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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sometimes it feels like our years traveling in the Caribbean were just a dream. The present, with its mundane tasks, disrupted community, bad news, and “stuckness,” seems very real, while the life of adventure, beauty, and travel, far away. Therein lies the danger of nostalgia: to feel discontented in the present by glorifying the past. But I know that there were hardships, boredom, and loneliness there, too. That’s just life, the good with the bad. I woke up to a fourth day of rain, so no doubt my mood is affected by the wet, gray days.
I feel like Puddleglum in C.S. Lewis’s book, The Silver Chair, a prisoner of the Queen of Underland:
“Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”
I know there is More. Bigger. Brighter. I’ve seen it, I’ve been there, and I’ve communed with other travelers in the Sunlit Lands. As I work on a second revision of my memoir (which feels as if it shall never be complete), I am reliving the memories, and whether I dreamed them up or not, I will allow myself to spend some time looking at pictures and longing for the beauty of the world. The rain will no doubt pass, and sunny days come again. I stored these memories for just such a dreary moment.
In the spring of 2008, we bought a custom wooden catamaran built in the Netherlands in 1991 named Take Two. This is what the galley looked like:
We lived with it for a couple of years so we would have time to think about what we really wanted/needed in a galley. I love food preparation and spend hours each day in the galley cooking homemade meals and baking bread and goodies from scratch, so this is an important part of our life afloat. It’s why we chose a boat with a galley-up instead of galley-down (in the hull). If I’m going to be in the galley, I still want to be a part of the action.
What we loved was the light and space; what we hated was the Bosch electric cooktop (50 hz) that required a generator run for cooking, the small marine fridge and freezer, the dishwasher, and the grey formica countertop. After our first cruise to the Bahamas in 2010, we came back to Florida for a refit after Rachel was born in spring of 2011. We switched to marine plywood/teak veneer countertops, standard-size propane gas stove/oven, and AC under-counter fridge and freezer. We got rid of the dishwasher, build storage drawers and installed a washing machine under the chart table. It was a significant improvement.
It was beautiful and functional, but not as durable as we needed. The appliances lasted 9 years before rust started to affect the stove’s safe operation, and the moisture around the sink caused the countertops to rot. I was sad to see the pretty wood go, but the new solid surface countertops are really beautiful! I love the new stainless outdoor-grade refrigerator and freezer, the new stove/oven with extra safety features, and the undermount sinks with integrated draining board. This will (hopefully) be our last upgrade!
For more photos of the demolition, before-and-after shots, and details, click here (or any photo) and it will take you to our flickr photostream. So far, so good…I’m really enjoying the new galley!
What is peace? And where can it be found? Maybe you, like me, are asking these questions a lot right now. We certainly know what , and where, peace is not.
I’ve learned a lot about peace from the ocean. If we have a “peaceful” passage, it usually refers to the sea state: a gentle swell, a nice breeze and smooth sailing, sunshine sparkling on the water, maybe a pod of dolphins playing in our bow wake. Or it might indicate the condition of our crew: no one suffering seasickness, everyone occupying themselves and getting along well with each other. Likewise, a peaceful anchorage is a quiet respite from the motion of waves, the promise of a good night’s sleep at the end of a long day.
But sometimes “peace” is what we have despite circumstances. In the middle of storms at sea, I have felt an amazing inner calm (after the initial panic, of course)—I understand that the situation is dangerous and that my life is fragile, but can accept with tranquility whatever may come. Peace can also mean running from a storm and finding an anchorage in the lee of an island. The wind still howls, the rain pelts, the lightning flashes all around, but our anchor is buried in the sand, the motion of the waves is stopped by the island, and our boat is still afloat. Despite the noise of the storm, we can relax.
For me, inner peace is a supernatural occurrence—a state contrary to my normal, anxious, internal monologue. It’s a sense that no matter how bad a situation is, I don’t face it alone or without hope; I have an anchor for my soul. It takes conscious effort not to focus on the outward circumstances, but to take a deep breath, pray, and change fretting into meditating on the positive. This has helped me access this peace-in-the-midst-of-chaos. I still have an embarrassing tendency to freak out, but I’ve learned to pause and find this place of peace with a little concentration.
Many times over the last few months I have had to draw on this well of peace—as I see and hear of turmoil both around the world and close to home. Chaos reigns on personal, social, and political fronts, but I have not lost the hope of peace. Sometimes after receiving bad news, it feels like my anchor is dragging, but in life, as on the water when we experience a sudden shift in wind or tide, I reset the anchor in a firm place, pay out some chain, and go back “inside” to find rest.
I don’t know whether you are experiencing a personal crisis, whether you are feeling isolated or afraid, whether the country you live in is experiencing disasters natural or man-made, but I know that we are all touched by the storms of life at one time or another. We can seek and ask for peace—inside our own hearts, with God, in our relationships, and in our spheres of influence. We can pray that our leaders will seek peace. Maybe circumstances will change, or maybe we can effect change ourselves, but if not, then the only thing we can control is our response. Let these words anchor your soul as they have anchored mine:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” –Jesus, in the gospel according to John (14:27)
It’s the time of year when we watch the weather carefully. We’re from Florida and have experienced our fair share of stormy weather, from the afternoon thunderstorm that can pack 50-knot gusts to tropical storms with sustained high winds that can last for days and make sensitive crew seasick at anchor. We’ve managed to avoid hurricanes since we bought the boat (though we’ve experienced a few in a house), both by luck and by active avoidance. We’ve spent past hurricane seasons in “safe” places like the Patomac River, Grenada, Panama, and Guatemala. We know our limits—when to hunker down, when to sail away, or when to tie up the boat and evacuate.
Watching weather analysis videos or tracking storms with NOAA is a whole-family affair. We usually have a lot of warning before a storm threatens, giving us time to plan. Even when a forecasted track crosses our path, there is a lot of wiggle room in the “Cone of Uncertainty.” For those who do software development, project management, or live in a hurricane zone, this is a familiar concept. Those watching weather reports know that it’s that shaded patch between “where the storm is now” and “where the storm is likely to land,” fanned out to account for margin of error. Small directional changes at the point of origin result in large changes as you follow a trajectory. And just because you’re “inside the cone” doesn’t mean you’re going to get hit, nor does being “outside the cone” guarantee nice weather!
The Cone of Uncertainty is a helpful tool for assessing danger and for making decisions about risk mitigation. In some ways, the computer models that predicted spread of the new global pandemic are like hurricane models. Remember the red circles on the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 map? Even now, getting a visual picture of higher-risk areas could be a useful tool for deciding whether to travel, for example. Unfortunately, right now it feels like the whole world is living inside a Cone of Uncertainty! Even if you live in a place of relative safety, the Butterfly Effect predicts that you will still be affected by small changes in faraway places, like economic fluctuations, social unrest, global supply chain disruptions, or travel bans.
Uncertainty is nothing new. We humans may operate under the assumption that we are in control, but our lives are, in fact, fragile, circumstances can change quickly, and safety is largely an illusion. Instead of crippling us, this realization gave us the courage to leave suburbia and buy a boat. We thought, “Since we can’t know what tomorrow brings, we’d better enjoy today!”
Living on the water has helped us to grow comfortable with discomfort. On the boat, we are affected by weather changes, motion, breakage, and the whims of officials in foreign ports. I am a planner by nature, and sudden changes and a lack of predictability rocked my boat (sometimes literally) at the beginning of this adventure. But living aboard for more than a decade has helped me learn to recover a lot faster when plans change and to develop qualities that make survival inside the Cone of Uncertainty possible: patience, courage, persistence, creativity, perspective, faith, and peace of mind.
I am reminded of the oft-quoted Serenity Prayer, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.” I also found a helpful article on mental health during COVID-19 that offered these five strategies and lots of practical tips (see link below) :