Aren’t I Supposed to Relax on Vacation?

I can’t pinpoint when it happened—the moment the boat stopped being just a boat and became a member of the family. Maybe it was all my fretting during hurricane season, and the thought of how devastated I would be if we lost her. Maybe it was during our first solo expedition, and how she helped guide us safely across the water as we learned together. Instead of a mode of transportation or the vessel for our minimalist lifestyle, the boat has somehow evolved to become an equal partner on this adventure. We take care of her, and she takes care of us.

Leaving the boat for an extended period of time gives me anxiety. I think about her all the time when we’re away, even though I double-triple checked everything. Conor laughs and says I’m being paranoid. “It’s a boat, it will be fine for just a week without you!” I know he’s right. Our marina is protected, the dock lines are secure, anything electric (that is unnecessary) is off. But temperature and wind speeds are always on my mind as I check the weather back home for the latest updates.

I used to roll my eyes at blogs that would refer to their boats as ‘she’ and ‘her’. I feel the same way about people naming their cars. But a boat somehow becomes more over time. A boat has quirks and a personality that you get to know intimately while living aboard. You have to be in tune with her, and the consequences of not listening to what she’s saying could be disastrous and dangerous. I think that’s why I get so nervous leaving our boat alone—she could be yelling that something is wrong, but nobody is there to hear! Thankfully, we have some awesome liveaboard neighbors that I know will step in if there is an emergency while we are away. I just need to relax!

You’d think I would have seen this obsessiveness about the boat coming—just ask Scout, who has never been away from my side for more than three nights total since we adopted her over two years ago.

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Scout insists on being held like a toddler at every opportunity.

I am a self-professed crazy dog lady. She travels everywhere with us (hotels, planes, cars, boats, restaurants) and it never even occurs to us to leave her with a sitter. If my boat could shrink to 15lbs, you bet I’d pack her up and take her with us, too!

Love,

Taylor and Conor

 

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Much Ado About Nothing

Well folks, after all that preparation, the storm slowed down to nothing and never hit us. When Conor and I went to bed on Monday night, we fully expected to be woken up at 2am due to howling winds, but were instead greeted by gentle rain around 7am. Confused, we turned to each other like, “Did we miss it?”

A tiny part of me was actually looking forward to the learning experience of getting through our first storm, but that will have to wait. At least it was good practice getting the boat ready to take a beating.

Mother Nature can be so fickle. Our hearts and thoughts are with those in Houston right now, as they have just suffered the worst she has to offer. I continue to be amazed at the stories of resilience and survival I’ve read this past week, and saddened by the devastation. Why did it have to happen?

Love,

Taylor and Conor

Batten Down the Hatches

I’m taking a little break from preparing our boat to give you all a quick update about the first ‘real’ storm headed our way right now! There is currently a tropical storm making its way up from South Carolina that should hit sometime here in the next few hours. While this is nowhere near Harvey levels, I’m feeling a bit nervous.

Winds are looking to be about 45 mph, with gusts up to 60 mph. Flash flood warnings are in effect until tomorrow afternoon. The tide has already risen up higher than I’ve ever seen it, and I expect that the docks will be submerged at some point.

BUT the good news is that we are surrounded by boaters who have been through it all before. I’ve taken down our tarps and stowed away everything that could get blown away (cockpit cushions, etc). I’m topping off our water tanks and tucking away anything that could become a flying projectile if we get rockin’ and rollin’ tonight. We have two bow lines, two spring lines, and two stern lines secured, and the dockmasters will be patrolling the docks tonight checking on all the boats.

I’ll breathe easier once Conor gets home from work this afternoon. Thankfully, his command is understanding if he can’t get to Camp Lejeune tomorrow! I expect we will be wide-eyed all night. Gonna hunker down and ride it out–we’ll let you know how it goes.

Love,

Taylor and Conor

Pura Vida, Baby!

Today, I realized that it has been over two weeks since I updated the blog (gulp!)–time just got away from me!

These last few weeks I’ve focused on friends, community, and building a wonderful support network on side of the country. Conor was gone in 29 Palms for three weeks this August for an exercise (and just got back yesterday!), so that meant plenty of time for me to connect with friends, both old and new.

I’ve already made so many friends at our marina, people of all ages and at different stages in life: retired cruisers, veterans, parents with young children, and even fellow writers. Marina life is never lonely, and I always have to plan for 10-15 min extra time to get anywhere, as people always want to stop and chat on the docks. The staff always checks on me to see how I’m doing, and everyone is there to offer help/support/guidance. It really feels like a family. We all came together to celebrate Dawn this month, who has worked for NWC Marina for 25 years. Close to 100 people showed up, even people who no longer have boats at the marina but who just wanted to express their gratitude.

Scout and I also went on a road trip to Charleston, SC for my friend Bekah’s baby shower. We studied abroad in Costa Rica together almost six years ago and have kept in contact ever since. While we hung out over the weekend, it honestly felt like no time had passed since we were college students living the ‘Pura Vida’ life on the beach.

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From beach babes (circa 2011)…
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…to BABY!

I am SO excited for Bekah and her husband, and to meet ‘Little Man’ soon. I really believe that unique circumstances can forge unbreakable bonds between people, much like in the liveaboard community. We are all on an adventure together!

The craziest part was being in a house for the first time in months—everything felt so spacious and open. I woke up a couple of times in the night, wondering where the hell I was, why nothing was rocking, and why there was so much space above my head. I wondered if the boat would feel small when I returned from the weekend, and if I would have any regrets about our choice.

Not at all. Instead, I felt an overwhelming sense of returning ‘home’ after being away from the boat for the first time since we bought it. Any other way of life simply isn’t for me at the moment, which I was pretty sure of when we bought the boat, but now is beyond a doubt.

I will say, though, that home doesn’t feel complete unless Conor is here with me. Time away from your spouse is hard, whether it is for a 6 month deployment or just a summer exercise. I wish that we could set sail already and leave ‘grown-up’ responsibilities and time apart behind, but we still have to wait a few years for that.

Love,

Taylor and Conor

Staying Fit

There are 400 steps from the marina parking lot to our boat. Our slip is the very last one. Scout is walked 3-4x daily, with each potty trip clocking in around 1,800 steps round trip. Hauling groceries requires loading up a dock cart and trying to take a week’s worth of food onto the boat without going back for round 2. Laundry requires 3 trips up and down the docks: one to load up the wash, one to switch it to the dryer, and one to load it up and bring it back onboard. We also like to shower at the marina locker room most of the time. Trash and recycling is also all the way down at the dockmaster’s office. Tired yet?

Day-to-day living on a sailboat also necessitates a certain amount of agility. Ducking under the bimini while stepping on and off the boat (holding a squirming dog), climbing up and down the ladder steps into the cabin, body contortions to avoid hitting our head in our bedroom, trips to and from the cockpit to turn the gas on/off while cooking…eventually it becomes automatic. Our bi-weekly yoga classes and weightlifting schedule also keep us limber for our lifestyle. Not to mention the actual sailing part: arms, meet winch workout.

The goal on my Fitbit is 10,000 steps each day, but since living on our boat, I usually clock between 12,000 and 15,000 without even trying. I’m walking the docks in all kinds of weather, because life goes on regardless of how freaking hot or humid or stormy it gets. Is it kind of a pain? Yes, sometimes. But our bodies are made to move, and staying active keeps us healthy. So while some days I yearn for the ease of pulling my car into a garage and taking my bags 10 (covered) steps inside, I know this is better for me in the long run. Take my word for it: boat life will get you in great shape!

Love,

Taylor and Conor

All About Our Boat

I’m typing this as I sit in the cockpit of our new home, underneath the bimini cover, listening to the rain fall onto the marina. Neighboring boats are gently rocking, the only sound from them is an occasional echoing ring as lines sway into the mast. There are no pounding feet on the dock, no rumble of dock carts rolling past. Residents are cozy in their own little world, tucked away and waiting for the summer downpour to pass. I’ve got tasty raspberries on my left, Scout snuggled on my right, and I’m finally ready to introduce you to our beautiful boat.

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We chose a 2002 Catalina 380 that was kept in pristine condition by the previous two owners. The boat is 38 ft long, with a 4ft 10 in draft, making it shallow enough to sail comfortably almost anywhere we want to take it. It has an aft cockpit, so our master stateroom has a very low ceiling that we are adjusting to (and by adjusting to, I mean accidentally headbutting and then cursing loudly to numb the pain). There is an entrance to the head (bathroom) from our bedroom, as well as from the galley (kitchen). There is only one bathroom on board, but it has a separate stand-up shower and lots of counter space. I would much rather have one large bathroom than two small ones!

The galley has a three-burner stove, a small refrigerator/freezer, sink, and lots of counter space, but minimal storage that we will have to figure out the best use for. The settee (blue couches) make up the kitchen table area/living room. The table can drop down and an extra cushion put on to make a double bed for guests. There is also a TV, surround sound, and internal AC/heat throughout the interior. At the very front of the boat is the v-berth, which has its own door, separate sink, bed, and storage closet.

What drew us to this particular boat was the fact that it looked brand new. (It also lacked that gross boat smell that all the other used boats seemed to have, which I believe is indicative of neglected ‘under the surface’ issues) The layout of this boat makes it feel incredibly spacious on the inside, comparable to older boats that are 44+ ft. We thought, why pay for the extra maintenance/dock fees/upkeep on a bigger boat, when you can have everything you want in a more convenient size? We also realized that this was the boat for us because you can actually sail it single-handed. All the lines lead back to the cockpit, and there is an automatic mast furler! The winches are purposefully oversized, which is a great strength equalizer for male and female sailors, allowing everyone to be an active participant.

I truly believe that we found the best Catalina 380 on the market. It is currently cruising-ready (even if we aren’t!), equipped with fancy navigation, water-maker, and customized tiny comforts of home that are too numerous to list. Even though this boat was at the top of our budget, I’m so glad we did not get a fixer-upper. With our limited experience combined with jumping right into liveaboard life, it would have been too confusing to have things falling apart around us!

So without further delay, here are some photos! (Taken the day before in glorious afternoon sunshine)

 

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Looking down from the stairs
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Galley
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Navigation Station (and all of our manual binders stacked up)
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V-berth
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V-berth sink
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Master stateroom straight ahead, the closed door is the head
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Scout’s room, apparently

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Head w/ separate shower
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Cockpit (where we spend most of our time)

How to Buy and Live Aboard a Sailboat in Your 20s (with little experience)

In honor of moving aboard our Catalina 380 this weekend (!) this post is dedicated to the people who want to do the same thing, but don’t know how or where to start. Having just been through this 6 month process, here is a step-by-step list of how we did it. Keep in mind, we aren’t cruising yet! This is about living at a marina in the U.S.

(NOTE- This is a LONG technical post. If you’re looking for an update on “Conor and Tay’s Big Adventure”…hi Mom, hi Dad…it will be up tomorrow)

1) Take a sailing 101 class. Make sure you actually like sailing. If you hate it but like the simplicity of small living or dock life, think about a trawler.

2) Make sure you and your partner (if you have one) are on the same page. Go to your local boat show, and tour different models. How small are you willing to go? Which boats do you fit comfortably in? Are you a fan of catamarans or do you like the traditional feel of a monohull? What would you need to live day-to-day? And last but not least: what kind of use are you looking to get from your boat? Coastal cruising or bluewater?

3) Start saving money. You will need to put between 10-20% down on your boat. Also, a lot of extra fees will pop up, so leave some wiggle room. We saved 25% of our max boat budget. (Make a note: figure out your own max budget/expenses projected at least 3 years out)

4) Research marinas in your area. If you are west coast, you might have a harder time finding marinas that allow liveaboards (some only allow 10% of slips to be liveaboards). What is the wait list? In California, it was up to 10 years. Price to dock per foot of boat? Are the facilities nice? Is it a reasonable commute to work? It would really suck to buy a boat, only to find out that you can’t live on it! MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A PLACE TO PUT YOUR BOAT BEFORE YOU BUY IT!

5) If the stars are aligning and you’ve found your perfect marina, contact a local BUYERS boat broker. They work for you, like a real estate agent. DO YOUR RESEARCH. Look at sailing forums, see what people have to say about certain agencies or brokers. Call around, and find someone you mesh with. I decided on our broker based on his great reputation, his bio (lived aboard for 15 years—can’t beat that expertise!), and the fact that the brokerage company as a whole promised to help newbie buyers navigate a complicated process. I wanted someone who would be patient with us and answer questions we didn’t know we had. If you don’t get that vibe, look for a better broker. They’re honest and they’re out there, you just have to do the legwork.

6) Start getting rid of all of your shit. Donate it, sell it, store the important stuff with family—and even though you THINK you’ve downsized to your bare minimum, you will still have way to much. We downsized to a 7×7 POD (only half full, too!) and I’ve discovered we will only need about a third of it all. Once it is gone, you won’t miss it, I promise.

7) Remember what I said about the boat show? Make a list with your broker about your wants/likes. You can talk make/models, but if this is your first boat, keep an open mind. Then let him or her do their thing. Our broker came back with 3 solid choices, and 2 additional boats that he thought would be a good fit, even though they didn’t fit our minimum length requirement. Lo and behold, we went with the smallest boat!

8) Once you’ve found your dream boat, you’ll need financing. You will put an offer on the boat, making sure that the deal is CONTINGENT ON SECURED FINANCING and a SATISFACTORY SURVEY. This clause is important, because if you can’t get the money or your survey sucks, you can walk away from the deal. 10% of the boat cost will go into an escrow account (remember when I said to save money?) while you find someone to finance your boat. Such a large loan that is not a house is difficult for some credit unions and banks to wrap their heads around. If you’re younger like us, they will basically laugh at you. Be prepared to have someone older than you with a longer credit history cosign the loan. Our cosigner will never pay a CENT of our loan, but he was needed on the paperwork. We went with LIGHTSTREAM for financing, a division of Sun Trust Bank, because their rates were reasonable and they allow liveaboards.

9) Schedule a survey with a certified surveyor. This will include a thorough check of the boat’s internal and external systems, as well as a haul out to inspect the bottom/keel (Ding ding! Surprise fees! See my post about our survey for more details). Your boat broker and the current owners will accompany you for this. It is an excellent time to ask questions about the boat! What are her quirks? What is their favorite thing about her? If no major issues are found during the survey, then is no need to counter-offer back and forth with the current owners regarding your original offer.

10) Now for the tricky part—GETTING INSURANCE! We hit a snag on this one. Nobody wants to insure first time boat owners, especially when your boat is a lot of money and you want to live on it. Add in the fact that we have never actually sailed a boat this size, and we were in trouble. Forums will tell you all the time to just get regular boat insurance and not tell your insurance company that you live on it, but I refused to lie. I was not going to deal with the anxiety of a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, and plus, this blog would give us away in a heartbeat! WR HODGENS MARINE INSURANCE was willing to work with us, thankfully. They don’t care if you want to live aboard, and we were able to get insurance by adding in a “Captain’s Clause”. This was basically our promise to not take the boat off of the dock unless we were accompanied by a certified captain. Once we have fulfilled a certain number of private instruction hours on our boat, our captain will send in a letter to the insurance agency stating that we have enough experience to be on our own. Then voila! Restriction removed and we will be the sole operators of our vessel.

*Remember when applying that ALL boat experience is experience, even small powerboats. Every little bit counts.

11) Once you have insurance, then you wire the rest of the money into the escrow account, the old owners sign the paperwork, and you’re the proud new owner of your boat! Everybody wins.

12) MOVE ABOARD YOUR BOAT! The old owners (absolute saints that they are and knowing that we are newbies) left us a detailed manual on how things work (galley, head, AC., etc) that we’ve been slowly working our way through. Even the simplest tasks become so much harder on a boat! We’re learning, though, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Our first private lesson is next weekend, and until then, I’m just focusing on not hitting my head on everything.

Love,

Taylor and Conor

PS—If you have specific questions pertaining to your own situation, please feel free to email or comment and ask! I would love to help you out 🙂