Saturday, August 27, 2011

But what about Hurricanes?

Particularly over the past couple weeks, one of the most common questions we are asked is something along the lines of, "what will you do about hurricanes?"  I can't adequately portray the emphases and expressions that tend to accompany that question, but I can say that the question really being asked is, "what, are you guys crazy?!"

This week we had our first brush with a hurricane (the outer bands of Hurricane Irene), so I can give a slightly more informed answer now than before.

First, to the primary question, no, we are not crazy.  Hurricanes are highly destructive and must be taken seriously, but they do have one positive attribute: you know when they are coming.  Although the 5-day models are not particularly accurate, and the 3-day models have their weaknesses too, we'll always know there is a possibility of a hurricane strike at least a few days in advance, and we'll have relative certainty at least a day in advance.  The benefit is that we'll always have time to prepare our boat the best we can and, most importantly, get out of town if necessary.  We are absolutely not going to stay on our boat during a full-blown hurricane.  So, no, not crazy.

Second, as to the more specific question, we'll do what we can and hope for the best.  We have insurance, of course, and we have a hurricane-preparedness plan that we follow to maximize the chance of Sea Gem surviving a hurricane without damage.  Even though we were not expecting a direct strike from Irene, we prepared for one nonetheless, and we came through the 50-knot gusts of wind that the outer bands generated just fine.

So, what do we do?  We normally tie down our boat with six very thick ropes. We keep it close to the dock so that it is easy to get on and off the boat.  When we prepare for a hurricane, we add several more ropes (we had ten for Irene, and we'll have at least twelve if there is a chance of a more direct hit), and we tie the boat so that it is in the middle of the slip so that it does not hit the dock (we had some real adventures getting on and off the boat this week--Moishe almost became an aquatic mammal at least once). We also strip everything from the deck (awnings, covers, sails, etc) so that the wind doesn't take anything away.  Finally, we check all of our water pumps to make sure that they are working in case the boat takes on water.  If there is a chance of a direct hit from a really big hurricane, we will also move the boat to a more secure location than our current marina.  Fortunately, in our part of the country, direct hits from the most powerful hurricanes are rare.  So, we do all that, we leave the boat, and we pray for the best.  We'll be safe and sound no matter what, and the boat should be just fine.

Here is a photo of me preparing the boat Tuesday night:


I am in the processing of tying an extra docking line to the mast.  I tied two ropes to the mast and led them back to posts on both sides of the boat to help keep the boat from moving forward (the wind was predicted to come from the north, which would have--and did--tried to push our boat forward into the dock).  Also, note that the sail in the front of the boat has several wraps of rope to keep it from catching the wind and unraveling (if there is going to be a bigger storm, we'll remove the sail entirely).  Finally, note that the deck hatches are exposed.  we normally have canvas covers on them to keep the sun out, but we removed them to ensure that the wind doesn't take them away.

So, that's not too crazy, right?  

Monday, August 22, 2011

Victims of the Move

While Eric and I (and Moishe) survived the move to Florida, our poor houseplants were not as fortunate. Apparently, the dark car trunk in which they were buried for days wasn’t an optimal environment for their survival. Needless to say, after two days without sunlight, water, or hope, they turned an ugly shade of brown and shriveled beyond recognition.

I don’t have a photograph of them in this state to share with you because I was too upset to document their condition --I only wanted to remember them as they were in Kentucky: green, thriving, and identifiable as plants.

Once we uncovered the plants in the trunk and realized they had sustained severe trauma during the course of the trip, we promptly removed them from the car, and applied urgent lifesaving techniques. Hoping to resuscitate them, I placed my plants (in their Woolly Pockets) in direct sunlight. Sadly, they were unresponsive to the sun’s powerful rays. With time running out, I watered them. Thankfully, the powerful combination of water and light seemed to stabilize the withered plants. The next few days were touch and go for our fragile plants, but upon arrival into Miami, the plants’ condition remained stable, although not ideal.

Days passed and the plants’ health showed little signs of improvement. In an attempt to breathe new life into the jade, Eric severed some of its dying branches. He had hoped that pruning the weaker limbs would improve the overall health of the plant, but sadly, it only served as a cosmetic fix –and a poor one at that. Here are some grim photos documenting the plants' heartbreaking condition:

Horrifying, isn't it?

I worry our plants have sustained too much damage to make a full recovery, but I’m holding out hope. I’ve noticed that, with each passing day, fewer and fewer leaves seem to fall off of the jade. Of course, there are less leaves in general, so perhaps that isn’t the best measure of its health.

Moishe, too, is distraught over his leafy friends' prognosis, as you can clearly see in this photo:

We'll keep you posted on the plants' progress (should there be any).

Friday, August 19, 2011

Moishe's Great Adventure

While Eric and were able to think through and make the decision to live on a boat, the smallest member of our little family was given no say in the matter. There were many times in the days leading up to our move when Eric and I would look lovingly into Moishe's eyes and say “You have no idea what is in store for you, tiny little dog.”

Since Moishe couldn’t prepare himself for what he didn’t know was coming, Eric and I took steps to ensure Moishe's transition onto the boat was smooth. Before leaving, we needed to train Moishe on how to “do his business” while at sea. Based on extensive Internet research, we learned that, in no time at all, dogs can be easily trained to relieve themselves on a fake grass patch, piddle pad, or old rug. We had high hopes for our little Moishe. After all, he routinely spites us by urinating on all sorts of household objects; we figured he’d enjoy the opportunity to pee on something new.

Prior to leaving Kentucky, we set up Moishe’s artificial grass patch on our kitchen floor (a Moishe hot spot for showcasing displeasure). When it came time to “go outside,” we walked him into the kitchen and onto the artificial turf. Much to our surprise, Moishe walked onto the turf, sat down, and glared at us with contempt. When this look failed to prompt us to take him to the real outside, he resulted to emotional manipulation. First, he unleashed his trademark puppy dog eyes. The second he glanced at me with them, my eyes began to fill with tears, and my heart began to break. Next, Moishe hit me with a ruthless double blow, followed by a TKO: he slowly slumped down onto the turf, rested his chin upon his crossed paws, and let out a deep sigh – all the while maintaining eye contact with me. At this point, I apologized to him profusely, picked him up, and escorted him to his favorite outdoor spot.

Pee-pad training continued unsuccessfully over the next several days. We did everything we could to encourage Moishe to use his fake grass patch –and by everything, I mean everything. Eric peed on the patch. I peed on the patch. We collected Moishe’s own pee in a cup and then poured it on the patch (thankfully, we were moving, so we didn't care what this looked like to our neighbors). All attempts to entice Moishe to use the patch produced the same, nauseating result: Moishe lapping up whatever urine happened to be on the pad. Mutual stares of disgust and contempt were exchanged throughout the entire process, by all parties involved.

When it came time to board Sea Gem, Moishe was no closer to being trained to pee on the pad than he was before we got it; however, we firmly believed that once on the boat, with no other options, Moishe would instinctively know what to do. We were wrong. Even while at sea, Moishe refused to use the turf.

After hours had passed since Moishe's last bathroom break, something magical happened. A rough storm hit us. For his safety, I sent Moishe down below. As the boat heeled from the rough winds, Moishe became displeased. He cried out for us, but no one answered. Ignored, Moishe began to seethe with rage as he sat isolated, below deck.

Once Eric maneuvered us safely through the storm, he turned to me and said something already weighing on my mind, “I wonder what sorts of bodily fluids Moishe has left for us down below?” As Commander of the ship, I took it upon myself to investigate. I opened the hatch and discovered little Moishe looking up at me with a devilish grin. As I stepped below, I was slapped in the face by the pungent stench of dog urine. Little did Moishe know, I was secretly pleased by his “accident.” Thankfully, Moishe was gracious enough to have avoided my beloved rug; instead opting to pee in a much more poetic location: our “Welcome Aboard” doormat:

Despite Moishe being unable to successfully climb the pee pad’s steep learning curve, he was able to relieve himself during the journey (thankfully only on the parts of the boat we can hose off).

The rest of Moishe’s first sea journey went off without a hitch. Although, I caught him looking a bit uncertain a few times, as the voyage continued, he began to feel at home.

Here are some Moishe moments from the trip:

Moishe and the pee patch

Moishe displeased with his lot in life

Moishe contemplating life at sea

Captain Moishe

Relaxed and enjoying the view

Sunday, August 14, 2011

We made it!

After a grueling several days in transit by land and by sea, we are finally settling into our new home in South Beach.

We left Louisville last Saturday morning, then drove about 8 or 9 hours to Charlotte, NC, to visit some friends.  Normally, a eight-to-nine-hour car trip isn't that bad, but with a car so loaded you can hardly see and with a kayak strapped to the roof that both slows your progress and leads to endless worrying, it was rough.  Sunday night, we left Charlotte, spent the night at a hotel near Savannah, and then drove to Titusville, FL, Monday morning.

When we arrived at the boat, black clouds were rapidly approaching.  They arrived before we made it down the dock to the boat, and they brought a wild storm with almost zero visibility and winds so hard that almost every boat docked in the marina was leaning ten to twenty degrees--with no sails up!  We could see Sea Gem at the end of the dock, and she was barely moving, which made us feel good about our boat choice.

Once the rain passed and we closed on Sea Gem, we stayed up late unloading all of our possessions from our cars down the dock and into the boat.  This took hours, it was miserably humid, and we were too tired to think straight.  We had intended to take pictures of the interior of the boat at the time, but it was such a disaster zone with all of our stuff piled up, and we had so much to put away before leaving in the morning, that we skipped the photos.  They will come soon enough, of course.  Our primary goal was to put things away just enough to be able to use the boat to sail down to Miami starting the following morning.  Our solution was to stuff almost all of our stuff into one of the staterooms.

Tuesday morning, we set sail for Miami.  We started out with Charlie, the original owner of Sea Gem, and headed a couple hours south to Cocoa, FL, for lunch.  Charlie of course made handling and docking the boat look easy, and gave us some good pointers for the future.  On the way, we were hit by a storm with 38-knot winds (tropical storm force).  The boat was extremely well behaved through the storm, but we had trouble spotting the channel markers through the rain with the reduced visibility, which was sometimes less than a hundred yards.  Fortunately, we made it to Cocoa (and some great Thai food) without running aground.

Tuesday afternoon, we met Captain Rob, a local captain who agreed to help us sail the boat to Miami, and we set sail for the south.  Actually, we didn't raise any sails Tuesday, as we had to travel through miles of narrow channels before we could get out to the Atlantic.  We found a spot to anchor before the sun set, although it was not quite ideal.  We anchored in only 6 feet of water, which left us very little room for error and tides (we draw just over 5 feet).  Although the wind changed (which put us within ten or fifteen feet of a neighboring boat), we stayed afloat (the lowest depth reading we saw was 5.6 feet).  The ability to anchor is 6 feet of water is definitely an advantage of Sea Gem over other boats we looked at, some of which drew as much as seven feet.

Wednesday morning, we resumed motoring through the narrow channels.  On the way, our starboard engine broke a belt and had to be shut down.  In most boats, this would have been a nightmare.  We'd have had to try to drop our anchor before we blew aground, then tore the interior apart while trying to fix the engine.  On Sea Gem, we were able to keep moving forward with our port engine (the Gulfstar 54 is one of very few sailboats with two engines), and I was able to fix the starboard engine (the broken belt was the last belt, so I had to remove and replace four others in addition to the broken one) in the separate engine room without tearing up the interior.  And Charlie, the former owner, had several spare belts on board and clearly labeled all of the required tools, so I wasted no time searching for everything.  We had the starboard engine up and working perfectly within thirty minutes.  Easily the best boat-repair experience I've had.

Once we got out to the Atlantic through Ft. Pierce, we raised our sails, cut the engines and had a perfect sail with perfect winds and weather.  Here is a photo (notice my kayak on the deck):

The sail south was just perfect.  For a couple hours, at least, until a massive storm rolled through.  Our wind-strength meter registered 45 knots during the worst of it, and stayed at around 40 knots for about half an hour--easily the strongest winds I've ever sailed through.  Sea Gem handled the storm without problem, however, and we stayed dry and comfortable in the enclosed cockpit.

Storms came and went through Wednesday, but Wednesday night was a very calm and comfortable motorsail to Miami.  We took shifts sailing the boat so we all got at least a few hours of sleep through the night, arriving Thursday morning at around 6 am.  I docked Sea Gem for the first time, and even though it was still dark out, I pulled it off without destroying anything.

Once we arrived, it would have been a great time to sleep and relax.  But, unfortunately, we had to drive back to Titusville to get our cars and then drive back to Miami.  I can't think of anything I've had rather done less than spend another day on the road at that point.  But, several hours and even more servings of caffeine later, we made it back to Sea Gem in Miami Beach Thursday night and slept like rocks.  Then, two days of unpacking our stuff, and now I need to get ready to start my new job tomorrow.

Although we haven't had much of a break all week, living on Sea Gem had been very comfortable and relaxing, and we really couldn't be happier with our decision.  More soon.

Friday, August 5, 2011

If you need to find me, I'll be in my Jag...

When I was little, my dad would tell me the happiest time in his life was back in college when he could fit everything he owned in the passenger’s seat of his car.

There are many ways one could interpret the above statement. Was my father suggesting he was happiest prior to being married and having a family? After all, his wife and four daughters certainly couldn’t all fit in the passenger's seat of his car. Well, considering one of my dad’s favorite things to remind me of is, “you don’t own your possessions, they own you,” I know what he meant by the above statement was that he was happiest when he didn’t own (or rather, was owned by) so many things.

Now before you go thinking my dad is some sort of sage, there is something you need to know about my dad and this "car" of his. The car my dad fit his few belongings into during the magical time of his life when he was so happy wasn't just any car, it was a 1956 Jaguar XK140:

Now I ask you, who wouldn't be happy driving around, top down, in such a beautiful car? Here is a picture of a photograph of my dad next to his old car:

Naturally, whenever my dad would tell me about the happiest time of his life, I’d respond with, “You're buying me a Jaguar?!?!?!??!” Sadly, I was never able to leverage such a deal for myself, and my poor father was left disappointed in my inability to grasp the wisdom he so sincerely wanted to bestow upon me.

A side note about my dad:

My dad wasn't a spoiled child whose parents bought him a Jaguar. Quite the opposite. Long story short –someone purchased the Jaguar, had it shipped to the United States from England, never drove it, kept it in a garage for years, and in 1966, sold it to my dad for $600. Sadly, shortly after purchasing it, my dad had to sell his beloved Jaguar to an
actual spoiled college kid because, like all Jags, they were (and are) incredibly expensive to maintain. This was my dad’s first and last luxury car.

Well, Eric and I don’t drive Jaguars, or anything even close to a Jaguar. And, while our belongings require more space than our cars' passenger's seats have to offer, we can now fit everything we own--excluding Sea Gem--into (and on top of) our cars. In fact, we've proven this by loading all of our belongings into our two cars, which we'll be driving to Florida this weekend. (If everything goes to plan, our next post will be typed while relaxing aboard Sea Gem.)

I think my dad may have found the key to a happy life: less is more. I'm still open to testing my theory that replacing my car with a Jaguar would increase my happiness level (at least temporarily), but considering that we just bought a boat, I think I'll have to pass on getting to the bottom of that age-old question.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Aye Aye, Commander!

I’m a big fan of dressing the part. The right outfit really helps me get into the appropriate state of mind for whatever it is I am doing. Since we’ll be moving onto a boat in just a few days, I have already begun shopping for nautical-themed shirts. Of course, a simple striped shirt doesn’t exactly scream “I live on a boat,” which is the look I’m going for. To help me achieve my fashion vision, I enlisted (pun #1) the service (pun #2) of my dad. You see, my dad was in the Navy, and like a good sailor, he has kept all of his uniforms in a box, neatly folded, since being discharged (honorably, I might add) in the early 80's. In addition to his dress whites, he also kept these:

Accessories! A good hat can really pull a look together, so I was delighted to discover these two stashed away in the box: a Lieutenant’s hat and a Commander’s hat. Not only are these hats practical (protecting us from the sun, as well as providing an important visual queue that helps convey "Yes, we are competent sailors"), wearing them will help me achieve the stylish, yet authentic look I am going for.

Eric completely disapproves of my intentions. He said something about being “completely deranged” and “the kind of thing a lunatic would do.” He likened my wearing a naval hat on our boat to a Jeep or Hummer owner wearing a General’s uniform while driving around town. Personally, I think, if you’re driving one of those cars, you should be dressed as a General. They are Army vehicles after all. To be clear, I have no plans to wear my dad’s dress whites. I only plan on wearing the hats, and only while at sea. I may be deranged, but I'm not totally crazy!

Now, I was going to let Eric wear the Commander's hat, but since he was such a poor sport about the whole hat-wearing situation, I demoted him to Lieutenant. It may seem harsh, but his unenthusiastic attitude simply wasn't becoming of an officer. With Eric out of the way, I quickly ascended to the rank of Commander. I’m quite pleased with my new title, and my hat.

Moishe, the boat’s Captain, will need a hat, too. Not surprisingly, my dad didn’t have a tiny little dog-sized Captain’s hat for Moishe to wear. Thankfully, the Internet abounds with themed clothing and accessories for dogs. I have no doubt Captain Moishe will have an appropriate little hat in no time at all (pics to come).

Goodbye, Furniture (It's Never Too Late to Heed Late Advice)

Shortly after Krissy and I started dating, her father gave me some great advice: after graduating college, wait as long as possible to buy any furniture. The logic is that furniture is easy to buy, but hard to get rid of and even harder to move around, and when you are young, it is nice to be mobile. It is fantastic advice and made perfect sense the moment I heard it. I even recently repeated it to my little sister, who just graduated from college. Unfortunately, my father-in-law's sage words came several years too late, as I had graduated college several years earlier and had already accumulated all sorts of bulky furniture. So, as opposed to being able to go out and heed the advice, I was instead resigned to suffer the effects of having not done so, all while fully appreciating just what I was missing out on. For example, when we were living in Chicago, we were in a pretty terrible apartment. Sewage in the lobby, noisy neighbors, no hot water 10% of the time, etc. We'd have loved to move to another apartment, but we just couldn't pull it off. Moving all of our belongings and furniture to another apartment, even one in the same neighborhood, would have consumed several days of work and hundreds of dollars--time and money that we did not have. If only my father-in-law had gotten to me in time, we'd have been able to move from one furnished apartment to another almost at will. It would have been great. But, alas, his wisdom appears to extend only to substance and not to timing.

One of the nicest things about moving onto a boat is that we are forced to get rid of all of our furniture and bulk. And, because we'll be on a boat, we will almost always be in a position to move without packing a single box. Don't like our neighbors? We move to another slip in the marina in little more than five minutes. Don't like our neighborhood? We move to a new one in an hour. Job moves to a new part of town? So do we. Etc, etc. It will be nice not to be chained down to the same address, for sure.

In preparation for our coming move, we held a garage sale this weekend, and I am pleased to announce that we have finally heeded my father-in-law's advice and are now free from the tyranny of furniture. I was worried that our furniture would not sell, but thanks to aggressive early birds, 90% of it was gone before our sale was even supposed to open. The only piece of furniture that remains is this sad, lonely wine rack:

I thought I priced it pretty aggressively, but apparently not aggressively enough. Or maybe it doesn't fit in with the plush decor that seems to be popular here in Kentucky. In any case, it still sits in our now-empty garage, and it will soon be making the short journey to Goodwill in the back of our car.

It feels strange to know that we now own only one piece of furniture. Strange, and also painful--all we have to sit on is our hard, wood floor. Our townhouse used to be filled with furniture, most of which we had been painfully dragging along from one city to another for years. Now, just a $40 wine rack that will be gone in a few days. I must say, it feels very freeing to know that we could throw everything we own into our compact hatchbacks and drive away if we desired.

And, as luck would have it, we'll be doing just that on Saturday.

Monday, August 1, 2011

It’s a Girl!

No, we’re not expecting. A more accurate title would have been “It’s a She,” but that didn’t sound very poetic, so I opted for the above misleading title. The female in question is our boat, Sea Gem.

Let my start by saying that I feel extremely uncomfortable whenever I hear people refer to boats as though they are female. Well, I used to feel this way. Maybe it was my inner Smithie, but hearing a man say, “she’s a real beauty, isn’t she?” while pointing at his boat made something in the pit of my stomach ache.

Living on a boat means we’ll be surrounded by boat people, which means I’ll be hearing these gender references often. To ensure that I would be prepared to unleash a vicious verbal attack on the next unsuspecting soul who dared to refer to a boat as a "she" in my presence, I began reflecting on why calling a boat a “she” bothered me so much. At first, I thought it was because it seemed sexist, but after further thought, I realized that the source of my annoyance was the simply fact that boats aren't living creatures, don't contain hormones, and therefore shouldn’t be assigned any gender, male or female.

However, I soon realized that, although I took issue with boats being referred to as "shes," I was guilty of subconsciously assigning genders to many of my belongings. Take my car for instance. My car is not a girl! It’s a boy. It is blue, extremely practical, covered in a permanent layer of filth, contains an abundance of gas, and its direction is governed by its stick. All of these traits have caused me to conclude my car is male. While I don’t refer to my car as a “he,” in my mind, it is (or rather, he is).

After realizing I was guilty of genderizing inanimate objects, I thought more about the characteristics of a boat, so that I could determine whether or not I thought a boat was worthy of the pronoun “she.” Boats are complex, powerful, resilient, protective, retain water from time-to-time, demand respect, navigate rough waters with ease, and even when the wind is taken from their sails, they remain poised. Sounds very female to me! Sure, they can be a little high-maintenance, but that is a positive attribute, too. Cleanliness is next to Godliness after all, isn't it?

So, I’m OK with boats being associated with the female gender. It is quite fitting. I haven't yet referred to a boat as a she because it still feels a bit forced. I think I'll start small--maybe with my car. Let me practice: He's got some miles on him, but he's still a handsome devil...