12 years ago...
We'd bought a boat back in December. We'd fiddled about a bit in January and February.
Now, it's march, and she's going into the shed to have the foredeck (and some other places) rebuilt. Water had intruded and rotted the balsa core material of the deck.
Reflecting back over the 12 years, what would we have done differently?
This is a difficult question. Mostly, because we're not the kind of people who dwell on past mistakes. Some folks do spend time replaying the old games looking for improvements.
In the tech realm we often asked what worked, what didn't work, what should we do less of, and what we should do more of. These offer a bit of framing around retrospectives.
Looking All the Way Back
The foredeck rebuild was an expensive operation. It was about 25% of the original purchase price.
If we had been savvy negotiators, we would have reduced the purchase price.
But. We weren't.
Looking at the Refit parts of this blog, we spent a lot of time during refit learning two things.
- Boats in general,
- Red Ranger in particular.
We'd done a lot of chartering and taken a bunch of courses. We knew a little about sailing and chartering. But that's not quite the same as doing your own maintenance on your own boat.
While we had been homeowners, and done some of our own work on our various houses, it's still not quite the same thing as learning about ABYC standards for boats.
What went well? We had a ton of fun. Really. Shopping and installing and tearing out. It's all fun. We called it "Playing Boat". "Let's go play boat this weekend!"
What went poorly? A few of the early ideas didn't work out well, and we've since ripped out or ignored things which seemed like a good idea at the time.
- Raw water to the galley sink. Never used it.
- Profile tank level monitor. Doesn't work with our shallow water tanks.
- Kerosene cabin heater. Bad idea. Mr. Heater propane heater. Better idea.
What should we have done less of? Nothing, that I can recall. It doesn't seem like we did anything that was a clear waste of time.
We did move a lot of our furniture to Norfolk. At first, this seemed sensible. But. It was a ton of stuff we eventually sent to our kids.
What should we have done more of? Camping out and exploring the Chesapeake. We did a few overnights and a circumnavigation of the DelMarVa peninsula. We had day jobs, so there were extensive time constraints. It may have been possible to squeeze a few more overnighters in.
We didn't want to spend too many winters in the cold, that's why we started south as soon as we could.
Reflecting on the Live-Aboard I stories, we covered a lot of miles.
The first year was Annapolis to the Bahamas and back. The second year was Annapolis to Dinner Key and back to Deltaville.
We sailed. We motored. We motor-sailed. A lot of this was new to us, so there were numerous sphincter-clenching moments where we didn't know where the channel lay or we didn't know if the engine was working correctly. Lots and lots of questions we had to answer on our own.
What went well? We did it without any serious problems or injuries. We saw what we wanted to see. We didn't break anything we couldn't fix.
What went poorly? Weather prediction and communications in '12-'13 were primitive. We used a short-wave radio to listen to Chris Parker's morning broadcast, and took careful notes. This isn't easy, but we tried as hard as we could to get it right. We got pounded in big seas more than once before I learned at 3'-5' seas is our absolute upper limit. Red Ranger would be fine in bigger seas. We wouldn't be.
Also, we sold our truck. This wasn't the smartest move. We should have stored it somewhere. This can be a tricky business. Vehicles don't store for long. The radiator cores require the engine to be run to circulate the coolant. The batteries self-discharge. The tires may crack and go flat.
It's essential to find a trustworthy place to store a vehicle. Leaving a vehicle at the boatyard, for example, never seemed to work out well. Too many people had stories of vehicles damaged during long-term storage.
What should we have done less of? Less motor sailing. Our sail-handling skills are still weak. Reefing, for example, is something we don't do smoothly, yet.
What should we have done more of? Storing the truck. Yes, it's a huge pain to move the boat, then move the truck. On the other hand, then you have a vehicle.
We were living off our savings. When those ran out, CA said "Put on pants and get a job." The other big part was getting at least one of us off COBRA and onto proper Medicaid. Health insurance is a huge waste of time and money.
There are three parts to this.
Richmond and DC
The Day-Sailing stories are more typical -- I think -- of boat ownership. Live-aboard cruising and coastal cruising seem to be rarities.
What went well? We had a weekend getaway spot. It was delightful to leave work and go to the marina. In the summer. In winter, not so much.
We bought new, cheap furniture. We switched (back) to a futon on the floor. We slept on the floor when we were younger. We bought a fancy bed because it seemed like a good idea. But a futon on the floor was something we really preferred.
What went poorly? We took very few overnight weekend trips. Very few in two years. Cape Charles. Norfolk. West River. Yopp's Cove. We didn't really keep up with maintenance very well, things had started to get dirty and mildewy.
What would we do more of? We had day jobs (again) there wasn't too much we could change. The idea of "work remote" wasn't a thing with my employer. My previous employer was fine with remote work; I often worked from the marina. But. The new employer wasn't really going to put up with that. They had a big fancy office complex outside Richmond and they expected us to use it. (It was nice, and still is, I'm sure.)
Still. When taking the boat out rarely, the dock-side maintenance has to be escalated. That's a lot more cleaning and lot more brightwork.
What would we do less of? Hard to say. There aren't any real regrets during this period. We needed the money. The jobs we had in Richmond were fabulous.
Because we were not tied to a place anymore, when the company asked if I wanted to relocate to the Washington, DC, area I said "Yes," immediately. We asked around and found the Herrington Harbour marina, booked a slip and moved the boat.
The marina life in Herrington is utterly unlike marina life in Deltaville. It was a bit of a shock to be at a place with a great restaurant and a well-maintained pool. We're not hang-by-the-pool folks. But. There was a pool bar, and we could have spent time there.
Instead, we joined the West River Sailing Club. The Cruising Fleet had various outings, and we wanted to explore the Chesapeake. We didn't go on too many of these trips, though.
Pre-COVID-19, we had a family emergency that made it necessary to put Red Ranger on the hard. We moved to Las Vegas, NV.
Moving to Las Vegas was similar to our previous moves. Starting with our move from rural upstate NY to Norfolk, VA, we'd been focused on minimizing what we owned. If it didn't fit on a boat, we weren't keeping it. It took a while to understand what this really meant.
Because we were in control of the timing, we could prep the boat, move things around carefully, and drive to Nevada with just what we needed and nothing more.
COVID-19 meant offices were closed and work remote become the norm. If we were near the boat, it could be used as an office.
The family emergency ended in 2020, and -- still during the pre-vaccine days of the pandemic -- we drove back across the country. Carefully. Masked. Take-out orders only. Constant hand-washing.
What went well was keeping our possessions to the minimum.
What went poorly? Not much. We had a great time in Nevada. We learned about Boondocking, which is the land equivalent to dropping anchor in random places.
Back to DC
Back in Maryland, we were able to get vaccinated. I continued to work remotely from an apartment right around the corner from the office until exactly 6 months prior to my 65th birthday. I retired more-or-less as soon as my Medicare application got approved.
It's not impossible to work from the boat all winter. But it's really, really cold.
What went well was ramping up our boat maintenance tasks to focus on our second retirement.
What also went well was our membership in the West River Sailing Club. They have a cruising fleet and they meetup in places around the Bay. This was wonderful. We did a lot more sailing and a lot more Chesapeake exploration.
Live-Aboard Again 2021-today
After retiring (again) we emptied the apartment and moved to the boat. We're getting really good at moving. The list includes House in NY to Norfolk apartment 1, then Norfolk apartment 2, then boat, then Richmond, then DC, then Nevada, then DC, then the boat again. Eight moves. Each smaller and more focused than the last.
What went well was the complex logistics of managing some stuff and the truck. The goal is to keep some furnishings at CA's auntie's house in North Carolina. We're looking at a six-month-on-six-month-off life. Not full-time live-aboard.
The logistics involved a number of steps:
- Store the truck at Herrington Harbour for a few months.
- Move the boat to Charleston, SC.
- Take the train from Charleston to DC, rent a car to drive to Herrington to get the truck. Return the car.
- Drive to Auntie's house in NC, drop off the things we're storing there.
- (Some other travel, including a cross-country train trip.)
- Drive to Charleston, SC, to get the boat ready for the trip down to Florida.
- Store the truck in Charleston.
This is where we are today, March 3, 2022. Boat is in Jensen Beach, truck is in Charleston.
What went poorly? Maybe failing to wait for perfect weather windows. We get Chris Parker's email with the weather every day (except Sunday). And study it. We've had reasonably flat, safe passages. The overnight legs (Beaufort to Charleston, Charleston to St. Mary's, St. Mary's to New Smyrna Beach, and New Smyrna Beach to Jensen Beach) have all been manageable. CA's not happy with these passages, but the prescription meds have been helping.
I try to wait for 2'-3' seas. Leaving an anchorage is easy; there's no contract to renew or cancel. Leaving a dock or a mooring, however, ramps up the pressure to minimize our costs.
What would we do more of? We (still) really need to work on our sail-handling. The long passages in flat seas mean light air, so we motor.
I need to work on the brightwork more seriously. The teak needs teak oil. The cockpit benches need to be recaulked.
I need to more fully understand a tiny fuel leak in the fuel return. I don't see it dripping actively, but there's fuel in the pan. I think it needs to be replaced. That seems like an off-season job. Doing it here, in a mooring field, is an invitation to a disaster. I don't want to get towed to a marina or pay a mechanic's fee to visit the boat.
What would we do less of? Things have been going well (touch wood for luck.)
That's a long, detailed retrospective on a few lessons learned.
Keep the truck. Get rid of everything else.
Keep ahead of the maintenance. Especially the engine and the teak.
Wait for perfect weather.
I think that's about it.