Monday, April 30, 2012

But what about kids?

Like most young married couples, Eric and I endured our fair share of questions regarding our plans for procreation. (Do you have kids? Why not? Are you going to? How many? When?) Well, let me assure you--moving onto a boat during your prime child-bearing years only increases these types of inquiries. 

Prior to becoming visibly pregnant, when someone found out that we live on a boat, they'd (wrongfully) assume we only planned to live aboard until we had children. The question of what we'd do about kids was typically directed at me. Often, the person posing the question sought reassurance that I wasn't crazy enough to consider raising a child aboard a boat. For the times when I didn't feel like defending my life choices to a complete stranger, I'd smile and say, "Nothing is permanent." And although this response was philosophically correct, it was also intentionally misleading. The truth is that Eric and I bought Sea Gem with kids in mind, and we have every intention of raising our child (or children, should there be more) aboard.

Now that I am visibly pregnant, child-related inquiries have morphed from the concerned "So you'll only live on the boat until you have kids, right?" to the panicked "What are you going to do when the baby comes?!?!" Again, these questions are most often directed at me. I suppose people assume that because I'm a woman, I possess some sort of natural instinct to protect my offspring from the evils of sailing. Although there are plenty of people who are intrigued by our decision, the group of people who are most supportive of our choice to raise a child aboard (aside from our family and friends) are other sailors. Usually, when a fellow sailor realizes we're expecting, they respond with "Great! You're going to stay on the boat, right?" And, while nothing is permanent, I always say, "Yes."

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Dressing Up the Shore Power Cable

We connect to the electricity grid via a shore power cable, a thick, yellow cable that can transit to Sea Gem 50 amps of A/C power, more than enough to power all of our electronics at the same time.  (Which is nice, considering we have lived in apartments where we routinely blew fuses when using the hair dryer and the toaster oven at the same time.)  The shore power cable, along with the the endless flow of electricity that it carries, definitely separates comfortable living from camping and helps make living on a boat while working ashore a viable option for us. 

The only downside of the shore power cable is that it is filthy, ungainly, and ugly.  Our 50-amp cable is actually made of two 30-amp cables that have been joined together to make it a little easier to handle, but it traps dirt on the deck, accumulates some sort of thick, black filth that marks the deck, and generally gets in our way all of the time:

Before: Cords on the Deck
We recently noticed that another sailboat in our marina keeps its shore power cable in a nifty cloth cover that zips closed (the specific product is the Marinco Zipsleeve).

The cover seemed like a clear improvement, so we followed our neighbor's lead and bought and installed our own cover:

Installing the Zipsleeve 

Concealing the Cords 
The cover keeps the cables together, hides the filth and obnoxious yellow color, and attaches to lifelines and stanchions to keep the cable organized and out of the way:

After: Suspended from the Lifelines
Although we are still experimenting with the best way to attach the cable to keep it off the deck, the difference is already significant.  We no longer have filth accumulating on the deck under the cable, and the dark color of the cover is far less noticeable than the bright yellow of the cables.  We'll see how the cover holds up over time, but so far we are very pleased with the upgrade.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Wax on, wax off

Despite being over two decades old, Sea Gem is in absolutely beautiful condition. Her previous owners spared no expense when it came to caring for her, and it shows. Upon seeing Sea Gem for the first time, Eric and I knew we'd have our work cut out for ourselves if we were to maintain her to the standards set by her previous owners (which we do).

Although we had no illusions as to the amount of maintenance a boat like Sea Gem required, we were a bit unrealistic in our estimation of how much of the maintenance we'd be able to do ourselves (we thought we could do it all). A great example of this is how we (or rather, Eric) thought we would clean Sea Gem's bottom. On a smaller boat, perhaps it might make sense for us to attempt this ourselves, but on a 54-foot sailboat, it is much wiser to outsource this task to someone who owns a wetsuit and dive tanks.

Similarly, Eric and I also thought we'd be able to wax Sea Gem's hull. In fact, hull-waxing seemed like an ideal chore for the two of us to do together. I thoroughly enjoy the smell of wax (I spent a lot of time in ski lodges as a child) and Eric likes anything boat-related, so we were rather excited to get to work.

In theory, waxing a boat shouldn't take very long: you hop in a dinghy, paddle around the boat, wax on/wax off, and within an hour, your boat's hull is shiny and new. Well, what works in theory doesn't always translate to reality. As it turned out, both of us were unable to wax at the same time because one of us had to hold onto the boat to keep the dinghy we were standing in from floating away. Holding onto Sea Gem was my job, and while this may seem like a simple task, it wasn't. In addition to being physically exhausting, half of the time, there was simply nothing to grab onto except for the hull (a smooth, flat surface). And of course, with only one set of hands devoted to the task at hand, the wax on/wax off process was painstakingly slow. About an hour into our delightful adventure, we determined that, moving forward, it would be in our best interest to have someone else wax Sea Gem.

Defeated, we called in the professionals. It took them two days to complete the job, and the results were spectacular:

Although we seem to be outsourcing more maintenance then we had originally planned, we're OK with it. Sea Gem is an aging beauty and deserves to be pampered.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

But what about staying dry?

We are frequently asked about staying dry when it is raining.  This is one of those questions that indicates just how confused some people are when they picture our life aboard a boat.  Fortunately, we aren't bobbing around in a row boat, purely at the mercy of the wind and rain.  Sea Gem has a substantial, bulletproof (literally) structure, both below (the keep the ocean out) and above (the keep the elements out).  If a cruising sailboat is one thing, it is waterproof, and rain does not bother us in the least.

That question is a little too easy to answer, so I will change tacks a bit and discuss an area of the boat that is not always waterproof: the cockpit.  On most boats, the cockpit is completely open: if it rains, you get wet; if it is windy, you lose your hat.  Ocean-going boats tend to have dodgers (removable windshields of sorts) to keep the spray out of the cockpit and canvas biminis (collapsible tops) to provide protection from sun and rain.  Here is an example of a typical dodger-and-bimini setup:

Sea Gem's cockpit protection is much more robust.  We have a fixed, plexiglass windshield/dodger, and a fixed, fiberglass top/bimini:

The result is that we are always well-protected while in the cockpit.  When it is raining hard, however, rain can come into the cockpit through the sides.  To prevent this from happening, we have clear plastic panels that fully enclose the cockpit from the elements when it is raining.

As a result, on a rainy day (like today), we can still sit "outside" in the cockpit and remain comfortable and dry:

When it is nice outside, the panels roll up and out of the way to allow for ventilation:

To be sure, attaching or rolling the panels takes a little more time than opening or closing a window, but they certainly help make Sea Gem comfortable in all conditions.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Room with a View

Just like when choosing a house or condo, when selecting a marina, the view we'd have was important to us. Although we didn't select our marina based on this criterion alone, we certainly lucked out in terms of the view we got. Our waterfront home comes complete with a (partial) view of the Miami skyline:

Upon moving to our marina, one of our favorite things to do in the evening was to sit aboard Sea Gem and admire the glow of the city lights from across the bridge. We were in heaven.

Of course, when we arrived in Miami, it was hurricane season and the marina was fairly empty. Then, the seasons changed. As summer turned to fall, our marina neighborhood began filling up with boats--big boats. On the very last day of summer, this arrived:

As you can see from the image above, the beautiful buildings of the Miami skyline are completely hidden by a single yacht. While the sight of an enormous yacht is certainly a spectacle, we much prefer our city view.

The other day, I became overjoyed when I looked outside and saw that our neighbor was leaving...

...or so I thought. By the end of the day, the enormous ship had returned, and once again, our view was obstructed:

For now, it looks like we'll have to wait a bit longer before the sparkling lights of downtown Miami are visible from our boat.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Chaos Theory

Eric recently posted about the improbability of Sea Gem sinking while we sleep. His post was a response to my post about my fear that this could happen. Well, this post (the one you are reading right now) is my response to Eric's response regarding the whole sinking-while-we-sleep situation.

Let me start by saying that back in September, when I wrote my initial post, I was completely unaware of the fact that we had so many pumps and alarms--a fact I remained unaware of until March, when I read Eric's post. After reading it, I felt completely safe and also a bit foolish. Although I'm still unclear as to why it took Eric 6 months to inform me of the multitude of pumps/alarms we have aboard, I have forgiven him.

After reading Eric's post, I felt assured that the likelihood of us sinking was rather slim; however, I still didn't quite trust that the alarms we had were loud enough to wake me from a deep sleep (I'm a good sleeper). Well, yesterday, I found out that our alarms are indeed loud enough to wake not just us, but any living creature found within a mile of our boat.

While cleaning early yesterday morning, I decided to organize the contents of our navigation desk. In it, I found this:

As I was examining the above device (In case you are wondering, it is a light you wear around your head.), a deafening sound suddenly pierced the air. Naturally, I assumed I had pressed a button on the flashlight/headband, which caused an alarm to sound. I desperately searched the device for whatever button I pushed, but I couldn't get the alarm to turn off. Out of frustration, I began shouting "Who puts an alarm on a headband?!?!"

Then, I remembered Eric's post, and it occurred to me the alarm had nothing to do with the headband--it was our high-water alarm! Upon having this realization, I flipped out, as I assumed the boat was filling with water. I remember getting up from the desk and turning around in a circle (my attempt at escape), right before catching a glimpse of the alarm (located just above the desk where I had been sitting). I noticed the switch had been flipped from "Mute" to "Test," which causes the alarm to sound.

I calmly flipped the switch back to "Mute" and waited for the ringing in my ears to stop. So what triggered the alarm? Our set of cork coasters. Yes, coasters. Here is what happened.
  1. I opened the desk, found the headband/flashlight, and began playing with it
  2. Distracted, I continued lifting the desk top higher
  3. As the desk top opened, the cork coasters that were sitting on top of it were lifted toward the switch
  4. As I continued lifting the desk top up, the coasters came into contact with the switch, thus triggering the alarm
See for yourself:

My lingering doubts about whether or not our high water alarm is loud enough to wake me from sleep are no more! The alarm is loud enough to raise the dead, let alone rouse a heavy sleeper.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Condensing continues...

If you've been following our blog, you know that Eric and I spent a considerable amount of time condensing our belongings prior to moving aboard Sea Gem. We devoted endless hours to researching practical space-saving devices, and it took us months to physically sort through our possessions and dispose of non-necessities. You'd think after all that time and effort, we'd have very little left to get rid of... well, you'd be wrong.

Even after spending months simplifying our lives and ridding ourselves of unnecessary objects, we are still finding things we don't use, and therefore don't need. In addition to the belongings we brought aboard, Sea Gem came with a surplus of goodies hidden within her many storage compartments. Although we sorted through nearly all of these storage spaces upon move-in, we didn't get to everything. As such, condensing continues.

Early this morning, I did a little spring cleaning (which requires surprisingly little time when you live on a sailboat), and within an hour, a pile of unused items had formed on our coffee table:

In addition to the above items, during today's early-morning cleaning frenzy, I found several Tupperware-esq lids tucked away in one of our galley's storage spaces:

Hoping to find their mates, I rummaged through the cubbie in which I found the tops; however, I was unsuccessful at locating any matching containers. Since we have no use for a collection of lids, I tossed them onto the growing pile of items for Goodwill and continued on with my cleaning. However, the lids began weighing on my mind. Why were there so many lids? How is it that ALL of the containers for these lids were missing? It didn't add up, so I decided to investigate.

As it turns out, the lids in question weren't just the tops of containers, they were also the bottoms. The "lids" expand:

These collapsible containers were left by Sea Gem's previous owners, and I'm so grateful. Not only will they be useful for storing leftovers, they'll also make handy serving dishes while at sea (they are rubber, so if they fall, they won't shatter). In my haste, I nearly tossed these boat-friendly space-savers, which Eric and I will definitely use (now that we know we have them).

Saturday, April 14, 2012


I recently wrote about all of the pumps we have to keep us from sinking in the unfortunate event that we spring a leak. In short, if a pump breaks, we have five others that we can rely on, for a total of six fully redundant pumps: two electric, two manual, and two engine-driven. And we have enough spare parts on board to repair any of them many times over.

Although redundancy is perhaps most important for pumps, Sea Gem is filled with redundant components to ensure that, if something breaks while we are at sea (or even at the dock), we can keep on sailing (or living). Unlike the pumps, not every redundant system on Sea Gem merits its own post (at least for now--when I start writing full posts about having spare water hoses, you will know that I have run out of ideas). Accordingly, here is a quick summary of some of the highlights:

We have two air conditioning/heating systems. If one breaks, we still stay cool in the summer/warm in the winter.

We have two auxiliary engines. If one breaks down or a prop gets tangled, we can keep moving.

We have two freshwater pumps. If one breaks, we still have fully pressurized water. If both break, we have a manual freshwater pump.

We have two outboard engines for the dinghy. Should both fail, we have oars, and of course, our kayak can serve as backup dinghy if necessary.

We have two "primary" anchors, each with its own chain and roller and ready to be deployed. And we have a third anchor and rode in the back.

We have two toilet systems, each with its own pump and vacuum tank.

For communications, we have two fixed VHF radios, a portable VHF, and an SSB radio.

For navigation, we have three GPS systems including two chartplotters. And we have a huge stack of paper charts and traditional equipment if needed.

And, perhaps most importantly (after the pumps), we have two freestanding masts. The mizzen mast may be small, but we have a separate mizzen staysail/spinnaker that could really keep us moving, even if we lost our main mast.

This list is hardly complete, but it hits most of the highlights. The result is that, no matter where we are, we are prepared for pretty much anything and can stay safe and comfortable.

Monday, April 9, 2012

It's a Girl (for real this time)!

The first time I used "It's a Girl" as the title of a blog post, I was not announcing the gender of our unborn child. This time around, however, I am. Our new sailor is a girl!

Although I would have been happy to have a boy, having grown up with 3 sisters and no brothers, I have to admit that I was a bit relieved when we found out the gender. I feel like with a girl, I have some sort of understanding of what I'm getting into.

Eric was a bit worried we'd have a girl. This is not to suggest that Eric didn't want a girl--that couldn't be farther from the truth. He was concerned that if we had a girl, I'd end up spending more money on her simply because there is more girl stuff available to buy. I suppose that just as in the adult world, baby girls just have more shopping options than their male counterparts.

The good news for Eric (and our bank account) is that we live on a boat, which means space is limited, and since I absolutely abhor clutter, I won't be buying much of anything--girl or not. Of course, this doesn't mean our little one will be neglected. Just like any sailor, our baby is going to need appropriate attire, and one of the most important things that ever sailor needs is a good pair of boat shoes.

Originally, I planned to purchase our daughter a miniature version of the kind of boat shoe that Eric wears (although Eric's aren't pink):

However, as Eric so graciously pointed out--the baby version was just as expensive as a pair of adult shoes, and since babies can't walk, there is really no point in them wearing shoes. My rebuttal of "So?" wasn't a strong enough argument to sway my attorney husband from his position, so I reluctantly declined to buy them.

Although the baby may not be getting a pair of tiny Keens, she certainly won't be going barefoot. Luckily, I found some socks that look just like sailing shoes, Skippy's by Trumpette:

Upon seeing these ridiculously cute little socks, I immediately ordered the set (as well as a set of cowgirl "boots" for when the baby ventures onto land). While I'm not sure these qualify as a "good pair of boat shoes," they are non-marking, which is good enough for me.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Mind Your Fingers and Toes

Before moving aboard Sea Gem, I didn't know how to sail. I had been sailing a few times before (mostly when I was really young), but in no way did these excursions result in me having obtained any useful sailing skills.

Despite not knowing how to sail, the concept of sailing didn't require explaining. I get it--the wind blows from a direction, a sail is used to harness the wind, and the boat moves in a predictable(ish) direction. Sailing has been around since at least the early part of the stone age, and the basics really haven't changed all that much--it's not rocket science. While an understanding of the theory behind sailing doesn't make one equipped to command a ship (particularly a large modern ship), I've found that, like with most things in life, you can get by on a boat by using common sense.

One of the earliest pieces of advice I was given before heading out for my first sail was "don't put your hands near the winches." Although I often mistakenly refer to "winches" as "wenches," no one needed to tell me not to stick my fingers near them. While I certainly appreciated the warning, common sense already told me that touching taut ropes--particularly ones wrapped tightly around objects appearing to have the ability to rotate--wasn't a good idea.

Well, while flipping through one of our many sailing magazines, I noticed an advertisement, which made me think that perhaps people do need to be told not to play with the winches:

If you look closely at the ad, you'll notice what appears to be the foot of a man and of a woman playfully entwined within a line, which is wrapped haphazardly around a winch. I guess this image is supposed to evoke feelings of whimsy and romance, but to me it looks like a great way to lose a foot (or at least a toe). Just imagine what would happen if this winch (especially if it's an electric winch) were to start rotating at full speed. Ouch!

But even if there were no chance of this winch turning, this sort of foot play is still incredibly idiotic when you consider that the boat in the ad is clearly sailing near shore (note the lighthouse)--probably not the best time to be tied up! Even I, a novice sailor, know that everything happening in this ad is a bad idea.

As far as advertisements go, I suppose this is a good one because it certainly got my attention. And while I'm guessing the marketer who conceived this ad doesn't sail, I hope that--for the sake of feet everywhere--those who do, don't engage in this masochistic game of footsie.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Lazy Fishing

I love catching fish. But I don't care to put any effort into reaching that goal. Like many sailors, we fish while we sail. And, like many sailors, our style of fishing bears no relationship to the style of fishing practiced by powerboaters.

Powerboaters fish with vigor. They find the best sites (reefs, shipwrecks, towers, etc), fish each one at a frantic pace, and then move onto the next site if the fish aren't biting. They use live bait, and they change the bait based on what the fish appear to be enjoying at a particular time.

We do none of that. We sail where we want to, and we troll two lines behind us. We don't cater to the speed of the fish: When our boat goes fast, the lures go fast. When our boat goes slow, the lures go slow. And we don't cater to the appetites of the fish, either: our lines don't have live bait, but rather plastic lures that bear no resemblance to anything that is, or has ever been, living. Our fishing philosophy is pretty much to drag whatever is available behind us at the speed we happen to be sailing, and if a fish bites--fantastic. If not, nothing lost.

Not surprisingly, the powerboaters probably out-catch us 100 to one. But that makes our catches all the more exciting. Yesterday, we caught our first tuna, a blackfin. Tunas are known for putting up great fights, but because we had no interest in stopping Sea Gem to do battle, we just reeled it in while Sea Gem dragged it along at six or seven knots. About as much fight as reeling up a bowling ball, but we got it into the boat all the same.

Although we are neither sporting nor skillful when it comes to fishing, the end result is (sometimes) the same: dinner.