It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)

Some thought the world would end today. But from what I could see this morning, the Starbucks-fueled population of New York City barely humored the idea as they streamed into subways and out of yellow cabs with their half-eaten breakfasts in hand. These people were on a mission, and that didn’t involve humoring an ancient Mayan calendar, even for a second.

turf to surf manhattan breakfast

Street breakfast in SoHo.

Being in New York this week, I’ve grown somewhat jealous of the cruisers we’ve met who seem to have completely cut ties with their former lives by selling their homes, quitting their jobs, liquidating their assets and — aside from maybe putting a few things in storage — ridding themselves of any excess burden before boarding their boats with little more than their duffel bags, a bunch of tools and a big sense of adventure.

Our situation is a little different in that we essentially retreated from the day-to-day running of our companies (two English language schools and seven-and-counting teacher training schools) to live on our boat and travel as far as we could go. And while we promised and believed we would continue to have some regular involvement with our companies because — 1) we couldn’t wait until “retirement age” to sail away without losing our sanity, and 2) our amazing and enthusiastic staff were more than capable of growing and managing our companies in our absence — it turns out that entrepreneurialism is an increasingly difficult concept to grasp as you drift farther away from land, where life revolves around the wind, the weather, and the next thing on board to fall apart. And there’s always something falling apart.

In fact, sailing south has turned out to be a lot less leisure and a lot more work than we ever imagined. And, therefore, since we’ve left New York, our promised regular check-ins with our staff have become brief monthly sessions by email or Skype. And the longer we’ve been away, the harder it’s been to pencil these infrequent meetings into a calendar writ in water.

Which is why, when we arranged to go back to New York to see my family for Christmas, we also scheduled a two-day work session in Manhattan (which blurred into three days), during which we managed to deal with end-of-year finances, have meetings with our staff, and catch up with the close friends we’d left behind just a few months ago.

And though the world didn’t end today, stepping into the high-octane world of New York City kind of ended the world as we’ve known it on our windward travels south…for a brief moment in time. And I wondered if not having cut our ties to this other world has hindered our metamorphosis into truly carefree cruisers.

Who am I kidding? Of course it’s hindered us.

But then again, the alternative would have been to delay fulfilling a dream. And some dreams are just too important to put on hold. After all, who knows what tomorrow has in store?

If the world had ended today as the Mayans supposedly predicted, I believe I could’ve said with confidence that I harbored few regrets.

The challenge before us, I suppose, is to continue living that way.

teaching house sign

Taking care of business: picking up the new sign for our teacher training school.

international house new york sign

More business: picking up the new sign for our English language school.

international house new york language school

Our lovely school in Chelsea – surviving just fine without us.

hideaway turf to surf tasha nyc hacker

Getting my Christmas cheer on with good friend Toby.

hideaway turf to surf ryan nyc horsnail

Ryan sharing red wine and laughs with Toby in his “land galley.”

turf to surf ryan nyc

Ryan, showing off like he owns the place.

Shaving the Cats: The Barber of Vero Beach

I had two missions when I woke up this morning: 1) shave the cats, and 2) film the process on our new GoPro camera.

Sailing with our cats, Charlie (the “Polar Bear”) and Celia (the “Cow”), has meant putting up with two long-haired fur balls who puff up like sheep in cold weather and, as soon as it gets warm, shed their coats in messy clumps all over the inside of Hideaway and on whatever we’re wearing.

The only way I’ve found to prevent us and our boat from looking like we’ve all grown a heavy coat of chest hair — other than chase the cats around with a vacuum all day — is to shave them. It sounds crazy, I know. And, yes, shaving cats often leads to injury. But I swear it’s worth it. And I figure people shave their dogs, right? Why not cats?

charlie hideaway sailing with cats_2

Charlie before shaving.

charlie after haircut

Charlie after shaving. She looks a little pissed.

Back when I shaved our cats in a miniscule Manhattan apartment, I had an easy time of it because I could trap Charlie and Celia in our tiny bathroom with just me and my clippers. I’d deflect Charlie’s swipes and hisses and buzz the cats each time they walked by until a full haircut was achieved. And when I was done, all the hair was confined to a small space, so I had it vacuumed up in minutes.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to accomplish the same task on the boat deck in the open air, where the cats could easily run away or claw me for trying to hold them still, so I tried to recreate our tiny New York bathroom on Hideaway by trapping the cats in the triangular space on our foredeck. Which made for an entertaining experiment, both for us and our raft-up boat buddies in Vero Beach.

Our new Wahl rechargeable clippers performed well enough (and, it turns out, will cut Ryan’s hair too), and the GoPro seemed to be working swimmingly, so it seemed our first video was well on its way to being entered into Sundance.

Except once I finished with Charlie and was half-way through shaving Celia, I realized that somehow the video hadn’t been recording. Doh. Classic novice move, I know. It reminds me of when I was a kid and my parents developed a roll of film from our trip to Washington D.C., only to find that half the photos were close-up shots of my mother’s right eye.

But I was still able to salvage some footage from the rest of the shaving process, which gave me something to work with as I began learning a little bit about video editing.

So here it is: Turf to Surf’s first video attempt.

Fitness Afloat: Balancing meals on board

Tomorrow marks our 2-month cruising anniversary and we’ve learned an extraordinary number of things on this trip so far. We’ve learned new things about mechanics, electrics (more posts to come on this subject), weather, sailing, communication and cooking. And, as a result, our day-to-day lives have changed drastically from our New York life, which seems now like a distant past full of impatience, stress and take-out meals.

One of the many things that surprised me about sailing away was the change from eating all our meals separately and on the run, to home cooking and eating almost three meals a day together. Which has never happened in the eight years Ryan and I have lived together…until now.

Learning to be galley chefs has been a pleasurable challenge for both myself and Ryan, though I dare say Ryan is still the better cook. He’s mastered Thai curries and breakfast burritos, while I’ve largely spruced up Ramen noodles with the odd spring onion and Shitake mushroom and learned to make spaghetti Carbonara.

ramen turf to surf

Tasha’s “specialty” Ramen noodles.

But after two months of sharing all our meals, we started noticing some changes to our bodies: Ryan was losing weight quickly and I was gaining weight slowly.

At first, I attributed this to my not getting off the boat enough to exercise coupled with Ryan’s lack of access to chocolate. But the other day, as we were cooking dinner, Ryan said, “You know, I’m all for equality in relationships, but if you’re gaining weight while I’m losing weight, have you considered that maybe we shouldn’t be splitting our meals in half?”

I stopped and thought it about it, while Ryan proceeded with his theory cautiously, adding, “Not that I’ve noticed you’ve gained any weight…it’s just that you’ve mentioned it.”

More cautious pausing.

“I’m just saying, I weigh about 100 pounds more than you. Maybe you shouldn’t be eating the same portions as me?”

I nodded. It was so simple and logical, and yet it hadn’t actually occurred to me. Of course! Your body weight, aside from genetic factors, is largely dependent on your incoming calories minus your output. And the 100 pounds Ryan has over me would mean that he requires a greater number of calories to maintain his weight than I would require to maintain mine.

So, it’s a new and ongoing experiment, but as of now, when we cook and eat meals together, we divide the portions so that Ryan gets about two-thirds and I get one-third of whatever we’re cooking. This makes total sense to me, though I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. And since I’ll eat whatever anyone puts in front of me, controlling the portions during the serving process is a good idea.

But, of course, we haven’t been counting the calories in the many cocktails we enthusiastically guzzle while watching sunsets in our cockpit, or at BBQs with other cruisers. And from my experience with knocking back half a dozen Starbucks a day in my previous life, I know that liquid calories add up.

In my mind, though, that’s just one more good reason to get off the boat and get running, biking or hiking. I clearly need to be more active, which has been difficult to achieve on our journey south so far, since we’ve been pushing so hard to get the boat ready for our crossing and to outrun the cold.

But I have a vision of the Bahamas: the land where varnish never peels, heads never clog, the bilge pump is always working, and while everything is working so supremely well, I spend my days running along white sand beaches, cooling off in crystalline waters and drinking sundowners while swinging in our hammock.

I realize this optimism may take up more than my one-third portion of daily sustenance. But it’s the thing that keeps me moving forward. I’m happy to just deal with the reality later.

6 Lessons in 24 Hours: Titusville Florida to Vero Beach

save a lot titusville

1. A cheap grocery store is worth the taxi fare

We asked our taxi driver in Titusville to drop us off at some shops by the marina so we could walk through town and pick up a few essentials on the way home.

Which is how we found “Save A Lot,” a down-home local grocery store that was so cheap that apparently they couldn’t afford shelves. Half the store was just stacks of boxes in the aisles with the tops torn open so you could pull out the items yourself.

We tried really hard to leave with just milk and chicken, which was all we needed. But after walking through the store, turning down one great bargain after another because we couldn’t carry it all, we finally just stopped and decided it might be worth the cab fare to load up our boat with cheap goodies.

So just like that, we hauled out 3 large boxes filled with food and another 10 bags, all for a whopping $134. Back in Manhattan, at my local Whole Foods (or Whole Paycheck, as we like to call it), $134 would have bought me a small bag with a few cuts of meat, a block of gourmet cheese, bread and some organic vegetables.

Note to self: Find another “Save A Lot” before heading to the Bahamas.

2. Not all cruisers are friendly

We decided to wait out the morning fog in Titusville before pulling up anchor and heading to Vero Beach, Florida. We thought about delaying the 72-mile trip until the next day, but we’d heard so much about “Velcro Beach” being a party port, that when the fog lifted at 10 am, we decided just to get going. Even if it meant arriving to Vero at 9:00 pm.

In my mind, all cruisers are like Burning Man folk. If you’ve never been to the Burning Man Festival in Nevada (we went for the first time in August), I highly recommend it. It’s basically a week-long camp where no money is exchanged for anything (people just spontaneously “gift” things like food, booze, hugs, drugs and sno-cones), and regular folk like you and me spend the week building art, making music, throwing parties and just hanging out covered in dust. And everyone is so happy to be there that they can’t possibly say or do a mean thing to anyone.

That’s kind of how I thought all cruisers were.

But maybe 9:00 pm was too late to arrive to a mooring.

In Vero Beach, there’s no anchoring, so it’s common practice to raft up 2 or 3 boats to a mooring, depending how busy the marina is. This tends to create a communal party atmosphere, where everyone gets to know each other very quickly.

But instead of pulling up to a party, Hideaway was met by the grumpiest couple I’ve ever met on a boat. And while the couple helped us tie up begrudgingly, they also avoided eye contact and spoke about us in the third person. For example, the wife muttered, “You’d think her husband could help.” While I was standing an arm’s length away. Meanwhile, the husband muttered, “They don’t have the right fenders.”

Ryan and I both looked to our sides, then behind us, then at each other. “I think they’re talking about us,” Ryan mouthed at me, as I tried not to laugh.

The next day, we made the excuse that we’d like to be closer to the dinghy dock, and untied ourselves to find another, more hospitable mooring.

And as we pulled away, I was pretty sure I saw the woman smile.

3. No-see-ums are the devil

My body is covered in patches of hundreds of tiny bites which flare up every few hours, causing me to scratch at my ankles, back and arms constantly.

I’ve used everything possible to repel the no-see-ums – citronella, mosquito spray, Avon Skin-So-Soft, garlic (I know they’re not vampires, but I had to try.) Nothing works. They just keep sneaking under our clothes when we’re trying to sleep, making us fidget like we’re possessed. And apparently the bugs don’t actually bite – they puke on you, and the puke is what causes the itch. I didn’t make that up, I swear.

I look like someone who has a severe tick, I spend so much time slapping at myself and scratching. But, hey, at least it’s warm!

4. The cats don’t like their new litter

I woke up to a funky stench and a damp left foot. In my sleep I thought, “We really need to put more vinegar down the head.”

Then I moved my foot to work out why it felt damp, and there was a cold squish. Which is how I knew: I’d been pooped on.

I’m not sure what time it was, but I jumped up shrieking, cursing Charlie (because only Charlie would do such a thing) and pulling all the sheets off the bed in a frenzy. I was used to Charlie peeing on me when she got mad that her litter box wasn’t clean. But pooping on me was taking her dissatisfaction to a new level.

I had recently changed Charlie and Celia’s litter from the usual gray sand-type litter to an organic corn dust litter that made a terrible mess and caused Charlie to sniff at it suspiciously. One day, she peered into her litter box, looked up at me, then walked into the V-berth and peed in my shoe. Not Ryan’s shoe. My shoe. I guess she knows who cleans her litter. Little bugger.

So, as you can imagine, I’ve gotten rid of the organic longer-lasting corn litter we were trying to get the cats used to. And we’re back to our old, gray “normal” litter.

After all, we’re only here on earth to please our cats.

5. Mold is my enemy

As a result of Charlie pooping on me in bed, I had to pull our water-proof mattress cover (water-proofed for these purposes) off to wash it. That’s when I noticed a disturbing spread of black mold on the underside of the cover.

Upon further inspection, we discovered that the last month of cold air in the V-berth along with our hot sleeping breath made a good environment for mold to grow rampant in…under our bed, on the ceiling, on our clothes and up the sides of our storage baskets.

This discovery led to a full day of taking everything out of storage lockers and hanging lockers and spraying the insides down with mildew killer.

Note to self: Add mold checks to our list of monthly maintenance jobs.

hideaway catalina 34 mold

The state of Hideaway when we’re cleaning out mold.

hideaway sailboat mildew

Celia, inspecting the mold on our storage baskets.

6. Raft-ups are awesome (with friendly people)

When we spotted AnneTeak, a Canadian boat from our hurricane hole at Solomons Island, Maryland, we were pleased to see they didn’t have any raft-up buddies.

We asked if we could come tie up to next to them, and they seemed genuinely happy to have us. They even talked to us while they helped us tie up, which was an incredibly welcome change from our treatment at the previous mooring.

We owe AnneTeak numerous bottles of wine as, so far, they’ve helped us out by loaning us their plunger so we could un-clog our sink, giving us their home-made colloidal “silver water” to use on our bug bites (it’s an amazing and natural cure for everything including itchy bites, apparently), and getting us drunk in their bug-free enclosed cockpit.

And just like that, with a little friendly company, “Velcro Beach” is starting to live up to its reputation.

vero beach dinghy dock

So many dinghys in Vero Beach!

vero beach cruisers happy hour

Cruisers’ Happy Hour at Vero Beach City Marina.

Kennedy Space Center: Explore. Dream. Discover.

Our main mission in going to Titusville, Florida was to go to the Kennedy Space Center, which looked in its brochures like a combination space museum and amusement park.

Ryan’s said many times that if he had the wealth of Richard Branson, he wouldn’t hesitate to drop a large fortune on the opportunity to view Earth from Space. So it seemed impossible to be in the same neighborhood where so many historical space shuttles launched, and not visit the Space Center.

I nearly choked on my sweet tea, though, when we arrived to Kennedy Space Center and discovered admission cost $50 a person. But since we’d already paid for the cab ride there, and would have to pay for the ride back regardless, we pushed aside the question of how many Bota Boxes $100 could buy, and went inside.

And it turned out to be a good decision. The Kennedy Space Center wasn’t at all an amusement park, and it was much more than just a museum with a field full of rockets and plaques. It was an inspirational testament to what humans can achieve through extraordinary vision, determination, innovation and the unfaltering belief that anything is possible.

It kind of blew my mind to experience in a small way the historical timeline of what NASA Space Engineers have accomplished. They took barely conceivable concepts and what were Sci-Fi fantasies of the time, applied Physics (and a lot of government funding), and made these concepts a reality. And to give you an example of the dedication required, it took twelve years for the hundreds of thousands of NASA engineers and employees to successfully launch the first space rocket. Twelve years!

There were two quotes in particular that stayed with me throughout the day:

“But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? …We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…” -John F. Kennedy (September 12, 1962)

That idea that we choose to do things “not because they are easy, but because they are hard” kind of epitomizes what I feel is the spirit of adventure and exploration. It’s about finding limits and pushing past them for the reward of stimulation, fascination and new understanding. It’s why I run marathons. And it’s why I want to sail around the world. It will be hard, no doubt, but I will see, learn and experience so much in doing so.

“It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.” – Robert Goddard

It’s hard to fathom the ways incredibly lofty missions like “send a man to the moon” might connect to our everyday lives. But the number of products that have made their way into common use because of Space technology kind of brought that home for me. Things like polarized sunglasses, flat-screen TVs and solar panels were developed because of NASA’s work creating new materials.

And, in fact, we’ve just purchased a state-of-the-art Solbian flexible solar panel for Hideaway, which we are going to sew into the top of our dodger. So, we will soon find out what it’s like to have a modern piece of energy-saving technology on board.

It remains to be seen how well this incredibly thin, very expensive, 125-watt solar panel will work for us, but I’m very optimistic. All I can hope is that it buys us many sunny days floating on anchor without having to start our engine.

And when that happens, I’ll know who to thank: NASA.

What do you think the “reality of tomorrow” is that we have yet to imagine?

Space Shuttle Kennedy Space Center

Tasha standing under a real-life Space Shuttle.

Space Shuttle Rockets

The enormous butt-end of a Space Shuttle.

space center control room

A space shuttle control room, in the 60s. Not a computer in sight.

space shuttle launch simulator

“Houston, we have a problem.”

moon rover kennedy space center

Moon rover test drive – punch it!

Kennedy Space Center Astronaut

One small step for a cruiser.

NASA teddy bear

Can I fit him on the boat?

rocket field kennedy space center

Rocket field at sunset.

solbian flexible solar panel

Hideaway’s new flexible solar panel – trying her on for size.

Travel and Fitness: Killing 2 birds with 1 stone

When I lived in Manhattan, I often worked 12 to 14-hour days, and therefore I struggled to get out regularly for a run or a workout, even though it was crucial to my sanity (and Ryan’s – everyone’s happier when I run). So, in an effort to squeeze in some exercise, I would duck out to the gym during my lunch break, or run at midnight when I got home.

During a particularly manic period of my New York life, I was living in TriBeCa, working days in the Bronx, going to grad school at night and teaching classes in downtown Manhattan on my nights off. And during that period, I would cycle to work and back because it turned out the subway ride was an hour and ten minutes each way, as was my bike ride to the Bronx (when flat-out speed cycling). And I preferred to be on my bike in the fresh air than on a subway full of stagnant, miserable New Yorkers.

And because my work life left no time for errands, the weekend was easily devoured by those little jobs that pile up during the work week. So I often combined errands or meetings with actual running, lending new meaning to the concept of “running errands.” For example, I’d run to the store, if it was a few neighborhoods away, and walk home with my purchases, or I’d run to meet a friend for brunch and then run home.

When we set sail from New York, I thought my days of cramming stuff into my schedule were over. I was sure that I would have all the time in the world to run and cycle and exercise to my heart’s content, as I imagined I would be living a life wealthy in time, rather than money. And what else would I be doing with all that glorious time apart from running, biking, hiking, swimming and generally enjoying the outdoors? Yeah, sure, there would be some sailing and boat work mixed in, but surely the hours spent moving or maintaining the boat would be minimal. Right?

Nope. I couldn’t possibly have gotten it more wrong. Since we boarded Hideaway on October 16th and set sail for the Bahamas, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve gotten off the boat for a good, long quality run. And it’s not because I haven’t wanted to. With the string of days traveling south running together, punctuated by our arrivals to anchorages at dusk, in the cold, only to move on again early the next day, the last two months of “cruising” has left little room for R&R (Running and Relaxation, in my book).

So, what does one do when there isn’t enough time in the day to run boat errands and go running? Well, I thought maybe I would try running those errands…literally!

When we dropped anchor in Titusville, Florida, it was early (3:30 pm, a record arrival time for us) and the weather was warm and still. I was itching to get off the boat for a run before dark, but we also had the problem that we’d run out of butane gas canisters for our portable stove. And that meant no hot-cooked meals until we replenished our supply.

With a little Googling, we found an Ace Hardware in Titusville which was only 3.5 miles away. So, instead of taking our bikes to shore, we grabbed a backpack and decided to run to the store.

And it turned out the entire town of Titusville was so impressed with our innovative approach to shopping that they came out in droves to cheer us on from their lawn chairs parked by the side of the road.

Or the townsfolk were all camped out by the side of the road waiting for the annual Christmas Parade to march through. That makes more sense. Either way, it definitely gave our little run an unexpected marathon atmosphere. A few kids even waved and cheered us on as we ran by (probably thinking we were part of the parade).

And one more benefit of our little dash to the hardware store was that carrying 4 gas canisters and some random boat items on my back while running added an extra marine-boot-camp quality to the workout, making me feel like I really earned my dinner when I got back.

Which, luckily, we could now cook on our stove, since we had stocked up on butane. See what a good idea that was?!

titusville florida run

Running route from Titusville Municipal Marina to Ace Hardware

What do you do to keep fit while cruising? Any time-saving workout ideas?

Moving on: Daytona Beach, Florida

If I told you that all I had to do today was deposit a check, you’d probably imagine I walked to a nearby bank, fiddled with my ATM card for a few minutes, walked back to my boat, then spent the rest of my glorious day lounging in the sun, sipping Mai Tais.

And you’d probably think the check-depositing portion of my day took up about 30 minutes, maybe even an hour, while the Mai-Tai-sipping portion swallowed a good, jolly 6 hours.

In that case, you’ll never believe it took me 9 hours, 15 miles, 1 disassembled bike and 2 hopped fences (and probably a few broken laws) to accomplish a singular task that, in my previous life, would have been a mere hundredth of a typical day’s to-do list.

But, alas, this is the life we chose, and so rather than sipping Mai-Tais on Daytona Beach or watching Nascar at the Speedway, our day looked like this:

9:00 am: Forecast: 81 degrees and sunny. Reality: 67 degrees and raining.

12:00 pm: Too cold to go to the beach. Good day for errands. Found a Chase Bank in Ormond Beach, just 7 miles north of Daytona Beach. Maybe I can finally cash this check I’ve been carrying around in my wallet for the last month. And we can take our bikes for a nice ride along the beach. I’m sure Daytona is beautiful.

1:00 pm: Hmm. Choppy waves. It’s difficult to hold the dinghy still enough to get two bikes on it without losing them in the water. Looks like we’ll have to ferry the bikes from the boat to the dinghy dock one at a time. No problem.

dinghy dock daytona beach

It’s not easy getting to shore with two bikes.

2:00 pm: Two bikes on shore, dinghy locked up, camera ready for fabulous beach photos. Wait, the dinghy dock is in a sports complex with a locking gate. When do they close? Unfriendly park attendant says the gate shuts at 11:30 pm. No problem – we’ll be back before then.

2:30 pm: Palm trees! This is going to be a beautiful ride.

main street daytona beach

It’s always worth it when you get them to land though.

3:00 pm: Hmm. Some of these houses are in pretty bad shape. What is Daytona famous for again? Can someone steal your bike while you’re riding it? That guy looks like he’s thinking about it. Pedal faster.

3:30 pm: How many dollar stores and cheap motels can one town have?

4:00 pm: Chase Bank! 1500 miles of sailing from New York to Daytona and not a single Chase Bank. It was well worth cycling 7 miles to find one. Maybe we should take the scenic route back? Like, maybe the other side of the river?

chase bank daytona beach

It’s times like this when I’m glad we have our bikes.

4:30 pm: Man, this bridge is steep. But we have to see the beach. Oh, this side of the river is the nice side! Oh wait, it was just that one street. What is that girl doing sitting in a recliner on the sidewalk?

5:00 pm: So this is the famous beach! Where are the cars? Is there anything here but hotels?

daytona beach florida

A little detour via Daytona Beach.

5:30 pm: Another dollar store. Should we stop? We need paper towels and mayonnaise. We should double-lock the bikes. Ooh! Purple glitter Santa hat! Yes!

6:00 pm: Ryan’s bike is dead. The pedals don’t move the wheels anymore. Looks like we’ll have to walk the last 5 miles home. Slowly.

6:30 pm: My new purple glitter Santa hat is really handy for keeping my ears warm in the cold wind. But Ryan won’t walk next to me now. Did that drunk girl just yell “Ho ho ho” at me?

7:00 pm: Frustrated with walking. Bike is now in pieces on the front lawn of a diner where people can watch us bang bike parts with tools while they eat. Hey, the banging worked! The pedals are moving the wheels!

7:30 pm: Off to meet a fellow sailor at Scuttlebutt’s for a drink, if Ryan’s bike can make it there.

8:00 pm: We made it! Jason, who we bumped into in St. Augustine, just closed the deal on an Island Packet sailboat and is trying to find time to go cruising. He’s a tour bus driver for rock bands and his wife is a mortician, so between their two unusual jobs, they’re trying to organize time off to go sailing. I love it when interesting people drop into our lives!

10:00 pm: What time did that park ranger say this place closes? 11:30? Why is the gate locked? Shit. Climbing is one thing, but how are we going to get the bikes over the fence without the cops coming after us?

10:30 pm: Turns out our bikes are really lightweight. It also turns out Ryan and I are pretty good at scaling fences. Not sure where that talent came from. What does that sign say? “All vessels left for more than 2 hours will be removed at the owner’s expense.” Shit. Whew, the dinghy’s still on the dock. Let’s get the hell out of here!

So, just like that, we made it back to Hideaway with our bikes intact and no police sirens after us with just enough time for a glass of wine before falling into bed. Okay, so it wasn’t six hours of sipping Mai Tais in the sun, but we got a few hours of chatting with Jason in a dimly-lit bar. And we got to see a fair bit of Daytona, even if Daytona wasn’t really worth seeing.

And, most importantly, we put some much-needed cash in the bank, so we can’t say it was all for nothing.

It turns out when you simplify your life and sail off into the horizon, some stuff inevitably gets more complicated. But everything’s a compromise. We traded office chairs and Starbucks for cockpits and sunsets. So even when those sunsets are in ports as unimpressive as Daytona, there’s really nothing to complain about. You can always move on.

Photo Essay: St. Augustine, Florida

Four days after we said we would leave St. Augustine, we are still here. It started with excuses like “we need to go shopping,” then “we need to mail the cats’ permit applications to the Bahamas,” then “let’s look for a used spinnaker at Sailor’s Exchange,” then “we haven’t visited the fort yet”… until it became just plain, “It’s so pretty and warm. Can we stay just one more day?!”

I think the sunny weather had a lot to do with our inertia, but it also helped that St. Augustine, “the oldest continuously inhabited city in the United States,” was positively breathtaking. In a country that doesn’t really do old the way they do old in Europe, St. Augustine is an honest-to-goodness treasure well-worth visiting (or making your home).

From the moment we arrived, we were transported back to southern Spain in another century, but with hot showers and southern American comfort food, which is an addictive combination. If someone had served me chicken and waffles and mac-n-cheese every day when I lived in Seville, Spain, I just might have stayed forever.

St. Augustine only has a population of about 13,000, but you would think that half the population is involved in a festival of some kind at least once a week with the amount of parades they had during our mere week-long stay. It is, quite simply, the most adorable, tourist-friendly small town I’ve ever visited in the continental United States.

Here’s a photo essay portraying our visit:

st. augustine sunset

The sun sets on our first day in St. Augustine.

st. augustine spanish charm

The city’s colors show the Spanish charm of St. Augustine.

st. augustine street

St. Augustine’s streets are from another era.

st. augustine signs

Signposting St. Augustine’s antique beauty.

castillo de san marcos st augustine

Castillo de San Marcos: the fort that never fell.

fort matanzas st augustine

“The British are coming?”: Tasha playing sentry.

st. augustine christmas parade

The British are coming!

st. augustine christmas parade

Christmas is coming!

hells angels christmas

Even the Hells Angels celebrate Christmas.

jacksonville rollergirls

Santa’s “little” helpers arrive on rollerskates (and tug at my heart strings – my derby name used to be “Risky Chaser”).

st. augustine xmas parade

The parade was very inclusive.

thomas vesper tasha hideaway

St. Augustine was also a place to catch up with friends: Tasha with Thomas (s/v Vesper).

st. augustine bar

Dinner with Matt, an old friend from our days in Spain, and his wife Serena.

Fitness Afloat: Anastasia State Park

“Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.”

Actually, it turns out it’s mad dogs, Englishmen and me.

It has been over a month of pushing our boat onward in cold weather, huddled next to our Coleman camping heater, doing long hours at sea or in the ICW, not getting to shore much and wondering if we had strapped our road bikes to the deck for no reason.

So, having already extended our stay in St. Augustine way beyond our original plan, we went on a mission to get out in the sun, and get a good sweat on by cycling to Anastasia State Park and running down the beach to the infamous inlet where our friends on Serendipity ran aground just a few days before.

Cycling through the center of St. Augustine to get out to Anastasia State Park reminded me of a past life when we lived in the similarly terracotta-colored city of Seville, Spain, bouncing our bikes along cobbled roads every day with the sun in our faces, passing tanned, smiling people lounging in outdoor cafes.

It was a pleasant 2-mile ride to Anastasia past an Alligator Farm with cycle paths most of the way there. There was a $2 entrance fee per person, but we figured it was a bargain compared to our old Manhattan gym membership – and it offered us sun, sand, waves, and no crowds, unlike our old Manhattan gym.

I was absolutely ecstatic to be at the beach, to say the least. The sun was scalding, the air was hot, I was sweating, and we were jogging slowly and steadily along a beautiful, secluded ocean stretch. It started out as a difficult run, since heavy sand makes for slow jogging, but it was shaping up to be a great workout. And I was so happy to be outside I would have pushed boulders up a hill, if you’d asked me to. I just lost my thoughts in my iPod music and thought about what temperature it would have to be before I complained about it being too hot. I decided on 100 degrees. Nah, maybe 120.

Then, about 2 miles into the run, I looked over at Ryan and realized that for him, this was it. Whatever temperature this was, it was too hot for him. Ryan was plodding forward with his head down as if trying to duck as far away from the sun as possible, with sweat pouring down his face and his feet moving heavily in the soft sand.

Looking at my watch, I realized that it had never mattered what time of day we went running before because every hour of every day this last month had been freezing cold. In St. Augustine, however, it turned out the intensity of the midday sun could easily shock the system of someone who’d been living like an Eskimo in a floating igloo for the last six weeks.

But Ryan trekked on bravely without looking back and, having survived the hot three miles to the inlet, took off his shirt and draped it over his head, panting, “We must be insane. It’s too hot for this!” I thought he might throw me in the ocean if I admitted how much I was loving it, so instead I suggested we head back before we ran out of water.

In the end, it was a gorgeous four-mile bike and six-mile run, topped off with an ice cream from the park store as a reward. And I even learned a few new things about running on the beach:

  • Running 6 miles in soft sand feels more like 8 miles. Maybe 10. It’s hard work.
  • Where the water meets the sand, the ground is firmer and easier to run on.
  • Focusing on maintaining your usual road-running speed is a bad idea. It’s better to relax, loosen up, and don’t look at the pace on your GPS watch (if you have one). Go with how hard your body feels like it’s working and get into your groove that way.
  • Bring lots of water. Anastasia State Park had no water stops along the beach and we ran out at about mile 4.
  • Running between the hours of 12 and 3 pm in Florida is not a good idea. Especially if you aren’t an alligator.

With my sore knees finally healing up after the painful pounding they took at the Outer Banks Marathon in November, which I was under-prepared for, I finally felt ready to hit the pavement again. Or the sand. Or anything, really. Hell, I’d be happy to run up mountains now that it’s finally warm enough to wear shorts and flip-flops! I say, “Bring it on, sun!”

running along anastasia state park beach

Fitness Afloat Lesson #342: Running on beaches is hard

inlet st. augustine florida

Ocean inlet entrance to St. Augustine, where our friends ran aground

anastasia state park map

Anastasia State Park map

Towboat US: When is it a tow? Salvage? Extortion?

“The thin veneer we call civilization can disappear where a shipwreck is concerned.” – Richard Loran, Shipwrecks of Great Britain and Ireland (quoted on Boat US’s web site, an affiliate of TowBoat US)

We ran aground three times in the middle of the channel in the ICW between Cumberland Island and St. Augustine, Florida, so we were pretty frazzled when we finally arrived to the entrance of St. Augustine’s inlet. Each time Hideaway slammed to a stop on a sand bank, I had visions of our keel ripping clean off the boat, leaving us with a sinking home, an aborted trip and two angry, swimming cats.

And we weren’t at all reassured by the channel entrance markers as we approached St. Augustine, either. They seemed to lead in all different directions and conflicted with the markers on our charts, causing us to circle for 15 minutes in front of one particular green buoy until we could figure out which side to pass it on.

Eventually we worked out if we hugged red buoy #2 on the way in, we were likely to have enough water under our keel, though we still had to get over a 7-foot barrier without running aground before we were safely in the channel (which is not much room for a boat that draws 5′ 6″). So we proceeded slowly, with our eyes glued to the depth gauge.

That’s when we heard the call over Channel 16 – it was Jessica from Serendipity. She was hailing TowBoat US for help, saying she couldn’t see the next channel marker after red buoy #2 and didn’t know how to proceed.

Ryan and I spun around to look, expecting to see Serendipity directly behind us. But we realized that there must have been another red #2 out on the ocean, where they were. So we listened intently as TowBoat US explained to Jessica that red #4 was missing and she should approach green buoy #5A directly from red #2 and take a left, as illustrated in the satellite picture below:

st augustine inlet satellite

Entrance to St. Augustine from Atlantic – red #4 missing at time of writing.

We were too far away to reach Serendipity on the radio to find out more about their situation, so we continued on to St. Augustine with the volume on our VHF turned up. And I had just picked up our mooring ball in St. Augustine when we heard, “Coast Guard, Coast Guard, this is Serendipity. We’ve run aground. I repeat we’ve run aground.”

I quickly tied up the boat and hurried down below with Ryan, then sat with my knees folded up to my chest next to the VHF, listening for any sign that our friends and their boat were okay.

Amazingly, Jessica sounded perfectly calm as she answered the Coast Guard’s questions:

“How many on board?” -Two.

“Is everyone wearing life jackets?” -Yes.

“Are you taking on water?” -No.

I felt completely helpless as words like “run aground”, “slamming”, “breakers”, “ten-foot waves” and “drifting” flew out across the radio waves.

Then the calls went out from the Coast Guard to Search and Rescue announcing a “distress call” and asking boats to look out for “sailing vessel Serendipity” which was now “adrift.” I said to Ryan, “I don’t understand. If they’re adrift, then they’re not aground. Which one is it? What’s going on?!”

After almost an hour, when we finally heard TowBoat US on the radio telling the Coast Guard that they’d secured Serendipity and were on their way in, we exhaled. And then we heard Jessica’s voice on the radio asking how many lines were needed. She might as well have been asking the captain what he wanted on his sandwich, she sounded so calm and collected.

Then the towboat captain said, “I understand your engine failed, is that correct?”

Ryan gave me a look that said “I don’t like where this is going” and then nodded when Jessica replied, “Negative. Our engine did not fail. Our jib sheet got wrapped around the prop.”

“Good answer,” Ryan said, and explained that he wasn’t sure how it worked, but he’d heard that if you lost your engine at sea, TowBoat US could claim an exorbitant “salvage fee”, even if you are a TowBoat US member.

I stared at Ryan incredulously, figuring he had to be making this up. “What kind of company makes money rescuing boats and then holds your boat for ransom when you call them to help?!” I shouted.

It seemed too crazy to be true, so I had to research this one for myself. And sure enough, what I found was some very alarming language on TowBoat US Fort Lauderdale’s website referring to the question “When is it a salvage?“

Here are some quotes:

“A marine salvage takes place when we rescue your boat whether it is aground, on a reef, beached, stranded at sea, flooding, sinking or in any other number of situations.”

“What’s the difference between towing and salvage? …Generally speaking, the courts have explained that towage is merely speeding up a vessel’s voyage without reference to any circumstances of danger.”

But if all I was looking for with my Towboat US membership was “merely speeding up my vessel’s journey,” I’d argue my money would be better spent on a bigger propeller. Then I could at least speed up all my journeys rather than just when I call my towboat company.

And because of this murky gray area with maritime law, Boat US Towing Services, on their site, advise members to have insurance against salvage, saying “The best protection against a salvage bill is adequate insurance. Boaters should make sure the policy provides for salvage up to the full value of the boat, not a percentage of its value, and that there is no deductible for salvage costs.”

Boat US distinguishes between towing and salvage on their site, saying “Towing assistance, like the pre-paid service available to BoatUS members, provides help for breakdowns and light groundings.” But what is considered “light” and “heavy” with respect to groundings is not clarified.

But they also put the responsibility on boaters to know the difference between a tow and a salvage before requesting assistance, stating, “Since the same marine assistance company often provides both towing and salvage services, it is essential that the boat owner reach an understanding with the marine assistance provider before action is taken… BoatUS Towing Service Providers are required to inform the captain of a boat before beginning any work if the procedure is salvage, not towing. If this isn’t possible due to wind and sea conditions, the towing company should tell the captain as soon as possible. However, boaters should not assume they will always be told. Boaters should always ask whether the job is towing or salvage before they accept a tow.”

So, basically, we pay for TowBoat US membership for those times when our boat might be in danger and we need help. And yet, according to the letter of the law, this is exactly the time we should be wary of calling Towboat US because if they succeed