We are so thrilled! My son married his girlfriend from Germany in early June. They have been writing to each other for four years and finally met in May. Their meeting was everything they had hoped and, after advice from an immigration attorney, married immediately rather than facing a year or more of separation while the immigration engine slowly ground its way forward. I am so impressed that a modern woman could pull together her own wedding in less than two weeks! She found a dress off-the-shelf, but it was the wrong size. She had it modified by a tailor to fit and she looked absolutely beautiful. Luckily her parents were able to change their plans and get to Oregon as well. Here are some images from that lovely weekend in Portland, Oregon. (Click on the photo to get a lightbox.) [Read more…] about June Wedding
Our stories and experiences are documented here. From the thoughts written during the First Time Offshore, to FAQs about cruising, to the humor and angst of day-to-day life while cruising, this is where to find our stories.
We are on a west coast road trip, visiting old friends and old haunts. We should be home within the week, but I am poised here in mid-trip and seeing our life with the fresh eyes travel brings. [Read more…] about What is Home to a Traveler?
I am astonished how different my life is now. I know we bring ourselves and our troubles with us, and that has not all vanished, but life is substantially different. We moved permanently on board July 7 so we are nearly at the ten month mark. During that time we have mostly lived at marinas, but of that ten months about a month of it was underway either coastal cruising or offshore, another month at anchor, and the rest in various marinas while we continued to pack, work on the boat, and deal with whatever life threw at us including a change of boats. So on one hand while I tell myself we are “not really cruising yet” I’m beginning to think we are and have been. There are benefits of cruising I had not been aware of while focusing on destinations and provisioning and repairs.
Living on a boat is living closer to nature. I feel like we live outside, although we do have a roof over our heads. (We call it a deck, but whatever.) The best part of our living space IS outside. And even inside we can’t escape the wind and the waves. Our table, even at dock, tilts slightly, making us aware of the water below us. Every night is different – sometimes the bed is still, sometimes rocking. The waves and wind surround us, there’s no escaping. At dusk and dawn from our small ports we see Angel Island behind us, the city, often in fog, beyond that. The moon rises and wakes me peering through the hatch above our bed. Our home feels very small and in the palm of the sea and sky. Lovely.
And then there are the inconveniences. We walk a mile round trip through the weather to get our mail. When the head is not working or we are conserving tank space we walk rapidly up the dock to do our “land poops”. Buffeted by rain or cold winds or bathed in warm sun we trundle our laundry up the dock on laundry days. Groceries carried down the dock, trash carried up. Rarely do we travel that route without carrying something. It gives us a great deal of time to notice what’s around us.
And in the final balance – beautiful or inconvenient – it’s the noticing that wins. We notice, we care, it matters what’s around us in a way I didn’t find on land.
Making friends when you live at a marina seems to be far easier than on land. In the first marina we lived in during this last year, our home marina, we hadn’t quite gotten the message. Sure, we were working frantically to get ready to go to sea before the season changed, but I didn’t quite get it. We had a lovely neighbor (thank you, Rick!) who invited us for drinks, and to go to dinner, but I felt like my real job was on the boat and didn’t quite appreciate the opportunities.
At our latest marina we were fortunate to land in a live-aboard community that has made us feel immediately welcome. We do favors for each other, pick up groceries, lend a hand fixing, share frustrations and joys, all the things that I’ve found can take years to happen in a conventional neighborhood, if ever. We may be different persuasions, different backgrounds, but we share the experience of living in a “different” environment, maybe a slightly more difficult one than is “normal”. It seems similar to the brief but sudden comradery of being caught in a violent rainstorm and sheltering with strangers in the dubious protection of a storefront awning. You feel the difference and excitement of the temporary setback and you laugh and joke as if you weren’t total strangers. The inconvenience, almost adventure of the situation somehow lowers our boundaries and hastens friendly exchanges. I think living on boats does that, too.
Learning New Things
Traveling by sailboat offers so many opportunities to learn. I’m currently eager to really conquer my new Icom m802 (which I have only used in data mode so far – downloading weather and uploading email etc). I also am happy to be studying Spanish for our upcoming voyages to Mexico and Central and South America. I’ve been reading up on the new-to-me navigation system and studying recipes for being healthier and more self-sufficient. (Homemade ginger beer anyone?) I’m always gratified to hear that many of the conversations around the marina are about how someone figured out something, and what they found worked – everyone hangs on these conversations as if they were vital information – and perhaps they will be. Although my work in web programming constantly demanded that I learn new things, I generally didn’t expect that from my “life”. Learning was perhaps a “keep up” behaviour not a “this is for fun” behaviour. I’m not saying I’m actually becoming expert at anything at any great rate, but I like how I’m excited about these opportunities, not just collapsing on the sofa with a glass of wine. (Ok, I do that, too, but we call it the settee, and there’s no tv). There’s so many fun and exciting ways to spend my time even when we’re not actively sailing. I like that.
My professional life as a software programmer and manager, compounded with being a single mother for many years, and further compounded with having a slightly driven personality developed my schedule consciousness from my 20s on. Much of the worry in my life has been about “getting things done” and “meeting schedules” – (well, and what my boys were up to, but that I seemed to have little control over). That is still my default mode, but cruising is loosening that up.
Old habits die hard. Last weekend we had old friends come visit us on the boat – our first visit with old friends and our first overnight guests. All my old tensions came back to play – I “had” to get the cushions finished and I “had” to have a meal plan and I “had” to get it all done by such and such … everything “had” to be “perfect”. Well you know what happens when you focus on “must” and “perfect” – fate slaps you with things out of your control. In this case the holding tank packed it up. So here I was focusing on the new cushions (which, I do realize, no one was going to care about for two seconds) and we ended up hosting our friends and introducing them to the far away porta-potties and the five gallon bucket in the head. Not the elegant note I was foolishly going for. And you know what? We had a great time, lots of laughing, and the additional bonus that they have something to tease us about for the next millenium. I will never hear the end of those damn cheetos in the vaccum packed storage bag – which turned from treat to dust in microseconds upon being opened. And now they have another story to tease me about!
But I am seeing a loosening of these schedule demons. I am treasuring the possibility of human moments or nature moments even above meeting-my-schedule moments. I am realizing that we are living, not just working down a list of tasks. I know in my mind that the tasks will never end but the human possibilities can be grabbed and enjoyed when they offer themselves. And you know what? I like this new person better.
So here we are, 10 months into the voyage, haven’t even left the country yet. All my plans lie in tatters at my feet. And I’m happier and excited and have good friends around me. I know we’ll leave this place and these friends, but now I trust there will be new places and new friends. And thank god for email and blogs and international phone plans. I see the spiderwebs of connection – with people, with knowledge, with nature – growing thicker around us and I’m content.
On April 2 we visited Pinnacles National Park, south of San Francisco in the Salinas Valley. Arranged in a 30 mile wide valley around the San Andreas Fault, the landscape was formed by volcanic activity 23 million years ago. The west side of the park is formed of rock that originated almost 200 miles south and was gradually moved north due to the sliding action of the Pacific Plate. The massive tumbled boulders and exposed pinnacles gave the park its name and provide spectacular scenery for visitors. The park is also home to a couple dozen California Condors. Nearly extinct in the 1980s, these magnificent birds with a 9.5 foot wing span are being re-established at the Pinnacles and other places in California and Arizona. The scenery and the allure of the largest flying birds in the US provide ample reason for a visit.
We visited April 2 and it was very hot – this is a great location for a spring visit and not recommended in summer’s heat. We hiked a short 2 mile hike on the East side, which also has the only camping in the park. There are longer trails on both the East and West sides. There are also talus caves on the east side but we did not visit these.
The parking lot at the trail was full so after getting our pass at the visitor’s center at the east gate we took the three-times-per hour shuttle up to the trail head. There are rest rooms at both end of shuttle ride. We were surprised to see wild turkeys looking for crumbs in the parking lot. Golden-mantled ground squirrels scurried about in their stop-and-go way.
We walked up the rocky and crumbling trail, shedding layers as we went. There was a long slightly uphill approach, yielding to numerous steeper switchbacks as we got into the tighter end of the little valley. What appeared to be a seasonal spring split the valley below us. Huge boulders protruded at angles. They were beyond boulders, these were bones of the earth. In their various distinct shapes and poses it was easy to see them as petrified giants; a sixty foot head there with sullen pouting lips, a massive arm over there with mast-height fingers reaching for the sky. These boulders, these bones of the earth presented a different appearance close to the trail. There the shapes were too close to comprehend but the artistic scattering of burnt orange and mustard blotches of lichen were a sophisticated wallpaper of great beauty. And rising in the valley amongst these monstrous stones were the chartreuse splatches of new oak leaves unfurling and the hazy-feathery blue-gray of sugar pines. Above us the vivid blue of cloudless sky with immense condors lazily circling, looking for carrion.
The condors glide far above us, wings spread wide and flat. We see perhaps 4-6 distinct birds at times. The tips are spread like fingers and they turn and glide in wide gyres without perceptible wing motion. Even from far below you get a sense of their majestic size. When they perch on the pinnacles above us their orangey-red bare heads and hooked beaks are distinctive. My sister was able to catch these magnificent photos with her small hiking camera.
There were also many turkey vultures, also black with red heads. However the vultures were generally easy to distinguish because of the smaller size, lack of white on the wings, wings held in a slight v, and their more erratic flight, bouncing and wavering a bit in their glides. I heard no cries from either bird.
At one point during the hike I pulled off the trail for 45 minutes or so. I picked a place hanging over a wide valley and just listened. At first there was no wind, just the barest breeze brushing cool fingers across my skin. There was an occasional hum from a plane far overhead, momentary chattering as hikers moved behind me on the trail, but beyond these disturbances a profound silence broken only twice by the chittering of small birds. The silence across that wide valley was almost a force in itself, a presence and volume that my ears strained to understand.
Sailors are rarely in complete silence. Even in a quiet anchorage boats are noisy places, full of creaks and groans; the piano of taut lines and the hull a drum for the smack of tiny wavelets. The boat is held in place as mild currents stream the water by, in quietude but not true silence. On the edges of oceans there is, in my experience, rarely a truly windless time, and the wind sings its own quiet tune as it skitters over the water. These subtle natural noises are restful and soothing.
The tremendous silence in that valley was a different order of thing. My ears, straining to pick up the tiniest stirring, heard their own blood moving, and perhaps some just-beyond-hearing movements from the valley below. In all that grandeur of silence my ears were noisy with their own biology, or some ineffable music just out of range. The peace was a different order to me, grander than a quiet anchorage, but filling me with a sense of space and hugeness I cannot explain. Then gradually, in breaths and scurries, the wind rose up and moved the leaves and blades and created the slightest of susurrations to fill that vast void. This too was a comfort and a joyfullness to my ears.
Finally the afternoon was ending and we worked our way down the trail again. The silky sandy surface of the trail, studded with jutting rocks was slippery and caused falls and near falls for most of us. Along the side of the trail we encountered a magnificent pine that served as the pantry for the acorn woodpecker family. The woodpeckers, over generations, drill the holes and fill them with acorns. We hurried back to the car to our own pantry where a cold beer and apple slices were waiting.
What a day!
Everyone asks – “Why aren’t you sailing”? And it’s true, we’ve been here over two months and though we putter around the marina each week to clean out our waste tank, we haven’t been sailing. We lamely reply “When we’re done with a few things…”.
Yes, we did have an old boat to empty of our earthly possessions, to clean, to sell. But that happened a couple of weeks ago. (As if a week were even time on a boat project – everything is doable in 20 minutes to my husband but a month in real life. I mean “done” like when a job is actually done and working and usable. We’re not talking about the husband kind of conceptual “done” which involves him knowing what’s required to fix it. Probably.)
And unlike people with a house and real life, as cruisers we had to move everything on to the boat at the same time we evaluate everything that’s here. And you can’t sail with things stacked around waiting to be installed or stored and recorded in the database. So we had several heat stoves sitting around for a few weeks (one got cannabalized for parts and junked, a new-to-us one selected at Blue Pelican was eventually delivered to the Phoenix, and the not-yet-installed-on-Phoenix one is getting installed on Eurybia). We have a battery box waiting in the rain to be installed some day. There is at least one wind generator on deck and a sail that might fit. We had three dinghies for a bit and still aren’t sure whether the two remaining will fit on the boat. We search for solar panels that might fit. The lifelines just snapped and we are considering alternatives for replacement. Plenty to do.
Sample Projects Done This Week
Heat Stove. The old one had a hole in it. The shielding had also been skimpy so the bulkhead had charred. Jon added some heatshield tile and masonry board. See, he’s done! Oh, well, no actual stove installed yet, but the tricky part is done. Supposedly.
Haven’t quite reached the wife meaning of done on this one yet.
Trash can. This one took way more time than it should have. First we had to find a solid plastic bin that wouldn’t deteriorate in a moist environment. And that fits on the teeny-wheeny doors under the galley sink. And that hangs rather than sits so it won’t fall over under sail. I finally found one on a marine site for a typically high marine price. But it seems to be very robust and well-designed for a sailboat. Not large, but that’s good on a boat. Of course the cabinet doors had to be modified to accomodate the can, and we briefly lost the mounting hardware because of the delay between acquisition and mounting. But today it got done! Done, like working. Done like the wife meaning of the word. If you’re interested we got this at BoatOutfitters.com and it’s called Hang it Mate Hanging Trash Can.
Sail Cover Repair. Routine maintenance, but it took time to get the machine set back up from storage mode to using mode. The machine seems to work ok on the dining table with an extension cord. The table has not yet collapsed under the massive weight of a Sailrite machine! I didn’t have the right colored canvas, but Jon said to suck it up and use what I had. My artistic goals frustrated yet again. But it’s done until I have to redo it as a stack pack. No hurry on that. Mexico? Maybe.
And in between these jobs there is laundry to do, first hauled in a dock cart, taken to the laundry, with the necessary quarters assembled. And water to heat for tea, for coffee, for washing dishes. Not for showers, we walk to the next dock for those. Meals to make and clean up after. The weekly hour to drive over and pump out the waste tanks, the occasional task of filling the water tanks or taking the propane tanks in to fill. Meanwhile cushions need replacing, the material has been bought, the foam ordered, and I’ll start when it arrives.
And amongst all this is actual life. We spent months doing nothing but getting Phoenix ready, then getting her ready to sell, so now, since we don’t want to leave the Bay area until Mexico hurricane season winds down in the fall, we are also doing some actual living. Meals with friends, a sewing class to organize for dock-mates. A website put together for a friend starting a business; walks to take and family to see. A city to explore, political marches to attend. We stay busy. And we screw off a fair bit, too. Reading for the hell of it. Sex whenever we want. The occasional movie or meal out. That’s part of it, having fun, enjoying where we are, saying “yes” to unanticipated invitations. It’s a great life.
But we’re not DONE!
Saying goodbye to a beloved boat is difficult. Saying goodbye while out on her on a beautiful day can be painful. Saying goodbye while underway with the new owners on board can be even more difficult. You feel some disloyalty for falling for another boat; you feel uncertainty that the new owners will ‘treat her right’; you feel the pain of knowing your adventures are over and that the memories will inevitably fade. But most of all you feel sad as you touch her for the last time, memories flooding in at every glance.
When we bought our first cruising boat (for $7000) we asked for a test sail. The old owner, who had, with his dad, finished her from a bare hull 40 years before, looked down at his hands and said “Nope, can’t do it. It would be like dating my ex-wife.” We respected his wishes and when the time came to sell her were not asked to do a test sail with the new owners.
When we bought Phoenix in 2006 only the broker was available for a test sail because of the owner’s advanced age. We had a fabulous sail for an hour or so on San Francisco Bay but the presence of the broker was not that helpful. She sat and provided local knowledge of the Bay while we sailed her. That worked fine, but lots of our later questions were never answered but we figured out our own ways to do things.
Selling Phoenix in 2018 was a different thing altogether. First, we were selling her to folks that had owned her and sailed her for four years and 25,000 miles 35 years before. We had had her longer than they did, but probably only put 10000 miles or so on her, and only 7,000 offshore miles. However in 35 years many aspects of the boat and of sailing had changed – GPS, AIS, solar panels and solar controllers — in many ways it was a different boat. And finally, we had met the new owners first as friends and co-admirers of Phoenix, and only later had the opportunity to consider their offer to buy her. We were not selling her to “customers” but to friends who had loved her longer than we had. Sadly this is a situation that doesn’t occur often, because it certainly eases the feelings of disloyalty somewhat.
When the new owners asked us to help move Phoenix from Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay outside the Gate to Oyster Point inside the Gate we were delighted to have our first chance to sail under the Gate. We didn’t use the ex-wife excuse, and we didn’t pull the age card, and actually we were happy to have another chance to go out on her.
However we had to school ourselves not to take over, this was no longer our boat, we were guests. I intentionally didn’t double check the tides or currents, but was happy to hear how well they had planned ahead, telling us exactly when they needed to pass under the gate and what time we had to meet for that to happen. I actually didn’t touch the wheel the whole day – but practiced being good crew rather than helmsman. I got a brief lecture from my husband on tying the fenders but told him I was doing it the way Steve had told me to rather than the way he liked them done. That passed muster and he admitted it was just a preference.
We left the dock at 7:45 on a cool sunny windless Sunday morning. The day before had been sleeting and blowy so the contrast was profound but not surprising for San Francisco. The waves were abeam, never a pleasant direction, but steady and only a few feet in height, not the jangled mess of eight to teners from every which way that we had encountered on the way down. And the glorious current was turning our 5.5 knots of engine speed into 6-8 knots speed over the ground.
The day got warmer as we approached Pacifica, then Daly City, then The City and the Gate. The only flaw was the lack of wind, but on such a perfectly beautiful day this was hard to complain about. It was glorious just being out. As we turned the corner to approach the bridge the waves, now behind us, calmed down even further. By the time we crossed under the Bay Bridge on our final leg the Bay was a millpond.
We arrived at Oyster Point about 2 pm and pulled into Phoenix’s new home. We now hope for an invitation for the first sailing day as well – this goodbye business is not so bad when the conditions are good. I stepped off and touched her deck goodbye. She will be happy in her new adventures.