Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Travel - Griswold Style

Howdy and Merry Christmas folks!

Kara Bahamas travel outfit.  In her defense, it was 40 degrees in Austin when we left.

As I'm writing this (Christmas morning 2014) Kara and I sitting in the beautiful and exotic Best Western in Dania Florida.  Our should be enjoying some coffee in the cockpit of our boat in the Jib Room marina at Marsh Harbour on Abaco, but United airlines intervened yesterday and we got stuck in Ft. Lauderdale last night.  Since a Chevy Chase style comedy of errors led to us being marooned here I just thought I'd share the details.

We had an early morning flight and since we moved out of the condo so it could be rented, we had an hour plus trip to the airport.  So, we got up at 4AM central, drove to the condo and parked (to save a couple weeks of parking fees) and grabbed a cap to the airport.  We got to the airport and breezed through security, thanks TSA pre-check (totally worth it BTW).  United had contacted us the night before and let us know that our flight was going to be delayed 20 minutes from the scheduled take-off but would make up time in the air, so we'd only be 4 minutes late...not bad.  We had an hour layover in Houston to make or flight to Florida so we should be good.  Well, it took them and extra 40 minutes to load the luggage (plane was at the gate the whole time so not sure why) but we ended up being an hour late...not good.

Of course since we wanted the cheapest seats possible, we where literally the last two people off the plane, so we sprinted through the airport with 60-100 lbs of carry-ons each to get to our gate. Rollers would have sure made life easier but they don't stow well on the boat and since we where spending a coupe weeks in the islands followed by a week+ passage around Florida and back to Texas, we where using soft sided duffles and backpacks.  Let me just say that nothing quit compares to trying to sprint through the Houston airport, huffing and puffing with huge heavy bags and generally looking like a total jack ass on Christmas eve morning.

So we arrive at the gate 9 minutes before actual take-off (we had less than 20 min when we FINALLY got off the plane). Score, we made it...what's that...we're too late and you gave away our seats and we can't get on?  C'mon man, it's Christmas Eve and this will mean we miss our connection in Florida and will have to stay overnight and travel Christmas day...the Grinch was not moved.

So, we head over to the customer service desk and as we're waiting in line are able to coax each other into calming down a bit and agree to be as nice as we possibly can to the poor soul stuck working the service desk on Christmas Eve day.  It's not her fault we're stuck.  So after we explain our plight she books us on the next flight to FLL and confirms that we'll be stuck overnight and on the afternoon flight to Marsh Harbour arriving 3PM Christmas day...not ideal but it is what it is.  So, of course you're going to put us up in a hotel for the night.  No sir, that's not covered.  At this point, I think I may have been SLIGHTLY bent out of shape and 'explained to her' that since they delivered us to Houston late, gave away our tickets and wouldn't allow us onto the plane, despite the fact that it was still at the gate when we arrived, caused us to miss our flight to Abaco...they WOULD be covering the hotel...or something to that affect.  She agreed and booked the voucher.

We then headed down to the nearest bar to wait for our next flight.  As we where waiting and still feeling a bit sorry for our failed plan to be in the Bahamas by night fall.  I headed down to the restroom to recycle a bit of ethanol, and on the way I see the departure board had several flights to Midland and thought to myself...hey at least we're not going to Midland.  I mean no offense to anyone in Midland at all, I've been there and it's fine...just not really my kind of place, and it just brought home the fact that Kara and I are still pretty darn lucky...most days.

Bloody Marys at IAH

So we arrive in FLL (about the same time we where originally planning to be arriving in Abaco, went to the ticketing desk and worked with an absolutely excellent customer service Rep (Thanks Kin E.) he booked our vouchers, called the hotel to reserve us a room, provided a warm hand-off to the folks over at Silver airlines (partner airline for the Bahamas flight).  Confirm we had seats and promised he would track down our checked bags and take care of them so we didn't have to pay to re-check them.  We then hiked down to meet the hotel shuttle, our driver (Jose) was super friendly and we where trying to get ourselves back into the Holiday spirit and make the best of things.

We walked into the hotel and up to the front desk to a super friendly front desk agent.  Explained who we where and handed over our voucher.  She, Kara and I then spent the next 45 minutes trying to iron out why the voucher was tied to a credit card that by hotels standards was expired (expiration date of 12/14).  In United's view that meant 12/31/14 in the hotel's view it meant 12/1/14, since it was the 24th, this was an issue.  Once we got in touch with the folks at the United desk in Lauderdale they where very helpful and tried to work it out to the best of there ability, even offering to do a direct billing with the hotel.  Unfortunately,  since United had outstanding bills from other customers the hotel wasn't interested in extending their credit.  United offered to put us up in another hotel, but we'd have to go back to the airport and start the whole process over again...we declined.  $100 later we had our room for the night.

After dragging our stuff into the room all we wanted to do was pee and find some dinner and booze for the night.  So I hit the restroom and guess what...the toilet wouldn't flush.  So found a restroom in the lobby, notified the front desk and hiked out for a fabulous Christmas Eve TGI Fridays.  Of course it rained on us as we where walking the 15 minutes to the restaurant but at least we where outside.  We had a decent dinner and then sat at the bar for a few drinks and decompressed a bit.  We then called the hotel and Jose came to pick us up in the van, thanks again rock.

As we walked into the hotel we realized they actually sold beer and wine in the lobby, so we grabbed a few and Juanita at the front desk, even comp'd us a beer on the house.  These folks really where super friendly.  So we went up to the room, broke out the trusty ipad and proceeded to watch A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas...since we could relate to there luck.

This (Christmas) morning, we got up headed down to enjoy the buffet breakfast (Waffles and coffee) and now it's time to get our stuff together and head back to the airport.  Hoping our next entry will be from Abaco...and that we're able to find an open grocery store on the way to the marina.  Not likely, so we're thankful we have a cooler backpack with some frozen stuff to help get us by for the next day or two if needed.

Wish us luck, and see y'all soon.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Taking action towards the dream - AKA Downsizing

The view we're giving up

Well, for the last couple weeks Kara and I have been packing and gradually moving stuff from our beautiful condo in downtown Austin, to our little place out in the Texas hill country.  We both love the house and it's great to be on the water at Lake LBJ but for several years now we've had (for us) a perfect setup by spending the work wee at the condo where we're close to pretty much everything and our weekends out at the lake for a little relaxation.

With our need to really up our savings rate for the cruising kitty and the Austin real estate explosion, the time was right for us to move out the condo and get it ready to rent.  We talked with a few folks about what we could rent the place for and it looks like we can get close to $3000 per month for it.  Which to us seems crazy, we love the place but there is no way we'd pay that much to live there.  So, we've spent the last few weeks packing and gradually moving stuff.

Ready for moving day #1

As you can imaging going from two places to one means we had a good deal of overlap in STUFF, so we've given away a couple sofa's in exchange for moving assistance on the things that where too heavy for Kara and I to get down the stairs on our own.  We're now down to a bed, dresser, and recliner that we'll be moving this weekend, while everyone is in town for the Thanksgiving holiday and we can wrangle a little more assistance.

Now we're able to enjoy the beauty and quiet of the lake on a daily basis.  We just have to learn to deal with being an 1.5 hours away from everything instead of the 10 minutes we've grown used to.  We also want to make sure we don't drift away from some great friends we've made in Austin, so we're hoping to be able to do some weekend couch surfing and enjoy a night out in the big city, from time to time.

It's definitely peaceful out here.

Eventually we know we'll have to sell the lake house before we make the final jump to the boat.  This strategy allows us to enjoy it for the next several years while putting another $36k a year on the into the kitty.  Due to location our goal is to keep the condo for the long term, since it should be easy to rent and means we're never more than 12 months away from being able to move back into it...just in case.

It's a big change for us both, but it's another big step towards our dream of untying the lines and doing some serious cruising in the not too distant future.  And that....makes it all worth it.

Plus, being at the lake does have it's upside.

Sunset Kayak on lake LBJ

Thursday, November 20, 2014

First offshore trip - Oxford Maryland to Abaco Bahamas

Howdy Folks, (buckle in this is going to be a long one)

After a little over 700 nm, most of it offshore in the Atlantic we can confirm Baboo (soon to be renamed) is in fact in great condition and has been extremely well maintained. That's not to say we didn't run into a few issues along the way (details to come) but overall we're very pleased.

We closed on the boat and less than a week later Kara and I flew to Baltimore rented a car (1 way) and drove to Oxford Maryland to spend our first night aboard. Since we each had to work that Friday (Oct 3rd) we didn't actually get to the boat until almost 1AM on Saturday. We still needed all the basics and had to stop at Walmart on the way in for essentials like bedding, coffee and breakfast. But once we stowed our gear and all the goodies we brought for the trip and finally rolled into that nice comfy pullman berth, it was 2AM and we where more than ready our first good night's sleep aboard.

We got up early the next morning, hand ground some coffee, boiled a kettle of water and french pressed a few cups off coffee. For two folks from Texas it was downright cold but we enjoyed our coffee in the cockpit. Then we got down to work inventorying everything on the boat. Despite have dug through many similar boats, once you get everything out it's really astounding how much storage there is on the IP40. Under-sole tankage definitely has it's downsides, but the storage it allows is truly impressive. We inspected the work we coordinated with the yard in Oxford, the only real issue we'd found during survey was that both the exhaust and manual bilge pump hoses needed to be replaced. Since we needed to get the boat moving before it got cold, we opted to have the local yard do the work and where very pleased with the result. We then made our first trip to West Marine for the basic gear we knew we needed and a few items our delivery skipper had requested. After (literally) 4+ hours in West Marine we had our foulies, oil, engine coolant, spare life jackets, spare racor filters, jerry cans, and all the various spares/odds and ends we thought we might need. On our way back to the boat we stopped at the local Giant for our first real provisioning run. Then headed back to the boat and put everything away. 
During all the remote prep work for the the trip we knew we'd need a dingy or liferaft as an emergency option and since we don't intent to start our real cruising for a little over 4 years, we worked with the sellers broker to coordinate a cheap inflatable and old 3.5hp Nissan outboard. He was such a great guy that he not only helped us find one but drove to pick it up and paid for it out of his pocket ($500) until we where able to sync-up with him late that Saturday afternoon to pay him for it.

Our "new" dinghy

...and the matching outboard

We also opted to buy a spare/replacement windlass from the PO that's a direct bolt-on for the current electric windlass and at the last minute also bought the his Tahatsu 6HP 4-stroke ($200), so now have two outboards. So our first day was productive and we where exhausted, but managed to enjoy our first Sundowners in the cockpit that night...before it got super cold and chased us inside.

The view for our first sundowners in the cockpit - Oxford MD.

Sunday morning we prepped meals for the trip and the PO dropped by to step us through all the systems again. Always nice to take any remaining guesswork out of the plumbing/electrical systems. He's been great so far and I'm glad we where able to effectively negotiate on a price we could all live with and remain friendly in the process. I guess after 15 years of meticulous ownership, he really wanted to make sure we'd take good care of his baby. We then jumped in the car to return a few things to West and pick up parts for our pieced together deck fill water filter and stop at Walmart for another blanket...did I mention it's cold in Maryland by Texas standards?  We then met our delivery skipper (Blaine Parks) who turned out to be a great guy. Well worth the high praise and multiple recommendations we'd heard. Together we finalized the provisioning and headed back to the boat. We did a preliminary, check of the boat where he noted a few minor things we addressed and also pointed out that he thought the outhaul for our roller furling main was "well oversized". We mentioned that it had been very difficult to unfurl and furl the sail so made a note to follow-up on this. Unfortunately, Murphy intervened and we didn't get back to it...more on that later. After the walk through Kara decided to bake some banana bread for the trip and we realized the propane bottle was empty. No problem the other one is full so I swapped it. During the process of swapping it I must have bumped the original and very corroded solenoid because it no longer worked. Each time we turned it on, it would come on and then immediately trip the breaker...crap. But wait, during our inventory I had noted a spare solenoid, so promptly dug that out. problem is, it's too tall to fit due to some extra elbow fittings.  Since the spare had been in the box so long and the elbows where sealed with putty it was completely gummed up...this was a potential show stopper,  We need to be able to cook on our week long trip to the Bahamas.  Quick google search and Lowes is still open for a little over an hour, so Blaine and I jump in the rental and zip off to find a vise we can use to break everything free. We slide into the tool dept and there's a vise out on display, clamp the solenoid and use a large crescent wrench to break the fittings free of their putty gunk and we're off to the races. Back to the boat and about 90 minutes later, Kara was finally able to bake that banana bread she started earlier.  We're finally able to get to bed around 12:30.

Capt Blaine and our last minute fix before departure. Thank you Lowes for the display items!

Monday morning - departure day.  We finish doing our best to tidy up the solenoid enough for the trip. It ain't perfect and I'll need to address the wiring once we get the boat home but it should get us there. We run into town to return the car, deal with a few last minute purchases at Wallyworld and it's finally time to cast off the lines.  We'd been expecting pretty crappy conditions for the first 2 days of the trip but our schedules combined with Blaine's meant we had to make it work.  As we're heading to the fuel dock to fill our 90 gallon tank we realize the wind is right where they'd been predicting it, straight SE (not good for exiting the Chesapeake) but is a bit stronger at 25-30 knots. We fill the tanks, enjoy a Bon Voyage ice cream, batten down the hatches and ports (non of which leaked BTW) and motor into 30 knots and a fairly steep chop of 3-5 ft...write on the nose. 
I've mentioned this previously but as a refresher Kara and I are not (yet) super experience sailors.  Our sailing experience prior to this trip was limited to inland lakes on our Catalina 22, ASA 101 on a lake, a week long live aboard class in the BVIs for 103/104 and a few weekends of crewing on other peoples boats, local beer can races etc... Which is why we opted for a well known delivery skipper with a ton of miles in Island Packets. Blaine let us know up front this wasn't going to be a fun passage and that we'd be working hard but that was the whole reason we wanted to crew vs. just having the boat delivered for us...we wanted to experience it.  So we had prepped ourselves for a truly miserable trip.  As a result we where expecting it to only get worse from here and that neither of us would be able to sleep, and we'd be puking our guts out the whole way but we didn't get any of that.  Don't get me wrong, beating into a stiff chop in 30 knots wasn't exactly fun, and we where taking waves over the bow, and the ride in the cockpit under the bimini, while dry was a bit, exciting. What we where amazed by was when you stepped below, just how comfortable it actually was. Of course you still knew you where on a boat but both Kara and I where easily able to sleep that first night in our off watch periods. After about 24 hours of motoring (minus a brief stop to top off the tank) we passed Cape Henry to starboard, and turned to follow the coast down towards Hatteras. Making the turn allowed us to do a little sailing and I don't mind saying that first night of sailing in 25 knots heeled over a bit more than I was comfortable with in a beam sea was...exciting to say the least. 

As we went the coastline fell away and we just continued SE as much as the wind would allow. We crossed the Gulf Stream a couple hours before sunset (thankfully and by design...thanks Blaine). That was a memorable part of the trip as I was on watch and the current was making for some fairly uncomfortable beam seas.  The water sure was pretty though. A very VERY deep blue, as we finally got out of the stream the seas calmed a bit and the next morning we found ourselves cranking up the motor again due to very light winds. If it had just been Kara and I, we'd have been content to sail at 3 knots or so until things picked up, but this was a delivery and as much as possible, we had a schedule to keep. So we motored, we actually ended up motoring through the better part of 4 days since the wind had all but abandoned us. We had amazing, clear blue skies and beautiful clear stars each night until the moon came up and then that was pretty impressive as well.   During all that motor sailing we realized the outhaul was probably 2 sizes to large. This meant it bound up at each block, making it very difficult to unfurl the sail and putting a ton of strain on the boom car, which we noticed was tweaked a bit. We spent a couple hours working to bandaid it and replace the outhaul but the car did eventually fail (broke free of the boom track). We where still able to use it, but now someone had to go forward to free the line when unfurling or reefing. I'm actually working on a finding a replacement now.

This outhaul car should be attached to the boom instead of hanging as you see here.

Anyway, the rest of the trip was probably nothing special for folks who are used to offshore sailing but for me, they where truly remarkable.  The water was amazingly blue and calm, our boat was comfortable and spacious and took amazing care of us.  We cooked every single day, including baking 3 meals because it was so calm and, well...we wanted to.  My wife and I enjoyed a (single) sundowner each night (capt Blaine chooses not to imbibe while at sea).  We each did a 4 hour watch during the day and 2x 2 hour watches each night.  When we weren't sleeping we either read, or talked or just sat and enjoyed our peaceful surroundings. Tracked ships as they passed and checked our course every hour or so to see if we needed to adjust the autopilot

On the last day Sunday the 12th, we finally found the trades and with a steady 10-15 knots ESE we shut down the motor and enjoyed a nice 6-7 knot sail into Abaco.  We made it into Marsh Harbour around 10PM that night, docked the boat at the marina and celebrated like sailors of old....with plenty of RUM. Got up early the next morning and cleared into the country at the airport since it was a holiday and we couldn't get customs to come to the boat as is the norm in Abaco.  Then Capt Blaine jumped ship to catch a flight to his next delivery (an IP 370) leaving the Annapolis show for charter in the BVIs.  Kara and I spent the next 36 hours cleaning and prepping the boat for our extended absence, so she'll be ready for our return trip, to enjoy a little Holiday cruising around the islands.  Followed by the slog across the Gulf to Kemah.

So in early January we'll be freezing our butts of bringing her around Florida and across the gulf to Texas and her new home...for the next few years. Where we intend to get her ready for a more extensive and hopefully much more leisurely journeys.
But damn, I'm tired and those are stories still waiting to be lived.

Sunset off the Starboard bow.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

We bought a boat

As of the beginning of October 2014, we're the proud owners of a 1999 Island Packet 40, currently named Baboo.  After our long road trip through the gulf coast to Florida and a trip to Maryland we knew this was the boat for us and agreed on a purchase price with the previous owner.

In the water Friday afternoon when we arrived and first stepped aboard.

We actually did all of this working purely from pictures and videos. So the first time we saw her was a trip to Oxford for the survey and sea trial.  This was a little stressful since the process of surveying the boat means we had to pay about $375 to have the boat hauled out of the water and the bottom pressure washed so she could be properly inspected by a professional marine surveyor.  The surveyor came out to just under $1000 (or 1 boat buck).  The reason this was so high, was that we opted for an engine oil analysis and a rigging inspection which added just over $200.  We figured the more info we had before committing to such a large purchase, the better.

So, we arrived on a Friday afternoon and where able to squeeze in a quick walk/crawl through the boat to make sure she was in as nice a shape as the pictures indicated.  Fortunately the previous owner proved to be very meticulous and BABOO (for now) appeared to be in truly excellent shape for a 15 year old boat.

Early morning and ready for the survey.

Saturday morning we met our inspectors (father and son team) and after a bit of the typical gloom and doom warnings about the types of problems they where looking for and problems that can occur on older boats, we let them role up their sleeves and get going. They spent the whole day crawling through the boat from stem to stern.  Since we where there for the entire process they where able to point out the issues they found and in general point out the good and bad in real time.  In the words of the primary inspector, the only issues they found where "Mickey Mouse stuff"...which was nice to hear.

Inspecting plumbing under Starboard Settee

The folks at the yard where nice enough to come in on a Saturday to haul and pressure wash the boat for us. Here they're positioning the slings to prepare to lift her out.

Seeing a 25,000lb boat lifted out of the water with nothing more than a few old canvas slings is a bit unnatural.

The previous owner was kind enough to instal a bow thruster for us.  Should make maneuvering much nicer for us in the future.

Kara checking out the prop and rudder.  Notice the rudder on an IP is attached to the keel but is also balanced. This is fairly rare in a full keeled boat.

Me (Erin) pretty happy with what we've seen to this point.

After the primary inspection was complete, the yard lowered the boat back into the water for us.  We spent the next 1.5 hours out on the water for the sea trial.  We made sure the motor ran up to full throttle smoothly and without overheating, verified the boat speed was good (cruising speed of about 6.5 knots) and then raised all the sails and made sure they where serviceable. The sails are fairly old but workable.  They're fine for now but will need to be replaced before we can leave for any real cruising.  We did notice the main which is an in mast furling sail, was very difficult to unfurl (hard to crank).  Wish we'd paid more attention to this, more on that later.

Kara during our sea trial.  Of course it decided to rain for us while we where out, but the bimini kept us nice and dry.

Finally got a chance to raise all the sails (Main, Jib and Staysail)

Rigging Survey to end the day, in the rain.

Our surveyor was very thorough and based on his very positive feedback "You're buying a Mercedes, and it's been very well maintained" and our gut feeling... we bought the boat!  The other great thing is that the previous owner (who had the boat built new in 1999) has been extremely helpful and stays in touch to ensure we learn how to best take care of his "sweet Baboo".

 Now, we just have to get her home to Texas but...more on that next time.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Boat Shopping

Howdy folks,

As promised I wanted to update you our boat shopping experience.  After a great trip to the BVI's for our liveaboard ASA 103/104 classes, Kara and I agreed that the best way for us to begin working towards our goal of sailing off into the sunset was to actually start doing some ocean sailing.  So with that goal in mind, we've spent a lot of time in the last several months shopping for and looking at boats. You know, kicking keels as they say.

Of course we spent a great deal of time on Yachtworld and Craigslist and of course reading the endless opinions in Internet forum like CruisersForum.  The online resources are great for researching price and stats on each boat and if you really want to get wrapped around the axle you can spend hours and hours comparing D/L, SA/D ratios, tankage, construction process/materials but have to go get on some boats.

So that's what we've been doing.  We found a broker and took a couple trips to Houston.  For the second trip I actually just hoped on the megabus in Austin and Kara picked me up in Houston since she was there for work.  Not bad, I actually spent the trip down reading about boat...what else. Anyway, crawling around and through boats in the middle of the summer in Houston really reinforced that we absolutely must have AC.  I doubt we'll need it too much once we actually leave to go cruising, but between now and then Texas is just too hot and humid.  Spending our weekend nights pouring sweat while we try to sleep in vain doesn't seem like a recipe for marital bliss.

Not a bad ride to Houston second floor front windshield view was great...and cheap!

When we started looking our thinking was this would purely be a learner boat and that we'd keep it small and cheap.  Then after a couple years we'd sell it and move up to our big boat.  So, we looked at Catalinas, Endeavours, and Ericksons among others.  There where things we liked about each of them but they all had something that just didn't work for us.  Either the headroom was too limited, or they had the traveler mounted in the middle of the cockpit (we know great for sailing performance...but just not for liveability).  The other fatal flaw they all had was a v-berth.  I'm not sure what it is about a v-berth, there are certainly many MANY people who swear by them but as mentioned previously, for with us both being tall and liking to spread out a bit they just don't work.

Then we decided we'd maybe look at just buying the big boat now. Since we're both followers of the s/v Delos blog, we had to have an Amel Super Maramu on the list and since we had looked at one (from the outside) in Tortola we decided we'd like to take a look at one in more detail. We also looked at an Island Packet 445 and a Tayana 55. For us, the Amel was a bit of a let down. For the price the interior just didn't feel right for us and there was a surprising lack of ventilation. For our intended cruising grounds a boat this size needs many more opening ports.  Yes the boat was equipped with literally anything we could ever need and probably quit a few we could do without (really a dishwasher...rather have the storage).  Anyway, for us the combo just didn't work. We definitely wouldn't rule out an Amel in the future you could just tell the boat was built like a tank but for now we really want a little more comfortable interior for that price.  The Tayana was the exact opposite of the Amel, with so much space it was daunting.  The boat itself was beautiful and in great condition but this boat was freaking huge.  The size of the mainsail and foretriangle where overwhelming and the thought of the dockage and maintenance fees seemed a scary proposition.  The Island Packet 445, while not the prettiest boat when viewed in profile, had an amazing interior.  It had pretty much everything we thought we wanted and we where both surprised by how much we liked the bulkhead mounted table that can be completely out of the way when not in use.  This one really caught our attention but was still just way more money than we felt comfortable spending at this early point in our sailing careers...maybe later.

Kara and the Super Maramu we ogled in Tortola

So from here we decided maybe we'd meet somewhere in the middle between the big and small boats and get something we could learn on, live comfortably on for weekends and vacations cruising the gulf and was capable of being our longer term cruising boat.  All along the way people kept saying instead of buying two boats, consider buying the bigger boat now.  Then you'll know it inside and out when you decide to go cruising and don't have to deal with the hassle of selling a boat before going.  It took us a while to come around to this way of thinking but we're firmly in this camp now.  So in Texas we looked at a few Morgans and while these where obviously quality boats, Kara kept pointing out that I was hunched over when walking through them.  At 6'1"+, I was just tall enough that if I stood straight my head rubbed the cabin top and any covers like hatch screen where a hazard for me.  So we decided to expand our price range and search area.  After thinking about the boats we'd already seen and doing some additional research we decided we really liked the Island Packets.  Since they're built in Florida a trip along the gulf coast would give us a chance to look at a bunch of them back to back to decide if they where the boat for us and if so which model was the best fit.

We left Austin on a Thursday afternoon and drove straight through to Mobile AL. We stayed the night in Mobile and looked at to IP 38s.  Unfortunately we where a bit pressed for time since we both had work calls to deal with and had to cut our time in Mobile a bit short, due to work.  We drove to Florida and spent the night in St Petersburg.  We even had time for a few drinks on the beach Friday night.  Saturday morning we where up bright and early to meet our new broker in Florida who took us through a couple more 38s, a 370 and a couple 40s.  We where hoping to see a 380 but for some stupid reason the listing agents for both boats where unreachable so we never got too.  Again we liked something about all the boats but at the end of the day for liveability and things we actually needed, the 40 seemed to be the best fit.  The sugar scoop stern on the 370 and 380 was really enticing but at the end of the day we (surprisingly) didn't like the island berth and felt the Pullman on the 38 and 40 was roomier and more comfortable.  We may feel differently in a few years after having to crawl over each other to get in and out of bed but for now I'm counting that as a bonus...but I digress.

Much needed drinks in St Pete's after two long days of driving.

One of the IP38s we looked at during the trip, we didn't buy her but we did listen to some Snoop in her honor.

IP40 Layout - Very similar to 38 but with a bit more room and waterline.

That afternoon/evening we drove up to St Augustine to see Kara's aunt and uncle.  They where kind enough to take us on a quick tour of historic downtown St. Augustine.  It's a great place that we'd like to get back to and spend a little more time...maybe a little Florida cruising is in our future?  We had dinner at a nice little marina and then Kara and I jumped back in the car and drove up to Jacksonville where we crashed for the night. Sunday morning we got up super early and hit the road.  After a very long day we finally arrived home in Austin about 9:00 that night (15+ hours of driving) and got ready for another work stuff!

Since returning we've been shopping for IP40s and as of last week we have an accepted offer on one. Unfortunately/fortunately she's currently in Oxford MD.  Which means next weekend we're flying to Maryland for Survey and Sea Trial.  If all goes well during that process we should be closing by the end of September....gulp.  Which would mean our next adventure will be the process of bringing her 1900 sea miles from Oxford to Texas (most likely Kemah).  But that's still a ways out, at this point we still have to ensure that she's in as good a shape as she appears to be from the tons of pictures and videos we've requested.  So stay tuned, the next installment will be focused on our trip to Maryland and how that whole process goes down.  Equal parts excitement and nerves at this point!

Virgin Islands and ASA 103/104

It's been way to long since I updated anything here. Honestly, I think it's just hard to believe anyone would care to read the details this early on in the process, but if nothing else it will give Kara and I some insight into where we where and a record of how it all went down, so here goes.

As mentioned previously, we did go spend a couple weeks in the Virgin Islands. Since we opted for the cheaper flight option, we ended up flying into St. Thomas USVI. It wasn't terrible, but we're both in agreement that if/when we ever fly back to the BVI's, we'd definitely pass on St. Thomas. Not a super friendly place and while we where in town one day there where 3 massive cruise ships in port. All in all not what we're looking for on a trip to the islands.

Once we took the ferry over to Tortola ($40 per person each way) and figured in "tips" and taxi's, it would have been cheaper to fly straight to Tortola and miss the mob scene in St. Thomas, which is the route we'd take if we where going down again for a charter. Once in Tortola the pace slowed a good deal, people got more friendly and we where able to unwind a bit. We did some great diving, despite some hesitation to dive the most popular spot in the BVI's (the wreck the Rhone) because we thought it would be too crowded. It ended up being a great site and we thoroughly enjoyed the day. We also enjoyed hanging at the various bars around Nanny Cay (pronounced Key) and chatting with the locals and some cruisers who where finishing up there season in the BVIs and prepping the boat for an off season on the hard while they returned to the real world to pay the bills (keeping a boat on Tortola ain't cheap). We spent a good deal of time wandering the dock and drooling over boats. Even convinced a broker to show us a CS 36 Merlin. It was a great boat for the price and would have been a good boat to learn on, but we both felt it was too early to commit at that point.

We also spent a good bit of time checking out the island. We actually rented a little car for about $30 and circumnavigated the island by car. With a stop in Trellis Bay (Beef Island) for a couple of fish sandwiches and an afternoon of windsurfing lessons. Unfortunately, there wasn't much of a breeze so we didn't make a ton of progress but I think we're both ready for a rematch. That night we stopped off at my personal favorite restaurant/bar on the island (so far) called the Bananakeet. The wings where great and the frozen bananakeet (drinks) where amazing, so where the dark and stormy's but this place is all about the views. Suffice it to say they drive up there was pretty darn exciting with some ridiculously steep roads and many switchbacks but it was well worth the trip. Many thanks to the cruising couple we met at the bar, Larry and Shery Halle of s/v Reprieve, who recommended we check the place out.

After several days of relaxing, it was time to get serious and head over to Rob Swain sailing for the 6 day liveaboard class that prompted the trip. We met our instructor Rory Greenan. Rory grew up sailing around the Irish coast and moved to the BVIs to get away from the terrible economy, I'm sure the 80 degree sunny weather, 80 degree crystal clear water, and constant 15-25 knot trade winds don't hurt either. Anyway, Kara and I refer to this portion of the trip as sailing bootcamp. We where on a 39ft Beneteau (Pretty Girl) for the entire trip and where lucky enough that we where the only two students. We found Rory to be extremely knowledgeable and a good teacher. I can still hear him now..."the boat shouldn't be turning....still turning...why is the boat turning?" We both really enjoyed the experience and managed to complete our bareboat charter certifications at the end of the trip, which was great. The experience taught us several things, for me the highlights are.
  1. We really need to get out of the lake and into the ocean to start building relevant experience. We both love our place on the lake and the Catalina has been great for learning the basics but the ocean on a MUCH bigger boat is a different animal. I mean that in a good way but there really is nothing like it...we need a boat!
  2. We don't do well in a V-berth. Since Kara and I are both tall, wedging ourselves into a v-berth where our feet and legs are right up against each other and we're constantly kicking each other throughout the night...was not a great combo.
  3. Lack of AC at night wasn't as big of an issue as I was afraid it would be. The breeze through the hatches/ports really helped. The Beneteau we where on could have used better venitlation in the forward cabin though, something to be aware of when boat shopping!
  4. Cooking on a boat wasn't really all that different than cooking at home, though cleanup was a bit more challenging.
  5. Stern/cockpit showering beats the crap out of trying to shower in a hot boat.
  6. Liveaboard  sailing lessons are not a vacation. Don't get me wrong, it was fun, we learned a lot and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. That being said, it was work and we spent more time studying and practicing tasks than kicking back and enjoying cocktails in the cockpit.
  7. What happens at the Willy-T stays at the Willy-T.
  8. Going back to the real world from sailing for a week, is tough.

So anyway, we're back in the real world now and have been looking for boats. I'll do my best to detail this in my next post.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Every Journey Begins With a First Step

Every journey begins with a first step.  I guess you might say we took the first step on what we hope will be a long, life changing journey a little over a year ago.  The fact that we have no definite start date or the slightest clue of where and when it will honestly part of what makes it so exciting.

This all started a year or so ago when Kara and I really started to talk seriously about the idea of upsetting what most would consider a great life by selling it all so we could sail away into the sunset.  That idea has always held some appeal for me, but the more you really start to think it through, the more overwhelming it seems.  Obviously it's not a decision either of us takes lightly but the more we talked it through, the more it seemed possible, maybe even plausible?

I mean sure, neither of us knew the first thing about actually sailing, we both had (still do) excellent jobs working for a top notch company. At home we've got two crazy cats, an awesome dog, a nice little condo in Austin and our little weekend getaway on lake LBJ about an hour away.  In short, a great life, but we couldn't help feeling something was missing.  We both work crazy hours all year long, so we can indulge our love of travel, a couple times a year.  Which really makes you start to think about why you work so hard and spend a ton of money, for a couple weeks somewhere special.  Why not find a way to live on a lot less $ and take the time to enjoy life a bit more?  I'm fairly sure that no one was ever on their death bed and said, "I wish I'd worked more".  So for the last year and a half we've been working to put as much as possible into the cruising kitty, bought a funky old Catalina 22 with a 2 stroke 6HP Suzuki outboard and started learning to sail it.  We know we have a long way to go, but we're taking the crawl walk run approach.

So for now, most weekends you'll find us out on our little lake sailing for the day.  We took our first class (ASA 101 - Basic Keelboat) in February which helped a lot with our communication and basic technique.  I've become a very active lurker on crusiersforum which has proven to be a great source of knowledge, sometimes you have to dig for it, but it's definitely there.  We've also been actively looking for crewing opportunities to start getting in some ocean sailing.  In addition we're planning a couple weeks in the BVI's to get some experience living on a charter boat and a couple new classes (ASA 103/104 - Coastal Cruising / Bareboat charter.

Anyway, for us the journey as begun and we thought it might be fun to begin documenting the process from it's infancy instead of waiting until we get a bigger boat and are closer to the end goal. So settle in and get comfortable, this will be a long slow progression, but then...we didn't get into sailing because we're in a hurry.  In a very real way, this is all about the journey and not the destination.