Monday, September 18, 2017

Landlubbing v. boat life

writing outside while the kids play inside. Oh the space!

We’ve been landlubbers now for one month; one month as landlubbers after 11 years as  liveaboards. Time for a few reflections on the transition. Which do I like better? Boat life or land life? Which is easier? There isn’t an obvious answer, just lots of pros and cons, and a lot of the pros lead to cons.

In general, I’m enjoying the luxury and ease of living in a condo - the unlimited water and electricity, the space, the air conditioning. But we’re missing the boat too. The girls were very excited to move into a house, but they’ve also said goodbye to the only home they’ve had and they’re finding that they missing it, especially Freja. Maybe it’s a case of the grass is always greener but they’re (literally) dreaming about the boat and miss specific aspects. I feel it too. The change is easy, but I also loved our life on m/v Rhumb Line, and I’m missing it.

Yet, the house. It’s so easy. Here’s my current list of pros and cons of living in a house, in no particular order.

Pro: the space. This is the obvious one. There is so much space, and the sheer amount of space is amazing! I can hide from the kids and they don’t find me until they’ve found another activity to do. (Yes, I hide from my kids. All parents will get this.) We have a third bedroom which we call Hans’s work bedroom. All his scrubs are in there and he sleeps there when he’s working nights or other weird shifts. He can sleep undisturbed and I no longer have to shush the kids (Quiet! Pappa’s sleeping!).

There is an expression that used to run through my head on the boat, everything has a place and everything in its place. I was never good at this, especially because if we had one extra magazine out or if Hans left his shoes out, the magazine would be in the way of an art activity and we’d trip over the shoes. We had no extra space. It always looked like a tornado had just blown through and I was constantly purging and making runs to Goodwill with stuff to get rid of. Now I can shove the mail and the papers in an out of the way corner and no one notices. We have empty drawers and cupboards. I want to keep them empty; it’s the key (I think) to keeping a place tidy. Wow, it’s nice to live in a tidy place.

I have so much space to store food and cook, even though we have a relatively small kitchen compared to other houses. I’ve got my sourdough starter going, I’ve made baguettes, I’m trying out new recipes, I’m making yogurt. It is awesome to have so much space to cook.

Pro: the toilets. Boat toilets are stinky, they break, the flushing mechanism (a macerator pump) is loud, you have to find a place to pump-out the holding tank which contains all your, ahem, solid waste. There’s basically nothing good about a boat toilet, except, maybe, that it’s one step better than a bucket. But I’m not entirely convinced on that front. Diapers ain’t got nothing on a boat toilet. House toilets, on the other hand...big, clean, with a quiet, simple flush, relatively trouble free.

Pro: the fridge. I love the fridge in our condo. It is HUGE! It’s cold, the freezer makes ice and keeps ice cream works! I hate the fridge on our boat. We bought it brand new in 2014, but boat fridges, at least this one, isn’t designed for daily use by a family of four. We overworked that poor thing. The constant opening and closing and filling and emptying it of food every third day made it work harder than it was designed for. The freezer constantly  needed defrosting and dairy went bad within one week. Plus it was small. I only could cook enough for one meal because we didn’t have room for leftovers. Thus, Hans ate a lot of meals at the hospital cafeteria when he could have been bringing leftovers. 

Pro: insulation. It’s really nice to live in a condo that is well-insulated and climate controlled. Our boat is like a greenhouse - which is great in the winter in Philadelphia and equally not-great in the summers. Older boats just weren’t designed for full-time liveaboards and they weren’t properly insulated. We added insulation, but we still found that we had to run the a/c and heat a lot (all the time).

Con: climate control. While it’s great to live in a place that is well-insulated and is 74 degrees at the touch of a button, I feel so disconnected from the natural world. I have no idea what phase the moon is in; no idea when high tide is; sunrise? Sunset? Is it raining out? I used to spend the majority of my waking time outdoors or at least with all the windows open and a breeze blowing through. Now I’m enjoying the ease of living in climate control, but I feel like I’m indoors all the time and I feel very removed from nature. 

Con: space. A lot of space means a lot of cleaning. We have three bathrooms. Three! That means three toilets to clean. All the space and rooms means a lot of square footage which means a lot of floors. There is a vast expanse of floors - all of which need to be swept and mopped. The space is great, but it’s not free. Much to their dismay, the kids now have chores they have to complete three times a week. (Except they do love vacuuming!)

Con: lack of community. I’m a big talker. I’m sure I’m one of those marina neighbors who people see coming and they quickly duck back into their boats. I try to reign it in when I see someone actively involved in a boat project, but, otherwise, sorry in advance and sorry retroactively, I talk a lot. I LOVE the boating community. Because I always have someone to talk to. Because I always have someone to lend a hand. Because I know we’re all looking out for each other. And, generally, most boaters are pretty chill people. At least when they’re at the marina or swinging at anchor, just hanging out on their boat. It is a fun environment. People really do listen to Jimmy Buffet, a lot. My kids have surrogate aunts and uncles in Philadelphia and Jacksonville - people who have known them and cared for them as babies and watched them grow into kids. 

I prepared myself when we moved off the boat that I’d be moving to an island. (Literally and figuratively.) I don’t know any of my neighbors. Not because I haven’t tried, but because it’s actually hard to meet them. People drive up to their garages, enter, and disappear. There are some common outdoor spaces, but they’re not frequented. Or if we do meet people, they’re here on a short-term rental. And now the pool is closed because the pH is off from Hurricane Harvey. So I’m finding my own community in other places, but it’s hard not to have that built-in community I so valued at the marinas and in the cruising community.

So which is better, boat life or land life? When I look over my pro and con list, it is clearly not black and white. A pro begets a con and I start missing the boat life again. Then I remember the toilets and...yeah I’m happy on land. On the other hand, not all things are equal. I’ll happily trade in some sweaty evenings without a/c for watching the full moon rise over water. I’ll happily trade in schlepping my laundry to a marina or laundromat for the conversation I have with other boaters while I’m doing that laundry.

After taking a minute to think about the differences between boat life and land life, I recognize two aspects of boat life that are vital to my happiness: nature and community. I get both of those on a boat, yet I have to work for those on land. 

I know that we’ll be back on a boat at some point in the future. The world is too big, there is too much to explore, I love sailing and boating too much to not get back out there. But I know when we do go again, while I won’t be trying to replicate land life on a sailboat, I will have a decent fridge and freezer and the toilet will smell like fresh flowers!

The trump card: high speed internet. Landlubbing means high speed internet ALL THE TIME. Boat living v. landlubbing can basically be boiled down to: nature and community v. internet. Will internet win in the end?!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Marsh Harbour

August 1, 2017

Of all the anchorages in the Abacos, Marsh Harbour is low on the list in terms of scenic beauty. It's the main port for the region and is a big commercial center. So how did we end up here on my birthday? Shouldn't we be anchored off a white sand beach, floating behind the boat with a tropical drink in hand? Yes, but weather. Our one interlude with unsettled weather occurred right before my birthday. We're getting the outer bands of Tropical Storm Emily which is resulting in strong southerly winds, a hefty chop, and lots of squalls. We spent the last few days at Man-O-War Cay, a dry island with a strong religious tradition. (Dry in terms of beverages consumed, rather not consumed.) It was quiet and beautiful and devoid of vacationers. A glimpse into what the Abacos would look like without tourism and continued strong ties to their Loyalist history. The island residents are renowned for their boat building skills and the waterfront is a true working one. Active boatyards and boatbuilding shops with the completed boats scattered across the harbor on moorings. The majority of the rental boat fleet in the Abacos are Albury Boats - sturdy center console boats made to withstand years of use. Albury is an Abaco name and draws its history back to the Loyalists.

We had the marina pool all to ourselves.

And here's the storm.

going out on a neighbor's go fast dinghy/tender
 We walked around town - admiring the neat yards with flowering bougainvillea, white picket fences, and the family name tacked above the front door. Most yards had fruit trees, small vegetable plots, and roosters crowing. Electricity is expensive and while the island didn't seem poor, no one was running their a/c despite the heat and humidity. Windows were open allowing the sea breeze to blow through. The ocean beach was gorgeous. Crystal clear water, soft white sand. We spent hours at the beach.

So how did we end up at Marsh Harbour for my birthday? It was the first day of sunny weather  for a couple of days and we were ready to leave Man-O-War. We left with the idea of going to Little Harbour, home of Pete's Pub and an artists' colony about 20 miles south. But when we left Man-O-War the wind and seas were directly from the south and we faced over three hours of motoring straight into wind and chop. No fun. We turned west to snorkel on Mermaid Reef just off Marsh Harbour. Freja and I spent an hour snorkeling in a natural aquarium - we saw almost every kind of little reef fish in our reef guidebook. Despite the 30 or more other snorkelers, it was a fun experience.

We motored a couple miles to the mouth of Marsh Harbour to look for lobster - Day 1 of lobster season! Freja and I went hunting first but we only saw a baby; Hans snorkeled the other side of the small cove and pulled up a big one! Lobster salad!
Happy Day 1 of lobster season!
teaching Freja the fine art of picking a lobster. Must get all the meat!

We decided to go to Marsh Harbour for dinner and to anchor for the night since it was 5PM and we were so close. However we only found one restaurant open and it was more of a bar serving fried food. Thinking of a nice birthday dinner, we decided to try our luck and go fast on both engines to Hope Town . . . 5 minutes later and 3 miles outside of Marsh Harbour, the starboard engine started overheating. I ran down below to check and found the exhaust hose had popped off the port engine. (!!!) Shit.

So, instead of a nice dinner, we spent 45 minutes floating around while Hans muscled the exhaust hose back on, put the distributor cap back on the starboard engine (??!!), and had cereal for dinner back at Marsh Harbour. We were feeling pretty disgruntled and fed up.

We reassessed the situation the next morning and after running through some checks and tightening the hose clamps even more, we felt much better about the engines. We headed back to Hope Town and spent the afternoon at the Hope Town Harbour Lodge - birthday redux...lunch out, relaxing at the pool and the beach, enjoying the view.

another lost tooth!
Hope Town Harbour Lodge
The pool deck and restaurant overlooking the ocean

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Elbow Cay

July 28, 2017

After a week in Hope Town, both at a mooring just outside the harbor and a few days at the fancy marina, we motored a few miles south to Tahiti Beach at the southern end of Elbow Cay. It's a spot that's similar to Double Breasted Cays with a sandbar that is dry at low tide, palm trees, and brilliant blue water; but much more accessible to vacationers with rental boats, so it was always crowded. Really crowded (10+ boats), not Bahamas crowded (which is anything more than two boats). In the heat of the afternoon there were usually ten boats with 5-10 people on each boat. Still, we stayed for three days because we had the place to ourselves except from 12-6. And the view from the back deck was just gorgeous.

We found a treehouse structure built from driftwood and scavenged line and even had a little driftwood swing. We climbed to the top of a rocky outcropping overlooking Tilloo Cut and placed our own sones on a cairn a la Moana. Hans went out the cut and fished the drop-off, at one point hooking a grouper that was so big it broke the fishing rod. The rod, not the line!! Talk about the one that got away! Our neighbors on the boat behind us stopped by for drinks one evening. Mark is a Bahamian and full-time cruiser/liveaboard. He gave Hans some local fishing tips and commiserated with us about the less than stellar visibility in the water. He believes it's from the large number of center console fishing boats that are constantly stirring up the water. It's easy to see that - the number of fancy boats with 2-3 outboards on the back is astounding.

painting her magic wand she found with Peter Rabbig

nice spot for a picnic lunch

our climbing champion

Looking out to Tilloo cut and the cairn where we placed our rocks

up at the top of the treehouse

I had stopped at the grocery store before we left Hope Town so we had a number of nice meals at home - giving us a good change of pace from our spaghetti, quesadillas, and jam sandwiches we'd been eating a lot of. We had a luxury lunch at Firefly Resort - fresh, local, and not deep-fried. We relaxed in the hammock in the shade and the girls swam off the swimming platform. The resort is beautiful - multi-level decking, stone walls that blended into the natural landscape, and brightly colored cottages built on a hillside - all overlooking the Sea of Abaco.
relaxed and happy at Firefly Resort

swimming platform that is underwater and high tide, dry at low tide

watching the sunset, and our neighbor for the night

We suspected bad water as the culprit for our GI problems so we added some bleach to our water tanks. Way too much and it tasted like we were drinking from the swimming pool. We were also out of milk so we weighed anchor and headed back to Hope Town to resupply and get fresh, non-bleach-y water.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Hope Town

July 22, 2017

Spotting the iconic red and white striped lighthouse in the Hope Town harbor was a huge milestone. We'd done it! We left Jacksonville on an old boat that we'd maintained as best as possible with our medical school and residency and stay-at-home-mom incomes. [Read: debt, stipend, no income.] Some systems were brand new (solar panel), some were new five years ago (fridge, a/c), and some we'd just plain neglected (batteries). We left with the goal of reaching Hope Town - a picturesque harbor, Bahamian settlement, with amazing beaches and great snorkeling; and also a highlight of our trip on Whisper since we met lifeline friends there. So when we saw that lighthouse we cheered, high-fives, and felt a huge sense of achievement. Good job Rhumb Line! Who thought that our old Carver would have made it from Philadelphia to Hope Town, all the while providing us with a safe, cozy  home where we raised our girls for the early years of their lives. The jubilation was paired equally with a sense of relief. We'd made it to a well-developed part of the Bahamas and we're stranded on an out island or on the middle of the Banks or in the middle of the Gulf Stream. 

Hope Town has everything a boater could want: a protected anchorage lined with restaurants, marinas, and a small grocery store. A library, a playground (fantastic!), a sailing club, and it's only a few steps from the gorgeous, palm-lined, white sand public beach. Mountains of coral (as Freja calls them) are a short swim offshore, and Hans is excited to hop a mere mile offshore to fish. Sitting at anchor, I can hear the waves breaking on the beach just on the other side of the island.

Waiting for the light keeper to show up to light up the lamp.
It's a manual lighthouse, requiring hand lighting every night.

climbing up the lighthouse to watch the lighting

Jeffrey, one of the keepers.

Harbour's Edge restaurant, a great spot in the harbor

post-dinner beach walk

Bingo at Jack's. Always fun. Alas, we weren't winners.

But these kids. They are such homebodies. It's like pulling teeth to get them off the boat. And they're not sitting in a/c with a TV. At anchor we don't have TV or internet and we don't own a tablet. They're screen-free and a/c free, completely self-entertained and they still won't leave the boat! Drawing, writing books, playing with figurines, playing a huge variety of make-believe games, swimming off the boat. It certainly makes for relaxing days but I do go a little stir-crazy.

We found an old printer up for grabs outside a realtor's office so we took it home for some tinkering.

Living at anchor is life on an off-the-grid floating home. If you do it right, you can stock up on food, catch fish, and be at sea (or anchor) for months. We have a bank of batteries (think car/tractor/RV size batteries) powered by a 150 watt solar panel mounted on our T-top (the roof over the back deck). Our batteries weren't charging very well so Hans investigated and one had very low voltage and was sucking power from the other two batteries, causing all batteries to have low voltage. He pulled that battery so we're down to two batteries. Our main power draw if the fridge and calling it "inefficient" is generous. We also have fans, lights, a fresh water pump (to pull the water from our water tank out  the faucets), bilge pumps, and toilet pumps. (There's a lot of plumbing on boats!) We find that we can go three days maximum at anchor before needing a power boost, either by running the engines or pulling into a marina and plugging in. We could always have more power (more solar) and more batteries, but for short-term cruising, we make it work.

We carry approximately 100 gallons of water which lasts us for 5-7 days if we are conscientious about our usage without feeling like dirty, salty sailors. We use the water to have quick freshwater rinses after swimming, we wash our dishes, we hydrate ourselves, wash hands, etc. We've all had some unpleasant GI upsets recently so we've decided to buy drinking water for our last couple weeks.

For long-term cruising we'll have 'UGE power and a 'UGE battery bank.

Six year old needs

July 21, 2017

Taken from a conversation with Freja. I grabbed my notebook to memorialize her needs.

What Freja needs to survive, at 6 years old

1. No scary jaguars;
2. tons of TV;
3. to not go to the hospital;
4. no barracudas;
5. no Pappa saying that Peter Pan is fake;
6. nobody telling me what to do and me doing whatever I want, including candy. (That's the most important one.)
7. Sharks to be good, pretty, rainbow sharks.
8. Mamma and Pappa to take care of me.
9. [and because we prompted...] food, water, shelter, fire

lemonade stand

Monday, August 14, 2017

Living the vacation life

July 18, 2017
Green Turtle Cay

No exercise; attached to land not water; a/c; comfort; restaurants. Fun. But different.

We pulled into Green Turtle Cay and tied up at Bluff House Marina. Our water tanks were empty, the fridge was near empty, and the lockers only had flour, pasta, and a couple cans of beans. After over a week in the out islands, it was time to re-enter civilization, at least for a day or two.

A day or two turned into three as we enjoyed the comforts of being at the marina. A/c, TV for the kids (=babysitter for the parents), restaurants, golf cart rental, water, water water (at .30 cents/gallon). Marina life in the Bahamas is easy living, at a price of course.

north end of Green Turtle

"Almost as fun as the fair!"

The golf cart rides were so much fun - and so different from our previous cruising life. We toured the whole island via golf cart which was fast, fun, and easy, as opposed to 10 years ago when we dinghies, hitchhiked, or relied on other cruisers' rental cars and generosity. We went to town and to the north end - the girls screaming and giggling the whole way. We stopped at the dump to show the girls what happens to trash, why we recycle, and we we try not to consume so much.

We ate out, a lot. Almost every meal. When we left Manjack we were down to huevos rancheros and jam sandwiches. We were ready for some variety! The restaurants at Green Turtle were very good, especially considering the limited food options and lack of foodie culture. We always opted for "fresh catch" and it was never overcooked. Conch fritters never disappoint, but also never live up to the ones we made at Walker's Cay.
Princess spotting in the settlement.
fresh conch salad

We restocked our lockers from the few small grocery stores in town; we found souvenirs at a little gift shop; we had a Goombay Smash at Miss Bee's - reputed to be the home of the original Goombay Smash. We played tourist and, after two weeks of living the barebones cruising lifestyle, it was fun.

attracting the nurse sharks at the marina.

After three days, I was ready to leave. Living the marina life, we found ourselves connected to land instead of water. When we wanted to go somewhere we hopped in the golf cart instead of the dinghy. If we were hot we swam in the pool or sat in the a/c instead of jumping off the side of the boat into the clear Bahamian waters. Life on the hook is filled with exercise - swimming, hiking, paddling, sweating. Very different from the easy marina life.

Day 1 of a GI bug that plagued me for the entire trip.
I fell asleep and Matilda took care of me while I was sleeping. Sweet girl.