The time has finally arrived to make official our plans for the coming year.  Or, at least, to post them here on the blog.  It’s been a while since our last post, but we’ve been awfully busy transitioning off the boat and getting our summer itinerary all lined up.  From the start, our intention has been to spend this summer visiting family and friends across the Carolinas and Georgia, including attending my brother’s wedding which takes place this weekend in Aiken, SC.  Almost an equal influence of our summer plans on land is a lesson we learned last June, July, and August that it’s just too damn hot to cruise during the summer on a small boat with no air conditioning.  So we’ll split time between the climate-controlled residences of brothers and sisters, cousins and grandparents, old friends and maybe even visit a few cruising families we met who are sure to become old friends soon enough.  But what of next Fall and the coming year?

Here’s what we realized at some point in the Bahamas, perhaps during our stay at Green Turtle Cay or during our time in Hopetown with the BoatFam.  First, as we reflected on the past year, it occurred to us that we’d met many cruisers, some of them first-timers like us, who’d boldly stated that their cruising plans revolved around circumnavigating (see what I did there?).  Oftentimes it felt like a majority of people, cruisers and non-cruisers alike, assumed that a plan to go cruising must mean a plan to sail around the world.  Certainly, many were capable and for all we know they might be well on their way.  But it never felt authentic for us to talk that way.  Sailing around the world, across oceans, into foreign countries, all on your own skill and ability to survive, is a really big deal and something not to be taken lightly.  We were aware of our amateurism and we’d never really dreamed on that scale.  Instead, we always humbly chuckled when people would bring up the idea of circumnavigating and typically responded with something like “we just hope to get out of the Lowcountry.”  Hence, my attempt at irony in the title of this post.  While many we encountered, whether realistic or not, felt driven by this ambition, it was just never our thing.

Our second realization while in the Islands was one of incredible pride.  There we were, sitting at the tail end of a year of cruising and we were EXACTLY where we’d hoped we might make it.  In fact, our entire year had somehow fallen into place just as we’d kinda-sorta planned.   It’s never wise to put yourself on a schedule when cruising as Murphy’s Law and Mother Nature seem to always intervene.  So we didn’t do that.  But, tentatively, we’d hoped to first travel north up the ICW and into the Chesapeake Bay, possibly as far as Annapolis.  Luckily, we somehow made it happen.  Then, we told everyone that we’d probably turn around, head back toward Beaufort to wait out any remaining hurricane season before heading to the Keys.  And so we did.  After the Keys, if we felt we were ready, we’d try to make the crossing to the Bahamas and spend the Spring in the Abaco.  There was a time while in Marathon, Fl that we really weren’t sure if it would happen.  But somehow, we looked past our doubts and insecurities, route-planned and weather-watched like hell, even took on my Dad as crew, crossed our fingers, said a prayer and went for it.  The rest is, well, our history at least.

Accomplishing that final goal was a feeling of achievement and satisfaction and joy that I’ve not known before in my entire life.  And the realization that our year had actually come to fruition just as we’d planned was a sign too great to ignore.  I mean, when does that ever happen in life?  For me, not very often.  And so, it was during this realization that we knew we should stop while we were ahead, get back to Beaufort, the town we love, and moor All In one final time.  We should close this incredible, joyful, challenging and fulfilling chapter of our lives while it’s still possible to have a fairytale ending.

A lesson we learned over the past year, however, is that life is too short and too precious for the mundane.  Your life should be filled with excitement and passion at every stage and you don’t need to live on a sailboat or live “extreme” to feel this way.  We also felt the empowerment of being in charge of our own lives and holding ourselves responsible for our happiness and survival.  Because of this, we’re making changes to the way we will live and work when back on land.  We’re going to build a house.  Actually build it.  In fact, residential home construction will be my next career pursuit.  Laura is going to start her own business as an educational consultant providing an array of services to students, parents, and schools.  She’s already even picked out the name…All In Educational Services.  We’re enrolling Avery in kindergarten, a structure and routine we feel she needs and, as it turns out, she is very excited!  

A few people close to us, who we’ve shared bits of our plans with already, responded with “We thought you loved the boat life?!”  Our answer is that we did and we do and now we’re incredibly excited to transition those feelings to our next stage.  The assumption that people only make changes and mix things up because they are unhappy is unfortunate.  We’ve become big proponents of multiple mini-retirements throughout life, career changes, and short-term goal setting simply to provide motivation for growth and learning and to have something to look forward to.  Did you run out of money?  This is a topic we’ve really never written about on the blog, but I’m proud to say that we’ve finished our first year, through all the ups and downs, with approximately 85% of our cruising kitty (your savings you live off of when you cruise) still in tact!  This also plays a role in our decision as it will give us the time and resources to re-establish ourselves the way we want without being influenced by the need of a paycheck right away.  Will the blog continue?  This remains to be seen.  We definitely still have a few posts in mind that we’d like to write to bring our year of cruising to a close, but beyond that is uncertain at this point.  Can a cruising blog successfully transition to a lifestyle blog about home building and small business development?  

Finally, we’re also excited to share that big ideas regarding the next chapter of our lives aren’t the only things that are conceived while boating in paradise.  Yes, our family will be adding its newest crew member in January!  Coincidentally, our plans for moving back to Beaufort were already in motion when we discovered that Laura was pregnant (actually, the day we arrived back in Florida and had access to a CVS!), so we’re taking it as a sign, among many others not mentioned here, that we’re making the right decision.

Our last sail of the season did not end quite the way we had wanted but, once again, we were reminded that we are not in control and mother nature reigns over the seas.  Once we made it to St. Mary’s, Ga, we had the option of either continuing the ICW through GA which is beautiful but can be tricky with shoaling and take about 4-5 days before arriving in Beaufort.  The other option was to complete an offshore overnight jump from St. Mary’s to Beaufort….this is the option we chose when we were coming down the coast.  The weather completely dictated which decision we would make, so when the predicted winds, tides, sea state, and weather lined up perfectly, we felt the decision was rather clear….we would leave St. Mary’s around 2:00 pm with the outgoing tide, travel overnight, and arrive in Beaufort, SC the following morning.  We were confident in this decision and raised anchor around 1:30 to head out.  As we departed the St. Mary’s Inlet we rode the tides out as predicted and the seas and wind were as predicted…1 ft and 10-15 knots of wind.  We passed a couple cargo ships and one of them even diverted their course for us…we were very surprised!

 

We were are fairly happy sailors and the girls fell asleep to the rocking of the waves.  I planned to sleep first and then relieve Bryan around midnight or 1 am.   Around 11 the sea state changed and our night of feeling uncomfortable and scared began (at least for me).  Since we are very diligent, patient, and cautious picking our weather windows, we have little experience with rough seas, especially at night.  The wave direction began to hit us from the stern of the boat causing a 20 degree rocking which was continuous since the interval between waves was around 4 seconds.  I honestly do not know how high the waves were, but with a short interval it can make even 3 or 4 foot waves feel rougher.  I quickly learned that I had not properly secured our cabin and things began to fall all over the place.  The girls were safely tucked in our cabin which provided the most stability.  When I went into the cockpit, I could not believe the white caps and height of the waves that were crashing around us and I was scared. The girls began to wake up throughout the night so I stayed below with them and Bryan continued to pull an all night shift.  Around 2 am, I heard him yell my name and a wave of terror went through my body….I rushed up top afraid of what I might find.  Our dingy had taken on water from a crashing wave and was creating a lot of drag that slowed us down and increased the effect of the oncoming waves on our hull.  We weighed our options and determined that we could not do anything while it was dark.  The night continued with the same seas and we patiently stayed awake and waited for sunrise.  When approaching the Savannah inlet, we were surrounded by cargo ships and thankful for our AIS making it easy to spot them and also making them aware of our presence in the blackness as well.

Finally, the sun came up and we began to approach the Port Royal inlet.  I began to survey the mess in the boat.  It looked like someone picked us up and shook us around…the floor was covered in stuff.  It still took another 2 hours to make our way into the protection of the land and finally the rolling stopped.  We arrived at the downtown Beaufort docks around 10 am.  This last sail of the season was memorable for sure and very reminiscent of our first sail when leaving Beaufort for Charleston when we were hit with a squall while trying to anchor.  

Sailing and cruising this past year has put our family through many challenges, but the experiences and lessons learned far outweigh any of the challenges and uncomfortable moments. It has definitely taught me to stretch out of my comfort zone and the rewards of this “risk” are invaluable.   All In is now safely moored in Beaufort and our crew is happy to be taking a break from watching the weather all the time!!

We crossed back to the states after a calm day of catching mahi and crisp ocean breezes flowing around us.  It could not have been a better crossing back to the states.  We were even able to fry up one of the mahis for lunch while underway.  After days of planning and changing those plans by the hour sometimes, it felt great to have finally accomplished the goal.  Our mainsail tore while we were starting our trek back, so it limited our ability to sail and added to the constant changing of plans waiting for the “right” time to cross.  Where would be leave from?  Would we have a buddy boat?  Would we do a longer passage back?  Would we go overnight?  Where would we enter back into the states?

Finally, we decided to leave West End, Bahamas just before sunrise by ourselves.  We arrived into West Palm, Florida around four o clock…just enough time to get the girls off the boat to run around in a nearby park.  The feelings of success are so sweet!!

So, where does that leave us now?  

Well, we are in Florida, traveling back to Beaufort to visit family and friends.  We are back on the ICW just as we were in November and December of last year, except this time traveling much faster.  It is getting hot and we no longer have our AC unit making us commit ourselves to moving as fast as we can….currently on 9 straight days of travel!!  So our days are spent raising anchor, drinking coffee, coloring, games, bracelet making, reading, watching for wildlife (lots of dolphins, jellyfish, and manatees), lowering anchor, finding a playground or ice cream shop, and getting ready for the next day of travel.  Not bad, but it can get tiring….especially hearing the loud diesel motor everyday!  There is no sailing down the ICW when trying to really move and get somewhere, just motorsailing.  For Mother’s Day and my birthday the day after, we are taking a break from moving and even staying in a hotel room with AC, flushing toilets, hot private showers, and large bed…luxury!


We had never put “plans” in place past May, only knowing we would be off the boat for two months for my brother-in-law’s wedding and to visit family and friends.  Plus, our insurance policy requires a “layup” period during hurricane season AND we would only have the option to travel north during hurricane season, which is what we did last summer/fall.  Bryan and I have been having daily conversations about what and where we want our next adventures to be.  Year One is done and complete with travel up the coast to Annapolis down the coast to the Florida Keys and finally a jump over to the Bahamas totally around 3500 miles.  

LOTS of ideas have been tossed up, considered and then re-considered.  Sailing, traveling, and adventure still leads us, but above all freedom from the “daily grind” and “rat race” is priority. This feeling of freedom was something Bryan or myself had never felt before, actually we never even knew it was missing.  It is funny how when you step out of a comfort zone, it is as if your eyes open up to so many different ideas and ways of life.  It has been the biggest gift of this year.  From this point forward we will create a life that works best for us, minimizing or eliminating things that tie us down.  We fully anticipate shaking things up every so often based on our desires and dreams of maintaining this freedom we have found and become accustomed to.
Over the last month signs were all over the place (I’m sure thanks to my mom) as to our next steps and our eyes have been open and led by signs entire year.  Now, it is all magically falling into place. While I do not mean to leave anyone in suspense, it does deserve it’s own blog post which will be coming soon!  Until then, we hope to arrive in Beaufort next week, possibly doing another overnight offshore passage from St. Mary’s, Ga and we are excited to see family and friends over the next couple months.

After leaving Elbow Cay, we stopped back by Marsh Harbor to re-provision (have I mentioned how bad I am at provisioning) and do some laundry (bucket laundry just doesn’t cut it sometimes).  We encountered the only rainy and stormy day we had in the Bahamas so it was perfect for getting boat chores done and movie day for the girls.  We were able to meet back up with our friends and say good bye after one more pool and playground day and then we headed to Man-o-War.

Man-O-War is a settlement that revolves around boat building.  The island is pretty small and we were able to walk the streets and again experience the beautiful bright pastel colors of the houses.  I was even able to pick up a few fabric scraps to remind me of these beautiful colors and hopefully inspire some creative thoughts in the future! There was a small woodworking shop in the town and the owner gave the girls little boats made from coconut shells.  

It is election time in the Bahamas so we also got to witness a candidate going door to door soliciting support.  I also snapped a picture of a blackseed cotton bush (thanks Melanie for the identification!) and learned that it was brought to the islands by the southern loyalist that settled these island.  On Man-O-War it was primarily  used to make caulking used in the boats they built.  Always fun to learn little bits of history.

After leaving Man-O-War, we made our way to Great Guana Cay, another small island, however, an island that has lots of growth due to the rich and famous building vacation homes.  Our favorite spot here was Nippers…a restaurant on the beach with a two story pool, restaurant and bar.  We ate, swam, and snorkeled before making the way back to the boat where Bryan prepared delicious stuffed peppers…did I mention that he is not only the captain but also the cook on our boat?


The next passage was around Whale Cay again requiring a good sea state that happened to be ideal the next day, so we took the opportunity and made our way back to Green Turtle Cay.  It was at this point that our time in the Bahamas started to feel like it was starting to come to an end.  We spent the evening at Pineapples, one of our favorites from our first time through…the girls played on the beach with the families dog, Carolina, finding conch shells and swinging on the swing while watching a beautiful sunset.

The next day we filled up our water and diesel tanks and made our way to Manjack Cay right next to Green Turtle Cay.  Our time spent here was with friends that we meet back in Hopetown….more beaches and swimming plus fun times playing with other kids!!  Manjack Cay was a very unique place, which had a “cruisers” beach which picnic tables, hammocks, sunfish, roosters, and other oddities that were left by past cruisers for future use.  After about a mile hike across the island through lots of poisonwood trees and crossing paths with a naked man (guess he thought he would not run across other people), we made our way to the ocean beach.  The kids played and the adults conversed….fun times for all.  Back at the boat, Avery spotted a starfish while swimming around the boat (without goggles, the water was so clear).  I loved Manjack Cay…another idyllic Bahamian island.  From there our “relaxed” cruising time was done and it was “go” time to start looking at the weather for perfect crossing conditions.

We are finally here….in the place we dreamed of and doing what we dreamed of doing four years ago.  I have worked on slowing down this entire year.  This has been tough for me and my mind that is constantly moving with different ideas and thoughts and always wanting to be doing “something”.   On the go, chasing after something, feeling productive, helping others, and above all being a mother and wife.  It is sinking in and I am slowing down.  Days of jumping in the crystal clear water, diving down to explore the ocean bottom, seeing sea life all around us, walking on powdery sand beaches….all while my family surrounds me is starting to come to an end.  Taking in the fresh air, the beautiful views, and the giggles of my children, however, will continue.

Learning to live each day in each moment is one of the biggest lessons I will take with me from this time we have spent in the Bahamas.  Every day is a precious treasure that is given to us and slowing down is the only way to truly take it in without living with regret of the time you rushed through and forgot.  Off course, life will not always be a dreamy tropical paradise making it easy to slow down and soak in the surroundings and the moments.  “Normal” life will begin again for our family at some point, and the tropical ocean breezes will no longer flow through our boat at night and the spectacular water and views will not be at our backdoor.   But I will for sure always remember to stop and take in each day as it is and live each second when it comes….hugging my girls, reading books, going to a job, fixing dinner, washing clothes….there is happiness to be found in all these things.  

We have still had daily struggles while here in the Bahamas…constantly watching the weather, living in close quarters (a future post), feelings of isolation at times, whiny children, a messy boat that never seems to get clean, dirty laundry that I can’t seem to get clean in a bucket, saying bye to friends we have met, and dealing with uncomfortable sea states at times.  Not to mention the typical boat life of water and power conservation.  However these times have built our family structure stronger and we continue to soak the good times and the bad times.  When you really slow down and observe your surroundings, you can learn from the good times and bad times.  The broken rudder, difficult passages, the impatience that comes with waiting for weather….and reflect on our previous life, making us want to keep the freedom and family time that we have created for ourselves by making every decision based on a dream.

As we prepare to cross back over to the states and travel up the east coast closing out our first year of cruising, I hope my children will have also learned from this experience. I realize they are probably too young to remember the places that we have been but I hope they remember the time we had together as a family of four. And above all, I want them to know that dreams can become reality, hard work pays off, and anything is possible.  Looking forward to see what the next year holds for us.