Pep Talk #24: When the Sky is Falling

Florida Keys homecoming 1 (2)

I’ve been playing music with a friend in the harbor. We’ve been working on a medley of Bobby McFerrin’s song Don’t Worry, Be Happy and Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, the chorus of which says, “Don’t worry about a thing, ‘cause every little thing gonna’ be alright.” These words have permeated my mind, and they are timely. My musically gifted friend has plenty of reasons to worry. With a rare cancer diagnosis and an expiration date handed down by doctors, there’s no guarantee that the treatment he’s seeking will save him. Even now, he’s waiting for the VA to decide if it will even cover the treatment protocol and work with the oncologist who specializes in his type of cancer. But he’s refusing to worry anyway. He told me, “When you relax, things just have a way of working themselves out.”

Worry is a cancer of the soul. It emaciates your spirit—causing a loss of peace and joy not unlike cancer’s cachexia, the inexplicable wasting away of the body. Worry makes a terrible companion, keeping you up at night, preventing you from eating (or making the food you do eat indigestible), blinding you from the good in your life and keeping your eyes focused on all the possible bad outcomes. Worry says, “What if…?” The more imaginative the person, the more elaborate the worst-case scenarios he invents. Worry says, “We can mitigate this by…” The more goal-oriented the person, the more control she attempts to exert. Worry says, “Be careful…” The more risk-averse the person, the less adventurous his life becomes.

Sometimes our worries are completely unfounded—so much of what we fear does not come to pass. But sometimes we worry because circumstances are worrisome. In this case, it takes a herculean act to refuse to worry. Many of us have real worries. I have friends in places where the next meal is not guaranteed, let alone the next paycheck. The whole world is consumed with worry about an invisible virus, and about the cascading effects of trying to mitigate its spread. One generation worries about the world it will hand to the next—about the environment, about violence, about education, about jobs, about relationships, about government. There is no part of our lives untouched by these concerns, because no part of life is guaranteed. We know that life is fragile and that suffering is real.

But worry takes this uncertainty and amplifies it, creating deafening fears. One Bob warns, “in your life, expect some trouble, but when you worry, you make it double,” and the other offers an antidote, “smile with the risin’ sun” and listen to the message of the three little birds: “don’t worry ’bout a thing.” Perhaps they are echoing the wise words of another teacher: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as recorded by Matthew, chapter 6, verses 26-27). Our worries have no power, on the one hand, to change the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and a lot of power, on the other, to make a bad situation feel worse.

I should know. I am a worrier by nature, a nervous nail-biter with an internal monolog that sounds like a broken record (“The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”). The heightened uncertainty of this past year’s events has forced me to deal with this repetitive voice, and to tell it to shut up. It is an act of the will, and of the spirit. I have no way of knowing what comes next. I don’t even know if I will live to see this day’s sunset. There are dark clouds on the horizon, and it may indeed rain on me. What if the sky is falling? When I can’t change the circumstances, all I can change is my response. I don’t know what comforts you when you worry, but for me the answer has been prayer and gratitude. Keeping my eyes focused on the good, choosing to believe that all things eventually work out the way they’re supposed to, and asking God to take care of all the things I can’t control is what gives me peace of mind. Whatever comes next, I will be praying—and singing—my way through it.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, chapter 4, verses 6-7)

Charted Waters

Eli, with contacts

I’ve been homeschooled all my life, and I’ve never had reason to complain. Before our return to the United States from our four-year jaunt to the Caribbean, I’d never even set foot in an actual school building. However, when we did return, I was finishing high school and looking to start college. There is a local college nearby, College of the Florida Keys (CFK), so my younger brother and sister and I, along with a few friends, started attending as dual enrollment students. Dual enrollment is a pretty good deal: as long as you can pass the PERT tests to show that you are ready for college-level work, Florida allows you to take classes for free. So essentially, we were finishing our high school requirements by going to college and pursuing AA degrees in general education, instead of merely seeking a high school diploma.

It looked good on paper, at least, an economic use of time and effort. It was also my first experience in an actual classroom, and it was a pleasant change. During my first semester, the two classes I took were on the small side, with maybe 30 people. Most of the students were around my age, some were dual enrollment students from the local public high school, and a few were older. We would sit at tables facing the professor and the whiteboard, notebooks out and phones away, and take notes while he talked. I found I liked the classroom setting. You could ask questions and receive a knowledgeable answer, unlike simply learning from a textbook. You could engage the professor in debate and listen to intellectual arguments. You could achieve recognition for your work.

It was also intensely uncomfortable for the first few weeks, because I’m an introvert and I don’t like large groups of people. I got the hang of it though, and life settled into a rhythm. The two classes I took held sessions early every other weekday, so it was a bit of a runaround to get to the college from our boat in the mooring field every morning. The workload was heavy, and the material challenging, but I found that I was actually enjoying school. I was getting As. However, it could have been a lot easier. I had no real idea what I was stepping into with the whole college thing. So even though it wasn’t significantly more difficult than homeschool (at first, that is), it threw me off because it was different, and it took me a while to figure everything out.

Well, I’m finishing my last year of classes, and I would say I’ve done pretty well. Recently, my English Composition II professor gave the class the assignment of creating a college handbook, something to give to new students so that they aren’t completely lost. Below you will find the link to mine (you can read it in a browser or download the PDF). It contains anything I could think of that I would have wanted to know going in. Hopefully other homeschooled high school students will find it useful.

Product Review: Indestructible Vinyl Flooring

We celebrated our 13th Take Two Anniversary in April, which simply amazes me. For more than half of our married life, we have lived in this floating home. Two of our children spent their whole lives aboard, and others are beginning their own adventures as adults. So much has changed in the last dozen years or so, but one constant remains: our “Lonwood” vinyl teak-and-holly flooring by Lonseal.

Drums

It has survived the raising of five children, who tracked saltwater and sand across it, spilled beverages of all colors on it, “decorated” it with paint and glitter-glue, raced Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars across it, and generally abused it and took it for granted.

IMG_0842

And yet, with an occasional deep-clean with a scrub brush and Eco-Orange solution, it looks as good as new.

Lonseal scrubbing day

It is beautiful, non-skid, easy to install, and, needless to say, durable. I looked it up recently, not because it needs replacing, but just out of curiosity, and it is expensive! To replace the flooring in our main salon would be close to $5000. Similar products like Plasteak and Aquatread also run between $6 and $8 per square foot. But if you amortize that over 13+ years, the cost is definitely worth it. If you are looking to replace the flooring on your kid-friendly boat and you have the money to spend, I highly recommend these products. They are practically indestructible. Unlike so many other projects on our circular list, replacing flooring has never been at the top!

Lonseal product review

The Whole Nine Yards

How do you keep an energetic nine-year-old happy on a boat? The answer may surprise you: nine yards of purple fabric!

silks 4
Splits

In November, we purchased some aerial silks for Rachel. She had been asking for some time, but we were not sure where we could hang the hardware. After brainstorming and researching, we decided to move the cockpit table indoors and try hanging them from the aluminum frame that supports our hard-top. Needless to say, Rachel was delighted.

silks 3
Unicorn Pose

They have been a source of fun and exercise and I am completely impressed with her core strength and flexibility. She also uses them like a hammock, swing, or chair–though they move quite a lot when underway.

silks 5
Hammock

We mounted the Aerial Silks using dyneema soft shackles, the 8-hook that came with the silks, and a locking carabiner.

silks 2

She would love to take a class, but for now, she’s using YouTube videos to help her learn new poses. The ones we purchased can be found here. Jay says that “getting children’s energy out” is a myth, but giving them active things to do really helps!

silks
Mermaid Pose

Done is Better Than Perfect

May 2021 Update : Of course, a book isn’t really done until it is edited and published! I have found a collaborator and hybrid publishing house to bring the manuscript to completion. After (yet another) revision, I am hoping for a book launch in the fall!

cheers

I completed a final revision of the book manuscript I have been working on for more than three years, Leaving the Safe Harbor: What We Learned from Life on a Boat. With poetic justice, I finished editing the last page of the last chapter one year exactly from when my first reader/editor made her last encouraging comment. I moved the final pages to a document entitled “Final Draft.” It might not be perfect, but it’s done, and that feels amazing. Total word count: 84,654.

Jay and I had a quiet date night out (everyone else must have been at home watching the Superbowl!) and a glass of Prosecco to celebrate. It’s time to think about the next steps, but for just a moment, I want to enjoy that sense of accomplishment.

The book is not merely a re-write of the blog, though faithful readers might recognize some of the stories. It’s a narrative that documents our journey from suburbanites to salty sailors, organized around sailing idioms and life lessons. Here’s the prospective cover, and a sneak peek (introduction, table of contents, crew list, and prologue) to whet your appetite. I’m planning to publish as soon as possible.

Book Cover
Cover photo credit: Bruce Vanderbilt, Montserrat, 2016

“Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” –Otto Von Bismarck

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” –Mark Twain

Setting Sail

Have you ever noticed how many sailing idioms have crept into our language? Even someone who has never stepped foot on a boat knows what it means to “stay the course” or “go into uncharted waters.” You don’t have to be sailing to be “adrift” or “anchored,” and most of us have a guiding “compass” of one kind or another. But actually living on the water gives these idioms depth and color, and sometimes, teeth.

We have sailed and lived aboard sailing vessel Take Two, a forty-eight-foot custom wooden catamaran with our five kids for more than ten years, working from our floating home and “boat-schooling.” When we bought the boat, we had four children, ages six, five, four, and one. We sailed back to the U.S. from the Bahamas in time for the birth of our fifth, a girl who has spent her whole life afloat. As of this writing, they are now eighteen, seventeen, sixteen, thirteen, and nine years old, all of them capable crewmembers, and Take Two has thousands of sea miles under her twin keels. My husband and I, once merely displaced yuppies, are now salty sailors, people who are uncomfortable in shoes and small rooms and traffic jams.

All of us have learned something from our adventures. It is not an easy life, since “learning” usually involves some form of pain, and an “adventure” is what happens when things don’t go as planned, but it is a rich and rewarding experience. What we have gained far outweighs what we gave up when we left suburbia and its predictable routines.

Maybe you have dreams of sailing away, or of breaking free from the routines that keep you from experiencing life outside the box. Maybe you’re a vicarious explorer, or maybe you’re off on adventures of your own and are drawn to our story by the kinship that exists among all travelers. Whatever the case, you don’t have to sell your stuff and move aboard a boat to learn from our mistakes or to share in our adventures. To get underway all you have to do is turn the page.

Contents

Crew List: Who’s Who on Take Two

Prologue: Staying Afloat, In Which We’re Living the Dream, But Some Days It’s a Nightmare and We Learn to Make Tradeoffs and Deal with Disappointment

1: Rocking the Boat, In Which We Have an Idea that Will Change Our Lives and We Learn to Dream Big

2: Uncharted Waters, In Which We Leave Suburbia and We Learn to Have Faith

3: Sink or Swim, In Which we Buy a Boat (or Two) and We Learn to Take Risks                                                          

4: Running a Tight Ship, In Which We Establish the Boat Rules and We Learn to Live a Disciplined Life

5: Learning the Ropes, In Which We Discover that Pain is a Good Teacher and We Learn to View Mistakes as Opportunities

6: Close Quarters, In Which We Move Aboard with Small Children and We Learn to Resolve Conflict and Offer Grace

7: All Hands On Deck, In Which the Ship’s Bell Rings and Everyone Comes Running and We Learn to Work Together as a Team

8: Chock-a-Block, In Which We Decide to Collect Verbs Instead of Nouns and We Learn to Make Memories Instead of Buying Stuff

9: Batten Down the Hatches, In Which We Hope for the Best but Prepare for the Worst and We Learn to Accept Hardship and Remain Optimistic

10: Getting Ship-Shape, In Which We Renovate an Old Boat and We Learn to Find Order Within Chaos

10 ½: See Which Way the Wind is Blowing, In Which We Face a Tough Choice and We Learn to Prioritize and Make Decisions

11: Plumbing the Depths, In Which We Experience the Unfathomable Beauty of the World and We Learn to Love and Protect Creation

12: Ships Passing in the Night, In Which We Explore the Transitory Nature of Friendships Afloat and We Learn to Make Friends Quickly

13: Troubled Waters, In Which Things Go Wrong and We Learn to Be Patient and Self-Reliant

14: On the Right Tack, In Which We Get Involved with the Locals and We Learn to Give and Receive

15: Smooth Sailing, In Which Things Go Right and We Learn to Appreciate Even the Smallest Things

16: Course Corrections, In Which We Find that All Plans Are Written in Wet Sand at Low Tide and We Learn to Be Flexible

17: Safe Harbor, In Which We Come Full Circle and We Learn to Let Go

Epilogue: In the Offing, In Which We Dream New Dreams and We Learn to Persevere

Anchors Aweigh: Glossary of Nautical Terms for Landlubbers

Appendix A: Photographs, Diagrams, and Maps

Appendix B: Advice for the Adventurous, Reading Suggestions, and Questions for Reflection/Discussion

Crew List: Who’s Who on Take Two

Jay, Captain and Chief Engineer. He’s the Problem-Solver, the Magic Genie who funds the dream, and the Introverted Computer-Genius with an adventurous side. He grew up sailing and keeps the boat’s systems running smoothly. He is equally adept at designing a database, plumbing a boat toilet, and wiring an A/C electrical panel. Fun Facts: he has to medicate to prevent seasickness, loves extreme weather, and stands out like a sore thumb in Central America.

Tanya, First Mate and Ship’s Cook. She’s the impulsive Idea Man, extroverted Family Ambassador, and Neurotic Control-Freak. She’s afraid of everything but doesn’t let it stop her from living a full and exciting life. She loves overnight passages, meeting new people, and cooking. She serves as French/Spanish interpreter and knows how to find things in a new place. She thinks out loud and never knows when to quit. Fun Facts: she plays ukulele, reads voraciously, and used to be a kindergarten teacher.

Eli, Second Mate. He’s the first-born son, a Frustrated Perfectionist, Man of Action, and wordsmith lovingly known as Captain Vocabulary. He’s in charge when Jay and Tanya are off the boat and helps stand watch at night on long passages. Fun Facts: he loves to freedive, plays D & D, and flies airplanes.

Aaron, Second Engineer. A Mr. Fixit, he loves tools, can talk to anyone with his Charismatic Personality, but can sometimes be a Primadonna. He helps with boat projects like installing a water heater or changing the oil in the engines. Fun Facts: he plays electric guitar, rebuilt his first carburetor at age seven, and knows almost everything about WWII tanks.

Sarah, Quartermaster. She’s a Creative Genius, able to draw and play musical instruments, a Ready Wit, but you might not know it because she’s also a bit of a Hermit. She helps with docking and anchoring, knows where everything is, and is a good sailor. Fun Facts: she’s excellent at using just the right movie quotes to fit a conversation, is fluent in Spanish, and loves to bake cookies.

Sam, Able Seaman. He’s got an Indomitable Spirit, and the ability to Charm Animals and small children, yet somehow most often shows us his Spastic Clown side. He stands by to help wherever needed and likes to take morning watches. Fun Facts: He can solve the Rubix Cube in thirty-two seconds, juggle, and touch his tongue to his nose (though not all at the same time).

Rachel, Midshipman. She’s the youngest, born after we moved aboard Take Two, a precocious Old Soul, Empath, and, unfortunately, Rage Monster. She sleeps in a bunk amidships and likes to help in the galley.  She loves to sit in the captain’s chair on passages and stays out of the way when docking. Fun Facts: Loves to draw and sing, has a “little old lady” alter ego, and makes doll clothes out of fabric scraps.

Take Two, Custom Wooden Sailing Catamaran. It might seem strange to put the boat on the crew list, but our worthy vessel is more than just a vehicle that gets us from point A to point B. She is a part of our family. We love and care for her, and she, in turn, shelters and protects us. She was built in the Netherlands in 1991, the year Jay and I rode the school bus together in high school.

Prologue: Staying Afloat, In Which We’re Living the Dream, But Some Days It’s a Nightmare and We Learn to Make Tradeoffs and Deal with Disappointment

May 2016. I am at the helm, the only crew still standing. The captain is wedged in a corner of the cockpit trying to nap. The others are lying prone, sleeping where they fell, some outside in the cockpit, others on the settees inside, and one, half-naked, on the salon floor. If there were a soundtrack for this day, it would include crashing waves, wind whistling in the rigging, the drone of a diesel engine, crewmen moaning and groaning, and the sound of someone throwing up at the rails. The wind is wild, whipping my hair around and chapping my face. We are pounding into six-to-eight-foot seas, directly upwind, sails furled and both engines running. Occasionally, I get hit in the face with salt spray from the bows burying themselves in a big, green wave.

It is the kind of day people imagine when I tell them I live on a sailboat and they stare at me with an odd mixture of horror and admiration on their features. Perhaps they are thinking of the fisherman in his yellow rain-slicker on the Gorton’s Fish Sticks package. Well, sometimes it is like that, but only for a day or two out of the year. Sometimes, believe it or not, life at sea can even be boring. But usually, like this day, it is a combination of highs and lows, the highs often being better than you can imagine, and the lows, worse.

We are on a rhumb line between the east side of Puerto Rico and a small island in the Spanish Virgins, Vieques. The U.S. Government once used Vieques for target practice, and despite its now being a vacation destination with beach resorts, there are still parts of the island that are off-limits due to unexploded ordnance. We are here in the middle of a churning sea because it was the best weather that we could see in the forecast for making our way south and east to the Virgin Islands. It is late in the season, May already, and we need to be in Grenada before hurricane season gets cranking. It’s been a rough year for leaving, our intended departure date slipping from January to March because of Jay’s work schedule and the numerous cold fronts and disagreeable conditions preventing our crossing the Gulf Stream.

We passed up a month of cruising in the out-islands of the Bahamas with good friends on Ally Cat in order to take advantage of a few days of calm weather to head east, and the last cold front of the season to push us south into the Caribbean. Though we’re excited by what lies ahead, we are still feeling this disappointment. We had been trying to meet up with Kimberly and Michael and their daughter, Ally, for months, slowly heading south as they headed north, our paths crossing as they had twice before, in Washington D.C. and Ft. Pierce, Florida. As it turned out, we had only three days together in George  Town, Exuma in the Bahamas, to catch up. We made the most of it, with a dinner together of fresh-caught-Mahi tacos, a provisioning day with two other boat-moms, a cruiser’s open-mic music night, and a beach bonfire. The last day, Kimberly bequeathed to me her notes from their year in the Caribbean, notes that I would cherish and use extensively the following year.

One of her recommendations was Bio Bay, or Bahia Mosquito, in Vieques, a naturally-occurring phenomenon where bioluminescent plankton exist in impressive concentrations in a closed bay, and cause anything that passes through the water to glow and sparkle. I was enchanted by the idea of anchoring our boat at the entrance to the bay and taking our kayaks in on a dark night to give my kids a magical experience. I became obsessed with this idea—so driven, in fact, that when it was time to leave Puerto Rico, I insisted we make the stop in Vieques instead of going straight to St. Thomas, which might have provided a better wind angle for sailing. And now I am paying for it and exacting a price from my crew as well.

Guilty questions circle my head like seagulls after a potato chip. “Will this be one of those times when we all suffer for nothing? Like those other times when I have an idea and drag everyone along and it turns out to be a costly disappointment? Will we even be able to anchor at the mouth of the bay with the wind and waves from this direction?” I have six hours of bashing to think about this, while our little boat icon creeps across the screen of our chart-plotter more slowly than I could ride a bike. I say a small, selfish prayer that it will all be worth it.

I have seen no other boats since we left this morning with our French counterpart—a boat called Dingo D’Iles (“crazy for islands”), a large catamaran with five kids aboard. They are long gone, heading to the British Virgin Islands. This is another disappointment, as we would like to have spent more time with them. We have never met another family with five kids aboard, and they had two teenagers, too. We overlapped by only a few days at Palmas Del Mar, just long enough to hang out in the laundry room while catching up on the wash, and to share Rachel’s birthday with their three little girls. But they are on a schedule to get to Martinique by a certain date, and we are not. There is always the chance that we may run into them later.

Vieques grows incrementally larger on the horizon, as the mountains of Puerto Rico vanish behind us. The only redeeming qualities about this day are that it is not raining, and that we’ll arrive before dark. I console myself, as I often do, by reminding myself that it could always be worse. By mid-afternoon, we are running along the coast, looking for a place to anchor the boat. The captain looks dubious. The opening to Mosquito Bay looks too narrow and the bay itself too shallow for us to get inside, and the water is too rough to stay outside. I can hear him thinking about his bail-out plan and calculating arrival time in St. Thomas. I cannot accept defeat so easily. Perhaps, I suggest, we could just do a drive-by and see whether it’s “doable.”

So we creep in around a point, in whose lee lies a perfect little isolated palm-tree-lined beach, and inch toward the entrance to the bay. Suddenly, as if by magic, the wind and waves disappear, and a mangrove-lined channel opens up just beyond a wide, shallow bight. We drop the anchor, fall back to see if we like the placement, pick it up again in classic Take Two style, and re-anchor. It’s perfect. The captain agrees to give it a go, but we will only stay one night, so this is our only chance.

Everyone is moving again, like the waking dead, looking rumpled and groggy. “Where are we?” is the repeated question. And now that we are out of the wind, it’s hot. And at the mouth of Mosquito Bay, Sarah points out, it might be a buggy night. But I remain optimistic. Yes, it might be hot and buggy, but we’re in a safe place and, barring rain, we have a chance to go do something rare and interesting. Jay and I do a pre-dark recon by dinghy to see how far we have to paddle, and what the bay looks like. We decide that I’ll kayak with the big kids, and he will take the dinghy as a support vessel with our youngest crewmember, Rachel, who just turned five.

We make a quick dinner and drop the kayaks in the water. The sun sinks into the sea and stars begin to wink in the darkening sky. It is a moonless night, ideal for our purpose. We paddle down the long, serpentine entrance in the dark. There are a few sparkles in the water, but nothing we haven’t seen before. A fish darts away from the bow of my kayak, and I see a streak of glowing green. Then the creek widens into a bay, something we feel more than see. The farther in we get, the brighter the swirls our paddles make in the water, until the water is unmistakably glowing. Fish dash in every direction leaving fiery trails like comets, the paddles come out dripping diamonds of light, and we leave glowing wakes behind us. The kids are all thinking the same thing, and finally someone says it aloud: “Can we jump in?” If it weren’t so dark, Jay and I would exchange a parental glance. We had read that a girl was bitten by a shark in this bay a year ago, and we instinctively know that swimming in a warm, shallow bay at night is a bad idea. But we say yes, anyway. It’s irresistible—a chance to swim in liquid light. Our friends on a boat called Jalapeño said it was not to be missed—they went so far as to dare our kids to swim here if they ever got the chance.

Our fearless first-born jumps in first. His whole body is luminous. His hair is on fire with glints of green. One by one, we all immerse ourselves in what looks like radioactive liquid—even our timid five-year-old, who leaps in fully-clothed. Our hands and arms come out of the water scintillating like we’re wearing sequined gloves. The experience is thrilling, incomparable to anything we’ve seen or done. A kayak tour group emerges from a clump of mangroves and we have surely disturbed their quiet evening expedition with our riot of sound and light. We hop back in the kayaks after a while and play paddle-tag, using the glistening trails to chase each other through the dark. This is what that awful day at sea was for; it has made all the discomfort worthwhile, and I am quite literally glowing with happiness. As we paddle out of the bay, the glow fades, the streaks turning to mere sparkles again, and we head back for a freshwater rinse and bed.

Tomorrow, we’ll weigh anchor and head back out to sea. The waves will still be there, but hopefully we’ll have a better wind angle for sailing to St. Thomas. We’ll be sailing past Culebrita, with its famous “Jacuzzis,” a series of natural rocky pools on an island wildlife refuge. Our good friends on Abby Singer are anchored there, but time and weather do not allow for another stop, so we’ll have to catch up with them further “down island.” So goes the life afloat.

Sometimes we measure success on the boat by the absence of failure–nothing broke! Nothing leaked! No one got seasick today!  Sometimes sailing looks merely like “not sinking.” There are glorious, wonderful, sparkling days, but they stand out in memory like an oasis in a desert of rough passages. “Staying afloat” acknowledges the hope-amidst-hardship of the sailing life. If it’s so hard, one might ask, why do we do it? Because despite the unpredictable and sometimes unpleasant nature of boating, the beauty, joy, and freedom we experience in nature, the sense of accomplishment we feel when we overcome a challenge, and the memories we make as a family while traveling make it all worth it.

Disappointment is a normal part of life on Planet Ocean. Our life and path are often dictated by things outside our control, like the weather, Jay’s work, or things that break unexpectedly. We may yearn to go somewhere but be unable to get there because it’s the wrong time of year, or the wind is blowing the wrong direction or speed. While we love to go off the beaten path, we can’t stay very long and keep the paychecks coming. This is partly why we have not crossed an ocean yet, and why we waited so long to make the jump to the Caribbean. We were waiting for the technology to catch up with our dream so that Jay could work from the boat wherever it was anchored. The tradeoff is that we get to live this way, instead of saving up for ten years so we can take a trip.

Then there are the things we can control. Every time we say “yes” to one thing, we have to say “no” to a thousand others, some of which may have been better than the one we chose. Often, we pray through a decision, and choose a counterintuitive path whose purpose is only revealed later. But there is no loss without some gain, and when we miss a time with old friends, for example, we have an opportunity to make new ones.

Our lost month in the Bahamas with Ally Cat was later spent in the Virgin Islands cruising with Abby Singer. Similarly, the weeks we might have spent with them in Culebra were used to earn income and tour Puerto Rico by car. A rough day at sea yielded a memorable night in a phosphorescent bay. Choosing to continue feeling disappointment about lost joys keeps us from experiencing new ones. We just need to stay afloat during the hard times so that we are ready when good times come again. This is one of the chief lessons we have learned from life on a boat, though not the first.

If you made it this far and want more, you’ll have to buy the book! Stay tuned…

Crossing Over

Tree Trek, Boquete

I spent more than 18 years preparing my son and myself for this crossing, but it still feels surprising. After our thanksgiving cruise, Eli packed a bag, hopped in his truck and drove to Naples to work for my brother during his break between college semesters.

Eli's truck

I thought he would be back after that, at least for a few months, but he’s decided to stay. He’s in a great place—he has a place to live, a job, classes he can take online, people to hang out with, and a support system of extended family. He was ready to go and we were ready for him to go. So why am I crying?

Tanya holding Eli in LDR

I feel the way I felt after giving birth: relieved, happy to meet the emerging person, and a little sad that the time of close companionship is at an end. All of childhood is a slow cutting of that umbilical cord.

Mountain Goat

I miss seeing Eli every day. I miss his sarcastic comments. I miss him during evening tidy-up, because he always took the initiative. I miss talking to him late at night. I miss his thoughtful comments during dinner conversations. I even miss the things that annoy me; I feel their absence. I knew it was my job to work myself out of a job. But the human heart is too small to house so many emotions—pride, joy, trepidation, sadness, longing, expectation, hope—all at once. They keep leaking out my eyes.

Volcano Descent

Take Nothing for Granted

Sunrise at Sea, Gulf of Mexico, November 2020

I’m taking nothing for granted this year. Things that would have seemed forgone conclusions in years past—hanging out with family on holidays, for example—have become special events for which we weigh risk and reward. For so many, it has been a hard year. Just like “love” and “friendship” are what we do despite differences and division, “gratitude” is what we do despite hardship. In the middle of all the losses, we look for small gains. And it gives us hope.

Despite so much bad news, we have been extremely fortunate this year. Jay has had plenty of work, we have food and shelter, we have our health, our family is intact, the older kids have been able to continue high school and college from home and take steps toward independence, and Sam and Rachel have continued with their studies and have been able to meet with a few friends despite the ongoing pandemic. I have been able to meet in person (at the beach) with my Wednesday morning Bible study—a group of true sisters for whose prayers and support I am especially thankful this year. And since returning to Florida, we have been able to spend precious time with our extended family. I have never been so aware of what—and who—is really important in my life.

I am under no illusions. Though some days I feel like the luckiest woman alive, I know how fragile life is and how quickly things can change. The ocean has certainly taught me that—one minute, you’re on the crest of a wave, scoping out the distant horizon, and the next you are plunged into the trough, surrounded by hills of foaming green water. Counting blessings is an important practice which can help us stay positive in the midst of negative circumstances—remembering and acknowledging good things can keep us afloat until we can see the horizon again.

Sunset, Gulf of Mexico, December 2020

As I approach another turn around the sun, here is my “thankful list”:

• We live in Florida, where we can be outside all year. The weather the last few weeks has been especially beautiful. Also, we survived another hurricane season in one piece!

• We have been homeschooling, working from home, and living self-sufficiently for a long time, so this year did not represent a major life shift as it did for so many. We chose to live in close quarters, and we acknowledge the privilege of that choice.

• I am thankful for the captain and crew of Take Two—for their hard work, their companionship, and the happy memories we have made together.

• We were able to go sailing in November—and experience probably the nicest overnight passage in our 12 years aboard Take Two on our way to Charlotte Harbor, where we met with Jay’s dad and stepmom, Al and Mary, and had a buddy-boating Thanksgiving. We loved our month of being neighbors with S/V Lovely Cruise.

• I was able to host my family in my home! It is a rare treat to share my floating life with my parents, in-laws, siblings, and nieces and nephews. I am so grateful for all of them.

• I got to spend time with several old friends this year—my mentor and home-school hero Mary Hines and her husband Jim (who planned our wedding and officiated, respectively, 23 years ago), my best friend from college, Heather, my friend Tarin who lived around the corner in our Clearwater neighborhood, my friend and fellow boat-mom from our first marina, Vicki (S/V Oddysea) and her niece Keren, and our friends from S/V Abby Singer, S/V Rothim, and S/V Cerca Trova.

• I even made some new friends, despite it being a year where people look at strangers like “purveyors of death” instead of “friends they haven’t met yet!” I am very thankful for the friends and neighbors aboard S/V Sputnik, S/V Must Love Dogs, S/V September Winds, S/V Tulsi, M/V Concrete Idea, S/V Watercolors, S/V Mysoun, and S/V Sweet Mary.

• We live in a quiet and relatively safe corner of the world, and we are surrounded by a wonderful tribe of homeschooling families. I am extremely grateful for this community. I can’t imagine a better place to weather these strange circumstances.

• I am so grateful for our friends in Venezuela, Providencia, and Guatemala, whose lives have been spared despite truly harrowing circumstances. We are praying for you every day.

• I am thankful for every sunrise, every sunset, every day I wake up on planet earth. I am thankful to God for the gift of life itself. May I never take it for granted and let no day go wasted.

Buddy Boat (sunset)
Buddy-boating at Thanksgiving with Al and Mary Hackney on S/V Lovely Criuse

A Take Two Holiday Tradition: Ninja-bread Cookies

Straight from our boat galley: an army of ninjas to attack your holiday cravings. Redolent with molasses, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves, your home will smell amazing and your kids will be delighted! Recipe below.

Ninja-bread cookies

Prep time: 2+ hours
Makes: Several dozen cookies (unless you are making a gingerbread army or building a gingerbread house, I recommend cutting this recipe in half.)

1 1/2 cups dark molasses
1 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup water
1/3 cup butter, softened
7 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Mix molasses, brown sugar, water, and butter. Whisk in one cup of flour, baking soda, spices, and salt. Stir in remaining flour. Place dough between two sheets of wax paper, flatten and put in the fridge or freezer to chill before rolling/cutting. Heat oven to 325°. Roll dough 1/4 inch thick on floured silicone mat. Cut with cookie cutters. Bake until lightly browned at edges (about 10 minutes). Cool and pipe with icing.

Easy Icing: Beat together 4 cups powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 5-6 tablespoons milk or water until smooth, but not runny. Place icing in a plastic zip-top bag and snip a corner to pipe. Decorate with sprinkles, mini m&m’s, or currants.

Pep Talk #23: Hold on Tight

I Want to Hold Your Hand

Are you weary? Perhaps you are weary of 2020, of the pandemic or its cascading consequences, of continued social or economic or political disruption that means your normal safety net is not catching you. Here in the hurricane belt, we are weary of a hurricane season that seemed to last forever. We have heard news from friends in Guatemala and the island of Providencia, places that were recently devastated by the late-season storms. While I am personally in a good place at the moment, I am weary of all the sad news. I left little pieces of my heart in places where there is great suffering, and I bear a burden even when I am smiling.

At the same time, it is not a year to take things for granted, and I am encouraged because we have been able to visit with our family and host nieces and nephews on our boat, some for the first time, during the week of Thanksgiving. I feel more grateful this year than usual; life is fragile, and I am counting blessings large and small.

Weariness shows us the limits of our self-sufficiency. We can only carry so much on our own before we buckle under the weight. I have learned about that this year while carrying around sadness that is often not even my own. We carry the weight of responsibility for our families, our friends, our own decisions and well-being. We carry the things we witness, like violence, bad news, and environmental destruction. And we carry things for which we couldn’t possibly be responsible, but feel their weight just the same. And it drags us down, slowly sucking away joy and motivation and hope. We feel heavy and dark. We feel it, physically, in our necks and shoulders and backs. Perhaps that is why the words of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew have always appealed to me:  

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (11:28-30)

A good friend recently explained what she had learned about the way oxen are trained. While two young oxen are often raised and trained as a team, a young ox can also be trained with an older, more experienced ox. In this case, the older ox wears the bow of the yoke more tightly so that it does most of the work while the less-experienced ox is learning. The young ox follows the lead of the older ox but does not carry the weight because the bow is fastened more loosely. Imagine that—walking through life, through hardship—yoked with someone who can carry the burden for you and show you which direction to turn.

Similarly, I love it when Jay holds Rachel’s hand. It melts my heart to see my husband’s tenderness to our daughter, and to see the perfect picture of trust as Rachel walks along, linked to that big, strong man. Holding his hand, she’s able to do things she otherwise wouldn’t, like walk across the Devil’s bridge in Antigua, a natural rock formation where the crashing waves have worn the shoreline down and left a treacherous walkway. You have to time your trip between waves so that you don’t get wet, or worse, get swept off the bridge and onto the sharp rocks below. She also holds his hand while crossing a busy street or walking in a crowd where she doesn’t want to get lost among strangers. His firm grip provides a sense of security and protection. Other times, she holds his hand while on a casual stroll, or while walking on the beach, and their physical connection is a sign of companionship and emotional closeness.

This is what it feels like to walk with God. I am beyond debating whether he’s “there” or not—it would be like Rachel doubting whose hand she’s holding! My faith has given me the confidence that no matter what is going on in my life, I am not alone. God is there, offering comfort and companionship. I can do things even when I am afraid, sad, or worried, because someone stronger than I am is holding onto me. Sometimes life is a walk on the beach—I am happy, feeling thankful, acknowledging the beauty in Creation. But other times, it is a narrow pass over treacherous rocks, and I’m holding on for dear life, trying not to be swept away.

I once prayed that I would learn to depend on God. It was stupid, I know, like praying for patience and suddenly getting a cosmic pop quiz whereby you find the limits of what you can handle. That was 2004, the year we moved to Florida with two toddlers and a new baby. I hadn’t yet made a friend, my parents divorced after 38 years of marriage, the pastor of the church we attended cheated on his wife, Jay traveled for work, and four hurricanes made landfall in our part of Florida (Dean, Francis, Ivan and Jean). I couldn’t even trust the lights to stay on. It was the year I became a morning coffee-drinker and got consistent with my prayer-and-devotions. I did learn to trust God, to sense his presence, to find peace in the middle of a hard and lonely time. It was an invaluable lesson that I have carried into other seasons of life—it made it possible for this neurotic nail-biter to move onto a sailboat and brave storms at sea, and it helps right now.

When times are hard, when all else fails—family, friends, health, finances, church, experts, government officials, self-confidence, even the elements of nature—where does your stability come from? Are you yoked to someone strong enough to handle the chaos so that you can take a deep breath and carry on? My prayer for you is that you will know peace in this hard time, find rest for your soul, and hold tightly to the hand of a Father who does not fail.

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:28-31)

Hurricane Plan

Hurricane Plan
Take Two tied in the mangroves for Tropical Storm Eta, Florida Keys, 2020

We have prepared for and experienced several tropical storms in the twelve years we have owned Take Two, but never have we had to enact our hurricane plan, which involves “spiderwebbing” ourselves up inside a mangrove creek. That is, not until this week, when Tropical Storm Eta passed over the Florida Keys. Eta was the 29th tropical cyclone this year and passed this way after raking over Central America and flooding parts of Panama and Guatemala that we visited (2017-2019). News coming from friends in hard-hit areas is heart-wrenching and puts our encounter with the storm in perspective. We are feeling very thankful that we received the less-intense part of the storm, and also that we were able to find a quiet, secure place to practice our better-safe-than-sorry plan.

Tied to Mangroves 1

We have weathered a few named storms on the boat; some of those stories are documented here on the blog. We have been fortunate not to have sustained any storm damage yet, both by luck and preparation, though we have lost plenty of sleep. We prepped for our first tropical storm, Fay, in 2008,  mere months after we had purchased the boat.

Prep for Tropical Storm Fay, Bradenton, Florida, 2008
Take Two at Twin Dolphin Marina, first storm prep

We were anchored during Tropical Storm Debbie in 2012, which lingered over the Tampa Bay area for five days and tested our recently-purchased Manson 80-pound anchor as well as our patience. Later that year, Superstorm Sandy passed by Ft. Pierce while we were tied to a dock there.

Anchored for Tropical Storm Debbie, Terra Ceia Bay, Florida, 2012
Take Two anchored in Terra Ceia Bay for Tropical Storm Debbie, 2012

We experienced the beginning of Hurricane Matthew in 2016 while we were at a marina in Grenada, a storm for which we considered anchoring in a nearby mangrove bay, though we ultimately decided against it. Dealing with seasonal weather patterns is simply part of living on a boat—every year we make a plan for where we’ll be from June to November, and what we’ll do if a storm threatens.

Hurricane Matthew, Grenada, 2016
Mangrove hidey-hole near Calivigny Bay, Grenada

Our best strategy for storm prep is avoidance. We prefer to be outside the “hurricane box” drawn by insurance companies, in places like the Chesapeake, Grenada, Panama, and Guatemala. When we can’t avoid the hurricane zone, which is sometimes the case since Florida is our home base, we watch the forecasts carefully and try to find a “safe” place to be in August and September especially. With every storm that presents reasonable threat, we make a plan that shifts with each change in direction and intensity. If we can’t avoid a storm, we take measures to protect the boat and her crew during the bad weather. For anything more than a Tropical Storm (winds more than 74 mph), we would put the boat in a place where we can reduce the risk of damage and then evacuate for our safety and comfort.

We were in Panama during the last storm that devastated the Florida Keys, Irma in 2017. The memory is still fresh here, and locals take hurricane warnings very seriously. Those who stayed on their boats or in their houses for that storm tell harrowing stories. The mooring balls in Boot Key Harbor, a place we have now spent three hurricane seasons, are screw-type hurricane-grade moorings, but the biggest threat is the “pinball effect” when a boat in the nearby anchorage drags anchor or if a boat breaks loose from a mooring and damages others as it drifts. While we can take proper precautions for our own boat, we can’t be sure of the security of other vessels. This is what prompted us to spend August and September on a seawall up a protected canal, and why we tied up in the mangroves for Eta.

Bow Anchor
Anchored near Sister’s Creek, tied off to mangroves, Florida Keys

One of the good things about our life afloat is the ability to move, and the self-sufficiency our boat provides. Sometimes we can get out of the way of bad weather, and sometimes we can secure our boat in a safe place despite it. We can’t eliminate risk, but we can mitigate it. Because we make our own power, we don’t have to worry about electrical outages. Because we float, we don’t have to worry about flooding. In fact, the rain provides free water as it runs from our hard top straight into our tanks.

rain catching
Catching rain from Eta

We are feeling grateful a lot these days, for blessings large and small. At a time when there is so much bad news, we don’t take health, happiness, or protection from harm for granted. Seems like for every sigh of relief, there is also a sigh of sympathy: our thoughts and prayers are with those who have suffered so much this year.