Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Getting Organized

Like living in a Manhattan studio apartment, life aboard a sailboat is all about organization and making the best use of your space.  Kitchens and galleys are compact and efficient, bathrooms and heads are tiny yet orderly and furniture often doubles as storage.  But  being able to live on the water (or in the mix of urban city life) makes dealing with space limitations a minor inconvenience.

tetrisWe’re fortunate in that Bella Star has a good deal of storage for her size, yet trying to get everything stacked and packed efficiently for cruising is a bit like playing Tetris.  It seems easy in theory, but getting the blocks to nest just so is more challenging than you’d think!  After experimenting with a few different brands of storage containers, I found a winning solution in Snapware.  They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so I’ve had no trouble squeezing everything in and maximizing our storage space.

Beyond stackabilty, the containers are airtight, leak-proof and have secure tabs that latch on each side, keeping them closed no matter what.  After dealing with the results of a feta cheese catastrophe last week, the part about the latching tabs is important (see, a package of crumbled feta decided to explode in the darkest recesses of the fridge, which I discovered at 6:15am while blearily making Aaron’s lunch  -- what a treat that was).

We tried the OXO Pop Containers first, which also claim to be airtight, but didn’t find them durable enough for boat life – the lids came off too easily and didn’t seal particularly well.  They’re also hard to grab off the shelf, a bit awkward to stack and more expensive.

Our big provisioning run to stock up on foodstuffs and supplies for the summer is coming up in a few weeks.  With all that food needing a snug (yet accessible) home, here’s hoping our Tetris skills and our new Snapware are up to the task.


Snapware is available through their website, but I got ours from Bed, Bath and Beyond and Fred Meyer (so I could buy a ton and return the pieces that didn’t work – although I haven’t had to return one yet).

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Medicine Chest

redcross Aaron will say that I’m an over-packer.  But he exaggerates.  I simply like to have options and feel prepared.  Yes, that may mean that I bring two suitcases on a weekend trip, but you never know what will come up!  And I hate the feeling of knowing I have the perfect thing for [fill-in-the-blank-scenario] at home.  But when it comes to packing, Aaron and I agree on one thing: Bella Star’s first aid kit should be filled to the hilt.

It’s been remarkably easy to get all the prescription medications that we (hope to never) need for our trip.  We’re not the first boat to sail off into the sunset, which means that most of the research on which medicines to bring has already been done for us.  Thanks to a list from our good friends on Hello World, some old fashioned internet queries and an hour or so with our doctor, we now have an assortment of antibiotics, creams, pills and injectables to hopefully see us through any number of horrible maladies.  Sure, we’ll be within a reasonable distance of skilled medical care in many cases (AKA not Nurse Nicole), but what about the times when we’re out hiking or beachcombing or bushwhacking?

Additionally, we made a trip to the downtown Seattle travel clinic and got ourselves shot full of vaccines for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, tetanus and yellow fever.  At $900 for the two of us, we passed on the rabies vaccination, although Aaron is a sucker for cute, fuzzy dogs in need of a pet, so I’m second-guessing that decision a bit.  The pill form of the typhoid vaccine actually affords longer protection, so we opted for that over more shots (Aaron was pleased).

So with our various vaccinations, ream of prescriptions, stockpile of Band-aids and enrollment in a two-day wilderness first aid course coming up in a few weeks, we should be just as well prepared for sprains, hypothermia and the old “beaver fever” as we can be.DSC_0092

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Boating Classes

The idea of going cruising has been germinating with us for years – even before we bought Bella Star, sold our condo, moved aboard and broke the news of our adventure to our parents (hi, mom!). 

Since being a cruiser is a little like being a Girl Scout, we try to live by the motto “Be Prepared.”  (Yes, I was a Brownie and a Girl Scout.  And I think Aaron must be an honorary Scout based on the number of those addictive Samoa cookies he’s eaten over the years!)

In addition to reading a ton of books, doing our online research and chatting with other sailors, we’ve tried to prepare by taking classes and attending seminars.  I know we’ve mentioned some of these classes before, but a question came up recently about exactly which classes we’ve taken, so here’s the list all in one place:

Discusses the fundamentals of weather, forecasting and interpreting weather forecasts (no, not the ones on the evening news); also covers the unique weather patterns we experience in the Northwest.

Recommended?  Yes
Duration: ~3 months; 1 evening per week (2 hours per class)
Offered through: Seattle Sail and Power Squadron

Covers theory, operation, troubleshooting and repair of inboard diesel engines. Also includes hands-on time with a variety of engines in the lab.

Recommended? Yes, but…
This class could be amazing, but it’s lacking organization and a logical flow (from the basic concepts to advanced topics).  What makes it worthwhile is the lab – being able to tear apart an engine that isn’t yours is priceless! 
If you have NO diesel engine knowledge, I’d strongly recommend taking a primer class through Washington Sea Grant first.
Duration: ~2 months; 2 evenings per week (3 hours per class)
Offered through: Seattle Maritime Academy

Focuses on concepts of basic electricity and how they apply to the boater; includes discussion of batteries, alternators, charging systems and wire sizing.

Recommended? Yes, but… 
While it was useful, I think there was too much theory (remember Ohm’s Law from high school physics?) and not enough practical application for the do-it yourself boater. 
Duration: ~2 months; 2 evenings per week (3 hours per class)
Offered through: Seattle Maritime Academy

Covers everything from inspecting, repairing, maintaining and upgrading your sail inventory through intensive hands-on training.

Recommended? Yes
Duration: One full weekend
Offered through: Port Townsend Sails

WOMEN’S BOATING SEMINAR (for the ladies)
Brings local women together for a day of talks and workshops on a wide range of topics including: navigating at night, radar, docking, offshore provisioning and knot tying.

Recommended? Yes
Duration: One full day; held annually
Offered through: Latitude Sailing Association

Delves into the particulars of rigging, working aloft, splicing and inspecting & maintaining your boat’s rig.

Recommended? We’ll let you know!  Aaron is taking this class later this month.
Duration: One full weekend
Offered through: Brion Toss Yacht Riggers

We’ve taken a number of fundamental boating classes over the years, like Basic Keelboat, Coastal Navigation and Celestial Navigation (Aaron).  There are lots of good schools out there, but we enjoyed our experience with Mike Rice at Puget Sound Sailing.

We’ve had good luck attending seminars from West Marine and local yacht clubs, like the Corinthian Yacht Club in Seattle and the Everett Yacht Club.  Topics have included weather, radar, outfitting your boat and cruising the Haida Gwaii.  Best of all, these seminars are usually free!

*Updated 3/13/11*
Provides the basic skills for tending and treating sprains, fractures, head injuries, heat illness, wounds and more when in remote areas away from definitive medical care.

Recommended? We’ll let you know!  We’re taking this in a few weeks.
Duration: One full weekend
Offered through: Remote Medical International

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Bella Star is Going Cruising

Well, it’s official.

As of April 1, Aaron & I will be unemployed.  Although “retired” may be a better word for it.  Bella Star is going cruising!  Woohoo!

There’s a flurry of activity here, as we prepare for our voyage.  We’re busy researching and buying and installing all sorts of goodies – from a new chartplotter, radar and life raft to canned goods, guide books and sunscreen.  Our dream of quitting our jobs and cruising the world is actually becoming reality.  Holy crap!

So you might be wondering what our plans are.  Well, the only real plan is to not have  a plan.  But since we know that isn’t a very good answer, here’s our best guess*.
*Guess subject to change at any time. :)

Spring and Summer 2011: Canada
Sure we’re aching for warm water and tropical beaches, but the magnificent cruising grounds of Western Canada are not to be missed.  We’ll circumnavigate Vancouver Island and hopefully make it north to the Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands).

Late Summer and Fall 2011: California
As late summer approaches, it’ll be time for us to make the “left turn” and head south down the West Coast of the U.S. to California.  San Francisco Bay, the Channel Islands and San Diego are all on the list of places to check out.  Due to insurance regulations, we can’t enter Mexico until November 1, so we’ll bide our time in California until then.

Fall and Winter 2011: Mexico
Bienvenidos a Mexico!
  The Sea of Cortez and mainland Mexico are next on the list, although the “plan” I mentioned gets a little shaky after Baja… All I know is that we’ll be drinking plenty of Coronas and sunning ourselves on the foredeck come December. Es muy bueno.

Spring 2012 and beyond: Mexico?  Central America?  The South Pacific?  Who knows?!

Stay tuned as we post more about our preparations and projects – and soon (very soon!) our escape from the rat race. 

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. – Mark Twain