Turning point

Some kind of switch has flipped for me this week. The time pressure is becoming real, the seasonal changes have had an impact–we hit 80 degrees the other day!–and I feel like the tide has turned from “we’re leaving someday soon” to “final prep.” Decisions are coming faster; purchases are being made without the thought of putting it off until we do more research; and evaluating all our stuff for the categories of Pitch, Sell, Store or Take is instantaneous. (There’s a very small pile of “Take If We Can Find Room On The Boat,” which is making the process easier.) We’ve taken our last family non-boat trip from Madison. The school days are winding down. Meal prep is quick, bread is no longer being baked, the whole house feels lighter as our possessions decrease. We’ve started taking advantage of the offers of help from our friends, as we now know very specifically where we need assistance.

Paradoxically, this shift has made me calmer. Fewer things seem vague and uncertain; for better or worse, choices are being made. For most things, the weightiness seems to diminish in the aftermath. Looking at a bookshelf and knowing that the worth of each volume needs to be debated At Some Point has been annoying for months; a cleaned out bookshelf is a perfectly peaceful thing. And really–am I going to be sitting at anchor wishing beyond everything that I’d packed the MFK Fisher? If that turns out to be my biggest regret–well, A.) life must be pretty good; and B.) Kindle, baby. Turns out, there are very few choices that can’t be undone, and most of them don’t matter much anyway.

We’re on our way out.

Easy choices: our neighborhood is filled with Little Free Libraries--an easy way to pass along some of our books.

Easy choices: our neighborhood is filled with Little Free Libraries–a great way to pass along some of our books.

Things we are enjoying as much as possible

  • Long, hot showers. Like, empty the hot water heater long.
  • Driving everywhere. Sorry, carbon footprint; it’s only temporary!
  • Having pizza delivered.
  • Laundry, automatically and without effort.
  • Library books.
  • Netflix, Amazon Prime, NY Times Sunday delivery.
  • Having other people educate our kids.
  • Bicycling.
  • Flushing the toilet without pumping. Sometimes it’s the small things…
  • Enjoying storms, lightning and all.
  • Spending time with friends and family. We’ll miss you all!


Only four paychecks left before we leave!

Only four paychecks left before we leave!

The burning question on everyone’s mind, that most folks are too polite to ask: how the ever-loving heck can you guys afford this? There are so, so many ways to answer this, and I think it’s really important to keep in mind all of our privilege that has allowed us this opportunity; but there are a few specific things you might want to know about us, if you’re curious about the money…

First off: we are not independently wealthy trust-funders. For two of the six years we’ve been working towards cruising, Michu was in nursing school and we were living below the federal poverty level for a family of four. Our current income is almost exactly on the US median. There is no secret stash of cash. We are pulling this off as middle-class Americans.

Second: well, there was an inheritance: $35,000, to be precise. We used this money to purchase our boat ($25,000), and to pay for the survey, shipping, insurance, and yard costs for the first year. Not receiving this money would have pushed back our departure date by two years, and given the age of our kids, that would have been a bummer. This money was important to our schedule, and probably made it easier to take the leap to boat ownership, since it wasn’t money we’d sweated for ourselves, but it wouldn’t have prevented us from leaving.

Third: we’ve had help from family. Michu graduated from nursing school debt-free, and that was in no small part thanks to many wonderful family members who pitched in to help with tuition and other expenses. We don’t get scheduled cash from parents, but we have gotten help with projects like our new roof. Both our cars came from Michu’s mom. Christmas money helps pay for groceries. Equally important: there are folks who’ve got our backs. Talking with friends who are social workers, I feel like one of the huge differences between families like ours, when we were living with very little income, and families who cannot escape poverty is the safety net of folks who can lend you the money for crucial car repairs or medical bills. We try very hard not to lean on our family for financial support, but knowing we have that insurance is not something to discount or take lightly.

Fourth: we have been squeezing every penny for six loooooong years. We live in a small duplex. We grow a lot of our own food and cook almost everything from scratch. The gifts that we give are almost always homemade or homegrown. Everyone’s clothes are secondhand or gifts. We are insane users of the public library, free outdoor concerts, free art activities, free museums–free everything. We rarely see the inside of a restaurant. Our vacations are to state parks and visiting family. We limit our driving to save on gas. Biggest social activity: potluck at our house! Dry the clothes on the line, turn out the lights, turn down the thermostat. We are not going to the show, or getting everyone together to go out for drinks: we are going cruising instead. Since Michu’s finished school and started working, all of our small measures have added up to a savings of almost $20,000 a year.

So. Many. Bean. Burritos.

So. Many. Bean. Burritos.

Just because I have a yacht...Image from Caddyshack

Just because I have a yacht...Image from Caddyshack

Fifth: how much it costs. I think people have an outsized idea of the real costs of purchasing a “yacht” and traveling for a few years. Living where we do, no one would blink an eye if we said we’d purchased a Bass fishing boat and a couple of snowmobiles, or if we were remodeling the kitchen or buying a bigger house. It’s expected; but it would cost more than our boat. Sailboats are inexorably linked to wealth, and our boat new would have probably been about $300,000 back in the day; but so far, our total costs associated with the boat–including purchase, storage, and refit–are probably hovering around $80,000. Of that, $35,000 was from the inheritance, and a hilarious-but-not-really-funny $29,000 has been recovered from insurance (freeze damage from Texas, and damage from the mast being dropped). This, of course, values Michu’s incredible amount of labor at $0; but as a stay-at-home mom whose labor value has been similarly calculated for years, I’m pretty comfortable with that.

We’d feel kind of silly saying OUT LOUD how much we expect to spend while actually cruising, especially when our first year will include spending time in expensive areas like NYC and DC, and blowing a significant amount of cash on transiting the Panama Canal; but when you think about the costs of living on a boat, it’s important to remember that we won’t have expenses like a mortgage, car expenses or electric bill to pay (thanks, solar panels!). We expect to anchor out the majority of the time (free!), and we won’t be paying for things like music lessons or soccer. We’ve researched quite a bit how much other families are spending, and we’re feeling pretty good about coming out on the cheaper end of the spectrum–especially with a well-found boat and the experience of living frugally for the past six years.

We’re keeping our house; rental income will give us a bit of a cushion for when we return to land life. Yes, the IRA is suffering while we’re gone, but only for a few years. And hopefully, when we’re done cruising, we’ll be able to sell the boat and put the money towards a new home–one that never threatens to sink.

Citizen Science

Compared to our math and lit programs, our science curriculum feels a bit thin. We have some good books; we’ve got a microscope and a telescope and curious and engaged kids; but we don’t have an actual science program, so to speak. Here’s to making some changes, in pursuit of citizen science: two studies in which we plan to participate.

PictureSix-pack rings floating around in the Pacific Gyre and flip-flops washed up on the beach make for good photography, but even more disconcerting is the amount of invisible plastic concentrated in our water. Plastic never goes away; instead, it breaks down into microparticles that are ingested by fish and work their way up the food chain. How widespread is this problem? Hard to say; but sailors the world over have been collecting data and sending it in to Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation. More people=more data. We’re excited to help our kids understand why we try to limit plastics in our lives, and for them to be active participants in a global study.

We also plan on participating in a study measuring algae growth. The hypothesis is that rising sea surface temps have lead to a decrease in phytoplankton. Sailors can measure this decrease by suing a Secchi disk to check for visibility; the farther down you can see the white disk, the clearer the water. The University of Wisconsin at Madison has a long history with Secchi disks–North American limnology was founded here–and our kids will learn to be ambassadors for water sampling. Head to Secchi Disk to sign up.Image description

Photo from Secchi Disk 

Both of these opportunities came to us via the lovely folks at Hello Ocean, who are developing their own citizen science research projects. It’s an amazing thing, to have project-based science activities that actually contribute to the scientific community. Which projects would you sign up for?

Repurposing kids’ science gear: rock polisher turned paint-stirrer

Report card: early April

I keep meaning to announce a big, round number of days until our departure. 100 days left! 75 and counting! But I keep missing the mark. So: 67 more days!! How are things coming?

Bureaucracy  Done: Passports in hand; bank accounts set up; taxes done, and we’ve got a solid plan with our accountant for next year; bills are being paid online; most vaccines and doctors’ appointments are taken care of. Needed: a few pieces of officialdom (marriage license, one person’s birth certificate), and a handy binder to tie everything together; health insurance planning; last-minute library card renewal. Media compression/sorting will continue until the day we leave. The kids can’t seem to swallow pills, so their typhoid immunization remains unfinished–they’ve been training with mini-marshmallows, but can’t seem to get the meds down!

Boatschooling: Looking good! Most math books are in; we have dozens of lit books and study guides for each kid; spelling books, grammar books and journals are packed and ready to go; books and gear are in place for science, civics and Spanish. We’ve met with the kids’ music teacher, and have a plan based on Suzuki books and youtube videos; we just need to pick up some extra violin and cello strings, and finish some repairs to a fiberglass cello case we found on the curb (score! Thanks, Fin).

Kids camped out in the living room while their room is painted

Kids camped out in the living room while their room is painted

House Done: Rented! Downstairs guys are renewing; upstairs, we’ve got a family moving in who want to take charge of the garden, and plan to stay for a few years. We’ve signed the contracts with the management company, and done most of our major repairs. Needed: forward bills to management company; a couple small landscaping and painting touchups to the property.

Packing Done: Initial purge in the attic, basement, kids’ room, bathroom. Needed: oh, so much. It’s been a cold spring, and most of our winter gear keeps getting called into use. I’ve also realized how disruptive it is for the kids to have their family stuff disappear overnight, so I’m slowing down a bit on my plans to clear things out. We’re in good shape; but being constantly surrounded by all our possessions, this is the category that stresses me out the most.

Boat Done: Nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing. At least, that’s what it feels like. Needed: finish storage in pilot berth; finish refrigerator project; finish new electrical panel installation; install solar; replace windows, one hatch; finish installing helm station for iPad, depth finder, autohelm; touch up rust spot on keel and add two coats bottom paint; install new through hulls; install new shift and throttle cables; upgrade bilge pump; improve and replace stanchions and lifelines; install new spinlocks; seal leaking lazarettes; tune outboard; replace headliner. That’s not exactly all, but that’s most.

 Many projects on the verge of completion: electrical panel, instrument pod, pilot berth build-out, refrigeration…

Progress is being made in all directions, but it’s difficult to feel like we’re getting anywhere. Michu and I waffle between excited enthusiasm and wild, uncontrolled panic; the kids are starting to anticipate some of the sadder points of leaving–most especially, saying good-bye to friends.

One foot in front of the other….