So, as many of you know, we bought the boat, did a TON of work, got her ready, quit our jobs, and headed south. We started at Summit North Marina in the middle of the C&D Canal (long canal joining the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays). We were there for about ten months refitting, getting our affairs in order, and otherwise preparing to head south. As it happens, buying the boat - as stressful as that experience was (choose your broker carefully) - it’s pretty much the easiest part of this thing. It takes a while to get used to the new living situation, get you’re stuff somewhat organized (a year and a half later we’re still shuffling stuff around), and get to sorting out what the boat “needs” before you set sail.
We made a lot of mistakes that ended up costing quite a bit of money that I would caution the perspective liveaboard against. At some point I’ll do a post dedicated to that, but for our purposes here, our financial situation when we left ended up being… optimistic. We traveled south via the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) through Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and finally stopped in Cape Canaveral Florida.
When we started out, we had hopes of using the offshore route, but due to an array of setbacks (transmission failure, f@cking roller furling issues - twice, and an autopilot install/upgrade), we ended up stuck in Maryland too late in the season and weren’t ever able to catch a good weather window (at least one that we felt would accommodate our experience and state of preparedness), and thus, motored. A lot.
Regarding the ICW, it’s a pretty awesome thing. There’s a lot of religion surrounding it and it’s passibility, and even seasoned mariners we came across had misinformation. Let it be known, that Prelude is 47’ long, 15’ wide, 60’ high, and draws 7’. With these dimensions, everyone we talked to said there was no way we’d make it. We did. Not one issue navigation wise, and I wouldn’t shy away from it in a boat twice the size and with a 9’ draft. Taking the ICW is kind of a lazy way to see a huge portion of the American Atlantic coast. It seemed like every town we came across was almost another country - we all spoke the same language (except a small tucked away commercial shrimp dock in North Carolina), but in a lot of interesting ways, that’s about where the similarities end. (That last bit really makes me wonder about people claiming to know what’s good for large groups of people…)
Traveling this way is wholesale different from vacationing, or driving through in a car. Because of the limited anchoring options due to the nature of the ICW, just about daily you’re stopped at a marina or town dock. You meet people in a different way. For instance, that shrimp dock in North Carolina. Despite having honest-to-god THE most impressive and persistent brand of mosquitos I’ve seen to date (like, if you’re anemic, you should probably skip it until you've got that worked out), and needing Emmy as an interpreter to understand the brand of “English” being spoken, the people who run that place, the commercial fisherman, and the locals that hang around are some of the most welcoming people we’ve ever met. Now we’re talking the middle of nowhere. The bathrooms were two artistically painted outhouses across the street (apparently, JFK used the female one in the 60’s), your phone doesn’t work, and when it got dark - it was dark. Being from north of the Mason-Dixon, and somewhat of a film buff, right/wrong/indifferent, you come to a place like that with… an idea of what intrigue might be waiting. Consistently, the further from civilization - the “stranger” the place - the more welcoming, helpful, and genuine people seem to get - towards our whole family.
The trip was amazing… freeing… academic… inspiring.
As mentioned, the budget was simultaneously woefully optimistic and inadequate for the cruising plan and Prelude’s setup, so… we hunted Florida’s east coast in search of employment, and have settled temporarily in sunny Cape Canaveral.
Emmy’s a rockstar nurse, and once convinced to actually let prospective employers know (Emmy, unfortunately at times, has enough humility for the both of us and isn’t much into self-promotion…), quickly picked up a job at Cape Canaveral Hospital where she’s kickin’ @ss and taking names in the name of the “cruising kitty”. This is a less than ideal situation, as she’s away now four days a week, 12hrs a shift, and after sixth months of cruising full time as a family, the adjustment back to “marina/land - life” has been difficult for everyone, but hardest - I think - for Emmy.
Kids on a boat kind of make a lot of things easier. That is, they really help you meet people and get “settled” in a new place. Tessa is hands-down the most outgoing and fearless person I think I’ve ever met. Intimidated by nothing (save the common house fly?!?), she is constantly meeting people, exploring, and generally driven compulsively to enlarge her sphere of exploration with an energy typically reserved for nuclear submarines and theoretical interstellar vehicles. Lover of H2O (that’s really as specific as it gets - if that molecule’s involved, she’s 100% in) and enemy of shoes, she has been running our social scene. She’s met a nice Brazilian boy her age, Pedro, and together they are learning to read, eat two boats out of storage fees, and locking the pool down like Batman and Robin. It should be noted that as her fondness for this fella grows, my mental health suffers - there seems to be some mystical correlation there I just can’t put my finger on… Between Pedro, the pool, the beach, and working on that book-learnin’, she seems to be having a good go of it. The trick with her seems to be getting her out to run. She really needs to “be out there”, so we’ just get that going as we can.
Finn genuinely loves Prelude with every fiber of his being. He never wants to leave. Held in Prelude’s beamy fiberglass arms, Finn’s kingdom of toys, pots, pans, Legos, cars, trucks, tools and team of imaginary associates are held safely in a contained and controlled environment - just what he likes. He knows every inch of Prelude and as the on board safety officer, never misses a thing. If anything’s out of place, depending on the safety infraction factor, he’ll point it out immediately and incessantly (unsafe item), or assume no one wants it and claim salvage as said item is remanded to his careful catalogued custody (safe, but possibly important item). Whenever anything is “lost”, Finn is the go-to guy - he’ll know right where that thing-you-can-barely-name-but-need-to-stop-the-sinking is. Finn’s been spending a lot of time building things, fixing things, and monitoring the day-to-day goings-ons - pretty much making sure everything is well supervised and moving smoothly. In addition to his self-imposed managerial duties, he’s recently taken the leap and is hitting the pool swimmy-free. He’s decided that the artificial floatation devices are just holding him back, and he’s had enough.
*As an aside, if you are thinking about moving aboard, Legos are hands down the dollar-for-dollar most valuable equipment purchased for the voyage, period. No boat with children under the age of 75 should leave port without an absolute mountain of them. That’s a fact. Probably the most important piece of info we could pass on. Legos. Lots of them.
My days are spent looking after the boat, cleaning, laundry, and learning how to be a parent. I try to make sure that when Emmy gets home, all is right in her floating world. She works long hours, has some pretty tough days, and isn’t all that stoked to be away from the kids like that again, so I try to lighten it up a bit. I have been really working on bywayofthesea and it’s various outlets. Currently, I’m learning to shoot and edit decent video, as well as get the site and it’s social media accounts all working together. I was always pretty good at marketing through social media, but getting all these things working together while disseminating a good, quality product is tricky business and has a steep learning curve. We really want to build bywayofthesea into something interesting, engaging, and helpful; it’s just been really challenging to get a grip on the tech side of that. It’s coming a long and you should all see some big changes shortly. I’m getting close. I promise!
Prelude is safely tucked into a small marina where she has been slowly getting the much needed refitting and upgrading she really should have had before we left. Before heading south, we did an absolutely amazing amount of refit in an utterly impossible timeline save my parent’s (Ron & Theresa Brown - s/v Golden Echo) unyielding expertise, labor, and support. We literally replaced every system and brought the boat into the 21st century. A real downside of our first year of ownership was that due to several difficult factors, we really didn’t get to take the boat out much. The trip south really illuminated some fairly important shortcomings that really only experience could have yielded. We have a few decent project that need to be completed before the next adventure.
Prelude’s venerable Perkins 4.108 diesel engine, after having pushed us more or less 1,200nm south, blew her head gasket and a few other markedly important propulsive bits just as we arrived at this marina. Now, this motor - despite supposedly low use - has clearly not been getting any kind of regular attention over the course of it’s 28yr life. We knew that, but as we’d really had no issue with it and it kept ticking, I thought my diligent care and feeding would suffice to heal old wounds and breath new life into the iron beast. NOT SO! This has been a particularly harsh setback as we are essentially stuck here without that damned engine, and even though you know it was always the plan to be here for a year, a day living on a boat knowing you can’t suddenly leave is what I imagine birds walking around with clipped wings endure. It feels odd and disconcerting, and we’re getting it sorted as fast as possible (which has been slooooow…). There are a number of expensive players in this affair - even when doing the actual engine work yourself - that seem to be difficult to motivate, but we endeavor. It should be sorted soon.
We need to design and install a dodger. If you are a non-boating person, a dodger is something of a windshield/cover for the front of a cockpit. Think the little windshield on a biplane, except it would cover the top of the pilot as well. Prelude was designed to go fast, and crew consideration was really left out of the equation. She has a super sleek low-profile cabin top, with really no shear (slight arc upwards of the hull moving forward towards the bow). While sexy as hell, in any kind of fresh upwind situation (sailing towards the direction the wind - and waves - are coming from), siting in the cockpit is akin to riding a motorcycle in a downpour. Bring the temperature down a bit - say into the 50’s - and it gets a little… uncomfortable. A dodger protects the operator from wind and spray, which we desperately needed quite a few times there on the trip down. It should be noted, my mom did say the old dodger would be important well before we left. My opinion at the time was that dodgers were for sissies, and a real mariner takes it on the face like a man. Well… we’re making a dodger. Judge as you will.
Solar power. Where we’re going, and how we’ll be getting their, we need solar. And lots of it. Due to financial constraints, we chose to install a new autopilot (apparatus that steers the boat in most situations using tons of electricity) as opposed to the tried and true - power-free - wind vane (apparatus that steers the boat under sail using zero electricity). The key here is that when crossing an ocean, or doing any decent offshore work, the engine isn’t running constantly to charge the batteries. Using an electronic autopilot has many benefits, but at the cost of lots of power, and being an electronic component in a saltwater environment, is prone to failure - typically when literally in the middle of your passage. The wind vane is really nice because it sails the boat well, even in extreme conditions where the autopilot would struggle or fail, is extremely reliable, and uses the wind and water as energy. A big downside is that for one Monitor (preferred brand of wind vane), you could buy three electronic systems. We went with a Garmin unit that has really been an incredible fifth crew member while snaking down the ICW. But with offshore work ahead, we need to make sure we can reliably generate the power that puppy’s gonna suck down every day.
The way the next phase of our cruising plan is shaping up, I’m going to have to get some kind of reliable and substantial heater going. Prelude used to have a forced-air diesel heater. It got us most of the way through our winter in Delaware, but failed in some strange ways, so we ended up returning it. We were going to install a reverse-cycle air conditioner (pulls double duty as a heater and air conditioner, depending on need - kind of like a heat pump in a house), but you really need to be plugged into a dock with a substantial power source for it to work, and we’d like to get off the dock - and stay off - for quite some time. We met some amazing Canadians in our travels, on of whom is an HVAC contractor. His boat was seriously setup with some super efficient and effective heating and refrigerating solutions that were pretty out of the box. I really appreciated his approach and the simplicity of his systems. I think I’m going to implement a few of them on Prelude to prepare for the colder weather ahead.
We’re thinking we may need to do something about a water-maker as well. Prelude holds some 165gal. of freshwater, but between the four of us and a soon-to-be new onboard shower, we’re likely going to need a reliable way of making more. The jury is still out on this, but I’ve seen some really compelling designs lately… we’re still looking into it.
The “life-raft vs. super dinghy” debate continues. On the way down here, we had a new rigid inflatable with an good sized 4-stroke outboard. If your non-cruising folk, your tender is like a pickup truck. It pulls a lot of duty from fun to functional, and is something that should be well thought out. Prelude has no life-raft, and it seems that the more research we do on this, the less likely we are to get one. There are an amazing volume of statistics, studies, controversies, and anecdotes surrounding these inflatable wonders, and at this time we think that a really well designed/made rigid inflatable, in conjunction with a specifically maintained provision/ditch bag and some careful modifications, may likely be the better way to go.
We actually sold our inflatable thinking we would be getting something called a Portland Pudgy (worthy of looking into), which is something of a life-raft/tender hybrid. It’s a small plastic dinghy that is United States Coast Guard approved as a modular life-raft system certified for four persons. We were really excited about it, but then our neighbors (the Brazilian family of three) got one, and we realized it was just going to be too small. Impulse sabotaged me again, as I had sold the inflatable and motor, bought a small electric motor for the presumed Portland Pudgy, and now have to work out something else.
I’m not to disappointed in the end, as our previous inflatable - while fun - had a critically questionable design element that caused some concern on a regular basis - the transom (back of boat where motor mounts) sat about three inches off the water with the engine installed, and had a rather persistent habit of flooding should you be less than fully attentive to exactly how you slowed down and in what sea state. It got to be more than a little frustrating. We’re thinking of an AB Aluminum Inflatable, a well designed canopy, and a good sized 2-stroke outboard will be a good all around solution. I just wish we had come to it sooner!
My parent’s and Golden Echo headed north to Virginia a couple months ago to both a long overdue yard period (pulling your boat out to work on it) and to escape the heat. It was really hard parting ways after traveling so long with them, but if we could have gone - we would have! Can’t blame them. It’s hot as hell down here, the bugs are insane, and there’s no way to do good work in this climate. We’ll likely meet up with them as they come back down for the last time in the late fall (when the sun backs the f@ck up!) for the holidays and to prepare to start the next adventure.
So, now what?!?
We’ve learned just an incredible volume in the last year, and as we’ve gotten settled in here, we’ve really been working on refining our goals, applying some of the lessons we’ve learned, and practically honing in on a solid plan. We came to Florida hoping to escape winter, but underestimated the heat. Florida has a brutal winter, it’s called summer, and it’s nine months long. Talking to people here, you really just don’t go outside. It’s impossible to maintain a body temperature below 110deg. if you are under that sun for more than fifteen minutes. Even Emmy, my beautiful mediterranean, sun-worshiping partner has had enough. I mean, it’s hot. And the humidity is genuinely impressive. Now if your from Florida, I’m sure this is not as big a deal. But, being from the north where you get 30 days a year max over 90deg., these 104deg. averages are tough! Floridians, god bless you and your superpowers, but this ship needs to turn the hell around!
In all seriousness, and based on a number of factors that will be hit on more substantially at a later time, we plan to head north around March 2017 with the ultimate goal of raising Iceland. Since I can remember, it’s been a dream to go, and arriving by sea seems the only appropriate way to reach a place steeped in such a history. The kids have gotten really excited by the proposition and are constantly asking for more information. Tessa is very excited that it will be cold, and she can go outside whenever/wherever she wants. Finn is concerned about Icebergs and weather patterns (naturally), but admits that seeing a volcano would be interesting, and there may be some value to the array of cetaceans that frequent there.
Our plan is to sail north as far as we can while weather permits, sea how close we reasonably get by fall, and further develop the plan from there. There’s a ton to do, research, learn, double check, re-research, re-learn, and otherwise sort out this year to prepare, but it’s really exciting to get to it and have such an adventure in the works.
That’s the plan. And were stickin’ to it. (until something changes…)