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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!

Fear

I’ve been thinking a lot about what to write this week.  It’s been busy, and I’ve been struggling a little bit to develop a topic.  Really, with sailing season in the Rockies over till the spring, work is limiting travel, etc. about all we are left with is selling things in terms of getting ready.  I’ve already written a lot about selling stuff, so no need to expand on how that’s going.  However, having said that, we did sell a couch and love seat.  Honestly, it was time for it to go anyway.  It was worn out and time for a new home.  So we moved the other couch set we have to replace that one.  When we did that, it left a big open space in the basement…which our youngest promptly claimed as his bedroom!  Why not let him have it?

So that leaves an empty room…it also prompted the need for a dresser, so my chest of drawers was emptied and moved downstairs.  That leaves a giant open spot in our bedroom.  Just an empty wall.  Those empty spaces have made things a little more real about where we are headed.  It has prompted some fear too about what we are planning.  I mean seriously…living on a boat!  What the hell?!  Who does that!  Who quits their job and travels the world with half of the income that you’ve been accustomed to bringing in? 

After all, we have a good life, we really do.  A nice house, good job.  Kids are happy.  By most standards of any culture created by the agricultural revolution we are in a good spot.  We have a lot of incentive not to change what we are doing.

Fear can be a good thing.  Fear helps to keep us safe.  In his book, The Gift of Fear (this link will take you to Amazon), Gavin De Becker talks about how fear can be used to keep us safe from dangerous situations.  When you have that feeling in your gut as you approach your car, or something just doesn’t feel right when you are talking to someone, your gut or sense of fear is trying to tell you something in order to keep you safe.  Much of his work is about safety from violence, but at the same time, there are some aspects of it that can be extended beyond just violence.

 Fear can keep us safe from a variety of things.  Climbing too high on a rock without any safety gear, driving too fast on the highway, walking up to a strange dog in the neighborhood.  But at the same time, those signals of fear can also keep us from moving out of our comfort zone too.  I remember when I signed up for my first Spartan Race, the waiver basically says you are doing this knowing full well that you could get injured or even killed in the race.  I had heard stories about Tough Mudders, and people drowning in the mud pit.  There was some genuine fear as I headed into the race for the first time.  Even when I was in the race, there was an obstacle that was cargo netting draped over two container boxes stacked on top of each other.  I was afraid when I looked at the climb and across to the next set of container boxes. 

But I pushed through that fear to accomplish finishing the race.  Was it in record time?  No.  But I finished and I did something outside of my comfort zone.  What I learned from that is that I could let fear keep me comfortable and safe.  Or I could push myself, face the fear, knowing that I was reasonably ready for the race and that while I had heard horror stories, there were things that I could do to prevent those from happening to me.

I try to remember this when I look at those empty spaces in the house.  We are taking steps to keep safe when we move aboard.  We are taking sailing lessons.  We are learning how to operate a sailboat, and what safe conditions are.  When we move aboard, we will likely hire a sailing coach for a period of time to help us learn the ins and outs of life on the ocean.  Much of the fear that I am experiencing is really about the unknown.  There’s a lot of unknown.  I know the path that the traditional life holds.  You can pretty well predict what’s going to happen.  Sure, there are some unknowns, but overall, there are some safe bets.  The house gets paid off.   We retire. The kids get jobs.  Maybe there are grandkids, maybe not.  There are some pretty safe bets.  Some of those will happen regardless of what we do, living on a boat or living in a house.

 But there are some things, I can about guarantee that will never happen if we live in a house.  Swimming with blue whales probably won’t happen.  Sure, we could plan a trip to Tonga and do that, but the expense of getting there makes it a pretty safe bet that we wouldn’t get there.  Rounding Cape Horn will never happen if we are living in house.  Will it happen if we are in a sailboat? I actually don’t know, but there’s a better chance that it will.  Scenery changing routinely probably isn’t going happen either.  You know what else won’t happen living on a boat?  The comfortable routines of going to work, coming home and watching the evening news, then reading a book or playing a game on my phone.  Those kinds of things are comfortable, there is comfort in the routines of our day to day lives.  I think a lot of making this change to is about facing the fear of doing something that isn’t typical, that doesn’t contain the every day routines. 

Fear can be good.  It can keep us safe. But it can also be limiting.  Fear can keep us from having experiences that broaden our horizons and perspectives.  I want to see new things and I want my kids to have some different perspectives on the world.  Facing fear is the only way to make that happen.

It’s all about perspective…

Sailing season in Colorado is over.  The weather has been beautiful, but boats need repair and you just never know when snow is going to fly, so November is the end of sailing. We have one lesson left in the 101/103 series, but we’ll get to finish up in the spring.  In the meantime, we will review for the written tests that we will be able to take in March.

Last week, we headed out to a local state park to walk around and take some pictures.  While we were there, I took a picture of the reservoir, which had a fair amount of small waves being whipped up by the wind.  In Wyoming wind is almost a constant, okay, not really, but the wind does blow a lot here.  As we were walking around the wind had a bit of a chill in it.  After a little bit, we decided we wanted to get out of the wind and headed out of the park. 

Is it the ocean, a reservoir, a pond? It all depends on your perspective I guess!

The experience got me to thinking a bit about perspective.  On a Friday afternoon, we wanted out of the wind.  It was getting unpleasant, not terrible but unpleasant.  Then I thought about the days that we went sailing and the topic of discussion was invariably how much wind would there be.  Are we looking at 5 knots, 10 knots, 15?  How much is there going to be, and I hope we get some good wind. 

Now you know from my previous posts that many of those days we learned a lot, even if there was minimal wind.  We did have some good wind a couple of times, but more would’ve been nice.  Our perspective on those days was that wind was good, because of our activity.  Friday night, wind wasn’t so great walking by the water.  We would’ve liked a little less.

Your perspective can be driven by your circumstances.  You can look at things one way because of your circumstances, it’s pretty easy to do.  But you can also make choices about perspectives, of course there are some limitations there, but in reality, if you want to put a positive spin on something, there’s a way to find it.  You can have a positive outlook on less than desirable circumstances and still try to make changes.  You can be in the middle of squall in the ocean, work to get out of the squall, and still appreciate that you are on the ocean.  You can have a rough time at work, look for a new job, and still appreciate that you are employed.  Remaining positive about current circumstances is not mutually exclusive from changing those circumstances.

We appreciated wind when we were sailing…we also appreciated the learning when we didn’t have wind and still hoped for a change in the wind.  Just like Friday night, we appreciated being in each other’s company and still wanted to get out of the wind.  It is funny though, in the not-too-distant future, we’ll be wishing for wind…just not too much!

Remington, Part II

Losing a family member is never easy.  I really couldn’t bring myself to write about Remington which is why I shared some of my favorite pictures.  This week, I thought I’d share some of my favorite memories.  Remington was 12.  He had a good run.  All week, I’ve been hearing other dogs in the neighborhood barking and I think its him.  I was coming home from work and I’ll have to remind myself that he’s not going to greet me at the door, though as of late, he was greeting me less and less.  I walk in and he would lift his head.   Mostly because I think that will help me some. 

Remington was always a smart dog…he was also incredibly agile.  Thankfully, he never wanted to jump our fence, but he could’ve if he did.  That’s relevant right now, because one day we had gone grocery shopping.  When we got come, as we are rounding the corner of the landing on the stairs, carrying sacks of groceries, we see Remington, his front paws on top of the fridge, back paws on the counter, and he’s nosing around for the dog treats that we kept up there.  I of course, tersely said, “Remington…what are you doing?”.  He looked at me with those big brown eyes as if to say, “Hey, great, you’re home, would you give me a hand with these.”  Of course, he then calmly jumped off the counter and wandered over to us to see if we had brought him anything.

It was also kind of neat in the summer or fall when we’d get home from work or errands, because he would have nestled into a chair and was watching the driveway for our return. 

He also loved to run, which was hard, because when he would start to run, he wouldn’t stop.  So, until he was about 7, we’d go for 4 or 5 mile runs and he loved it.  But, when we went camping, it was problematic, because you didn’t know what he would get into!  The first time we took him camping, he jumped out of the car, and took off.  Three hours later, he came back to camp (after we spent two hours hiking up and down the mountain looking for him) his tail was wagging 90 miles an hour and three porcupine quills sticking out of his nose.  Fortunately, he stood there while we figured out how to get the quills out.  

We also tried to teach him to swim while camping. I took him out into a shallow inlet on a lake, to get him used to swimming.  He hated it. He didn’t want to be in the water. But he paddled around a bit and after a few minutes I took him toward shore, and he bolted before we could a leash on his harness.  Sandy took off after him, and stopped at another campsite to inquire if anyone had seen him.  The other camper looked at her and said, “well, I don’t know what kind of dog it was because it was going so quick, but it was black and tan and headed that way!” I don’t remember if we caught up to him or he came back…but boy was he happy!

As he aged, he did get to go off leash a bit more.  He would stick closer to us…but he would catch a scent and wander off.  We were camping close to home, and he was running backing and forth to us and out a ways.  Pretty soon, we looked at each other…” where’s Remington?”.  We weren’t too sure, so we stopped, and listened.  We thought we heard something, but we weren’t sure.   So, we kept walking and then Sage (our Golden Retriever) quit walking and stood there looking at us, like “Hey, Remington isn’t here.  Listen.”  She was a good girl and led us right back to him.  He had gone exploring along a creek and couldn’t get back up to the shore.  The water was shallow, so no danger of drowning, but Sandy jumped down to him, and lifted him, while I grabbed his harness to pull him out.  That dog…he kept us on our toes.

At home, he loved to sit in chairs.  I’m sure he thought he was a person. He would frequently climb up in a chair at the dinner table and sit there wait patiently for someone to give him a little bite of dinner.  If he couldn’t get into a chair, his head was right in your lap waiting for his piece of dinner too.  After a day work, I’d sit on the couch and he would jump up next to me and rest his head on my lap.  If that spot wasn’t open, he’d wait for me to put out the recliner for my legs, and he’d climb up on the leg rest and nestle himself right in between my legs and just relax.

Dogs are great companions.  We loved having him in the family.  He’s missed.  I had to cancel his grooming appointment and I couldn’t bring myself to say that he had passed.  I just said, “He’s no longer with us.”  Which I guess could be interpreted in any number of ways, but I got choked up when I tried to say something else.  I know that the hole in my heart will never be filled, but I will quit expecting him at the door when I get home.  I will always miss him…I will always have good memories of him.  Even if we get another dog one day…it won’t replace him, but it will bring me some different joy.

Remington

Remington was 12 when he crossed the Rainbow Bridge. I’m hopeful that he is now romping in fields that stretch for miles while he chases squirrels and eats lots of dog treats. He was one of the most unique dogs that I have had in my life. While he’ll never know the life of sailing, he loved the mountains, running in fields finding porcupines, and snuggling up by the fire in the winter. There’s a lot of great stories that I will likely write about in the coming months…but for today, I’m going to share some of my favorite pictures of him.

As a puppy
Puzzling over what we are doing…
Just cleaning the grill for you!
Waiting for scraps to drop!
I really could use some of that steak!
Just chillin…bring me bone when you get a chance.
Keeping warm on a chilly morning!
Window please…

Decisions…

Thinking about selling everything and moving to the cruising life is a big step towards not playing things safe.  There’s a lot of things that aren’t playing it safe in that lifestyle and that’s part of the draw for us.  But having said that, there’s still some things that we need to feel a little comfortable in the lifestyle.  The biggest thing to consider is money.

We will have a regular monthly income that in theory should exceed the average costs of living on a boat.  But we want to have a certain amount in savings.  We set a goal earlier this year and I thought we’d be close to that, but life being life has meant that we are going to be further from that goal than we thought we would.  So, we won’t have as much in savings as we’d like and that means that we need to make a few decisions.

Living on a boat, depending on your lifestyle, can cost between $1800 and $3000. This is less than what we think our income will be, so in general each month we ought to be operating in the black.  But boats though can be expensive to repair at times, so having some savings is important so that we can draw on the savings to buy a new sail if need be or replace the standing rigging. 

So, here’s some questions for us to consider…Do we postpone our departure by a year and continue on the current path (with some minor changes) and continue to save?  Do we change what we were thinking of for a boat, spend less on a boat, and use the difference to build our savings for boat repairs?  Should we move forward and one of us try to get a remote job, since we plan on staying close to the coast for a year or so anyway, which might actually let us build up more savings faster?  Do we buy a truck and trailer, get a remote job for year, and drive around North America for a year and invest the remainder for the year and hopefully be in a better spot to by a boat?

Every decision has pros and cons.  Waiting for an extra year, maybe the housing market tanks and we can’t get as much boat as we want anyway, but at the same time, we have more in savings.  If we buy a little less boat, maybe we don’t have the creature comforts we’d hoped for, but then we’re on the water and living differently…seeing the stars in ways that we have never experienced before.  Get a remote job (which is harder than it sounds) you don’t have as much time to devote to learning sailing, but you are building more savings.

There’s a lot of decisions to be made and all three of us have to be comfortable with where we are on those decisions.  Generally, in relationships, you look for compromise, but many of these decisions really are zero sum decisions.  We either sell the house next spring or we don’t.  We either buy a boat next spring or we don’t.  There might be some middle ground on what kind of boat…but really these are decisions that we all have to be able to live with.  At the same time, it’s only October.  A lot can happen in the next 30 weeks.

Spartan Trifecta

I know I have written about the challenges of Spartan Races before, but this weekend was a bit more special.  A Spartan Trifecta is running completing a Spartan Sprint, Super, and Beast in one race season.  Once you complete the three races and you are a member of the Trifecta Tribe.  Nice little marketing bit on the part of Spartan.  Makes you stand out a bit in the community, and sometimes at race venues, there are some perks to being a member of the Tribe.  Usually, it’s a tent with seating designated for tribe members, or something like that.  It is still an accomplishment to be a member of the Tribe.  It’s a lot of work.

My first two Spartan Races were the Sprint level, a roughly 5k obstacle course.  I didn’t know if I had it in me to complete the Super, let alone a Beast.  I was a bit in awe of folks I saw walking around with the green Spartan logo T Shirt that said, “Finisher”. I kind of dreamed of doing it, but questioned if I could finish it.  Until one day my wife said, “Either do it, or quit talking about it.”  I guess I’d carried on about it too long!  With a friend, we completed our first Super and Sprint in one weekend.  A couple of weeks later, it was on to the Beast.  I did it.  I was pretty stoked and excited.  I could do it.  It really gave me a bit more confidence than I had before as a person.

The Beast itself is challenging.  There are 30+ obstacles over a half marathon or longer. But then you add terrain as an ever present constant obstacle. Every one I have done has also been on ski slopes.  Some worse than others, but still, ski slopes.  It reduces the running for me, it makes obstacles more challenging and completing it is not just a physical challenge, but also a mental challenge too.  There are times when you are slogging up the side of a mountain (perhaps over 11,000 feet, like this weekend) where you question if you do have it in you to finish the course.  You’ve got to dig deep to find the stamina to finish the course. That’s especially true when you’ve gone up and up and up, then you get to the sandbag carry, where you have to carry the sandbag downhill, then turn around and go right back up.  It’s taxing…mentally and physically.

I said this weekend was a special weekend.  It was another Spartan Beast, in Telluride Colorado.  The start line was at about 9800 feet above sea level.  It went to about 11,200 feet and then finished at 9500 feet.  Over the course of 14.5 miles.  So, most of it was above 10,000 feet.  That’s rough.  Really rough.  This weekend my youngest finished his first Trifecta.  His first Beast was largely over 10,000’ feet in elevation.  There were times when I questioned if I could complete and obstacle and then I’d watch him just knock it out of the park. He demonstrated a level of grit and perseverance that was impressive.  It was a rough course and I watched him cruise on through it.  He probably could’ve knocked an hour off his time if he didn’t stick with me, but he stuck with me and finished.

He was pretty nervous on the way down and up to the start of the race. There was excitement, but nervousness too.  He didn’t know what to expect other than a long, long day.  It was a long day.  It pushed us to our limits and even beyond those limits. 

It’s pretty amazing to see your kids do things that you know are challenging.  He rose to the occasion, both figuratively, and in the case of the rope climb, literally.  I guess calling him a kid is a bit of misnomer know, he’s more of young man and he really showed me that all of us are capable of doing more than we think we can.

Moving On!

We have finished our practical lessons on the J/22.  Our last lesson in the basic keelboat and coastal cruising line will be on a J/30.  It’s made by the same company, but is about 8’ longer.  There are also some other differences, including the sail set up as well as steering and anchoring.  I’m looking forward to being on a bigger boat, just to see what the difference is between a 22’ and 30’ boat is in terms of handling and sailing.

With a J/22, when you step on the boat, the boat tips a bit.  Ok, when I step on, it tips a lot.  I’m a big guy and when I set foot on the boat, you know it!  When we first starting lessons, one of our instructors said, “Give a warning when you are stepping on or off the boat.”  So, it became habit, especially for Matthew to say, “Coming Aboard!” when he stepped on the boat. And “Stepping Off!” when we arrived at the dock.  I sometimes forgot to say anything when I was stepping on and Matthew would, in his own kind way, remind me to give warning.

Usually it was a teenager tone….”Coming aboard dad?”

“Yeah, sorry I forgot to say something, I thought you’d notice”

“Thanks dad, just give us the warning before you tip the boat.” There was an element of truth to that, especially if he was on the same side of the boat I was when I stepping on!  I’m pretty sure we are going to design a shirt that has a sailboat and on the front it will say “Coming Aboard” on the back it will say, “Stepping Off”.  I’ll post a picture once we have the design made.

It actually got to be such a habit for Matthew, that even when he was the last person getting off the boat, he’d announce “Stepping Off!” We’ve given him a fair amount of grief for that!

So in our last lesson, we had an hour or so of good wind and were able to practice a man overboard drill at sail instead of at the motor.  It was nice because you could tell when you were at a beam reach!  There was a fair amount of practice of tacking and gybing.  We even put two reefs in the mainsail while in motion, which is important to be able to do, because you put reefs in the mainsail when things are getting rough, so if you’ve never done it…well, you could be in for a difficult time.

Then the wind died.  So, well, let’s practice anchoring, tying knots, and discussing the pros and cons of different boat types.  Generally, talk about what kind of boating we want to do in the future. 

Then our instructor drops a little bit of a bombshell.  “Your next lesson will be on the J/30.  It’s a really different boat than the J/22.  If your instructor on that boat is doing his or her job, they’ll just say here’s the boat, figure it out!”  Wait…what?  I don’t know how a furler works, is there a windlass on the anchor, it’s a steering wheel, not a tiller.  I had a whole host of panic thoughts go through my head.  Then I took moment to breath.  It’ll be ok.  We can figure these things out, and if we’re about to break something, the instructor will step in and stop us.  Not that that’s going to happen, but that’s what they are there for.

Once we finish the practical lessons, it’ll be time to take the ASA 101 and 103 written exams.  Several yacht brokers that have YouTube channels have said insurance will be easier if you even go to 104 (Bareboat Chartering) as well.  So, we will have some decisions to make. Do we go ahead and do 104, do we hire a coach to sail with us on our boat and use that to our advantage with insurance?

For now, the process of learning to sail a smaller boat and the mechanics of sailing has been enjoyable.  We’ve got a better handle on what to expect and how to do things.  Obviously, we aren’t quite ready to jump aboard and cross the Pacific, but at least now we know what a reef is and the difference between the tack on a sail, tacking, and which tack the boat is on.  And, yeah, I feel pretty confident that we can get a boat sailing and while it might heel more than we want for a few minutes, we can get it righted pretty quickly! 

Trade Offs

Last week we transitioned from the Basic Keelboat practical lessons to the Basic Coastal cruising lessons.  So we’ve moved on from, how does a boat work to, if your sailing here’s some more advanced techniques you need to be aware of to operate a boat safely.  It was an interesting transition.  We know the points of sail, we know the basic parts of the part.  In fact when we got there, it was just the three of us and the instructor, and the instructor said, “You guys get the boat ready.”  We got there, it took us a minute, but we all knew here’s how you connect the foresail and the mainsail to the halyards and sheets, we knew where to check to make sure there wasn’t too much water in the bilge, there were a couple of things that we needed to be reminded of, but we got it ready.  It felt good once it was done, but it was a challenge.

When we started, out the wind was good.  I thought, great, it’s going to be an awesome day of sailing…10 minutes after we hit the water, the wind was gone.  So, any movement on the water was with the aid of the engine.  Which happens in sailing.  Everyone talks about either motorsailing, or just running their engines at some point to keep moving in a passage.  It’s louder, it stinks, but it gets you where you need to be.

It turns out that for us, that was more of a blessing than we knew.  We did two new things last week.  First was anchoring.  Second was a man overboard drill.

Watching the sailing YouTubers, Gone with the Wynns routinely (it seems) includes a scene about anchoring.  They make it seem pretty easy, drop the anchor, run the engine in reverse, yep the anchor caught, shut off the engine, have a cocktail. Part of the ease is practice, they’ve been doing it for five years now.  Part of it is the boat, they have an electric windlass to raise and lower the anchor. There’s a reason they make it seem easy.

So try to picture this.  It’s 88 degrees, no wind, so it’s hot and a little uncomfortable.  We motor over to a shoreline near the dam on the reservoir so we have a good place to practice anchoring.  Killing the engine does not stop the boat because you just drift at that point, so we kept the engine running.  Matthew pulls the anchor out of the cabin.  We carry the anchor, the chain, and the rope to the bow.  Remember, there’s no wind, so the headsail is lying on the bow.  It covers everything.  The instructor is telling me to tie the rope for the anchor to the bow cleat.  I can’t find it under the headsail, we are drifting toward shore, Sandy recognizes this and backs up a bit, then runs us in some lazy circles, until I do find the bow cleat.  I finally have the anchor ready to go, but then Sandy has to reposition the boat so that when we back up, we aren’t backing in the dam.  Finally, the anchor is thrown overboard and Sandy gets it set.  It was a little stressful.  Everything having to happen quickly so that we can be safe.  I do think there was an advantage to no wind, but it was still pretty stressful in the moment. 

I really can only imagine what it would be like moving into an anchorage with heavy winds around you and the boat is rolling while you are trying to make sure that you are set and not dragging the anchor.  The amenities of a larger boat will ease some stressors, but then create additional stressors.  Nothing is really “easy” even in the best of conditions.

Even the man overboard scenario was a bit stressful.  There’s minimal wind, so we had to try and get the boat to a beam reach (the wind at 90 degrees to the bow) and try to tack to start a Figure 8 so that we could position ourselves properly to get the flotation device out of the water.  It’s hard when there’s not a lot of wind, and even though it was just a flotation device that was in the water, you want to get it back as quickly as possible.  The upside to the whole scenario is that there weren’t even waves, except for a wake from the other boats, so keeping an eye on the man overboard was pretty easy.  Matthew was begging to jump over for this…I think he just wanted to cool off!

Even though things seem like they should be easy, easy is relative.  The first time is always a challenge because you don’t know what you are doing.  So, you’re getting stressed. Which then adds to the difficulty.  Things aren’t ever quite as easy as they seem, even when you think they should be.  Some of the challenges, like finding a bow-cleat to tie the anchor off on won’t be an issue on a larger boat, but then again, on the 22’ boat, you don’t really have to adjust the boom vang or worry about a top lift as much.  There’s going to be trade offs on boats…just like in life.

Adjustments in the back-country

Squaretop…our initial goal

The Wind River mountains are amazing.  The ruggedness of the peaks as you drive up highway 191 toward Pinedale, WY is astounding.  I love to drive up there just to see the peaks from the highway.  They are both inviting and unforgiving.  If you make a mistake in that wilderness, it could be your last, but at the same time what you get to see is awe inspiring.  The pristine lakes, the wide-open mountain meadows, moose, deer, elk, if your lucky a bear.  It’s a beauty that’s pretty hard to put into words.

Earlier this summer we went into the Winds, at the Green River Lakes.  Our initial plan was to hike to the backside of Squaretop Mountain, which is exactly as it’s name implies, it’s a big flat top.  The backside has a boulder field that once you cross it, you can hike up to the peak.  There are technical climbs that you can do to get the top, but we had no intention of going up that way.  Our goal was to make it to the boulder field and see if the dogs could make it, if not, we’d turn back.

A lot of how far we were going to go was dependent on the dogs.  If they were struggling, we would scale back.  From the trailhead to Squaretop is about 12 miles and our dogs are older, so we really didn’t want to kill them to get there.  Next was us, would we be able to make it.  Our packs weren’t too heavy since it was just us and the dogs, but it had been a while since we’d been backpacking.

The initial part of the trail takes you along the lower Green River Lake, which then feeds the Green River, that eventually flows into the Colorado River.  The trail is well maintained, but it’s a hiking trail.  You aren’t hiking on a sidewalk, there’s rocks, springs, cows, obstacles of all kinds.  There were quite a few more people than we expected, and we had to sidestep frequently to let others by.  At one point, we had to move out of the way as a family with younger children and dog went by.  There was an incline on both sides of the trail, and as I watched Sandy step down, I watched her knee bend in a direction that I didn’t think was possible.  The loose soil and rocks just slid right out from under her, and she down on the trail. 

We were probably still several miles from where we would be able to set up camp initially, so it was it was key to determine if Sandy could still hike or not.  She carefully got up with help as I lifted her backpack.  Her knee was tender, but still walkable.  At that point, we decided to shorten the days hike so that we would go about 2 more miles and set up camp in a meadow. Adjustment number 1.

 The wind was picking up, which helped with the heat, so as we crested a ridge and saw a meadow where we’d be able to find some shelter for the tent, that was near a stream, our pace picked up to a spot that we thought we’d be able to set up camp. 

We found a pretty good spot, with a large boulder that would act as a wind break and set up camp.  I woke up just before daybreak and sat and watched the light slowly creep over the mountains, gradually the meadow lit up.  It was an amazing experience and even though I thought it would be a great picture, I never took one, knowing it just wouldn’t do the daybreak justice. 

Sandy got up as I was brewing coffee for the morning.  Her knee was good, but we decided stressing it with a 40lb backpack probably wasn’t the wisest thing to do.  Adjustment number 2.  Change the goal to suit the current conditions.  Squaretop was out completely, next best thing was Slide Lake.  I didn’t even look at the map, just figured we’d follow the trail and make our way.  Sandy figured it was about 3 and half maybe four miles from camp. 

Slide Lake

Making our way to Slide Lake meant climbing switchbacks for about 1000 feet of elevation over the course of the 4 miles.  It was a challenging a hike and many times I was thinking that we should turn around.  I reminded myself that the best views took the most work to get to and this was a destination that we chose, so we pushed on.  We ran into some other hikers who were on their way down, “Oh yeah, maybe a quarter mile left…” about a mile later, one of the calmest lakes greeted us.  Sitting on the rocks looking up at rock formations all around, the hike was worth it.  These views were truly amazing.  The best part was that for a good 45 minutes to an hour, no one else was there.  The only sound was that of the water leaving the lake for the waterfall and any talking we did…which wasn’t much.

Afternoons in the mountains can bring unexpected thunderstorms, so we packed up after about an hour and headed down.  Going down was a bit easier, because we knew where the end of the trail was.  We knew where we were going. It was also slower because the dogs needed more time to rest.  They’d walk and then one would lay down.  His muscles were tired, he was tired.  All of us worked pretty hard that day, and for a while I even carried him to give him a break and keep us moving. 

At the bottom of the trail was a great little stream that came from the lake.  We stopped there for a good 45 minutes and let the dogs lay in the water and rest.  We were close to camp, but it wasn’t worth pushing too hard to get there right away.  There was no rush.  No reason to get back to camp right away. So let’s rest.  Let’s get muscles relaxed some and move on from there.

Everyone was rested…for the most part so we finished the journey back to camp, made dinner, played cards and just rested.  Everyone got back in the water to recover some more and before we knew it, we were all asleep.

The next morning, Sandy woke up first, and she started to shake me to wake me.  “Jon, Jon, get up”  I groggily roused, “Look!”, about two hundred yards from our tent was a cow moose and her calf lumbering through the willows that lined the stream near camp.  It was one of those moments that make backpacking worth it.  The moose just lumbered on by not paying us any attention, as watched them.

Everyone was moving slowly getting out of the tent and as we watched the dogs, we decided we did not want to sit around camp and wait for the bugs to find us, but we knew another strenuous hike was out of the question.  So, do we walk down to the Upper Green River Lake?  Do we go to the Lower Green River Lake and sit on the beach?  Do we leave and take our time?  Adjustment number three.  Let’s cut the trip short a day, even though we’re all pretty sore, the dogs can rest more easily in the car on the way home and recover better at home.  Even though the new Thermarests were comfortable…our bed would be better.  So, we headed out.  We took our time, watched the mileage back to the car and let the dogs rest whenever they needed it.  It wasn’t to be a death march back to the car, but just an easy stroll…with 35 lbs on our back.

After we reached the car and made our way through Pinedale, we looked for the best place to get some food.  We found this great little hamburger stand on the side of the road and the lady running the place saw we had dogs, and asked if they would like a completely unseasoned hamburger patty.  I knew they would, she then through in some “doggie” size ice cream cups too, the dogs devoured both, put their heads down and went to sleep as we hit the highway and headed home.

We had wind!

Full sails with a reef in the main!

We’ve had a few sailing lessons now, the first one did not have any wind, so it was more of an exercise in learning the parts of the boat, running the motor, when there was wind, trying to figure out where it was coming from.  The next two lessons had wind!  So, we could sail!  The boat we are learning on is a J22, it’s made by Jboats.  It’s nice little boat to learn the basic mechanics of sailing.  You learn how to gybe, tack, reef the mainsail (reduce the sail area), use the winches, etc.  We also learned about the importance of having the proper position of the mainsail relative to the boat, and the wind.  Aspects of it are challenging because the J22 uses a tiller, not a steering wheel, so you have to push the tiller the opposite direction you want to go…which is difficult when aren’t doing it daily. 

It’s been an interesting experience for a variety of reasons.  First, sailing is romanticized, on TV, movies, YouTube, books, etc.  It’s portrayed as this peace, put the sails up and let the wind carry you…there’s a lot more too it.  You have to watch the wind, watch the water, watch your sails.  When you are in the vicinity of other boats, you need to keep your eye out for other boats.  Is your point of sail the best for the wind and the direction you are going, if you’re approaching another boat, do you need to tack or gybe to avoid it?  There are, just like driving, dozens if not hundreds of questions that you are asking yourself at a given moment to avoid hurting yourself or others.

I recognize that these lessons are designed to teach you the mechanics of sailing, not necessarily the joy of sailing, though, I at least, did find some moments, when I was manning the jib sheet, that I was able to just relax a bit and enjoy the feel of the wind and knowing that the wind is what is driving you across the water.  There really were some peaceful moments then, but they were short lived because you had to snap to and watch what was going on.

The J22 we are using for sailing lessons.

There’s also some excitement, and fear involved too.  Trimming the sail is adjusting the position of the sail relative to the centerline of the boat.  If the sail isn’t trimmed properly, you either a) won’t go anywhere because your sail will be flapping in the wind or b) the wind will drive the boat toward the water, this is called heeling.  A little bit of heeling is normal and probably pretty good if you are trying to get some speed.  However, you can heel too much.  I was on the mainsheet, which means I was responsible for trimming the mainsail.  We were in the midst of a tack (running the bow through the wind) and I when I changed which side of the boat I was sitting on, I didn’t release mainsail right away.  Which meant that the trim was tight for our point of sail.  This then caused the boat to heel pretty dramatically, and we did have some water splashing over the rails.  The instructor was yelling for me to release the mainsail, I was trying to remember how to do it, everyone else was hanging on hoping not to have a man overboard event!

As soon as I released the mainsail and loosened the trim on the sail, we popped upright.  We hit that normal sailing position that is desirable, and things went right back to normal.  Several YouTubers that we watch have said, “Sailing is 90% boredom punctuated by 10% terror”.  Maybe that’s an exaggeration, maybe not, but the 1% of terror that we experienced was a good lesson.  It’s not just the romantic throw of the sails and call it good.  There’s a lot to pay attention to.  It’s hard to put this event into words.  The feeling of gravity pulling you toward the water, the wind pushing you over, knowing that you need to do something right now.  I don’t know that words ever do the experience justice.

 I imagine that it’s a bit different on the open ocean in a much larger boat, where you don’t have to worry as much about the boom hitting you because it’s more than 7’ above the deck.  You have a destination in mind and once you set your sails, you aren’t changing much about the sails, unless you have a major shift in the wind.

We are learning a lot.  Each time we’ve been on the open water, it’s been good learning.  The mechanics are slowly coming along, but I recognize that until we are really on the open water in a boat day in and day out, those mechanics aren’t going to come naturally.  You need to live it to really know what you are doing.  But at least now, we won’t be in a position where we won’t know a sheet from a halyard and running from standing rigging when we get our own boat.  That’s really the goal of these lessons.  I want to know how to trim a sail properly.  How do you know when a gust of wind is coming before you feel it?  These things that we are learning, which really will put us in a good spot when we throw off the lines for the first time!