Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Coconut Grove, Miami, FL 25º43.533N | 80º84.321W

I always wonder what people think when we say we live on a boat. Some must surely think we sit around sipping cocktails all day, soaking in the sun. While we do our share of that, it's certainly tempered with things more like:

Then, some people seem to project themselves right onto our boat and get inside our heads. That was the case this weekend.

On Saturday, we were whisked away from sanding, sanding, sanding, driven to South Beach to Chip's sister Bonnie's condo. She not only knew what we had been up to all week but clearly grasped exactly what we might be dreaming of.

We were treated to candlelight massages beside the oceanfront window, long, lolling showers with poofy white towels  (we have to use thin, quick-drying ones on the boat), uninterrupted sleep in a stationary bed -- with climate control.

We ate wonderful things and laid around on real couches, went to the grocery store in a car and other land things that land people take so for granted.

Then we had manicures and pedicures ...

...and lolled around some more.

Refreshed, renewed, relaxed, we head back to the boat to face those toe rails once again. Thanks, Bonnie, for the best spa weekend ever. Ever.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Coconut Grove, Miami, FL 25º43.533N | 80º84.321W

Perhaps you've noticed that we've been in Miami now for almost eight weeks. We decided to park in paradise for a while to even out our cash flow, meaning an attempt to do something about the one-way flow.

If you know our history, you will not be surprised to learn that Chip is back in the wine biz. He's been teaching people about wine for decades, including five years at our own store (now under new ownership) in the Outer Banks.

Now with the show on the water, he is teaching wine tasting and service skills to megayacht crew. Today we went to Palm Beach and spent the afternoon with the crew of Mi Sueno,  a 190-foot palace on the water. (That is FIVE TIMES as long as Cara Mia, two stories taller and 12 more crew.)

The crew, from New Zealand, Britain, Australia, and one lone American, our friend Chef Rob, was enthusiastic and quite studious -- even the engineers.

Yay, Chip!

Mural in Mi Sueno's formal dining room. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Coconut Grove, Miami, FL 25º43.533N | 80º84.321W

The marine refrigerator, just like everything else on a boat, offer its own unique challenges. First, imagine turning your fridge on its back and raising the door. It's quite a puzzle to figure out how to organize -- and how to get the stuff that falls into the back corners. Second, it is a power eating monster.

Everything onboard runs off a bank of house batteries that we have to monitor constantly. A healthy portion of our amp hours is dedicated to keeping stupid dairy products cold. The price is high, but we keep churning out solar power to keep up, and, on cloudy days, employing the Honda generator.

So, any improvement in performance of the fridge is brilliant. Since our boat is only 12 years old, our fridge has pretty efficient insulation, but I decided to add some internal in hopes of cutting down the beast's appetite. I chose to do this chore here in Miami because of another onboard challenge: not having a car. There is an amazing, old school lumberyard called Shell Lumber in biking distance. (How amazing? You can help yourself to free popcorn while shopping, buy hot dogs for $2, and every January, see Shakespeare in the "park" perform. Love this place.)

So, insulation in place, we will now entertain ourselves by watching the battery monitor.

P.S. -- In case you're wondering, Freakin' Heavy Duty Interior/Exterior Double Stick tape does NOT work in a cold, damp refrigerator. This, I find annoying.

Monday, January 23, 2012


Coconut Grove, Miami, FL 25º43.533N | 80º84.321W

Those who have been following our saga since the beginning probably remember my teeth-bared, death matches with teak. On our last boat, I had repeated varnish disasters followed by further disasters.

When we bought Cara Mia two years ago, her previous owners had "let the toe rails go," which in boat-speak means they left the teak bare. There are two schools of thought on teak above deck, actually, let's make that three.
  1. Teak above deck is beautiful and charming and should be varnished.
  2. Teak above deck is practical and should be left to the elements.
  3. Teak belongs below deck. Period.
While I'm well on my way to being a 3, I'm not really a 1 or a 2 either. Teak left on its own forms a hard shell that protects itself well against the elements but turns a sad gray like this:

Once it has gone gray, it takes a lot of sanding, and thus a lot of sacrificial wood to bring it back. We might have left the rails bare, but after enduring two Maryland winters, they were starting to get pitted. There was not enough wood left to let it slip any further.

Back then, we were gainfully employed and happily hired someone to sand the rails. And then we sanded them some more with the help of our friend John.

Then we coated and coated the rails with an experimental product made to protect wood roofing shingles. If it worked on a roof, it should work on a boat, right? It was easy to apply and water based, which made cleanup so simple.

Alas, by last summer, just a year later, the toe rails were chipped and, in general, a mess. Was it us or the product? We had to find out. So, in the steamy heat of a Chesapeake August, we sanded and recoated our toe rails, the final volley with the roof protectant.

And now, only five months later, those beautiful toe rails once again look like this:

So here we go again, sanding, sanding, sanding, 100 grit then 150, this time at least in the beautiful, mild Miami sun.

Lessons learned, we plan to use Cetol Natural Teak, a marine product that is oil based and well tried. Sigh.

Why, why, why do the teak gods hate me so?

Friday, January 13, 2012


Coconut Grove, Miami, FL 25º43.533N | 80º84.321W

One of the many rewards for sitting tight in Miami is that all our cruising friends are passing through, most on their way to the Bahamas. Some dear folks from Canada ( that you haven't met here ), who we met in the Bahamas, stopped in for a couple of nights waiting for a weather window to cross to Bimini. We enjoyed lolling around Coconut Grove with them, having lunch, sipping Cuban coffee, eating gelato and prattling on about stowing dinghies, anchoring, religion and life's lessons.

They had just invested a lot of money in upgrading their Beneteau and invited us out to see the new features, including several things that make us quite jealous, such as a massive arch and a new Tohatsu 9.9HP outboard.

As we puttered up to their boat with our Tohatsu 3.5HP, way out in the Dinner Key mooring field, we were surprised to see them standing on their swim platform with the new motor.

They had been hoisting it off the dinghy, onto the big boat when the hoist failed and the one-week-old motor fell into the dinghy and then into the water taking the captain with it.

In true Canadian style, he was standing there dripping wet, caressing his beloved new engine saying through gritted teeth, "I am so mad right now. I am so mad," in the calmest voice you ever heard.

In case you aren't familiar with saltwater, this little dunking was just short of catastrophic. Saltwater is hideously destructive, especially to metal. Any misstep at this point could have rendered that new motor kaput. For instance, if the water had been too deep to retrieve it quickly or if it had happened somewhere that help wasn't at hand...horrors.

The dealer told them, "Get that motor to a mechanic, ASAP," so with the motor back on their dinghy, Chip towed them, with our Tohatsu 3.5, into the marina.

Apparently outboard motor baptisms happen a lot around here. The marina dumped the thing immediately into a dedicated "bath" to rinse away the saltwater. Then they changed the oil repeatedly until it no longer appeared cloudy.

And, voila, from underwater to ready for the Bahamas in less than three hours.

I just love a happy ending -- and happy friends who now report a safe passage to Nassau.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Coconut Grove, Miami, FL 25º43.533N | 80º84.321W

The popcorn balls I made for Christmas Eve were so popular, I thought I'd share the recipe here. They're SO EASY.

I got it from Paula Deen at http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/popcorn-balls-recipe/index.html

by Paula Deen

If you don't have a candy thermometer (I didn't), you can use this cold water method. AND, if you're doing this on a boat -- making molten sugar -- please make sure you're in a calm spot without the possibility of getting waked. :-\

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Coconut Grove, Miami, FL 25º43.533N | 80º84.321W

Laundry or groceries? Likely some of each.
Laundry and grocery shopping are two time-consuming chores when you live afloat. We can't just jump in the car and run to the store. Neither can we throw a load of laundry in while cooking dinner.

However, we can make the most of our outings. Today's diversion, spotted by Chip, was a Cuban food truck, right on our route to the laundromat.

For only 5 bucks, we savored Cuban beans and rice with a fried egg on top and a side of plaintains.

Then off to sip Cuban coffee at our favorite laundromat while the washing machine did its work.

Now, why were we planning to leave Coconut Grove?

Monday, January 2, 2012


Coconut Grove, Miami, FL 25º43.533N | 80º84.321W

A year is more than 365 days of aging. It is a big, waterproof ditty bag we're allowed to fill up with whatever we're brave enough to dream -- and just when it's about to overflow, can this be true? We get a brand new one, wide open.

My 2011 bag bulges with our first Gulf Stream crossing, our first time to pass below the Tropic of Cancer, a waterspout, a hailstorm, an earthquake and a hurricane. Travel by boat, by car, by plane, train and bus, and hitchhiking 20 miles down a Bahamian island. Our days were filled with friends, hard lessons, lobster, chores, conch and red starfish as big as a plate. It was a year where I learned more than since I was perhaps 2.

And now maybe you wonder what someone who leads this awesome life on a sailboat dreams of? The list is long. When I look back into my 2012 bag, I hope to find my first book, a long and beautiful sail to somewhere I've never been before, a trip to Paris to visit our daughter, a 6-week pilgrimage down the El Camino and somewhere, somehow a way to give back to this world that has given me so much.

Hold on. I better go get started!

Bonnie and Chip and Cara Mia.
Chasing Cuba-bound Jessie Marie out of Coconut Grove.
Off to greet 2012 and my 52nd year at our favorite French restaurant.