Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Dirt Road Anthem

It's a little overwhelming for me to process the amount of change happening in our life all at once.  We own a 50 foot yacht, for which we are trying to sort through paperwork, documents, etc.  Our house in Connecticut is in a sale contract.  We both quit our jobs.  It's all happening at the same time. While Sharon will be done in a matter of weeks, I will finish out the year with an official end date of December 31, and we will hand the TSA agent at the airport one-way tickets to the islands in January.  New year, new life.

Even though our final move is in January, so much is happening now.  Our house is in shambles.  During the summer we proactively moved a couple UHaul trailer loads of things north to our summer home in the Adirondacks.  Now we are down to our final load this weekend, and we have to be out of our Connecticut house (notice I didn't use the word "home") by the end of the month for the closing.

This move is far more complicated than any other move.  My Connecticut "life" has me at work and/or commuting 14 hours a day, leaving a mere hour or two to work on packing.  Packing and sorting are far more complex than any of my previous move because now things are going either to the boat, to our summer house, to the summer house and then the boat, or to my inlaws house where we will live for the remainder of the year.  Needless to say the logistics are driving me nuts.

Even in my beloved Adirondack hometown, things are changing.  I read today that the dirt road to my home will be paved.  In the end it will be a welcome change, but right now it's ushering in a little sadness.  The simplicity of that dirt road is something I look forward too.  As Jason Aldean says - "I'm chillin' on a dirt road...".  My summer home and that dirt road are welcome calming aids during rough times.  Maybe it's just a little too much for me right now, but damn I'll miss that dirt road.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

"Shit just got real"

I seem to be having a serious case of deja vu... Repeatedly.  For months now, time and time again I have stopped in my tracks, frozen.  For that moment, I have stood there in sheer terror quietly thinking to myself - "Shit just got real".

I always thought that when the time finally came for us to make our move to the Caribbean, it would be so easy.  Because I have such malice for Connecticut, I thought that when the time came there would literally be smoke rolling off my tires and this state that I have detested for ten years would be nothing more than a fading landscape in my rear-view mirror.  Wow, was I ever wrong.  No surprise there really, I tend to be very talented at being wrong.

The truth of the matter is that making the decision to pursue our dreams was and is terrifying.  We are leaving a known with financial security to venture into something entirely new with an uncertain outcome.  We are leaving careers that we have built and maintained to try something new that we might not be successful at.  Maybe I just don't have the balls, but for me it was far harder than I ever imagined.  I have to keep reminding myself that we are also leaving a place that was literally killing us.  We are leaving a place where although we had good careers and income, we lacked anything vaguely resembling a life.  I have to keep remembering we are getting the chance of a lifetime to follow our dreams and create a new life.

After weighing all the pros and cons, eventually a hard decision has to be made which can not be reversed.  It's a lot like jumping into the deep end of a cold pool.  You want to swim, you know you can swim, but that water is cold.  You just left the diving board and there is literally no turning back.  That's where we are right now - in limbo.  We are far from the diving board, hanging in mid-air.  We have been looking forward to the swim ahead for a long time, but we are terrified of hitting that cold water for the first time.  The unknown is unnerving.  "Shit just got real".

When I met with my boss, whom I have known and highly respected for ten years now, and explained what we intended to with a resignation, "Shit just got real".  When we rented a UHaul trailer and pulled a load of "stuff" to our summer house, "Shit just got real".  The day we officially closed on, and became owners of a 50 foot yacht, "Shit just got real".  Our house was listed on the market, and a few showings later we were signing offers and contracts, "Shit just got real".

And now, as I sit here writing this, I'm surrounded by boxes marked "Ship to boat", "Summer house", etc.  We have spent our weekend sorting through all our life possessions, and preparing for an estate sale of the remaining contents of our house, furniture, etc.  "Shit just got real".  This is really happening.  We are hanging in the air off of the diving board, with an inevitable big splash coming our way.  Thank goodness the water in the Caribbean is warm.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Step 7: Throw out all the steps - It happened

Taken in April, contemplating how I would eventually make my escape

I have said many times on this blog, the difference between a dream and reality is "simply" putting a plan in place and working towards it.  I have also said many times here, that while I had a plan, it was missing a lot of pieces.  My whole thought since I stood on the bow of a boat in the Caribbean and said "I'm going to do this", was to attack the pieces of the plan that I could do here and now.  I figured that if I worked on all the things within reach now, that eventually somehow the other missing pieces would eventually come to me.

It happened.

No seriously - It happened.  A seemingly single event, set off a chain reaction that could not, and would not be stopped.  I had optimistically pictured my plans coming to fruition (somehow) in a five to ten year time frame.  Forget that.  This is happening now.

Taxes.  That's what it was.  Taxes.  In 2014, I got literally clobbered with taxes.  That simple fact started a thought process and a conversation with a friend who is a charter boat captain.  That conversation grew during a trip to our beloved St. John, where our friend came to meet us for dinner.  That dinner conversation grew into bigger plans.  Those bigger plans turned into a random phone call with yet another captain.  That random phone call turned into that captain reading our story on this blog.  The reading of our story here turned into a flurry of phone meetings and another trip down to the islands.  That trip down to the islands turned into an amazing opportunity, with some great people betting on a couple young and hungry dreamers.  Those great people betting on a couple hungry dreamers, turned into a complete plan - my plan with all the missing pieces finally filled in.

That amazing chain reaction of events couldn't be stopped.  It wouldn't be stopped.

Over the past years I have struggled with my state of existence.  I'm not "living" here, I simply exist.  I get to live only during short periods of vacation and weekends that I can escape Connecticut.  Existing here is nothing more than being in a rat race of continuous bumper to bumper traffic, inching ahead - there's simply not enough time for anything else.  Sure, I have a great job and that certainly has allowed for a lot of things, but I'm not living.  I'm not experiencing life.

At the same time, 2014 has taken so many loved ones away, far before their time.  I watched a great friend take his last breath.  I'm not sure I'll ever be the same after that.  I came to the hard realization that life is short, and I'm not living.  It happened - all the pieces of a real plan to start anew were presented before me, and I'm not letting it pass.

It happened - We're making our great island escape aboard a 50 foot yacht.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Step 6: Remember the magic

Sharon at the helm of "Spitfire" on a recent sail
with Captains Greg Freitas and Barbara Emerson
Some of the fondest memories I have of growing up on the northern side of the Adirondack park in New York, are of Christmas Eve on my grandparents' farm.  There's definitely something to be said for the vision of their fields covered in snow, the smell of fresh balsam flooding the living room air, and a seemingly endless supply of culinary goodies that came around only that time of year.  Christmas on the farm was a very special day, one that built with the anticipation of the jolly old elf himself guided by his flying reindeer.

My grandfather would dutifully retire to the porch after dinner each year to watch for Santa's arrival.  My brother, sister, and I would wait until finally the message was delivered - "He's coming up the street!  I see him headed this way!"  In a flurry of feet versus stairs we headed for an upstairs bedroom to pretend we were asleep so that Santa wouldn't pass us by.  As we laid in the dark in wonderment, we heard the faint ringing of old sleigh bells all around the house outside.  We heard the pawing of tiny hooves on the farm house roof.  Soon the pawing stopped, and the sleigh bells faded off into the distance.  Back to the Christmas tree we would virtually fly, to see that Santa had indeed arrived.

At the helm of "Spitfire" with Captain Greg
Between you and I - this whole spectacle could have been simulated with snow balls thrown on the roof, and an old set of bells long retired from horse teams that used to haul maple sap buckets from the woods.  It could have been the work of my aunt and uncle flinging snowballs and running around the house like a pair of nuts.  It could have been - but I am sure it wasn't.  I don't want to forget the magic.

As our love affair with sailing, the sea, and a life in the islands matures and grows - I'm hoping not to lose the magic of that either.  It's a hard thing to explain really, unless you have experienced it yourself.  Every time I have gone sailing in the Caribbean, I have felt the magic.  The anticipation starts as soon as you take your shoes off and hop in the dinghy.  The hum of the outboard, the salt spray, it's all a preamble to a much bigger show as you leave the soft white beach sands behind, and head out to your bigger adventure.

Bouncing along the waves you get closer and closer, until the boat is on your horizon.  That same sense of excitement you had as a kid at Christmas fills deep within the pit of your stomach as the dinghy gently pulls up to the beam of the boat.  To this day, I can remember each and every time I have boarded a new boat in this way.  Climbing from the dinghy through the boarding gate is not just boarding - it's the boat and it's crew welcoming you aboard, allowing you into their world.  All the people ashore look out and wonder, "what's it like to be those people out there?".  You are suddenly one of "those people out there", and you are living this life in this moment.

A "sign" in Cruz Bay
The diesel comes to life, the mooring line is released.  Guiding your vessel back and away you turn her into the wind and raise the main.  Your bird has spread her wings and is waiting impatiently to glide.  The magic happens.  With a simple turn of the wheel you fall off the wind, fill the sail - and there it is.  Her big hull heels over and she accelerates without any other sound besides the lap of water against her hull.  She parts the crystal blue waters in front of her bow.  She's taking you with her now, riding the wind and letting you call the shots.

This is the magic I don't want to lose.  Like Christmas Eve on the farm, I never want to lose that special feeling whenever I head out, whenever I board a boat, whenever I raise that main and fall off on a tack.  Maybe after more years of sailing I will take it for granted.  I suppose if I do, I can read this again and remember.

Kenny Chesney "Magic"
"I believe there's magic here in these sails
In the wake of these old pirate trails
That cut through the water and the atmosphere
I believe there is magic here


It's in buried treasure under the sea
In all the music that drifts out on the street
It's in the barflies drinking their beer
I believe there's magic here


This crazy rock has got a lot
Of romance and sex appeal
It's lazy days with Hemingway
And I gotta say that it captures me still


'Cause I believe there's magic in those beach side dives
Under the moon as it's changing the tides
Friends, they go away, then they reappear
I believe there is magic here


This crazy rock has got a lot
Of romance and sex appeal
It's lazy days with Hemingway
And I gotta say that it captures me still


Friends, they go away, then they reappear
I believe there's magic
A whole lotta magic
I believe there's magic here

I believe there's magic
A whole lotta magic
I believe there's magic here



Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Step 5: Believe in something

Sailors tend to be a superstitious bunch in general.  Renaming a boat, having bananas aboard, leaving port on a Friday, red sky at night or in the morn - I'm confident an entire book could be written on the subject of sailors and their superstitions.  On this subject, I guess I fit right in.  Through the years I have developed a few of my own beliefs of which I'm sure many would chalk up to the "oddity" side of the spectrum.

If you ever run into me on the street, chances are I'll have my "lucky charms".  These objects have come to me during rough or challenging times, and somehow became part of my daily routine, carried on my person at all times.  Whether or not these objects actually contain any luck or power beyond their physical being is for you to debate - as a sailor myself, I swear by them.

My Chinese cookie fortunes have been with me for years now.  They have a permanent home in my wallet behind my credit card, and although they are starting to look a little worse for wear, they are still readable and their meaning still rings true for me to this day.  The first says "The greatest risk is not taking one".  One of my lifelong dreams was to own a home on the Raquette River in the northern Adirondack mountains of New York.  A home on the river was for sale that had all the qualities that would make it a great retirement property.  Unfortunately the price was out of reach.  We spoke with the owner, did a viewing with the Realtor, and tried to make the numbers work in every imaginable way but it just wasn't to be.  The following year, the house hadn't sold and the price was reduced.  Again we spoke with the owner and expressed interest, but again the numbers just didn't add up for us.  Summer passed, and so did our chance at the house we wanted so badly - or so we thought.  In the dead of winter I couldn't stop thinking of the house.  I kept wondering what might be if I just somehow took a stab at it.  One afternoon after nauseating my coworkers with "what-ifs" about this house, my lunchtime fortune had this phrase.  That week I tracked the owners down, and made the offer I could - the deal was struck.

Much like the "what-ifs" about the house, we have often second guessed our dreams of living aboard a boat in the Caribbean.  One particular day as I was contemplating the sanity of leaving a great paying job to chase sirens on the sea - I cracked a fortune cookie to read "Never fear!  The end of something marks the start of something new."  Case closed, it was a keeper - the dream and the fortune.

My poker chips have only been with me for about a year.  They reside in my left pocket - always.  I pull them out occasionally to flip between my fingers and help me think.  These are not just poker chips, but rather they are free-drink chips from The Beach Bar in Cruz Bay St. John.  In the fall we were preparing for our annual sailing charter in the Virgin Islands.  I was pushing my gym workout to new levels, dealing with extreme stress at work, and attempting to complete my ASA 104 Navigation & Piloting certification before we left.  I was stressed out, overworked, and depressed.  My wife Sharon, in an effort to pull me from my depression, ordered my favorite coffee (Spiced Butter Rum from St. John Spice), and these free drink chips from The Beach Bar.  When she gave me the package, I immediately put the chips in my pocket for some unknown reason and I would continue to carry them until our trip.  I passed my ASA 104 exam with those chips in my pocket - my left pocket.  When we finally reached St. John for our trip, I cashed the chips in for my "free" drinks.  Almost immediately I called the bartender back over, and informed him that I wanted to buy my 2 chips back.  Not 2 chips - but my two chips.  With a look of confusion, the bartender complied with my request, giving me that look that said "what is wrong with you?".  I gladly took my chips back, quickly explaining myself with - "Don't ask. It's a long story."

This necklace is a prized and precious possession, as well as a good luck charm.  It was worn daily by my dear late friend Zsolt, and after his passing it was given to me by his wife Patricia.  The fact that it was Zsolt's makes it invaluable to me, and I feel that it connects me with him even though he is no longer with us physically.  I wear it every day, you won't find me without it.  Besides the significance of being Zsolt's, the hook pendant also has meaning to those that believe.  It is believed that this hook keeps those who don it safe at sea.  Fitting, considering our aspirations.  Zsolt will be sailing with me.

Superstitious or not, sailor or not, I guess we all have to believe in something.  One of the challenges Sharon and I face is believing in ourselves, believing we can take a leap of faith and make our sailing dreams happen.  Chasing something new means leaving the safety of the harbor and venturing out into the unknown with faith that it will all work out in the end.  Overcoming that fear of the unknown, and believing in success takes more than a few "lucky charms" - but then again they don't hurt either.

And if all else fails - just take Journey's advice...

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Step 4: Storms and Rough Water


2014 started with a lot of promise.  I was laying plans out for putting more pieces of our dream together.  Admittedly, our dreams of making a life aboard a boat in the Caribbean are missing many pieces still.  While some of those missing pieces simply take time, effort, and planning - others are not so easily acquired.  I have always been of the opinion that you can't always wait for all the pieces to be there, you have to go out and get what you can now.  In time, and with work, hopefully the rest of what's missing will be found.

We had decided I would pursue a captain's school.  A USCG Captains license is required in order to operate a boat commercially, carrying paying passengers.  After some research and creative scheduling, I was booked with local school to earn my USCG Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessel (a basic license, otherwise known as the 6-pack because it limits the captain to 6 paying passengers).  A week before the school was scheduled to start - I got a short email saying it was canceled and my money was refunded.  No explanation.  This was a forecast of storms to come.  I was then scrambling to find another school in my area.

I soon found my only alternative was Sea School, and the schedule would require that between my normal job and captain's school, I wouldn't have a day off for a month, and my shortest day would be 12 hours.  As they say - "It is what it is".  This would be especially tough in the dead of winter which tends to be the most depressing part of the year here.

On the last week of my month long stretch of work and school, one of the best friends I will ever have in this lifetime, Zsolt Megai, fell suddenly ill.  He was diagnosed with Leukemia.  This news was like being run over by a truck, but I had faith my dear friend would fight the disease and prevail.  A week after his diagnosis, and on the last day of my month-long stretch without a break, we got the call to get to the hospital, nothing more could be done.  There was a big snowstorm that day.  Normally if there is even rain in the forecast I-95 is a parking lot.  That day I did 75mph all the way home.  It was a ghost town on the highway.  We went to the hospital to be with Zsolt in his last hours.  He wanted one more beer.  We ran through the snow laden streets of New Haven to get him that beer before his time.  In his final hours, he asked that I think of him when I'm out there on the ocean.  I promise I'll do that every time Zsolt.  A piece of me died on this day too.  It was Valentines Day.  One day when I can collect my thoughts more properly, I will write something fitting of Zsolt and what an amazing friend he was, and what a tremendous hole he left in the universe with his passing.  Zsolt and I will sail the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean together anyway, one way or another.

The following week, my brand new car's engine started violently knocking.  After less than 3000 miles, it needed a new engine and I spent the following month without it.  I spent the following weeks in a loaner car, mourning my friend, dealing with a job that was going crazy, getting buried with snow and ice on a daily basis, and attempting to steady my brain long enough to study for my captain's test.  Luckily, my ASA 104 Navigation course made the chart navigation portion of the test a breeze so I didn't need to study for that.  The test consists of four parts: Deck General, Nav General, Chart Plotting/Navigation, the infamous Nav Rules (which seems to hang everyone up).  At the end of the test, all four parts were passed, and the worst of my storms and rough water were over.  I would like to think Zsolt was looking down of me and proud of me for making it through and passing those tests.  Now only a mountain of paperwork stands between me and my captain's license, although I will need far more sea time before it is at an acceptible level for what I want to do.

I am sure this was just one stormy period of many that we will encounter on our journey towards our dreams.  The thing about storms - avoid them when and if you can, but know that when you can't it's a matter of getting through to the other side.  Easier said than done I know.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

BVI Sailing Charter 2013

Preparing to anchor in Anegada, BVI


Fidelity moored near Saba Rock, Virgin Gorda
After completing our American Sailing Association certifications earlier in the year, we decided one more crewed charter would do us well to gain some more experience before venturing out on our own on a bareboat charter (chartering a yacht alone, no crew or captain).  After working with our broker, we found "Fedelity", a 46 foot Jeanneau operated by Bob and Debbie Anderson.  Bob is also an ASA instructor, so we figured he would probably be willing to allow us to do a lot of hands-on operation and give us lots of great advice.  He did on both counts.

After three days spent in our beloved island of St. John, Bob and Debbie picked us up at the National Park dock in Cruz Bay.  Given our previous sailing charters, we held fairly high expectations from Bob, Debbie, and Fidelity.  It was very clear early in the charter, that our expectations would not only be met, but they would be far surpassed.

Fidelity was in pristine condition and she was our first introduction into a more modern monohull.  Our previous monohull experiences were on Morgan Out Island 41's.  While these venerable boats made for comfortable conditions and good sailing, they are an older design and much has changed.  Fidelity has many of the features I would look for in a yacht to live aboard - huge aft cockpit with a very usable folding table, a "sugar scoop" swim platform at the stern, and a very spacious layout with a nicely comfortable saloon.  She was a three cabin, three head layout making her great for chartering.  The forward stateroom, which was our accommodation for our week aboard, is the owner's suit complete with en-suite head.
Our forward stateroom

Unlike the shallow draft full keeled Morgans I trained on, Fidelity is a fin keel, lighter displacement boat.  At the helm there was a tremendous difference in the responsiveness of the boat.  While the Morgans felt like a graceful war horse, Fidelity felt more like a tuned sports car.  Helm changes were immediate, pinching in heavy wind was easy and I felt very connected with the 46 feet of boat beneath me.  On the other hand, the gear and forces behind them were massive.  I was awkward and uncoordinated working the sheets and halyards.  It had been six months since I had crewed a boat this size and I really struggled to find a rhythm.  On our first morning while putting the final tension on the main halyard, a block at the base of the mast failed.  I had read about such a failure, but I can assure you reading about it does no justice to seeing it happen first hand.  To be honest, it scared the hell out of me - it also reaffirmed how serious this type of gear and the handling of it really is.  Throughout the week, I found myself clumsy at times which really shook my confidence.  I compare it to the basketball player that hasn't played in some time.  In the player's head, he knows his approximate level of play, and with it comes confidence that it will be achieved.  When he gets on the court and a pass comes his way, he throws up an air-ball.  He hasn't lost that skill, but that level is not immediately at his grasp and it's a shock.  That immediate shock is exactly what I went through.  Captain Anderson coached me through this, and I'm glad he was there.  During our week aboard, we soaked up a lot of knowledge from him.


Sharon at the helm of Fidelity
Preparing to anchor near Little Jost


One thing we were pleasantly unprepared for, was the spectacular culinary show with which we were treated for each and every meal.  When booking a crewed yacht charter, the chef and his or her sample menus are always taken under great consideration.  When we booked Fidelity, we knew we would be eating well, but we had no idea that Debbie had grossly understated her abilities and talent in the galley.  Nor did we know the lengths that Bob and Debbie go to present meals Al fresco in the cockpit at a level that would make high-end restaurants embarrassed.  Seared sushi grade Ahi tuna, mango Mahi-mahi, delectable shrimp, indulgent breakfasts, and amazingly appetizing lunches - a menu designed and organized to our every tasty desire.  Debbie spent countless hours in the galley, making each meal an event to remember, and Bob had gathered a wine selection based on our tastes that did not fail to impress.  











Our charter with Fidelity found us hitting everything on our itinerary, plus a few unexpected side trips offered up by Bob.  Our favorites were all visited - Norman Island, Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda.  We also took in a lot of new territory.  We snorkeled the "Indians" near Norman Island for the first time this year, a place we have been meaning to go over the years but somehow passed up for other activities.  On one particular day, our goal was to sail to Marina Cay.  We were excited about our visit - Marina Cay was another spot that has been on our to-do list for many years.  Once underway, Bob offered the suggestion of heading over to Cooper island on our way.  We took the dinghy from Cooper Island, to Salt Island and the wreck of the RMS Rhone for snorkeling - more places high on our to-do list "someday".  The eerie-factor at the Rhone was high, and it was spectacular snorkeling the wreck while divers took a closer look beneath us.  Salt Island was great for wandering around and exploring.  Towards the west end of the island lies a makeshift graveyard where islanders buried the dead that washed ashore from the Rhone's demise.  

The incredibly flat island of Anegada, due north of Virgin Gorda, was also on the itinerary we asked of Bob.
Sunset in Anegada
 The sail there and back was well worth it, and proved to be a very relaxing experience with the sails set and the autopilot steering our course.  We arrived far earlier than Sharon and I had imagined we would, which allowed for us to do a good amount of island exploration and visiting many of the local watering holes.  It was immediately apparent that we would want to return there in the future, so we moved around the island like a sampler platter of appetizers with the intent that we will know exactly what we want to see and do the next time our hull meanders into this beautiful anchorage.  And when you hear Jimmy Buffett talk about Anegada lobster - take his word for it...  Or ours.  This is something not to be missed.


Our week aboard with Bob and Debbie was a great way to end our crewed charter experiences.  It was horrendously depressing to see it come to an end, but with every end comes a new beginning.  This was such a great stepping stone towards our ultimate goal, allowing us to log more hours under a professional while still having a vacation of a lifetime.   

Motoring to pull up the anchor
"Crowded" Cow-wreck beach, Anegada