Jan 27, 2018

4 Reasons I HATE about living on a boat

There are a lot of reasons I love living on a boat, and I often focus on the pros of the lifestyle. But like anything, there are cons. Here are the ones that irk me the most:

1. It's always, ALWAYS damp. 
My cloths are damp when I put them on, my bedsheets feel damp when I get into bed, the cushions at the table feel cold and damp, the floor is sticky. I hate the bed the most. The good news it that by the time it warms up it no longer feels damp.

To combat the dampness, we keep refillable damp-rid canisters in every cabin. We also keep hatches cracked almost all the time to promote airflow and reduce condensation. Aside from that, there isn't much else we can do except install and air conditioning unit (which we can't run at anchor).

2. Smells.
Boats get kinda stinky. Perticularly in the bathroom. I've gone through great efforts to reduce the smell, but it never seems to be completely eliminated. This is a common boat problem. Aside from stinky bathrooms, there are wonderful odors the waft up from the bilge from time to time, and the general smell of mildrew coming from storage lockers. Hate it.

3. Mildew.
Related to #1, we're constantly fighting off mildrew. It's a damp somewhat dark environment. Mildew happens. Fortunately it's not too bad. I've seen other cruisers carting gallons of bleach to their boat for wiping down surfaces.

4. Lack of hot water.
Our hot water comes from a 5-gallon electric hot water heater, or from a heat exchanger on the engine. We only have hot water when we are at the dock or under way. Showers any doing the dishes are a challenge. I've recently learned of these on-demand propane water heaters, and I'm considering installing one.

Clearwater to Marco Island - 150 miles

It was weird leaving Clearwater. We never felt super at home there, but it had become familiar all the same.

We made friends, most notably with "Greenheart" who Hobie calls "Greenheart Dragon Slayer". We watched movies in the park, saw street performers, and I'll always remember when my dad flew in to visit us.

We took an awesome day trip to Tarpon Springs. It was the first time I had Octopus, and when they brought out the flaming cheese we all yelled "opa!" and the entire restaurant stopped eating and looked at us.

I asked LeeAnn if she wanted to stay in Clearwater longer, she said: "I don't want to leave, but I don't want to stay here either."

We considered sailing up to Tarpon Spring, or Duneden, but we've also heard great things about the cruising community down in Boot Key Harbor, so we want to go check that out.

We left the dock in Clearwater around 10am. We were on the gulf by 11. I was a little nervous to be heading offshore. I always am. I think it's the idea that we're stuck out on the water. If the weather turns bad, or something goes wrong, we could be hours from a safe harbor. I also get seasick. This time I took Dramamine when we left the dock.

We made our way out to deep water and turned south. The wind and waves pushed us along. At first, it was a little wallowy and even LeeAnn with her invincible stomach started to feel queasy. But after a few hours, the boat found it's groove, and we enjoyed an incredibly smooth sail.

We had leftovers for dinner and put the boys to bed.

After dark, the wind increased to 20 knots. We rounded a point and adjusted course to the Southeast. This put the Northeast wind and waves directly on our beam (broadside of the boat).

The wind started gusting up to 25 knots, nearly 30 mph. It was clearly time to reef the sails.

LeeAnn was still laying with the boys, so I put on my jacket, harness, lifejacket, headlamp and stepped out on deck.

It was loud, and dark, and wet. Waves slamming into the side of the boat sent explosions of spray into the air. We were flying on the wind. The boat making a steady 8 knots, with bursts of 11 knots as we surfed down the waves.

I reefed the jib first. It was easier and faster. I let out some sail, which caused the jib to writhe like it was possessed by a demon trying to rip it's host apart. I rushed to the other side of the boat to haul in the furling line. I repeated this process twice to get the sail down to the size I wanted.

I then reefed the main to the first reef point, slowly dropping the sail while bringing in the reefing line. With reefed sails, we were still making a steady 7-8 knots.

We made great time and arrived at Marco Island by 10am the next day, clearing the entire 150 miles in just under 24 hours, considering we didn't actually start making progress southward until 11am the previous day.

I'm really proud of this passage. It was the first time LeeAnn and I sailed alone overnight since having kids. We dealt with some pretty strong winds but never felt like we needed to head for shore. The Dramamine was wonderful, no seasickness, however, Charlie did puke so we puke Children's Chewable Dramamine on our shopping list for Marco Island.

We spent almost a week on Marco Island, waiting for weather, and hanging out with my Grandma who lives on the island. She was SUPER awesome and helped us get groceries, bought us dinner, and let us use her pool! It was beyond what we had expected, and we had a great time!

Jan 13, 2018

Sailing to the Florida Keys

Tomorrow is our last day in Clearwater Beach.

The weather over the last 48 hours has been cold and wet, and yet we've managed to make it to the playground both days.

For the most part, the boat is ready to go and I've been super laid back about the upcoming passage. We have a GREAT looking weather window,  No thunderstorms forecast with 10-15 knots of wind out of the North East, waves 2-3. This is our forecast every day next week.

I need to look over the engines tomorrow. I probably should have already done this, but the weather has been crappy. If there is anything wrong, I'll have to get it fixed tomorrow or delay departure.

We've pretty well provisioned up, but we'll make a run to the grocery store tomorrow to top up. We also need to fill up water and fuel and empty our holding tanks.

Our route from Clearwater to Key West is about 215 miles and should take us around 41 hours to complete.

If we get tired or the weather turns we have several options for stopping along the way.

I have high hopes for a nice relaxing passage with my family. And fingers crossed for seeing dolphins!

Jan 10, 2018

Cruising With Kids: Not Having A Yard

We were fortunate to live in the Midwest where space is plentiful, and most anyone who wants to live in a house with a yard can do so. 

It came in handy to be able to send our kids out the back door to play in the yard while we cooked dinner or cleaned the house.

When we moved onto the boat, we gave up the yard, but overall, I'd say it doesn't make much difference. 

On this day, our backyard was a beach
where we dug for burried treasure.

First off, it's not like our kids don't play outside. We go to parks and playgrounds, just like the other 36 million families in America who live in apartments or high rises and don't have a backyard.

Jan 4, 2018

Cruising With Kids: Dealing With Limited Space

We hear it all the time: "It must be hard living in such a small space with kids! How can you do it?"

I'm not sure about anyone else's kids, but when it comes to mine, whether we are in a 2,000SF house or an 800SF boat, our kids are where we are.

If we are cooking, the kids are in the kitchen. Often on the floor, and possibly clinging to our legs. 

Charlie helping me cook in the kitchen.

If we are in our bedroom folding laundry, the kids are in our bedroom knocking over the stacks of clean clothes. 

Dec 12, 2017

350 Miles from Mobile to Clearwater

After motoring 1,300 miles of rivers and canals we arrived in Mobile, Alabama where we put up our mast. After all that motoring, the LAST thing I wanted to do was motor a few hundred miles more on the Gulf Coast Intercostal Waterway (GICW).

I wanted open water sailing! I wanted to be able to hit the autopilot and walk away from the helm for five minutes without having to worry about running into anything. Most of all, I wanted to make my wife happy by arriving in Clearwater in time for us to make it to Thanksgiving dinner with friends! The only way that was happening was to make a straight shot, 350 miles from Mobile to Clearwater.

We've done enough "offshore" sailing to know that it goes a lot better when we have an extra person aboard. It leaves one person for the kids, and two people for the boat. Plus the night watches go from 3 hours on 3 hours off, to 3 hours on, 6 hours off. A much easier schedule

We started asking around for crew, which is not easy to find even in a place where we know a lot of people. Sailing depends on the weather, so departure and return dates are a moving target that work schedules don't accommodate.

We asked one of the boatyard guys about potential crew and he gave us the number of some friends of his who had offshore experience. We invited them over for dinner, everything fell into place, and we had one experienced crew member, Devlin, sign on to sail to Clearwater

Food we threw away :(
We prepared for the big trip. I changed the engine oil, oil filters, fuel filters. Made sure my engine belts were tight. After 2 months of flat river water, we had gotten a little lazy and some junk had piled up in the cockpit and on deck. Things needed to be put away, or secured. We filled up our propane tanks, stocked up on provisions. Then... our fridge died!!

Our fridge had developed a refrigerant leak back in Muskegon, so I had bought a new fridge knowing it would eventually die. I spent our last day in Mobile installing the new compressor and evaporator plate. Unfortunately, the new fridge didn't work!!

It first had a resistor problem in the thermostat. Once I got it to turn on, it never got cold. I'm assuming it left the factory without receiving a refrigerant charge, due to the inspection paperwork not being filled out.

Unfortunately, we had a narrow weather window with no time for a repairman to come out. After a night of our fridge at 55 degrees, all the meat was bad. With no car to get to a grocery store, we called Devlin for help. He grabbed a cooler and went to the grocery store before arriving at our boat for departure.

The passage to Clearwater was some of the roughest sailing we have ever done. We were beating into 4-6 foot seas and winds gusting over 20 knots. During our first night out I sat at the helm in the small hours of the morning. In the darkness, the most I could see were the shapes of waves sweeping past me. Spray soaked me and the deck. I wanted to record video, but I felt so horrible I couldn't force myself to go get my camera.

As the wind shifted, we ended up heading nearly due south. With the sunrise, we tacked back to the north to return us to our plotted course. We then turned back Southeast towards Clearwater. We maintained that heading for the rest of the trip.

The wind and waves continued to moderate for the rest of the passage, but it wasn't until the last day that things really calmed down. I have very few pictures of the passage:

We made it! Pizza and beer to celebrate!

Dec 8, 2017

Day Date in Alton, Il

Going on a "day date" in Alton Il, thanks to our French Canadian cruising friends who offered to watch our kids for the afternoon!

Nov 24, 2017

Chicago to Mobile, WE DID IT!

Before arriving in Demopolis, we had the depressing realization that we would not make it to Mobile, AL in time for Halloween. A bummer not only because we wouldn't have a neighborhood to trick-or-treat in, but also because Hobie's NinjaGo costume was shipped to Mobile.

We spent a night going over the options and trying to figure out how we could make it work, but it just didn't look possible. After a day of sadness, we decided to look on the bright side, we would be catching up with our French Canadian friends, so at least we could hang out with them and "trick-or-treat" from boat-to-boat. 

But after our 70 mile run from Demopolis to Bashi Creek, I realized we might actually be able to make it to Mobile in time for Halloween. The current was running with us, and we lucked out with the tide which would also be in our favor after Coffeeville Lock.

I secretly asked Hobie: "Do you want to play it safe and stay with the French Canadians for Halloween, or take a chance on making it to Mobile for Trick or Treating?" He opted for Mobile, which is what I was hoping for, so that's what we did.

Each morning we fired up both engines and made our way down the river at top speed. One day we recorded a personal best of 80 miles traveled in a single day on the river. We hauled butt, and made it to Mobile on October 30th. Pretty good considering just a few days earlier we were moping around thinking would wouldn't arrive until November. 

Going through Downtown Mobile was pretty sweet. We passed under a low bridge and were instantly amongst huge ocean going freighters. It was a very busy port. There was also a boatyard building sweet Navy trimarans. It was a super cool area to go through.

As we left the river for Mobile Bay, I thought about the weather and open water conditions for the first time since leaving Lake Michigan. It was pretty windy, and I started wondering what the waves would be like on the bay. Fortunately they turned out to be pretty small, but with the high winds we got quite a bit of spray.

We made our way through the bay, then motored up the Dog River. It was REALLY cool. We had a bit of a gulf coast culture shock. There were suddenly palm trees, shrimp boats, just a whole different vibe from the river. It was awesome. I loved it.

The rivers seemed to last FOREVER. So long that stopped thinking the end would ever come. It took a bit before I realized: We did it! We made it from Chicago to Mobile! 

That had never been a "goal" of mine, so it wasn't really something I thought much about while we were doing it. But after having completed it, I realized it's a hell of a long way, and something to celebrate having accomplished. So we put our dinghy in the water and motored across the river to a waterfront restaurant for dinner. A night of luxury, someone else cooking, and cleaning up!

Nov 19, 2017

Demopolis "loop" Think

We traveled a short distance to Demopolis, I was in full on "travel" mode and didn't really feel like stopping. I was kinda hoping to fuel up, pump out, fill water and head back out... but we have friends here and LeeAnn wanted to hang out for a night. 

It makes sense. This is the last marina for the next 216 miles. It will be 4 or 5 days from here to Mobile. Plus today and tonight was supposed to be stormy. 

Despite all that... I didn't want to stay. I wanted to move on. We were in a groove. On a roll. For days it seemed like we had the river to ourselves. Hardly saw another boat. 

Suddenly we were in boater central. Nearly everyone stops in Demopolis. The place was packed, and there we were in the middle of it.

Suddenly we couldn't leave. Word got around that the demopolis lock master required everyone to go through the lock together. Through the game of phone, this lock was turned into a big event. It required looper organization so that we could all get through without having to wait. 

A meeting was held, it was a very somber event that began with everyone stating their name. These names were logged in the meeting minutes (not really but that formality was in the air and it wouldn't have surprised me if someone was taking notes). 

It pissed me off that for days we were on our own and doing just fine. Then suddenly we were sucked into this group think. 

We left the meeting before it really started. People were nice, but overall we didn't seem welcome with our rowdy kids. This was a serious meeting after all. 

We returned to our boat where I called the lockmaster myself to see if there was anything special about the lock, or anything special we needed to do. He said there was not. I get what people were trying to do. The locks don't want to deal with one pleasure craft after another. It's better to group. I just like my independence. 

The next day we left with the group at about 7:30. It was around 40 degrees, windy, and raining heavily. Oh yeah and it was foggy. Pretty much horrible conditions. But, I didn't want to stay in Demopolis another night, so I put on my foul weather gear and we left. 

Ironically, it took a good hour to get into the lock due to all the boats and bad weather. 

We were the last ones in and rafted up to a power cat we have been playing hopscotch with for a few hundred miles. In order to lighten the mood, I decided to use a Australian accent during all my radio communication. I was in a very good mood upon entering the lock. Shitty weather and crazy situations have a way of really lighting me up. 

We locked down and then fired up both engines. Its unusual for us to run both engines at the same time. The pickup in speed normally doesn't justify the cost in fuel. But on this day we had 70 miles to cover before the next safest anchorage. So we hauled ass, and had a nice current pushing us along as well. We made it to Bashi creek by our usual stopping of 4pm. I was impressed.

The creek was very narrow. 40 feet. Half downed trees lay in the creek. Other trees simply had overgrown into the creek. It was a place no respectable looper would enter, so I ventured in. 

We made our way about a quarter mile up the creek. Weaving our way around fallen trees, we had good depth most of the way. When it shallowed to 7 feet, I spun us around and dropped the anchor. I also dropped a pile of chain over the side of the boat to help hold us in the middle of the channel if the wind changed direction overnight, but I didn't expect that and we were so well protected I don't think it would have mattered. 

The sunset and stars came out. I lowered the dinghy into the water and the boys and I went out with a spotlight searching for alligators. We didn't find any. 

After we returned to the boat, we lite our pumpkins and listened to the owls hooting to each other. Then two owls got into a fight and after a moment LeeAnn and I ushered the boys inside the boat, lest they be witnesses to an owl murder. 

I thought about the contrast between staying at a dock the previous night for $53 verses anchoring in Bashi creek for free. Being anchored out on our own, a few other bold cruisers with us, we got so much more value out of anchoring. 

Nov 13, 2017

4 Reasons NOT to do The Great Loop

The Great Loop has become hugely popular among boaters in recent years. When we first traveled down the US East Coast in 2007 we didn't hear the terms "Great Loop", "Looping", or "Loopers" a single time. These days it seems every boater we meet is flying the AGLCA (America's Great Loop Cruising Association) flag.

I can understand why. The Great Loop sounds like a great idea. Traveling America's waterways, seeing America by boat, most of it via protected waterways.

When I meet Loopers who are nearing the completion of their loop, I like to ask "ready to start again?" to which most of them hastily shake their head and say "oh no, not doing it again."

Why? And if it isn't enjoyable, why don't we hear more about the negatives? Maybe loopers don't want to admit to others or themselves that the trip sucked. Or maybe Loopers feel embarrassed that they aren't the intrepid travelers the thought they were.

If it's the latter, then it's really too bad, because in my opinion, "Looping" is going about "cruising" all wrong. Which brings me to another point. Loopers are not cruisers. Many cruisers will make a distinct point of that. When asked "are you looping?" The cruiser will reply "cruising, not looping." When I hear this reply, I become so excited that someone else "gets it!"

Here are 4 reasons not to do The Great Loop:

1. It's toxic.

This actually might be a good reason to do the loop, because if more people were aware of how widespread our toxic waters are, perhaps there would be change. According to this study, Chesapeake Bay is dirtier than an unflushed toilet bowl. Deleware Bay struggles with pollution. In the Hudson River, our fun game was to count condoms. Erie canal water, gross. Chicago Sanitation canal? The name says enough, Illinois river? nope. The sad truth is that for the vast majority of the loop, going swimming means risking getting sick.

2. It's not very scenic.

This is not to say there aren't gloriously beautiful parts. Kentucky Lake is amazing. Traveling through downtown Chicago is a one of a kind experience. The North Channel in the Great Lakes is exceptional, as are the clear waters and dunes of Lake Michigan. All parts of the Loop have their beauty, but the vast majority of it is just one long boring slog. Sitting at the wheel watching mile after mile of boring, low lying shoreline go by. When you come to a pretty section where you'd like to stay awhile, the weight of distance still to go or cold weather pushes you on.
A typical ICW Shoreline
A typical Chicago-Mobile Shoreline.

3. There is no destination.

The Great Loop takes water highways and turns them into the destination. It's equivalent to saying: 'My wife and I are going to buy an RV and drive I-75 round trip. We are going to spend each night in a parking lot just off the expressway. We will visit roadside attractions and small towns along the way. No one does this because it sounds horrible. And yet, that's exactly what the Great Loop is. A road trip with no destination.

4. It burns people out.

Nearly every looper we meet is on their first "cruise". Many of them have even bought their boat specifically for doing the loop. In other words, Loopers are generally inexperienced cruisers. This is not always the case. Some people go around and around the loop. Some people are just made to move. But the rest of them get burnt out, decide boat life isn't for them, sell their boat and move into an RV. Why?

"Cruising" implies traveling, but I've found the reality to be the exact opposite. My best cruising experiences have been when we hardly travel at all. This is what people mean when they say "cruising grounds" it's an area you hang around in. Traveling on a boat is hard work. The loop is day after day of hard work. It causes wear and tear on the boat which then needs to be repaired. Those repairs are in addition to grocery shopping, laundry, and any other things you want to do while stopped. By the time it's all done, you've been in a marina for a week, have had no time to relax, and it's time to start it all over again.

How it should be done:

I'm not saying to avoid America's waterways, I'm saying to use them for what they are, water highways to awesome destinations. Pick a place you want to go and go there. I personally love the Bahamas. Perhaps you've always wanted to visit New England or the North Channel. Go for it. Use the waterways as needed. Break from the crowd, set your own course, plot your own route.