Delaware City hospitality

Ryan and I have been trying hard to transform ourselves into morning people so we can be like those super-humans I admire who can somehow feed their kids, go for a jog, work on their novel and fit in a full day of work, all before they’ve made and eaten their gourmet lunch.

We’re both night owls, which makes it hard to get enough sleep to ever think waking up at 6 am is sane, let alone when it’s cold and dark outside.

But yesterday we had a deadline: we needed to get to Delaware City, DE by 4 pm because we were going to have our first visitors! My childhood friend Elisa and her family were going to brave Philly’s Friday night traffic just to come see us in Delaware, which also meant this would be the first time we’d have children aboard Hideaway. I’m not sure who was more excited – me or the kids.

Because of this, I only hit my snooze button 5 times, instead of 10, and was out of bed by 7:30 am and ready to cast off at 8:15. I know, I know, that is not early. We’re working on it!

Leaving Cape May, our biggest concern was the 55-foot bridge we’d have to pass under to get to the Delaware Bay. Ryan seemed to think the height of our mast was definitely probably around 53 feet. Maybe. So we decided to have a run at the bridge during low tide, just to be safe. I was holding my breath, half covering my eyes, as we passed under the bridge…and I swear we just missed it by 2 inches. “Well, at least now we know we’re shorter than 55 feet!” Ryan said, laughing.

After that little scare, motor sailing through the Delaware Bay was fairly peaceful, except for a little excitement when we were pulled over by the Coast Guard. Charlie, the captain of our two cats, got a little confused about the protocol and tried to board the Coast Guard vessel as it pulled up alongside us. She was probably checking to see if their registration was valid. Once Charlie gave them the okay, the Coast Guard went on their way and we carried on.

Then there was the small problem of our charts showing only 1 foot of water at the entrance to Delaware City. Hideaway draws 5’6″, like many sailboats, so we were baffled as to why Skipper Bob would list a stop-off that would have us running aground. We called ahead to Delaware City Marina on the VHF radio and Tim, the super friendly dockmaster, assured us there was 7 feet of water at the entrance and the charts were wrong. Sure enough, Tim was right. We let out a little more nervous laughter as we passed over the supposed 1-foot lip and we were there – at the friendliest marina we’d been to yet.

Delaware City is the first port to remind us that we aren’t in New York anymore. Or anywhere near it. Though we liked Cape May well enough, the marina wasn’t the friendliest, which was not necessarily a problem, as it made us feel right at home. But we’ve been seeking those places that will make us feel like we’re arrived somewhere new.

Delaware City was that place – Tim, the dockmaster, came down with a neighboring live-aboard Brit to help us secure our boat and do this nifty thing where they swing the boat around to face the other direction with just one hand on the bow and a couple of line tugs. Meanwhile, Ryan and the live-aboard got to chatting about where they were from in England while Tim ribbed them about sounding “all sophisticated.” It’s one of those funny things that happens when Americans hear a British accent – they either go all goo-goo or they feel compelled to imitate the accent.

Once, Ryan asked someone for directions in New Jersey and the American helping him said, “Ooh, are you from England? I just love the English accent!” And then, in a sing-songy voice, she said, “Shall we have tea and crumpets?!” in the worst British accent I’d ever heard. And continued with, “Shall we put some shrimp on the barbie?!” clearly confusing Ryan for an Aussie. Then she grinned at us like she’d just revealed an extraordinary talent. Ryan smiled awkwardly and I cringed.

Tim didn’t do the accent, thankfully, which made me like him even more. Instead he talked us through the history of Delaware City and the C&D Canal, gave us an extensive welcome pack of information about the area and informed us that, as Boat US members, we’d only have to pay $1.80/foot for the first night and $0.90/foot for the second. Bargain! We couldn’t have asked for a friendlier welcome to the tiny little town of Delaware City. And when I say tiny, I mean we went out for a sunset run, and though we jogged up and down every single street in town, it only amounted to 3.5 miles.

But the icing on the cake, at the bargain price of $1.80/foot, was a glorious hot shower in a lovely and spacious bathroom, which put us in a good mood to await our guests.

If this is the treatment we’re in for as we move south, you won’t get me back to New York any time soon.

Ryan, Celia and Charlie somewhere on the Delaware Bay

Checking off Cape May

We left Cape May, NJ this morning with a working bilge pump, which was an accomplishment because apparently we didn’t arrive with one.

For you non-boaters out there, the bilge is the space in the bottom of the boat that collects water from various leaks and drips. And the bilge pump sucks the water out so the boat doesn’t sink. Perhaps you’ve heard that nautical saying: The best bilge pump is a scared man with a bucket.

But of course, we weren’t scared because we didn’t know we had this problem until we filled up our water tanks and discovered a leak in our aft tank, a 50 gallon rubber bladder. I’d suspected it might be leaking, since it seemed to run out quicker than it should, but I’d never looked at the bladder closely when it was full before. This time I did, and I saw 3 clear pinhole leaks spouting water at a fairly quick rate.

Of course, being the head-fixing handywoman that I am, I said, “Psh, I got this!” and reached for a roll of duct tape. Only it turns out duct tape doesn’t stick to water. Not even duct tape with purple peace signs on it. It slid right off the wet rubber and the water just carried on dribbling into the bilge.

The next worry was what was happening to all that water leaking out. It turned out it was going into the bilge and then going nowhere. Which was confusing because we’d just installed a new bilge pump and we were sure it was working when we left New York.

Luckily, Ryan is turning into quite the handyman himself, so he had the foresight to keep our old bilge pump on board as a backup. So he got down and dirty in the bilge, and with a little bit of unwiring and rewiring, voila! We had a working bilge pump.

Once we were sure the boat wouldn’t sink in our absence, we happily hopped on our bikes to go out and explore the town of Cape May, which turned out to be an adorably quiet, picturesque Victorian seaside resort (apparently created because wealthy Philadelphians used to come here in the 1700’s to escape the Yellow Fever epidemic) with meticulously restored Victorian homes and bed-and-breakfasts, and adorable boutiques and restaurants with the most elaborate hand-carved wooden signage I’ve ever seen. Ryan and I joked that the town sign-maker must have done a deal with the local politicians because even the low-brow Acme supermarket had the most beautifully carved wooden sign out front. There was definitely a town ordinance on fancy signs.

As adorable as Cape May was, though, with its fall foliage, town scarecrow exhibit and pumpkins everywhere, the truth was that it was still too cold for our liking. Which meant there was only one thing to do: head further south before it got even colder.

But not before we checked the boat over for all its working parts. Cape May’s near disaster with the bilge pump resulted in the creation of a brand-spanking-new Hideaway “Departure Check List,” which includes “check the bilge.”

I’m sure we’ll need to add to this list as we go, but at the moment, the check list looks like this:

  • Check oil level
  • Clean cat litter
  • Fill water tanks (if needed)
  • Get diesel (if needed)
  • Clean cabin
  • Check bilge
  • Check batteries, including back-up battery
  • Download latest Zygrib
  • Get pump-out (if needed)
  • Send someone sail plan

Hideaway at South Jersey Marina, Cape May, NJ

Tasha / Scarecrow at the Scarecrow Walk in Cape May, NJ

Finally! Sailing from New York to New Jersey

If a messy departure is a good omen for a long journey, then we’re going to have very good luck getting to the Bahamas.

We must have lost some of our skills during the long wait for our refit to be finished because we had a super sloppy cast-off yesterday in 30-knot winds. Our bow line was released a little too early, resulting in Hideaway sliding cock-eyed across two dock spaces and coming to rest with her bow on one slip and her stern on another, which is a difficult position to maneuver out of. I imagined our live-aboard neighbors eating popcorn and peering out their portholes during the shouting spectacle that ensued, placing bets as to whether or not these two idiots would ever make it to the Bahamas alive.

And then there was panic aboard when we hit a floating wooden beam in New York Harbor on the way out. This was a particular worry since two years ago Hideaway was taken out of commission for several months by a similar floating beam which smacked into our rudder and bent the post, taking out our steering. We immediately checked the steering this time and it appeared to be fine. Ryan and I both exhaled, muttering that we’d never survive having to wait another 2 months in New York to repair our rudder.

Our departure from the harbor wasn’t in the calmest of conditions either with 30-knot winds and gusts up to 35 knocking us around the Long Island Sound and jostling the poor cats about the cabin. But all that happened was Charlie ran up on deck and happily fell asleep in the sun while Celia promptly vomited on the teak floor. But at least one cat has her sea legs.

cats sailing new york

Fortunately, we were prepared for this, even if the cats weren’t. We knew the weather would be a little gusty at first and then it would calm down, as we had looked it up on this neat little meteorology app called ZyGrib, which our friend Thomas introduced us to. The downloadable weather maps showed that the wind would be with us (and therefore feel calmer) as soon as we turned off to Hell Gate and down the East River, so we assured the cats it would all be okay.

I, myself, am usually happy with vague weather forecasts of sun, clouds, rain and snow, but I’m now learning that detailed forecasts including the wind direction, tides, and the height and frequency of the waves are actually important when heading out to sea. Before we left, our friend Thomas explained to us how to read the wind direction and speed on the weather map by the symbols, which looked to me like little Zen garden rakes. Each “prong” represents 10 knots of wind and the “handle” points in the direction the wind blows, which helps immensely in making decisions about when to depart (and when not to). The handy thing about this particular app (besides that it’s free) is that you can download forecasts for the next 8 days when you have internet and then use the detailed information offline to do your planning when you don’t have internet, which will be very useful on this trip.

Zygrib weather map example

This was all new to me – especially since our past methods for determining the ideal time to sail has always been based on whether or not it was the weekend. If it was the weekend, or a holiday, and it wasn’t raining, then it was time to go sailing! What? Is that not scientific enough for you?

Yeah, I didn’t think so. Which is why, before departure, I now spend hours studying the little Zen garden rakes on the weather maps and checking the tide tables on our handy Ayetides app.

Sure enough, just as the forecast said, as soon as we headed towards Hell Gate, the bouncing stopped, Celia stopped drooling miserably, and we settled in for a pleasant, albeit cold journey. Now, if you’ve ever been through Hell Gate – the washing machine of crazy current on the East River – you’ll know how ironic this is. It is, after all, called “Hell Gate,” the reason being that the current is so strong that it can run up to 5 knots with you or against you, depending on the tides. So planning the timing of your entrance into Hell Gate is essential.

brooklyn bridge sailing new york

Our plan was to hit Hell Gate around 10 am, shortly after the tide turned in our favor, so we would be carried through the East River with about 1 or 2 knots of current. But then we realized we had to buy milk, say good-bye to the marina staff, get fuel and tie down our bikes. So, we ended up coming through Hell Gate around noon, which meant we were going about 6 knots under motor with a 4-knot current in our favor.

I have to say, whizzing past the Empire State Building at 10 knots is pretty exhilarating, though perhaps not great for photography. “Quick, Ryan! Pose in front of the… oh, it’s gone.”

This was much better than having the opposite problem, though: 4 knots of current against you, which is a mistake we’ve made before.

So, I guess I can’t say I’ve learned nothing in my 5 years on Hideaway. I’ve learned about tides, dodging debris and what the little Zen garden rakes on weather maps mean.

Finally sailing away from New York, after one last run through our old familiar sailing spots in the Long Island Sound and New York Harbor, I was reminded of all the good times and learning experiences (i.e. screw-ups) we’d had in these harbors. It was good to have that run-through with the familiar before launching out into the Atlantic, headed for a new port – the first in a long line of new ports to come. It re-instilled a little of the old confidence that we had lost during the seemingly endless weeks in port, waiting to leave.

statue of liberty sailing new york

And compared to our morning departure, the nighttime sail through still blackness, with 12-15 knots of wind in our sails and not another boat in sight, was blissfully uneventful, even if I was wearing every item of clothing I owned to keep warm. When we finally turned into Cape May about 12:30 this afternoon, bleary eyed from doing 2 to 3-hour shifts all night, it felt like we’d accomplished something. All that waiting was worthwhile: we had finally arrived at our first port.

You might be wondering how we celebrated this milestone. Well, Ryan slept (since he got very little sleep during my hours of watch), and I went out and ran 20 miles along the boardwalk of Wildwood (marathon training requires this of me), not realizing that the south Jersey coast is essentially shut up and abandoned for winter this time of year, turning Wildwood’s boardwalk amusement park into something like a creepy horror movie set. Then I returned to my expensive marina ($2.95/foot), looking forward to nothing more than a long, hot shower to soothe my aching muscles…only to find that South Jersey Marina’s temporary shower (they lost their facilities in a recent electrical fire) only has cold water. Ice cold water. $100 a night and no hot water. There are not enough words for how I felt about the dockmaster in the moment I discovered this. But I’m sure I’ll come up with something when I see him in the morning.

I guess I can make this the first lesson learned on this trip: when making reservations at expensive marinas, make sure to ask first if they have hot water.

Note: In fairness to South Jersey Marina, they were very apologetic about the lack of hot water the next morning and discounted our stay to $2.00 a foot.

tasha ryan manhasset bay marina

Saying our final good-byes to Manhasset Bay Marina, Long Island, NY

turf to surf sailing new york

It’s hard to believe we’re finally sailing out of New York

Tasha, Charlie and Celia sleeping soundly on Ryan’s watch

Approaching Cape May, NJ

Are we there yet?!

Dear friends and family,

I’m sorry to inform you that, despite what we told you, we are never actually leaving New York. We just said all that stuff about sailing to the Bahamas so you would come to our good-bye party and buy us farewell dinners. I feel guilty about the deception and hope you’ll forgive us one day.

I also want you to know that it has recently come to my attention that I am the god-daughter of late Capt. Harly Aku who was a personal confidante to the ousted Head of State of Sierra Leone and was left with the total sum of US $10,000,000.00 (ten million U.S. dollars), which was left under his control within the Presidential Mansion. I must find a trusted partner to help me get this money safely out of the country, so if I could transfer this money to your account, it is guaranteed you will be entitled to 15% of the total sum.

If you are willing to assist me with this transfer, dear esteemed friend, please let me know and I will furnish you with the details.

Yours truly,

Tasha Hacker Aku

post-line-divide

Sorry. My sense of humor is going a little haywire with, well, what is the cabin fever equivalent to being stuck in port? Dock fever? Un-motion sickness? Whatever it is, we’ve got it.

Even Celia couldn’t take it anymore and tried to end her boredom by setting herself on fire over our portable gas stove. Luckily Celia has a lot of fur, so I caught the burning smell before she even flinched and was therefore successful in stamping out her suicide mission.

It is, in fact, beginning to feel like we just made up this whole story about sailing away in order to con a total of two good-bye parties, four good-bye dinners, one good-bye lunch and countless bottles of fizzy wine out of our loved ones and colleagues.

But the boat is now ready to go, and we’re raring to leave as soon as the next weather window allows, which is definitely, probably, hopefully this week.

Let me tell you now: if I am eating this year’s Thanksgiving dinner wearing anything more than a bikini and flip-flops, I will throw Ryan overboard and write about it here.

But as long as we’re on standby, let me catalog here what work has been done over the last 6-8 weeks to get our boat ready to leave (feel free to skip over the list and jump to the photos if boat work is not your thing…I won’t be offended as I nearly fell asleep writing the list):

  • Removed mast and ran new wiring to the top of the mast for the new Windex, LED tri-color navigational lights, LED anchor light, hi-def radar, VHF antenna, cellular data antenna and Rogue Wave WiFi antenna
  • Installed a new alternator on our engine to increase battery charge
  • Installed 4 new G-27 gel batteries (Ryan was particularly excited about this)
  • Installed a new refrigeration plate in our cool box (the old one drew so much power we could never run it unless we were on shore power)
  • Had the boat bottom scraped and painted with anti-foul
  • Replaced our propeller with a larger, more powerful propeller
  • Replaced our old battery-sucking cabin lights with new, modern, low-amp LED lighting
  • Had a new dodger and cockpit awning fitted and custom made
  • Installed a new chart plotter, depth finder and wind-meter at the helm
  • Installed a Xantrex (battery charge monitor) so we know when we need to charge up our batteries
  • Installed a new VHF marine radio on the nav station
  • Bought a new 4-inch memory foam mattress for the V-berth (my new favorite addition…seriously, if you’re not happy with your boat mattress – or even your house mattress – you don’t have to spend a lot of money to replace it – this was $140 on www.overstock.com and a dream to sleep on)
  • Converted one of our hanging lockers into a pantry for more food storage, using Container Store wicker baskets and custom shelves built for the baskets’ sizes.
  • Removed our extremely dangerous alcohol stove and built a shelving unit for storage of pots and pans and our portable gas stove units
  • Had a locking cat flap built into our cockpit washboards
  • Bungee corded the litter box down under the Nav station (fits perfectly there!)
  • Ran netting along all our lifelines for the cats’ safety
  • Installed a new pump in the head and replaced the old toilet seat
  • Installed a new joker valve on the head to keep the waste from coming back into the toilet bowl (which it was doing)
  • Replaced all the window screens and gaskets on the portholes
  • Installed a new auto-helm (to replace the old, perfectly fine auto-helm which was fried by a bad regulator)
  • Installed wall fans in each room
  • Velcroed our iPad cover to the ceiling of our V-berth so we could watch TV on our iPad (okay, maybe this isn’t really “work,” but let me tell you it is a pretty awesome addition if you buy TV episodes on iTunes)

Some highlights of the work in photos below:

Hideaway’s new improved custom dodger

New chart plotter, depth finder and wind meter on the helm

New navigation station gadgets

New memory foam in V-berth…gift of the gods

As I said, this is the best $140 ever spent. It’s like sleeping on a cloud – no seams, no hard spots… just heaven. We bought the 4″ king-size memory foam and cut it into the shape of our V-berth, then laid it right on top of the existing cushioning (the green in the pic is the old cushion). At the Annapolis boat show last year, we got a quote for a custom mattress which cost over $1000 per berth. Crazy! You can buy one just as good here and cut it to size yourself: www.overstock.com

Once a coat closet…now more food storage!

Hideaway’s old alcohol stove – a fire hazard like none other

This alcohol stove came with Hideaway and has only been used once – on the day we finalized ownership of the boat. We were sitting on Hideaway, in a marina in Stamford, Connecticut, wondering how to christen our new acquisition and Ryan suggested making a cup of tea on the stove… before ever buying boat insurance. Bad idea. We lit the stove and noticed very quickly that the purple flames kept climbing higher and higher, despite the fact that I was turning the burner down lower and lower. When they started licking the ceiling, I started frantically turning everything off – I had turned off all the burners, and shut off the stove completely and yet the flames still kept growing. What happened next was a panic in the order of: first ripping open a fire blanket and laying it on the stove, only to find that the flames escaped from the sides and were climbing ever higher, then dumping a bucket of ice on the stove, which only seemed to fuel the fire, then finally yanking out a fire extinguisher and covering our brand new galley with a layer of foam. If only I had a picture of that. What a mess.

But at least we weren’t on fire anymore. And there wasn’t any real damage, except perhaps to our blood pressure. We made a mental note to call Boat US for an insurance quote as soon as we’d mopped up the galley.

Following this hair-raising incident, for five years, the stove would only be used as a small, gimballed storage locker. A very expensive storage locker, at that, as they cost about $1000 new. We looked at the cost of replacing this stove with a propane one, and we were looking at a minimum of $1000 for the stove/oven unit, plus installation, plus the additional requirement of installing a specially ventilated locker to hold a propane tank, which was not going to be an easy or reasonably priced job for a boat that didn’t already have propane tank ventilation.

Our solution? Rip out the stove, build a storage cabinet, and buy two $40 portable gas stoves that could be stored in the new cabinet. We have never understood what to do with an oven anyway, apart from store pots and pans in it, so this feature won’t be missed much.

Hideaway’s new galley storage addition – enough to fit 2 stoves inside as well as all our pots and pans (and some wine)

Isn’t it a lovely stove? Did I mention it was only $40? Check it out: www.amazon.com

The new galley storage space

New locking cat flap in our washboards

Can Charlie and Celia find their way in and out?

The litter box is bungee-corded down under the nav station

Charlie approves of the new lifeline netting

Charlie and celia with our new fan and new hanging iPad TV contraption

Home is wherever I’m with you

I feel like another record scratch is in order. Our revised sail plan had us departing on Monday, October 8th. And then another shakedown cruise proved that our electrics weren’t working, namely our spreader lights, steaming lights, WiFi extender and a few little odds and ends elsewhere. So, we called Tony, our electrician, who was on a fishing trip in Montauk and due back no earlier than Friday, despite our pleas. So, it looks like we’ll need to wait until after Friday when Tony can get back on board and do some magic (i.e. leave us with more things working than not).

Talk about a let-down.

It’s especially a bummer because we just said all our dramatic good-byes last week. We waited until we knew for sure the boat was ready (we thought we were sure) to tell everyone we knew, and then we finally announced to all our employees that we were leaving for good, which up until then was only known by the directors of our companies (they’ve been preparing for this moment for a year now).

And then I realized that we didn’t actually have time to get around and see everyone to properly say our good-byes. So, in my usual last-minute fashion, last Thursday I sent out an impromptu email and Facebook invitation to say that we were throwing together a good-bye party of sorts the next evening after work at The Hideaway, our boat’s namesake bar in TriBeCa.

The Hideaway was our local after-work bar for 4 years when Ryan and I lived in the apartment building across from it, building our business in that neighborhood. Let’s just say, first of all, that building a business is very stressful. Because of that, over the course of those four years, we probably single-handedly kept The Hideaway in business. Hey, it’s all about going local, right?! But, other than the outlines of our bums being permanently imprinted on its barstools, The Hideaway is also very important to us because it’s the bar where we got our friend Rich drunk enough to agree to buy a boat with us. So, the bar has a bit of history, and therefore seemed like the perfect place to gather for some final shenanigans.

The turnout was humbling…so many incredible people from our six-year history in New York came out to reminisce and say their good-byes: my very first New York City friends from the Peace Corps Fellows Master’s degree program I did at Columbia University (which was what brought us to NYC in the first place), Ryan’s Gotham Rugby teammates, running friends, some employees, some ex-students and just the most lovely, lively, positive combination of people in the whole of the New York City five boroughs, for sure.

It was an incredibly nostalgic night and the perfect send-off…even if some of it will only be remembered in photos. But what great photos they are! Below are some highlights of the night in print… I think my favorites are my friend Katie Delavaughn’s photos of the end of the night outside on the streets (after the surly bartenders kicked us out). That night will forever make me miss New York City and the people who make it great.

On the other hand, I won’t miss working long days in Manhattan, leaving the office at 10 pm to catch a train from Penn Station to Port Washington, sometimes hopping on my bike or in a taxi to get to the marina where we tie up our dinghy, then dragging the dinghy into the water to then motor from the marina to Hideaway, often running out of fuel along the way, and then finally climbing aboard around midnight to sit down, throw back a glass of wine and then crawl into bed for a brief night’s sleep before getting up in the morning to hop in the dinghy and head back to Manhattan to do it all over again. I will not miss that.

But I will miss these people. They’re the ones who’ve made New York City a home to us. Thank you, guys. You know exactly who you are.

Sailing fitness: Runnin’ down a dream

Tonight I met up with my Urban Athletics sprint training group for the last time in Battery Park. I hadn’t told them previously I would be leaving because float plans are fickle and I didn’t really know which Wednesday evening would be my last time running with them. For all I knew, I could still be running with them come November.

Also, it’s not the easiest thing to explain… that you’ll be sailing to the Bahamas…not on vacation, but forever. What?!! The looks I get are usually a mixture of confusion and intrigue. The looks get even more interesting when I say we don’t actually know what we’re doing next, after we get to the Bahamas. And then the questions begin, which are pretty much along the lines of the questions I threw at Ryan 6 or 7 years ago, when we were living in Spain and he nonchalantly mentioned that it was his lifelong dream to sail around the world. On a boat. With me. My reaction was so negative he didn’t speak to me for 2 hours. “Who lives on a boat?” “What do you do in the winter?” “What about hurricanes?” “What do you do for exercise?” “Where do you go to the bathroom?” “Nobody does that…are you crazy?!”

This evening’s group workout consisted of 7 reps of 300 meters and I nearly puked from pushing myself so hard, probably out of desperation to get the very most out of my last group training session in New York City possibly ever. This probably doesn’t sound like much fun to most of you, but I look forward to these workouts just as much as I dread them. They make me a faster and stronger runner, which is always my goal. My other goal is to run the Outer Banks, N.C. Marathon on November 11th, on our way down the East coast. It’ll be interesting to see how my marathon training goes while we’re sailing. It’s hard enough as it is to train for a marathon on your own when you don’t move around. Maybe that’s why I was feeling like I was really going to miss these torturous sessions – because it will probably be even harder to train after we leave.

When the workout came to an end, it was time for me to say good-bye. Actually saying out loud to my running group that I was sailing to the Bahamas on Monday and never coming back kind of made the plan concrete for me, which I don’t think it really has been up until now. And then it made me kind of sad. The looks I got were exactly what I was expecting (shock, horror, confusion), but there were also a lot of smiles and comments like, “That is so cool!” which I appreciated. I tried to downplay the dramatic departure announcement, and found myself saying, “Hey, you never know how it will turn out… I may see you back in New York again some day.” I am so uncomfortable saying good-bye, even to people I only run with once a week. Perhaps it’s because I don’t like to admit how very attached to people and places I get.

After I said my good-byes and left my group, I still had to go back to my office to do a little work. My office is about 3 miles north of Battery Park, so on a whim I decided to run the long way back to 26th Street. I usually run up the West Side Path because it’s quicker, the view over the water is spectacular at night and you don’t have to deal with traffic. But on this night, I decided to run straight through the heart of Manhattan so I could have a good look at my city one last time.

Within a few minutes, I found myself a little turned around (I have the world’s worst sense of direction) and discovered I was right in front of the 9-11 Memorial in TriBeCa, a neighborhood I know better than any other neighborhood in New York. TriBeCa is where Ryan and I started Teaching House, our teacher training school. We had been there since 2007 until this summer when we moved to our own commercial lease space in Chelsea. We also lived in TriBeCa for 4 years (at one point, in the same building as our school) while we grew the business from just 1 classroom to, eventually, 15 classrooms. And here I was, standing in front of the 9-11 Memorial, just 3 blocks south of where our school was, realizing that I’d never even looked at or visited this place.

So, I took a moment to walk around and look at the engravings on the walls and the plaques with pictures of all the firemen and policemen who lost their lives. What struck me most, looking at the pictures, was how young a lot of the men were…many of them looked like they were only in their 20’s. It’s probably a cliche, but I really did start thinking about the impermanence of life and all the things that could unexpectedly cut our lives short. And it made me feel resolute in the decision to sail away while we’re still young and, well, because we can.

After the memorial, I ran slowly up 8th Avenue, through TriBeCa, the West Village and SoHo, and I stared through the restaurant windows at all the young, slim, hard-working, fashionable New Yorkers drinking wine and enjoying meals that probably cost as much per person as a month’s worth of groceries in the Caribbean. And it made me realize that Ryan and I have lived this life for six years now – six long, sleepless years. It’s been gluttonous and glamorous and wonderful, and also overwhelmingly stressful and rather unhealthy, in many respects. Looking through those restaurant windows, I realized I didn’t crave or need those $150 steak and wine dinners anymore. Or the fabulous theater shows on any day of the week. As wonderful as it all has been, I’ve had my fill of ambitious, wondrous New York City. I’m now ready for something different.

With that thought, I ran back to my office, picked up my things, and boarded a train back to Long Island and back to our sailboat. And I sincerely hoped that I wouldn’t have to make the commute back to Manhattan too many more times before I could say good-bye for real.

central park race nyc

My last NYC race – 18-mile marathon tune-up in Central Park

D-Day

So, here we are…on our scheduled date of departure, planned in detail exactly 1 year ago. We’re standing arm-in-arm on the bow ofour Catalina 34, waving good-bye to the Statue of Liberty, feeling the spray of the Hudson River on our faces as we lean into the wind, and towards our future… *record scratch*

What?! Are you calling bullshit? What do you mean float plans never go as expected?! (*insane chuckling* a la Robert De Niro in Cape Fear)

Yeah, okay, you got me.

Truthfully, on this planned day of departure for the Bahamas, I’m in the Catskill Mountains, in upstate New York, at our winter lodge with our 2 cats, Celia and Charlie, researching pet vaccinations.

Ryan, on the other hand, is in Port Washington, Long Island, at our marina, dealing with the disaster that is the aftermath of a bad regulator installed on our engine’s new and “improved” alternator (forgive me, mechanical experts, if that made no sense, as I’m not sure if the regulator is on the engine, the battery, or the alternator.) I told you I know nothing about boats, right? What I do know is that the alternator charges our battery, and because the regulator was bad, the battery-charging thingy never shut off, which resulted in all of our lovely new electrics being fried. To a crisp.

Just to give you an idea of the scope of the disaster, prior to installing a new alternator, we had the mast removed from Hideaway so we could run wires up through it, which attached to a new Windex, running lights, steaming lights, and a Rogue Wave WiFi extender, which is the accessory I was most excited about. In the cockpit, we also had a new chart plotter installed, a SiriusXM Weather Report Receiver, along with a fancy new depth finder and wind gauge to go along with our not-so-new but working autopilot. Here’s our boat being put back together after its dismantling:

Let’s just say, a fair bit of money was spent on these upgrades, and the bad regulator fried ALL of them, including our old and perfectly fine autopilot. So, that’s where we stand: it’s D-day and we can’t leave until these problems are solved and replacements are ordered and installed. Again.

To add to the comedy of errors, we also now have a screaming propeller. And when I say screaming, I mean like a Ban-shee. When we had the boat hauled for repairs, we also installed a new (and hopefully faster) propeller… a beautiful brass thing that just looks fast and sleek. But in the “shakedown cruise” (my favorite new nautical term) when Ryan and our boat buddy Bill took Hideaway out for a test, it was discovered that our new propeller screamed at a pitch that could crack our wine glasses if they weren’t made of boat-proof plastic.

After calling the propeller manufacturer, it turns out that we hit the jackpot – we cashed in on a one-in-a-million chance that the frequency of the water flowing over the propeller at a certain speed would create a scream akin to the sound of a crystal glass when your finger rubs along the rim, multiplied by 1000. What luck, eh?!

The solution? Remove the propeller and bring it back to the manufacturer in Flushing so they can scuff up the blades and change the angle at which the water hits the rim. And to do that, we had to get a diver to go down and get the propeller off our boat. Doesn’t sound too complex, right? The only problem is that the diver is also known to like his drink, which means he sometimes disappears. So, now that we have our propeller back from the manufacturer, we can’t seem to find the diver to put our propeller back on the boat.

But I’m sure there’s a way around this. Even if Ryan has to swim under the boat to put the propeller on himself. Right? Not really.

I should also mention here that we’re not the handiest couple I know. Have I told you the story of that time I once fixed our clogged head? Mentioning this at least twice a day isn’t annoying to Ryan at all – I’m sure he’s really proud of me. And it’s definitely not annoying that I also told Gary, our marina pump-out guy, so that now he mentions it to Ryan every time he sees him. I like to pretend it’s not at all because Gary is a teeny bit sexist — being crazily shocked a girl could fix anything, let alone a nastily clogged head — but because I’m a genius.

Never say never

Ryan and I are both relatively new to sailing in the sense that neither of us grew up on the water, though Ryan arguably grew up near water, considering England is an island. But Ryan’s interest in sailing didn’t bloom until his father bought a 23′ keelboat when he retired and started taking Ryan out for day sails in the North Sea whenever he came home from traveling in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Hong Kong.

When Ryan first introduced me to sailing, we were living in Doha, Qatar, on the topaz-blue Arabian Gulf, teaching English. It was our second date and he wanted to impress me by renting out a little Hobie Catamaran for an afternoon jaunt. It was impressive; especially the way he knowledgeably handled the sail in such strong gusts of wind. He seemed to know exactly what he was doing. Which is why I didn’t panic…even when a heavy gust and a drastic turn seem to lift one half of the Hobie completely out of the water. I looked quickly at Ryan the way an airline passenger would look to an air hostess for a reassuring expression of calm during turbulence… and I could just make out the words “OH SHIT” on his lips before the mast went completely over and we were in the water.

So there we floated, laughing and waving for help while standing on the bottom of our upside-down Hobie Cat in the middle of the Arabian Gulf, wondering how we were going to get home. And then I remembered how clever I’d been to pack my cell phone in a zip-lock bag, in case we got wet. “We can call for help!” I said, pulling open my submerged backpack.

never say never

The view from my apartment window of the Arabian Gulf in Doha, Qatar

It turns out, however, that zip-lock bags aren’t waterproof. It also turns out that motor boaters in the Gulf aren’t helpful. We waved our arms frantically at every passing boat, but they must have thought we were just waving to say hello because no one even tried to slow down.

Finally, one boat slowed down, then sped up, then slowed down again and reluctantly came over to us (probably after the captain’s wife forced him to). Feelings of relief, however, turned out to be premature, as the “rescue” played out like that scene in The Full Monty, where two guys are standing on the hood of a car that’s slowing sinking into a lake somewhere in northern England. A guy walks by with his dog, sees the guys sinking and says, “Alright?!” One guy responds, instinctively, “Not so bad.” So, the dog walker keeps walking on, without a pause. Then the other guy on the car retorts, “Not so bad?! Not much of a chuffing SOS, is it?!”

Similarly, our British motorboat guy pulled up and said, “You two all right?”

I thought, “We’ve been standing on the bottom of a capsized boat for the last 30 minutes because no one’s come to help us…not so bad!” But instead I said, “Um, we flipped over.” To which Ryan added, “Would you mind throwing us a line? We could use it to right the boat.”

Good idea!” I thought. “So obvious!”

But, instead, the dry fellow in his speedboat shook his head and said, “Oh, I don’t know ’bout that. It’s a bit risky. Could you call someone?”

I was now staring daggers at Full Monty Man whilst holding up my sopping wet sandwich bag. “I WOULD call someone,” I said. “But we’re under water. Could you call the club, perhaps?”

“I don’t know the number. Do you?” said an unfazed Mr. Monty.

Again, I held up my dripping phone in a sandwich bag phone and said, “Maybe you could look up the number and call them for us?”

Full Monty sighed like I was holding him up for a hot date and I imagined what I would do if I found him shivering in the North Sea, having capsized his little motorboat. “Alright?” I’d say to him, and drive off in my shiny mega yacht.

And the daydream continued until someone from the Diplomatic Club, where we rented our Cat, came and rescued us. Full Monty guy didn’t stick around to make sure we were okay, as expected, leaving as soon as he got confirmation that someone else knew we were stranded. So Ryan and I just waited it out and laughed at our misfortune. Luckily, it was one of those experiences that turned a good date into an extremely memorable one. It turns out capsizing with your future husband isn’t such a bad thing.

And because that date went so well, it wasn’t long before Ryan threw out the idea of doing a basic keelboat course together. I agreed, as it seemed like a novel and wonderfully impractical idea to me at the time. And impractical ideas are the most fun when you’re only 27.

Manning the tiller on the Colgate 26 we were learning on, I thought it was so calm and peaceful to be on the sparkling blue water in the mid-day sun, floating around in the Gulf… and then a bark from my instructor would jolt me out of my reverie, prompting me to get the boat back on course (though I could never quite tell what the course was). I wished the instructor would stop making me tack and jibe every five minutes, and just let me relax. Maybe I should have signed up for a day cruise, rather than a keelboat course… but then again, I really liked Ryan. And we were in that giddy early phase of dating when you think every idea your date has is genius.

At the time, I also remember thinking that I’d heard about people who had sailed around the world, which led me to think of that frightening fishing book I’d once read, The Perfect Storm – a bad idea, in hindsight, as scenes from the book now form my nightmares about being at sea. Sitting in the uncomfortable cockpit of that little Colgate 26, looking down at the spartan cabin below, I could only think to myself, “There’s no way in hell I could ever live on a boat.”

That was 2004.

Never say never.

Marine toilet paper, my arse

This is probably a good time to mention that I know very little about sailing, apart from what I’ve learned from co-owning a boat with Ryan and our friend Rich for the last 5 years. But, truth be told, I haven’t taken much responsibility for learning everything I could about sailing.

Ryan, however, delved with unfailing enthusiasm into sailing the moment we stepped foot on Hideaway, chatting up sailors for advice in bars, participating in J-24 race nights, reading countless books about sailing and generally taking every opportunity possible to take the boat out and play around with the sails. I, on the other hand, have managed in that same time to learn how to respond to commands to pull lines, dock and un-dock rather clumsily, trim the sails (with explicit instructions as to what “trim” means), and I’ve occasionally been known to make cocktails and snacks for the crew and guests, transforming myself into some kind of 1950’s housewife who thinks the heavy lifting and decision-making should be left to the boys.

Pathetic, I know. Gloria Steinem would not be impressed. Which is why this year, as soon as I knew we were actually leaving for real, I’ve tried to undo some of the lazy damage of the last 5 years by paying more attention to the points of sail, learning how to check the engine oil, knowing where all our through holes are, and I’ve taken – quite enthusiastically – to driving our dinghy, Mighty Mouse, around as much as possible at full throttle. It turns out that our little 3.5 horsepower dinghy goes fast when Ryan’s not weighing it down! Yes, we named our dinghy Mighty Mouse. Isn’t he beautiful?

Oh and I shouldn’t discount that I agreed to move onto the boat, which has been moored at Manhasset Bay Marina in Port Washington, Long Island, as our permanent residence for the last 6 months. After all, living on a boat is way cheaper than living in a Manhattan apartment (and often larger), it’s like luxury camping (and I love camping) and it gives me the chance to get to know the boat and its idiosyncrasies better.

I’m ashamed to say, though, that I still don’t know what anything on the boat is called – for example, I still call the charts “water maps,” lines “ropes,” I’ve never taken the boat out on my own, and I’m never quite sure what “point of sail” we’re on when Ryan quizzes me.

I also only just discovered that a bedroom on a boat is called a “state room.” I had been calling it an “estate room,” which is what I thought people were saying, though this term makes little sense on such a small vessel. And the other day, when Ryan mentioned that the “joker” valve on our head was not working, I began referring to it as the “jerker” valve, which is what I understood it to be in Ryan’s British accent. He laughed, but I pointed out that “joker” valve didn’t make a great deal of sense either… was he sure it wasn’t called a “choker” valve? As that would make much more sense…it does, after all, “choke” the flow of waste from coming back into the toilet bowl. You see where I’m going with this??? I had to Google it to make sure, but it is, indeed, a “joker” valve, it turns out. Most importantly, though, ours does not work, which means our toilet is constantly filling up with smelly waste.

Speaking of heads (toilets, to you lucky land-lubbers), ours has not worked very well these last few months, and the problems all started with the “marine-safe” toilet paper we bought. In fairness to us, we bought it at West Marine, so it must be good for boats, right? At the time, Ryan convinced me that the paper was designed to break down in water (if you’ve ever been told this, you’re probably chuckling, as this all depends on how much paper needs breaking down), but I had a nagging memory of Hideaway‘s previous owner bragging that he’d never had a clogged head: he gave us an explicit warning that we should always follow the rule he had plastered to the wall for us:

clogged head marine toilet paper

Sure enough, about 1 month later, we encountered a blockage that no amount of pumping could budge. Shouting “I told you so!”, I insisted this was a “blue” job, rather than a “pink” job, or at least a pay-money-to-hire-someone job. We had been without a working toilet for more than a week, which meant that I had grown accustomed to peeing in the sink (an acrobatic feat, to say the least), or off the back of the boat after dark (we live on a mooring, so it’s easier to hide after sunset), and therefore it was time to take matters into my own hands.

Which, in my mind, meant throwing money at this nasty problem. To complicate that plan, however, it was Saturday by the time I got hold of someone who could help, and it was the weekend of the Round Long Island Regatta, meaning Ryan had left the day before with his friend Bill and 2 other crew on Bill and Grace’s boat, Calico Skies, to do the race. Therefore Grace and I planned to hang out for the weekend on Hideaway and have some fun… and that fun was not to involve peeing off the back of the boat.

So, I called a marine head guy named Dan and he quoted me the rate of $475/hour to drop everything and come help me with this “emergency” on a Saturday. $475! I only slightly hesitated, and then I asked him if he could guarantee fixing the head in one hour only. Of course, he couldn’t.

Dan said, encouragingly, “Listen, it really isn’t complicated. I do it every day. You’ve probably got one of 3 types of marine heads and they’re all bolted down pretty much the same way. You just gotta unscrew the bolts and pull out the pipe. 99 times out of 100 the problem is a simple clog.”

“And what happens to all the stuff in the toilet when you unscrew the bolts?” I asked.

“Well, it comes out. Listen, you got kids? It ain’t nothing you ain’t seen in a baby’s diaper. And it’ll save you 475 bucks. If you need me to talk you through it, gimme a call.”

Fair enough. Except I don’t have kids, and this problem sounded disgusting to fix. But not impossible. Luckily, Grace isn’t squeamish and didn’t mind, after a few cups of wine, being my cheerleader as I pulled on the rubber gloves and disappeared into the head with the plunger and garbage bags we’d picked up for this job. “Just think of the brownie points I’ll get if I actually fix this thing!” I said. “I’ll never have to fix anything again!”

Right, because that’s exactly how boats work.

Sure enough, in about two hours, with the help of an unraveled coat hanger, some pliers, rubber gloves and a plugged nose, it looked like I might have loosened the blockage. I pumped the handle and, wondrously, the smeggy brown water disappeared down the pipe! I lunged into the galley victoriously, gloved hands punching the air like I’d just scored a touchdown, screaming victory at Grace. I fixed it! I was so proud of myself, I immediately took a swig of wine and posted the pic of my newly unclogged toilet on Facebook, which I hoped would reach the boys somewhere on their sleepless journey around Long Island so they could give me a mental high five.

marine toilet paper clogged head

And ever since then, I have been dropping “that time I fixed the head” story into conversation at least once a week. But c’mon! Wouldn’t Gloria Steinem be proud?!

Keep in touch with us as we sail south by connecting to Turf to Surf’s Facebook Page, Twitter Feed, or Google+ Page.

What it takes to sail away for good

Every journey has to start somewhere. And though ours has yet to begin, it has been an adventure in itself just getting to the point of departure. (See future posts on fried electric systems and broken heads.)

For the past year, Ryan and I have been planning to sail away from New York Harbor on our 34′ Catalina sailboat, Hideaway, with our 2 cats Charlie and Celia, leaving behind our Manhattan lives, our businesses, our families and our friends to pursue something… else.

Actually, I say “we” have been planning. But, really, Ryan’s been planning. I, on the other hand, have mastered burying my head in the sand, taking up all-consuming projects that are completely not boat-related, half-hoping this crazy idea would either go away or miraculously start feeling like my plan, too.

We set the departure date of October 1, 2012 some time last year when Ryan was fed-up with our overly stressful Manhattan lives. The plan Ryan made, which I vaguely agreed to, was to get to the Bahamas on or around November 15th, his birthday.

In the year leading up to our departure, I’ve semi-successfully ignored the fact that we’re leaving, while occasionally reading books and blogs about sailing (Tania Aebi’s book Maiden Voyage was the most inspiring, so far) and also scrambled to cram in every last bit of land-based fun I could possibly have, just in case we did actually leave as discussed. (Possible future post: “How I came to be a downhill ski racer and roller derby player simultaneously.”) Nothing like a little roller-skating and skiing to remind you of the things you can’t do on a sailboat.

I know, I know, you seasoned sailors out there know that most of the fun in cruising is had by getting off the boat to explore, but I can’t help imagining that we’ll be living like Reid Stowe, that crazy guy who set a record by spending 1500-some-odd days at sea without ever touching land. Ever. Stowe’s voyage, as awe-inspiring as it is, sounds like the worst thing that could ever happen to me… a floating sea-prison where I’d be forced to do yoga, sit in sober silence, and kill my own food.

But, it turns out no one does that. Well, not no one. Obviously Reid Stowe did that. But Ryan has promised me that we will spend a larger portion of time on land than we do on the boat. He promised. Which is why I’m documenting it here for you all to see.

So this is where our story begins. In writing this, I am acknowledging that Ryan’s dream is about to become a reality, and it’s now time for me, too, to embrace this adventure 100%. There are some things about our future I feel uncertain about, but my life experiences so far have taught me that this would be true whether I were on a boat or firmly rooted to land. And the truth is, I am always up for an adventure. Especially one that involves traveling.

These last few weeks in New York City, as the weather has cooled off and our boat preparations/reparations have come to a close, I’ve started to inch closer to the feeling that it’s time to go. And if there’s another thing I’ve learned, it’s that it’s always better to leave a town while you still have some love left. I can see Ryan’s appreciation for my favorite city waning very quickly (evident whenever he indicates to change lanes and some crazy driver accelerates to prevent him from moving over…to which he screams, “I hate this city!” and I reply, “It’s not New York that’s bad; it’s the people in it.”). The truth is, I need to get him out of here if I ever want to see Manhattan again.

So there you have it. Who knows where this path will lead us? It doesn’t matter. For now, we start with the story of two travel-loving, over-tired Manhattanites in love (one from East London and one from upstate New York), who decided to take a leap of faith, set sail to the Bahamas…and just see what happens next.