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The Beginning

When I was 11 or 12, my grandfather took my brother and I out to his sailboat to spend the night.  His boat was moored in Connecticut.  I don’t remember how big his boat was, but I can’t imagine it was more than 26 feet long.  I remember there was a cabin in the front, and the ‘dining room’ table came out to make bunk beds, which was really cool!  That’s where my brother and I slept that night.  We cozied in and swayed with the waves.  The next morning my grandfather woke us up very early and we got up and ate cheerios on the deck.  I know my memories may not be completely accurate, and may have blurred over time, but those memories are idyllic for me, and that time with my grandfather deeply cherished.

The reason Grandad got us up so early is that across the way from his mooring was the Electric Boat Company, today owned by General Dynamics.  They make submarines.  We got up early and ate our cheerios on the deck so we could watch the submarines come into the river.  It was amazing and memorable, to say the least.

At the time we lived in Florida.  Since we lived less than a quarter of a mile from the ocean, my brother and I spent a lot of time on the water.  As kids we would spend a lot of time at the beach.  We fished, swam, and went out with friends on their boats.  I developed a deep appreciation of the ocean, and the allure of her mystery began to grow in me. 

The ocean is amazing.  She sustains life with gifts of food.  Her currents help transport our goods across the world.  Her waters temper the climate and drive our weather.  And, she can also take life in the blink of an eye.  I remember a babysitter we had as children that drown in pretty shallow water, I think he got caught in a rip tide.  The ocean demands your respect and will remind you of her power in every wave and tide.  Whether you survive that reminder depends on you, the situation you are in, and ultimately, powers greater than us. 

As we were on the boat that night with my grandfather there wasn’t much rocking, although I remember loving that gentle sway.  We were tied up at slip at a marina, well protected from the elements.  I vividly remember the sounds of the waves hitting the boat.  The intoxicating smell of the salt air as we ate our cheerios.  Watching those submarines cut silently through the water.  It was in that moment that I became enamored with the ocean.

It was around that time too that my grandparents gave me a copy of the book, “The Boy Who Sailed Around the World Alone”.  The book recounted the story of Robin Lee Graham, a 16-year-old from California, and his five-year circumnavigation of the world.  While there’s not a lot of specifics that I remember about the book, I remember thinking I wanted to take on that challenge.  Without a doubt, that story shaped my dreams and started a fire in me.

Not long after that we moved to Germany, where, as a middle schooler, I would sketch out sailboats with living quarters.  I was trying to figure out the best layout for a boat.  I’m pretty sure now that if any of those ideas were ever found by a boat architect, they’d laugh themselves silly!  But, as a young teenager, it was a lot of fun.  It kept me connected to the ocean and that fire in my belly to sail the world continued to grow.  I remember someone looking at one drawing and asking what I was doing.  When I told him I was designing a boat to sail around the world in, he didn’t laugh at me!  But he did jump to all of the dangers of sailing.

Life then did what life does.  I graduated high school in North Dakota and went on to become a teacher.  I fell in love, got married, and had a two amazing kids.  I bought a house and joined the great American middleclass life.  This life has afforded us some amazing opportunities.  Living in Wyoming, there are things that I’ve seen and done that I would’ve never had the chance to do anyplace else.  The Tetons are truly spectacular and having had the opportunity to go elk hunting will always be a highlight in my life.  But, that fire still burns and the ocean still calls.

As we’ve talked about the live aboard life, I’ve felt something awaken in me that I haven’t felt in a long time.  There’s an excitement, and a fear.  Not the kind of fear a child has of monsters under the bed, but fear nonetheless.  It’s the fear of the unknown.  Of all the things that could go wrong.  I remind myself, there’s always a path to get through the unknown.  And, there’s tremendous excitement!  Of knowing we can conquer the unknown and live in harmony with the ocean.  The excitement of living out a childhood dream that I long ago dismissed as fantasy. 

I’m not at all sure what our sailing adventures will bring.  I long to fulfill that dream of a circumnavigation, but I’m not sure if we will complete that or not.  I’m not even sure if we will love or hate the live aboard life!  We might miss life on land, or, we may sail away and never look back.  What I am sure of is the excitement, and sense of peace, and feeling of being alive that pursing this dream brings. 

Featured

Our New Home?

Change can be exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.  Considering the significant change we are contemplating, what kind of boat will we make our next home?  This question ranks right up there with “How much money do we need?”, and “Where are you going to go?”  Fun fact… I haven’t been on a sailboat in over 30 years!  And the one-time Sandy was on one, the boat heeled so much she swore she’d never set foot on one again!

So, what kind of boat are we considering for our next home?  There are definitely options on this.  Consider a traditional monohull.  This is the type of boat most people typically envision when they think of a sailboat.  They are narrow and sleek, the keel is deep, and living spaces are mostly below the waterline.  If you want to see a tour of a monohull, check out this video from S/V Delos.  This S/V Delos video gives a good tour of the boat, the systems, and living quarters on the boat.  S/V Delos is a 53’ Amel Super Maramu sailing ketch boat.  This design has a width of 15’ and all of the interior living space is below deck, sleeping quarters, head, galley, etc.  All that is down below.

This is S/V Delos, picture is from https://keyassets.timeincuk.net/inspirewp/live/wp-content/uploads/sites/19/2019/12/brady-trautman_st-barts-drone-0018_356520651_613161751.jpg

Another popular option is a sailing catamaran.  These boats have two hulls, and they are typically wider than a monohull.  In between the two hulls, there is an open space that typically encompasses a living/dining area, galley, and charting station.  These living quarters are above the water at the same level as the boat deck.  Some catamaran designs do have the galley down below in a hull, opening the salon area for larger living/dining room area.  The sleeping quarters, heads (bathrooms), desk/bookshelves are down in each hull.  Sleeping quarters are obviously limited by the size width of the hull, although the size boat we are considering easily accommodates queen size beds.  Here’s a great tour of a catamaran from Sailing Nahoa.  Ben and Ashley live aboard an owner’s version of a Lagoon 410.  This catamaran is a 41-foot-long boat and is approximately 23 feet wide.

This is S/V Nahoa, credit for the image is from sailingnahoa.com

Trimarans, also known as double-outriggers, are another sailing vessel option.   These boats have a main hull with two smaller outrigger hulls attached to act as a float.  Trimarans offer a wide living space above the water line, with additional sleeping quarters in the outrigger hulls.  Here is a virtual tour of a beautiful 50-foot NEEL Trimaran that Sail Oceans owns.  Trimarans have a many great features, and while we have considered this option, it will likely remain out of our price range.

Neel 50 Trimaran, credit for the image is from oceanshaker.com

There are a lot of advantages and disadvantages to each style of boat.  This video, from The O’Kelly’s, talks a bit about the advantages and disadvantages of each.  Ultimately, this really comes down to personal preference.  One of the key differences most sailors agree on, is that when you are at anchor, catamarans are a bit more stable because of the wider design.  Another advantage that is appealing to us personally is the panoramic windows in the salon of the catamaran.  This gives you a good view of everything around you and lets lots of light inside the salon.  And to be clear, we recognize this can also be a detriment in the tropics as you try to keep your living space cool!

The advantages of monohull also abound!  Most are related to the actual sailing.  It is far easier to sail upwind in a monohull.  Many liveaboard cruisers have pointed out that 90% of your time is spent at anchor, but of course even in that 10% when you are sailing, that can make a world of difference in terms of where you go.  Another big advantage of a monohull is that you have one of everything instead of two, which means you have less maintenance costs.  Only one engine, only one hull…you get the idea.  That is a big consideration too.  I’ve also seen some monohulls with a dingy garage in the back, very cool feature.  The dinghy is out of the way, nothing hanging off the back, keeping clean lines on the boat.

Maybe things will change for us when we start to walk on some boats, but for now we really like the idea of a catamaran.  The stability at anchor, the extra width and living space really are appealing.  So is the idea of sitting up top and seeing what’s going on around you with relative ease.  We also really want a boat with the galley up.  We’ve made 4 houses our home over the past 22 years, and in each one the kitchen has been open to our family room.  We love the connectedness, and don’t foresee that changing just because we live on a boat.  Galley up means that when one of us is cooking, we can still talk to each other.  There’s also just something about the look and feel of catamarans that we really like.  Of course, looks aren’t everything! 

We will start our sailing journey learning the ‘ropes’ on a monohull this summer and are planning a trip to Florida next Christmas to set foot on many different boats.  From there we will decide and select our next home.  For now, though, when we peruse Yachtworld.com, it’s the catamarans that we search for!

One Life

We’d been told that the right boat will come at the wrong time.  You won’t quite be ready for the boat, it be too early, or it will be after you planned on buying it.  You’ll be in the middle of getting settled in a new home.  Find a reason for it to be the wrong time, and there you have it, you’ll find your boat.  There’s a lot of truth to that statement as we found out.  Our boat found us…

We’ve been watching Yachtworld, just looking to see what’s out there.  But the big problem with buying right now is storage, for almost 9 months…and now as we are finding out, chomping at the bit to get to the boat!  But we really didn’t pursue anything because, well, it just wasn’t the right time.  We were content to look and watch prices and see what features were adding to the cost of a boat.

One day, Sandy forwards an email to me from a friend, telling her about a boat that is for sale.  It’s a good price, the boat has been well cared for.  I read the email and tell Sandy, yeah, let’s ask about, what’s the worst that can happen.  We ask for the name of the broker that the sellers are going to use and we set up a time to talk to him about the boat.  We are interested, so let’s see what other information we can find out.  He confirms for us that the boat is well cared for, but it’s a 20-year-old boat, so there’s going to be some issues, in general however, it’s a solid boat.

After talking to him, we have a decision to make.  Make an offer, knowing it’s June or July at the earliest before can to her to make any needed repairs and in the meantime, she sits in Florida, albeit in a bit inland (on a river) or do we pass and wait to see what else comes on the market?

We decided that things were just right for this, even if the time was wrong.  It’s a catamaran in the size that we are looking for.  It’s been well cared for, so there’s not necessarily going to be a lot of work that needs to be done.  We’ve got a recommendation from someone that we trust.  It’s in the right price range.  So, we make an offer.  Within hours, the offer is accepted.

Now that we have an accepted offer, it means we need to plan a trip to Florida to see the boat and have a survey and sea trial done.  As with any big purchase like a house, you need to make sure that the boat is seaworthy and there isn’t something that’s going to bite you later.  I get a surveyor lined up, the lift to put the boat in the water is reserved and then it’s time to head down to Florida.

As the three of us got on board and started walking around taking a look at things, we all agreed.  This really was a good boat and we liked it.  There wasn’t really a reason for us to back out of the deal unless the survey and sea trial showed something really major.  There were a few things I knew to look for in a Lagoon 410 from watching Sailing Nahoa, but none of those issues appeared to exist on this boat.  Of course, just like with a home inspection, you aren’t ripping things out, so yeah something could always show up.

The survey and sea trial turned up some issues, but nothing that couldn’t be addressed.  If there were major cracks in the hulls, that might have deterred us, but all of the issues were things that could be fixed.  Some plumbing, some electrical, a couple of other things, but everything could be addressed.  It was amazing to be out on the water, checking things over, eating some pizza (yes the sellers even proved that the oven worked by baking a couple of pizzas for lunch), and knowing that this could be ours soon. 

This was the last point in the process for us to back out of the deal.  After listening to the surveyor and the broker, we decided that we would move forward.  We wanted this boat.  We wanted to call this our next home.  The sellers agreed to a couple of concessions and we had a deal.  Afterwards they started to show us more of what’s there, fishing gear, extra lines, snorkeling equipment, all of that stayed with the boat.  It was going to be ours.  We had a great dinner with them on board and made some new friends.

The big question is, what’s the boat’s name.  The sellers had named her One Life.  We decided to keep that name because it’s a lot of why we are doing this.  It fits.  Stenciled above the saloon door is the saying, “Don’t dream your life, live your dreams”.  It’s what we want to do.  You only have one life, so live it.   

Weekend Outing

A cow and calf moose we saw driving around Rob Roy. There was another pair as well, but these two decided to stop and look straight at me!

We are no longer homeowners as I mentioned last week.  Now, there’s still a lot to do to get ready, but we can work on the sorting, shopping list creating, etc. on the weekends and evenings without having to worry as much about house projects too.  I still need to mow, but it’s a lot less.  We still have to clean, but again it’s a lot less, it frees up a bit of time.

Last Sunday, Sandy and I loaded up the dogs and took them over to Rob Roy Reservoir.  It’s about 2 hours from where we live, but it was nice to get out of town and enjoy the mountains.  There weren’t a lot of people around the reservoir, but there were a lot of people out camping in the general since hunting season just opened. 

The shoreline was a great place to walk until the dead-fall got to be a bit too much so we headed back to find some new places to explore, that didn’t have as many people around.  Forest service roads abound in national forests, and we found one further down the reservoir that took us to a great spot to get the dogs out, let Kona try some swimming (he didn’t want to do much of that, I’m pretty sure that water was only about 40 degrees!) and in general just mess around in the mountains. Similar to the charter, there is something about being away from phones, internet, and in general being unplugged from devices that is rejuvenating.

One of the really amazing things about being there, is that about two or three years ago, there was a major wildfire in the area.  The really burn was a bit south of the area, but it did make its way to the reservoir and you can see the burned and fallen trees.  You really need to stay on roads and marked trails, because the vegetation is in the early stages of coming back.

What was pretty amazing to us both driving and walking through the area was the way some trees were completely untouched by the fire.  You would see burned trees all over, and then there was this one random tree that didn’t get touched.  The other thing that was pretty amazing to us was the amount of new growth that was all over.  Pine trees were already three feet tall in some of the burn areas.

Driving along on the way home, Sandy told me to slow down (not that I was going that fast), but she saw some movement on a hillside across the way, so I pulled over and at first, what we though were just cows, turned out to be a couple of cow moose and their calves.  It was pretty neat to see, and I got out to take some pictures of them.  We were talking and the cows heard us and stopped what they were doing to see what we were doing.  After a couple of minutes, they rounded up their calves and started wandering off.  Seeing a moose is always pretty amazing, such skinny legs supporting such massive bodies and yet they just walk on through the forest, just like they belong there.

The other thing we wanted to do was to get Kona more experience at outdoor dining.  So, we stopped in Laramie to get dinner at a place that had outdoor seating and would allow dogs. After a little bit he settled down, but he hasn’t had a lot of practice of being on leash and being where there’s quite a bit of traffic, both people and pet.  We know that as we go to other places, we will be taking him to restaurants with outdoor seating and that allow dogs, so it’s important that he get experience whenever possible.  Not eating out a lot though, there’s not always a lot of opportunity to make that happen. So, when we have the chance, we want to take advantage of it.

Overall, he handled the situation pretty well.  He pretty quickly came to recognize that people walking by weren’t necessarily interested in meeting him, though he wanted to meet them.  He still wants to play with every dog he sees and when one sat down not to far from us, he started barking, but after a few minutes decided he’d had enough and that they weren’t going to play.

It was great to get out into the mountains and not have to worry about projects at the house.  I know that we have a bit of work to do to get things sorted, finding a boat, planning next steps. There’s plenty of things to do, but getting out and seeing the countryside right now is a lot easier to do than before. I think that Nick O’Kelly was right when he said the more stuff you own, the more stuff owns you.

Things are getting real

There’s been a lot happening in the last 10 weeks.  Let me explain.

It was a great home for 7 years. But things are changing!

In early July, Sandy was looking on Facebook and found a house for rent that looked like it might be a good fit for us.  We could have the dogs, there was a fenced back yard, rent was comparable to our current mortgage payment.  It looked like it might work for us. We checked it out.  It looked nice, the backyard would let the puppy run off some energy, let’s apply.  After a couple of back-and-forth emails, the owner said, “We are taking it off the market, the place is yours.”  Great! Oh Shit!  Now we need to get the house sold!  Don’t really want to pay rent and a mortgage.

Monday morning, I’m on the phone with the realtor and we get things going to list the house.  Now we need clean the house, decide what to take with us to the rental.  How do we get rid of the stuff we aren’t taking?  Garage sale? Auction company?  (Auction is where we landed) Regardless, we need to get things organized to sell.  Oh, yeah in the meantime, it’s time for our oldest to move to the apartment at college.  Don’t forget too, we need to study for the ASA 104 test so that we can keep the boat after two days of instruction.   July became a bit of whirlwind month for us. 

We got back from sailing, had the house cleaned and ready for showing.  Now it was time to sort out auction or move?  Let’s get things that are going to be moved into boxes and into the garage.  It was pretty amazing to see how little we were going to take to the rental, but then also how much it still seemed like we were taking.  You fill the space you have right.  We went from an almost 4000 square foot house to 1800 square feet and really tried not to take enough to fill it.

When we moved, we moved about 16 Rubber Maid tubs of keepsakes, most of them from the kids, but some of them are our keepsakes (the high school diploma that NO ONE has ever asked to see).  We knew that we didn’t have time to sort through them before we moved, so we just moved them.  We have a little bit of time to do that and have started to slowly go through them.  There were a few things that for me were easy to get rid of.  Other things, they aren’t as easy.  I mean, really, what do we do with our wedding album?  We’d like to digitize a lot of our pictures, but that’s a little overwhelming.  Some of those things that the kids might enjoy seeing later in their lives are likely going to go in a storage tub that will go probably to our oldest kid’s place for now.  Or some of my family has graciously agreed to keep a few those things for us too.

I have been asked a lot about a storage unit.  We are pretty firmly set against that.  One, we don’t want to keep that much stuff.  Two, that’s a few hundred a month and we are going to be on a pretty reduced income, so we don’t really want to spend that much to keep things.  But like I said, as our oldest gets established, he’s ok with taking some and family has agreed to keep a little bit as well.

One of things that has been hard to give up is the garden.  We had a great garden.  If you follow either of my accounts on Instagram (@the.greatwander, @jon.lever) I occasionally post pictures of the garden.  This year our tomatillos are just fabulous.  Last year, we had a great harvest, but it wasn’t until late in the season that we were able to harvest.  This year, though, we’ve been picking and picking and picking tomatillos and peppers too.  I have a gallon size baggie of jalapenos and probably three gallons of tomatillos.  If you’ve got some good recipes, feel free to drop me a link in the comments.

This zucchini got a little big, we didn’t always let this happen, but sometimes they just get big!

As we have gone through this process though, things are getting real.  We are no longer homeowners.  It was weird opening up the bank account and not seeing the mortgage the other day.  Now we’ve been looking a lot at both Yachtworld.com and Catamarans.com.  I do think that we will likely end up in a cat, but as I’ve looked at monohulls…for the money there’s some really nice one’s out there that are a bit bigger too.

Timing is a question I’ve been getting a lot lately from friends too.  When are you going to buy the boat?  It’s probably not going to be until April or May.  If we buy a boat too early that’s X number of months that we have to pay storage fees, whether or a slip or a place on the hard.  The other thing is that we didn’t get to do any backpacking this year, because of Sandy’s knee surgery, so we’d like to go backpacking this year before we jump on the boat.

We met with the O’Kelly’s again and talked a bit about the boat buying process.  We were thinking we were looking at a 4-month process, but they reassured us that it was really only about a month to six weeks from the time you make an offer to closing.  So, that gives us a little more reassurance to that we can wait for awhile to get super serious about buying one.  As they pointed out, the right boat is likely to come along at the wrong time.  It might be three months too early or 6 weeks after we hoped to buy, but as Megan said, “Go with the green lights”.  When things are going right, move forward! 

Transitions

Right now, we are undergoing a ton of transitions it feels like.  Our oldest son is starting his second year of college.  He didn’t really care for dorm life, so he got an apartment and a job to help pay for it.  We are selling our belongings on a massive scale.  The house is up for sale.  We are going to be renters and not homeowners for the first time in 20+ years.  We have earned three levels of sailing certifications.  Our youngest will graduate high school this year.  There’s a lot going on.

When dealing with massive change like this, things can be tough.  Trying to get one settled in a new place.  He’s grown up.  Trying to sort through belongings that we haven’t touched in years, but still bring a degree of feelings and memories. Keeping the house in the cleanest possible condition so that we can walk out in less than 30 minutes to let someone see the house.  There’s a lot of stress that comes with this time in our lives.  At times I think is the stress worth it? As I think that though, I am reminded though that to make the change that we want to make, there’s going to be stress and it’s a means to an end.  If making this kind of change were easy, everyone would do it.

When you break out of your comfort zone and start pushing boundaries that you’ve either accepted or set for yourself things are going to be difficult.  Looking at 20 years of material possessions that you’ve moved from place to place or bought on a family vacation and then deciding that it’s not really necessary to keep is not an easy task.  All of the kids’ handmade artwork from elementary school is being either sold or discarded.  These are things that bring up a lot of different emotions.  On the one hand, if you have those things, you have to have a place for those things.  It means that you are settled in one place and you will fill that space, not just with those creations, but other things that looked special on a given day.

On the other hand, not having those creations doesn’t mean that the kids didn’t have a chance to express their creativity.  Nor does it mean that you don’t care about what they’ve done.  But you can rest easy knowing that the kids had the opportunities to express their creative side.  They learned some things about being creative and making art.  But you don’t have to hang on to it for the rest of your days.  You can be in a place that is comfortable with not having the physical expression of their creativity from kindergarten, but knowing that they had the experience. It takes a bit of work and reflection to reach that place, but I’m getting there.

We are currently in a house that is almost 4,000 square feet.  We are moving into a property that is only going to be 1800 square feet.  And then the boat is going to roughly 40×18, so maybe 800 square feet.  Material possessions are a nice reflection of places we’ve been and experiences we’ve had.  But at the same time, if I digitize photographs and have an electronic picture frame of those experiences, I get to see those more regularly than the souvenir that is in the storage tub under the stairs.

Latourell falls in the Columbia River Gorge.

Changing from owner to renter is a challenging thought as well.  Really for the last 20 years if we saw something in the house that we thought would be better, well we changed it.  That’s not going to happen now.  Of course, that has its upside too.  That means that we won’t be spending much money on home improvements and can save it for the boat or buy some things ahead of time that we know we are going to need when we get there.

There’s also this other weird transition.  Our youngest will be with us for at least a year after he graduates.  But as we learned on the charter, relationships change a bit.  If someone’s at the helm and barks out a need.  It doesn’t matter who it is asking, it gets done right then.  Putting a fender out, making a turn around point, bringing the boom in; these are things that can’t wait for a discussion.  It happens no matter who is saying it needs to be done.  “I’m doing this right now because I’m the dad” isn’t a viable way of doing things on the boat.

The other transition is with our oldest now in an apartment on his own, 45 minutes away, our role as parents is changing.  Things are a bit different.  I can’t just hop in the car and cruise on over to help hang a curtain rod.  I can talk him through things, I can be there to listen.  But now it’s more about listening than offering advice or giving direction.  The days of being at the school late at night to pick him up after a speech trip or having to drive either kid to a practice or the movie or something.  The transition from caretaker to whatever is that is next is something to adjust to as well.  I don’t always know what is my role now.  I’ve given the guidance, advice, thoughts etc. already.  It’s kind of up to them to make decisions about how they are going to live life. 

Like I said, even though our youngest will be with us for at least a year, it’s going to be a different relationship.  Even now, after the charter, I’ve seen changes.  He’s more confident in his decisions.  There are things in the past that I would’ve thought he could make that decision but he’d check with us.  Now he’s just making a decision and it’s a good thing, but it’s different.

Life is all about transitions.  It is.  Sometimes they are easier than others.  When they are piled on top of each other…it’s challenging!  But it is those challenging times that make the good times more enjoyable.  Kind of like the hike to the top of a mountain.  You reach places when you don’t think you can continue on, but once you get there, those seem pretty insignificant compared to the view from the peak.

Charter successes

The last post I talked a bit about how it was confidence building to get the sails up and sail on our own.  But the whole trip was really a confidence booster.  We had opportunities, even though we didn’t sail much, to practice a lot of other skills and really show ourselves that we can do this.

Anchoring – So, by no means are we experts.  But by cutting our teeth in the San Juan Islands we had a great bottom on which to anchor every place we stopped.  The bottom was almost always mud and we were able to set the anchor effectively every single time.  A couple of anchorages, we got the anchor set, decided maybe we were too close to another boat, pulled the anchor and reset it.  Everyone had a job and everyone performed amazingly.  We actually got things down to a place where we had two people getting things done with no issues.  It was huge.  Now, we might face some challenges if we in a rocky bottom or seaweed, but you try to avoid those places anyway.  We were pretty good and every night slept like we knew that it wasn’t going to be an issue.  Of course we still had an anchor alarm set so that if we did drag, we would be able to get up and address the issue.

Navigation – Like I said last week, yeah, I need some practice at navigation in terms of planning time.  But having said that, we actually got pretty good at being able to transfer from the chart to the land around us.  We had several areas marked on the charts that were considered “No Go Zones”.  If you ran into rocks and you were in a no-go zone, you were responsible for the damage to the boat and your insurance didn’t cover it.  So, I was HYPER vigilant about no go zones.  Anyway, as we were motoring from Roche Harbor to Echo Bay, there was a small no go zone, but you could go around it.  Matthew figured it out pretty quick that we were free and clear of the zone and that we could turn.  I wasn’t too sure, but after going over things with him, it was like, oh yeah, this is where we are and we are good to turn right here.

That instance also taught me a lot about trust.  I trust my son, but let’s face it, he’s 16, I’m 49.  I’m supposed to be smarter, wiser, whatever.  In this instance that wasn’t the case.  He was right.  After a few minutes of talking it through, I could see, these are the rocks are supposed to avoid and we are going to be ok. My hypervigilance wasn’t bad, but I needed to chill just a bit.  Which I did.

Docking – Before we headed out, we did have an instructor who had us practice docking.  Docking a 41’ boat is challenging, because boats don’t just stop or turn on a dime.  The timing of your turn has to be just right, speed can’t be too fast, but you can’t be too slow either.  We all successfully docked, needed to back up a few times, but we docked.  Tied up and untied and then did it again.  I will say our son did an outstanding job at it.  We all did, but he was calm, cool, and collected, used the bow thrusters appropriately and nailed our final docking.  I know I could’ve done it, but once we got in on Thursday night, we weren’t going back out!

Moving – Whether it was sailing or motoring, we moved the boat every day.  Avoiding logs and rocks.  Which, if you didn’t know, the San Juan Islands are full of logs in the water.  Logs will wash off of barges and end up floating around.  Some of them are large enough to warrant warnings from the Coast Guard on the emergency channel. 

The other “big” thing was moving through the traffic separation scheme.  It’s a portion of the straits that is designed to ease the flow of container vessels.  I had this built up in my head to be more than it was, because there weren’t many vessels in the TSS that day, but still getting through it and avoiding other traffic was a good feeling.

Alone time – I have had people tell me that, if you live on a boat you’ll never be able to be apart and get alone time.  We did it, we actually had a couple of times where we had to look for a family member on the boat.  You can lose someone in 40’ of space!  But it was cool because that person needed a few minutes to themselves and they got it.

Overall, the trip was amazing.  It was a charter, so boat maintenance was not an issue.  Having said that, the successes that we had gave us all the confidence that while this might seem like a crazy idea to some, we can live on a boat.  We still have plenty to learn, every sailor will tell you they still have plenty to learn.  Actually, as an interesting tidbit, in the safety briefing with the charter company the people that have the most accidents are those that have been there before and are a little overconfident.  Recognizing that you still have more to learn is an important thing, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t move forward.

Wind (?) on the open water

This is Ardent, she was our floating home for a week in the San Juan Islands. She really was a great boat for our first time living aboard.

We got to the spend the week on a sailboat in the Pacific Northwest.  I’m pretty deliberate about saying we spent a week on a sailboat, because to say we sailed for a week would be a bit of an overstatement!  In typical Lever fashion….we were lacking wind or when we had it, it was coming from the wrong the direction.  That’s were I keep coming back to when I go to start this blog post, the wind.

I think a lot of people who have never sailed have this idea that you’re on a sailboat, raise the sails and go!  Right? Wrong.  There really is a very small window where the wind is in your favor.  Too little wind and sails won’t pull the boat.  Too much wind and it can be dangerous.  If the wind is coming head on, you can’t really sail.  So, the window of wind is narrow.  The window does get larger as you get more experience sailing because you can sail in heavier winds. But still, conditions do need to be just right to be able to sail.

We did have one day with some great wind. After we got up and had some coffee, we raised the anchor and motored out of our anchorage, once the wind was in a good spot, we raised mainsail and headed out toward our next anchorage.  Initially there were a few things that we needed reminders about, she gave us some reminders.  Like, watch your heading when the wind is directly behind you.  You will jibe and you need to be prepared for it.  Even though the boom was well overhead, accidental jibes are unnerving.  But it only happened once, after that, I watched the heading and if we were going to change headings, we tightened up the main-sheet and made sure the boom didn’t swing wildly across the boat.

After a while, we altered our course toward the new anchorage.  In doing so, it put the wind nicely on our port side, it was a great beam reach and just with some minor tweaks to the sheet and the headings, we sailed along. We averaged about 5 knots the whole way.  There was something magical about it.  No motor, just the wind pulling us along.  I just stood at the helm and watched the sail to make sure things were set just so.  The confidence boost for all of was real.  We sailed.  On our own.  I know that we still have a lot to learn, but it sure felt good to know that we had learned and could sail.

The next several days when we changed anchorages, the wind wasn’t as cooperative.  As we were motoring up toward our next destination, the wind came up, but right at our nose.  So, even though the wind speeds were good, they just were the wrong direction, completely.  It gave us a whole new perspective for Sailing Nahoa when they ended up having to motor from Thailand to the Maldives.  I can’t even really imagine running the engines that long.  Our few hours of motoring left me wanting to raise the sails just for the silence.

On our last day we headed out of our anchorage and had maybe, maybe 3 knots of wind.  So, it’s time to keep on motoring.  After about a couple of hours of motoring, we passed an island, and all of the sudden from the starboard side probably 25 knots of wind us.  At first, we were all excited, hey let’s put out the sails, even half the main would be nice, just to be sailing.  Then I looked at the wind map on PredictWind.  Not more than half a mile down the channel the wind would drop back down to 3 knots and we’d be firing up the engine again.  And it was right.  All of the sudden, after ten minutes of being blasted by Wyoming level winds, it was gone.  I was glad we kept on motoring.

We were really shooting to get back to the marina by about 4:30. That way we’d have time to fuel up, pump out, and get our boat back to her slip before the marina help left.  So, when we had some decent wind in the bay, even going the right direction, I knew that it would probably slow us down, so I made the decision to keep motoring on to try and make the time we needed to get the help we needed getting into the slip.   In the end, even motoring, we didn’t make it back on time.  If my navigation skills and timing had been a bit better, we might have been able to sail a bit more and make the time. It was ok though, it was an important lesson about wind, time, and navigation.

Overall, the week was a great week.  We had a wonderful time and learned a lot.  I know that chartering is different from owning because you don’t have to do the boat projects, but we still learned a lot.  I’ll share more in the coming weeks.  We have a lot going on right now, but there will be more about the overall trip and the changes that we are making right now.

Certified…or Certifiable Sailors!

We wrapped up our American Sailing Association 101 and 103 courses, with the Victoria Sailing School, a couple of weeks ago.  What this entailed was taking our last practical lesson, which was on a J/30, so it was about eight feet longer than the other boats we’ve been on and taking our two tests.

First the sailing lesson.  We had some wind, not a lot, but just enough to get the boat moving without the aid of the motor.  The mainsail and the jib were out and had beautiful form.  They were pulling the boat along nicely, not fast at all, while I wasn’t clocking it, I wouldn’t guess we were going more than about 3 or 4 knots.  Just enough to know that we were sailing.  It was actually a great end to these practical lessons, and at least for me, it gave me more of sense of desire to have the wind be my engine.

This final lesson was not so much about learning new skills, but rather about applying the skills already learned in a new setting.  It was about practice and being able to put those skills to the test.  I will say, it was a little bit of a challenge at first for two reasons.  One, we hadn’t been on a boat since October.  Sailing is like anything else.  You need to use the skills to keep them fresh.  I learned that when trying to tie a cleat hitch…I still need to practice that some more.

The second thing that really made the application of the sailing skills a little challenging was the new systems.  The jib was on a furler, so it unrolled as opposed to being hoisted.  The winches were self-tailing two speed winches meaning you locked your line into the winch and then you ‘pull’ at a couple of different speeds.  We had an inboard diesel as opposed to an outboard four-stroke.  The reality was though, that even though many systems were new to us, once we got the sails up, we were just sailing.  We needed some reminding, but we got the boat moving under the power of the wind.

Enjoying the light breeze…

Then it was time to take the tests.  Each course had its own test, each was 100 questions.  We spent a lot of time reviewing the videos and our notes.  Really trying to make sure that we didn’t need to retake the test.  It was a little nerve wracking to say the least.  If you don’t get an 80% or better you don’t pass.  One of the things I thought I would struggle with was the diagrams of the boat.  I can identify the transom, the battens, the bowsprit on an actual boat.  But, put it into a 2D diagram, you have to make sure that you are able to figure out exactly where the line is pointing to, or you’re going to identify the wrong part and get the question wrong.

We sat down, each of us with a pen in hand, and started down the road of the test.  The studying, reviewing, and yes cramming, paid off.  As we each were answering questions, I think we all had the same basic thought of, “This isn’t too bad” going through our heads.  There was obviously, some second guessing about what some of the questions were asking, and even a few things that I just was at a loss for, but eventually I figured out what was being asked.  But overall, when I left, I felt pretty confident.  I think the key thing that I took away from the testing is something that the owner of the school said, which was, “You can pass this test, and you most likely will, but the key thing is to be able to apply it on the water.”

He’s right.  I could identify on paper, the proper route for a boat to go through a channel, but when I am faced with that situation later this summer…can I do it?  I think so, but until you are faced with it, you don’t really know.  Really this is true of a lot of things life, being able to see things on paper is one thing.  Being able to handle the situation in real life is another. 

It was exciting though the next day when he emailed us our results and we all passed with flying colors.  I was pretty excited, now we are just waiting for the little seals to go in our log books that shows we passed.  So…now that we have passed the basic keelboat and basic coastal cruising courses, what’s next?  Next is the ASA 104 Bareboat Cruising course.  This certification allows you to charter boats and stay relatively close to land.  You learn about passage making, provisioning, knots, etc.  The basics of being able to handle a boat on your own.  We have a few weeks until that course.  I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes and how we applied our 101 and 103 skills to the largest boat yet…

Learning to Dive

Me after getting open water certified!

After I wrote about our experience scuba diving, I said I would write a bit about the training.  It’s been a minute or two since I said I would do that, so I’m getting to it.  Now that the school year is out, and even though I still have work to do, I have a little more time.

First off.  If you are thinking about doing any scuba certification, from open water certified to any of the more advanced certifications that are offered, I can’t recommend Cozumel Diving Academy enough.  I’m not getting paid to say this, I’m just saying that the Cozumel Diving Academy was amazing.  The instructors are patient, dive masters are friendly, and they make everything a great experience…and of course being part of the second largest reef system in the world….it’s a great location too.

Learning to dive requires you to learn to control breathing, be able to clear out your mask of water, switching breathing regulators, ascending while only exhaling, being able to read a compass, among other things.  It really isn’t too bad to learn to dive…I think for most people.  For me it was a real challenge, because we were in about 12 to 15 feet of water and needed to kneel on the ocean floor.  Doesn’t sound too bad, right?  Except, we were close enough to the shore that the waves kept moving me back and forth, and I guess I got motion sickness.  Our two days of confined water dives were pretty rough for me because of the motion sickness. 

On the first day, we surfaced from one of the training sessions, I looked at everyone said, “I don’t feel so good” and then proceed to share my lunch or breakfast with the fish and birds.  It was pretty challenging.  I don’t know if it was the motion or if it was the frequent changing of the regulators and me potentially swallowing a fair amount of seawater, or maybe both that caused me to be so generous with the native wildlife, but we had to cut day one short because I couldn’t keep going.

Day two…got a bit better.  I was still in the sharing mood, in a couple of exercises, I looked at the instructor and said, hang on….hurled…and got back to it.  We had to change tanks, and we had 6 more skills to finish up.  If we didn’t finish those, we couldn’t move onto the open water dives the next day.  Meaning, finish up the dives from the shore, or you don’t get to go on the boat and see the really cool stuff.  So after some ‘encouragement’ from Sandy, I got up, got my tank ready and we headed back out.

One of the skills we had to learn was to surface from about 30’ of depth while only exhaling. If you inhaled, go back to the bottom and start over.  It was a challenge and I only had to do it twice, but I did it.  Let me tell you, when you hit the surface after only exhaling for that long, a deep long inhale is amazing.  After doing this, I’m in awe of the free divers who go 200 meters with no air, other than what they got at the surface.  I really don’t know how they do that.

After that we only had our open water dives left to complete.  For the last two open water dives, we took a boat out to a part of the reef where the water was about 60 feet deep.  The last skill we had to demonstrate was removing our mask underwater, putting it back on, and clearing the mask.  Once we did that, really it was time to practice our skills with some actual dives along the reef.  First though, we had to get in the water.  I was really expecting that we would just step off the back of the boat and jump in the water.  No.  The dive master for that trip as we approached our dive site informed us that we would be rolling off the side of the boat.  What?!  How do I?!  Just get up there, put your hand on your regulator and your mask and fall backwards.  There wasn’t a lot of choice again, so I did it.  Inflated my bcd some and swam over to my instructor where we got ready to submerge. 

On the way down, I tried to remember, just equalize early and often and it will be ok.  And it was.  It was beyond ok, as I said in my post about diving, it wasn’t just ok, it was truly amazing.  Like many things in life, if you want something you have to push through some difficult times to get it.  Things don’t just get handed to you.  I was truly expecting scuba training to be much easier for me than it was.  Honestly, learning the skills wasn’t hard, it was getting through some of the environment that was challenging and difficult.  Once I figured out how to clear my regulator, I was good…I just needed to not swallow so much salt water in the process.

I’m looking forward to our next diving adventure, even though I don’t know when that will happen.  It might not be until next year, but I’m excited to carry around the certified open water diver card from PADI and know that I can now go scuba diving.

Scuba diving

Once we decided that we would set sail, we all agreed that for both practical and pleasure purposes, scuba would be a good skill to have. There will always be under the boat work to do, such as scraping growth off of the hull or maybe even untangling line from a propeller. Beyond that, it seems unfathomable to be in some parts of the world without seeing the undersea world as well. So we did some research and traveled to Cozumel to earn our open water certification in order to scuba dive.

I will write more about the process of getting open water certified later. There really is a lot to write about from this whole adventure, but for now, suffice it to say that we are all three PADI open water certified. This means that we can dive to depths of about 60 feet and have demonstrated the necessary skills to deal with some emergencies, like running out of air. We know we need more experience before we attempt too much on our own, but now we are at a place where we can gain that experience.

Diving is like nothing I’ve experienced before. You are 20, 30, 50 feet below the surface of the ocean and it’s a world that is teeming with life. From sea slugs to Eagle Rays to seemingly countless types of fish. It truly is an amazing world and when you are below the surface, everything above just melts away.

Seeing firsthand the types of life that are below the surface, that you might have only been previously aware of from episodes of Jacques Cousteau brings on a flood of emotions and awe that is indescribable. There really is nothing like it. As we drifted in the current at 50 feet, I saw a coral that had something under it spitting put sand,I tried to get closer to see it, but passed by a little too quickly to really get a chance. The disappointment at missing out on this was short lived because as I drifted on, I glanced under a rock shelf to spot a lobster poking its head out, as moved on past the lobster, I looked up to see an Eagle Ray flying effortlessly through the water.

I didn’t get to see it, but Matthew saw a couple of sea turtles. He said it was amazing, that one of the turtles was huge. Of course, size and distance are distorted underwater. But he was in awe of the turtle. It was also amazing, we saw a shark one day…after we saw the shark and surfaced, I asked our Divemaster, what do you typically do when you see a shark? He said, “Just what we did, watch them go by.” I felt a little silly asking that question, but as I reflected, when we go backpacking there are definite things you do if you see a bear. But really the first thing you do, is just watch and keep your distance.

All of our dives were limited to about an hour or less. This was dictated by both air consumption and safety. But even in that short amount of time, it was awe inspiring. We plan to get some other dive trips in this year, we’ve already started researching other locations, prices, etc. With all of our other plans, needing to save some money, potentially move to a rental, etc. Getting dive trips in will be challenging, but life is short. And I know these will be the things that I remember as I age.

I am also going to put an unpaid plug in for the Cozumel Dive Academy. Phillip has done an amazing job at hiring and training dive masters and instructors. If you have a desire to learn to scuba dive and you can get to Cozumel, visit the Cozumel Dive Academy. It’s well worth the time and money.