Overwhelmed, in a good way

We know we would be required to dedicate some time to good-byes as we got close to departure. Oh, force us to drink a beer with you or have some dinner–I guess we’ll shoehorn you in! But I don’t think either of us was prepared for the generosity and affection that’s been thrown our way in recent days.

We mentioned our friend Kevin helping us out at the boat; well, Kevin isn’t the only one offering to lend a hand. We have friends watching our kids, friends wanting to do the grossest jobs on the boat, and friends taking up the slack for us in our day-to-day life on a variety of fronts. I actually have an email in my inbox right now from someone I’ve never met–friends of a friend of my cousin–who want to come and help us out with final prep. How do you respond to generosity like that? It’s confounding.

One of the nurses at Michu's work made these cookies for his going away party. Amazing.

One of the nurses at Michu’s work made these cookies for his going away party. Amazing.

Departure parties and dinners are starting to pick up, as well. Yesterday, Michu and I went to a good-bye party at his work. Over the course of almost three hours, people from all over the hospital rolled through to say congratulations and good luck (and please for the love of god avoid the pirates), and we walked out with Wisconsin beer, a very stylish hat and enough sugary treats to take us all the way through departure. Also a toilet plunger. I mean, practical, I guess? We have a neighborhood party coming up on Friday, beer with friends tonight, and a slew of other dinners we’re trying to wedge in before the 12th.

She made these beautiful shell cookies, too!

She made these beautiful shell cookies, too!

Then there are the folks who are offering material support. There have been many, many friends who have stepped in with gifts ranging from SAM splints to straight-up cash–unasked for, but because they love us and are excited about our trip. I have been kind of wandering around bursting into tears a bit all day, thinking about this generosity, and this community that we’re leaving.

It is helpful to be planning our eventual return, and makes it less painful to leave these amazing friends, this family, this home of ours; it helps to temper the idea that we are completely insane to opt out of our current place in the world. But we are all wildly emotional right now, and the practical assistance being offered is paradoxically making it even harder to leave.

We are so, so grateful for all the help.

What kind of week it has been

“I believe great people do things before they are ready.” ― Amy Poehler. Let’s hope so, Amy. Let’s hope so. Here’s how the week has been:

  • This week in documents: scanning financial and identity papers; notarizing travel docs allowing either parent to travel solo with the kids; enrolling in health care and being annoyed with Badgercare; notifying credit card companies of travel plans; setting up absentee balloting for the general election; finalizing homeowners’ insurance. I feel like that should have been one day of work, but somehow it has taken up most of the week.
  • Most embarrassing purchasing mistake: paying $100 for two pieces of advertising while picking up an order at West Marine. They were supposed to be encircling some valves; I assumed we were buying some kind of required warning sticker (seriously–there are a lot of strange pieces of information you’re required to post “in a visible area” on a boat in the US, particularly about not dumping oil into the water). Neither the clerk nor I though the price was unusual, apparently. I mean, it was West Marine…

Which one would you pay $50 for?

  • Rain, rain, rain, followed by actual snow flurries Saturday morning–all of which is inhibiting painting projects. Chance of frost tonight. Not the May we were hoping for.
  • Low point: discovering the squirrel’s nest directly above Michu’s garage workstation, and the subsequent rain of squirrel pee.
  • Something missing from this area...

    Something missing from this area…

  • Sprint versus marathon: obviously, this refit has been a grueling marathon of multi-year projects. It’s a slow but steady pace. Sometimes, though, you’re lucky enough to have a wonderful friend gift you a day of sprinting. Our friend Kevin came to the boat on Friday on a mission to help; he and Michu powered through some bottom painting, window work and traveler removal. We will not speak here of his horror at Michu’s “system” of “organization.” Thanks for all your help, Kevin!!
Kevin learns about the joy of boat ownership

Kevin learns about the joy of boat ownership



Courtesy flags. Are we going to Honduras? Who knows! But at least, if we do, we'll be polite.

Courtesy flags have been arriving all week. Are we going to Honduras? Who knows! But at least, if we do, we’ll be polite.

Weekly wrap-up

Summaries and bullet points, people. That’s what we have time for over here…

Urban environment of our current yard. Yeah, that's an Amtrak rail line right next to our boat....

Urban environment of our current yard. Yeah, that’s an Amtrak rail line right near our boat.

  • Trips to the boat this week yielded a miasma of fiberglass dust, as Michu glassed in new backing plates for the new through-hulls. We are missing our old marina in Oconto; there’s no place at the yard in Milwaukee to wash off all that itchiness, and no old guys drinking coffee around the office who’ll listen to your complaints.

    Fiberglass dust source: new backing plates for through-hulls in the head

    Fiberglass dust source: new backing plates for through-hulls in the head

  • Everyone has finally finished with their typhoid oral vaccine. We trained the kids extensively: first, with cut-up mini-marshmallows; next, moving on to Nerds candy; finally, swallowing halved Skittles (if you go this route, be sure to roll the Skittle around a bit to break up the jagged edges of the candy shell). Success all around, although tummies have been under duress for the past few days. Francesca and I have one more vaccination appointment–Hep A and B for me, Gardasil for her–and we’ll be checking off the vaccination box.
  • Speaking of expensive American heath care: after spending an hour on the phone with an ACA navigator, we think we’ve found an insurance plan through the marketplace that will keep our premiums at zero dollars and zero cents. We’ll be looking at at $1000 deductible, a $200 co-pay for an ER visit, and a network of care that we will not have any real access to; but we’ll be covered in the case of disaster, and not be fined for being without insurance. Even if we max out the fees, we’ll be paying much less than the international plan we were considering, and we won’t be risking our financial future while we’re cruising in the US.
  • More on the insurance front: we’re switching our homeowner’s insurance to a commercial plan. Smart people are working on it for us, and we should be all set up by the end of next week.
  • We sold a car! In a very weird case of the universe working out in everyone’s favor, the first person to whom I mentioned our Impreza wanted to buy it. No Craigslist, no worries about timing–the buyer’s happy to let us use it right up to departure, if we want; things could not have worked out better for us. So, thank you, cosmos!!
  • Michu’s working his final weekend hours as I type. He has three more shifts next week, and he’s done. Bravely facing the abyss of no paycheck…and saying goodbye to co-workers and a job he loves. But we know they’ll be following along; Michu send out an email to all staff with a link to the blog, and traffic doubled immediately. Hi, CCH people!
  • Packing, cleaning and purging continues. It’s really not interesting.
  • In our waning days of unlimited high-speed internet, we’re cramming on understanding digital compression and offline apps. We’ve successfully downloaded Wikipedia and Crash Course with Kiwix, which makes the inclusion of the World Book Encyclopedia less likely in our boat library. Next up: Wikivoyage and Khan Academy Lite. Still researching the best way to write up blog posts offline–anyone have favorites?

    Mother's Day present: a wringer for bucket laundry. Jealous, ladies?

    Mother’s Day present: a wringer for bucket laundry. Jealous, ladies?

Communication systems onboard

Yes, we still have a land line. No, we are not 80 years old.

Yes, we still have a land line. No, we are not 80 years old.

Pretty used to that cell phone, aren’t you? I think we’ve already established that our family is terrible when it comes to cell phone use, or pretty much all technology; either way, a cell phone is probably not the best way to communicate from a sailboat. Not the best coverage in the middle of the ocean. Instead, we have a few different ways to get in touch that don’t rely on cell phone towers.

Our biggest way to communicate from the boat is our VHF radio. It sends (and receives) a signal for about 25 miles, and allows us to communicate with other boats, plus the guy in the bridge house and the gas dock attendant at the marina. If we need the Coast Guard, we’ve got an “oh crap” button that sends out a constant help signal; this signal will bounce off of any other VHF radios in the area, boosting the signal way beyond 25 miles.

Fancy new tech!

Fancy new tech!

Our new Standard Horizon GX2200 has two other features that we love: AIS, which allows us to see the heading and speed of an approaching boat before we hit it; and DSC–digital selective calling–which allows other boats to communicate with just our radio instead of broadcasting to the world (our MMSI number is 367692570, if you see us out there…). Our VHF is mounted down below in the nav station, but we’re installing a remote mic at the helm so we can chat and still see where we’re going. Two waterproof handheld VHF radios are also available for a kid in a kayak, or a parent with a stalled dinghy outboard, to communicate with the mothership.

We’ve also got a crazy-town digital antenna (Radio Labs Wave XL) going on the stern to scoop up all the free WiFi in the land. This antenna claims to be able to pick up line-of-sight unlocked signals within an 8-mile radius. We’ll be pretty happy if we get three miles; that ought to put us in touch with most marinas, coffee shops and restaurants lining a harbor. Email! Skype! Facetime! Facebook! Plugged in without any plugs.

WiFi antenna: also valuable for lightsaber battles against the flag staff

WiFi antenna: also valuable for lightsaber battles against the flag staff

Not a lot of unlocked signals when you’re really offshore, though; or in Cuba, or the San Blas. Despite the enormous hours I’ve been racking up online lately, I think this would be fine–I could probably use a break from the Interwebs–but we noticed one disturbing dependency on the boat last summer. We’re fine without Netflix and YouTube, but we get a little skeeved out if we can’t check the weather every few hours. In the US, NOAA broadcasts over the VHF constantly, but we probably won’t be picking that up offshore, and I’m not really sure what the weather report availability is outside the US. We’ve decided to address this by investing in an Iridium GO! sat phone system. That’s a huge advantage for the folks back home–unlimited texting and a certain amount of satellite voice and data minutes, depending on your plan–but we’re mostly in it for their partnership with Predict Wind. We follow a few boats who’ve had great experiences with their weather prediction and routing info, and we really, really want that level of information. It can be a big monthly expense, and we’re clearly budget cruisers, so we don’t plan to turn it on until we leave Florida.

Device of last resort

Device of last resort

And then there’s that ultimate communication device–the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, or EPIRB. Using this thing is basically the same as yelling “HELP US!!!!!” over and over to the Coast Guard. It sends them our co-ordinates and tells them who we are, but we can’t discuss our problem or get advice. It is the Communication Of Last Resort, and using it means agreeing to be rescued and scuttling the boat. We very much hope never to use it.

Sounds like we have all the things, right? Believe it or not–no. Lots of boats carry Single Side Band radios, or SSBs; they allow you to talk to boats well out of sight, and receive weather and send email over the airwaves. They are super-cool, and quite expensive. They also require a ham radio license to operate. Once you’re all set up, though, they’re free–you pay no monthly fee, as you do for Iridium GO. If we had plans to cruise for a decade–or even five years–we would have looked closer at SSBs; but for our time frame, and with the additional level of service provided by Predict Wind, we felt like the GO was a better choice for us.

Finally, my luddite heart cringes, but we’ve upped our cell phone game. Not by much! But our land line is tied to our cable internet service, and we’ll be giving that up June first. We’ll still have two weeks of back and forth to the boat, though, and we figure it’ll be pretty important for Michu and I to be able to get a hold of each other, so we decided to invest in a second cell phone. As we are human and not soulless robots, we succumbed to a cheap-o unlocked smartphone. Clear advantages to having cell service in other countries with the purchase of a SIM card, we said. GPS navigation on the phone, because there is never enough GPS, we said. We are totally not seduced by the sleek design, the games, or the video capacity, we said.

We are total liars.