Knock knock, anyone there?

I wish I had some grand excuse for my radio silence, but the honest truth is that Nick and I simply spent our summer and fall working, traveling and enjoying our weekends on our sailboat. Alas, we are now landlocked, and I’m back to say hello and happy almost-2017!

So where did we disappear to for half the year? Well we spent almost every weekend from April through November on the water and had so much fun during our second sailing season now that we had a little bit more experience under our belts. We also had a lot more wind than last summer, which allowed us to use our boat’s engine less and get much more practice with the sails.

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I feel truly blessed to be able to spend our time on the boat, away from our hectic work and home lives. And with no TV, we simply spent our time relaxing,  talking and making plans for the future, swimming, listening to the radio and playing games. Some weekends we explored cute little waterfront towns and other weekends we anchored in a quiet cove and spent two days alone on our 400-square-foot boat, without our feet ever hitting solid ground. Somehow we never get bored of it.

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I have to admit that it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows, and we had a few challenging experiences this year too. Strong winds all summer meant we really tested our sailing skills; I’m slowly learning to remain calm when we are overtaken by a strong gust of wind and the boat heels (or leans) heavily into the water on one side. And after dodging hundreds of crab pots, our luck ran out this summer and we snagged a pot with one of our rudders and pretty quickly came to a halt (we adjusted our sails to turn the boat and thankfully left it behind).

After a long day of sailing earlier this summer, we weathered a severe rain and thunderstorm later in the evening, which came with heavy winds from the opposite direction that we anchored, and our boat was dragged about 100 feet on our anchor. Thankfully we were pulled into deeper water and away from other boats, but on top of our exhaustion, it made for a very frightening and stressful nighttime situation.

And a few weeks later, after trying a new downwind sailing technique, we attempted to right the sails without stopping to talk and make a plan and the wind caught our sails in a not so good way (an accidental jibe, for all the sailors out there), which could have done some damage to our boat if the conditions had been worse. But through it all we keep smiling!

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Despite all those heart-racing situations, and that sailing the boat often requires us to communicate and work together and even that can sometimes be challenging, we continue to love sailing and the community we’ve found within it.

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One highlight of the summer was that we were able to sail with Nick’s family when they came to visit in May. The winds were light, but the sun was shining and we really enjoyed the day with family.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, Nick and I made the first of our furthest solo treks on the boat to date, down to the near tip of Maryland’s western shore, to Solomon‘s Island. From our marina near North Beach, Solomons is only about 30 nautical miles south (a 6-8 hour sail depending on winds), but cliffs line the shore for most of the way and once you get south of Chesapeake Beach city, if you run into weather or mechanical problems, there are no marinas or rivers to slip into and out of the open waters. Thankfully, we had a mostly uneventful trip there and back and really enjoyed visiting the area.

We stayed on a mooring ball for the long weekend and enjoyed taking the marina’s courtesy bikes to ride into town and relaxing at the pool and club house.

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Another highlight of our weekends on the water and away from the city is that we enjoyed glimpses of so much marine and wildlife. Throughout the season we spotted numerous bald eagles (they are  truly so majestic), and we’ve also seen dozens of small groups of cownose stingrays swimming right alongside the boat. The Bay is also infamous for its sea nettles, a member of the jellyfish family, which overtake the warm waters during the summer months; Nick and I both got stung for the first time this summer, which results in a red, itchy patch of skin, so we are officially salty Bay sailors (or something like that).

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We’ve also added some new fishing gear to the boat this year and have been trying our hand at trolling for rockfish (also known as striped bass), which are the official fish of Maryland (say that three times fast) and the most popular catch in the Chesapeake Bay. So far we’ve had no luck, but we plan to keep trying!

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Another first this year was that Nick and I took a week-long vacation on the boat and headed north of the Chesapeake Bay bridge towards Baltimore and Chesterton. We stayed at a marina in downtown Fells Point in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor for a few days (a lovely area close to shops and restaurants and the Oriole’s ballpark where we caught a game). We spent the rest of the time at anchor and tucked into coves; it was our furthest and longest trip aboard the boat and such a fun adventure since we had mostly great winds and weather.

The highlight from the trip was that we ended up docked right next to our teaching captain, Tom, who arrived with a new batch of sailing students. We spent an evening with them on our boat and shared our sailing stories over drinks. (I’m not sure who was prouder, us or Tom, that we were there on our own boat and actually pursuing our dreams of sailing!)

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A few weeks later we were joined onboard for the long Independence Day weekend by our friends, Nick and Jessica, who own a powerboat. Three nights was the longest we’ve had guests aboard, and I’m so happy to say that the trip was a success and we all really enjoyed ourselves.

Nick and I also made an effort this year to socialize more with those in the sailing community and joined several sailing groups as well as attended a few weekend sailing gams to take courses. We are often the youngest attendees at these events (many are retirees who live aboard and cruise the U.S. and Caribbean full time), but we enjoy the camaraderie and appreciate all the tips and advice we’ve picked up along the way.

As of last month, the early sunsets and cold temperatures means our sailing season has now ended, and we’ve hauled the boat out of the water for the winter season. We’ve been bitten hard by the sailing bug, and saying farewell (for even a few months) to our boat and weekend adventures makes us a bit melancholy. Our second sailing season has affirmed that this an activity and community that we love, and it’s been so great for Nick and me to be able to share the experiences and adventure together.

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As silly as it sounds, finding sailing has been the best thing for us, and now that we know our passion for it, it has motivated and inspired us, and helped make our next steps in life so much clearer.

I’ll end this post by saying that I have a handful of updates about other life and home happenings, and I hope to share those soon!

Happy 2017, friends!

Life Lately {May 2016}

Nick and I were so excited last month when we finally got the call from our sister marina that our boat was back in the water. A few days later we made the short one mile trip down the Chesapeake Bay to deliver Houd Vast back into her slip; we were excited to see many of the same dock neighbors from last summer and meet some new friends, as well.

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Rainy weather has kept us from doing much sailing, but it’s given us time to tackle a few more projects – like reinstalling our sun canvas, cleaning and sealing our teak decking, which had weathered and grayed last season, and replacing our entire starter and house battery bank (six batteries total!).

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Nick gets kudos for doing nearly all the boat work on his own, since our first day back in the water ended with me having a broken toe.  I still have a little pain and am walking a bit slowly, but I’m back in regular shoes again!

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Nick and I are loving these ham, cheese and spinach puffs for breakfast from Eat Well; they are easy to make, are very filling, and reheat well, so they can be made ahead and eaten all week. (Vegetarians could easily substitute mushrooms for the ham).

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The lower level of our tiered backyard, also known as The Pit, and where we keep our compost bins, finally saw some action last weekend (we’ve been talking about tackling this area for years). Nick and I  defined a small space and laid down some weed blocking fabric, which we covered with leaf mulch that we had delivered from the city (and are using for another project – post coming soon!). Ultimately, our plan is to build a small fire pit down there and make it into a somewhat usable space. Stay tuned!

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Nick’s parents, sister and her husband are headed our way this weekend for a few days of visiting and fun! I can’t wait to share highlights from their trip.

A Better Night’s Sleep

Our sailboat Houd Vast is currently still on the hard, but in less than a month, she could be back in the water. Over the weekend, we removed the winter cover, and tackled the first of many spring projects.

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At the top of our wish list was getting a better night’s sleep aboard. Last year, Nick and I spent nearly every weekend on the boat, and it didn’t take very long for us to realize that the cheap foam mattresses that came stock on the cabin beds didn’t make for good sleeping.
We typically sleep in the boat’s aft cabin, which has a large and spacious (but not very comfortable) king-size bed.

 

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Unfortunately, replacing the old foam cushions wasn’t as simple as purchasing a new king-size mattress; if you look at the graphic above, you’ll see that the foot area on either side of the aft cabin is not square – one side has a cutout and the other side an angled base.

Nick and I researched many different options, including a custom mattress…which was so very costly! Also, we really needed two separate cushions in the cabin for ease of removal; if you check out the graphic above again, our engine compartment is below the companionway stairs and is accessible through panels in both the head/shower area and the aft cabin – since Nick has to routinely access the engine for maintenance, we have to remove the right side cushion. When we do that, we either stack the two cushions to the left side of the cabin or pull one out into the salon. Having one large mattress would make that process nearly impossible.

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After lots of research, we finally settled on a memory foam topper based on comfort reviews and the ability for us to cut the foam to the exact size we needed. We purchased this 4-inch Serta 4-pound density memory foam mattress from Overstock.

Most memory foam mattress toppers are 2 inches; since the cabin cushions on the boat rest on wood (with no box spring) we went for a thicker 4-inch mattress (we also opted for pure memory foam; many come in memory foam/basic foam combos). Also, the denser the foam the firmer it is; 3-to-4 pounds is recommended for stomach/side sleepers and 4-to-6 pounds is recommend for back sleepers.

Below are the original foam cushions after we removed them from the mattress covers.

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You can see in this closeup that the previous mattress was just cheap foam padding.

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After we received the new memory foam mattress, we unrolled it and let it expand for almost three days. Before we decided to cut it into pieces, Nick and I carried it up to our bedroom and slept on it, right on the floor, for a night! Thankfully, while sleeping on memory foam does take some getting used to, we both found it to be very comfortable.

After letting the mattress fully expand, we laid out both mattresses and used the old foam cushions as a template.

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After we had the cushions traced, Nick used an electric carving knife to cut away the extra foam. (It’s hard to tell below, but we set the new memory foam mattress on top of the old cushions, so the knife cut into those rather than the wood floor.)

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Since the memory foam mattress was nearly the same thickness as the original foam, they fit perfectly back into the original mattress covers.

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It only took about half an hour before we had both mattresses cut and back into their covers. It was an inexpensive and simple project, but I think it will make a world of a difference and bring us a much better night sleep, especially since we are looking to take a few longer trips this summer.

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Since we had great success with this project, we may tackle the bed in the V-berth cabin later this summer.

Until then, happy resting 🙂

Key West {Trip Report}

After returning to D.C. after the holidays, I learned I needed to take a work trip to Miami. Since my work meeting was taking place near the end of the week, Nick decided to join me so that we could take a long weekend and drive down to Key West.

Nick and I have traveled to Miami before and explored much of the South Beach and downtown area, so for this visit we headed to Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, an area that recently boomed in popularity and one that we hadn’t yet explored. Wynwood is known as Miami’s new art district and is home to dozens of art galleries, museums and small craft businesses.

The area we visited is still very up-and-coming, with cafes and shops sprinkled in between industrial buildings. We started our visit off at Miam Cafe, where we dined outside on some very good quiche and breakfast burritos and the cutest little coffees, while soaking up the warm morning sun.

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Nick and I came to this area specifically to visit Wynwood Walls, where incredibly talented grafiti artists showcase their life-sized, colorful drawings on the exterior walls of what used to be decrepit buildings.

Nick and I were blown away by the talent of the artists; I’d definitely recommend a visit if you are in the area.

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We explored for a few hours before I had to head off to my meeting. The next morning we hopped into our rental car and started our road trip down to the Keys. The trip is about 150 miles (or 3 hours with no traffic) down U.S. Highway 1, the only major route into and out of the Keys, which can be problematic on busy holiday weekends when heavy traffic clogs the flow.

Some stretches of the highway are scenic, with bright blue water visible on both sides of the road, and some stretches are not. 🙂

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One of the most popular parts of the trip is along the scenic Seven Mile Bridge; Nick and I were able to thoroughly enjoy the view from there since we ended up behind a group of bicyclists touring the U.S. and slowly crossing the bridge with a police escort (it took us 45 minutes to cross the seven miles!).

As we’ve often done before, rather than book a hotel, Nick and I rented a small one-bedroom apartment close to the popular downtown area through vbro.com (AirBnB.com is another of our favorites).

The apartment was small, but very conveniently located, and was equipped with everything we needed.

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Our first stop was to the bike rental shop. Roads in downtown Key West are congested and parking is limited; however, the city is very bike friendly and pedaling is probably the best way to get around the small downtown.

Nick and I rented two bikes for 3 days from The Bike Shop, which was about 50 feet away from our rental, and the cost was only about $75.

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Our first stop on our bikes was to Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park; it’s rocky shore on the west side of the island is a popular and peaceful place to catch the sunset. (There is a small admission fee, I believe it was $4 for Nick and me; cars cost a few dollars more.)

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One thing I didn’t realize before visiting Key West, is that the area isn’t known for its beaches, and in fact, only has a few small sandy areas for swimmers (this state park is one of them).

The following day, Nick and I booked a sailing/snorkeling/kayaking adventure with Danger Charters. I’d definitely recommend them – the cost was reasonable, the staff was fantastic and the boat only had room for about 15 guests. Key West is crowded with boat tours, but many of them are packed uncomfortably close and party-boat style (think drunk people and thumping music…something we wanted to avoid).

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The guides were very knowledgeable about Key West’s history – the reefs and shallow waters offshore (in some areas the water is measured in inches) caused many ships with valuable cargos to run aground. As a result, wrecking and salvaging soon became the island’s primary business and its shyster citizenry became very wealthy since local law allowed them to take possession of any cargo from ships they rescued.

We kayaked around a small island named Mule Key (named for a local man who often tied lanterns around the necks of mules that wandered around in the shallow waters and lured in unsuspecting boaters who thought they were heading toward a lighthouse and eventually wrecked…the man was hung in Mallory Square for his misdeeds).

We saw all kinds of birds, jellyfish, crabs and stingray on our trip around the islands. Here I am holding a horseshoe crab (Nick and I often see the skeletons of these along the Chesapeake Bay shore, but we’d never seen a live one).

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After kayaking, we sailed the boat to a nearby area and donned wetsuits for snorkeling. The water is very clear and we did see some fish and reefs, but after about 20 minutes, the cool water temperature (around 70 degrees) forced us back into the boat.

After the day’s adventures, the charter also provided us with fresh fruit and snacks and beer and wine, which we enjoyed while relaxing and making our way back to port, watching the most glorious sunset over the water.

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On our last full day in Key West, we spent the time riding around Key West and hitting all the sightseeing spots we missed earlier in our visit. Duval Street is the center of activity in Key West, running north and south from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic.

The north end of Duval Street (near Mallory Square) is where large cruise ships come into port and the thousands of passengers make their way into the city. This area is very commercialized with many t-shirt and trinket shops selling mostly the same goods and lively, well-known restaurants and bars. 

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While Nick and I enjoyed walking through the touristy area, we much preferred the quieter and less crowded south end of Duval Street, which was filled with cafes, art galleries and higher end clothing and home decor shops.

While at the north end, we stopped into Sloppy Joe’s, Key West’s oldest and most well-known bar, and a favorite of author Ernest Hemingway.

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Nick and I couldn’t resist getting our picture taken with the Southernmost Point marker. (FYI, there is a picture line that starts at sunrise and ends after dusk, so there’s no avoiding the wait, especially if a cruise ship is at port, but we only stood in line about 10 minutes).

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We also stopped at another well-known Key West landmark…mile marker 0 of U.S. Highway 1, which stretches up the entire East Coast from Key West to Maine.

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Overall, Nick and I enjoyed our time in Key West and had perfect weather (the forecast was for overcast skies and rain for most of the trip, but we completely lucked out with warm temperatures in the high-70s and not a drop of rain).

Three days felt like the perfect amount of time to spend in Key West; without beaches or a pool to hang out at our rental, we probably would have gotten bored with any more time in the city.

Here are our Key West recommendations (provided by a friend who visits often and another who lives there):

See/do:

  • Fort Zachery State Park (beach and sunset)
  • Southernmost Point marker
  • Sail/kayak/snorkel (Danger Charters)
  • Rent bikes and tour the city
  • Shop and people watch on Duval Street
  • Tour the butterfly museum

Eat/drink:

  • Blue Heaven (brunch)
  • Flaming Buoy Filet Company (dinner)
  • Sandy’s cafe (lunch – get the Cuban sandwich)
  • Sloppy Joes (drinks)
  • Louie’s Backyard (dinner/drinks)
  • Conch Republic Seafood Company (lunch or dinner)
  • La Tee Da (brunch/lunch/dinner)