Monthly Archives: November 2008

Thankful List

I have much to be thankful for, large and small. Mentally, I make lists like this pretty often. If I feel grumpy, or have some real complaint, I find something to be thankful for and it usually fixes my wagon.  Although cliché, it is an appropriate time of year to actually write down the thankful list.

Item #1: I write afloat in Charlotte Harbor for our First Annual Turkey Day Cruise.  This is a popular spot this time of year. Some folks come every year—Jay’s parents, for example. They’re in transit to meet us, assuming their engine woes have been resolved, in time for Thanksgiving. I have a turkey and all the trimmings, the kids made holiday decorations, and all that is missing is family. On the one hand, it is strange to be here and not be going to my family’s or be at home preparing for visitors. On the other hand, this is the first Thanksgiving we will be able to spend with Jay’s dad, since they’re always on a cruise during the fourth Thursday of November. The fact that we are here in peaceful Pelican Bay off of Cayo Costa State Park is near-miraculous for at least a couple of reasons.  I mean, we sailed here, in a gorgeous breeze, in our boat. And we didn’t run aground or break anything major. There are sunrises and sunsets to write home about
every day. It still seems like a dream. (That was dumb. It is a dream. Our dream. And we’re in the middle of it. Don’t wake me.)

Item #2: We have water. That may not seem like much. And it doesn’t exactly come gushing out of the tap, and showers are buckets of warmish water you pour over your head by the cupful. But for a few hours, it looked like we wouldn’t have any. And nothing can rain on a parade more than not having water. Or, rather, having nothing but salty. (Water, water, every where, nor any drop to drink…) Jay, in his infinite cleverness, figured out what was wrong with the water maker and got it going again.  Have I mentioned that there is no one with whom I would rather sail around the world? He is definitely on the thankful list.

Item #3: Jay bought me a Dyna-Jet wringer just in time for our trip. Most women would be insulted, but I was thrilled. It made the laundry so much easier this week.  Washing has to be done at least twice this trip, and takes about six hours, not counting drying time (which depends on wind and sun). I just love that thing.

Item #4: The Dead Guys. This may seem a bit irreverent, but I really am thankful. Every time we take the kids on a fishing expedition or go exploring on the islands around here, we owe it to the unfulfilled dreams of two guys. The Porta-Bote, or Stretch Limo as I jokingly call it (after a small mishap a few weeks ago put it to the test), was to be strapped to the RV of one of the guys, and he and his wife were going to travel across this great land of ours and unfold the boat periodically to fish or explore waterways. His widow listed the 14’ boat on Craig’s list and it was still in the box when we went to pick it up. The 8hp motor Jay got for it has a similar story. It’s several years old, but was hardly used. Although I feel a bit sad about their unfulfilled dreams, there is no better way to honor The Dead Guys than to enjoy the heck out of the things they left behind and recognize them for their contribution to our dream. On a side note, The Dead Guys also remind us to be thankful that we are able to do this now, since tomorrow is not guaranteed.

Item #5: The chance to live like a pioneer.  We look around us, and even the folks anchored near us aren’t really like us. I know there are other people out there with little kids who live on boats, make their own bread and do laundry by hand, but so far we only know one other family, and they moved back to land a couple years ago. The kids’ chores at home are a bit disconnected from reality, but here they are learning that there is a direct link between doing their chores and contributing to the family’s well-being. If you don’t help grind the grain, there won’t be any bread, and if you don’t help with laundry, where are clean clothes going to come from? This is one of our goals in becoming more self-sufficient—that our children would learn true responsibility, and have a sense of satisfaction as they see how their contribution is real and valued.

While we still have many luxuries aboard TakeTwo, I am beginning to appreciate what pioneer women went through in America’s early days. I am also appreciating, though not yet missing, the comforts of home.  How very seldom I was thankful for the little things that make life easier and more pleasant, and how quick to complain if I didn’t get what I wanted at the moment I wanted it.  I’m a more grateful person because of this strange and good floating life. Happy Thanksgiving.

Bickering Birds

A lot of bird activity lately. We noticed two things when we got down to the boat this weekend. Lots of berry-colored “residue” all over the deck and blackbirds we occasionally have to shake off the top of the mast.  Second, a mob of seagulls fighting over the pilings of the breakwater surrounding the marina. I like waking up to bird noises because it reminds me that I’m in my bed on the water, but this is ridiculous—the squawking and screaming of what sounds like hundreds of gulls, but really is just dozens of bickering birds. The unspoken rule seems to be “one bird per piling” although there’s plenty of room for two or three, and there are often empty pilings further along the sea wall. I’ll notice a lull—everyone seems happy for the time being—each bird preening or resting on his own piling. Then a new bird comes along, or one that decided to move to a new piling, and as he tries to alight, he sets the entire flock to squawking. The conversation, if I may be so bold as to translate from Gull-ese, would go something like this:


 “No, you can’t land here, this piling is occupied.”
 “No, not here either.”
 “Go away!”
 “Hey, that’s no fair. Did you see that? He took my spot! Here, move over and let me share.”
 “I don’t care what he did to you, you can’t share my piling!”
 “Can’t have mine either”
“He took her piling! I can’t believe this. We should all move over and make more space.”
“You make some space; I’m staying here. This is my piling.”

On and on it continues, for about ten minutes. Then everyone gets settled again and there is peace for a few moments. Does this remind you of anyone you know? Sadly, I recognize that pattern from our own house, or boat, rather, with a few small changes: “He pinched me.” “She took my toy without asking.” “He broke something he didn’t build.” “She’s hogging the potty.” “He hit me.”  I often ignore the petty bickering, allowing the children the opportunity to practice conflict resolution on their own, or, if it merits my attention, step in as arbitrator (I try not to play judge-and-jury).  My husband mused recently that the boys would have fewer arguments if they didn’t share a room, something that would actually be dire punishment to them both.

Anyone who has had to downsize will recognize the temporary difficulties of diminished personal space. It feels for a little while as if you are on top of each other—arguments flare up, shared items are in constant demand by two or more parties, and no one can get away from the offending person or situation. And then everyone finds a little space of their own and things settle down for awhile. Really, the whole world is like that. Just as there may be plenty of space further down the sea wall and the birds bicker over a few more-desirable spots, the whole world seems to want the same piece of real estate—like Isreal, for example. There’s plenty of room in Siberia, but nobody wants that piling. Why can’t we all just get along? 

The answer is that we humans are hopelessly selfish, squabbling and grasping endlessly for our own wants and needs—we come out of the womb saying “Mine!” (If you don’t believe me, you must not have ever lived with a newborn.) And the solution to the problem? There is only one cure for selfishness. It is an accursed and nearly-impossible feat, akin to suicide: slay the self. I am no proponent of drinking the tainted Kool-Aid, mind you, merely of placing my needs in their proper place, under the authority of the Creator-God and His law of love. Ironically, when one gives himself entirely to God (not merely to a set of religious beliefs or rules), He re-establishes that self in its true form, as it was created to be. I am never more myself than when I have denied myself for another’s sake. I am then the nobler, truer, braver, freer self—not because of self-love, but because I love another enough to consider his needs first.

A loving family is the perfect place to learn this. Though it would temporarily solve the problem. we are not going to send everyone to their own Siberia to have peace and quiet. We are instead going to do the opposite and force people to work their problems out and stick together until they find fellowship. (I once chained my two oldest boys together and made them stay that way all day. Their crying turned to laughing by lunch time, when they simply had to cooperate to get any eating accomplished. I have no idea how they managed the bathroom.) I can’t say that I know the secret to living well in close quarters, as we are still struggling quite a bit with our selfish natures. But, somehow in the confined space in which we find ourselves, better, truer and nobler people are being forged.  Whatever solution you may come up with on your own, the problem of selfishness results in nothing short of war, whether it be fighting over pilings, toys, or property. When put into a cramped space where we don’t get what we think we deserve, humans are no better than bickering birds.

Laundry Haiku

Out of the corner of my eye
A child running—
Ah! Just pajama pants on the line.


The port side of our boat looks like it is strung with Tibetan prayer flags—towels praying for fair winds and a sunny afternoon. After her house burned down and she had to carry the laundry for a family of seven to and from a laundromat, my friend Tina told us all to be thankful for our washers and dryers.  If I may boast for a moment, I did a large load of whites today by hand, so I guess we should now be thankful for laundromats. Believe it or not, it was fun. At least the first hour, after which my back began complain about the unfamiliar strain. To further stretch credibility, I actually enjoy everything more when I choose to do it by hand. The examples are too many to name, but my favorite household tasks are, in order of pleasure derived:  kneading bread, home-schooling the kids, and doing the dishes.

My classmate Alexander Lee began a movement during our years at Middlebury which turned into the non-profit Project Laundry List (laundrylist.org). At the time, I thought the whole thing a bit fruity. (It started with some pants hanging in a tree by the dining hall.) He said we could reduce the electrical demand on the grid so much by hanging our laundry instead of using our dryers that we could render nuclear power unnecessary. It sounded good, but who wants to hang their wash in a dorm room? And later on, it just seemed impractical: I mean, really, am I going to hang six-to-eight loads of laundry in my backyard—especially when it rains every afternoon in South Florida for six months? Never-mind about those pioneer women with ten children. Now the cloth diapers I hung. And yes, it did give me a Zen-ish peace to hang wet diapers in the cool morning air. It gave me an opportunity to actually breathe and relax and be “in the moment.” But the wash for six people? Project Laundry List exists not only as an environmental movement, but also as an advocacy group to ensure that people are allowed to hang their laundry if they wish. It’s a free country (or was), but these days you can face hefty fines for hanging laundry in the wrong place!  

My, how things change: faced with the choice of going back home to do laundry or staying one more day at a pleasant anchorage, I opted to break out the Wonder Wash (hand-crank agitator) and buy some more time at sea. Our time-limiting factors are: fresh water (we hold +/-200 gallons), food (the boat is only provisioned for long weekends), and clothing. We carry enough fuel (for engines and power generation) to last at least six months, so that doesn’t factor in. After about three days, the fresh food gets used up, the water runs low, and the clothes are all dirty. But we were having a nice time, and Jay didn’t have any pressing work at home, so why not stay another day? That simply requires creative menu planning, breaking out the watermaker/desalinator (Yay! It works!) and, you got it, washing laundry by hand. Strangely enough, it is not only rewarding, but also comforting to see the small shirts and shorts and undies hanging on the lifelines. It makes me thankful for the one large and four little people in my care. We don’t have any neighbors, so there’s no one complaining. I have decided that while it would be nice to have a compact electric washer on the boat long-term, for now I can easily use the Wonder Wash to agitate the soapy clothes, a five-gallon bucket for rinsing, and a roller for wringing (that’s now on my birthday list), and the lovely fall-and-winter breezes for drying. It’s a fun family activity that affords some much needed one-on-one time for me and one of the children. Eli used the Wonder Wash for awhile, Aaron rinsed and squeezed, Sarah hung, and even the youngest got into the act and helped with clothespins.

In our old neighborhood, I once saw a Mexican woman washing laundry the old-country way: using a bucket and a rock in the front yard. That struck me as out-of-place in suburban Atlanta, something that said “property values are about to plummet.” I never considered that she knew no other way to do laundry. It may arguably be a better way. Hey, maybe she even liked it.

Book Recommendation: Black Wave

I’ve been told that sailors have a sick fascination with disaster and survival stories; it’s certainly true in our house. On Jay’s shelf are included Endurance, a story about Shackleton’s harrowing ordeal in Antarctica, Into the Wild, Fastnet Force 10,
Adrift, Deep Survival, After the Storm, and Seaworthy: Essential Lessons from Boat U.S.’s 20-Year Case File of Things Gone Wrong. I read Dougal Robertson’s
Survive the Savage Sea, about a family whose boat was sunk in ten minutes after being hit by a pod of angry killer whales, and had to live in their dinghy on the open ocean. We bought a boat anyway.

On a recommendation from a friend (thanks, Andy!), we recently read Black Wave: A Family’s Adventure at Sea and the Disaster that Saved Them by John and Jean Silverwood.  It’s a terrifying tale—though excellently told—which I wish had been written several years ago because it’s now a little too close to home. A couple from California with plenty of sailing experience decide to pull their children out of modern American culture and give them a dose of real life and exposure to natural beauty. They set off in a 55’ catamaran with their four children (sound familiar?) and head to islands and waters near and far. It is never as romantic as it seems, of course, and the adventure includes several close calls—a contentious crew, storms, pirates, breakdowns, and a near-mutinous marriage encounter.  I won’t spoil the end for you, but it entails barely surviving a shipwreck.

The book is told in two parts: Jean wastes no time in Book I and gets straight to the “good” part, interspersing a moment-by-moment narrative of their disaster with flashbacks that tell how they got to that fateful night on the reef. She writes not only of the difficulties within her marriage and among the children, but of her own shortcomings that are brought to the surface as the family experiences the shrinking pains of living on a boat. She makes me really look in the mirror—how will I handle the stress of living and working and sailing aboard Take Two?  In Book II, John gets to tell the story of what went wrong from his perspective and what happened afterwards. He combines his story with the tale of a ship that crashed on the same reef a hundred and fifty years prior (another sailor fascinated with disaster). I appreciated getting both male and female perspectives, and thought it was a good choice to write them separately, instead of trying to synthesize their stories.

On being asked why they wanted to take four children on the adventure of a lifetime, Jean might answer, as she intimates in the book, “I suddenly felt that our own kids were captives to a dull and artificial life, while the beauty of the real world was passing them by.”  She wanted them to appreciate the privileges of life in America as they saw how the rest of the world lived. She wanted to slow down enough to really enjoy her children. She shared a dream with her husband and they worked to make it happen. While we are not at the same starting point as their family was in some important ways, they went for some of the same reasons we want to go. And after the disaster, when asked, “Was it worth it?” her answer is stunning: “My husband took me to secluded beaches…My daughter and I raced each other on beautiful horses along the surf…I saw my kids become interesting; I saw two of them grow up. The answer is yes.” For his part, John chose to include perfectly-timed quotes from Melville’s
Moby Dick and an old sea-faring hymn. Their journey, as one might expect, was not merely physical, but spiritual as well, and I cannot do it justice by describing it here. Needless to say, I became quite attached to both of them and missed their voices once the book ended.

Whether you are thinking of going on a high seas adventure yourself or not, it is an excellent read, and I highly recommend it to friends who are wondering what our future life might be like. On the other hand, I do not recommend it to family members who are wondering what terrible things could happen to us in our future life!

Dinghy Dilemmas

I've spent an inordinate amount of time recently thinking about my dinghy situation.  A dinghy is a smaller boat that can be used for going ashore or other short trips where the mother ship is not practical.  If the boat is the house, then the dinghy is the family car.

The dinghy is important to us for a few reasons.  Firstly, our anticipated usage of Take Two does not include marinas.  So the situations when cruising where we would need to use the dinghy to get ashore are expected to vastly outweigh the times when we can simply step down to a dock.  Secondly, we have small explorers very interested in getting off the boat.  A thousand other practical uses come to mind.

The boat came with a Walker Bay 10 RID with a sailing kit and a 4hp Yamaha 2-stroke.  A nice little boat, but it doesn't satisfy all our needs.  For one, it can't realistically carry the whole family at the same time.  On the plus side, it does have bottom paint and we don't currently have davits so it can be in the water and available for immediate use.  If we want to go somewhere and take it along, then we just tow it behind.

I was thinking we needed something bigger and faster, but storagebecomes an issue.  We wouldn't want to tow a dinghy long distance.  Wewill eventually get davits, but even so, we "only" have 14 feet betweenthe transoms to haul it out which would limit us to about a 12-footplus motor.  I wasn't feeling that 12 feet would be enough, especiallyfor an inflatable where so much interior volume is taken up by thetubes.

I've been intrigued by the Porta-Bote since seeing one at a boat showseveral years ago.  They're indestructible, have lots of room, and foldup to 4" flat.  When I saw a 14-footer on Craigslist I jumped on it. They look a little goofy, but it is growing on me.  One of my dockmatessaid it looked like a stealth bomber.  Take Two is very angular andaggressive-looking (to me) and I think the Porta-Bote is a goodaesthetic fit.  And it gets me the same type of "Holy crap, you'recrazy!" looks as Take Two does (which I've come to enjoy). 

It doesn't have bottom paint, so it can't be kept in the waterlong-term.  Our marina is pretty bad for growth and it started to getbarnacles after only two weeks.  The current storage solution is tokeep it folded and lashed to the port side lifelines.  The unfoldingprocess is a little arduous (I understand that they loosen up overtime), but we have plenty of foredeck space for doing that.  I'mthinking I can launch and retrieve over the port bow with a smallroller and the clever use of a halyard.  It only weighs 100 pounds soit is pretty easy to move around.

It did not come with a motor, and figuring out what to get is mycurrent dilemma.  It is rated to carry a 83 pound or 9.8hp motor.  Iborrowed Jonathan's 15hp Yamaha 2-stroke (79 pounds).  I determinedthat 15hp was overkill since I couldn't open it all the way before theboat got squirrelly, but having extra power isn't a bad thing,especially since I could see pulling kids on water toys.  I didn'treally care for the weight though, and the mounting bracket was alittle too wide to fit between the transom supports.

My little 4hp is in the shop since it hasn't run in several years.  I'msure it will push the Porta-Bote, but I'm not sure how well.  Is 4hp enough to get it up on a plane?  Probably not.  I don't have any plansto get rid of the Walker Bay or the 4hp, so I think it will make a nice backup motor.  Between the two I should be able to keep one running. How about 8-10hp?  Super Dave has a Yamaha 8 and I'll ask him to borrow it this weekend.

Power is only one part of the equation.   Weight and serviceability are my next biggest concerns.  Weight is bad in general since Take Two is very sensitive to it, but a 20 pound heavier motor isn't likely to make much of a difference to 12-ton catamaran.  But that 20 pounds could make a big difference to the dinghy and to me as I put it on and take it off.  A 8hp 2-stroke is generally about 60 pounds while a 10 is 80. 10s and 15 is usually use the same block and weigh the same, so why would I take a 10 over a 15?  I'm only aware of one manufacturer that made a 60 pound 10 horse (Nissan) and they don't anymore.  So unless I can find a 60 pound 10 horse, the decision is effectively between an 8 anda 15.  I'd like to stay with Yamaha since that is what I already have and would like to reuse spares if possible.

The motor(s) will probably live (eventually) on a bracket on the back of the cockpit and I'll probably rig a block and tackle from the boom to raise and lower it to the dinghy.  The weight wouldn't be a big deal if I did it that way.   But anything related to the back of the boat will get tied up in the hardtop decisions, so that isn't likely to happen soon.  In the meantime, the motor will probably lay on the sidedeck and and get carried down the transom steps to the dinghy.

You'll notice that I'm only considering 2-strokes.   In fact, they're being phased out for the more environmentally-friendly 4-stroke.  Iwon't go into the technical differences, but for my purposes the differences are: 4-strokes are quieter, use less fuel, and have cleaner emissions; they have oil in the crankcase instead of mixing it into the fuel which is simpler, but means they must remain upright or the oil will spill; and they are heavier.  But what is most important to me isthat 4-strokes are more complicated to service.  A perfect analogy is how cars went from carburetors to electronic fuel injection and now nobody can work on their own cars anymore.  I want to be able to fixthe motor myself and if I can't, find a mechanic who can.  I think I'll have much better chances of that happening in Pogo-Pingi, South Pacific with a 2-stroke.