December 3, 2014
Note: This blog was written in September when we were still on our way back from Labrador. We are now in Deltaville, VA and will head soon to Norfolk/Portsmouth, then on to Beaufort, NC by year end.
(By Bradley) I put “home” in quotes, because we basically live on board Shear Madness. We have a wonderful little place in Naples Fl, but we do not consider it home. Shear Madness is our home. However, we also follow the methodology of scheduling a maintenance period every 12 to 18 months, where the boat is hauled from the water and we address a long list of both preventive maintenance items, repairs from our list and at this point – minor upgrades. Our goal when cruising is to have as few breakdowns as reasonably possible. Sitting for a week or two stuck while we wait for a part or even possibly a service tech to arrive is not our idea of cruising. We try to treat Shear Madness more like an airplane, with scheduled maintenance cycles. We have also found, when possible, having the same people we trust who know our boat, perform the work has added benefits. One of which is that in an emergency we can reach out to them via phone and they can often be extremely helpful.
We reached the northern most Latitude of our adventure (N 69. 23) in late August and now (8 Sept. 2014) are heading south down the coast of Labrador. We heading back to the Chesapeake Bay and ultimately Jarrett Bay, NC where the boat will be hauled out from January through March 2015. Part of this process is also beginning to plan our 2015 and 2016 cruising seasons. After this extreme season of cruising, we are leaning towards taking it easy in 2015, heading to Colorado for some skiing and visiting friends and family, then just cruising the east coast of North America in 2015 but then having the boat fully ready for another extreme season of cruising in 2016.
The goal of this blog is to give those who do not live and cruise on a boat some insight into the challenges we face and how different this is from living in a house, where your doctor, dentist and repair techs are available with just a simple phone call and where stores, neighbors and internet are within easy reach. For those who live aboard and/or cruise, you may want to skip this blog.
Also, let me state clearly we are not complaining. We have a wonderful life and are extremely lucky. We have our health and are living our dream. However we often get asked a lot of questions relating to: What do you do all day – don’t you get bored? And non- cruisers seem to think each day is filled with fun, play and relaxation.
While we do have lots of time to read, write, explore new places and meet new friends, there is more than meets the eye. Just two nights ago while in Makkovik, we were tied up at the dock for two days, because we knew bad weather was going to arrive. The second night the weather was so bad that I had to get up every two hours, go outside in pouring rain and bitter cold to adjust our fenders, check our docking lines for chafe and in one case, fish a broken 2×4 out of the water, that was banging on the hull. When we are in cruising mode, it is quite common for me to get up at least once a night to check our situation out. Often it can be done from the comfort of the pilot house, but not always. When I know I want to check our situation in the middle of the night, rather than go to sleep worrying, I just drink a large glass of water before going to sleep. I sleep soundly, knowing nature will wake me, and not some nasty alarm clock, in 3 to 4 hours.
This season we had the added pleasure of having to check for drifting ice to make sure none was headed for Shear Madness while at anchor. There was no dashing outside in my birthday suit, as in the Bahamas, to make the adjustments or check on things – way too cold! I tried to just throw on some pants once or twice, but within minutes you are so cold, you becomes less effective at what you are doing.
I suspect that most people can relate to the heading home Blues. After a wonderful vacation, where you had unlimited energy, you have to pack up and head back. Getting on that plane or in your car for the 1 or 2 day trip home, life starts to creep back into your head. Issues you set-aside for a week or two return and you get that combination feeling of tired and trepidation. For us the trip back will be over a month long. Most of it involves very carefully selecting weather windows to make 2 to 3 days hops, in this case away from the shore, to shorten the trip. And often when in port or at anchor the weather is not all that conducive to shore activities.
For us, we are beginning to plan our maintenance cycle and making lists. Lots of lists. We have the maintenance items, the personal items we need to remember to purchase – we both need new boots, Kathy’s hiking boots had the soles fall off. The first time, George was able to use some new magic adhesive he discovered in at the yard in Maine, to reattach the front of the sole, now the back has fallen off. For me, I will need new foul weather boats – mine dry rotted and leaked. We also have to track what inventory items we used, like filters, spare parts etc. and make sure we replace them –often having discovered some new spares we need to carry. This year we are planning on attending the Fort Lauderdale boat show for the first time in several years. We already have a list of 30 plus items to research before and at the show. We also have to figure out how to get our doctors, dentist and other personal appointments scheduled in a fairly short window. We have elected to keep most of our medical care in Northern Virginia, so appointments have to be pre-scheduled to match when we are in town to visit my charming daughter and her family. We have to make sure we have our taxes completed timely, often planning well ahead to sign them, and we have to figure out where we will be so we can vote. Not that there are many good choices from either party.
Once back in the US, with cost effective high speed internet, we will also begin researching our next cruising adventure. What charts, books and other specialty items (like the bear repellant) do we need to purchase. During the maintenance cycle, we will also need to re-inventory the boat, checking on our spares to make sure they remain ok and verifying our inventory is accurate.
I suspect with the exception of those few of you who live in high power outage areas, when you return to your house from being out, you do not give a second thought to power, water, food and fuels. For us, we are managing those resources each day. Every time we leave the boat for more than 5 or 10 minutes we turn off our water and head (toilet) pumps, so if they fail we do not end up with dead batteries or no water. We are constantly checking how much water and fuel we have, and what is the state of our batteries. When will we next run the generator to charge them, and do we need to make water, do the wash, cook, heat the boat or all of the above.
Just to reinforce an earlier point – we are not complaining about the challenges one faces living and cruising a boat. In fact, right now we are cruising south from Makkovik, Labrador to Battle Island or most likely Port Au Choix, Newfoundland. We departed Sunday 7 Sept at 16:00 and have been having an incredible trip. We faced some waves for the first couple of hours until we could turn south and then for the most part they were off our stern or port stern. Last night they got as big as 6 to 8 feet, but with the light winds, they settled right down. We have been averaging in the low 8 knot range, which for us is blazing speed. After three days of clouds, rain and wind, the skies cleared last night to reveal a full moon, which was stunning. We have not really seen a moon in several months. This morning, Kathy’s log entry states – “Beautiful morning blue skies and sun shining”. The sea remains comfortable with 15 to 20 knots of wind filling in off our stern, pushing our speed into the low 9’s this morning. Right now we are doing 9.4 and we are scheduled to arrive in Port Au Choix early Tuesday morning. I estimate we will in fact arrive around 13:00, as this speed will not hold. Looks like we will in fact make Port Au Choix, before the next weather front arrives Tuesday afternoon/evening.
Just as I was getting ready to do the 10:00 hourly engine room check, I did a careful scan of our situation, paying special attention to both the 12 and 3-mile radars. I will be in the engine room for 3 to 5 minutes, which even at this speed is less than a mile. On the 3 mile radar I note a very fast moving object off our port stern heading toward us. I scan the water but cannot find a boat. Looking up, I realize we are getting buzzed by some type of aircraft. It was so close, I could read the tail numbers. Not knowing if it was official or just a private sightseer, I elected to postpone the engine room check for 5 minutes. It is not uncommon for official aircraft to contact us via the VHF radio for some information. A few minutes later Speed Air 104 hails me on 16 – they are a twin-engine plane on pollution patrol. They have checked us out and in particular our wake confirming we are perfectly clean. No oil from the engines, or dirt from the bilges. What do they expect – WE ARE A NORDHAVN!
That is a first. We have been checked out by Customs, by the various coast guards, locals and by private aircraft, but never by a pollution control plane – good on you Canada!
As I sit here with a big smile on my face, one key aspect of our life, that is really different from living on shore is the potential penalty we pay for mistakes, or little mental slip ups. We always tell our guests, the sea is very patient, it will wait quietly for you to make a mental mistake. Some are major, others minor, but frustrating. If you end up with a dead car battery, locked out of your house, or caught in some bad weather on the way to work, it is an inconvenience, but for the most part not life threatening. Out here, things are a little different. Things do happen and contrary to perceptions we are not perfect, but we really work very hard to prevent major mistakes. Cruising is a mental game, more than anything else. These boats are complex machines and as anyone who has ever run one knows, it is very easy to do something in the wrong order, fail to open or close a value in the right order or make any of several hundred mistakes that can damage or destroy critical equipment. Shortly after we purchased Shear Madness, we made a mistake with a fuel return valve, that cost us close to $10k to fix. Luckily we were within Charleston harbor and were able to limp back to the docks to have the engines serviced.
When we are underway, everything has to be secured. We may start out in calm conditions, but sooner or later, the weather changes, waves arrive and things go flying. All cabinets must be secured and remain secure after each use. Refrigerator and freezer doors need to be locked and opened VERY carefully, as, like an airplane “contents may have shifted” while we were underway. Every item in the galley has to be cleaned and put away after use, or it may end up on the floor shattered. We do not use plastic tableware, as I cannot stand eating or drinking out of plastic. In fact on our sailboat we had a complete set of Wedgewood China – the only dish we lost was a washing accident. Even the simple things, like having a drink underway requires a closed cup, and the lid must be closed after each drink or it will spill at some point. The Sea is patient. We have special protocols for trash, discussed in an earlier blog, and while underway, meals have to be coordinated with watch schedules. Everything we do, we try to think though, anticipate what could go wrong and approach with caution. On our sailboat, in heavy weather, we sometimes boiled water while wearing our foul weather pants for protection in case of a spill. On this boat with the stabilizers on, it can be amazingly stable, but we still feel the waves.
As our many blogs demonstrate, this is a wonderful way to see the world, meet and truly get to know locals, and learn much about new countries, but it is very different lifestyle. It is not for the faint of heart, nor for the lazy. We have now been 3 months without live TV and for the most part news. It is not for those who like 8 to 10 hours of continuous sleep at night, waking up to a warm cozy room. Going out to eat can require a very wet ride in the tender and a severe limitation on drinking. However, we would not trade this lifestyle for anything. We love it and I hope this blog gives those who wonder about our sanity a little better understanding of what life is like living and cruising on Shear Madness. Be sure to let us know if you’d like to come for a visit and experience the cruising life for yourself!