A quick update for everyone—we are safe, we are back, docks are still standing, boats are still floating. Thank you to everyone who kept Story Time and all of Gottschalk Marina in their thoughts during Hurricane Dorian. We know how lucky we were to just get a small taste of Dorian before he headed out to the ocean. Hopefully this will be the only evacuation this season (knock on wood).
So happy to be back to normal life, and I can’t wait for this part of the year to be over.
There is nothing quite like the quiet that blankets a marina before a hurricane. You would expect that the days leading up to it would be all hustle and bustle, everyone on deck as they prepare their boats for the worst. You think it would be loud—halyards clanging and dock carts rumbling and people chatting. Last-minute laundry, canvas coming down, and engines rumbling.
Instead, tension tightens the air. Conversation is stilted; “Do you need help with anything? When are you evacuating?” Everyone keeps their head down trying to remember an expanding list of stuff left to do. We watch the horizon and worry about how much time we have left. The humidity weighs us down and fills our lungs. We move through water, drained mentally and physically. The list never seems to get shorter, and after our 30th trip up and down the docks, we are tired. Dinner consists of whatever we can scrounge from the fridge before we have to throw out the rest. Pump outs, fuel, water tanks… Oh! Don’t forget the sea cocks under the v-berth. Did anyone tape the propane valves shut?
One slip up and it could cost us a lot—even our boat. I will admit, we are more prepared this time than for Florence. In August, Boat Tribe came up with a checklist for hurricane season. I thought I would share it here:
Now, we watch and wait while Hurricane Dorian directs its wrath toward the North Carolina coast. Yesterday, we evacuated inland to Winston-Salem and are safe and sound. Story Time survived Florence, Gottschalk Marina endured, and I’m hoping we will be as lucky this time around. Keeping everyone affected in our hearts this week. If you’re in the path, let us know how you fare.
This weekend, I planned to have an epic post to share with you all. The original Labor Day weekend plan was to motor to Swansboro, stay the night, offshore sail in the freaking OCEAN, stay another night in Swansboro, and then return to Gottschalk with some incredible stories.
Then Hurricane Dorian appeared on the horizon, and plans changed.
Instead, we did an overnight raft up with some of our bestest dock buddies and stayed in New River! For those of you who don’t know what a raft up is, it is when one boat drops anchor and the rest tie up on either side. For this raft up, there were 4 boats in total—Zach and Corri were the “anchor” boat on Minoh, Story Time was on her port side, April Fools (a catamaran) was on the starboard, and the littlest boat was a 26-footer on the end.
It was a ton of fun to be able to walk across 4 boats to eat, drink, chat, and take in the views. 80 degrees, cool breeze, light chop, and surrounded by laughing friends… anchoring out always feels like something out of a dream. It is so removed from real life I wish everyone could experience it. In such perfect weather, it was hard remember that there is a very real hurricane threat lurking.
The next morning, after coffee and breakfast and amid W’s absolute obsession with her “CoCo” (Corri), we hit the beach. Can you tell we were still a bit in denial about the hurricane to-do list waiting for us back at the marina?
I’m thankful we took the time to enjoy ourselves before hurling into this week and all the drama it will bring. Boats are a LOT of work and can be a pain in the butt, especially around this time of year. It was nice to appreciate Story Time for all the joy she brings to our lives before cursing a lengthy checklist while Dorian bears down.
Well, folks, it finally happened. After 2+ years of living aboard, my phone decided to go for a swim.
W and I were playing up in the cockpit yesterday morning. She was of course wearing her life jacket, but decided to try and step off the boat by herself. I grabbed her before she succeeded, and in doing so I sacrificed my phone.
PLOP. Right into the river.
I looked at her. She looked at me. “Mama. Uh oh!”
Yep. Uh oh was right.
I think drowning a phone is right of passage for all boaters. I’m actually surprised I held out this long. A wave of acceptance washed over me as I stared into the murky depths below. Sighing, I went to procure a net. My wonderful neighbor Ron came out and used his expertise to fish for it. Apparently, this was the fourth phone he’d scooped up this year.
Five minutes later, it was back in my hands, covered in mud. It had a case on it, but the port covers were not all the way sealed when it dunked. I wiped it off as best I could, put it in a bag of rice for 24 hours, and hoped for the best.
There was nothing more to do, so why stress? Surprisingly, it ended up being an awesome 24 hours. I kind of liked not being able to talk to anyone, be “on call”, feel guilty for not responding to people right away. No hotspot, no internet, nothing but the here and now. I was completely unplugged and totally present.
W and I had a wonderful day. After my weekend trip to Nashville to celebrate my mom’s 60th, I missed our quality time together. It was quiet and sweet, just the two of us. After she went to bed, instead of procrastinating with Netflix I did some boat projects that had been on my to-do list for a while and got some editing done.
This morning, miracle of miracles, the phone worked when I turned it back on. It is a little janky—the speakerphone works but not regular audio, the center button freaks out, and I am having trouble importing pictures to my computer—but it lives. I thought for sure it was done.
I am happy and grateful that my phone works, but this past day was a great reminder to slow down. I want to make it a regular thing, maybe once per week. Turn everything off and not worry that I’m missing out on something. The cruising lifestyle requires this, so it will be good practice for next year!
We had a fantastic boating experience with another family this weekend. We invited one of my writer friends, her husband, and their two kids to come sailing with us on Sunday morning. This was their first time on a sailboat, and they were eager to learn!
Aspects of boat life that have slowly become mundane to us over the last two years were put into a new and refreshing light when explaining them to a six and eight-year-old. Getting off the dock became more than throwing lines and getting out to sail as quickly as possible. It turned into a fascinating explanation of WHY for everything. Why are there so many ropes? Why do you tie them that way? Why do we throw that over there? Why does the engine make that noise? Why do you have to look for water coming out the back of the boat? A five-minute process turned into twenty, but it enriched the experience for everyone.
Out on the water, the kids steered the boat, learned how to trim the sails, and found out how the navigation equipment worked. We even hung out with some dolphin friends!
Though he has had a great career in the Marine Corps, I really think teaching will be somewhere in my sweet husband’s future. Watching him interact with W fills my heart, but also seeing his ‘teacher mode’ with older kids makes me excited for the years to come. I can’t wait until W is old enough to go from “keep her from falling off the boat” to “active crew participant”.
It just amazes me how kids soak up knowledge and dive into new activities without hesitation. They aren’t afraid to do it wrong or ask questions. This makes sailing even more enjoyable because it snaps adults out of autopilot. Kids make you live in the moment; to stop and think about what you are doing, and most importantly, WHY you are doing it. And the answer is usually, “Because it’s fun!”
As the tagline for this blog points out, ‘we are a military family sailing by the seat of our pants’. Therefore, when I saw this quote, I immediately felt it in my bones:
“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” —General George Patton
We are learning as we go. We are not boat experts, or salty sailors, or even semi-experienced cruisers. Yes, it is scary. We could have waited to live this life until we felt more prepared, had better timing, weren’t raising a toddler, no longer in the military…waiting, waiting, waiting…
What we have is messy, sometimes chaotic, difficult, and time-consuming. Constant learning curves, fixing what breaks, and always getting interrupted whenever we settle into a routine. It is decidedly not perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. I would take this life a million times over rather than still be in the planning phase, too afraid to pull the trigger until I answered all the ‘what-ifs’ that kept me up at night.
Right now I’m reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. It is mostly about writing, but her advice for creative living beyond fear is also applicable to liveaboard life, or for anyone who yearns to live passionately.
She says: “And you have treasures hidden within you—extraordinary treasures—and so do I, and so does everyone around us. And bringing these treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small.”
So if you have faith and focus and courage and devotion, you already have the tools you need to put your plan into action. Figure it out as you go, but don’t wait forever to make the decision. What would you do if you were not afraid?
People who find out we live on a boat: “How do you deal with a toddler in such a small space?”
Me: “How do you keep track of your toddler in such a large space?”
But really, I think no matter where you live, entertaining a toddler is hard work. This is the struggle that all parents face, the never-ending question of “What are we going to DO today?”
Pros for living on a boat with a toddler:
I’m never more than 10 feet from her at any given time
Boat-proofed is automatically baby-proofed. Everything is latched, furniture is built in, and corners are rounded.
A lot of time spent outdoors
When we are all on the boat, we are all hanging out together!
Don’t have tons of toys underfoot
Everything is spill-proof and waterproof
I’m never more than 10 feet from her at any given time
Silence is never an option
Deck time always involves a lifejacket
No space indoors to run her ragged
The last con is the biggest hurdle for us. How do I make sure my toddler burns off enough energy when she can’t run around outside due to weather? Summer here is challenging. 105 degree days with sudden thunderstorms. Here’s what we do to fill our week and get off the boat:
Early morning walks (most mornings) with an hour pit stop at the park. It is usually cool and shaded enough until 9 am. W can climb to her heart’s content while Scout and I get some exercise.
Story time at Barnes&Noble. Music, books, and socialization with kids. Plus, it is air-conditioned and there is an indoor play area at the other end of the mall. More things to climb.
Tot Time on base, or as W calls it, “T-T!” There is a 2-hour ‘free play’ for kids under 2 in one of the community center gyms on Camp Lejeune. Different toys and socialization time in the AC!
Gymnastics on Thursdays in the ‘Mommy and Me’ class. I think this one is her favorite. By the time the hour class is done, she usually falls asleep in the car.
Starbucks usually precedes a trip to the grocery store. Caffeine boost for Mom and a croissant for W! A good place to hang and people watch.
Library visits are also a favorite. We frequent two that are on base. They have separate kids rooms with puzzles and play structures, too!
Pool time is reserved for super-hot afternoons and extra-energy days. W likes the shaded kiddy pool, and 1 hr after playing in that she’s ready for bed.
Beach days are the best, but less frequent due to the absolute mess involved (read: SAND EVERYWHERE) but we usually go at least once per week. Conor loves doing this with her, so it is usually on the weekend.
Deck time will also entertain W for a while, as long as there is ice involved! Easiest entertainment ever: Get a bag of ice. Put out bowls of different sizes. Give toddler a big spoon. Have her move ice to various containers. When it melts, no cleanup needed! I don’t know why this is so amusing, but W loves it.
These are the big ones. When we are on the boat, we play games, sing songs, build block towers, read books, color, play pretend with baby doll, and try to empty various cabinets.
How do you entertain your toddler? Give me ideas below!