Our Journey to Speaking Spanish

  Cartagena, Colombia - August 2018

Cartagena, Colombia - August 2018

I recall the first time when I was a young girl that I heard someone speaking another language. It confounded me. How is that possible? How could someone speak another language? Aren’t we all trying to say the same thing? Why do we not all speak the same language? I didn’t understand. 

Ballet class was my first opportunity to learn another language. I was five years old, standing on a plastic dot and every time the teacher said, “Plié” I would bend my knees. She would say, “What does plié mean?” And we would - in our 5-year-old voices - scream back, “TO BEND!” 

When I was old enough to receive the right to register for a foreign language in school, I couldn’t register fast enough! I was a Freshman in high school. Spanish was my first class after lunch, and I felt that was perfect! I’d be hydrated, reenergized and ready to learn a new language. 

My first day, we chose our Spanish names and went around the room introducing ourselves. 

“Me llamo Chavela,” I said with far more excitement than confidence. 

My early Spanish days felt simple and I thrived. Count to ten? No problem. I could do that before I started class. Count to 100? Easy. Days of the week? Sure thing. Months? Seasons? Colors? Cake. 

I aced all of my point-and-identify tests, and I was hungry for more. 

Conjugating verbs came into life at just the right time. I was ready for the challenge, and I would speed through those exercises as if I were running a timed mile, then slam my pencil down like I was a comedian dropping a microphone after a successful standup. Thank you, thank you; I’m here all week! 

The first verbs I learned, and I’m still very fond of them, were “ser” and “estar.” The philosophy behind these verbs intrigued me; “ser” being used when discussing permanency and “estar” being used for anything non-permenant, or temporary. The decision seemed powerful to me. I was 14 years old and I was given the language-right to decide what was permanent and temporary in my life.

Soy de Virginia. Estoy una peliroja. 

My teacher soon felt I was ready for the next step: conjugating irregular verbs rocked my world. It threw a speed bump into my speed. They seemed so annoyingly carefree. Seriously, who decided to take a verb like “ir” and use it as “voy” or “fuiste” in a sentence? Was it a mistake from someone who was speaking too fast or unclearly one day? Did it just fall out of their mouths and everyone who heard it agreed? Oh yeah, that’s it. Write it down. 

As Chavela, I made my way through Spanish 101. 

Gabriela was the next Spanish name I chose, and I moved onward to Spanish 102. It was here that I began writing and speaking sentences in Spanish. I could pronounce the Spanish vowels and recite the alphabet with little to no problem (I couldn’t roll my Rs, however). I had around 30 Spanish verbs in my toolbox along with decent and somewhat speedy conjugating skills. I knew around 100 Spanish nouns and adjectives, and I had a pretty solid handle on masculine and feminine. 

It was time for the demonstrative adjectives, possessive adjectives, demonstrative pronouns, possessive pronouns and personal pronouns. Things got murky, but I (as Gabriela) made it through and by the end of 102, I was reading and writing paragraphs in Spanish pretty well. My speaking, however, was labored and slow, and I hindered myself. I was mortified by the idea of being disrespectful of the language, so I set an unforgiving standard for myself: Don’t speak aloud until you know you’re doing it properly. 

This unreasonable rule followed me into college where I declared the English language and writing as my area of studies. To receive a degree in any language required of the student to study another language simultaneously in an effort to expand the student’s knowledge and experience of how languages work, organize themselves and express ideas, concepts and feelings. I, once again, excitedly registered for Spanish and the placement exam pegged me for Spanish 201 my Freshman year of college. 

I bought the books, I selected my outfit, and I began my freshman year of college motivated to achieve fluency

I have to stop here. Fluency in Spanish has been this effervescent and ethereal dream (all of the English words beginning in E that mean floating somewhere beyond my reach and always disappearing!) I was a motivated, straight-A student. I did all of my homework, I made flashcards of Spanish vocabulary, and I actually found conjugating verbs fun, but I for some reason was denied something I so badly wanted: fluency in Spanish. 

My Spanish reading improved greatly as we read poetry and even literature in Spanish. I could look at a newspaper in Spanish or hear song lyrics in Spanish and get the gist of what they were saying. That felt good. I enjoyed Paublo Neruda, Laura Esquivel, Juan Meléndez Valdés, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Miguel Hernández, and Cristina Fernández. But when it came time for my final exam which included an oral component, I struggled. I recall the somewhat disappointed face of my professor as I stammered through the exam, clumsy and sporadic. I left that exam feeling ashamed. I received a B+ but I recall feeling my rule of “don’t speak aloud until you know you’re doing it properly” solidify like a locked fortress inside of me. 

Per the requirements of my degree, I finished at Spanish 205 with poetry and literature and limited speaking ability. My life went onward and, unfortunately, didn’t include Spanish. 

Then, in March 2018 we dropped the anchor of our sailboat into the muddy, dark-clayed earth of the Dominican Republic. My Spanish slowly began to creep itself back into my memory. 

“Cuánto tiempo te vas a quedar aquí?” The man in the immigration office asked. We were in an office the size of a closet. He used his personal cellular phone to capture an image of our passport and wrote down our names and passport numbers in the kind of black-and-white composition notebook you purchase in drug stores. 

Without hesitation and from somewhere hidden within me I said, “dos semanas.” 

“Ahh!” His eyes perked up. “Hablas Español!” 

I laughed, mostly at myself because I didn’t know how I understood him or where that came from, but I answered the question and moved the conversation forward in Spanish! Thank you, thank you; I’m here all week! Well, two weeks actually. 

Upon leaving the office, I asked a small child on a bicycle for a “tienda de libras,” and he nodded his head, placed his small feed firmly on his bike pedals and with the speed and spirit of a carefree child, I went running after him through the streets of Dominican Republic until we arrived at a small store covered with a tarp for a ceiling that sold books. 

“Vendes un diccionario? Ingles y Español?” I asked. He nodded and handed over a small, red pocket dictionary. I handed over 300 pesos and opened the pages. 

The verbs, nouns, adjectives, demonstrative adjectives, possessive adjectives, demonstrative pronouns, possessive pronouns and personal pronouns floated off the pages and back into my heart and mind. I smiled, thanked him, and made my way back to our sailboat home to study. 

We made our way through the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico before arriving in Colombia. Through each Spanish-speaking country, I felt as though I was unpacking precious belongings from a dusty box. I’d pull one item out at a time, dust it off, and place it carefully back into use. My fear of speaking, however, still plagued me. 

Then, we met our Brazilian friends floating on a mooring one day in Boanire, Dutch Antilles. They speak Portuguese, Spanish and English. One day, while sipping on agua con gas in the shade for relief from the sun she said, “I don’t speak English perfect. But you understand me, and you appreciate that I try.” 

I had never thought of it this way before. I do appreciate that she tries! I had a new lifelong friend because she tried and continues to try, and I so badly want to speak to her and understand her that I don’t mind if the grammar isn’t perfect. The message is sent and received; the conversation and thus the friendship moves forward. I swallowed my gulp of agua con gas. I knew what this meant. It was time for me to break the unreasonable rule I set for myself when I was 14 years old and start trying to speak Spanish. 

So, here I begin. I registered for classes at Centro Catalina and I begin on Monday. I am leaving my ridiculous rule behind. I am leaving unreasonably harsh expectations for myself behind, and I will try no matter how embarrassed or silly I may feel because this is important to me and this is my opportunity to add on to who I am and what I am capable of doing in this world. 

Vamos! 


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Millennial Sailors: The Endless Search for Internet Connectivity

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I feel like I’m standing behind a podium, hands sweating about to admit something I’m not proud of, but here it goes: I am an Internet / cellphone-service loving (some may say “dependent”) millennial who lives full-time on a sailing vessel during the Internet age. 

Born at the end of 1985, the Internet was strong and accessible in personal homes by the time I was old enough to turn on Saturday morning cartoons for my younger brother and me. These conditions meant I was fortunate enough to grow up with the Internet. 

My first screen name was SheenaGal and I remember being in elementary school signing onto AOL - if you sat still long enough while holding your breath through the screeching, your Internet connection would happen faster - waiting to hear, “You’ve got mail.” These magical words were exciting not because I thought I had mail as an 8-year-old girl, but because they confirmed a very special thing: connectivity

There was no way for SheenaGal to predict it back then, but my love for connectivity would travel with me when I moved onto a sailboat and started full-time cruising. It wouldn’t be long before I felt the pangs of frustration that comes with traveling and connectivity, forcing me to discover - like a modern-day Cristóbal Colón - the varying routes to the Internet.

First, I had to digest some difficult but factual information: the ocean in all of her grandeur does not provide a strong or reliable WiFi signal nor is it reasonably priced to have satellite service for your cellular phone while floating 20 to 40 miles offshore. Zero. Nada. The words “no service” actually appear on your phone. 

I just finished reading Charles C. Mann’s revelatory, national-bestseller book 1493. It was 690 pages of lively fascination for me. In this book, Mann tracks what is called the Columbian Exchange: the effects of voyages by Cristóbal Colón, Miguel López Legazpi, Andrés de Urdaneta, and Hernán Cortés who brought with them food, seeds, bugs, animals, diseases and people from all over. These explorers are responsible for blending everyone (ethnicities, languages, religions, diseases) and every land (plants, animals, bugs, farming ideas) into what is now called the homogenocene (our current epoch, where biodiversity is diminishing and ecosystems around the world are becoming more similar). 

None of these explorers - not a single one of them - owned a cellular phone. They didn’t have a satellite phone or e-mail or Facebook or Navionics or Active Captain or anything. When they discovered something or when they needed a recommendation they couldn’t ask Facebook or Google, they had to turn the entire boat around and sail all the way back from whence they came.

These world-traveling navigators, however, didn’t have to worry about finding, purchasing or figuring out connectivity! While I am sometimes jealous of them, I am living in a different sailing time, navigating different waters, well, metaphorically. I, not unlike the explorers before my time, have kept notes to share, lessons learned, a detailed travel journal. 

For you, straight from my sailing log of traveling connectivity:

Know your personal connectivity behavior. Before untying the dock lines and heading out to the open ocean, I suggest knowing what kind of actions you would like to be able to do. 

For safety, I want two-way communication while out on the open ocean. We went with the Garmin InReach+ and its unlimited ($50/month) plan. This enabled our families to follow points dropped, tracking our exact location but it also enabled them to write us and vice versa. The Garmin InReach also syncs with your Facebook, pushing the same information to a Facebook page. 

For fun, work and discovery, I want WiFi or cellular service in order to send and receive e-mails, upload YouTube videos and blog posts, Google questions and update Facebook and Instagram. These wants have served as the impetus of certain sailing-related behaviors. 

We have chosen where to drop anchor while holding my cellular phone actively searching for nearby open WiFi networks to which our WiFi Booster could connect.

We wake up early - before the hotel, restaurant or bar guests awake and busy up the signal - in order to get the fastest WiFi. 

At coffee shops with WiFi, we drink espressos at an excruciatingly slow speed, in order to complete our upload or Internet research. 

One of the first things we do after immigration and customs check-in is find a local convenience store to purchase a pre-paid SIM card. I currently have six SIM cards in my stash. 

I have learned more about the history of these islands thanks to being able to Google the most random questions from the most random places. (Really, though. How were the mountains of the Virgin Islands formed and are there other ways to heal a jellyfish sting besides urinating on it?) 

While traveling, I want to be able to call the people I love

This led us to the brilliance of What’s App or Facebook Messenger; calling that allows you to use a WiFi connection or cellular data, instead of having to purchase a high-priced international-calling plan, sometimes identified as a “talk” plan. Under a talk plan, a 10-minute international call can cost you $2.00 a minute, which is the equivalent of four tomatoes, two pineapples, a papaya and five potatoes in the Dominican Republic. Through What’s App and Facebook Messenger, we can call our loved ones for nearly free and still afford four tomatoes, two pineapples, a papaya and five potatoes. 

For community, I want to be able to post in groups or discover likeminded individuals to meet for coffee. 

The Internet is full of groups of people bubbling over with helpful information. In the late 1400s, Colombus had his crew of 90+ men to bounce ideas around or learn from, in my sailing world it’s my boyfriend and me. Facebook groups dedicated to hyperlocal cities and anchorages help you learn key information like where to check in, where the dinghy dock is located, where you dispose of trash or oil. Geotags or hashtags on Instagram have located some of our newest lifelong friends by simply locating them, seeing they’re near you, and reaching out to them. 

We have found sailmakers, parts dealers, immigration, customs, grocery stores, libraries, agents, water, dinghy docks, and lifelong friends all from the empowering tools of the Internet that include geotags, hashtags, community groups, and messaging. 

For navigation, we want to pull the latest information on weather, depths, tides, shoals and anchorages. 

We use Navionics with downloaded maps onto our iPad. Then, we use GPS PRO+ Bad Elf to connect to satellites for a live feed, which we connect via bluetooth to the iPad. This way, our boat’s heading and path is being tracked live from a satellite feed that we can see on our iPad. Navionics provides you detailed breakdowns of where you are heading and what you can expect (for landlubbers, think of the app Waze). Active Captain provides you with similar information, but it also includes notes from people who traveled before you. 

For entertainment and down time, we want Netflix

We pre-download movies before heading offshore or to WiFi-barren anchorages (enter extremely slow drinking of espressos here). 

In the millennial sailing world, these are the tools we use: Bluetooth, Cellular data, WiFi, Satellites, and technology such as WiFi boosters, iPads, Bad Elf, and movie-streaming. These are the resources we use to stay safe, entertained, and connected. 

And my boyfriend, not unlike Christopher Colombus, knows that in order to avoid an unruly crew wanting mutiny, keep this millennial sailor connected and our entire world will open up to new discoveries and friends. 

Fair winds, following seas and connectivity, friends! 

P.S. Please follow our YouTube (we spend 8+ hours drinking a single espresso just to upload them!) For live updates, follow our Instagram! Love you guys, really. If we had cell service, I would Google, "Does our readers know how thankful we are for them?" And so many searches would come back. 

How to Thrive in a Relationship While Living on a Boat

 Photo by: Mark Edward Atkinson

Photo by: Mark Edward Atkinson

You live on a boat surrounded by water. That’s about 350-square feet where you can stand, surrounded by water. You wake up next to your partner. You make coffee together. You read together. You plan your day out together. You share a dinghy, so you dinghy into land together. You do the daily to-dos or activities together. You shop for, prepare and eat breakfast, lunch and dinner together. You watch the sunset together, and finally, fall asleep together. 

At every and all points of the day you are together. These are the physical circumstances, confines, whatever you’d like to call it, of a boat relationship. 

The physical circumstances of a boat relationship directly affect the emotional landscape of a boat relationship: you are literally stuck on very-small square footage with no easy way to escape should you want to or need to (note: It is important to note that some boat relationships turn out to be emotionally unhealthy, which increases the severity of the physical confines and it could potentially be dangerous). 

But for Ryan and me, we are best friends, and the physical boundaries strengthened our closeness. Here’s how we make it work in tight spaces, with full-time presence and shared everythings. 

Guide No. 1: Say “thank you” to your partner every time they do something. It notices their work. 

We say thank you for everything - for doing the dishes, for the making the beds, for fluffing the pillows, for changing the oil, for safely completing a watch, for making dinner, for granting each other an undisturbed nap. Everything counts, everything matters. We want each other to know that 1) Hey! I noticed this! 2) Hey! I’m so thankful for you and thankful you did that! This is a game changer. 

Guide No. 2: Go out of your way to check on your partner. 

In the most-immediate sense, we check on each other to make sure one of us hasn’t fallen overboard. We call them check-ins. If we haven’t seen each other in awhile, we simply say, “Babe?!” And the other answers back, “Babe!” confirming that both beating hearts are currently presiding on the boat. 

We apply this check-in rule to each other emotionally, as well. We ask each other how we’re feeling, and we’re direct about it: “Are you depressed?” (if one of us is acting lethargic, quieted, moody), “Are you in go mode?” (if one of us is acting project-oriented, focused and motivated) - and there are many other direct questions in-between on that scale. But it helps us directly establish which emotional state, energy zone and mindset we’re in. 

When we’re in different zones, we either give each other the space to be in their own zone, or we try support each other in whatever zone is needing attention. For example, when one of us is depressed, the other will nestle up to the other in bed and just lie there, present, silent, cuddling. When one of us is excited, we have a dance party together (even if one of us isn’t feeling a dance party).

We also tell each other when we’ve gone out of our way to check on our partner. We will say something like, “I hadn’t heard you make a noise in a while, and I was concerned,” or “I missed you, so I came over to check on you,” or “I know you get worried sometimes when the wind is strong, so I came over to find you.” These kind of comments help establish: 1) I know you 2) I missed you 3) I care enough to come find you and inquire. 

Guide No. 3: Understand your partner’s struggles or irritants and gift them a lesser struggle sometimes. 

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I love when Ryan makes the boat beds for me. It’s usually my duty, and I’m happy to have that duty (instead of dealing with the holding tank), but making a boat bed is not easy. It’s tedious. Try making a bed that you’re sitting ON with no way to stand beside, in front of or behind it! Occasionally, Ryan will - without my prompting - make the beds for me! And it’s like receiving an ice cream cone on a hot summer day. I also know what will make Ryan’s life easier and I do them so that he doesn’t have to think about it, worry about it, hassle with it (like putting his tools back in their homes, remembering where he puts his wallet, and folding the clothes he leaves on the floor). 

This also applies to understanding your partner’s mental or emotional struggles. If you know something bothers them (like leaving the toothbrush in the wrong spot), try not to do that thing. If you know something irritates them (like the wooden slat that always makes noise when you step over it), try to fix that thing. It lessens the stress for everyone. But if you absolutely have to do the thing - whatever that is - do it with grace and understand that your partner may have a reaction. Loving them through that reaction will help it pass. 

Guide No. 4: Figure out and give each other their favorite treats. 

I love an iced cold LaCroix. Ryan loves pizza and ice cream. I love a good yoga or dance class. Ryan loves surfing. Whenever we can and wherever we go, we look for opportunities for our partner to indulge on their favorite treat. It’s even more special if you surprise them! 

Guide No. 5: Give each other space. 

One of the best ways to be quiet together is to watch a sunset or movie, read a book or just sit in the same space and don’t talk. You are giving your partner the quiet they need to process. You are granting them the peace they need to feel stable. 

After a disagreement, don’t require of them a “final response” or a perfect solution or a well thought out plan right away. They most likely don’t know yet or haven’t found the words for it yet. Give them space. Give them time. Think of them and send them good energy, pray for them, as they work through whatever they’re working through. An answer will come. 

Guide No. 6: Sometimes, caring for each other doesn’t look like an action. Sometimes, it means not saying what you’re dying to say. 

This one is particularly difficult for two extrovert, hothead, Irish-descent individuals. We like to say what we think! But we have learned that sometimes caring for each other just means being quiet, or saying, “OK” and not adding a follow-up statement. Caring is allowing that person to be wherever they are in that moment. Time will come to express your thoughts, or time will alter, change, or smooth the edge off of whatever you desired to say. 

Guide No. 7: Celebrate your partner. 

Really! Celebrate them! Every time they do something you think is pretty awesome, tell them! Every time they look even slightly adorable, tell them! Every time the thought crosses your mind, “Oh man, I love you,” say that out loud! Vocalize and show your adoration for them as often as you can. Simple comments like, “You look so cute cleaning the deck!” or “I love that dance you do when you’re cleaning the galley” go a very long way. 

Guide No. 8: Fill in the blank, “It drives me crazy when you do __________, but I sure do love you for it!” 

This establishes that 1) that behavior was atrocious 2) I still love you. It opens communication and usually prompts laughter. It has come in handy for us many times and in many different scenarios, and has almost always ended up in laughter and feeling more loved! 

Guide No. 9: Tell your partner they are your best friend. 

Ever since Kindergarten we have all desired the title of “best friend.” It’s a special title! A title that one must earn and maintain! Telling your partner (who may identify as your “girlfriend” or “wife” but has never been called a best friend) that they are your best friend, alters the dynamics on your relationship even if just for a second! It takes you immediately back to childhood when you were passed love notes under the desk and you can’t help but pause and smile. 

Guide No. 10: Acknowledge your efforts. 

It’s OK and completely welcomed for you to say, “I’m making a special dinner for you” or “I want to take you on a romantic date.” This establishes to your partner what you think you’re doing, and it helps your partner be there with you. It’s the difference of setting just blueberry pancakes in front of me on a Monday morning or setting down very special blueberry pancakes full of my partner’s effort and love. It sets the stage. It provides important information in an effort to avoid the, “You didn’t like my special blueberry pancakes?” conversation. 

Guide No. 11: Figure out your own personal definition of love. 

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What does it mean to you? Where do you excel at showing and accepting love? Where are you struggling when it comes to showing or accepting love? What are your expectations surrounding love? 

If you have no idea what love means to you, I can promise you that your partner has no idea how to show or accept your love. But if you’re pretty clear - not perfectly clear, just somewhat clear - on what love feels like, looks like, how it shares, how it gives and accepts, how it stretches and contracts, then your partner has at least a chance to be on the same page as you. And that’s important because even if your partner can’t be on the same page as you, they can at least acknowledge what page you’re on (and then refer back to Guide No. 5). 

Guide No. 12: Get ready to talk about feelings. 

All of the feelings. Some that apply, some that definitely don’t. Some that make sense, some that are seriously out in left field. Some that make a difference, and some that literally just make everything worse. Some that have immediate implications and some that are from decades ago. Get ready to talk about them all. Because they all matter. They all inform how we experience our current world. 

It’s important to recognize that no one’s feeling “count less,” “matter less” or “apply less.” Just allow them the right to discuss their emotions. 

Guide No. 13: Before having a fight or heated discussion, ask yourself, “Have I showered? Eaten? Napped?” Then, ask yourself, “Has my partner showered, eaten and napped?” 

If you answer no to 2/3 of those questions, delay the discussion until after 2/3 of those things have happened. 

Guide No. 14: Forgive yourself when you get something wrong. Forgive your partner when they get something wrong.

We are all learning here, folks. Whether you’re living on land or on water, you will mess up. You will forget to be thankful; you will misread the signs; you feel emotionally zapped one day and be temporarily (probably unknowingly) unavailable to your partner; something will trigger something deep within you and you’ll have an unexpected or bad reaction and say something you don’t mean. These things will absolutely happen. Forgive each other. 

Guide No 15: Laugh together as often as you can. 

And don’t allow this to feel like pressure. You don’t need to be a comedian every day, and neither does your partner. You can laugh together by watching a funny movie (we suggest Captain Ron). The more you strengthen your laughter muscles, the more funny your partner will be, and the better you’ll be at laughing at situations that could possibly make you want to cry - but you laugh instead! 

Guide No. 16: Cook together. And serve your partner first. 

There is something so sexy and teamworky about cooking together. We either talk while we’re cooking (share stories, thoughts, ideas) or we turn on music and dance around the sizzling garlic, onions and boiling pasta! 

We also always serve our partner first. Coffee? Pour your partner’s cup first. Pasta? Fill your partner’s plate first. 

Guide No. 17: Invite nature into your relationship.

Every relationship hits a dull moment; you’ll start to feel stale. Invite nature in. For us, we go swimming or snorkeling with the fish together. We’ll find a hiking trail or take a walk on the beach. Nature has a powerful way of resetting your heart, minds and spirits. It washes the muck away from eyes so you can clearly see yourself, your partner and your relationship. 

Guide No. 18: Allow a community to support, encourage and challenge your relationship. 

Everyone needs a community. When you live on a boat, community is especially important. Ryan needs guy time. I need gal time. That time is sacred and helps us in myriad ways. We talk with other couples, ask them questions, witness how their relationship flows and grows. It provides perspective and serves as a contagion for ways to grow our own relationship. 

Guide No. 19: Practice not speaking badly about your partner in public. 

Even if you’re frustrated with them, even if they did something that has pissed you off, keep that sharing for intimate conversations only. It’s nothing you need to speak about in the presence of multiple people. Don’t project your partner’s failings, struggles or misunderstandings. 

Guide No. 20: Say, “I love you” more often than you think is necessary. 

It is always nice to know - and have reiterated - that you are loved. At first, I was overwhelmed and uncomfortable with Ryan’s outpouring, endless well of love. But then I started to appreciate its boundlessness. Love begets love. It creates more, expands more, flourishes. 

Love (on land / on a boat) is not easy but it’s possible and it is surely worth the reward! Understand that you are in this thing (love or a tight-spaced boat) together, and it will only thrive if you spend a lot of good-intentioned effort, time and communication on it. 

Not everything is perfect here in Seas Life land. We have our disagreements and those vulnerable conversations of, “You hurt my feelings when you did / said / missed…” but those conversations and those tough moments have revealed to us our super powers: resilience, faith in each other, the longing for the other to understand, patience, the determination to not give up. These super powers are the glue that hold us together. 

Plastic-Free Living is Easier than You Think

I used a lot of plastic. It made me feel, in some odd way, assured that whatever I was getting clean, sorted, arranged, prepared for me. Then, I moved onto a sailboat and lived full-time on the ocean and bays, and I witnessed plastic clogging our earth’s arteries, filling our world’s animals, choking nature of its ability to breathe, heal and thrive. 

And now, I’m angry. 

The world produces 400 million tons of plastics every year (Geyer, Jambeck and Law, 2017). And we have no idea what that really means or how often it touches our lives. We also feel powerless to change it, but this is where you’re wrong! 

For me, the most immediate way to start to channel some of this anger toward our massive plastic problem was change my lifestyle by being more selective about what I am purchasing. The more research I did, the more I realized how easy and inexpensive it is to make a resounding difference.

First, you have to recognize and accept that we have a plastic problem. Do you know what made this excruciatingly clear to me? Single-use plastics, like those oval stickers that they place on apples in the grocery store. For what reason does each individual apple need a single sticker that we immediately remove and throw away in order to consume the apple? 

Single-use plastics (meaning they’re used once and then thrown away) include the following. Some of these you may not have realized even have plastics within them: 

  • The bags you grab at the grocery store to put your vegetables in
  • Styrofoam (containers that your take-home food travels in)
  • Food packaging film
  • Milk bottles
  • Freezer bags
  • Shampoo, Conditioner and Soap bottles
  • Bottles of water / sports drinks / juices
  • Bottles of cleaning fluids
  • Cutlery
  • Hot drinking cups
  • Protective packaging for fragile items
  • Ice cream tubs
  • Potato chip bags
  • Bottle caps
  • Toothpaste tubes
  • Shopping bags
  • Plastic trays in frozen meals

North East Asia (26%) and North America (21%) are the largest distributors of single-use plastics (ICIS Supply and Demand Database, 2014). Of that plastic being produced, 79% of it sits in landfills or floats in our oceans, while only 12% is being incinerated and 9% is being recycled. By 2050, 99% of seabirds will have ingested plastic (UN environment, 2015). Can you hear me crying yet?

So, what could I do? Little Sheena on a sailboat. What, really, can I do to stop the tidal wave of 400 million tons of plastic? 

Here is what I did (and what I’m still working on doing). 

  Photo by: @ourzerowastefamily. Notice there is NO PLASTIC. Reusable, non-plastic vegetable and fruit bags by Onya!

Photo by: @ourzerowastefamily. Notice there is NO PLASTIC. Reusable, non-plastic vegetable and fruit bags by Onya!

Took an inventory of our single-use plastic problem. We came out of that pretty guilty. 

So we… 

  • Started bringing our own canvas bags instead of using the plastic bags offered at the grocery store. 
  • There are Onya bags available to put your vegetables and fruits in.
  • Switched our trash bags to bags that biodegrade in 180 days v. normal trash bags which take 1,000 years. 
  • Use bamboo cutlery, hair brush, and tooth brushes.
  • Purchase fruits and vegetables from farmers’ markets who do not put single-use plastic stickers on their produce.
  • Purchase meat from local butchers who do not wrap their goods in plastic film. 
  • Purchase milk that comes in paper boxes instead of plastic jugs. 
  • Use re-fillable water containers. Give up bottled water! Give it up! 
  • Cut out sodas, juices and all plastic-bottled beverages.
  • Bring your own containers for leftovers at restaurants. Stainless steel containers are great! (Life Without Plastic, Eco Lunchbox)
  • Buy fresh bread that comes in paper packaging or bring your own towel to wrap the bread in for its voyage home.
  • Started purchasing more glass-based, paper-based packed foods. 
  • Purchase wheels of cheese instead of plastic-wrapped cheese.
  • Purchase bottles of wine with natural cork stoppers.
  • Let go of frozen meals. They all come in plastic trays. 
  • Buy from bulk bins as often as possible (for beans, rice, herbs). 
  • Clean your home with vinegar and water (that come in glass bottles). 
  • Buy dishwashing detergent that comes in a cardboard box.
  • Don’t purchase cleaning sponges that come in plastic. 
  • Use bar soap wrapped in paper instead of liquid soap held in plastic.
  • Give up shampoos that come in plastic bottles (Aquarian Bath Shampoo Bars, J.R. Liggett’s Old Fashioned Shampoo Bar).
  • Switch out deodorant in plastic containers to baking soda and tea tree oil. 
  • Make your own lotions with coconut oil from a glass jar instead of lotions in plastic containers.
  • Buy toilet paper that is not wrapped in plastic.
  • Use plastic-free feminine hygiene products.
  • Use beeswax coated cloth wraps instead of plastic cling wraps.
  • Don’t buy individually-wrapped products (like cookies). Buy in bulk.

Attempted to turn single-use plastics into multiple-use plastics by… 

  We store water in old wine bottles. Glass > Plastic!

We store water in old wine bottles. Glass > Plastic!

  • Returning plastic packages for berries to farmers’ markets for reuse. 
  • Re-purposing the plastics on the boat.
  • Making sure we absolutely re-use it in same way or form.

We pick up plastic that is lying on the ground or floating in the water whenever we see it.

  • Simply take the time to pick it up and find a way to recycle / dispose of it. This way, an innocent animal won’t stumble upon it and ingest it - or choke.

We woke up. 

  • We were recently with friends in a coffee shop and the barista refused to give him his coffee without a plastic lid. He said he “wasn’t allowed.” I ran up and offered that he re-use the plastic lid from my coffee cup. He “wasn’t allowed.” Our friend turned down the coffee. 
  • We are far more aware of what we purchase and what message we are sending to the stores and plastic producers. 
  • We are finishing off the lotions, sunscreens, detergents that come in plastic containers and making more-informed choices next time.

Do we still have plastic on the boat? Yes. 

Do we sometimes get store-pressured into purchasing something with plastic wrap? Yes, since stores provide you no other options, sometimes. 

Do we still occasionally need a bottled water when we’re dying of thirst? Yes, of course. 

But the goal is to be more conscious of plastic purchasing. We are hoping we can make a small difference by the choices we will continuously make. 

You can too. 

 

Cruising Life: The Things We Brought (and Didn't)

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When we were preparing for this adventure (destination: unknown; length of time away: unknown) we were not exactly sure what to bring or how to pack. We read blogs on "Best Clothes to Bring" and "How to Minimalize Your Life if You're Living on a Sailboat," but we were really just making guesses. 

Now that we're on month 6 of full-time sailing and cruising, here are our notes! 

Things We’re Thankful We Brought: 

 Canvas bags will make your food and supply runs far easier (and cheaper). 

Canvas bags will make your food and supply runs far easier (and cheaper). 

FOR LIFE-

  • Cash. The “cash is king” rule definitely applies to travel. It isn’t easy to find banks and withdraw cash, so having it available - in many different dominations - is best. 
  • Clothing with SPF. This is a serious help if you’re having a day when you don’t want to be sticky from sunscreen but still need protection. Also, this sun is brutal. Sometimes you need both.
  • Back-up sheets and blankets. You can’t do a lot of laundry out here, so having backups will save you when you’re craving clean (free of sunscreen, sweat and salt) sheets.
  • Back-up Deodorant, Toothpaste, Contact Solution. That stuff is pricey outside of the U.S. 
  • A stocked medical and medicine kit. You’ll get cuts and bruises and you’ll get sinus infections and illnesses. Having rubbing alcohol, creams, and basic medicines will come in handy. And Calamine lotion because the mosquitos are as plentiful as the flies. 
  • An Epi-pen. You never know when you’ll randomly pick up a shell-fish allergy while eating a lobster in the Bahamas. 
  • Back-up sunglasses. We brought around 4 pair for each of us, and on the daily we either cannot find them (or cannot find the pair we had on yesterday), so we go to our back-up pile. Because you absolutely have to have them - no question.
  • Canvas bags for markets and grocery store visits. Most stores in the Caribbean have banned plastic (YAY!) so having multiple canvas bags protects the environment and will make your grocery runs easier. 
  • Back-up tools and boat parts. If you think it won't break: it will. Be prepared and be ready to improvise. 
  • Each other. We wouldn't want to be doing any of this without each other. 
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FOR EATING / DRINKING-

  • A plastic pitcher to chill water in. When you have spent all day in the sun, you crave cold water and the water coming from you water tanks isn’t going to cut it.
  • A pressure cooker (for the propane stove). It fixes rice - which we eat a lot of - very quickly and efficiently.
  • A French Press. The most energy-efficient way to make coffee on a boat.
  • Sharp knives. For making delicious meals and cutting through fresh island fruits. 
  • An embarrassing large amount of rice, quinoa and cous cous. Grains you can stock up on and they last forever! They're expensive on island, so purchase them (a lot of them) when you have the chance.
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FOR FUN-

  • Hammocks. They’re awesome. 
  • Books, and lots of them. We had an entire library onboard and we are so thankful because a lot of time is spent reading. 
  • iPad with a Netflix account. We can download movies and shows whenever we have wifi and watch on our iPad later. 
  • A large map to track our progress. It helps to see that we’re actually moving. 
  • Yoga mats. On beautiful islands or on the bow of our boat, we use these things constantly! 
  • A nice camera. We are so thankful to have a camera (that does photography and video) to capture all of the fun we are having. 
  • Boards (surf & paddle). Because these make for the best and most relaxing morning workouts. 
  • Boat cards. You absolutely must have these! You meet so many people in passing and then you want to link up with them later, so passing over a boat card is the best way to track people down and start friendships. 

FOR NAVIGATION-

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  • Navionics
  • Bad Elf
  • Garmin InReach

Things We Wish We Had Brought More Of: 

  • Packages of Crystal Lite to flavor water that doesn’t always taste delightful. Plus, you get tired of drinking just water. 
  • Cleaning Vinegar. This is impossible to find on islands. 
  • Shampoo and Conditioner. While you can find it, it’s expensive on islands. 
  • Tea Tree Oil. We use this for cleaners and to prevent mold (also use vinegar). 
  • Castile Soap. You can create shampoos, laundry soap and dish soap from this and it’s easier on the environment. This is nearly impossible to find (in liquid form) on islands. 
  • American chocolate treats. They’re pricey on islands. 
  • Sternos to burn. They keep away the flies. 
  • Lighters. To start the propane stove, grill, and sternos. 
  • Luci lights. These solar-powered, blowup lights are awesome. But they go bad or blow away easier than we’d like. 
  • Throw-away shoes. Your shoes get worn out fast from sun and salt exposure, as well as hiking, sand, seashell and reef walking. So, having shoes that you can toss when they’re worn out and have some backups available is great! 
  • Hard drives. In the cruising community, they pass around hard drives for movies, navigational charts and music. You need a few terabytes worth of storage. 
  • Turkish towels. These dry faster, and they are lighter (thus taking up less space) when folding them and putting them in closets. 
  • Cotton dresses (for Sheena); Khaki shorts (for Ryan). They are our island go-tos! 
  • Disinfecting wipes. These make cleaning easy on a moving boat.

Things We Brought Too Much Of: 

 Bringing back-up tools and boat parts is crucial to your cruising success. 

Bringing back-up tools and boat parts is crucial to your cruising success. 

  • Clothes. We aren’t kidding when we say you basically wear the same outfit every day (bathing suit). 
  • Plates and glasses. You really don’t need a mass amount of these. Maybe some for you and a few for guests. 
  • Glass jars. Let’s be honest, no one is canning food on this boat. 
  • Strawberry Pop-Tarts. We are really wishing we had bought the variety pack. 

Thank you all for following our journey. We are learning as we g(r)o(w) and having an absolute blast. 

 

 

Luperón: The Black Cow

We paid our bill quickly. Passed over $1,000 pesos with little fanfare and jumped on our motorcycle. 

"Did that guy just say the Dominican Republic MAFIA is looking for him?" Ryan asked. Revving up the motorcycle while I adjusted our bag and wrapped my arms around his waist. 

"Yes," I confirmed. We needed to leave. Pronto. 

Ryan pressed the gas on the motorcycle and in a cloud of dust, we were gone from the restaurant. We rode through the Dominican Republic night where it becomes chilly quickly as the sun disappears behind the mountains. The stars begin to emerge, the warm breeze starts to nip first at your arms and then down your body; the hum of bugs increases and you can hear families laughing inside of their homes or outside on their porches, beers in their hands. 

Then, without warning, motorcycle lights appear behind us.

"What is that?" I ask, looking behind us. But really, I was asking who is that?!

The lights drew closer and closer as we navigated around curves in the road. 

"They're getting closer," I said, my fear growing. Had the mafia seen us talking to that man? Ryan sped up. 

But the lights just came closer. Every time I looked back to gauge their closeness, I was blinded by the lights that were - confirmed - very close to us now

"They're following us!" I said, now at full alert. Then, suddenly, the lights cut off to the left and the motorcycle was right beside us! 

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"BLACK COWS!" Yelled the voice. "BLACK COWS!" 

"It's Cliff," Ryan said, which immediately dissipated my fear. It was a sailing friend from the local marina wanting to warn us about black cows that like to sit in the middle of the roads at night to soak up the warmth left over from the sun. 

We both pulled into the marina, safely. 

"Cliff! We thought you were the MAFIA," I said, laughing but half serious.

This story serves as a metaphor of our experience of Luperón. When we first announced our intentions to travel here, we were met with a lot of fear from others. 

"You need to be careful." 

"The customs people will come onto your boat." 

"Have bribes of alcohol and money ready." 

"That place is full of corruption. You should avoid it." 

It is easy to swallow all of these things and fill yourself full of fear. But Luperón has been a place full of beauty, kindhearted, well-meaning people who just want to warn you about black cows. This includes the locals. They want to help you, and they have sat there patiently while I flip through my English-to-Spanish dictionary just to say one word. They have filled our bellies full of delicious food, helped us purchase the largest vegetables we've ever seen, given us directions when we've been confused, and helped us navigate and enjoy their country step by step.

The fear I experienced was all in my head. I had built it up and turned an innocent guy into a gun-toting mafia man. This is what we do when we don't understand a country, a person, a theory, a project. We create and then nourish our and each others' fear so that it grows before we even give it an opportunity to show us it's not that at all. 

Upon arrival to Luperón:

  • We checked in with immigration ($4,000 pesos)
  • Customs ($30 American dollars)
  • The office of Agriculture ($10 American dollars)
  • The Navy ($0)
  • Purchased a Dominican Republic SIM card ($100 pesos) and data ($492.20 pesos) so we could tell our families we had arrived safely
  • Exchanged $200 American dollars into pesos
  • Purchased an English-to-Spanish dictionary ($200 pesos)

Then, we ordered a personal pizza ($150 pesos) and a Presidenté, clanked our cups and celebrated our arrival to a new, unexplored-by-us country. 

DR2.jpg

We hadn't met any friends yet, but we knew they'd come. Everyone we saw waved and smiled at us with a happy "Hola!" or "Buen dia!" We hadn't met Craig (who would rent us the motorcycle for $10/day) or Cliff (who would hand us a brochure that provided us with information about free clinics, a chiropractor, a dentist, WiFi, and, of course, warn us about black cows). We hadn't met Anna or dined at her excellent restaurant, Las Velas. We hadn't met Hercules, the cutest puppy in the entire world. We hadn't met all of the sailing families who were here as well, doing exactly what we're doing. 

But on this first day, we simply celebrated this beautiful country with these lovely people. 

*  *  *  *  *

Next up on the blog: Sheena sees the Dominican Republic chiropractor! 

 

An Observation: Water v. Land Living

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Out here, people are very passionate about living on their boats. So passionate, in fact, that I feel obligated to provide an argument for living on land! That being said, however, the journalist in me has noticed a few differences in life on land and life on the water. Observations that are too powerful to ignore. 

Time passes differently

On the water, or more specifically surrounded by nature, your bodies recalibrate to follow the sun and moon cycles. Each day, you wake up at sunrise and each night, you fall asleep not long after finishing dinner. Just the other day, a cruiser came on the radio and said, “Goodnight, Georgetown. Goodnight, Harbor.” It was 8:18pm, and we fell asleep soon after. 

I’ve spent the last 3 months pondering and noticing this change in my own body. It’s something undeniable. Previously, waking up at 5:00 am felt like a punishment. It certainly never felt like a gift, and it certainly never came with feelings with excitement or wonder for the day. 

Now, I won’t deny, this may be partly due to personal fault (a wrong mentality) or a systemic problem: I previously woke up to work. For money. Only to come home to “live life” that was unspoken for, unscheduled, not mandated for a few hours, only to sleep and do it all again. Or a mental fault with the systemic circumstances. Perhaps, I just couldn’t “get my mind right” with the system. Perhaps, I couldn’t find my personal flow in the required system based on performance, attractiveness and social acceptability. 

But out on the water, life isn't based on performance, attractiveness or social acceptability. Life is based on survival, exploring and adventure. 

The conclusion I’ve drawn is that my body shifted its waking hours because my purpose behind being awake has shifted. During the daylight hours, I am physically active, creatively producing, socially active with others, that when it’s time for the sun to disappear, I feel that my life has been lived. I didn’t have to “put it off” until after work or on the weekend. Thus, I sleep. 

Money leaves us differently

Before, I spent a lot of money on a lot of stuff I didn’t need (another pair of shoes or pants or the latest and greatest of whatever). Now, we spend money only on food that we make ourselves (eating out is too expensive), fuel, cell service and country-entry fees. Sure, we have bills too - insurance, school loans, Netflix - but our bills are far fewer. We no longer have a water bill, a utilities bill, a cable bill, an internet bill, an electricity bill. Those are all gone. We fill our water tanks at marinas; we create our own power with our solar panels; we throw away our trash at the designated areas. 

But the biggest change here is in the impulse to spend: it's not part of us anymore. Since we don't have a physical address, Amazon no longer applies to our temptations. We don't need anymore new clothes or gadgets. There aren't malls or movie theaters to spend our money in. There is very little temptation because nature doesn't demand money from us. 

We source and make our own food

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Prepackaged meals in the islands are ridiculously expensive. This is mostly because the stores on the islands associate prepackaged meals with Americans and the convenience the Americans have become accustomed to. Due to the high prices, we have said goodbye to prepackaged meals and purchase only local vegetables, grains (rice, quinoa, pasta) and fruits. For our protein, we catch fish or search for conch. 

I had never genuinely sourced my food. I previously went to a grocery store, saw a thing, put it in my cart, and purchased. But out here, the prices encourage you to prepare your own meals, which also requires of you to search for and find your own food. When you’ve looked your food, literally, in the eyes, it changes food for you. When you’ve pulled your food straight from trees, it changes food for you. When you get bruises or sunburn or cuts or dirty from securing your own food, it changes food for you. You suddenly become acutely aware of your food’s life force, and the transfer of energy from food to body. It is far more special after you’ve spent a day in the hot sun searching for you meal, then simply pulling a plastic sheet off of a prepackaged meal to throw in a microwave. (We don’t even have a microwave, so all convenient eating is not even an option). 

We are more community oriented

When you’re living in a boat community, there is something called “Cruisers Net” each morning. This special 1 hour of your day happens every morning at 8:00 am while you’re sipping your coffee or finishing your yoga. During the net, a very special thing happens. 

First, community announcements: This is the time of the net where anyone throwing an event or offering a class (for free) announces their occasion. Just today, for example, there is a dinghy race, a class on Greek mythology, a conch horn class, water aerobics and yoga. 

Second, “boaters in need:” This section is where a very special question is put out to the community. “Any boaters in need?” Following the question, each boat will list what they’re in need of or what they’re seeking. It can be various things such as: knowledge (needing to know where to dispose used oil), tools (ranging from very specific items to general generators), advice (for the boat, on the weather, in life), help (physical assistance, emotional support), medical consultations (dermatology, vets, ophthalmologists, physical therapists). 

Third, buy-sell-trade-giveaway: This time is a moment to put out to the community what you have that you no longer need, or what you have that you’re “in excess of.” Again, this ends up including knowledge, tools, advice, help, or special skills. 

Fourth, thought of the day: Any motivational quotes or funny jokes or inspirational stories are welcomed here. 

We once put a request out to the community for assistance on our diesel engine. Within 30 minutes following the conclusion of the net, we had 3 people at our boat helping us. The charge? I took photographs of their children surfing. 

You start to feel yourself growing closer to your neighbors (who actually change every time the wind changes). There’s an air of helpfulness, togetherness, positive vibes. There’s a comforting feeling of knowing that every day you’ll be asked, “What do you need?” and know that you’ll receive a response. 

What would happen, on land, if we connected with our neighborhoods at the same time every morning before heading off to start our days? 

We create more

With more unclaimed time in our days, our creativity has flourished. I write every day, Ryan draws, and we’re both learning how to play the ukulele. This special energy - visiting us more frequently now - is something we honor. If inspiration visits, we serve as a vehicle for its expression.

As a result, our communication and our own expression within our relationship has changed, deepened, grown. 

Our stress has changed

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Now, I don’t want to suggest here that we live entirely stress-free: we don’t. But our stresses are different, more oriented around life-and-death scenarios instead of “Have we done a good job?” “Did we impress the right group of people?” “Am I wearing the right thing?” Our stresses are more about safety concerns, which can easily be prevented by proper research and planning, thus limiting our stresses to… very few! 

We are offering more

We are far more giving when it comes to our time, energy and skill sets. I believe this is because, out here, there is no “vibe of business.” People aren’t trying to sell you on anything. We are all just here on this planet trying to survive on the water, together. Without the vibes of business, people are far more giving. 

Classes are offered every day, skills are exchanged every day, tools, items, supplies are spread among the masses every day. What we have too much of, someone may need. What we need, someone may be offering. Eventually, the needs and wants and offerings settle into the flow of the day. This is entirely refreshing! Money is only used when it’s absolutely necessary, but it’s not the first thought or priority on anyone’s radar. 

Nature is our gym

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We don't have to schedule time to "go to the gym" or "workout." When your time is spent out in nature, our gym is: snorkeling, swimming, running, yoga, surfing, hiking, walking, climbing, pulling sails, sand traveling. We have a life full of opportunities to move, use our muscles, apply gravity against our bones. It's beautiful, it's challenging and it's free. It fits seamlessly into our days and our ways because we aren't being asked to sit down in a chair for 8+ hours a day, and sit down in our cars for 2+ hours of commuting each day. 

These observations are true. I have been watching them grow and expand in the last 6 months of living on a boat and the last 3 months of actual cruising on blue water. 

There are certain aspects of living on land that we miss and look forward to when we visit home or stay at a friend’s home. But they are mostly convenience related. (Though, I will mention here that nearness to our families is something we miss deeply and cannot be fixed by living on the water). 

But behaviorally, life is different. The expectations, the requirements, the conversations, the vibes are all different. 

It’s a different flow, a different rhythm, and a different way to move through the hours of our lives. 

This comes down to lifestyle. What kind of lifestyle do you want to live? What kind of boundaries do you set on your time and your energy and your skill set? What are those things worth to you? 

You can certainly create a lifestyle on land that feels empowering and good for you! But I am learning to ask the questions of WHY? 

Why is life on land the way it is? Why does it "have to be that way?" Can we create something that is kinder, more well-sourced, healthier, happier and easier to maintain? 

This life is showing me that it's possible.

The 8 Limbs of Yoga for Kids [Island Style]

 Teaching Philosophy of Yoga at Chat & Chill in Georgetown, Bahamas [3/5/2018]

Teaching Philosophy of Yoga at Chat & Chill in Georgetown, Bahamas [3/5/2018]

When Ryan and I made it to George Town, Bahamas, we found a community of sailing families living on their boats. Over 300 boats had dropped anchors and they enjoy daily and evening activities together. After subbing a morning yoga class, I was asked by local homeschooling (well, boatschooling) parents to teach the philosophy of yoga to children ages 6-14. 

At 2:00 in the afternoon, the kids and I gathered together under the shade of the trees to learn about Pantanjali's 8 limbs of yoga. 

YAMA [self-restraint] 

In life, we all have the option and power to choose where our energy is going. We want our energy to flow into work, into people and into emotions that uplift us and affirm our life, instead of work, people or emotions that drain us. Yamas include lessons such as non-violence and truthfulness. 

Activity for the kids: Each child received a cup of 10 small seashells. We asked them to identify, as a group, 4 life actions, decisions or emotions that make them feel good, and 4 life actions, decisions or emotions that make them feel gloomy or sad. In this particular class, they chose: 1) Reading a book, 2) Eating food 3) Dancing 4) Sailing. Their negatives were: 1) Fighting with a sibling or parent, 2) Lying 3) Cheating 4) Stealing. We created a cup for each, leaving us with 8 empty cups. 

“Now, you each have 10 shells,” I explained. “I want you to put a shell in each cup that you have experienced or done - good or bad.” 

Soon, each cup was full of shells. I went through each cup. 

“Our cup of fighting with our siblings or parents is pretty full,” I said. “Does that make us feel good?” The kids shook their heads no. 

“But I see our dancing cup is pretty full too,” I said. “Does that make us feel good?” The kids faces lit up with smiles as they shook their heads yes. 

“Now, when we’re trying to understand YAMA, we have to understand that we have the power to direct our energy into the good, life-giving things or the sad, life-draining things. Where do we want to put our seashells?” 

The kids quickly moved the shells from the 4 life-draining cups to the 4 life-giving cups. 

“Add a little extra to the eating food cup,” one kid said, and we all laughed. 

Lessons: Choose the life-giving people, actions, emotions. This will affirm your life instead of slowly leading to the depletion of you.  

NIYAMA [fixed observance] 

The easiest way to understand NIYAMA, is to intimately understand ritual, self-discipline or routine. It is the process of trusting the process. 

Activity for the kids: On a piece of paper, we wrote down a goal we are hoping to achieve. Some of them wrote down: “I want to learn how to do a back flip,” “I want to learn how to surf,” and “I want to drive the dinghy.” 

After we had our hopes and dreams out on paper, we wrote down who we would need to become and a routine we would need to adopt in order to achieve that goal. 

“For example,” I explained, “If you want to learn how to do a back flip, you may need to strengthen your arms, increase flexibility in your back, seek out a teacher who can teach you about momentum, and then practice your exercises every day.” 

Understanding NIYAMA leads to understanding yourself more: what you have inside of you, the grit it takes to focus your mind, attention and body on a ritual or routine that leads to your eventual freedom. 

ASANA [postures] 

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This is the limb most recognized as yoga. It is the limb of physical postures, usually called “stretches” when discussed colloquially. But ASANAS are so much more than that. We made sure to discuss that each ASANA has a purpose, a deeper meaning, and a series of steps to increasing the challenge. 

Activity for kids: Have them find a place at their mat. Leading them through asanas, explain the body benefits of the posture and explain the different options of increasing the challenge. 

“Now, you have to listen to your body before accepting the challenge,” I explain. “If you feel ready to try, and take on a ‘I-can-do’ attitude, then slowly, you can try to increase the intensity and take on the challenge.” 

ASANAS reveals to students their ability to decide for their own bodies and their ability to listen to their bodies. 

PRANAYAMA [breath of life] 

One of the most challenging of the limbs, pranayama is almost one of the most life-giving limbs. Prana means “life force” or “breath sustaining the body” and ayama means “to extend or draw out.” Extending or drawing out your life force is possible through your breath. 

Activity for kids: We stuck our arms straight outward from our body, in the shape of a T. We made tiny, fast circles with the arms forward and then backward - increasing the rate of the heart. Then we stopped! 

“Feel your heartbeat,” I said, out of breath myself. “Is it beating fast and speedy?” A few exasperated yeses came from the crowd. 

“Now, let’s sit down.” They sat down on their mats, hands still on their hearts. 

I led them through breath exercises (like square breathing): inhaling for 4 counts, holding for 4 counts, exhaling for 4 counts, holding for 4 counts. 

After every breath exercises, we felt our hearts. 

“Do you feel it slowing down? Our heart races sometimes - often when we’re angry or frustrated. But we can slow down our breath and calm our bodies and minds. Just like how you did right now! What’s the secret?” 

“Your breath!” They answered. 

PRATYAHARA [withdrawal] 

We often try to do too much, but every now and then a withdrawal of overloading our senses is necessary. Pratyahara is oftentimes explained as a turtle withdrawing into his shell (with the turtles shell representing the mind, and the turtle’s limbs representing the senses). 

In simple terms, pratyahara means withdrawing from foods that are wrong for you, impressions  (sensations of sounds, touch, sight, taste and smell) that are wrong for you, and people or associations that are wrong for you. The idea of this withdrawal of what is wrong for you, you can find peace and you are not easily disrupted or disturbed by the environment around you. 

Activity for kids: Each child placed both hands, palms down, on the table. Sitting up nice and straight, we asked for them to close their eyes and observe the world around them. What did they hear? Smell? Feel? Was there someone or something upsetting them? We asked them to imagine whatever was “offensive” to them as moving further and further away from them.

“Like a turtle pulling into his shell, imagine these things moving away from you and out of your current senses,” I said. 

Then we talked about what foods, impressions or associations were not good for them right now. We had this discussion with the parents included. 

DHARANA [concentration] 

In this world, we are encouraged to multitask. People are who are “good” at multitasking seem to be praised, sending a silent message that multitaskers are sought after and preferred. 

But DHARANA shares with us a different tone: It invites us to focus our attention on NOT multitasking. It invites us to spend quiet, uninterrupted time for ourselves. 

Activity for the kids: Each child was given a mandala drawing with markers and colored pencils. 

“Now the challenge is that you cannot talk! If you need a different color, you have to find a way to exchange or retrieve the color without talking,” I explained. “We are only focused on our drawing. We aren’t worrying about words or communication or anyone else’s drawing right now. Just think about your piece of art.” 

The children silently colored in their mandala drawings without saying a single word. They pleasantly shared, giving and taking, taking what they needed, passing what they didn’t. But, in complete silence, the children colored. 

DHYANA [awareness] 

Life passes by pretty quickly without us even realizing it! Our children and our parents grow older, college is over too quickly, the calendar year speeds by. But we rarely stop to realize we’re alive; to watch the passage of time. 

Activity for the kids: We grabbed a conch shell and filled it with sand. Then, we stuck a stick of incense (sandalwood) into the sand and lit it. 

“The challenge here is to not move, not talk, not look away. Sit and recognize your life, your breath, the passage of time as it burns down,” I said. 

The children sat in stillness and in silence watching as the incense burned down further and further. As they watched, I talked about awareness. The word dhyana comes from the Sanskrit word “dhyai” which means “to think of.” In this challenge, we did just that: sat there, watching, and thinking.

SAMADHI [wholeness, enlightenment] 

This limb can be frustrating because it can feel unachievable. But, when explaining SAMADHI to children, we explained it as “fullness” or “feeling full.” Full of happy, full of contentment, full of love, full of food, full of joy, full of encouragement. 

Activity for the kids: They took a permanent marker, and wrote down the name of something or someone they love on each one of the seashells and put them back into their cup. 

“Write down something or someone who helps fill you up with happiness,” I said, as they wrote or drew pictures of all of the things or people who make them feel their fullest. 

Mama. Dad. Brothers and sisters. Grandparents. Music. Sailing. Dancing. Pets. Waves. Beaches. Books. 

Their seashells were filling up faster and faster, and their smiles got bigger and bigger. This is SAMADHI. Feeling enlightened. Feeling uplifted. Feeling full. 

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There, in the shade of giant trees on the sand with our bare feet, we explored the 8 limbs of yoga. At the end, we said, “Namaste” and shared a group hug. 

To register for Sheena's Curriculum that Cruises lessons, e-mail us: seaslifeforgood@gmail.com

The Art of Laundry

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I never much loved doing laundry. I never much hated it either, but I could also think of other more special things to do with my time. 

When we moved onto Seas Life, I was so concerned about other things (Google searches: How do boats sink? Can you die of sunburn? Best-lasting vegetables on a sailboat. What to include in your homemade First Aid kit) that “how-to laundry” never crossed my mind. 

I learned, however, - like I’ve done most things - by waiting until the moment that I needed laundry arose. And not long after that laundry turned into an art. 

The rules are pretty simple, and they aren’t what surprised me. What caught me off guard was how my attitude, approach and mentality to laundry changed. 

First, the rules: 

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  1. If you want your clothes to dry in any considerable amount of time, use fresh water. 
  2. Since fresh water is limited on a sailing vessel, wait for rain storms and put out as many buckets, pans, jugs, bowls, cups that you can. 
  3. During the rain storm, hang up as many dirty clothes as you can, so the rain can rinse them. If you don’t have time to do this step, no worries. Carry on to step no. 4.
  4. After the rainstorm, pour your rain water into your manual washing machine. 
  5. Pour in nature-friendly detergent
  6. Manually crank the washing machine to toss the clothes around, removing dirt, salt, sunscreen and sweat. 
  7. Pour rain water into another bowl near by and rinse each item with fresh water before hanging to dry. 
  8. Hang the clothes to dry during a high wind, high sunshine day. Use at least two clothespins for each item to prevent the wind from stealing your favorite clothes. 
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Pretty simple once you’re aware of the upcoming weather. Occasional glances toward the sky reveals your laundry schedule - or, at least, your capturing-fresh-water-for-laundry schedule. 

But as I’ve gone through this routine, I’ve become surprised at how… beautiful it can be. 

The first change I noticed was how special it felt to provide and have fresh, clean-smelling, soft-feeling clothes for my loved one and myself. Spending long days in the sun smothered in sunscreen and sweat and salt water, you become accustomed to your natural musk and mix of grainy and slimy residue on your skin and clothes. But to provide clean clothes free of musk, oily sunscreen and environment, feels nice. It’s a reminder that something like clean sheets or towels, T-shirts or sundresses are still sacred. 

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The second impulse that changed was my attitude toward the process. When, in my mind, I re-oriented my mindset from a required task to a precious opportunity provided by nature, I feel almost excited about it. (Don’t you dare tell Ryan or allow him to read this). When nature provides the fresh water, it’s as if a gift has fallen from the sky. Then, when using it to wash my clothes, I feel the blessing transfer from the skies, through my hands, to my clothes, through each thread of my clothes. I feel gratitude. 

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After immersing the clothes in the fresh rain water (feeling it seep through each finger as I press the cloth downward), I have to squeeze each item free of suds and water. Before right now in my life (I’m 32 years old), I’ve never had to squeeze a single item of my clothes for the purpose of laundry. Sure, I’ve squeezed a towel free of chlorine-filled water or a bathing suit free of the ocean, but I’ve never had to squeeze anything from my washing machine or dryer. Now, I squeeze each time, one by one, as if meeting them closely for the first time. I see how their seams are sewn differently. I feel how each shirt, made of different materials, feels and reacts with the soapy water. I see how the colors bleed or fade or stain. 

Next, they have to be hung to dry by the wind. Taking each piece, I pin them as they flop back and forth to the lifelines on our boat. One pin. Flop flop flop flop. Second pin. Flop. Secured, I take a second to ensure the weight of the garment doesn’t outweigh its pin set up. If it seems off balance (or if it’s one of my most favorite clothing items), I add another pin in the center, for security. 

Then you listen. You can hear the clothes flopping in the wind. You can smell the fresh soap suds blended with the salty air. 

And you wait for them to dry in the sun, thankful for the rainstorm that made this happen. Thankful for the clean clothes. Thankful for the time to appreciate something as seemingly mundane as laundry. 

Until you see storm clouds rolling in. Then you scurry to do it all again. 

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Mrs. B's Coconut Bread

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Rumor has it that Black Point, Exuma, Bahamas has an elderly woman who bakes the most delectable coconut bread. The next rumor that immediately follows this well-accepted fact is, “it makes the best French toast. I kid you not, it’s the best thing you’ll ever taste,” a sailor told us, swirling his drink around. 

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Ryan and I lock up the dinghy and climb out next to a small beach where children are splashing and playing. There are no parents around watching them, they are just enjoying the sun’s rays, dodging the local sharks that swim nearby, and laughing. So much laughing. 

Their skin shines and their smiles uplift us as they wave when we pass. 

“Follow the road,” a Bahamian man with a drill in his hand motions. He is working on what appears will be, in the future, a small restaurant or bar for cruisers like ourselves. We follow the road and find a hand-painted sign pointing us toward the restaurants, one church, one police station and one school. 

On our way down the path, we stop when we hear music and see the locals outside dancing. This is where we meeting Officer Right. 

“How is your visit? This is your home,” he tells us right away. After removing my book bag for a rest, he opens up to us a little more. 

“I’ve lived here my entire life. I was born in that small, teal house right there,” He said pointing a finger. That small house is 400, maybe 500 square feet, and includes a set of bunk beds, a rug, and a kitchen area. 

After being born, he went to school on the island until he was 15, then transferred to Nassau for high school. 

“Then, it was 39 years in law enforcement,” he said proudly. He pulled from the small house a piece of rectangle drywall on which he had mounted quarter-round trim that he had angled the corners at 45 degrees to make a frame. Within the frame was a picture of himself and his wife, his work photo, and medals from every promotion he had received. 

“All the way up to chief,” he said proudly. Now, retired, he says with a laugh, he “gets money to sit here.” But he isn’t really just sitting here. He speaks at the very small local school, “to try to get these little guys to see what they can be one day,” he said. The little boy standing beside me looked at all of his medals with awe. 

“Isn’t that really cool?” I ask him. He nods his head and whispers, “Yes.” 

A group of children run by in their flip-flops and on bicycles and Officer Right yells, “Hey now! It’s good English I want to hear!” 

Officer Right shows us the home is working on building. He is waiting for windows to be shipped from China, he said. He started this home years ago but had to stop all construction to put his children through college in the United States. He will resume construction now that they are graduated and working. The windows should arrive in April, and he plans to have the home completed by June. 

Black Point has maybe 400 people living on the island (and many goats, chickens, and roosters). 

A quick walk through their cemetery overlooking the Exuma Sound has only 4 headstones, but Officer Right told us that if you own a home in Black Point, you own a home in Nassau, so possibly that applies to cemetery space to? 

We continue onward down the street, and two of our sailing friends come popping out of the local restaurant. 

“Hey guys!” She said. “We’re in here. And if you’re looking for the bread, it’s right there.” 

Now, let me pause here to describe our surroundings. There’s a restaurant, it’s nice but not by any means fancy or elaborate - it lost electricity while we were in the middle of eating our conch salad, and when the small children come in, they help themselves to juices and fruits hiding behind the bar. 

Next door lives the mother of the restaurant owner. It’s a small, white home. 

“You just walk in,” we’re told. 

So, I grab some cash and walk toward the home of the mother of the restaurant owner who makes the most delectable coconut bread. 

I feel bad just walking in, so I politely knock. 

“Yes?” I hear a voice from inside. I push open the door and poke my head through. 

A linoleum walkway leads to a den with a couch and table and a small kitchen. Mrs. B is there with a small girl, peeking at me from behind the counter. I can only see her eyes. 

Mrs. B hops off her paint can that she uses to lift her high enough to knead the bread on her countertop and comes over. 

“I hear you make the best bread,” I said. 

She smiled. “I do.” 

“I would love to buy some coconut bread from you!” 

“$7.00,” she said, grabbing a loaf still warm from the oven and passing it to me. 

I said hello to the little girl, who said, “Hi” back and then hid behind the counter again. 

“Thank you so much! I’ve heard wonderful things. Your house is beautiful.” 

“Thank you, we love it.” I look around at her small kitchen, and one other room. There is possibly a bedroom somewhere, but I cannot see it. She has frames of photographs, a knitted blanket, and everything looks to be in place. 

“Thank you for the bread,” I said. Gathering up my stuff. 

“It is the best,” she said, turning her back to me to return to her bread making. 

On our way back to Seas Life, we are invited to church. 

Mrs. B had asked when we told her we were going to church, "Do you play an instrument? Do you sing?" 

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“Be prepared to say a little something about yourself,” a local tells us. “And dress nicely and not up.” 

We thanked them for their kindness and generosity. Officer Right tells us there is no crime here, so we don’t need to worry. 

“39 years in law enforcement, and there was nothing for me to do. There is no crime here. We all know and love each other,” he said. 

Looking around, I see the children running and playing with no adult supervision. However, when they cross the path of an adult, the adult will shout out some quality life advice: “Hey, be nice to her!” “Share your bicycle!” “Proper English!” “Be careful!” 

We carry our loaf of bread back to the boat with the aim to make French toast with our coffee in the morning. As the sun starts to fade, the children scurry back to their homes, into the arms of their mothers. 

Make Your Own: Seashell, Driftwood Wind Chime

Take the time. Use the effort. Create the moment. 

 Taking the time to make things special,  makes things special. 

Taking the time to make things special, makes things special. 

It is incredibly easy to be lazy. It’s such a seductive force. On a boat, it’s even more seductive. There are many reasons for this: 

It’s easier to not do a thing. For example, it’s easier to not make the cake or cook the fancy, involved dinner. Why? We don’t have an oven or dish washer. 

It’s easier to stay inside and not go somewhere. Why? We don’t have a car. We’d have to drop the dinghy and go in and lock up the dinghy and then walk miles. 

It’s easier to not shower because then we have to go to a marina to fill up the fresh water. 

It’s easier to not do a lot of things. Laziness feels good, especially when you’re being rocked by the waves. 

But we’ve committed to taking the time, using the effort, creating the moment. And we never regret that. 

How to Make Your Own Seashell, Driftwood Wind Chime

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What you’ll need: 

  • Seashells you love
  • Drift wood
  • Fishing line (10-20 lbs monofilament)
  • Drill
  • Drill bit (5/64)

Seek out and collect all shells that make you fall in love. We’re talking about the shells that grab your attention, make you lose your breath. The ones you hold in your hand in awe at its beauty. The shells that make you wonder: Where have you come from? What have you been through? Take them home with you. 

Holding each shell between your pointer finger and thumb, dip them in fresh water. Relieving it of scratchy sand, dust, dirt. As you do this, think of what you’re washing away; what no longer serves the shell. Imagine the things in your life that you’re washing away, becoming relieved of. 

Using a drill with a small drill bit (size 5/64), apply equal pressure across the drill and press into the shell. Slowly, a hole will appear in the shell. The drill pushing aside small flakes of the shell. 

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Prepare the bottom holder shell. Choose a larger shell to serve as the base. Run the fishing line through it, and tie 3-4 tight knots to create stability. 

Creating a stop knot. Next, create a stop knot so that they shell won’t slip downward on its line. It is held in its place by a knot. We suggest tying the knot 3-4 times until its big enough to not slip through the hole. 

Slide the shell on the line. Choose a sell to slide on the line and all the way down to the stop knot. Check to make sure the stop knot won’t slip through the hole. If it does, remove the shell, tight another knot on the stop knot and try the shell again. 

Loop around the shell once. Once you feel good about the shell resting on its stop knot, take the bitter end (the free end) of the fishing line, and loop it around the back of the shell and back through the hole on the inside of the shell. This will help the shell maintain balance and stay upright. Pull the line all the way through. 

Repeat the process: Create a stop knot, slide on a shell, loop the line around keeping about 1-2 inches between each stop knot and shell. 

Once you have a full line of shells you’re ready to attach them to the driftwood. 

Drill a small hole from the top and all the way through the drift wood. You’ll need as many holes as you want lines of shells hanging down. For our chime, we had 5 lines. 

Bring the fishing line through the drift wood holes - from bottom to top. 

Loop it around the drift wood 3 times. 

Tie 3 half-hitch knots. 

Now your wind chime is almost done! Next up, is creating the hanger. 

Tie fishing line to both ends of the drift wood, long enough so it will be an upside-down V. Then hang it wherever feels perfect! 

We had a blast spending our morning sipping coffee and making our wind chime, made of objects we found and collected with our own hands. 

Did it take awhile? Sure. Was it somewhat messy? Sure. Was it worth it? 

Every single second. 

 Our completed seashell, driftwood wind chime! 

Our completed seashell, driftwood wind chime! 

The Secrets to a Good Life from The Three Stooges

Here in Palm Beach, FL, you run into a lot of retirees. People who say, "I've paid my dues and I wanted warmth and I wanted beers at noon surrounded by palm trees and blondes!" 

This particular night, Ryan and I were headed out to dinner with his family. As we pulled the dinghy up to the dock, the live music spreading through the air and the lights around the palm trees reflecting a glow on the waves. 

There was an art market and artisans were standing behind tables full of their work. Retirees pulled pieces of bread out of brown paper bags and tossed them to the large, plentiful fish below. 

I found myself on a park bench with three gentlemen, all over the age of 85. 

"Have you heard heard of Moe, Larry and Curly?" He said, squinting his eyes at me.

"Of course! The Three Stooges!"

The men looked at each other and said, "She knows..." and I felt good passing their first test. "You can stay," the man said. I had earned my place on the bench and for the rest of this post, I will identify each man as either Moe, Larry or Curly since I never actually got their real names. 

One man was a psychiatrist originally from Arizona (Moe), the second was an engineer from Long Island (Larry) who designed Boeing 707 airplanes, the third (Curly) was an alligator hunter. They were open books and endless flirts. Moe apologized for being improper and proceeded to tell me a joke: 

"A woman and man have been together for awhile," he started. His friends rolled their eyes. Clearly, they've heard this before. He continues: "They get comfortable with each other, and he finally asks, 'OK, we've been together for awhile. How many people have you slept with?' The woman says, 'Just one! Just you! Everyone else I was awake for.'" 

We all start laughing. He adds, "I bet you'll tell someone else that!" Pointing at me, his finger shaking from age, from laughter. (He was right. I told Ryan not long after leaving the bench, and now I'm telling you!) 

After we get through a few more jokes, all fractionally less funny than his biggest hit told above, we get to the real stuff. 

Life. Work. Love. Loss. Retirement. Age. 

Larry starts it by saying, "We would give anything to be your age again." 

"Really?" I asked. "A lot of people my age think we're doing life wrong most of the time..." 

"That's how life works. You spend most of it thinking you're doing it all wrong," Curly said, showing me a photo of his wiener dog in front of a sign that said, "Don't Feed the Alligators." He laughed at that photo hysterically, remembering his years of fighting alligators for work to support his family.

"You aren't doing it wrong," Moe said. They're obviously accustomed to tagging in on conversations with each other. 

"Look at you guys," I said. "Accomplished! In Florida!"

"Flirting with a pretty girl..." Larry added, and winked at me.

"Thank you," I said. "But really. What are the secrets?" 

I recorded their secrets, and here they are for you: 

You have to get over your heart breaks. You have to move on. "I've made a lot of mistakes," Larry said. "Yeah, the major one being your wife," Moe added. Larry laughed and nodded in agreement. "But you have to forgive yourself, accept that we all make mistakes and just... move on. Let it go. Life keeps moving and you need to do the same." 

Work. But don't work too much. "Some of my best friends I met while designing airplanes," Larry said. "Good men. Smart men. But I always wanted to go home. Time there was special." 

Stop, immediately, doubting yourself. "Listen, darling," Curly started with a seriousness in his tone. "If you don't hear anything else, you hear this: Stop doubting the choices you're making. They're your choices. They're yours to make. Make 'em, and make 'em, bold." 

Laugh. A lot and often. And with friends. "These guys right here," Moe said, pointing at Larry and Curly. "I meet them here on this bench every Friday. It's how we meet girls." "Me more than the other two," Larry added. "You have to find some people to laugh with. Even if it's silly stuff."

Study what you're interested in. Study long and hard and never stop learning. Larry (the psychiatrist) was holding a newspaper in his hand. "Do you read?" He asked me. I laughed a little, mistaking the question for "Can you read?" "Yes, I read," I answered. He asked me where I went to school and what I studied. "Journalism, English, Education," I answered, complete with my schools. He told me about one of his cases where a patient had multiple personality disorder. "One second he was a preacher, then he looked down, became silent, and when he looked up again, he was a gangster rapper," Larry said. "I had to do a lot of research to help him. Research helps you make better decisions." 

Eat good foods. It was time for me to leave. The little plastic identifier in my hand was telling me that a table was open for us. The men saw it flashing and buzzing. "You're going to eat," Curly said. "Good. Eat good food any time you can." 

And with that, I curtsied (I don't know why; I felt it was the right thing to do in front of Moe, Larry and Curly). 

Moe called out, "Baby, you’re not worth a million bucks."

"I'm not?!" I said. Immediately falling into that self-doubt they warned me against.

"You’re priceless!” 

I smiled and walked off to dinner. I won't forget you Moe, Larry and Curly! And, in honor of them, I drank straight out of a coconut the next day, confidently, joyously, happily! 

  "You make sure you're enjoying life, little lady. You make sure." - Moe, Palm Beach, FL. 2018.

"You make sure you're enjoying life, little lady. You make sure." - Moe, Palm Beach, FL. 2018.

Q & A: Living on a Boat!

 We moved on to Seas Life, a 43-foot Catamaran, in June 2017 based out of Norfolk, VA. Watch a video of  how it all started! 

We moved on to Seas Life, a 43-foot Catamaran, in June 2017 based out of Norfolk, VA. Watch a video of how it all started! 

Below are questions we received from you guys! We hope we've answered them with enough detail, but if you're wanting to know more about this lifestyle, buying a boat, or living on a boat, send us an e-mail: seaslifeforgood@gmail.com. 

How much do you love it? 

Ryan: LOVE LOVE LOVE IT! Even when others might think it sucks, I love it. I often sit and stare aimlessly into the water and think of how lucky I feel to be here now doing this; how beautiful our surrounding world is. Back on land, my life was rushed, but out here, it’s different, calm, serene.

Sheena: There are pros and cons to everything in life (exactly the same way as living in a home on land!) It is hard to put a single number or word on it because it is more like a room full of knobs that increase and decrease depending on the circumstances. But mostly, I love traveling and not having to report to a 9-5 job that stresses me out every day. I love having the freedom! That is an incredible part of this that land just doesn’t seem to grant you. It’s very expensive to live on land! It’s far cheaper to live on the water, fish and shop for local foods, and maintain your dry goods and the clothes that you have instead of being always tempted to buy more, more, more. I also love that this life provided me time and space to put all of my energy toward my own business. It made me a better entrepreneur. I needed this sheltered time. 

What are some of the challenges of getting to a new port? 

Ryan: Weather always wins. Stay and wait for windows or the challenges will arise. Pick a line of travel that won’t rock and break things in the boat or on the boat, especially when you know you have at least 12 more hours of beating into it.

Sheena: To save money, we anchor (you can anchor anywhere in the water for free!) When we’re coming into a new port, you have to be aware of your surroundings: look for the proper markers, stay in the channel, monitor the tide and the currents and the winds and the depth of the water. Once you find a safe anchorage, you have to make sure you have enough anchor chain out so that you won’t drag (this is one aspect of physics behind sailing). You also have to make sure you have enough room around you so that your boat can shift with the changes of winds and tides without hitting any other boats. 

How do you meet people?

Ryan: I talk to everyone.

Sheena: The sailing community is an incredibly kind folk! They will dinghy right up to your boat for a good conversation which usually means someone is being invited to dinner! We also meet people every time we go on land: in yoga classes, in ballet classes, at stores, in restaurants. 

We meet a lot of people through Instagram! Whenever we’re in the same port, we connect for meals or good talks, and then we continue to chat with them even when we go our separate ways. Technology has made it very easy to stay connected to family and friends. 

Do you ever tire of it? 

Ryan: Not yet! 

Sheena: Yeah, sure! I also tired of living on land, driving the same roads, to the same buildings day in and day out. Mostly, I get frustrated or tired of living on a boat when it rains. Everything feels wet, everything. And I really don’t like to be cold and have wet feet. So that means I put towels down on the floors, but that’s annoying to me too. I also get tired of bad weather when we’re off shore. That gets pretty old, very fast. But I’ve learned that chaos subsides and safe harbors and clear weather are just around the corner - you just have to wait it out. 

Do you ever feel stir-crazy? 

Ryan: When I do, I get out! I explore on the dinghy, got snorkeling, fish, look for lobsters. 

Sheena: Yes! I know when my body starts craving movement (which, for me, is often). Then I find a local ballet or yoga class. I also do yoga on the bow of the boat. Stretching helps release pent-up energy. We also go on walks or long bike rides to expend energy. Swimming also helps. But, similar to that feeling of needing to get out of the house, I have that feeling too, and I just do what I would have done on land: I get out of the “house!” 

How much of your future do you want to invest like this?

Ryan: Continue to explore until it loses its luster. 

Sheena: For as long as it’s fun! A rule that I apply to everything in my life. 

What are your plans for emergencies?

Ryan: Try to avoid it at all costs. Stay rested and think before acting. We carry an EPIRB (which would alert safety and rescue personnel of our exact location should we need it), a personal MOB AIS (which is warn by driver when other is sleeping). We have also practiced Man-Overboard Drills and each of us knows how to drive the boat to safety or call for assistance. 

Sheena: For cuts, bruises, allergic reactions, illness, broken bones, we have an entire closet full of plastic bins labeled for each potential occurrence. The cuts bin, for example, has everything we would need to stop bleeding, clean the wound and protect the wound. Each bin has everything we would need to take care of something right away. If it’s something terrible, we would do what we could with what we have and make a call for more help. Out on the ocean, your options are: 1) Calling the Coast Guard for assistance, 2) Subscribing to a commercial provider for help - which includes a helicopter with medically-trained crew coming to retrieve you, should you need that kind of emergency attention. 3) Taking care of it yourself and changing your direction to find the closest port where you could visit a medical doctor. 

How much time between your dream of living aboard and actually moving onto the boat?

Ryan: This is my seventh boat in life and each one got a little bit bigger. I’ve dreamed about it for a decade, lived aboard a Hunter 30’ and a 1969 Bristol 40’ for two years each. This boat was purchased almost two years ago and it took us 1.5 years of full-time work to get her into shape. Many would have stayed to fix more, but we decided we would get more work done with southern weather. Boat projects never end. Now, we just do them in warmer temps! We just re-caulked and re-bedded a salon window last week!

Sheena: Living aboard was never my dream. It was Ryan’s dream, and it became something I’d like “to try on for size,” so to say. It was 1.5 years of work, about 4 months of living aboard while we prepared to leave and now we’ve been sailing for 2 months. 

I want to move onto a boat! Any advice on what I should be doing? 

Ryan: Go scout marinas and talk to everyone. Tell them your plans and dreams and there will be others who will help you. There will be some that might not react the way you are hoping, but don’t stop. There are so many boats just sitting there wasting away, waiting for the right dreamer. Since we have lived on the water and frequent marinas, we hear about incredible deals on boats. Put yourself into the world, and it’ll happen.

Sheena: I agree with Ryan on this. Immersing yourself in the world you want to be in is the first step to making something happen. You’ll meet people along the way who will help you, encourage you, connect you to others, and the next thing you know, your dream is your reality! It works just like magic. 

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Is it hard to keep a smaller space decluttered?

Ryan: Keeping spaces decluttered is a personal challenge for me in life, yes. But living on a boat requires me to find a home for everything, which helps me personally.

Sheena: No, it is the same as keeping a home clean. We knew when we were moving to a smaller place that we needed lesser things. We did a lot of yard sale-ing, donating and finding places for our belongings. But our boat still feels full and feels cluttered mostly after passages when we have little time to put things back in their home. After a passage, we always have to have a deep-cleaning session to get everything back in its home, dry and clean. 

How did you decide to live without “stuff?” Heirlooms? 

Ryan: We kept many things we needed and then found homes for the ones we didn’t need in this chapter. Sheena has a bit more measurable approach. 

Sheena: 

  • For clothes, I had a rule: If I hadn’t worn it in the last 6 months, I didn’t love it that much! So I donated it or passed it along to girlfriends. I also followed the rule of: You don’t need 10 versions of the same thing. I didn’t need the same pair of pants in every available color. I kept my favorite, and got rid of the rest. 
  • For shoes, I got rid of everything that was too worn for keeping (I tend to hang on to things from elementary school because my feet stopped growing then). I kept only what I felt I’d need: comfortable shoes + some dress shoes just in case I wanted to dress up and feel fancy. If I’m being honest, I’m barefoot most of the time. 
  • For furniture, I kept a lot of it in my home that is rented out. Anything they didn’t want, I placed with friends for good keeping. 
  • For books, I kept the ones I adore or haven’t read and I donated the rest to the public library. Now, I exchange books. When I’m finished reading one, I leave it in a book exchange which they have at marinas, or I pass it along to another sailor. 
  • For heirlooms, I left them with my mother for safe keeping. 
  • For my car, I left it with my mother. I removed the license plates (de-activated them) and changed my car insurance to “storage only.” 

Do you have a storage space or totally downsize? 

Ryan: No storage space. It’s pretty liberating to know that every personal possession I own is floating within 43’ length overall. 

Sheena: We did not pay to have a storage space. We figured, how much is X (item) worth? Is it worth it to pay X amount monthly just to keep it? Or would you rather just buy it new, later? We decided against the storage space and we use only what we have on the boat! 

What are the daily chores? 

Ryan: Lately, the engines have been working beautifully, so I have been soft scrubbing and waxing about 5’x5’ sections. Yesterday, I dove the bottom and wiped one hull clean of last two months of growth, and cleaned the daggerboard holes of the oysters that had grown up there before we get our new daggerboards installed. There are ALWAYS 50+ things broken on a boat. I do all safety projects first, right when I notice them, and all others get thrown into a laundry bin of tasks. When the right time presents itself, I tackle one task at a time. For example, yesterday’s soft scrubbing before a predicted rain storm to give the boat a natural fresh-water rinse. 

Sheena:

(Boat specific)

  • Picking things up and putting them in their homes (they may have fallen throughout the night due to boat wake or strong winds). 
  • Open the windows for fresh air to fill the boat (preventing mold)
  • Making sure we have enough fresh water to last us
  • Making sure our batteries are charged

(Life oriented) 

  • Eat daily
  • Tea daily
  • Write daily 
  • Read daily
  • Stretch daily
  • Check my e-mails
  • Check my social media outlets
  • Create content (blogs, vlogs, images) 
 Ryan has his 50-ton Merchant Mariners Captain's License, and Seas Life is his 7th boat!

Ryan has his 50-ton Merchant Mariners Captain's License, and Seas Life is his 7th boat!

What tasks need to be done daily or weekly and are not just a part of life? 

Ryan: Boat stuff. I always check engines (oil, radiator fluid and sail drive fluid) and give the boat an overall look. When we are close to land, we try to take out the trash (and poo paper) every day. 

Sheena: Trash removal (which requires us taking it in the dinghy to a place that will accept it). Grocery shopping for fresh vegetables and meat. Checking for mold and spraying vinegar on it, if found. Sometimes, fuel replenishment (for the generator, dinghy or boat). 

How do you get past your own mental hangups about diverting from the norm like this? 

Ryan: Keeping focused on what makes me tick (being out in nature, being in control of our own vessel, moving with the wind, feeling alive). I worked really hard to make what makes me happiest actually happen. I stayed focused on that.

Sheena: This is such a hard one! It’s something we deal with differently and daily. For me, it was really difficult. I cried a lot because I felt like I was letting everyone down. But then I realized that I cannot live for other people’s hopes and dreams for me. I have to discover, design and find my own. I stayed focused on the journey, the potential for self-discovery, the gift of undisturbed time. Every time I started to feel unsure, I would pray or meditate and I kept hearing, “Go. This journey will be good for you.” Suddenly, “the norm” had no further power over me. I was meant to create a new norm for me. 

How do you get past everyone else’s mental hangups about diverting from the norm like this? 

Ryan: Those who truly love me have continued to support my decisions in life and in sailing. Life is too short and there is too much life to be lived to worry about things beyond my control, like how other people think or make mental judgments. Peace, Love and Happiness is the norm I intend to spread in 2018. 

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Sheena: I remind myself that I only get one life. I remind myself that people who worry about me are doing it from a place of love, they’re just showing it the only way they know how. I remind myself that life is fluid and what I am doing now, and what I am doing later, and what I’ll do after that may never look like “the norm” to others, but it will feel good and be good for me. 

Do you ever feel scared? Of unsafe waves, of shocks, sting rays, pods of big fish knocking you over, of pirates (the Somali kind)? 

Ryan: Sure, to loose fear would be a death wish. We try our best to educate ourselves and make solid choices.

Sheena: Surprisingly, I felt more scared before we lived on the boat and before we started sailing. The fear, as it turns out, was mostly all in my head. There are real things to consider, however. Before we head out to the open ocean, we check and re-check weather, winds, radar. If it’s not safe or predicting rough conditions, then we stay where we are! “There’s no shame in living to sail another day,” a sailor once told me. And it’s true! We make very conservative decisions when it comes to everything: weather, safety, where we anchor the boat, when we’re swimming and snorkeling. We use buddy systems and technology and anything we can use to help us stay the safest we can! 

How long did it take you to physiologically adjust to the differences between living on the water and living on land? 

Ryan: Overnight! I love being on the water, either surfing, wake boarding, on boat, anything! I love it.

Sheena: For me, it wasn’t a problem and I give credit to my dance training for that! I think I trained my inner ear early on to be used to a lot of movement! 

What do you miss most on land, and what do you not miss at all? 

Ryan: I could live on a boat like this forever. I love to skateboard and it requires a dinghy ride into land to skateboard, but I love dinghy rides too so still loving living on the boat!

Sheena: First, I miss my family and friends. I see them posting on social media all of the get-togethers and events, and I miss being there. But I know I’ll see them again soon! I miss little conveniences like the ease of just plugging things in to charge them, having a freezer with an ice maker, fire places. I miss being in a dance studio every day, surrounded by people I know and love. I also miss taking really long showers and not having to worry about water... (but we should be worried about water, even on land!) 

I do NOT miss the underlying hurry and rush that you feel on land - when you’re working a job, balancing a social life, running errands in tons of traffic, answering to someone else, feeling like a slave to a to-do list or calendar. 

What extra steps are required when living on a boat? 

Ryan: Every time you go to the store, you have to take everything out of the cardboard. Cardboard may have roach eggs in it, and we don’t want roaches on the boat. Re-filling our fresh water since there isn’t an endless supply. Monitoring your batteries because if your power runs out, you have to wait for more sun or use the generator. You’re always asking yourself, “What’s working? What’s not working?” 

Sheena: Anytime you need to go anywhere, it requires a dinghy ride, which can be fun unless it’s cold and raining. Then, it’s a little much. 

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In order to use the outlets to charge my lap top, I have to turn on an inverter which converts the energy from the batteries (charged by the solar panels) into 120 volts. 

You can’t flush your toilet paper, so you have to take out the “poo paper” with the trash. 

You have to pre-download all of your Netflix, podcasts, Amazon videos because you don't have wifi out here in the ocean (sometimes, you don't even have cell service)! If you forget to download while you have high-speed internet, you won't forget again after your first passage without any of that! 

Any behavior changes since living on a boat? 

Ryan: More conscientious of my usage of everything - power, water, trash. You have a better understanding of what you’re putting out there in the world.

Sheena: How I use water has changed a lot! Now, I don’t leave the water running while I’m doing dishes, brushing my teeth or even showering. I turn it off during all of the “in between” moments. For example, I get my hair wet and then turn the water off. Put in my shampoo and scrub. Then, I turn the water on to rinse. I turn it back off to put in the conditioner and rub it in. Then, I turn the water back on. So, a single shower will have me turning the water on and off 6-10 times! But during those “in between” moments, we aren’t wasting fresh water. 

 Sheena offers  Wellness Life Coaching  and Private Yoga sessions to the sailing community and beyond! 

Sheena offers Wellness Life Coaching and Private Yoga sessions to the sailing community and beyond! 

I started meditating more. Being surrounded by nature and actually having the time to just sit still and… be. No one is there to fuss at you or tell you that you’re supposed to be doing something else. You can just… be. 

I changed all of our cleaning products to organic, eco-friendly products

How do you make money? 

Ryan: We have a small overhead, so we try to keep our spending to a minimum. We are always looking for new ways to make money. 

Sheena: We work when and where and how we can. From freelance writing, to wellness coaching sessions and private yoga classes, we make money working digitally and also face-to-face with people in the community. 

Honoring Sacrifice in Nature & Our Lives

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Along our travels, we’ve come across many mangrove trees. We have adventured deep into the thick of them, their twists reaching and expanding. The red mangrove trees are strong and skinny branches that run in myriad directions. They are an important part of ecosystems because they serve as water filters and prevent erosion. Sailors often use the branches of mangrove trees  - that run deep below the surface and into the earth - as a place to tie off their sailboats knowing that mangroves have survived through ages of storms and violent winds. 

But I think the most beautiful part of a red mangrove tree is a scientific but poetic fact about the species: they are salt excluders. While surrounded by salt water, they desire for salt to be kept out of their systems. For survival, the mangroves have what is called a sacrificial leaf. Any salt that does make its way into its system is pushed to the sacrificial leaves where that leaf, when full to the brim of salt, turns yellow, falls off and dies in order to save the rest of the system.

When I remember our time leading up to leaving the dock, I think of everything that we went through that required a metaphorical sacrificial leaf in order to achieve our overall dreams. 

There were things he imagined would happen and things I imagined would happen. Those things didn’t happen. There were realities that both of us had a difficult time accepting. There were objects that I had spent time and money investing in that weren’t reasonable on a boat, that I had to give away or sell (when I wasn’t ready to) or that broke the first time we went out sailing in rough seas. There is time spent away from loved ones that both of us will never get back. 

We had to ask ourselves questions. Questions that we often run into throughout life: 

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What is more important? The entire dream or this specific thing you’re hung up on? 

The love, the bond of the partnership or this specific thing you’re hung up on?

Why is the dream important? 

Why is this person important? 

What matters here? 

What will matter here years from now? What will remain?

These moments, these conversations were not easy. I imagined how the mangrove feels selecting its sacrificial leaf, having to decide what has to go in order for all else to survive. 

In sailing, capacity reveals how much a boat can handle. A boat captain should never take an overloaded boat - either with people or with gear - on the water because it will swamp or capsize. 

As living beings, we too have capacities: how much we can hold, carry around, take on while still staying afloat as happy, functioning, joyful human beings. 

When a boat hits their capacity, when the mangrove intakes too much salt, when a human spirit is taking on too much to hold, everything and everyone is in danger. The boat starts to capsize, the mangrove starts to wither and the person starts to withdrawal. It is nature; a natural process and system to keep us safe, thriving and loved. 

You still have to pause, however, and honor the sacrificial leaf, both in nature and in life. You have to pause and honor the person doing the sacrificing. Something was, in fact, lost and there is no saying that one sacrifice is “more worthy” than another. Sacrifice is sacrifice. The salt stings. The loss reverberates. The fall is not something you feel just once. 

Recognizing and honoring the sacrificial leaf and the good it did for the whole helps to heal the heart. Knowing that human hearts are not the only living species to sacrifice relieves the sting. We are one with nature experiencing similar processes and systems. 

Love wins. It is in love and in nature that we sacrifice, and it is in love and in nature that we heal. 

Today as I passed the mangroves, I honored the sacrificial leaves of their own and our own. I noticed and I felt it as I pushed my bicycle by its twists and turns of branches. My boyfriend looked over, hand extended, ready to help me into the dinghy. I glanced back at the mangroves and back at him, and I realized: we’re all in this together. 

Healthy & Ocean-safe Cleaning

Our ocean is an incredible, living, inhaling and exhaling being. She reacts and she strives to move forward even though humans are doing so many terrible things to her: packaging peanuts, straws, all types of plastic, fuels, garbage are thrown into her on a minute-by-minute basis. 

Dive beneath her beautiful water line and see you the creatures living within her, but you also see the damage being done to her. Corals are bleaching, fish are dying, plastics are wrapped around innocent animals. 

It is heartbreaking. 

Living on a boat immediately put into perspective for me the amount of damage one human being can do within just a few minutes. A simple 30-minute cleaning routine can wreak havoc on our water systems and the animals living within them. Everything flows back to the sea. Plastic doesn’t disappear. What your purchase, matters. 

These facts rolled around in my mind with so much force and weight that I began researching, learning and changing how I clean and how I purchase. I want products that are safe for my body and for our waters, and I want products that clean whatever I’m intending to clean. 

I am not an expert on this; I'm just a human being wanting to make changes for the better. In summary what I learned is that all actions have a reaction, just like all products have a response when placed into our environment. What's important to know is the ingredients and the biodegradability of your products. The time it takes to break down is what you're looking at. The longer it takes, the longer the products sit in our environment which means it has more time to do more damage like getting wrapped around a sea turtle or pelican.

Biodegradability can feel like a vague term, but it means (and the definition the Federal Trade Commission endorses) is the product's ability to “completely break down and return to nature.” For marketers in the United States to use the term biodegradable on their products it must mean that it will break down and return to nature in a “reasonable amount of time.” 

Then, you want to know what is breaking down and the results of that breakdown. Sometimes when a product starts to break down, it produces more toxins. This is where reading your ingredients will come into play. 

Another factor is being aware of how much of the product is being used and how much is being directed into a particular place. For example: A single home soap’s suds will break down in their individual backyard but if the suds are added with everyone else's suds in the same city and everything is thrown into a sewer line and then onto our beaches, then there would be too much soap for the microorganisms to biodegrade. Build up occurs. 

So, your individual power lies in: 

  • Choosing products that label their ingredients
  • Recognizing the ingredients as natural (preventing toxic breakdowns)
  • Knowing your consumption: how much of it you're using and putting out; where you are throwing it out
  • Purchasing products that break down faster and easier

When you’re looking into products, you want to: 

  • Look at the label for the ingredients.
  • If there are a lot of ingredients you do not recognize, then do not purchase the product. 
  • Purchase products that list ingredients you recognize as natural. 
  • Purchase products that are packaged in bioplastic (plastics derived from renewable biomass sources such as vegetable fats and oils, corn starch or microbiota). 

Here is where it’s important to know and use your own power: You decide what you purchase and what will go into our water systems or end up in our landfills. You decide. Cutting back on products full of synthetic chemicals or packaged in petroleum-based plastic will make a difference, even though you’re just one person or one family! It starts to add up! 

Here is what we use and why we use it: Please keep in mind I am not asserting that this is the only way or this is "what you should be doing." This post is meant to heighten awareness of what we're using and why! 

For cleaning our home (table tops, toilets, shelves, stove, cleaning up messes): 

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We use Thieves household cleaner + fresh water mix: Thieves is a mixture of clove, rosemary and vinegar. Not only does it make our boat smell of lemon and cinnamon but it simultaneously helps boost a lowered immune system in whomever is cleaning and it won’t harm us or the environment. 

Note: If you're looking to open an account to purchase Thieves home cleaner or an air diffuser for clean air, e-mail us at SheenaJeffers@gmail.com. 

 

 

For cleaning our clothes: 

We use soap nuts: Soap nuts are a sustainable natural resource that come from sapindus trees. The dried fruit produces “soap” (saponin). They are hypoallergenic, free of synthetic chemicals, fillers, toxins, dyes and perfumes, and imported only from Fair Trade suppliers. 

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For cleansing our air and preventing / removing mold: 

We use a homemade Tea Tree blend. Tea Tree oil is an antifungal and antibacterial. It has the power to kill all types of molds, but is harmless to humans and animals. We also keep with us white vinegar to clean and prevent any mold that appears. 

Diffusing Tea Tree oils also prevents airborne mold. 

Note: If you're looking to open an account to purchase an air diffuser for clean air, e-mail us at SheenaJeffers@gmail.com. 

 

Recipe for Spray: 

  1. 4 ounces water.
  2. 4 ounces vodka.
  3. 12 to 24 drops of essential oil.
  4. Measuring cup.
  5. Funnel.
  6. Spray bottle.
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For holding and disposing of our trash: 

We use Commit to Green bags made of plant starch - instead of plastic - and it will decompose within 180 days (instead of 1,000 years that it takes a single plastic bag to decompose). 

For washing our dishes: 

2 cups of liquid castile soap, a few drops of essential oils, 1/2 cup of water. 

It feels good to know what products we’re using and also how we are effecting the environment. It’s far more real to us now to make choices, to ask questions, to purchase only what we know will not harm the environment to its max degree. 

As an individual, you can make a big impact by making simple changes. Our oceans and our air will clear, and we will leave a cleaner, safer, more stable environment for future generations. 

Journey to the Bahamas

“I’ll never get this stain out of here,” I said, under my breath. The bell on the glass door rings. 

“Hello,” an old man said, his arms full of clothes needed laundered. “Do you work here?” 

“No,” I answered. “But I’ve been in here for a few hours so, I like to think I’ve gathered some knowledge.” 

“I’ll take it.” He dropped his laundry on the table and started sorting darks from lights while I examined the impossible coffee stain. 

Finally, I give up and toss it in the washing machine. Again. 

“Do you live here? in New Smyrna?” I look over and now he’s stuffing his clothes into a washing machine that’s a little too small for his load (and there were larger, other options) but I didn’t say anything. 

“I don’t,” I said. “We are passing through. We live on our sailboat.” 

“Sailors?” He said with a lightness, as if remembering his days on the water.

“I like sailors: good people. I once lived on a boat; we used to race all around Cuba and back.”

“Really?” I pulled up a chair as he poured in his laundry detergent. “We left our jobs to sail and travel a bit.” 

“Good,” he said, without hesitation or needing to know any further information from me. “You only live once.” 

“And knowing that fact,” I continued, “made it feel nearly impossible to want to spend my days working in an office for someone else.” 

“Yes. Impossible. Down right criminal. I’m glad you got out while you’re young.” 

With that, he told me he’s going to take his old bones to the gym and he’d be back in a half hour to check on his laundry. With his hand on his hat, he nodded, like I imagine a cowboy who herds cattle would do out west. 

He leaves me to my thoughts and the incessant hum of the machines working all around me to clear the dirt and warm the fabrics. 

My memory travels a few weeks back.

December 18, 2017

We step outside of the airport into the warm island air. It’s my thirty-second birthday and I was just wished a happy day by the woman who stamped my passport. 

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“Thank you for choosing the Bahamas,” she said, plopped the stamp down and granted me 30 days in her country.

I close my passport book, smile and move onward.

Outside, we find Bahamians hustling for work. Do you want a taxi? Do you need a bus? Can we carry your luggage? Have you ever been to the Fish Fry?

We were on the search for a taxi cab to Hurricane Hole (and, no, we’ve never eaten at the Fish Fry). 

Armed with prior knowledge, a tip from a friend who knows, we knew the cab ride to Hurricane Hole should cost us less than $50, so when a cab driver wearing a winter hat complete with a puffy ball on top said, “Hurricane Hole: $43,” we handed him our bags and jumped into his Toyota minivan. 

Once inside and revved up, there were clinks and clanks. Enough to cause my eyes to widen. 

 Hurricane Hole in Nassau, Bahamas.

Hurricane Hole in Nassau, Bahamas.

He turned to us, shrugged and said, “It needs some parts.” 

Then, he immediately kicked it into gear and sped off through the night on winding streets. 

“Where are you from?” He asked, jerking around sharp corners in his part-needing minivan. 

“Virginia. Here to visit the Exumas for awhile,” we say. 

“Good show. Good show.”

We talk about the islands and the quickly-approaching holidays: Boxing Day, Christmas, New Years. 

“I’ll play you Junkanoo,” he said, after telling us about the upcoming Boxing Day parade where the 1,000-member band was expected to play from 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM. His speakers scratch out music full of drums, horns and human voices. 

“I don’t celebrate Christmas,” he said. He explains it’s only him and his son. 

“I have another son on the island, but, you know…” his voice trails off to silence. 

We didn’t know, but we didn’t ask. 

Suddenly, the van lurches. 

“Our new Prime Minister wouldn’t have hit that hole,” he said, laughing. 

The Prime Minister is new - since May - our driver tells us. How is he doing? 

“Too early to tell,” he said, matter-of-factly. Junkanoo plays in the background. 

We arrived at a toll and our driver starts to reach for money. 

“American influence,” he said, peeved that the toll attendant was sitting in a window on the left and his drivers seat was on the right. 

“I have to get out of the car to walk around,” he explained. “Don’t think I’m leaving you.” 

Placing the car in park, he walked around to pay the $2.00. When he returned, he explained to us the Bahamian to American dollar exchange rate. 

 Making dinner on SAMORU II

Making dinner on SAMORU II

“It’s dollar to dollar, and everyone accepts American,” he said. 

When we arrive at Hurricane Hole, he passed our bags over and we wander to the glass door. A Bahamian woman working the night shift buzzes the door open. 

“Good evening,” she said, with a smile. There is a large Christmas tree covered in fluorescent pink flowers. 

“Good evening,” we said. “We are looking for the sailing vessel SAMORU II.” 

“All the way around, and then down the dock,” she explained and then points. “It’s that boat right there.” 

We thanked her and pulled our luggage, making our way to the 52-foot Catamaran that we will call home for the next 7 days. 

 

The Spirit of Traveling: Charleston, SC

In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore new territory acquired by the United States, the Louisiana Territory. He wrote to them of their mission for their travels: 

"The object of your mission," he wrote, "is to explore... the soil and face of the country; its flora, fauna, and minerals; its climate; and its Indian inhabitants, including their numbers, their relations with other tribes, their languages and traditions, diseases and remedies, laws and customs and articles of commerce they may need or furnish. It will be useful to acquire what knowledge you can of the state of morality, religion, and information among them..." 

I carry this spirit and this discipline with me.

As I sit here, both hands around my coffee mug, resting in a sun beam that streaks across this breakfast nook, I relish everything I'm feeling now. I know in two hours, I'll be back out on the open ocean, in 40-degree temperatures, rocking with the wind and waves. 

But before I go, I'd like to address you, Charleston, South Carolina, in an effort to never forget our experiences here. 

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We pulled into Charleston Harbor on Monday, December 4, 2017, as the sun started to slip from the sky. Anchored, we rested. We awoke on Tuesday to your exuberance, and with a plan, we started to lower the dinghy. We had supplies that needed purchasing, electronics that needed charging, and e-mails that needed wifi for sending. 

We find a beach close to a coffee shop to beach and lock up the dinghy. Charleston passersby offered to help us pull the dinghy up further the sand. 

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We tucked into the artisan bakery, Bar Normandy, for a day full of one latté, a yogurt parfait and reliable internet. I downloaded 6 movies on Netflix and sent 50 e-mails, all while overhearing 22-year-old women chatter about how their boyfriends "clearly have raging alcohol problems, but they're nice all of the other times, so..." 

After finishing all of our wifi connected-dependent work, we headed back to Seas Life where we prepared for dinner with Ryan's college friend and his family. A beautiful night, we were able to shed our layers and enjoy the breeze. 

The next day, we fuel up. And this is where, standing on the dock, connected to 120-volt power, I upload I very first YouTube video

And that's when the cold front rolled in. 

Thursday, we woke up to a 45-degree boat. The temperatures in Charleston had dropped, unexpectedly, 30 degrees. We purchase a propane heater and gorge on Chinese food for warmth. 

We decide to continue heading south, so we make our way under the Wappoo Bridge 30 minutes before the workers were to head home and find ourselves in the middle of the harsh weather on the ICW

Cold and tired, a friend saves the day. He calls to say, "I live on the ICW and I have a boat dock!" The best words we could have heard. 

Pulling into the dock around 7:00pm, we spend the next 3 days and nights with this incredible couple. The wife, Nickie Stone, is an editorial photographer using techniques dating back to the Civil War, so we sat statuesquely still as the camera soaked in our image. 

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We had breakfast with a dear family friend of mine who said the kindest thing about my grandfather. "He is my best friend. He has always been my best friend since the first day I met him," he said, almost with tears in his eyes (definitely tears in mine). 

We attended an artists market where Ryan purchased me my birthday gifts: a beautiful, hand-crafted ring, bracelet, candle, clothing by a Charleston designer, plant hanger for Seas Life, and a hot chocolate with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles. We danced the night away by fires in barrels. 

As the sun crept into our bedroom the next day, we knew it was time to carry on. But here's what I'm taking with me: 

Charleston, you are a sight to be seen, a state not to be ignored. Everything is an occasion that requires the best of dress, attitudes, and manners. But deep underneath, you are raw with high expectations and steeped in successful ventures. You get what you want, and you enjoy it. From your muddy backroads to your paved streets, you feel southern. From your strictly conservative churches, your whispers, your threats, your welcomes, you can feel the history here today - still breathing, still squirming, still very much present and alive. 

Your earth is muddy and clings to your feet. Your oysters burrow. Your coffees have a hint of sour, and your sugar cane is rich. Your people are kind - always offering to help but also ready to cut your throat, should the proper reason arise (but nobody wants that, now do we?)

Your trees command attention, but even if they didn't command my attention would receive it anyway. They're stunning in their goodly size, their unpredictable twists and turns; clearly, they follow no rules. And then your Spanish moss that drapes your branches. Even your tress dress for formal occasions. 

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We met so many wonderful people will full hearts. The 91-year-old man who told us three blonde jokes only after approaching me to tell me he hopes to not offend. Memorizing jokes is how he stays young, he tells us. His 88-year-old wife (a brunette, if you're wondering) sipped her coffee and smiled, watching her flirt of a husband do his thing. As I twisted my red hair in my hand, he lightly touched it and said, "Look at that..." as if in awe. 

The chef at Bar Normandy who tossed mushrooms in garlic and spoke of his dreams to be a sailboat chef one day. 

The waitress who kindly asks, "How you doing, peanut?" to every customer. And she'll explain to you that they don't have a liquor license but she can put some sake in your Bloody Mary to make a Bloody Ninja. 

The woman who passed me the quartz crystal and told me to take it home along with a nugget of wisdom that it takes quartz millions of years to become a thing. 

The old ladies of Charleston who dress up in full-on button-down dresses and heels, dripping with gold jewelry around their necks and wrists. 

Your buildings dating back to the 1700-1800s still stand tall though struggling with termite problems. 

Your arts are noticeable and feel-able; they're a part of your city's main vein. 

You are a place of beauty, irony, hypocrisy, intelligence, money, and nourishment. You sit, loving your people in a dark but welcoming way. There is something very macabre about you, South Carolina, but that doesn't stop your beauty. 

Thank you for having us, feeding us, resting us, re-fueling and re-provisioning us. We won't forget you anytime soon. 

Between the fight & the comfort

Weather, not unlike life, is famously unpredictable. Out there on the water, the conditions can get brutal, fast! The winds grow in their tantrums. The rain, from an annoying persistent mist to a relentless downpour, can soak you - bone deep - in a matter of seconds. The temperatures can drop out, leaving your fingers and toes numb with a cold that creeps up and burrows down at the same time. 

As sailors, you push through. You pull on layers, you grab your foul-weather gear, and you bite down for the fight. 

  Seas Life rafted up in the ICW after a long, rainy passage. 

Seas Life rafted up in the ICW after a long, rainy passage. 

Traveling from Charleston to Wadmalaw Island, we had constant rain, wind and temperatures hovering in the low 40s, but we were in a snaky part of the Inter-coastal Waterway (ICW). So, there we were: standing in the weather; Ryan was at the helm, and I was moving a light beam across the water searching for markers in the darkness of the night. Rain drops illuminated the light beam making it difficult to spot the reflective markers. 

After 2 hours of weather, your body grows weary and your patience wanes. You yearn for creature comforts. This is when friends of sailors become lifesavers. 

We docked the boat, threw off our wet foulies, and ran inside to the comforts of their home. We needed refuge. We needed warmth. 

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Within minutes, I had a substantial glass of pinot noir and a hot shower sliding down my goose-bumped, frozen skin. You feel yourself exhale. You feel yourself melt. You feel yourself re-calibrate and re-acclimate. You exhale. 

The comfort of your creature comforts is amplified after wrestling with harsh conditions. But after you feel human again, and a little less like a swamp monster, you start to let you mind sink deeper. 

Weather is part of the life fight. Comforts are part of the perks. But freedom is what lies between the fight and the release. Freedom to travel beyond perceived comfort zones, expectations, jobs, city / country lines. It is this freedom that feels good and lasts, long after the warmth of the shower has worn off, long after the freeze of the cold has dissipated. 

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You look around yourself and you find yourself in the middle of deep, deep gratitude. Thankful for friends who understand that a hot shower, a glass of wine, a warm meal of beans and rice, and a freshly-made bed with a washing machine to provide fresh laundry is an absolute blessing. Thankful for the hot coffee in the cup that will send steam into the air the next morning as you watch the sunrise over the ICW (where you left your fight hours ago). Thankful for the free day that stretches before you; a blank canvas; a day pregnant with unknown potential and opportunities. Thankful for your loved one; a hand to squeeze to remind each other, "I'm still here with you." 

You stop and notice the universal comforts for us all: shelter from the rage, hot coffee and showers, clean towels and sheets, good wine full of notes and conversations full of themes, a shared table topped with food, closeness even far away from friends and family. 

In life, not just in sailing, you'll encounter a fight that strips you down to a rawness, to a shaking mess of personality inconsistencies and neediness, and you'll find comfort in small things or big things, expensive things or warm things. But remember, that between the fight and the comfort is the life that you live. It's the precedent you set for yourself and others. It's the marker that you're searching for. It's the hours you spend, the people you hug, the revelations you experience. 

And afterwards, you'll feel the glow and you'll know: This is right. This is good. And here I am. 

 

Night Watch

Night watch: the time of your sailing day right after you’ve eaten dinner so you want to snuggle up in bed and sleep, but alas, you have a moving boat in moving waters with obstacles like other boats, ship wrecks, buoys and land, so you cannot sleep. You must do what’s called NIGHT WATCH. 

For us, in the Atlantic Ocean at the beginning of December, this means wearing 6+ top layers (undershirts, sweaters, sweatshirts, vests, scarves and foul-weather gear jacket) and 3+ bottom layers (long Johns/yoga pants, pants and then foul-weather gear pants) and sitting outside navigating the boat around any potential dangers. Through the entire night. 

 This is our good fortune plant keeping us safe on Night Watches! 

This is our good fortune plant keeping us safe on Night Watches! 

When you’re on a NIGHT WATCH in December in the Atlantic Ocean you will… 

Start off feeling good. You’re layered up and awake. For this particular story, your night watch starts at 10:30 PM and will end at 3:00 AM.

At 10:30 PM, you’re warm and enjoying the dancing beams of light that the moon shines on the water. 

Around 11:00 PM, you’ll check all of the navigational tools: You’ll check your position, your waypoints, the depth of the water. You’ll check your speed, and your distance. You’ll zoom in closely on your AIS to see if there are any boats coming your way that would require an alteration of your course. Once these have all checked out, you’ll go sit back down. 

For about an hour, with intermittent checking of navigational tools, you’ll try to read. Using a headlamp and moon beams, you’ll move the book at funny angles so you can get through the next paragraph. 

When this gets frustrating and you notice that the headlamp really messes with your human night vision capabilities, you’ll put the book down and stretch a little (while trying to compensate for the waves that are tossing your body left and right or front and back or, really, whatever way the waves want to toss you). 

That stretch will feel good, send warmth through your body and you’re feeling focused again! 

Now it’s 12:30 AM. The temperature has dropped but you’re still good, just noticing a slight chill in your fingers. 

You’ll look at the stars and planets, naming each one made-up names because you can’t remember their real names. Except for Mars. Everyone can remember Mars. 

Around 12:45 AM, the Coast Guard will come on the radio and give a report of everything you should be worried about. This particular night, it’s a floating log that’s 17 - 18 feet long. How it became a floating missile for any passing vessels, they do not know. But they’ll provide you the coordinates and basically wish you good luck. 

Now, you’re running to check your longitudes and latitudes! Because what if, I MEAN WHAT IF, that log was right in front of your boat?! And the Coast Guard waited until 12:45 AM to tell you about it when it would’ve been helpful information to have at midnight or 10:30 PM when your watch started for that matter! 

At 12:50 AM, you’ll calm down when you realize you’re nowhere near this floating log. Your heart rate will lower. 

Around 1:00 AM, you’re starting to feel cold and bored. You ask yourself why you didn’t pre-download “Stranger Things” on your iPad because that would be perfect right about now (except for the whole screens messing with your night vision thing). 

At 1:15 AM, you’ll go inside to make hot chocolate or tea. Mostly because you’re now freezing (you’ve been outside in low temperatures for 3 hours with the wind smacking your face) but also because you’re getting a little bored and making a hot beverage will break things up a bit. 

Around 1:20 AM, the waves will make your tea pot slip around on the stove, so you’ll have to make sure to hold it there over the flames. This will feel good and warm your soul. 

By 1:35 AM, you’re back outside with your hot beverage. You’ll wrap your hands around it for awhile because it feels warm and welcoming. You’ll watch the steam rise from the cup as it hits the cold Atlantic winds. You’ll try your darnedest to not let the waves spill it all over you because then you’d be a weird mix of freezing, boiling and sticky. 

At 2:00 AM, dolphins show up and you will - mark my words, you will - have a long, philosophical and existential conversation with them. They’ll listen, but they’ll also be jumping in and out of the water even when you’ve asked them to stop doing that and just listen. 

They’ll be fed up around 2:20 AM because you’ve asked them a lot of tough questions and they want time to think some things through. 

You’ll start to think about trying to read again around 2:25 AM. But, no. 

You’ll start to think you’re hearing your cell phone text-message sound notification, but, no. You don’t have cell service. Then, you let that hard fact sink in. You'll immediately want the dolphins to come back. 

You have only a few minutes left on your watch. These will move the absolute slowest. Slower than any minute has ever moved before. And yes, slower than watching the clock tick to your 5:00 PM quitting time at your 9-to-5. You’ll dose a little, drifting in and out of sleep but every noise yanks you back to the reality that you’re on a floating boat that could hit something any second and you shouldn’t be dosing off! 

Eventually, it will be 3:00 AM. You will go inside and wake up your sleeping partner with hot chocolate ready for them because all you want to do is jump into those blankets and close your eyes. 

 

The Days Before We Left the Dock

They say that the hardest part of leaving the dock is leaving the dock. During our preparations to leave - and the hustled chaos that came with that - we accomplished more in 5 days than we've probably ever accomplished! 

Vehicles: 

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  • Drive Sheena's car to her family's in Richmond for safe keeping. (As a joke, they put it on Craig's List for $20k).
  • Clean out Sheena's car and decide what we're keeping and what we're getting rid of. 
  • Remove license plates from all vehicles. 
  • Change car insurance from full coverage to storage. 
  • Return license plates to DMV or deactivate them.
  • Clean out Ryan's Land Rover. 
  • Sell Land Rover. 
  • Hand over all keys to family members who are keeping our beloved cars safe. 

Comfort Family, Friends & Say Our "See You Laters": 

This one was the hardest. They love us! So they naturally worry for our safety. We found ourselves explaining not only our intended trip (Charleston, SC -> Florida -> Bahamas -> Central America) but also the sailing lifestyle in general. We explained about our MapShare and how they could follow us every minute (since that is literally the interval of time GPS points are dropped from our Garmin InReach) and they started to feel a little better. We celebrated my 32nd birthday, even though it's not until December 18, but we had a delicious meal and family time felt good. I left my mom with a book that is incredibly inspiring! 

We also had meals with our friends - lunches, coffees, quick catch ups before we headed out. These were nuggets of time, but very special to us. 

Provisioning: 

Provisioning is the process of securing all food you may need for your passage. We stocked up at Sam's Club and left with a $450+ grocery bill! But we are now adequately stocked with cereals, rice, pastas, granola bars, and other easily-storable dry foods. The other foods (meats, vegetables) we will scoop up from markets as we make stops. 

Our dear friend came by to help us go through all of the groceries, properly store them, and secure them down for sailing. 

Mail Forwarding: 

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We left pre-stamped, pre-addressed envelopes for our mail to be forwarded to our family representatives, who will then open our mail, digitize it by taking a scanned image of it, and forward it to us! We also officially and temporarily forwarded all mail through the USPS. 

Never-ending Lists: 

We had 4 very-long lists going at all times: 1) Boat repairs 2) To-do list 3) To-buy list 4) To follow-up with list. These lists were extensive; sometimes, multiple bullet points would be under one heading! It felt overwhelming most days and we saw the repercussions of that manifest in our sleep. 

But the lists were checked off! The families were hugged! The mail was forwarded! The supplies were purchased, put away and secured! And then... it was time to leave the dock!