Sail Fail

I’ll cut to the chase: Smartini (a.k.a. Fran and Butch/Brian) are not cut out to be sailors, and after 7 days and nights sailing from Panama to the Galapagos Islands, we have opted out of the sail from Galapagos to French Polynesia. We’re still going to FP, but we’ll be flying, not sailing. If you want to know why, read on!

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Before going any further, my sincere apologies to anyone who ever visited us on Smartini (the boat, not Fran and me) and found life aboard just a little (or maybe a lot) less comfortable than you had anticipated. We found it to be very comfortable, except for the occasional bad weather day underway or really rolly anchorage, but it’s what we were accustomed to. If you found yourself counting the minutes until you could get back to dry land and air conditioning, (to use the probably now outdated vernacular of the cool kids), “I feel you, dog!”

Liz, Paul, and Oneiro in Puerto Rico, March 2019

I don’t want to imply that our very good friends and gracious hosts, Liz and Paul, didn’t warn us; didn’t, in fact, make it a point that life on Oneiro (their 46′ Hallberg-Rassy sailboat) would be considerably different than life on Smartini. When we asked them about bringing a tiny projector with us so that maybe we could watch a movie in the cockpit on our long journey, the response was something like “Well, when sailing, the boat is always moving, sometimes quite a lot, so it’s not likely that we’ll ever want to just sit and try to watch a movie. In fact, a lot of the time, you really won’t feel like doing anything at all.” Now, if that’s not a warning, I don’t know what is – but Fran and I must have been thinking “Yeah, we lived on a boat – we know there’s always some movement – we’re used to that. How bad can it be?”

[Humor Alert: at this point, I will attempt to use humor to convey my feelings about being on a sailboat. If you are a sailor, and particularly if you are Liz or Paul, do not take offense – it’s humor, or at least my best attempt at it, hoping it will help me avoid some serious PTSD.]

Happier times, before I had any idea what we were in for

“How bad can it be?”, we thought. “Like riding on a bucking bronco, inside a washing machine that’s tumbling down the side of a mountain”, is the answer. The first two days and nights, when we had a 5-6 foot swell coming from behind, in 18-24 knot winds, there wasn’t a moment when I wasn’t thinking that I would rather be almost anywhere, doing almost anything, other than what I was doing at the time. Getting a root canal? Easy. Prepping for a colonoscopy? Child’s play. Having my fingernails extracted with pliers, while getting a root canal and prepping for a colonoscopy? Sign me up! Just GET ME OFF OF THIS BOAT!

Fortunately for me – and for Fran, Liz, and Paul, who were no doubt also wishing I were off the boat, so they didn’t have to endure the waves of miserableness (I know, “misery” is the correct word here, but somehow it doesn’t quite convey what I was actually feeling) emanating from my every pore – it got better. The big swell became much smaller, and eventually disappeared. The wind dropped to 10 – 12 knots, and then to practically nothing as we neared, then crossed, the Equator, so the seas calmed considerably. And while that reduced my physical discomfort to merely “annoyed”, it freed up my brain to think about the prospect of the wind and swell kicking up again, and of me being stuck on the boat for another 94 hours, 36 minutes, and 14 seconds.

And I began to wonder what kind of person actually chooses to travel long distances via sailboat. An adventurer? An explorer? A lover of the open ocean? Nope. A masochist, plain and simple. Let’s examine the facts: here is a person who, ON PURPOSE, locks themself in a contraption in which everything is smaller, tighter, hotter, wetter, louder, and smellier than, for example, a Dodge Grand Caravan with broken shock absorbers and no air conditioning, transporting a half dozen sumo wrestlers across Alabama during a thunderstorm in August, after feeding them all Burrito Supremes from Taco Bell. A person who, ON PURPOSE, spends days and even weeks on end (it’s about 24 days from Galapagos to French Polynesia) without a decent shower, fresh food, a good night’s sleep, Netflix, or a full day without banging one’s head on something hard at least once. (Hmm… does the frequent head banging factor into the decision to be a sailor? Worth investigating.)

Even changing lightbulbs is difficult on a sailboat – this is my view from the top of the 66′ mast, where I ventured to inspect the special sailboat lights (among other chores)

Everything you do on a sailboat at sea is difficult. Food preparation involves wedging yourself into the tiny galley with your knees and hips, and trying to maintain some upper body stability while cutting only the food, and not a finger. Cutting up a fresh pineapple can take an hour (not making this up). Pouring anything from one vessel into another is almost sure to result in some spillage – water into your water bottle, hot coffee into a mug, rum into a shot glass, tequila into a shot glass, pure grain alcohol into a shot glass (anything to numb the pain!).

Sleeping is difficult. Getting from any part of the boat to any other part of the boat, no matter the distance, is difficult. Going to the bathroom is difficult. Getting dressed and undressed. Brushing your teeth. Washing dishes. Reading. Writing. Finding a place to sit comfortably. All difficult, and when the conditions are bad, practically impossible. (Nothing particularly funny about this paragraph, especially since it’s all true.)

Paul in the cockpit of Oneiro – this is where we spent most of our time when the seas were rough

But Sailor Man* doesn’t seem to mind, or barely notice for that matter. Because Sailor Man is too busy being Sailor Man, doing Sailor Man stuff: checking the sails, checking the wind, calculating how fast the boat is going relative to the wind speed, and dreaming of what it could be doing with just two more knots of wind, or ten more degrees of favorable wind direction. Then adjusting the sails (which often means making a particular rope looser or tighter by six inches, as if that’s really going to change anything). Occasionally doing something called a “jive”, performed when Sailor Man determines there might be another 0.05 knots of speed to be had if he moves the sail from one side of the boat to the other – never mind the fact that the boat is now heading farther away from the destination than before the “jive”.

By the way, I may have the terminology wrong, but I hope I will be forgiven, because everything on a boat – not just a sailboat, to be fair – has a made-up word that is, I think, intended to allow Sailor Man to easily identify another Sailor Man, so that they can immediately begin to talk Sailor Man talk to each other. Every one of these words is, as far as I can tell, a made-up word for boats: clew, vang, jib, spinnaker, genoa, luff, leech, tack, mast, batten, halyard, sheet, brail, tricing line, warp, whip, jackstay. Then you get to combine them for even more confusion: jib topsail sheet, peak halyard, bunt line, boom vang. You would think a “sheet” would be the sail, but you’d be an idiot (in the eyes of Sailor Man), because a “sheet” is the rope (oops – “line”) that you pull on to make the sail loose or tight, or tall or short, or something. There’s something called a “clutch” that is really more of a brake, but why use a word the way everyone else uses it? That would make it too easy to understand! (I was going to try to make up some words to pump up the humor volume here, but as it turns out, it wasn’t necessary, as every word or phrase I’ve listed is absolutely legit.)

One topic I have avoided so far, because it’s so sensitive to Sailor Man, is running the engine. Sailor Man hates, with a passion that burns white hot, to run the engine. It means that the normal sounds of pure sailing – the wind filling the sails, the sleek hull of the boat slipping through the sea, the smashing of waves into the bow, crashing and clanging of dishes, glassware, cookware, water bottles and everything else that isn’t glued into place, the loud “Dammit!” of the crew as they bang heads, shoulders, knees and toes into hard parts of the boat (collectively known as the “clee yardlings”) – all of those sounds are drowned out by the gentle droning of the engine, burning the precious diesel, thereby eating away at the financial reserves and possibly preventing the planned purchase of the new wartsail. A sound which, to Sailor Man, is the sound of failure – failure to capture the wind and travel freely across the Seven Seas. Never mind the fact that, when pinned down, every Sailor Man I’ve ever met admits to running the engine about 50% of the time, something they call “motor sailing” to make it sound a bit less like failure.

In the end, I have reached the conclusion that there is something in the genetic makeup of Sailor Man that makes him yearn for the sea, that makes him eschew comfort for the feel of the clew and the cleat, yawing along the mainsail, with the boom vang and the topping lift in perfect harmony. And I just don’t have it, nor do I understand it. Literally – who can make sense of all the jibberish?! Put me on a 737 with a gin and tonic, and wake me up when we’re on final descent.

[Serious Alert: now that I have made you laugh yourself silly, let me be serious for a moment.]

All joking aside – and all anti-sailing bias aside (as far to the side as I can park mine) – I have great respect for people who live on their sailboats and sail them incredibly long distances to see amazing places. What they do is not at all easy, and they do it because of some inner drive to accomplish something that a tiny fraction of humans will ever do. They really do endure long, boring passages knowing that the boring parts can be interrupted at any moment by a terrible squall that could break their boat, or by a collision with a whale that could break their boat (not kidding – a sailboat similar to Oneiro was sunk by a whale collision just a week before we flew to Panama), or by equipment problems that could endanger their lives. It’s not much different from people who climb the world’s highest mountains.

Paul and his 20 lb. blackfin tuna…

Paul has wanted to sail his boat around the world for far longer than the four years we’ve known them, and he’s finally doing it. Fran and I are honored that they (Paul and Liz) thought enough of us to include us on this important leg, and I feel bad that I let them down. (Fran, being Fran, would have made it all the way to French Polynesia with a smile, regardless of the circumstances.)

… and the resulting feast (1 of 3)

Because they allowed us to tag along, we got to see a bit of Panama, and will see a lot of the Galapagos Islands over the next 10 days. And then we’ll spend a couple of months in French Polynesia, which we think we never would have visited otherwise. (Reminder – we’re flying there, not sailing.) On the Panama – Galalagos leg, we saw dolphins jumping on several occasions, and the Southern Cross in all its glory (although, to be truthful, it’s not a very impressive constellation – the Big Dipper kicks its butt in that department), and had a red-footed booby ride on our bow rail for more than a day. We witnessed Paul fight and land a 20 pound blackfin tuna on tackle more suitable for catching small river trout, and then had delicious sushi (twice!) and tuna tacos as a result. We crossed the Equator and celebrated with a bottle of Veuve du Vernay champagne.

Champagne at the Equator

And most of all, we were reminded that good friends don’t have to love all the same things to be good friends. Fair winds and following seas, Oneiro – we’ll see you in Tahiti!

* Thanks to another sailing couple we met while on Smartini, who we have become good friends with, Jim and Kathy Booth. They introduced us to the concept of Sailor Man, which is not a real person, but rather, a concept, an ideal, a persona taken on by anyone, man or woman, who takes the helm of a sailboat on the open ocean. When speaking, the term is said with a certain emphasis, similar to the way one might say “Superman!”. Or, more appropriately, “Underdog!” Some of Sailor Man’s character flaws endearing traits include attempting dangerous tasks, such as going up the mast in high winds, when there is no reason not to wait until later; always, in every instance, viewing other sailboats as opponents in a race; the belief that their boat’s brand, model, size, and sail plan is really the only one that makes sense, and why in the hell would anyone have anything else? Oh, Sailor Man, you amuse us so!

“It’s Underdog! (Or is it Sailor Man?)”

Smartini Goes Sailing

You know that the boat we lived on for five years (called Smartini – what else?) was NOT a sailboat. It was a trawler, a slow, comfortable, motor boat. Neither of us had any sailing knowledge when we decided to buy a boat, so we went the easy route – buy a motor boat. But the majority of people we met and became friends with during our crusing years were on sailboats, and frankly, our conversations with them about sailing reinforced our choice of a motor vs. sails. (Here’s the gist of it: a sailboat big enough to live on comfortably has every system that a motor boat has – including a motor – and it also has all of the sailing stuff: mast, rigging, and sails, all of which need to be maintained and periodically replaced. So in our minds, the ONLY benefit of a sailboat is that, sometimes, you get to go somewhere without burning fuel. I say “sometimes” because every sailor we’ve met admits that they run the motor – either in conjunction with using the sails, or instead of using the sails – about half the time.)

Continue reading “Smartini Goes Sailing”

The Key(s) to Happiness

I’ll save the suspense: yesterday (January 2, 2022), Fran and I moved to the Florida Keys! We’re renting a place in Key Largo for all of January (thanks, Jim and Kathy!!!), and we’re scheduled to close on a house on Big Pine Key on the 28th of this month. We’re so excited!

Part of the backyard of the new house
Continue reading “The Key(s) to Happiness”

Smartini Runs Aground

Not the boat named Smartini, but rather “Team Smartini” – Fran and Butch. See, two weeks ago today, we stepped off the boat named Smartini for the last time, leaving her in the very capable hands of her new owners, Linda and Brian Werder. They’ll be continuing The Big Adventure that we started five years ago; already they’ve gone way farther up the East Coast than the boat has ever been before, all the way to Urbana, VA, a little town on the Chesapeake Bay. They’ll stay there until the end of hurricane season, then head back to FL, then the Bahamas, and then wherever their adventuresome souls guide them. We wish them luck, and hope they enjoy living on Smartini as much as we did. They’ll be renaming the boat “Vahevala”, from the 1971 Loggins and Messina tune of the same name.

“But wait! Back up! Does this mean you’ve sold Smartini?!?!”, you might be thinking to yourself. “Yes!”, I would say to yourself.

In February, we left Florida for the Bahamas, to spend a few weeks with good friends Beth and Pat on their Nordhavn 60, “Olaf”. A few weeks turned into 3 1/2 months, and somewhere in that time span, we decided it was time to wrap up the “living on a boat” phase of our lives. We had a great time with Olaf, and also Ingrid, then Curt and Sondra, and finally Bennett and Emilie, but we found ourselves more and more aware of the fact that weather rules your life when you live on a boat, and less and less willing to keep living with that limitation. Also, our plans to explore the Western Caribbean were on indefinite COVID hold, since no country is yet anywhere near back to normal, and who wants to visit an amazing place, only to have so much of its charms unavailable? Not us.

With Beth and Pat, somewhere in the Bahamas

So we decided to enjoy the hell out of our last voyage, return to Florida, and get the old girl ready to sell. (She’s almost 20 years old now!) And that’s what we did, spending countless hours over the next many weeks getting the boat into the best shape possible before showing her, and then turning her over to the next owners. I won’t even recap all the things we did, but suffice it to say that by the time Linda and Brian took the helm, the boat was in the best shape it had been in during our entire time with her, if you consider not only the general condition of things, but especially all the upgrades we did during that time.

The first time Linda and Brian came onboard, we spent five hours with them, showing them the whole boat, top to bottom, stem to stern. We knew they were a great fit for the boat, and they must have, too, because very shortly we had an offer, then a deal, then a survey and sea trial, and finally, a closing. Then, Fran and I spent the next 7 1/2 days with them, helping to get their northward journey underway, and teaching them as much as we could about the boat along the way. Two weeks ago, we left them in a marina in Daytona Beach. We’ve had only a few questions from them since then (they’re obviously quick studies), and we’ve watched their daily progress with great pleasure as they’ve made their way to the Chesapeake.

Last visit to Hope Town Harbour, Elbow Cay, Abacos, Bahamas

I know what you’re thinking, and for Fran, you’re right: it’s bittersweet. For me, not so much – once we decided to sell, I was already mentally ready for the next phase of life. Of course, we’ll both miss being in the beautiful water of the Bahamas, the Virgins, and all up and down the Eastern Caribbean, but all of those places are accessible by airplane. We met some absolutely fantastic people on our journey (Beth and Pat, Liz and Paul, and of course Whitey and Max, among many, many others) – but it’s not like that’s ever going to stop. Not as long as Fran is part of Team Smartini!

What IS the next phase of life? We’re going to continue being vagabonds for the foreseeable future, just land-based rather than water-based. We still have the Big Sexy Beast (our trusty 2018 Dodge minivan that we bought a year ago), and we have a long list of places we want to visit, and spend weeks or even months. Many are in the US, many are not – those will be dependent on the state of COVID, of course. We’ve started with New York City – arrived here last Thursday, and will be here for a whole month. My son Bennett lives here, just graduated from Pratt Institute here (with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, with honors – yes, I’m proud!), and just started his dream job as a Gallery Assistant at Essex Street / Maxwell Graham, his absolute favorite art gallery in all of New York. Because of him being in school and us being on the boat, we’ve not spent much time with him over the past five years, so we’re remedying that situation this month.

With Bennett (right) and “the other Bennett” (center) on our first day as New Yorkers

After NY, it’ll be Indianapolis for a bit, then Fort Collins for a bit, then back to Indy for Thanksgiving, and by then, it will be way too cold for us that for north, so it’ll be back to Florida for a bit, and then, who knows? The Keys? Mexico? Belize? Egypt? (Fran’s biggest bucket list destination, and her 50th is in January.) Hard to say. We have no plans to buy a permanent residence any time soon – have you seen what the housing market is doing?!?! So if you get a call one day, and we ask you if you’ve got a spare bedroom… don’t be surprised!

Thanks for following along through the blog, and again, my apologies for being such an infrequent author. I’ll continue to write a post now and then, but I doubt it will be any more frequent than before – sorry – I’m getting lazy in my old age.

May the Boat Cat

May was with us for more than 5 years. This is a celebration of that time.

Me: “Bennett, what’s this black cat doing in the house?”

Bennett: “Oh, that’s May. You know, from Mom’s house. Since Mom sold the house, she can’t keep May anymore. She’ll only be here until we can find another home for her.”

Me: “Yeah, I know who May is. Well, I guess she can stay here until we find her a good home.”

And so began our five year relationship with the best kitty ever. (You may think you have, or have had, a good kitty, and I won’t argue. But May was the BEST kitty ever.) We never found another home for her, because, to be blunt, she HATED other animals, and everyone we knew who would love to have her already had at least one other pet. After a few months of trying – and a few months of her sitting on my lap for what seemed like hours every day – one day I said to Fran “Well, I don’t suppose it would be horrible to have her on the boat.”

Feb 2016, a couple months after she moved in to the Indy house. Looking at this picture now, it should have been obvious that we were going to be her forever family.

So she came on the boat, and became “May the Boat Cat”. (Also known as MayMay, Maybelline, Sweet May, Maybelle, “our sweet little old lady cat”, The Princess, sometimes The Queen, and my personal favorite, Honey Bunny.) The first time she set foot on the boat, it took her all of about 6 seconds to settle in. We brought her in during a driving rainstorm, set her on the floor, ran back to the car for another load of stuff, and when we returned, there she was, stretched out on the carpet with a “yeah, this will do” air about her that never changed over five years.

Well, she didn’t love EVERY minute of boat life. There was that first time she made a long crossing – about 8 hours, from Florida to the Bahamas, March 1, 2018. It was a bit rough, and before too long, this pretty little black kitty looked positively green. By the end of the rough part of the day, she was stretched out on the cool clay in her litter box, with her tongue slightly hanging out, and drooling a little. Think of your worst New Year’s Day hangover.

But the next day, off we went for another 10 hours (on totally flat seas, thankfully), and she behaved as if the day before had never happened. And that’s pretty much how she was for most of the 4,000+ miles she was with us on Smartini: over a year in Florida, 8 months in the Bahamas, 4 months in Turks and Caicos, many months in the Virgin Islands, and all the way to Grenada and back, with a stop or two in every island nation along the way. Oh, sure, once in a while, when it was a little rough, she’d give us her famous stink-eye as if to say “You couldn’t have waited for a little nicer weather?”, but most of the time, she was just sleeping in one of her comfy spots, whether the boat was moving or not.

Perfectly at home on the water. With our almost-niece Abby, in Grenada.

She began life as Maddie and Bennett’s cat, at their mom’s house in Indianapolis, when Maddie was 7 and Bennet was 4. She was an indoor / outdoor cat there, and we would see her outside sometimes when we would pick up or drop off the kids, but for all those years, she was just a cat at someone else’s house. That changed in December 2015 when the exchange between Bennett and me, above, occurred. The change started slowly, but it wasn’t long before Fran and I grew very fond of this little old lady cat.

I am pleased to say that she loved me more than anyone else. I don’t know why, though. Fran did EVERYTHING for her – fed her, kept her litter box clean, cleaned up after her when she horked up a hairball, bought her toys, bought her favorite hangout (the “Treat Perch” – more on that later), and in the last year, would make tiny bites of whatever she was eating to satisfy May’s very-late-in-life interest in human food. But although May clearly loved Fran, she would get up from Fran’s lap and the petting she was receiving to come sit on me, as soon as I sat down, nine times out of ten. Fran was “the help”, and I was her human. I am so very lucky.

May made a lot of friends in her five years with us, but I don’t think anyone was a bigger fan than Benjy Ellis, who we met while cruising the Eastern Caribbean. He lives with his parents Jason and Kim on their sailing catamaran, Mimzy. Benjy would come onto Smartini for the express purpose of spending time with May, and she loved it!

Benjy and May. She loved her time with you, Benjy!

However, in a very, very close second place comes Zoe Fisher, who came all the way from Australia with her parents, Claire and Anthony, to spend a week with “May the Cat”. (Zoe thought that was her name, and called her that all week.)

This picture is from a 30 second video of Zoe playing with May with the “feather on a string”. May played, but she never moved from her spot, and really never did more than lift her head and forepaws. She was, shall we say, an “efficient” player.

We said, many times during her stay with us, that she had virtually none of the bad habits that many cats have, and that she did exactly what we both wanted from a cat – sit on our laps when we wanted her to, and let us pet her. She never insisted on that (although she would often suggest it!). She never knocked things over just because she could. She was fully clawed, but rarely scratched anything other than the carpet (which we hate anyway). Until a few months ago, she rarely made a sound – if she said “meow!”, you better see what was going on, because it was unusual. She didn’t have the loudest motor in the world, but she purred almost all the time when she was on your lap and/or being petted.

May “suggesting” that I should put the computer away and pet her.

She had a particular dislike of dogs, which I guess shouldn’t be surprising, but she did grow up with a dog (Maddie’s “Skip”). Just after we arrived in the Bahamas in March 2018, we met some people on another boat and invited them for dinner and dominoes one evening. They brought their little dog Bailey, who was very well behaved – didn’t even eat May’s food. We put May in our room while they were there, and all was well. The following morning, May was in our room meowing up a storm, which was VERY unusual for her. We couldn’t figure out what was wrong – she had food, she had water, what could it be? But Fran dumped out her water bowl and washed it, then refilled it and set it down. May drank like she had been in the desert for a month! Bailey must have drank some of her water, and May did NOT want to drink from the same bowl that a slobbery dog drank from! From that point on, we never talked to her about a dog without saying “slobbery dog”.

One minor flaw: she did have Bitchy Resting Face, or as we liked to call it, Stink Eye. As you can see in the picture below – a picture taken when she was perfectly happy, I can assure you – she could make you feel as if you had done something so horrible, so loathsome, that you didn’t deserve to be breathing the same air as her.

Stink eye!

During the five years that she was with us, she wasn’t with us all the time. She lived with Susan and Rami in Indianapolis for a few months in 2016. Susan was the one who discovered that May hated to sit on bare skin! She would put a thick towel on her lap in the middle of summer so The Princess could sit on her, and not be grossed out by Susan’s bare legs. May lived with Robin for several weeks when we lost Maddie. Robin learned first-hand how temperature-driven May was, in her very air conditioned apartment, when May would sleep right on her chest, staring into her face with a “does it have to be SO COLD in here?” posture.

With Susan. No bare skin in Indy in November!

We weren’t always on the boat, either. Paul and Denise flew all the way to George Town, Bahamas from Minnesota in May 2018 to spend a month on the boat with May, while we went to Italy. Brian The Pet Sitter cat-sat with her in Key West for a few weeks in November 2017. A woman (whose name escapes me – maybe because she let May escape the boat!) cat-sat with her for a few weeks in the US Virgin Islands in 2019. Peter the Turtle Man (manager of Nassau Harbour Club Marina) cat-sat with her for a few weeks in Nassau, Bahamas. (We paid one of the dock hands to do it, but Peter liked May so much, he came onboard twice a day to sit with her and give her treats.) In Grenada, Lamar cat-sat with her for a month in November 2019. In all these cases, it went like this: the sitter came onboard the first time and sat down, May hopped in their lap for petting and treates, and they were buddies. She was like that.

With Lamar, who came onboard twice every day for a month to look after Sweet May.

After she had lived on the boat for a bit, Fran noticed that there was nowhere May could sit and see outside. She searched online and found a window perch for a cat, and put it in one of the side windows, but May wasn’t interested. Fran was determined, and by then, May had already become quite a big fan of Friskies Party Mix and Temptations, so Fran used these treats to lure May into the perch. May quickly learned to love the perch, in part because it was a soft place to sleep in the sun, but also very much because she had a good chance of someone giving her a few treats if she sat there long enough and looked cute.

“Well, what are you waiting for? The treats are right there!”

Speaking of cute… if you aren’t a cat person, skip this paragraph, OK? You’ll want to vomit a little, probably. But when May would curl up in the Treat Perch, or in one of the chairs, or on the floor, or especially in your lap, in a perfect circle, with one paw over her nose, and her tail covering most of her face… she was SO DAMNED CUTE! But she never let us get a picture of that perfect moment – she would wake up and move just before we could snap the shot.

Could she be any cuter? And all she’s doing is sleeping. We never tired of seeing it.

You might wonder what it was like doing all the paperwork and jumping through all the hoops necessary to get a pet into all of those countries (18 in all). Well, you’d have to ask someone else, because we did it only once, and it was such a nightmare that we decided to simply not declare her again. And we didn’t. She never left the boat*, so it didn’t matter anyway. Many countries wouldn’t even ask on their forms. Some did, but didn’t follow-up with a question asked by an agent. Some did, and I would just lie. Sorry. Throw me in jail for cat smuggling.

(* She did hop off the boat several times in the marina in Turks and Caicos, but that was the one country into which we legally checked her in. She also escaped from the boat in the US Virgin Islands for a few days while we were gone, but there’s no special requirement for a US citizen to bring a pet into the US Virgin Islands. And yes, she did hop off the boat in San Salvador, Bahamas for just a few minutes, but our story in the Bahamas, if asked, was always going to be “We picked her on the dock in Freeport – she’s a Bahamian cat.”)

I mentioned that May was already 14 years old when she came to live with us, in December 2015. (Coincidentally, the same month we bought the boat.) Yes, she was an old lady: 19 in cat years is the equivalent of 94 in human years. But until literally yesterday, no one would have guessed her to be of such an advanced age. She didn’t look old. She didn’t act old. She had her sight and her hearing, and she was a good jumper (almost always in the case of jumping onto a lap sitting in a tall chair).

She had no trouble jumping into my lap on the tall captain’s chair. I bet she did it a hundred times.

Almost a year ago, right after the COVID situation started heating up, we were in the Virgin Islands, and May had pretty much stopped eating. We took her to the vet on St. Thomas, who did some blood work and determined that her kidneys were failing – a common malady among geriatric cats. But the vet showed us how to administer fluids “subcutaneously” (with a needle under her skin), and told us that some cats can live for many extra years with this treatment, to make up for what the kidneys have stopped doing. May, being the best kitty ever, took that needle under the skin and 200 ml of saline solution every four days since then, and almost never complained about it. Her appetite returned – and then some! For the first time ever, she started to act interested in what Fran and I were eating. Eager to get her to eat anything, we started giving her small bites of our chicken, beef, pork, fish – all of which she eagerly devoured – except the fish. That developed into her only bad habit – begging for food at the table. (Sorry, Chris – you saw her at her worst in this respect.) But hey, she was an old lady – let her have what she wants! (As Fran has said many times, “When I’m 94, I hope someone lets ME eat cake for dinner!”)

Cuddling with “the help” in one of the dozens of different beds we slept in this summer.

This summer, back in the US, and with the boat “hauled out” for hurricane season, we bought a used minivan and started touring the country. With our limited experience of having May in the car (she didn’t like it!), we would have liked to have left her with someone, but we couldn’t ask anyone to take on the “stick her with a needle and administer 200 ml of fluids every four days” routine. So Fran made a rolling version of the Treat Perch in the van, between the front seats, and off we all went! 15,000 miles, 34 states, at least 20 friends’ homes visited, and May was with us the whole time. Florida to Maine and back to Florida. Then off to Texas and Colorado and Nevada and California and Oregon and Idaho and Indiana and all the states in between. May would typically be restless and mouthy for the first hour or two each day on the road, but would eventually settle in and sleep like the dead for most of the last several hours. The only bad stretch was our one overnight, from Houston, TX to Fort Collins, CO. She never settled in, and was still unhappy and restless and mouthy when we finally pulled into a rest stop for a nap at 5:00 a.m. One of the longest nights of my life. But it was worth it to have her with us all summer.

Helping with the driving of the 15,000 miles to 34 states this summer.

Because of her hatred of other animals, and because many of the friends and family we visited have other animals, she was often relegated to the bedroom we were using. Which wasn’t bad – being an old lady cat, she slept all day anyway. But when our hosts had no pets, and she could have free reign of a house, she seemed to truly enjoy it. Her favorite place was Beth and Pat’s place in Maine – a large, two-story-plus-attic home built in the 1890’s. She would come down from the attic covered with cobwebs, and looking totally pleased with herself.

“Beth and Pat, your attic is now free of cobwebs!”

At Susan and Rami’s house in Indy, she really wanted to go outside, so we tried a little harness and leash. Yeah… that didn’t work out so well.

“I’ll just sit here until you take this ridiculous thing off of me.”

In early November, while visiting friends Dean and Kim in Idaho, Fran noticed that May was suddenly acting a little strange. Almost as if she couldn’t see everything that was going on around her, surprised when we would walk up to her to pet her. The next night, in a hotel room in Wyoming on our way to Fort Collins, CO, it got worse, and by the time we arrived in Fort Collins the following day, it was obvious – May had become totally blind! We were at Fran’s sister Ingrid’s house, and Ingrid has a house full of pets, so she has a great and long-term relationship with a local vet. She called, and we were able to get May in that same day. Yep, she was blind, alright. One of the problems with feline kidney failure is high blood pressure, which we didn’t know, but which May had. And one of the problems with high blood pressure in cats is “hypertensive retinopathy” – detached retinas caused by high blood pressure. They gave her some BP meds and sent us home, with at least the hope that the retinas would reattach and the vision return. Those were some sad hours, sitting with her, knowing that she must be totally confused about why her world was suddenly completely dark, and not knowing if it would ever be any better for her. There were tears shed, I don’t mind telling you. But the blood pressure DID come down, and the retinas DID reattach, and within 36 hours, she was seeing almost normally again! To say that we were happy would be the understatement of the year. We were overjoyed, knowing that our little old lady May was back to normal, and no longer suffering. Although through it all, she never made a sound, never reacted badly when we would pick her up – she just stared around the room, with eyes that wouldn’t see. It was one of the saddest things either of us have ever seen.

We arrived back in Florida after Thanksgiving, and still had to put the boat back together after the summer’s haulout. Our friend Chris offered his spare bedroom to us, and all three of us were happy to take him up on it. We ended up spending seven weeks there, enjoying Chris’s amazing cooking and hospitality, most of the time with May having the run of the house, which she enjoyed immensely. But she had picked up another slightly annoying habit of waking us up about 6:30 every morning to be fed. See, it’s really hard to give a cat a pill, but May needed a tiny little pill of BP medicine once per day. With advice from dear friends Curt and Sondra, we started giving May the cheap Publix canned food, and putting her little pill, all crushed up, into the food. (They have a 20+ year old cat who wouldn’t eat ANYTHING until they tried the Publx food, and now she eats 3 cans a day!) Well, May LOVED IT! So every morning, when her little kitty brain told her it was time for breakfast, she was on the bed, walking over both of us and letting us know, in no uncertain terms, that one of us needed to get up and fix her breakfast NOW! (Which we did, because, you know, she’s a little old lady.)

We were very comfortable at Chris’s house for the last seven weeks.

A week ago today, we finally got the boat back in the water, and two days later, we all moved back onboard. It took May a day to settle in, but she did, and for about three days, all was good. She was back in the Treat Perch a dozen times a day, sitting on our laps for petting in the evenings, and yelling for us to get her breakfast ready at 6:30 a.m.

And then yesterday, Fran noticed that May was acting a little weird, and in fact, saw her having what looked like a mini seizure, a couple of different times. Last evening, we saw it again, so this morning, we took her to the vet. (The aforementioned Curt is a vet in Melbourne, FL, about an hour up the road from where we are in Ft. Pierce.) After an exam and some blood work, Curt called with the bad news. Her kidneys were on the verge of total shutdown, and there was nothing we could do that would restore her to normal. She could have a blood transfusion, and hormone therapy, but even that would only prolong her life, not restore the quality of it. So an hour later, after a last long bit of cuddling and petting and telling her how much we loved her, we said our final “Bye, May”. And she went to sleep on my lap, where she had spent so many countless hours over the past 5 years, and we cried.

February 5, 2021

If you want to look at a couple hundred pictures of May, we’ve shared this Google Photos Album, May the Boat Cat. None of them are spectacular images, but we sure are enjoying looking at them today.

We Made it to Grenada!

When we left Florida on the Big Adventure on March 1, 2018, we were hoping to eventually make it to Grenada, which is one of the last islands in the Caribbean before South America. Yesterday, we made it!

We spent two months in St. Martin (French) / Sint Maarten (Dutch), where we hauled Smartini out of the water for 16 days and completed a lot of projects. (That will be the subject of another post.) But by the middle of September, we were getting tired of worrying about the next Tropical Wave spinning off the coast of Africa – was it going to come our way? Would it develop into a Tropical Storm, or a hurricane, and would it visit St. M? Would we be in a safe enough place to avoid damage? We decided to get while the gettin’ was good, and a forecast of calm weather for a week or more was all we needed.

Continue reading “We Made it to Grenada!”

41 Hours at Sea

We left Turks and Caicos just before midnight on March 5 and arrived in Puerto Real, Puerto Rico about 5:00 p.m. on March 7. Forty-one hours start to finish, give or take a few minutes. It was mostly uneventful, but it was our longest non-stop run by far, it was only our second overnight ever, it was the first time a single trip took parts of two different nights, it was the first time we took turns driving and sleeping, it put us the farthest away from land we’ve been so far (only 38 nautical miles, but at our speed, that’s about 5 hours from land)… and I thought that you, Loyal Reader, would want to hear about it.

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We’re in Turks and Caicos!

Just a short post to let y’all know, our address has changed from “The Bahamas” to “Turks and Caicos”. We arrived at the Turtle Cove Marina on Monday afternoon. It was a 382 nm run from Nassau to here:
– 15 hours to Cat Island
– 8 hours to Sal Salvador
– 6 nights on San Salvador, with a little scuba diving and island exploration (met some GREAT people from Michigan Adventure Diving in Milan, MI on a dive trip – Thanks, Ty, and Kadee, and Betsy, and Suzette, and Steve,  and Elaine, and Tom, for welcoming us into your group!)
– 11 hours to Semana
– 11 hours to Mayaguana
– 7 hours to Provo

The last 20 minutes were the most interesting. Provo is protected on its north side by a lot of coral reef, and there’s only one safe route through it. It’s twisty and windy, and at one point, only 30 feet wide (Smartini is 16 feet wide). So the marina sent out a guide boat for us to follow in. Thankfully, we had high tide and no wind, so it was easy, but still a little nerve wracking.

Yesterday (the day after we arrived on really nice seas), the wind kicked up, and the dive boat that shares our marina went out, and came right back in – too rough! Hats off to the Smartini Trip Planning Department for picking a near-perfect three day window for the journey here!

Banana bread Fran made on the trip from Semana to Mayaguana, with bananas from Peter, the marina manager in Nassau who we became friends with

Our last sunrise in the Bahamas – maybe forever? No telling when we might return.

This little bird joined us about 20 miles from Provo, and flitted around the boat for most of the rest of the trip. At one point, it landed not a foot from Fran.

Fran decided to toss out all the plants in the Tower Garden before entering a new country to avoid any potential hassles. This is her final poblano pepper harvest – 163 of them!

Back in the Saddle Again

Faithful Readers: forgive me, for I have sinned. It’s been four months since my last submission. Four months!!! What kind of a blogger am I?!?! Busy? Well, yes… but not so busy that I couldn’t squeeze in a little writing from time to time. Let’s go with “unmotivated”, and leave it at that.

Captain Fran taking us out of Nassau Harbour on the first leg to Turks and Caicos.

First, let me bring you up to speed on our current situation. We left our Bahamian home-away-from-home, Nassau Harbour Club Marina, Saturday morning at 6:20 and motored 15 hours to the southwest tip of Cat Island. We anchored and slept for a bit, then left at 6:40 yesterday morning and motored 8 hours to our current temporary home, the island of San Salvador. We’re on our way to Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, where we plan to be from mid-November until at least some time in January, maybe longer. The trip was uneventful with the notable of exception of having the drive shaft of our main hydraulic pump break about 11 hours into the trip. Not a catastrophe – we can run all the hydraulics from either or both of the main engine or the generator. The two issues are that we can’t use the stabilizers when we’re running unless we run the generator (which we don’t normally do), and we can’t get full hydraulic power for the bow and stern thrusters, which comes in handy when docking if there’s much wind and/or current. I’ll be looking for a replacement part, and a hydraulic service company in Turks and Caicos, but for now, we’re still almost fully functional.

Continue reading “Back in the Saddle Again”

Ch-ch-ch-changes (with Apologies to David Bowie)

Most significant changes in life happen over time. As we grow up, we get bigger, smarter, more knowledgeable, more emotionally mature (with the obvious exception of Donald Trump), but those changes happen over our lifetimes. If we start doing Crossfit, we get stronger, leaner, and our endurance increases, but that doesn’t happen overnight. Our most special relationships with people – dear friends and life partners – typically grow over time, and sometimes, sadly, they decline, but also, it usually happens over time.

But some of the biggest changes in our lives happen in a single day, sometimes even a single moment. The day you become a parent for the first time, or even the day you find out you’re going to – those are life changing days. Some geographic moves, especially if they involve long distances and job changes, have the potential to bring on monumental change in the span of time it takes the moving van to get your stuff from your old home to your new one. In an instant, the sudden loss of a loved one changes your life forever. Often, you’ll realize these changes when they happen, but sometimes, it’s only later that you can look back on them and realize what a huge impact they had.

I’ve had several life changing moments and days in my 59 years. I’m going to bore you with some of them now, in fact!

Continue reading “Ch-ch-ch-changes (with Apologies to David Bowie)”

Key West to Lighthouse Point – Our First Overnight Run

After an almost-perfect visit to Indianapolis for Thanksiving, we returned to Key West late on November 27. We were scheduled to be hauled out for some Irma repairs and some other modifications to Smartini (we just can’t leave well enough alone!) one week later, on December 4, in Riviera Beach, on Florida’s East Coast. When we came from Riviera Beach to Key West in August, it was done over three days: Riviera Beach to Miami (12 hours exactly), then Miami to Marathon (another 12 hours), and after staying in Marathon for a few weeks, Marathon to Key West (10 hours). We would have liked to be as leisurely on the way back north, but the weatherman said “Nope!”.

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Christmas in the Bahamas

(If you just want to see all the pictures from the trip, click here.)

Like all ocean crossings (I know – it’s only 54 miles from FL to the Bahamas, but it’s still an ocean crossing!), we spent a good bit of time planning this one. Weather and sea condition forecasts, fuel planning, provisions, and the hundred other details that must be considered for an eleven day trip. But this one was actually in the planning stages for over five years! Because this trip was going to be the first time that all three of the original dreamers got to go somewhere on a big boat together. It was at least five years ago, in the warm comfort of our living room in Indianapolis, drinking good homebrew, that Fran, me, and our dear friend and neighbor Steve Powers started dreaming about traveling the sea on a trawler.

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The Long Farewell, Part 1 – So Long to the Midwest

When you have a dream of leaving the country on a boat that starts 5-6 years before the reality of it begins, I suppose it would be appropriate to have a long, drawn out farewell, but it surprised both Brian and I just how long that would actually be.  Continue reading “The Long Farewell, Part 1 – So Long to the Midwest”

Yesterday, I Left the Midwest

I’ve had a home in the Midwest all my life – until yesterday.

(I wrote this post on September 3, but the blog wasn’t up until very recently. Since we just left the Midwest again – this time, after our Thanksgiving visit – I thought it was a good time to finally post this. BS)

Yesterday, I left the Midwest. I’ve done that hundreds of times before, but the next time I go back, it will be as a visitor, not a resident, and it seems unlikely that I’ll ever call it home again. For my entire life, I’ve had somewhere to live in the Midwest. Continue reading “Yesterday, I Left the Midwest”