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 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 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. Or 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 a beautiful life and Stewie is a big part of it. 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. 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, 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. 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 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 know better than to put a 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.