My lifestyle
and experiences
living on a boat

    Sunset over tropical island     Contact me.

This page updated:
October 2011

After Buying the Boat
First Month on the Boat
After 2 Months of Boat Ownership
After 6 Months
Girlfriend on the Boat
First Cruise to the Bahamas
First Cruise Up The (East Coast) ICW
West Coast Florida, Tenn-Tom, Mississippi Cruise
First Hurricane
Second Cruise to the Bahamas
Hurricane Season in the Dominican Republic
Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands
More Virgin Islands
Eastern Caribbean Islands

A cartoon that captures my lifestyle perfectly:
  Woman introducing a man to another woman:
  "This is Ted. He drinks water from the tap,
  coffee from a jar, and uses a payphone."
  "Oh, what is he, Amish ?"

My interview with the Interview With A Cruiser project.

After Buying the Boat

After 3 days on the boat, I'm in "panic" mode. Moving it into a marina has helped a bit, but I'm really having trouble.

All of the warnings I received from various people have come home with a vengeance. I'm finding living on the boat too cramped (claustrophobic), uncomfortable, smelly, lonely, not fun. I'm overwhelmed with worry about things to do, things to learn, things to fix, things that might break. I'm finding that the boat is too AC-electric-dependent for my taste. The toilets are a hassle, the shower is cold unless you have AC power, cooking is a hassle unless you have AC power. Living on the water is either too cool, windy or hot in various turns. I was VERY lonely at anchor; I've met some nice people in the marina. I realize now that I REALLY like the conveniences of land life: easy toilets, hot showers, lots of space.

I'm going to look into selling the boat. If it happens at a decent price, I'm going to do it. If it takes 2 months and sells at a bad price, I'll be living on it for 2 months. If my feelings improve before it sells, I won't sell it.

This is tough ! I knew intellectually and theoretically about these issues, but 3 days of actual ownership has driven them home. Maybe my attitude will change.


After 7 days, I'm feeling a bit better. Comforts of a marina help a bit, spending time away from the boat helps, accomplishing some learning and maintenance and repair tasks helps.

First Month on the Boat

A month ago, I took possession of a 1973 Gulfstar 44 ketch in Key Largo FL. I had quit my job (early-retired) and moved from California to Florida to live and cruise on the boat. "Magnolia" is the first boat I've owned.

Within 3 or 4 days, I was panicking! I had buyer's remorse, hated the Florida climate, was scared thinking of all the things that could go wrong with the boat, missed my friends and girlfriend. I was desperate to the point of calling the previous owner and asking if we could "undo" the sale (we couldn't).

Now, a month later, things are better. Not perfect, but improving. The climate is still a pain, but I'm learning the boat, starting to relax, and feeling better.

Some things I did wrong:

1- Changed EVERYTHING in my life in one shot. It would have been better to change things in stages, although slower and more expensive. For example, I could have moved to Florida and found an apartment and job before looking for a boat.

2- Started out at anchor. A marina provides abundant water and power (air conditioning) and nearby help and a safety margin and the ability to get off the boat when it becomes too much.

Some things I did right:

1- Told everyone how I was feeling, ad nauseum. My friends and family were very supportive, and local sailing people offered encouragement and help. Daily communication (including email) with many people helped a lot.

2- Bought a boat suited for the area and my plans, almost fully functional, comfortably within my budget. Worries about money or major repair problems would have added even more stress.

3- Did research and took sailing classes and day-sailed for 2 years before buying. And then pulled the trigger: I'm actually doing it ! The preparation helped me avoid many mistakes, but at some point you have to stop reading and start doing.

The biggest challenges I'm facing:

1- Learning maintenance and repair. As a long-time office worker and apartment dweller, I need to learn a lot (by doing).

2- Making the transition from full-time work to retirement. This transition is stressful enough to kill some people. It causes serious soul-searching about the meaning of life and what you want to do with your life.

Boat ownership and living aboard is not for everyone; it may not be for me after a while. It can be uncomfortable, scary, expensive, claustrophobic, hot and humid. It takes money, willpower, and some sacrifices and risks. But it's already changed my life and expanded my horizons.

After 2 Months of Boat Ownership and living on board (in marinas)

I've done some good work (painting, fixing deck leaks, cleaning, etc) but haven't yet accomplished some basic tasks (oil change, hose and fan belt and impeller replacements, etc). I've worked up large and growing lists of things to do. The engine compartment still intimidates me a bit.

There are some recurring and stubborn problems (deck leaks, pressure water system air-lock) and some known bigger problems (stuck gate-valves, rust on the rigging wire), but on the whole the boat is in reasonable shape.

Since the work-list is large, and also because I'm single-handed, I've tended to stay in the slip instead of going out day-sailing. Going out just takes a little too much effort to be worth it right now.

I've developed a bit of a rhythm to each day:
- wake up, breakfast, see what the weather is, how I feel, what's at the top of the to-do list.
- do some outside boat work, usually before it gets too hot.
- shower, lunch, watch some TV while enjoying the air conditioning.
- sit outside in the common area, see who's around, talk or read something.
- maybe do some easy boat work.
- take car to stores (boat stuff, groceries) and library (email).
- dinner.
- maybe do some boat work in cool of evening.

I need a break from the boat and the Florida weather; time to visit my girlfriend and friends in California. I miss my girlfriend very much.

I'm about to put the boat in a boatyard to have stuck gate-valves replaced: they're preventing me from cleaning strainers and replacing impellers, and they're a hazard if a hose breaks. This work is beyond my capabilities now. Paying $3500+ for the work (including bottom painting and a month on the hard) gives me pause, but is not too awful.

Everyone I've met has been nice, and many have interesting histories and personalities. Some seem to spend much more money on alcohol and cigarettes than they do on their boat, and spend a lot of time inebriated. Some have lived for a VERY long time in the same spot, doing very little. Some have well-kept boats and know a lot about boating; others don't.

I seem to spend a lot of time in stores. There's always some tool or supply needed for the next day's work, and the small galley space (and my unwillingness to stock up) means I'm grocery shopping at least three times per week.

To keep cool, and avoid mildew in the boat, I've been running air-conditioning a lot. It feels unnatural to sit in a closed-up boat. But the heat is tough to take all day, and closing up keeps out insects too.

I think I'm starting to get used to this lifestyle. It's not all fun, but certainly it is interesting and rewarding and challenging.

After 6 Months

After six months, I'm proud of some things I've learned to do. I had always lived in an apartment and worked in an office, but now I own some power tools, have done some work on two diesel engines, have climbed the masts to replace all of the wire halyards.

Occasionally, things looked grim: sails were down because halyards were being replaced, engine didn't run because I'd sheared off a bolt on the fuel lift pump, genset wouldn't start, dinghy outboard wouldn't start. I've fixed the first three and am working on the last one. Every success gives me more confidence and makes me feel better.

It's an old boat, so I'm finding some nasty things such as crumbling AC wires. The battery-charging system needs to be upgraded, a chainplate is cracked, the freezer insulation is poor, the pressure water system is temperamental, still a few deck leaks, etc. Completely typical.

The money hasn't flowed out too badly so far. I paid in the mid $70k's, plus about $5k of tax, then spent another $7k or so to date (replaced gate-valves, painted bottom, new heat exchanger, fixed davits, new anchor chain, etc). This doesn't include marina fees and normal living expenses.

The boat should be ready to do several short cruises to the Bahamas starting a month from now. The acid test: my girlfriend is arriving in a few weeks.

On my six-month anniversary (to the day), hurricane Michelle went past. Magnolia and I survived just fine.

Girlfriend on the Boat -- A Short Story

After owning my 1973 Gulfstar 44 ketch for 7 months, I went cruising from Marathon FL to Miami, with hopes of going to the Bahamas. On board with me was my girlfriend, her two cats, and her 78-year-old father.

By the way, her dad's a great guy. Sailed on Liberty ships, freighters in West Africa, dredges in Canada, officer on Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, shipping accident investigator. Lots of fun on a boat.

Earlier, my girlfriend had spent an 8-day vacation on the boat, mostly in marinas. But this was our first cruise.

We started with 2 weeks in a marina, then one week anchored in the harbor (going ashore every day), then started cruising. After about 14 days of cruising she had had enough of living on a boat, and she'd had it with me, too. So we headed back to Marathon, taking about 2 days. By then, she liked me again, mostly.

We made it up to Biscayne Bay and Miami, and had some nice times. We saw a number of dolphins one day in the Keys, including some that came over to the boat to check it out. Saw some great sunsets, lots of nice scenery, etc. Ate well. Dinghied through some nice canal-front neighborhoods. Had fun in the boutiques of Coconut Grove. Did a slight bit of fishing. The weather generally cooperated. No major breakdowns, accidents, etc. A pretty good first cruise, I thought.

But my girlfriend found a number of boat things to be very irritating:
- dampness,
- biting insects,
- lack of hot water for showers and coffee and cleaning,
- dirt,
- a slightly balky pressure-water system,
- soft foam mattresses (replaced by latex during the cruise; we became experts at transporting mattresses by dinghy),
- noises in the middle of the night,
- fears that her cats would fall overboard,
- a few rough-weather anchoring experiences that lessened her confidence in the skipper,
- hard to get to things ashore.

Some of these are fixable, but some are just intrinsic to boats and cruising. And my boat is big and stable and has a genset and microwave and so on; if she can't handle life on it ...

We noticed that the biting insects feasted on the crew of English descent, and tended to leave the German/Slavic/American skipper alone.

She didn't like the way I would sometime snap an order (although I think I did it only for important things in serious situations). She didn't like me reminding them to turn off lights, use less water, etc. Once or twice I growled at a cat which had gotten underfoot. She hated it when I tried moving the cat litter-box from the head to the deck one night, because she feared that a cat would fall overboard. (The second night on the boat, in the marina, one cat turned up soaking wet. No other cat incidents. Putting cat PFDs on them was pretty comical; they wriggled free in 2 minutes.)

In fairness, there was a lot of other stress in her life during this cruise. She and I were jobless and she still had a mortgage payment to meet, her dad had sold his condo and was looking for a new place to live, etc.

Now she's talking about maybe me sailing the boat to the Bahamas, and she'll fly over and stay on the boat for a week. Maybe we'll do that. [P.S. We did 2 months in Bahamas.]

I think she got a fair taste of boat life. A few times I thought she was over-reacting to the inconveniences, but other times I could see it from her point of view: life is too short to put up with some of this stuff.

Her dad's reaction was: I enjoyed it, but I'm too old to go back to sea. And he had problems with a malfunctioning forward head, which made him remember how nice it was when outhouses were replaced by toilets.

The cats survived the boat but were ecstatic to get back onto dry land.

First Cruise to the Bahamas

After owning my 1973 Gulfstar 44 ketch for 9 months, I went cruising from Marathon FL to the Bahamas.

I started out solo in Marathon, crossed the Florida Current from Angelfish Creek (north Key Largo) to Bimini, went to Chub Cay, then Nassau. My girlfriend flew in to Nassau to join me, and we went down the Exumas to George Town.

Crossing the Florida Current (Gulf Stream) solo was a bit tiring, but no problem. I left in the evening, motored all night, and arrived at daybreak. When I saw ship's lights, I tracked them visually but also used RADAR mainly to get ranges to them. I didn't have any close encounters with ships, and never felt in danger. I was pretty tired after the passage, but mainly because swells kept me from sleeping right before and after the passage.

The first 15 minutes of motoring in the dark were scary; it was my first night travel. Fortunately, I had moored out on the reef, so my night motoring was in open water. But when I arrived in Bimini, I found a lobster-trap line trailing from my rudder; I think I towed it all the way from Florida !

The entrance to Bimini harbor is nasty; I sweated bullets going in and coming out. You have to go right along a beach, then jog out at a certain point. Lots of people run aground.

[The next time I go, I think I'll cross during the day, and stay in quarantine until Nassau. Anchor at Cat Cay and then Chub Cay before Nassau. Nothing worth seeing ashore at Bimini, Cat Cay and Chub Cay.]

Bimini was my first introduction to a Bahamas phenomenon: everything is smaller than you expect from reading the chart. The main anchorages and harbors are small. Bimini's harbor anchorage can accommodate about 15 boats total. Even Nassau harbor was smaller than I expected.

I'd heard stories about crime in Nassau; having been there, I think they're greatly exaggerated. But I always locked my dinghy well.

Nassau harbor does have strong currents, lots of wakes, and bad holding in many spots. There were times when similar boats (same size and anchoring) next to each other were pointing bow-to-bow or stern-to-stern. My anchors suddenly dragged one day; fortunately I was on board, and managed to get away with only a gentle bump against another boat. But the harbor is lively, with cruise ship and freighter and tour boat and fishing-boat and yacht and sea-plane traffic. And there is a restaurant with free dinghy dock, free garbage disposal, and free water !

We're spoiled with good anchorages in the Florida Keys; they're scarcer in the Bahamas. Tidal currents are strong, and protection usually is only from 150 degrees or so.

Anchoring with two anchors took some practice. Lower one down, motor forward as the chain runs out, set it, let more rode out as you motor forward more, lower another anchor, reverse and set it, take in rode on first anchor. Sometimes in tight quarters with a current and/or wind (in which case doing it singlehanded is almost impossible). I always worry about getting the first rode into the propeller as I motor forward. [Better way: lay down first and let out it's chain, set first, fall back letting out first's rope, lay down second, pull boat forward by pulling on first's rope while letting out second's chain.] Handling heavy anchors and 3/8 BBB chain takes a lot of effort. Sometimes you have to get in the dinghy to move an anchor to the right place. Singlehanded, the dinghy may be the only way to do it.

Raising two anchors is tiring. Once, the rodes were twisted several times around each other, with boats nearby so I couldn't just slack one rode and raise the other anchor. I had to use the dinghy to push the boat around to untwist the rodes. There was so much current and wind that the combination of dinghy and main engine was barely enough to do it.

Most of these islands have very little on them. Maybe a marina, a few houses, a small store. Often no water or fuel available. Telephone is very expensive. No TV reception. Some good FM radio stations. Not many chances for internet access, except in Nassau.

We were surprised at the scarcity of wildlife. Almost no birds in most places. A few fish here and there, but not as many as in the Florida Keys, where we see dolphins and flying fish and tarpon and others. [I've heard in the Bahamas the good fish are out on the rough ocean reefs, not in the anchorages.] We haven't seen any interesting coral so far (in either the Keys or the Bahamas).

The Bahamas environment is spectacular. Lovely clouds and sunsets. Clear and fairly warm water. Beautiful sand beaches. Having a nice anchorage all to yourself is wonderful.

Navigating through any tight spot involves a combination of charts, guidebooks, GPS, and eyeballing. Each chart and guidebook has a slightly different sketch, and you have to read them all and try to reconcile that with what you are seeing. Maptech charts omit most of the radio towers. But we haven't had any big problems, and we're learning to read water color. And you don't have to go through many "tight spots" anyway.

Weather information is hard to get. Shortwave reception often is difficult; lots of static and interference. Local broadcasts on VHF in some places are very helpful. Most weather nets rattle through the weather very quickly, then spend a long time on position reports and boat-to-boat hails. When listening to a weather forecast, it is tough to figure out which parts apply to you. And often the report is something like "at Nassau, wind will be S today, W tomorrow, N next day, E after that". A moving cold front is causing that. Now, if you're 40 miles from Nassau, you have to figure out what that means for you.

Heading SE to Georgetown Exumas, we've had SE wind and swell on the nose the whole way, so we've motored about 80 hours and sailed about 6 hours. Could have sailed a little more, but I don't have the patience to tack back and forth at 3 knots when I can motor straight at 6+ knots.

We had one bad grounding, where we were stuck for 24 hours on soft sand in 20-knot winds. We almost got free after 12 hours but it was 2 AM and we quickly ran aground again before we could figure out where good water was.

We had an oil leak from the engine oil-cooler. Attempts to re-solder the joint in place failed; Marine-Tex worked.

Some high points: Staniel Cay (snorkeling in the grotto); Warderick Wells (scenic), Georgetown (for the social scene). Nassau, Paradise Island marina, and the Atlantis Casino (especially at spring break) were interesting.

Arriving back in Miami, it was hard to get through to Customs on the phone, and then we had to go to Immigration in person, because my girlfriend is Canadian.

First Cruise Up The (East Coast) ICW

After owning my 1973 Gulfstar 44 ketch for 12 months, I went cruising from Marathon FL to Trenton NJ, up the Intra-Coastal Waterway (ICW) single-handed.

I hoped to do several offshore passages on the way north, taking advantage of the Gulf Stream to make 9 knots or so instead of the 6 I'd do in the ICW. But weather prevented that; wind blew from the north the whole time I went north in Florida, and northeast or east half of the time after that. Also, I found single-handing would have limited me to fairly short passages, which in turn would make timing my transits through inlets very important: I'd need a fair tide and good daylight. If anything had gone wrong, I would have been in trouble: tired, waiting offshore for daylight and a good tidal current.

I anchored out every night, avoiding marinas. I thought finding anchorages would be tough in east Florida, but it was harder in northern South Carolina and North Carolina. In those places, much of the ICW is a dredged channel surrounded by very shallow water, marinas, docks, other channels with strong currents. Several times I had to anchor right on the edge of the ICW or a side-channel, and endure wakes and hope that no one hit me.

Some of the well-known towns or landings were too small or crowded for me. Barefoot Landing SC was full, with boats circling waiting for a spot. Annapolis MD was a zoo, even at a non-boat-show time. Crisfield MD has expensive dinghy-dockage and is an ugly town with little to see. Solomons MD is inconvenient and over-hyped. Baltimore MD and Savannah GA have little or no reasonable anchorage space.

Breakdowns / problems:
  • Engine oil cooler started leaking; replaced it myself in Beaufort NC.
  • A boat dragged almost into me in Beaufort NC in a thunderstorm, and my propeller chopped off one of my anchor rodes getting away from them; managed to recover my ground tackle.
  • Lost $90 anchor (neglected to put seizing on shackle).
  • Alternator regulator started overcharging in Oxford MD; sent to FL to get it repaired.
  • Was fined $85 in St Mary's City MD for not having a PFD in my dinghy.
  • Gooseneck came apart near Urbanna VA.
  • Genset stopped working; took fuel injectors out and left them with a yard in Yorktown VA, and they fooled around for a month, fixed nothing, and sent them to me in FL.
  • Drinking water pump started leaking.
  • Outboard stopped working in Elizabeth City NC; still don't have it working; a real pain.
  • A bilge pump hose siphoned water in and almost sank the boat in Georgetown SC harbor; turns out the plumbing has been wrong all along.
  • Engine starter solenoid started acting up; had to tap it to start engine.
  • Engine exhaust is leaking water into the engine compartment.
Notice that I DIDN'T run aground. Actually, I woke up grounded gently in anchorages twice, but I knew that would happen each time, and had a short wait to get off. [Of course, having a 3.5-foot draft helped a bit.]

High points:
  • Showing the boat to my family and relatives, and in NJ taking them for little cruises on the Delaware River.
  • Hooking up with people I'd met through email, and showing them the boat.
  • Nice small towns: Havre de Grace MD, Chestertown MD, Elizabeth City NC, Beaufort NC, Georgetown SC, Beaufort SC, Hampton VA. A few (Oxford MD, Onancock MD) were a little TOO small.
  • Anchored for a day in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, in tourist central. Was fun to do once. Was in the lower harbor for the July 4th fireworks, too.
  • Met a lot of nice cruisers.
  • Wonderful art museums (Norfolk VA, Washington DC, Savannah GA), science/space museums (Portsmouth VA, Washington DC, Baltimore MD, Hampton VA), battleship museums (Norfolk VA, Wilmington NC), maritime museums (Beaufort NC, St Michaels MD, Solomons MD), and historical sites (Jamestown VA).
There's a lot to see. I did a six-month trip (mid-May to late November), didn't spend more than a week in any one place, and still skipped or skimped on several nice places (Portsmouth VA, Barefoot Landing / Myrtle Beach SC, Savannah GA, St Augustine FL). Didn't see any launches from Cape Canaveral; the timing for those is hit-or-miss.

On the way back, after Savannah GA, I got into "eat up the miles" mode: no more sightseeing. Maybe I'll do another trip to Florida's east coast later.

I calculate:
  • About 3000 statute miles covered.
  • Six months and one week to do it. Spaghetti for dinner 34 times, which is about 1.5 times per week.
  • About 760 hours of engine running time (includes some battery-charging-only hours).
  • About 975 gallons of diesel consumed; works out to about 1.3 gallons/hour and about 3+ miles/gallon. Average price probably around $1.20/gallon, for total of about $1200.
  • Probably had the sails up less than 2% of the time. Sailing just is not a practical way of traveling, at least in canals and rivers and channels.
It was a good trip, but now it's nice to be stationary for a while.

West Coast Florida, Tenn-Tom, Mississippi Cruise

Left Marathon at end of February 2003. Not much of interest at Little Shark River or Ten Thousand Islands, just lots of mangroves and mosquitoes. Marco Island was a little more interesting, but I was unable to connect with the people I know there. Naples was all filled in with marinas and moorings.

Got to Ft Myers Beach in time for spring break, and stayed 3 weeks. Everything was great except for the red tide, which made people cough a bit. Nice beach with lots of beautiful girls in bikinis. Good facilities of every kind (except no Home Depot or KMart or Walmart), and I had some new exhaust piping built for my boat.

Went up the Caloosahatchee River and to Lake Okeechobee. The whole trip was interesting but fairly boring; lots of narrow channels, uninteresting towns, but some nice wildlife near the lake.

Back down the river to Ft Myers Beach for a while, then up Pine Island Sound and to Punta Gorda, which was a waste. Back to FMB.

Then started heading north for good in late May, stopping at Sarasota and Clearwater and a couple of isolated anchorages. Many of the towns along the way were not very friendly for dinghying ashore, although I didn't stop long enough to really explore any of them.

Then went across the "Big Bend", the big curve of the Florida Panhandle. I tried to anchor twice to break up the trip, but ended up doing it all in one exhausting marathon, to Carrabelle. Conditions were a little rough for the second half of the crossing. Fortunately the boat kept going like a champ, although chafe took a toll on some of my lines and the dinghy.

Did an outside hop from Carrabelle to Panama City, and I should have waited several days for better weather. Conditions got rougher and rougher as I went, and chafe on the dinghy lashings was extreme. Finally surfed 5-foot following waves into Panama City inlet, which fortunately is a very straightforward inlet. Some of the nastiest waves I've been in. Heard later that some other cruisers out at the same time had called NOAA later and complained that the forecast was wrong.

Met some nice people in Panama City. Left there and went up the ICW to Ft Walton Beach, and ended up getting trapped by low bridges there (lower than charted). Had to backtrack to Panama City.

Went outside from Panama City to Pensacola, then ICW to Mobile AL. Big, open bay with lots of commercial traffic. The only anchorage is far from the city, but a very nice local gave me a lift all the way in, and then I got a bus back. Mobile was disappointing, except for the USS Alabama battleship there.

Headed north up the rivers from Mobile in mid-June, up the Mobile and Tombigbee rivers to Demopolis AL, which is a nice little town. Then up the Tennessee-Tombigbee waterway to Columbus MS, which is a nice bigger town. The remnants of tropical storm Bill rained on me, 350 miles from the coast ! Then up to the Tennessee river by early July, through some very nice lakes.

If there's one word to characterize the trip from Mobile to the Tennessee River, it is: "trees". Tons of them, bursting with green because of all the rain in June, just millions of them along all the banks and around the towns. Reminds me of the Pennsylvania Poconos a bit, especially up at the Tennessee River where there's more rock.

The Tennessee River is gorgeous: wide, with trees and bluffs and houses and some coves. Went upstream to Florence, which had nice old houses and a college, and then came back down the river.

The tows on the Tennessee River are a bit bigger than those on the Tenn-Tom Waterway: now I'm seeing 3x6 tows. And being passed by a big tow while you're anchored on the river at night is a bit of a religious experience. You hear the thrum of large, slow engines before you see anything. Then you see a very powerful spotlight through the trees, sweeping around across the water from bank to bank, looking for obstructions and checking position. Often you can see the beam of the light, from the side, as it illuminates a whole mile down the river. Then the front barges appear around the bend, and more and more keep appearing. Eventually the tugboat itself appears, often all lit up with yellow lights on all sides. Then the spotlight sweeps across your boat, and you can see the operator of it do a double-take: the light comes back onto you for 10 seconds, then sweeps away. You hear the rush of water under the bow of the barges, the engines getting louder, and finally you can tell that they have plenty of room to pass by. Then they're past, and the noise and light recedes. It reminds me of the scene in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" where the bright lights of a UFO go over top of a guy in a pickup truck.

Found Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkeley a bit boring. Lots of nice scenery, but no real towns, only one supermarket and no library in the whole area.

Headed up the Cumberland river, which was nice for the first 40 miles or so, then got a bit narrow and hard to anchor in. Saw a tow simply take a buoy on the wrong side and go aground; he barely was able to back off. The only mistake I saw by a tow on the whole trip.

The towns are not too interesting, and there were some nasty afternoon thunderstorms. Cumberland City was a hoot: only a bank, city hall and post office had any activity. So I sat on the front porch of city hall for 4 or 5 hours, chatting with a couple of guys and watching everyone drive in to pick up their mail at the post office (the only entertainment in town). The older of the two guys had been on a PT boat in the Pacific in WW II, and the younger had been a parachute rigger in Viet Nam. Talked about everything under the sun with them. The older guys said that for some reason, many PT-boat commanders were sons of rich families: Astors, Vanderbilts, etc. He met JFK briefly.

Got to Nashville, and it's an interesting town but anchoring is near-impossible. Anchored in 25 feet of water, strong current, narrow river, strong afternoon thunderstorms. Stayed a little more than 2 days before I got too uncomfortable with it.

Went up the river and into Hickory Lake by early August. Nice lake: pretty and lots of room. Hooked up with some people I'd been exchanging email with; they were amazed that I'd actually arrived in their area ! One couple took me to their house for a major steak dinner; another took me to a cookout/party, drove me to the airport, etc. Some really nice people.

Left the boat anchored there and took a 3-week vacation to see my family in Indiana and New Jersey. I really lucked out: August in both Tennessee and New Jersey had amazingly nice weather, not too hot and not too humid. Later, I heard it was very hot summer in Florida.

In October, headed down the Cumberland River, then down the Ohio River. Almost went over a dam on the Ohio: it was almost invisible, had about a 6-inch drop, no warning buoys or signs, and the 5-year-old chart said it was being replaced. Lockmaster called me on the radio, and I made a U-turn. Ugly !

Went down the Mississippi River, and it was fun. Many towns had wonderful museums and historic houses, although lots of poverty and abandoned houses and businesses too; I didn't stay ashore after dark. Anchoring often was a challenge (because of strong current and commercial traffic), and getting ashore in the dinghy was a severe challenge: the banks are all fortified with rock, and I often had to pull the dinghy into the only patch of mud I could find, then climb the seawall while carrying my bicycle. Often had to wade through soft, clinging, foot-deep river bottom mud while landing and launching the dinghy.

Some highlights: wonderful museums in Cairo, Helena and Vicksburg; pretty good ones in Memphis and Natchez and Baton Rouge. Nice boaters in Memphis, nice locals in Vicksburg and Natchez and Baton Rouge. Beautiful women in Baton Rouge. A 3-day Blues Festival in Helena. The general sense of history and power of the river, and the fun of doing something that not many pleasure-boaters do any more.

Got to New Orleans in early November, but it was a bust: nowhere sheltered to anchor, so I didn't even get ashore. Biloxi was nice, although my bike was stolen there. Pascagoula and Pensacola were okay. Started having some serious engine problems (diesel in the oil, surging and stalling), but fixed them with a new fuel lift pump in Panama City.

Started getting seriously cold a little before Thanksgiving, and I soon fled across the Big Bend and down the west coast of Florida, to Fort Myers Beach in early December. Still having some cold mornings every few days down there, but mixed with some nice beach days.

I calculate:
  • About 3000 statute miles covered.
  • Six months and two weeks to do it (round-trip from Fort Myers Beach).
  • About 645 hours of engine running time.
  • About 700 gallons of diesel consumed; works out to about 1.1 gallons/hour and 4+ miles/gallon. Total cost of about $900, for average price around $1.30/gallon.
  • Probably had the sails up less than 1% of the time. Sailing just is not a practical way of traveling, at least in canals and rivers and channels.
It was a great trip. The towns along the Mississippi River were the best.

First Hurricane

In 8/2004, hurricane Charley passed about 15 miles north of where I was anchored in Fort Myers Beach FL. Magnolia and I survived, almost without a scratch. Some of my experiences are written up in my Hurricane page.

Here's the message I sent to people after the hurricane:

Hello !

Sorry it's been so long since I email'd or updated my log file, but the library here was closed for more than a week after hurricane Charley, so I was incommunicado. Even the phones have been down.

Magnolia and I came through the hurricane just fine. The only damage occurred when I crept out to tie the dinghy down better in the middle of the storm, put my hand on the stern grill to steady myself, and bent the rod that holds the stern grill up. No other damage to my boat.

But it was a scary experience. We had winds somewhere around 100-110 knots, I think. Howling white horizontal rain for long periods of time. The worst was when a storm surge current held the boats sideways to the wind; we rolled ferociously. One of my friends fell inside his boat and hurt himself. A couple other friends gathered their most important stuff into bags in case they had to abandon ship.

Out of 40 or 50 boats in the harbor, 4 or 5 sank or dragged anchor and were smashed against the shore, and were total losses. A couple more had significant damage. Several had sails shredded (a lot of people didn't take down their roller-furled jibs, foolishly).

The worst of the hurricane missed us by no more than 15 miles or so. On the day of the hurricane, about 6 hours before it hit, the forecast went "cat 2 - now cat 3 - now cat 4 - now right turn and it's going to hit you" over the course of an hour or so. A lot of people are not happy with the weather forecasters.

Ashore, the town of Ft Myers Beach took about 2 feet of water through the streets and buildings, ruining lots of first-floor furniture. Some roofs were damaged and water badly damaged the interiors. But I haven't seen any houses actually torn down by the storm.

Since I have no TV, and have been without internet and newspapers for 9 or 10 days, you probably know a lot more about the storm than I do !

[We had three more hurricanes that summer:
- Frances passed about 70 miles away, and gave us a day and a half of 50-knot wind.
- Jeanne passed about 60 miles away, gave us maybe 35-knot wind.
- Ivan looked serious, and I left the harbor and went up the river to get away from it, but then it veered far to the west and didn't affect us.]

Second Cruise to the Bahamas

Just past the 3.5-year mark of living on my boat, I started a solo 3-year Caribbean cruise by crossing from Miami to the Bahamas.

I crossed the Florida Current from Miami to West End, through the Abacoes to Marsh Harbour, down along Eleuthra, across to the Exumas and down to George Town. That took about 3 months. It was fun but a bit lonely; somehow I didn't find a lot of places where people just sat near the dinghy dock and chatted. I worked on sailing more instead of motoring, with a little success (and had to restitch some sails and fix a busted jib sheet). I did more fishing, and slowly got some results (and learned that most of my lures were useless).

George Town in the Exumas was fun; I got into a social crowd on the beach and often played cards or dominoes with them. And I was there for Family Island Regatta Week, which was entertaining.

Hurricane Season in the Dominican Republic

Just past the 4-year mark of living on my boat, I spent the 2005 hurricane season in Luperon in the Dominican Republic.

Going to the Dominican Republic was a "shock" in several ways:
  • My crossing from the Turks and Caicos to Luperon was very rough and scary, with damage to the boat and my confidence. I'd say 1/3 of the cruisers had similar experiences. Several had to be towed in by the DR Navy.

  • I'd heard horror stories about DR officials demanding bribes. They turned out to be false, but the government does extract a lot of fees out of you legally. And it's very confusing if you don't speak Spanish.

  • I don't speak Spanish, and haven't learned it very quickly. This leads to a feeling of isolation and paranoia at times. Since stores here don't post prices, I'm always confused and fearful of being ripped off. I hate bargaining, and bargaining is even worse when you don't speak the language. And some people here do take advantage of ignorance. It seemed like every time I mentioned a purchase to another cruiser, they said something like "oh, we got it for 1/4 that price somewhere else !".
And I found that the cruising community in Luperon during hurricane season can be a fairly insular and dysfunctional group. People get "cabin fever", grudges and cliques spring up, some people won't talk to certain others or won't patronize certain businesses. Some gringoes are competing with each other to sell services such as boat repair, and "talk down" the competitors. The same happens among some of the gringoes running businesses ashore. Some locals hate the fact that most gringoes go only to gringo bars and restaurants ashore. Some cruising wives strongly disapprove of gringo guys dating local girls, so that's another source of friction. It's hard to get English-language news, you can't swim in the water, there's a fair amount of drinking, it's hard to get boat parts, the only social gathering-spots are in the bars, etc. Some former cruisers have gotten a bit "stranded" here, from boat problems, lack of repair facilities, and lack of money. The gringo community is fairly small; probably 100 people in 2005. So a lot of things conspire to put people on edge.

It's not all bad, and some of my bad impression is due to my own faults: I should have learned Spanish more, and bought a motorbike and seen more of the country, and socialized more with other cruisers. Many of the gringoes are very nice and very helpful. The country certainly is beautiful: lots of rivers and green mountains and nice views. And most local people are very friendly (but hard to communicate with unless you speak Spanish). But there are some con-artists, some theft in the harbor, drivers are dangerous, and towns often are dirty and noisy. So, like the USA or anywhere else, it's a mixed bag.

One of the worst things: the officials strictly control boat-traffic in and out of the harbor, and you're not allowed to go day-sailing, or do short cruises along the coast. So you're stuck in the harbor, until you decide to check out and leave for good. Which you really don't want to do until the end of hurricane season.

It certainly has been a learning experience for me. This country is not at all like the Bahamas or Turks and Caicos; it's more like non-tourist parts of Mexico, I guess, if that makes any sense.

In 2005, this place is no longer dirt-cheap for gringoes. The exchange rate has changed since a few years ago, and I found prices to be similar to USA prices. Cheaper than USA for transportation and beer and rum, more expensive than USA for imported stuff, and many boat parts just unavailable. And the government cruising fees are similar to fees in the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos. All of them seem to be averaging about $50 per month.

So, hurricane season in Luperon was interesting and worth doing once, but I'm glad to be leaving.

Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands

I spent the winter of 2005 and the first half of 2006 in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Puerto Rico:
  • After the isolation and culture shock of Luperon in the Dominican Republic, getting to Puerto Rico was liberating for me and my fellow cruisers. It felt great to be back in (mostly) English-speaking territory, with trustworthy officials, free to move from anchorage to anchorage, with nice beaches, and official fees of $25/year instead of $50/month.

  • I expected everyone to speak English as well as Spanish. Instead, in many local-type stores such as hardware or auto-parts stores, it's hard to find anyone who speaks English. And the radio stations are almost all Spanish (and no NPR, which is a big loss for me). Not bad, just surprising.

  • Unlike the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico has very little public transportation between towns or cities. There are publico's (cars and vans), but they seem far fewer than in the DR, you're more likely to get stranded, and they don't reach the small towns at the edges.

  • Several of the harbors are inconveniently far from good stores or towns. Having a bicycle or scooter is a big help.

  • If you have a car, being in central PR (Ponce, Caguas, San Juan) is almost exactly like being in mainland USA: they have plenty of Walmarts, warehouse stores, Home Depots, large shopping malls, divided superhighways, etc. Out in the east and west ends of the island, I think it gets a bit more rural. But they still have supermarkets and hardware stores and such.

  • In PR, it was really nice to cruise along with or keep bumping into cruising friends I'd met in Luperon. I've always been too much of a "solo" person, and having a little more of a social life was nice. And we traded news and gossip about people we knew who were still back in Luperon, or who'd had misadventures since leaving Luperon.

Spanish Virgin Islands (Culebra and Vieques):
  • Coming from PR out into the Virgin Islands felt like arriving at the "real" cruising grounds. And quickly I could see why some people stay here for years or a lifetime. Lots of islands close together, so you can always find a decent anchorage and never have to sail overnight. The only downside is a constant strong wind and current coming from the east, so going east is a bit of a chore.

  • Vieques was a little bit like the DR, in that stores and facilities were limited. But a nice place.

  • Culebra was fun: a terrific harbor, some nice snorkeling on nearby islands, a cute town with lots of tourist traffic. Some of my friends stayed for almost 2 months.

US Virgin Islands (St Thomas, St John, St Croix):
  • Surprising how different the three islands are. St Thomas is people-crowded and busy and full of cruise ships, and the anchorages are very rolly and uncomfortable. St John is boat-crowded and mostly National Park areas, with great snorkeling. St Croix is more laid-back, more sparsely populated outside of the main town, a fine harbor, interesting architecture in town, a good library, good snorkeling/beaching nearby.

  • Physically, these islands are a big change from Florida, DR and PR: they're starting to get volcanic, with steeper hillsides or cliffs to the water, and far fewer mangrove swamps.

  • Ferry-traffic among the islands was really annoying. They travel at high speeds and make huge wakes, often making some anchorages untenable simply because of ferry wakes.

  • Cruising on St John was a pain: the few decent anchorages outside the National Park areas were jam-packed with boats permanently moored or anchored for the whole season. One alternative is to pay $15/night for a mooring in the Park area. Instead, I used more isolated anchorages on St John, and some on the east end of St Thomas, and did day-trips into the nice parts of St John. Never had to pay a mooring fee.

  • St John seems to be having a construction boom: lots of concrete-mixer trucks on the roads, and several new houses under construction in every little bay.

  • I found myself getting a little isolated again; my friends scattered a bit, many heading further down the islands, needing to get to Venezuela before hurricane season.

  • I spent a week in a boatyard, which was the usual stressful and tiring experience, but went well.

British Virgin Islands (Jost Van Dyke, Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada):
  • Time pressures (boatyard before, flight to NJ afterward) limited me to a scant 8 days in the BVI. It was far nicer than I'd expected. I'd heard official fees were high and anchoring was impossible, and neither thing was true. I'm coming back next year to spend several months here.

  • Some things were as expected: food and fuel prices were high, and there were crowds of boats at popular spots.

  • Generally, harbors and beaches in the BVI are much nicer than those in the USVI. Much of the BVI snorkeling is as good as anything on St John. I pushed myself to do so much snorkeling in my brief visit that I got blisters from my swim-fins.

Then, in June I headed back to Puerto Rico to spend hurricane season on the south coast. Part of the time I'll be huddling down and working on the boat, but I also want to see several nice places I missed on my first pass through here.

More Virgin Islands

I got a bit "stuck" in Culebra and the Virgin Islands. Tried to cross to St Martin once or twice, but the weather wasn't right.

Did a trawler-delivery to St Martin, which was an interesting experience. Marred by injuring myself at the end of it: I slipped and fell on my back onto the swim platform, bruising my back. Took a month or more to recover from that.

Dealt with a couple of major engine-repairs. Replaced the fuel injection pump, which was not too difficult, but interesting. And a major job, one that I'd often worried about on sleepless nights: getting a seized transmission rebuilt.

The transmission job was big because: it involved jacking up the heavy six-cylinder diesel engine, the transmission itself is no lightweight, and I did it all at anchor, in a fairly rolly harbor. The shop rebuilt the transmission in about one day flat; getting it out of the boat and back in took weeks (mostly the getting-out part, because I was very cautious about planning how to jack up the engine, and scoping out what tools were available).

On my boat, I have a great engine compartment, with great access to engine and transmission. On other boats, the transmission job might have involved cutting a lot of woodwork, and might have been impossible at anchor. On the other hand, most sailboats have smaller and lighter engines and transmissions than mine.

Eastern Caribbean Islands

In 11/2009, I finally made the crossing from the Virgin Islands, across the Anegada Passage, to St Martin.

The change of locations did me a lot of good; I'd been kicking around the Culebra and USVI and BVI area a little too long, and gotten stale. I'd tried to cross to St Martin earlier, but the weather wasn't right.

St Martin turned out to have a much more international crowd than the Virgin Islands. Boats in St Martin were getting ready to cross the Atlantic to the Azores, or had arrived from Trinidad or from the Med. And the island of St Martin itself is half French and half Dutch, unlike the English-speaking USVI's and BVI's. And the cruiser-community and cruiser-VHF-net were nice; good to meet some people. Saw a bit of the island: nice beaches, and a nice Carnival parade. Met a very nice couple, John and Janet on "Ventoso".

Next stop was Antigua, which has great anchorages but was very sleepy in hurricane season.

Then to Guadeloupe, which has good anchorages but was very sleepy in hurricane season, plus the French language was a huge barrier to me.

Then to Martinique, where again the French language was a huge barrier to me. And I had kidney stones, which was my first serious illness while in a foreign country and on a boat.

To St Lucia, which was okay until a thief boarded my boat and stole some stuff. Met some nice guys, Greg and Mike on "Salty Paws".

To Bequia in the Grenadines, which is a very nice place.

To the rest of the Grenadines, which are a little empty and have few facilities.

To Grenada for hurricane season. Very nice island, lots of facilities, great cruiser social-scene.

I find it a struggle to get off the boat and get some decent exercise.