We are currently tied to the dock at the Old Bahama Bay marina in West End waiting on some strong winds to pass and it’s given me some time to think about “what’s next.”  After all, we are nearing the end of Year One of this cruising adventure and I’m really astonished that the year has worked out the way it has.  We’ve just about done exactly what we set out to do.  But for the crew of All In, the future is mighty uncertain right now.  I really don’t know where we’ll be or what we’ll be doing even 6 months from now.  Maybe next year we’ll continue to cruise and explore beyond what we’ve seen so far.  Live abroad in some sort of exchange program?  Maybe we’ll find a place to settle down for a while.  Maybe we’ll…gulp…get jobs.  But into that unknown, I will take with me an incredible lesson learned over the last 4 years.  I’ve learned more than anything else that you can make it happen.  You can accomplish your goals.  Your dreams can become reality.  What sounds like an enormous cliche, now pours through my veins like my own personal religion. I know in my heart that whatever comes next will bring enjoyment and fulfillment.  I believe in our ability to get it done.  This is not to say that we confidently attack our ideas without looking back.  It’s actually more like the complete opposite.

We’re constantly doubting ourselves.  Questioning whether or not we can do it.  Whether or not we are cut out for the cruising life.  We often feel like frauds, because we’re regularly surrounded by seasoned sailors with extensive sailing resumes and a lifetime of experience.  Our sailing plans have always been very conservative.  We take baby steps and keep our ambitions in check.  A surprising number of people, early on in this endeavor, would ask if we hoped to sail around the world, to which we would laugh and admit that we just hoped to make it out of Beaufort in one piece.  More often than not, we just hoped to find the next playground. We considered our travels a success if we made it to an ice cream shop.

But here’s what I’ve learned.  You just keep pushing and you keep moving forward.  Our day to day plans almost never worked out, but our overall goals came together beautifully.  Eyes on the prize.  We got out of Beaufort.   We crossed our first state line into North Carolina.  We survived and overcame the setback of running aground and having major repair work done.  Inch by inch, we worked our way up the Chesapeake Bay.  We dodged two hurricanes, sailed offshore through the night for the first time, covered the entire east coast of Florida from Jacksonville to Key West, planned and prepped for a Gulf Stream crossing to the Bahamas and then sailed through the night to make it happen.  And doggone it, with the exception of an unexpected side to trip to Vermont last Summer, which was excellent by the way (thanks Jan!), wouldn’t you know that is exactly the way we sort of arbitrarily planned our first year of cruising to happen way back in early 2016.  Until now, my life has NEVER happened like that.  

In 2013, we decided to do this.  Everything was completely uncertain at that point except our commitment to the idea.  Could we really save enough money?  Are we actually going to sell our house and cars, quit our jobs and give up our happy life in Beaufort?  Are we actually going to buy that boat?  Can we handle living in 37 feet of space with extremely limited water and power resources?  And are we really going to do all this with two little girls in tow?  Day by day, month by month, each of those questions were answered.  So here I sit in West End, Bahamas on top of mound of questions answered and goals accomplished feeling incredibly proud.  

I think that our most recent obstacle to overcome is what has got me feeling so philosophical and reflective.  In our minds, it was a big one.  Leaving the country.  Leaving all sight of land and crossing an ocean current reknowned for its ability to throw an incredible tantrum under the right conditions.  More accurately, it can be downright deadly.  Leaving behind the luxury of unlimited access to resources.  Leaving behind the familiarity of culture and customs.  And probably at the forefront of our minds, leaving behind the shelter of safe harbor tucked inside the coast of Florida.

We’ve been reading about crossing the Gulf Stream for months now and talking with anyone who has done it before and is willing to offer advice or suggestions.  For those who don’t know, part of the Gulf Stream current flows along the southeastern coast of the US bringing warm water from the Tropics north and then across the Atlantic toward Europe, affecting weather patterns on a global scale.  Off the coast of Florida, the Gulf Stream can flow at a rate of 4 knots or more at times.  Often, the seastate will be far more energetic in the stream than outside of it.  And if the wind is blowing from the north, opposite the flow of the water, the conditions can become incredibly dangerous very quickly.  For a slow moving vessel like All In, watching the weather and planning carefully for this crossing is imperative.  We decided to wait for the right moment to cross from Palm Beach, which is about 56 nautical miles from West End.  We expected the trip to take about 12 hours.

After three weeks of watching and waiting, it appeared a weather window was finally taking shape.  It wouldn’t be a lengthy window of opportunity, but perhaps about 36-48 hours.  Very quickly after that, a powerful front of northeastern winds would set in and stay for several days.  We took comfort in knowing that another boat near us in the anchorage would be attempting a crossing at the same time, but really hoped to have another person on board to help with the girls and to provide an additional level of safety for all of us.  Incredibly, my dad answered the call and agreed to fly down to Palm Beach on Tuesday to join us for the crossing.

The plan was to leave at about 4am on Wednesday morning because, as best I could tell from the different weather forecasting instruments at my disposal, that would be the time when the waves were the gentlest and the winds the mildest.  For our first crossing, we hoped for calm seas.

Monday and Tuesday were filled with activity.  Last minute food provisioning, filling water, gas and diesel tanks, checking sails, rigging, engine, and communication and navigation equipment.  We also had to find time for the girls to play on shore and ride their scooters.  All very important tasks.  Tuesday morning, the weather appeared to shift forward several hours, tightening our window even more than it already was.  While my dad was boarding his plane in Charleston, we decided to change our departure time from 4am Wednesday to 9pm Tuesday…we would leave just a few hours after his arrival in Palm Beach and sail through the night.  

I’m happy to report that this turned out to be a fantastic decision.  The skies were clear all night, allowing the moon and stars to illuminate the atmosphere.  The waves rolled by mostly unnoticed all night long as there was a 10 second period between crests.  The winds were light, but helpful, filling our genoa just enough to provide lift.  The girls slept soundly until sun up.  We passed several sailboats returning from the Bahamas, two cruise ships, a few cargo ships, and some other vessels making their way through the night.  Except for a momentary loss of direction during which our boat headed due North instead of East (I was downstairs asleep at the time while Laura and Dad manned the helm), I would call it nearly a perfect crossing.  

We watched the sun break over the horizon directly in front of us as we approached the first of the Bahamian islands.  An hour later, we entered the harbor of the West End settlement on Grand Bahama Island, tied up to the dock, and headed to the customs and immigration building to clear into the country.  

Now, several days later, we sit and wait for the weather to clear so that we can continue on into the islands of the Abacos for about 8 weeks before heading back to South Carolina for a summer of weddings, family, friends, and air conditioning.  We’ll also be making plans for next year, but, for now, it’s awfully exciting that those plans are totally up in the air.

 

Wow….it is coming up on nine months that we have lived aboard All In.  These past months have taught me so many things about myself and my family.  This is not an experience you can ever really be prepared for, but instead you launch into it with a wild leap of faith and take in every single moment with an open heart.  I guess this is the first lesson that I have learned….always be prepared for the unexpected and learn to accept it.  We began this journey back in June and 3 weeks into our new life, we were back off the boat wandering around the east coast by car….never would I have expected this turn of fate but it happened, we accepted it, and moved past it.  Since this time we have had our share of mishaps that I never even had a chance to write about like losing our dingy in a storm and miraculously recovering it, diving into swampy alligator water to get a rope untied from our prop, and of course the “exciting” times when the engine started smoking, hurricane prep, and our running aground that was made into a blog post.

Now as we prepare for our real first offshore crossing to another country, the fear and anxiety is on the rise (at least with me), but the excitement of another adventure is also running through my veins!

So, what have we (I) learned in the first nine months aboard?

  1. I have learned that daily showers and makeup are not necessary to be happy.  I rarely wear makeup anymore…..something I would have NEVER done before.  And hot showers in a public marina every couple days are a luxury and better yet is a hot shower off the back of the boat from the solar shower in a private anchorage.
  2. Protecting yourself from the sun and staying healthy is vitally important (another post about this in the future).  You have one body, so you better take care of it and protect it.
  3. Plans are overrated.  In my past life, I planned EVERYTHING.  I loved planning and still do, but it does not drive my life.  I have learned to take each day as it comes.  The beauty of each day is so unexpected either with the places we visit or the people we meet.  I have learned to take a deep breath and let fate lead us which has required letting go of control.  When living on a boat, there is little control that we have since mother nature points our direction and decision making many times.
  4. Bryan is becoming a decent diesel mechanic and handyman of all boat stuff….plumbing, electronics, cooking, navigator.  He is constantly fixing things and if he becomes stumped, he researches and figures out how to fix the problem.  I am so proud of him.
  5. Happiness does not come from things, but from people and experiences.
  6. My kids challenge me daily, but give me more in life that I could have ever hoped for and I am so lucky to be able to spend everyday experiencing life together and and learning from them.  This transition to a boat was not easy many times, but they ARE adaptable and I love that I can snuggle with them, teach them, and learn from them daily.
  7. There are other ways to make a living rather than a traditional 9-5 job.  Branching out and trusting in your own talents and abilities can provide lots of satisfaction.  Part of the fear of this type of lifestyle previously was letting go of the “traditional” way of life and lack of income.  My eyes have been opened to many different options of ways to support our family that I would have never known before releasing the bowlines (first reference ever on a post regarding the title of the blog!)
  8. Embracing uncertainty…..ok, I’m still working on this one.  Uncertainty and fear are part of living but can lead to some of the most wonderful  experiences.  Once again, taking a deep breath, and be accepting and open to uncertain times and knowing everything will “work out” the way it is planned.
  9. An inspiring majority of people we’ve met, from all walks of life, are incredibly kind and friendly and helpful.  Even from our limited travels so far, we’ve gained an overwhelming sense that we humans are all in this together and really just want to be happy.  This is one of reasons we are continuing to make our Blessing Bracelets.
  10. Our family moves really SLOW…everything we do is slow from making our way off the boat to traveling to our next port.  This is just US and how we roll at this point in our life.  Being a punctual person by nature (the anxiety rises in me every minute I am late to something), I now do not make many plans with a timelines because I know I cannot make it.  The one, actually two, exceptions to this plan are to be back for my brother in law’s wedding in June and a trip with our friends in July (without kids).

That is my short list to this point.   Currently, we are prepping for Bahamas which means waiting (for the most part) for the perfect weather window and accepting what our family is comfortable doing at this point in our cruising life which is short passages.  And of course, relying on mother nature and accepting uncertainty.  Hoping the next post will be from the Bahamas!

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We have officially departed the Keys and are now making our way to Fort Lauderdale.  As we cruised away from the Keys, feelings of sadness and anxiousness creeped up on us.  We spent the last two months in the the Keys and in a way it started to feel like home due to the familiarity and it was sad leaving, especially since we are very uncertain of the future cruising grounds.  

We were moored in Boot Key Harbor the majority of the time in the Keys and were getting accustomed to the day to day life of the beach, playground, library, parks, exploring and boat repairs.  Boot Key Harbor is like grand central station for cruisers with all the resources that a cruiser needs, making it very easy on you to delay your departure!  We had some memorable experiences during our time in the Keys….here are just a few.

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At the beginning of our time, we had a visit from the grandparents.  We spent some time off the boat and with them at Tranquility Bay Resort in Marathon which was beautiful and relaxing.  The pools, sand, tiki bar, and wonderful time spent with family was so nice, not to mention the free laundry and hot showers!  We also were able to watch Clemson win the National Championship during this time and have since added a Clemson National Championship flag to our boat.

Thanks to a wonderful Christmas present from Uncle Chris and Aunt Rachel, we were able to visit the Dolphin Research Center.  Bryan and I visited many years ago and swam with the dolphins (a very cool experience!) and it was fun to bring the girls back to see the dolphins and sea lions.  They also had a splash zone which was a hit with the girls!

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Avery and I visited the Turtle Hospital in Marathon with a homeschooling group.  This was a neat experience to learn about how they rehabilitate the turtles and then release them when they are better.  It was also another good lesson on littering and how trash hurts and can kill the turtles.   This was extra special for both Avery and I because it was just the two of us….something that does not happen that much.

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After advice from a number of people about the anchorage and mooring field, we decided to rent a car and drive to Key West for the day. We visited the Shipwrecker Museum, Eco-Discovery Center, Mallory Square for fire jugglers and finally made it back to our favorite restaurant, Blue Heaven.  The food was just as good as it was 7 years ago when ate here.  The girls danced in the sand to the band and we shared the best key lime pie I have ever eaten!!!

We had the surprise opportunity to meet back up with Jim and Debbie, who helped us in Socastee, South Carolina after hurricane Matthew swept through.  You can read about that story here.  They were vacationing in the Keys and called us and we were able to have lunch with them.  They are such kind and caring people….one of the best parts of cruising is the people you meet and the seemingly random relationships that are formed.

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After leaving Boot Key Harbor, we anchored off of Bahia Honda State Park for four days and meet up with some new friends who were also cruising with their two kids ages 2 and 1.  This was truly one of the most idyllic times we had in the Keys…..the sunsets, snorkeling, beaches, wildlife and adult conversations while the kids played was soooo relaxing and nice.  Bryan caught his first lobster and all four of us had a surf and turf meal with evening on the boat.  The kids were fascinated by catching snails on the sea wall at the park and having a close encounter with a manatee.

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We celebrated Avery’s Birthday on the last day we were in the Keys while anchored off of Rodriguez Key near Key Largo.  I will admit, I was feeling guilty that we did not have a “party” planned like in years past and it was just the four of us.  Avery wanted chicken wings for her birthday meal, so we were lucky to be able to dingy up to a nice open air restaurant where she got her chicken wings, a Shirley temple, and brownie cake, as well as a kite and scooter.  It was all very low key, but at the end of the day, she surprised me with a sweet note (with her Daddy’s help) that made my heart melt even more for my sweet and thoughtful girl.

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We also started our bracelet making endeavor called Blessing Bracelets while in the Keys.  We have sent over 30 bracelets out to South Carolina, New York, Kentucky, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Montana!!  You can read more about them here and let me know if you would like one or if you would like me to send one to someone you know.

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Our sights our now set on the Bahamas and it is overwhelming the amount the preparation that we need to do.  I have started a working document of all the different information we need to do or know….medical, documentation, spare parts, provisioning, communication, etc.  We are waiting out some weather in Miami and hope to be in Fort Lauderdale by the end of the week to seriously start our Bahamas prep.  So I guess we are now officially Bahamas Bound!

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As we prepare to depart Boot Key Harbor, we are wrapping up our “100 Acts of Kindness Challenge” tomorrow and it has been a great experience for our family.  This project was created by Megan at Coffee Cups and Crayons and Kristina at Toddler Approved and challenged families, classes, or anyone, for that matter, to track 100 Acts of Kindness from January 16th through February 14th.   They both have so many different ideas on their websites.  I especially like their recent post about Little Loving Hands and I hope we can try it out when we are land based again. Every month you are sent a box of crafts to do with your child and the money goes to different causes (what an awesome birthday present!)  

We were originally tracking our acts of kindness with a paper chain, but the chain got be be a little too much in our in our little boat home so we had to take it down, plus we tried to make kindness just part of life.

The definition of an act of kindness does not really need to include money and it could be simple like smiling at someone or helping out your sister!  You never know what little actions could do to brighten up someone else’s day  We did lots of different “acts” like putting change in the vending machines, delivering crayons and coloring books to the hospital waiting room, leaving wipes and a note of inspiration at the changing station in restrooms, dropping off treats to the policeman and bags of goodies for the homeless.  As I have mentioned before, teaching the girls the importance of character is one of our biggest tasks as parents.  I believe it has taught me and the girls that we don’t need to track our acts of kindness but to make them part of everyday life.

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So the timing of the Oriental Trading Brand Ambassador program was perfect to jump start a new venture into kindness for our little crew on All In. This all takes the form of bracelets.  We are starting a new mission as we sail….making Blessing Bracelets.

Since everyday is not promised to you, it is important to find happiness in the small things that make up life….and learning that everyday is a blessing if you are breathing.  When my mom was sick and fighting her last months with cancer, I remember receiving a knitted shawl/blanket….I believe it was called a blessing blanket.  It made me feel comforted that someone was thinking of my family during our difficult time.  Around this same time, my mother received a bracelet with a scripture from a friend who was also fighting cancer.  She religiously wore this bracelet referring to it often for strength and courage.  I decided that combining the two ideas into “blessing bracelets” may bring a little happiness to others who are either dealing with a difficult time or situation or just need a little cheer from time to time (don’t we all!!)

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Each bracelet is made by either myself, Avery or Leslie and every bracelet is unique with different patterns and/or charms.  I’ve been impressed how focused the girl are at stringing the beads and excited at the end product.  I especially love how Leslie sticks out her tongue when she is really focusing…..I trait she has inherited from her Papa.

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Do you know of someone that could use a little inspiration or a little cheer? Let us know and we can send a bracelet their way!  Just fill out the contact form with their name and mailing address.  We have already made a first “batch” of bracelets and are now expanding our bracelet making materials so hopefully we can get more creative as we gain more experience!!  If you would like to donate a couple bucks for shipping, it would be appreciated but not necessary……there is a donate button below on the right sidebar.

Thanks so much to Oriental Trading for inspiring us to begin making blessing bracelets and for the initial supplies to start this fun project.  You can check out the materials we used here.  They have hundreds of different bracelet making materials from beads, charms, tools, and kits.  Not to mention the thousands of other craft materials they produce….it can be overwhelming all the different options and materials to choose from!!

“Things in life will not bring you happiness but giving to others and making the world a happier place because of your acts will make you happier”.

 

Disclaimer: Oriental Trading sent us the supplies to make the bracelets.  All opinions are our own.

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Living in a small space with a three and four year old can be is CRAZY most of the time.  Since adding our two precious girls to our life, I feel I have always been “treading water” to keep up with them and all their energy.   When living our land-based life with full time jobs, it was difficult and exhausting doing the daily schedule of getting everyone out the door in the morning, heading to work, and then the evening of dinner, bath, and bedtime…..especially when being woken up multiple times during the night between one girl or another.   But this is motherhood and all mothers do what they have to do and find their inner strength to push on and enjoy the little moments that are so fleeting.  While this daily rush has changed since living on the boat, the fact that we have two little girls that depend on us for most of everything has not.  Plus, we literally stopped living one life, and started living a completely different life which has taken time for all of us to adjust.  And then add in the uncertainty we have with our plans for our next steps and sometimes I feel myself unraveling.  

While we may not be “working” in the traditional since of the word, every day is hard work when raising small kids, especially in a small space on a boat.  Daily chores such as dishes, laundry, and cooking take on a whole different meaning when living on the boat…..everything takes longer and more effort.  If you are interested in what exactly this looks like take a look at Around ‘n Circles post on Effort.  Michelle and her family are our neighbors in the mooring field in Marathon and she could not have described this part of the cruising lifestyle more perfectly!!  This “effort” may not really be an issue if you are by yourself, but when touting around two little ones with you, it can get a little tricky at times.  I guess I’m still trying to figure out life on a boat and at the same time, how to be good mother to my kids.  

The other day a man saw me and the girls when the girls were in a “happy” mood and asked “is it hard work raising little kids on a boat?  It looks like fun….I was thinking about trying it.”  Ha…..is it hard work????  Trying it out?? Seriously?  My head began to spin with the absurdity of the question and then of all the meltdown and tears and sighs that are heard daily on our boat.  It then got me thinking about the pictures that we post…..while the girls and even us may look happy in the pictures (how often to people take pictures of their children in meltdown mode), it can be rather deceiving.  

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We have tears, meltdowns, fights, yelling, tantrums……DAILY.  There are days it makes me question my abilities as a mother and our choice to live on a boat.  At the end of these days when the girls are asleep and I have time to reflect, I always come to the same conclusion….they are 3 and 4 years old, it is hard work raising kids either on land in a house or in a boat on water AND tomorrow is another day….try something different.  In my previous life working in schools, I would frequently recommend this same path of thinking.  “Is what you are doing working?  If not, then try something different.”  Such simple logic, yet sometimes hard to do.
So, I am trying something different pretty much daily to alleviate screaming and tantrums and to attempt to keep our space organized.  Toys and clothes and crafts make their way out of their spaces and in a matter of minutes the entire living space of our boat is turned upside down…leaving not even a place to sit down….sometimes this stuff starts flowing into the cockpit as well.  This can be rather stressful when there is little space to escape chaos.  I am constantly learning and re-adjusting not only the actual “things” in our home, but also my own expectations of myself and my kids.  

Here are some of our recent re-adjustments on the boat and small successes…..

Toy Storage

We don’t have too many toys (we just do not have the room) and I am constantly trying to find ways to store the one we we do have.  We have some storage below the girls’ bed that I store books and some toys like magna-tiles in hanging bags and we have a complete cabinet for crafts, but other toys get scattered around, so we organized the storage yet again.  Stuffed animals are hung on one wall with some pictures and all other toys go in a container behind the curtain.  The girls helped me with organizing everything, so hopefully the order will last longer than a day.

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Hands On Learning

I’m constantly switching up how we learn.   Recently, I took the flashcards to the beach and we played “Sand Castle Smash”.  Once Leslie correctly identified the letter and Avery correctly spelled the word, then they could “smash” the sand castle.  Avery lost interest pretty quickly, but Leslie REALLY enjoyed this activity.

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Artwork

The girls paint and draw A LOT and I never know what to do with all their artwork.  Some of it is sent to family and friends and I recently got some frames for other pictures to be hung on the wall.  Here are our recent artwork editions….they seem to be doing some more abstract painting!!

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Thankful Book

In the beginning of the year as an effort for our family to share what we were thankful each day, I started a “Thankful Book”.  While the intention was for us to do this each night, the reality is we do it when we can which is about three or so times a week.  The things that come out of the girls’ mouths is both hilarious and heartwarming and has brought me to tears in the past.  I hope to be able to look back on this book one day with very fond memories.

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Hoping in the next blog post, we will be able to share where we will be headed next….it is still up in the air but we know we will be on the move again soon!