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Why We Stopped Cruising (And Why We Can’t Wait to Cruise Again)

Why We Stopped Cruising (And Why We Can’t Wait to Cruise Again)

I remember the moment I started feeling really weary. We had spent some time in the more isolated and beautiful Berry Islands, Bahamas and were pulling up anchor to travel just to the other side of the island. It was the shortest trip we’d had up until that point, only three hours motor sailing to reach the next anchorage, but it was the worse passage yet. The waves were choppy, and the wind was at an angle that made our trip less than comfortable. Two of our three girls actually got sick from the motion we were experiencing. It was an uncomfortable three hours.

When we finally arrived at Hawk’s Nest Cay, the spacious anchorage was nearly as choppy as our sail. Dropping anchor helped of course, but this particular anchorage had poor protection from the wind coming in from the east. We went to Hawk’s Nest Cay to station ourselves for our passage to Spanish Wells, Eluethera, a passage we were planning on making the next morning with a buddy boat, s/v Totem. But the waves and my girl’s sea sickness pulled me down for the count. “Clean up on Gromit!” was the running joke, but in reality it caused me a great deal of stress.

We had been through choppy passages before. Two of our four days across the Chesapeake were very rolly and no one got sick then. I was cold and thankful for the dock, but had plenty of spirit to keep going. Now in the Bahamas, I was begging for a break. What changed?

Making our way down the east coast in December. Cold, but ready for anything! A pre-crawling Haven lays down at my side

It could be that our once little bundle of baby joy had recently blossomed into a curious climbing toddler, and now a sea sick one at that. I could have been feeling weary because our fridge stopped working, and I wasn’t prepared to be sans fridge in a remote island of the Bahamas. Also, our oldest daughter was increasingly having a hard time being away from her friends and grandparents in Texas, and I was silently grieving that my mom and sisters were missing out on Haven’s first year. It could be that I had lost the vision that propelled us out on this grand adventure in the first place.

Our first time as a family on Gromit in Edgewater, MD

But I could have been feeling weary simply because I needed a break, and maybe every cruiser just does at some point.

Whatever the reason, I was ready to just stop moving. I was looking forward to spending an indefinite amount of time in Spanish Wells, but we decided to stay a couple more days in that agitated anchorage to gather rest before moving on. And I’m so glad we did. We met another amazing cruising family on s/v Gone Walkabout (are there any who aren’t amazing?) who played happily with our girls and carried our baby on hips across the beach. We exchanged stories and bread recipes and I felt refreshed.

The two weeks we spent in Spanish Wells were also the reprieve we needed, and continues to be one of our favorite cruising destinations, but I still didn’t feel ready to take on new shores. Even after our two weeks there, I was ready for a more substantial break. We decided to make our way to Texas for the Summer, but somewhere between Spanish Wells and Green Cove Springs, Florida, my husband accepted a job in Houston and our plans for a break morphed into moving back home.

Having a relaxing picnic near our dock in Spanish Wells, Eluethera

It was a whirlwind Summer. We fell in love with a house just two days after stepping foot on Texas soil and began a contract to buy it. Mike went back to work, and we had to acquire or purchase everything all over again just one year after selling it all. Forks, plates, glasses, beds, work clothes, shoes (can’t be barefoot here)- everything. And to top it all off, we put s/v Gromit up for sale, an inevitability, we assumed.

But what were we doing? Were we really going back to a house, a job and life in the suburbs?

We had a newfound appreciation for the many things we went without while cruising, like daily showers, freezers, and washing machines, but the truth was we were having a hard time adjusting to life on land. Did we just give up on cruising forever? Did we make the right choice for our family? Did we rush into these decisions? We were grieving the loss of cruising, and grieving hard. It’s true that I loved seeing my little ones run around the house, loved seeing Haven have spaces to safely play and do things she hadn’t before, but every day was bittersweet.

Mike and I started having a series of honest conversations about our decisions, our future, our desires and our boat. We talked about everything we would have done differently, the attitudes that carried our decisions, the way we function as a couple, and what we loved about cruising. We underwent the difficult process of recognizing the less than healthy ways we handled fatigue and stress. It wasn’t easy, but it was life giving and healing for us during our time of transition and reflection.

The conversations led us to recognize that we didn’t want to sell Gromit, and we didn’t want cruising to be a thing of the past. Yes, cruising with children is not easy, there are sacrifices to be made, but we were far from ready to make land life permanent. We took Gromit off the market and for the first time felt a wave of hopeful anticipation wash over us.

Haven at the helm

Part time cruising and full time cruising are no doubt unique in their challenges and rewards. We cruised full time for 8 months and reaped the benefits: we grew as people and as a family, we acquired new skills, visited wonderful places and met incredible people. Now we’re ready to continue the adventure as we cruise part time throughout the year. We’ll have a home base here in Texas, but will take trips out on Gromit, traveling the coast of Florida and even possibly making the passage to Texas one day.

We’re SO excited to say that we’re not done with cruising just yet! Our feet are on solid ground for now, but we’re dreaming of our next adventure out on those salty seas!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When One Adventure Ends and Another Begins

When One Adventure Ends and Another Begins

This week my thoughts flow toward the idea of transition. This week approaches the Biblical time of Shavuot, some may know as Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks. It is a very important time of the Biblical year. Shavuot is the fourth of the seven Biblical feasts. It is represented by the main candle in the menorah and it signifies the center of the year, all activity flowing from it. It separates the spring feasts from the fall feasts, and because of this it marks an important time of change. It stands solidly each year as our doorway from one season into the next.

It is in this time we also find ourselves transitioning from one incredible season into another. So much has happened since we began the journey back up the coast of Florida from the Bahamas preparing to leave s/v Gromit for the Summer. We knew we wanted to spend the Summer on land with family and friends, but as we traveled back North to Green Cove Springs, Florida, we felt it was time for even greater changes.

We had about two solid weeks of travel (it took longer because in reality we didn’t travel everyday) to make it to the marina by the middle of May to pack and return to Houston by the end of May. It was a long few weeks. As we made our way to our destination, preparing to be on land again, the joy we once felt in cruising together, exploring the coast line, and seeing new places slowly began to fade. Our fridge dying in the Bahamas, while seemed possible to do without at first, now seemed unbearable. I longed to go to the store and get produce that would last more than two days in the hot cabin, but we didn’t want to fix the fridge just yet, knowing we would soon be visiting land. Our seven fans throughout the boat began to malfunction intermittedly. Haven, our one year old, was blossoming from babyhood to toddlerhood, but we were constantly relegating her to her crib because she loved to climb. It seemed it was all too easy for her to get into everything we owned, even with babyproofing, and she didn’t have the space she needed to explore freely. We were hot and tired and not sure what was next for us.

We started discussing options for a new season for us. Liveaboard and stay stationary? Being in one place at a marina would at least give us some stability and familiarity. Would Mike go to school and change careers? Which school and where? Would we live on land somewhere else for a while? We discussed every option you could think of. Through an interesting chain of events, Mike began talking with his former boss and co-worker, and decided to accept a job at the company he previously worked for, a job that he had about five years ago and really enjoyed.

At first I (Brittany) was really hesitant when Mike was discussing taking the job. I was looking forward to visiting family in Houston, but return to a job and house? Give up cruising? Stop traveling? It took some time to process what this transition would mean, and unfortunately, a lot of my hesitation stemmed from what others would think. Would they think we’re giving up? We couldn’t handle this life? Weren’t strong enough? Would they think we didn’t like it, were secretly unhappy and just putting on a show? In my heart I knew none of these things was the truth. I felt stronger than ever. We had traveled down the coast and across the Gulf Stream to another country, and back! We had faced challenges of many kinds, and had not given up. We had experienced the highs and lows cruising brought us. Without worrying about what anyone else might think of us, I had peace about this transition, knowing that God was simply bringing us into another season, a new time that didn’t involve the boat we had come to call home.

So here we are. We’re buying a house in a neighborhood with a backyard and monthly bills. Mike has a job and we’ve got the family car. We’re transitioning back to land life, and we’re actually really excited about this new season, about starting over. In fact, it was one reason we decided to say “yes!” and take the crazy leap to cruise in the first place- we always knew we could start over. And now that we are, we’ve learned that life is much more flexible than we once thought. You can go and sell everything and come back and land life will be here waiting if and when you want to come back.

But there’s one thing I won’t be able to do back on land. I won’t be able to fully express how much cruising and our boat s/v Gromit has meant to us. I know my landlubber friends and family will never understand, try as they may. I think our family has deemed us “back from the dead” or like the prodigal son returning from a wayward, rebellious journey. I think others may believe that we’re glad to be back because cruising wasn’t worth the effort. Nothing could be farther from the truth. And I know that only those salty, adventure loving sea lovers, all those wonderful cruisers and liveaboards we met on our travels can understand what I mean when I say it was worth it. Gromit will always hold a special place in our hearts. She kept us cozy and protected. She steadied the swell of the sea and carried us to our destination. She was our home.

As we neared the marina in Green Cove Springs, Florida, Mike pulled our dinghy up on the davits for the last time. We both felt that little painful stab of sadness when something life changing and amazing is coming to a close. We’ll never pile the kids in that dinghy again, see their smiles as the waves playfully splash over the bow. We’ll never pull up to a new port ready to taste land and see what adventure awaits. At least, not for now and maybe not in that boat again. We’re not ruling out cruising forever, but we’re committed to following God wherever His Spirit leads. It may lead us back to the sea one day, it may not. But for right now, we’re looking forward to all God has for us here.

For there is always a new adventure with God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boat Friends, An Octopus Fiasco and Alligators in the Oldest City in America

Boat Friends, An Octopus Fiasco and Alligators in the Oldest City in America

This spot on the water marks the place we’ve been the longest anywhere since we started our journey south. It’s a funny feeling. I was getting into the groove of daily travel. Waking in the early morning, pulling up anchor and setting out to a new place, the accomplished feeling of once again dropping that anchor in a place your eyes have never wandered, wondering what each new day will hold. Here, where our boat has bobbed and swayed for two weeks, we’re getting to know the waters, the times of the tides. We know when the current will be rushing past and when it will rest beside us. There is a comfort in this familiarity, in knowing where you’ll be that night when your head hits your pillow.

And oh, those sunsets.

sunset in St. Augustine

We decided to break from traveling with our friends on Totem when they turned to dock in Jacksonville, as we had our sights set on St. Augustine. I met a family who lived in St. Augustine, through Instagram, who also lived on a boat and had two boys, the same ages as our girls! They were kind and generous, the kind of people we’ve encountered over and over again so far, the kind of generosity you feel you could never repay. They invited us to hang out with them and allowed us to send our packages (items we ordered for our boat) to their marina. Since meeting them, we’ve been able to share several days together, letting our kids romp and run, and even sightseeing the city of St. Augustine together.

welcome!

Our new friends, Erica and Scott, raved about their home city, so we couldn’t wait to discover what this historic town had to offer. I had no idea that St. Augustine is America’s oldest city, established in 1565!

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a gorgeous view on our walk

On one occasion, Mike and the girls joined our new friends on a visit to an Alligator Farm! The kids raced down the walkways, taking in the unusual animals and watching the huge alligators feed.

a playground! And look who’s caught in the web!
slightly terrifying!

The alligators were all too eager for feeding time. A little creepy if you ask me!

the view from Crave

This sweet family even watched Marlee and Hannah one day so Mike and I could enjoy St. Augustine on our own. We ate at a hip little food truck, called Crave, with superfood wraps and a view!

This city is thick with history. Walking along its streets, old impressive buildings tower over roads of modern cars whizzing past. Bronze plaques are posted often in front of houses, street corners, and buildings signifying a place of historic importance. Tour trolleys roll by, leaving bits and pieces of the tour guides voice as it trails off. On nice days, people are walking and biking throughout the city streets, and with a bike rental shop nearby, why not?

the Lightner Museum

On our family outing to historic downtown, we visited the town square, America’s oldest parish, and wandered through rows of unique shops.

the historic town square

The girls, of course wanted to visit a beach, so one day we loaded everyone in the dinghy and motored to a nearby shoreline. We quickly realized it was more shell than shore, but the girls didn’t mind, and we had a fun time soaking in the sun and letting the girls explore the natural world.

beach day!

And then we saw an octopus…

Mike first spotted it. It was lurking around the edge of shore where the marsh grass met the water. It was reddish and sleek looking, just how you might imagine one to be. Mike ran back to the dinghy to grab the camera. Knowing how shy wild animals can be, I assumed it would be gone before Mike came back with the camera, but not only was it still there, it seemed to turn in our direction and soon began swimming straight toward where we were standing!

An octopus!

It slithered its way up toward the sand, just a couple feet from where we stood, as we excitedly watched its every move. It’s arms curled and uncurled as it moved toward us. Mike stepped into the water to get a closer picture, and immediately sank in thick, dark black mud. You couldn’t tell it was so sludgy underneath the beautiful water. Then the octopus turned again – for Mike! It was swimming toward him! Now, we didn’t believe the octopus could seriously injure any one of us, but we certainty wanted to give it room, so Mike quickly tried to walk back on shore, which he found he couldn’t! His shoes were stuck in the soft black sandy mud under the water, and as he pulled his feet out, he cut his foot on the many, many shells that littered the area. This silly octopus! We got to see it up close and in full detail, but we’ve never met a wild animal who was so curious and got us into so much trouble!

Mike got his shoes, with difficulty, and he limped back to the dinghy, calling it a day. Later, we realized that the video camera was turned to ‘on’ and recorded the whole fiasco!

After some research at home, we learned that octopi are the smartest invertebrates on the planet. Looking back at our adventure with this little creature, I am totally convinced. Next time we see an octopus, I think we’ll just let it swim on by, knowing now how curious and intelligent they are!

 

You’re Not Really a Cruiser Until You’ve Run Aground

You’re Not Really a Cruiser Until You’ve Run Aground

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Captain Mike at the helm

The day started out blustery and cold and didn’t get much better. But we were excited to officially pass mile zero on the ICW; it meant the prospect of warmth! We were even more excited to be traveling with two other boats, s/v Solstice and s/v Totem. Although Solstice and Totem had become world travelers neither of them had traveled the ICW before so it was new to every single one of us. What a caravan we made: a seasoned family of world cruisers, a solo world cruiser and a young family completely new to the cruising life!

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bringing up the rear with s/v Solstice and s/v Totem in the lead
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s/v Solstice

Everyone always asks me if I’m enjoying myself. The truth is, I feel like a little kid. Everything is new. Look! The huge navy ships, the buildings and condos, everything made more magical by Christmas lights and wreaths strung everywhere. And over there! Eroding shorelines and the birds that live there! I’m beginning to share the wonderment of my children; that sparkle that fills their eyes whenever we take them to see something, anything, new.

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So much to see!
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Christmas in the city

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The beginning of our journey would prove to be challenging. To start it was cold, and although we have a dodger and a bimini which helped greatly, the wind still swept right over the dodger and onto our faces when we were standing at the helm. There was no getting around that. And there were the many bridges, and one lock, that dot the beginning of the ICW. I can’t even remember how many bridges we went under in total, after a while it was “just another bridge.”

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Me at the helm! Yes I’m cold
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Approaching our first opening bridge

There are different kinds of bridges: fixed and opening bridges that include swing, draw and lift. We went under several fixed bridges, and a few kinds of opening bridges like this lifting bridge shown in the picture above. Most of the bridges are on a schedule meaning they might open on the hour or on every half hour. It was helpful to know the schedule so that we could time our arrival with the opening of the bridge. Still, we had to hail the bridge-tender on the VHF radio and let him know we were intending to pass under the bridge. Not all boats can travel the ICW. For example, our friends on Totem held their breath once or twice hoping their mast was indeed short enough to pass under. When we didn’t arrive right on time to the bridge’s opening, we had to tread water and wait. It was a very interesting experience!

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The Great Bridge Lock

It wasn’t just a challenging day for us: keeping our eyes on the depth and width of the channel, watching the clock to time bridges, passing under bridge after bridge, and even a lock, but for our engine, affectionately known as “Big Red” (because it is big and red!) it was a rough day too. We pushed our engine a little hard to keep up with our traveling buddies. We began planning to meet a diver at our next stopping point so he could clean the bottom of our hull. We hoped a nice clean bottom would aid our time through the water, save diesel and help Big Red relax a little.

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The first 65′ bridge we went under

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Finally at our anchorage with Solstice…where we ran aground

So what would prove to be the most challenging part of our day? “Running aground” is cruiser speak for getting stuck in the mud. It means the water is too shallow for your keel and you sit lopsided going no where fast. This was one of Mike’s fears. The ICW is often shallow; there are many places where a 47′ boat with a 6′ draft can get stuck.

When all three of us finally arrived at our anchorage, Pungo Ferry, for the night, we quickly realized it was rather small for three sailboats. Totem decided to keep going to another location while we and Solstice looked around for a good spot to drop anchor. Right after we dropped anchor, Mike told me, we should drop a stern anchor. We’re going to swing around. But the gloomy rainy day offered little light and what little light we had was quickly fading. After procrastinating for some time, we gave up on the idea of a stern anchor and just said “If we run aground we run aground.”

It wasn’t long until a small squall came through and blew us around. We felt the boat heel then THUD. The keel’s thud from touching bottom shook the whole boat. The boat heeled and didn’t right itself. Crap. We had officially run aground. We sat there for a bit. It was dark. We had never dropped a stern anchor before or reset our anchor at night before and we really didn’t feel like trying it now. We radioed Bill on Solstice and as it turns out, he had run aground too. Not to worry he said, you’re not really a cruiser until you’ve run aground. We decided to embrace how out of control we were, go to sleep, and figure it all out in the morning.

And that’s exactly what we did. Thankfully the mud was soft and Gromit easily got unstuck as we maneuvered the boat in the first rays of light.

UPDATE!

Yup. We’ve done it again. Yesterday on our latest leg of the ICW, on our way to Wrightsville Beach, we came upon another shallow section of the ICW. Bill on s/v Solstice was ahead of us and another sailboat (one we did not know) was ahead of him. All of a sudden the unknown boat stopped, heeled and sat lopsided. Retreat! Retreat! We quickly slowed the boat down and began to turn around. We had heard reports of this shallow area ahead of time, but sometimes you just don’t know where the shallow spots really are until you go through it.

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It’s always concerning seeing a lopsided sailboat like this one
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Yup. We’re stuck
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Hard over from the inside

The pictures above were taken with our camera perfectly level. Notice the necklace on the wall, the doors open and cushions! Baby Haven was perfectly content (and safe) eating cheerios while we were stuck. Mike was amazing. He coaxed Gromit out of the sand and eventually we were off even before the first boat was. Apparently, NOW we’re really cruisers!

Letting Go of the Dock Lines and Are We Going to Cruise the ICW or the Atlantic Ocean?

Letting Go of the Dock Lines and Are We Going to Cruise the ICW or the Atlantic Ocean?

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The marina we stayed at in Norfolk, Virginia

It was a long three weeks at the dock in Norfolk, Virginia. Not because we weren’t enjoying our boat or the area or the people, but because I (more than my husband, surprisingly) was anxious to literally and figuratively “untie the dock lines” and trade the comfort of the marina for the wild unknown of travel.

But there was much to do to prepare to leave and now I am grateful for each extra day, hour and minute we stayed buying, repairing, improving, and provisioning. But in the midst of our preparing and planning we took time to enjoy the area around us and create family memories. We celebrated Hannah’s third birthday and enjoyed a couple of days (the only couple of days warm enough) playing at the beach.

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Hannah’s birthday morning, opening her present I bought months ago wrapped in a baby blanket.
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Our walk to the beach

As we prepared our boat to start traveling, filling settee lockers with cans of food, buying extra diapers and paper towels, there was one question constantly rolling around in our minds: would we travel the Atlantic Intracoastal waterway (ICW) or would we travel on “the outside?” (What cruisers call sailing on the ocean). There were pros and cons to each. Sailing on the ICW isn’t common; you have to motor, so the ICW takes longer and costs more because you’re paying for diesel along the way. The ICW is narrow at times and shallow at times, so it has it’s own concerns. Running aground isn’t much fun. The ocean, however, is wild, a little unknown and there the weather matters a lot. But could we handle an ocean “hop” as new cruisers? Would there be any other boat to travel with? As the temperatures keep falling, how much time do we want to spend cruising south along the coast? Heaters, marinas, and diesel all cost money, after all. We had these questions and many more.

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The view from the nearby park

As it turns out, one of our boat “neighbors” in Norfolk knew of a cruising family who, for the last eight years, was sailing around the world with their kids. A family on a boat named Totem. We knew of them as well and had eagerly read their blog when we were learning all we could about cruising. It happened that they were in Washington D.C, making their way to Norfolk after Thanksgiving. We got into contact with them and it was decided: we would stay in Norfolk longer so we could meet them. After meeting them we would decide where we would go and how we would get there.

It was during this time I began learning the often difficult lesson of waiting. I was anxious to begin our journey. It seemed becoming comfortable happened fast and I didn’t want to settle anywhere just yet, I wanted to go. It was difficult not being able to plan in advance; not knowing where we would be a week from now, not knowing if we would leave next week or in two days or if we would have the weather window we needed. But I learned and am learning, to let go of any expectations I might have had (and they are there) and just let it happen the way it happens. Resting in each moment, knowing that this is not only our story, but the story that God is writing for us, and when we get impatient we often miss out on his best.

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One of our last days in Norfolk

But then the day came. We had listened to the weather on the VHF radio each night that week and it seemed that that Thursday would be a good day to say goodbye to Cobb’s Marina. And it was. The rain had passed and the sun was out; it was beautiful, albeit cold, and we were ready. A new couple we had met on our dock helped us shove off and we were finally on the move. The wind in my face felt really good.

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Leaving the dock

We anchored that afternoon in the Lafayette River, an anchorage near the Norfolk Yacht and Country Club, the marina where s/v Totem was staying. That night, over finger foods, we met them: Jaimie, Behan and their three kids. Full of warmth, experience, encouragement and advice, much like the other cruisers we have met so far, we loved being able to pick their brains and get to know another family who lives their life in such an unconventional way. We stayed in that anchorage for six days, walking to a nearby library for the kids to play, finding the local laundromat, and even being invited to the Norfolk Yacht and Country Club’s Christmas lights party.

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The Norfolk Yacht and Country Club in December
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A beautiful boat

When we learned that Jaimie and Behan were thinking of traveling south on the ICW, for lack of good weather on “the outside,” that confirmed for us which way we were to go. A friend of theirs, Bill on s/v Solstice, arrived at the anchorage also, so it was planned that all three of us would begin our journey together south.

I was ready.

Our next stop, leaving Norfolk and traveling the ICW! Bridges, a lock, rain, wind right on our nose, staying behind, and getting stuck in the mud…Stay tuned!

 

 

The Beauty of Living on a Boat

The Beauty of Living on a Boat

I’m the first one to wake up every morning. I emerge from our nest of blankets and sleeping bags, all piled high, five sleepy people snuggled in one room at the close of each day. The dawn awakens me. It’s cold so I slip my socks back on my feet and peek out one of the port windows surrounding our cabin. The water beckons.

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The still of the morning

The water ripples, glistens. It is perfect in reflecting the beauty of the morning. Sun slowly breaks over the horizon, gently calls forth the new day in colors of pinks, purples, oranges and yellows. God calls to me at the ushering of the day, every day, wooing me to his side and I open my Bible to hear what he would say to me. I stop, I listen, I thank him for another day. If I dare, I brave the cold morning wind and slide back the hatch to sit topside with my Bible, journal and pen. I find refuge under the bimini in the cockpit; as soon as I peek out from its cover, the cold bites through me. But I long to find an unobstructed view of the sunrise. The marina brims with boats. Side by side, each dock is nearly full. I see the glory of the sun through another mast, another bow, another stern. But I see it. Beauty that fills up the soul, glory that heals the spirit. Sitting on this boat, something is healing within me.

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The new day

Eventually, little feet emerge from the cabin, looking for breakfast, looking for me. I put my Bible away, and start a pot of water steaming. Oatmeal will fill bowls and tummies, brown sugar sprinkles received with delight. My feet find their place in the corner where sink and stove meet and where I can look out my favorite window. The kitchen window. For now I happily watch the neighboring marina, their lights at night, the way the sun lights up the ripples in the water during the day, but soon, through my little kitchen window, I will see long stretches of beaches, forested shore lines; mysterious new places my eyes have never seen.

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The marina gives us a particular flavor of boat living. People come and go, boats get hauled out and put back in the water, the boat yard bustles with older men smoking cigarettes, machines grinding, docks empty and fill again. Like the tide coming in and going out, never ending, so is life at the marina. And one day soon, we will go out too, and another boat will fill the emptiness we will leave behind.

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The Boatyard Shop

Our children love the marina; they love boat life. Their youth softens the crustiness of the boat yard. Around scruffy bearded men with calloused hands they run around, saying hi to all. As we walk around the rocky yard, they exclaim in delight at the boats on the hard. That one is so beautiful mommy, they say, especially towards the ones that are not beautiful at all. Paint chipped, demasted, barnacle bottomed, neglected by their owners, but to a child, a wonderland.

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Fun in the boatyard
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Our marina

Most days you will find me washing something. Soft bellied babies, last night’s dinner plates, yesterday’s clothes in a five gallon bucket. It seems, my daily life is in keeping this clan clean. And it’s not as easy as it used to be. Pressing a button, turning a knob, flipping a switch- that’s the modern way. Here, I feel the warmth of the sun on my skin and I know the day is ready to dry my towels on the stern. Here, I feel the bitter chill on windy days and know my hands will likely freeze while I rinse off dishes in cold water from the sink. Here, the sun and moon are not mere ornaments in the sky, something pretty to nod at now and then, they are tools and guides by which we live. Sailing at night? Best to do it on a full moon. Anchoring before sun down? Better leave early, that winter sun begins to set late afternoon. Rain on the way? Time to put away the baby clothes drying on the deck.

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This is a place where if you long to be insulated from the elements around you, you will be miserable. On the sail here, it was quite rolly. The seas were boisterous, the salty spray splashed in my face as I sat fixed on the beam, gazing into the horizon, trying to steady my queasy stomach. I loved it. I’ve lived my life in fear, I’ve lived clamoring to insulate myself from all the things that might make me uncomfortable. Not anymore.

There is so much beauty here. Not just in sunsets and moon rises, not just in Night Herons splashing for fish or Buffleheads bobbing up and down, and not just in the kind smiles and conversation from boat neighbors, but there is so much beauty growing within me. I am learning who I am. Barefoot, free, on the deck, wind in my hair- beauty.

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Sailing from Annapolis, Maryland to Norfolk, Virginia {Part II}

Sailing from Annapolis, Maryland to Norfolk, Virginia {Part II}

October 4, 2015 – Day 3 {If you missed Part I click here!)

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Another amazing sunrise over the Chesapeake Bay

We awoke with newfound energy. We had sailed for two days now and we were beginning to grasp how our routine was supposed to go. We had a quick breakfast again and started early as the sun was rising. We make a habit of listening to the weather forecast the night before we sail. It said it was going to be 3-4 foot seas with wind 15- 20 knots with gusts up to 30 knots, which wasn’t as calm as the day before but good for sailing since the wind would help us gain speed!

Once we got out into the bay and raised the sails, we found the wind to do exactly that. We were going faster than we ever had before, with a top speed of 8.7 knots! (That’s pretty fast!) But the wind and the waves were more intense than the forecast claimed. The waves were closer to 5 feet and the wind gusts sometimes over 30 knots. We could tell this was going to be a different kind of day!

I had let the girls sleep since we woke up so early, so after we started sailing I went down below, woke them, dressed them and got them fitted into their life jackets. Trying to get everyone ready after the boat was already in the bay, rocking back and forth by the motion of the waves, was not a good idea. It was much more difficult to move around with the boat heeling and it also made it difficult for our bodies to adjust to the motion of the waves. I popped some Dramamine and gave the children some as well. I grabbed some ginger cookies, crackers and water for us and quickly got everyone out in the cockpit where we could get some fresh air and see the horizon. Munching on crackers while viewing the horizon is often the best medicine for sea sickness. This helped a lot, but we had to wait for the medicine to kick in and our bodies to adjust. While no one actually got sick, Marlee complained quite a bit of nausea. Eventually our bodies settled down, but it took work to make sure we didn’t start feeling motion sick again. We skipped lunch and just ate crackers, ginger cookies, ginger ale and granola bars all afternoon.

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Sailing!

The waves were bigger than the forecast predicted and the winds slightly gustier. It wasn’t raining, and the sun shone a little too, but it was a far different experience than our last two calm days! The children, of course, always have their life jackets on, but today all the adults wore them too. There were very few sailing boats out, but we did spot some large ships. The radios were pretty quiet too.

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Kid sized binoculars pass the time while sailing
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naptime in the cockpit

We thought we might be able to make it to our destination today instead of sailing one more day, but because the waves were so choppy and we were all feeling a little ‘green’ we decided to make it a shorter day and go to an anchorage we mapped out nearby, in Mobjack Bay. “Nearby” is relative on a sailboat though, since going only 10 miles takes about two hours! The anchorage was still a couple of hours away but we knew we were close and we could finally reach some protected waters.

When we entered Mobjack Bay we really weren’t sure where to anchor. We watched the depth sounder to make sure the waters weren’t getting too shallow but the waves were still a little too choppy to make us feel comfortable. Although it would mean another 45 minutes or so, Mike decided to take us in a little further to find calmer waters. We did finally reach a wonderfully calm little spot surrounded by trees and houses. We dropped the anchor and sighed in relief. We were now on the East River. It was a much more challenging day. Sitting in that anchorage away from the rolling waves was that much more comforting. We watched rowers as we sat on deck and relaxed. Since we hadn’t eaten a proper meal all day we all gulped down a dinner of beef and gravy (already prepared) plus noodles and zucchini.

Only one more day to our destination of Norfolk, Virginia!

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So glad to be at our calm anchorage

 

October 5, 2016 – Day 4

I woke up ready to face another challenging day. The weather forecast was the same as the day before so this time, I prepared myself. Quick breakfast, woke up the children and got them dressed and ready before we headed out into the bay. Set out crackers and ginger ale and gave everyone motion sickness medicine again. Lifejackets on and we were ready to go!

It was challenging knowing what to do with Haven while we sailed. We figured out quickly that she did not like her lifejacket, but taking it off was not an option. She cried most of the time she was in it. We put her car seat in the cockpit and sat her in it while donned in her life jacket and she hated that even more. Since she still took a few naps everyday I would lay her down in her travel pac and play (which was set up in our cabin) as often as I could. That gave me freedom to help the other two, steer at the helm or help Mike on deck. I would find making Haven comfortable was even more challenging on choppy days like today, though not impossible.

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A pacifier helped to calm her while in the cockpit

The waves and wind were again stronger than the weather forecast predicted. It was colder today too, so along with our life jackets I pulled out the gloves and hats I brought as well. This was so different from our sunny time on the beach two days ago!

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So glad I brought our winter clothes!

Since I prepared myself for another choppy day in the bay, I found I enjoyed myself more than the day before. We had what we needed in the cockpit, and I decided we wouldn’t go below deck unless we really had to (like to use the bathroom) so I just found a comfortable spot and gazed out into the water and let myself feel the wind and spray on my face. As I was sitting just enjoying this cold, gray day as much as I could, I spotted something unusual out of the corner of my eye. It came from the water. We hadn’t seen any wildlife so far, except for large brown pelicans and sea gulls. But something flashed out of the water for a second that we hadn’t seen before. I kept my eye on the waves and there it was! A dolphin! I shouted to everyone to look as well and there they were, their shiny blue-gray dorsal fins bobbing up and down in the waves! I glued my eyes to the spot and we could tell there were several of them swimming along next to our boat! I tried to help the girls find the dolphins too, but I don’t think they knew what they were looking for in all the gray. But what a treat! A school of dolphins on this dreary day!

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Hello Norfolk!

As we were approaching our marina in Norfolk, we took down the sails and simply motored, which removed a bit of our stability. Those last few minutes motoring in were quite rough as we rocked to and fro, hanging on to hand holds in the cockpit at the steepest of heels. But we were there! We were certainty so glad to be where we needed to be. We had learned through other cruisers that Norfolk, although still cold during the winter, did not have the threat of freezing waters like Maryland did. We knew if we left our boat there for the winter, she would fine.

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We had quite the greeting on our dock

 

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Another day accomplished, another peaceful night

We would stay in Norfolk for another week then head home to Houston to finish up the sale of our house plus other work obligations. What a four days we have had! Interesting, challenging, amazing, beautiful, surreal and serene are all words I can use to describe this adventure. The first of hopefully many more to come!

Sailing from Annapolis, Maryland to Norfolk, Virginia {Part I}

Sailing from Annapolis, Maryland to Norfolk, Virginia {Part I}

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The view from our dock at Holiday Point Marina. We hadn’t seen the sun in a few days.

October 2, 2016- Day 1

Our first voyage as a family on s/v Gromit! We were all excited but nervous as well. It would be the first time for everything, so we didn’t really know what to expect, but Mike’s dad joined us for the cruise so we would have extra help if we needed it. His many years of sailing was great to have on board.

We left Holiday Point Marina in Edgewater, Maryland (just outside of Annapolis located on the South River) bound for Solomon’s Island. The weather was crisp and cool, and the water was calm. The sun was finally peeking through an overcast sky- the first we’d seen of the sun in a few days! First, we stopped at the nearby fuel dock to gas up. While that didn’t go super smoothly (getting used to maneuvering a boat against a dock isn’t the easiest!), we got the gas we needed and we were on our way.

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Waiting at the fuel dock

Leaving the South River, we headed south on the Chesapeake Bay, and the winds were fairly calm, about 5-10 knots. We motor sailed which means we used the power of the engine and the power of the wind in our sails to carry us. Motor sailing gave us a little more predictability as far as our speed. We were able to average about 5 knots of speed, which isn’t bad!

It was sunny, but quite cool. The children wore lifejackets and were tethered into the jack lines of the boat (meaning they can’t get out of the cockpit and they can’t fall out). The adults were comfortable walking around the boat with ease since the boat was barely rocking. I even fell asleep a couple of times, it was so relaxing!

We had charts with GPS to direct our path. Mike (the captain) spent the night before plotting our course so we would know exactly where to go. The only thing we had to watch out for was other boats and crab pots which were common. We definitely didn’t want to get those crab traps tangled up in our propeller! We also used our depth sounder to make sure we were always in deep enough water. Our keel is 6′ long, so it’s important the water be deeper than that. The charts we had also told us the depth of the water so we could make sure we were not accidently turning into a shallow area or an underwater wreckage site.

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The weather was perfect!

Part of our cruising life means turning on the VHF radio each morning and tuning into a common channel. We can listen to all other boats on the channel. If there is someone that needs help we can respond, if there is a warning of an obstruction in the water we can know about it, or if someone wants to speak to us they can “call” us- we all use the VHF radio. On our way to Solomon’s Island, we were hailed by a nearby sailboat, a similar kind as ours. They recognized the name of the boat ‘Gromit’ and knew the previous owners. They called just to say hi- how neat!

We ate sandwiches in the cockpit for lunch and snacks throughout the day. Right around dinnertime we arrived at Solomon’s Island and pulled up to the anchorage we had planned on stopping at for the night. We anchored at Kingston Creek Anchorage, about 45 nautical miles from where we started. We dropped the anchor, made sure it was set and we were done. We did it! Our first day of sailing was done, and we were all hungry and ready to relax.

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Mike getting the anchor ready

The anchorage was beautiful and calm, and we were the only boat there. The girls spotted a little beach amidst forests of trees so we promised in the morning before we left we would take them there.

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The shoreline

The first night’s dinner was rice and roasted turkey and gravy (already prepared except for the rice). The sun dipped low as we ate our dinner in the cockpit. Day 1 done!

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Calm waters and a beautiful sunset!

October 3, 2016 – Day 2

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Sunrise at Solomon’s Island
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Hannah enjoying the dinghy ride

We awoke to very calm, serene waters as the dark faded and the sun began to lighten the sky. We could hear music and the clanking of traps from a few little fishing boats nearby, other than that there was no one else there. We got up and everyone had a quick breakfast while we got the kids ready to go to the nearby beach. We were anxious to keep traveling and get to our next destination, but we knew there had to be reward in this journey for them too. We lowered our dinghy, climbed aboard and zipped over to the little shore. Along the shore were trees and beautiful houses. We let them play in the water and find pretty shells for a little while, then headed back to Gromit to get going to our next anchorage which was at Point Lookout.

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This was the highlight of the girl’s trip!
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The shore all to ourselves
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Stunning striped rocks
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Barefoot boat kids

Mike and I want to be a team on this boat, which means I’m at the helm while he tends to the anchor, the sails, the dock or whatever else needs to be done. He does also help with the helm and of course the navigation. So each morning I’ve been able to practice steering us out of the anchorage and into the bay and keeping us on course. Of course, Mike and his dad played a huge role in that too, since they were teaching me and there were times I didn’t feel competent enough to be alone at the helm. But I loved it! And I was able to get a feel for the movement of the boat and how she responds to the wheel.

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Mike at the helm watching the autopilot, radar and navigation

We left the anchorage and headed south on the Chesapeake Bay, again motor sailing. On our way again, we were hailed on the VHF radio, although this time it wasn’t from a friendly cruiser wanting to say hi. This time were hailed by a Navy Range Marker Ship asking us to go east about 2 miles to stay clear of their range. Of course we would! It was out of our way but we’d be foolish not to comply! It cost us about 4 miles which means we lost about one hour of time.

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Talking to a Navy ship

Today the winds again were calm. We were feeling less nervous as we made our way. We anchored at Cornfield Harbor near Point Lookout which is on the Potomac River. In the first two days we traveled 71.5 nautical miles! We were halfway to our destination of Norfolk, Virginia!

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Finally able to dry some clothes in the bright sunshine!

This anchorage also had a shoreline with a sandy beach so before we had dinner we took the girls to play again. There was only one other boat anchored there with us, but we had the beach all to ourselves. We found plenty of shells, rocks and bones of animals. Unfortunately, the beach had biting flies which we did not like! The weather had warmed up quite a bit so we could finally wear our bathing suits and shorts we brought. After a little while there, we went back to the boat and ate dinner in the cockpit (I can’t remember what it was).

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Arriving at our anchorage
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This water was incredibly calm and smooth
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They can’t get enough of the water!
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Daddy showing the girls how to skip rocks
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Haven and Mommy

After the sun went down, we went up to the deck to see the stars. They were incredible! We weren’t near very many lights, the water was perfectly glassy and calm and the night was dark. The stars shone through that darkness like brilliant little diamonds. I’ve never seen so many stars and constellations in my life! We could even see the hazy cloud of the milky way. Magnificent! What a treat!

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Goodnight moon

Little did we know how different our final two days of sailing would be!…

 

 

 

 

 

Our First Week On the Boat…Challenging, Beautiful and Windy

Our First Week On the Boat…Challenging, Beautiful and Windy

We have had one busy week!

Every day has been packed, quite the opposite of what most folks think of as the “cruising lifestyle”.  But we are preparing for a trip, buying food, setting things up (and figuring them out) for the first time, everything takes four or five times as long as they should.

Building the Portabote.
Building the Portabote.

Case in point, the Portabote.  On the recommendation of the previous owner, we bought one, and it’s a pretty neat folding boat.  When we’re not using it, it’ll fold up nice and neat on deck, and when we are using it, it’s pretty light and a small engine pushes it well.  I picked it up used from a fellow who bought it in 2006, used it once and kept it folded in his garage for the next 10 years.  Folded for 10 years equals very hard to open, and there’s a bruise on my leg to prove where it snapped shut on me!  The cheap pins that hold the seat on just wouldn’t cut it, so I replaced them with bolts and wingnuts (also recommended from the previous owner).  The transom bolts were missing.  The brand new engine seemed too difficult to start (turned out this was just my weak arms).  After the first night of rain, we installed a drain plug (which leaks, we’re still working on that).

All that to say something I thought would take a few hours to accomplish wound up taking a whole day.

And then there’s the other issues:  so far we’ve found three leaks, the biggest one is from the mast boot which soaked through three towels last night (this is probably what filled the bilge while we were gone).  The engine stop kill switch cable rusted in place, meaning we can’t stop the motor when we want to.  We rebuilt it last night in 30 knot gusts!

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The last sunrise before the rain and winds

 

(Brittany here) Which brings us to the weather! We have experienced a little bit of everything, in only a few days! When we first arrived, it was a very calm, cool and sunny day. The temperature was in the 70’s and it was glorious. The first night of sleep on the boat felt like we were on land, there was no movement whatsoever. In the morning the sun’s rays peeked out from the clouds then quickly disappeared. The rest of the day was overcast and gray but serene. A line of geese skimmed the water as they flew, birds snapped up little fish and I was in heaven. It was so peaceful being on the water and it seemed all was amazingly calm.

The next day, after the clouds moved on, the sun shone bright and we were actually hot in the middle of the day. The girls found the little beach where people put their dinghies in the water and had a blast splashing in the water, playing in the sand and making friends with a sweet dog in the boat yard named Hyatt. Hyatt was their new “best friend” and they eagerly looked for him when we were out in the boat yard.

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We had many errands to run, shopping trips and laundry and as I was finally taking our clothes to the nearby laundromat, the rain began. It began and didn’t stop except for a few breaks throughout the day. By the evening, the wind picked up and we could start to feel the boat rocking a bit. Last night as we finished projects and went off to bed, the wind gusts were 25 knots (which is quite a gust!) Our boat is faring very well compared to lighter, smaller boats which are bobbing up and down a lot more than we are. We are really appreciating this very heavy, solid boat!

The rain helped us find the leaks on the boat (as my husband was saying) but they are minor and nearly unavoidable as all boats will have a leak somewhere. But we all felt secure and snug as we heard the wind howl and whistle through the night air, the waves bumping and slapping the hull, and the wind rock the boat.

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Haven hanging out in her life jacket!

For now, we are staying put. The wind and rain will hopefully start to move on by tomorrow and we are continuing to prepare to sail south as soon as the weather permits!

 

 

 

 

When God Gives You a $34.00 Plane Ticket, You Take It

When God Gives You a $34.00 Plane Ticket, You Take It

When God gives you a $34.00 plane ticket, you take it.

Four years ago I was preparing to get on a plane for fifteen hours. I was a nervous wreck. Literally, I was a trembling mess. Earlier I had clearly heard God tell me to let go of my fear of traveling, but as the day to leave approached, it seemed as if the fear only grew. I put on a good face for a while. Anyone can fake it for a time, and I was pretty good at it, convincing myself that everything would be fine even though I was facing every fear I could think of. Planes, people, travel, being away from home, flying over water, the unknown…So when day came I was to set off, I told God, I can’t do this. I just can’t do this.

Four years later I’m preparing to live on a boat for three weeks with my husband and three little girls. A sailboat that we bought in faith because we felt, well, God wanted us to. And as I find myself packing boxes of canned foods and counting packages of snacks and diapers, I find that former fear utterly gone. The trembling of heart, the worry, the pleading with God, I think you picked the wrong person, just no where to found. Now, I’m not saying it won’t appear at some point on this journey (in fact I’m sure it will) but the love of the adventure has replaced the worry of the unknown.

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When you step out into the unknown and say to God, I trust you. To the best of my ability, I really trust you, God does wild things. Because wild faith is pleasing to God and it is the realm in which he works.

My husband and I have been wrestling with whether to take a crew member with us for this first part of our journey. My husband’s dad seemed to be the perfect fit because of his sailing experience, but we still weren’t sure what God would have us do. A small issue, I know, but one of many we have had to decide to get ready to walk in faith with what God has prompted in our hearts. To bring my father in law to the boat required he fly to meet us there. All the plane tickets had skyrocketed in price, from less than one hundred dollars to $500 and the cheaper ones to $300. That’s not the kind of plane ticket we really want to pay for! Earlier in the day I cried out to God and just asked that he would help me know what the right decision for us would be. When my husband got home from work he checked the price of the ticket one more time. He called over to me, “Hey can you come see this?” I looked at the screen. “Is this right?” he asked. The price of the plane ticket for the day and exact time we wanted had dropped to $34.00. All the other times for that day were still nearly $300 dollars. We were dumbfounded! God had clearly given us a sign of his direction for us and we were so thankful!

I know you could say it was just luck or a coincidence, but when God is running the show, nothing is just luck. It is always the nature of the walk of faith- you will see what others cannot and do not. You will see God in amazing ways. Fear is removed because of love for the One you are walking with, and because of the love of the adventure and those incredible God-moments.

Today is the day we are leaving to be on our boat, it is finally here! This story is His, and I can’t wait for the next chapter!

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6