On the ICW and becoming less “civilized”

“I’m glad we did it, but I’m not sure I’d do it again,” was my husband Ryan’s underwhelmed sentiments about our trip down the Intra-Coastal Waterway. Which surprised me because for at least two years before this trip, Ryan found every opportunity to bring up the ICW in conversation, either to friends or total strangers at the bar. “Did you know there’s an inland waterway that runs all the way from Canada to Florida? And you can take your boat down it?”

It’s possible that not everyone (myself included) shares Ryan’s intense fascination with the ICW and its World War II naval history. But, regardless, it felt like we’d reached a major milestone when we pulled our little sailboat Hideaway into Fort Lauderdale, having covered roughly 1500 miles between New York and Florida.

And since we’re getting ready to make our crossing to the Bahamas, thus closing this chapter of our U.S. travels, I thought now was a good time to reflect on how far we’ve come, both literally and metaphorically.

In retrospect, what stands out most about the ICW is not so much the scenery (mostly trees), the weather (mostly cold) or the sailing (mostly plus one, minus one on the auto-helm). Or even the dolphins, or the time we ran aground four times in a single afternoon. What seems to resonate most is how those 1500 miles have changed us and prepared us for journeys to come.

Back in New York City, we worked long, stressful hours, like anyone else in a modern-day office job. And because our spare time was limited, whenever we needed something cleaned, fixed, made, cooked or designed, we did what most people in cities do: we paid other people to do it for us. Which means that while we got very skilled at running our own businesses, we also grew very unskilled at doing anything else.

And then we up and left that world, in which we specialized in running schools, and we moved onto a boat, where being a specialist in just one thing was not so useful anymore. Being able to clean, fix, make, cook and wire anything was a much more relevant skill on the boat. And much more useful than, say, building web sites, populating spreadsheets or hiring staff.

But it took a long time for this to sink in. So, for a few months, we were a bit lost in our new world at sea, forever trying to avoid doing things we didn’t know how to do. Which is why, when we stopped in Annapolis to examine our leaky water tank, my first response was to price up a new tank and hire someone to install it. But then I made some phone calls, got some advice, and decided to try fixing the tank on our own. And, as it turned out, all the tank needed was some hypalon patches to stop the leaks and a screwdriver to reattach the newly sealed tank to the water pipes. It was surprisingly easy; it’s just that it took time. A whole day, to be exact; a day which I wouldn’t have been willing to give up to fix a water tank when I lived in New York City.

bladder post repair

But time was something we had an abundance of now. So why were we so reluctant to take on repairing, installing, wiring and jury rigging our own boat stuff?

My guess? A lack of confidence. And also the fact that society is so well organized that we now devote entire days, weeks and careers to one specialization, while spending a great deal of hard-earned money to hire others to do the things we can’t or don’t want to do. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind you, because it means we can find an expert in virtually any discipline now. And for society as a whole, the benefit is that the world’s specialists can collaborate to create ever more powerful, more advanced technologies for anything we might need or want. Any time I use my matchbox-sized GoPro, for example, I remember my dad schlepping a 10-pound shoebox of a video recorder on his shoulder to film our family vacations, and my mind is blown. That’s what specialists do: they build stuff you didn’t even know you needed. And I’m the first to say I love my GoPro, iPod, solar panel, GPS running watch, chart plotter, LED lights, and all the other gadgets that make my life a little easier and a little more fun.

Also, specialists are crucial to the existence of a complex division of labor, which is what defines “civilization.” And it is generally perceived that “civilized” societies, such as New York City, are successful because of this division of labor. Therefore, packaged in the positive connotation of the word “civilized” is the assumption that we all aspire to be specialists living in a civilized world.

Yet I’ve come to realize, living on a boat, that it is no longer practical or sensible to hire a specialist every time something goes wrong. After all, there will be times when Ryan and I are the only people we can see for miles. So, in order for us to be truly self-sufficient, we have to become more diversified in our skills and less specialized.

hideaway engine maintenance

A friend teaches Ryan how to service our engine (Photo by Justin Dent)

That’s what the ICW has taught me. That, and we should slow down and take some time to learn about our boat. Which is something I didn’t really learn until Charleston, North Carolina, where we hired a mechanic to service our engine. We were in a hurry to get going and didn’t want to take the time to look up You Tube videos and find the right tools, so we justified our decision by saying, “Just this once. Next time we’ll do it ourselves.”

But when I checked our oil after the engine was serviced (it’s the first item on our “departure checklist”), I discovered there wasn’t a drop of oil in the engine. Bone dry. And when we complained, the mechanic replied, “Oh, I couldn’t find the dipstick.” And to make matters worse, he appeared to have loosened a screw, which resulted in an oil leakage later on down the line. So even though we hired a “specialist” to do a job we didn’t want to do, we had to learn to do it ourselves anyway. So why did we spend the extra money? Why didn’t we just spend the extra time instead, and learn to do it ourselves?

Since Charleston, we’ve gotten better at reflecting on our mistakes. So even though we were nervous about installing our new Solbian flexible solar panel, which involved drilling holes in the boat and running wires to places we’d never run wires to before, we decided it was important for us to go through the process ourselves, no matter how long it took. And luckily, we’ve found on our journey south that there are always sympathetic and more experienced sailors around who can offer the right tools, some advice and a little moral support.

Installing Solbian solar panel

Wiring in our Solbian flexible solar panel wasn’t an easy job, but we did it.

After all, any sailor who has been living aboard for any amount time has learned how to fix things on his or her boat. So we try to take a leaf out of the notebooks of the old salts we meet and learn what they know. Because one benefit of becoming more self-sufficient is, hopefully, we’ll spend less money, which means we’ll be able to keep cruising for longer. Not to mention, we’ll probably enjoy it more, as well, since no one likes the feeling of being dependent on others.

And I suspect that’s really what I’m looking to gain from learning all these new skills, like how to anchor, how to wire a solar panel, how to fish, how to service an engine, and how to trim the sails. I want to know we’re in full control of our lives. That we can choose exactly how we want to live because we’re in no way limited by fear or lack of skills.

If that’s what it means to be less civilized, I’m all for it.

Keep Calm and Carry On: The Bridges of the ICW

Ryan was glad to hang up the VHF radio when we finally got to Fort Lauderdale. There were 27 bridges that needed hailing between Riviera Beach and Fort Lauderdale, and only a handful of those bridge tenders were in a good mood. In fact, the last bridge we hailed before pulling into Cooley’s Landing Marina shot us a snarky, “I see you, but you should have called in earlier, so I’m closing the bridge.” After which Ryan handed me the radio and declared his day’s defeat to miserable government employees.

Originally, we’d planned to make the 46-mile trip from Riviera Beach Florida to Fort Lauderdale in one day. But we ended up having to slow down so much for the bridge schedules that we fell short by about 15 miles. So, instead, we anchored in Lake Boca Raton for the night, which turned out to be a gorgeous spot for its views of multi-million-dollar mansions with private docks and fancy water toys.

The next day proved to be a record-winning crawl, though, with even more restricted bridges than the day before, resulting in Hideaway covering a pathetic fifteen miles in four hours. But at least while we maneuvered under the ICW bridges and up the New River, we got to experience the wild ride of motoring through the back yards of some of Florida’s wealthiest home owners. As we coasted past the manicured lawns of Fort Lauderdale’s riverfront homes and waved enthusiastically at mega yacht captains who barely glanced at us, it became clear that this town was WAY out of our league.

But the good thing about arriving on your little boat to a fancy port like Fort Lauderdale is that you have everything you could possibly need for provisioning within walking or cycling distance. West Marine, Publix, Save a Lot, Home Depot, Staples, you name it. Not to mention the crazy college bars where you can get 6 drinks for $15! Which is how I ended up dancing in a “Keep Calm and Gangnam Style” t-shirt, courtesy of my generous friends Justin and Anastasia.

turf to surf hideaway catalina intracoastal waterway

With the sun setting on the ICW, we headed for Lake Boca Raton to anchor.

sunset on the florida icw

The ICW bridges may be a pain, but the sunsets sure are pretty.

intracoastal waterway florida house

There were some pretty spectacular houses on the ICW to Fort Lauderdale.

Pirates and Winches

It turns out the only way to get a vacation from boat work is to get away from the boat. Which is why I spent 4 glorious days in the Florida Keys not working on anything but running, a tan and a tolerance for fruity cocktails.

But the holiday is over, so I’m back in Riviera Beach, Florida, furiously scratching jobs off our ever-growing list of things to do before we sail to the Bahamas; AKA the place where varnish never peels, heads never clog, and I sit in a hammock all day drinking rum.

Our “Bahamas or Bust” list started back in Vero Beach and it has become the gift that just keeps on giving: the more work we do, the more work we need to do. In fact, Hideaway seems to have morphed into a big, floating half-rotten onion. Just when I think I’ve identified a bad layer (“We should fix that loose chart plotter connection…”), I’ll peel it off to find more rotten layers underneath (“What?! That f#@$-ing electrician didn’t seal ANY of the connections?!”).

Take, for example, this one deceptively simple job: servicing the winches.

Ryan mentioned a while back that our starboard-side winch was feeling a bit stiff and probably needed some grease, or something. Which was a good guess since we’d never serviced Hideaway’s winches. Ever.

So I Googled “service Lewmar double-speed winch” and aimed to get this little project out of the way before lunch. Nothing a little You Tube can’t fix, right?

Sure enough, I found Lewmar’s “installation and service videos,” which not only showed me how to take apart a winch step-by-step, but informed me that winches should be serviced once a year. (“Wait. Not every six years?!”) And the videos even provided handy tips like, “take photos of each stage of disassembly so you can refer back to them,” “have a box handy to put all the little parts in,” and “be careful not to lose the pawl springs,” which are tiny little wires about as thick as gray hairs and really hard to find in a bucket full of murky mineral spirits. (See #17 in diagram below)

Lewmar Winch Diagram

Diagram: Lewmar double-speed self-tailing winch

And since the first winch was a breeze to take apart, I was optimistic about finishing all four winches before lunch. That is, until I discovered the inevitable rotten layer: a slightly bent gear spindle (#15 in diagram), which meant I couldn’t put the winch back together. Until I got myself a new spindle, anyway…

…Except several hours later, it turned out tracking down a 2-inch piece of metal was harder than it sounds. Lewmar themselves were of little help, as their advice was to buy a brand new winch at the cost of $1,200. “Well, you know, if the gear spindle is bent, my guess is you also bent your center stem, and that means you’ll need to replace the whole thing.” Really, Lewmar? All because of a slightly bent metal post?

I wasn’t ready to give up on the gear spindle yet, so instead I phoned a Lewmar distributor in Riviera Beach called Florida Rigging & Hydraulics, and found myself listening to a one-sided stream-of-consciousness rant by a guy named Pete who rattled off numbers, factoids and swear words as he searched his database for the part I needed.

“I know more about Lewmar parts than Lewmar does…Your boat’s an ’86?…They stopped producing that winch in ’92 and Lewmar doesn’t stock any parts made before ’92…And Catalina probably put a smaller winch on that boat than they should have…Who did you speak to over there?…Was it Scott?…Well he’s talkin’ out his ass…You don’t need a new winch…You just need a new spindle…What? No! Don’t buy a stupid repair kit!…You’ll just be paying for a bunch of crap you don’t need!…Now if we can just locate that spindle…Number 5000385?…Oh here’s one…But there’s only one left in the whole world…We can probably get it shipped here tomorrow though…Except it’ll cost you…A lot…”

A little crazy, sure, but totally effective. In the end, I got a new gear spindle for $29.99 + $40.00 to ship it next day. And when it arrived, it slipped beautifully into its slot, which meant I didn’t have to spend $1,200 on a new winch. So, hats off to Pete for the crazy talk that saved me $1,130.

And in the process, I learned a few things of my own about servicing winches:

1) Have mineral spirits (or turpentine), a rag, a bucket, a toothbrush, some engine oil and some winch grease on hand before you start.

2) Don’t wait 6 years to service your winches.

3) If you do wait 6 years, and your winch parts are so crudded up that you can’t get the main spindle out (see #9 in diagram), pour a little engine oil in the crack and twist the spindle around. Eventually, it will slide out.

4) Don’t put winch grease on the pawls (see #18 in diagram); the thick grease will make them stick. Use engine oil as a lubricant instead.

5) Apply winch grease lightly to the pawl gears (#14 in diagram), the ratchet gears (#19 in diagram) and the roller bearings (#11 in diagram). If you apply too thickly, it will cause buildup in the parts…requiring you to service them more often.

Note: if you’re looking for a Lewmar Winch Service Manual, you can download it here: www.pyacht.com/Lewmar-Winch-Service-Manual.pdf

turf to surf hideaway boat maintenance

Cleaning winch parts is a messy job

tasha hacker hideaway boat maintenance

Here’s hoping this non-stop work will end when we get to the Bahamas…

Key West Ragnar Relay: A team effort

12 wacky friends. 2 vans decorated with Christmas lights and disco balls. 196.9 miles from Miami to Key West. No sleep. A lot of giggling. Screaming and cheering for teammates in the middle of the night. Scrambling for shade from the blistering Florida sun. Blasting Lady Gaga, Pink and Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” at each exchange point. Running until I threw up a bad decision that was an egg sandwich. Dancing across the road Gangnam Style. Krispy Kreme donuts. Victory cocktails.

That pretty much sums up my weekend running the 2013 Key West Ragnar Relay with “NYC Swagnar,” a team of 5 women and 7 men who run with the kind of guts and grit that inspires me.

I have lamented that my running training has dropped off since Ryan and I started sailing south, but this weekend off the boat with my New York running friends has inspired me to get back to pounding the pavement, sand and trails. Hell, I’ll run in circles on Hideaway’s deck if I have to. Mainly because I never want to run that far and hard again on so little training.

If this is the first time you’ve heard about the Ragnar Relay Series, the 12-person running events held all over the U.S., and you’re thinking you’ll never do one because it sounds crazy and like something designed for ultra-fit running fanatics, I’m here to convince you otherwise. These races are definitely crazy…but in a good-for-everyone kind of way. And they’re definitely not for the ultra-fit alone. There is a place for every kind of enthusiast – fit or unfit – in the Ragnar Relay, whether your thing is costumes, drinking beer, weight loss, charity, having a fitness goal or just hanging out with friends in a beautiful place like Key West.

There were teams in the Key West Ragnar running in prom dresses and tutus, teams of new runners who were walking or jogging 11 and 12-minute-miles, and teams with a great sense of humor, like the gay men’s team called “Can’t Even Run Str8,” who gave out Mardi Gras beads at every relay exchange. We even met the “Biggest Loser” Team (from the TV show), all of whose runners lost 90-150 pounds each before doing the race. How inspiring is that?

And then there was us: NYC Swagnar. We were running to Key West for the second year in a row. Sure, we had a blast, dance-partying our way through the relay exchanges; but we were definitely there to run and run hard. We were running to have fun and beat our previous year’s time.

And not only did we beat our time by 45 minutes, but we also beat 350 other teams in the co-ed division to WIN the race in 26 hours 17 minutes and 54 seconds! That’s right! We WON!!! Sure, I’m still having trouble walking after running a brutal 18 miles, but who cares?! WE WON!!!

I know, bragging’s not polite. But for a good 24 hours after we got our awards, we milked that First Place win for everything it was worth in Key West. Free shots, song requests, dancing on the bar; you name it. It may not have been the classiest picture of victory…But, hey, what happens in Key West stays in Key West.

And now that the fun is over, it’s time to get training for next year! After all, we have a title to defend!

If that doesn’t inspire me to get off the boat to run this year, I don’t know what will.

ragnar miami pre-race

My NYC running buddy Katherine and me, getting ready for our 2nd Ragnar Relay together.

miami key west ragnar relay 2013

And she’s off! Jessie, Runner #1, kicking off the race

miami key west ragnar exchange

Adam, Runner #11, taking off for his sunrise run after a sleepless night

tasha hacker ragnar relay 2013

“Hey, there’s a whole team of people wearing my shorts! Get a picture!”

ragnar relay miami finish 2013

Sarah and me, celebrating our 3rd Ragnar Relay together at the Southernmost Point of the U.S.

key west ragnar relay 2013 first place team

NYC Swagnar, holding up our First Place batons.

coyote ugly key west

What happens in Key West, stays in Key West.

Good-bye, Vero Beach

23 days. That’s how long it takes for me to go insane, apparently.

It happened slowly; probably while we were tearing apart our boat to run endless wires behind cupboards and floorboards to our battery bank (more on that project later). Or shaving the cats to keep their shedding fur from clogging up our bilge as well as our nostrils. Or maybe it happened while I was scratching my skin off in an effort to quash the incessant itch of a million miniscule no-see-um bites.

I hadn’t even realized we’d been in Vero Beach Florida for 23 days until we paid our mooring fees on our way out. We stopped at the fuel dock to get diesel, water and a pump-out and discovered that we’d been in “Velcro Beach” for so long that 1) We couldn’t even find our Skipper Bob ICW Anchorage guide, it’d been so long since we’d looked at it, and 2) We didn’t even need fuel since we hadn’t moved since the last time we filled up. Which apparently was in Vero Beach.

It’s just we’d lost our minds since then, so we couldn’t remember.

In fairness, 10 of those 23 days were spent in New York for Christmas, so really it was only 13 days in Vero Beach, but still… I’d understand the long stay if I’d actually fallen head-over-heels in love with this must-stop cruisers’ port we’d heard so much about on our way south. But, in all honesty, if it weren’t for the opportunity to catch up with friends we’d made on our way down the Intracoastal Waterway, I’d have been happier to forgo Vero for a less sleepy Florida port. And preferably one lacking in an itchy no-see-um infestation.

But we’d met so many cruisers who recommended the place, saying, “They don’t call it ‘Velcro Beach’ for nothing.” So we just had to find out if we, too, would find ourselves getting stuck there. But instead of Velcro, it turned out to be more like Hotel California… “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

I even tried to pay the marina for our mooring on three different occasions, and each time the Harbormaster shrugged and said, “Just pay when you leave.” As if he knew we’d never leave.

I have to wonder, now that I’ve experienced “Velcro Beach” myself, if cruisers find it hard to pull themselves away, not so much because the town is so amazing, but because it’s convenient to sit in Vero and get some boat work done. I mean, for $15-a-day moorings you get a dinghy dock, hot showers, laundry and a community room where you can watch Jeopardy in the evenings, if you so choose. And there’s a free shuttle bus that takes you to and from the West Marine and the Publix grocery store, or the beach, if you didn’t want to walk the mile and a half to get there. There are also more potluck dinners and happy hours in the marina courtyard than anyone could possibly attend. Not that we didn’t attend some. It just got hard to fit the potlucks in between wiring and drilling and siliconing.

So, maybe it’s not Vero Beach’s fault I was so thrilled to see the back of it today when we left.

Maybe it’s just that, for me, memories of Vero Beach are a mash-up of the endless work needed to get ready for the Bahamas; wearing knee socks in 100-degree weather to keep the bugs off; sundowners inside the safety of Anne-Teak’s enclosed, bug-repelling cockpit; our first New Year’s Eve as cruisers, and a hungover New Year’s Day walking along the beach — the one day we could take off from worrying about boat projects.

Don’t get me wrong: Vero Beach isn’t the worst place to spend 23 days (unless you’re allergic to bugs). But I did wonder, if we weren’t working on our boat every day, what would we do in this sleepy retirement town, where dinner is collectively eaten at 6:00 and the lights go out at 9:00?

vero beach marina facilities

The plentiful marina facilities (hot showers, laundry room and WiFi) almost made up for the bugs.

sailing with cats turf to surf

Charlie, helping Ryan install our new Shurflo fresh water pump (one of many Vero Beach jobs).

vero beach dinghy dock

So many dinghies in Vero Beach!

tasha hacker turf to surf vero beach

Tasha, finally getting a taste of the beach on her 23rd day in Vero Beach.

mulligans live band vero beach

Cheeseburgers in Paradise? Soaking up our hangovers on New Year’s Day at Mulligan’s.

dolphins turf to surf

Our reward for finally leaving Vero Beach: Dolphins!

hideaway dolphins manatee pocket

“Quick, Ryan! Look at the dolphins!”

What if money was no object?

What if money was no object?

“It’s so important to consider this question: What do I desire?” – Alan Watts

While you’re nursing your New Year hangover, I thought I’d hit you with some head-twisting inspiration to kick off 2013.

You’re welcome.


P.S. – What makes you itch?

Happy New Year from Turf to Surf

Ryan and I are thrilled to be back on our boat in Vero Beach, Florida, as we get ready to ring in the New Year and prepare for crossing the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas in the next week or two.

Contrary to custom, though, I’m not making any resolutions; I realized this year that I hate New Year’s resolutions. To me, resolutions are a list of lofty goals, half of which I might achieve, the rest of which I’ll just feel guilty about when I look back on them at the end of the year and realize I failed miserably at checking them off. Why put that kind of pressure on myself?

So, on this eve of 2013, my one resolution is to not make any resolutions. Instead, I’m looking back on 2012 with pride in the great strides we’ve made to transform our lives in a way that will guarantee a life of adventure in 2013.

For the last two years, I’ve had the photo below as my screensaver to remind me that there was a different kind of life out there from the one we were living. I took this photo on our bareboat charter vacation in the BVIs and it’s served its purpose in nudging me to pursue this life.

peter island BVI turf to surf

Peter Island, British Virgin Isles (January 2010).

On October 16th, 2012, we finally made that life our own and left New York City on Hideaway, feeling tired and stressed about all the responsibilities and routines we’d built around our lives. And since then, we’ve done everything in our power to shed as many of those responsibilities and routines as possible, so we could live on a boat and pursue a simpler, more adventurous life.

Our families worried about us (though I think they’re used to our hair-brained plans by now), and wondered out loud if we’d be safe, and if we’d taken enough precautions. They often said things like, “Don’t you worry about pirates?” or “I admire your courage.”

Which brings to mind this quote by Paulo Coelho. For us, this life isn’t about being courageous because, frankly, we crave anything but routine. If anything, living in New York City for six years when we’d previously moved countries every two years, was the bravest thing we’d ever done. We held fast to that city because we were solely responsible for the businesses we’d built there. And therefore we had to override any urge we felt to pick up and move at a moment’s notice.

So, courageous? Hardly. Dangerous? As Paulo Coelho said, “If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine; it’s lethal.”

With that, I wish all of you and yours a Happy New Year from the happy crew of Hideaway.

May 2013 be chock full of adventures.


Be social with Turf to Surf on their Facebook Page. Follow along as we sail to the Caribbean.

When life gives you snow…go skiing!

One of the things I love about cruising is that it forces you to let go of schedules and go with the flow. Planning, of course, is key to cruising comfortably, since you need to look ahead at the weather so you can sail when conditions are ideal. But it’s just as important to keep an open mind about changing course if conditions change, an opportunity for adventure comes up, or you hear your friends are meeting somewhere interesting you hadn’t planned to go.

I’ve always loved this about backpacking, and now I’m starting to see that cruising is kind of like traveling with a way more versatile “backpack.” Namely, one you can live in.

So, when we found ourselves in Newark Airport on Boxing Day, packed up and ready to head back to Hideaway in Vero Beach, Florida, and our flight was delayed for the third time because of a Nor’easter howling outside, we wondered if we should persevere with the flight delays or if we should change course and take advantage of the two feet of snow about to drop, and squeeze in a few more days of skiing while the storm blew over.

When I first blurted out the idea, I thought it was too silly and last-minute to be sensible. After all, the sooner we got back to Vero Beach, the sooner we could get going to our next big stop: the Bahamas. But Ryan began to think it over and check the weather, which seemed to say we wouldn’t be able to make the trip across the Gulf Stream from Florida for at least another 10 days. So the question became, should we go back to Florida now and get eaten by no-see-ums for 10 days? Or should we take advantage of the fresh powder and ski now and worry about that weather window later?

I love sailing as much as any sport, but the chance to hit the ski slopes after a big snowstorm is one of those rare things that makes me giddy enough to throw myself face-down in a snow bank and make snow angels like a 3-year-old. So, once we confirmed that United Airlines would change our flights without charge and we remembered we had two free passes to Hunter Mountain, we dropped our plans, rented a car and drove back to the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York, where I could throw myself at as many snowbanks as I wanted.

With our mountain lodge cleaned and packed up for future renters, and with no more chores to be taken on, those cheekily gained 48 extra hours meant we could completely relax and just have fun (after surviving the grueling drive through the snow).

And boy did we have fun. I may not have found a way to combine sailing with skiing yet, but for now I was happy to settle for the impromptu chance to tear up the mountains one last time before heading back to my life aquatic.

rusk hollow rd hunter ny

Ryan, hoping these rental car tires can handle Hunter Mountain roads.

hunter mtn christmas skiing

View of winter wonderland from the chairlift.

tasha hunter mountain

Notice how versatile my sailing jacket is? (wink, wink, Helly Hansen: how ’bout a ski/sail sponsorship?!)

skis in the snow

My lovely skis, just hanging out, waiting for me.

ryan snowy tree

Ryan, feeling good about our flight delays.

overlooking hunter mtn ski lodge

Tasha, over looking Hunter Mountain Base Lodge at the end of a fabulous day skiing.

Of Mice and Men

Christmas morning I found myself squatting in a snowy ditch on a mountain road wearing running shorts, slippers and a pink hat shaped like a frosted cupcake. With tears in my eyes, I was trying slowly and carefully to use the corner of a metal dustpan to free a squirming, squeaking mouse from a glue trap while Ryan stood across the road watching and explaining to curious passersby carrying snowboards, “My wife’s trying to save a mouse.”

“Right on,” one guy said, nodding. “Maybe you should try those Have-A-Heart traps, or whatever they’re called?”

“Thanks,” Ryan said, while I whimpered in the background, “Just lift your little paw so I get can you off. You can do it.”

We’d gone to our log cabin in Hunter, New York, in the Catskill Mountains, a few days before Christmas so we could see my family and, most importantly, visit my 92-year-old grandparents, who seemed to be growing more frail with each visit.

And during this brief vacation from cruising, I came to realize how many “land burdens” we still have and how much more sensible it would be to rent out our cabin than let it sit empty, devouring its weight in cash while the taxes and heating bills pile up. So, we called an agency to come give us an estimate on vacation rental rates, hoping we might even be fortunate enough to make a little money on the deal. And as soon as the decision was made to rent, we got down to the task of purging junk from every room, tidying cupboards and packing away our personal items in an effort to make the house feel like a marketable blend of “loved” and “lightly used.”

Which is, of course, how we found the tell-tale chocolate sprinkles in the corners of our closets, drawers and cabinets. And it’s how we ended up setting glue traps in every corner of the house that night, imagining there would be a few dead mice somewhere along the way (but surely not until after we got to Florida).

But it turns out those darned traps work fast! Which is why Ryan ended up as my roadside cheerleader while I pulled this little mouse’s legs free from the glue trap, one by one with my dustpan (I felt bad, but not bad enough to touch it), until the mouse finally broke free and kind of stumble-squirmed towards the woods. I watched him crawl, hoping he’d survive, while Ryan pulled me towards the house and assured me the mouse would find his family and that he definitely would not fare better in our house.

Now, I knew full-well how crazy I must have looked. And I was completely on board with getting rid of all the mice in our house so they wouldn’t destroy it. That’s why we set traps, Ryan kept telling me. But I also, inexplicably, felt suddenly protective of this rodent I’d just cursed to hell only a few hours before.

So, in the spirit of saving mice on Christmas Day, Ryan helped me remove all the remaining traps in the house so we wouldn’t have to endure another life-saving ordeal. And once that was done, we spruced ourselves up to go see my family.

Normally, Christmas Day in my family involves a lot of jovial house-hopping between my parents’, my cousins’, my aunt and uncle’s, and my grandparents’ so that by the end of the night, I’m so full of home-made cookies, egg nog, Christmas movies, Scrabble and late-night jigsaw puzzles, that I’m sweating sugar and my eyes can’t focus anymore.

But this year, instead of Grandpa breaking out the “high balls” after dinner, (what he calls cocktails), he didn’t eat or even get out of bed, he was so weak. My parents had warned me of his deteriorating health before I came, but even still, I broke down in tears for the second time that day. Being faced with the pending loss of my grandfather, who I loved so much, was despairing. There was nothing I could do to slow down time or make my grandfather well.

And it occurred to me — looking back at my looney-tunes reaction to trapping a rodent that morning — that maybe I lost my marbles because I was faced with a live mouse, rather than a dead one. I knew I’d be killing mice if we set these traps, but I wasn’t prepared to confront a living furry thing, and had no idea what to do when I did. He was completely helpless and struggling to free himself while he stared at me with one eye and squeaked. It was too much.

So, in that moment, I became that half-clothed, crazy-hat lady on the side of the road who just desperately needed to make a dying mouse live a little longer.

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Our cozy cabin in the Catskill Mountains, covered in snow.

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Christmas with the Hacker family dog, Maggie.

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You thought I was kidding about the cupcake hat, didn’t you?

Photo credit (1st photo on page): Boeri extreme sports helmet ad)

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.

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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.

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

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

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

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Getting my Christmas cheer on with good friend Toby.

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

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Ryan, showing off like he owns the place.