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…

 

 

 

Vermin Update

Dave went back to Lady Saturday morning to check on our rodent problem. He found a trap sprung in a different cabin. At this point he was worried that it was something bigger than a mouse, so he started searching the cabin thoroughly and noticed a little, quivering brown ball of fur on the floor in a corner. So he grabbed a nearby rag and scooped up the critter. He had no way to get it ashore, so he tossed it overboard. When it hit the water it started paddling, and it was then that he realized it was a flying squirrel! Well that explains how it got aboard. We’ll never know for sure whether it glided from shore landing on the boat directly, or if it landed in the water or on our our dock and then scurried aboard on the lines. I’m pretty sure after this traumatic experience, it won’t be returning.

Rodent was last seen swimming toward shore. I hope the little thing made it 🙂

Sunset and Vermin

Indigo Lady is on a mooring in the middle of a tidal river. How the heck did a mouse get on board?! We’re not sure, and it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we get rid of it before it causes any damage, like chewing on important wires.

We met out at Lady late Wednesday afternoon to escape the humidity of the night by sleeping aboard, and to hang out during the worst of the heat on Thursday. I brought dinner from home and we spent a lovely evening mostly hanging out in the hammocks and relaxing. I was very tempted to sleep in the hammock because of the lovely breeze and lack of mosquitoes. Dave actually thought I’d fallen sound asleep in mine, so around 10pm he quietly slipped out of his, shut off the music and went to bed. Perhaps it was the sudden silence that woke me (okay, maybe I snored myself awake), but I decided a real mattress was probably a better idea and I toddled off to join him. It was a lovely night’s sleep.

Dave made his coffee in the morning, and I was contemplating doing some yoga on the bow when I heard Dave’s exclamation from the galley. Some critter had chewed through the bottom of the plastic bag in which we had a new homemade loaf of bread, and also though the smaller bag that contained a single homemade English muffin. There were many crumbs around the loaf. We found only a couple of mouse turds nearby (and later noticed a couple at the helm station in the cockpit). We went on the hunt! We looked in every food storage locker, in every cabin, and anyplace we had paper goods stored, but saw absolutely no other sign of rodent. We suspect it had only gotten aboard the day before. I wonder if it stowed away in the dingy and climbed aboard by the dock lines after we were aboard. I know rodents can swim, but it’s awfully far to shore for a mouse. At any rate, Dave made a trip ashore for some mouse traps, baited them with bread and peanut butter, and set them everywhere (10 total).

Dave returned to Lady today to check the traps. One in the workshop cabin had sprung, but no mouse, although it ate the peanut butter and left the bread. There were also a couple of new turds there. He found no sign of rodent in the rest of the boat. So now we have to check each day until we find something in a trap. If we don’t have success by Monday, I fear Decon will be our next step. A small mouse can wreak a lot of havoc aboard. (I really hope it’s not a pregnant female!)

Anyone have any tips for successfully capturing a rodent on a boat?

 

Are the bugs bad here?

The first time I asked a bunch of expatriate cruisers this question, they told me the chitras (Caribbean no-see-ums) are only out for a little while at dawn and dusk, but that I would barely notice them. I was eaten alive and exceedingly itchy for 3 weeks!

To be fair, we were ashore at a marina for dinner and I did not use insect repellent (stupid, I know). Nobody else seemed bothered by the chitras, just me. I am a smorgasbord for biting insects.

They even manage to find me when we’re at anchor a fair distance from land. My companions (who are rarely bothered by biting insects) usually insist the bugs won’t reach us. Well, they reach me. In the Caribbean it’s impossible to sleep with the hatches and portholes closed without creating a sauna inside.

The rigid hatch and porthole screens that came with Indigo Lady are either starting to tear, don’t fit properly, or won’t stay in place. So I spent a fair amount of time these past couple of weeks making my own screens, which are now affixed by Velcro. Since it’s really easy to lift one edge to open/close a hatch, those can even stay in place, and the porthole screens can be rolled to the side and held in place with a simple loop, so we don’t need to stow these when we have to close up the boat. We also bought one of those hanging screen doors that magnetically “zips” down the center once you pass through. After some simple alterations to width and length, we can now leave the slider open at night for even better airflow

The bugs will not be bad inside at least 😉.

Shakedown Cruise Reflections

Our July trip on Indigo Lady was a successful shakedown cruise as far as testing our solar-electric systems is concerned. I had hoped to use this trip as (a) a test of living aboard, and (b) a chance to put my boating classes to the test. But alas, it turns out I really needed a vacation, so that’s what it turned into for me. It was a fabulous vacation at that.

I didn’t drive the boat (well, maybe for about 15 minutes). I didn’t plot or monitor a single leg of our journey; in fact, we forgot our plotting tools at home- doh! I did do some anchoring and even managed to get the bridle on a couple of times myself. I also learned how to turn on the system power, read the solar input and AC and DC usage, and learned how to start and shut off the gensets. I feel pretty good about that.

Our on-board laundry days were somewhat reflective of our reality for living aboard, but we couldn’t wash the sheets aboard because we didn’t have a way to hang them to dry; we have since developed a plan for that. Of course, the washer tub is so small, a single set of sheets will take two loads, and we’ll probably have to wring them out since I doubt a queen-sized sheet will fit in the little spinner tub. No matter. In the Caribbean, by the time the second sheet is done washing, the first will probably already be dry 😉 Dave and his brother installed the water maker this week, and once Dave wires it, laundry will be even easier because I won’t have to worry about using our precious, potable water.

I LOVE that we are electricity rich. We’ll be able to make water and use the washing machine! Of course we can run all the ‘house’ stuff- lights, outlets, pumps, etc. Having essentially unlimited electricity makes cooking easier. Our gas stove and grill work well, but propane needs refilling when it runs out. With this much electricity, we can use the bread machine, and bake/cook in the convection/microwave oven, which works much better than the gas oven that can’t keep a steady temperature (or get above 350F for that matter). We never did use the instant pot, but are quite certain it will be a useful device as well. We ate very well the entire month. Of course, I can’t eat like that every day when living aboard longterm, or I’ll gain a ton of weight! So we’ll keep eating fabulous meals, but I’ll have to cut back on the baking ;-).

Keeping fit is going to be interesting. I was able to do yoga on the walkway between the tramps in the bow, and it was quite peaceful. In the Caribbean we will snorkel and dive quite a bit. I’m not sure how I’m going to get in aerobic exercise with the heat and humidity of the Caribbean. I suppose whatever I end up doing will inevitably be followed by a swim to cool off! I thrive on routine, but struggle developing new ones, so it will be challenging to establish a new fitness routine.

It will be interesting to see what routines Dave and I develop (or fall into) once we’re living aboard in the Caribbean. It’s difficult to envision from up here in the chilly waters of the Gulf of Maine. Will we spend more of our time anchored off remote islands, or in harbors closer to humanity? How often will we go ashore? How much time will we spend doing things together vs. separately? What will meals be like? How much will we interact with other cruisers? With locals? Twelve hours seems like a lot of time to fill when my standard go-to activities will be unavailable to me. It will certainly be an adventure (or a series of them) figuring out all of this. I welcome your ideas and suggestions (use the comment link at left)!

Re-adjusting to being ashore

We four travelers, plus my sister and niece who came to pick up my parents, enjoyed dinner at Warren’s Lobster House. Then my sister took my folks home while Dave & I returned to Lady to spend Saturday night aboard at our mooring. It made packing up and getting stuff ashore easier on Sunday. We finally got home in time for a late lunch. After unpacking, I enjoyed a luxurious hot shower and didn’t need to worry about how long I ran the water- decadent! Then I took a nap. My sister’s family hosted a cookout Sunday night, which was awesome, because Dave & I were beat!

What struck me most as we walked into the house for the first time in a month was color and texture. The boat is so white, and our home has much more varied and comparatively darker colors, and there is a variety of textures in the wood, granite, vinyl, rugs, etc. Oh, and the space struck me- our small ranch feels huge compared to Lady. It is good to be home. The world even stopped rocking after about 36 hours ashore 😉

Since Monday we’ve been catching up on yard work and house work, and I’ve been doing a ton of laundry. We use small tubs of calcium chloride in our cabinets and lockers to keep the dampness at bay, but stuff still gets a tad damp and smells like boat. So even though some of our clothes were actually clean, they got washed and hung out on the line to dry. Now they smell fresh, at least until they go back on the boat. Tuesday we went back to Lady to retrieve the sheets and towels- 5 sets of sheets, 9 sets of towels, plus kitchen towels and reusable (but dirty) ‘boat rags’. All told, I’ve done about 9 or 10 loads of laundry over the past 3 days!

Tuesday we did more than just retrieve dirty linens from Lady. Dave had some systems and other stuff to work on, and I worked on making screens to keep out mosquitoes. I completed one for a porthole and one for a large hatch, which I can now use as templates for the remaining 17 portholes and 5 large hatches. I’d also completed one for the only mid-sized hatch on board, and will have another two small hatches to fit after that, plus a screen for the slider that will allow us to move easily between cockpit and salon. I’d better get cracking on those!

I’ve been so busy getting cleaned up and caught up, that I haven’t had much time to reflect on the trip, other than to jot a few quick ideas in a list. I will, however, be sharing my reflection here, likely next week. For the next few months I plan to post only 1-2 times/week. If you’ve been following this blog via Facebook, they changed the feature that allowed WordPress to automatically share my blog posts there. From now on I’ll have to manually share my posts on FB, which I’m likely to forget to do on occasion. If you’re interested, you can follow my blog at lisamarchi.com and get an email whenever I post. Just click on the big ‘ole Follow button and provide an email address.

Now I need to go make screens.

Jewell – Saco – Home

Thursday morning we filled our water tanks and dropped off our Garbage at Brewer’s Marina before leaving South Freeport in a little fog, and had a good trip over to Jewell Island, beating the predicted rain. There were 5 other boats there already, so we anchored at the back of the line, still sheltered in the little cove, with only a little wrap-around swell from the point to the west. To the east it was blue sky with a few clouds. To our west, coming from the mainland (off Portland), there was fog and rain heading toward us. It finally reached us in the afternoon, but then it cleared again, stuff dried out, and we were able to eat out in the cockpit. We watched the sun set and the full moon rise, and Dave pointed out Venus, Jupiter and Mars on the ecliptic with the moon.

Moon rising over Jewell

Friday morning was beautiful and I even got to do yoga on the bow walkway. We set out for Saco mid morning. There were some 6 foot ocean swells, but the weather stayed clear and we picked up a mooring at Saco mid afternoon. We did a little cleaning inside and out then enjoyed the warm weather (no overshirts needed!) and nice breeze up in the tramp. My friend Heidi was able to join us aboard for an early evening drink before heading out to a friend’s birthday dinner. The four of us took her ashore and headed to dinner ourselves at Huot’s. The rain even held off until after our return, and the thunderstorms stayed away from us.

Lady from the jetty at Saco

This morning was another beautiful morning (Saturday). With a long ride ahead of us to our home dock, and thunderstorms forecast for this afternoon, we dropped the mooring and set off by 8am, having breakfast while underway. Initially we had 4-5 foot swells, but those have since dropped to 2-3 feet, and we’ve had mostly sunny skies. At one point we briefly entered a low fog bank, so our driving visibility was limited, but the sun was shining overhead!

In about an hour we should make Pepperel Cove where Mom & I will go ashore to get the car and bring it around to the boat launch at Traip Academy to meet the boys. Then we’ll start the business of sorting stuff and going ashore.

Or maybe we’ll leave the sorting for tomorrow and go get dinner at Warren’s 😉

This trip may be coming to and end, but I’m not done blogging. There will be more (shorter) excursions on Lady this season. I will also continue posting at least weekly while we’re ashore over the fall and winter months. There’s more to ‘life on Lady’ than actually being aboard her 😊.