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

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

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

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

I know this because I’ve been there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will this improve the atmosphere on board?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love,

Tasha

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

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

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

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

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

The question is, “Who’s with me?!”

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

So what is the thing that inspires you?

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

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

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

Now is the time to set yourself this challenge.

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

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

But, you might ask, why be so strict?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, enough of the excuses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 30-day challenge is on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stuff you might’ve missed

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

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

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

Keep Your Daydream Episode 9 Part 1 – Turf to Surf

Keep Your Daydream Episode 9 Part 2 – Turf to Surf

Hideaway, our Catalina 34, is FOR SALE

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s start with our contact info:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Electrical and mechanical

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boat Inventory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sailboat catalina 34 for sale

Blanc du nil: Sailing to St. Barthelemy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah. I kind of do.” I say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A plastic bag?” I say.

Ryan shakes his head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

gustavia st. barthelemy turf to surf sailing

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

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

Memorial Day: Remembering my dad, Christian Louis Hacker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eulogy for Dad, April 18, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was the kind of guy my dad was.

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

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

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

And my dad wrote this back to me:

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

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

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

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

What happens when you write a funny obituary

“I’ve been getting calls all morning about a garage sale. Tasha, what did you write in the paper?” My mother says in a high-pitched voice, which I recognize immediately from my childhood as the tone that says I’m in trouble. I’ve just returned from fetching the Albany Times Union from the gas station, knowing my father’s obituary would be published today. So I know exactly why she’s mad at me.

I struggled for two days after I got home to my parents’ house to write the words I felt would do more than just announce to an audience of strangers that my father was dead, but would tell the story of who my dad was when he was alive. I struggled to write the words that would draw a reader in to the funny, quirky, generous person my dad was; the person you would recognize immediately if you knew my dad, or the person you wish you’d known after having read his obituary. I struggled because I wanted to write something that would do my dad’s life justice and also make him laugh, if he were to read it.

For the few days after I flew to New York from St. Maarten, hoping this was just another passing emergency caused by low blood counts and chemotherapy, I watched my mother swing from sobbing every time she picked up a card from my father, a bottle of his medication, or the flowers he’d given her recently for their 43rd wedding anniversary, to short-burst fits of anger that she’d been left with so much junk to clean up.

“What the hell does he expect me to do with all this?” she exclaimed one morning, as we stood on the staircase leading down to the basement, my father’s den of hoarding, staring at the maze of boxes overflowing with postcards, sets of tools wrapped in Christmas paper, gifts he forgot to give, antique relics bought on Ebay, dusty boxes of model cars and used furniture collected from garage sales. And that was before opening the door to the garage, which housed even bigger piles of tools, car parts and, somewhere, hidden under a stack of boxes, a 1959 Triumph TR3 that’s not seen the light of day since I was 13.

My mother stood there, shaking her head, looking at the mess my father left behind and I could see that grief had momentarily turned her sadness into anger.

So I went and sat in my old childhood bedroom with my laptop and thought about all the messy, tangible things my father left behind, as well as the less-tangible gifts of generosity he spent a lifetime bestowing on everyone around him; those he loved and felt responsible for. And it made me think about how much he loved to be able to say to someone, “I think I have something you can use,” before disappearing to rummage through his basement for the very thing that might just make another person’s day.

And, with those thoughts in mind, I sat down and wrote this:

“Christian Louis Hacker, 67, better known as Lou Hacker, of Valatie died April 9, 2015 at the Samuel Stratton Veterans Administration Hospital in Albany, leaving behind a hell of a lot of stuff his wife and daughter have no idea what to do with. So, if you’re looking for car parts for a Toyota, BMW, Triumph, Dodge or Ford between the years of about 1953-2013, or maybe half a dozen circular saws, still in their boxes with the Home Depot receipts attached, you should wait the appropriate amount of time and get in touch.

But this is not an ad for a used parts store, this is an obituary for a great man, generous landlord, committed husband and adoring father who was born July 13, 1947 in Hudson, NY, the son of the late Walter D. and Elsie M. (Barner) Hacker Sr.. Lou graduated from Ichabod Crane High School, attended SUNY Geneseo, admittedly passing Chemistry only because he baked his professor a cake, and served in the US Army, Eighth Army Honor Guard, from July 26, 1970 to September 20, 1971 in South Korea, where he met and fell in love with his wife, Yong Soon.

Lou’s gregarious nature, mechanical genius and general resourcefulness helped him succeed in his jobs as a car mechanic, real estate agent, MOTOR manual sales rep and business manager, all of which helped him in his last and final career as a successful property owner and landlord. He often brushed off his success, saying, “I’m just a glorified janitor, really.” But his tenants and family knew he loved his job, turning derelict buildings into beautifully renovated apartments. But he mostly loved his job for the people he met from all over the world, who he housed in his apartments. He checked in on his tenants often, offering up gifts of used bicycles, kitchen tables, TVs and couches to those who struggled to furnish their homes or single moms who looked like their kids could use a new toy or bike.

Famous for saying, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure,” as well as his habitual presence at local garage sales and flea markets, there wasn’t a part, tool, piece of furniture or sports equipment he wouldn’t dig up for a neighbor, family member or tenant in need. So though Lou’s family is a little angry about the heaps of “junk” he’s left behind for them to deal with, the stacks of lawnmowers, the wrench sets in Christmas wrapping, the carcass of a 1972 BMW rotting in the backyard, it helps to remember the place of generosity for which these piles of stuff have accumulated.

Because Lou wasn’t so much stocking up for what he might need for himself, but for what others might need. Those needs filled his heart, mind and an entire basement. And in those moments when someone would ask for a tool, part, or any kind of help, his face would light up and that junk would suddenly be transformed into treasure.

He is sorely missed and survived by his wife,Yong Soon (Kim) Hacker, better known as Mina Hacker; his daughter Tasha Hacker of Valatie; sister Lynda (Hacker) Araoz of Valatie; 3 nephews, Gregory Hacker, Martin Araoz and Rodrigo Araoz. He was predeceased by his brother, Walter Hacker Jr.

Car parts sales and funeral services will be held at 11:30 am on Saturday, April 18 at the Raymond E. Bond Funeral Home Inc., 1015 Kinderhook St., Valatie, with Carlos Araoz officiating. Burial will follow in the Kinderhook Cemetery. Calling hours will be Friday, April 17 from 6-8pm at the funeral home. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Fisher House, 113 Holland Ave., Albany, NY 12208 or the Spirit and Truth Fellowship International, 180 Robert Curry Dr., Martinsville, IN 46151.

The family would like to thank the talented and caring doctors and nurses of the VA Hospital in Albany, all of whom worked hard to care for Lou and prolong his life.”

The original obituary can be found here: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/timesunion-albany/obituary.aspx?pid=174627454

I wrote and rewrote this obituary half a dozen different ways until, finally, I arrived at a version I was happy with.

But I worried that just because I was happy with the tribute didn’t mean others would appreciate the written sentiments. I worried my family wouldn’t get the humor, or that people would think I was being irreverent by cracking jokes about my dead father.

So I gave it to a few friends and family to proof-read before it went to print.

“I like it. But it’s going to confuse old people,” said a friend. “I mean, people are going to show up looking to go shopping, trust me. As long as you’re okay with that… What do you want to achieve with it?”

“I want people to actually read it, not just skim the paper and forget about him,” I said. “I want people to know who my dad really was.”

“Oh, they’ll read it. Then they’ll turn up looking for the garage sale.”

The morning the obituary gets printed in the Albany Times Union and the Register Star, Columbia County New York’s local paper, my mother’s phone starts ringing off the hook and I wince as I overhear her tell someone, “I can’t deal with this right now. My daughter shouldn’t have written all that.” It was a Times Union reporter calling to ask if he could do a story on my father’s junk, since the obituary had made such an impression on him.

And then I get a text message saying, “The Times Union just shared your dad’s obituary on their Facebook page.”

I get on Facebook and watch as the comments pour in about what a great guy my dad must have been, and how these complete strangers wish they’d known him when he was alive.

And I start to feel a little better about my choice of words. I take comfort in the fact that more people than just my immediate family will know, even for a brief moment, what a loss it is to the world that my father is gone.

On the day of my father’s funeral, the director of Bond’s Funeral Home pulls me aside with a big grin on his face and says, “I just had to tell you this. A guy showed up here at 9:30 this morning asking about the big sale. I had to tell the guy he got it all wrong, that there’s no garage sale, but what a laugh we had after he left.”

And I laugh through my tears because I know my dad would have laughed, too.

Yong Soon Lou and Tasha Hacker family portraitDigging through old family photos, I found this adorable picture of me with my mom and dad

Sailing to St. Martin: Things Said In 24 Hours

Things said on board Hideaway in the last 24 hours:

“You only have 3 things to worry about: Keeping the course as close to 125 degrees as possible, keeping the mainsail filled and not falling overboard. Got it? I’m off to bed.”

“Just something to keep in mind, I’m not entirely sure that meat you’re eating is any good.”

“Is that cat puke or spilled food?”

“Our next boat should totally have flashing blue disco lights on the mast.”

“Where are all these broken bits of plastic coming from?”

“Do we even know where our emergency tiller is?”

“Yay! Our alternator is working again! Oh, wait. No, it’s not.”

“The grib files say 10 knots from the northeast, so why are we getting 28 knots from the east?”

“What would make a better weapon? The corkscrew or a can of bug spray?”

“That cloud looks kind of like a girl with pigtails taking a shit.”

“We spent $250 on groceries and the only meal we have on board is mac-n-cheese?”

“People who say you get fit just being on a boat are full of shit. All I do is sit and stare. It’s like the equivalent of sitting on a couch for 24 hours with breaks for eating and napping. No fitness trainer has ever recommended that to me as a regime.”

“Keep the music down so I can hear you scream if you fall overboard.”

*************************

sailing to st. martin hideaway turf to surfHideaway anchored in the lagoon on the French side of St. Martin

When we finally pull up to St. Martin after one false start and a brief encounter with a waterspout, we are relieved to have finally made it.

Though we love cruising around the Virgin Islands, we’d gotten a little stuck in St. Thomas, a cruise ship haven full of American tourists, where Hideaway lived for over 10 weeks as we flew back and forth to New York to deal with the sale of our businesses, and as we nursed our cat Celia back to life from liver failure with the help of the amazing vets at Canines, Cats and Critters.

So now that we’re free of work obligations and our furry crew are in good health, it is finally time to do what we so desperately keep trying to do: go cruising in the Caribbean!

Plans are slowly forming, we’re checking the weather on our Pocket Grib app every few hours and conversation is dominated by what toys we’d like to have on our next boat. We are back in the game and furiously knocking on wood, trying to keep the anti-cruising curses at bay.

sailing banyan st. thomasPassage planning with Caribbean experts, Alex & Dave, on s/v Banyan in St. Thomas

Whirling Dervishes?

“Hey, look! A whirling dervish!” Ryan exclaims with delight and confusion, like he’s just spotted a floating Dairy Queen selling soft-serve off the coast of Virgin Gorda.

Despite the smile on his face, there’s something about the way Ryan is pointing to starboard with his neck strained to get a better view of the sky that quickly alerts me to shut down the stove in the galley and leap up the companionway.

There are three things I know before I even reach the cockpit:

1) Despite being an English teacher, Ryan almost never uses comprehensible vocabulary for things unfamiliar to him.

2) “Whirling” is not a word that should be used to describe anything on the open ocean. At least not with a smile.

3) The Caribbean is not where one commonly finds Turkish men in white skirts spinning in meditative circles.

“Holy shit, it’s a waterspout!” I scream in panic, tripping over the companionway in my haste to jump up into the cockpit.

“Um, is that bad? Like, take the sails down bad?” asks Ryan.

“Yes, it’s bad! Very VERY bad! Jesus, remember the waterspout that knocked down GB in the Clipper Race?!”

I’m watching a spinning funnel of unpredictable air and water, like a skinny, black, aquatic tornado, headed directly for Hideaway with an angry, spitting vengeance.

“You get the jib and I’ll do the main!” Ryan yells, grabbing a winch handle.

We up the throttle on the engine and break a sweat cranking the winch handles with both hands as fast as we can, furling in both sails in a matter of seconds. We are in a race not to be knocked down but we can’t help but pause and stare with alarm at the looming black cloud overhead, as we watch the water at the base of the spout being kicked up violently. The only thing we know for sure is the waterspout is moving towards us much faster than we can possibly motor away from it at full throttle.

The wind is dead on our nose, so my only hope is that the wind carries the black cloud hovering over us astern as fast as possible, taking the waterspout with it so we can avoid the thrill of being bitch-slapped by a funnel.

As we stare nervously off to starboard with our engine screaming at 2100 RPMs, the waterspout suddenly veers away from us and towards Virgin Gorda.

turf to surf - caribbean waterspout virgin soundA view of the diminishing waterspout, which is thankfully getting further away

Our shoulders relax and we breathe a sigh of relief as Hideaway motors forward towards St. Martin, our destination, under a clear sky in 12 knots of wind. Though as the black cloud is drifting further and further away, I swivel my neck 360 degrees every few minutes to make sure no other surprises are creeping up behind us.

This is our second attempt at leaving the Virgin Islands to join our friends, s/v Senara and s/v Pelita, in St. Martin. Yesterday, we left our mooring ball in Maho Bay, St. John at 7 am because the forecast showed light winds from the northeast, which would give us a calm motor-sail to St. Martin, roughly 185 nm away.

turf to surf sailing blog maho bay st. johnA bird’s eye view of our gorgeous anchorage in Maho Bay, St. John

But as we motored past Virgin Gorda and nudged our nose out into the waves building up on our bow, Celia, our black and white cat, took on the look of a tortured soul and proceeded to vomit every 20 minutes. The wind was blowing 28 knots from the east, directly on the nose, with swells of 6-8 feet knocking us around and causing Celia to empty the contents of her stomach while Charlie, our deaf cat, slept peacefully in the V-berth, snoring away even as she bounced off the mattress in the crashing waves.

We watched the anemometer closely as we carried on optimistically, hoping the forecast of 5-10 knots from the northeast and 0-3 foot seas would materialize as promised.

When Ryan screamed from the helm, I was below deck, trying to soothe our seasick cat. “Quick, get up here! I need help!” Ryan was shouting. I bounded up into the cockpit to find Ryan desperately holding onto our dinghy as half of it bounced up and down in the waves behind the boat. Hideaway was heeling so severely that it had loosened the lines securing Mighty Mouse and knocked it off its hooks. I ran to the stern and grabbed a handle so Ryan and I could both yank the dinghy upwards and back onto its hooks, just missing an opportunity to learn how to fish a loose dinghy out of the sea from a moving sailboat.

“What do you think? Should we keep going or turn around?” Ryan asked.

We looked at the waves sloshing the boat around, then at Celia’s miserable expression, the string of drool dangling from her mouth, and we agreed it was time to turn the boat around and try to make it back to Virgin Gorda before sundown.

Sometime during the night, the howling wind died down and the boat stopped swinging violently on its Saba Rock mooring. And by the time we woke up, the seas were as flat and calm as they were predicted to be the day before.

Optimistic as ever, we left Saba Rock just before sun up and nudged our nose out past Virgin Gorda once again, hopeful for a calm crossing with no surprises this time.

As we downed our morning coffee, Ryan and I looked intently at Mighty Mouse, still hanging on its hooks on the stern and decided to haul the dinghy up and strap it down on the foredeck. After all, we’d be fools not to learn from the previous day’s mishap.

turf to surf - ryan dinghy on deckWith Mighty Mouse on the foredeck, we had one less thing to worry about

With the dinghy secured on deck, we drank our coffee in peace, listening to the din of the engine as the sun crept up over the horizon, confident we’d made the right decision in turning around the night before. We encountered a problem, we examined our options and we’d made a decision we were happy with. This was what sailing was all about — letting go of control and adapting to the changing conditions at sea.

But just as we started feeling smug and comfortable, like we’d seen it all and could handle anything, Mother Nature rubbed her hands together and stirred up another challenge.

Today it’s “whirling dervishes.” Tomorrow, who knows?

post-line-divide

Footage of Great Britain’s encounter with a waterspout during the 13-14 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, which Ryan and I both participated in:

On Re-entry: The Return of Turf to Surf

I’m standing frozen in place in the condiments aisle of my hometown grocery store, twirling my hair mindlessly as I scan the mile-long shelf of peanut butter choices.

Skippy. Jiffy. Peter Pan. Crunchy. Semi-crunchy. Chunky. Creamy. Honey-roasted. All natural. Organic. 50% reduced fat. Low sodium. Low calorie. Low sugar. Low cholesterol. Dairy free.

What the…? I just want peanut butter; I don’t care what kind. But the sheer volume of options has overwhelmed the part of my brain that makes quick decisions, rendering it useless. So I stand here, twirling my hair between my fingers, wondering if I should cut back on fat, sugar, sodium or calories. Or maybe I should try the honey-roasted kind?

What’s worse, I’m not even thinking about peanut butter anymore as I grapple with the existential question of why any productive member of society would want to decide between 50 different brands and varieties for every single thing they consume every single day of their lives. “How does anyone get anything done in this country?” I think to myself. Which does little to help me choose a damned jar of peanut butter.

It’s 2002 and I’ve just returned to the U.S. after 2 years of teaching English in the Russian Far East, followed by 9 months of solo backpacking in a crooked line from Vladivostok to St. Petersburg with detours through Scandinavia and Central Asia.

For two years, my grocery choices consisted of whatever was left in the market when I got there. There was either bread, or no bread. Cheese, or no cheese. There were no kinds of things. There was simply “yes” or “no”. And it was always a “no” to peanut butter. That American delicacy didn’t exist in my little Russian town, hence why I’m standing in the peanut butter aisle, drooling on my shoes.

Returning to New York after almost 3 years abroad, I expect things to take some getting used to again, like driving, my parents calling me every day, George Bush being President, job hunting, Fox News. But I don’t expect to be overwhelmed by the little things like food shopping. I expect to be ecstatic to have the kind of variety and choice I grew up with. I expect to be comforted by how normal and familiar everything feels again. I expect my brain to understand where I am and process things the way it did before I boarded a 20-hour Aeroflot flight with my Peace Corps assignment, an overstuffed backpack and a Russian-English dictionary in hand.

And yet here I am, standing frozen in place in the peanut butter aisle in my hometown, feeling like a denizen of a strange country, wondering why nothing feels familiar and what gluttonous gods these people pray to that they get unlimited access to all the crisp, fresh mountains of colorful produce they want any time of the day or night.

When I finally get to the checkout counter, I spill my collection of random, disjointed cravings onto the conveyer belt: a jar of crunchy peanut butter, a wheel of frozen shrimp cocktail, a bag of Swedish fish, an avocado, and a loaf of fresh Italian bread.

“Tasha Hacker? Is that you?”

I turn around to face the eager smile of a guy I went to high school with in line behind me. I’d kept my head low as I walked aimlessly around the store looking like an escaped mental patient, just hoping to get in and out without running into someone I know. But that is an impossible task in a small town with only one grocery store.

“I heard you might be in town. Didn’t you just get back from — where were you — Russia?”

I nod.

“How was it?”

“It was great!” I say, which is an empty response to a vast question, I know. But the social boundaries of small talk prevent me from replying with any depth or sincerity. So I find myself saying “It was great!” to everything in an effort to not make people uncomfortable. Because the real answer would require several shots of vodka in a dimly lit bar as the conversation meanders towards a scattered, anecdotal examination of the post-Cold War Soviet human experience; a conversation I’m well aware is not the kind you have at the grocery store check-out on a Tuesday afternoon.

“What are you, making shrimp cocktail peanut butter sandwiches or something?” the guy asks, looking over my grocery items.

I laugh, suddenly embarrassed that my choices are lying exposed on the counter for anyone to judge. “I can’t…I don’t…there’s just too much,” I mumble. “I couldn’t decide what I wanted.”

***********************************

Apparently there is a term for this jarring experience of returning to a place, to a life you knew so well but no longer feels familiar because you’ve been away for so long that you’ve changed, your perspective has changed, and therefore the way you interact wih this place has changed. The term — often used by organizations like the Army and the Peace Corps — is re-entry.

I’m reminded of this jarring feeling now, as I return to Hideaway, after having spent the better part of a year in New York City, scrapping and fighting and trying to claw my way out, despite the short leash I was tethered to. It seemed like I would only get so far before New York would give a little tug and, before I knew it, I was at its heels, doing as I was supposed to, doing as my business demanded, dropping any dreams of adventuring, sailing and writing. Those were just hobbies, after all. Our businesses, on the other hand, were our babies. And like true children, these businesses were born of (and demanded) love and sacrifice.

international house new york language school ryan tashaThe language school we proudly built in New York City

When we returned to New York in March 2014, Ryan and I told ourselves it was temporary — a brief stopover — until we got our businesses back on track and in a position for us to leave again. But a few months blurred into a few more, and then a few more, until nearly a year had gone by and memories of sailing and ocean racing and weighing anchor and hopping from island to island faded into the past like a holiday remembered only in nostalgic snapshots.

It wasn’t a life I even had time to dream about anymore as I charged through meeting schedules, held conference calls while in line at Starbucks, sacrificed lunches for gym workouts and guzzled wine at midnight in a desperate attempt to unwind the day as quickly as it had wound me up.

But every now and then, I’d get a warm turquoise flash of my former life, a fleeting glimpse of a perfect day, like when we jumped off the boat in Little Inagua, into water as clear and blue as topaz, with shallow reefs all around, our own private aquarium teeming with rainbow-colored fish. We swam through the coral with our fins and snorkels and speared parrotfish for dinner, which we gutted and cleaned on the foredeck of Hideaway as nurse sharks circled, lapping up the discarded entrails like dogs under a dining table.

sharks in the water sailing blogThe sharks in Little Inagua were more like puppies than predators

But as quickly as the memory materialized, it would fade away, leaving me sitting in my office, having drifted off to the ’80s music playing over the speakerphone as I waited, on hold. It was like this recurring dream I had as a kid where I’m running from a monster and my heart is pounding in my ears, I’m so scared. And suddenly I realize I’m only dreaming, so I stop running and tell myself if I can just wake up, then I can stop running from the monsters. So I stand there inside my dream with my eyes squeezed shut, fists clenched, waiting for the monster to pounce on my neck and jolt me out of this mad, stressful nightmare and bring me back to my real life.

But there’s always that sliver of doubt — which one is the dream and which one is reality? Is it my New York City business life that’s the dream? Or my Caribbean cruising life? If I stand still long enough with my eyes squeezed shut, will the New York monster disappear and will I wake up in the Virgin Islands?

Then, one day; one glorious, confusing day in March, it happens. I wake up and re-enter my old life. My life on a boat, my life as a writer, my life looking for the next big adventure. And this time I don’t have to sacrifice anything to make room for my responsibilities as a business owner. Because we don’t own our businesses anymore. After months of negotiations and endless financial paperwork, we did what we thought was impossible: we sold the teacher training and English language schools we spent 8 years grinding our blood, sweat and tears into the foundations of.

Just like that, we are released from the grip of New York City and free to return to the Caribbean.

hideaway on anchor maho bay st. john usvi turf to surfs/v Hideaway looks right at home here in Maho Bay, St. John, USVI

It’s like we’ve scrubbed the barnacles off our bottom and cut away the reeds entangled in our rudder. For the first time in 8 years, we are free to move as fast as we can go in any directly we like.

And yet, for some reason, I’m still standing in that peanut butter aisle, twirling my hair, staring at an overwhelming number of options with a mixture of awe and confusion.

I find myself struggling to answer simple (and frequently asked) questions like, “What are you going to do next?” To which I end up mumbling a string of disconnected ideas about sailing to the Galapagos, rowing across the Atlantic, buying a new boat, traveling around Greece, visiting my parents, running across the Grand Canyon, writing magazine articles…  I’m sorry, what was your question again?

Plans and goals are, to a certain degree, what got us here, to this enviable place of having infinite options and no plans. And now that we’ve achieved exactly what we set out to do a few months ago — sell our businesses and return to our boat — the truth is, I have no idea what to do now.

Already, I am just grabbing random items and throwing them in my shopping cart without thinking through what it is I really want, what would be most fulfilling, and slowing down to take calm, purposeful steps towards that end. I feel a little out of practice when it comes to standing still and just being in the present. So in my discomfort and panic, I catch myself flooding my schedule with plans and challenges that will quite possibly distract me from ever standing still.

But here I am now, having re-entered my life as a cruiser, trying to sit still on a mooring in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, while gazing out on an open sea to be sailed and a blank page to be written upon.

I know I can’t just pace up and down the peanut butter aisle forever, wearing out the floor with indecision. But I also know there will be plenty of decisions to make and plans to map out soon enough as we get ready to sell Hideaway and buy the next boat. Planning and working and filling our days with projects — that’s easy; that’s what we do best.

For now, the real challenge is to stand still and appreciate where my feet are planted in the present and acknowledge how far I’ve come to get here.

So, to the next person who asks, “What are you going to do next?” I will reply sincerely with, “I don’t know.” And I will try really hard to smile, rather than twitch, when I say it.

tasha hacker hideaway turf to surf cruising us virgin islandsIt doesn’t matter which direction we go in — we’ll get somewhere eventually

Something’s missing on Hideaway

hideaway marina tropical luperon dominican republic

“Did you look behind the settee?” I ask.

“Yes.”

“What about under the V-Berth?”

“Yep.”

“In the bilge by the back water tank?”

“I wouldn’t have put it there,” Ryan says flatly.

“But did you look? Because at this point it could be anywhere.”

“I looked. It’s not there.”

“Wait! What about in the space above the fuel tank? Have you removed the panel covering the fuel tank?”

“You know, funny you should ask. As I was tearing apart the back room yesterday, I stared at that panel and thought, if I were going to hide drugs on this boat, I would totally hide them there – no one would think to look there.”

“So, did you look?”

“No. Because that’s crazy. I wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of removing everything in this room to get to that wall panel, unscrew the whole thing and take it off just to hide the chart plotter.”

“How do you know? Go back and remove that wall panel! If anything, you might find some drugs…”

“Trust me. It’s not in there. But I’ll look when I get back to the boat tomorrow. Let’s just think this through. Where did we leave from when we flew out of the Dominican Republic last year…?”

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There are some things so important to your everyday life on a boat that you’d assume you would never forget where you put, say, your $2,000 Garmin chart plotter for safe-keeping when you packed up the boat for the season.

But it seems Ryan and I have found ourselves in the impossible situation of trying to solve a $2,000 puzzle by piecing together our memories from 16 months ago. It’s like playing a game where someone throws out one-word clues and we have to form a picture of what they’re thinking and guess the answer. Except the person giving the clues has Alzheimer’s. And the novelty of playing the game wore off after two hours, though we’ve been playing this game for about two weeks now.

If only I had the wherewithal 16 months ago to write a blog post entitled, Where I Hid My Chart Plotter and Other Mundane Secrets of Turf to Surf. But I didn’t. And so I’m stuck playing the WORST GAME EVER – a game which no one knows the rules for or the answers to — but I keep playing because the prize is not having to spend $2,000 to replace a chart plotter that is most definitely somewhere.

So let’s take a moment here and review what we know or, rather, what we can remember from 16 months ago…

What’s that, you say? You don’t want to play this game? Well, too bad…we’re all playing this game here. It’s all the rage in Marina Tropical in Luperon. Ryan and I are playing it, the other cruisers are playing it, even my parents are totally into it – I get a text message from my dad every few hours saying things like:

“The front of your guitar case.”

“The trunk of your car.”

“You gave it to the marina for safe keeping?”

“In your fridge.”

“The litter box.”

“Could it have been in that package you mailed us from Bali?”

Before long, I predict you’ll be playing it, too. So, listen, if you get any inspired ideas, you should definitely message me on Facebook or tweet your ideas at @turftosurf because, well, I’ll take any help I can get at this stage.

But back to what I remember…

April 2013 – Hideaway sails into Luperon, we plan to stay a few weeks, have some fun, provision, then sail on to Puerto Rico. We prep the boat, fill the water and fuel tanks and make plans to head for the Mona Passage as soon as the weather permits.

In the meantime, we go to Cabarete, take up kiteboarding, fall in love with the D.R. and promptly change our plans. We decide to get off the boat, rent a house in Cabarete and hang out a while longer, scrapping all plans to sail onward and replacing them with sun, surf and dry land.

May 2013 – Since Hideaway is going to stay in Luperon until we finish the Clipper Race and our travels through Southeast Asia, we pack her up, take down the sails, pull her out of the water and take all our valuables off the boat for safe-keeping, including the Garmin chart plotter. We take the cats and all our important possessions with us to Cabarete and ease into a lifestyle of working online by day while taking breaks to do water sports, Cross-Fit and hang out on the beach.

Here is where our memories diverge…

I remember Ryan and I deciding that the Garmin chart plotter was the only major steal-able and valuable item on the boat and, since it’s fairly small, we would do well to bring it to the States with us and keep it locked up in our house in upstate New York while we’re off racing halfway around the world in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. Especially since we’d need to come back to the U.S. before returning to our boat in the D.R. anyhow.

Ryan remembers that we took the chart plotter with us to Cabarete, but he thinks we brought it back to the boat when we packed up Hideaway because, in his mind, it only makes sense to keep the chart plotter with the boat, even if it is a valuable item. He remembers thinking about where to hide the chart plotter on the boat so that it wouldn’t be easily found or stolen. Unfortunately, he doesn’t remember where he thought about hiding it.

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I am standing in the boiler room of our log cabin in upstate New York with boxes, bags and suitcases open and strewn along the floor while talking through what I’m looking at over the phone with Ryan, who is in the Dominican Republic. I’m supposed to be in New York City doing work, but I’ve taken a detour to look for the mysteriously missing chart plotter.

“Did you look in all the suitcases?” Ryan asks.

“Every single last one. Why do we have so many suitcases?”

“The toolbox?”

“Yep. I went through every drawer and opened all the boxes.”

“On the shelves?”

“Yes. I’m telling you, it is not here. It’s not in the safe…why didn’t we just put the damned thing in the safe, anyway? It’s not in the storage closet – I took out every box and bag in there. And now I’ve gone through every single shelf and container in this boiler room and it is absolutely not in this house. Unless we buried it in the yard.”

“I don’t think you looked hard enough.”

“You don’t think I…YOU LITTLE…”

The sound of Ryan’s sniggering reverberates through the phone until he breaks into hysterical laughter.

“This isn’t funny! What the hell did we do with it if it’s not in the house, it’s not on the boat and it’s not at my parents’?! WHY WOULD WE HIDE SOMETHING SO IMPORTANT?!”

“I think it’s in the house,” Ryan says.

“IT’S NOT IN THE HOUSE! It has to be on the boat. Go back and open up that damned panel on the fuel tank. I won’t be able to sleep until we look.”

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It seems truly unbelievable that we have hidden our chart plotter so well that even we can’t find it. And it also seems crazy that neither Ryan nor I have a clear memory of what we did with something so crucial to our sailing life.

But then again, when I think back to July 2013 — 16 months and an eternity of experiences ago — I know my head wasn’t focused much on the boat we were leaving. My head was a swirl of anxiety and worries about the boats we were about to get on for the Clipper Race.

I’d watched enough YouTube clips of the ’11-’12 race across the Southern Ocean to know that I was probably in over my head, and that I had no experiences to date that would give me any insight into how brutal, cold and exhausting ocean racing would be. I was stepping into the unknown and stepping towards my fears, and so every thought in my brain was saturated with worries about whether or not I’d prepared myself well enough mentally and physically for what I was about to do.

Whatever memory I had of what I did with that damned chart plotter back in July of 2013 I’m sure was quickly swallowed by thoughts of how many thermals I should pack, how to keep my boots dry and what if this turned out to be the experience that breaks me.

Where will we put our Garmin chart plotter? That was probably not even a speck on the mole of the swollen ass of anxieties I was trying to soothe in the days running up to our departure for the UK, where we would take on the last weeks of Clipper Race training and sail out of London for the race across the Atlantic.

And now, here we are, 24 hours away from finally sailing out of the Dominican Republic — as we intended to do 18 months ago, before I fell head-over-heels in love with Cabarete — and we’re heading into one of the hairiest passages one can find in the Caribbean. Without a chart plotter.

I wish I could be clever and come up with a way to turn this into a metaphor for life with something like, “A blind man moves forward with confidence, not because he isn’t afraid, but because he has no choice…”, but the truth is I’m completely distracted from metaphor by the unsolvable riddle formed by my failed memory: It’s not in the fishing tackle bag, the bilge, the hanging locker, the V-berth, the nav station, the tool storage, under the cushions, inside the BBQ… Augh! Where the hell is it?!

 ryan searching hideaway for missing chart plotterF@%&!!!

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In other news…

Just in case you missed it, Turf to Surf recently featured in an interview on the Sail Loot Podcast, in which Tasha chats at length with Teddy J about working while traveling, starting a business, sailing, the Clipper Race and her life before and after cruising on a Catalina 34. Fix yourself a nice cup of tea, whiskey on the rocks, or whatever it is you fancy, and settle in here for the full, unabridged story: http://www.sailloot.com/sail-loot-podcast-004-tasha-hacker-teaching-english-for-some-sailing-money/

And if you just can’t wait for the next blog post to find out where Tasha & Ryan are and what shenanigans they’re up to now,  you can follow along in real time on the Turf to Surf Facebook Page, Twitter and Instagram.