Thursday, December 31, 2009


Tomorrow, I turn 50.

Recently a wise young man asked me, "How does it really feel to be turning 50?"

That got me thinking about life and aging, living and dying and landmarks -- and why turning 30 was totally devastating but turning 50 is utterly fabulous.

Twenty years ago, when I turned 30, I was living a life that probably looked fine from the outside, but on the inside, I was restless and unhappy. The life I had was not the life I wanted -- and I felt hopelessly stuck in it. I wanted to live by the ocean, but I was in the middle of Texas. I wanted to travel, but I'd never even been out of the country, nor even far from the southwest. I was married to someone who didn't share my adventurous spirit or the burning desire to indulge it.

Now as I'm turning 50, I'm poised on the glorious launch of a life that combines travel and the ocean in a way that would have blown my 30-year-old mind. The universe has given me an equal partner, a co-captain, a friend, a husband who brought with him my same love for adventure and the burning desire to indulge it, a desire that manifests itself in the hard, hard everyday work of making dreams come true. As a bonus, he has a heart as deep as the ocean and lets me sail there.

So, how do I feel about turning 50? The answer seems to be less about aging and more about living.

When I turned 30, I felt like I was dying. Turning 50, I feel like I'm just beginning to live.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Several times in the last week, I've left the wine shop to drive home and forgotten where I live.

As of today, we're in our fourth place since July. After a week in our cute little beach cottage, we've temporarily moved to the extra-large, oceanfront house where we'll be celebrating my 50th birthday -- with three days of parties.

After our week of luxurious, oceanfront living, we'll be heading to Maryland for the sea trial and survey on our new boat.

Perhaps this is a small taste of what it will be like to wake up in a new harbor every morning.

Where do we live? Wherever we are.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


"I can't find my spoon," I wailed.

Today we were moving the last of our things out of the apartment, standing amidst the half-filled boxes and cleaning supplies where I'd been searching for my missing spoon.

"Why does that upset you so much?" Chip asked, clearly confused that someone who has been gleefully throwing out belongings would be so upset that one left on its own.

But, this wasn't just any old spoon. This spoon was a miniature, two-inch work of art, sculpted of pewter with an intricate little face carved in the handle. I loved it, treasured it, used it every day to sprinkle salt on my food -- whether the food needed salt or not, because that spoon was awesome.

Through tears I lamented, "I've kept so few things, and now I've lost one of them."

All those belongings that I've pitched this past year were items I willingly -- but sometimes reluctantly -- released when I knew they were standing between me and the water. But this one? It met all the marine requirements: it was tiny; it wouldn't rust; it was durable, guaranteed to survive the rough and tumble life on a sailboat. And the most important requirement of all: I loved it. This was one of the precious few items I had chosen to keep.

And in that little spoon I had been precariously balancing some part of every one of my discarded possessions, all my things that were too fragile, too breakable, too bulky, or somehow uniquely inappropriate for life onboard.

Maybe that was just too much for a little spoon to bear.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


The vagabonds have a new temporary shelter. After several weeks of looking and weighing options, we moved into Raven's Roost.

It's a summer rental, fully furnished, so we can shed the last few pieces of furniture: a love seat, a chair, a mattress and a table. And since the kitchen is geared up, we can divest ourselves of a few more household items.

What do we have left?
--4 bins of tools, sandpaper, paint thinner, paintbrushes, fiberglass repair gear, stuff
--4 boxes of books
--a folding bike
--a marine sewing machine
--2 mast pulpits
--a briefcase with our files for selling the wine shop
--bedding and linens
--4 bins of miscellaneous stuff like a first aid kit, flashlights, bags

And a fully furnished house is something we're relishing. We have a new appreciation for a dishwasher, a washer and dryer, a bathtub and even TV. Our first morning here, we had toast, not because we wanted it, but just because we have a toaster.

So, here we are, lightening the load and once, again, in the "last" place before moving onboard.

First task in the new house: Christmas tree.

Monday, December 21, 2009


If you happen to be awake at 4:00 a.m., a dark crevasse opens in the night, a terrifying place filled with dark, icy shrieking-eel-infested waters.

Actually, they're talking eels that tell you evil, slimy things, like, "That new boat you just bought? The salon is way too small. SHREEEEEEEK. The fold-down table is too big. It takes up the whole tiny salon. SSHHREEEEEEEEEK. That boat is way too expensive. What were you thinking?! SHHREEEEEK!!!" (They don't know how to spell "shriek.)

And then, along about sunrise, the crevasse closes, the eels clam up, and you're left with this little niggling doubt in the back of your brain...

Three days of sheer joy
Two days of disbelief/denial
One day of buyer's remorse

What's next? Four shrieking birds?

I think I'll hit replay and go back to sheer joy.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


The first few days after we got the boat, you would have thought we were a young couple about to have a baby. We were glowing, telling everybody. In return, everybody was so happy for us.

Now, it doesn't seem real. That new boat is something we read about in a book -- with photos.

Well, when they cashed the $18K deposit check yesterday, that seemed real.

But a new boat? An Island Packet 380? NO WAY.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Why do we always buy boats in the winter???? We still have to do a sea trial, in the northern Chesapeake in January. BRRR.

Some particulars:
1999 Island Packet 380  Designer: Robert Johnson
Hull Material: Fiberglass
LOA: 39'7"     LWL: 32'0"     Beam: 13'2"
Displacement: 21,000 lbs     Draft: 4'7"     Bridge Clearance: 54'3"    Ballast: 9,000 lbs
Engines: Yanmar     Engine(s) HP: 51 hp FWC     Engine Model: 4JH3     Hours: 4090
Tankage  Fuel: 85 gal     Water: 170 gal     Holding: 40 gal

Here she is:

Transom with swim platform -- and look at those back rail seats. Chip's favorite feature!

Cutter rig with furlers on jib and staysail, traditional, fully battened main with Dutchman furling (!)

Awesome galley. Seriously.

State room with WALK AROUND v-berth. Such luxury!

Port settee and nav station.

Starboard settee. Love that upholstery.

Huge head with shower and shower door.
I found this sink in the aft cabin somewhat confounding -- until we decided it's a WET BAR!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Some days don't go at all like you imagine. Sometimes they're better.

Today dawned all GO!

I called Michele and cautiously stated we wanted to make an offer on Good Company.

The phone did not disconnect. There were no beeps -- just a very happy Michele on the other end.

She and I filled out the offer form together on the phone. At 2:00 p.m., Chip and I signed it and faxed it with a copy of our $18,000 deposit check. The seller would have 48 hours to respond, so we settled in for a long winter's wait.

I headed for Fed Ex to overnight the original form and check to Rock Hall. The guy at Fed Ex, who had up to that point been unresponsive and generally sulky said, "Rock Hall? I used to work at Skipjack Marina not far from there."

I told him he was holding an offer on an Island Packet 380.

"Wow," he said, suddenly all perky and almost buoyant, "what a great oceangoing boat!"

Yes, indeed, but let's don't get excited yet. We were making backup plans: how much should we offer on the New York boat if we don't get Good Company? If we can't get a good price on New York, should we settle for in-mast furling? What if we just can't afford a 380? There are hardly any 37s on the market, and we don't want a 35. Will more 380s come on the market as spring approaches?

At 4:00 p.m., two hours after we submitted the offer, my phone rang. I saw that it was Michele and assumed she was merely reporting on the tone of her conversation with the owner and when we might expect to hear a counteroffer.

She had spent almost two hours on the phone with him during which time he pondered taking the boat off the market and waiting a year. Gasp. But then, he said,

"Maybe it's time this boat has a new home."

He countered at less than 3% more than our offer. In practical terms, he had accepted our offer.


I burst into tears. I still cry when I type this.

We have a boat.

We have a boat.

Monday, December 14, 2009


I bought a pair of shoes yesterday. You wouldn't believe how much I loved them. They were beautiful and felt like slippers.

This morning I put them on, and they were too small. Well, bummer, but let's just try a bigger size. The store didn't have them in black. I tried another color in the next size. They were huge. No. How about this one? Didn't have my size. This one? No. This one? No.

Yesterday we decided we definitely want a traditional main -- no in-mast furling. That narrowed our choices to New York and Good Company in Rock Hall. We both felt confident: make an offer on Good Company.

After sleeping on that decision, and agreeing once more this morning, we were ready. I called Michele, asked her a few questions and as I said, "We want to make an offer...," the phone went BEEP BEEP BEEP. The connection was lost.

No shoes. No offers.

Does that mean we should go for the New York boat? It does have fewer engine hours and that amazing watermaker, but it's out of the water and won't be available until the spring. If we bought it, we couldn't do a sea trial until April or May. Do we want to wait in limbo again?

We'll see what tomorrow brings. Please be a YES day.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


We're still tooling along. No more doldrums. (Not yet.)

We've spent hours talking with Michele, studying, making lists, pricing equipment, debating in-mast furling. We're proud of our thoughtful approach, our steady hand at the helm. We're not in a hurry. It's a big decision, this, but we're progressing with confidence.

Geography matters. There's a great boat in Ecuador that we'd love to have, but Ecuador? There's another in Antigua that Michele and I are angling to have a look at, because, well, it's December and the boat is in Antigua. But we can't deny the thousands of dollars the location would add to the cost of the boat.

Features matter. The New York boat has a top-of-the-line watermaker. Rock Hall boat has a Zodiac 6-person life raft.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Anyone who has owned a used sailboat can tell you: When you buy a used boat, you are buying the owner. It's a little like marrying someone only worse. In this case, your actual life depends on them.

The first week we had Isabella home, I was standing on the companionway stairs, leaning out into the cockpit. I noticed the u-bolt where you hook your life vest harness, you know, tether yourself to the boat so you don't go flying away? I grabbed the bolt, and it broke off in my hand. The previous owner had attached the bolt with nuts of a different kind of metal, a science fair project on marine electrolysis. The bolt was completely eaten through.

So far, we've been impressed with the owners of Good Company. Michele has been studying the ship's log, and engine maintenance seems meticulous. It has higher engine hours than some of the other boats (4000), which is a bit of a concern. The New York boat has much lower engine miles and is a 2000 rather than a 1999.

Ah, the little things that don't seem so little. We hope to make a decision on an offer this weekend.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


It was 2003 when Chip and I first started shopping for a cruising boat. Armed with $40K and a lot of research, we made our first, wide-eyed trip to see the first boat on our list -- in Rock Hall, Maryland.

That boat was a Downeast 32, although not Isabella (we found Isabella in Ft. Lauderdale). No, that Downeast in Rock Hall was worthy of a whole blog entry of her own. I hope she has since been rescued from the woman who turned her into a dumping ground, a pig sty, a seagull's nest, a floating flea market, a dog kennel. Ugh.

We ran from that boat and into town, and at one point into Gratitude Yachting Center where we were introduced to Michele.

Even though her Island Packets were way beyond our modest budget, Michele, with her calm, wise manner, took the time to talk to us about life and cruising and sailboats. That day she sewed seeds of cruising-boat philosophy and friendship that have taken root and flourished over the years.

To say we never forgot Michele doesn't tell the whole story. When I starting writing an unfinished(!) novel in 2004, I used her look and serene spirit for one of my characters who sometimes quotes Michele verbatim. (I've never told Michele this -- until now.)

In 2008, when we made our decision to buy an Island Packet, we called Michele first.

"Oh, of course I remember you!" she said.

And now, all these years later, Michele has been a valuable third member of our crew, helping us evaluate the different Island Packet models from her many years of experience selling and sailing them, and once we decided on the 380, thoughtfully evaluating each one on the market, weighing their disparate pros and cons, offering us her seasoned and reasoned advice mixed with humor and big, gut-deep laughter.

"I love it when we get a chance to just sit and talk," she told me on the phone this week. "We have those huge laughs."

Funny, we were just saying the same thing.

Many more to come.

And to quote Michele and one of my novel characters: "It's a great day to be alive!"

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


We are studying all the IP380s on the market. We're pretty sure we want a traditional main (raise and lower manually) v. in-mast furling (the ones that roll-up inside the mast like a roll of paper towels).

--will presumably hold their value better
--ease of use
--more on the market

--more reliable
--can get a better price right now
--hey, it's called traditional, because they've been in use for centuries

--failure is pretty catastrophic, because...
--failure is likely to be when it's blowing stink and you really need that main furled. Really.
--cost more

--will likely depreciate faster

FOOTNOTE: Driving back to the Outer Banks, we stopped just off Highway 13 in Cape Charles, north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on the eastern shore. Chip had read about it as a good sailing destination. On a quiet Wednesday night, we stumbled upon the only place open, the only bar in town, Kelly's Gingernut Pub, in a brick bank building built in 1906. The food was good, the beer list awesome, the place quaint. We'll definitely make that a stop on some future Chesapeake cruise ... Our charmed week continues.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


"I feel like we're motoring through deep water," I told Chip today. Not like flying at full speed, but a strong, steady pace. After months of feeling totally aground, this is a new and suspect feeling. Watch for shoals.

We met with Ted and Nancy and their contractor to help work out a little snag in the contract. The meeting went great.

Our pace is steady.

The four of us spent the afternoon shopping with Uncle George and Aunt Peggy, and like good, "active adults," zipped into the Texas Roadhouse in time to get the $7.99 early-bird dinners. ;-) And speaking of active adults, as we were leaving the restaurant, I noticed we had lost Nancy, Ted and Peggy.

"Chip, you better come see this!" I yelled.

Nancy, at 4'11" and 80 years old, had climbed up on the saddle by the hostess stand. Fueled by a strawberry margarita, she was laughing so hard she was having trouble with the dismount. Yee haw.

Our active elders then took us to the casino.

Chip put in one quarter, spun five gold bells and won $129.

No shoals in sight!

Monday, December 7, 2009


As we left Bridgeville this morning, Dylan called to tell us he was accepted to Appalachian in Boone, NC.

Hallelujah. He set out on a long, long trip from eking through high school to getting accepted to a state school at 21, a trip sewn with hard, ugly work and long, lonely months in a near empty apartment. Hmm. Sounds a little like someone else. Is this the week we all arrive?

A good start  -- and hopefully a good omen. We smiled the whole way to Rock Hall.

You might recall, we looked at several Island Packet 380s in Rock Hall in October, including the one we're here to see: Good Company.

On that last trip, Chip made one notation in his notebook about Good Company: GTV.

"What the heck is that?" I asked.

"Got The Vibe."

It's a funny thing when you're boat shopping. If you're smart, you keep your emotions in check, try not to fall in love with a boat and subsequently make bad decisions. But there's no denying the feel of a boat when you step onboard. It defies logic. We looked at two identical boats, side by side today. One felt cold and lonely, the other warm and homey.

And today, I got the vibe too. I didn't anticipate liking this boat as much as I did. Good Company has had one owner who is obviously meticulous. The boat is spotless inside. The bilge looks practically new. He changed the oil for the first time one month after he got the boat (!). The more we learn, the closer we look, the better it gets.

Michele, our broker, had a lot of info for us about other 380s on the market as well as a listing of what 380s have sold for in the last year. More homework for us ...

 ... and back to Bridgeville to see Ted and Nancy (Chip's parents) and Aunt Peggy and Uncle George!

Sunday, December 6, 2009


Starting point: Kill Devil Hills, NC
Ending point: Bridgeville, DE

After a week of trepidation about the very thought of buying a boat, today we drove north by northwest in utter peace.

All week I had been suffering from a breakout on my neck that was getting worse and worse, due in part to the anxiety about buying a boat. We were both wondering -- without telling each other -- if the breakout was telling us to postpone our trip.

I went to the emergency clinic Saturday and was diagnosed with contact dermatitis. They gave me steroids and said I'd be better in 48 hours. They were wrong. I was better in 12 hours. Let's go!

Leaving the Outer Banks was like turning a corner into smooth, clear waters. We both feel complete peace about where we are headed and whatever we might find there.


I read a magazine article recently that said we will be buying an Island Packet 35. You just can't believe everything you read.

We're off to Rock Hall, Maryland, to look at Island Packets tomorrow, but we're looking at 380s. Since our loan was approved, we might, maybe, perhaps be making an offer on a boat soon. Definitely.

You'll read it here first. And maybe this time it will be true.

(That article was one I wrote for Living Aboard last July.)

--One of our previous business prospects has dropped out. That's to compensate for the two new ones, I guess.
--A new prospect for Isabella turned up. From Brazil. (?)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


This week we felt the need to look outside our little apartment, to indulge in some serious escapism, maybe a deserted island, palm trees, beautiful beaches. Thanks to, we were completely transported.

Unfortunately it was to an island where the inhabitants shot, stabbed, head-butted, tortured and lied to each other while being attacked by polar bears, ghosts, psycho French women and bees.

We survived 14 episodes of Lost before deciding this was not helpful escapism.

Sometimes we have really bad ideas.

--We've been approved for a boat loan. We leave for Rock Hall on Sunday.
--Some new business prospects have emerged.
--Isabella has a new lower price and another round of online ads.