Category Archives: Living on a Boat

Old Friend Waterway

Nav aid in the Waccamah River

It is always delightful to get back together with an old friend you haven’t seen in a while. This time, I didn’t realize quite how good a friend it was before I got back together.

We have traveled the ICW four times before on Flutterby, and once before on Cayenne. Each trip has been a different section or sections, and this time it is one we’ve traveled before. I first wrote this while traveling South this spring, and forgot about the draft until now while we’re heading back North again. The waterway is still the same old friend, and my stories and memories still apply, so as we’re crossing back into Georgia today, I’m finishing this story off.

An old friend is often just as you remember him–Every time we have been on the waterway we have seen dolphins surfacing and breathing. Sometimes we hear them before we see them. Sometimes they are just traveling through, perhaps in the same direction we are going, or perhaps in another direction. One time one followed us for over an hour, surfacing right next to the cockpit about every minute, on the port side for a while, then on the starboard side for a while.

Other times the dolphins are feeding, and they don’t move in a straight line, they are more vigorous and stay in the same area. Often pelicans are fishing in the same place as the dolphins. I love watching them dive. They will hang or circle for a bit around 20 feet up in the air, then dive straight down into the water with a huge splash. When I was anchored nearby, the splash was loud enough that I looked up to make sure nobody had just fallen off a boat. The other thing I’ve noticed is that when they dive in this way, their head goes under the water, but their body won’t go under, and they spin around 180 degrees by their neck, and come up facing the other direction. Where are the pelican chiropractors?

But sometimes you learn a little bit new about an old friend. I’ve watched pelicans doing their big dives many times, but recently I’ve seen them doing little dives where they fly near the water and land dipping their head in without the huge splash and 180 degree turn. However they dive in, they still spend quite a while with their beak in the water and their neck full of water and (hopefully) fish, and slowly filtering the water out so they can spin the fish around so the scales are in the direction that is easy to swallow.

My friend the waterway also goes through seasons. Twice we have been moving North during summer. Once we were moving North during winter. Once we were moving South in the winter. Going South this March it was still winter when we left North Carolina at the start of the trip. We went  South, and closer to the sun, and the sun was moving North and closer to us. I wrote to somebody that we crossed into spring somewhere in South Carolina. As we made the Gerogia/Florida border, we were getting into summer already. I think I managed to get through the tree pollen season in less than a week this year.

One seasonal thing about the waterway is the cruisers. Three times we were moving with the general marine snowbird migration, and got to interact with the rest of the flock. When we purchased Flutterby, we were going North and everybody else was going the other way, and often told us we were going the wrong way. This spring, the waterway was empty when we started. As we got into Georgia we started seeing more cruisers…and once again, they are mostly going the other direction.

Sometimes your friend will have a small subtle change…many people could miss it but perhaps you notice. The waterway wears thousands of aids to navigation. A few of them are buoys, but most of them are signs on pilings. They don’t change much. Perhaps a third of them are lighted and those are slowly shifting. They used to be a large red or green gumdrop with an incandescent light bulb inside. When the sun is low, if you caught them just right, they would glow as if they were turned on when the lens caught the sun. But to keep this lighted, there is also a medium solar panel mounted at a 45 degree angle facing South, and a battery about the size of a car battery. They keep the coast guard busy servicing them because the bulbs burn out eventually, and the batteries need to be replaced every few years. Lately I’ve seen something new. It is a little bigger than the gumdrop, but shaped like a square Japanese lantern. All four vertical sides have solar panels, and it might have a battery inside, or perhaps instead a big capacitor bank. At the top is a LED light. I’ve converted Flutterby’s navigation lights to LEDs, so I appreciate the same benefits, smaller, lower power usage, and reason to hope it will work for decades without maintenance.

One of the more embarrassing things about my old friend waterway is that I’m getting accustomed to its flaws and learning how to deal with them. In this case, it is all the shallow water. I have to admit that we managed to touch the bottom once each of the first few days this trip. I don’t want to go back through the days and try to count them all now. The first one was in a known shallow anchorage that we decided to go into at low tide anyway. A couple others were as we were getting into or out of anchorages. Some were when we drove out of the channel. I remember one that was in the channel too.

But something is new this year. Not one of them was difficult to get underway from again. My new (but embarrassing) technique is to motor with the centerboard all the way down, so we draw six feet. We’re generally going slowly when we run aground, and stop easily. At this point I make sure we know where we want to go, probing the bottom around the boat with a boat pole if needed. Then, knowing which direction to go, we throttle up and crank the centerboard up until we are free. Since we draw about four feet with the board up, this has worked each time. Then once we are moving well, I let the board back down, for next time. I still don’t know how we managed to go all the way from Vero Beach back to Beaufort, North Carolina in summer of 2011 without a single grounding.

The infamous pink house with the palm trees and lighthouse

And then there are the familiar waters and landmarks we pass by each time. For some reason, we always take a picture of that big pink house in North Carolina that’s on its own island with palm trees and tropical stuff painted on it. This time, I turned to Margaret and said, “I don’t know who lives there, but I wish I did.” We went by Hilton Head Island, where we purchased Flutterby, and Calabogue Sound, where we did our test sail. We even went back through the stretch of waterway where we actually sailed with the original rig, and the anchorage where we raised those sails for pictures.

I wonder what new things my old friend will show me as we go back North again?

Lucky the Goat

Marina mascot

“Is there a place to do laundry here?” I asked, as Barry presented his credit card to pay for our night’s stay at Osprey Marina.

“Yes — there’s a laundry room, right over there,” said the woman behind the cash register, Lynn. She pointed out the door of a clean but nondescript room with a row of washers and dryers and a small table. At least, it was nondescript at the time. Later that night, you might say it was pretty “descript.”

We’d stopped at Osprey marina because after four days on the water, anchoring out, it was time for hot showers, diesel, and laundry. A couple of years earlier, in one of the email dispatches known as “Malla and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” our friend Ted had gone into uncharacteristic rapture over the place, once named the best marina in the country by Marina Dock Age Magazine.

As Ted led us to expect, the place was small, reasonably priced, and very friendly, with excellent facilities for doing a memorable load of laundry.

Lucky the Goat
4 days old and cute as a kitten

What made it memorable was that at 5 o’clock, when the office closed, Lynn moved a baby goat into the laundry room.

The morning we arrived, the goat was the only topic of conversation. There was a small herd of them on the 180-acre property, and this one had been born four days earlier, on February 23. At first, everything looked fine, but after three days, his mother died.

Just a few hours before Barry and I arrived, the little orphan was tucked among warm towels in a small cooler and moved into the marina office with the heat cranked up. Everyone who came into the store stopped into the office to coo over the tiny brown-and-white floppy-eared creature who spent his time sleeping, eating, and occasionally bleating in a way that sounded like a human baby.

At the end of the day, there were plenty of volunteers from the various boats to help care for him overnight, which is why he ended up in the laundry room with all his paraphernalia — milk, bottle, printouts from the internet on how to care for an orphaned goat, a feeding schedule, and notes about his care and condition. Plus a sign with his name: Lucky.

While I was cooking dinner, Barry offered to carry our load of laundry ashore and put it into the washer. He didn’t come back, and dinner and I were waiting for him when he finally returned. He admitted that he had gotten into a conversation in the laundry room with a boater named Sharon, who was goat-watching. I couldn’t blame him, because I was dying to go up and play with the goat myself.

Sharon and Barry in Lucky's nursery
Sharon and Barry in Lucky’s nursery

Later that evening, as Barry was getting ready for bed, I announced that I needed to use the shoreside facilities. It was a ruse — we have a perfectly good head. I went straight to the laundry room, where a couple was just leaving after feeding the goat. We had a nice chat about — what else? — boats and goats, and then they left me alone to enjoy Lucky’s company. I got him out of the cooler and set him on the floor, where he wobbled on his toothpick legs and promptly piddled on the floor. Lucky was innately “cooler-trained” and would not mess up his bed.

For a four-day old creature, he was very rambunctious and curious. He wanted to explore the laundry room and when I turned him away from hidey-holes where he might get into trouble, he complained. He was an adorable playmate, about the size of a small cat.

We were enjoying each other’s company when Sharon returned and caught me trying to capture the fast-moving little guy with my camera. “Oh, good! I was afraid he’d be alone,” she said. “Here, let me take a picture of both of you.”

I was supposed to be in bed a half hour earlier, but I couldn’t help hanging out and talking with Sharon. It had been over 20 years since I played with a baby goat, and who knew when I’d get my next chance? I happen to really like goats.

The next morning, our alarm went off at 5:20 in order to catch some early favorable current in the Waccamah River. I’d promised Sharon that I would check on Lucky, because that would be between his 3 am and 6 am feedings. But when I entered the laundry room, there was Sharon, sitting in a plastic chair.

Sharon snoozing with Lucky
Sharon snoozing with Lucky

“Don’t tell me you stayed here all night,” I said.

“OK, I won’t tell you,” she replied.

“But you did.”

“Yeah, I did. I got some sleep when other people came in to feed him. His bottle’s over there in the sink — go ahead.”

I picked up the bottle and crouched down to the cooler, where Lucky was nosing his head around the towels as if looking for something. I gave him what he was looking for, and he sucked contentedly for a while. I hadn’t fed a goat since we lived on Hill Farm in Portland, Oregon, and it brought back fond memories.

Eventually, Barry came looking for me, intent on getting Flutterby underway, but he, too was captivated by early morning goat-feeding. We finally said our goodbyes and slipped our lines at 7 o’clock, 45 minutes later than planned.

Lucky seems strong and healthy enough to survive, but his future is unknown. Will he be adopted out to a family or local farmer, or just nursed long enough to return to the Osprey herd? Is Lucky even a he, or a little she?

Meps holding the goat
Meps and Lucky the Goat

There are a lot of boaters with dogs and cats aboard, and even a few birds. One thing is certain, though, which is that none of the boaters so eager to take their turns with Lucky in the laundry room want to adopt him. He may look adorable and be fun to play with, but already the laundry room is taking on a certain “goaty” odor. He is not a close-quarters pet, and I doubt that Osprey Marina, with its reputation for being one of the top marinas in the USA, wants to jeopardize their highly-prized standings with such an odiferous, albeit adorable, mascot.

Our experience definitely confirms one thing about Osprey: Their reputation for being the friendliest marina around is well-earned. They’ll be good to you, providing excellent facilities and plenty of free snacks. Even if — especially if — you are an orphaned goat.

Karen with the compass rose side of the quilt

27 inches, why do you ask?

Mast inside the boat with quilt on it
Karen’s mast quilt

The compass roses on our charts are very practical, necessary, and boring. They include true and magnetic north and a circle of numbers and tick marks to help us plot courses.

Flutterby recently acquired a much more beautiful compass rose, with blue cardinal points, green ordinal points, and gorgeous purple for the secondary intercardinal points. It is reminiscent of the ones used on historical seafaring charts going back to the 16th century, and it is a stunning piece of art.

It started with a picture that we posted on Facebook of Barry standing in Flutterby’s galley, next to the mizzen mast. In the comments about the photo, our friend Karen wrote, “Crazy question, but what’s the circumference of that mast?” Barry promptly replied (he has some interesting specifications stored on his computer), “The circumference is 27 inches where it goes through the galley.”

It was an odd exchange, since although Karen is a curious soul and a voracious reader, she isn’t a friend I think of as interested in the minutiae of sailboat refits. We met over 15 years ago on a computer BBS and shared a love of cats, dancing, and hilarious late-night conversations. Karen once distinguished herself as the best house-sitter on the planet when we returned from a trip to find a fresh-baked, homemade apple pie in our oven.

So after the initial question about the mast circumference, Karen dropped the subject. At least, that’s what I thought. And since she lives in Port Orchard, Washington, and she wasn’t likely to visit us on the boat very soon, we dropped it, too.

Nine months later, the next time we were in Seattle, Karen said she had a special something to give us. We had no idea how special!

Karen with the compass rose side of the quilt
Nautical side of the quilt

The surprise was a double-sided quilt, 27 inches square, with the dramatic compass rose and a blue-and-white fabric with boat plans on one side. Such a perfect thing to wrap around the mast in the center of our main cabin! It makes the boat look like an art gallery — the quilting itself was taken from a stained-glass window with butterflies in it.

But it is the other side that truly takes my breath away, because it illustrates how perceptive Karen is about the Adventures of Meps ‘n’ Barry. It’s a convergence quilt, with successively smaller pieces starting in the four corners and working together in the middle. It’s very colorful, but the predominant colors are restful browns and beiges. What the colors and the fabric represent are the four corners of the USA — the corners that we have explored and blogged about from the Squid Wagon.

As we set out on our latest voyage, heading south down the ICW, I am delighted to be boating again and to share my stories of life on the water. Our beautiful quilt is hanging on the mast with the compass rose facing out. But that is only a portion of my life. I’ve just gotten back from a trip overseas, to Brazil, that was taken on an airplane. And as Karen has beautifully illustrated, I am very proud of the voyages and the writing inspired by our travels on land, here in the USA. And I am very, very proud to call Karen Jake — fabric artist, crazy cat lady, librarian, and dedicated caregiver for her Mom — my friend.

Barry holding the quilt, showing the landlubber side
Barry and Karen with the landlubber side of the quilt

You can see samples of Karen’s work on her Flickr page.

Directionally Challenged

In the last month I’ve gone from North Carolina to Florida to Brazil, back to Florida, and now I’m back in North Carolina. It is often near freezing at night here in North Carolina. February is often the coldest month out of the year, but today’s weather is almost warm enough to belong more in Florida than North Carolina–up in the ’60s, and the next two days should hit the ’70s.

So why again am I moving South for warmer weather? I suppose it could stay decently warm up here. But nope, I’m heading South now.

Err, well, not really. Going “South” on the ICW from Beaufort, I follow the coast and go due West. I am trying to head South, but the compass won’t be pointing that direction for another week or two, given the shape of the coastline.

Today I’m noticing how many smaller things in my life have shifted already. Before, Flutterby and I were in the boatyard, with projects and chaos sprawled out in too many directions. The feral cats we’ve been feeding seemed to be getting more attached to us, and even tame–Nancy has head-butted Meps’ hand, and Kenny rubbed against my legs a few times. He will eat cat treats from either of our hands, and they would both jump onto the deck of our boat to ask for their dinner. Or sometimes they just came over to say hello, even after they had eaten their fill.

Last night I said goodbye to them. I didn’t use words–I just fed them dinner and treats like I usually do, and talked to them. I can say the stupidest things to them, and all I think they notice is the tone of voice. Sometimes I just meow back at them. Either way, they don’t understand goodbyes, and I don’t like goodbyes much anyway, so I didn’t waste words on that.

Today, we saw dolphins in the water crossing our wake. I don’t know when I’ll see those cats again, but I’m sure I’ll be seeing more dolphins in the next few days.

We are unplugged from shore power again. So I took two electric space heaters that had been running every night at the dock, and wound up the cords and put them away. I got out a small propane powered space heater and tested it. It is now dark, and cooling off. I’ll probably be using this heater for real in another hour. I’ve put away the AC power supplies for the computers and the phone chargers, digging out the 12V versions. Most people wouldn’t even notice, but I feel better knowing that I can run on my own power.

More important is being at anchor, swinging in the wind again. And next time I leave the boat there will be a dingy or a kayak to launch instead of just pulling the dock line in a bit tighter and stepping ashore. This motion is what a boat is supposed to do, and feels much better.

Yesterday, I spent an hour shuffling stuff in and out of the space under the V-berth, the deepest, largest, and (nearly) hardest to access storage aboard Flutterby. There are still things to stow, but she looks more cleaned up than she has in months. We had a short day (not even 15 miles) and are having a lazy afternoon, but I already sewed some clasps onto the mast quilt our friend Karen gave us this summer.

I have trouble figuring out which direction I’m going these days, but it sure feels good to be in motion again.

Back in the saddle again

Flutterby left the boatyard almost a year ago, and we started cruising. Sure, we did some projects underway like mounting the oarlocks on the dinghy. Sure, we did even more projects while we stayed at Vero Beach over the winter and spring–We sewed sails and bought and mounted solar panels. But we weren’t hauled out, and more importantly, we weren’t in project mode.

We brought Flutterby back to the boatyard in June, “summerized” her, and drove west.

A week ago, we returned to Flutterby. Yesterday, I dropped Margaret off at the airport; she’s going to Florida to help her Dad through open-heart surgery, and I’ve got a couple weeks to do boat projects.

Finally, for the first time in months, I opened my to-do list, a dozen pages in an Excel spreadsheet. Some things were irrelevant. Some were completed months ago. I crossed those off. I tried to remember all the things I had listed when Margaret asked what we had to do before we could launch again.

Then I went outside with a couple wrenches and took out the bolts holding the tiller arm onto the rudder. I scraped loose the 3M-101 goop that I could get off, then forced the thing away from the rudder. Now it is off, and only a little sticky residue remains. After I clean it up I’ll be making it fit higher so that the steering cables don’t make that AWFUL gritching noise when it hangs up between the quadrant on the tiller arm and the turning blocks.

If this is enough adjustment, I won’t have to adjust the angle of those turning blocks too. Wish me luck on that one.

I’m sure that half of the people reading this are wishing I could have described an exciting job. But moving the boot stripe on the rudder is a later project, so exciting things like sanding, prepping, masking, and painting … repeat … repeat … repeat … will have to wait.

For now, the important thing is that I’m back to working on Flutterby!

Catching a wave

I learned the art of subtle wave when I lived in rural South Carolina, the summer of 1984. On my one day off a week, my boss at the Beach and Tennis Club would loan me her car so I could buy groceries. Since the closest store was 15 miles away, I’d negotiated the loan of the car in my employment terms.

At first, I couldn’t believe my city-bred eyes. Every time I passed a car or truck on the 2-lane road, the driver waved at me. “Is something wrong? Why are they waving at me?” I wondered. By then, it was too late to wave back. I felt guilty. I was sure I owed them a wave.

When I started to wave back, I was doing it wrong. I was too energetic, waving with my whole hand. Eventually, I learned the technique. You hold the steering wheel at the top, and you don’t actually take your hand off the wheel to perform the wave. You just casually lift your fingers, keeping your thumb around the wheel. A little nod completes the split-second greeting.

All this comes back to me as I travel the Intracoastal Waterway, because this is a waving trip. All day long, I wave at people on passing boats, folks on shore, bridge tenders. When the days are long and our speed is slow, waving is an interesting distraction, a complex and subtle way to communicate without words.

Back in Georgia, traveling on a weekday in May, we might see one or two other boats, no houses on shore, and no bridges. Here in North Carolina, on a weekend in June, we have hundreds of boats, three or four bridges, and countless houses with docks. My arm could get tired with all this waving.

A primer on where to wave, using the Ladies Island Bridge for an example

In each encounter, there’s the question of who waves first, and who waves back. When I am about to be rolled by a big powerboat’s wake, I ignore any friendly waves by the boat’s occupants. I have an excuse — both my hands are occupied trying to steer Flutterby into their wake. I admit, that’s no excuse for my scowl.

When we’re passing a boat full of people, it’s interesting to see how many of them wave. Sometimes, the passengers look at us suspiciously when we wave. Then they notice their own captain waving, and they think, “Oh, it’s OK to wave.” So they wave, too, belatedly. Other times, the kids wave, but not the grown-ups. Or the grown-ups wave, and the kids look away, embarrassed.

I hesitate to wave at people whose have both hands occupied. Kayakers and fishermen, for example. I don’t want them to feel guilty for not waving back. The more inexperienced kayakers miss a stroke just to wave back at me. The savvy ones wave their paddles, mid-stroke.

Bridge tenders are another difficult one. Where the heck are they? I peer up as we go through the bridge, trying to figure out which reflective window might have a person behind it. Then I wonder if both their hands are occupied with bridge controls. Still, I wave gratefully and enthusiastically.

Swing bridges open very slowly, pivoting in the middle. When they’re open,  the bridge tender is on a little island, isolated from either side of the road. Sometimes, they come out and watch us, waving or calling down a hello. They’re not in a hurry like the bascule bridge tenders, whose bridges open like big jaws trying to take a bite out of the sky. (And close like big jaws trying to take a bite out of my mast.)

I could write a whole book about waving technique. I love the super-enthusiastic waves that we get from tiny kids and pre-teen girls. Sometimes they even use both arms. One of them, today, shouted “You’re from Seattle? I LOOOOVE Seattle!”

When I see people on the dock looking particularly relaxed and sipping drinks with little umbrellas, I give them a wiggly-finger wave, as if we know each other. That leaves them puzzled. Sometimes I use my Princess Parade wave — elbow, wrist, hand, elbow, wrist, hand. That leaves ‘em laughing. But most waves are just a simple lift of the hand, palm facing out. It reminds me of kids playing Indians: “How!”

I’ve tried some other, non-verbal, non-waving communications with mixed results. My attempts to communicate “slow down” always fall on deaf eyes. But a few times, we’ve been treated exceptionally well by boats passing, and a bow of gratitude is universally understood. Thumbs-up is another universal gesture, meaning, “I like your boat!”

Sometimes, when Barry comes up to take his watch, I wave at him, too. It’s just because I’m waving at everyone else, why shouldn’t he get a friendly wave as well?

Today, I noticed a lot of two-finger waves. Is that a modified military salute, or a papal benediction? Luckily, I have never, ever on the water, seen the “one-finger” wave.

I hope that one is reserved for cars.


On our mooring in Vero Beach, Flutterby usually hangs bow to the wind, gently hunting back and forth from one “tack” to the other.  When there is no wind she faces a random direction, only moving when we walk about inside.  But most days there is a breeze, and Flutterby spins back and forth, and sunbeams come through portlights and hatches to walk back and forth across the opposite wall, or our berth.

Yesterday, a little barge was working its way through the mooring field.  Eventually it came up next to Flutterby to inspect our mooring.  I’m one of those guys who likes work, and as they say, I can watch it all day.  In that spirit, I had a conversation with the guys on the barge while one of them dove down to inspect our mooring anchor. I found out that we were on an old-style mooring with a ten foot long concrete piling — buried completely under the mud and shell bottom, with a chain going from it up through the float at the surface. Flutterby’s bow is tied to a ring on the end of the chain, free to spin around and hang whichever way the wind or current sends her.

Since the wind was always coming from the bow, on any breezy day I could open the companionway and the forward-facing hatch in the V-berth, and fresh air would blast straight in through the cabin.  This is great if somebody just started to scorch things on the stove and you want to clear the air before the smoke alarm goes off.  (Don’t ask me how I know!)

But today, all this changed. I motored for less than an hour to Flutterby‘s new home on a dock.  It sure is convenient to not have a 5-10 minute dinghy ride (with its high risk of a wet butt) in order to go anywhere or do anything. In fact, I took a bike ride in my new neighborhood just for the fun of it, something I never got around to doing when the bike was a dinghy ride away.

Living in a place that is tied down at 4 corners, unable to move, is just weird!  Now the sunbeams only make one very slow transit per day. And the wind: It blows whatever direction it wants to, possibly from the starboard side of the boat all day. It is just plain weird, and that is all I can say about it!

A punky reggae party

I’m goin’ to a party
And I hope you are hearty
So please don’t be naughty
For it’s a punky reggae party (Bob Marley)

Flutterby's neighbors in Vero Beach
There goes the neighborhood... Flutterby in front of Vero Beach's posh homes

From Flutterby’s mooring to shore is about 150 feet. It’s a lot farther, if you measure it in dollars.

Tonight, there’s a birthday party at one of the houses on shore. The lawn is full of dressed-up people, and they’ve got a live reggae band. What I can’t figure out are the two chickens in the yard. I’ve never noticed those before. Perhaps they were a birthday present. Perhaps they’re serving really, really fresh chicken for dinner. Or maybe that’s the backup singers.

OK, that’s enough about the chickens. I must be hungry. I wonder what kind of people can afford to hire such a professional-sounding band for a birthday party?

No boring ol’ farts, no boring ol’ farts
No boring ol’ farts will be there
Singin’ no boring ol’ farts, no boring ol’ farts
No boring ol’ farts will be there (another verse from the same song)

My curiosity sends me to, where I look for information about our shoreside neighbors. The house with the party is just over a million dollars, but it’s not for sale. The one that is, though, is even closer; it’s the one whose windows we look right into. It’s a 3-bedroom, 2-1/2 bath rambler with a swimming pool. You can buy it for just over a million dollars. Or rent it for $7500 a month.

Or sit out here on a mooring and look into the windows, for $400 a month.

Turn your lights down low
And pull your window curtains…
(from another Bob Marley song)

It’s a good thing I like reggae, and the birthday party band in particular. I’m sure everyone over there is shouting, unsuccessfully, to be heard over the music, like this:

John: “Blah-de-blah-de-blah chicken?”
Mary: “No, I don’t want to dance with your chicken.”
John: “I said, blah-de-blah-de-blah CHICKEN!”
Mary: “You want me to to remodel your kitchen?”

Out here, we can’t turn the music off, but we can easily talk over it. It’s like our own private dinner concert (no boring ol’ farts here!). Because this is Vero Beach — known as Zero Beach to the younger set — the music stops at precisely 9:30 pm. I’m disappointed.

I once had a business trip to Semiahmoo, a stunningly beautiful resort near the Canadian border in Washington, with two coworkers. When the desk clerk handed out room keys, two of them faced the water, and one faced the parking lot. The two other women looked at me in consternation. I had the most seniority, so they were certain I’d claim one of the waterfront rooms, leaving them to fight over the other one. Instead, I picked up the parking lot room key, saying, “Enjoy the view. I’m going sailing tomorrow, and if you count both sides and the transom, I’ll have over 75 feet of waterfront property all weekend.”

That comment comes back to me as I listen to the reggae-chicken birthday party. Tonight, they’re  enjoying their waterfront property and sharing it with their friends. But they are paying an awful lot just to be looking at us! And we are not paying very much to be looking in their windows, enjoying their music, and laughing about their chickens.

Let me tell you, it takes a joyful sound
To make the world go ’round
It takes a joyful sound
So come a come and rock your boat (one last verse from Bob Marley)

Hero merit badges earned

“Your cat is cute.”
“She’s not my cat.”

“What’s wrong with your cat’s leg?”
“She’s not my cat.”

“You’re flying to Seattle? What are you going to do with your cat?”

To other people, fostering a cat family looks a lot like having cats. We had a cat door, food and water bowls, and a playful, frisky kitty named Buttercup who followed us around the boatyard and frolicked under our boat. All of which explains the number of times in two weeks that we had to protest, “SHE’S NOT MY CAT!”

Aboard our boat, her two kittens spent all their time sleeping and nursing. When their mother climbed into the berth with them, they would make tiny, cute squeaking sounds, and she would respond with chirps. Then they’d find a teat, suckling quietly, and she would purr.

Barry with two not-his-kittens
Barry with two not-his-kittens

One night, just after I went to bed, I heard agitated squeaking. Buttercup was responding with more than the usual meeowing, purring, and chirping. When I went to see what was up, there was a soggy kitten on the galley floor. Buttercup’s water bowl was a small Tupperware cup, just big enough for one kitten — and one kitten had fallen in!

That night, she decided the quarterberth was not a safe place. She moved the kittens under the stove, where we had to get on our hands and knees to see them. They hardly noticed us, since their eyes remained closed. We tried not to spill popcorn or sauteed onions behind the stove.

Not-my-cat comes out from a kitten feeding
Buttercup Not-My-Cat comes out from under the stove

Less than a week before our departure, we got a very welcome call. Donna of PAWS had found a foster home for the three with a retired couple who are dedicated to cats. Imagine a large house in the country, surrounded by miniature houses, each with carpet, windows, and air conditioning. Our single mother and her babies were going to live in a real cathouse!

So we dropped them off at a vet for the transfer. Even after just three weeks, it was hard to say goodbye. We drove back from the vet wearing PAWS bracelets that say, “I saved a pet.” And in our email box was a timely message from our cat rescue mentors, Blaine and Suzy: “hero merit badges earned!”

But the boat was quiet and empty. The feral cats we feed sat at the bottom of our ladder, puzzled. “Where’d that girl kitty go? We didn’t mean to chase her away!” they seemed to say. We threw ourselves into finishing the masts and packing for our trip, as if working 19-hour days would distract us from missing the friendly cream-colored cat.

We’re in the Pacific Northwest now, with even more distractions. Still, I find myself looking at the photos of Buttercup Not-My-Cat — of which we have way too many — and thinking, “Yes. For a short time, you were my cat. Thank you.”

The true badge of a liveaboard boater

Years before we counted many liveaboards as friends, I was very reluctant to buy a boat large enough to live aboard. Thus we chose the 25 foot Northern Crow, which was obviously too small for two people to live on. This was my insurance against being begged, nagged or pushed into moving aboard before I was ready.

We have lived aboard for several-month periods before, but never on our own boat. The longest period was seven months, with Brian on Cayenne, and shorter times on Vger, Complexity, and Indigo. We even lived on Flutterby briefly while we did insurance company-required repairs and transported it from South Carolina to North Carolina. But we always had our “home” elsewhere, or if not an entire “home,” we had something like 75% of our stuff in storage.

This time, it is different. We don’t have anything but a few boxes of photographs, wedding china, and other irreplaceable memories–we have all the things we need right here with us, either on the boat or packed up inside the Squid Wagon. And this time, moving aboard took us by surprise–we thought we knew what living aboard is all about, but life always smacks you in the face with a lesson pretty quick.

Before we arrived in the boatyard, I had been thinking of all the projects we had to do to make Flutterby ready to cruise, starting with re-finishing the bottom and fixing leaking hardware in the deck, along with any damage it had done. It has now been four full days and the only project we have completed is plumbing the icebox drain so it gets pumped overboard instead of draining into the bilge.

What have we been doing? Trying to carry our stuff up the ladder from Squidley into the boat, and find a place for it inside.

It didn’t take us three days to succumb. In fact, we would have done it in two and a half, if our cellphone had better signal in the boatyard. We are now the proud renters of a storage unit. I hope that when we are ready to sail we can fit everything aboard, but for now, this is the cheapest way to protect our sanity that I can think of.