How long did it take us to prepare to cruise?

We've been invited to give a talk on preparing to cruise at the 2010 Wauquiez Rendezvous in Port Townsend, WA and so I've been doing some reflecting on the issue.

It wasn't until February of 2009 that I was living on the boat, "retired", and working on it. Prior to that Carol (and when I visited I also) worked on "catch up" maintenance to keep on top of the systems and gear we already had. However, for the most part he was either away from the boat, settling into his new role at work or dealing with his move and I was living in Colorado. Using Feb 2009 as our starting to prep date would mean we prepped to cruise in 16 months. Overall I think this is a good ballpark.

That estimate is short because before February 2009 we had already accomplished some important getting ready to cruise tasks: 1) We had sold the house and rid ourselves of everything besides what would fit into a Honda Element, 2) We had taken a 5 day course on our own boat with an instructor and 3) We had read a gazillion books and online discussions.

However, 16 months is an overestimate in a sense because, frankly, we didn't work that hard most of the time. We played. We played A LOT. We went on trips, we climbed, we generally tried to keep preparing to cruise in its appropriate place in life -- "important but not THAT important". I wasn't working on the boat full time during those 16 months because I was also our "director of fun".

There have been a number of times when we made big pushes and boat work dominated our lives for a chunk of time. Just before the VICE (our quick jaunt into the ocean which I should write up at some point), we had a major almost month long push (too long) which involved installing both our bimini and our windvane, getting our electronic navigation and charting systems up, buying a liferaft and epirb (actually 2 x PLBs) and a long list of critical for coastal offshore safety items. But for the most part, it has been a big but not overwhelming part of any given month.

Keeping ourselves balanced within a month is important to me because one thing I learned after grinding myself down for 7 years during grad school was that delay of gratification for later reward is only OK for me at a minor level. I'm no longer willing to work hard for a long time for some ephemeral future. I want balance in my life now, or at least within this month. I use "one month" as a good amount of time to evaluate whether I'm falling back into my rut of delaying fun. Overdoing it is tolerable to some extent as long as I am doing too many fun things.

Plus, why does preparing to cruise have to be the painful part? For some people, on more limited timelines, the prep has to be compressed and so it becomes a necessary evil to be pushed through so that they can have more time to cruise before they have to return. But prepping is *exciting* when you stop and think about it and the more time I give myself to tackle a problem the more I am likely to enjoy it. We have the luxury of time that so many would give so much to have and so we are taking advantage of it.. If I feel like I have time to really understand the problem and to take each stage individually I can enjoy it. If I feel like I'm pushing then I get easily frustrated by the challenges that inevitably arise.

This is another reason we are cruising "around here" for the first 13 months. First of all, we have the luxury of living somewhere which is a world class cruising area and that is enough motivation on its own. But also, it allows us to have a firm date of departure from a dock, while simultaneously providing a steam release valve in the knowledge that most things don't have to be done because we can keep preparing as we go. We can cruise for a while before we decide what type of watermaker we want or the changes we want in the standing rigging.

I keep telling myself these things when I feel myself starting to get sucked into the vortex of cruising preparation freak out. I ask myself "are you having fun?" and usually, despite the stressball I am wrapping myself up into, I am. I ask myself "what happens if this isn't done" and the answer (now that we have new batteries which were our last must-have item) is "we leave June 15 anyways".

- Livia


We spent 10 days in Québec -- alternating between Montréal and my favorite small city in North America (so far), Québec City.

J'adore Québec City. If you want to travel to a European city without hopping the pond, go to Québec City. It is one of the oldest cities founded by Europeans on this continent and that, combined with the French, makes it feel like like a small French city.

We did not bring our camera but we were able to snag some photos with Carol's brother's camera.

We squeezed in some play time on this trip including a bicycle trip to the Montréal Grand Prix track where we started the race:
Montreal Grand Prix Start

And had the slowest best tire change ever in the pit:
Pit Stop

In Québec City I was introduced to the Bonhomme of the Winter Carnival:
Le Bonhomme

Finally we visited Falls #1 and Falls #2:
Les Chutes de Chaudiere

Les Chutes de Montmarcey

Trouble on the High Seas

A good friend asked me if we had some kind of real-time check in system when we are out on the high seas so that someone knows we are in trouble (if we are) and can come looking for us.

The answer is kind of yes and kind of no. Here is what I know so far on the topic.

First, checking in...

There are "check in" systems - most notably the radio nets that are operated by volunteers on land. Boats check in each day reporting position and the position can be published on a website. During those check ins there are all kinds of rules that I know about only from reading other people's blogs. We won't be using a check in net when we make the passage down the coast to CA and so all of this is too far away for us to have made time to learn about it. The rules are designed as a kind of triage - problems first, single handed boats get to check in before boats with more than one crew, etc. Being able to check in on one of these nets assumes our radio works, we know how to use it, we have the time to use it and our electrical-power system is working.

We also have the capacity to radio with other people and other boats (are any of our friends HAMs?), email, email-to-blog, etc while offshore. This assumes all of the above plus for the email our modem has to be working.

Not exactly a check in, but in an actual abandon ship emergency, we have two handy devices that we can trigger to send a distress signal with GPS coordinates to a satellite which relays the message to emergency services in the US. Emergency services has our coordinates and can route traffic in the area to look for us. Quite a few people have been picked up in this scenario particularly when you are in a relatively normal shipping area, even far out at sea. With that being said, it isn't something to count on by any stretch.

Now the other part, if we fail to check in, what happens? What should friends and family do?

NOTHING.  If we have an electrical short or if our radio gets a little salt water on it, it could stop working. The odds are that if we drop off the radio/email world that our radio is broken. Nothing else. We would have to be way, way past our due date for anyone to assume something had gone wrong because long passages can be unpredictable and could easily take much longer than expected. If we abandoned ship or are otherwise in trouble, we will (hopefully) have triggered our call to the satellite. If we haven't done so, there isn't a whole heck of a lot anyone can do.

What is the moral of this story for us?

Crossing oceans in small craft is potentially dangerous and the safety net is thin. If you get in a bad place you need to figure a way to get yourself out of it. Don't expect rescue and preparation is key. With that being said, thousands of small boats, much less prepared, well built than ours and with less safety equipment, successfully cross oceans every year. It's not rocket science.

Did I scare you Mom?

Don't worry. Although I don't want to spend too much of my time in front of a computer during the experience of an ocean crossing, I'm sure that I will want to connect with people. But the important point is, if all of sudden there is silence the most likely thing is that the radio isn't working. Because of the installation it isn't really realistic for us to carry two complete systems -- meaning there isn't a back up.

And ultimately all of this is years from now...our first 7-10 day passage won't be until summer of 2011 and the biggie, the Pacific crossing is in 2012 at the earliest, probably 2013 if we spend a year in Mexico.

- Livia

Blog Myth #42

Myth: I don't want to comment because I don't want to intrude.

Are there bloggers out there who don't enjoy comments from random people they don't know?

I'm sure they exist but they have to be in the minority. As far as I can tell, comments are tokens of sweet blog love. Comments tell writers that someone is listening, that their audience isn't in their imagination, that people care.

You, dear readers, are great commenters. Thank you for the reinforcement.

- L

This is a test

This is only a test - of the scheduled blog update system.

This last week has been a great test of scheduled posting. I usually write a bunch of posts at once -- when I am inspired to write and/or when I'm downloading pictures from the camera. Rather than post a bunch of entries on a single day, I post-date the posts using Blogger's scheduling feature. At any point over the past few months I have had a half dozen posts pre-written and scheduled for the coming week. I can insert a timely post as I wish, simply moving the post for that date until a later date.

We left unexpectedly last week and, because of the scheduled posts, the blog kept marching on without us. It was funny to reply to emails from good friends saying "sorry I've been offline" and know that they probably had seen new posts on our blog.

This feature will be nice in the future when I write a bunch of posts while offline at anchor (i.e., on Microsoft Live Writer). I can upload the batch of posts and they will dole themselves out as scheduled rather than having 10 new posts show up on one day. For whatever reason I prefer regularity of posting in blogs I read rather than binge posting and I assume others are like me.

I don't mind the fact that the posts are not dated on the exact dates that they occurred. This log is for our personal pleasure, and to connect with family, friends and friends-to-be, not the authorities. We have an official log book on board.

Oh, and I wrote this post on April 17 :)

- Livia

Howdy Pardner

John Wayne was a yachtie - who knew?


After spending that blustery night on a mooring in Sequim during which we chafed a line clear through we went into the John Wayne Marina where we had a reciprocal (i.e., free moorage through our yacht club) to visit with my folks.

John Wayne had a boat called the Wild Goose and apparently loved cruising around Sequim. The marina was built on land donated by his family after his death.

Another interesting thing about the marina is that the restaurant is quite good. Many marinas in our area have tasty, NW influenced pub fare (e.g., a salmon burger with wasabi mayo), but this restaurant was much better even than that. I had an excellent bouillabaise and they even have one of my favorite local brews - Manny's - on tap.

The docks were nice. We didn't use the showers but they were sparkling clean. The folks on the docks were friendly. I'm not sure that we'll end up in Sequim again but if we do, and want to stay at a marina, we would stay there.

Let there be (low amp) light!

Our original fixtures have festoon bulbs and made finding LED bulbs that fit a bit tricky. We finally found some high power LED festoon bulbs that came in warm white (not that cold blue white) from SuperBrightLEDs.

Why? Well, our original fixtures took about 1.2 Amps (12 VDC) per hour and these take .1 for the 2 x 3 LED light fixtures and .2 for the 2 x 6 LED  light fixtures. I can now run the brightest lights in the house for 6 hours for the power it took to run the old ones for 1 hour.

We were indecisive for a long time because we don't use lights that much, for that long now and so although the proportional saving is great, we calculated that if we use two lights for 2-3 hours (more than we usually do because we like our oil lamp - but that comes with its own cost, hauling fuel for it) we were only saving 3 Amp hours per day total.

We bought the 3 and 6 LED versions and tested them out. After being indecisive and then forgetting about it for about 6 months, we finally bought enough to change out all 11 original fixtures in the boat. We put 2 x 3 LED bulbs in 9 of them and 2 x 6 LED bulbs in two areas - over the kitchen and over half of the salon table near the kitchen.

What ultimately put us over the edge was the emotional component. In the dead of the winter up here when we get so little sun, we can light up a bunch of lights without stressing. That, right there, made the decision for us. It is a small amount of money compared to what you spend on boat stuff for a significant change in our style of living - DONE.

I don't have any way of testing but I believe that the 2 x 6 LED lights approximate the light from the original bulbs in strength with a slightly flatter, more shadowy flavor.

Calling all single women

I think instead of online dating, single women should switch to on-water dating. Every forum I read is full of single male sailors looking for women who would be interested in sailing with them on weekends and maybe, just maybe taking off cruising with them on vacations if not longer.

Yes, yes, "the odds are good, but the goods are odd". This is true in any group of people but I admit that you are likely to need to weed through the group to find a diamond in the rough.

And yes, yes, it is a bad idea if the woman is not already outdoorsy and I'm definitely not suggesting faking interest in boating.

Still, as a favor to the single male sailors out there who are looking (and of course not all of them are), I suggest that the single women out there who lament the lack of unmarried men consider that there is a large pool of them in the sailing community.

Volunteer to crew at a local race and find out.

- Livia

The Good Show Award (continued)

I would like to publicly bestow two Good Show Awards.

To Steve, a fellow Pretorien owner, who sent us his old original light fixtures so we could repair two of our broken ones, and then repeatedly ignored my attempts to pay him, GOOD SHOW.

To my parents who have gone beyond the call of duty in by assisting us in carrying and installing our new 450 lbs of  batteries in the boat yoga space that is underneath the aft cabin, GOOD SHOW.

Going Solar

These last few months are a landslide of big decisions and projects finally coming to fruition. First alternator and then batteries, SSB installation in progress, and now we have purchased our solar panels for the top of our bimini.

We purchased two Sharp 80 Watt panels and one Kyocera 85 Watt panel. Why those? Good brands both, but more importantly, we wanted to fit as much wattage as we could on top of the bimini without spilling over the edges. It is much less expensive to go with fewer, larger panels than more, smaller panels because you are paying for the frame and construction 3 times and that is a large part of the cost. But the cost is worth it to us to have the extra energy incoming every day.

We also purchased a Blue Sky 2512iX MPPT charge controller. This is what we use to connect the solar panels to our batteries to charge them.

The 245 total watts should give us approximately 80 Amp hours DC on average once we get further South which is our current electrical usage. We expect to use closer to 150 ultimately, when running the fridge in the tropics and using our SSB for weather and email.

I will report back when I install them and then again when we've used them for a while.

- Livia

The Good Show Award

We have instituted a new tradition on SV Estrellita 5.10b called “The Good Show Award” also known as  “A Gold Star”. It started out as an award for refilling something, such as sugar or tissue paper, that we had run out of in the “smaller, easily available storage” and refilling it from the “larger, more difficult to access stockpile”. The award has evolved so that it can be earned from any gross, annoying or painful boat job.

In a house there is very little excuse to not refill something if you use the last of it. However, on the boat there legitimate reasons because of the time and boat yoga required to get something out. If Carol uses the last of the sugar when he is getting ready for work, he really might NOT have time to refill it. If I use the last bit of a roll of paper towels, I may NOT have time to dig out the new roll.

Furthermore, anything you start on the boat may develop into a much larger task than you planned.

For example, last week I went to get out a box of tissue paper from underneath the shelves I posted about in such detail. This involved pulling the bottom layer of cubes out, lifting the shelf partially up (it doesn’t come out completely unless the top shelf and cubes are out too) and digging my hand underneath to a heavy duty trash bag which protects a stash of paper goods.

As I pulled out the cubes I found some small mildew dots where the cubes had managed to shove aside the plastic “waffle style” panels I had put against the rfoil to stop any direct contact. So, on my way to the box of tissue paper, I had to pull out all of the cubes, both of the shelves, clean the cubes, pull out the big trash bag, and clean it. Upon removing the bag, I saw a few inches of water at the bottom. So then, I also had to mop up the water at the bottom of the storage area. Finally, I bleach cleaned the entire area, dried everything, and put everything back together.

And then, we had tissue…and I earned a Good Show Award.

My blog menu

I use Google's feed reader on both my personal email and our boat email accounts. I keep my personal feed reader to good friends and on our boat feed reader I have a ton of sailing blogs, some of which are people I now know virtually.

So what's on my plate?

People cruising internationally:
Distant Shores
Soggy Paws*
Third Day

Siempre Sabado

People cruising locally:

News and etc:
Boat Bits
The Vendee Globe - Even thought the Vendee Globe isn't until 2012, I have their official news site.

Can you tell what we're dreaming of? All of the boats with asterisks are either currently crossing the Pacific, just did, or are about to.

500 Amps!

You would think that a sail boat blog would have more sailing in it. Or at least pretty 'at anchor' and beach/island exploration photos


I guess I should console myself with the fact that we are getting out for at least one long weekend a month in our last few months of preparations.

Here is how we fit a 500 Amp hour house battery bank plus a 100 Amp start battery underneath the aft cabin berth in a Pretorien.

Because these are AGMs* we can lay them on their side or in our case, one on end. All are in battery boxes for support and to tie them down in case we get knocked over, but only the factory original box has a lid. We have the lids and are going to see which ones we can modify and still fit on top of the box to protect the batteries from any condensation drips etc.

This leaves the most forward of the areas under that berth for the other electrical system stuff that is already installed there (charger, monitor, parallel switch, etc) and a bit of storage.

Carol was the champion electrician and during the install I was just the pack mule.

I cannot wait to fully enjoy this battery bank at anchor. Unfortunately because we are in crunch time, that probably won't be until the first weekend of June at the annual 2010 Wauquiez Rendezvous, and then shortly thereafter, while cruising.

- Livia

* As noted previously, the Sears Diehard Platinum batteries we bought are a repackaged version of the Odyssey batteries. Specifically, they are Odyssey's PC2150.

At dawn’s early light

I hate getting up before first light but I do love seeing the sun rise while under sail. These photos are from on our trip over the windy Easter weekend out of Victoria, across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Port Angeles and then Sequim. We had a great sail there and on the return we had one of our favorite sailing days so far. 20-25 knots of true wind behind us, main sail only (with a preventer) – lovely.


Younger cruisers

Let's be clear. We aren't young by any means, but if you look around an anchorage in our area in the summer, usually the only people younger than us are the children or grandchildren of the boat owners.

Carol and I were talking last week and I realized that the virtual world might be fooling me into thinking that there are a lot of our-age cruisers out there.

In my google feed reader I have a selection of cruisers in our age range -ish and by connecting with them virtually I feel like there are a lot of us. Plus, there is one boat of our age friends that left last year and another boat leaving this year. I even wonder if perhaps there is a resurgence of younger cruisers. There (apparently) were more in the 70s than the last 20 years.

On one hand, it doesn't matter. Our cruising friends are all ages. Like other sub-cultures I've been involved in (e.g., swing dancing or rock climbing) age has a way of fading in the face of shared interests. But on the other hand, there is something about meeting people who are doing what you are doing who are also like you on some dimension (e.g., female rock climbers) that is inspiring and comforting.

Good Press

The Interview With A Cruiser Project is front page news at Three Sheets NW.

Deborah interviewed me over the weekend while we were waiting out the storm and the article is very well done. It is fun to see our story made "news style".

At the same time the project is also today's story on Bob's Boat Bits! (Thanks Bob)

I received two new interviews back today from people in very different parts of the globe and I just find the whole thing so exciting.

- Livia

Shelving It

We had three sets of hanging lockers in our boat: one in the v-berth (master bedroom), a big one in the main living area across from the head, and one in the aft cabin.

For us, they are a waste of space. This is the large hanging locker in the main living area which I painstakingly lined with rFoil using double-sided contractor-strength rug taped with insulating tape on top to the hull.

Hanging locker pre-shelves

The rFoil has helped with condensation a little - not enough for me to recommend it to anyone. Thankfully we only have one more (planned) winter up here and the condensation will go away when we get South...until we end up somewhere with chilly water again.

But I digress.

I measured, cut and installed shelves for two of the hanging lockers before running out of good weather. Over two other good weather windows, Carol cut the remaining shelves and I painted everything.

Then we realized we needed to cut finger/ventilation holes in them which we did and I repainted the holes.

Removing wood chips

Repainting after holes

We bought a bunch of Mountainsmith Travel Cubes which we use to organize our clothing and to keep it from getting "boat smell".

Mountainsmith Cubes

We can fit 6 cubes on the two shelves with room for a big bag of less regularly needed goods beneath the bottom shelf. Right now we have a big bag of paper goods in there but that will probably be changed to spares because it is a good, low center of gravity and central storage place.

Mountainsmith Cubes

This creature comfort addition has made a big change in our daily lives, removing one more layer of stress from living on a boat. I can find my clothes. I have room for plenty. They don't get damp and they smell like laundry detergent when they come out of the cube. When we need to access the items below, the cubes are much easier to unload and reload than stacks of clothing.

I (heart) our cubes.

- Livia

Hunkered down in Sequim

We initially wanted to go to Port Townsend this weekend but we could not clear customs there on Thursday so, knowing we had to make a detour to Port Angeles, we were unsure if we would make it farther than Sequim (pronounced Squim not like sequin). As we sailed the weather forecast became more and more intense and we started focusing on Sequim for at least the first night. A nice guy at the Port Angeles dock even came over to ask us if we knew about the weather warning while we were waiting for customs to clear us.

Sequim is a little smaller than Port Townsend (less room for a fetch to build), has protection from all sides, has mooring buoys, an anchorage and a marina. A lot of options sounded like a good thing.

It turns out that although Sequim is relatively protected, the worst of the wind was guessed it...right here.

We have seen mostly 20 knots plus since we arrived with hours of closer to 30 and occasional gusts to 40. The waves are difficult to photograph but they built up some energy at various points. We put two docklines through the mooring buoy ring and got up every few hours (by accident, not design) to check on a new noise and check on the lines for chafe while we were up.

Good thing because we chafed clear through one thick dockline during a sustained 30knot period. We now have 3 lines. Anyone have a good idea for chafe gear for a mooring buoy? You can't really reach down to the buoy to position leather or plastic hose or anything. We have considered switching to anchoring and might yet although things seem to be calming down as the wind veers to S and it is supposed to go to West which is our best protection angle (we are hugging the W Shore).

All is well. Our full enclosure is the bomb. I'm typing in it during a monsoon right now and I've spent hours up here today watching our position and the wind and the lines, all the while relatively warm and completely dry.

Tomorrow we are meeting up with the folks for lunch here at the John Wayne Marina. Yes, you heard me correctly. Apparently John Wayne was a sailor who liked to visit the PNW and donated the land for the marina to the State of Washington.

- Livia


The Wirie (long range wireless antenna) is great. I am connected to a station 1.5nm away and surfing the net while at anchor waiting for a storm...

Mixed company

I am very excited about two projects I'm working on (SSB & Solar panels) but I've been dreading actually going out and buying supplies. Driving around trying to describe and locate various unusual items isn't exactly fun but my desire to avoid it was out of proportion with the task.

It finally dawned on me that over time I have been conditioned to dislike hardware stores.

Most of the time I meet helpful people and after the initial discomfort of me trying to describe what I need with my hands and without all of the correct vocabulary, most of the time I have a good experience or at least a neutral experience. I would say that nearly 100% of my interactions with younger male salespeople and female salespeople have been positive and maybe 7 out of 10 times I have very helpful and educational interactions with older male salespeople, yet it is the remaining 3 of 10 times that stand out in my memory. I dread the errands days because I know that in a day when I am running around to those types of stores that I will run into a memorable few older men who are either dismissive and rude, passively aggressively rude or patronizingly rude.

I suspect that those men are rude to a lot of people, including men, and I certainly can't rule out that there is something about me as an individual that is evoking it, but I can't help but feel that they are more often rude to me because I'm female.

I can't imagine the crusty dude at Capital Iron telling my husband Carol that he really shouldn't consider doing his own solar panel install because the "wind can be very strong and dangerous so you need a professional". Yet he did just tell me that, as if I needed a reminder about the power of the wind.

There is also something about a hardware store that is like a beauty salon. The hardware store is a male place where men feel free to talk about women in ways they don't normally in mixed company just like women feel free to talk about men at beauty salons in ways they don't normally in mixed company. Although I'm thick skinned about gender wars and a (I think) a good sport, when a group of sales men are laughing with a customer about how you can't bring any women aboard or you will need an inverter, I feel awkward stepping up to their circle to ask my questions about GTO-15 wire.

There are ways where being a woman in a hardware store can be advantageous (friends swear that they only get a discount when the woman buys the goods from the local chandlery) and I love aisles full of shiny boat toys, the smell of grease and the smell of freshly cut lumber. I am, after all, the daughter of a carpenter. So, it is doubly a bummer that I also find those places to be occasionally negative.

- Livia

PS - Carol overheard how the local marine chandlery dude talked to me on the phone one night (talking over me, not letting me speak, telling me I was wrong and implying that I didn't know what I really wanted) and said that he was surprised I hadn't punched him in the face. Not that either of us are the punching type.

The next day Carol went in to pick something up and the dude told him that he (the dude) had been wrong and I had been right the previous evening on the phone.



Click on the dollar and buy Livia and Carol a cold frosty one:


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