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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 February 2017 Budget

Cost of Cruising: Our February 2017 Budget

Finally a budget I am proud to share! This is much more representative of where we’d like to settle in as far as spending money goes. We’ve also been so encouraged by YOU- your comments to us that sharing our budget with you has helped you plan for your own cruising adventure! Thank you! It can be so hard to plan for something when you have no idea what it will be like. Granted, it will be different for each family, but we’re glad we can share a little piece of what we’re doing, helping others realize that you do not have to be wealthy to go cruising.

Motor sailing about 1.5 miles off shore

The amount of money we’re spending each month is going down, which is exactly what we want it to do and what we’ve been told is typical. You’ll spend a lot in the beginning (maybe even more than we have) but that it will get easier and hopefully cheaper as the months progress. Here’s the details of the month of February:

All amounts are in US dollars for a family of five

Dock fees (actually mooring fees) $195.65 – After spending a crazy amount on docks in December, we vowed never to do that again. We anchored the entire month of January, but this month we ended up being moored for a short period of time. A mooring ball is a floating ball attached by rope to something really heavy in the water. It’s not going anywhere. Then, you attach your boat to a rope on the floating ball. Moorings are cheaper than tying up to a dock, but you still get access to the marina (their showers, lounge and washers/dryers). It’s a good compromise if you don’t want to be anchored, but don’t want to spend the money on docks. And dock fees in south Florida can be really expensive! The moorings we’ve used can be anywhere from $15.00 to $40.00 a day. We also spend a little on dinghy dock fees. Basically, when you are anchored and want to go to shore or use a nearby marina, they ask you to pay a fee just to tie your dinghy up. Sometimes this fee includes access to their showers and laundry facilities, sometimes not.

Ft. Lauderdale

Groceries $813.93 – This includes about $155 worth of groceries we put away in long term storage for our planned cruise to the Bahamas. We’ve heard food is really expensive there, so we want to stock up on some essentials and foods that might be hard to find.

Eating out $148.08 – This is a little much for us on eating out. We can usually comfortably have a couple of meals out a month for less than $100.

Boat parts and projects $207.87

Cash $50.00 – $20 of this was changed into quarters and used for laundry. This amount is typical if we do some laundry by hand on the boat as well. $12.00 of this cash was also used for two different dinghy dock fees.

Cell phone $80.04 – One phone for me and my husband with unlimited data plan.

Insurance $0 – Still in the market for an affordable travel insurance.

Marlee’s Birthday $26.76 – A few party supplies and a trip to Funderdome!

An indoor playground for Marlee’s birthday

Kindle books $12.83 – Paid for one month of kindle unlimited (kind of like a digital library service) plus a couple of .99 books.

Web hosting $12.74 – for our two websites, Family at Sea and my land based blog, The Gentle Home.

EZ pass $12.00 – an EZ tag fee we needed to pay.

Total = $1,559.90

 

Hopping Down Florida’s East Coast + Living the Slow Life

Hopping Down Florida’s East Coast + Living the Slow Life

Cruising with our friends on m/v Wanderer

We left Fort Matanzas, taking one day at a time, and made our way south down Florida’s east coast, relishing the slow life. We anchored for one night in Daytona, then stopped for a day in Titusville, a quick rest in Melbourne then on to Vero Beach.

Stretching our legs on land

In Titusville, we were close to the Kennedy Space Center and debated paying to go visit, but with two adults, three kids, two cab rides and food- the price for an outing with the family quickly became cost prohibitive, so we did what we are learning to do best- find what’s free.

After stopping in Titusville for a few groceries and some frozen yogurt, our next stop was Vero Beach. The town touted a free public bus system, a beautiful beach, parks and fun playgrounds. We couldn’t wait to explore.

The first afternoon we arrived, we went straight to the beach. We were so pleased to find it was only a short walk through a neighborhood to get to the beach front. Upscale shops and restaurants lined the beach front streets. The water was sparkling deep turquoise and blue. The sound of the waves was absolutely intoxicating. We had finally found the beach! Coming down the east coast of the United States, this was only the second time we had visited a real beach- the last was in Virginia! It had been way too long since we had a large expanse of shore to run, walk and play. To really feel our feet sink in the sand and tickle our toes. To breathe in such fresh ocean air. There is nothing like it.

The beach!!

We knew right away we really liked this little beach town. Almost everything we needed was a 10- 15 minute walk away, which we have found is rare. Most communities here in the US aren’t made for people who need or want to walk. Upon coming into a port town, we’d look up the nearest grocery store or market. Typically they would be about a mile away, sometimes less, but sometimes even more than that. Since we don’t have a car, that’s at least one hour of walking there, then an hour of walking back, while carrying groceries back too. It became a frustrating reality: most places were just too far away to walk.

But walking is something I have grown to love. Really love. When putting my two feet to the earth, one in front of the other, finding my way to the nearest store or park, I realize I am free. I am free in a way all the drivers I pass can never be. I am not above them or above the traffic, I am beneath it. I can slip by all the noise, the lights, the lines of cars, waiting, waiting, and I can go when everyone else must stop. I can be slow when everyone else must be fast. I can notice the trees, the flowers, the rocks under my feet as I go past. I don’t miss them the way the cars do. I can hear the birds overhead, notice the cracks in the old brick building, feel the wind across my face. I get to know a place this way. I get to feel it. I get to walk across it, being fully present.

I don’t think I’ll ever want a car again.

A tree we found walking through a neighborhood

Every other day, after doing chores on the boat, we’d slather everyone with sunscreen, load up our backpack with hats, water and snacks and zip to the dock in our dinghy ready to walk to the beach. One day we stopped at a little pizzeria near the beach. A perfect afternoon!

Dancing!

Marlee’s sand castle
Being buried

We live a slow, unhurried life dictated by only two things: our desires God has put in us and the weather. Some people have told me that’s a little too much freedom. We don’t know where we’ll be next week or what we’ll be doing. We don’t have a schedule, no one to meet, no deadline. We’ve had to remind ourselves of this as we’ve traveled. We’ve had to remind ourselves to relax, take a breath, and not to rush. But switching to this frame of mind instead of the one we came from, the one most people encounter, takes a little practice. Learning to lean on God, our instincts, and the changing winds does not come naturally.

Sometimes I worry that the slowness is really just aimlessness. Do we really know where we’re going? Stopping for a few extra days (or weeks) in one place always feels a little scary. Will we ever pull up anchor? But in time I’m learning how to really enjoy each moment for what it is. Staying still, traveling, stormy winds, calm seas, having fun or washing laundry. And I’m still learning.

The slower life is not always the easier life either. Pulling up anchor in the middle of the night, waking up to stormy winds blowing your belongings off the deck, groceries soaked by the salt spray as you dinghy back to the boat…it’s all part of it.

But braving the challenges and relaxing into this slower way of life has been more than worth it.

The sunrise one morning over Riverside Park

 

 

 

 

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!

 

An Ecological Preserve and a Clean Up at Sister’s Creek

An Ecological Preserve and a Clean Up at Sister’s Creek

It seemed like just another day, but docking in Sister’s Creek near Jacksonville Florida was a huge day for us. We had just finished our first ocean run from Charleston, South Carolina. We couldn’t believe we were in Florida! We hoped only warm weather awaited us.

We stayed at a free dock in Sister’s Creek off of the St. John’s River. It was a beautiful spot, with not much around. We pulled up to the dock, with difficulty because of the strong currents, but were greeted by two men, strangers who had come to help us tie our dock lines. After the second try of pulling up to the dock we were able to secure our lines and relax. We were only one of three boats tied to the dock and by far the biggest. How grateful we were for the stranger’s help! We soon met them then settled back into our boat for dinner.

We were anxious to explore the area. The dock and attached piers attracted many fisherman. At the end of one of the docks was a small parking lot attached to a playground and bathrooms. A couple of short trails and that was it! But we were right next to a fun playground which also had trash cans, so at the very least we could throw our trash away during our stay here and the girls could run out their built up energy. It was quiet and beautiful and in my book, besides not being near any stores, it was perfect.

 

We soon learned the free dock was actually in the site of an ecological preserve called Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve. All around us were different birds snapping up fish in the marsh grasses, gracefully flying over the surface of the water or walking along the shorelines over mountains of shells. Egrets, Herons, Brown Pelicans, Sea Gulls, and even Osprey were regular sights.

 

 

One thing that quickly came to our attention was the amount of trash littering this otherwise beautiful place. Not just a wrapper here or there, but dozens and dozens of bottles, lightbulbs, cans, Styrofoam and other trash gathered around the fishing piers, the effects of the Hurricane Matthew. Mike hates seeing land degraded and destroyed, so he soon decided that while we were there, we would clean it up!

People that noticed were very thankful and we felt like we earned our stay at the free dock. But as we were getting ready to leave for St. Augustine, Florida, our engine decided to quit. It wouldn’t start at all! I know we live on a sail boat, but sailing requires the right amount and angle of wind, plus space. The ICW doesn’t fare well for either. The ICW is often narrow and shallow, and not conducive for safe sailing. So we needed a working engine, and for that we needed a part from a store. With no car and no store in walking distance, how were we going to leave?

Then we met Nancy and Browne. They are an amazing sweet couple, former cruisers, who go to the free dock everyday to hand out newspapers and ask if anyone needs a ride to the store. We were so grateful for a few free rides they gave us! The kindness and abundant generosity of strangers on this journey has continued to humble us and amaze us.

We were able to get the part made that we needed and the engine started with success! We stocked up on groceries and we were ready to head to St. Augustine to meet another boat family we had met online. But we will never forget the sunsets over Sister’s Creek and the beauty we witnessed there.

 

29 Hours on the Ocean: Our First Overnight Passage!

29 Hours on the Ocean: Our First Overnight Passage!

The trip didn’t begin as planned. We got the word from our friends on s/v Totem, whom we were traveling with, that we got our window of good weather to leave at dawn for our passage from Charleston, South Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida. We were expecting to stay in Charleston for a few more days, but when planning ocean passages, good weather is everything. As our friends on Totem like to say, “misery is optional.” So on our last day docked in Charleston Harbor, we provisioned and got our boat ready to leave.

We were up just before the sun the next morning, but what we saw we didn’t like: fog. Not just a little fog, but thick dense fog, the kind that forces you to stop in your tracks. And stop we did. We decided to wait until noon to give the fog time to burn off. Since the passage was only about 29 hours, we could leave that afternoon and still make it to Jacksonville before sunset the next day. It could still work, but deep down I was hoping someone would call the whole thing off and tell us to wait a few more days for more pleasant weather. No one did.

I was nervous about our first time on the ocean. While our boat had plenty of experience out on the open sea, carrying the previous owners on a circumnavigation, I had no experience. Would it be exhausting taking watches day and night, while watching three small children? Would the children like it? What would the waves be like? Would the darkness fall around me, with nothing but water surrounding me, and would I wish I was on land? All these thoughts and more swirled in my head.

Charleston Harbor as we left

Noon came and it seemed we would be able to leave after all. The fog was slowly beginning to dissipate. It still clung to the tops of bridges and buildings, but it was lifting off the water and our visibility was increasing. We untied the dock lines and motored out of the marina. Our trip began.

s/v Totem

It wasn’t long before we realized the fog had no intention of leaving. It grew heavier and sank down again in front of us, limiting our vision and creating a gloom around us. I was already nervous, but the fog seemed to echo my fears and I couldn’t get them to lift. Getting to the ocean required us to go through an inlet, one producing choppy waves that we were not expecting. We heard the ocean would be calm and fairly flat, so we didn’t worry too much about sea sicknesses, that is, until we went through this inlet. It soon became clear that we would need to worry about it, and so I gave myself and the girls a dose of medicine. With my stomach already upset, I would pass the next few hours praying for that medicine to kick in.

We have, literally, no pictures of the rest of that day because of my battle with sea sickness which the fog only worsened (how am I supposed to look out at the horizon if I can’t see it?) and because Mike was doing everything else. At this point, I truly could not see how this trip was going to be a success. I was not able to help him with anything, the girls or the boat, and we still had more than 24 hours left to go. I really wanted to turn around, find an anchorage and wait for sunshine, but knew that might not be a possibility. Weather was forecasted to only become worse throughout the week, not better. It was then I asked him, “Can you do this by yourself?” And when he answered “yes” I knew that we were in this. Together we were committed, and whether I felt great or terrible, I was going to embrace this time and knew that whatever happened, in the end I would be ok. And so I clung to the deck of the boat, tried to imagine a horizon and prayed.

We were following behind Totem and so our job was relatively easy: stay behind them, but the fog complicated the matter. We wanted to be close enough to maintain visibility of their boat, but not too close as to pose a problem. Luckily, our girls, drowsy from the medication, slept most of the afternoon and we had little other responsibility.

Eventually, I started to feel better. The fog still stuck to the ocean and sky like an ugly blanket, but I was beginning to have hope that things were going to get better. The waves were not difficult, but the motion of the sea still required an adjustment. The girls woke up and occasionally complained of an upset tummy, so we decided to turn on a movie for them, and it worked in distracting their minds from the boat’s rocking. With my newfound energy and our day light slowly fading, we decided to begin shifts so we could get in as many naps as we could through the evening and night.

Before we left, I thought that night on the ocean would be frightening. I assumed I would feel like a little girl being tucked into bed, begging for a night light to be kept on. But when what little sunlight we had began to drift away and night settled in, I was relieved. The darkness concealed most of the fog and we could even see a bit of light emanating from the horizon. It seemed, in a strange way, that the night brought more light than the day.

The night became a comfort to me. The day was done. We had made it through our first daylight hours on the ocean. All that was left was the sunrise, and that brought me hope. And then, suddenly, Mike called out “a star!” And one by one tiny brilliant lights began to appear as the fog parted like a curtain parting before a show. Within moments the heavens displayed glorious hosts of light, stars and planets, each one a miracle. We truly were comforted by their presence, and knowing our Maker’s hand was behind them, our fears were calmed. We entered into that night with hearts full of awe.

As night fell, all we could see was Totem’s two lights ahead of us

Mike was down below, resting and I was alone on deck. I was on watch and that meant scanning the horizon to look for any other boats or structures, and to stay behind Totem. Unfortunately, our starry night was again soon shrouded by thick clouds and fears began to creep back in. I could barely see anything through the clouds. What if there was something just ahead of us that I couldn’t see? I fixed my eyes on Totem’s lights without wavering. We had charts and AIS and radar, but I knew they would also alert us if there was anything up ahead, of that I was sure.

All that was left to do now was to keep watch and stay awake. As I sat under the protection of the dodger, my eyes heavy, all I could think of to do was to sing praise songs to my God. I shuffled through old songs embedded in my memory, songs from childhood, from the churches I attended with my family and from my years in the youth group. I struggled to remember all the words from songs I hadn’t thought of in more than a decade, but the words and melodies came back to me, tumbling off my tongue, and I sang them out with only God as my audience.  Old songs and new songs, under that dark night sky, with nothing but water and fog, those songs meant more than they ever had. You called me out upon the waters… Now here I was, out on the waters, the great unknown, and just like the song goes, it was there I found him in the mystery, in oceans deep. That night became something beautiful and intimate, something words can’t really describe. His grace abounded in those waters, and he met me there, filling my soul and cleansing me from my fears.

Mike and I changed shifts and he spent the darkest hours of the night compelled, as I was, to worship the Creator of all things. I didn’t mean to sleep for five hours, but I did. Whether it was the medicine that made me so drowsy or the comfort of that bed after a challenging day, I don’t know, but Mike tried to wake me up sooner, without success. Finally about 5:30 in the morning I arose and relieved him of his watch. I would get to welcome the dawn.

dawn breaking

On the boat that morning I knew one thing: each sunrise is a miracle. Night is swept away, shadows rolled up like yesterday’s newspaper. The sun rose, an old day vanished, and with it the fog and challenges it held.

A miracle, a gift

Our second day on the water was just the opposite of our first. It was clear, bright and beautiful. The water was unusually flat and glassy. We were relaxed and rested, and we would be in Florida by dinnertime. We were thrilled!

Mike and Marlee on the bow gazing at the serene, flat waters
Our view of Totem on the glassy sea

The rest of the day we talked, read, took naps and I wrote in my journal. It was a perfect day. And soon we spotted land- Florida! Palm trees swayed on the shore and it was finally warm enough to put away our heavy jackets. We couldn’t believe we had made it to Florida!

Florida!

I’ll never forget our first time on the ocean, the songs in the night, the comfort of the stars, the brilliant breaking of day, the stillness that followed the turmoil. I’ll never forget how God met me there and revealed the beauty of the deep. It was there waiting for me all along.

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand