Monthly Archives: September 2011

Cruising Cake Recipe

One of the challenges facing cruisers in exotic locations is finding fresh (and familiar) ingredients. In the Bahamas, for example, I often had a hard time locating things as simple as butter, eggs, and milk. If we showed up at an island grocery a day or two after the mail boat had come in, the fresh supplies were gone and we had to do with whatever was left. I learned how to get creative with what we carry in our canned and dry goods locker—dried milk, canned fruit, coconut oil, and whole grains replaced store-bought staples. If there were no eggs and milk, it meant biscuits for Sunday morning breakfast instead of pancakes.

But what about special treats? Specialty items like chocolate chips don’t do well in hot environments, and since I don’t make things from boxes and bags, “cake mix” isn’t in my vocabulary (and even if it were, it often requires eggs). If we’re low on fresh supplies, making something like a birthday cake would be difficult if not impossible. My favorite cake recipe calls for a cup of butter, buttermilk and three eggs—that’s pretty steep if you’re far from civilization!

Today, we discovered the solution in a cookbook I’ve had on the shelf forever. The Gold Medal Flour Alphabakery Children’s Cookbook (©1997 General Mills) is a fun cookbook that I have used with all my children—it goes through the alphabet A-Z with easy and tasty treats. They love to pull it out for their “special night” baking projects and we work together to make something good for everyone to share. (Each kid gets a special night once a month when they get to choose recipes for dinner and dessert and help cook, then choose an activity to do with Mom and Dad after everyone else has gone to bed—it’s a way to work in one-on-one time in a big family.)

For her special dessert, Sarah picked a chocolate cake that, amazingly, left out milk, butter, and eggs, substituting instead vegetable oil (I use coconut oil), water, vinegar and baking soda. The results were surprising: a moist and chocolaty treat with no hint that the recipe looked more like salad dressing than cake. All the ingredients are easy to store and always on hand. This recipe success means I can whip up a from-scratch cake, anywhere, anytime and miles and miles from a grocery store. Below is the recipe if you’d like to give it a whirl.

Xx is for “X-tra Special” Celebration Cake

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups water
Frosting (home-made or store-bought)
Candies or icing for decorating

1. Heat oven to 350°. Grease and flour 2 round 9” pans or 9 x 13” baking dish.
2. Mix flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.
3. Mix oil, vinegar, vanilla and water in a small bowl. Stir oil mixture into flour mixture and beat until well blended, about one minute. Immediately pour batter into pans, dividing evenly.
4. Bake until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, about 35 minutes; let cool 10 minutes before removing from pans.
5. Let cake cool completely. Fill and frost cake; decorate with candies or icing as desired.

PFD Review

For those of you outside of boating, PFD stands for Personal Flotation Device, or, in plain English, life jacket. Everyone in our family has one, though they are all slightly different. We’ve had several types, and since we spend a good bit of the time underway wearing them, we’ve searched and researched until we’ve found ones that place safety and comfort at the top of the list. Jay has a Mustang Survival Type V Inflatable jacket with a hydrostatic gauge and D-rings for a harness. Mine is similar, a West Marine Brand inflatable vest, which I find only slightly uncomfortable, and which does not have D-rings for a harness. It is a lovely shade of lavender, though. We only wear ours when sailing at night or when on watch by ourselves, or during rough weather.

The kids, on the other hand, wear their life jackets any time they step out of the door and into the cockpit when we’re underway. Their life jackets, with the exception of the infant jacket, are Mustang Survival Type II Children’s life vests. The 30-50 pound jacket zips and fastens through the legs with webbing, and also has a flotation “pillow” behind the head with a webbing strap, designed to help a small person stay face up in the water, and be easy to grab. The other jackets are 50-90 pound vests and have zip closures without the crotch strap or pillow. They are nylon with mesh sides for ventilation and we rarely hear complaints about their being uncomfortable. Of course, it wouldn’t do any good to complain, anyway, but the four older kids are able to go about their business without impediment while wearing them. Jay customized them with reflective tape last year and a kid would light up like Christmas if we had to find one in the dark with a flashlight.


Rachel poses a bit of a problem when it comes to life jackets. She’s too little to understand why she must wear one, and the most vocal when uncomfortable. The nylon one we had for infants to 30 pounds simply swallowed her up and was so bulky it was hard to hold onto her when she was in it. Plus she screamed the whole time she wore it. The neoprene life jacket (HO Sports), on the other hand, was much smaller and seemed a lot more comfortable. The one disadvantage we noticed is that it doesn’t breathe and she got really sweaty wearing it. But until she gets bigger and grows into the yellow Mustang, we’re happy with the softer neoprene one and recommend it for the smallest sailors.


We blasted Take Two out of her slip this past week.  She hadn’t moved in over six months, so we weren’t entirely sure how it was going to go.  It went fine, of course.  

First stop was the fuel dock where we made a god awful mess inside our port hull, which is pretty much par for the course.  The story of our last visit to the fuel dock is not yet ready to be told publicly.  Thankfully we only have to do it about once a year.

Then it was out into Tampa Bay to train the new autopilot and see what else might be broken.  We had previously complained that our autopilot was suffering from narcolepsy, so I decided to swap it for the spare.  The new one has a rate gyro which hopefully will help it hold a better course in following seas.  The install went very smoothly since I was really just changing the brain portion and not any of the ancillary sensors.  It seems I got the compass backwards somehow since after calibration it showed perfect reciprocal headings.

We were surprised to be hailed twice on the radio by boats that recognized us.  I think that doubled the number of times I’ve ever been hailed on channel 16.  Of course I wouldn’t really know because I’m notoriously apathetic about the VHF and usually don’t even have it on.  About halfway through our cruise to the Bahamas we realized the stupid thing didn’t even work.  A new antenna must have done the trick because it’s working now.  I even tested it with SeaTow’s cool Automated Radio Check service.

On the way back in we realized another benefit to having a kid that can drive the dinghy.  About 10 minutes out from the marina we sent Aaron ahead so he could catch our lines.  No longer do we have to depend on a marina being open, or the dockhands speaking English.  From now on, I’m going to have my own guys on the dock to bring me in.

The trip was a shakedown of sorts.  It was really about getting the fuel, but we also wanted to make sure the boat was functional for a trip to the beach with another family a couple days from now.  All systems appear to be go for that.  We’ve got a couple things to work on before we can do an overnight, and then we’ll set our sights on the Tortugas.

Magic Genie

I usually don’t get too involved in the day-to-day operations of educating our children.  Tanya does an excellent job there.  I am good for random unplanned lessons in science, history, economics, or civics, but my role is mainly that of principal.  I offer encouragement when needed and apply discipline when required.  And I help set the strategic direction of the curriculum.

Some of my favorite tenets of our homeschool are: Life is school – the best lessons are the ones that are learned in daily life.  Kids should be free to discover and develop their natural talents and interests.  They should learn a skill, something they love and can do with their hands.

We invest a lot in our lifestyle, but in reality it is all about the kids.  We view raising these children as the single most important thing we’ll do in our lives.  We could get all stressed out about that, or we could have fun with it.  Living on a boat, we’ve created an environment of self-sufficiency, exploration, and adventure.  What they’re learning in school often dovetails nicely with something tangible in their daily experience.  All critters are identified.  All weather and atmospheric conditions are explained.  Physical forces are understood.  We play “I Spy” with the globe.


The part of my role that I most enjoy is that of a magic genie.  I can grant wishes in the name of education.  Or at least give a taste of it.  Some of those dreams have to be tempered down to something realistic.  For example, I know Sarah's deepest desire is for a stable full of horses.  That just isn’t going to happen as long as we’re living on a boat.  But I can swing riding lessons.  And apparently baby sisters grow on trees around here.

Eli is the outdoorsman.  He’s been the beneficiary of a SNUBA trip, rock climbing at a local gym, and just received his first knife.  Aaron’s dinghy driving skills have been well documented here, but he also has a hankering to drive something with wheels.  For a boy 49 inches tall, that means go-karts.  He and I rode those go-karts until we couldn’t take anymore.  His interest in music netted him a guitar and an iPod full of classic rock.  This counts as school in my book.

What about Sam?  Well, Sam wants to fly like Superman and climb walls like Spiderman.  That just doesn’t leave me much to work with.  But when he wants to build a laser, I’ll be there.

All Kinds of Crazy

One of our favorite films for family movie night is Astronaut Farmer. It stars Billy-Bob Thornton as a middle-aged wanna-be astronaut who left NASA and settled for running his father’s farm instead of fulfilling a lifelong dream of going into space. He hasn’t given up on the dream, though, and all hell breaks loose when he tries to buy rocket fuel for a spacecraft he built in his barn. We love the movie because it is about a family with a dream—the grandfather applauds the main character, saying, “Most families don’t even eat dinner together—you’ve got yours dreaming together.” His wife, Audi, stays by him through thick and thin—even supporting his pulling the kids out of school for a month to join his “space program”— at one point when he wants to give up she reminds him that without the rocket they are just an ordinary dysfunctional family.

We get email from all sorts of people—those with boats and without, those who home-school or home-stead and those who live “conventional” lives. Our sharing our adventures, while nautical in nature, isn’t really about going sailing, but about following a dream. We never would say, “you should buy a boat and do what we’re doing” or “everyone should homeschool their kids,” but we might say, “everyone should follow after a dream.” It doesn’t really matter what flavor the dream takes on, as long as you are really living your life and making all the small decisions that are necessary to move toward a goal, so that when opportunity knocks, you’re ready to answer “Yes!”

We are not, by a long-shot, the only family with young children who want to sail off into the blue, but we are in a relatively small group of people with that dream. For some, that dream seems crazy, but we have discovered in our group of friends that there are lots of other kinds of crazy. For example, a good friend of mine and her husband swerved off a lucrative career path to help run an orphanage in Honduras. They are on the cutting edge of widow and orphan care—pursuing something they are really passionate about, and making all the sacrifices that come along with being involved in philanthropy. (You can find them at

Another friend ( ) who left recently to go live in Costa Rica with her husband and children, runs a web-based business and wanted to travel with her children. I know their families did not understand how they could just up-and-go, but they wanted to give their home-schooled children a real-world education with experiences outside their own culture.

My brother and his wife ( have a small working farm just outside city limits, complete with goats, chickens, gardening and a wood shop. They run two businesses and have six children that they home-school. They are trying their hand at home-steading—a dream that seems less and less crazy as times and financial markets provide less stability.

Last year in the keys, we met a family with ten children, some of whom formed a band and went on tour—they play gigs like Sloppy Joe’s in Key West and are spectacularly talented and loads of fun to listen to ( What on earth led them to live on the road for part of the year is beyond me, but what do I know? I live on a boat with five kids.

We have good friends who are missionaries in Thailand and just moved to downtown Bangkok, others who manage state parks whose children have grown up in beautiful natural settings and have been schooled in the great outdoors, and still others who participate in civil war battle re-enactments and become a part of living history. What these families all have in common, besides Big Dreams, and, strangely, having lots of kids, is the willingness to take the necessary risks associated with leaving the common life. There is no financial security in dream-chasing. Some have traded retirement later for an adventure now. They don’t care what other people say—they can’t let someone else’s expectations keep them from pursuing an exciting and meaningful life. So, whatever kind of thing floats your boat—we encourage you to find it and chase after it. Do it or die trying because it’s worth it. Life is good, but it is fleeting and fragile.