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 🙂

Bringing Houd Vast Home

Nick and I were so excited last month to finally bring our sailboat down to its marina home.  After making the nearly three hour drive from D.C. to New Jersey more than a dozen times in the past 6 months, we were happy to hear that the dealer’s list of boat projects were finally done and we got the green light to bring Houd Vast home.

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That being said, I was a little sentimental when we pulled out of the marina that last morning, the place where our sailboat dreams became a reality.

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We were very lucky in that our dealer offered delivery to our home port as part of our purchase, so we made the three-day trip down to the Chesapeake Bay with a captain, Gary, which was especially helpful since it was our first overnight trip and we were navigating narrow, busy commercial shipping channels and bridges.

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Coordinating travel for the trip was the most challenging aspect since we are a one-car family – the trip involved trains, taxis, boats and a good friend, who picked us up after we dropped off our car at our home marina the weekend before we left. That allowed us to take a train and taxi to Philadelphia to get to the boat.

We set off on Day 1 bright and early at 6 a.m. since our boat has a 5-foot draft and we can only get in and out of the dealer’s marina during high tide. Since speed was critical (we wanted to clear the Delaware River by low tide), we motored the entire day and the three of us took one-hour turns at the helm.
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Our captain, Gary, has been sailing for decades and was very familiar with our boat, so we spent the hours on the water asking him question after question. He was incredibly knowledgeable and happy to share advice and tips with us. I can’t say enough great things about Gary; I was initially concerned about spending three days in tight quarters with a stranger, but at the end of the trip we hugged, and I was sad to see him go back home!

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Our total height is 55 feet, and they don’t open bridges if you have even a few inches of clearance, so passing underneath our first bridge made me hold my breath.

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By early afternoon, we were battling a strong 2 knot current in the river (which isn’t helpful when your sailboat only goes 6 knots at full speed), but we finally made it out of the Delaware River and into the C&D Canal, a very narrow 15 mile long shipping channel. We motored through most of the channel before calling it a day (a long 12 hours after we started) and pulled in for the night to the Chesapeake Inn & Marina in Chesapeake Beach, Md.

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We narrowly made it through the channel without running into any large cargo ships; we were in our marina for less than 30 minutes when a massive container ship came through the channel.

The following morning, we pulled out of the marina at 6:30 a.m. and started Day 2 toward Annapolis, Md. (one of my favorite places to visit). The Delaware River and C&D Canal are both very narrow, and I was so happy to finally make our way into the wide open Chesapeake Bay (nothing but water for miles!).

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We motored for the next few hours until the massive Bay Bridge came into sight in the far distance. Finally, about two hours later we made our way underneath the bridge. Since we had good winds we were able to put up the sails and sail the rest of the way into Annapolis. While I spend a lot of time at the helm at sea (while Nick trims the sails), Nick does all of our close-quarters maneuvering, but since I took the last turn at the wheel, Gary expertly guided me into the Annapolis Harbor and our first stop at a fuel dock (my knees were shaking so badly, I have no clue how I stayed standing). I was so happy to turn the boat back over to Nick for docking in the city marina.

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Since it was early in the season and midweek, we were able to secure a slip in Annapolis’s infamous Ego Alley, which is at the center of the city’s downtown waterfront. Ego Alley got its name because there is often a steady parade of expensive yachts coming into and out of the harbor before the hundreds of bystanders and nearby restaurant-goers. 

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The docking area is very touristy and busy, and we’ll likely never make our way into a slip there again, but it was so much fun for one night.

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On our third and final day, we woke to very light winds, so we motored the final two hour leg of our trip down to our marina with a little stop along the way to practice using our anchor windless (yay for not having to physically let-out and heave-up 100 feet of chain).  

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It was great to have Gary there with us at our home marina to set up all six of our permanent lines in our slip (when we leave the marina the lines stay there) and ensure our boat is securely held in place while we are away.

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It was such a fun three days, and Nick and I were able to learn so much more about our boat, which is a great thing since we are officially on our own now! Since the trip, we’ve really enjoyed having the boat so close to home – we can even head out for the day with very little advance planning.