Sunday, February 26, 2012

FLASHBACK: The High Watermark of Patience

Marathon, FL 24º42.366N | 81º5.669W

"Each day we learn one thing more about watchfulness, about our own high water mark of patience and about, not signs, but faith scattered amongst shells and bits of wood." 

Those hopeful words were written almost three years ago, on February 1, 2009. I've pulled this from the archive to remind myself where we came from and to encourage those who still wait.

Three years ago, Cara Mia existed only in our imaginations. Our house, wine shop and old boat were for sale in the midst of the greatest economic "downturn" since the Great Depression, and we had no idea how long it would be until we were free to sail away.

In retrospect, I can tell you it would be an entire year and four months. Our friend was right about Groundhog Day, but one year off. It's just as well that we did not know. Instead we faced each day hopeful and open to the lessons it would bring, day after day after day.

FLASHBACK: Sunday, February 1, 2009


Tomorrow is Groundhog Day, the day where tradition has it that we find out if this long winter will end or be with us for another six weeks. Several months ago our friend Lincoln told me that Groundhog Day would be when everything would finally come together for us. 
"Mark my words," he said. But I forgot. 
He reminded me last Thursday, "Groundhog Day," he said. 
I wondered if it was a good omen on Friday when the very first thing I saw was a ladybug. I opened my eyes and thought, "What's that black spot on the door?" and then it started moving. 
The new people who looked at the house yesterday came back for a second time today. As they looked, we went to walk on the beach. On our first glimpse of the ocean, we saw dozens of dolphins slowly, methodically cresting as they swam south.
All along our path on the beach, we saw feathers at the high water mark, scattered amongst shells and bits of wood. Could that be a sign? Continue reading...


Marathon, FL 24º42.366N | 81º5.669W

I've rarely lingered in places or jobs where each day passes much the same as the last. One of my favorite things in life is the absolute certainty that I'm uncertain what will happen today.

Today was a great example of how cruising delivers rich and varied themes.

I started the morning by zipping off to a free yoga class taught by a fellow cruiser at the tiki hut on shore.

We then took the dinghy a mile south from our mooring to the beautiful Sombrero Beach.

Where we tried out our new tiny dinghy anchor.

Okay, I see now I need something for scale.
The day was warm, the water too. Perfect for a swim while we kept a wary eye on a sailboat hard aground in the Sister Creek channel.

We watched from the beach as boat after boat stopped and tried to help the poor sailors get free.

(Please don't use that channel. Come in on the west end of Boot Key Harbor near the 7-Mile Bridge, not so deep itself, but well traveled.)

As we were heading back to the boat, we took a dinghy tour of the gorgeous houses along the manmade canals here.

Palaces, really.

As we headed back up Sister Creek, the dinghy engine died. On two pulls, it started right back up and then, phhhbbbbt. Died again. We would go about 100 yards, and the same thing would happen.

The last time, we were within 300 yards of the mooring field but still adrift. A small skiff with a motley crew aboard stopped to offer assistance. We thanked them but declined. They came over anyway to regale us of their recent exploits helping a sailboat off the bottom -- yes, the very one in our photo above.

They threw us a line and insisted on pulling us back to Cara Mia, talking the whole way. The line holder, named Travis, has a small sailboat and hopes to sail south at his first opportunity. In this case, I believe opportunity = $.

Duly delivered, we showered and made cocktails to prepare for our second Boot Key Harbor sunset. As the sun dipped, the requisite conch horns started to sound. (NOTE: Conch blowing at sunset is an island tradition. See what it sounds like on this random youtube video.) But off in the distance, a horn of a different stripe echoed.

I looked at Chip. "Is that a saxophone???"

Indeed it was. Chip got out a harmonica and answered back. Soon we jumped in the dinghy and went in search of the beautiful tenor saxophone wafting through the harbor.

The strains were coming from a boat only two mooring balls to the north of us, and, would you believe it? The boat was a Downeast, just like our last boat Isabella!

We were invited aboard by Captain Marty, the sax player, and Lenny, his Russian crew, and spent a delightful hour listening, well, me and Lenny, to Chip and Marty exchanging solos to Eric Clapton Unplugged and then Sade. Between songs, Lenny and I chatted, discovering quite coincidentally that he had spent a summer docked at tiny Mobjack Bay Marina where we were last summer. Curious.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Marathon, FL 24º42.366N | 81º5.669W

Back when I was an armchair cruiser, I daydreamed about days like today.

Our plan was to leave Islamorada and make the 35nm passage to Marathon along the "inside," which refers to the shallow bank north of the keys rather than "outside" or the ocean side. We contemplated waiting another day but wanted to get to Marathon well ahead of the blow that's predicted for the weekend.

We raised anchor at 7:45 a.m. and raised the sails soon thereafter. Our southwest course was beautifully complemented by a south wind predicted to be in the 5-10 knot range but happily blew more to 13-15 knots.
Head over heeled.
Cara Mia skimmed along over ripply smooth water that made us wonder if we somehow woke up in the Bahamas.

Seven straight hours we skittered along at 6+ knots, lightly heeled, making only one short tack to adjust our course to pass under the 7-mile bridge, then one more to head back north into Boot Key Harbor.

It's days like this that remind us why we're sailors. Free as the wind with free wind for fuel.

House on a hill or just under sail?
Out my kitchen window.
Contemplative contentment.

Friday, February 24, 2012


Marathon, FL 24º42.366N | 81º5.669W

rub strake |rəb strāk|nouna continuous line of planking or plates from the stem to the stern of a ship or boat.

See that piece of hardware on the edge of the teak rail? I needed two more of them (for the midship cleats), but how the heck do I search for 'that stainless steel plate thingy'?

I've already written a screed about cheesy and vapid nautical words, but some things on a boat require unique names, and this is one of them. My only problem was that I didn't know what that word was. After a great deal of digital stumbling on Google and various marine websites, I discovered the term "rub strake," and thus confidently called West Marine to order two more.

When we were refinishing the toe rails, I discovered that our rub strakes had been installed improperly. Their purpose is to keep the lines from chafing the wood, but ours were installed too far from the edge of the wood, allowing room for the lines to rub the finish -- and some of the wood -- off.

So, we had to move the plates out onto the edge, about an inch from their original placement, which meant for each of the four plates, we had three holes in the rail that needed to be filled. As with any boat project, this was way more complicated than it should have been.

First, an entire week of rain kept the holes filled with water, leaving us to wait until they were dry before filling them properly.

Second, what to fill the holes with? They didn't need a cosmetic treatment since the plate would cover them. Otherwise, we would have drilled them larger (!) and put in teak plugs. After conversations with several clerks and searching online forums, we decided on West System G-Flex, a thickened epoxy. It worked beautifully. Holes filled. New holes drilled. Plates back on. Project done? No.

Third, installation of the original four plates was accomplished during the several days it took for our two new rub strakes to arrive. By the time we had them in hand, a blow came in and then we left. First on the Keys TO DO list: Install final rub strakes.

Then we can file that nautical word away for a rainy day -- or the rare Nautical Words category on Jeopardy.

p.s. -- Those rails looks great, don't they?

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Islamorada Key, FL 24º55.55N | 80º38.18W

We woke up this Thursday morning in a stunningly peaceful Thursday Cove. Our night was dark (no Coconut Grove/Miami lights), dead calm, cool and just plain perfect. Aaaahhh.

As we headed south toward Islamorada, we heard, "Cara Mia, Cara Mia, Kajon," on the VHF. Our dear friends Joe and Deb on Kajon were heading north to the very spot we were targeting.

The Kajons headed to shore.
It was great to see them and their passenger, Dave, from Password, who we met along the ICW last year.

(Another thing we heard on the VHF today: Coast Guard, Coast Guard. This is Sea Dog reporting verbal threats from fishing vessel Praise the Lord. We have a family with children aboard!)

One of the gratifying things about cruising is the ability to visit friends along the way -- or sometimes to happen into the same place at the same time. This happened last week in Miami, when our friends Paul and Susannah and their son Townes from Kill Devil Hills were in town for the sailboat show.

Great to see them!
Love you, Townes!!
Chartering with Townes five years ago in the British Virgin Islands. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Thursday Cove, Key Largo, FL 25º12.195N | 80º22.737W

We finally pulled the plug on Miami. After 11 weeks, we headed out Dinner Key Channel and turned south into Biscayne Bay with Miami smiling behind us -- for hours.

You know that invigorating feeling you get when you move into a new place? You get energized and start cleaning and decorating, nesting. That exact same thing happens when you move your whole house. Every time we pick up and move, even if it's 500 yards, we feel a surge of energy and lightheartedness.

Today, though we only traveled 32 miles, we are anchored in such a different place. It's a little indentation in  Key Largo called Thursday Cove. There is almost no wind. Flat calm and oh so quiet. Such a switch from the hustle bustle of Coconut Grove.

That's us, at the tip of the red arrow.
It's one of our favorite things. Just us and Cara Mia, anchored alone in a quiet cove. Sssshhhh.

I can't think of anything more relaxing. Looking forward to some peaceful sleep tonight!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


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

My most faithful readers might remember my first solution to storing spices on the boat. It looked like this:

and was stored in a locking plastic bin. It seemed like such a fabulous idea, but in practice it failed.

Zipping plastic bags are permeable. I was getting cross-alphabetical breeding so that cinnamon smelled like cloves and paprika smelled like rosemary. In addition, the cards were getting moist and bending over making the names hard to see.

We were at the Container Store (I heart that store) in Coral Gables, and Chip spotted these:

We bought a random number of them and put them in the spice drawer:

I find this fit something akin to a miracle.

Alas, these beauties are not ideal either. They aren't big enough to hold a whole spice jar and are a bit fragile around the mouth/opening. Perhaps we should invent our own nautical spice solution?


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

This weekend the town of Coconut Grove fenced us into the marina. That's right. They closed off the streets to traffic and put up a 6-foot chain link fence surrounding the area.

They called it the 49th Annual Coconut Grove Arts Festival, and it was truly awesome. And seriously, we were fenced INTO the art show. The marina had to give us passes so we could get back IN if we left the immediate area.

I had heard that the quality of this festival was high, but I withheld judgment, expecting at least a few gingham apron booths and perhaps a soda can sculptor thrown in.

Instead, every booth was like a tiny museum with magnificent art. Thank goodness we were fenced in, because that allowed us to go all three days of the show, taking in the wonders in smaller bites and revisiting favorites.

Me staring at one of my favorite images: a photo!
Art is good for the soul. Actually, I think it's essential. My head is a much more enjoyable place now, chock full of powerful colors and imagery.

Silly wabbits.

Two of the million+ people enjoying the arts festival.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


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

[two hearts]

It seems my Valentine's message struck a bit of a chord. Several readers have reported actually buying the book, and I suspect that indicates we have even more silent partners.

So, in the spirit of being in this relationship thing together, I'm going to post occasionally about the process and our progress.

First, I'd like to remind you that relationships are like houses. You can't just move in, turn on the TV and sit on the couch. Okay, you can do that sometimes, and most of us do it for the first several years, but then, the paint starts to chip, the roof begins leaking, and the grass grows up past the windows choking out all the light. You get the idea. Relationships, like houses, need maintenance, good old hard work.

Sure, you could just move to another house (the equivalent of finding a new relationship), but if you don't learn the lessons in the first house, the whole process will repeat in the next house. See, the problem is not the house. It's you. And me. So, let's get to work.

The first exercise in the book (Getting the Love You Want) is called Your Relationship Vision, which is a list of statements, true or false, about your perfect house, um, I mean relationship -- imagining you've already done the work.

Each of you makes a list of statements, such as, 'we solve our differences peacefully and respectfully, etc,' then you combine the two lists using only the ones you both agree on.

Easy? Well, we had a terrible row about it. We couldn't even agree on what the exercise meant. A classic power struggle lasting two entire days.

We toughed our way through (we had to do the entire exercise twice, once for each interpretation of how to do it) and came up with one list I now call "How Awesome We Are."

The book then suggests you read the list at least once a week to remind yourself how awesome you are, the concept being that as you meditate on what you both want, it becomes imbedded in your subconscious. In a practical sense, it is a pleasant focus on what's positive rather than on the negative.

When we first made our list, I felt like it was mostly fiction. At least half of the statements seemed fanciful if not impossible. But, you know what? As the weeks have passed, and we've plowed through the exercises, more and more of those awesome statements ring absolutely true.

It's remarkable and infinitely hopeful.

Friday, February 17, 2012


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

Ted, Chip, Bonnie, me, Lawrence the birthday boy, and John.
It's been a great week of family fun with Chip's parents, sister, niece and nephew in town.

@ Calamari's in Coconut Grove
The love birds on Valentine's Day.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


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

A modern marvel, the Jelly Sticky Pad.
Living in a constantly moving environment presents a lot of challenges, including, obviously, keeping things from moving. I spotted these sticky pads at the boat show and was skeptical, but they have proven themselves to be completely awesome.

When we're underway, we stick one of these under the dodger, our 'dashboard,' and set the camera on it. Remember a few months ago when we got tossed around in that inlet? While everything else was flying around, the camera never moved. Amazing.

Since the pads are sticky, they do get dirty (and less tacky). However, a quick rinse with dishwashing soap, and they're back to their original sticky selves.

I have pondered lining the entire boat in these things.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


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

[ heart ]

It's Valentine's Day and everyone in the world is deliriously in love, right? Well, looking at Facebook, you'd think so.

I've been thinking (yes, your cue to click somewhere else) about how we represent ourselves and our relationships publicly, serving as our own image handlers. I say 'represent,' but what I really mean is 'misrepresent.'

This thought process was prompted by a call last week from some dear friends who, seemingly out of the blue, are getting a divorce. Having weathered a divorce myself, I know it is rarely out of the blue but rather a long time coming. But as close friends why didn't we talk to each other about it before and not just after?

Why don't any of us talk readily about the challenges of our relationships? I think we are betraying each other by not recognizing and exposing how hard it is to craft a healthy relationship. When we don't, we allow each other to believe that everyone else has a perfectly awesome relationship, seemingly effortlessly. Then we harbor the very false belief that our own relationship is uniquely challenging and perhaps ultimately broken.

THIS IS SO WRONG. All relationships are flawed, because they are built from two flawed people. The only way to make the relationship awesome is for both of the flawed people to work individually and together to fix those flaws.

As part of my new campaign, I will start: Chip and I have relationship problems.

I thought our problems were worse than others until I started reading relationship books and was completely bolstered by the examples of relationships in far worse shape than my own. (I recognize this makes me a shallow person.)

What are Chip and I doing about our problems? We have been using a book Chip found called Getting the Love You Want (info below). It is an intensive program with specific exercises to help couples work through their issues. It includes a structured method for communicating about emotional topics in a calm and productive manner (amazing).

I use the word 'work,' because it is work, actually hard work. It helps you look into your own thoughts and behaviors and ferret out the ways you contribute to the issues at hand and then, consequently, avoid dealing with them. Ouch.

I am delighted to report great progress. We are only halfway through the exercises in the book but have learned surprising and liberating lessons already. We have stopped avoiding and suppressing issues (a challenge itself on a 38' sailboat!) and instead, learned a healthy way to discuss and deal with them.

So, in addition to saying, Happy Valentine's Day, I've come here to say let's be honest, and let's get to work!

Our relationship is the richest, most rewarding and most valuable thing we have. It is like a big chunk of marble that, with a grand vision, heavy labor and hours of polishing, can be transformed into a beautiful masterpiece for the ages. Yours is too.

Here is the book in our store (you pay the same price, Amazon gives us 15%):
Getting the Love You Want -- paperback
Getting the Love You Want -- Kindle edition

Monday, February 6, 2012


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

We did it. The toe rails are done (for now) albeit not without requisite drama.

The last step before painting was putting on that miles of blue tape. After 55 dry days since we got to Miami, it rained on the tape. Can you believe it?

Fortunately is was not a deluge but merely a shower, which dried and was ready for the first coat by noon.

Each coat has to dry for 24 hours, so four coats required four days. Each one of the four days, the clouds gathered and threatened -- and threatened. But on we went, only once having to stop mid-coat when a few drops started falling.

But four coats: we did it. Just in time for the real rain headed our way.

Bring it on! We're armed and righteous.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


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

Rain is looming. After almost two months in Miami with indisputably the best weather possible, now rain threatens just when we're prepared to start varnishing. I must have a big sign on my back that says, "TEAK GODS, KICK ME!"

We did a final few rounds of sanding, up to 150 grit, and then bought miles of blue tape. To thoroughly protect the boat from us and our varnish, we taped all the way around the boat under the outside of the toe rail -- from the dinghy. Then we did two more rounds around the boat on the stainless steel rub rail -- also from the dinghy. Then, we got back on the boat. One round on the fiberglass on deck, next to the toe rail. THEN, all the way around wrapping each of the 593 fittings screwed into the rail. Okay, it's not 593, but still.

Who thinks up this marine torture?

So, now that we've sanded, taped and prepped, we're are finally prepared to paint on some frickin' varnish. Please don't rain. Please don't rain.

Our weapon of choice: Sikkens Cetol Natural Teak. If you ever want to start a big, heated discussion amongst sailboaters, just ask, what's better, varnish or Cetol? Hoo boy. Folks can go on about it. In the end, you have to choose a one or the other chute straight to hell. On our last boat, we chose the varnish route. This time, we'll be arriving in Hades with Cetol.

Do you think they do manicures there?