Monthly Archives: May 2011

Kiwi Update

Our Kiwi friends left here bound for Mexico on the first leg of their trip back to New Zealand.  

They left behind a general sense that neither boat nor crew was ready for the trip, having struggled just to get to the fuel dock.  We saw them off without misgivings though, believing that the first 50 feet of a trip are always the hardest, fate protects the young during such misadventures, and no amount of preparation is really enough.  

We expected it to take them four days to reach Mexico, and though we did not extract any promises, we expected blog updates on arrival.  But the updates never came and by Day 10 we were worried.  We knew they had a satellite phone, EPIRB, and life raft, and we knew the US Coast Guard did not rescue them.  So we figured they must have diverted somewhere that didn’t have Internet access.

Eventually we got wind that they were back in Florida.  One of the crew had experienced seasickness to a dangerous degree, which combined with a realistic evaluation of themselves and the boat, put the kibosh on the whole trip.  They instead turned for Key West to rest and then continued on to West Palm Beach to put the boat aboard a yacht transport bound for New Zealand.

We share their disappointment, but also their relief.  We also recognize their story as an anecdote for several lessons we’ve learned one way or another.

Communication is important.  We haven’t had a lot of experience worrying about the whereabouts or welfare of other people, but haven’t found those times very pleasant.  As travelers ourselves, we make an effort to let our plans and location be known.  For longer passages we file a float plan with my father, who is the emergency contact registered on our EPIRB.  We also carry the SPOT satellite tracker, which shows our position when underway.  On future trips we will probably also carry a satellite phone.

Plans should be constantly re-evaluated.  We’ve had to relearn this a few times, usually after we’ve seriously screwed up.  Better to change the plan than push a bad situation and risk the consequences.  We crossed a poorly charted bar in bad conditions once.  It was stupid and had the potential to really damage the boat.  We escaped because we were lucky.  We’re now extra careful about plans that have us arriving at a pass or bar in unknown conditions.  If there is any doubt, we change the plans and feel good about it.  We don’t know if it has actually saved us any grief.  We weren’t there.

Don’t underestimate the Gulf of Mexico.  The Gulf is notorious for steep, tightly packed waves that are hard on boats and crews.  The first leg to Mexico was possibly the hardest of the whole trip.

Seasickness can be serious.  The misery of seasickness is difficult to describe, but usually that’s all it is.  It usually lasts for a day or so, during which the intrepid sailor swears to quit and take up gardening.  Occasionally, though, it can be so intense and prolonged that the sufferer can dehydrate and die.  In our case, even a mild case can have serious consequences since we can’t afford to have the skipper incapacitated or his judgment dulled.  Unfortunately, there is no surefire cure, and the most effective defense is prescription medication, which we normally try to avoid.

We probably would have supported any decision the Kiwis’ made, but think aborting their trip (for this year at least) was wise.  Rather than transport the boat, we would have suggested keeping the boat in Florida and trying again next year, but admit our advice is somewhat selfishly motivated since we enjoy their company.  We don’t know all the factors that went into the decision, but we do know the cost of transporting a boat is phenomenal.  Apparently the boat market is such in New Zealand that buying here was still economical.

Best Baby Gear for a Boat, Part I

I’ve been a mom for almost ten years now, and have familiarity with—and sometimes intimate knowledge of—a lot of baby gear. Much of it, I have come to realize, is extraneous and some borderline ridiculous.  As we have streamlined our lives I have had to reassess things I thought were “needs” and re-categorize them as “wants.” Need, I used to tell my kindergarten students, involves dying if you don’t get it. For a newborn, needs are relatively few: they need food, a safe place to sleep, a safe/easy way to travel, a clean diaper, and someone to cuddle with.

Big Brother

Our baby is lucky—she has six people to cuddle with, so we can check that one off the list. (I do, however, highly recommend getting a seven year old girl if you have a newborn around as they are very helpful. Sarah has some cuddle time every morning with Rachel while I am making breakfast.)¬ As we are firm believers that “breast is best,” we can check food off the list, too. I will note that my favorite nursing bras are the Bravado bras ($30) and that a Boppy pillow ($30), though not necessary, does come in handy. Where to put it on a boat is another question entirely.

Rachel, 3 months

As for a safe place to sleep, we have had a crib built into a single berth in one of the hulls, but for the first weeks aboard, Rachel has been sleeping in our berth, at the foot of our bed in a straw “Moses” basket that was woven for her in the Bahamas.  We love the basket, but it has limited usefulness because babies grow so fast—by the time she is five months old, she’ll be too big and also able to roll out of it. On the other hand, having a mobile bed is great—she has taken several naps in the shade up by the pool, and in the cockpit. It sure beats a large and unwieldy playpen/folding crib like the Pack n’ Play that we used for the other children. I can recommend a basket ($40-$80), but it will have to be stored somewhere after it has become obsolete. The crib, incidentally, is perfect and we are really happy—it will break down easily for access to the compartments underneath, and the end of the crib is removable to make the sleeping space available for a toddler or larger child.


For safe and easy travel, I can recommend two things: the best stroller I have ever found, the Chicco Liteway Stroller ($140), and the best baby carrier, the Ergo ($115).  Having had four strollers at one point when we lived in the house (a travel system, an umbrella stroller, a double stroller, and a universal stroller for transferring a car seat without disturbing the baby) and having used virtually every kind of baby carrier, I feel pretty confident in using the word best. The Chicco Liteway can be lifted, folded and unfolded with one hand (and a foot), fits in our dock box or a lazarette on the boat, reclines for newborn or naptime use, has a five-point harness to keep a toddler in place, has a sunshade, cup holder and storage basket, and is constructed of aluminum, plastic and canvas to make it weather-resistant. What more could I ask? (Maybe a snack tray and rain cover…)

The Ergo is, as the name suggests, ergonomic for mother and baby. Mom bears the weight on her legs (like a frame pack), and the baby’s spine is supported (as opposed to dangling a by the crotch). It works for newborns as well as toddlers up to forty pounds, is washable, compact enough to stuff in a bag, can be fastened by the wearer (without help), has a sunshade and zipper pocket, and can be worn on the front, back, and even hip. I love this thing—I actually walked around Publix last week with a two-week old baby and was able to discreetly nurse her while I shopped—the ultimate in multi-tasking!  I can even go to the bathroom without removing the carrier or baby. Because it is so comfortable, I can wear it for hours without a backache. Sam spent a good amount of his infancy in it, and I was able to handle lines and help with docking and anchoring with him on my back! It’s great for dinghy rides, hiking, and beach trips, too. As a bonus, when people make the annoying and repetitive comment, “Boy, you’ve got your hands full!” I just hold up my hands and say, “Actually, I’ve got both hands free!”

Compass Peak

The last item, diapering, is near and dear to my heart, as I have spent eight of the last ten years taking care of small butts. We have always used cloth diapers, even when we lived in the house, because I couldn’t stand the idea that my children’s diapers would probably outlive them if they were made of plastic and buried in a landfill somewhere. Because we live on a boat and travel, buying and storing enough diapers would be difficult to impossible. Cloth is economical, better for the baby and the environment, and encourages earlier potty-training.

For the other four children, we used a brand called Indisposables and I really liked them. They are pre-formed cotton flannel diapers, with thick padding in the middle, elastic legs and waist, and Velcro fasteners. They are used in conjunction with vinyl covers (either waterproof pants or Velcro-closure wraps) and flannel wipes. They cost about $300 and last on average 2 ½ children, assuming two years of use per kid. They were falling apart by the time Sam arrived, so we bought new ones. They can be washed and hung to dry, and don’t require folding. For Rachel, I was looking for similar diapers, but wanted something that would dry faster and look more innocuous on the lifelines. I found a great deal on a starter kit: the Bummis Organic Cotton Diaper Kit ($170), which came with two dozen tri-fold flat diapers, six waterproof Velcro-fastener covers, a waterproof hanging bag (to use as a washable diaper pail), polyester liners for nap/night time use, and other assorted accessories. I love them, and they do dry faster, spending less time on the lifelines. I have to do a load every day or two, but as we now have a washer/dryer on the boat, it’s no big deal. There is a third kind of diaper which I have not tried, an all-in-one where the waterproof cover has a cotton liner, and is fully adjustable for newborn-through-toddler size—but my sister-in-law is sending me some, so I’ll have write later about those. For now, the Bummis are working great and seem to be ideal for a boating family with a baby.

Needless to say, we are enjoying our new crew member immensely. She is a joy to be around and sleeps like, well, a baby. I’m also loving the new baby stuff—it seems like I have finally figured out after five kids how to identify gear that makes sense and gives me a lot of bang for my buck. If I’m not an expert by now, I guess I never will be.

Two Dinghy Family

We just acquired our 3rd dinghy.  We've always carried a spare dinghy in the form of our 14'
Porta-Bote.  This new boat is intended to replace the PB, but be more functional.  In the time we've owned it, about 2 years, I can recall unfolding the Porta-Bote exactly three times.  It's a little bit of a major pain in the ass.  Yes, it folds to 4" flat and straps to the lifelines very conveniently, but the seats, oars, and transom still have to be stowed somewhere, and they are not small.

The new dinghy is a 10' Avon inflatable with a high pressure air floor.  It will roll up and fit into a space smaller than that taken by the PB's seats.

Another Dinghy

The driving factor here is that we're no longer a one dinghy family.  With Rachel's birth we've exceeded the rated capacity of our 12' RIB, which really only matters in places that care about that sort of thing (ie. the US).  More importantly, we have growing boys that are ready for a little more freedom.  We already let them go explore alone by kayak, and this new boat is intended to be the "kids" boat and extend their range.  As the boys grow in size and appetite, we're also expecting this boat will help them contribute to the dinner table in the form of fish and lobster.  

Another consideration is that we've felt constrained in some of our dinghy excursions in remote areas by the prospect of engine failure.  With this second dinghy, we'll have a built-in buddy boat.  Both of these uses require the backup boat to be readily available, which the PB is not.  We're expecting the air floor dinghy will be easier to deploy and spend more time in readiness.

Of course, this second boat will need a driver.  Aaron has recently received his Florida Boating Safety Education I.D. Card and is now a legal operator in Florida.


McBaby vs. Certified Organic Baby

I promised details about Rachel’s birth for those who want to read them. WARNING: this essay contains a description of natural childbirth, so if you can’t handle it, don’t read it.

Rachel is two weeks old today, and the most pleasant baby we’ve had. I don’t know how much truth there is to the theory that the kind of birth experience a baby has affects his or her personality for life (it certainly affects the mother's willingness to have more children), but Rachel would support the theory that the more peaceful the birth, the more peaceful the baby. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that we’ve done this four times before, and we’re more relaxed. I am certain that the mother’s feelings during pregnancy and after birth are reflected in the baby’s disposition. All I can say about that is, “Poor Eli.” No wonder our first kid is so keyed-up.

The previous four children were born without drugs and with minimal intervention, under the care of a midwife, but in a hospital setting. There is a time and place for medical attention, for medication, and for “meddling.” Natural, uncomplicated birth is not it. It took me a few babies to realize I do not need to be in a hospital, just relatively near one in case of emergency. I have a history of late babies and long, slow labors. Once I figured out that it takes my body a really long time to prepare itself for the last phase of labor, I just stayed at home until it was time, or, in a couple of cases, allowed the midwife to start an induction using Cervidil (to ripen the cervix), but I never actually needed a Pitocin (IV) induction. I’ve also condoned various interventions to speed things up: stripping membranes, breaking my water, enemas—you name it and we’ve tried it. But I’ve never had an epidural (no needles in my spine, thank you very much) and don’t mind suffering a little to bring a child into the world. In fact, I would say that the suffering is proportionate to the elation one feels afterward.

But this time, I wanted something different. Having a baby in the hospital is like going to McDonald’s at lunch time. A hospital is a place of busy-ness—people running around in scrubs, officiously doing their duties and following protocols. The L&D room is needed for the next customer, so taking 24 hours to have a baby makes one a nuisance. Also, the nurses are used to 90% of women wanting to be drugged immediately, and then they rest comfortably hooked up to a monitor that can be seen remotely at the nurse’s station down the hall. These moms require very little. The mom going natural is always asking for things or refusing things, and some nurses feel rather put out. And when it’s time to actually have the baby, the busy-ness increases: a team of strangers in green swarm into your room and turn on bright lights and start unpacking mysterious packages. The end of the bed breaks away and when that wee thing comes into the world, it is a shock of lights, noise and air conditioning. They are whisked away to a corner of the room to be poked and cleaned and checked. No wonder they scream their little heads off.

As we have gotten more organic and natural in everything we do, it makes sense that this assembly-line approach to birthing babies would become less acceptable to me. When I found Rosemary Birthing Home ( in Sarasota, I knew that aside from having a birth on the boat with an island midwife—we’re not quite there yet—this would be the best option for a peaceful, natural birth for our fifth child. I mean, my midwife’s name is Harmony for heaven’s sake! We were right. There was no rush, no sense that we were a burden, no unnecessary meddling.  Instead of McDonald’s at lunch time, it was like going to a friend’s for a home-cooked dinner and staying to open another bottle of wine. The birth was no shorter than normal, but aside from my water having broken (which starts a 24-hour intervention clock ticking) the experience was so much more relaxing. Labor in the courtyard, in the tub, in the shower, in the rocking chair, in the kitchen, in the garden, on the boardwalk along Sarasota Bay—no one was telling me what to do or how to do it. Not that we didn’t try to speed things up a bit—I went to the acupuncturist, tried herbs and homeopathy, even drank a Castor oil smoothie. The difference for Jay was marked, too. He hates hospitals, and was a little wigged out after Sarah's arrival (at 9 1/2 lbs. she was hard to get out). He bowed out of Sam’s arrival, leaving it to a team of girlfriends instead. But he was more comfortable in the homey atmosphere at Rosemary and was on hand when Rachel arrived, just outside the door. Even Sarah, at seven, felt comfortable and was there to see her sister’s birth.

In the end, Harmony gave me the extra time I needed to have the kind of birth I wanted to have (we were close to having to transfer to Sarasota Memorial), and when Rachel finally decided to show up, she came fast. So fast, in fact, that I didn’t even make it to the birthing tub and had her in the shower, where I had been laboring for the pain relief of pressurized hot water. When I picked her up for the first time, she wasn’t crying. She was quiet and alert, looking around and wondering where she was. We spent the first couple of hours of her life just looking at each other, holding her in the warm water of my (undefiled) birthing tub, nursing, and generally basking in the post-childbirth glow. (Man, those hormones are like a really good drug.) We had Rachel the night of May 2nd, and at midnight, we broke out the chocolate cake and candles and celebrated Sarah’s 7th birthday on May 3rd! I had plenty of time to rest and recover (Harmony herself made my breakfast the next morning after Jay had gone with Sarah to pick up the boys) before heading out to my mother-in-law’s. It was, aside from the part of childbirth I’m already forgetting about, a totally pleasant experience. I will never have another McBaby again (if I have another at all). I never cease to feel amazed at the miracle of new life—thanks be to God for answering all our prayers for a smooth delivery and a healthy baby!

[flickr: 5701513671]

Pictured (l-r) Priscilla, the apprentice midwife, Tarin, friend and birth coach, me and Rachel, and Harmony, midwife

Farewell to the Kiwis

One of the joys of our adventurous lifestyle is meeting new and interesting people. That usually occurs in the local Laundromat. I met Roe, Emma and Owen just after their arrival at the marina. They had come through a bit of nasty weather and landed at our peaceful doorstep with a lot of laundry. The laundry room here is air conditioned, and thus conducive to long conversations while folding clothes.

We have a soft spot in our hearts for people who ditch Normal and live dangerously. These three “Kiwis” as we dubbed them—although only Owen is a native of New Zealand—are just that. Owen, owner and captain of s/v Dulcinea, is an experienced sailor, but Roe (pronounced “Roo”) and Emma are just along for the wild ride. They’re still on the part of the learning curve where you call the specialized gear on a boat “that thing-a-ma-jigger.” But they’re learning fast, and they can keep an eye on the horizon, GPS and the autopilot. What else do you need from crew?

[flickr: 5714431193]

They became friends partly because our children lack age-appropriate playmates in the marina and rely on adults that still act like children to toss them into the pool and other such nonsense. But in the times I caught up with them sans children, we had long conversations about life on planet earth, maps, tectonic plates, racism, religion, politics, child-rearing, and other more serious topics. It’s so refreshing to get another perspective on America; sometimes we can’t see ourselves unless we step back and see the reflection from another perspective. I hope the time we spent together was mutually beneficial.

Today, after a couple of false starts, the three Kiwis and a spare crewmember sailed off into the horizon. They are headed toward Mexico at the moment, but ultimately home to New Zealand via the Panama Canal. We will be following their progress at and living vicariously as they cross the great Pacific with their gnome Gary in tow. We will all miss their company, but perhaps the children more than anyone. Good playmates are few and far between. 

[flickr: 5714404155]

To Owen, Emma and Roe: we wish you fair winds and following seas. We’ll be praying for your safety at sea and look forward to watching the documentary that will make you all millionaires!  Maybe we’ll see you in New Zealand someday…

Happy Mother’s Day

We brought Rachel home this week to the boat on Thursday, and she took her first dinghy ride today (we visited friends on our old dock). We are happily settling into a “new normal” and the children have welcomed the new sibling with ease and grace. All are eager to help and think that baby sneezes are about the funniest thing they’ve ever seen. Who doesn’t? She definitely adds a sweetness to our home—and is such a calm and peaceful baby. Maybe we will have a low-key kid yet. There’s always hope.

[flickr: 5702090122]

There are a few moms I’d like to thank this week for making it happen. Many thanks go to my mom, for giving birth to me and, consequently, her grandchildren—what a miracle that inside the tiny body of a baby girl is not one, but potentially two generations. Also, Mom came up for a quick visit and gave me a lift home to the boat. To my mother-in-law, who made my “babymoon” possible. We escaped to the quiet and peaceful environs of her house to recuperate and enjoy snuggling, learning to nurse and sleep at night, resting, visiting with old friends, and luxuriating in long baths (a rare treat). Also, she had been to the store and bought all of my favorite foods. To my good friends, Susan, Tarin and Vicki, who spent a long 24 hours waiting for Rachel to show up. They provided companionship and support when I needed it, and I couldn’t ask for a better group of women to pray a baby into this world! To my midwife Harmony, a mom herself, who went above and beyond the call of duty and let me labor the way I needed to in a relaxed environment, and even cooked me breakfast the morning after. To my sisters, Sascha, Tennille, and Robin, who are right there with me in the trenches of motherhood, slogging through all the difficulties from diapering to disciplining. To my favorite grandma, Pearl, who passed away several years ago, and gave my daughter a good name-sake. To all the moms in my life: I love you all and wish you a very happy Mother’s Day.

3 AM Feeding

Sorry for the delay in getting information up about the newest crew member. Our captain is not a man of many words. After yet another marathon labor and delivery, we have been too wiped out/busy to post photos, though we should remedy that soon. I hijacked the camera and went to my mother in law's to rest and Jay is keeping the other four crew members busy at the boat.

So, here I am at three in the morning (a bit delerious perhaps) happy to announce that Rachel Pearl was born at 9:40 P.M. on May 2, missing sharing her big sister's birthday by about two hours. God must have a good sense of humor–He gave Sarah the very thing she had been asking for, just in time! We celebrated with chocolate cake at midnight. Rachel weighed in at a respectable 8 lbs, 11 oz. and was just over 20 inches. She couldn't be healthier (or cuter) and I feel like a million bucks.

I have business to attend to, but thanks to all for their prayers and love.

To be continued…