Monthly Archives: October 2013

FAQ: What advice can you share with dreamers?

Not surprisingly, we get questions from people all the time, asking us how to get started on a sailing dream. Sometimes the questions are from people who have never sailed in their lives, and often they are from families, people who want to break free from the “system” but are not sure how to do it.

We like to think of ourselves as part of the welcoming committee for people looking to live aboard and cruise with large families. We think this is a great lifestyle and an achievable dream for many. But it’s not for everyone. There are certain traits necessary to get—and keep—the ball rolling. And an ability to sail is not necessarily a prerequisite; anyone can learn to sail, but not everyone can live in a tight space with their spouse and numerous progeny and cope with frequent breakages, unpredictable weather, discomfort, and constantly changing plans. These are challenges about which we have tried to write with honesty and good humor, but they are indeed challenges, and there are moments when Jay and I feel completely inadequate and wonder why we thought we could do this with five children.

If you’re contemplating sailing away with your family, there are ways to find out if you are ready to take on an adventure of this magnitude. There are baby steps to take now, and giant leaps when you’re ready. Of course, the advice we offer here is experiential, well-reasoned, and logical, but sometimes the most successful adventurers are those who defy logic, and just go out there and do it, those who ignore advice like mine.

That said, we would still argue that there are common traits we find in fellow cruisers and live-aboard sailors which make them successful. Someone once told me that the test for boat ownership is a willingness to take all one’s money and stuff it down the shower drain and turn on the water. Now that we own a boat, I would say that’s not far from the truth. Aside from holding less tightly to one’s material goods, three things must be present in order to leave a land life (whether for a short time or for the long haul), and start a sailing adventure: the simultaneous abilities to dream big and to take small steps toward an end goal, and the ability to push past the inevitable obstacles.

If you are reading this post, you’re probably already dreaming big. (That, or you’re somehow related to us, and for following us faithfully, we thank you.) There are two kinds of dreams: the night kind, with fuzzy edges and images that are hard to remember, vague and undeniably romantic; and the day kind, a crisper, clearer picture formed by your conscious mind. Dreaming only of sunsets and clear water and a fish on the line isn’t enough. You have to have a really good mental picture of what your live-aboard life might look like—a sort of snapshot that you can come back to and stare at when all looks bleak and impossible.

After you have your idea and have somehow gotten your spouse and family on the same page (their support and enthusiasm are of critical importance), you have to then take your mental snapshot and draw a flow chart on the back. What are the steps you have to take to get closer to sailing away? Things to consider are finances (Are you free from debt? Can you work while you travel? How much will this cost? What will you do with your house and belongings?); comfort with discomfort (Can you live without air conditioning and long, hot showers? Would you mind hand washing dishes and clothes? Who in your family gets seasick?); and skills (Do you know basic first aid? Can you sail? Do all your kids swim well? Can you fix things? Will you homeschool?). Sometimes the answers are unknowable until you’re in the thick of it, but in most cases, you can begin to alter course degree by degree, trying new things (taking a sailing class, going on a long family vacation in an RV, not using the dishwasher, downsizing to save money for the boat) and making small decisions that will get you closer to your goal, like setting a deadline and making a yearly plan (then sticking to it, or your dream will never make it out of La-la Land).

Lastly, hold tenaciously to your dream and your plan. Ignore nay-sayers, even if they are in your own family, look for people who share your passion and learn from them, and recognize the obstacles to your success and surmount them. Read lots of inspiring stories, and stories of survival. Things will indeed stand in your way, and leaving a normal life will be harder than you think, but you must be more persistent than your circumstances.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that through all of our phases—from castle in the clouds to the reality of living aboard at the dock to island hopping in the Bahamas, we have prayed for guidance. Many times our faith has gotten us past our fears and sometimes wisdom granted has saved us from foolish mistakes. We have prayed for friends and our lives have been filled with fellowship we might not otherwise have found. We have been filled with gratitude for safe arrivals, natural beauty, unexplainable “coincidences,” and good health. All the advice in the world is no substitute for an earnest and humble prayer.

Other suggestions for the dreamers out there:

• Read Cruising World magazine, anything by Lin and Larry Pardy, and Tom Neale’s All in the Same Boat. Read Voyage of the Northern Magic to get an inspirational story of a Canadian family that circumnavigated the globe with almost no experience.

• Go to boat shows—we like the Strictly Sail Shows. Crawl around on different boats. Meet real people who do what you want to do. Buy a signed copy of a sailor’s book.

• Watch inspiring family movies like The Astronaut Farmer or episodes of Paul and Cheryl Shard’s Distant Shores.

• Take a crewed charter vacation on a sailboat before taking any life-altering steps. It will offer invaluable insight about whether or not you will love living on a boat and may even raise questions you haven’t yet thought to ask.

• Make a five-year plan if you’re starting from scratch. That’s about the right amount of time for learning, saving, practicing, shopping, and downsizing.

• Write about your experiences as a way to document the changes you go through, keep a record of good memories, and inspire yourself if you get discouraged. Maybe it will be inspiring to someone else someday and the whole thing will come full circle. Funny how that happens…


“The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control…” –from the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Galatians

Our travels over the last month took us hundreds of miles both north and south, east and west. We are home now, back to abnormal life, and I have had some time to think about the lovely and generous people we stayed with and visited while the boat was hauled out. I am finding it hard to write about the supportive and loving people in my life, because there aren’t enough of the right kinds of words. If only I could get these beautiful friends all in the same room—what fun! But part of my joy is getting to visit one everywhere I go. Who gets to have a close friend in every city? Why am I so fortunate? It is a gift for which I struggle to express thanks.

In listing their names and why I love them (for thank-you notes that may not actually make it into the mail…sorry), I realized that their attributes taken together mirror the above quote. As friends feed the spirit, it makes sense that they would embody these words. At the risk of sounding like an academy award-winner, I would like to thank the following girlfriends by name, in the order in which I met them on our trip, for teaching me important life lessons and for showing me depth in each of these areas:

My sister-in-law, Robin—courage and hope
My aunt, Barbara—hospitality and faithfulness
My cousin, Heidi—perseverance and faith
Ellen—kindness and faithfulness
Julie B.—gentleness and peace
Amy—love, joy and teamwork
Sadie—selfless love and thoughtfulness
Marina—goodness, faith, and perseverance
Kim—love to the nth degree, joy
Tracy—faithfulness and self-control, the pursuit of excellence
Tarin—prayerfulness, goodness, and joy
Julie Z.—love of life, optimism, and spontaneity
Kristin—enthusiasm and perseverance
Josie—patience and hopefulness

There are others, of course, too many to name here. Becca, for example, supported me on the phone in an anxious moment and told me to keep driving west (to California) so she could give me a hug. That’s love. Sometimes we have to settle for compassion and prayer, but that goes a long way. Some of these friends I have known my whole adult life, others I have just met. But they (and their precious families) walk with me through all the trials and triumphs of married life and motherhood. Thank God for friends!

Haulout 2013, Day Twenty-Seven

We’re back in the water.  Third time was the charm.  New seals were ordered on Day 25, installed Day 26, and we were launched at 10am on Day 27.  This time without any leaks.  Looking back, Day 27 was the end of our last painfully long haulout.
With the seals replaced we can say without exception that everything in the engine rooms is new.  That feels good.  I could have saved myself a bunch of time, money, and stress if I’d just planned to replace the seals from the beginning.
But now that’s over and the engines feel fantastic.  Four cylinders, freshly straightened shafts, new motor mounts, and a good alignment make such a big difference over the old engines.  Ben wouldn’t let me run them hard, but I did talk him into a quick sprint to the turning basin and back.  He wants the boat to settle for a few days so he can fine-tune the alignment before we really break them in.  But I was dying to know two things:  can we get the full RPMs, and can we get hull speed?  
The initial answer to both questions is “no”, which has me a little bit miffed.  Being able to get full RPMs is the primary measure that engine manufacturers use to determine if an installation is “healthy”.   But there’s still hope.  The new cutless bearings will loosen up over time and allow the shafts to spin more freely, and maybe the break-in process will help.  We’re only about 500 RPM short.  There’s also a chance that our throttle cable is just a tad too long and we’re not actually getting to full throttle.
For speed, I think we’re about a knot-and-a-half below where the calculators say we should be.  We were hoping for 9, but are only getting about 7.5.  The difference is probably some combination of the RPM issue, the down-angle of our shafts, and the fact that Max-Props are more about sailing efficiency than motoring performance.  Taking all that into account, we’re probably faster than we should be, maybe because of our sweet underwater shape or because the scale on Billy’s Travel Lift says we’re heavier than we really are.
In any event, its way better than it used to be, and we’re happy to be back in the water.

Home at Last

The weary travelers are home from their wanderings. The stories are too many to tell, but could I write them all, they would involve things like circus bears, midnight lobstering, a baby sloth, a daring rescue, a daughter's tea party, a last-minute phone call that saved the day, wine and chocolate,  new boat friends we met while neither family was on their boat, running out of gas, and late-night attempts to solve all the world's problems. I am so incredibly grateful to the loving people in our lives who made us feel welcome in their homes that I will have to write about that later when my heart is less full and I can get my head around it. I feel simultaneously elated at being back on the water and awed by all there is to do on the boat, but, really, there is no place like home.  

This message was brought to you by Starbuck's Coffee, with additional thanks to the author's father-in-law for a certain Starbuck's gift card, for their part in keeping the author alive on Florida's highways and making it possible for her to function after late-night talks and long nights in strange beds.

Haulout 2013, Day Twenty-Four

There comes a point in every haulout when we just want it to be over.  We hoped for Day 21.  We planned for Day 22.  We stretched for Day 23.  We prayed for Day 24.  But none of it was meant to be.  Now it’s looking like Day 26 or 27.
I thought we were ready on Day 23.  I paid the overtime to launch on a Saturday, but when Billy put the boat in the water, we had bad leaks from the shaft seals.  
Most boats seal their shafts with a stuffing box that drips a little all the time.  We prefer a dry bilge and have Lasdrop “dripless” seals.  The irony of a “dripless” seal is that if it leaks at all, you’re completely screwed because it probably can’t be fixed in the water.
Billy pulled the boat back out and I spent Saturday evening communicating with Lasdrop and trying short-term remedies.  You gotta love a company when you can get the president on the phone at 8:30 on a Saturday night.
My short-term solution was to polish the surfaces of the seal with some 400 grit sandpaper.  I had high hopes for this and called Billy at 10am Sunday morning to give launching another try.  
No dice.  Billy put the boat in the water, but the seals still leaked and we had to pull her back out again.  
Now we need to go for the long-term solution and replace the seals entirely.  The company has more remedies, but I’m not messing around.
Why we didn’t do this from the get-go is a very good question.  We replaced everything else in the engine rooms.  Why not the shaft seals?  I don’t really know.  Because they didn’t seem to need it?  The cost is insignificant to the overall project and certainly to the expense of our sanity at this point.
The new seals won't arrive until Day 26 and it will be a stretch get them installed and the boat launched all in one day. 
The good news is that the engines run like tractors.  We did little more than start them and put them in gear, but they’re ready to plow a field.  We had to crank for about half a second before they fired for the first time.  Very encouraging.
The detritus of the project has begun to disperse into the trash, man van, or recesses of the boat as appropriate.  Spice has rediscovered the rug.
Rug Reunion

Haulout 2013, Day Twenty-One

Day 21.  On which we learn that the Suburban does not have a low fuel light, and that 1/8 of a tank on the gauge is dead-flat-won’t start-empty.  It took 2 hours of troubleshooting to figure out, but the solution was satisfactory.  No faith was lost in the Suburban, and no egos were damaged.  How a vehicle that gets 13 MPG and has silly features like heated electric memory leather seats doesn’t have a low fuel warning light is beyond me.  So we blame GM for that one.
On the boat front, we got the cutless bearings out, but then were immediately reminded that the struts and stern tubes are metric, 40 and 43mm respectively, while the shafts are imperial — well, almost imperial, 1.245” to be exact.  So we need to buy new bearings with inside diameters that match the shafts, and then have them turned down so the outside diameters match the boat.  More fun at the machine shop!
But no, because this is Ft Pierce, Florida and there aren’t four inch-and-a-quarter cutless bearings in this town.  That little lack of foresight will cost us a day, and without a miracle puts a Day 22 launch out of reach.  Day 23 is a Saturday, and getting Billy to run the lift on a Saturday is going to cost me several cases of Miller Lite.
We're on the homestretch.  I'm sleeping on the boat in the yard now and Tanya is imposing on my mom in Clearwater.  Thanks Mom! 
Cutless Bearings Removed 

Haulout 2013, Day Twenty

We finally got the shafts back this afternoon, but too late to do anything with them.  What was only supposed to take two days, took nearly a week.  The whole project has been like that, but I’m still hoping to get back in the water on Day 22.  If we don’t make that, then I’ll have to bribe Billy to run the Travel Lift on a weekend.  We can’t be without our home any longer.
Machining the collar for the starboard stern tube didn’t go so well – the fiberglass kept breaking.  So instead we’ll use a piece of 2” heat shrink tubing.  It’s probably only slightly better than the layer of hose that was there before, but it’s what we’ve got.
Another problem has raised its head.  When the new shafts go in, it will be with new cutless bearings.  Of course, we wait until the day before to try and get the old bearings out, and I can’t get them out for anything.  The next step will be to use the reciprocating saw (yeah!) to cut through the bearing WITHOUT cutting into the stern tube.  I can’t wait.
The boat has to be moved tomorrow.  There’s a boat behind us that is going back in the water and we’re in the way.  Moving the boats around the yard is like a puzzle game sometimes.
The starboard engine is caught up to the port one now.  The raw water plumbing is finished and the start battery is installed.

Haulout 2013, Day Nineteen

We started hooking up the starboard engine today.  Fuel filter and fuel lines are done.  Raw water strainer is done.  Still need to insert a vented loop between the heat exchanger and the exhaust elbow.  Still need to install the battery, cables, and switch.
The port engine only needs a shaft, alignment, exhaust, and controls connected.  Oh, and I almost forgot — a bilge pump.  I'm not counting the secondary alternators as part of the engine installation.  They need bigger cables run to the batteries and connection to the regulators.  But you can see the space cut out for it in the image below.
Port Engine Room In Progress 
The shafts should be ready in the morning.  Hopefully we’ll have the shafts in, engines aligned and bolted down tomorrow.   But there is a small additional complication.  The shaft seals are sized for a 2” stern tube, but the stern tubes are more like 1.9”, probably something metric.  On the port side they made a collar of some phenolic material to go over the stern tube and size it up to 2”.  On the starboard side, there was a very thin piece of hose.  That hose is not going to fly.  Instead we’re going to take a piece of 2” OD fiberglass tube, mill it out to about 1.9”, and epoxy it onto the starboard stern tube. That has to be done before the starboard shaft can go in.
Another complication is that one of the bolts on the front right motor mount is completely obscured by the secondary alternator bracket.  We should have drilled an access hole through the bracket before we put it on the engine.  Actually, Beta should have done it before even sending it to me.  This is definitely a double-jointed 8-year-old scenario.  I’m not sure how were going to resolve it yet.  Taking it off the engine and putting it in a drill press would be a delay at this point.
Fabrication of the exhaust surge chamber/gooseneck is ongoing.  I think Ben is a welder trapped in a man’s body.  Or something like that.
The highlight of my day was drilling a 1.125” hole through the bottom for the new generator thru-hull/seacock/strainer.  The hull here at the leading edge of the keel is 7/8” thick.  Our information about Take Two is that her hulls are made with strip planked red cedar, and the plug we drilled out smelled distinctly of cedar, which was cool.  
Generator Strainer