Monthly Archives: June 2010

Depth Perception

Apparently, I have a habit of dropping my glasses in the drink.  The main problem is that I like to hook them on the collar of my shirt.  But they aren’t secure there, and if I bend over they slip off and the next thing I hear is the splash.

Now this doesn't happen in crystal clear tropical beach kind of water, only in dirty murky water with who-knows-what on the bottom.  I’m no fan of murky water, and the last thing I want to do is get in it and search around down there.

So the first time I dropped my glasses, about two years ago, I said “Oh well” and bought a new pair.  A new pair was about $400.  Then when it happened again last year, I called a diver to have the bottom of the boat cleaned and mentioned, “Oh, by the way, could you look for a pair of glasses right about here”?  He found them with no problem and I got the bottom cleaned for about $80.  Good deal.

We place a big emphasis in this life of ours on taking care of ourselves.  I won’t always be able to whip out my credit card, or call on someone else to help. I have spare glasses, but I also try harder not to drop them in the first place, and take more responsibility when I do. 

So when I dropped them again a couple weeks ago I sighed and said, “Aaron, get my mask and fins”.

FAQ: How do you get groceries?

This is a common question I get from other moms, since we all spend a good bit of our time searching for the best food options for our families, comparing prices, shopping (sometimes making several stops each week), making meals and cleaning up after said meals.

Essentially, aside from not knowing where to find fresh, local produce in the Florida Keys and missing my old health-food connections, getting groceries, or “provisions” as they’re called on a boat, is the same as it used to be. Instead of going out foraging in my mini-van, I go out by dinghy. Instead of parking the car, I tie up to a dinghy dock. Instead of walking from the parking lot to the store, I just walk a mile to Publix in searing heat along a busy and dusty U.S. 1. I then revel in the coolness of the air conditioned store for as long as possible, then call a taxi. For five bucks (insignificant cost compared to trying to walk back a mile with a cart full of groceries), he drops me off near the dinghy dock, where I load up a dock cart from his trunk and wheel the provisions down the ramp and load up the dinghy. I now drive back to the boat, sloshing salt water all over my canvas bags and melting anything that used to be frozen. With both boats moving, I precariously hand the provisions up to someone and then put everything away. See? It’s just like the old grocery run, only more fun and exciting! 

Fresh food lasts for 7-10 days and then we eat from stores of dry goods and cans. I carry about 150 lbs. of grain, so that will make a lot of bread before I have to figure out where to buy oat groats and wheat berries! But I still have to make that grocery run about once each week. And if I forget something?  Too bad—better luck next time!


Many of our adventures (if you’ve read any previous entries, you’ll know adventure is simply a euphemism for mishap) begin with Tanya doing something dumb. I have told the following story before, but it is worth repeating in this context.

When I first spent time on a sailboat, I broke something important, by accident, of course, and the result was a forced overnight sail from Key West to Naples. This night sail, full of stars above and phosphorescence in the water below, was so beautiful that I became convinced that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. So, you could say that a mishap started it all for me. It was the first, but certainly not the last.

My sister would agree with me when I say I wasn’t dealt a great hand in the common sense department. I try to compensate for it with book learning, but no amount of books and articles on sailing and boat-handling compares with common sense to give one the know-how they need on the water. A person, like my husband, with a solid dose of common sense, runs into only a fraction of the embarrassing situations in which I frequently find myself. As for the rest of us, we learn by experience (which is simply a euphemism for pain). My only saving grace is that I am an extrovert, so I usually have a friend around to help me in my distress.

The latest adventure (mishap) involved me and the dinghy. I have learned from previous experience (pain) that you should really secure the dinghy well so that it doesn’t try to drift back out to sea while you’re having an outing on shore. I’ve gotten good at really dragging it up onto the beach and either anchoring it or tying it off to something secure. I took the small ones to the nearby sandy beach on Saturday to enjoy some well-deserved swimming and relaxation, making sure to secure the dinghy well on shore. It was just out of sight, so after about an hour, I had one of the children check it to make sure it was where we had left it. It was.

We then proceeded to have a lovely afternoon, swimming and finding interesting sea life, losing track of time in our enjoyment. We swam, snacked, and made new friends. I forgot entirely about the dinghy, and was blissfully oblivious to the tide. When we were becoming overcooked, I packed everyone up and we headed around the dune to the dinghy. Our newfound friends came along to wish us well and carry some of our things (very kind of them). As we approached, I knew immediately that we were in trouble. The tide, instead of trying to pry our dinghy loose and strand us ashore, had simply crept out and stranded us by leaving our dinghy high and dry. Thankfully, the newfound friends were gracious amid my embarrassment and helped me and the kids drag the darn thing down the beach and through the mud to water deep enough to float her. From there, I continued to wade out (losing both flip flops in the muck—and retrieving them when they floated to the surface) until I could start the motor.

A favorite saying in our home has become “all’s well that ends well,” so that’s where I’ll end it. We made it back safely, and will probably not have to do that again…especially since I just checked the tide tables so I can time the next outing a little bit better!

Daily Rhythms

We are beginning to get used to the new normal.  For anyone interested, our routine goes something like this:

-Coffee and some kind of reading first thing in the morning
-Jay starts the generator and watermaker, Tanya rotates ice bottles from freezer to cooler/auxiliary refrigeration
-Jay goes downstairs to work, or to fix something that has suddenly broken
-Tanya and kids do school (Grammar, Bible, History, Read Aloud)
-More school (Writing, Math, Drawing, Independent Projects)
-Outing/Free Time
-Read and Rest (out on the trampolines “under the tent” –in the shade of an awning)
-Smoothie Time, Tidy Up, Dinner Prep
-Games, Swimming, Free Time
-Dinner, Read aloud, Geography “I Spy” or Crossword Puzzle
-Quick cool-down shower in the cockpit
-Bedtime for kids
-Galley Clean-up for Tanya, Project for Jay
-Writing/Reading and Bedtime for grownups
-Fire Drill at 2 a.m. when it starts to rain (grown-ups run around naked on deck
closing all the hatches)

When we are traveling, all bets are off. No matter whether it’s a weekend or weekday, while underway, my job is to keep the good snackies coming while kids entertain themselves by playing, reading, napping, watching movies, building with Legos, etc. I also help with sailing, keeping watch, tidying up and playing gopher. We usually end up playing dominoes for many hours in the cockpit. We tried cards, but they blow around. Dominoes seem to stay put in a stiff breeze!

The cats have their own routines. When underway, they find a comfy spot and stay there until we arrive at an anchorage. That may mean 24 hours of staying put. They seem to be very patient, especially when the children give them extra attention. After we arrive, they come out of hiding and behave normally. During the workday, Spice naps in a secret location, while Sugar keeps Jay company, fills his workspace with cat hair, and tries to eat his lunch. At night, they prowl around and meow at us if we don’t pet them enough. 

The week rotates around finding food (a dinghy ride to the dock, a walk to the store and a taxi and dinghy ride back to the boat), doing laundry (some things washed by hand, some taken by dinghy to laundry facilities), and keeping the bread baked and boat clean. Weekends are set aside for slow breakfasts, family “church,” resting and finding fun things to do. We go to bed exhausted every night, but with a real sense of satisfaction. That’s life afloat in a nutshell!

Marathon, FL

Seeing a place first from the water is a lot like coming in through the back door. We arrived at Boot Key Harbor on Sunday and began to get situated in our new “yard.” The City of Marathon Marina consists of maybe a hundred moorings, a few spots along the wall near the marina office, laundry facilities, concrete block showers/bathrooms, and a large space called the “lounge” with a book trading library, TVs, wireless internet and several comfortable tables (where we did school this morning while I washed clothes). This is a very cruiser-friendly place, with many folks calling the harbor home all year long. I haven’t been shopping yet, but things like Publix and West Marine are within a mile or so—walking distance. There is a park next to the marina, and the public library is just a few blocks away.

But I haven’t been up the road yet. We’ve explored by dinghy, and that gives us a pretty good behind-the-scenes picture of this community. There’s a lovely little white-sand beach ten minutes away up Sister’s Creek. Along the serpentine route, there are large, beautiful houses with private beaches and docks.  In the other direction, there is a bridge, a few marinas and a network of small canals. We saw a seafood place and lots of fishing boats, but the residential part looked fairly shabby. Only in the Florida Keys does a mobile home come with waterfront property! Near where we are moored, there are also homes on the water, more like middle-class cement-block and stucco dwellings. So it looks like a pretty typical American town, with all socio-economic groups represented. I don’t know what I was expecting—I guess I had no idea what it would be like. I’ve only been a tourist in the keys, and that was when I was a kid. I’ve left expectation behind and am just trying to take things as they are and enjoy every day.  

Newfound Harbor

Tonight we find ourselves in a place called Newfound Harbor, about half-way between Key West and our next destination, Boot Key Harbor (near Marathon).  It is just a quiet place to anchor for the night, but I am once again amazed at the starlight out here, away from the lights of civilization.
I made an attempt last year to memorize Psalm 19, partly because it is a lovely poem from the Bible, and also because I need the spiritual reminder of  the last lines, which read, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” But the first lines of the Psalm are thus:
   The heavens declare the glory of God;
       the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
   Day after day they pour forth speech;
       night after night they display knowledge.
   There is no speech or language
       where their voice is not heard.
   Their voice goes out into all the earth,
       their words to the ends of the world.
Now, I know if my friend Howard reads this, astronomer that he is, he will think that’s just drivel, especially since it’s poetry, written to make simple things confusing. But we have this in common: a crick in the neck from staring and staring and staring at the sky. On the night sail to the Tortugas, I couldn’t get enough. I have a little red flashlight, a star chart and a great pair of binoculars, and I used them to find all sorts of things I’ve never been able to see before. There was no land anywhere, no light pollution, just the glowing band of the Milky Way like I’ve never seen it before. Perhaps Howard and I are awed for different reasons but even when we do not speak the same metaphysical language, the stars still speak to both of us.
Unfortunately, unless there’s a massive blackout, or one likes to go camping in Vermont or out to sea, the average person is not going to get to hear the voices of all the stars explaining what glory is because they’ve been drowned out by Edison’s wonderful invention. I hope Howard and Kristin get to take their daughters (given starry names, of course—Mira, Stella, and Lyra) out to the desert someday and follow their dreams as we have pursued ours, with this in common: to go where one can see—and hear—the stars without interruption.  It is a worthy pursuit and I wish them well.

Daily Log

Day 1   We left the marina at 10am and spend the night at Egmont Key.

Day 2   Sailed all day and motored all night.

Day 3   Sighted land at about 10:45am.

Day 4   Did the high dive and swam. Toured the fort.

Day 5   Went to the fort and swam. Snorkled in the afternoon.

Day 6   Did chores early and swam. Snorkled in the afternoon. Saw a sunken ship.

Day 7   Left for the Marquesas at about 7am.

Day 8   Left for Boca Grande Key.

Day 9   Arrived in Key West. Ice Cream!

Day 10   Grandparents came to visit. Went to Aquarium and Pirate Museum. 

Day 11   Southernmost Point. Sunset at Mallory Square.

Day 12   Leaving Key West.

Cheeseburger in Paradise

Arrival in Key West meant two things: plugging into dock power (air conditioning!) and lounging poolside with cocktails. I should feel guilty—tough adventurers don’t need A/C and swimming pools. But by the second drink (a Bahama Mama in honor of Vicki, who made me my first one), I forgot all about feeling guilty. We kept looking at each other and saying sarcastically, “This is SO terrible! What a hard life!”

While my clothes magically washed themselves in a machine, I sat around and ate the French fries from Jay’s burger platter and watched the kids swim under the waterfall at the far end of the pool. The same amount of laundry took me three days to wash by hand last week! The lesson: it’s hard to appreciate your life if you’ve never been uncomfortable. We always took cool air and hamburgers and washing machines and swimming pools for granted, but now they bring us unimaginable pleasure. Life is sweet and keeps getting sweeter!

Dry Tortugas

First stop: Garden Key, Dry Tortugas. These lovely little islands take their name from the sea turtles who flock here year round, some to live all their days in this 100-acre National Park, nesting and getting fat on sea grass and their favorite delicacy, lobster. The islands are dry—having no fresh water other than that caught in rainstorms or made in desalinators. Garden Key (so named because they tried fruitlessly to plant a garden here) is home to Fort Jefferson, a two-story, red-brick hexagon built in the 1800s to guard warships in its deep anchorage and protect shipping lanes between the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. It was ill-fated; built on sand, the cisterns cracked and ruined fresh water supplies.  The rifle-cannon, invented around the time the fort was built, rendered it obsolete before it was even completed. It was sometimes used as a prison, its most famous prisoner being Dr. Samuel Mudd, the conspiratorial physician who assisted assassin John Wilkes Booth after he shot Lincoln.

The kids had a great time roaming around the fort; it’s a great place for young imaginations. They were also the proud recipients of Junior Ranger badges, thanks to the thorough examination given by Ranger Tree Gottshall. Other highlights of the trip included snorkeling in clear coral-filled waters, exploring a sunken Windjammer by dinghy, and swimming with sharks and barracudas. Eli and Aaron especially took to snorkeling like, well, fish to water, with Sam and Sarah tagging along not far behind. All in all, it was a great introduction to a cruising lifestyle for everyone. We learned this week that it can be hot and unpleasant, and that there’s a lot of hard work that has to be done, but that the rewards are well worth the discomforts.

Tomorrow we head to the Marquesas to stop over before heading to Key West.

Setting Sail

Leaving was anticlimactic, as is so often the case with monumental occasions in my life.  I usually don’t feel the emotional impact until later, and then it is prolonged. For a year after Jay and I got married, I still woke up next to him incredulous every morning.  After four years of long-distance dating, maybe I had gotten used to the seeming impossibility of my ambitions. Maybe that’s why, even out of sight of land with fathoms of water under our twin keels, I can sit here in the rocking cabin and calmly say, “We set sail today.”

There was no going away party at the dock this weekend to celebrate the long-awaited departure of the “Robinsons.” No fanfare, no pomp—we simply untied the dock lines and left, as if we were going for a day sail.  Of course, it is understood that we are only going away for a couple of weeks. But I know better. A couple of weeks and a massive oil spill heading this way could well stretch into a couple of months and a trip to the other side of the Gulf Stream.  It may not, but life is funny like that. One moment you live in the suburbs and the next you find yourself cruising along at eight knots in azure seas. Of course it doesn’t always happen that fast, but looking back, it certainly feels like a big change in a short period of time.  And if we are back in a couple of weeks, we will be different people who return. A two-hundred mile trip offshore with an overnight sail—out of communication range—represents the next step for us as a cruising family.