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Our First Season Cruising: What We Would Do Differently And Why

Our First Season Cruising: What We Would Do Differently And Why

I cannot say enough about all the positive aspects of cruising (although I’ll certainly try). Those who have made the leap to go cruising with their families know what I’m talking about it. It’s unlike any other experience you can have on land; it changes you in the best way possible, and I don’t regret one minute of our first season as cruisers. But this post is not about that.

I’ve been preparing to write this post for several months. It is born from our time spent on land reflecting on our eight months cruising the US East coast and the Bahamas: what we liked, what we didn’t, what we could have done to make it better. We had some of the most incredible days we’ve ever had on our boat, and we had some of the hardest days in our marriage on that boat too. Put simply, cruising is not easy. It takes a significant amount of risk and sacrifice just to sever ties with land and leave the dock, not including the stressful situations and decisions that must be dealt with while cruising a coastline or traveling across any body of water. Despite what people may believe, cruising is not about kicking your feet up and living life in a hammock; it’s about embarking on a true adventure and accepting the challenges, limitations and wonders of the journey.

Beth A. Leonard puts it beautifully in her book, Blue Horizons: Dispatches From Distant Seas:

“I try to explain. ‘What’s it really like? I can only answer for me. For me it’s…vivid. Intense. Technicolor. Ashore we strive for convenience, comfort, consistency. Most people live within a very narrow emotional band. But until we went cruising, we didn’t realize that in cutting out the lows we’d also truncated the highs. After we left, we…experienced again moments that we would have been happy to have last forever. But we also had to deal with the moments when we’d rather be anywhere but where we were.’ ” (pg 20)

July 2016: Boat shopping

I want to share with you the aspects of cruising that were difficult for us to adapt to and what we will do to circumvent frustrations the next time we’re out there. This is just our perspective. Liveaboard life was new for both of us, as was full time traveling with our children. While I know every family is unique in its needs and wants in life aboard a boat, I’m hoping that you will be able to glean something from our experiences and use it to help you in your own journey, whether you’re preparing to leave or you’re already out there.

This is what we would do differently:

We would create and maintain more defined personal boundaries between my husband and myself from the start. Not having defined personal boundaries was really one of our biggest hurdles while cruising. This may seem a bit odd, but let me explain.

One of the reasons that drew us to full time traveling with our children was the time we’d be gaining with each other. No more long hours at work for my husband only to come home and spend long hours working from his home computer. No more social obligations that left our weekends sparse and stretched; we would finally be able to have quality time together as a couple, as a family and strengthen those oh so important bonds. While this is all true, we failed to see what was working for us on land, and what we would be giving up once we moved aboard: boundaries.

Just before moving aboard my husband and I went from having our own personal computers, to only one, and from two phones to just one to share between us. We’re going to be together all the time! We thought, Why would we need two of everything?! It wasn’t long before we realized this romantic notion we had in our heads of spending every waking moment together blissfully staring into each other’s eyes wasn’t realistic and it wasn’t working. We lost the autonomy we took for granted on land. We no longer had a time and space to pursue our own interests. Mike would be deep in researching a boat topic on the computer while I waited to use it to write, an important staple in my life. Our needs as individuals weren’t being met in the best way. It was a similar situation with our phone. While these are just two (seemingly trivial) examples, the point is this: we neglected to appreciate that on land we each had our own hobbies, interests and friendships that we didn’t always share, and while cruising we began to miss that personal freedom.

Dinner in the cockpit

After a few months, we realized that in order to strengthen our marriage in this unique lifestyle we needed to find ways to create not only times together, but times to be alone as well. Once we realized this, we made some changes. We soon bought a second computer, so I could write and he could pursue his own interests or watch movies at night. We also decided upon nights where I could have the main salon to myself and other nights where we would share it. It may sound silly to some, or even selfish, but if we had thought about this aspect of cruising before it would have saved us a few months of frustration and time spent trying to figure out why we were frustrated!

On that note, I want to add that I (Brittany) would also change how much time I spent at the helm, which was very little. Instead of sharing the tasks and responsibilities of cruising equally between my husband and I (something we wanted to do but did very little of) I would have taken over at the helm more often and had Mike watching or schooling the girls. In reality, we both really wanted to do this, but we fell into the habit of living like we did on land- me watching the kids all day and Mike working away from the family. Some aspects of land life we needed to keep, like a little autonomy, and other aspects we needed to toss, and the strict division of responsibilities was one of them.

We would have made outside hops more often* (only in good weather of course). This is something Mike said he would do differently. It’s hard for me (Brittany) to look back and say we should have done a few more outside hops on the Atlantic as opposed to traveling the ICW as we did, because we were new cruisers and because we had a 7 month old baby that was still waking and nursing at night. I struggled with the concept of being up with baby and taking over night watches, but as we spent more time cruising we realized that under good conditions, good preparation and perhaps a buddy boat, overnight passages didn’t have to be the daunting thing we assumed they would be. Indeed, our first overnight passage from Charleston, SC to Jacksonville, FL didn’t go perfectly, but it was still manageable and even remains as one of our most treasured times on the water- despite the persistent dense fog and sea sickness! The ICW can be a painfully slow method of travel (can anyone say bridges?) and we realized later that we could have saved a ridiculous amount of time by making a couple extra hops on the ocean and relaxed at our destination sooner.

*Ocean passages are a delicate subject in my opinion, because whether or not you choose to do them really depends on your skill and confidence level, and what kind of cruising you want to do. So take this one with a grain of salt and never make a passage you’re not willing and prepared to do!

Walking back from the library in Norfolk, Virginia

We would have made smaller cruising goals and had more modest expectations. Cruising the world. Foreign countries. Crossing an ocean. These phrases and more were buzzing around in our minds as we prepared to go cruising. While we acknowledged the challenges of cruising (only abstractly of course), I know now the ideas we had of cruising before we left were far too romantic to be realistic. There were days I woke up and wished I wasn’t on a boat with my husband and children. Days when we chose to travel when I would have rather stayed put. Days when we stayed put when I would have rather traveled. After a few months into cruising, we began to question even the route we had planned. Should we stay in Florida? Go to the Bahamas? Cuba? Does it even matter? What if we didn’t cruise a foreign country? Would it looked like we had “failed” as cruisers? After a few honest conversations, Mike and I realized that the old silly cliché is actually true. It’s not about the destination, but about the journey. Our favorite moments while cruising were not sitting on a postcard-worthy beach, instead our favorite moments almost always had to do with the people we met, the stories we heard and shared, and the relationships we gained. Spending time in Virginia was one of my favorite places, and the time spent cruising the ICW through North Carolina during the freezing winter was actually filled with surprising, breathtaking beauty.

Cruising the world can definitely be an attainable dream, but I learned there’s far more to cruising than that. It’s an outward journey as well as an inward one. It’s not always easy, but that’s ok. We shouldn’t have put huge expectations of world travel on our shoulders while cruising. Every step of the journey can be rewarding, incredible, challenging and life changing. You don’t have to complete a circumnavigation to experience what cruising is like.

If I could tell my pre-cruiser self anything I would say this: Don’t worry about where you go or where you’ll end up. You’ll meet amazing people everywhere, and the most beautiful moments will never be the ones you planned. You can be miserable even in paradise, so remember to cruise because you love it, and you’ll never want to stop. 

Our first time seeing s/v Gromit in person! Our pre-cruising selves

There were definitely things about cruising we didn’t like. Things we’d like to change the next time we untie the dock lines. I can bet every cruiser has their own list of things they’d like to change with every new cruising season. That’s ok.

In conclusion I’m going to leave you with a few more perfectly said words from Beth A Leonard’s book, Blue Horizons:

“Those highs and lows had turned out to be addicting…The one doesn’t come without the other, and the sum of both satisfies us more than what we experience ashore.

‘ “So if I don’t always want to be on the boat, if I don’t always enjoy it, that doesn’t mean I won’t like cruising?” ‘

I smile. ‘ “No one loves it all the time. It would be too easy then, and it’s not easy. It takes tenacity and determination and a willingness to be uncomfortable some of the time.” ‘

What’s cruising really like? It’s marvelous and terrible and scary and exhilarating. It’s not for everyone, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.” (pg 20-21)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top 10 Things We’re REALLY Glad To Have On Board

Top 10 Things We’re REALLY Glad To Have On Board

When moving from a house to a boat you’ll be getting rid of a LOT of things, but you’ll also be buying a lot of boating related items as well. The list can be very long, but here are some of the things we have on board that we love and use the most!

Disclaimer: Yes, most of these are amazon links, we will receive a (very) small percentage of anything you order after clicking one of these links, even if you don’t buy the item you clicked on!  It works as long as you buy within 24 hours, and it doesn’t add anything to the cost of the items!

  1. Vibrating Speaker –  When we left our house in Texas, the one item I thought I would miss the most was our sound bar.  We enjoy watching movies, and good sound is a big part of that.  I received this as a giveaway from one of the vendors I used to work with, and it’s small, but this little guy manages to put out pretty good sound!  Place it on top of something big and hollow, and the bass is amazing.  Sound quality isn’t quite as good as our sound bar was, but it’s pretty awesome for the size!
  2. 2-1/2 Gallon No Spill Gas Can –  There are the cheap, crappy gas cans you get at Wal-Mart, and there is this.  Seriously, trying to fill a generator or outboard in a rocking boat with a conventional gas can is the worst.  It’s heavy, awkward and you spill all over when trying to get it lined up.  With this gas can, I can literally just stick the spout in the fill cap, push the button, and bam, filling done!  We still use the old style 5 gallon cans for deck storage, but I transfer it to this can for filling our gasoline powered devices on a daily basis (I’m slowly replacing them all with the 5 gallon version).
  3. The Wagon Store Folding Wagon –  We thought for a really long time about this before pulling the trigger.  Specifically, how to get the kids and our gear to and from the boat. We talked about dollies with folding bins, strollers, and wagons, then we saw this wagon.  155 lb weight capacity, 2 seat belts for the kiddos, a shade, and it folds up into less space than a stroller. (Brittany here) I LOVE this wagon. It’s a breeze to pull, even with all three kids or bags and bags of groceries. I recommend this wagon more often than anything else. Side note, it was featured on Windtraveler’s Instagram account, and that’s how we heard about it!
  4. Amazon Kindle –  For years I tried to get Brittany on the Kindle bandwagon, she loves reading books and I figured she would like one. But she’s always had a love of paper books, and the Kindles never excited her.  Just before we left, someone from my work gave us a Kindle (you know who you are), and she can’t put the darn thing down now!  On a boat, space comes at a premium so the Kindle makes sense in this respect, but just the ease of browsing books, reading samples, and buying them got Brittany hooked.
  5. Yamaha 2000 Watt Inverter Generator –  While we do have solar panels and a wind generator on the boat they can’t always keep up with demand, especially in northern climates or in the winter time.  I did a lot of research and the Yamaha EF2000ISV2 is the top of the line for 2000 watt generators.  Lighter and quieter than a Honda, has a gas gauge, 1.1 gallon tank will last about 4 hours full tilt, but the engine idles down to the demand and we’ve had it run as long as 8 hours with our space heater on low.  Some boats have an on board (built in) generator, but this is nice because I can take it ashore if power is not available.
  6. Dorcy Floating LED Flashlights – OK, I like to think I’m on the cutting edge of flashlight technology, and I’ve always wanted to have one of those really cool bright flashlights that can blind you from a mile away.  I’ve always had bad luck with LED flashlights, usually the circuit board will go out within a couple of months and they’ll start flickering on me.  BUT, we bought 4 of these cheapo flashlights, and they have been truly impressive.  They are cheap enough I don’t mind giving them to the girls, knowing they will drop them, but we have yet to have a failure.  They are bright enough for general boat needs and they seem to last a pretty long time before needing a battery change.
  7. Washing Wand –  I have to admit I started out cruising naively thinking we would do all of our laundry in a bucket with a plunger and hanging it out to dry.  Unfortunately, we do Laundromat more often than I’d like (cha-ching!), but now that we are in warmer climates doing laundry-by-bucket is a bit more feasible.  The plunger method has worked out fine, but wore out quickly and isn’t that easy on the back.  Brittany now swears by the washing wand – it is sturdy, has a tall handle, and is larger in diameter than a typical plunger.
  8. Havianas Flip Flops –  OK, this is kind of expensive for flip flops (according to our standards), but these are comfortable, durable, light, and they float if (when) you drop them in the water!  I’ve even spilled diesel on them, and they don’t disintegrate on me.  Brittany even got a pair for herself, after seeing how great mine were.
  9. Our iPad – These days you would think pretty much everyone has a tablet, but we were holdouts.  Seriously, I’m not an Apple person, but as usual I didn’t know what I was missing out on until we had one.  We use the iPad for kids games, watching movies, internet, but most importantly it’s our main navigation device.  Again, we got this as a gift from someone at work, and it’s been invaluable!
  10. Blow up pool – If you have young kids this can be a great way for them to get some “water” time when you aren’t able to supervise them in the water or shuttle them to the beach.  Just blow it up, scoop some water into it, and throw some toys in it (our kids love spoons and cups) and they’ll have hours of fun.  This one fit our back deck, but get any size that fits your boat.

Whether you’re looking for a gift for your favorite cruiser or just trying to outfit your own boat, I hope this list will be useful to you!

This was written earlier this year while we were still cruising and island hopping!

Our Newest Adventure + Finding Meaning in Suburbia

Our Newest Adventure + Finding Meaning in Suburbia

Three months ago I shared our family’s thoughts and feelings about moving back to land life after full-time cruising. We revealed that transitioning to life on land was harder than we had imagined even though we were only gone less than a year, and that we weren’t ready to say goodbye to cruising. Just two days after posting that, I learned we would be going on a completely different kind of adventure- I was pregnant!

Soon, our lives and dreams of travel would be put on hold while we attempted to simply survive the beating that morning sickness dealt me. For the first time, I sought the reprieve that drugs could offer. I lay hopelessly useless on the couch, day after day, night after night, while I somehow managed three children during the day and tried to eat whatever I could tolerate. My husband took over everything he could while working full time, and I almost never left the couch in our living room. Mike shopped for groceries, cooked, cleaned, took the girls out of the house, brought me food, and helped put the girls to bed when climbing the stairs was too exhausting (or nauseating) of a task.

After moving back to Texas, we doubted whether we could truly enjoy life in the suburbs again, but I soon began to appreciate that I wasn’t on a boat dealing with this difficulty. I became grateful that I could send my girls outside and not have to worry about life jackets, that we had access to a store five minutes away (and a car), and I was outrageously grateful that I didn’t have to pump my toilet thirty times in order to flush it properly. If that were the case, no one would have survived my three months of morning sickness. Guaranteed.

Getting IV fluids at 12 weeks pregnant

At one point I was incredibly sick, and I begged Mike not to leave my side. I told him I needed to see a doctor. As much as I cringed at the thought of getting into a car, I knew I couldn’t sleep on the bathroom floor forever. I needed help. We drove to our favorite doctor in the country and I received IV fluids, a shot of strong anti-nausea medication and anti-nausea pills to take home. For the first time, I had some hope. I was soon feeling much better than before; I began my second trimester and was well on my way to recovery.

Now that I’m nearing month five of my pregnancy and the white-knuckle grip of nausea is finally loosening its hold, Mike and I are able to revisit many of the conversations we had after we moved here. Conversations that are helping us understand more about how we function as a couple and why we grieved so much after leaving our boat.

Through it all we’ve realized one thing: we’re not ready to settle down for good. Although we appreciate all that we have here: convenience, family, familiarity, we also still hear the faint call of the unknown. We dream of open shores, the cry of gulls, lungs filled with delicious clean air. Even new places on land, not just the sea, are calling to us. But when? How? Where?

We don’t feel quite ready to spread our wings again and fly to somewhere new, yet neither do we feel confident about pushing our roots down deep here. Squarely in the middle. Like this nine month period anticipating the arrival of a new baby, we are, as a family, in a state of expectant stillness. Still because we’re staying in one place, but expectant because we’re not closing the door for future travels either. We know this time of waiting and growing can one day birth an exciting new vision.

I’m amazed at how we are not alone in this. Over the course of the last year, I have discovered many communities who are inspiring and encouraging people in their quest for lives outside of office cubicles and well manicured neighborhoods. Unknown to the majority, there is a thriving sub-culture of families who are either planning, preparing or executing dreams of travel and adventure.

What is this movement we seem to be a part of?

Hannah in The Berry Islands, Bahamas

Just look up phrases like Vanlife, Worldschoolers, Fulltimers, and DitchingSuburbia and you’ll find large followings of young couples and young families who are trading in 401 K’s, home equity, and PTA’s for a life of full time travel, minimalism and alternative education at the very point in their lives when society tells them they should be establishing roots and climbing the corporate ladder.

That was us. We had a home in the country and a rental property that was nearly paid off, and we traded it all in for a million intangible treasures- memories and life experiences that have radically changed us. Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.

So what now? How do we find meaning and purpose here in the suburbs of a large city while we wait for the right time to fly? For now, we are preparing for another precious baby to join our adventures while we enjoy the respite a city we’ve known for more than 20 years brings. My husband and I are ironing out wrinkles in our relationship, the kind that become painfully obvious when we’re being stretched during travel. We’re taking the time to define and redefine our values, and asking ourselves if we’re consciously living by them. And if not, why? And we’re evaluating how to make our dreams of travel work long-term financially, emotionally and practically. We’re grateful that we have this nest, this home, to come to everyday, where we can safely dream and prepare for whatever may lay ahead.

This is where we are now. Holding on to the things that we have loosely, dreaming, growing and expecting!

The painting of Gromit sits on our mantle

 

Follow Brittany’s day to day land life on Instagram @spreadingmytent

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Perfect Way to Say Goodbye to the Bahamas

A Perfect Way to Say Goodbye to the Bahamas

Spanish Wells was amazing, but our two weeks at the private dock was coming to an end and we had a decision to make: Keep going south (knowing that meant a longer return trip to Florida) or start heading back to the States.

Since the conception of this idea to go cruising in January of 2016, we have always sought to hear the still small voice of God and lean on any direction he was giving us at the time. You may think God doesn’t care about cruising plans or whether we go north or south, east or west. Many people think his guidance only matters if you are a missionary, traveling the world carrying Bibles in your backpack. But that is a perspective we do not share. Our goal isn’t to over spiritualize every little thing, but at the same time we don’t want to disregard the obvious presence of God in the details of our life. God definitely cares about the details, and we believe that means more than compulsory attendance to a religious service. It means more than dropping an offering in a basket, and it means more than trudging through an earthly life hoping to get to a heavenly one.

Like a tour guide, we know we can point out the presence of God to others wherever we happen to be. We believe God can direct us to people we are supposed to meet, conversations he wants us to have, a place he wants us to see, a city he wants us to pray for, an opportunity he wants us to take part in. We’ve seen God do amazing things in the smallest of circumstances, and we’ve seen God bring small things together in a really big way. It’s a life we would not want to have any other way. Because of this, we try not to have solid plans, plans that make it impossible for God to redirect us.

Getting ready to leave Spanish Wells, I (Brittany) began feeling uncharacteristically unsettled. As much as we loved the Bahamas, and even though we had plans to meet another cruising family, I couldn’t seem to shake the feeling that we shouldn’t continue our travels south. Mike and I prayed about it and waited to see how the next few days would unfold. Would we even have the weather windows to travel back to Florida? Would the other cruising family understand that we wanted to change our plans? (They did, of course). It turns out the week ahead of us held a wonderful weather window for traveling west. Very little wind and calm seas were the forecast, and we knew if we didn’t take that weather window, we would have no idea how long we would wait for another. We didn’t feel like waiting, so we decided to begin the four day journey back to Florida’s east coast.

Egg Island

Our first day leaving Spanish Wells was a short day, positioning ourselves off Egg Island to shorten the next day’s mileage. There we met another kid boat anchored near us and we invited them to Egg Island’s beach for the evening. The evening turned out to be a magical night (except for the incessant NO-SEE-UMS!) talking with the Mom and Dad on s/v Salt Shaker, hearing their stories and watching our kids play freely on this unpopulated island.

A tree swing, a sign of past cruising kids on the island

The mom on s/v Salt Shaker showing Haven the water

My husband, Mike, surprised me by making a little fire on the beach, something I told him I really wanted to do while cruising. We made very messy, but delicious s’mores on the beach using the half bag of marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate bars I was saving especially for a night like this.

Everyone helped to make the fire

Each cruising family we meet is special!

The crew on s/v Salt Shaker brought a treat for us too, firecrackers!

Firecrackers!

A spontaneous gathering with another sweet cruising family, decadent s’mores, sparkling fireworks…all on empty beach with the sun sinking behind dense trees- every bit of this night was beautiful.

We didn’t plan this night, and that made it even more perfect. A perfect gift to us as our last time on shore in the Bahamas. The family on s/v Salt Shaker were also headed back to the States, their cruising journey coming to an end and their life on land resuming. A beautiful night for us all to remember. A perfect way to say good-bye to the Bahamas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Relaxing in Spanish Wells, Eleuthera

Relaxing in Spanish Wells, Eleuthera

After a couple of weeks in the Berry’s, we were ready to make our crossing to an island in the far Bahamas called Eleuthera. We heard raving reviews of cruiser’s time spent in Spanish Wells, Eleuthera and we were ready to find out for ourselves. We had moved around a lot in the Berry Islands, from anchoring outside of the island, to inside at Great Harbor Cay, then twice in Hawk’s Nest Cay that we were more than ready to stay solidly in one place.

Taking a walk in Spanish Wells, something we did everyday

Once in Spanish Wells, we rented a private dock and stayed for two weeks. The private dock was far cheaper than a marina dock fee and we could spend our two weeks easily getting on and off the boat to explore the island. Strong winds rolled through right after we arrived, so we were even more grateful about tying up to a secure dock. Even more perfect, the house directly in front of our dock housed a sweet local couple with a girl Marlee’s age and a boy a little younger than Hannah. We soon became friends with this generous family!

Hannah on the dock
The girls and their new playmate fishing in her backyard

With gorgeous turquoise waters gently rolling into crisp white beaches, bright flowers in front of candy-colored island homes, and the typical laid back island feel, Spanish Wells was the perfect place for us to take walks, play at the beach and just relax. But Spanish Wells also had the kind of grocery store that we were used to back in the States (albeit still more expensive), plus restaurants and ice cream shops as wells as shopping, so it didn’t feel like some other places in the Bahamas where resources are limited.

The water was captivating
Exploring the beach
Haven really began to enjoy being in water

We found the people to be friendly and accommodating. Their tight knit town has a strong belief in community and God, and the island holds three prominent churches despite having a population of only about 1600 people. There was an additional church on another part of the island for the Haitian community that resides there, and even a separate church for the Mennonite/Amish families that also live on the island. We loved being invited to The People’s Church services, meeting more people in the community and being able to get a feel for the life of the body of Christ there. Being able to visit and study God’s word with other believer’s around the world has been a dream that God began planting in my heart a few years ago. We have been able to visit a few different kinds of congregations along the east coast (a Messianic synagogue in Virginia, a budding home church, a Kingdom Hall in Florida) and two Baptist-style congregations in the Bahamas so far and they have all been interesting and eye opening experiences!

Other things that we did in Spanish Wells include a fun, local favorite on the island, an ice cream shop called Papa’s Scoops which only opens for three hours at night and only serves two flavors a night, each night boasting two different flavors. Their homemade ice cream was so good we went back several times enjoying flavors like Goombay Punch (a local soda), coconut and root beer.

Papa’s Scoops!
Goombay Punch and Vanilla ice cream

Probably one of our most favorite experiences though, was being invited to tour our friend’s (the husband who lived in the house in front of our dock) lobster boat. Spanish Wells is largely a fishing town, relying heavily on the revenue from catching lobster and crab. It was really neat being able to see first hand what many of the men in the town do for work. It was a wonderful “worldschooling” experience for the girls as well!

The local fishing boat we toured
Showing us around the deck
Peering down the hole where the lobsters at stored
Where the lobster’s are hung and kept frozen

We loved Spanish Wells, the people, the colors, the small-town community. Now to decide where to go from here…move on to South Eleuthera or head back to the States? We were torn, but felt God whispering the right direction to us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Embracing the Unexpected (Or How Our Fridge Broke on a Remote Island in the Bahamas)

Embracing the Unexpected (Or How Our Fridge Broke on a Remote Island in the Bahamas)

Sunset near Great Harbor Cay

Bimini would soon be behind us as we set off for our longest day passage yet- 83 miles that took 12 hours of motor sailing. We were ready to discover a more unknown side of the Bahamas, the Berry Islands. They are less traveled and underestimated as a cruising ground, but worth the stunning views.

The first evening, daylight was slowly fading and we didn’t have enough sun to make our way into the anchorage, so we anchored just off the island as the sun was setting. There was nothing but ocean behind us and gorgeous clear waters beneath us. It was probably the most magnificent sunset we’ve seen, and I’m not sure any other will top it.

sunset on the ocean

Our first couple of days on the Berry Islands were a whirlwind of activity. We met a another family through s/v Totem and we tagged along as they showed us the island. We dinghied through dense mangrove canals, sometimes just wide enough (barely!) for one dinghy. We went through a broad, clear turquoise lagoon where sea turtles swam around and under our boat. We walked along beaches, saw waves crash over rocks and found some beautiful shells. It was quite the introduction to the island, and we have s/v Mahi to thank for that!

Mangroves! photo courtesy of Behan on s/v Totem

The next day, Mike and the girls followed along with s/v Totem and s/v Mahi as they explored the island by car, while I stayed on the boat with Haven. They visited a shallow beach cave, gorgeous beach flats and found some beautiful marine life.

when the tide is out, the beach is dry and beautifully pattered by waves
photo courtesy of Behan on s/v Totem
photo courtesy of Behan on s/v Totem

The island is fairly remote. In 2010, the population of the islands was about 800 people. The town near Great Harbor Cay (“Cay” is pronounced “key”) is small. There is no bank, only two small grocery stores (about the size of a gas station mart back home), plus a couple of small restaurants and a marina which brings a lot of boats to the area.

visiting the first local grocery store with Carla from s/v Mahi and Behan from s/v Totem
the second store

I bought a bag of fresh fruits there and felt content that we still had more than we needed. After all, we had a fridge stocked with butter, plenty of cheese, some sausage, vegetables and a freezer that kept things even colder for longer. Plus we had lockers packed with canned foods, grains of all kinds, desserts and snacks.

After a few days at Great Harbor Cay, we traveled around to Hawk’s Nest Cay to be closer to our destination of Eleuthera when we were ready to cross. We met another boat family and decided to hang out on the gorgeous, pristine beaches for a few extra days. There was no marina there, just nearby a little restaurant on the other side of the beach. And that is where our fridge catastrophically broke.

a rough passage to Hawk’s Nest Cay
the waters at Hawk’s Nest Cay were breathtaking

It had been showing signs of malfunction back in Florida, and Mike, being the handy man that he is, had been tinkering with it since then, trying to get it to begin functioning normally again. It was cycling too often and not maintaining a cold temperature, but eventually, it would always get cold again. It was a minor annoyance until we were anchored in a beautiful, but remote part of the Berry Islands. There, its temperature skyrocketed and it was officially done being a fridge.

We quickly gave the bulk of our cheese (one huge block, one huge bag of shredded, and a few blocks of cream cheese) to our friends traveling with us. We kept a little cheese that we knew we could eat. We started eating through the 2 dozen eggs we had left and decided to keep the butter, even though we still had a ton. It seemed like the old saying “Cruising is just boat maintenance in exotic locations” was absolutely true, but the fridge finally dying meant that there was one less thing we had to figure out how to fix with only the supplies we had on board. Truthfully, we were relieved!

From our experience so far, embracing the unexpected is an integral part of happy cruising. But that doesn’t mean it is always easy. Being flexible, changing plans, embracing set backs is all part of this life. It’s a part of every life, but traveling on a boat, it’s a much more daily, in our face reality. One that we are choosing to accept.

Many cruising boats do not have fridges and they get along just fine without it. Now we are experimenting to see if we can do without one too. Bonus for us: we get to keep way more power now that we don’t have a fridge! The fridge and freezer used a lot of power that we made from our solar panels and wind generator. Now we can use that extra power to keep lights and fans on a little longer, and even use the TV that came with the boat!

our favorite recipe that doesn’t need a fridge: energy balls made with peanut butter, oats, and dates

We are buying ice and keeping a few items in the section that used to be our freezer. For now this works for us: keeping a few eggs, a little cheese and butter from melting is all we really need. We mostly cook up pasta, hearty vegetables, rice and beans, potatoes, breads, Mexican dishes using flour or corn tortillas, canned fruit or some fresh fruit and soups with biscuits or sandwiches. Meat is a treat now. When our ice is cold, we may buy meat for one night or eat it when we are out at a restaurant. We certainly appreciate certain foods more now than before!

Haven loves the beach too

We have since moved on to a different island in the Bahamas called Eluethera and are continuing to face challenges and joys. With cruising, there are always opportunities to practice embracing the unexpected!

 

 

Cost of Cruising: Our March 2017 Budget

Cost of Cruising: Our March 2017 Budget

Photo courtesy of our friends on SailingTotem

This month’s budget recap is brought to you by… Michael! (Brittany usually writes it). Let me know if you think it’s entertaining/funny/awesome.

And to compliment it, I’ve made up this fancy chart breaking down our expenses by category. Cool, right? We really enjoyed our $1,500 month, and the key to that is setting a budget beforehand. So we made a new budget tracker in Excel and we set our budget at $3,284.14 (the odd number is because of some fixed expenses such as web hosting, most of the categories are just educated guesses).

Boat repair / misc – $1,289. The windlass (the electric motor that pulls up the anchor) was functioning, but we wanted to have it checked out. This is a critical piece of equipment that seems to get ignored until it breaks most of the time. We took the motor to an alternator shop and it only cost about $120 to have it looked over. The heat exchanger had a few leaks and needed to be rebuilt ($230). New hoses for the engine ($158). The mixing elbow for the exhaust had a leak and we had a new one made ($190). That, plus some spare anodes, fluids, filters and a few tools.

The salt stains are from a leak.
This had a very small leak, but it was dripping right onto the engine mount.
Marlee helping out with the windlass removal.

Dockage – $370. Because of the engine and windlass repairs, we didn’t feel comfortable at anchor. If we dragged or for some reason needed to move, we would be completely disabled. So we took a ridiculously expensive mooring in Fort Lauderdale. Seriously, never go to Las Olas Marina. Ever. Overpriced and run down. 8 nights at $40 a night. Also, unlike Vero Beach, there isn’t really anywhere convenient to land your dinghy for free. We had our choice of Las Olas marina who charges $20, or Southport Raw Bar who charges $10 (but will credit that to your food bill, if you eat there). Southport is where we went most of the time, $50.

Flying her kite in the mooring field.

Groceries, $1165.83. We went way over budget on groceries, namely because of a friend of ours who was in the Bahamas already warned us, buy everything you can in the States! So we did. This killed the budget for this month, but hopefully will repay us as we travel along. As we have found so far groceries seem to be about twice as expensive in the Bahamas.

Fuel – $286.11. With gas and diesel at over $4/gallon in the Bahamas, we topped up as much as we could in Florida. We filled the tank to full and all of our jerry cans as well.

Our sophisticated “dipstick” method for checking the fuel level.

Travel – $320.83. This category includes clearance into the Bahamas ($300) and a few Uber trips in Ft Lauderdale.

And of course there are those recurring expenses, web hosting (12.74). Phone which usually comes in around $80 with T-Mobile. We weren’t planning on buying a BTC phone card in the Bahamas, since our T-Mobile service claimed it would work here. Well it works, but is deathly slow so we bought a high speed data card from BTC for those times we just can’t wait. $49. However we’ve even found BTC’s service to be spotty.

First Days in the Bahamas! Exploring Alice Town, Bimini

First Days in the Bahamas! Exploring Alice Town, Bimini

We made it! We motored into the crowded anchorage as the sun was getting low. We were relieved, excited, tired. All the work, planning, and preparation to be ready to leave the US, and now here we were ready to explore this chain of islands called the Bahamas. But the Bahamas would have to wait. As the forecast predicted, the next day brought strong winds with gusts in the 30 knot range. Not the worst we’ve experienced, but poor weather for island exploring. We decided at least to explore a jetty of nearby rocks and survey the anchorage by dinghy.

While we waited for the winds to stop howling, we passed the time getting together with the crew from s/v Banana and s/v Totem, whom we sailed with from Ft. Lauderdale.

Haven with Behan from s/v Totem

Finally, the winds quieted, the waves calmed and we decided to explore the island of Bimini. A small island, the north end where we anchored, is home to a large resort and casino, so it didn’t feel like we had traveled to an exotic little getaway. But it still had its treasures: the water being one of them. An array of blue, green, clear and turquoise jewel tones, the water absolutely beckons to all who have the privilege of seeing it.

The day before we planned to leave Bimini for The Berry Islands, we decided to take a day to walk around Alice Town and swim in the sparkling turquoise water. Our walk proved to be very interesting. The stark contrast between the resort section of the island where we happened to be anchored, and Alice Town was surprising and a little uncomfortable. On one side stood a towering resort; popular music flowed out of the casino, a beautiful fountain gushed in the middle of a pool. As we walked to the other side of the island, we walked through an arced entrance separating the resort section from the rest of the community.

Alice Town is beautiful in its own way. It has the flavor of a town straddling two worlds: it’s an easy jump from the United States, but it’s also it’s own country, with a distinct island culture.

We walked through the narrow streets, stopping for cars or golf carts driving by. The buildings were small, but colorful. The people were very friendly, smiling and waving to each passerby was very common. We stopped by a house with a bakery sign posted in the window. We opened the door and walked in to see a lady at her kitchen table, food simmering in the background. She greeted us and we bought a loaf of bread stored in a plastic tote under her window. As we left, she gave the girls a warm chocolate chip cookie, fresh from her oven. A very different experience for us- but wonderful and tasty too!

We heard their was a library nearby, something I was eager to see, but this was not the kind of library the girls and I were used to!

I was really glad we took the time to see more of the island before we continued on our journey. The Berry Islands was a long hop from Bimini, over 80 miles, but we were looking forward to an island more isolated from such a busy port.

Bimini was only the beginning of our sojourn, but I am really glad we got to experience this little island!