Browsed by
Month: November 2017

Dogs On A Boat

Dogs On A Boat

They’re furry. They’re cute. And they poop. Every day. Twice.

No, I’m not talking about our boys, though the description still works. I’m talking about boat dogs.Our extra crew members, Brodie and Ollie, are not only adorable, but also help make our boat feel like a home. When at port, they remain the most photographed members of our crew by passers-by, and at sea they—well, let’s face it, they don’t do much, being dogs and all.

They are learning to adjust to life at sea. They each have a life jacket that they wear when we are underway, and they are slowly learning to go pee on a little grass pad on the deck. Emphasis on the word slowly.

There have been many a cold morning when I stand on deck with the dogs urging them to “go potty!” on the pad, every fiber of my being willing them to pee, too often unsuccessfully. As the saying should go, a watched dog never pees.

Is it a challenge having dogs on board? Absolutely. Ollie is my early morning alarm clock, even on the rare day I could sleep in. Brodie barks at birds; he barks at other boats; he even barks at buoys. All of which number in the hundreds along the ICW.

Then there is the matter of where to take them for exercise.

While at dock it’s as easy as living on land—you just take them for a walk. At anchor, however, it means a dinghy ride to shore, IF you have the luxury of a convenient beach or town nearby.

They have chewed up things, peed on things, fallen overboard, and brought home sand, mud, and stickers in their fur. Still talking about the dogs, not the kids.

Traveling to a foreign country only complicated matters, as there are tests to be done and paperwork to fill out, all within a fairly restrictive timeframe.

Is this why pirates had parrots as pets? I can’t imagine Blackbeard or Henry Morgan standing around on deck in the wee hours of the morning trying to cajole a dog to “go potty”.

Having said all of that…the dogs are wonderful! They are our little furry family members.

They snuggle up next to us at night and entertain us with their hilarious personalities. They alert us of visitors while at anchor, and can make a long watch at the helm feel a bit less lonely.

They are ridiculously fun to have on board, adding so much to the cruising experience that we can’t imagine doing it without them! Who wants a pet that squawks “pieces of eight!” all the time, anyway?

Night Watch

Night Watch

3 November 2017. Delaware Bay.

4:30am departure. Tired. Very tired.

Cool, but not cold. Okay, cold, but not too cold. My hot coffee helps.It’s quiet. The sky is eerily light over the dark water. An occasional wispy cloud veils the full moon on my port beam.What is this strange and magical world I find myself in? That I have chosen for myself? For my family? Do people know this is out here? Would they choose it if they did?

Maybe we’re just the right kind of crazy for this…believing that the wonder and adventure of it all somehow outweighs all of the hard work, frustration, and inconvenience.

Today…this morning…the wonder wins out. Maybe tomorrow the–

Hold on! Is that cargo ship moving?!? I’ve been watching its lights for a while now, but I thought it was anchored. I think it’s moving…and bearing down on me! Wait–no….false alarm. It’s anchored.

Where was I? Wonder…? Magical morning…? Nope, it’s gone. My musings drowned in a flood of adrenaline.

Shoot! The engine just died. Gurk. Now what?

This engine and I have been having some personal issues lately, but I thought we resolved them yesterday. I guess I won’t sew on my mechanic’s merit badge yet.

Wish I knew more about diesel engines. Or any engines, for that matter. Wish I took auto shop in high school. Wish my high school had auto shop.

Happy thoughts not working…engine still won’t start. Mentally swearing at it doesn’t seem to be working either.

Okay…it’s running again. Well done me. I apparently nursed the engine back to life with happy thoughts and inaudible expletives. Who knew I had such a rare and useful talent?

Wow! The moon is orange as it dips below the horizon. Beautiful! Stunning! Is that a “moonset?” Could I be the first person to come up with that term? Surely not. I should google that later. Just in case.Alarm going off…just my phone telling me it’s time for me to stretch a bit. I try to move around every half hour or so to keep the blood moving…don’t want to topple over like grooms at weddings who lock their knees.

Why are they called “grooms” anyway? Were women back in the day marrying a lot of men who took care of horses? I should google that later, too.

Sun is up now. Coffee finally kicking in. Rational mind taking over once again. At least until my next night watch…

Heading South?

Heading South?

As November approached, the cold bite in the air told us in no uncertain terms that we had overstayed our welcome in New York and it was time to leave before foul weather closed in around us and blocked off our retreat to the south.

On our last morning in Port Washington, we filled our water tanks, dumped garbage, fueled up, and began to motor out of Manhasset Bay.

Two minutes into our great southern migration smoke started billowing from the engine compartment and the heat alarm began screaming at me.

Let’s recap.

Smoke billowing.

Engine overheating.

Alarm screaming.

Did I mention me peeing my pants?

We immediately shut down the engine and hooked onto a very conveniently located mooring ball in order to assess the situation.

Now I am no expert mechanic, but after some thorough research and deep contemplation I deduced that something was wrong with the engine.

All joking aside, fixing a diesel engine isn’t my strong suit…but it’s going to be…along with maintaining and repairing electrical systems, marine toilets (aka, heads), sails, rigging, and innumerable other things which cruisers need to learn to do or go broke paying someone else to do.

In the case of our overheating engine the culprit was a burned out impeller in the raw water pump, which would come back to haunt us later (Ooo! Foreshadowing!). For now, though, I fixed the engine and was the hero to…well, no one on board, really, except perhaps myself.

So, what caused the impeller to burn out? I’m glad you asked.

I am ashamed to admit that I committed the cardinal sin of boating by forgetting to open the seacock. Yes, that is a real thing—I don’t make these nautical words up!

Basically, the engine is cooled by pumping seawater into, and back out of, the boat. No seawater getting in means a really hot engine. Bad juju. In our case we caught it in time to save the engine, but not the poor little impeller who died a horrible death.

Moral of my tale? Don’t forget the seacock! And don’t be afraid to try something you’ve never done, like diesel repair. We’re all pretty amazing creatures, and far more capable and creative than we often believe.

So, how did it come back to haunt us? I’m glad you asked that, too. But you’ll have to wait for a couple of posts to find out. Cliffhanger!

In the meantime, we left Port Washington and motored down the East River. The engine repair caused a delay just long enough to ensure that we had a very strong current raging against us all the way past Manhattan to Great Kills harbor on Staten Island where we tucked in for several days to ride out a storm.

Start Spreading The News

Start Spreading The News

I can’t quite describe the feeling I had as I stood behind the wheel of our sailboat guiding our family into New York Harbor at night. It was…well…indescribable, and unforgettable.

We were awestruck by the lights of the city, the Statue of Liberty, as well as the frequent near death experiences as every vessel in New York, from ferries to freighters, all tried to run us down. I imagined the conversations at their helms, “Hey Tony, 100 points for the sailboat full of Californians!”

We slid in behind Lady Liberty to one of the coolest anchorages ever. We were so close it felt like we could throw a rock and hit her hindquarters. We resisted the temptation.

With the shifting currents and strong winds, I was afraid that our anchor would drag in the night–but the view of the city was worth the anxiety. Absolutely stunning!

In the morning, after “ooo-ing” and “ahh-ing” some more, we motored up the Hudson River to the 79th Street Basin, where we could tie up to a mooring ball for a few days. Unfortunately, their mooring balls are closed for repairs, so we had to anchor out. In telling this tale later to other cruisers we were told, “79th Street?!? No one anchors at 79th Street!” The tides and currents often conspired to make the long dinghy ride to shore more than a little hair-raising.

We wandered around Manhattan’s Upper West Side and found some amazing and authentic NY pizza in some little hole-in-the-wall whose name I can’t remember.

We spent a day exploring Central Park, playing a family football game near a tree whose fruit smells like vomit (the Ginko tree, Google it!), and getting somewhat lost-ish on the miles of trails that crisscross the park.

I, of course, tried to teach the kids about the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, but since the name didn’t stick around long enough to inspire the Frank Sinatra song, I doubt if the lesson will stick around either.

After a couple of sleep deprived nights at 79th Street we moved onto a mooring ball in Port Washington, Long Island. Great town, secure mooring, but expensive train ride into the city (with six people everything is expensive!).

Speaking of costly things, Manhattan transient dock fees run $4/foot per night. Way too much for cruisers on a budget! In hindsight, we would have stayed in Great Kills Harbor, Staten Island, or in Sheepshead Bay on the back side of Coney Island. Live and learn.

In Manhattan, we toured Chinatown, walked on the Brooklyn Bridge, rode the subway, viewed the 9/11 memorial, and took selfies in Times Square. Yep, all the touristy stuff. It was great.

But as all good things have their end, so did our New York experience. The cold weather was sneaking up on us like an icy ninja, and we were ready to turn our helm southward toward warm weather and new adventures.

Cruising Through Mordor

Cruising Through Mordor

Riddle me this, Batman… What do nuclear power plants, Hessians, Ferris wheels, and water towers have in common?

If you guessed New Jersey, you’re right! You also happen to be freakishly good at this game. Scary good.

Let me ‘splain, Lucy…

Having bid farewell to Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay, we crossed through the Chesapeake-Delaware Canal and popped out on the Delaware River. Had we been over 200 years earlier, and quite a bit upstream, we may have seen our old pal General Washington crossing said river to kick the snot out of a bunch of Hessian mercenaries hanging out in Trenton. But we weren’t upstream, and we live in 2017, so the only thing we saw was a giant nuclear power plant looming over the horizon like Mount Doom rising from the plains of Mordor. It’s a bit handy for navigation–and for power, I suppose–but otherwise it was a dreary beginning to a dreary day of slogging downstream against the wind and tides.After stopping for the night in Lewes, Delaware, we rounded Cape May and headed up the coast of New Jersey. Having never seen the Jersey shore, nor the reality show by the same name, I didn’t know quite what to expect. 

I now know that the Atlantic coast of New Jersey has two distinguishing features: Ferris wheels and water towers. And not much else. Now, I can understand the water towers, but what’s with the Ferris wheels?!? There are just so many!As we spent the day sailing north, the kids found time to do a little boat school when not sprawled out on deck like a pack of drunken sailors. With one hand on the wheel, the other clutching the iPad, and legs spread to handle the boat’s pitching and rolling, I read to the boys and taught them their daily history lesson. Call me crazy, but I consider myself incredibly blessed to be able to teach my own children. And to do it while sailing the world? Bonus!We saw Atlantic City from miles away, its high-rise buildings and Ferris wheel being hard to miss. While this east coast Las Vegas was not on my “must see” list (don’t be offended, Atlantic City, I’m not fond of Vegas, either), it turned out that it wasn’t so bad. Now, we didn’t actually go into Atlantic City, but we squeezed past a dredging barge into a peaceful little lagoon to anchor for the night. So, ironically, my Atlantic City memories are ones of tranquil slumber, dreaming of Hessians riding Ferris wheels. 


What A Drag

What A Drag

Heading north up the East Coast in late October, we weren’t unaware that cold weather would eventually find us. Even so, the first icy winds and driving rain of the season felt like a swift kick to the nether regions.Our shorts and T-shirts of just a few days before gave way to sweatshirts and long pants. We even fired up our propane heater for the first time just to take the edge off.After one particularly long, strenuous day of sailing up the Chesapeake, we settled into a picturesque anchorage in Maryland for the night, happily climbing into our cozy bed feeling utterly spent. Suddenly we were ripped out of a deep sleep by the air-raid-like wail of my anchor alarm…our anchor was dragging! 

Half naked, half awake, and more than half terrified I flew up through the companionway to assess the situation. The situation sucked. Howling wind, stinging rain, and bitter cold greeted me in the cockpit. It was just past 1 AM, and our boat was being blown slowly across the bay while the anchor struggled valiantly, and unsuccessfully, to hang on.

Mary Jane and I started the engine to keep us in place, threw on some warm clothes, then hauled up the anchor (by hand, since our windlass is less than functional). After about a half hour we were able to reset the anchor and we wearily crawled into bed for some much needed sleep.


“Again?!? Are you kidding me?!?” I muttered, as the anchor alarm destroyed another REM cycle. Clothes on. Engine on. Anchor up. Rain pelting. Muscles burning. Teeth chattering.

It became clear that we needed a new anchorage. The problem was that the nearest one was two hours away through rough weather. Time to Viking-up.

After two miserable hours of pounding through waves and rain, we tucked ourselves into a protected anchorage up the Sassafras River. As the first light of the new day played upon the blissfully calm waters, I slid into bed for the best sleep I’ve had in ages.

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast…

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast…

After the bustle of city life in D.C., it was nice to be out on the water and moving again, heading down the Potomac on our way to New York.

The anticipation of spending a week in NYC made it a little tricky to shake off the “are we there yet” mentality and just enjoy the journey, but we were able to slow the pace down a bit–anchoring early most days, kayaking when possible, and playing games around the table. 
Our eventual need for food, water, and clean underwear forced us ashore at Solomons Island, Maryland, a charming little town whose sea of masts bear witness to the Chesapeake’s claim of being a sailor’s paradise. 

At Solomons Island (aka, Solomons) we “splurged” by getting a slip at a marina for a couple days. Now at first glance this may not seem like a big deal, but for us it meant easy access to laundry, an unlimited water supply (you’d be surprised how quickly our tanks run dry), unlimited electricity (charged devices and video games!), wifi, long and hot showers, and groceries and boat supplies just a short bike ride away. The lap of luxury after days at anchor!

Not to mention the fact that being at a marina makes it so much easier for Mary Jane and I to escape the kids for a couple of hours, even if our “hot date” was just a bike ride to pick up boat parts. I really know how to romance a girl, right?

The downside of a marina? Money. Cruising with four boys and two dogs means cruising on a budget, and cruising on a budget means that being able to buy food and fuel always trumps the convenience of being at a slip. 

Upon reflection, it’s easy to see how much different our lives have become…

For the first month or so this lifestyle felt a bit like a perpetual vacation, just a lot more work. Every day was an exciting new adventure. But, like all new things, the novelty soon wore off and the ups and downs of the cruising life became our new normal.
There are moments when the clogged toilet, overheating engine, and cold, damp weather make you shake your head and think, “Why did we choose this again?!?” 

And then you have an evening when you are sitting in the cockpit with the family laughing and eating barbecued something, the boat lying snugly at anchor in an idyllic cove while the sun sets majestically into the water, and you look at each other and say, “Why didn’t we do this sooner?” and, “How can we keep doing this forever?”

This is cruising.

The Vikings Take On Washington

The Vikings Take On Washington

Visiting a big city with your family by boat is a completely different experience than visiting by any other means of transportation.

As cruisers, we find that the normal travel concerns of airports, hotels, restaurants, and rental cars are being replaced by questions like, “Where is the nearest grocery store? Is there a dinghy dock nearby?” and the all-important, “Where can we take the dogs to poop?”

Thankfully, Washington is a fairly cruiser-friendly town. Safeway was a mere two blocks away, we had access to showers and laundry, and the dogs had a newly renovated waterfront to, ah…attend to their business.

There is a Metro station nearby, which we rode once, for the experience, but our main mode of transportation, besides our feet, was the city bike share program. Like many big cities, Washington has a fleet of bikes that are available to rent, taking a bicycle from one station and dropping it off at another. The only drawback is that you can only have a bike out for 30 minutes at a time before finding another station and switching it out for another bike or parking it.

This worked brilliantly for our family, with all six of us pedaling hilariously from museum to monument while furiously ringing our little bells to avoid collisions with the ubiquitous tourists and often frantically trying to find the next bike station before our always-too-short 30 minutes ran out. I rode with my cell phone in one hand, partly to capture photos and video, and partly to keep a timer running and to locate nearby stations in time. 

Me: “Turn left at the statue! Only five minutes left! Don’t hit the hot dog guy!! Comedy gold.

Provisioning (cruiser-speak for shopping for food and supplies) was easily accomplished at our local Safeway. Our only problem was that we shopped like we were living in the suburbs with our Suburban in the parking lot (read we bought way too much). But with four growing Vikings aboard, how could we not?

We decided to wheel the full shopping cart back to the dinghy when, by some unseen magic, the right front wheel of the shopping cart locked up leaving us immobile smack in the middle of the store entrance/exit. Luckily, we were able to find a benevolent Safeway employee who removed the curse from the cart and sent us on our way, providing we would agree to bring back the cart after we had unloaded.

The anchorage was great, if you don’t mind helicopters (police, Coast Guard, presidential) buzzing by just above your mast tip every hour or so. You get used to it…sort of. 

Most of the monuments, museums, and memorials in D.C. are free, or for a “suggested donation,” which is amazing, since the plunder our Vikings bring home is in the form of memories and experiences, not gold. That’s great and all, but try paying for dinner with memories and you’ll get all sorts of funny looks.

As a whole, our family thought the Lincoln memorial was inspiring, and we were all a bit overwhelmed by the Holocaust memorial…amazing, but heavy. And I’m a bit embarrassed to say, by I MAY have teared up a bit while viewing the Declaration of Independence. Maybe.

But I’ve got to say that our hands-down favorite was the Air and Space Museum. I mean, it’s the Wright’s Flyer! I could have spent an entire day in their exhibit on navigation alone! So cool. 

Our week in Washington D.C. was so much fun. It was interesting, inspiring, and exhausting…and we were all ready to leave by the end of our time there–ready to take on the Big Apple next!