Loading Lady

This is getting real, folks.

Lady has been cleaned, the cabins made up, the clutter put away, and we just loaded all the non-perishable food items and paper goods onto her, along with a lot of stuff we bought for our floating “house.” The fridge and freezer are at temperature and early this week we will be moving the freezer items aboard, and eventually the refrigerator items the day before we actually set out. I continue to be amazed, every time we load her, at how much storage space she has!

We’re doing a bunch of last minute shopping both locally and online (thank goodness for Amazon Prime!). We’re eating down our own refrigerator and pantry, and starting to prepare the house for its temporary vacancy.

I’m finishing up those sunshades. Dave is finishing up several boat projects. He got the WiFi booster working, but the single sideband is still being problematic. Through ongoing online consultation with an expert, the current hypothesis is that there is too much “noise” in the marina, so we have to put solving the SSB issue on hold until we are in open water away from said “noise.” We will replace our leaking galley sink faucet once the new one arrives. Normally Dave would  just fix the leak, but replacements for the failed rubber seals are no longer available. Besides, our new faucet has a sprayer option that will be handy.

Believe it or not, my biggest challenge has been packing clothes. Despite Lady’s generous storage space, precious little of that is for clothing, and we sort of need two very different wardrobes, one of which we’ll only need until we get to Virginia waters. I think we’ve settled on bringing what we are sure will keep us warm, plus our Caribbean attire, and we will store whatever we don’t immediately need in vacuum storage bags. Ultimately, the cold-weather clothing will come back with us to New England (to stay). Once we’re actually in the Caribbean, we will mostly need only summer clothes with one or two “warmer” pieces for the occasional cool night (mostly north of the Caribbean in FL and Bahamas).

Dave tells me we’re at 13 cart loads of stuff being shuttled onto Lady (those wheeled carts marina’s provide). I wonder what the final tally will be. 

A Clean(er) Boat

Yesterday brought the first truly warm day this spring, even down on the water at Indigo Lady’s winter slip, and the breeze was light and from land (ergo, warm!). So we started the process of cleaning her. About 4 hours and a hundred Chlorox (non-chlorine) wipes later, all four cabins and heads, including all cabinets and lockers, were cleaned of mold & mildew. We also installed the rain gutter I made and marked it for final tweaks. Dave installed the windshield he made. We celebrated with rum & coke in the comfort of our cockpit in the late afternoon sun (sigh of pleasure). More pictures on Facebook

The salon and galley are currently strewn with equipment Dave is still using to troubleshoot the uncooperative single sideband and WiFi booster, so we can’t clean those areas yet, but soon. And we can at least start the process of getting stuff on board. In fact, Dave just took off with a first load of bed cushions and spare parts.

I will spend a significant chunk of time this week buying provisions and staging them for getting them aboard. I will also be doing some advanced food prep for freezing (a luxury we won’t have once actually living aboard). Dave will hopefully solve the SSB and WiFi booster issues and meet the guy who is supposed to recalibrate the temperature sensors on our engines (we’ve been after the company for a year to get this done!).

It’s gonna be a busy week!

 

 

More time for more boat projects

Another advantage to delaying our departure is the ability to complete more boat projects before we set out, rather than doing them while underway. I’m not sure how much of an “advantage” this is, because now I feel (self-inflicted) pressure to complete these projects in the next 2.5 weeks, along with all the other items that were already on the to-do list.

I finished the two quilts in the picture. There will be one for each cabin, so I have one more to go, but seeing as I haven’t chosen a design (or created my own) I think that will have to wait until we’re home again in the fall.

I am currently working on a “rain guard,” for lack of a better term. Our roof is in two sections with a 12” gap between the halves and a raised walkway above that gap. This reduces the lift of wind on the roof, and allows for a great breeze in the cockpit (hello Caribbean breezes!). This also means that now rain can come into the cockpit from above, which it couldn’t do when we had a Bimini top before the rebuild. The rain guard is meant to reduce rain entering from above by redirecting the water forward over the cabin and aft off the stern. I’m making it out of marine grade Sunbrella fabric that will attach by Velcro to the aluminum roof supports on the underside of the roof. I’ve just completed fitting a muslin mock-up as a template. I didn’t want to risk messing up with the $25/yd Sunbrella. It was a good decision! 

Indigo Lady came with roll-down sun shades for the aft part of the cockpit, but nothing for the sides, so I am making the side panels. I’ve completed a muslin mock-up for one of those as well. (Note to self- remember to reverse it for the other side when I make the real ones!) These will be made out of Phifertex fabric  (thanks for that tip, Mark & Deb!). It is a marine grade fabric, highly resistant to UV and it blocks 70% of the sun. Working with this fabric requires the largest needle and thickest thread my sewing machine can accommodate. I’ll be pushing the limits of my little Singer, but I’m sure it can handle the job. (No way I’m using my good quilting sewing machine!)

Dave has a couple of projects, too. He’s trying to troubleshoot our single sideband, and set up a WiFi router/booster system (lets us reach WiFi signals that are far away on shore while we’re at anchor). Of course this is never as simple as plug it in and turn it on. He also decided to make a windshield for the helm station. Nothing keeps rain or spray from heavy seas completely out of the cockpit, but a windshield will reduce the amount of water that hits us in the face while cruising in those conditions. Definitely a bonus.

And we still have to prepare all our “ashore” things for our extended absence… and provision… and replan our route and stops… and deep clean Lady… and get everything aboard. Yikes! I need to stop typing and get to work!

 

 

How well do you speak Boat?

Boating has its own special language which, like learning any new language, requires practice. I like practicing Spanish; I don’t like practicing Boat. This is problematic when Dave and I need to communicate about the boat, whether we’re on her or not, but especially when we’re on her. For example, take an interaction between us today.

I went to Lady (Dave was already there) to confirm measurements for a Sunbrella fabric panel we will mount on the underside of the gap between the two halves of the roof to reduce the amount of rain that enters the cockpit. To orient those who don’t speak Boat, we were standing in the cockpit (from where we steer) at the back of the boat (the stern) facing the front of the boat (the bow). The fabric panel would be running from just over our heads towards the bow, and I needed to know where it should stop.

Me: “So where should the front edge end?”

Dave: “In front of that crosspiece.”

Me (pointing): “Here?”

Dave: “That’s not in front of.”

Me: “It is from my perspective.”

Dave: “On a boat, ‘in front of’ means towards the bow.”

Those of you who speak Boat are probably laughing (at me). If any of the rest of you are confused, well, that helps make my point. If Dave had said “forward of that crosspiece,” I would have understood him immediately because I only use ‘forward of’ when speaking Boat and associate that with being closer to the bow.  I tend to apply my evolving knowledge of Boat language only when I feel I need to, and for this sewing project I didn’t feel the need.

I’m still at the translating stage of learning Boat. Dave says, “there’s a seal off our port” and I have to translate in my head, “port is left so I need to look this way.” You should hear the monologue in my head when I’m driving the boat and have to decide which side of a navigational aid I need to steer. [Inside my head: “Red, right, return. Okay, return means from the ocean, but we’re heading to the ocean, so I need to keep that red can on my left not my right- quick, turn!”]

I wonder how long it will take me to become fluent. I better get practicing.

One of the cruisers I’ve started following (I would credit them if I could remember who it was) shared this article the other day: Boating Terminology: Parts of a Boat and Common Phrases to Know as a First-Time Cruising Guest. In case you want to learn Boat, too 😉

Going to Plan B…

I was so focused on the trip down the eastern seaboard and getting to warmer climes that I neglected to really think about the trip from FL to Trinidad (south of the hurricane belt), where we plan to leave Indigo Lady when we return home for a few months in the fall. That is one long trip, about 1500 miles (after 1500 miles from NH to FL)! Our original plan was to go from FL through the Bahamas, along the northern coast of Hispaniola, the south coast of Puerto Rico, through the Virgin Islands, and then down through the Lesser Antilles to Grenada with a final jump to Trinidad.

Then we listened to an SSCA Webinar on Tuesday by a guy who sailed from FL to St. Martin (about halfway to Trinidad from FL). He put up a summary slide of just travel times. It took a month. That doesn’t include waiting for weather windows, or stopovers to actually see some sights. Then if finally sank in- we’d be traversing the Caribbean, within the hurricane belt for 2 months of hurricane season (July 1- Nov 1 for most insurance companies)! Dave had planned for 100 days of travel in a 150 day window from early April through August to get from NH all the way to Trinidad. I should have paid more attention. I panicked. Poor Dave.

So I posted our plan on the SSCA Facebook page and within 24 hours had 20+ comments all pretty much telling us it wasn’t a good idea. My risk tolerance is much lower than Dave’s, and although I’ve done two transits, neither was during hurricane season, and we had remarkably good weather each time. Oh boy, time for a plan B. To be fair to Dave, his original travel plan was based on criteria I had set- I wanted to be home from sometime in September through New Year’s Eve, and I didn’t want to leave before April because I didn’t want to freeze my butt off between NH and VA. Those “non-negotiables” suddenly became negotiable once I realized the risks they introduced this first season when we have to cover 3000 miles.

So we spent a couple of hours Wednesday afternoon considering the pros & cons of various options (note the image above), and arrived at Plan B. We will now depart later in April, probably the 3rd week, and leisurely wend our way from NH to the head of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) somewhere between Norfolk, VA and Elizabeth City, NC (this is north of the hurricane belt), where we will leave Indigo Lady for September & October while we return home.  This will allow us to explore Chesapeake Bay on the way down, and we won’t have to do any overnight, offshore cruising. In November, we will return to Lady and spend the month taking her down the ICW to the West Palm Beach area of FL where we will again leave her for December. We will rejoin her in January and have through June to get to Trinidad before the start of hurricane season. This will allow us to actually visit our FL family and also spend some time in the Florida Keys (two things I would have nixed if we’d stuck to our original plan), and we will be able to enjoy numerous stops along the route to Trinidad. This will be a much safer and relaxed trip, which is what this is supposed to be about.

Perhaps things would have worked out differently if I had participated in the travel plans earlier, but my head was not in the game earlier. I think part of it was avoidance, but mostly my mind was on other things after I retired in June. First it was our July trip, then it was preparing for the craft fair (which is very important to me), then it was my boating class on top of other commitments I’d made for the same time period (too many in retrospect). Once I finally felt able to shift gears to mentally prepare myself for the trip it was pretty late in the game. Fortunately, as former teachers, we were able to tap into our problem solving skills to evaluate our options and arrive at a good place. Dave is a little bummed that we won’t be in the Caribbean this year, but I suspect he’s glad he won’t have to worry about me literally jumping ship on him.


 

Whether the Weather

My brain is so busy with wrapping up stuff in my NH life and preparing for our trek south, that I don’t have a clear focus for a blog this week.

So thanks to Jack, a boating club friend, for thinking of us when he sent this. Unbeknownst to him, I’ve been very concerned about being cold between our home port and mid-North Carolina. We depart the first half of April and the boat is not heated. I hate being cold. I might have mentioned that before 😉

 

 

The Back Story

Way back in my first post ever I promised some back story about how I came to embark on the adventure of living aboard. This is my story.

Sometime in the early 2000’s, before Dave & I were a thing (although we knew each other through work), he hatched a plan to retire a bit early, sell his house, buy a boat, and live on it in the Caribbean. When we started dating he shared his plan with me. It’s not what I’d envisioned my retirement would be like, but I thought it was an interesting idea. I love to travel, see new places, and meet and learn about people. I also find myself increasingly intolerant of the cold. So why not go someplace warm? The plan has morphed a bit, but here we are, about to enact it.

Going from the idea of living aboard in the Caribbean to the reality of doing so has been a huge adjustment for me, and  I know there is much more “adjusting” to come. Fortunately, Dave is so excited that I’m willing to give this lifestyle a try that he’s been most accommodating to my occasional freakouts.

We bought the boat in June 2014, and until then I could avoid thinking too seriously about what enacting this plan would mean. The first “freak out” hit me that winter, manifesting itself as extreme anxiety; thinking about it kept me awake at night. I knew I had a lot to learn about boats, boating and what it means to live aboard, but I wasn’t willing to suspend all the things I normally do with my personal time to take on that learning curve. There was no way I was going to go from working full time to retiring and living on a boat right away. I needed time after I retired to mentally prepare myself. I broached the subject with Dave the first night of our 2015 annual XC skiing excursion to the White Mountains, on my birthday, after a glass of champagne (maybe two). As I said, Dave has been quite supportive, and he thought delaying our departure was a great idea. I would retire in June 2018 at the end of my organization’s fiscal year and take the next 9-10 months to prepare myself. HUGE relief!

I know now that there’s no way I could have “come up to speed” in only 9-10 months, it’s actually pretty laughable, but in the winter of 2015 I needed to believe it. So that plan also morphed. We spent a lot of time on Lady the following two summers, including extended trips up the Maine coast. I got comfortable living on Lady and could envision her as a home away from home. Dave taught me how to handle the dock lines, pick up moorings, and to drop and pick up the anchor, so even the idea of handling her was less intimidating. She was on the hard (ashore) for her conversion to solar electric from September 2016 through September 2017 and I actually missed being on her that summer of 2017. I found myself ready and (somewhat) willing to learn to drive her. I took my first boating class the fall of 2017 and am just finishing up my third class this week. I’m not excited about driving her, I don’t really enjoy driving any vehicle, but at least I feel like I can manage it, as long as a more experienced driver is with me, sort of like drivers ed 😉

What causes me anxiety now is the extensive list of preparations that seems to be shrinking far too slowly, the approximately 1500 mile long trek down the eastern seaboard during the unpredictable spring season, and being away from my family and friends for several months. What helps me hold it together is Dave’s support and understanding, the fact my folks will be with us at least to Florida, my intense desire to not be cold, my love of exploring new places, and the excitement my family & friends have for us taking on this adventure. The latter truly inspires me!

So here I am, 3-4 weeks from enacting a life change I never conceived of in my wildest dreams. I’m still both terrified and excited, but I am feeling a little bit more prepared.

 

Technology- the First and Ninth Circles of Hell!

The first circle of hell is Limbo, the ninth is Treachery (I had to look that up). Technology resides in both.

I can’t count the hours spent over the past three weeks making decisions about and changes to our technological connections, all in preparation for living in the U.S. 1/3 of the year and living abroad and aboard (ooh…that’s a cool scramble of letters!) 2/3 of the year while staying connected to family and friends. It’s difficult to make decisions when there is so much unknown about connectivity and our real vs. perceived needs while in the places we are likely to visit in the Caribbean. We’ve researched how other cruisers deal with these things, what U.S. talk/text/data options exist, options for suspending/canceling local subscriptions to save money but not lose accounts completely, and on, and on, and on. There have been numerous hours spent online and in phone calls asking questions and sometimes finding answers, and purchasing new equipment.

Decisions and changes have been made, however, and we’ve checked several more items off our “travel prep” list. Hooray!

It will be interesting to see how these changes play out in connectivity and cost savings, how they mesh with our real vs. perceived needs, and what tweaks we will make for the following cruising season. I’ll let you know sometime in the fall after it all plays out during this first (short) cruising season.

Here’s some of what we’ve done. I’ve bolded the key points, and leave you to decide how much you will read beyond that.

  • We signed up for Google Fiand bought a Fi-enabled (low end) phone and transferred our “home” phone number to it.This is how we will stay connected to family & friends while in the Caribbean (calls, texts, emails).
    • Fi charges $20/month (plus taxes & fees), plus $10/GB of data used. They don’t round up data use either- 1.2 GB data would cost $12.
    • Data can be used the same way in the U.S. and any of the other 170+ countries included (including most of the Caribbean). This includes the ability to use the phone as a hotspot.
    • We get unlimited talk & text in the U.S. and those 170+ other countries. Well, sort of…
      • Texting is covered in all those countries.
      • Calls to U.S. numbers from our Fi phone are covered as long as we’re in the U.S. or one of those 170+ covered countries.
      • Calls to non-U.S. numbers, regardless of where we are physically, results in a per minute charge (there is a chart of costs).
    • Fi-enabled phones automatically choose the strongest signal of three mobile 4G LTE networks or WiFi hotspots for making phone calls. We assume the latter are mostly in major cities/towns on each Caribbean island. Unlike U.S. carriers, Fi guarantees the fastest speed each country has available up to 4G LTE.
    • We’re not terribly fond of the Motorola we had to buy; we prefer the more intuitive (to us) iPhone. Sadly, the Fi features most relevant to our international travels are not yet supported on iPhones. Maybe someday.
  • We purchasedKeeper Password Manager(family plan). I feel safer already.
    • I’ve been considering one of these systems for a while because it is highly recommended by pretty much everyone knowledgeable about cyber security. Knowing we’ll be mostly on WiFi networks of questionable security while traveling was the impetus to finally follow through on this.
    • PC Mag and CNET both rated Keeper as one of the best, and it’s quite affordable. For $60/year we can each have our own vault (where our passwords are stored), share passwords for our joint accounts between our two vaults, and sync our vaults across all our devices.
  • Reducing home costs while home & traveling. If we’re going to have this lifestyle, we need to cut costs all around. I’m sure there will be additional changes in the future, but for now we’re starting here.
    • We changed our cable/internet package. Ditching our Xfinity phone nullified our Triple Play package, so we had to do something immediately. Their Standard Double Play package gives us good internet speed and all the TV channels we care about. It was actually the most cost-effective choice for us, beating out going with other streaming services + Xfinity for internet only (funny how internet costs go up when you’re not in a “package” deal).
      • There’s no contract, so we can change anytime at no cost.
      • To keep our account active but cheap while out of the U.S., we will ditch internet and go with their basic cable ($24.75/month + taxes & fees). In future years we can save a little more by making use of their “seasonal” option, which we’ll be able to apply at least February through April. This will charge us only $8/month for those 3 months, then revert to the $24.75.
    • We reduced our AT&T cell phone package. We don’t want to lose our phone numbers because we will want them when we’re in the U.S. We think.
      • We removed our iPads from our account, so now they’re WiFi only. Between our two we used less than 1GB of data this past year, so this was a no-brainer.
      • We use precious little data each month, but were paying for the top tier, so we dropped to their lowest tier.
      • We signed up for autopay, which on the lower tier of data usage, qualifies us for a $20/month discount on our bill!
    • We will ditch some of our other streaming services.We can re-subscribe if we want them when we’re back in the U.S. We are not going to the Caribbean to binge on Netflix!

 

 

Planning Our Trip South

I am both excited and terrified about this trek south. I really just want to be in the Caribbean where it’s warm, and we can island hop with day cruises and maybe the occasional single overnight cruise. But we have to get the boat down there first, and that requires traversing the entire Atlantic seaboard. Yikes!

Dave and my Dad have each been doing some route planning on their own and comparing notes for this trek. It’s about 1500 miles to our last U.S. destination of Stuart, Florida, before continuing on to the Caribbean. This will take about 2 months of mostly daytime only cruising, since we will largely be using the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). That timeframe is, of course, weather dependent. We were originally considering bypassing North Carolina with a multi-day/night offshore cruise to save time, but we learned that a snowbird friend of ours will be near Hatteras at that time, so we opted to stop and see her instead. That actually eases my mind a little, because bypassing NC offshore is a commitment of 5 or more days, requiring a good weather window. Not sure how sure a thing that would be during the changeable spring weather, and there are very few places where one can cut back into the safety of the NC coast.

I’m leaving most of the route planning to Dave and Dad, but reading about the ICW and all the potential stops has been on my list of things to do for quite a while, along with the thousand other things that have to happen before we leave in April. I hadn’t gotten around to it until just this week. Dave had to drive up to Augusta to submit his retirement paperwork to the Maine retirement system, and I tagged along so he could drop me off for lunch with my former colleagues up there (yay!). We took along one of our cruising guides for the Chesapeake Bay to Florida and I read aloud from it on the way down and back. Dave has skimmed it mostly for a sense of distance and timing, but neither of us had yet considered places to stop each night that provided whichever amenities we might need at the time. We’d also like to spend a couple of days in a particular place in each of Chesapeake Bay, and in NC, SC and GA, so we got a sense of where those places might be.

Doing this reading has made me feel much less anxious, and even much more excited about this long trek along mostly inland waters. It’s no longer a big unknown, and it sounds like the scenery will be amazing in many places. There are also numerous points along the SC, GA and FL borders where we can opt for a single night’s offshore cruising to speed the trip up a bit. This will minimize the need to stand watches at night while also increasing the likelihood we’ll reach Florida waters before Dave has to fly to Arizona for that guitar build he has scheduled for early in June. By the time we get to FL, I’m sure I’ll feel much more confident piloting Indigo Lady with Dad without Dave on board. I’ll have built up a lot of sea hours by then!

T-minus Two(ish) Months…

I’m back!

Autumn found us ashore, boating season over, and me preparing for a holiday craft fair. I was not of a mood to blog about living aboard or cruising, since I was doing neither. But today brought a February thaw with temperatures touching 60ºF with the sun shining warm and bright. I got that spring feeling and emerged from my winter cave- went for a walk, played some dance tunes, enjoyed a rum & coke, and dreamed about not being cold again. Perfect time to revive the blog.

We start our trek south sometime in April, as soon as the weather cooperates. I alternate between feeling excited and terrified. I feel like there’s still a lot to do to prepare over the next two months. It seems like whenever we remove one thing from our “to do” list we add two more. There’s the big stuff, like determining who will tend to our mail while we’re away, choosing the best cell phone service for the U.S. & Caribbean (if a reasonable deal actually exists), etc. Then there’s the extensive list of mostly little stuff that we still need to purchase for living aboard. I guess we’d better get cracking!

I will endeavor to keep you all (fairly) regularly posted about our preparations.

I return you now to our regularly scheduled winter…