Saturday, May 29, 2010


home |hōm|
noun -- a place where something flourishes
All those big plastic bins holding the last of our belongings are starting to feel like so many Pandora's boxes. Every few days we pull another one out of the car and release its content, every time left to deal with the consequences.

The truth is, we don't want any more stuff on the boat, but once it comes out of the proverbial box, we have to remember its history, judge its value, weigh its role in our future, and if we keep it, deal with the increasingly onerous task of finding a place for it on the boat.

Tonight instead of the painstaking process of pulling out each item and debating its fate, we played a game of Top Ten, taking turns picking something out of the bin until we each had 10 items. The rest would go back in the car and eventually be dispatched to Goodwill.

The bin held tools, cookbooks, folders, printer paper, books, charts and fabric, but except for a putty knife, neither of us chose those things with practical value.

Instead, Chip picked a small stuffed rabbit I gave him one long ago Christmas, a dog-eared notebook of song lyrics in progress and a Queen Elizabeth II ashtray given to us by a friend. I kept a decorative wooden mermaid, a tiny Buddha that Chip gave me and a little stuffed mouse in a red gingham dress made for me by my great aunt Flora when I was nine.

We've spent months stockpiling the practical yet impersonal necessities of life on a sailboat, the things that will help us survive. But today, we both felt the need to bring aboard the sentimental and fanciful essentials of living, the things that will help us thrive.

Friday, May 28, 2010


Today we were attempting to replace a tiny piece in the dinghy motor that connects a fuel valve on the hose to a switch used to open and close the fuel line.

The maneuver required holding the miniscule part in place underneath the hose, guiding it blind into a tiny, dark cylinder and clicking it onto a corresponding switch -- all while balancing the motor in the rocking cockpit.

AAAAAAHHHHHH!!!! We took turns dropping the part into the casing of the motor and delicately fishing it out with those oh-shit tweasers in the photo.

Finally, all that time playing Operation as a kid paid off.

We were attempting it for the dozenth time, when we heard a loud snap and froze in place.

"What was that?!?!?!"

It was the part snapping in place.

We haven't tried it yet, but if "ON" on the switch really corresponds with the fuel being "ON", it will be a miracle. If "ON" is really "OFF," it will be charming.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Five years ago last night, we pulled an all-nighter.

It was our 41st day straight of painting, hooking up computers, installing shelves, getting a seemingly endless number of permits, ordering products, entering inventory into the computer.

We were almost ready except for putting up shelf tags -- on 2500 items. Chip's family helped us, spending hours studying tiny labels and looking for their corresponding products. We sent them home at midnight and kept plugging away at it, hour after hour. At 6 a.m., I walked over to the California wine aisle and found Chip sprawled on the floor, sound asleep.

There was no ceremonial moment when we said, okay, we're ready, let's open. In fact, we forgot to lock the door and someone came in.

"Are you open?"

We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and so it began.

The business plan we wrote had a five-year exit strategy. I thought surely the way our lives go, this, our 5th anniversary, would be the day we would hear the loan was approved.

Sure enough, about four o'clock my phone rang. Caller ID said it was the buyers' broker.

There was news from SBA, but it was not approval.

"SBA wants all the paperwork changed to show the name of the buyers' corporation."

We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and so it continues.

Happy 5th Anniversary, wine shop.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


If you're under the impression I'm coating everything I own in plastic, you're not far off. So much for my earth-friendly, living-on-a-boat gloating.

As I was trying to stow things in the galley, I just couldn't find enough or at least the right spot for my space-hogging spices. I remembered reading a tip for that in one of my sailing magazines and decided to implement it today.

Ziploc Snack Bags
3x5 cards
A plastic bin

Dump the contents of a spice jar in a bag. Write the name of the spice on a card and seal them up together.

It made me miss the days of doing craft projects with the kids. And look at the result! Flat, easy-to-store bags instead of round, half-empty bottles.

These are the things that distract your mind from waiting.

Sort of.

Monday, May 24, 2010


Why do the waiting days drag by so slowly? As we await word on whether we have sold the wine shop, I notice an ever so slight change in our words.

At first we expressed no acknowledgement that we might be leaving soon.

"If we leave sometime this summer..."

Tonight I noticed a "when" instead of "if."

"Where should we go when we leave?"

We were sitting in the cockpit, entertaining the possibility of sailing soon, using the 'when' and 'where' words.

We spoke of Solomons Island on the western shore of the Chesapeake where we laid over one too-short night on the trip south. It was a place we thought we'd like to revisit .... sometime.

"But I want to anchor out somewhere for the first few weeks. I didn't see any anchorage space, did you?" I said.

Conversation meandered on through Ocracoke and Oriental and St. Michael's.

"Is that an Island Packet?" Chip asked.

In the Chesapeake, it is not unusual to see other boats like ours, but here on Roanoke Island, we don't spot them too often. Sure enough an Island Packet 38 passed quietly into the marina.

Almost an hour later, I said, "Isn't that an Island Packet!?!?"

Another one.

We were in the dockmaster's office when they both came to check in. No, they were not travelling together. No, they didn't know each other.

Where were they from? Both of them?

Turns out, there is good anchorage space in Solomons, along with new friends and a car we can use if we need it, or should I say when we need it?

Saturday, May 22, 2010


You know how Chip and I are always on the lookout for signs that we're "in the stream," headed in the right direction?

When we opened the store in 2005 Chip bought some wines he calls "window dressing," high end, highly rated, famous wines that people like to see on the shelf. But, at $200 and $300 a piece, they have been sitting there for 5 years.

Chip woke up night before last worrying about those pricey bottles, not wanting to saddle the (possible) new owners with them.

Yesterday, he came home from the store and said, "You're not going to believe this: somebody bought six of those expensive French bottles."

"Awesome!" I replied. "Now, maybe someone will buy the big bottle of Chimay that we've had for three years."

Today, I was running the store while Chip was teaching a wine class.

One of the students bought a big bottle of Chimay.

We're in some stream. We hope we know which one but still afraid to believe.

Monday, May 17, 2010


It is apparent to me at this particular waypoint -- having quite successfully planned the disposal of a lifetime of belongings and stepped across the water onto a boat -- that I maybe failed a little bit at projecting the emotional impact of removing my entire foundation, of willfully flinging the carpet out from under my life. I thought doing it on purpose would make it all fun and lighthearted.

And, god knows, there have been happy moments and those dividends will be paying us back for years.

But there's the proverbial moment when the Pink Panther steps off a cliff but has not yet begun to fall. No amount of jaunty in-air paddling can stave off the inevitable. Where's the fun in planning that?

So, on this emotional plunge, I plummet through the emotional spectrum, anger then giddiness, then intense stress, then utter frustration. Chip and I go from hand-in-hand camaraderie at the sheer joy of accomplishing our goals to sniping at each other like siblings in the backseat.

We both feel scattered, shattered, fragmented, not in a tragic way but in an I-can't-find-my-pillow-and-I-want-to-cry and an I'm-falling-off-the-edge-of-the-world-holy-shit-oh-no-but-this-is-really-freaking-cool sort of way.

But doesn't that make sense when you think about it? Someone else lives in our house. Our old boat is now with new owners. Our belongings have been scattered far and wide, like little bits of us sprinkled all across the country.

I recognize that this sounds whiny and ungrateful, but what I'm leaving here is a blueprint for those who want to reboot their lives. Doing great things, making life-altering changes comes with sacrifice. It would be disingenuous not to acknowledge that.

When the stakes are high, so is the price of playing the game.

Friday, May 14, 2010


We officially signed a contract on the wine shop today with a closing date on or before July 1 -- whenever the loan is approved -- IF it is approved. Do we dare hope?

As Chip was vacuuming at the end of the day, he pushed the wine shop office door closed, and it locked him out -- with his keys inside. Or did it lock him in?

Does the wine shop want us to stay -- or go?

Only the crowbar knows for sure.

TO DO: Get new doorknob for office door.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


I've developed a big crush on vacuum bags, so to speak. They make large, water-absorbing things small and waterproof. Awesome. That photo shows two memory foam pillows and a queen size comforter. (Every since I bought the extra-large vacuum bag, Chip has developed a strange fear of the shop vac.)

Slowly, things are finding new resting places inside the boat. The back bedroom is the staging area. One day it gets relatively clear. The next we bring in a new load. Sigh.

Very soon maybe we'll be live aboards, not move aboards.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


I read recently that it takes 18 to 24 months to sell a business. Our store has been on the market for 20 months, so that makes it a sure thing, right?

In those 20 months, I have received several offers, low ones asking for ridiculous amounts of financing. In fact, I've been asked to finance hundreds of thousands of dollars by people offering me no credentials, no resume, no business plan, no references, just, hey, what do you think, can I run your store and maybe pay you for it later? I thought not.

We waited, because it's what we do.

About two months ago, I started noticing a change in the inquiries. It was my personal barometer on the health of the economy, my first sign that there was some life springing up out of the darkness. The prospects who contacted me were more serious, moving at a faster pace, and, perhaps most encouraging, they were more financially qualified. Several even grasped the philosophy of the store, and understood the steps we had taken to build and solidify the brand.

And so, I got hopeful.

And then I got an offer that was not low and was not asking for financing.

We are nearing a deal, but we are tiptoeing around like we've stumbled upon a deer in the forest, afraid to move or speak lest it gets spooked and runs away.

Will the deafening clacking of my typing cause it to bolt?

Nevertheless, here I type, quite loudly: We are about to sign a contract to sell the wine shop.

And guess what? It entails more waiting. The buyers must be approved for a loan. We should know in two weeks, three weeks, maybe four?

Life in the balance.

Friday, May 7, 2010


Yesterday I walked into T.J. Maxx, a new store to me, and a new store to the Outer Banks. It was my inaugural shopping trip since moving onto a boat. I heard they have a kitchen section, and we need plates, bowls, cups, glasses (of the non-glass variety).

Inside the door, I turned to port, planning to do a full circumnavigation. The first section was luggage, none of it waterproof -- or collapsible. Jewelry and handbags, none marine friendly, none needed. Then the shoe department. I admired the cute sandals and colorful sneakers, but I'm already over quota in my own shoe department. Clothing, no. I have too many land clothes that get wrinkled, don't offer UV protection and don't dry fast enough. Towels? Not quick drying.

Here I was in a store filled with things that had zero relevance for me.

I was surrounded by women pushing carts filled with metal photo frames -- with actual glass in them, breakable dishes, lovely vases and cute jeans. Me? A hapless interplanetary visitor observing the strange ways of these earthlings ... and yet, wasn't that a memory of me doing the same thing?

Normal once but no more.

WAIT! Look: bamboo bowls! I bought five of them. Does that make me semi-normal? Pseudo normal? Abnormal? Paranormal?

This morning my sister called.

"Can I call you right back? I'm in the bath house."


Wednesday, May 5, 2010


We slept the sleep of the exhausted last night, thrilled to have made it to the Outer Banks, and deliciously comfortable in our V-berth nest.

We're officially live aboards now, but for awhile we'll be moving-aboards.

While on the one hand, it's an amazing feat that we pared a houseful of belongings down to three carloads of stuff, stuff that fit beautifully into a fictional boat and a fictional cruising lifestyle.  But now that the fiberglass has hit the water, all that stuff seems, well, too much.

The boat is spacious in boat terms, but in house terms, we're pretty much moving into the equivalent of a nicely appointed garden shed.

As people stop by to see our new home, I watch their reaction, curious to see if, as I expected, they would view us a borderline nut bags. What I didn't anticipate is that people would look longingly about the boat, settle in and heave a huge happy sigh.

Many times already, I have heard, "This is really all you need, isn't it?"

They lament their full houses, crammed attics, bursting storage units. What a crazy, untenable economic system we've built. Truly, how can we maintain an economy that can only thrive if all of us keep consuming?

I'm not really doing my part to stop the madness. I've only traded in my jeans for new high-tech pants, ditched my rolling suitcase for a waterproof duffle, and given up stoneware for wooden dishes.

But one day soon, this tradeoff must end. The boat is a container. When it is full, there will be no marine trailer pulled behind us, no luggage rack on deck.

I look forward to that moment when we can finally declare that we've crossed the finish line, that what we have onboard is just enough.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

LOOKING FOR SIGNS: Headed South Day Six

Coinjock  36°20.276N | 75°57.399W

The end of this trip south was now so close it was making us antsy. So close in fact, that four impatient friends made the short drive from the Outer Banks to Coinjock to welcome us and Good Company to North Carolina.

With only one leg to go, the weather prediction was unsettling, calling for a chance of scattered thunderstorms in the Albemarle Sound, right in our path.

After all the good decisions we had made up to this point, we didn't want to blow it now.

I was feeling a lot of pressure to get to the Outer Banks to deal with the offer on our business, to move our things out of the rental house (already several days overdue) and to manage some freelance deadlines. Feeling pressure to go regardless of weather is not good seamanship.

At 9:00 a.m., still unsure, we began preparations to leave and agreed to watch for signs that we should stay -- or go.

This is a regular practice for us. If we're uncertain, we lay the question out there and wait for direction, which might not be a text message from god, but on the other hand, it's usually clear.

Right away, I went into the bathroom to stow things for the trip. I picked up what I thought was a container of dehumidifying gel. It had done its job and turned into an oily liquid, and as liquids do, went splattering all over the room.

"Is this a sign?" I asked.

"We'll have to see," Chip responded. "That's one strike against leaving." Often, when the signs aren't completely clear, we wait for three strikes.

I continued stowing while Chip went to fuel up and pump out.

A few minutes later, I heard him laughing.

He was working in the cockpit when this boat went by:

See what I mean about clear?

We pulled out 30 minutes behind Follow Me into a day that was overcast but stopped short of being stormy. When we peeled off the ICW at the mouth of the North River, we officially entered home waters. Colington Island, our home on the Outer Banks for 12 years, appeared on the horizon, and our new home, Roanoke Island was right there across the water.

But landmarks on a watery horizon, just like long-planned goals, are always further away than they seem. It took several hours to cross the Albemarle Sound, especially on the safe -- and long -- route toward the southern tip of Roanoke Island and the entrance to the channel that skirts the island.

Hundreds of boats travel the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), but very few leave it to stop over in Roanoke Island like we were doing. Yet, as we motored toward the entrance of Shallowbag Bay, the radio squawked and I heard:

"Manteo Waterfront, Manteo Waterfront, this is Follow Me."

And we had, all the way from Coinjock.

We tied up in our new slip, tired, relieved, happy and ready for whatever the still-uncertain future might hold. Will we be here for a few weeks, a few months? We don't yet know.

As always, we're waiting for the next sign.

Manteo  35°54.525N | 75°40.119W

Monday, May 3, 2010

THE POWER OF A BOAT: Heading South Day Five

Great Bridge  36°43.368N | 76°14.751W

I was an art history major for a few semesters in college, until I realized I was as likely to find an art history job as I was to purchase the Mona Lisa. But during that deliciously decadent period, I ate up art history in great heaping spoonfuls. One of the theories I relished for evaluating a piece of art is placing it in its historical context, in the bigger world around it. To understand an artwork completely, according to this theory, it must be judged in its unique place and time, looking at what came before it and how that impacted what came after.

Despite the fact that I blog in real time, I find it much more interesting and compelling to look back at my own story in my historical context and in the bigger world around me, looking at what came before big events in my life and how that impacted what came after. Rarely am I able to recognize the big moments when they're actually happening. Except for sometimes ...

From the moment we made an offer on our new boat, Good Company, in December, it was as if we untied the lines of our lives and moved into the current -- after so many stagnant months of waiting. Her power to move us forward started resonating in our lives before we even got her in the water. The offer, the acceptance, the rare weather window in January for the sea trial, the idyllic commissioning and handoff, from the day our relationship with Good Company began, we've been plowing steadily through calm, deep water.

We closed the deal in January and hoped to bring our new boat from the northern Chesapeake to the Outer Banks in February, but the universe needed to tie up some loose ends first, so in epic fashion, the northern Chesapeake remained frozen solid, locking us out. On March 1st we got a contract on our old boat, Isabella. Yet again, we had an idyllic handoff, and the new owners sailed her away on April 2nd, releasing us from the specter of caring for two boats at once.   

By the time we came to bring Good Company home, our 5-year TO DO list was now reduced to one item: Sell the Wine Shop, an item we've been tilting at since listing the business in September 2008.

We left Great Bridge this morning on a short, easy trek to Coinjock, intending to give ourselves a break after the previous day's 12-hour slog, and excited to finally pass into North Carolina waters. It was apparent as we neared the state line that the weather was not going to give us a break. Chip hailed a northbound sailboat to check conditions.

"It's blowing pretty good, but stay to middle of the channel, and you'll be fine."

"Blowing pretty good" was a steady 37-knots -- straight across the beam -- in a very narrow channel through the shallow water of the Currituck Sound. We've learned that navigating the ICW goes much smoother with both of us on duty. I track our progress on the chart and scan the horizon for the path on ahead, giving Chip verbal directions as he concentrates on maintaining the immediate course.

We were taking the occasional cold spray over the starboard rail, when not 10 miles past the state line, we approached the more sketchy part at the southern tip of the sound that required more navigation finesse. 

That's when my phone rang. I'm not a big phone-answerer, often letting calls roll to voicemail, even when I'm not navigating in a 37-knot blow. But this time I answered.

For the next few minutes, I would say, "hold on a second," shout directions to Chip, then tuck my head back under the dodger so I could hear the voice on the other end. 

It was a broker alerting me that he was emailing me an offer on our business.

Looking back in real time, we can only place that phone call in the context of what came before. We don't yet know how that will impact what comes after.

Until then, we rely on what we do know: Good Company. Good fortune.

And so we continue, homeward bound and hopeful, navigating together through calm, deep waters.

Coinjock  36°20.276N | 75°57.399W

Sunday, May 2, 2010

TRIANGULATING: Heading South Day Four

Deltaville  37°33.480N | 76°18.799W

Today's Chesapeake was not as user-friendly as yesterday's. Instead, we were barreling through 3-foot swells, practically launching off the top of them with a body-jarring landing on the other side. Sitting in the cockpit, this is not such a big deal. Going to the bathroom: BIG DEAL.

With the boat bucking around, I have to either pull up my pants with one hand (level of difficulty: EXTREME) or find a way to use two hands without toppling in a bruised heap (level of difficulty: IMPOSSIBLE). That's where triangle pose comes in.

I lean my butt against the wall with my legs at a 45° angle, making a triangle with the floor, pull my pants up to the top of my thighs. Then I push my butt away from the wall so that my weight is leaning on my shoulders, making a larger triangle, and pull my pants up the rest of the way. Even I find this amusing.

Our path today required a lot of triangulating above decks as well. On previous days, our destinations have been relatively easy to navigate, but since the time we left Rock Hall, I had been dreading two things: passing the mouth of the Potomac and navigating through Norfolk, both with their own complications. With the Potomac behind us, I was feeling pretty antsy about the dense Norfolk chart and the potential for heavy traffic from container ships and aircraft carriers.

But like the previous obstacles, it seemed less intimidating when we got there. With so many landmarks, triangulating was more obvious. In fact, when we passed through, I was surprised how relatively simple it was -- except for the 25-knot wind barreling across the channel, blowing us right toward the aquatic Death Stars:

And just as it was in passing the mouth of the Potomac, timing was in our favor. On a Sunday, there were no mega-ships moving about, just a lot of recreational boats zipping around, one pulling someone on an inner tube, weaving in and out of large power boats, the same type of people who would pull someone down the interstate on a skateboard.

We passed under lift bridges:

People sunning in inauspicious places:

Through a lock:

And after a 12-hour day, thanked Good Company for delivering us safely to Great Bridge.

Tied up behind:

Great Bridge  36°43.368N | 76°14.751W

**A special thanks to Debbie Miller for giving permission to this random blogger to use her beautiful Triangle Pose painting. See her work here.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

MOUTHING OFF: Heading South Day Three

Solomons  38°19.680N | 76°27.477W

"The mouth of the Potomac can be rife with cross-currents, tidal rips and fish traps... Several world cruisers have said that this was the roughest place they've encountered in bad weather." --Waterway Guide Chesapeake Bay
As we moved into the Chesapeake headed south, we set our waypoint heading and watched the shoreline. Something just didn't look right. But what? I ran below to check our heading, and we were on it.

I then pulled out the chart to check the first waypoint, which I had mistakenly entered as E instead of W. That's E for EEK!

But now, heading straight toward the mouth of the Potomac, we were leading a life of quiet trepidation.

According to the guidebook, the most favorable time to pass the mouth is at low tide, and we timed it almost to the minute. We entered the mouth exactly at slack tide.

I'm happy to report, that the mouth did not chew us up nor spit us out. It did not foam or bare its teeth. We made a mute, 90-minute passage in near perfect conditions.

A long, five hours later, on our approach to Deltaville we heard a loud clanging crash near the stairs that sounded like dishes falling. I looked around but found nothing out of order.

"We'll find it later," Chip said presciently. The only thing more clairvoyant would have been if he said "momentarily" instead of "later."

I relieved him at the helm, and within minutes the engine alarm blared. The temperature gauge was pinging above the high temperature mark of 240°. Lights were flashing. (I'm not really sure this is true, but when I play it back in my head, there are definitely red lights flashing.) Chip dove for the throttle, shoved it into low and bolted downstairs.

"TURN IT OFF!" he yelled. I turned it off.

Sitting at the helm alone in the sudden quiet, I assessed our situation. The depth meter read 45 feet. Good. The wind meter read 0 knots. Bad. We were adrift.

I looked to starboard and could see land about 300 yards away. Good (help nearby) and bad (shallow water).

I kept watch for, um, something, while Chip clanged around below.

"YAY!" he called out. "It's a broken belt."

Yay? He had been reviewing all the potential -- and potentially expensive -- disasters that could have caused the engine to overheat. A belt was not such a big deal, IF the previous owner stashed a spare belt.

New problem: where might that stash be.

So as Chip dug through hatches below, I took matters and furling lines into my own hands. I unfurled the staysail and the jib, both of which began to flop around in fluky 1-knot winds. By the time Chip had found not one but two replacement belts, I had both sails partially full and the boat moving very slowly in exactly the wrong direction. Just as I was preparing to tack, Chip called up, "Try the engine now!"

"Wait a minute, I'm tacking!"


After an extremely unsuccessful tack, which ended up at about 250° instead of 180°, I turned the key and the engine came back to life, sans alarm.

From start to finish, Chip had the engine running in less than 20 minutes.

Me? I had sailed us about 60 yards off course, dashing all hopes of winning the day's Most Valuable Crewmember award.

We put the engine in gear and pointed toward Deltaville. I rolled in the stupid sails.

After a 10-hour day on the water, we tied up, exhausted, hungry and triumphant from tackling both the mouth of the Potomac and an unexpected engine repair. We threw on semi-clean clothes and headed out for dinner.

Halfway down the dock I stopped in my tracks.

"What's happened to us?!?" I lamented. "This is only our third day of cruising."

Chip hadn't shaved or showered. I hadn't showered, washed my hair OR put on makeup.

And we were dressed alike.

Deltaville  37°33.480N | 76°18.799W