living on a boat.
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comments to me.
This page updated:
After Buying the Boat section
First Month on the Boat section
After 2 Months of Boat Ownership section
After 6 Months section
Girlfriend on the Boat section
First Cruise to the Bahamas section
First Cruise Up The (East Coast) ICW section
West Coast Florida, Tenn-Tom, Mississippi Cruise section
First Hurricane section
Second Cruise to the Bahamas section
Hurricane Season in the Dominican Republic section
Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands section
More Virgin Islands section
Eastern Caribbean Islands section
A cartoon that captures my lifestyle perfectly:
Woman introducing a man to another woman:
"This is Ted. He drinks water from the tap,
coffee from a jar, and uses a payphone."
"Oh, what is he, Amish ?"
After Buying the Boat
After 3 days on the boat, I'm in "panic" mode.
Moving it into a marina has helped a bit,
but I'm really having trouble.
All of the warnings I received from various people
have come home with a vengeance. I'm finding
living on the boat too cramped (claustrophobic),
uncomfortable, smelly, lonely, not fun.
I'm overwhelmed with
worry about things to do, things to learn,
things to fix, things that might break.
I'm finding that the boat is too
AC-electric-dependent for my taste. The toilets
are a hassle, the shower is cold unless you have
AC power, cooking is a hassle unless you have AC power.
Living on the water is either too cool, windy or hot
in various turns. I was VERY lonely at anchor;
I've met some nice people in the marina.
I realize now that I REALLY like the conveniences
of land life: easy toilets, hot showers, lots of space.
I'm going to look into selling the boat. If it
happens at a decent price, I'm going to do it.
If it takes 2 months and sells at a bad price,
I'll be living on it for 2 months. If my
feelings improve before it sells, I won't sell it.
This is tough ! I knew intellectually and
theoretically about these issues, but 3 days of
actual ownership has driven them home.
Maybe my attitude will change.
After 7 days, I'm feeling a bit better.
Comforts of a marina help a bit, spending time away
from the boat helps, accomplishing some learning
and maintenance and repair tasks helps.
First Month on the Boat
A month ago, I took possession of a 1973 Gulfstar 44 ketch
in Key Largo FL. I had quit my job (early-retired)
and moved from California
to Florida to live and cruise on the boat. "Magnolia" is
the first boat I've owned.
Within 3 or 4 days, I was panicking! I had buyer's remorse,
hated the Florida climate, was scared thinking of all
the things that could go wrong with the boat, missed
my friends and girlfriend. I was desperate to the point
of calling the previous owner and asking if we could
"undo" the sale (we couldn't).
Now, a month later, things are better. Not perfect,
but improving. The climate is still a pain, but I'm
learning the boat, starting to relax, and feeling better.
Some things I did wrong:
1- Changed EVERYTHING in my life in one shot. It would
have been better to change things in stages, although
slower and more expensive. For example, I could have moved
to Florida and found an apartment and job before looking
for a boat.
2- Started out at anchor.
A marina provides abundant water and
power (air conditioning) and nearby help and a
safety margin and the ability
to get off the boat when it becomes too much.
Some things I did right:
1- Told everyone how I was feeling, ad nauseum.
My friends and family
were very supportive, and local sailing people offered
encouragement and help. Daily communication (including email)
with many people helped a lot.
2- Bought a boat suited for the area and my plans,
almost fully functional, comfortably within my budget.
Worries about money or major repair problems would have
added even more stress.
3- Did research and took sailing classes and
day-sailed for 2 years before
buying. And then pulled the trigger: I'm actually doing it !
The preparation helped me avoid many mistakes, but at some
point you have to stop reading and start doing.
The biggest challenges I'm facing:
1- Learning maintenance and repair. As a long-time office
worker and apartment dweller, I need to learn a lot (by doing).
2- Making the transition from full-time work to retirement.
This transition is stressful enough to kill some people.
It causes serious soul-searching about the meaning of life
and what you want to do with your life.
Boat ownership and living aboard is not for everyone;
it may not be for me after a while. It can be uncomfortable,
scary, expensive, claustrophobic, hot and humid. It takes
money, willpower, and some sacrifices and risks. But it's
already changed my life and expanded my horizons.
After 2 Months of Boat Ownership and living on board (in marinas)
I've done some good work (painting, fixing deck leaks, cleaning, etc)
but haven't yet accomplished some basic tasks (oil change, hose and
fan belt and impeller replacements, etc). I've worked up large and growing lists
of things to do. The engine compartment still intimidates me a bit.
There are some recurring and stubborn problems (deck leaks, pressure
water system air-lock) and some known bigger problems (stuck gate-valves,
rust on the rigging wire), but on the whole the boat is in reasonable shape.
Since the work-list is large, and also because I'm single-handed, I've tended to
stay in the slip instead of going out day-sailing. Going out just
takes a little too much effort to be worth it right now.
I've developed a bit of a rhythm to each day:
- wake up, breakfast, see what the weather is, how I feel, what's at the top of the to-do list.
- do some outside boat work, usually before it gets too hot.
- shower, lunch, watch some TV while enjoying the air conditioning.
- sit outside in the common area, see who's around, talk or read something.
- maybe do some easy boat work.
- take car to stores (boat stuff, groceries) and library (email).
- maybe do some boat work in cool of evening.
I need a break from the boat and the Florida weather; time to
visit my girlfriend and friends in California. I miss
my girlfriend very much.
I'm about to put the boat in a boatyard to have stuck gate-valves
replaced: they're preventing me from cleaning strainers and
replacing impellers, and they're a hazard if a hose breaks.
This work is beyond my capabilities now.
Paying $3500+ for the
work (including bottom painting and a month on the hard)
gives me pause, but is not too awful.
Everyone I've met has been nice, and many have interesting
histories and personalities. Some seem to spend much
more money on alcohol and cigarettes
than they do on their boat, and spend a lot of time inebriated.
Some have lived for a VERY long time
in the same spot, doing very little. Some have well-kept boats and
know a lot about boating; others don't.
I seem to spend a lot of time in stores. There's always some
tool or supply needed for the next day's work, and the small galley
space (and my unwillingness to stock up) means I'm grocery
shopping at least three times per week.
To keep cool, and avoid mildew in the boat, I've been running
air-conditioning a lot. It feels unnatural to sit in a closed-up boat.
But the heat is tough to take all day, and closing up keeps out
I think I'm starting to get used to this lifestyle. It's not all fun,
but certainly it is interesting and rewarding and challenging.
After 6 Months
After six months, I'm proud of some things I've learned
to do. I had always lived in an apartment and worked in an
office, but now I own some power tools, have done some work
on two diesel engines, have climbed the masts to replace all
of the wire halyards.
Occasionally, things looked grim: sails were down because halyards
were being replaced, engine didn't run because I'd sheared
off a bolt on the fuel lift pump, genset wouldn't start,
dinghy outboard wouldn't start. I've fixed the first three and
am working on the last one. Every success gives me more confidence
and makes me feel better.
It's an old boat, so I'm finding some nasty things such as
crumbling AC wires. The battery-charging system needs to be
upgraded, a chainplate is cracked, the freezer insulation
is poor, the pressure water system is temperamental,
still a few deck leaks, etc. Completely typical.
The money hasn't flowed out too badly so far. I paid in the
mid $70k's, plus about $5k of tax, then spent another $7k or
so to date (replaced gate-valves, painted bottom, new heat exchanger,
fixed davits, new anchor chain, etc). This doesn't include
marina fees and normal living expenses.
The boat should be ready to do several
short cruises to the Bahamas starting a month from now.
The acid test: my girlfriend is arriving in a few weeks.
On my six-month anniversary (to the day), hurricane Michelle
went past. Magnolia and I survived just fine.
Girlfriend on the Boat -- A Short Story
After owning my 1973 Gulfstar 44 ketch for 7 months,
I went cruising from Marathon FL to Miami,
with hopes of going to the Bahamas. On board
with me was my girlfriend, her two cats,
and her 78-year-old father.
By the way, her dad's a great guy. Sailed on
Liberty ships, freighters in West Africa,
dredges in Canada, officer on Queen Mary and
Queen Elizabeth, shipping accident investigator.
Lots of fun on a boat.
Earlier, my girlfriend had spent an 8-day vacation
on the boat, mostly in marinas. But this was our
We started with 2 weeks in a marina, then one
week anchored in the harbor (going ashore every day),
then started cruising. After about 14 days of
cruising she had had enough
of living on a boat, and she'd had it with
me, too. So we headed back to Marathon,
taking about 2 days. By then,
she liked me again, mostly.
We made it up to Biscayne Bay and Miami, and had some nice
times. We saw a
number of dolphins one day in the Keys, including some
that came over to the boat to check it out.
Saw some great sunsets, lots of nice scenery, etc.
Ate well. Dinghied through some nice canal-front neighborhoods.
Had fun in the boutiques of Coconut Grove.
Did a slight bit of fishing.
The weather generally cooperated.
No major breakdowns, accidents, etc. A pretty
good first cruise, I thought.
But my girlfriend found a number of boat
things to be very irritating:
- biting insects,
- lack of hot water for showers and coffee and cleaning,
- a slightly balky pressure-water system,
- soft foam mattresses (replaced by latex during the cruise;
we became experts at transporting mattresses by dinghy),
- noises in the middle of the night,
- fears that her cats would fall overboard,
- a few rough-weather anchoring experiences that
lessened her confidence in the skipper,
- hard to get to things ashore.
Some of these are fixable, but some are just intrinsic
to boats and cruising. And my boat is big and
stable and has a genset and microwave and so on;
if she can't handle life on it ...
We noticed that the biting insects feasted on the
crew of English descent, and tended to leave the
German/Slavic/American skipper alone.
She didn't like the way I would sometime snap an
order (although I think I did it only for
important things in serious situations). She
didn't like me reminding them to turn off lights,
use less water, etc. Once or twice I growled
at a cat which had gotten underfoot.
She hated it when I tried moving
the cat litter-box from the head to the deck one night,
because she feared that a cat would fall overboard.
(The second night on the boat, in the marina, one cat turned
up soaking wet. No other cat incidents. Putting cat PFDs
on them was pretty comical; they wriggled free in 2 minutes.)
In fairness, there was a lot of other stress in her
life during this cruise. She and I were jobless and she still
had a mortgage payment to meet, her dad had sold his
condo and was looking for a new place to live, etc.
Now she's talking about maybe me sailing the boat to
the Bahamas, and she'll fly over and stay on the boat for a week.
Maybe we'll do that. [P.S. We did 2 months in Bahamas.]
I think she got a fair taste of boat life. A few times
I thought she was over-reacting to the inconveniences,
but other times I could see it from her point of view:
life is too short to put up with some of this stuff.
Her dad's reaction was: I enjoyed it, but I'm too old to go
back to sea. And he had problems with a malfunctioning
forward head, which made him remember how nice it was
when outhouses were replaced by toilets.
The cats survived the boat but were ecstatic to get back onto
First Cruise to the Bahamas
After owning my 1973 Gulfstar 44 ketch for 9 months,
I went cruising from Marathon FL to the Bahamas.
I started out solo in Marathon, crossed the Florida
Current from Angelfish Creek (north Key Largo)
to Bimini, went to Chub Cay, then Nassau.
My girlfriend flew in to Nassau to join me,
and we went down the Exumas to George Town.
Crossing the Florida Current (Gulf Stream) solo
was a bit tiring, but no problem. I left in the
evening, motored all night, and arrived at
daybreak. When I saw ship's lights, I tracked
them visually but also used RADAR mainly to get
ranges to them. I didn't have any close encounters
with ships, and never felt in danger. I was pretty
tired after the passage, but mainly because swells
kept me from sleeping right before and after the
The first 15 minutes of motoring in the dark were
scary; it was my first night travel. Fortunately,
I had moored out on the reef, so my night motoring
was in open water. But when I arrived in Bimini,
I found a lobster-trap line trailing from my rudder;
I think I towed it all the way from Florida !
The entrance to Bimini harbor is nasty; I sweated
bullets going in and coming out. You have to go
right along a beach, then jog out at a certain
point. Lots of people run aground.
[The next time I go, I think I'll cross during the
day, and stay in quarantine until Nassau. Anchor
at Cat Cay and then Chub Cay before Nassau. Nothing worth
seeing ashore at Bimini, Cat Cay and Chub Cay.]
Bimini was my first introduction to a Bahamas
phenomenon: everything is smaller than you expect
from reading the chart. The main anchorages
and harbors are small. Bimini's harbor anchorage can
accomodate about 15 boats total. Even Nassau harbor
was smaller than I expected.
I'd heard stories about crime in Nassau; having been
there, I think they're greatly exaggerated.
But I always locked my dinghy well.
Nassau harbor does have strong currents, lots of wakes,
and bad holding in many spots. There were times
when similar boats (same size and anchoring) next to
each other were pointing bow-to-bow or stern-to-stern.
My anchors suddenly dragged one day; fortunately
I was on board, and managed to get away with only
a gentle bump against another boat.
But the harbor is lively, with cruise ship and
freighter and tour boat and fishing-boat and yacht and sea-plane traffic.
And there is a restaurant with free dinghy dock, free
garbage disposal, and free water !
We're spoiled with good anchorages in the Florida Keys;
they're scarcer in the Bahamas. Tidal currents are
strong, and protection usually is only from 150
degrees or so.
Anchoring with two anchors took some practice.
Lower one down, motor forward as the chain runs
out, set it, let more rode out as you motor forward
more, lower another anchor, reverse and set it,
take in rode on first anchor. Sometimes in
tight quarters with a current and/or wind (in which
case doing it singlehanded is almost impossible).
I always worry about getting the first rode into
the propeller as I motor forward. [Better way: lay down
first and let out it's chain, set first,
fall back letting out first's rope, lay down second, pull
boat forward by pulling on first's rope while letting
out second's chain.]
Handling heavy anchors and 3/8 BBB chain takes a lot of
effort. Sometimes you have to get in the dinghy
to move an anchor to the right place. Singlehanded,
the dinghy may be the only way to do it.
Raising two anchors is tiring. Once, the rodes were
twisted several times around each other, with boats
nearby so I couldn't just slack one rode and raise
the other anchor. I had to
use the dinghy to push the boat around to untwist
the rodes. There was so much current and wind that
the combination of dinghy and main engine was
barely enough to do it.
Most of these islands have very little on them.
Maybe a marina, a few houses, a small store.
Often no water or fuel available. Telephone is
very expensive. No TV reception. Some good FM
radio stations. Not many chances for internet access,
except in Nassau.
We were surprised at the scarcity of wildlife.
Almost no birds in most places. A few fish here and
there, but not as many as in the Florida Keys,
where we see dolphins and flying fish and tarpon
and others. [I've heard in the Bahamas the good fish are out
on the rough ocean reefs, not in the anchorages.]
We haven't seen any interesting coral
so far (in either the Keys or the Bahamas).
The Bahamas environment is spectacular. Lovely
clouds and sunsets. Clear and fairly warm water.
Beautiful sand beaches. Having a nice anchorage
all to yourself is wonderful.
Navigating through any tight spot involves a
combination of charts, guidebooks, GPS, and eyeballing.
Each chart and guidebook has a slightly different
sketch, and you have to read them all and try to
reconcile that with what you are seeing. Maptech charts
omit most of the radio towers. But we
haven't had any big problems, and we're learning to
read water color. And you don't have to go through
many "tight spots" anyway.
Weather information is hard to get. Shortwave
reception often is difficult; lots of static and
interference. Local broadcasts on VHF in some places
are very helpful. Most weather nets rattle through
the weather very quickly, then spend a long time
on position reports and boat-to-boat hails.
When listening to a weather forecast, it is tough
to figure out which parts apply to you. And often the
report is something like "at Nassau, wind will be
S today, W tomorrow, N next day, E after that". A moving
cold front is causing that. Now,
if you're 40 miles from Nassau, you have to figure
out what that means for you.
Heading SE to Georgetown Exumas, we've had SE wind and swell
on the nose the whole way, so we've motored about 80 hours and
sailed about 6 hours. Could have sailed a little more,
but I don't have the patience to tack back and
forth at 3 knots when I can motor straight at 6+ knots.
We had one bad grounding, where we were stuck for 24 hours
on soft sand in 20-knot winds. We almost got free after 12 hours
but it was 2 AM and we quickly ran aground again before we
could figure out where good water was.
We had an oil leak from the engine oil-cooler.
Attempts to re-solder the joint in place failed;
Some high points: Staniel Cay (snorkeling in the grotto);
Warderick Wells (scenic), Georgetown (for the social scene).
Nassau, Paradise Island marina, and the
Atlantis Casino (especially at spring break) were interesting.
Arriving back in Miami, it was hard to get through to
Customs on the phone, and then we had to go to Immigration
in person, because my girlfriend is Canadian.
First Cruise Up The (East Coast) ICW
After owning my 1973 Gulfstar 44 ketch for 12 months,
I went cruising from Marathon FL to Trenton NJ,
up the Intra-Coastal Waterway (ICW) single-handed.
I hoped to do several offshore passages on the way
north, taking advantage of the Gulf Stream to make
9 knots or so instead of the 6 I'd do in
the ICW. But weather prevented that; wind blew from the
north the whole time I went north in Florida, and northeast
or east half of the time after that. Also, I found
single-handing would have limited me to fairly short
passages, which in turn would make timing my transits
through inlets very important: I'd need a fair tide
and good daylight. If anything had gone wrong, I would
have been in trouble: tired, waiting offshore for
daylight and a good tidal current.
I anchored out every night, avoiding marinas.
I thought finding anchorages would be
tough in east Florida, but it was harder in northern
South Carolina and North Carolina. In those places, much of
the ICW is a dredged channel surrounded by very shallow
water, marinas, docks, other channels with strong currents.
Several times I had to anchor right on the edge of the ICW or
a side-channel, and endure wakes and hope that no one hit me.
Some of the well-known towns or landings were too small or
crowded for me. Barefoot Landing SC was full, with boats
circling waiting for a spot. Annapolis MD was a zoo, even
at a non-boat-show time. Crisfield MD has expensive
dinghy-dockage and is an ugly town with little to see.
Solomons MD is inconvenient and over-hyped. Baltimore MD
and Savannah GA have little or no reasonable anchorage space.
Breakdowns / problems:
- Engine oil cooler started leaking;
replaced it myself in Beaufort NC.
- A boat dragged almost into me in Beaufort NC
in a thunderstorm, and my propeller chopped off
one of my anchor rodes getting away from them;
managed to recover my ground tackle.
- Lost $90 anchor (neglected to put seizing on shackle).
- Alternator regulator started overcharging in
Oxford MD; sent to FL to get it repaired.
- Was fined $85 in St Mary's City MD for not having
a PFD in my dinghy.
- Gooseneck came apart near Urbanna VA.
- Genset stopped working; took fuel injectors
out and left them with a yard in Yorktown VA,
and they fooled around for a month, fixed
nothing, and sent them to me in FL.
- Drinking water pump started leaking.
- Outboard stopped working in Elizabeth City NC;
still don't have it working; a real pain.
- A bilge pump hose siphoned water in and almost
sank the boat in Georgetown SC harbor; turns
out the plumbing has been wrong all along.
- Engine starter solenoid started acting up;
had to tap it to start engine.
- Engine exhaust is leaking water into the
Notice that I DIDN'T run aground. Actually, I woke up
grounded gently in anchorages twice, but I knew that
would happen each time, and had a short wait to get off.
[Of course, having a 3.5-foot draft helped a bit.]
- Showing the boat to my family and relatives, and in NJ
taking them for little cruises on the Delaware River.
- Hooking up with people I'd met through email, and
showing them the boat.
- Nice small towns: Havre de Grace MD, Chestertown MD,
Elizabeth City NC, Beaufort NC, Georgetown SC,
Beaufort SC, Hampton VA.
A few (Oxford MD, Onancock MD) were a little TOO small.
- Anchored for a day in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, in
tourist central. Was fun to do once. Was in
the lower harbor for the July 4th fireworks, too.
- Met a lot of nice cruisers.
- Wonderful art museums (Norfolk VA, Washington DC, Savannah GA),
science/space museums (Portsmouth VA, Washington DC,
Baltimore MD, Hampton VA), battleship museums (Norfolk VA,
Wilmington NC), maritime museums (Beaufort NC,
St Michaels MD, Solomons MD), and historical sites
There's a lot to see. I did a six-month trip (mid-May to
late November), didn't spend more than a week in
any one place, and still skipped or skimped on several
nice places (Portsmouth VA, Barefoot Landing / Myrtle Beach SC,
Savannah GA, St Augustine FL). Didn't see any launches
from Cape Canaveral; the timing for those is hit-or-miss.
On the way back, after Savannah GA, I got into
"eat up the miles" mode: no more sightseeing. Maybe
I'll do another trip to Florida's east coast later.
- About 3000 statute miles covered.
- Six months and one week to do it. Spaghetti
for dinner 34 times, which is about
1.5 times per week.
- About 760 hours of engine running time (includes
some battery-charging-only hours).
- About 975 gallons of diesel consumed; works out
to about 1.3 gallons/hour and about 3+ miles/gallon.
Average price probably around $1.20/gallon,
for total of about $1200.
- Probably had the sails up less than 2% of the time.
Sailing just is not a practical way of traveling,
at least in canals and rivers and channels.
It was a good trip, but now it's nice to be stationary
for a while.
West Coast Florida, Tenn-Tom, Mississippi Cruise
Left Marathon at end of February 2003.
Not much of interest at Little Shark River
or Ten Thousand Islands, just lots of mangroves
and mosquitoes. Marco Island was a little more
interesting, but I was unable to connect with
the people I know there. Naples was all filled
in with marinas and moorings.
Got to Ft Myers Beach in time for spring break,
and stayed 3 weeks. Everything was great except
for the red tide, which made people cough a bit.
Nice beach with lots of beautiful girls in bikinis.
Good facilities of every kind (except no Home Depot
or KMart or Walmart), and I had some new
exhaust piping built for my boat.
Went up the Caloosahatchee River and to Lake
Okeechobee. The whole trip was interesting but
fairly boring; lots of narrow channels, uninteresting
towns, but some nice wildlife near the lake.
Back down the river to Ft Myers Beach for a while,
then up Pine Island Sound and to Punta Gorda,
which was a waste. Back to FMB.
Then started heading north for good in late May,
stopping at Sarasota and Clearwater and a couple of
isolated anchorages. Many of the towns along the
way were not very friendly for dinghying ashore,
although I didn't stop long enough to really
explore any of them.
Then went across the "Big Bend", the
big curve of the Florida Panhandle. I tried to
anchor twice to break up the trip, but ended up
doing it all in one exhausting marathon, to
Carrabelle. Conditions were a little rough for
the second half of the crossing. Fortunately
the boat kept going like a champ, although chafe
took a toll on some of my lines and the dinghy.
Did an outside hop from Carrabelle to Panama City,
and I should have waited several days for better
weather. Conditions got rougher and rougher
as I went, and chafe on the dinghy lashings was
extreme. Finally surfed 5-foot following waves
into Panama City inlet, which fortunately is a
very straightforward inlet. Some of the
nastiest waves I've been in. Heard later that
some other cruisers out at the same time had
called NOAA later and complained that the
forecast was wrong.
Met some nice people in Panama City. Left there
and went up the ICW to Ft Walton Beach, and ended
up getting trapped by low bridges there (lower
than charted). Had to backtrack to Panama City.
Went outside from Panama City to Pensacola, then
ICW to Mobile AL. Big, open bay with lots of
commercial traffic. The only anchorage is far
from the city, but a very nice local gave me a
lift all the way in, and then I got a bus back.
Mobile was disappointing, except for the USS
Alabama battleship there.
Headed north up the rivers from Mobile in mid-June,
up the Mobile and Tombigbee rivers to Demopolis AL,
which is a nice little town. Then up the
Tennessee-Tombigbee waterway to Columbus MS,
which is a nice bigger town. The remnants
of tropical storm Bill rained on me, 350 miles
from the coast ! Then up to the Tennessee river
by early July, through some very nice lakes.
If there's one word to characterize the trip
from Mobile to the Tennessee River, it is:
"trees". Tons of them, bursting with green
because of all the rain in June, just millions
of them along all the banks and around the
towns. Reminds me of the Pennsylvania Poconos
a bit, especially up at the Tennessee River
where there's more rock.
The Tennessee River is gorgeous: wide, with
trees and bluffs and houses and some coves.
Went upstream to Florence, which had nice
old houses and a college, and then came
back down the river.
The tows on the Tennessee River are a bit bigger
than those on the Tenn-Tom Waterway: now I'm
seeing 3x6 tows. And being passed by a big
tow while you're anchored on the river at night
is a bit of a religious experience. You hear
the thrum of large, slow engines before you see
anything. Then you see a very powerful spotlight
through the trees, sweeping around across the
water from bank to bank, looking for obstructions
and checking position. Often you can see the beam
of the light, from the side, as it illuminates
a whole mile down the river. Then the front barges
appear around the bend, and more and more
keep appearing. Eventually the tugboat itself
appears, often all lit up with yellow lights on
all sides. Then the spotlight sweeps across
your boat, and you can see the operator of it
do a double-take: the light comes back onto
you for 10 seconds, then sweeps away. You hear
the rush of water under the bow of the barges,
the engines getting louder, and finally you
can tell that they have plenty of room to
pass by. Then they're past, and the noise
and light recedes. It reminds me of the scene
in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" where
the bright lights of a UFO go over top of
a guy in a pickup truck.
Found Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkeley a bit
boring. Lots of nice scenery, but no real
towns, only one supermarket and no library in
the whole area.
Headed up the Cumberland river, which was
nice for the first 40 miles or so, then got
a bit narrow and hard to anchor in. Saw a
tow simply take a buoy on the wrong side and
go aground; he barely was able to back off.
The only mistake I saw by a tow on the
The towns are not too interesting, and there were
some nasty afternoon thunderstorms. Cumberland City
was a hoot: only a bank, city hall and post office
had any activity. So I sat on the front porch
of city hall for 4 or 5 hours, chatting with
a couple of guys and watching everyone drive
in to pick up their mail at the post office
(the only entertainment in town). The older
of the two guys had been on a PT boat in the
Pacific in WW II, and the younger had been a
parachute rigger in Viet Nam. Talked about
everything under the sun with them. The older
guys said that for some reason, many PT-boat
commanders were sons of rich families: Astors,
Vanderbilts, etc. He met JFK briefly.
Got to Nashville, and it's an interesting town
but anchoring is near-impossible. Anchored in
25 feet of water, strong current, narrow river,
strong afternoon thunderstorms. Stayed a little
more than 2 days before I got too uncomfortable
Went up the river and into Hickory Lake by early
August. Nice lake: pretty and lots of room. Hooked
up with some people I'd been exchanging email with;
they were amazed that I'd actually arrived in their
area ! One couple took me to their house for
a major steak dinner; another took me to a
cookout/party, drove me to the airport, etc.
Some really nice people.
Left the boat anchored there and took a 3-week
vacation to see my family in Indiana and
New Jersey. I really lucked out: August in
both Tennessee and New Jersey had amazingly
nice weather, not too hot and not too humid.
Later, I heard it was very hot summer in Florida.
In October, headed down the Cumberland River,
then down the Ohio River. Almost went over a
dam on the Ohio: it was almost invisible,
had about a 6-inch drop, no warning buoys or
signs, and the 5-year-old chart said
it was being replaced. Lockmaster called me
on the radio, and I made a U-turn. Ugly !
Went down the Mississippi River, and it was
fun. Many towns had wonderful museums and
historic houses, although lots of poverty and
abandoned houses and businesses too; I
didn't stay ashore after dark. Anchoring
often was a challenge (because of strong
current and commercial traffic), and getting ashore
in the dinghy was a severe challenge: the banks are
all fortified with rock, and I often had
to pull the dinghy into the only patch of
mud I could find, then climb the seawall while
carrying my bicycle. Often had to wade through
soft, clinging, foot-deep river bottom mud while
landing and launching the dinghy.
Some highlights: wonderful museums in Cairo,
Helena and Vicksburg; pretty good ones in Memphis and
Natchez and Baton Rouge. Nice boaters in Memphis,
nice locals in Vicksburg and Natchez and Baton Rouge.
Beautiful women in Baton Rouge.
A 3-day Blues Festival in Helena. The general
sense of history and power of the river, and
the fun of doing something that not many
pleasure-boaters do any more.
Got to New Orleans in early November, but it
was a bust: nowhere sheltered to anchor,
so I didn't even get ashore. Biloxi was nice,
although my bike was stolen there. Pascagoula
and Pensacola were okay. Started having some
serious engine problems (diesel in the oil,
surging and stalling), but fixed them with a
new fuel lift pump in Panama City.
Started getting seriously cold a little before
Thanksgiving, and I soon fled across the Big Bend
and down the west coast of Florida, to
Fort Myers Beach in early December. Still having
some cold mornings every few days down there, but
mixed with some nice beach days.
- About 3000 statute miles covered.
- Six months and two weeks to do it (round-trip
from Fort Myers Beach).
- About 645 hours of engine running time.
- About 700 gallons of diesel consumed; works out
to about 1.1 gallons/hour and 4+ miles/gallon.
Total cost of about $900, for average price
- Probably had the sails up less than 1% of the time.
Sailing just is not a practical way of traveling,
at least in canals and rivers and channels.
It was a great trip. The towns along the
Mississippi River were the best.
In 8/2004, hurricane Charley passed about 15 miles north of
where I was anchored in Fort Myers Beach FL. Magnolia and
I survived, almost without a scratch. Some of my experiences are written
up in the Hurricane section of my Places To Sail page
Here's the message I sent to people after the hurricane:
Sorry it's been so long since I email'd or
updated my log file, but the library here
was closed for more than a week after
hurricane Charley, so I was incommunicado.
Even the phones have been down.
Magnolia and I came through the hurricane
just fine. The only damage occurred when
I crept out to tie the dinghy down better
in the middle of the storm, put my hand on
the stern grill to steady myself, and bent
the rod that holds the stern grill up.
No other damage to my boat.
But it was a scary experience. We had winds
somewhere around 100-110 knots, I think.
Howling white horizontal rain for long periods
of time. The worst was when a storm surge
current held the boats sideways to the wind;
we rolled ferociously. One of my friends fell
inside his boat and hurt himself. A couple
other friends gathered their most important
stuff into bags in case they had to abandon ship.
Out of 40 or 50 boats in the harbor, 4 or 5
sank or dragged anchor and were smashed against
the shore, and were total losses. A couple more
had significant damage. Several had sails shredded
(a lot of people didn't take down their roller-furled
The worst of the hurricane missed us by no more
than 15 miles or so. On the day of the hurricane,
about 6 hours before it hit, the forecast went
"cat 2 - now cat 3 - now cat 4 - now right turn
and it's going to hit you" over the course of
an hour or so. A lot of people are not happy
with the weather forecasters.
Ashore, the town of Ft Myers Beach took about
2 feet of water through the streets and buildings,
ruining lots of first-floor furniture. Some roofs
were damaged and water badly damaged the interiors.
But I haven't seen any houses actually torn down
by the storm.
Since I have no TV, and have been without internet
and newspapers for 9 or 10 days, you probably know
a lot more about the storm than I do !
[We had three more hurricanes that summer:
- Frances passed about 70 miles away, and gave us a day
and a half of 50-knot wind.
- Jeanne passed about 60 miles away, gave us maybe 35-knot wind.
- Ivan looked serious, and I left the harbor and went up
the river to get away from it, but then it veered far to the west
and didn't affect us.]
Second Cruise to the Bahamas
Just past the 3.5-year mark of living on my boat,
I started a solo 3-year Caribbean cruise by crossing from Miami to the Bahamas.
I crossed the Florida Current from Miami
to West End, through the Abacoes to Marsh Harbour, down along Eleuthra,
across to the Exumas and down to George Town. That took about 3 months.
It was fun but a bit lonely; somehow I didn't find a lot of places
where people just sat near the dinghy dock and chatted. I worked
on sailing more instead of motoring, with a little success (and had to restitch
some sails and fix a busted jib sheet).
I did more fishing, and slowly got some results (and learned that
most of my lures were useless).
George Town in the Exumas was fun; I got into a social crowd on the beach and
often played cards or dominoes with them. And I was there for Family Island
Regatta Week, which was entertaining.
Hurricane Season in the Dominican Republic
Just past the 4-year mark of living on my boat,
I spent the 2005 hurricane season in Luperon in the Dominican Republic.
Going to the Dominican Republic was a "shock" in several ways:
- My crossing from the Turks and Caicos to Luperon was very rough and scary,
with damage to the boat and my confidence. I'd say 1/3 of the cruisers had
similar experiences. Several had to be towed in by the DR Navy.
- I'd heard horror stories about DR officials demanding bribes.
They turned out to be false, but the government does extract
a lot of fees out of you legally. And it's very confusing if you don't speak Spanish.
- I don't speak Spanish, and haven't learned it very quickly.
This leads to a feeling of isolation and paranoia at times.
Since stores here don't post prices, I'm always confused and fearful of being
ripped off. I hate bargaining, and bargaining is even worse when you
don't speak the language. And some people here do take advantage of ignorance.
It seemed like every time I mentioned a purchase to another cruiser,
they said something like "oh, we got it for 1/4 that price somewhere else !".
And I found that the cruising community in Luperon during hurricane season can be a fairly insular
and dysfunctional group. People get "cabin fever", grudges and cliques spring up, some
people won't talk to certain others or won't patronize certain businesses.
Some gringoes are competing with each other to sell services such as boat repair, and
"talk down" the competitors. The same happens among some of the gringoes running
businesses ashore. Some locals hate the fact that most gringoes go only to gringo
bars and restaurants ashore. Some cruising wives strongly disapprove of gringo guys dating local
girls, so that's another source of friction. It's hard to get English-language news,
you can't swim in the water, there's a fair amount of drinking, it's hard to get boat parts,
the only social gathering-spots are in the bars, etc. Some former cruisers have gotten a
bit "stranded" here, from boat problems, lack of repair facilities, and lack of money.
The gringo community is fairly small; probably 100 people in 2005.
So a lot of things conspire to put people on edge.
It's not all bad, and some of my bad impression is due to my own faults: I should have
learned Spanish more, and bought a motorbike and seen more of the country, and
socialized more with other cruisers. Many of the gringoes are very nice and
very helpful. The country certainly is beautiful: lots of
rivers and green mountains and nice views. And most local people are very friendly (but hard to
communicate with unless you speak Spanish).
But there are some con-artists, some theft in the harbor, drivers are dangerous,
and towns often are dirty and noisy. So, like the USA or anywhere else, it's a mixed bag.
One of the worst things: the officials strictly control boat-traffic in and out
of the harbor, and you're not allowed to go day-sailing, or do short cruises
along the coast. So you're stuck in the harbor, until you decide to check out
and leave for good. Which you really don't want to do until the end of hurricane season.
It certainly has been a learning experience for me. This country is not at all
like the Bahamas or Turks and Caicos; it's more like non-tourist parts of Mexico, I guess,
if that makes any sense.
In 2005, this place is no longer dirt-cheap for gringoes.
The exchange rate has changed since a few years ago, and I found prices to be similar to
USA prices. Cheaper than USA for transportation and beer and rum, more expensive
than USA for imported stuff, and many boat parts just unavailable. And the government
cruising fees are similar to fees in the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos.
All of them seem to be averaging about $50 per month.
So, hurricane season in Luperon was interesting and worth doing once, but
I'm glad to be leaving.
Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands
I spent the winter of 2005 and the first half of 2006 in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
- After the isolation and culture shock of Luperon in the Dominican Republic,
getting to Puerto Rico was liberating for me and my fellow cruisers.
It felt great to be back in (mostly) English-speaking territory, with trustworthy officials,
free to move from anchorage to anchorage, with nice beaches, and official fees of $25/year
instead of $50/month.
- I expected everyone to speak English as well as Spanish.
Instead, in many local-type stores such as hardware or auto-parts stores,
it's hard to find anyone who speaks English. And the radio stations
are almost all Spanish (and no NPR, which is a big loss for me).
Not bad, just surprising.
- Unlike the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico has very little
public transportation between towns or cities. There are publico's (cars and vans), but
they seem far fewer than in the DR, you're more likely to get stranded,
and they don't reach the small towns at the edges.
- Several of the harbors are inconveniently far from good stores or towns.
Having a bicycle or scooter is a big help.
- If you have a car, being in central PR (Ponce, Caguas, San Juan) is almost exactly like being in mainland
USA: they have plenty of Walmarts, warehouse stores, Home Depots, large shopping
malls, divided superhighways, etc. Out in the east and west ends of the island,
I think it gets a bit more rural. But they still have supermarkets
and hardware stores and such.
- In PR, it was really nice to cruise along with or keep bumping into cruising
friends I'd met in Luperon. I've always been too much of a "solo" person,
and having a little more of a social life was nice. And we traded news and
gossip about people we knew who were still back in Luperon, or who'd
had misadventures since leaving Luperon.
Spanish Virgin Islands (Culebra and Vieques):
- Coming from PR out into the Virgin Islands felt like arriving at
the "real" cruising grounds. And quickly I could see why some people
stay here for years or a lifetime. Lots of islands close together,
so you can always find a decent anchorage and never have to sail overnight.
The only downside is a constant strong wind and current coming from
the east, so going east is a bit of a chore.
- Vieques was a little bit like the DR, in that stores and facilities
were limited. But a nice place.
- Culebra was fun: a terrific harbor, some nice snorkeling on nearby
islands, a cute town with lots of tourist traffic. Some of my friends
stayed for almost 2 months.
US Virgin Islands (St Thomas, St John, St Croix):
- Surprising how different the three islands are. St Thomas is people-crowded
and busy and full of cruise ships, and the anchorages are very rolly
and uncomfortable. St John is boat-crowded and mostly National Park areas,
with great snorkeling. St Croix is more laid-back, more sparsely populated outside
of the main town, a fine harbor,
interesting architecture in town, a good library, good snorkeling/beaching
- Physically, these islands are a big change from Florida, DR and PR: they're
starting to get volcanic, with steeper hillsides or cliffs to the
water, and far fewer mangrove swamps.
- Ferry-traffic among the islands was really annoying. They travel
at high speeds and make huge wakes, often making some anchorages
untenable simply because of ferry wakes.
- Cruising on St John was a pain: the few decent anchorages
outside the National Park areas were jam-packed with boats permanently
moored or anchored for the whole season. One alternative is to pay $15/night for
a mooring in the Park area. Instead, I used more isolated anchorages
on St John, and some on the east end of St Thomas, and did day-trips
into the nice parts of St John. Never had to pay a mooring fee.
- St John seems to be having a construction boom: lots of concrete-mixer trucks
on the roads, and several new houses under construction in every little bay.
- I found myself getting a little isolated again; my friends scattered
a bit, many heading further down the islands, needing to get to Venezuela
before hurricane season.
- I spent a week in a boatyard, which was the usual stressful and
tiring experience, but went well.
British Virgin Islands (Jost Van Dyke, Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada):
- Time pressures (boatyard before, flight to NJ afterward) limited me
to a scant 8 days in the BVI. It was far nicer than I'd expected.
I'd heard official fees were high and anchoring was impossible, and neither
thing was true. I'm coming back next year to spend several months here.
- Some things were as expected: food and fuel prices were high, and there were
crowds of boats at popular spots.
- Generally, harbors and beaches in the BVI are much nicer than those in the USVI.
Much of the BVI snorkeling is as good as anything on St John. I pushed myself
to do so much snorkeling in my brief visit that I got
blisters from my swim-fins.
Then, in June I headed back to Puerto Rico to spend hurricane season on the
south coast. Part of the time I'll be huddling down and working on the boat,
but I also want to see several nice places I missed on my first pass through here.
More Virgin Islands
I got a bit "stuck" in Culebra and the Virgin Islands. Tried to cross to St Martin once
or twice, but the weather wasn't right.
Did a trawler-delivery to St Martin, which was an interesting experience. Marred by
injuring myself at the end of it: I slipped and fell on my back onto the swim platform,
bruising my back. Took a month or more to recover from that.
Dealt with a couple of major engine-repairs. Replaced the fuel injection pump,
which was not too difficult, but interesting. And a major job, one that I'd often worried
about on sleepless nights: getting a seized transmission rebuilt.
The transmission job was big because: it involved jacking up the heavy six-cylinder diesel engine,
the transmission itself is no lightweight, and I did it all at anchor, in a fairly rolly harbor.
The shop rebuilt the transmission in about one day flat; getting it out of the boat and back in
took weeks (mostly the getting-out part, because I was very cautious about planning how to
jack up the engine, and scoping out what tools were available).
On my boat, I have a great engine compartment, with great access to engine and transmission.
On other boats, the transmission job might have involved cutting a lot of woodwork,
and might have been impossible at anchor. On the other hand, most sailboats have smaller
and lighter engines and transmissions than mine.
Eastern Caribbean Islands
In 11/2009, I finally made the crossing from the Virgin Islands, across the Anegada Passage,
to St Martin.
The change of locations did me a lot of good; I'd been kicking around the Culebra and
USVI and BVI area a little too long, and gotten stale. I'd tried to cross to St Martin earlier,
but the weather wasn't right.
St Martin turned out to have a much more international crowd than the Virgin Islands.
Boats in St Martin were getting ready to cross the Atlantic to the Azores, or had arrived
from Trinidad or from the Med. And the island of St Martin itself is half French and half Dutch,
unlike the English-speaking USVI's and BVI's. And the cruiser-community and cruiser-VHF-net
were nice; good to meet some people. Saw a bit of the island: nice beaches, and a nice Carnival parade.
Met a very nice couple, John and Janet on "Ventoso".
Next stop was Antigua, which has great anchorages but was very sleepy in hurricane season.
Then to Guadeloupe, which has good anchorages but was very sleepy in hurricane season,
plus the French language was a huge barrier to me.
Then to Martinique, where again the French language was a huge barrier to me.
And I had kidney stones, which was my first serious illness while in a foreign country and on a boat.
To St Lucia, which was okay until a thief boarded my boat and stole some stuff.
Met some nice guys, Greg and Mike on "Salty Paws".
To Bequia in the Grenadines, which is a very nice place.
To the rest of the Grenadines, which are a little empty and have few facilities.
To Grenada for hurricane season. Very nice island, lots of facilities, great cruiser social-scene.
I find it a struggle to get off the boat and get some decent exercise.