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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!

 

 

Reflecting On Our Purpose Before We Leave the States

Reflecting On Our Purpose Before We Leave the States

 

Walking in Norfolk, Virginia

There have been a few stops along our journey cruising down the east coast of the United States, that my husband and I have paused long enough from traversing the constant challenges of this new way of being, to sit and stare at each other in amazement and ask “how did we get here?”

It was only one year ago. Only one year ago that the thought of sea, sand, salt and wind came into our hearts. The idea that God had more; more life existed just beyond the edge of our comfort zone. Just beyond the edge of the familiar. Something we couldn’t name, but only imagine. Something waiting for us to discover.

And now here we are. A family of sojourners on the sea.

Discovering the sea

Nearly five months in; just over 1,000 miles traveled and we’re still new and often clumsy, like toddlers learning how to walk. We’ve slowly made our way down Florida’s east coast, and now we’re preparing to leave the States for the first time as cruisers. Bahamas bound!

But what is our purpose here? What is the reason we call this boat home? What is the reason our sights are set on distant islands? Is it a selfish pursuit as some thought before we left? Is it dangerous as others claimed? Are we missionaries? Are we on a sabbatical? Are we running away from our responsibilities? We’ve heard it all.

The truth is, this wasn’t our dream. This wasn’t something we planned, or thought of, or dreamed about as the years of our life ticked by. I can’t explain it any other way than to say it was an idea birthed in us by God. An idea that sprouted and grew when it seemed leaving everything behind was against all common sense.

It was only 11 months from conception to reality. 11 months from hearing God whisper to unpacking boxes on a sailboat in Virginia.

Our little floating home

 

Our purpose at the beginning of this journey and our purpose now is to follow God wherever he may lead. To live our lives in reckless pursuit of the knowledge of God and to abandon our lives to what we discover in that pursuit. Living and traveling on a sailboat was the path God placed before us, and we followed. In doing so, we had to cling to our faith with each new step, and little by little, we saw evidence of God’s hand in the process. From the selling of our houses, to the finding of our boat, to the timing of our leaving, God was leading us deeper into trust in him, and expanding our vision of who he is.

Throughout the first few months planning this adventure, God spoke to me about Abraham. His story spoke loudly to me. God told him, “Go, and I will bless you.” (Genesis 12:1-3) God promised him a purpose for his going, an outcome Abraham could not fathom at the start of his journey. But he believed God and became God’s friend (James 2:23). But first he had to obey and go.

Abraham’s story is my story. It’s the story of all people who are willing to believe God. To believe God can and will do incredible things for those whose hearts will trust him.

For me (Brittany), time away from all that is familiar has forced me to draw my comfort from other places. It has forced me to look at my weaknesses and required me to accept the things that are difficult, but I cannot change. This isn’t easy. I can’t change the way some may feel about our decision. I can’t tell them when we’ll be back because I do not even know that myself. I can’t reassure them that we’ll never get hurt, either. Cruising is not always easy. But I am using this time to draw deeper into God’s word, and I know with certainty that my purpose is rooted in exactly that. The more I meditate on his truth, with the beauty of his creation all around me, I am filled with a single minded mission: to tell others the story that God is telling. His story is a story for all of us, and it is overwhelmingly good. It’s his story, his purpose that I am on a mission to discover- in his word and in this journey. And everyday he writes a little bit more: Another gorgeous sunrise. Another day when a stranger becomes a friend. Another port left, and another one reached.

A fellow sailor

It required faith to leave. It requires faith to remain. There is much ahead, but we can only take one step at a time.

So far, we have been rewarded with sunsets akin to wildfires, playful dolphins leaping right before us, friendly faces, humbling generosity from others, and moments when we knew the presence of God was with us. We are challenged and inspired to be a family that can work together better, traveling the emotional seas of raising children, being a wife or husband and maintaining our own identity and space with grace and love.

I look forward to the connections we will make with people, cruisers and locals, people who we are always on the lookout to encourage and tell God’s story to. Connections that encourage us too. Connections that could turn into life long friendships.

We are grateful to be on this path. It is one that we hope to be on for a long time. We pray often that God will direct our steps, and we are confident that he is doing just that, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

Some may be thinking, do you need to sail around the world to follow the call of God? Of course not. You must hear his voice for yourself, walking in relationship with your Creator. He could speak to you in an office cubicle, in a minivan, at school, or at your kitchen table.

But…

There is something wild about God. He lives in the deep places; the places only arrived at by faith. He isn’t far away, but he isn’t safe either. He often calls his people to follow him, where he is, to places mysterious, perhaps dangerous, but always full of wonder. That is where we want to go. To the unknown places where there is more of God to be revealed. More exquisite beauty, more people to connect with, more creatures to marvel at, and more of everything that God wants to share with us.

 

Thank you for following us on our journey! Connect with me on Instagram @familyatsea or on Facebook! Leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you!

Cost of Cruising: Our January 2017 Budget

Cost of Cruising: Our January 2017 Budget

It is halfway through February, but I am finally finishing this post on how our budget fared in January. In January we decidedly changed one thing about our budget: we would stop docking at marinas! We spent too much on marina fees in December, and we knew we could not keep that up. Since January 1st, we have not stayed at one marina or even a mooring field. We have been very happy with this decision and we know it has saved us money and caused us to learn how to live on a boat more sustainably.

Our beautiful view at anchor

Our month of January was mostly spent anchored in St. Augustine, Florida. It was the longest we had stayed in one place, and we also had the ability to pick up packages from a friend’s marina, so we were taking advantage of that and ordering things we needed while we were there. We were also in St. Augustine recertifying our life raft, so January was a “big” month for expenses, unfortunately. Three things to keep in mind for our budget: 1) We put aside about $10,000 to spend on major expenses, like the life raft, to get us started in this lifestyle. We finished spending that amount in January. 2) We jumped into living aboard and traveling right away instead of working and outfitting the boat while on land, as many do, so our budget reflects that, and 3) We are a family of five with growing children!

Ready to explore downtown St. Augustine

We are hoping that we can learn how to live off of less than what we are right now. I’ll be honest, I’m sure we’ve spent more than we sometimes needed to, just because this is all so new for us! We are learning what we need and what we don’t need, and how to get by without things that we were used to.

Here’s how we did:

All amounts are in US dollars.

Dock fees $10.00 – This was for one day to tie up our dinghy at the municipal dinghy dock in St. Augustine. This fee also allowed us access to showers and laundry facilities. (We still had to pay for the laundry machines).

The art district

Groceries $1,085.31 – We had access to a car in St. Augustine, so we made a trip and spent a few hundred dollars more on extra provisions.

Laundry $44.25 – Laundry was a little more expensive there.

Cell phone $84.72 – This is for one phone plus unlimited data.

Eating out/Entertainment $105.47 – This is slightly higher than what we normally spend, but still good in my book. We did not pay for one museum in St. Augustine (and there are many!) so we were pleased with the fun things we did that didn’t cost anything. It would have been easy to spend a lot of money there, but we are glad we didn’t.

Couldn’t pass up Cousteau’s Waffle and Milkshake Bar!

Gas/Diesel $319.09 – We have motored on the same tank of gas since North Carolina, and finally refilled our tank in Florida. The gas is for our generator and dinghy engine.

Hosting service for our websites $12.74

Medical insurance $0 – Right now we are in between and are deciding what to do for insurance coverage.

Boat parts and maintenance $516.63 – We worked on a few boat projects and maintenance issues.

Misc items $173.75 – pillows, water jugs, cleaning products, matches and lighters, extra dental care items, a couple of clothing items and a present for a friend plus a few other random items falls into this category.

Total = $2,351.96

 

*Not included in this total is the recertification of our life raft which cost about $930 (still cheaper than buying a new one). And roughly $1,000 on items we felt would be necessary and fun for our lifestyle on a boat! This includes a stand-up paddle board, stinger suits and a climbing harness for the girls, flippers, a wet suit and snorkel gear for Mike, more natural sunscreen, spare parts for the boat, and an amazing wagon for walking with the girls and carrying provisions back to the boat.

We love our wagon!

Stayed tuned for our February budget soon!

 

 

 

On The “Road” Again! (And The Question We Keep Asking)

On The “Road” Again! (And The Question We Keep Asking)

Goodbye St. Augustine

After nearly a month, we finally left St. Augustine behind, ready to continue further south and venture into new areas. We didn’t intend on staying in St. Augustine for that long. It was the longest we had stayed anywhere since traveling. By the third week, I was feeling the drive to go.  The slow draw to remain comfortable was feeling very uncomfortable and my wandering heart was ready to say goodbye. St. Augustine wasn’t the place for us and we both knew it.

The main impetus to our delay was the recertification of our life raft. Our boat came with a life raft, a piece of emergency safety equipment intended to use if our boat sinks, but its recertification date had long expired and it needed to be updated. Getting it recertified meant that we could know, for a certainty, that it would work when we needed it, and that the provisions included with it were fresh. This is a huge expense, but a necessary one.

When you think of a life raft, most likely you’re thinking of a large yellow inflatable inner tube, the kind you might see in movies like Captain Ron, but true life rafts are nothing like those. In fact, they are quite impressive! It has a tent to keep the sun and rain off, stabilizers around the bottom, a door that can roll up or close and drinkable water on board. This one can hold six adults, so it would be plenty of room for our family.

A picture of the life raft we have on board, fully opened

It took a couple of weeks and a long drive into Jacksonville, but we finally got our life raft, updated and ready to attach to our deck in case of an emergency. Hopefully, we will never have to use it, but we have peace of mind knowing that it is there.

One of the best treasures we found in St. Augustine was not a particular place, but people! Erica and Scott and their two children had become good friends, so when they asked if we would like to travel with them south at the end of the month we said yes! Unfortunately, the day we were to leave was the beginning of another cold snap, but that day finally came for us to pull up anchor and follow m/v Wanderer down the ICW. Our first stop: Fort Matanzas. (Follow Erica and Scott “The Boat Fam” on IG @theboatfam and YouTube!)

Hello m/v Wanderer

It felt good to be moving again. It felt good to feel the power of the engine and the movement of the boat through the calm water. It felt good to gather my girls in the cockpit and help them with their school workbooks while we ate snacks and watched for dolphins. It felt good to help Mike at the helm, watching the horizon in front of me, feeling the wind in my face and seeing the changing landscape pass by me. It felt good to be traveling. And by the afternoon, we were at our destination- an anchorage near a hundreds-of-years-old fort.

Fort Matanzas is on an island and is part of the National Park Service. From their website, “Coastal Florida was a major field of conflict as European nations fought for control in the New World. As part of this struggle, Fort Matanzas guarded St. Augustine’s southern river approach…” We were looking forward to visiting this monument, but sadly the ferry service taking visitors to the fort was closed when we arrived. Even though we could have easily driven our dinghy to where the fort was, that was actually a violation, since you could not step foot on the island without being accompanied by a park ranger!

Instead, we stopped with our friends to a nearby sandy shoreline and explored.

Fort Matanzas

Easy does it!
Light is good for the soul

It was cold but the sun had finally shown brightly. The light was warm and refreshing. The beach was open and inviting. The children ran and inhaled fresh salty air. It was good for everyone, and a great first day of traveling after having been still for so long.

Wild and free!

Where will our journey lead us?

In the morning, we’ll pull up anchor and set out again. We’ve come so far now, and as we head farther south, this question keeps coming to the surface of our hearts: where will our journey lead us? Where is God directing us and why? There is so much goodness in God’s natural world, so many wonderful people we’ve met so far, but there is more our hearts long for. We long to be fully saturated in the will of God, and to help others know the wonderful truth about him. We long to glorify God by finishing the work he has for us to do.

We don’t want to waste this time he’s given us. There is too much at stake. Since our moving aboard in November, we have learned one thing: we are not content to be tourists. We have been given this beautiful gift of time and travel, and we want to know that we have spread the knowledge of him around the landscape of this earth like a fragrant aroma slowly spreading itself throughout a whole house. But how will that be accomplished? What form will that take?

As our journey continues, so does the shaping of our desires. As the miles keep passing, so does the time that we know is so short. As our days are filled, so are our hearts in his word. And so we ask…

Where will our journey lead us?

 

 

 

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!

what are you looking at??
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!

 

Cost of Cruising: Our December 2016 Budget

Cost of Cruising: Our December 2016 Budget

Where we stayed in Charleston Harbor for one week

What a month we have had! It has been our first full month of traveling, and we have been so excited to be able to travel this month with the family aboard s/v Totem, encouraging and experienced world sailors! It has been a month of challenges, interesting new places, and wonderful new people. Here is what it cost us, a family of five aboard a 47′ sailboat, to cruise for the month of December. Overall, we spent less than last month, but we are eager to lose the marina fees in January, now that we are in warmer climates!

A gorgeous December sunset in Charleston, SC

All amounts are in US dollars

Dock fees- $1,006.15 Ouch. We were not planning on spending this much at marinas. Partly to blame was the cold. We wanted to plug into shore power from time to time so we wouldn’t have to run our generator constantly to keep our heater going. It was often freezing, overcast, foggy or damp so the marinas also offered us a way to do laundry consistently too. Half of this was just for one marina in Charleston, SC which we stayed at for one week as a way to relax and take a break from travelling.

Groceries- $673.48

Eating out- $87.76

Diesel- $111.55

Gas- $11.00

Phone service- $83.24 This is for one phone with unlimited data so we can have more reliable and unlimited internet.

Hostgator blog service- $12.74

Medical co-sharing payment- $465.30 Our current form of medical insurance while we are in the US (See Samaritan ministries for more information).

Laundry- $31.50 One marina offered free laundry and we found that the marinas that did charge, charged much less than laundromats.

INavX- $35 A navigation app for our iPad.

Navionics charts- $49.99 Charts of the USA for the INavX app.

Books- $3.09 A few books from a local library’s books for donation (Basically you can take a book as long as you donate a small amount to the library, typically .50 for paperback books, and 1.00 for hardback books) and a little spent on my Kindle.

More winter gear- $59.47 We were not fully prepared for the lasting cold! It’s one thing to be cold, it’s another to be cold and have the wind on your face while you’re at the helm for several hours at a time. We went to Walmart and bought 4 more pairs of thick gloves, 2 scarves, more socks for the girls, and a warm head wrap.

Cold! Before we bought scarves, we used fabric I had on board

Sightseeing- $44.00 While in Charleston, South Carolina we visited the U.S.S Yorktown, an air craft carrier, which also included a visit to a battleship destroyer, and a submarine. We spent nearly 4 hours looking at some amazing history and didn’t even finish the entire tour. The best part was all the kiddos got in for free and it was located next door to the marina we were at- just a walk down a dock!

Bottom cleaning- $120.00 While in Coinjock, NC, we hired a diver to scrape clean the bottom of the hull (the underside of the boat). What a difference it makes! We saved diesel and made better time in the water after we did this.

Boat maintenance- $11.00 A huge difference from last month, we didn’t do as nearly many boat projects and didn’t need as many things fixed. When we did, we used what we had on board as best we could.

Presents for the girls- $44.08 As a family, we’re finding our own rhythm as far as which traditions we want to keep and which we want to trade for new ones. We didn’t celebrate Christmas this year, but instead I gave Marlee and Hannah presents to celebrate our first overnight passage. It gave them something to look forward to and kept them busy. That was about one third of this amount. The other two thirds of this amount includes gifts I went ahead and bought and am saving for events in the next few months. I also like to have surprises on the boat, hidden away in case of a rainy day.

Total cost for December = $2,849.35

 

 

 

 

 

 

Challenges and Adventures Along the ICW

Challenges and Adventures Along the ICW

Suffice to say, taking the ICW all the way from Norfolk to Charleston was not plan A.  I think we are on plan E or F by now, but that is what weather will do.  Every time we’ve been near an inlet (a channel that leads to the ocean) the weather has been less than ideal.  Instead of waiting for good weather we just took the ICW to our next port.  The ICW is pretty safe, weather wise, but there are plenty enough hazards along the way that are unique to this route.

Rain delaying our departure from Beaufort.

For one, there is a lot of shoaling (shoaling is when a normally deep area is silted in by stray currents making it too shallow transit easily).  The further south we go the worse shoaling seems to get, perhaps because there are fewer barges to blast the channel deep enough.  There is a great resource for cruisers which alerted us to most of the problem areas, www.activecaptian.com.  Before the start of the next day’s run I quickly jot down all of the hazards noted on Active Captain for our route such as missing markers, shoaling, and bridges that open on schedules.  When approaching a shoaling area we slow down and take it slow, most of the time other cruisers would note which side of the channel to stay on to get deeper water.

Perspective (left) and Solstice (right) both ran aground, shortly before we ran aground.

 

The camera is level, we hit bottom and the current spun us sideways and pushed the boat over.

Current is another issue, again the further south we go the stronger it gets, this is because of the tides.  From South Carolina to Georgia the difference between high tide and low tide gets bigger and bigger until its about 8 feet in Georgia.  This massive amount of moving water results in very strong currents which can either give you a boost (extra speed) or slow you down.  If you’re lucky you can time the tides to always catch the boost, most of the time the difference gets split.  For example, on our run from Wrightsville Beach, SC to Southport, SC, we had a 3.5 knot current against us at Snow’s Cut, and a 4 knot current with us just past there.  Considering the cruising speed of our boat is only 6 knots, the current makes a huge difference!

The ICW channel is identified with green and red markers on the left and right side of the channel, respectively.  Sometimes the markers are close together and sometimes they are far apart, sometimes you can’t even see the next marker without binoculars.  Rain and fog affect your ability to see the markers, we tried to avoid travelling on days when weather would hinder our ability to see the markers.  While the advent of GPS and electronic charts allows you to see your exact position without needing to see the markers, it is still wise to validate what is on the charts by locating the markers with your eyes as sometimes the markers move frequently, particularly in the aforementioned shoaling areas.

That being said, we did leave on a day with pretty thick fog, the forecast showed it burning off by 9AM however it wound up sticking around until 1PM!  We were travelling with Totem and they led the way, using their radar to validate there were no obstructions ahead.   However, when we came up on an area that experiences bad shoaling (and thus the markers move frequently), we wound up treading water until a boat came along with local knowledge of the channel location and we followed them through.

Talking to Totem on the radio.

 

Is that a bridge?? The clearance on this one was too low for Totem, we wound up going on without them.

 

Our buddy boat. Totem, just ahead of us.

Bridges can be an issue for some boats.  Our boat has a “bridge clearance” of 62 feet, meaning we can go under any bridge that is more than 62 feet high, although we prefer more than 64 feet!  Most bridges are designed to be 65 feet tall at high tide while others are 64 feet, but the tide, wind and weather conditions affect this.  Was there a recent full moon?  Are winds pushing the water north or south?  Has there been a lot of rain?  Bridges typically have a “tide board” posted so you can tell how much room there is to pass under.  A few of the bridges we went under showed 63 feet, some as high as 67 feet.  Totem, one of our buddy boats on this part of our journey, has a bridge clearance of 67 feet, they had to take some interesting steps to make it under some of the bridges!

The very first 65 foot bridge we went under in Norfolk. We all inched under it hoping we would clear!

Then there are the opening bridges, which sometimes run on schedules that are difficult to meet perfectly.  You might wind up treading water for 30-60 minutes waiting for the next opening.  Learning how to stop the boat and keep it stopped, accounting for wind and current, is a skill we’ve learned a lot about on this trip!

One of the many, many bridges we went through along the way.

Anchoring isn’t always easy.  Most of the ICW is a narrow, dredged channel that you can’t just pull off of without running around.  Our first day on the ICW, we anchored in an area off the channel and ran aground in the middle of the night when the wind shifted.  Since then, we’ve learned to plan our anchorage for the next day, and identify “bailout” anchorages along the way should we not make as good of time as we planned to.  Even then, some anchorages are small or shallow, or have poor holding (the surface at the bottom doesn’t hold an anchor well).  You have to choose your spot carefully to avoid crab traps, swinging into a shallow area when the tide shifts, swinging into other boats.  One night in particular we had to worry about swinging into a sunken sailboat!

Do not anchor, something…something… seems important?

 

Sunken sailboat at the Inlet Creek Anchorage, NC.

There aren’t many opportunities to sail on the ICW, and so many days of running the engine results in wear and tear, such as this broken copper lug that prevented us from starting the engine.  Then a few days later the nut backed itself off the same lug and caused our instruments to malfunction.  Maintenance is a fact of life on a boat!

Despite all of the challenges we faced, this has been a beautiful journey and full of God’s wonder!  We’ve seen dolphins, eagles, sunsets, sunrises and buffleheads.  We’ve met generous and interesting people who have blessed us in many ways, and it’s only the beginning of our journey!  By now we’ve left for Jacksonville, FL, stay tuned for a post about our stay in Charleston, SC!

Leaving Wrightsville Beach, NC, I’m not sure why I was so happy!

 

She’s just always happy!!

 

The girls huddled up next to the engine room blower fan for some warmth.

 

Swinging on a bench at Homer Smith’s marina, Beaufort, NC.

 

Us on a chilly day down the Alligator River Canal!
Jealous for My Children’s Hearts

Jealous for My Children’s Hearts

How do your kids like living on the boat? It’s the one question we get asked more times than not. Before we left, when we were seriously considering making this leap with our three girls, ages 5, 3 and 9 months (although the youngest wasn’t even born at the time we were considering this lifestyle) we read, with great relief, that as far as cruising goes, the younger the children were, the better. We heard from others what our common sense had already confirmed: young children adapt well to the cruising lifestyle.

However, for me it wasn’t just about if my children would adapt to living in a smaller space (not an issue) or if they would enjoy traveling (I knew they would) but for me, the choice to live and travel with my children on a boat went much deeper. The truth is, in the months before we began considering changing our lives and the lives of our girls, something was growing in me. A jealousy, born from love, for my children’s time and for their hearts began growing in my own.

Back on land, we had a rich network of neighborhood friends and a faith community for the girls to grow up around. We lived in fact, with one of those families. Friends were literally, just a few steps away. Weekends were incomplete without an evening at a friends house, sharing a meal, sharing our lives well into the night, and without these days and weekends and families we would not be who we are today, but still…there was this growing yearning to have my children, my family, all to myself.

It seemed a bit selfish of me. Why would I want my kids all to myself when they have this healthy space of friendship and activities to occupy their days? And what about “me” time? I’m not saying that any of those things are bad, not at all, but when I began to look into the Father’s heart, my longing started to make perfect sense.

You see, God, the Father, wants his children all to himself, he loves them so. He takes pleasure in them. He delights in them. He wants their affection. He wants their hearts. He wants your affection, your heart. He is jealous for you. He wants to keep you close.

And so we are made in his image.

It is so easy for our children’s affections to stray- to electronics, to friends, to other parents, to toys, to the next latest-and-greatest. There is so much in this world grabbing for their hearts, and far from innocently at that. In fact, this world is trying to pull our children just a little further away so mamas and daddies won’t be the strongest influence over their lives. So when Mike and I discussed traveling with our children, the thought of being on a boat with my family all to myself, with our time to all ourselves with little to vie for their attention, sounded like the perfect path for us.

Is it always easy? Not at all. This life is not always picture perfect. There are times they are literally bouncing off of these small walls and the space seems like it’s closing in on me. We are in each other’s lives and spaces 24/7 and that sometimes makes for short words and hurt feelings. Sometimes I need a moment to just be alone, and that isn’t always possible or easy. But we have to talk and reconcile. There is no room for pretending here, so at the very least, my children will learn what it means to be real. They will learn that mama and daddy are real, and that we love them. They will witness the ins and outs of daily life and relationships, and not be excluded from it.

Cruising with us on a boat, they will have the world at their fingertips, their sisters as their best friends, and us to be there to guide them through everything they will see, hear and experience. We will guide them through school, through the inevitable ups and downs of relationships and through every exciting milestone in their young lives; we will be their witness, their guide, teacher, cheerleader and friend.

So how do my children like living on a boat? My children are amazing. Already Marlee is stepping out and learning how to make friends fast, not being as shy as she was as a toddler. Hannah is growing up, little by little, and learning how to do all sorts of new things. They are meeting all different kinds of people. They get to see beaches, ships, boats and wildlife all around and in the water. They get to visit museums, parks and playgrounds. And they get us, all to themselves, reading, learning, talking, playing.

They love it.

 

 

 

 

A Bald Eagle and a Birthday on the ICW

A Bald Eagle and a Birthday on the ICW

On December 8th we left Coinjock, a little stop with a dock and restaurant, on our way South, after getting some provisions and paying a diver to clean the bottom of our hull. We were headed for an anchorage in Alligator River. It was a beautiful day, cold but with the sun peeking through the overcast sky. It was also my birthday and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend it: out on the water with my family.

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The dock at Coinjock

A few things happened today: we lost service on our phone (which we wouldn’t get back for days), we passed mile 100 on the ICW and we saw an amazing sight!

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Even an overcast sky is beautiful

p1000634We were making good time; the cleaning of our hull was proving to be well worth the cost. Partly through our day we were hailed on the radio by our friend Bill on s/v Solstice traveling ahead of us. Look at the marker on the port side, he said- it’s a Bald Eagle! It was a little too far away to see, but we quickly grabbed our binoculars.

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Sure enough, with an incredible zoom on our camera and good binoculars we were able to see a magnificent sight! A proud looking Bald Eagle posing on top of a navigational marker! Beautiful- what a treat!

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The night’s activity: frosting cupcakes!

That night in the secluded anchorage in Alligator River, we made carrot cake cupcakes for my birthday. So how do you make birthday cake on a boat knowing no one is going to help you eat it? To start, I only used half the package of cake mix and halved all the ingredients. It made exactly ten cupcakes. Then, we only frosted four, one for each of us (Haven wouldn’t be eating one). The girls eagerly frosted their own! The unfrosted cupcakes that were left we simply ate as “carrot cake muffins” for breakfast the next morning!

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In only a couple of days we would be at our first major port: Beaufort, North Carolina, where we would learn that our plans are truly not our own!

 

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!