilled to be heading out for more adventures afloat.

Cascading events prolonged our departure, but the boat’s been humming, and legged out timing has shaped our direction. Routing clarity comes slowly after many shuffles on how we’ll fill the gaps between now (in Fort Lauderdale, Florida) and a year from now  (Pacific Ocean, via Panama Canal). It still has a lot of squiggles and question marks, but the bigger picture should stick.

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For many months, that year-long view was literally nothing more than get out of the US and back to the islands, spend a couple of months in Cuba, and explore Panama’s Guna Yala. (Remember that Plan is a four-letter word for cruisers! Corollary: Thar Be No Schedules)

We’d written the Bahamas off, but they’re now solidly ON, and their late arrival means I’m scrambling for information. Friday I got our Waterway Guide’s Bahamas, Turks & Caicos book. IT’S GORGEOUS. The last years of Western Pacific / Indian Ocean / Southern Atlantic sailing had poor guides, if any, and it put me off. What did exist covered too wide an area to be useful, so I stuck to travel guides instead and started thinking cruising guides weren’t important. You know what? They’re incredibly useful, I’d just been too long without an example of what a good guide offers. So with 2017 Bahamas edition in hand, instead of helping Jamie and the girls scrub the hull that morning, I did this:

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I did also buy a traveler’s guidebook for the Bahamas. I’m probably going to leave it behind, because the Waterway book is better, and has everything I need: the travel guide insights (cultural orientation,  things to bring, cool places to visit) AND annually updated cruising data (what to bring and where to provision, details for moorings and choice anchorages, the latest marina info– even updates on impacts from last fall’s hurricane, and recommendations for things islanders might need that we can ferry over).

Although schedules are the bane of cruising, I’ve happily added a fixed Must Be There date by signing on to present at the US Boat Show in Annapolis in April. Pam Wall and I will lead a 2-day Cruising Women seminar, and I’m giving a few additional presentations as part of the show’s Cruisers University. I’m very excited about this, especially the Cruising Women program. Jamie seems to have been born with saltwater in his veins; before we went cruising, it was important to me to seek information and skills. Women-only courses provided the shared perspective and camaraderie that best supported my goals.  If you sign up, tell me! I’d love to anticipate meetups.

It feels very good to be poised for Bahamas takeoff in Fort Lauderdale, but first we had to get south from Jacksonville to Miami for my friend Lynne Rey’s birthday. Schedules again? Maybe, but no way would I miss this since we could be there! Along the way, there wasn’t  a lot of wind, but some beautiful sunny days and mellow seas that meant Niall could combine studying with watchkeeping in the cockpit.

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Along the way we spent a couple of evenings hanging out with Kirk McGeorge. He’s done a couple of circumnavigations on a sistership, Gallivanter, and now does some crazy cool work building underwater submersibles with an outfit in Fort Pierce (he was a Navy diver, and drove Alvin- THE Alvin- on Titanic, way back when). The last time we saw Kirk was Australia, nearly five years ago! Cruising friendships like his are GOLD – you pick up right where you left off, despite intervening years.

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In Miami, Lynne, her husband Tony (we sailed together in college) and their kids hosted us at the Coral Reef Yacht Club. This made fun birthday celebrations, late nights in the cockpit, kids learning and playing together, and a lot of good times very easy.

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It also made it much easier for a visit from Kerry (the impressive endurance athlete / sailor / quadriplegic I sailed with last month). She gave our family and the Reys a preview of a powerful documentary she’s a part of that I hope will be ready to share publicly soon. Some tissues required after viewing before we could pose for a pic together, our thumbs in the air for Kerry’s nonprofit, ThumbsUp International. ThumbsUp connects people of all abilities to tackle athletic challenges, in particular by teaming able and disabled athletes.

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Please check out the Facebook page for ThumbsUp International and give it a like to show your support! Kerry would really like to nudge it over the 2,000 like hurdle: can we do it?! Follow and share!

More friends visited: we first knew Tiffany and Greg as “the Coast Guard Couple” when we met them in Mexico eight (!) years ago; we last caught up in Australia. They’ve traveled a loop around the world since then, by sea across the Pacific and by land from SE Asia to the UK. Both are Coast Guard Academy graduates, both are hard core professional seafarers, and they had great advice on college and maritime licensing for Niall. Just the folks to help toss the lines when it was time to head to the anchorage, right?

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And then, there was maintenance and repair. Lots of it. Because that’s one definition of the cruising life.

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To give you an inkling of that everyday fun on Totem, and a peek into what’s kept Jamie busy here in Florida:

Outboard: FINALLY FIXED. It’s been sick for five months. Diagnosis by mechanic in Jacksonville: failed CDI unit, but we replaced that and still no spark. Option two: bad coil. Ding ding ding ding! Wires from the coil had both broken…photo above. They were crimped by a strain relief device, but the break was hidden inside of a plastic sleeve. Great 11th hour help from our new friend Conor, who borrowed a flywheel puller from a Miami auto shop to get it done.

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Sundowners on Totem later, time to talk story with Conor (former cruising kid, now physicist) and his dad

Aft cabin: I went to a road trip to Miami with my friend Patty, and Jamie broke the aft cabin. He’s since rebuilt my workspace, relocated the solar and wind charge controllers to a newly-constructed locker, and cleaned up a bunch of wiring spaghetti. Few words for a LOT of work.

Dodger: As a sailmaker, Jamie knows his way around a sewing machine. But canvas work is “fiddly” (his description) and he hoped to outsource Totem’s new dodger sides. But after weeks of no joy or no action from service providers in northern Florida, he took our friends on Shanthi up on the offer to borrow their SailRite and made it himself. Templating with Tyvek from the hardware store, then constructing the final from Sunbrella, Strataglass, and Tenara thread…on the dock, until it rained, with child labor…as you do. It IS fiddly, but he does great work, and saving the expense is a great bonus.

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Before he could get to the canvas, the whole hard top was shifted forward: this meant changing the frame (it’s more vertical on the forward face now) and building new supports.

Deck hardware: fully reinstalled the repaired stanchion base that broke on our unpleasant passage from Bermuda to Connecticut.

Engine: Fixed pesky drip from fuel filters after troubleshooting. Replaced barbs with correct size, replaced 3-way valve fitting, and O-rings. Hopefully this saves the $250 racor replacement kit!

Electrical: We use a rugged Panasonic Toughbook for our nav computer. Both plug connections for the nine-year-old 12v charger had failed; solder now leads directly to the board. All good.

Plumbing: Replaced failing cockpit drain hoses (shared with galley sink drain: presumed grease buildup). Fixed flaw in primary water tank that prevents proper venting with a few holes (and finally found out the actual capacity, two years later- 73 gallons!). Discovered (and replaced) leaking outlet fitting in tank. Aft head required an unclogging adventure, then replacing seals and hose and other work that I’d rather not know too much about. Thanks to my sweetie for being The One That Deals with the Head on board.

…and that’s just what he did on Totem! On friend’s boats, Jamie helped install a solar panel, did a few (three? four? five? I lost track) rig evaluations, and helped get one tuned properly.

I married well.

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One of the more significant preoccupations outside of prepping Totem is working with coaching clients. We thoroughly enjoy helping people make the leap to successful cruising! More recently, the kids have gotten into a few of our Skype sessions, too: prospective cruising kids want to hear the real scoop directly from them. Sitting around the iPad, this is a pretty typical scene.

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We closed our our Miami stay by anchoring in Marine Stadium, a sweet little spot with near 360° protection and a killer view of the downtown Miami. Backlit by twinkling lights from the skyline at night, we could detect dolphins circling Totem only by loud huffs of their breath. An idyllic spot to raft up and make some great memories with the pretty Huckins, Cortado (which is for sale, by the way), and her crew.

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Totem from Cortado

Totem is now in Fort Lauderdale, on our final countdown to departure for the Bahamas. We don’t know when we’ll be back in the USA, but it’s probably some years. I’ve got an insane list, and it includes major items like, oh, battery bank replacement. Full watermaker servicing. Diesel mechanic services. Provisioning for 3 months in islands with limited stores, and high costs. Supplies for Bahamian communities still impacted by hurricane Mathew last fall. Then there are the incidentals “but we won’t be in the USA for how long?” that inflate our list. Here in the mainland, we have access to better breadth of goods, at a better quality, and a better value, than we will likely encounter for a long time.

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It’s been blowing for days, but Totem is in a protected anchorage. There is access to supplies. Anchorage neighbors stopping by to chat from their kayaks. Visits from shoreside dwellers, arriving with friendship, the gift of papaya, and lessons in art (thank you, Jim!).

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Life is beautiful. I’m grateful every day for the choices we have and our freedom as a family, and can’t wait to extend our adventures…starting soon in the Bahamas!

Thanksgiving while cruising

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For the first time since 2007, our little crew on Totem celebrates Thanksgiving in the USA again. Over the years we’ve celebrated in destinations as diverse as the sunny bay at Isla San Francisco, Mexico, or a firelit rondavel high up in Africa’s land-locked mountain nation of Lesotho last year. But even away from “home,” this is our big holiday, and if anything the distance has reinforced traditions.

For many, it’s the impetus for a party: the holiday prompts gatherings like the annual Club Cruceros feast in La Paz, Mexico, or the giant potluck organized by residents of St Mary’s, Georgia. Local hosts provide the roasted turkey and cruisers contribute the rest to share around. Aside from the camaraderie of celebrating with the extended cruising family, this handily overcomes one of the problems of Thankgiving aboard: while there’s little you can’t do in a galley, most boat ovens are challenged to fit a whole turkey.

Our Thanksgivings have tended toward the solitary. Occasionally they’re shared with a few cruisers in a distant anchorage, but typically it’s a quiet family celebration as we are either remote (as our 2012 Thanksgiving in PNG’s Hermit Islands) or away from other Americans who share the holiday (as during the two we spent in Australia). These bring a different kind of sweetness: away from the crowd it’s easier to focus for what’s important to us, on what we’re thankful for.

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Sharing Thanksgiving with crews of Francis Lee and Capaz  at Isla San Francisco, Mexico, 2009. Photo: PJ Baker

In 2010, we’d newly arrived in Australia. With an ocean between us and our home it feels even more important to keep our traditions, and Thanksgiving dinner is the centerpiece. For cruisers, recreating That Familiar Dinner (cue the Norman Rockwell images) can be a little tricky. If anything is obligatory, it’s a turkey. Number of times we’ve had turkey for Thanksgiving during the eight years outside of the USA: hmm… let’s see… yes, I believe that number is ZERO. Apparently, it’s predominantly a North American “thing.” But roasted chicken makes a fine stand in. I always save a can of cranberries somewhere on board (they pop up on shelves every few countries, and are known to get stashed in Totem’s bilge for many  months). There are usually starchy tubers of some kind, onions to cream, something green, and I can always make gravy, and fruit to make pie from. Forget about finding canned pumpkin puree outside North America, but don’t worry. Whole pumpkins are plentiful in tropical markets, and cook up easily on the stove. Like a lot of things in the cruising life, the end result is the same… getting the task done just takes a little longer.

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Satun, Thailand: no turkey, but all the trimmings in 2013

Then there was that year in Thailand, where the chicken I picked up at the village market was whole. That’s whole, as in not just head…not just feet…but the cavity unopened and all the guts intact. At least the weekly market day was ON Thanksgiving, given the lack of refrigeration, and I remembered enough from helping on a farm as a teen to avoid the gall bladder (just a tiny slice taint and ruin your dinner). More to be thankful for, and a story that we now retell annually!

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As our distance from the US increased, so did our thankfulness for the incredible opportunity to live an adventurous life afloat. Physical separation from our extended family on holidays like this help reinforce my gratitude for the strength of our nuclear family, and the time we have to be together.

If the last eight years taught us anything, it’s to be thankful for so many things in our lives: in particular, our opportunities and our rich experiences. One of the goals Jamie and I had in choosing the cruising life was to raise our children to internalize these, in the believe that it’s a positive influence on their futures. It’s impacted not just them, but us too, bringing happiness and fulfillment beyond expectations.

Walking after dinner: Coff's Harbour, Australia, 2010

Walking after Thanksgiving dinner: Coff’s Harbour, Australia, 2010

It’s nine years since we celebrated Thanksgiving in the USA, and will share it with members of our extended cruising family in Virginia: a family that’s already been cruising twice and plans to head out again. I cannot wait to get to know these good friends better, and in true Thanksgiving spirit, Nica’s open invitation has expanded the table with several families. It’s often an uncomfortable feeling leaving Totem, but she’s securely tied against this week’s winds back in DC awaiting our return.

Meanwhile, there on cruiser-centric Facebook groups, CLODs (that’s Cruisers Living on Dirt, for the uninitiated) are reaching out to offer a place at the table and laundry machines for cruisers in their area. Active cruisers are putting out the call to share the cockpit with others in their tropical locale. I have no doubt there are potlucks being organized from Grenada to Phuket as US cruisers find each other to celebrate.

From our family to yours, wishing all a Happy Thanksgiving!

Beachcoming in Bahia de Tortuga, Baja, Mexico, 2008...our first cruising Thanksgiving

Beachcombing in Bahia de Tortuga, Baja, Mexico, 2008…our first cruising Thanksgiving. They were so little!

Meeting old friends for the first time

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Three weeks in Chesapeake Bay so far. Three weeks with so much smiling and talking with friends that there are days my jaw aches. Old friends, new friends, old friends met for the first time. It started with the spectacular crab feed put on by a blog reader and newfound friend when we arrived in late September.

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Bay crab, done right: outside, table covered with paper, no cutlery – just mallets. SO GOOD.

This came at the end of a sunny afternoon where we had a spontaneous open boat party on Totem, pinging folks who have been in touch here or through our Facebook page and inviting them aboard. It is just plain cool to meet people who we have come to know as names on the screen, and turning those distant contacts into personal encounters and a great time. Good thing we enjoyed that sun, because there was precious little the following two weeks! Wow, they were delicious. Old Bay is now stocked in our pantry. Hello Maryland!

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We shifted south to Camp Quigley, as Mary Marie & Frank call their dock; it’s a frequent host to friends on the southbound migration this time of year, and a great excuse to visit on our the way to the SSCA gam. Who did we hear from, as we tied up? Newly minted circumnavigators Mike and Deanna from R Sea Kat, who we last saw on Ascension Island. Because Mary Marie and Frank have been cruisers, they “get it” and gathered us for an evening of trading stories. We also smelled a lot better after giving the Quigley laundry machines a workout!

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Our anchorage afterwards for the SSCA gam was in the beautiful Rhode River, which is just a few miles from Annapolis but feels far from, well, anything.

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The event was well attended, despite the steady rain. Jamie and I did a presentation that covered our experiences in some spectacular cruising destinations we’ve visited. Pure dream fodder, aiming to inspire, and so much fun to share! Solavore had provided us with an oven to raffle off to attendees – more about them soon, we are big fans of this solar oven. It’s just too bad the weather didn’t cooperate to allow a demonstration. At the gam, again were familiar faces from our near and distant past… as well as those we’d only known through the internet.

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Mark Brownhill, sandwiched between weather dudes Chris Parker (left) and Lee Chesneau (right)

I loved being able to give Lee Chesneau a hug and tell him how much his class about understanding the 500mb chart helped me on the path to better interpreting weather data when I took it many years ago. Actually, I think I had to take it twice, but it was important! More recently we’ve been introduced to Chris Parker and his invaluable services as a weather router for US/Caribbean cruisers. And between those two great guys we have met: another, Mark Brownhill, who I traded many emails with over the last few months (he’s responsible for getting us to the gam and organizes the SSCA’s Seven Seas U educational programs).

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Like so many cruisers of all stripes— the hopefuls, the gonna-go, the been there / done that—I’ve read the magazines published by this highly recognizable couple. I didn’t know what to expect from meeting Bob & Jody in person, but will say this: they are even more wonderful than you think! Their interest in inspiring others to follow the cruising life… something I think can only make the world a better place… is 100% real.

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It was just bad luck that the weather brightened significantly only when the gam had ended…but that made it easier to welcome a few friends on Totem. The family aboard Majestic brought their pretty St Francis 44 down to anchor nearby and hang out for some sunny hours. This family means so much to me: I’ve corresponded with mom Cindy for nearly a decade, since we found each other on a Yahoo group…or was it that Mothering forum first? Regardless, it is SO COOL to make that virtual friendship transition to in-person.

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We were able to do a little cruising-boat-show-n-tell with another local family that intends to cast off next year. Getting to see how people who had actually been cruising set up their boats was really helpful for me before we left: I’m glad to be able to give back.

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We had a few days after the SSCA gam and before the boat show. Jamie and I spent a morning checking out a boat listing in the area on behalf of one of our coaching clients. I added several photos Jamie’s boat yoga (tagged #awkward) to my collection.

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Afterwards, we got to meet another old friend for the first time! Captain Suky, a delivery skipper and generally awesome human who I’ve known through the Women Who Sail forum, recently bought a boat; Jamie checked out the rig for her.

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See “barber pole”-ing on the backstay? No bueno. On close inspection: pitting an even bigger problem.

We relocated for the US Sailboat Show to a private dock near the venue in Annapolis. Hurricane Matthew loomed and we were grateful for a snug location well up the creek….a 20 minute walk, even less by dock-to-dock water taxi!

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And thus began a hectic week working the booth for L&L Pardey Books, supporting Lin Pardey to sell books from her publishing house (she’s also behind Voyaging With Kids). The kids were a big help, pitching in on booth setup.

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the alert will notice Siobhan remains barefoot.

We closed a successful first day at the show by hosting Lin along Paul & Sheryl Shard of Distant Shores TV, who we met in St Martin earlier this year, for dinner on Totem. It felt a little surreal to have these cruising luminaries on board- that’s a lot of experience in Totem’s cockpit! There were great stories, and funny coincidences (beware a certain bay in Croatia), but ultimately – just a bunch of cruisers sharing laughs on the water together.

Lin Pardey Paul Sheryl Shard Behan Jamie Gifford on Totem

yeah, I’m wearing an apron. no smart comments

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Photo- Paul Shard

There were some precious reunions, too. We had a great reunion with old friend Brad Baker, who is an owner at Seattle’s Swiftsure Yachts brokerage. We last saw him waving goodbye when our families parted ways in French Polynesia, six years ago: they sailed back to Seattle and we continued across the Pacific. It was also the first time we’d seen Rich Boren since he helped cast off our docklines in 2010, as we departed La Cruz, Mexico for the Marquesas. It’s just great to catch up and feel the years melt away…sweet reunions indeed!

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The show was a whirlwind of first meets with people we actually kinda knew already, as internet shifted to IRL. On site after helping deliver a boat for Swiftsure was Andy Cross from Three Sheets Northwest. After trading email for years, it was great to finally to meet in person.

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Then there was this awesome, who I have co-administrated a women’s sailing forum with for years. We chat just about every day…but we’d never met, or even spoken live. It was amazing to finally get together with Nica Waters! I think Pussers Painkillers…the rum drinks that are obligatory at the Annapolis boat show…may have kicked in by the time we got this pic.

Nica and Behan, together at last!

Nica and Behan, together at last!

Nica and I joined a meetup of the group we admin (with a few accompanying partners & spouses), since many of the Women Who Sail were in town for the show…

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…like Suky (that was her boat above) and Judy Hildebrand, another delivery captain and generally fabulous sailing woman I’ve long connected with digitally, and had a lot of laughs with over a few days in Annapolis. Judy was was one step ahead of us on an extended delivery engagement across much of the Atlantic this year… up until Bermuda, when we pointed to Connecticut and she did a victory leg to the Mediterranean. I’d love to do a passage with her someday!

dsc00391After was a gathering of alt-living bloggers, which Cindy coined the BumTotemJesticPalooza– as we joined the liveaboard Majestic crew and land/sea rambling Bumfuzzles, with future cruisers the Mowerys. More old friends with first meets.

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Photo: Maddy Thomas

The kids weren’t all that excited about the boat show – not their thing. But Cindy wrangled a pile of kids for the day – because boat mamas, we’re a tribe, and look out for each other.

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BumTotemJesticPalooza! Photo: Cindy Wallach

Also looking out for our junior crew was this awesome family (formerly known as the Dafnes), who spirited the Totem kids away to Philly for some fun while Jamie and I were preoccupied. Once a cruiser (or boat kid)… always one! And yet another gonna-go-cruiser helped us get them back, when we neglected to give Niall his passport (turns out, 17 is too old to be an unaccompanied minor on the train and he was not allowed on without ID. Holy paranoia batman!). Grateful for friends who understand, and lend support.

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Escape Room….they were so close!!

The next morning, Jamie and I talked about how there were so many people coming by the booth that we enjoyed talking to, and the conversations always felt too short, like we could have gone on for hours…but there’s a boat show going on and it’s impossible. To try and extend some of those conversations, we decided to throw out a “hey let’s meet for pizza later” to a folks when they came by to talk. I think everyone said yes, and we ended up with a crowd of… 18? 20? at Sammy’s in Eastport. It was a very cool spread across the spectrum: salted sailors, new cruisers, hopeful cruisers, all embracing life on the water.

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So many people came by: Sailing Banyan, OnwardWaves, Sail Loot, more. I loved introducing Lin’s books to people stopping by (because they are not only my dream fodder from our pre-cruising days, but books I keep on Totem and reference). The show was hard work: eight plus hours on our feet, on asphalt, outside. Did I mention the hurricane that threatened? We ended up with just wind and rain, but it was… well. Cold! Notice the multiple layers worn. I even had to break out SOCKS.

By the last day, we were getting a little punchy. Boat kid Naia and I listened for whales in our triton shell / paperweight.

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We cracked up with Lin, Jill and Sheryl over the absurdity of everyone checking their shell–I mean cell–phones all the time.

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We expected the show to wear us out, as it did. We anticipated meeting a lot of people. We just failed to appreciate how much fun it would be meeting up with old friends…some for the first time.

Totem is in Annapolis for about another week: we’re speaking about our travels at 4pm on Sunday, Oct 23, at the Loft above West Marine in Herrington Harbor North. RSVPs to the HH Sailing Association appreciated but not required: contact bev.wright@verizon.net. Oh, and it’s free!

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Southbound to Chesapeake Bay

We still didn’t get to do all the rounds of goodbyes we wanted in Connecticut. We didn’t even just to see everyone we hoped to see. Our summer was full to overflowing in all the best ways, but if one word had to describe it, it’s “BUSY.” Seasonal change and a nip in the air turned us south.

Dinner on Totem in Noank with the well-salted Van Zandt and Bohlen families

Dinner on Totem in Noank with the well-salted Van Zandt and Bohlen families

Getting underway again, starting the transit toward lower latitudes, resuming our cruiser rhythm… it feels good. In the bustle of our summer, we lost some of the time we usually give to “just being” as a family. It’s been a long time since we had so many different plans that a calendar was required! Casualty of busy: I lost control of my email inbox (still recovering, slowly), and haven’t had time to write. Minor tradeoffs for meeting wonderful people along the way, and spending time with the old friends we can intersect with.

Finally meeting up wtih the family of SV Fezywig!

Finally meeting up wtih the family of SV Fezywig!

Our southbound trail led west through Long Island Sound to New York City, each stop along the way touched by the kindness of others. It started in Essex with the cousin of a cruising friend: lime bitters with Jim in the cockpit of his catboat, Amity, then dinner at a restaurant that defines ‘quaint’ and was the site of one of my first dates with Jamie, layering new memories on old.

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In Norwalk we were hosted by  two-time circumnavigators Scott & Kitty Kuhner. Scott & Kitty did their first lap as a young couple; they repeated it with their children, and did a victory lap around the Atlantic in later years. The stories and memories flowed during dinner at their home with the family soon to be known as “the Mariposas,” who move aboard their cruising home in a matter of days.

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In Westchester county, a reader reached out and offered his mooring at the incomparable Lachmont Yacht Club. HL DeVore and family made our stay everything we could have wished, starting by greeting us on arrival with a couple of LYC’s signature drink, the Monte-Sano cooler (rum-based, natch). Excellent company over several evenings, a beautiful base for daytripping into NYC, and the use of a sturdy Jeep Cherokee named Josh to make it all easy.

Getting close, getting excited: first time in NYC for the kids!

Getting close, getting excited: first time in NYC for the kids!

The only picture we took - thank you Cindy!

The only picture we took – thank you Cindy!

Josh removed the pressure to do too much at once: instead, we could take time to see the city—and absorb it—at an unstressed pace. Like having ONLY two objectives for a daytrip (getting lost in the Frick, then meeting with some really special folks, old friends—Andy Halsey and Jane Coyne—for lunch in Central Park) instead of trying to cram in a half dozen more activities. These days, and new friends, were a wonderful gift for our family.

The kindness of strangers leads to a family photo op on the Brooklyn Bridge

The kindness of strangers leads to a family photo op on the Brooklyn Bridge

One of the only requirements the kids had for NYC: proper Dim Sum. check.

One of the only requirements the kids had for NYC: proper Dim Sum. check.

In Larchmont I finally started to get caught up on life and the email inbox again, but even better was reconnecting with a college friend I haven’t seen since graduation.  Those years (all 26 of them, yikes!) melted away on the afternoon Doriel and her sons spent on board. A phenomenon repeats itself in the reunions we’ve had this summer: how really great it is to find all the goodness we remember in old friends are all the goodness, somehow improved again with the addition of years.

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Doriel teaches elementary school in the NYC school district, and has a fantastic YouTube channel (LearnToGrowU) with her energetic and heartfelt reflections on experiences and inspiration. She’s pretty awesome—interest in teaching totally optional to appreciate these videos! She quizzed me on homeschooling / boat schooling for a spontaneous cockpit edition of #WhatTeachersDo.

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We felt compelled to take several pics at the Club with our college mascot, a camel.

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The Leach family from Keep Your Daydream came by, too. It’s always fun to meet up with other full-time traveling families: this crew is at the outset of their adventures, but has been producing interesting content about folks who have been out for some time. I think we got the kids on board with boat life vs RV life… not that we have an agenda, real!y 🙂

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This respite week also made it easier to visit the Mowery family. When folks like Rich and Liia engage here or via Totem’s FB page through the years, we really do feel like we know them – and it’s been great to turn those virtual conenctions into in-person meetups for a whole new raft of good memories. So we trundled up to Newtown, CT, for a late summer BBQ.

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Niall is so good with little ones like Aili! Girls loving on Kaia.

Dessert first (a good life rule in general!) at an award winning dairy farm / creamery nearby. Possibly the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted.

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There’s one problem with all the generosity we’ve experienced from the last few weeks: our cache of karma is probably just about tapped!

Sailing south from Larchmont, we decided to day-trip our way to Chesapeake Bay instead of charging through with some overnight runs. Because how many times in your life is there a chance to watch sunset glow on the Manhattan skyline, at the foot of Libertas?

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PINCH ME. I cannot believe we were in this spot!

Just getting to that spot was more interesting than expected, because it turned out that the UN General Assembly was in session this week—which means total closure of the East River to all but ferries, 9am to 9pm. Whoops. You also have to carefully time transit on the East River based on tides, as the current is not worth fighting. You could say that messed up our plans, but flexibility around expected timing is the nature of cruising. No big deal, just something to work around! And so we spent an extra day in Larchmont, then another anchored under the Throg’s Neck Bridge, finding the juncture of time that let us get downriver with positive current before Homeland Security closed it down.

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Companions were first the working boats of the river, tugs and barges with debris or raw materials—later, our personal (and well armed) USCG escort. They waved back.

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We reveled in every minute of this spectacular anchorage off Liberty Island.

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It’s been a few days of transit south from there, our way to Annapolis for the SSCA gam and US Boat Show.

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Sliding between a car carrier and big barge at dawn, Verrazano Bridge.

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Watching for current and shallows in the shoals at the Atlantic City entrance

As I post this, we’ve just entered Chesapeake Bay. That’s a celebration worth of apple pancakes, real maple syrup (THANK YOU Conant family), and the last bacon on board! We’ll be the Chesapeake for at least a month, and probably longer. It feels like one part homecoming (are more “old friends we’ve never met” to finally hug in person) and one part inflection point, as we consider options for Totem to return to the tropics.

Meanwhile, everyone is looking forward to being parked in a place we can go ashore after four nights of anchorages without getting off the boat! Besides, we’re out of produce, milk, bacon, wine, and toilet paper…who provisioned this boat anyway?!

Waning Summer

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Come with me on a meander through the waning days of summer in New England, and memories built under the warmth of the sun. It blows me away how quickly this season has flown: how unexpectedly we find ourselves adding a layer in the evening, noticing the path of the sunset towards the south of west, feeling tick earlier of dusk. I even made soup for dinner the other night because everyone was chilly! Just a couple of weeks ago, it as so hot that even the “brisk” (~70F) temp of the Mystic River was tempting.

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It also was just a couple of weeks ago a period of summer vacation seemed to be starting, heralded by our open-boat party at the Noank. Hard work prepping in the sun… Niall took it upon himself to help his sisters keep cool while scrubbing deck.

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We had a blast welcoming people on board Totem to share what normal life on a cruising boat looks like, from how the fridge works to how small (and sloppy) my two shelves of clothing are. Of course it had to be one of the hottest days of summer! I lost count of the visitors somewhere north of fifty. By the way Don & Lisa — the kids keep asking if they’re going to see Grace again, OK? No pressure…
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The only problem with having so many visitors is that source of some truly excellent host gifts got muddled (not these, though- thank you Tammy-Jo, Jim, and Anne!). I have apparently done a good job of communicating my love for dark chocolate, dark rum, and chardonnay… not together, mind you, but mmmm… and you have to love that there is a rust-prevention lubricant in the mix. CRUISER GOLD!

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Burning indelible memories by recalling old ones flowed while getting together with friends we haven’t seen in a very long time. My childhood neighbor Wendy invited us to speak at the Ferguson Museum on Fishers Island, which turned into a whirlwind weekend of fun. It was really cool to hang out on their porch, looking out across the lawn to watch boats sailing down the Sound and talking like we’d only seen each other a few months before–not years.

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photo: Wendy O’Neil

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She and her husband are both artists: Wendy is a silversmith, Tom is an abstract painter. Walking through their island studio and learning from Tom about his work was pretty special, especially for the artistically inclined kids.

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There has been a host of reunions from all corners: from childhood and young adulthood and new parenthood, college and grad school, Michigan and Connecticut and Seattle.

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New encounters left lasting impressions, too. I’ve hoped for months to talk with Anne Patterson, founder of Solavore (where my much-loved solar oven comes from). Stars aligned to gather at her family’s off-the-grid haven on a little Connecticut island, and lunch turned into a photo shoot.

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It was a magical spot (secret!), and a great conversation–more on that soon! Meanwhile, does it get much more New England than this?

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Also new in our lives this summer, and indelibly impressed, are local Ocean Cruising Club port officer Sandy Van Zandt and his wife Sidney. Circumnavigators who make their fellow salty travelers feel at home on the Mystic River, this wonderful couple has done so much to help us feel welcomed and wanted.

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In addition to trading sea stories, they took us on a hike to extensive property that Sidney has worked tirelessly to acquire and preserve for conservation and public access. We couldn’t have had a better or more informative guide to educate us about native plants, invasive species, and dynamics of the environment (such as the pea-soup color of this pond– which is perfectly fine, despite the understandable gut reaction to the contrary!).

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Also in the mix, we hosted a few interviews on Totem! These smiley folks visited on behalf of the communications team at my alma mater, the nearby Connecticut College, for an article in the college’s magazine. I love how every time we have these conversations, our kids find a new piece of themselves to be proud of. They know they’re not normal, but don’t always appreciate just how much.

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We plan to depart Mystic after Labor Day weekend (just over a week- ack!!), and that list of “things we should do before we go”– like hit (the epic!) Defender for new lifejackets– is taking over.

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I admit, the photo from the entrance to Defender’s retail store / clearance outlet below is posed… but this IS the girl who still won’t wear shoes, and carries her flip flops with her to don if required.

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It’s not just Siobhan. This is how the troops are shod as we walk up from the river to the Mystic & Noank Library.

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Aboard Totem, Jamie works tirelessly on projects to get us ready to go again: here, replacing some slides on the main while Solavore cooks lunch.

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I’m getting quality time in with my sister-in-law, hot yoga mornings, and mentally stockpiling these beautiful views. Experimenting with HDR… not so sure about it… feels a little too, I don’t know, Kinkade or something…

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Our little corner of the Mystic River has gotten almost too comfortable. It’s wonderful, but we feel the itch, and as much as we’ll miss people here…are looking forward to pointing south towards new adventures soon.

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Besides, Siobhan’s wearing fleece already.

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