The 80 Percent Rule

cheeky monkey fountaine pajot helia 44

Having spent the last seven years on an older (1986) sailboat, which has required us to replace pretty much every moving part on board (some of them twice), I’ve been feeling pretty darned smug about our new boat, s/v Cheeky Monkey. I mean, she is three weeks old. Three weeks! I have underwear older than this boat. Wait, what am I saying? Everything I have is older than this boat.

Which means, surely, we get to start this round-the-world journey with a 100% fully working, totally functioning boat, right?


When we first started cruising south from New York to the Caribbean in 2012, someone wisely told me if we could get 80% of our boat in working order, then we were good to go; the stats didn’t get any better than that. This turned out to be true, as we often found ourselves leaving ports with just 60% of the boat working, granted that 60% included the engine and the bilge pumps. But if we were trying to get 100% of the boat working before we left the dock, then we could forget about ever leaving the dock.

Little did I know this rule applies to new boats, as well.

You’re probably thinking that’s crazy. Surely, Fountaine-Pajot would not hand over a brand new boat from the factory that wasn’t 100% perfect, right?

Wrong again.

Unfortunately, buying a new boat isn’t quite like buying a new car. It’s a lot more complicated. There is stuff the factory is responsible for and there’s stuff the sales agent is responsible for. And sometimes messages get lost in the quadrangle between the customer, the factory, the agent and the people who are hired to do the post-factory work.

If this were a new car then, yes, it would be absolutely insane to pick up your brand new Mercedes Benz and be told, as the dealer hands you the keys, “She’s all yours! Oh, but there’s a few things I should mention…the driver’s side door handle fell off when we installed the door. We don’t have any more in stock at the moment, but when the factory gets back from vacation in a month, we’ll ship a new one out to you, no problem. Also, the speedometer was working yesterday, but now it’s not. Not sure why. But hey, check out the custom lighting! Pretty snazzy, huh?”

Then you stick your head through the window of your brand new Mercedes to look around and, as you are breathing in the pungent new car smell, you see a big blank space on the dashboard where you know there should be buttons. “But where is the stereo?” You ask, confused.

“Stereo?” The dealer says, putting on his glasses and opening up a folder. He scans your order from top to bottom. “Are you sure you ordered a stereo? I don’t see anything in the paperwork about a stereo.”

“What do you mean?” You say in a high-pitched voice. “I didn’t just get the V8 engine, the expensive leather upholstery, the custom lighting package and NOT get the stereo! Who buys a car without a stereo?!”

“Sorry, but the factory didn’t get that information,” the dealer says. “But, don’t worry. It looks like we didn’t charge you for it, so you can get that installed yourself. No problem.”

You sigh heavily as you climb through the passenger-side door and into the driver’s seat of your brand new Mercedes, all the while admiring the blue lighting and soft leather as you start the engine to drive home in silence…because you have no stereo.

That would be crazy, yes.

But boats are a totally different beast. Your stereo order could get lost (or, in our case, the freezer order), some of the instruments might not work, and it wouldn’t diminish the ecstasy you experience when you step into the cockpit of your shiny new boat for the first time, knowing this is your home for an epic round-the-world adventure.

What I’m saying is, yes, the mistakes have been a little irritating, but so much of this Helia 44 has turned out so wonderfully (including Ryan’s crazy blue lighting), that it seems like a relatively small inconvenience to deal with the few repairs and installations we’ll have to do later on down the line.

blue underwater lighting on cheeky monkeyThe blue lighting is, quite possibly, Ryan’s favorite feature on Cheeky Monkey.

Also, we could hang around La Rochelle for another three weeks, waiting for the boatyard workers to return from their month-long vacation so we can get everything in working order before we head south. But we’re way too impatient for that. There is a weather window opening up in few days’ time that will allow us to get across the Bay of Biscay in one calm, downwind shot, and we’re planning to take it. After all, this boat is more than 80% ready.

Weather Grib Bay of BiscayWe’re looking at leaving either Wednesday or Thursday for a 300-mile sail.

So, let’s talk about what’s broken, what’s mysteriously not working and what’s not yet installed on s/v Cheeky Monkey and how these items stack up on our list of priorities for our journey south.

Freezer status: Missing

Priority rating: Low to medium
Annoyance rating: Medium

This is like the missing stereo in the fictitious Mercedes Benz. When we found out our order for a freezer was never placed with the factory, we were like, “But who buys a brand-new cruising boat and doesn’t get the freezer?!”

We’ve kitted out this boat for a round-the-world trip with 900 watts of solar panels, a watermaker, air conditioners, washer/drier, ice-maker, blue underwater lighting and a generator large enough to power all of the above, so it seems inconceivable that, when running through our list of orders, someone thought, “So they want underwater lighting and a washer/drier, but they don’t want the freezer. Sure, that makes sense.”

helia solar panelsThere’s a reason why we’ve powered this boat to the gills. For things like freezers and ice-makers.

The good news is we have an enormous fridge on board, so the lack of a freezer is not going to prevent us from leaving the docks of La Rochelle. It’s just that we would like to get our freezer installed some time before we cross the Atlantic, as we know what it’s like to sail through the Doldrums. It’s hot, it’s slow and the food gets worse the longer you’re out there. But having a freezer to store fresh meat and other goodies in it can change that considerably.

Now we just have to figure out where and when we’ll get it installed. Which is why the annoyance rating is “medium”.

Water speed / depth transducer status: Stopped working

Priority rating: Medium
Annoyance rating: Low

When we took Cheeky Monkey out for her sea trial, we noticed we were no longer getting a reading on the water speed. This didn’t seem like a big deal because the GPS was working and so we could go by our speed over ground.

But then we noticed the figures for true wind speed and apparent wind speed were exactly the same, which was definitely not right. Something was off, and we think the problem is our apparent wind speed is connected to our water speed, not our GPS speed, and this is what is throwing off the apparent wind figures, rendering them useless.

We don’t know why the water speed gauge stopped working suddenly — it could be algae growth on the hull, which we’ll have to get in the water to have a look at. But this is probably easy enough to fix before we leave France, and even if it doesn’t get fixed, it won’t keep us here.

port du plaisance la rochelle franceThe view from the marina in Les Minimes is lovely. But it’s time to go.
Ice maker: Broken

Priority status: Low (unless you’re Ryan, who puts this high on his list)
Annoyance rating: High

Once upon a time, there was an Englishman named Ryan who dreamed of making frozen cocktails at anchor with his very own supply of ice. And his face lit up like the underside of an Essex boy’s car when he found out that Fountaine-Pajot offered a post-factory option for an ice-maker in the cockpit.

Every morning, when the workmen appeared on Cheeky Monkey, Ryan would ask, “Has the ice-maker arrived?” And every day, the workmen would say, “Not yet.”

Until, finally, one day, the ice-maker arrived. And the workmen smiled broadly as they told Ryan, “It’s here!”

Ryan clapped and laughed and spent the whole day hanging around the cockpit so that when the ice-maker was finally installed, he could be the first person to turn it on and try it out.

Except when Ryan turned on the ice-maker for the first time, nothing happened. So he sat and stared at it for hours, hoping maybe it just needed some time to warm up (or cool down). But no matter how many times Ryan turned the ice-maker off and on again, it never produced any ice. So, after the workmen finally gave up and left for the day, Ryan just stared at his ice-maker like a little boy who had been given a toy car with no wheels.

ryan ice maker fountaine pajot helia 44A picture of heart-break as the sun is starting to go down.

When the workmen arrived the next morning, the glum look on Ryan’s face told them the ice-maker still wasn’t working. So they took the ice-maker apart and examined all the inner components carefully. Which is how they discovered the factory had delivered a broken machine — it had a small, but crucial plastic part inside that someone had snapped off and tried to glue back on. But, worse, there was no spare ice-maker to replace the broken ice-maker with.

Try being the guy who tells the little boy his favorite toy car will never work. That’s what it was like for the guy who had to tell Ryan his machine would never make ice. Instead, they’d have to order us a new ice-maker in a month or two when the manufacturer opened for business again.

The End. For now. (Ryan does not give up so easily.)

Garmin Autopilot: Not working

Priority rating: Extremely high
Annoyance rating: Extremely high

Talk about saving the worst for last: If there’s anything I’ve learned from our consistently broken nemesis of a Raymarine autopilot on Hideaway, it’s that sailing long distances with only two crew and no autopilot is about as fun as watching Ryan stare down a broken ice-maker for four hours.

I can deal with a broken autopilot when it happens in the moment and when I have no choice but to keep hand-steering towards the next port. But I’m not leaving port knowing our autopilot isn’t working.

So this problem? It needs to get fixed. And we’ve got two, maybe three days to make that happen if we want to catch this weather window out of here.

We’ve got favorable winds coming up this week, which should last for 5-6 days, giving us enough time to comfortably cover the 300 nm or so we’d like to cover before we reach Cape Finisterre.

Sure, the last time I sailed off the coast of Finisterre, I didn’t have an autopilot and I was surfing downwind with the spinnaker up at speeds of 25 to 30 knots on Henri Lloyd during the Clipper Race, in some of the wildest weather I’d ever seen in my life.

henri lloyd clipper race cape finisterreNot the kind of conditions I want to see from s/v Cheeky Monkey.

But that was on a 70-foot racing yacht with 22 crew on board.

Ryan and I are a crew of two in the kind of boat I’m not looking to push the limits on. I will not be surfing down waves at 30 knots and I sure as hell will not be sailing for three days with no autopilot, if it can be helped.

Tomorrow we will find out the verdict: will our autopilot get us to Spain? Or will we continue to stare at our broken ice-maker for another week in La Rochelle? Stay tuned.

diy cheeky monkey boat decalI’m not counting our boat decals in the missing 20%. Electrical tape will have to do for now.

Testing the Parasailor

parasailor cheeky monkey turf to surf

Ryan and I are both visibly stressed when we arrive to Pierre’s office at Uchimata Sailing Services. We’ve been running through everything that needs to get done on Cheeky Monkey before Pierre’s team of workers finish at noon tomorrow to go on vacation for a month, along with the rest of France. I am holding a scrawled list of outstanding work items and Ryan is glancing at his watch every few minutes because we also have to get to the chandlery before it closes.

“Don’t worry,” says Pierre. “We are on schedule. We have the sea trials in the morning and that’s it. Everything else is done.”

Ryan is shaking his head. “But when are we getting our training with the Parasailor?”

Pierre shrugs. “We can do it during the sea trial tomorrow.”

Ryan rolls his eyes and sighs. “Pierre, your guys are finishing for the day at twelve o’clock tomorrow. When we talked about buying the Parasailor from you I was promised a day of training. Not half an hour.”

Pierre looks surprised. “But this is not a problem. This is easy. A 70-year-old woman hoisted her Parasailor for the first time last week all by herself. There is nothing to learn.”

I can see the look of irritation on Ryan’s face and I know he’s thinking we should have bought our Istec Parasailor directly from the vendor, as they guaranteed a full day of training with the sail purchase. Neither Ryan nor I have ever used a symmetrical spinnaker before and the spinnakers we used on the Clipper Race were asymmetrical, not to mention they required much more than two sets of hands to hoist and drop. I knew it wouldn’t be as complicated as wooling (tying little strings every foot or so for the length of the rolled-up sail) and packing this spinnaker like we did on the race, but I still had no idea how to use this thing.

Parasailor in the bag turf to surfOur Parasailor isn’t much good in this bag; we need to learn to use it.

The last thing we want, after spending thousands of dollars on this amazing new piece of sail technology, is to find we lack the confidence we need to use it. Hence why we are keen to get proper training with the sail and not just be told, “It’s easy, no problem.”

We did a lot of research on the German-made Parasailor before we bought it and talked to cruisers who used them. One guy told us he crossed the Atlantic single-handed on his catamaran and the Parasailor was the best thing he’d bought other than his extra large freezer (understandable, as he was a chef). Apparently, he hoisted the sail a few days into his trip and didn’t touch the sheets again for two solid weeks.

Unlike other symmetrical spinnakers, which are temperamental and tricky to use short-handed, the set-up of the Parasailor and the “snuffer,” the sock-like tube used to bring the sail down, makes it really easy to operate. Also, it can be used as a symmetrical or an asymmetrical spinnaker, giving it a huge range; it can sail between 70 and 180 degrees to the wind and in wind speeds of up to 25-30 knots.

The design of the “wing” in the middle of the Parasailor is the thing that really sets this downwind sail apart from other spinnakers. The shape of the wing, which is the flap-like opening in the sail, and the angle at which the air flows through it means, just like an airplane wing, the air on the surface of the wing accelerates faster than the air beneath it. The pressure created by these aerodynamics literally sucks the wing upwards and stabilizes the whole sail, making it difficult to collapse by mistake.

There are also a few other effects of the genius engineering behind the Parasailor wing, which apparently increase propulsion and efficiency, despite the fact that there is a big hole in the sail, letting airflow escape. But I would be lying if I claimed to understand aerodynamics enough to explain it. Let’s just say this thing makes us go faster in a tailwind than with a normal spinnaker, and leave it at that.

Basically, everything we’ve read about this sail tells us it has the potential to be our favorite piece of kit for a round-the-world journey with the tradewinds. But that still doesn’t change the fact that we don’t know how to use the thing.

“We’ll put the Parasailor up tomorrow and you will see,” says Pierre. “It’s really easy even with just one person.”

Ryan looks doubtful but he shrugs. We don’t have a choice at this stage. France is literally shutting down for a month and whatever doesn’t get done before tomorrow will have to be taken care of later on down the line. This is it. Cheeky Monkey is as ready as she’ll ever be to leave France.

In the morning Pierre shows up with four guys to take Cheeky Monkey off the dock and out to sea to test the instruments, calibrate the autopilot and try the new spinnaker rigging, which was installed yesterday.

uchimata team preparing spinnakerPierre and his team, running the lines for our Parasailor.

For the last few days, Ryan and I have been walking around the boat, testing every switch, plug, and piece of equipment to see if they work the way they should. And we approach this day out on the water with the same test review mentality — we rig the sheets to make sure we understand the spinnaker block set-up, particularly since this sail has two sheets on either side, one active and one lazy sheet. And we watch carefully as Uchimata’s guys pull the lines on the snuffer to uncover the sail. The snuffer gets raised smoothly, with only a momentary snag, and within minutes of tying the sheets on, our beautiful yellow sail is flying.

parasailor sheets cheeky monkey turf to surfThere are active and lazy sheets on both the port and starboard sides.

I chose the colors for the Parasailor and the genniker, so the first thing I notice when the sail is hoisted is that there are gray stripes on the Parasailor, though it is meant to be 100% yellow. I mention it to Ryan and we both shrug — we’re so excited to see the spinnaker flying, we don’t actually care what color it is. We’re not sending this thing back.

“She’s beautiful!” I say, smiling.

cheeky monkey parasailor fountaine pajot helia 44You’ll see us coming for miles with this thing flying.

Pierre’s team drop the snuffer and are about to bag up the sail when Ryan steps in and tells them we need to have a little practice hoisting and dropping the sail with just two of us.

Ryan and I follow the sheets back through the blocks to understand how to set the spinnaker up and, by hand, Ryan tugs the halyard attached to the long gray snuffer sock and raises the sail easily to the top of the mast. Once the halyard is raised, I tug on the snuffer lines to raise the sock, allowing the Parasailor to billow out of the bottom of the snuffer and catch the wind. There is a slight snag when the snuffer reaches the extra folds of the wing, the small piece of sail that flies above the opening, but we get around it by dropping the snuffer a little and then pulling the lines again until the brim of the snuffer reaches the very top.

The whole process takes less than five minutes and requires no sweating, grunting, shouting or panicking. As Pierre said, it’s easy. And there really isn’t much to practice.

It’s so simple, the 10 steps go just like this:

Parasailor sail bag cheeky monkeyStep #1: Hoist sail bag out of locker and onto foredeck. Step #2: Tie sail bag down to trampoline.
parasailor halyard cheeky monkeyStep #3: Attach halyard to head of Parasailor.
run sheets parasailor cheeky monkeyStep #4: Run sheets through blocks back to cockpit. Step #5: Attach guys and sheets to Parasailor.
ryan parasailor cheeky monkeyStep #6: Raise halyard. Step #7: Raise snuffer. Step #8: Stand back and admire.
taking photos of parasailorStep #9: Take pictures for Facebook.
tasha cheeky monkey turf to surfStep #10: Stress-free sailing all the way.

And then dropping the sail is as simple as this:

easy snuffer parasailor cheeky monkey fountaine pajot heliaStep #1: Ease the sheets. Step #2: Drop the snuffer.
drop halyard parasailor cheeky monkeyStep #3: Drop and remove halyard.
bag up parasailor cheeky monkey turf to surfStep #4: Remove sheets. Step #5: Feed Parasailor into bag, leaving head on top.
bagging up parasailor on cheeky monkeyStep #6: Close up the bag and drop in sail locker.

It would have been nice to have a full day out on the water, playing with the Parasailor at all wind angles. But Pierre was right in that there was not much to teach in the way of hoisting and dropping the sail. The rest we can learn by just playing around with the Parasailor ourselves.

So now that we’ve seen the sail in action, we have the confidence to hoist the Parasailor as soon as we get any kind of tailwind, and that’s the important thing. The next most important thing will be keeping an eye on the weather, so we know when to drop her before we can cause any damage.

At the price point of these Parasailors, we hope we never have to do any repairs on her. Which means the key to maintaining her is knowledge and awareness. We got the knowledge from our training. Now we need to work on a better awareness of the weather. But as far as Team Cheeky Monkey goes, we’re ready!

ryan tasha cheeky monkey fountaine pajot helia 44


Update: The 30-Day Challenge

So, it’s day 10 of the 30-Day Creative Challenge I set for myself, and I have failed in my mission to publish a new post every day. BUT not all is lost, as I have been successful in writing every single day for the last 10 days.

It turns out it is pretty near impossible for me to publish a new post every day while also trying to get Cheeky Monkey built. Well, not impossible, but it would mean I could never sleep. Or eat. Or leave the boat.

But we are in our last few days of finishing up construction on Cheeky Monkey here, so I am hoping I can free up some time very soon to charge forward with this challenge at full speed.

In any case, I knew it was going to be a challenge to keep up with my own demands, but I also figured you never reach your goals by aiming too low. So, no regrets about declaring this challenge. Just a few more days of no sleep and I’ll be back on track…

Thanks for all your support! And feel free to share your challenge in the comments below. I’d love to hear about it.



Way out of my league

By the time I arrive from Greece, Ryan has already been in La Rochelle, France for a week, living near the marina where Cheeky Monkey is getting all her post-factory work done. By now, Ryan knows most of the boats on our pontoon, as well as the guys from Uchimata Sailing Services, who are doing all our installations.

Uchimata Sailing ServicesThe guys of Uchimata are super professional and their work is top-notch.

I arrive on a Friday, which means the docks are busier than usual as owners arrive to their boats to go sailing for the weekend and crew appear with buckets and cloths to shine the brightwork on their employers’ glistening yachts.

It is my first time on board our Fountaine-Pajot Helia, though I have been on boats like it at the Annapolis and Miami boat shows, and I’m blown away by the sleek, modern look and, oh, the space! It’s hard for me to comprehend that this is “my” boat, so I keep slipping up and referring to it as “the” boat or “this” boat. I say things like, “So, how does the stereo work on this boat?”  And Ryan corrects me by saying, “You mean ‘our’ boat?”

And then I giggle. Because, surely, no one in their right mind would trust me and Ryan with a boat like this. It’s too fancy! Have they seen what we used to sail on?

Despite my doubts about this being “my” boat, I manage to go out and buy supplies for the fridge. And by “supplies,” I mean “wine”. And as we walk along the dock with our booze and groceries in hand, I notice a particularly pretty blue-hulled 65-foot monohull with impeccable chrome and wood detailing. And on deck are two 20-something lads and a young girl in matching shirts, standing in the cockpit chatting.

“Crew, I’m guessing?”

“Yeah, I’ve never seen the owners, but I’m guessing these guys are getting ready to deliver the boat to them.” Ryan says.

I smile at the threesome chatting excitedly on the stern and think to myself what a fun job that must be, sailing a swanky yacht for pay. It’s so unlike anything I did for work when I was in my twenties.

wap-below-deck-season-2-bios.jpgEver seen the show Below Deck about life on a megayacht? This is the cast.

“You know the guys working on our boat thought we were crew,” Ryan says, laughing. “One of the guys said to me ‘Where are you delivering this boat to?’ and I chuckled because he must’ve assumed I knew what I was doing. So I told him he was giving me too much credit. I have no idea what I’m doing; it’s my first catamaran!”

I laugh and look at the twenty-somethings smoking cigarettes off the stern of a fancy boat they have free reign of until the owners show up. And then I look down at my clothes, and I realize I probably wouldn’t look at a shiny, brand-new Fountaine-Pajot Helia and think I came with that boat either. See, there I go again. “That boat.”

tasha cheeky monkey turf to surfMaybe I need to upgrade my wardrobe?

The truth is, I keep waiting for someone to come on board and tell me to get my feet off the coffee table.

A week after Ryan tells me that story about being mistaken for crew, it happens again. As we are tugging a dock cart full of 220-volt electrical appliances to our boat, we meet an English woman on the dock, who introduces herself as the owner of the monohull opposite our pontoon. She tells us her story of sailing with her husband around England for many years until they sailed down to France a few years ago, and how they keep their boat docked in La Rochelle so they can go sailing off the coast of France whenever they like.

“Which boat is yours?” the woman asks.

Ryan points to our gleaming Helia across the way.

“Oh, so do you sell these?” she asks.

“No,” Ryan says, smiling. “She’s ours. We just picked her up a week ago. We’re planning to sail her around the world.”

“Oh! Just the two of you?” The woman asks with a hint of surprise.

And again, I look down at myself, and I look at Ryan with his scruffy beard and hoodie, and I realize that this is one of those situations where the world I think I live in doesn’t match up to the world I actually live in. I feel like a vagabonding backpacker who’s just been handed the keys to a Hollywood mansion.

ryan cheeky monkey turf to surf“Excuse me, sir, but are you sure you’re on the right boat?”

People look at the boat we’re about to sail away on and they look at me and Ryan in the clothes we’ve collected from beach towns we’ve backpacked through around the world, and there is a complete disconnect.

“I take it as a compliment,” Ryan says. “It means people are surprised by us. We don’t look like we belong on this crazy boat.”

“Mmm. But will sailing around on such a swanky boat make it hard to meet people?” I ask.

beyonce-and-jay-z-visit-st-barts-1024x738I feel like our boat was designed for people like Jay-Z and Beyonce.

“Nah,” says Ryan. “We’ll load this boat down with toys, go out and have a blast, and we’ll invite people over for cocktails.” Ryan says. “We’ll be the nice people on the swanky yacht giving away ice and water in the anchorage.”

I nod my head and smile because I remember how excited and grateful I was when Brittany and Scott of Windtraveler let me fill up my leaky five-gallon jugs from their watermaker in Maho Bay, St. John, so I wouldn’t have to go all the way to town for our water. And nothing makes me happier than the thought of sharing water and this plush boat space with friends. Now is our time to give back some of what we’ve gained and bring people along for the ride.

So though she may be way out of our league, Cheeky Monkey is most definitely our boat. And, boy, are we going to have some fun with her!

fountaine pajot helia 44 cheeky monkey turf to surfYes, that is our boat. Nope, we’re not delivering her. Or stealing her ?

In the driver’s seat

tasha hacker turf to surf cheeky monkey

As the date of completion of our new Fountaine-Pajot Helia grows near, I am increasingly aware that Ryan and I are going to have to get this boat off the dock in La Rochelle and take it out to sea.

Which means I’m spending a lot of time staring at the dock, at the sharp edges on the end of the pontoon, at the obstacles in and around the marina and at the current that rips along the stern of Cheeky Monkey in the early afternoon, which I know requires bold motoring skills to penetrate.

Ryan and I share jobs on board, but there are certain jobs that we tend to leave mostly to one or the other because of our individual skills, knowledge, or strength. Ryan is usually the one at the bow when it’s time to drop or weigh anchor, which was not an easy job on our old boat Hideaway, as it didn’t have a windlass for its 44-lb. Rocna and 100 feet of chain. I, on the other hand, am usually at the helm for all docking, mooring, anchoring or any tricky maneuvering. Driving the boat has become my area of expertise.

So whereas Ryan has just gained an electric windlass for his anchor, which he can activate with the press of a button, I feel like my reasonably sized car has been replaced with a tractor trailer, which I have no idea how to drive. I understand how a monohull moves in forward and reverse, but I’m not sure I understand how an extremely large catamaran moves with two engines.

cockpit fountaine pajot helia 44 turf to surfMy view from the helm station, where I’m biting my nails.

Two weeks ago, when I stepped onto the 44-foot floating penthouse we now call home for the first time, I clapped my hands a little because the living space was overwhelmingly beautiful. And then Ryan mentioned taking the boat out for a test drive, and the smile immediately faded from my face. Because I knew getting the boat off the dock was my job.

“Someone is going to teach me how to drive this thing, right?” I asked Ryan three times in one day. And then three times the next day. And a few times every day following.

“Don’t worry,” Ryan said. “Catamarans are so much easier to drive than monohulls. Everyone says so. It’s like driving a tank.”

“That means nothing to me. I’ve never driven a tank. Or a catamaran.”

caribbean multihulls fountaine pajot helia 44Ryan and our broker NOT fretting about driving this boat.

Luckily, we were able to track down a coach to help us out. Fountaine-Pajot recommended a guy named Alain, who does boat deliveries for them. “He’s a very good teacher. Very patient. You’ll like him,” they said.

So we give Alain a call and ask if he can spare a Sunday on the water to coach me in driving and docking our new boat. “We’d be happy to pay cash for a few lessons,” we tell him.

“Don’t worry,” says Alain, seeing the nervousness carved into my brow when he steps on board our boat. “I will have you do crab exercises so you learn how to maneuver. No problem.”

“Um. Crab exercises?”

“Yeah, you know,” says Alain in his thick French accent. He is holding his hand flat and moving it around to demonstrate the boat moving forward and backwards while also sliding sideways. “We will move ze boat like zis, and like zis, and zen up to the dock. Like a crab. It’s easy. You will see.” He pats me on the back and smiles.

I nod my head and hope for the best as we prepare to start the engines. Plural. We have two engines now, so we need to start both of them. Already this is a foreign experience.

But just like a good teacher should, before Alain takes the helm, he makes Ryan and I step onto the dock with him and look carefully at the boat.

ryan alain la rocheille franceAlain makes everything sound so easy. And then he makes you take the helm.

“Before you go away from the dock, every time, you must first take care to look at the water and the wind to understand your situation,” says Alain. “You can see the current is coming very fast here,” he says pointing to the frothy water at the stern of Cheeky Monkey. “It’s going to be a problem to get off the dock. We need a lot of power in reverse to push the bow away from the dock and then we go.” He demonstrates the motion of the boat with his hand again.

I am concentrating on the water rushing past the hull of Cheeky Monkey as I follow Alain up to the helm station so I can watch him in action.

Ryan is standing on the stern with a fender in hand, ready to fend the boat off the dock as the far corner of the stern gets pressed into the pontoon. The wind is pushing us onto the dock, along with the current, so we release the bow and stern lines and watch Alain as he puts the throttle into reverse, pushing the bow away from the dock. Then he shoves the throttle forward, revving the engines and steaming quickly away from the dock without incident. I’m watching Alain’s face and his hands as he works and I notice he is calm and relaxed the entire time.

Alain’s confidence in his maneuvers are an inspiration. “I just need to practice and I’ll be fine,” I say to myself, while exhaling a sigh of relief that it wasn’t me who had to get the boat off the dock in that current.

“Don’t worry,” Alain says, seeing the concerned look on my face. “When we come back there will be no current. It will be easy.”

The next three hours are spent doing “crab exercises” in the marina, maneuvering forwards and backwards and sideways with me at the helm, and with Alain there ready to grab the throttle at any moment in case I do something stupid, which only seems to happen when I’m going in reverse.

Alain gives me the most useful tip of the day when he says, “Think of the throttles like your shoulders.” Alain puts his hands on his shoulders and moves his right shoulder forward, then his left shoulder. “If you want to turn left, you move your right side forward. It is the same with the throttle. If you want to go right, you move like zis,” and he moves his left shoulder forward and his right shoulder back. “So when you want to turn, think about your shoulders. It is the same as the throttle.”

Going forward and pulling up to the dock, I am fine. It feels doable and even somewhat comfortable, so long as the dock is always on the starboard side, where the helm station is. I have no idea what to do if I have to dock on the port side, where I have absolutely no visibility from the helm, but I’m hoping we’ll leave that maneuver for another day.

Alain is encouraging, saying often, “Very good, very good, Tisha.” I don’t bother to correct him because I’m amused every time Alain speaks, especially when he yells, “Brian, you must to communicate with Tisha and say things like ‘you are three meters away, one meter away, a little more reverse’, that kind of thing! Communication is very important!”

I start to giggle, but then Alain scolds me for not communicating enough with Ryan from the helm. And I realize I’m terrible at this, too — I have said nothing the whole time I’ve been working on these maneuvers. I’m so fraught with concentration, moving the throttles back and forth, that I forget there is anyone else involved in the process of docking but me.

Ryan is standing dutifully by with a fender at the stern, but I find it hard to tell him out loud what I’m doing while simultaneously working out what the hell it is I’m doing. It requires more multi-tasking than my brain can handle in this moment.

“You must to communicate!” shouts Alain again. “You cannot work together if you do not communicate!”

It feels like we’re in marital counseling all of a sudden, as Alain’s observations probably apply to more than just docking and anchoring. It is a problem that applies to all aspects of living on board as a couple.

Not to mention Ryan and I already know we are terrible at communicating on board, particularly while anchoring, though we have made some progress by talking through what went wrong after each fiasco. When we first started cruising, it seemed like four out of five anchoring maneuvers ended in us not speaking to each other for most of the evening.

This is a habit I would very much like to break.

So, I am keen to follow Alain’s advice to communicate more, but I actually don’t know what to say when my mind is focused on the angle we’re approaching the dock and the nervousness I feel at the speed we’re coming in at. If I were to say out loud the string of words running through my brain at the moment I am pulling up to the dock, it would sound like this:

“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Is this too fast? Fuck. Fuck. Oh no. Okay, take it slow. That’s it. A little more to port. Fuck. Fuck. Not that much to port! Reverse? Shit! Too much throttle. Arg. Those fenders are down right? Fuck…”

So I’m just not sure how useful that internal monologue would be if said out loud. But it appears that most of my anxiety in approaching the dock comes from my experience with Hideaway, a typical monohull in that she needs lots of slow coaxing and oodles of room to maneuver up to a pontoon, not to mention the fact that she is completely useless in reverse. So the boat only really has good control when going forward. The motion of Hideaway under motor is what informs all of my fears about docking all 44 feet of Cheeky Monkey.

But Alain assures me that with just a little thrust in the right direction I can bring the boat to a halting stop. So I should stop worrying so much. “But you must speak to Brian about what is happening!” Alain shouts again.

I know this. And I promise to work on it. Once my mind stops running through a string of swear words when docking, perhaps I can regain control of my mouth and actually communicate some useful information. That is what I’m working towards. Baby steps. Driving, docking, then better communication. We’ll get there. We’re making progress.

The first step is growing the balls to leave the dock. The rest will follow.

la rochelle france marina sunsetSoon, we leave La Rochelle and head out into the unknown. I’m not nervous. Nope.

Choosing the right boat for us: the Fountaine Pajot Helia 44

It’s 2008 and Ryan has suggested that we buy a sailboat with some of the profit we made in our first year of running our own business, Teaching House.

“But what the hell would we do with a boat?” I protest. “We don’t even know how to sail!”

“We’ll learn,” says Ryan, with the kind of bold confidence he exudes in every aspect of his life, a quality that is both endearing and infuriating. Endearing, because his enthusiasm for venturing out into the unknown is infectious. Infuriating, because if you’re trying to talk Ryan out of one of his mad ideas, you’re doomed to fail. You can throw every solid rationale you have in your arsenal at him, and he’ll just swat them to the floor, one by one, responding with statistics of how many more people die every year driving a car than doing any of the ridiculous things he’s trying to convince you to do in this very moment.

And, let me tell you, it’s hard to argue with statistics and double-dog dares. Especially when delivered in a charming British accent.

But, I am also stubborn. So, in my mind, I have written a list of all the good, solid, rational reasons as to why we definitely should not buy a boat.

Reason #1: Boats sound like a lot of work. And we already work around the clock because we’re in the first year of building a company. Plus, on top of running our own company, I’m doing my Master’s degree while working full-time as a public school teacher in the Bronx. If there is an hour of my day that I’m not working, then, well… let’s just say there isn’t an hour of my day that I’m not working.

Reason #2: The Perfect Storm. Yeah, I read the book. I saw the movie. Spoiler alert: EVERYONE ON THE BOAT DIES.

Reason #3: Capsizing. For our second date in Qatar, where I was teaching English at the time, Ryan was keen to impress me with a mini adventure. So he rented a little Hobie catamaran and proceeded to take me out on the water in a gale. This was fun at first, what with the wind whipping us along at speeds that would make me nervous in a car. But the out-of-control speeds combined with our sluggish reaction times resulted in us flipping the cat over rather quickly. And this was an old cat, so it wasn’t self-righting — the mast stuck straight down in the water below us with no hope of ever coming back to the surface. Luckily, the Arabian Gulf is as warm as a jacuzzi, so it was no big deal, even as we were treading water for 2 hours, waiting to be rescued. But — and let me be clear about this — I have absolutely no desire to recreate this adorable second-date scenario in the frigging Hudson River.

I don’t know about you, but I think these are three pretty solid reasons not to buy a damned boat.

But Ryan is clever. He doesn’t even flinch when I blurt out all my reasons for not wanting to own a boat, starting with “I DON’T WANT TO DIE.” Instead, he takes me boat shopping and says, soothingly, “We don’t have to buy anything. Let’s just see what’s out there.”

And that, my friends, is how we find and fall in love with a boat. Two weeks later, we are the proud owners of a Catalina 34 we call Hideaway.

hideaway 2008 turf to surfHideaway, on the dock where we bought her in Stamford, Connecticut.
hideaway interior 2008 turf to surfKnowing nothing about boats, we chose the Catalina 34 for her interior.

Now fast forward to 2014. We’ve sailed on Hideaway for six years now, in and around New York Harbor, then in 2012 we sailed her down the East Coast of the U.S. to the Bahamas and on to the Dominican Republic. Then we hauled the boat out of the water and stored her in Luperon, so we could go to England to participate in the Clipper Round the World Race.

The race took us from London to Rio de Janeiro, then Cape Town to Albany, Australia and segued into a road trip around South Africa and then a camper van trip across Australia, followed by a two-month stay in the rice paddies of Ubud, Bali.

Sure, it may have looked like we were land-lubbing travelers again for a time, but we only dreamed of returning to Hideaway and sailing her south through the Caribbean.

hideaway ryan in bimini bahamasArriving to Bimini, Bahamas on Hideaway in 2013 was a huge buzz.

But then, early in 2014, we returned to New York City to tend to our companies, which were struggling in our absence. And for that entire year, we dreamed incessantly about getting out of New York and getting back to Hideaway. But we also wondered if such carefree living could ever be possible while we were still tethered to our businesses in New York.

So to keep the dream alive, we went to boat shows, drooled over monohulls and catamarans and we ate up cruisers’ stories on their sailing blogs. And at each boat show, we picked out our if-money-were-no-object dream boats, and we listed our what-we-can-afford top choices.

And, similar to our experience of falling in love with Hideaway, Ryan and I found ourselves pretty much on the same page when it came to what we wanted for our next boat and what things were deal-breakers for us.

So, as we’ve fielded so many questions lately about why we specifically chose the Fountaine-Pajot Helia 44 as our next boat, I’d like to take this opportunity to bring you inside our minds and through the process of how we decided what was the right boat for us. Note, I did not say the “perfect boat”. Because there really is no perfect boat. There’s only the boat that’s right for you, right now.

To give this chaotic process of ours some structure, let’s run through the questions we’ve asked ourselves recently and in the past when shopping for boats:

1. What’s it for?

When we started looking for a monohull in 2008, we had absolutely no experience with boats apart from that time we capsized a Hobie cat four years earlier. So, we were certainly not in the market for a blue-water boat that could also, possibly, take us to Antarctica in case we decided our older, future selves might want to anchor near a glacier with our grandchildren on board one day.

Our basic criteria was a boat small enough for two people to sail and roomy enough to have guests on board. Because adventures are much more fun when shared with friends.

sailing hideaway in rain 2008Friends are helpful for helming in bad weather when you want to keep dry ;-).

We also, against our nature, did a little bit of future planning. We were thinking ahead to a time when we might be adventurous enough to leave the vicinity of our marina and head to such exotic destinations as Staten Island or Long Island, and maybe even the Jersey Shore, if we really got ballsy.

Which means, essentially, we didn’t need a big, expensive blue-water boat. We needed a solid coastal cruiser with a roomy cockpit, a fridge for cold beer and at least two state rooms for overnight guests.

But what if you want to sail across oceans one day?

This was a question other sailors seemed to contemplate seriously when buying a boat, which always confused us. Our answer to that question was always, “We’ll sell Hideaway and buy something else.” It’s as simple as that.

Hideaway is a great coastal cruiser and live-aboard boat. She is not an ocean-going boat destined to cross the Atlantic. She was also a fraction of the cost of a blue-water boat, so one of the advantages of going small and local was that buying a boat didn’t plunge us into debt.

In any case, I don’t believe in buying a boat that I’ll keep for the rest of my life any more than I believe in buying a pair of shoes that I’m going to wear in 20 years’ time. I’m looking for a boat that will get me through the adventures I can envision for the next five years, at best. Beyond five years, who the hell knows what will happen or what I’ll want?

It’s the same with my shoes. I don’t go into a shoe store and think, “I’m looking for the perfect shoe for all future possible situations. They need to be dressy enough to wear to a wedding but also sturdy enough to get me to the top of Everest, just in case I feel like climbing it in 10 years’ time.”

In our fickle lives, a boat can only serve a purpose that is limited to the foreseeable future, and even then that can be a sketchy outline. I mean, we had only just decided to sail out of New York to go cruising to the Bahamas in 2012 when we also decided the following year we would leave our boat somewhere to do two legs of the ’13-’14 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. See what I mean by fickle?

tasha ryan clipper race 13-14Seriously. The Clipper Race was never part of the original plan.

So, then, why the Fountaine-Pajot Helia 44?

The answer to that is we have a very specific plan: to circumnavigate the globe over the course of roughly five years.

Hideaway is not the boat for that purpose, and we knew that when we bought her. But, also, when we bought her, we weren’t sure if we’d even like sailing or how long this hobby would last. [Ryan’s edit: When we bought her, Tasha wasn’t sure she’d like sailing. Ryan never had any doubts.] Ahem, see what I mean about infuriating?

There are many reasons why we chose the FP Helia for our circumnavigation. So let’s outline the other questions we asked ourselves in the process of choosing the right boat…

fountaine pajot helia cockpit turf to surfJust imagine lounging in this cockpit off a beautiful island in the South Pacific.
2. Can you picture yourself on this boat?

The first time I stepped foot on Rainmaker, the Gunboat 55, at the Annapolis boat show, I looked at Ryan with pure delight scrawled across my face.

“This is number one on my if-money-were-no-object list,” I said to him.

The cockpit looked more like a Buddha lounge in TriBeCa than the deck of a racer/cruiser. If this boat looks fast, that’s because it is – it cruises at speeds up to 25 knots. I could easily picture myself racing around the globe on this mad piece of carbon fiber but, let’s be honest: the $2.5 million price tag is a little off-putting. (Oh, and there’s the small problem of Rainmaker’s rigging having come down in a storm after we saw it, rendering it useless and adrift somewhere on the Atlantic.)

After the Gunboat, we stepped on board the Fountaine-Pajot Helia 44 for a little realism, and both Ryan and I sat down in the saloon and sighed. It was like the time we sat in the saloon of our Catalina 34 for the first time…just much larger. And much more expensive. But we both leaned back, put our feet up and pictured ourselves with a glass of wine in hand, enjoying the tranquility of our own private anchorage somewhere remote and beautiful.

The things we fell in love with on the Helia were the modern design and the open, airy living space, which made us want to invite guests on board for long journeys. It’s not a bad-ass racing machine like the Gunboat, but it certainly isn’t sluggish either with cruising speeds of up to 15 knots.

fountaine pajot helia 44 galley turf to surfThere is so much gorgeous space in here, I could do cartwheels.
3. The monohull vs. catamaran debate: how much space do you get for your money?

I adore sailing monohulls. Okay, there was a time when I first started sailing that I screamed with terror any time the boat heeled beyond 15 degrees. But I barely remember what that feels like anymore. I think the Southern Ocean slapped it out of me.

Now, there is nothing I love more about a monohull than the way it heels when it’s cruising at hull speed on a beam reach as you frantically trim the sails to eke the most speed out of her.

So, when Ryan first proposed we buy a catamaran for our circumnavigation, I was slightly horrified. What about the heeling? Where’s the thrill in sailing a boat that’s always flat? How the hell do you dock something that wide? Won’t we be trading the fun of cutting through waves with our bow for the misery of water constantly slapping the underside of our floating condominium?

But then I stepped onto a few Lagoons, Leopards and Fountaine-Pajots at boat shows, and I started to think about life on a boat a little differently. I could see a time when I wouldn’t have to climb over Ryan in the middle of the night, kneeing him in the ribs, just to use the head. I saw spaces on a catamaran where I could be alone with my laptop, writing, while Ryan burned off his frenetic energy elsewhere, out of sight. I saw a fantastic workout space on the foredeck with enough room to make full use of my TRX and maybe a few kettle bells. I saw space enough for surfboards, kiteboards and diving tanks.

cheeky monkey davits surf toysWe’ve already loaded up our davit with toys. Cuz that’s what this boat is for: FUN.

So the question about space boiled down to this: How much of a circumnavigation is about sailing and how much of it is about living on the hook?

To answer that, we had to examine our priorities for this trip.

We are planning to travel slowly, taking five years or so to work our way around the planet so we can see a lot more than just oceans as we go. We want to reach idyllic harbors and get off the boat to go surfing, snorkeling, running and fully exploring the places we sail up to.

We are not looking to recreate the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race on our cruising catamaran. As in, we don’t want to spend three weeks at sea and then come to port for a mere five days, four of which are spent cleaning the boat and repairing everything that broke on the last crossing.

I’ve had that experience on the Clipper and I loved every moment. But this is a different kind of trip. And it needs a different kind of boat. It needs a boat with comforts, space and plenty of room for toys we can use to explore the hard-to-reach spots we’re planning to sail to.

So, that said, catamarans beat monohulls hands-down for comfortable live-aboard space. Not to mention the speed of our new Helia leaves most monohulls behind in its wake.

fountaine pajot helia 44 miami boat showWe visited the Helia at least 4 times at the Miami Boat Show. It was true love.
4. Budget: How much can we spend?

Obviously, money is a huge factor in what you can buy when boat shopping. When we were shopping for our first boat, we agreed to split the cost of the boat with a friend, and together we decided the maximum amount we could spend was $40,000.

We bought Hideaway for $39,000 and for the next five years we also split the mooring fees, the maintenance costs and the insurance, which was a brilliant way for all of us to explore the sport of sailing and keep costs down while we figured out if we liked the lifestyle.

Now that we know we love sailing, after seven years on Hideaway, and are ready to embark on the next phase of our adventures, we are in a different place, both in our boat needs and our budget.

By the time we sold our companies, Ryan and I had been lackadaisically shopping for our next boat for about a year, with a focus on what we could afford, but also with the expectation that our companies might not sell. And though we’d fallen in love with the Helia already, we knew that buying a new boat was above our budget allowance. So we actively started looking for a used Helia that had been cruising for a few years and was up for sale in Florida, the Caribbean or France.

But, also, we didn’t necessarily want to wait twelve to eighteen months to get our new boat, which is often what happens when you put down a deposit with a factory for a brand-new vessel. We wanted to buy a cruise-ready boat that we could sail away immediately once we’d freed ourselves up from work obligations.

Then, a buyer came forward in November 2014 and by February 2015, we had sold our companies. Both of them. Which freed up a lot more money in our budget for the boat we wanted to buy. But, even still, we were only in the market for used boats because, though money was less of a factor now, we were still fixated on the immediate timing: we wanted a boat we could step aboard and sail away right now.

Let’s just say we are not patient people.

turf to surf fountaine pajot helia 44 la rochelleThis is what our hard work has earned us. We are very lucky, I know.
5. So why buy a new boat?

A few things happened just as we actively got on the market for a used Helia, which resulted in us buying a brand-new boat against all our objections to buying a brand-new boat.

It boiled down to the reasons why we specifically wanted a used boat and not a new boat:

a. Value — It seemed silly to pay more for a new boat when we could buy a fairly new and beautiful used Helia for significantly less. Boats are like cars; the original owner takes the biggest hit when they sell.

b. Availability — We did not want to wait around for the time it would take for a boat to come out of the factory. Like I said, we’re impatient. We wanted to close the deal and sail away. NOW.

c. Pain-in-the-ass factor — Buying a new boat vs. a slightly used boat is like building a new house vs. buying a turn-key home. It can be a full-time job to research all the options you can have in your brand-new boat, not to mention the additional options available for installation once the boat has been launched. We were trying avoid turning this boat purchase into a full-time job. After all, we’d just given up our jobs and were not interested in another one.

Then, the craziest thing happened. While we were docked in St. Thomas, we started talking to Caribbean Multihulls in St. Martin about the used Helias they had for sale down there. And while we were considering the four different Helias that were on the market in St. Martin, it became clear that all our concerns were no longer an issue.

So here’s what happened:

First, Greece’s financial crisis came to a head and the value of the Euro plummeted, making the buying power of the dollar incredibly strong. And because Fountaine-Pajot is a French company, their boats are priced in Euros, so for those of us buying boats with dollars, we could suddenly get a lot more for our money. And yet a number of the used Helias for sale in St. Martin were priced in U.S. dollars. So we were now being presented with the crazy scenario that buying a brand-new Helia loaded with all the options would be about the same price as buying a used Helia with minimal options in St. Martin. Not to mention that we’d have to spend a fair bit of money to get any of these used Helias up to the specs we wanted. So in this incredibly rare case, buying a new boat suddenly became much more economical than buying a second-hand one.

Next, our broker informed us that a customer whose boat was scheduled for production in April had pulled out. Which meant we could put down a deposit for a brand new Helia in April and have it ready for us to sail away in July. Which is unheard of when it comes to brand-new boats. So, we gave it some thought, and turns out July was really perfect timing for us since we would both be traveling in June and July anyway.

So, the next thing we did was look closely at the array of options available from Fountaine-Pajot for the Helia and the choices weren’t as overwhelming as we thought. It’s not like we had millions of colors or models to choose from — in most cases, there were only two options to choose from for things like watermakers, generators, electronics, deck material, etc., so the amount of decision-making required didn’t seem all that daunting anymore.

It all seemed too good to be true, but we decided it was the universe trying to make this thing happen for us. So, we put down our deposit and started preparing for life on board the swankiest boat we could ever possibly imagine owning.

tasha turf to surf helia 44Well, hello, full-length mirror! Where have you been all my boating life?
6. So why not a Lagoon 450, Catana Bali, Leopard 45 or any of the other big name catamarans?

We looked at all of the comparable brands and models in the size and price range of the FP Helia and, in some cases, there were clear deal-breakers involved. But in other cases, it was less about the deal-breakers and more of a feeling in our gut when we stepped on board the boat.

My love for the Helia is based on the grin that spreads across my face when I step into the cockpit, as well as the ecstatic tingle I get when I imagine sailing her to faraway places. It’s a feeling that will be different for every individual and will be inspired by different boats; hence why there is so much choice in the market. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

I’m just lucky that Ryan and I have always had the same gut reactions to boats. Well, apart from the Gunboat 55. I was all for it and willing to give up living space for speed. Ryan, on the other hand, would happily sacrifice 10 knots for an ice-maker, underwater lighting and a sub-woofer.

So, what were the deal-breakers?

This is a personal preference, but Ryan and I hate raised fly bridges, which both the Lagoon 450 and the Catana Bali have.

lagoon 450See that dude up there? That other dude is just visiting because he pities him. (Photo Credit: Nicolas Claris)

Though it’s true that the time spent on anchor on a circumnavigation outweighs the time spent sailing, we still love sailing and want a comfortable ride at the helm while underway. When the helm station is connected to the cockpit, you not only have more protection, but you’re also socially connected with the rest of the boat. We don’t like the idea of one of us being sat on our own, isolated up on top of the boat while underway, especially since most of our journeys will only have two of us on board.

The Leopards were the catamarans we had our eye on for a long time before we came across the Helia, and the Leopard 45 is certainly a popular cruising model in the charter industry. And if the Helia didn’t exist, I’m sure we would happily cruise around the world on a Leopard 45, as it has all the comforts we like, the size is right for a couple, and the helm station is connected to the cockpit rather than isolated on a fly bridge.

The choice of the Helia over the Leopard really came down to personal taste. Quite simply, we prefer the look and feel of the Helia over anything else in this range of catamarans.

Our experiences on Hideaway have taught us that there isn’t a perfect boat for all situations in general. But there are lots of perfect boats for lots of specific purposes, and preferences boil down to your priorities, your tastes and what you plan to do with the boat for the next five years.

And for us, this new Helia, Cheeky Monkey, is the perfect boat to take us around the world. It’s fast, it’s plush, it’s modern, it’s loaded with sports equipment, it has space for all our friends, and between Ryan’s upgraded Bose stereo, the blue underwater lighting and the ice-maker, we’re sure to bring the party with us wherever we go.

tasha ryan turf to surf fountaine pajot heliaToasting the purchase of Cheeky Monkey, which is now officially ours.


In case you missed it…

tasha ryan turf to surf

I’m thrilled to have been listed by Boats and Outboards as one of their Top 20 Sailing Blogs, which includes a whole host of incredible blogs that I love reading myself.

So if you’re looking for some inspiration in the form of blogs, you should definitely visit this list and check out some of the other blogs:

7 Pieces of Advice to Crew on the Clipper Round the World Race

The start of the 2015-2016 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race is exactly 4 weeks away. Which means there are about 250 amateur crew from all over the world who’ve signed up for Leg 1 of the race. And about half the crew on each boat have taken a huge leap and committed to doing the full round-the-world-race, which will take about 10 months to complete.

Right now, these brave souls are packing up their houses, quitting their jobs, fretting, preparing, making lists, ordering dry bags and waterproof gear on and trying hard to explain to confused loved ones why this mad adventure is a good idea. Some may even be trying to explain to themselves why the hell they’re doing this.

But whether they’re ready or not, this race is happening. It starts in London on August 30th and anyone who is racing on Leg 1 from England to Brazil, regardless of their prior sailing experience, will be catapulted into the learning curve of a lifetime.

I know this because I’ve been there.

Leg 3 - Southern Ocean - Clipper Round the World Yacht Race 13/14Yep, that’s me, enhanced by Brian Carlin’s amazing photography.

Ryan and I raced on Legs 1 and 3 in the 2013-2014 Clipper Race; I crewed on Henri Lloyd and Ryan crewed on PSP Logistics. And that was meant to be the end of it. But I loved the experience so much, I got back on my boat for the last race, Leg 8, which finished in London in September 2014, bringing the whole experience full circle for me. It was a privilege to do the final race of the Clipper with my team, who not only won the race from Derry to Den Helder, but also won the full round-the-world race.

So when my friend and Clipper training skipper for Levels 1 and 2, Jim Prendergast, messaged me to say he’d gotten the job as one of the 12 Clipper Race Skippers on the upcoming race, I literally squealed with excitement. I was thrilled he would get to have this experience and I was also interested in following his progress as he makes his way around the world with his crew this year.

Jim Prendergast and Tasha Hacker clipper race trainingJim and I both have our serious faces on for Level 1 Clipper Race Training.

And then Jim asked if I had any advice for his boat, since I crewed on the winning boat in the ’13-’14 race, and since he now had the weighty responsibility of turning his crew into a winning team. I couldn’t help but laugh nervously. Advice? From me? The woman who cracked her head open on the first day of her Level 1 training, forcing Jim to turn the boat around and take me to the hospital?

This would require rubbing the scar on my head, opening a bottle of wine and having a good, hard think. Which is exactly what I did. So, if you’re crewing in the Clipper Race, or thinking of signing up for Clipper, or you’re at all interested in ocean racing, here are my 7 pieces of advice for Clipper Race crew based on my experiences racing on Henri Lloyd with Skipper Eric Holden and an amazing crew from all backgrounds and ranging in age from 18 to 73.

the women of henri lloyd clipper raceThe amazing women I raced with on Henri Lloyd in Leg 8.
1. Boat harmony is paramount

On land, when you’re warm, well-rested, well-fed and in your right mind, you would probably say that the best way to deal with conflict is to confront it immediately so feelings don’t fester and cause resentment.

But on the boat, everyone goes through periods when they are not at their best. The conditions and general lack of comfort means people can be irritable, irrational and not mentally at their strongest. And putting a bunch of irritable, irrational people together in a small space for weeks, maybe months on end, means that huge conflicts can erupt from the smallest things, like the coffee running out, the best bunks being taken or a spinnaker being wooled incorrectly, so it has to be wooled again. And when a conflict erupts, it affects the mood of the entire boat. And it can turn an otherwise cohesive team of adults into a gaggle of petty children.

clipper round the world race leg 8 henri lloydA beautiful picture of some very cold, uncomfortable crew.

You do not want to spend weeks or months at sea with petty children, so it’s important to ask yourself this question before you decide to voice your beef with someone:

Will this improve the atmosphere on board?

If the answer is “no,” then hold that thought until you get to port. Sure, your gripes might come gushing out like water from a burst dam between beer #4 and #10, but at least then you’ll have some space in which to get away from all the people you might have just insulted.

Or, better yet, you might not even remember what you were upset about because now you’re on land. And because steak. And showers. Who can stay mad with a belly full of meat, armpits that smell of roses and a scalp that no longer itches from salt-water build-up?

But, more importantly, when you’re in port, take the time to hang out with your crew and get to know them when everyone is relaxed and no longer stressed. By getting to know the people you race with 24/7 for weeks on end at sea, you’ll understand better how to navigate conflicts and defuse them because you’ll have a deeper understanding of the different personalities on your boat.

Conflicts create divisions amongst the crew, which is what creates an unhappy environment onboard. An unhappy crew don’t work well together and crew that don’t work well together don’t race well together. It’s as simple as that.

Remember, your crew are not your competition; it’s the boat ahead of you, just over the horizon.

psp logistics clipper raceThe opponent. That’s Ryan on the bow, asking for a whooping.
2. Pay it forward

You will have moments when you will wonder what the hell you were thinking when you signed up to cram yourself into a sweaty, fiberglass closet with 20 people you’ve never met before.

But know this: a happy boat is a winning boat. And compassion is the key to happiness on board.

So when you’re having a good day (and there will be incredible days), be aware of the people around you who are having a bad day and make the effort to help lift at least one person out of their misery.

southern ocean henri lloyd clipper raceYou know someone’s having a bad day when they can’t make it to their bed.

For example, when you’re mother, be the best mother you can possibly be. Serving up a good meal lifts crew morale immediately. Making coffee for everyone when it’s not meal time has an amazing way of making people smile and swell with gratitude for such a seemingly small gesture.

If someone is looking more tired than you are, and you have extra energy, offer to give them an hour off watch and take the hour for them on deck. If someone is sick, maybe let them sleep an extra watch or offer them a better bunk.

These sound like small things, but they can have a huge impact, especially the longer you are at sea and the more uncomfortable the conditions get. And the truth is, in a few night’s time, you’ll be the one who is sick or so tired you can’t keep your eyes open on deck. And maybe all you’ll need is a gesture of compassion to lift you up.

If every crew member takes it upon herself to lift someone out of a funk when they need it, then the whole boat collectively lifts itself out of a funk every day. And, trust me, that boat will go faster as a result.

Henri Lloyd Position Reports Clipper RaceWhiteboard showing position updates helped us focus on our goal: to do our best.
3. Strive for equality, not uniformity

Equality on the boat means everyone has the right to grow as sailors, enjoy the experience and learn in the process.

What it doesn’t mean is everyone has to contribute equally or do the same jobs.

You will have the full spectrum of backgrounds on your boat — those who have sailed before, those who have never sailed, the strong, the injured, the old, the young, the athletes, those who’ve never played a team sport, the engineers and the leaders.

Everyone on board has strengths and weaknesses. A winning boat doesn’t rotate regardless of ability. You wouldn’t send someone with a fear of heights up the mast in a storm; that would be pointless and unnecessary. Likewise, a call for help on deck doesn’t mean everyone should go up. Those who are willing and able are the best crew to step forward when needed.

henri-lloyd-southern-ocean-clipper-race.jpgThis motley crew is made up of people from all ages and background, all of whom have something to offer.
4. Whatever sacrifices you’ve made to get here, this is only the beginning

Everyone has made sacrifices to get on this race. Some have taken out loans to pay for this experience, some have left children and family at home, some have traveled long distances, started a fitness regime or made a major life change to get where they are now.

But these sacrifices are just the beginning. The most successful boats make the most sacrifices to win. Some boats curb their weight limits, some sleep only on the high side and some exhaust their crew with countless and constant sail changes to get the most out of the wind.

Some of the sacrifices you will be asked to make will include cleaning the heads, emptying the bilge, giving the lower bunks to those less able-bodied, cooking in the galley in the sweltering heat and helping out on deck in your off-watch. And that’s just naming a few small sacrifices.

If you know and expect you will make sacrifices on this race, you will feel less put out by those sacrifices in the moment. It is about the long game; the race is a marathon and the more work you put into every aspect of being on this race, the more you will get out of it.

cleaning the bilge clipper raceNo one loves cleaning the bilge. But crew mate Meg Reilly still does it with a smile.
5. Rid yourself of fixed expectations

Life-changing experiences come to those who are open to learning something new. If you come onboard with a fixed idea of what your experience in the Clipper Race should look and feel like, then you may be shutting out opportunities to discover something new about yourself.

Doing the Clipper Race will open your mind and expose things about yourself and others that you can’t possibly predict. Don’t limit your experience by deciding what should happen before you get on board — do your best in training and understand that the experience of racing and crossing oceans will be completely different from what you might expect. You will learn more about yourself at sea than you can possibly imagine…if you’re open to it.

southern-ocean-clipper-race-henri-lloyd.jpgYou might not expect to be at the bow in a storm. Surprise!
6. Be prepared to learn and teach simultaneously

Whether it’s prior sailing experience, leadership ability, physical strength, mental fortitude, or a specific skill, everyone on board has something to offer, something to teach and something to learn.

Open your heart to those opportunities and don’t let your pride get in the way of learning. If you don’t know how to do something, ask questions. If you know how to do something that others don’t, be patient and teach it to someone else. The more skills a crew can acquire from each other without burdening the skipper, the more cohesive the boat will be and the faster the team will progress.

henri lloyd leg 8 clipper round the world raceBy Leg 8, Henri Lloyd was great at coaching each other and learning new skills.
7. Any boat can win

That is the truth. Regardless of who your skipper is or how strong or weak your crew are, if you adhere to the above six points, then your boat will be in the running to win.

Henri Lloyd leg 2 winners clipper raceHenri Lloyd, winners of the 13-14 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.

Good luck everyone! And remember to enjoy the experience while you’re in it, and not just in hindsight. Every day will present a new, extraordinary opportunity to learn. Be present in the experience and soak it up.



30-Day Challenge: Be More Than Just a Little Brave

If you’ve been following Turf to Surf’s Facebook, Instagram or Twitter over the last few months, I’m guessing you’ve been a tad confused as to where I’ve been (St. Martin – UK – NY – Greece – France), where Ryan has been (St. Martin – NY – Tanzania – Zanzibar – Greece – France), where our boat has been (Virgin Islands – St. Martin – St. Barths) and where we’re headed next. Which is perfectly understandable considering I’ve been struggling to wrap my mind around what the hell is happening…and this is my own life we’re talking about here.

row around the isle of wight tasha turf to surfThat’s me, in seat #5, rowing around the Isle of Wight in May.
the adventurists eben ryan tanzaniaThat’s Eben, Ryan’s partner in a mad sailing race in Tanzania.

Let’s just say the last year has felt a bit like I’ve been wildly adrift in a busy New York harbor; like everyone around me is in full control while all I can do is make decisions in reaction to near disasters. But now, after several months of feeling completely out of control, I’m finally grabbing the helm and steering this blog straight towards my intended destination. No more veering off course. [That’s about as many sailing metaphors as one paragraph can handle, don’t you think?]

What I’m declaring is a drastic change to Turf to Surf right here and now, and on this very public forum. Because nothing gives you a kick in the ass like a little bit of accountability. That’s right, I am holding myself accountable for a self-imposed creative challenge. I am challenging myself to write and publish a post on Turf to Surf every day for 30 days. Starting TODAY. August 1st. I’ve said it out loud now, so there’s no going back.

The question is, “Who’s with me?!”

And by asking that question, I don’t mean, “Hey guys, will you please read my blog, pretty please?” though by all means, feel free to read along. What I mean is, I am whole-heartedly encouraging YOU to join me in this 30-day challenge. And by that, I mean I encourage you to do something for 30 days straight that inspires you.

So what is the thing that inspires you?

My thing is writing. I want to write more and, at the moment, I’m not writing at all. So, what I want out of this challenge is to build a foundation of routine and discipline with writing so that I don’t neglect the very thing I need more of in my life. Also I know, deep down in my procrastinating soul, building good habits is half the battle in achieving your goals (as boring and predictable as that may sound). Even Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”

I’ve realized if I want to be good at something, I need to do it habitually. And the truth is, without a goal, you can’t score. And, also (just to keep building on the sports metaphor), it’s hard to score alone. You need teammates and supporters to get to where you want to go in life. So how about taking on this challenge with me? I know I could use all the teammates and supporters I can get. Why not tell me about your goals in the comments below and let’s make this a collective effort!

So, here it is. I challenge YOU to name the very thing in your gut that you know you should be doing more of; the thing in your life you have been sorely neglecting because, well, let’s be honest, life gets in the way. Whatever that thing is, make it your 30-day challenge. It could be reading every day, writing poetry, playing guitar, learning a language, painting, training for a marathon — anything! It just needs to be something you know you aren’t doing enough of; something you have been bugging yourself to pursue but haven’t set aside the time for.

Now is the time to set yourself this challenge.

Repeat after me: “I will do [insert thing you have been neglecting] every day for 30 days straight. No excuses. No denial. Just because. Because it’s only 30 days. Because it will be good for my soul. Because I need the support. Because I need the motivation. Because I need a challenge. And because August is as good a month as any to DO THIS.”

And then, together, we can see what comes of that challenge. Hell, write to me every day in the comments, if it helps. Because why not? 30 days is not a long a time in the grand scheme of life. You, like me, have probably spent far longer than 30 days not doing the very thing you want to be doing, so why not give yourself this gift?

But, you might ask, why be so strict?

Why every day? Why put that kind of pressure on myself when I’ve got so much on my plate already?

Well, I don’t know about your situation (though feel free to tell me — I’m all ears), but I can tell you about my situation.

For me, the 30 day challenge is because I need a serious kick in the ass. And because I will always find an excuse; an excuse for why I can’t work harder, why I can’t do more, why I can’t take a leap of faith and try something scary and new. Because there is never enough time in the day, the week, the month, the year. And also because I know how I work: if I commit to something and tell people I’m going to do it, I WILL DO IT.

But, man, the excuses tug at me like lead weights. Just when I think I’ve gained the strength to swim to the surface, something heavier grabs hold and pulls me under.

Yes, Ryan and I sold our companies five months ago after 8 years of building them, which sounds uplifting, but in reality has left me feeling like I’m recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Yes, my father died three and a half months ago, which made me feel like the ground cracked open under my feet and swallowed me whole. Yes, a week before my dad died, we put down a $100,000.00 deposit on a brand new Fountaine-Pajot Helia, not knowing our world was about to be turned upside down. Yes, I committed to rowing around the Isle of Wight with a team of 8 girls long before my dad died. Yes, I still did it a few weeks after my dad died. Yes, we packed up our beloved boat and home, Hideaway, and put her up for sale in Sint Maarten.

hideaway for sale sint maartenHideaway is still for sale and sitting in Sint Maarten awaiting a buyer.

Yes, I have a plate that is piled high and overflowing with excuses as to why I don’t have time to write.

Over the last year I have come up with every possible excuse not to write regularly or seriously. I’m so stressed, I told myself. I’m swamped with work, I’m going through so much emotional shit, I’m so tired. All of my excuses seemed like good enough reasons not to write. And yet all of my excuses were bullshit. Because the truth is, I love to write; writing brings me great happiness and a deep sense of peace. It allows me to grapple with things I am struggling with in my mind and it allows me to make sense of my life through stories. And yet writing is a joy that I have denied myself far too often this past year. Why? Because, deep down, I am afraid if I pursue it as a full-time endeavor and not just something I brush off as a frivolous hobby, I might discover that I’m actually a failure.

After all, I have no job to hold me back from pursuing a career as a writer now. And, damn it, that was such a good excuse for such a long time. Essentially, I have no excuses left. Which is terrifying. It leaves me with no choice but to either take a step towards my fears and face them, or back down and be defeated by them.

So, enough of the excuses.

They end here, today, with this public announcement: no matter what I have going on, no matter how little free time I have, I will write and publish on Turf to Surf every day this month in August 2015.

And, okay, this is the internet, where essentially anyone can publish anything they like. I get how that’s not impressive. So, this may not sound like much of a challenge to you. But, for me, this is just the start. It is the much-needed crank delivered to an engine that has grown rusty with neglect.

And after that? We’ll see. Hopefully, by the end of this month, I’ll have a clearer idea of what is achievable in the happy medium that lies between writing nothing for months and feeling guilty about it and writing every day for a month and feeling exhausted by the self-imposed obligation.

As I scrawl these frightening words across the blank space that has been my mind for the last few months, I am well aware that I did not arrive at this decision on my own.

I was inspired, nudged and encouraged by an incredible group of writers, thinkers and creative minds who all convened on the island of Patmos in Greece last month for two weeks to take part in the Good World Journeys Storytelling Workshop led by the amazing filmmaker, poet, author and playwright Brian Lindstrom, Rachel DeWoskin, Cheryl Strayed, and Zayd Dohrn.

brian lindstrom rachel dewoskin cheryl strayed zayd dohrnIf you do nothing more than Google the Wikipedia pages of these artists, you’ll still be fascinated by their stories.

I signed up for this workshop some time last year, when Ryan and I were in the miserable throes of selling our companies and having our corporate decisions for the last 8 years sniffed and scrutinized by lawyers and accountants, and I just needed something on the far horizon to look forward to. And in that moment, after I’d read and re-read Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, I saw Cheryl’s brief mention on her Facebook page that there were a few spots left in a summer storytelling workshop she was leading in Greece. Her books had already moved me to tears and inspired me to start writing again and then all of a sudden there she was, talking about storytelling, herself, Greece and other writers on a little island? If there was ever a competition for who could fill out an online application form the quickest, I think I won that race hands-down.

But a few months down the road, after I’d forgotten what I’d signed up for, it felt like the universe knew what I was looking for. I had signed up for this workshop during a time when I had no idea what my life would look like by the time I had to pack a bag to go to Greece. We’d sold our companies, my dad had died, I’d rowed for 12 hours around an island in the UK, I’d done a triathlon and Ryan had taken off for Tanzania to race across an ocean in wildly unreliable wooden fishing boats. And before I knew it, I was boarding a ferry in Athens to be dropped off on a tiny, idyllic island in Greece for a workshop that I was excited for, though I had no idea what I was actually in for.

patmos greecePatmos, Greece is charming in its remoteness and how easy it is to get to know.

And in an instant, I made friends who I would spend every waking moment with, I would read and write by the pool every day, and it soon became clear that this workshop was everything I needed in that point in time.

So I’m just going to trust the universe on this one and go with it. She obviously knows my shit better than I do.

The 30-day challenge is on.

It’s just 30 days, but it could change everything. If this idea speaks to you like it does to me, then please join me and tell me what your personal challenge is for the next 30 days in the comments below.

Because friends don’t let friends be mediocre. Together we can aspire to do great things, things we might not be brave enough to strive for alone.

On my first day of Cheryl Strayed’s workshop on Patmos, as the turquoise sea winked at all of us anxious new acquaintances out of the corners of our eyes, our gazes were focused away from the sea and directly on Cheryl Strayed, who was reading a letter out loud written by F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1938. It was a harsh and honest letter of writing feedback addressed to Francis Turnbull, a then-sophomore in college and aspiring novelist. Fitzgerald, in his letter, was explaining why Turnbull’s story wasn’t “saleable” in words he hoped would explain to Francis that to be a writer, “You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner.” To which he added, “You wouldn’t be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave.”

That line has stuck with me for weeks now, long after the taste of tzaziki and red wine has left my mouth, the smell of fresh basil has faded from my clothes and the sounds of plates smashing in exuberant celebration on the floor of a Greek restaurant has faded in volume. That line about a “soldier who was only a little brave” has everything to do with writing to a place where you have the courage to explore the darkest corners of your being. But it also speaks to living. As in, it speaks to not living in the comfortable middle ground, where you are allowed to be “just a little brave”; but to shoving yourself out of your comfort zone and out into the open space where you have no choice but to ask yourself the kinds of questions that can transform your understanding of the world.

That’s what the 30-day challenge is about. It’s about not being “just a little brave”. It’s about asking more of yourself. So, having said that, who’s with me?

4 goddesses good world journeys patmosNothing like Wonder Woman showing up on Paradise Island to show you your fear is not worth cowering to.


Stuff you might’ve missed

Just in case you missed it, Ryan and I did an interview recently, which was published in 2 parts as a podcast for Keep Your Daydream.

You can subscribe for free and download both episodes on the Keep Your Daydream iTunes Podcast

Or you can listen to both episodes here on the Keep Your Daydream website:

Keep Your Daydream Episode 9 Part 1 – Turf to Surf

Keep Your Daydream Episode 9 Part 2 – Turf to Surf

Hideaway, our Catalina 34, is FOR SALE

Pretty much everything we know about sailing, boats, engines, anchoring, cruising, electronics, plumbing, electrical wiring, carpentry and maintenance, we have learned from Hideaway. Which is why Catalina 34 sailboats will always have a special place in our hearts.

But this is it. It’s time. And I’m trying really hard not to get sentimental about this. It’s like picking up and moving to a new country – it was an amazing experience, we soaked up and learned everything we could and now it’s time to move on to new experiences…and, in this case, a bigger boat.

That is how I am trying to think of selling Hideaway. Not like we’re breaking up with a mentor who’s inspired us to go out and live life to the fullest. But rather like we’ve outgrown our amazing instructor. Now we need a new teacher to reach the dizzying heights of our next ambition: circumnavigate the world.

Hideaway was our teacher for 8 amazing years. She took us from being aimless land-lubbers to confident, ocean-crossing sailors. And we took her from being a shy weekend sailor to a bold, fully kitted-out live-aboard cruiser, sailing her from New York to the Bahamas to the Dominican Republic to the US Virgin Islands, then down through the BVI’s to St. Barths and St. Maarten, where she is now docked and for sale at Island Water World Marina.

So without further sentimentality, here it is. The official FOR SALE sign for our boat.

The big question is, could Hideaway be your next great mentor? Think about that as you read over the specs…

Let’s start with our contact info:

If you like what you read, or you have questions, you can message me through Turf to Surf’s Facebook Page or you can email me directly at tasha (at)

Boat Overview
  • Make: Catalina (monohull)
  • Model: Mark I
  • Material: Fiberglass
  • Year: 1986
  • LOA: 34′ 6″
  • Price: $44,000  $29,000
catalina 34 boat overviewComfortably docked at Highbourne Cay Marina in the Bahamas.
  • Keel: Fin
  • Engine: 23 hp Universal M-25 xp
 catalina 34 out of the water for saleHideaway had her hull sanded and new anti-fouling applied in Luperon, D.R.
  • LOA: 34′ 6″
  • Beam: 11′ 9″
  • LWL: 29′ 10″
  • Draft: 5′ 6″
  • Displacement: 11,950 lbs
  • Total Power: 23 hp
  • Brand: Universal
  • Model: M-25 xp
  • Type: Inboard
  • Fuel: Diesel
universal m-25 xp diesel engine catalina 34The first step in solving any engine problem: open her up and stare.
  • Fresh water tanks (2): 70 gallons
  • Hot water tank: 7 gallons
  • Fuel tank: 23 gallons
  • Holding tank: 27 gallons

Through diligent testing of both the boat and our passengers’ rum tolerance, we have found that you can fit 10 people on board for a comfortable day sail. But beware that red wine will be spilled on the gel coat, you will have to unclog a head and someone will fall overboard. Just sayin’.

On longer journeys and overnight passages, we have found that this boat is perfectly sized for two couples and two cats to sleep comfortably on board without breaking things, clogging the head or falling overboard.

Also, the interior woodwork is in great condition while the interior seating is large enough to fit 10 people eating mac-n-cheese while doing shots of tequila.

catalina 34 saloonWe fell in love with the Catalina 34 almost entirely because of its comfortable interior.
catalina 34 saloon converts to double bedTable lowers and converts into a full bed for guests or calm sleeping when underway.

The comfortable, L-shaped galley is perfect for filleting your fresh catch of the day and frying it on the two portable GasOne burners. We ripped out the dangerous alcohol stove soon after we moved on board and installed a custom-built wood cupboard in its place. It was either that or burn down the boat with the flick of a match. We chose the former.

The newly-installed refrigeration plate in the cool box provides you with delightfully cold beer to drink while you contemplate how lucky you are to be out sailing on this bargain of a cruiser.

ryan in galley catalina 34 sailboat for saleCooking is much more fun when you remove the risk of burning down your boat.
catalina 34 galley sailboat for saleWhen you’re not cooking, everything stows away neatly in the galley cupboards.
 galley cupboard catalina 34 for saleThe custom-built cupboards in the galley were installed in 2012.
Sails and canvas

We bought this boat in 2008 from a sailor who installed a roller-furler mainsail so he could sail the boat single-handedly without putting down his cocktail. Both the mainsail and the roller-furler 135% genoa are in very good condition, the mainsail having been bought in 2012 and the genoa in 2011. They’re also easy to reef single-handedly (though you might need to put down your cocktail for a minute or two) and all the rigging runs back to the cockpit.

And for that island destination you want to sit on deck and watch the sunset off the coast of, there is a custom-made canvas dodger and cockpit awning (2011) with a 125 watt Solbian flexible solar panel on the roof of the dodger. The cockpit and helm also have custom-fitted vinyl cushions for you and your guests to stretch out on.

catalina 34 sails rollerfurler mainThe best thing about the roller-furler set up is how easy it is to reef.
solbian flexible solar panel on dodger This removable panel will keep your batteries topped up (when there’s sun and your fridge and computer are off).
catalina 34 cockpit cushions for saleBoth guests and cats are comfortable in the cushiony cockpit.
Electronics and navigation

Thanks to the Garmin GPS 7″ chart plotter we installed on Hideaway’s helm in 2014, you don’t have to chart your routes with a sextant, pencil, by licking your finger and holding it up in the wind, or whatever archaic methods you’d be left to without this amazing piece of technology. You also have the benefits of the 2012-installed Raymarine instruments and autopilot.

And — Ryan’s personal favorite — there is a stereo control at the helm which changes tunes on your iPod, stations on the radio and the volume. And it glows with a blue light, which I think is the sole reason Ryan bought the thing.

When you’re out there on the water in this new-to-you Catalina 34, if you ever see a crazy-looking couple waving excitedly at you from a 44-foot catamaran glowing blue from every angle with flashing disco lights radiating off the mast, that’s probably us. You should totally wave back.

Electrical and mechanical

The solar panel is great for a regular trickle into your batteries. But when you are powering 2 Macbooks and charging 3 iPads, half a dozen iPhones, a GoPro and more cameras than I can count, you need a Honda 2000i portable generator to keep you going. And in our case, we need it for about 4 hours every two days. For you, who knows? Either way, the generator comes with the boat, so you’re covered.

You also have 3 new batteries and a new starter battery (2014) as well as a 2012-installed Xantrex battery monitor so you can obsessively check the boat’s power level while you charge your laptop.

You won’t have any trouble with Hideaway’s Universal diesel engine, so long as you maintain her and learn where all her parts are. For example, if you don’t change the filter in your fuel pump for 7 years because you didn’t know there was a filter in your fuel pump, your engine just might stop working. But then you’ll take apart your fuel pump, discover there is a gunky filter in there, buy a new one and voila! That engine will start up and run like nothing ever went wrong.

Of course, I’m only speaking hypothetically. I mean what idiot doesn’t know there’s a filter in the fuel pump? *cough*

 honda 2000i generatorYou absolutely need this if you’re going cruising. You’re welcome.
Deck and hull

The best cruising tool on board Hideaway is the Rocna 20 (44 lb) anchor on the bow, the 90 feet of heavy chain and 100 feet of rode. And there is a solid backup anchor on board — a 22 lb Danforth with rode, which we’ve never needed. We have never dragged with our Rocna and we always get a good, worry-free night’s sleep, which has made getting out of bed to do boat work that much easier.

In 2012, we also replaced all the plastic thru-hulls in the boat with copper thru-hulls, knowing we were planning to sail long distances and wanting to reduce the possibility of finding ourselves sinking because we naively trusted some 20-year-old pieces of plastic. Just, no.

If you have cats or kids, then you’ll appreciate the netting we put up on the lifelines to keep felines, crew and sunglasses where they belong while underway: on board. If you don’t like the netting…or your cats, it’s easy enough to remove it and expose the stainless steel lifelines.

hideaway on anchor catalina 34 for saleLife on anchor is made more comfortable and less stressful with the Rocna 20.
catalina 34 foredeck for saleThe foredeck is the perfect space for gutting fish and cleaning off the remains.
lifeline netting catalina 34 sailboat for saleCharlie looks angry because we’ve spoiled her plans to sneak away for a swim.

Boat Inventory

As we’re moving on to a brand new boat in France, there isn’t much we can take with us. So we’ve removed all our personal effects from Hideaway, and left all the boat-related items that have enhanced our cruising lives over the last few years on board for you to use, enjoy, give away or trade for rum.

So, lucky you! Here’s all the stuff we’ve left for you:

  • 8′ Mercury inflatable dinghy
  • 3.5 hp Mercury outboard engine
mercury inflatable dinghyThe advantage of this dinghy and engine is they’re small and light enough to lift on board by hand.
V-Berth (or in forward storage)
  • Wind scoop
  • Various-length mooring lines
  • Dinghy cover
  • 4 new orange life jackets
  • Rogue Wave WiFi Booster
  • Engine oil pads
  • No-see-um netting
  • Custom mosquito netting for hatches and boat openings
  • 20 spare GasOne cannisters
  • 5 in-line water filters
  • 8 primary fuel filters
  • 6 secondary fuel filters
  • Unopened Turks & Caicos courtesy flag
  • 4 oil filters
  • Bed linens
  • Belmar 80 amp alternator with ARS-5 regulator
  • First-aid kit
  • Hair drier
catalina 34 head for saleThe new hot water heater makes showering in here so much nicer, as well.
  • Soda stream
  • Toaster
  • Breadmaker
  • 2 GasOne portable stoves
  • 1 wok
  • Various cups, plates and bowls
  • Magic bullet (blender)
  • French press
  • Thermos
  • Various sharp knifes
  • Collapsible tea kettle
  • Measuring cups / spoons
  • Chopping boards
  • Bulkhead-mounted paper towel holder
  • 2012 Raritan hot water heater 1700 series
breadmaker on board catalina 34Who needs an oven when this machine makes bread and pizza dough?
Sailing Books
  • Cruising Guide to Northern Bahamas
  • Cruising Guide to Southern Bahamas
  • Cruising Guide to the Exumas
  • Plain Sailing: A Manual of Sail Trim
  • Lonely Planet Caribbean Islands
  • The Long Way by Bernard Moitessier
  • The Cost-conscious Cruiser by Larry and Lin Pardy
  • Two on the Isle by Rob White
  • Wanderer by Hayden
  • Fast Track to Cruising by Steve and Doris Colgate
Saloon storage
  • Spare propeller
  • Flare set
  • Flashlights
Nav Station Storage
  • Winch handles
  • Emergency tiller
  • Emergency bilge pump rod
catalina 34 nav station for saleIn 2012, we upgraded our nav toys with a new VHF, WiFi booster, additional DC-electric ports, Xantrex battery monitor and a fancy stereo.
Whole Boat
  • LED lighting installed in 2012
  • Caframo fans installed in 2012
  • 2012 never-used life sling
  • 2014 new fresh-water pump
  • 2012 new sump pump
  • 2015 new batteries x 3 + starter battery
  • Dinghy hooks for hanging dinghy on stern
  • Cobb portable grill w/ accessories
making pizza on cobb portable grillThis genius piece of engineering — the Cobb charcoal grill — stays cool on all sides and can cook pizza, among other foods.
Back Berth
  • Water storage (25 gallons of jugs)
  • Complete set of boat manuals
  • Replacement auto-pilot drive belt
  • Spare bilge pump and float
  • Spare fuel pump filter
  • Spare fuel pump
  • Paper charts: Leeward Islands, Windward Islands, Virgin Islands & Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Exumas & Ragged Islands, Near Bahamas, Far Bahamas, Long Island Sound, Hudson River & New York Harbor, New Jersey Coast
  • Honda 2000i generator & power cord
  • 2 Pigtails: a 50 amp to 30 amp adaptor & a 30 amp to 50 amp adaptor
  • Canvas awning for cockpit w/ support pole
  • Foredeck canvas awning/sunshade/rain collector
  • Fishing kit with lures
  • Dinghy oars
  • Boat hook
  • His/Hers snorkeling sets
Tools/Parts (in saloon storage)
  • Spare fuel pump
  • Spare fan belt
  • Bolt cutters
  • Spare bilge pump
  • Tool set
  • Wrench set
  • Power dremel tool
  • Electric connections kit
  • Sail repair kit
  • Large gear-puller
Thank you for sharing!

If you’ve managed to get all the way here without clicking away, chances are you’re interested in buying a boat. Or maybe you have a friend who’s interested in buying a boat. If that’s the case, we would love it if you could share this and let them know we are very motivated to sell. Hell, we got places to be! Mainly, France, where we need to pick up our new boat.

So, help us out and spread the word far and wide about Hideaway needing a new home. We really appreciate it.

Thanks everyone! And stay tuned for our upcoming adventures on board the new boat! [Ryan has scolded me here for inappropriately bragging about the new boat in the same post where I’m announcing our separation from our old boat. I guess it’s like bringing along your new girlfriend when you tell your wife you’re going to divorce her… or something like that.]

I don’t know, so I’m just going to end this here and leave you with this thought…

sailboat catalina 34 for sale

Blanc du nil: Sailing to St. Barthelemy

The crazy thing about flying into the island of Sint Maarten is that there’s a dinghy dock near the airport where your friends can pick you up with no shoes or shirt on, throw your luggage into their Mercury inflatable and motor you back to your boat just in time for happy hour. Which is exactly what happened when Ryan and I arrived back to Sint Maarten after my dad’s funeral in New York.

dinghy ride to hideaway st. martinYou know you’re a cruiser when you travel to and from the airport in a dinghy.

We came back with a vague change of plans to get Hideaway packed up and ready to sell, then return to New York for a while to help my mom adjust to living without my dad. Which, disappointingly, meant we wouldn’t be sailing onwards to St. Barthelemy with our friends like we’d planned. We’d be staying on board in the lagoon, doing work on Hideaway. But we’re used to plans being more like hazy puffs of smoke trailing off in a vague direction, sometimes disappearing altogether.

There is a long and growing list of things to do on Hideaway, but at the moment my head is floating in an unproductive fog. There is a brand new boat — a Fountaine-Pajot Helia 44 — in our near future, which we should have celebrated when we put down a rather hefty and non-refundable deposit at the beginning of April. But two days later, my dad took a turn for the worst, darkening any sense of celebration with a cloud of gloomy uncertainty.

30/08/2012, Cogolin (FRA,83), Chantier Fountaine-Pajot, Helia 44The Fountaine-Pajot Helia 44 is the circumnavigation boat of our dreams.

Besides the work we need to do on Hideaway to get her cleaned up and sold, there is a dauntingly detailed spreadsheet of orders we need to approve for our new boat, which is being commissioned in La Rochelle, France, with a deadline for us to move aboard at the end of July.

Yet I am struggling to focus on any one task. We need to pack up Hideaway, wash her, remove the canvas and make her pretty for potential buyers. We also need to let our Fountaine-Pajot broker know what size generator we want on the new boat (something large enough to handle Ryan’s ice-maker, sound system and extra blue lights), whether we want a parasail (um, YES) and what size Garmin chart plotter we want (the largest one possible, please).

As we busy ourselves cleaning the boat, Ryan catches me sitting in the cockpit just staring out at the water and asks me what I’ve got on my mind.

“Are they leaving today?” I ask, looking towards the lagoon exit.

“Senara and Pelita? Yeah, they should be heading out this morning. “Why? You want to go with them?” Ryan asks.

I stare out at the water again, trying to anchor myself in the present and forget for a moment the terrible weeks before, or the stressful weeks soon to come. I picture us pulling up our anchor, motoring out of the lagoon, unfurling the sails and making our way towards a turquoise bay in St. Barths then going to shore for pain au chocolat in a cafe where everyone is draped in loose white linen, drinking French wine.

“Yeah. I kind of do.” I say.

“Well, why don’t we go, then?” Ryan says. “St. Barths is only 15 miles away. We can leave tomorrow and catch up with Morgan, Pearly and Francois in Colombier by tomorrow night. Why not?”

Ryan is beaming, reveling in his role as hero, the source of a brilliant idea that overrides all gloom with fun, spontaneous adventure. And I can’t help but smile and nod my head.

Just like that, we change our plans again. Instead of spending a week in Sint Maarten doing boat work, we will spend a day in Sint Maarten running around in a rental car, getting the cats their travel documents, stocking up on supplies, filling up our water tanks and finding a marina to put Hideaway in upon our return. Suddenly, we’re prepping to go cruising again and planning to spend 4 days, sailing, swimming, snorkeling and enjoying the delights of the little French island of St. Barthelemy. Who wouldn’t smile at that idea?

Changing plans on a whim is something Ryan and I are really good at. The repercussions of changing our minds so often, though, is that we have to be fast on our feet when it comes to remapping all the logistics of those changes.

The logistics of leaving Sint Maarten are slightly complicated and fairly stressful, if you’re trying to do a lot of things in a hurry. Which pretty much describes us 100% of the time. As good as we are at changing our minds, we’re even better at turning calm, leisurely hobbies into high-stress, goal-oriented challenges. And the challenge we have set for ourselves is to be in St. Barthelemy by tomorrow night, dropping anchor next to our friends just in time for sundowners.

The only obstacles standing in the way of us leaving in the next 24 hours are these items on our to-do list and a sluggish 3.5 horse-power dinghy engine:

  • Wrestle the cats into their carriers, dinghy them to shore, take them to the vet and get their international health certificates
  • Find a good, cheap marina to put Hideaway in
  • Figure out why our engine is overheating
  • Fix the overheating engine
  • Pick up the custom-made canvas sun-shade we ordered when we thought we were sailing south with our friends
  • Clear out of customs on the French side
  • Buy food provisions that make up actual meals, not just snacks
  • Fill up our leaky water jugs at the marina and rush them back to the boat before they empty themselves into the dinghy
  • Book flights out of Sint Maarten and reserve cabin space for the cats
  • Find out bridge opening times so we can plan to get all of the above done before we depart

Some might argue 24 hours is not enough time to do all this back-and-forth when we’re anchored a 25-minute dinghy-ride from the nearest dock. But we have a knack for setting impossible deadlines and then killing ourselves to meet them.

As far as we can tell, the biggest potential problems to plan around are the infrequent bridge opening times (there are not one, but two bridges to get through to get out of the lagoon in Sint Maarten) and the small pesky problem that we can’t figure out why our engine temperature suddenly spikes and sets off screaming alarms within a minute of starting her up.

s:v banyan sint maarten turf to surfOur friends s/v Banyan going through the lagoon bridge in Sint Maarten.

The screaming engine is a problem, yes. But all the other items on the list have to be checked off during Sint Maarten’s operating hours of 9 am to 5 pm, so the engine repairs will just have to wait until after hours, and we will just have to exit the bridges when we can. But even still, with businesses closing down from 12 – 2 pm for lunch every day, our window to get everything done in is closing quickly on our desperate fingers. Even with a rental car, which we hired to expedite our mission, fitting all our errands in to island-time hours (a schedule that is impossible to wrap my New Yorker brain around) proves to be a stressful challenge of Amazing Race proportions.

The first challenge is to figure out when the Simpson Bay Bridge and the Simpson Bay Causeway Bridge — two adjacent bridges with infuriatingly similar names — open for outbound traffic while also remembering which rules apply to which bridge. (Note: The web site for Simpson Bay Bridge Opening Times is a big help.) With the infrequent opening times, we decide the only way to get to get all our chores done in 24 hours is to exit the Simpson Bay Causeway Bridge at first opening (8:15 am), get through the Simpson Bay Bridge at 8:30 am and then anchor outside the lagoon so we can dinghy back to shore to do one last water run and return our rental car. By getting outside the bridge early, it gives us just enough time in the morning to run our last two errands, dinghy back to the boat, weigh anchor and get to St. Barths before sundown.

Once we’re back on the boat after a day of running errands and after all the stores have closed, the next big challenge begins: fix the overheating engine. We have devoted some time to Googling “diesel engine overheating” and have come up with some possibilities that might explain what is happening. So, armed with our Google info, we clamber back on the boat, open up the engine compartment and stare at it for a while.

This is always the first step when anything new goes wrong with engine: open up the engine compartment and stare.

The next step, after a few minutes of clueless staring, is Ryan and I start reminiscing about problems we’ve had in the past.

“Remember that time we overheated before Hurricane Irene?” I say. “And it turned out we sucked up some reeds through our intake. Remember?”

“That was after Hurricane Irene,” Ryan says. “And we’ve been on anchor for weeks now. I don’t think it’s reeds.”

“A plastic bag?” I say.

Ryan shakes his head.

The next stage, after we’ve run through all the things that have gone wrong in the past, is to move on to synthesizing new information we’ve read but don’t understand.

“Nigel Calder says it could have something to do with the hoses that send water through the engine. He suggests removing the hose to the water heater and doing something with that.” I say.

At the mention of water hoses, Ryan suddenly remembers that the mechanic we had on board recently removed a hose to get to the alternator, which wasn’t working at the time, instigating an “ah ha!” moment.

“Maybe we need to bleed the hoses?” Ryan suggests. “Maybe the water isn’t cooling the engine because there’s air trapped in the hose?”

Which is an idea that results in a whole lot of disassembling and some use of makeshift tools, including a large syringe we’ve been using to feed our sick cat, which works perfectly for squirting water into the end of our disconnected hose before reconnecting it to the water system. The whole bleeding and reassembling process takes about 2 hours.

Once that is all done, I start the engine and then stare at the temperature gauge obsessively. After ten minutes of the gauge needle barely moving, we high-five, jump up and down in the cockpit and scream, “St. Barths here we come!”

After an easy-going four hours of sailing, we pull into the remote, white sand bay of Colombier and are greeted on Channel 9 by our friends Pearly and Francois on s/v Pelita, inviting us over for cocktails. Immediately, I have no regrets about trading a few days of boat work to come to St. Barths to live like a retired French islander. Even if it means I’ll have to do more boat work to make up for it later.

But just sitting around staring at the sand and the water is no way to see an island. So, the next morning, I convince Ryan we should take our sneakers ashore and run to Gustavia. I look up the distance on my iPhone Google map and declare it will be a fun, 3.5 mile running adventure to town.

What I don’t look up is the elevation change of those 3.5 miles.

turf to surf running st. barthelemy sailingJust a mention: Ryan HATES running up hills.

Halfway through the run to Gustavia, I am smiling and sweating at the top of a hill, clapping and cheering Ryan on to keep going until he gets to the top. He pauses on his climb up a particularly mean and winding road and shoots me a look that says he’d like to shove my enthusiasm down my throat. So I stop clapping and instead hand Ryan my water bottle as he reaches the top panting, his shirt drenched and his head an overheated shade of red. He looks hot and miserable now, but he’ll be happy once he’s done with the run, I tell myself.

Ryan turf to surf st. barthelemy running viewsThe best thing about this view is it’s a downhill run from here.

Slowly and steadily, we traverse the hills to Gustavia, jogging past gleaming mega yachts and running to the famed “Cheeseburgers in Paradise” bar of Jimmy Buffet’s song. We slow down to walk the narrow, cobbled streets lined with pink bougainvillea spilling over the balconies and fences. Tanned, muscular men and slim, bra-less women draped in loose white linen sit at outdoor tables, smoking and sipping chilled glasses of white wine. French bakeries display their buttery pastries in the windows, making me wish I wasn’t running back to the boat so I could take a box home with me.

gustavia st. barthelemy turf to surf sailing

We have arrived. And I have forgotten everything but the present. Like the island heaven of my dreams, this place smells of flowers and macarons and no one wears anything but white.

  seashell beach gustavia st. barthelemy turf to surf Sunset cocktails at Do Brazil on Shell Beach, St. Barths, are expensive but worth it.
riding scooters in st. barthelemy turf to surfScooters are quicker than running as a way of exploring the island of St. Barths.
colombier anchorage st. barthelemy turf to surfOur heavenly anchorage in the bay of Colombier, St. Barthelemy.

Memorial Day: Remembering my dad, Christian Louis Hacker

As “Taps” is being played by a woman in an Army uniform holding a trumpet, another man in uniform stands at attention by my father’s coffin. In this moment, I’m mostly focused on my mother, who I can feel trembling slightly beneath the grip of my fingers around her shoulder, which is why it takes me a moment to notice that the woman holding the trumpet is not actually playing the trumpet.

The tears welling up against the dam of my eyelids have blurred my vision, so I wipe them away to focus more carefully on what I’m seeing. No, the trumpet is definitely not touching her mouth. So where is that music coming from?

Confusion now occupies the space in my brain that had previously been focused on my grief, my mother and absorbing the details of the funeral service and all I can focus on are the two 20-something cadets at my father’s graveside, who I now notice are wearing uniform pants that don’t match their jackets. Their pants are black and their jackets are blue — aren’t they meant to match? And where is that music coming from?

I shift my position to get a better look at the space behind the trees, or to see if there are speakers hidden behind the coffin. Ryan notices the weird expression on my face and the way I’m moving my head around frantically to look over every inch of the trumpet player and squeezes my arm to stop me from fidgeting.

“She’s not really playing that thing,” I whisper.

“Sshh,” he says, squeezing my hand as if to communicate “I know the fake trumpet is weird, but now is not the time. Let it go.”

But I can’t let it go. I am fully distracted now. My cousin Jed, who plays the bugle, had offered to play “Taps” at my dad’s funeral, saying it would be an honor. And I said it wasn’t necessary because the funeral home sent the Army my dad’s discharge papers and they notified us they would send someone to play the trumpet and provide a military burial.

Yet here is a woman in a mismatched uniform holding a toy trumpet an inch away from her lips as the speaker, which I can now see is hidden inside the plastic horn, plays a song that was selected with the press of a button. I am wondering what other songs the toy trumpet plays, and how funny it would be if she hit the wrong button and the trumpet started belting out “La Cucaracha” in the middle of the funeral. I smile and almost snort with laughter. Ryan pinches my arm again.

When the song finishes, the female cadet sets her fake plastic trumpet on the ground and steps towards the American flag draped over my father’s coffin and proceeds to carefully fold the flag with the help of her non-trumpet-playing colleague. When the folding is complete, the man holding the flag scans the crowd as though lost. And I realize he has no idea who the widow is that he is meant to present the flag to.

The cadet scans the crowd like a panicked child looking for his mother and, holding the neatly folded flag triangle, marches off in a random direction towards a woman who is most definitely not my mother.

A few polite onlookers cough and clear their throats while discreetly pointing towards the spot where my mother and I are standing. But the cadet continues marching forward, changing direction towards any woman holding a tissue. Eventually someone behind us whispers loudly, “Psst! Over here!” until the cadet turns his head and finally focuses his gaze on my mother. When he reaches my mother, he bows and presents the flag to her.

And this is what I woke up thinking about this morning.

This Memorial Day holiday really snuck up on me this year and it was only yesterday that I remembered its significance. It startled me, like a polite friend clearing his throat to get my attention after a few minutes of watching me stare aimlessly off into space.

It is a sudden and unexpected reminder of the people I’ve lost over the last year and a half: my grandmother, my grandfather and, most recently, my father. And it’s also a nudge to remind me that I’ve been stuck in some sort of grieving limbo for the last month since my dad died, and maybe it’s time to start moving forward again. It’s time to start thinking about and planning the future again.

I thought after my dad’s funeral, after I had some closure on my grief, I could resume normal activity and return to working on the long list of things that needed doing, a list that continues to grow the closer we get to buying a new boat and embarking on an epic adventure sailing around the world.

But when we returned to Hideaway in St. Martin a few days after my dad’s funeral and started prepping the boat to sell her and take her on one last sailing journey to St. Barths, I found myself frequently drifting off, mid-task. Our days seemed to be full of normal, mundane jobs, like washing the boat, scrubbing the hull, dinghying to shore with our water jugs and shlepping 25 gallons at a time back to Hideaway to fill up her water tanks, an overly time-consuming job in St. Martin, where our anchorage is a 25-minute dinghy ride from any of the nearest docks.

As I sat on deck, siphoning water from the jugs to our tank, I found myself staring into space. Ryan would catch me and ask what was wrong. And I would start rambling about how my dad is gone and here we are just going about life as normal, buying groceries, filling the water tanks, cleaning up cat puke, doing the laundry.

“I just keep thinking, so this is it? This is what happens? An important person in your life completely disappears from Earth and we just keep on doing what we did before? We make lunch, we vacuum the boat, we wash dishes and life just goes on without my dad? The universe doesn’t stop to acknowledge it, even for a second? We’re here one minute, and the next minute we’re not, and the world just keeps on doing all the insignificant things that make up our daily lives while a person is just wiped from existence like their life never happened?”

As I said these things out loud, my voice trembled and tears rolled down my cheeks, and I knew there was nothing Ryan could say to change this fact and there was nothing I could do to make the universe stop doing what it does.

“Life goes on,” said Ryan. “It has to. That is both the beauty and the cruelty of it.”

“But it’s not fair,” I said, my face growing hot. “It’s not fair that it has to be that way.”

I wiped the tears from my cheeks and I picked up another water jug while trying to hold on to thoughts of my dad and not let my mind be distracted from him, as I watched the water trickle through the siphon and into the tank. In that moment, my daily routines felt like that fake trumpet player at the funeral, a distraction from what was really important. I felt like I should be holding on to memories of my father during every waking moment and not be distracted by the little tasks that mean life continues on without him.

But I also know that I need the distractions, the list of tasks I have to accomplish, and the little things that make me laugh. Because these are the things that allow life to continue moving forward despite the grief and sadness.

 me and dad ronda spain 2005Me and Dad in Ronda, Spain (2005)

But today, on Memorial Day, I have an excuse to put all distractions aside and remember my dad, mourn his absence and think about his impact on my life. Today I reflect on the lessons my dad taught me, which I carefully wrote and falteringly spoke at his funeral service:

Eulogy for Dad, April 18, 2015

If you came here today expecting a garage sale full of car parts, having read my dad’s obituary, I apologize. That’s my fault. My mom’s not yet forgiven me for all the phone calls asking about the upcoming garage-sale-slash-funeral.

If you’re here, you know already what a kind and generous person my dad was. You know that because you probably have tools in your house my dad gave you, or maybe a plastic pink flamingo he thought would make you laugh, or a dozen other things bought from Lot Less or Home Depot because my dad was thinking of you while he was wandering up and down the aisles in his spare time.

My dad wasn’t just generous with things, though. He was incredibly generous with his time, his encouragement and his wisdom.

Like most children, I grew up only knowing my father as a dad, as the guy who taught me everything he knew – how to swim, how to ski, how to play piano, how to ice-skate, how to find a bargain, how to change a tire and how to take apart a carburetor when it was flooded with gas. Which was something I had to do often with the ’73 Triumph Spitfire my dad fixed up for me to drive.

But as I got older and took on passions of my own, straying farther and farther from my parents’ interests, my dad (though he didn’t always understand my passions) never wavered in his support and encouragement of me, or his insistence that I could achieve anything I wanted to in life.

Sure, he used to say with exasperation, “You send your kid to college, and she comes back a Democrat,” as he was often confused by my politics and my hobbies, wondering why I supported Obama and hated Bush, why I liked soccer when he loved tennis, why I didn’t want to play the banjo like he did, and why I traveled to far-flung places like Russia and the Middle East. He wondered what drove me to do and want the things I did, but even when he couldn’t understand my passions, he supported me in whatever crazy path I was chasing at the time, and he made me feel that I was safe, loved and 100% supported. Which was the very thing that allowed me to go out into the world alone and explore. Because I was never really alone. My mom and dad were here at home, stretching out a safety net for me to fall back on if things didn’t work out.

It was after college, when I left home and flew to Russia to teach English with the Peace Corps, that I really got to know my dad as the individual most of you have been lucky to know for so long. I got to know him better because our main mode of communication for over a decade, as I traveled the world, was email. And it was through his emails that he told me stories from his life, stories I’d never heard before, and he imparted his wisdom and perspective on the situations I found myself in, drawing from his own experiences.

These last few days, I’ve spent a lot of time rifling through old photos of my dad and reading all our old email correspondences during those years I was living in the Russian Far East, when I felt frustrated by the cultural conflicts and when I was questioning what my purpose in life was, as any 22-year-old does. And I’m in awe of how much time he spent writing pages upon pages of stories and philosophical ramblings to me about life. And the best emails usually had a time stamp of 1 or 2 in the morning, probably after he’d snuck a few beers in the basement while sitting at his computer, after my mom had gone to bed.

Which, funnily enough, is exactly how I wrote this eulogy last night.

Just to give you an example of the kinds of things he wrote to me at 2 am, I found an old email my dad sent in early 2001 that started with these two lines:

“Ponder this: A person’s value system is the sum total of their actions. A person’s words, thoughts, decisions, promises have no value until they act upon them.

Ponder this: You can’t help if a bird happens to land on your head, but you don’t have to let it linger while it builds a nest.”

Yeah, I have no idea about that last one either.

But the first one about a person being the sum total of their actions reminds me of a story my mom told me about Dad, which was typical of the kind of person he was.

It happened on a night when they’d driven to the Albany-Rensselaer train station to pick up one of their tenants, who was arriving to the States for the first time from the Middle East. The guy had written to my dad, after he’d reserved his apartment, asking how he could get from the train station in Albany to the building on Morris Street. And Dad immediately wrote back to the guy and said he’d be happy to pick him up and bring him to the apartment himself, no matter how late.

They arrived to the apartments with their new tenant around 10 pm and as they pulled up to the building, my dad overheard two girls speaking in a foreign accent on the street, arguing with a taxi driver about going somewhere that was going to cost them over $100, which they said they couldn’t afford. My dad heard them say they were going to go sleep in the train station for the night, so he motioned to my mother for help.

As my dad took his new tenant inside the building, he said to my mother, “I think those two girls over there are in trouble. Go over and see where it is they’re trying to get to.” And he did that because he felt that, for two young girls, being approached by a strange man on the street late at night might be frightening. But if he sent my mother over to talk to them, they might feel more comfortable accepting help.

So my mother went over to the girls, and it turns out they were visiting the States from Germany and they had arrived to New York City for some kind of art convention. And since they had a few days off, they decided to go to an event that was happening in a town somewhere in New York. And not having been to the States before, they thought, “How big could New York be?” So they boarded a train to Albany and figured they could get anywhere they needed to go by taxi. Except they were trying to get to Binghamton, New York.

Now, as you know, Binghamton is about 2 hours away from Albany. But my dad didn’t even flinch. He decided he couldn’t just leave these two girls stranded in Albany for the night, so he said he’d drive them to where they needed to go, no matter how far.

So my dad and my mom hopped in their van with the two grateful German girls and drove all the way to Binghamton at 10:30 at night and then drove home again, getting back home around 3 in the morning, undoubtedly swapping stories and chatting about Germany as they drove.

That was the kind of guy my dad was.

So when I think back to those pieces of wisdom my dad wrote when he said, “A person’s value system is the sum total of their actions,” and I look at the example he set for me in life, I see his actions and the impact his actions had on me and the lives of so many around him.

If he was housing people in his apartments, he made them the kinds of homes he would want to live in, not just the kinds of homes he could rent. He did not speak empty words or promises – if he said he would help you, it’s because he was already mentally searching for the part or tool you needed to fix your problem or he was offering to come and fix the problem himself. He lived to do things for others, to help others and the sum total of his actions is so large that I will spend the rest of my life trying to live up to it.

I often wrote to my dad while I was in the Peace Corps in Russia, questioning whether I was actually making a difference by teaching English poorly with no training or experience to speak of, while questioning what it is I was meant to do with my life and how I was supposed to figure that out.

And my dad wrote this back to me:

We all ponder the question of ‘do I make a difference’ and what is my ‘worth’. Sometimes I think that hindsight gives a clearer insight into that question. We would all like to think that we have some great purpose. But perhaps the greatest mark we make is to help our ‘brother’ when he stumbles, and never put a stumbling block in the way of another.”

And that is the mark my father has left on me. Through his presence and his actions, and from meeting the many people whose lives he’s touched with a smile, a story or some assistance, I have seen the effect one person can have when they strive in whatever they do in life to help those around them and to not stand in the way of another.

He was my pillar to lean on when I needed support and he was my pedestal to stand on when I struggled to believe in myself. My father is the sum total of a lifetime of incredible actions, and that is why his loss is felt so greatly.

young lou hacker 8th army honor guardDad, an original hipster before his time