A Bug’s Life

We’ve written several posts detailing our many adventures aboard “Firefly,” and now I’d like to share some of our adventures in and around our dinghy, “Bug.”

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Bug!

Chris and I built “Bug” ourselves, which was simultaneously stressful and amazing, if that makes any sense. Chris wrote a post back in October with some of the details, but at that point, we hadn’t even splashed her yet.

Chris and I picked a John Welsford design called “Scraps” for three reasons: 1. She’s pretty! 2. She’s small! 3. The plans said it would take about 18 hours to build (Ha!)! It took us at least three times that, mainly accounting for newbie errors, lack of proper tools, possibly exhaustion, etc.

Real quick, we used 4mm plywood for the topsides, 6mm plywood for the transoms and bottom. We used 1×1’s (ripped down to a slightly smaller size) for the gunwales and frames. We got all the materials at Lowes. We lofted the pieces on some marine plywood, cut out out the parts, put everything together, glassed it, painted it, and Chris added some corner braces.

I originally wanted to call her “Inara” after one of the characters in the show Firefly, but as soon as we started putting her together, I knew she was a “Bug.”

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The moment we knew she was a “Bug!”

Once we finished building and painting, we had to install oar locks and find some oars. Paul, the Boatyard Manager at Regent Point Marina, where we kept “Firefly,” gave us a tip about having oar locks in two spots: One for when one person uses the boat, another for when two people do. The weight distribution changes dramatically, so you have to be in a different spot while rowing in each case. Thanks Paul! Chris found oars at a marine consignment store.

I was pretty terrified the first time we tried to get into the dinghy; I was sure we’d swamp her. I couldn’t relax at all. The first time I had fun in “Bug” was when Chris took me for a moonlight row around Locklies Creek (right near Regent Point Marina) on a flat calm evening. We had been so stressed out trying to get ready for the trip, to move out of our house, etc. It was so nice to hear the oars moving through the water and to see the waterscape in the moonlight.

And so, “Bug” just fits on the cabin top when we need her to, and is very light and easy to tow. We’ve had our fair share of adventures in the little boat, that’s for sure!

“Bug” on the cabin top vs. being towed. When she’s on the cabin top, we have to do what we call “boat yoga” to get down the companionway. When we tow bug, if we hit any kind of big wave or wake, we always yell “Hold on Bug!” 

Chris is the primary rower; he’s been rowing since he was a kid. I’ve really only tried once, and it was pretty laughable. So I’m pretty much cargo.

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“Bug” and her motor.

Landing the dinghy can be an adventure depending on where we are. When we were anchored in Lake Worth, the dinghy landing area was pretty crowded. We had been told that dinghies were being stolen and that we definitely wanted to lock ours to the poles provided. However, upon landing, the tide was up past the poles. So Chris had to lock the dinghy and climb a wall to get to the little beach. After first dropping off the cargo on dry land of course!

Chris climbs to dry land. Cargo snaps photos.

Another time also in Lake Worth, after having a rollicking time with the crew of “Calista,” we were rowing back to “Firefly” (again, when I say “we,” I mean Chris!) and one of our oars broke in half (they are collapsable so they’re built to come apart) by accident… this was at 4am in what I would call a light chop. Luckily, Giles, captain of “Calista,” had decided to dinghy over to make sure we made it alright. We pointed at our oar half and yelled to him, and he zipped over, scooped it up, and then towed “Bug” back to “Firefly.” Thanks Giles!

On a related note: We keep our oars on “Firefly’s” cabin top when we are underway. This one time, when we were getting ready to pull into the St. Augustine Municipal Marina on a windy, choppy, nasty day, I was frantically running around trying to get docklines and fenders set up while trying to talk to the dockmaster on the VHF to figure out where they were going to put us. I (in my frenzied state) accidentally knocked an oar, just enough for it to go overboard. Chris, at the tiller, saw this happen, leaned over, and managed to scoop up the oar while we were moving!  Later, the guys in the dockmaster’s office were like “nice catch, man.”

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This photo shows where the oars live.

We’ve also had to use the dinghy in less-than-ideal rowing conditions. For example, when we visited my brother in Titusville, we had to row back to our boat in a quite a nasty chop (against the wind of course) in the dark. This was the first time I really thought we might capsize. I was screaming obscenities at every wave that soaked us (and we did get pretty soaked), AND we weren’t sure which anchor light was ours… so it took us longer than usual to get back to the boat and dry clothes.

One thing that can be a little difficult with a hard dinghy vs. an inflatable is that when “Bug” bumps into “Firefly” both boats can be harmed, and the noise wakes us up. This usually happens if we have any kind of wind-against-tide phenomenon. “Firefly” with her full keel prefers to face into any current. “Bug,” being very light, gets blown around by the wind. So, if the wind is against the tide, “Bug” will get blown into the transom.  In that case, we usually pull her up to our hip and tie her there with a fender keeping her from bumping.

The night we were anchored out in a gale in Long Key Bight, “Bug” alerted us to the fact that we were dragging. We weren’t really sleeping because the wind was so loud and the boat was swinging so much, but all of a sudden we hear “Bug” slam-slam-slamming against “Firefly.” Chris and I got up and Chris realized at that moment that we were beam-on to the wind and therefore dragging. So “Bug” was kind of our watchdog.

When we pulled into the marina in Tavernier in mid-January, we both noticed that Bug was looking pretty beat-up. So, one day when we had some time, we decided to do some repairs.

Before Pics

We pulled off the old corner braces, made new ones, covered them in epoxy this time, then repainted. We also added some cleats, and then the sailing rig (Chris linked to a video of him sailing “Bug” in high winds an earlier post).

After Pics

She’s looking pretty good these days!

I must say, when I look at “Bug” I am always filled with a warm, fuzzy feeling. Not only has she been completely necessary on this trip, but I think she is beautiful. My husband put at least 3x more hours into building her than I did, but having had any part at all definitely gives me a strong emotional attachment to her.

One more story: I ordered lettering for her transom before we left. It simply said “bug.” All lowercase, same font as “Firefly.” I thought it was super cute and I was really excited about it. We hauled all our boat and trip related stuff out to “Firefly” before we left, and somehow the lettering got lost.

Over the course of the trip, we’ve realized that it can be hard to see our boat name when we tow “Bug.” She gets in the way a bit (she’s such an attention hog!). So, recently, I decided to re-order letting for her. This time it would say “bug T/T Firefly.” (T/T means “Tender To”). That way, people would know who we are! I ordered it a while ago, and expected it when we got our mail forwarded to us in Palm Coast, FL. We got the package, and I was all excited and then… the lettering wasn’t there. At all. I still don’t know what happened to it. Instead, I had a jury duty summons.

It seems the universe wants “Bug” to have a blank transom!

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Meals on Keels

Hi, hello, and howdy dear readers! Chris and I are currently holed up waiting out some nasty weather (this gets old, let me tell you), so our journey home has turned from sprint to mosey. However, this gives me an opportunity to finally write this post, which I’ve been meaning to get together for some time now.

Meal preparation is a huge challenge here on “Firefly,” mainly because we don’t have a galley or refrigeration (or, ahem, room to do much of anything). What we do have is a two-burner Coleman camp stove that we hook up to our propane tank (a 10-lb aluminum tank that lives in a stock pot on the stern rail), and a cooler (which sometimes has ice in it and sometimes doesn’t). We also have a nice set of “nesting” stainless steel pots/pans that my in-laws very kindly gave us for a Bon Voyage gift.

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Coleman camp stove, which lives on the counter under the companionway, along with the cutting board and plastic washtub. Every time we make a meal we have to pull out the stove, pull out the propane tank, hook everything up, cook, then put it all away again.


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Nesting cookware tucked away(ish). Note: This photo was taken before we left. The interior of “Firefly” has never since looked this nice, clean, or organized. 

We also don’t really have room for the cooler, so we have made it the second step that you use to come down the companionway.

That being said, we have to buy food that will store well, that (mostly) doesn’t need refrigerated, and that is still (hopefully) yummy. We usually have some combination of the following produce on the boat: Onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, avocados, apples, oranges or clementines, and lemons. They live in a net. We also learned that eggs don’t actually need to be refrigerated (you have to turn them over once every couple days), and these are a staple for us. We have way too much canned food on the boat as well, to include salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, roast beef, chicken, black beans, kidney beans, mixed veggies, canned tomatoes and tomato sauce, soups… well, you get the picture. Then we keep other staples like pasta, brown rice, quinoa, etc around. Excess canned items live in the bilge and the items that we need to get to easily go in what has been dubbed “the meat locker.” Coffee, condiments, etc live on some of the easy-to-reach shelving we happen to have.

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Produce (and a baguette we grabbed before leaving Tavernier)!

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The kind of foodstuffs that live in the meat locker…

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…stuffed unceremoniously into the meat locker.

So, as you can imagine, getting a good, nutritious meal together can be a production, especially while we are underway.

As Chris mentioned a while back in his A Day on the Waterway post, I make coffee and breakfast down below every morning while Chris gets us going and mans the tiller. I think I got the better end of that deal… mornings can be chilly! I very much believe in the cliche that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and I know we burn a bazillion calories while we’re sailing, so I try to pack in quite a bit of food to our first meal of the day.

I make coffee using a stainless steel french press, of which I am now very enamored. We both like Italian roasts and have been really enjoying Trader Joe’s Italian Roast coffee beans. I hand grind the beans with a little stainless steel grinder on the coarsest setting, dump the grounds into the french press, and then get the tea kettle on the camp stove with enough water to fill the press.

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Coffee beans in the coffee grinder.

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Kettle on to boil.

Here are some secrets I discovered (using the Google) to a good cuppa: Let the kettle boil and then set it aside for around 30 seconds to just cool a bit. Then, pour a bit of the water and try to evenly wet the grounds in the bottom of the press. Wait 30-45 seconds (this is also a great time to stick your nose in there and get a good whiff of deliciousness) and then vigorously pour in the rest of the water (you want to agitate the grounds now) so that you get a nice frothy foam in there. Wait another 30-45 seconds before putting the lid on the press.

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Coffee coffee coffee!

Now, after you put the lid on the press, set the timer for 12 minutes (none of this 4 minutes crap like most people tell you). Then, after your 12 minutes, push the plunger down gently and enjoy! You’re welcome!

I’ve also developed a couple different breakfasts that work well for us while underway. One I call “Ryan’s Not-Yet-Famous Underway Breakfast Bowl,” and this is how it’s made:

Ryan’s Not-Yet-Famous Underway Breakfast Bowl

Serves 2.

Slice up 1 Onion and 1 Potato or Sweet Potato (or both!)

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Coat a pan with cooking spray, then add some olive oil. Get the onions sizzling and then throw in the potatoes. Cook until potatoes are done and season to taste.

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Meanwhile, as the onions and taters cook, slice up an avocado and put half in one bowl and half in another.

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When the onions/potatoes are done, add half to each bowl on top of the avocado.

Then, crack a couple eggs into the pan you cooked the potatoes in (we don’t want to do any more dishes than necessary, yes?) and fry over easy. Throw an egg on the top of each bowl.

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Hand one bowl up the captain, and take one for yourself. Devour.

You’re welcome (again).

I think Chris is usually pretty content when I hand him up his coffee and his breakfast bowl in the morning!

I’ve also taken to making a breakfast that I call the Modified Ploughman’s Breakfast. It was inspired by an incredible meal I had at a little British pub in Dania Beach called The Ploughman’s. It’s basically a little of everything you have lying around sliced up on a plate with a few choice cooked items. The version I had at the pub included a Scottish Egg (Google this), sliced up cheeses, a little salad, some sliced up pork, tomato slices… it was awesome. Here’s what my version often looks like:

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Yessah!

Lunch is another story, indeed. We’re usually pretty busy around lunchtime… we’re both above-decks and involved in steering, navigation, etc. Lots of times (especially at the beginning of our trip when we were still getting into the swing of things) we’d sort of forget to eat in the middle of the day.

Lately we’ve taken to eating easy-to-prepare snacky lunches. Since we have no table or anything at the helm either, this is what a typical “Firefly” lunch can look like:

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Sardines on saltines, pretzels, cuties (clementine-y thingies). Sunscreen not included in this meal.

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Sliced up baguette with brie (we found a single-serving cheese wedge packaged version that is fine without refrigeration!), peanut butter, and olive oil/garlic/italian seasoning.

As you might imagine, we are often famished by the time we drop the anchor, especially if we’ve put in a 50+ mile day. Chris and I sort-of take turns making dinner (there’s really not room for two people to cook), though occasionally we will sous-chef for each other. Dinners range from heating up a can of chili (lazy, tired) to putting on a delicious production. If we’re recently coming from somewhere with a grocery store, we’ll have some refrigerated ingredients on ice in the cooler at our disposal.

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Sous chef-ing! Note that the cooler is not only our step, but also our table. 

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The finished product! We keep corn tortillas around and eat them a lot… tacos are pretty sweet after a long day on the water.

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Christmas dinner this year was special in that we had fresh ingredients from the grocery store that day: Meat sauce with leeks and zucchinis over pasta. 

Pretty much nothing beats catching a fish and eating it for dinner (we have only managed to do this a few times)… This one time Chris caught a Crevalle Jack (fish) and we made delicious fish tacos for dinner. Another time, I caught a Blue Fish and Chris made a fantastic meal for us out of it.

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Fish acquired…

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…taco fixin’s prepared. Not the best photos but one of the better meals we’ve had on the trip!

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Blue Fish and veggies, nom!

There have been some days where I’ve been so exhausted, windblown, and over-sunned that I couldn’t muster enough energy to cook dinner at all. But mostly, we’ve gotten pretty good at making sure to get three decent meals in, despite all the work involved.

At the end, there’s dishes and then we do it all again!

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Spiny Liebster

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The Biiiggest Spiny Liebster Award EVER!

Tricia and her man Rich live in Cornwall “On Gwen,” a ferro-cement gaff cutter. That means it’s a badass, somewhat old-school, thoroughly sea-going boat with lots of strings to pull on. They’re in the process of getting the boat ready for cruising, and potentially an Atlantic crossing. I am envious of that aspiration, I am intimidated by it as well. Tricia writes of their life and travels aboard with honesty and a certain British-Isles-Panache that is beguiling. Their photos are gorgeous. You should check out her blog here.

During our own preparations and subsequent blogging, we were fortunate to internet-meet like-minded souls who were suffering through their own fiberglass-dust-induced fits of asthmatic-lung-hacking. In some cases that dust was ferro-cement in nature. We traded trade secrets, and encouragement. More recently, we’ve been Liebster Awarded- which is a way for bloggers to recognize each other and say “hey, we dig ur shiz.” So, to the crew of “On Gwen,” many thanks for reading our stuff, thanks for the inspiration, and thanks for the recognition!

The Liebster Award is given from one blogger to another in recognition of blogging. “On Gwen” has posited some questions, our answers, as follows:

1) What’s the plan?

Chris- Our immediate plan is to take the boat North, back up the Intracoastal Waterway to the Chesapeake Bay in time for me to get back to work in April. We’re looking forward to hitting a few places we missed on the way down, as well as using our somewhat-newfound confidence to explore some nooks and crannies off the beaten track. “Firefly” is just about the perfect Chesapeake Bay boat, relatively shoal draft but also thoroughly seaworthy. We’re looking forward to Springs, Summers, and Falls exploring the nearly endless coastline of coastal Virginia. Beyond that, I’d like to gain some bluewater experience crewing aboard boats heading offshore to the Caribbean during the annual Fall migration. I definitely feel like we have unfinished business with the crossing to the Bahamas, and beyond that, I really, really want to take “Firefly” there. We’ve been talking about getting a trailer so that we can do trips to the Bahamas or even up North (all you Mainers and Nova Scotians watch out!) without taking off work for unreasonable amounts of time. That’s the plan, I’m sticking to it.

Ryan- My plan is to keep as warm as I can on the trip home, and to try to enjoy as much of the rest of the journey as I can. Then, it’s back to “real life” and I have to find us a house and find a job!

2) Who would play you both, and your boat, in the film/television adaptation of your blog?

Ryan- Emma Watson.

Chris- Rupert Grint.

Firefly- The Durmstrang Ship.

3) (stolen from Emily) What has made you poo your pants in fear so far?

Chris- Dragging anchor at Long Key Bight. We had some tense moments elsewhere, at crowded bridges maneuvering under power, or more prolonged as during our aborted Bahamas crossing and our first day out on the Chesapeake Bay. Nothing even close to the immediate necessity of getting the anchor re-set in 40 knots of wind. Honestly I had never felt fear of that nature before, my mouth was dry, and I found that I had unnatural physical strength. Weird. Scary.

Ryan- Our attempted Bahamas crossing was probably the most scared I’ve ever been. My entire body was so tense while we were out on the water that I was sore for days afterward. The darkness, the waves, the almost exaggerated healing-over “Firefly” does when she’s close-hauled, the sea-spray that completely soaked us both within 30-minutes of leaving the inlet, and then the engine cutting out in the middle of it all… I was terrified. At one point I was mewling so loudly that Chris barked an order for me to go below. But I was too scared to move, so I stayed put. I didn’t poo my pants, but I did almost pee myself because I was too scared to go below and use the head.

4) What would you be doing if you weren’t sailing?

Chris- Dreaming of sailing? Growing lots of oysters, which is also deeply satisfying. Sailing isn’t always fun, but is nearly always satisfying. I think humans aren’t necessarily wired to find satisfaction in languor and relaxation so much as action and accomplishment. Much more important to take pride in something than to be briefly content.

Ryan- I’d be doing yoga everyday, growing a big ole garden, going for long runs, and I’d have like a million pet rabbits and doggies. I’d also have a job and stuff, cuz money. Also, for the record, I love languor and relaxation.

5) What is your top tip for surviving a boat building project?

Chris- Ehhhh, we barely survived ours, I’m not sure we’re in any place to give advice. Don’t try to move out of a house, finish prepping a boat for a cruise, and tie up loose ends at work during a weeks time? It certainly takes a certain amount of hard-nosed obsession to push through. Maybe knowing when enough is enough and just slipping the docklines. Does she float? Does she move? I would say don’t take on anything with significant deck delamination, hull blisters, or structural damage. Oftentimes a “project boat” is a false economy, in our case the desire to fix up a beautiful old boat and gain boatbuilding skills was part of the attraction. If you just want to go sailing, buy a boat that can go sailing.

Ryan- I’m going to take this question in a different direction than Chris did. We built our dinghy, “Bug,” and both really enjoyed it. I say, be patient, expect it to take longer than you think, and definitely jump up-and-down when she starts to look like an actual boat. Take pride in your work, brag to everyone that you built her, and, if someone says something mean about her, flip ’em the bird. We started getting comments/looks about our tiny, hand-built, man-powered dinghy once we made it to Fort Lauderdale, but it only made me love her more.

 

And So, with the power bestowed upon us, we nominate Ed and Vicky of “Elara” for a Liebster. We met these good folks in Elizabeth City, NC and were fortunate enough to continue bumping into them throughout the trip. They blog over yonder at Catching the Horizon.

  1. Why are you sailing, where are you going?
  2. How do you get your mojo back after a major setback like you guys experienced in Charleston?
  3. What has made you poo your pants in fear, and poo your pants in happiness?
  4. What do you guys do while not underway?
  5. How do you divided responsibilities on the boat?

 

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Painkillers on “Elara” in Oriental, NC.

 

Wildlife of the ICW

Chris and I really thought our (very loud) outboard engine would scare away any and all wildlife we would have potentially seen on our trip down the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). However, noisemaker aside, we’ve been lucky enough to see some pretty cool animals so far.

For example, yesterday Chris saw a huge sea turtle right on the surface of the water just south of St. Augustine! We were caught unprepared and didn’t manage to get a photo, but how cool is that?

We have managed to get photos of a lot of the other wildlife we’ve come across, so I wanted to share them with you all, dear readers.

We heavily use our iPhones for blog photos out of convenience and dummy-proofédness, but when it comes to getting shots of wild animals, they’re not exactly the best.

I have a Cannon Rebel XS DSLR camera that we brought along, and we mainly keep the 55-250mm lens on there, which gives us a bit of zooming power. So, I’ve finally taken the time to grab some of those photos off the SIM card so I could upload them to our Flickr account.

First off, starting somewhere in North Carolina, we got to the point where we started seeing dolphins every single day, multiple times per day. It’s weird to think that I see dolphins about ten times as often as I see squirrels these days. Getting a good photo of a dolphin has proven tricky for us (neither of us is necessarily a pro), but Chris managed to snap some pretty durn good ones the other day while we were anchored at Cumberland Island in Georgia:

We’ve also seen all kinds of cool birds on this trip, some of which have been heading South like us.

Cormorants have been everywhere, all the way from Virginia down to Florida. They often sit on the ICW navigation markers and spread their wings out to dry after a dive for food:

We’ve been lucky enough to see bald eagles on several occasions:

And pelicans were dive-bombing for fish on Mobjack Bay at the beginning of the trip and have showed up here and there as we’ve moved South. This one was kind of just hanging out with us and “Firefly” in Swansboro, NC:

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We’ve also seen a ton of Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets:

I also kind of freaked out when we were anchored off Plum Orchard (also on Cumberland Island, GA) and I saw two pink birds land in a tree already filled with other birds. I was convinced that we were seeing wild pink flamingos. However, a very nice couple we’ve encountered several times on the trip so far (Hi Bill and Judy!) filled me in (and very kindly gave us a bird field guide): They’re actually called Roseate Spoonbills. Check one out in the upper right-hand corner of this photo:

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We saw a wild horse on the shore of Cumberland Island (If you haven’t figured it out yet, this place is awesome):

 

And I would say the most surprising sighting we’ve had (besides the sea turtle!) was of wild boars on a tiny little marshy island in South Carolina. I just heard a crashing sound, looked over, and saw two dark shapes on the island. At first I thought they were black bears (such a Virginia girl, I guess) and then realized they were boars:

So cool.

I hope the animals of the ICW continue to forgive us our “putt-putting” and our “oohs” and “aahs” and hang out with us here and there. I feel very lucky to have seen so much over the past 6 weeks or so, and we’ll share any cool shots we get with you all.

 

 

Chucktown

Chris and I had high expectations for our stop in Charleston, and I’d say they were definitely met. Prior to our departure, we were so busy getting “Firefly” and “Bug” ready to go that we barely took the time to scope out the possible stops along ICW. Honestly, the only part of the ICW I knew I wanted to hit was Charleston.

We had originally thought we were going to hit Charleston on Thursday (the 19th), and I got my hopes good and high, but because of nasty storms and the timing of the tides, we realized it was going to be Friday (the 20th). I spent that afternoon more than a little upset; I was pretty excited about the prospect of a hot shower and a big city full of restaurants and culture. But, on that Friday, we had a short, sunny journey from our anchorage on Dewees Creek to the Charleston Maritime Center on the Cooper River. The marina was a bit bouncy, but was within walking distance of all the good stuff in the city and had an incredible view. A tradeoff we were comfortable with.

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After showering (yay!), we walked to “Husk,” Sean Brock’s Charleston southern-revival restaurant that is extremely highly-rated. After seeing Sean on a show on Netflix called “The Mind of a Chef” I had made lunch reservations for us (it was impossible to get dinner reservations). We had pig’s ear lettuce wraps, pork rillettes, pork belly with faro verde, shrimp and grits, and a cast iron skillet of bacon cornbread (mayhaps we ate a whole pig?). And a nice glass of wine for me and a Pluff Mud Porter (local beer that we loved) for Chris. Mwah!

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We hit a couple bars (including Amen Street, a raw bar with oysters and clams) in town that evening and enjoyed ourselves quite thoroughly. Chris dragged me to a terrible dive bar (I was pretty grumpy about this), after which I was pretty much ready to hit the hay. However, on our way back to the marina, we thought we’d stop at a Walgreens to get some things, and out of the blue, we heard someone say “hey, don’t I know you?” Turns out, Nick Falk (former drummer for one of our favorite bands of all time, Old School Freight Train, and current drummer of The Rigs) was in town to play a gig and was at the Walgreens at the same time we were. He recognized Chris! Turns out, his band was in town to open for the Wood Brothers. He had already played his set, but he very kindly added us to the guest list and we got to see most of the Wood Brothers set! Chris and I both had an absolute blast at the show, and very much enjoyed getting to see Nick again. I went from grumpy to elated in about point-six-seconds.

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Me, Chris, Nick!

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The Wood Brothers!

Saturday morning was also amazing, in that we got to go to the Charleston Farmer’s Market. We got fresh veggies and eggs (if these things are not refrigerated to begin with, they’ll keep for a bit without refrigeration, which is good for us!). We also got breakfast sandwiches and coffees. Chris had a Roti called a “Wakey Bakey” which was apparently good enough to mention. It was a beautiful day and was very pleasant to meander around the market. I was so excited to get fresh food and good coffee that I’m pretty sure I prattled on about it for the remainder of the day.

Then, we met up with Pete and Gail, good friends of the Johnsons, Chris’s aunt and uncle (Hi Pete and Gail!). They sail and are currently retired in Charleston. They took us to Holy City Brewery (home of the aforementioned Pluff Mud Porter) and then to this amazing place called the Tattooed Moose, where we had probably the best meal of the stop. We had a lot of fun hanging out with them and are very grateful they took some time out of their lives to hang out with us!

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Gail, Me, Chris, Pete!

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We went to another place (The Blind Tiger) for a drink and talked to a very nice couple around our ages for a while.

On Sunday, we had coffee at a really cool spot called Caviar and Bananas and then met Mallory, a good friend’s brother, for lunch at a bar called The Griffon. He is an experienced sailor and we picked his brain for a bit (Hi Mallory! Hi Blaine!). We also had a Harris Teeter within walking distance so we spent that evening provisioning (Read: bought more beer).

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Mallory, Chris, Me!

Monday, we got our outboard engine serviced, picked up our mail (which I had forwarded to Charleston), and then walked around The Battery, which is an area on the water filled with historical mansions and cannons. It got pretty chilly the last couple days we were in town, but we still had a great time.

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On Tuesday, we headed out. I cried when we were pulling away from the city… it was such a welcome stop to me after so many days in remote anchorages and making do with canned food and no showers. I think if I were ever to live in a city, Charleston would definitely be in consideration. It seems so young, vibrant, healthy, and “in.” Every single person we came into contact with was kind and helpful. The food is great, the beer is great, the views are great. It’s hard to capture the feel of the city in words, and even harder in pictures (mainly because I’m a terrible photographer).

We are definitely planning on stopping again in Chucktown on the way home. Chris wanted to add some thoughts about some of the feelings that served as a kind of backdrop to our time in Charleston as well, which are below:

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As we made our way through the approaches in Charleston Harbor (a stirring sight for beer-thirsty and food-hungry sailors) we sighted a small island with a fortress, “Shutes Folley” and “Pickney’s Castle,” respectively. There was a French flag flying from the small fortress and it took me a moment to realize why. While walking down Calhoun Street in Charleston, we had a similar moment when we realized we were standing next to First Emmanuel AME. In both instances we were struck hard with the reality that in many ways we have been insulated from during our travels. What can you say in the face of madness? As we write, we are sitting at anchor in Beaufort, SC after having enjoyed a delicious-if-unorthodox Thanksgiving meal of saltines, salami, and smoked trout. And wine. We are very lucky, and very thankful for the opportunities afforded and taken that have led us to this safe harbor. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

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PS-  We celebrated Thanksgiving in Beaufort, SC. We’ll be in Georgia within a day or two…Carolinas, it’s been real.

Sun Worship

Hello! Ryan here. 

I wrote the following post a couple days ago in Oriental, NC but didn’t get a chance to post it.

Since then, we ended up staying an extra day in Oriental due to extremely icky weather. Yesterday, we set out from Oriental and decided to bypass Beaufort in favor of putting in some extra miles. We anchored out on Spooner’s Creek, which was strange (read: HUGE mansions right up on the water all around the anchorage). This morning, we left at 7AM, timed the tide/current perfectly, and quickly made 20 miles to Swansboro. I am currently posted up at a place called Bake Bottle Brew drinking a Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout poaching Wifi. 

Anyways, the following post is what I wrote in Oriental and is entitled “Sun Worship:”

When Chris and I decided to turn our little Firefly into a home, I immediately knew I wanted to take care of our power needs with solar energy. I worked for a biofuel company for a while a few years back (and learned a ton about green energy options), but didn’t truly become obsessed with solar until Chris and I watched the new version of Cosmos when it came out on Netflix (If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it). Neil Degrasse Tyson managed to make it abundantly clear to me: The sun throws energy at us constantly, and for free. It’s not going anywhere (or if it does, we’ll go with it). Solar energy is truly our greatest, cleanest, most abundant energy-related resource.

People who are way smarter than I am have recently managed to create cost-effective methods of harnessing the sun’s energy, which for us meant it was extremely accessible.

I was leaning towards implementing a truly portable solar system for Firefly- Goal Zero has some pretty cool stuff I was drooling over. Chris, however, wanted living on Firefly to be a little less like camping and more like living in a home. And I’m really glad he won me over. At the recommendation of a fellow Regent Point Marina slipholder (Thanks Mike!), we checked out a company called Renogy. They sell extremely affordable solar systems that are DIY installable, which are more permanent than the Goal Zero products.

We sat down to calculate our energy needs (we tried to over-estimate), which were fairly minimal. We knew we’d want to power our iPhones, a laptop, a VHF radio, a handheld GPS, a few lights, and maybe some small, personal fans. We decided we’d need about a 100 Amp-hour battery, and then that we would need 100-watts from a solar panel or panels. We bought two 50-watt panels and a controller (which controls how much energy flows from the panels into the battery how fast) from Renogy for less than $300.

Chris figured out a way to mount the panels on the stern rail of Firefly (and he built the mounting system himself!). The panels have two positions: engaged, or not. We simply tied a stopper knot into some thin line and pull on it and cleat it off to pull the panel into the “engaged” position. Simple systems= less that can go wrong. So, Firefly now has wings (how appropriate!).

The biggest problem we ran into was that the wiring that came with the panels wasn’t nearly long enough to reach down to where the battery was going to live. So Chris had to actually learn to splice wires. We bought the correct guage wire, heat shrink terminals, and he basically added line to the system. He also figured out where fuses needed to go and in what order all the components needed to go (panels into controller, controller into fuse, fuse into battery, battery to outlet, etc).

Another decision Chris made was to keep everything in 12v DC power instead of putting in an inverter and switching everything to AC. For those of you who don’t know a lot about electric (which we didn’t before this project), DC power is what you have in your car when you use a “cigarette lighter” style car charger. AC power is what you have in your house. This allows us to use a lot less energy. It’s my understanding that we use AC power in our homes, etc because it travels over longer distances much better than DC power. Not an issue for us here on Firefly.

After Chris made that (very good) decision, I set out looking for 12v everything. I found a 12v charger for AA and AAA NiMh rechargeable batteries, which has been super useful. I found a 12v charger for my laptop. I bought a 12v USB adapter, which we use to charge our phones, the Kindle, and to plug in these cool USB LED lights.

As I write (from Oriental, NC… we stayed an extra day because the weather decided not to cooperate), Chris is working on wiring in an overhead dome light and another 12v socket.

Sunny, wonderful day in Oriental.

Even though we’ve really only had 3 sunny days so far on this trip (today is day 13), we’ve had more than enough power to keep everything running.  We definitely over-estimated on solar panel size/battery need.

And when the sun is shining, that’s when we charge the things that take up the most energy. When it’s not, we don’t.

Another thing that’s happened on this trip is that the rhythm of our lives has started coinciding more with the rhythm of the sun, which, when you think about it, makes a lot of sense. We’ve gone to bed around 8PM and gotten up around 5AM lots of times. It just seems so natural to go to bed after it’s been dark for a while. And, we want to be under way while we have the light, and either at anchor or docked by the time it gets dark.

We have also been using a “solar shower” when we’re at anchor. You fill the shower with water and leave it in the sun to get warm. Then you hang it up (in our case from the boom) and wallah! You have a warm shower.

I’ve never been more grateful for a sunny day at any other time in my life, and I think that’s a good thing.

A Man. A Plan. A Sailboat. Bahamas.

Ahoy, Ryan here!

My husband has written over 75 posts to you, dear reader, detailing much of the work he has done over the past two years on our (now very dear) sailboat, Firefly. Chris is never one to toot his own horn, so I’m gonna toot it for him (ha!).

I mentioned in the first post I wrote here at The Bonnie Boat that Chris has been dreaming of going on a sailing adventure ever since he was a little boy. Over the past two years, he was worked tirelessly to make this happen for the both of us. I know you’ve gotten a taste of the work he’s put in reading his posts here, but I’m here to tell you that this blog doesn’t cover the half of it.

Chris has worked through rain, wind, cold, and extreme heat; in the dark, during the day, for hours on end; through frustrations, failures, problems, spectacular successes, and surprises. I’ve seen my husband get more done in a 24-hour period than most people get done in a week or more. I’ve seen him work a 10-hour day followed by 5 hours of work on the boat. I’ve seen him overcome such obstacles.

I’m pretty sure he’s put in at least 1,000-1,200 hours on this project. And now, here at the home stretch, he is running himself ragged to make sure all our boat systems will be operational for our trip down the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway) and beyond, ultimately to the Bahamas.

He has brought this incredible, strange dream into my life and helped me feel like it could be my dream too. I’ve learned so much about him, myself, the meaning of hard work, and about what it means to be part of a team. He’s brought me (sometimes kicking and screaming) into this world of adventure.

I don’t really know how to put into writing how proud I am of this man. I’ve never loved him more.

As he mentioned, we’re going on an adventure together with Firefly. We have about 3 days’ worth of work to get done every day between now and our departure, but, as I mentioned, Chris has taught me that more can be done in a day than you might think.

I’m going to leave you with some of my favorite photos of Chris. He posts way too many of me!

And a photo of our little “team” while underway for good measure!

Splice and Dice

Hey-oh! Ryan here. As Chris mentioned recently, things are coming together over at the boatyard, and Firefly looks like she’s wearing her Sunday best. All she needs now is her mast. Let’s see one of those photos again:

Chris got the shiny new standing rigging all hooked up to the mast and then informed me that I would have to learn to splice double-braided line so we could get the running rigging ready to go. You’ll recall that we picked up some nice, new lines in Annapolis to use for our halyards. Thing is, one end of those is supposed to have a loop in it so that a shackle can fit through there to hold on to the sail. At least, that’s my understanding of how it all works. Ours had no such loops.

Anyways, Chris thought that since I recently picked up crocheting, splicing would come easily to me. He thankfully thought to buy a cheaper line for me to practice on before I had to try on the real things.

We sat down together after dinner one day last week to try to learn. We pulled up some instructions online, and were immediately confused. First off, we kept seeing the word “Fid” everywhere. We didn’t know if it was a unit of measurement, if it was short for something, or if it was a proper noun. Also, there were lots of steps involved and the written instructions just didn’t cut it.

Thankfully, we found this video demonstration put together by New England Ropes:

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This guy clearly knows his stuff and explains everything he does. I found it to be relatively easy to understand and then replicate.

The first thing we realized is that a “Fid” is a splicing tool, and that you definitely need one. They come in different sizes for the different sizes of line. We bought two (West Marine had several), one that was the size of the cheaper practice line (7/16”), and the other that was the size of the halyard lines (3/8”). To me, they kind of look like little tin whistles. They’re hollow, and one end is pointy. The pointy end goes through the middle of the braided rope, and then pulls another part of the line through the braid.

I also bought a “pusher,” which I now call a “poo-shah,” after the way the splicer guy in the video pronounces it.

I think it probably took almost an hour to do the first practice splice, but it turned out ok. In a nutshell, double braided rope consists of a cover and a core. You pull the core out of the cover and then kind of weave both parts into each other. You cut and taper bits here and there so that at the end, when you pull really hard on everything, the cover slips back over the core so it all looks pretty and uniform.

Whoever figured out how to do this to begin with was a total genius.

I was pretty excited with my first little bit of success, but still nervous about using my new skills on the real deal.

But, with Chris’s help, I successfully spliced one end of each of our three halyards (main, jib, spinnaker), and those are now resting peacefully on the mast, with the rest of the rigging. I think it took about 2 hours to splice the 3 halyards. I only had trouble with the last one, and that’s because I got cocky and skipped a little ahead in the video… only to realize I had missed one tiny step (re-taping the end of the line), which caused issues later in the process.

I’m pretty proud of my halyards (yes, they are now “mine”).

We’re all ready on our end for Firefly’s launch, however, disappointingly, the boatyard is not. Their hydraulic trailer thingie is currently out of order, which means there is no way to get the boat from point A (boatyard) to point B (marina slip/water). So, we patiently wait!

Primed and Ready

Hello, Ryan here! I’m sorry it’s been so long since I’ve written to you, dear readers.

A couple weekends ago, the weather gods smiled upon us, and we decided it was time to paint the deck. I had been particularly looking forward to this project. Call me shallow, but I tend to like the projects that yield very apparent results. The deck looked pretty terrible after Chris faired it (though he did a great job):

On the Friday before that weekend, Chris and I did our homework on drying/sanding/recoating times for the primer coats (of which we decided we needed two) and top coats, and we realized that the project would actually have to span two weekends. I got pretty upset… I had in my head that we were going to be done done done with the deck and that it would be lovely and shiny and new and FINISHED.  I may have even cried a little. And not for the first time that weekend.

But alas, we figured out that we’d have to do two primer coats that weekend and then beg the weather gods to smile upon us yet again on another weekend to get the two top coats done. And that’s asking a lot of the weather gods.

Chris had to go to work early on Saturday morning. His alarm went off at 6, and mine went off at 6:15. He went to work, and I went out to the boat to try to get a bunch of prep done.

The thing about painting is this: Prep takes a ton of time. You have to sand (in this case hand sand) the area in question, then clean up with acetone to remove all traces of dust, pollen, dirt, etc. Then, you have to tape off anything you don’t want to paint (in the case of the deck, this means all the hardware, the edges, and the wood). For some reason, I thought I was going to be able to finish all this prep before Chris got to the boatyard after work. Ha! Let me say again: Ha!

When I got to the boat, the deck was wet with dew. The surrounding trees had rained pollen and seeds all over. As I began to work, I realized there was no way that I was going to finish by the time Chris got there. And I began to panic. And then there were some more tears. And a frantic to phone call to Chris demanding that he stop and get more rags at the hardware store on his way.

Chris pulled up and assured me that all would be well, and that I’d gotten enough done. He’s always so calm. What he doesn’t understand is that I feel so much pressure to do a perfect job when I’m helping at the boat, because I know how much he cares about it.

After we finished prepping, we started rolling on the primer, and I couldn’t believe how good it already looked! We got the first coat done in a decent amount of time.

We were then faced with a dilemma. We could try to wait a while and then paint an entire second coat on that day (even though it was already late-ish in the day) and hope that the dew overnight wouldn’t be too bad, or we could wait until Sunday to paint the second coat, which would mean we would have to hand-sand the entire deck again. I could have kissed my husband when he said he wanted to be done for the day (we were both hot, sweaty, tired, and a little burnt out). And then I did.

We hopped over to Merroir, a lovely restaurant on the water across the creek from the marina, and had oysters and drinks. The thing about these huge, day-long or weekend-long boat projects is that you have to reward yourself afterwards for your hard work.

Some friends invited us over that day as well, and we spent a lovely rest of the evening with them at their house on the water.

Chris decided to blow off some steam by taking a shot of whiskey and then flinging himself into the cold water… in his skivvies. 

Then, we drove home, passed out, and slept in until 8 AM (luxurious for us these days).

We drove out to the boatyard and then did everything again. Prep went much faster with both of us there and with the taping all already done from the day before.

The second coat looked even more amazing.

When we got home, I was completely exhausted, bruised, covered in paint and sweat, and very happy with our work.

Respirator Face!

Miscellany

Still in a bit of a holding pattern for temps to warm up a bit, did some spring cleaning and burned a bunch of scrap from the rudder build… I never did tally the total number of mock-ups I ended up making. Let’s just say I enjoyed burning them. I replaced the diaphragm and the flapper valves on the bilge pump while watching the fire die down.

The interior of boat warms up pretty good over the course of the day, so last time I was out there I finished up some awkwardly located ‘glasswork. The effort required to take these selfies was clearly not worth it.

This year on Mother’s Day Weekend Ryan and I will be joining family and friends at the Race for the Cure to celebrate my mother in law, a two-time, 17 year survivor of breast cancer. If you feel so inclined, we’re raising some money for breast cancer research over yonder, thanks! Walk This Way for Renee!