Monthly Archives: March 2011

Seamless Transition

It’s hard to believe we’ve been back at the dock for a month now. I must say that it hasn’t been a hard one, either. The comforts of land life mitigate the losses of beauty and freedom inherent to cruising. Of course we miss seeing the sunrise and sunset over a clear horizon, the quiet of an anchorage, the daily treks to the beach for “recess” and a hundred other small things that make cruising such a pleasure. But being able to step off the boat (eight months pregnant, mind you) and drive an air-conditioned vehicle to Publix to load up on relatively-inexpensive organic food somehow makes up for it. We have enjoyed visits with all the family that we haven’t seen since last spring and almost got caught up with all our friends. When it gets hot on the boat in the afternoons, I take the children to the local Planetarium or the Public Library across the street (insert sigh of happiness here). Plus there are our favorite local hangouts that give the chef a night off, which she seems to need more and more as the due date approaches.

That said, there are some subtle changes that make me pause in my reflections. Why, for example, do we suddenly live by a clock-imposed schedule instead of a natural schedule? We used to be up (and down) with the sun, eat when we were hungry and never feel guilty if we were “late” for some daily activity. All of a sudden, we are staying up late, waking up late, and feeling some kind of pressure about it, especially after daylight savings kicked in and made everything an hour “late.” Really, who cares if breakfast is at 8:30 or 9:30? All the normal things are happening in the normal order, but that clock suddenly has the power to make me feel stressed out. I barely even looked at the clock when we were cruising.

And then, last night, it started raining cats and dogs in the middle of the night and I woke up feeling confused. It took me a few dazed moments to realize that that booming sound was thunder, and the sparkles on the window were raindrops, and that the wind was causing us to actually move in our slip. That got me thinking, when is the last time we looked at a weather forecast? We used to live and die by them.

While doing the dishes the other night, it occurred to me that we take a lot of other things for granted, too, like unlimited hot water. At anchor, I would never have wasted the amount of water doing dishes that I do now, because it comes straight out of a hose from the city water supply. I should still conserve water, but I really don’t.  And who has even looked at the battery monitor lately, let alone run the generator or kept an eye on the solar output?  All discussions about wind generators have been replaced by consultations on carpentry and upholstery. We are really getting soft. When we got hot this weekend, Jay even turned on the air-conditioner. We are officially living in a “dockominium,” insulated from the raw realities of wind and weather, the awareness of our dependence on water and power, and the sometimes frustrating experiences of daily survival. The transition to living at the dock may have been easy, but less seamless than it might seem.

Nav Station Drawings

Here are some early drawings from the carpenter building our new nav station.  These are just screenshots, but what he actually gave us is a 3D model that we could flip, rotate, and crawl inside.  We're ecstatic that we can communicate in such detail about what he's going to build, and very impressed that he got so close to what we were envisioning just based on our conversations.  We've been back and forth with revisions to optimize usable space, so there will be a few extra drawers and shelves that aren't shown here.  We should have it in the boat sometime next week.  The empty space in the front is for the washer/dryer.


Dock Rats

In general we love having a slip close to shore and being able to back the boat up to the dock, but there's a downside that we didn't anticipate.  We should have taken a clue from the rat "hotel" under the dock gangway.  Then yesterday afternoon T found some evidence that there had been a rat in the boat.  With two cats aboard, we hoped he scoped things out and then beat a hasty retreat.  But at 3:30am this morning, the cats located him hiding mere feet from where Tanya makes her temporary bed.  I was promptly notified that a full-scale rat removal project was required.  Now.

I'm sure it was a comical scene.  I chased him around the boat naked with a pair of kitchen tongs for about 30 minutes before I finally cornered and caught him.  I distracted him with the flashlight and got him with the tongs from above.  He gave a couple panicked squeaks and then was silent. 

I hadn't given any thought what to do with him at this point, so I stood outside, naked, holding a pair of tongs and a very pathetic little rat and contemplated my options.  I wasn't about to take him ashore, ask his forgiveness, and set him free to find his way back.  His trangression carried mortal consequences as far as I was concerned, and there was a chance I'd already killed him with my determined grip on the tongs.  I decided I didn't care where he ended up as long as it was far away and he got there quickly, so I hurled him off into the night.  It was a good throw and a few seconds later I heard a splash.  But then I realized I no longer had the tongs.  Oh well.  I don't think Tanya wanted them back anyway.

In addition to the cats on the inside, there's a feral stray that patrols the dock (and our boat) most nights.  I would have thought that would be enough to keep rats from getting too adventuresome.  I don't know if he came aboard by the docklines, but our transoms are less than a foot from the dock, so I don't think there's much I can do to rat proof the boat.  So for now I guess we'll get some new tongs.  And maybe a spare pair, too.

Family To-Do List

While we were still in the Bahamas and looking forward to returning home, we made a list with the kids over dinner one night of all the things we wanted to do this summer.  Some of these things are already done, or on the calendar, and some I know won't happen.  There are also other things that belong here, but I'll leave them off to remain true to the original list.

Japanese Steakhouse
Disney World/EPCOT
Monster Truck Show
Lowry Park Zoo
Family Mini Golf
Cayo Costa with T family
Take friends sailing (Jonah & Leyla, Drew)
Visit Cousins in Naples
Visit the Windsor
Tortugas with F family
Fantasy of Flight
Dinosaur World
Water Park
Boys Shooting
Kennedy Space Center
County/State Fair
Laser Tag
Planet Jump
Guitar & Piano Lessons
Sweet Tomatoes
Go to Church
Coldstone Creamery
BBQ at Mimi's
Airplane (the movie) 

Delicate Condition

Part of the charm—and the challenge—of our family is that we really don’t let anyone tell us what we should or should not do. With children, we expect immediate obedience (often for their own safety) but allow them to ask “why?” later. They also attempt difficult things and daring feats that other kids might not because someone is always telling them that they shouldn’t. Jay and I have our own rebellious streak. Without it, we would never have made it this far. The unsolicited advice we receive includes things like how we should not have five children (far too many in this day and age), and how we should not sell our house in this market, but we should be building our careers and retirement savings and not gallivanting around the planet in a boat blowing those resources.

The same goes for advice on pregnancy. Everyone has an opinion about what is appropriate behavior for a woman in my “delicate condition.” Someone stopped me in Georgetown and said they were happy to see that my being pregnant didn’t stop me from cruising. He was just trying to be nice, so I refrained from using the comeback that came to mind—that I was glad that his being old didn’t stop him!  Other activities I have been either stared at or scolded for include loading groceries into the dinghy, kayaking, hiking, snorkeling, riding my bike, sitting on a picnic table, moving a lawn chair and having half of a glass of wine.

Anyone who knows me knows there’s not much delicate about me. It doesn’t mean I don’t have limitations, or that I don’t occasionally pay for that can-do attitude. But I feel great. I have even been known to say that I like being pregnant. I can think of nothing better than this lifestyle for growing healthy babies: we eat almost everything from scratch, get plenty of sunshine and fresh air, exercise even when we’re not trying to, and generally pursue happiness and harmony. Some people just can’t handle it and feel the need to put a stop to such reckless joy. Good thing we know how to ignore good intentions.

A Perfect Kitchen Faucet

The summer project schedule is in full swing.  We’re in the process of commissioning the big ones requiring wood and fabric work beyond our time and skill, and there are also a bunch of little ones that we are equally excited about.  

One of the little ones that we are unduly excited about is the new galley faucet I put in yesterday.  It may seem mundane, but it is a huge improvement and we can’t believe we didn’t do it before.  

The old one was a standard household “pull-out spray” faucet.  We had several complaints about it, all of which center on water and energy conservation.  First, the faucet was a “single lever” type.  It probably doesn’t bear explanation, but the lever is raised and lowered to control flow, and articulated left and right to control temperature.  It was a challenge for us to keep the lever pointed all the way over to the cold side to avoid unnecessarily mixing in our hot water.  It was also natural to simply flip the lever up to full height to turn on the water, especially for the kids, who often wash their hands in the kitchen sink.  You really had to consciously think about using less water, and as a result the faucet was often on full flow unnecessarily.  

The primary purpose of the galley sink is washing dishes and this is where most of the water goes.  No matter how careful she was, Tanya was constantly using too much water or hot water.  The reason is because it was a three-handed job:  one to hold the article being washed, one to hold the spray handle, and one to turn the water on and off.  The result is that the water wasn’t turned off as often or as quickly as it should have been, and then it was turned back on with too much force or the wrong temperature.  

In a house these problems probably wouldn’t be noticeable, but every gallon counts on a boat, even one as lavish with power and water as ours.  So we started looking for a new faucet with three basic requirements: separate hot & cold valves, a way to regulate the flow unrelated to turning it on or off, and a pause button on the handle.  

You can go to Lowe’s or Home Depot and see a whole wall of faucets.  Our old one is there.  If you remove the cosmetic factors, there are very few differences between them.  That alone says something about all of us as consumers.  Of the features that we had determined were essential to water and energy conservation on our boat, the only one offered by this wall of faucets displayed to millions and millions of homeowners was the separate hot & cold valves.  And most probably view that as a cosmetic choice.  I think that says something else.

We did find a new faucet that satisfied our requirements.  It was in our bathroom.  It is made by ShurFlo, a company that markets products for marine and RV use.  They make many faucets, but only one that has the crucial pause button.  They call it a “trickle valve”, but it can be used to effectively stop the flow (not entirely, hence the “trickle” name) with one hand while using the spray handle.  It can also be partially engaged to restrict the flow, and the setting persists between uses.  Perfect for kids and hand washing.  We bought this great faucet (model #135-0204-CW) by accident.  It happens to be their least stupid-looking.  

One quirky thing about it is that the knobs aren't quite intuitive.  In our opinion the knobs turn the wrong direction or the hot is on the wrong side, depending on what direction the faucet body faces.  So we face the faucet the way we want the knobs to turn and swap the little red and blue markers to put hot on the side we want.

We’re expecting this new faucet to yield big benefits on our next cruise.  Less water use means less time running the water maker (and less noise), means more net power from the solar panels, means less generator run-time (and less noise), means more time between trips to the fuel dock.  Conserving the hot water is important if we’ll be reducing generator run-time since that is how we heat it.


Just as we were getting used to life without Spice…

Tanya was cooking dinner tonight when she heard a knock on the hull.  She went outside and was shocked to find a man who lives near the end of our dock standing there holding Spice.  He had heard meowing from the boat next to his; one that didn’t have people aboard, let alone cats.  He investigated and found Spice inside.  Apparently she went in by an overhead hatch and couldn’t get back out.

Needless to say, we are ecstatic to have her back.  Spice is restless and re-exploring all the corners of the boat.  She doesn’t look like she’s been trapped for 8 days, although she plainly smells like a closed boat.  I’m sure the boat doesn’t smell any better for the encounter either.  She’s hoarse and starved for attention, but not much thinner than she always has been.  

Spice’s return has put a crimp in Sugar’s plans of household domination, and Sugar isn’t exactly welcoming her.  

Without going too much into the social dynamics between our cats, Sugar has always been the big sister but Spice has always been the favorite.  Sugar is jealous of the attention Spice receives.  While Spice was gone Sugar did not pine for her as much as we thought was appropriate.  We were willing to chalk this up to an animal’s acceptance of the ways of nature, but we harbored a slight suspicion toward Sugar as having had some involvement in Spice’s disappearance.

However, our suspicion was stronger regarding a stray cat that we’ve been dealing with.  We think he’s a tom, and he has not been shy about coming aboard at night and claiming our boat as his territory.  

Spice has always been the bouncer.  In Atlanta she bolted through an open door to chase a neighbor’s cat off of our back deck.  She didn’t stop until she got to the backyard fence, whereupon a visible look of panic crossed her face as she realized she was outside in that green stuff, and then ran even faster back into the house.  In Clearwater she chased a squirrel… onto the roof of the house.  Tanya heard the plaintive meows and had to rescue her with a ladder.  

So our leading theories about Spice’s disappearance were that she chased the tom and got lost, hurt, or was up a tree and couldn’t get down.  We checked the trees nearby and hoped for the best.

While Spice was gone Sugar received all our regular attention and maybe some extra.  She blossomed in the absence of her sister.  She seemed to become a sweeter cat.  And last night she ran off the tom.  

Tanya sleeps upstairs now (to reduce the impact to both of our rests when she trundles out of our bunk 4-5 times a night) and was awakened last night to a full-blown catfight in our cockpit.  It was Sugar and the tom.  She thrashed him pretty good and then stood guard at the cockpit door for the rest of the night.  I won’t be surprised if he doesn’t come back.

Sugar is now directing that aggression toward poor Spice.  We’ve seen this before when Spice came home from an extended visit at the vet’s office smelling like that feared and hated place.  We’re doing everything we can to make Spice feel welcome and expect Sugar’s rejection to pass as Spice reacquires the household smell.  If that starts taking too long we’ll just give them both a bath and call it even.