Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Becoming Liveaboards, motoring along the ICW

Motoring down the ICW on the 4th of July

The hot and wet weather continues. We attack the projects and escape the dock with Minerva when weather permits.

True to our RV lifestyle, flexibility is king, and having two piles of things to do: a rainy day pile and a pile for stolen sunny moments is the way to continue making forward progress.

Loretta in RV jail, waiting patiently for November

We finished scrubbing down Loretta and parked her in the covered parking facility. She'll be safe there for the time being. The plan is to do a shake-down cruise up the NorthEast coast and return to this area in November, swap out boat life for RV life for the month of December in the Keys with our RV friends. We've decided to park Mr. Toad with Loretta until we come to some long-term decisions. By November we'll know how we feel about the boat. One of several things will happen in January depending on how the summer/fall shakedown cruise goes:
  • The RV might get sold, which would be better for her than waiting and aging if we decide to do a long extended cruise around the Caribbean and beyond.
  • The boat might want significant upgrades which would be easier accomplished while we keep the RV as a home base nearby.
  • We might store the RV after our December outing and split our cruising lives in half, with some land-based and some boat-based travel each year.

Our first ever raft-up. From here we had the best view of dueling 4th of July fireworks shows.

With Loretta secured and us finally moved fully aboard the boat, we officially exchanged our nomad titles of full-timers for a new title of liveaboards.

Our planned harbor-hopping route North has been complicated by COVID-19. As of this morning, many of the harbors we were planning to explore are not accepting transient boaters from states that have out-of-control new Corona Virus case numbers, and NC is one of those at the moment. Nova Scotia is definitely off the table since Canada is completely closed to Americans, some states including Maine and New York insist on a two-week quarantine upon arrival. Our harbor-hopping summer plans have therefore become a bit trickier to work out.

One thought is to just kick out into the open ocean, hitch a ride on the Gulf Stream and sail directly to Maine. We could provision for the open ocean trip and the two weeks of quarantine upon arrival, but this is rather varsity-level considering that we haven't had a chance to really get to know Minerva yet. With all this uncertainty we reluctantly agreed to extend another month's rent in Oriental, into the official hurricane season of July, hoping the state restrictions will lift and that we will be welcomed in the NorthEast states for harbor-hopping as originally planned. We'll get out for more local sailing outings and continue getting to know Minerva, by early August we'll be leaving one way or the other. We finished our Tier 1 To Do List and pulled a few items forward from Tier 2. The completion of the Tier 1 list means Minerva is ready to flee the moment a named storm threatens. I start each day checking several weather sources, probably my daily routine for the foreseeable future.

Tug on the ICW sharing a very narrow channel. This one was heading to rescue a barge that was stuck in the shallows.

From the Tier 2 list: get comfortable with GPS routing. That's proving to be a bit more difficult than I expected, the new chartplotter is a lot different from the simple ones we had on previous boats. We followed a friend on his boat South on the ICW for 17 miles to watch a fireworks show, and there really isn't a better way of being forced into learning the GPS than in the narrow channels of the ICW. Here's an example of what we've experienced:

Phoenix picking her way along the ICW on the 4th of July

This is the sailboat Phoenix belonging to our friend Scott, she is a 44' Kelly Petersen. She draws about as much water as we do (depth needed below the waterline not to scuff the seafloor), and Scott knows these waters well, so we followed him down the ICW for the fireworks show. In this picture he's about 200 yards ahead of us. The channel he is in is about 10' wide and about 15' deep and he's currently heading perpendicular to the natural path of the river - in other words he's headed sideways towards the West shore. To his left (port) side the water is about 2' deep. To his right (starboard) side the water is 3' deep. The waters are strong-tea brown from tree tannins, so it's impossible to see through them to get a real understanding of the bottom contours. Can you see the difference between the 15' deep water, the 2' water, or the 3' water? Neither can we. And to us it was unnatural that he was going sideways to our intended direction of travel.

So there we were, happily following along behind him and mostly following along as he jogged here and there for seemingly no reason, we were sort of rounding off the corners of his jogs while chatting with our friends who hitched a ride with us for the outing, when Scott came over the radio and strongly suggested we come back to starboard soon because we'd drifted off course. A quick look at the GPS - yikes - we were heading into 2' water.

From then on we were glued to the GPS. There were no groundings that day, but I see how there could easily become some in the future. Boaters say "there are two types of boaters, those who have run aground and those who will". Yep, our day is coming. We will pay better attention in the future to avoid becoming "those who have" but freely admit it's probably just a matter of time until we scuff our share of soft ICW mud.

Typical waterfront homes in the area known as Sea Gate along the ICW on the way to Morehead City

After the fireworks show it was quite late; Scott and his family chose to sleep on the hook (at anchor) in Beaufort. We decided to motor back up the ICW to return our guests home with just the stars and occasional marker or house lights to keep us company as we motored quietly by. I do love night sailing, and it was easy enough to follow our GPS bread crumbs back home.

Chloe enjoying the breeze

We're hoping for lots more outings like this in July.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Ready to Roam

Lockdown has been good for Minerva. Without a lot of the usual distractions, we've been focused tightly on getting her ready to sail away. Here's what we've been up to all May and June:

Lance installing the antennas for the wifi booster and AIS VHF

 The VHF radio was replaced with one that also sends and receives AIS signals. It communicates with the chartplotter, so we can see other boats, know what they are up to, reach out to them directly by name on the radio, and they can do the same. In the case of emergency there is a big red button to push which will send our information and GPS coordinates to the rescue folks.

We also installed a WeBoost cell signal/wifi booster similar to the one on the RV - it's a good company and the customer service has been very good to us over the years, so when it was time to select one for the boat we called them first. The difference it made in signal strength was immediately noticeable. Now I can work at full bars with Calyx (which runs on a Sprint signal and is truly unlimited).

Cleaning and ultimately sealing the crack in the blackwater tank

The surveyor was unhappy with the forward head tank, indicating concern about surface rust. This bothered us too so we sanded and scraped the rust stains off, and discovered damaged welds that had been poorly epoxied, and they leaked when we filled the tank with the brown brackish water from the Neuse. Ick. We repaired the broken welds, and are so glad we hunted down these drips when it was just river water, not accompanied by smelly black tank leaks in the wall somewhere later on.

Fixing the saltwater pump, the project before the project, tracing down the "why doesn't the aft head work right" solution

The aft head received an Electroscan by Raritan system. Lance installed it in April as a condition of the sale closing but we didn't get a chance to connect the saltwater intake properly then, as it was installed while the boat was high and dry. Essentially we took a very simple (albeit gross, not to mention illegal by USCG standards) direct overboard system and switched it out for a mini treatment plant, legal for discharge in most areas. Now when the contents leave the boat they are completely sanitized.

Repairing the first of two stuck winches

 This winch was stuck solid, and it took some effort to get it spinning again. We found another one in a similar situation and got them both working in fresh grease. In the coming months each and every one will get disassembled and serviced. Now that we've taken the first two apart the project is less intimidating.

Test run in the dinghy. Right after this shot was taken the motor mysteriously died. Now that I look at this picture more carefully I see that he is standing on the fuel line, which may have been the problem.
Troubleshooting the dinghy motor
This is standard dink motor drama: working now, not working next time, no visible reason. In our experience, the only constant with a dinghy motor is that they will be trouble. We decided just to install a permanent mount for it on the rail for easy troubleshooting on days like this. It weighs 60 lbs and ultimately lives in the storage locker just to the right of the camera's view here, having winches and halyards handy make easy work of the lifting. Having a real mount for it to live on while being worked on will likely be helpful in the future.

Replacing the main power switch with a modern Perko switch and fresh cables.
This was a major project that we conducted mostly in the pouring rains of May and required total boat disassembly.

 Of course you already know about the installation of the chartplotter and the accompanying complete electrical refit, we did that in the pouring rains of May.

Sorting all the engine spares
There are so many nooks and crannies on this boat, getting familiar with all of the spares stowed away there took weeks. I chipped away on that while Lance did the electrical refit, pausing here and there for his input or to hand him tools or labels. In the end I ended up organizing the storage lockers by project type, keeping the same-project types of tools and materials together with the hopes of limiting future boat destructo. I expect over time this will evolve.

As part of this process I took out twelve black leaf-bags of trash;  partially used tubes of stuff long since solidified, old yellow page books, bus schedules for Australia, tide charts, bicycle maps and museum flyers, that sort of thing which has all been superceded by the smart phone in my pocket or the electronic chartplotter we installed. I found space for the old paper charts for now, as redundancy is always good, if time goes by without actually using any of them they may become gifts later. Our music tastes are also significantly different from the previous owner's - the Kenny G CD was evicted with extreme prejudice immediately upon discovery.

Lance adding a USB power plug in the dash box

Our friend Joe crafted a beautiful little teak box easily accessible from the captain's chair, handy for small things the Captain du Jour will want closeby: phones, gloves, sunglasses, Chapstick and sunblock. Lance installed a power plug in the back of it, because if the phone will be tossed in there... it might as well be charging too. This was a lovely handcrafted gift from our thoughtful friend and we will think of Joe and his wife Janet fondly as we travel with it.

Testing all the lights. We only had to replace the stern light, all others were good to go. She's lit up like a Christmas tree and we should be easily visible on even the darkest and foggiest of nights.
Also on the agenda was getting-to-know-you day sails with Minerva.

Chloe has found the best seat in the house for days in the slip

What started out to be a project day became a quick sailing jaunt when the wind came up and we'd hit our limit of toiling away in the heat

Putting up the 3rd sail turned out to be easy and natural, not all worthy of the worry I had previously assigned to it

Chloe found her favorite under-way spot right under the Captain's chair

Finding a weather window for a nice weekend getaway proved impossible, so our planned 3-day buddy cruise with Joe and Janet got trimmed down to an afternoon afloat with them aboard our boat instead of their own. Having friends with local knowledge has been invaluable, and we will be forever grateful for their guidance and friendship.

Lance getting to know the windlass. We feel so very fancy and spoiled with this electronic motor. Pulling up this anchor and heavy chain would be tough otherwise, definitely not possible with the easy hand-over-hand method we used on all our previous boats.

On the day of our planned outing there wasn't enough wind to sail so we just motored over to the South River and anchored for a while. The river bottom is a dark gray sticky mud and Joe taught us the locals' trick of leaving the anchor dangling in the water and motoring away slowly with it to rinse it off, much easier than dragging it onto the deck and scrubbing it down like I had planned. Janet had been tracking the weather on her phone, and when the expected black wall of ugly weather approached we high-tailed it back to the slip and got her all tied down just in time for the first blast from the ugly storm. While it rained off and on we spent the afternoon on the covered marina patio chatting with a friend of Janet and Joe's about Bahamas cruising - he had lots of tips and tricks for deep-draft boats such as ours, while they chatted away I took copious notes.

A note about landing a boat in a slip: it's intimidating. Our boat weighs 18 tons and is just under 50' long from pointy end to pointy end. That's a lot of inertia to manage. I've been trying to muster up the courage to give it a whirl for quite some time, but always chicken out and Lance ends up doing it. On this venture the three of them insisted and I ultimately agreed that I would do it if Joe, who has the most experience with heavy boats, would walk me through each step. So he stood by my side and spoke calmly in my ear and with his guidance I landed her safely in the slip and it looked so smoooooth. Everyone wants to be helpful at a moment like this, and what ends up happening is that a half dozen people show up on the dock to grab lines and shout instructions, which are often contradictory and almost never helpful to the Captain who can't hear them behind the dodger window anyways. Lance and Janet were ready with the fenders and the lines and Janet's comment later was "I didn't even need the roaming fender" which was the best thing I heard that day. Now that the first docking is behind me sans disaster I feel more confident to try it again.

Minerva's table is so huge, "pass the salt" takes on a new, more literal, meaning

The day wrapped up with our first dinner hosted aboard. This was the BBQ grill's inaugural launch and Lance is still getting to know it but he persevered; the middle of the potatoes were fine, despite being quite crispy on the outside. By the time the steaks were up he had it figured out and they were cooked to perfection.

Days like this make all the work, tears, frustration, and wallet hemorrhaging worth it. This week we'll be moving aboard and cleaning up Loretta and Mr. Toad for their date with the covered parking facility in New Bern on July 1st.

Many of the marinas along our route North are opening again to visitors as each state lifts their lockdown orders. Our stay here in Oriental is coming to a close soon, but much like our full-timing RV lifestyle, we expect to meet the friends we've made here on the water elsewhere, and knowing that makes the coming goodbyes a little easier to face.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Mom Plans, and God Laughs

On Friday we finished the electric project, and successfully tested the system. Flipping the main switch and having all the electronics systems come online without the previous worrisome flickering, and then hearing the engine start and run was magic to our eyes and ears.

The next thing on the pre-sail-departure checklist: comfy pets.

Chloe in Mr. Toad on a boat project day

Chloe has been coming to the boat with us every day and has just about mastered getting on and off the boat from the pier. Getting up and down the companionway ladder by herself required some patience, a pocketful of her favorite treats, and a whole lot of encouragement. She's just about got it although sometimes she high-centers on the guillotine door. I'll have to put some thought into what I can drape over it that will give her some traction and protect the wood from her scrabbling nails. She picked her own favorite cushiony spots below decks, so then it was just a matter of placing washable fuzzy blankets in those areas, and we bought a small patch of fake grass for pee breaks on long crossings or other days when it's not possible to get ashore. She was first potty trained with one of these long ago so I expect she'll remember and the training on this should be easy. She already has a well-fitting lifevest with a sturdy handle so she's set for getting between boat and dinghy. And she's sailed with us on our two previous sailboats so we know she's a good little sailor.

Chloe considering her strategy for the guillotine door

The cats had never been on a boat before and I needed some time to make the transition smooth for them. A small litter box might fit under the ladder, just need to locate the right sized box and place it. By wrapping the pole that acts as a companionway ladder rail I planned to turn the bottom half of it into a Mom-approved claw-sharpening station. A spot in the window under the dodger would make a warm and stable spot to hang out, all that's needed is some non-skid applied to the bottom of a cat bed with high, stiff sides and Stewie or Starfish would have a warm, sunny spot to keep the captain company. Some hidey spots would probably be welcome if the sailing gets rough, so bedding was shuffled around to clear some dedicated space and it was lined with washable pillows. Perhaps some small hammocks hanging from the handhold rails inside would make for a comfy ride with a window view, that will require some measurements and materials sourcing, I will put some thought into that and pick that project up later. A big fish-retrieval net on the rail and a float on a line already in the water would be a good idea, in case one of them fell overboard and required rescuing.

Starfish took her snuggling responsibilities seriously

Checklist in hand we buttoned up the boat and went back to the RV. Starfish was acting weird. We had put her on antibiotics on Wednesday to address the snotty nose she would get occasionally but it didn't seem to be helping. She demanded to be let out, and then just wandered over to the neighbor's place and howled at them. The cranky old neighbor lady rather loudly announced that she was old and just needed to be put down, interesting to me how she completely missed the irony as she shouted from her trailer steps in her ancient gravelly voice, with her hands on her hips and her feet in ratty old slippers. It was Friday night of Memorial Day weekend and the vet's office was closed.

Starfish cruising the nation from her sunny window spot

Saturday she perked up quite a bit in the morning, so we gave her another round of antibiotics and some loving and went to the boat for a day of assembling and testing the dinghy. By the time we came home she had taken a turn for the worse, I tried to get her to eat something and she turned up her nose at all the food, even her favorite treats and then threw up on the floor. As the night wore on we took turns comforting her as she became more and more miserable and sometime in the night one of her eyes stopped tracking properly and she couldn't balance by herself. Sunday morning found us at the nearest emergency vet hospital over an hour away just after it opened. Filling out their checklist "does your pet have: change in personality, lack of appetite, pain, vomiting..." check, check, check, there was no box for probable stroke/completely miserable. I held her as she relaxed and then left us in the most pain-free way possible, on a quiet and comfortable couch in the back room at the emergency vet hospital.

Starfish stole my new blanket in Montana and refused to give it back

Sunday afternoon the four of us held one another tightly.

Stewie visiting the bar in the campground Keys, Christmas Day 2019

On Memorial Day Monday I was watching Stewie on the patio. The neighbor cats had come by to say hello and he wasn't chasing them out of our campsite with vigor like he used to. He looked so thin, and at the same time was growing a little pot belly. We'd noticed it a couple of weeks ago and put him on worm meds, despite no worm evidence, as that seemed the likely culprit. But he'd finished the first round of treatment and didn't seem to be gaining any weight back, despite eating with his usual gusto. I decided to get him in to see a vet first thing on Tuesday morning, thinking maybe we'd just selected the wrong worm medication.

Stewie relaxing on the patio with us last week

On Tuesday morning the local vet took one look at him and snatched him into the back room, siphoned a sample from his little pot belly and found fluid in his abdomen.

FIP. Leading to a failing heart. Fatal. Soon.
Might be days and might be weeks. 

The room swam out of focus. Not again. I can't do this again. How did we go from probably worms to fatal so quickly? We have beautiful plans and Stewie is a big part of them. I have already taken measurements for his sunny window bed and expect that he will love this next phase of our journey. How long had it been since he last frolicked on the lawn with Chloe and me? A week? Days?

It will be painful. There are no treatment options. You need to make a decision to end his suffering. Now.

So for the second time in three days I pet my cat and whispered loving goodbyes to him as he slipped away from me.

Stewie frolicking on the lawn in Oriental during our afternoon walk just a few weeks ago

Lance and I went home and held Chloe tight. In just a few days we were reduced from a RVing family of five to a sailing family of three. At bedtime I reluctantly wiped "comfy pets" off the checklist and shuffled to bed where, for the first time in 15 years, there were no little furry bodies to welcome me.

Starfish the heat-seeking missle hogging the propane heater in Yellowstone

Starfish lived to be 15 and Stewie lived to be 14. Everyone we've met across the nation will remember them well. While Starfish ruled her kingdom from the sunny RV window, Stewie was always the campground celebrity as he made the rounds to visit our fellow campers wherever we went, or accepted loving pets from fans as he followed Chloe on our daily walks. Together we have traveled all across the USA - twice - and have seen some amazing sights in this great country of ours. They had an excellent life, were well loved and are greatly missed.

Stewie the Savannah cat stalking elk in Yellowstone

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

We'll do it in our underwear then

The storms have been rolling through Oriental, NC. One right after another.

Half the folks we meet on the dock act surprised, and profess that it's highly unusual for May. The other half just roll their eyes and tell us this is the way May is around here.

The new switch on the old French bracket, after a brief polish. So shiny.

We received the chartplotter, radar, and VHS with AIS system, and installed them. When we went to connect them to the existing structure of the boat, though, that's when we encountered unexpected messes. The battery bank includes two different types of batteries wired together in parallel (Lance cursed out loud about that one), and the starting batteries were not segregated from the house batteries meaning we could possibly burn up every little bit of battery by leaving on an errant light somewhere, and then not have anything at all left to start the boat. Since we can't push-start Minerva it had to be fixed.

Opening the wall behind the navigation table revealed decades of wires from long-abandoned equipment, shady wire nuts and other dubious connections. Lastly, the main power switch was original French equipment from 1983, and the intermittent and cranky nature of it left us praying it would cooperate. Lance isn't a religious man, so his ultimate solution involved less praying and more tools.

He decided the best plan of attack was to trace every single wire, remove it if it was unnecessary and replace/repair its connections as needed. After that it would be necessary to segregate and re-cable the battery bank, and replace the main power switch with a more modern Perko switch and dedicated busbar system. Doing this meant building some custom brackets, ordering some new tools, and...

Minerva would be without power from beginning to end.

So, coming back to the storms. At first we dodged them. As they rolled through and turned Minerva into a bucking bronco in her slip, we stayed in the peaceful RV planning, ordering and assembling what we could for delivery and installation in the calm windows. Whenever she stopped bucking we attacked it together, Lance with his head in the wall or sitting on the engine elbow deep in the battery compartment, me handing him tools, labels (yes he bought a special labelmaker to get it all perfect) and cold beverages. Some wires we pulled together with a combination of Lance's strength and my little hands in deep holes here and there. I always knew that skill of being able to fit my whole hand in a Pringles can would come in handy somewhere, sometime.

And then a surprise. Out of nowhere the first named storm popped up and headed right for us. Arthur.
A whole month ahead of the recognized hurricane season.
And Minerva had no power with which to escape.

Arthur ended up slipping past us as a non-event, but while spider-webbing Minerva into her slip in preparation we came to the conclusion that we must double-time this project. Storms or no storms, Minerva can't be sitting here like a lame duck waiting for the next one to hit.

But the storms never stopped. After Arthur they just got wetter. Buckets of rain, one storm after another.

So, a rainy Wednesday found us shuffling down the dock being pelted with fat sideways rain, arriving at Minerva soaked to the skin. I found and installed the bimini, giving Lance and the engine some protection from the heavy rain (why hadn't I figured this out before?), and I settled in with the laptop to work. Every now and then Lance would call for tools or a label, and I would pause my client timer, deliver them to him and get back to work.

The second time I appeared at the companionway door and handed him a tool he did a double-take to see me standing there in my underwear. My clothes were all hanging up inside drip-drying. He laughed as he stripped off his soggy shirt to hang alongside them.

Ah yes, Flexibility. Your lessons have been well received.

We made good progress and she should be up and running soon. We're 70% of the way there now. Clothes or no clothes. Storm or no storm.

Standing on the step handing Lance yet another tool, I had this strange moment of... wonder? reality vs expectations met? It's hard to put a name on it. We have always been boaters and expected our boat life to look like this. Well, maybe with more sunshine but not necessarily with more clothes. The popular saying "owning a boat is fixing it in exotic places" is definitely true. We came in expecting that. There's a work/fun ratio I expect to meet, and as long as they remain in balance I'm content.

People ask us when we are leaving. We are shooting for June but know better than to put a  specific date on it. We'll go when she's ready, when we're comfortable with her, when the weather is right and when Loretta and Mr. Toad have been tucked away safely.

Tools loaned by a friend made short work of the bracket upgrade

I wonder about people that buy a boat and just go. Or are expecting the turquoise waters of the Bahamas and fail to fully consider the bumpy Gulf Stream on the way there. Endless instagrammers can be seen posing with surreal backdrops, but that life doesn't seem real to me. To me, standing in my underwear with wet hair stuck to my back, waving a tool at Lance who can't quite grasp it because the boat is getting tossed around and giggling while he misses it again, both of us soaked to the skin... this is the life.

This. This is truly what we signed up for.

Good times are coming soon. We'll find that magical turquoise water. There will be lots more days of tools coming too. And that's also pretty OK.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Living in Limbo

Princesa Mia in Oriental NC, as seen from our dock

I wrote this last week but never pushed the "publish" button:

The boat's ours... sort of.
We're free to roam... sort of.
We're NC locals... sort of.

The bank is taking its sweet time releasing the funds for Minerva, and the seller will not release any paperwork until the funds are released by his bank for his use. So we know where Minerva's hide-a-key is and we've sort of got possession of the boat but not completely.

In the meantime she waits in a slip close to the Seller's house at the Oriental Harbor Marina, which is quite exposed to the South winds which have been epic lately. Last night's wind was a steady 45 knots with expected gusts to 65. Gale force. That was enough to snap the mast of a smaller boat at a nearby marina. It's a wild enough rodeo that we cannot jump from the dock onto our boat deck because she is bucking like a wild bronco, and Chloe stands stiff-legged and barks at the bouncing docks with real aggression. We've spider-webbed Minerva every which way so she stays put, I expect the first thing to let go will likely be the dock.

Because of Minerva's ours/not really ours status, we have been ordering the electronics goodies to be installed but keeping them in the RV with us until we have the keys in hand. It's getting kinda crowded in our little 272 square foot home.

Lance delivers the new electronics to the boat.

The NC governor has extended the stay at home order a little bit longer for most folks, and at the same time lifted the limitations for some businesses. There is definitely a feeling of Spring freedom in the air as a few more folks emerge and return to their routines. Some of the marinas along our planned Northerly sail are open for visitors again, and a summer harbor-hopping route is starting to make itself clear. Rough plans include: swimming with the ponies of Chincoteague, sailing a lap around Lady Liberty, and spying on puffins in Maine.

Minerva at rest between storms

I really must pause here and give a huge shout-out to Facebook. When we were putting in our bid on the Tartan in Florida last December I made a Facebook friend (Mark) with a sister ship and his advice on common problem areas became immensely valuable during that process. Alas, the Tartan repairs were more than we were willing to tackle so our shared dream of sailing the sisters side-by-side was not to be. But we stayed friends anyways, and as an Oriental native he chimed in again with locals' guidance when it was clear we'd settle in for a spell. 

Through the Women Who Sail Facebook group I met Janet and later her husband Joe, who have a home and a boat in the Oriental area. They have a wood and metal workshop nearby which they have graciously offered to share should we need workspace. Having instant friends with local knowledge has been immensely helpful through the boat-buying process, and it's been a lot less isolating with like-minded allies at our side. While we were visiting Janet and Joe on their boat one day Mark came by, come to find out he keeps his Tartan 40 in the same marina, it's only about 15 slips away from Janet and Joe's Southerly 42. They have been neighbors for some time but hadn't really spoken until the point where I looked up from Tango as he was walking by with an armful of teak for the latest boat project and said "hey aren't you Mark with the Tartan?".

Janet on the deck of her boat Tango, a Southerly 42

Finally, a Facebook group I recently discovered Bob423, which is all about crowd-sourcing the latest ICW knowledge. Garmin ActiveCaptain tracks are shared and updated regularly, and this has greatly eased my concerns about the shallow waters, shoaling and bridge quirks of the East Coast ICW. Tips I learned from this website helped us finally pull the trigger on the right chartplotter system and radar system, a daunting task which was causing choice paralysis.

So we're here with our boat, but not really.
We're free to roam, eventually.
We're locals, technically.

The electrical rat's nest. It looked much better after the dead wires from decades of nonexistent equipment were removed.

All this has been an exercise in frustration for me. It may come as a surprise... but I'm a bit of a control freak. Gasp! Every day I wake up and look for some small way I can move us back towards our free-roaming lifestyle but overall, I must admit I am not in control of most of this now.

Shawna sorting the charts, the radar and chartplotter wait in the background

Realizing that, and surrendering to it, has been difficult.

Yeah this is as far as I got last week.

Two days after I wrote this, a full two weeks after I fell into a profoundly deep funk over it all, we finally got the banking and the final paperwork squared away and officially got the keys.  Lance delivered the new radar and chartplotter to the boat and started tracing every electrical wire with the goal of bringing it all up to his standards. I've been going through every nook and cranny, taking note of the location of every tool, spare, and gadget, and deep cleaning it all.

The key. At last.

There are SO MANY nooks and crannies on this boat. She has been around the world at least once, and the previous owner and the owner before him did all of their travel with minimal electronics. So that means mountains of paper charts, many with handwritten notes. The owners who cruised from 1988-1992 included maintenance concerns on their chart notes as well, an interesting idea in lieu of a separate logbook. I sorted them all, keeping the ones to be used between now and December handy and archiving the Caribbean, Africa, New Zealand, and Pacific Islands charts under the bed for now. The Caribbean is definitely on our radar for 2021, the rest... who knows?

The bridge between us and our friends on Tango

With this boat we can go anywhere that is touched by the sea. Literally anywhere.
She's that kind of boat.

The archived charts of the Caribbean, Africa, and the South Pacific will wait under the bed, fueling far-away dreams

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Thousand Trails Year Two

Our second year of Thousand Trails expires on June 30, 2020. The program has worked very well for us again, as it would for most traveling full-timers.

Little Diamond WA campsite overlooked a large disc golf arena.
There was an indoor hot tub and ice cream socials once a week.

This year I am closing out this record-keeping a little early because we bought a boat in April and hope to be sailing the rest of 2020+ and into the forseeable future. Therefore we will not be renewing our Thousand Trails membership for a third year in July.

Cherokee Landing TN was a quiet park with an abundance of wildlife

But, if we were to remain full-timers I definitely would renew it.  Even with only 9 months of use we still came out way ahead. 

Here's how the math broke down for our second year of  membership:

Date Description Value Balance
7/1/2019 Basic Program Dues w/1 zone (NorthEast) ($585) ($585)
7/1/2019 Trails Collection ($214) ($799)
7/1/2019 Two Additional Zones (SouthWest, SouthEast) ($108) ($907)
7/1/2019 Zones - One more zone (NorthWest) ($54) ($961)
7/9/2019 Portland Fairview Encore (4 nights @ $20 vs $63.60) $174 ($787)
7/21/2019 Birch Bay WA (4 nights @$0 vs $68.11) $272 ($514)
7/26/2019 Little Diamond WA (14 nights @ $0 vs $44/night) $616 $102
9/24/2019 Cherokee Landing TN (14 nights @ $0 vs $44/night) $616 $718
10/16/2019 Natchez Trace TN (10 nights @ $0 v $44.61/night) $446 $1,164
11/12/2019 Crystal Isles FL ($0 v 1@$63, 10 @ $47) $533 $1,697
3/19/2020 Goose Creek NC (12 nights @ $0 vs $80) $960 $2,657

As we discovered before, the Encore resorts are swankier, and some of the older basic TT resorts are in need of significant maintenance. Thousand Trails can always be counted on for at least the basics, and we always go in expecting just that and let ourselves by pleasantly surprised by any extras.

Goose Creek, NC, has a stocked pond in which the kids fish all day

We did not have any problems getting into areas we wanted to visit; we didn't always get the exact resort or the exact dates we wanted but we could always land close enough with some flexibility.

So, our annual investment for this second year was $961, which we turned into $2657 of free camping, which worked out to be an average of $13.93/night for our year's investment. We'll be parking the RV in storage soon after transitioning onto the boat, otherwise we would be seeking additional campsites through the last quarter of our membership and these figures would be even more favorable.

Crystal River, FL has boat ramps and manatees

Closing out our account was a bit of a hassle, they want it in writing as well as by phone call during which time they tried to talk me out of it. Because I'm a belts-and-suspenders type of gal, I also did a website chat and then followed-up by e-mail which they confirmed over a month after receipt. Time well tell if it has all been cancelled properly. I'll let you know in July.

Natchez Trace Campground in TN winds around a large pond.
The park also contains a fabulous rec hall with pool tables and a foosball table.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Oriental NC, a Sailors' Town

The town of Oriental brags that it has three boats for every human being. So as expected the town is set up well for cruisers. The local grocery store is a Piggly Wiggly and it has a shuttle van: for now it delivers groceries to the dock, in better days it shuttles cruisers to and from the store.

The OiNC shuttle

The adorable restaurants along the waterfront, shuttered for now, have wooden patios that look quite dog-friendly. I can't wait for the day they are populated and I can taste the goodies listed in the window menus. Everybody we meet around town shares a friendly wave. I imagine they are smiling beneath their masks.

The wind here is fairly constant; we're not that far from KittyHawk after all. I can see why the Wright Brothers chose this region for plane development.

The whole town follows a central essential website daily. It's a tidy way of keeping a community together, something I have not seen anywhere else in the nation. Check it out for a glimpse into this small town life:, it's got everything from the local gossip, to restaurant and business hours, to swap meet locations, to weather reports with a slant towards boaters' concerns. This morning a neighbor told us copperheads have come out of hibernation and are being seen around town, he read it on "the website". 

Here on the East Coast there are two tides to worry about. The normal moon tide that we are already familiar with, and also a wind tide, the latter of which being far more prevalent here. The wind blows water in and out of the rivers and since Minerva draws over 6'6" of boat draft when fully loaded, this greatly affects the windows for getting her into and out of the repair yard and some marinas. For now she is low on fuel and low on water so she can make it around town to her various appointments, she looks a bit cork-like riding a full foot or so above her usual waterline.

Minerva at rest in her Oriental Harbor Marina slip 

Buying a boat is a process, and we are now in the phase where repairs are being made to satisfy the insurance company, pursuant to surveyor recommendations. The things the insurance company is concerned with have to do with safety of vessel and crew, Lance has his own checklist above and beyond that. He loads the daily tools into the Mini almost every morning while I work at my desk and spends the day alongside the owner wrenching on this or that, both of them decked out in stylish N95 masks (we dug ours out of  the first aid kit). Later this week a different surveyor will come by to approve completion of the insurance company's checklist, next will be the sail test. Assuming all of that goes smoothly we will be trading keys and signed documents for our life savings. Hopefully soon.

New Friends in Times of Plague

We found covered storage for Loretta in nearby New Bern. Lance still wants to drive her home to California so my Dad can keep an eye on her but considering the state of the nation the trip might not be wise. We have completed quarantine here and there may not be services to support Loretta on her journey across the nation now, also he may not be able to make it back by public transport. Importantly, we'll lose sailing time while he makes the round trip, which becomes more precious as hurricane season approaches. So we'll wait and see on that for now. Oriental is a good spot to ride out the plague, and it would be safe and dry enough under cover for Loretta to wait out the summer while we sail up to Maine and back. Mr. Toad is not part of our long-term picture so we'll be looking for a new home for him soon, it makes more sense than storing him.

The RVers' world is beyond crazy right now. Some states have simply closed parks, cancelled incoming reservations and kicked everyone out who was already there. While this makes sense if you have a home to go to, or if you are just camping for fun when you should be sheltering at home, it doesn't make sense at all for full-timers. Forcing someone to move around who had been safely quarantined in place is the opposite of helpful, but that is exactly what has happened in many places. We barely made it into Oriental before the lockdown went into place by order of the NC governor, the park we left made it clear we couldn't come back once we had left, and we were one of the last allowed in before the town locked down on this end too. It made for a stressful transition, others haven't been as fortunate as us. Many full-timers we know have been bounced out with nowhere to go, roaming between WalMarts and private parks, always in quarantine since they are never allowed to stay anywhere for long. I'm grateful we made it into this private park just in time, it's within bicycling distance of most everything we need, which right now is an endless loop of boat,  chandlery, and groceries. The RV faces a huge lawn area, Lance thinks it is sod being prepared for sale. Chloe and Stewie frolic daily on it with the neighbor dogs and I enjoy the stunning green view outside my office window.

Chloe frolicking on the lawn beside the RV park. The light is magical here.

This is probably the last view I'll be enjoying from this window for a while. The next round of stunning views will all be from the water: Annapolis, New York, Maine. Maybe the fjords of Nova Scotia if we can get moving in time.

Internet Speed Comparison
Oriental RV Park, Oriental, NC
Sampled 3/31/20 at 11:41 am

MB down
MB up
Calyx (Sprint)
Google Fi
Jetpack (Verizon)
Park wifi