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.
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.
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.
The crew on s/v Salt Shaker brought a treat for us too, 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.
Embracing the Unexpected (Or How Our Fridge Broke on a Remote Island in the Bahamas)
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
Wednesday, March 22 was the day. The seas were forecasted to be calm, winds almost nonexistent. Our provisions were bought and stored in lockers, our belongings stowed securely, the engine check was complete and we were exhausted…but ready to embark on a new leg of our journey- to the Bahamas!
We set our alarm for 6:15 am, plenty of time to get ready for our 7am departure from Ft. Lauderdale to meet a bridge at its opening at 7:30am. Unfortunately, we awoke to the emerging sun and a dead cell phone at 6:55am! We scrambled, but were able to pull up anchor and leave the anchorage just a couple minutes past the hour. It was a sleepy cool, calm morning; a perfect day to cross the gulf stream.
The gulf stream is a current of fast moving, warm water in the ocean that flows north along the east coast of the United States. It flows at an average speed of three knots, and can be tricky to cross. Winds from the north can create large dangerous swells, winds from the east means your boat will be beating into the wind, both scenarios create a very uncomfortable ride and should be avoided. We wanted winds from the south or west, and we had a very light west wind, which was perfect. However, Thursday was forecasted to bring in high winds, so we had just one day to cross and find a protected anchorage to wait out the coming nasty weather. One day would be more than enough, since we were anticipating the trip to take us about 10-11 hours.
As we left the inlet and headed out into the ocean, the waves gently rocked our boat, a unique motion that we were becoming familiar with.
So what do our passage days look like? I (Brittany) have come to really enjoy passage days, provided of course I have taken a little motion sickness medication. Passage days, whether on the ICW or the ocean are different from our normal days. Chores are put on pause, cooking is light, school is done only if the girls want to. Mostly we spend time in the cockpit, keeping Daddy company, excitedly looking at all the new scenery, keeping our eyes peeled for birds, fish and especially dolphins.
Passage days on the ocean are especially laid back. The motion medication makes Marlee and me drowsy, so I take time for a couple of short naps and the girls will usually sleep longer in the afternoon too. I like to spend most of my time in the cockpit, feeling the rush of the ocean breeze on my skin, watching the waves and documenting our adventures with my camera.
This trip, the girls were really excited to try out their new tethers and harnesses. The harnesses we bought, but we made their tethers out of very strong webbing. They loved being able to roam the cockpit without the bulkiness of a lifejacket, but still feeling secure.
The harnesses wrap around their torso, and the tether is attached to a jackline running along the floor of the cockpit. The tether is attached to the harness in the middle of their chest with a strong, locking carabineer.
Besides having small toys out for them to play with in the cockpit, I’ll have play dough or coloring books ready to go on the table. I’ll also usually set up a movie for them on our computer during ocean passages, and they also love reading books on my Kindle.
On this trip we got a fun surprise! It was still morning, we were motoring and enjoying the sapphire blue water when we saw something flutter over our heads. At first we thought it was a butterfly, but then Mike spotted it, a tiny bird that landed on one of our lines!
This adorable bird stayed on our stern for about a half an hour. We wondered where he had come from and what he was doing so far from land. But soon enough, we saw another little bird, just like himself, fly towards us and they flit and fluttered off together. We had fun the rest of the day making up stories about this cute little creature!
Soon we noticed we had lost speed; we were entering the gulf stream. Because we were going east, we anticipated that we would lose a little time in the gulf stream; its fast moving current would hinder our movement. But since our winds were from the west and very light, we didn’t have the large uncomfortable swells that would have formed in different conditions. It was a very pleasant ride.
Later we noticed that we were gaining speed once again and could assume that we were leaving the push of the gulf stream.
As we finally neared the island of Bimini in the Bahamas we raised a little yellow flag on our starboard spreader: our quarantine flag. This displays to all that we have just arrived and have not yet reported to customs to check in.
As we rounded the little island and began looking for our anchorage, we couldn’t believe the bright turquoise clear water! It was shades of light green, blue-green and clear turquoise. It was like looking at a swimming pool, and we could spy sea grass all the way at the bottom! The girls were exclaiming in delight over the bright sparkling sea.
It took us more than an hour that first evening, to find the perfect spot to drop anchor, but eventually we did and we could relax after a long day of travel. But we were here! We had made it to the Bahamas! We knew strong, high winds and rain were coming our way, but we hoped that soon we could experience all the treasures this island, and others could offer!
Reflecting On Our Purpose Before We Leave the States
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.
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 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.
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.
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!
Hopping Down Florida’s East Coast + Living the Slow Life
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
On The “Road” Again! (And The Question We Keep Asking)
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 CaptainRon, 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.
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!)
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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
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!
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.
Eating out- $87.76
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.