Sunday, January 11, 2015

New Article in "Sailing Life" magazine

If you like blogs like this you will love Sailing Life!  My second article, "10,000 miles Offshore" is in this months issue and our kids are on the May cover with my article "Kids Offshore."  If you have a mobile device just look for the magazine in apps and subscribe!

Captain Tofer

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Update From Dock-Tied Sea People

WD On our dock in Blaine

Today it occurred to me that it has been a while since the last time I updated you on our reunification with the dock and all of the “stuff” that comes along with it.  The last time I ventured to comment on my own struggles with this process I was in a pretty dark place and I was feeling lower than I ever had in my life.  Most of you were very comforting in your comments and actually helped me by encouraging me.  I want to personally thank two people, former cruisers and close friends of ours, Denny and Rennie formerly known to us by the name of their boat “Salt and Light.”  Both Denny and Rennie have made the trip up to Blaine to see us and their encouragement has meant a great deal to us, not only because they are friends but because they have actually lived with this same “Sea People - Dock Crash” experience.  One of the things Denny said to me was, 

“You may be feeling better right now but it won’t last.  It will hit you hard again, suddenly, just when you thought you were all over it.  Some idiot friend of yours living on a boat anchored in a pretty place will innocently post a picture from his hammock on the deck and “WHAM!”  You’ll be right back in despair.”  

I knew when he said that that the idiot had been me.  While Denny was struggling with reintegrating his life with the dock I had been living in the salt water sailors paradise.  I chuckled when he said it but now I have experienced it.  My friends in the Virgin Islands post pictures of the sunset or the beach and I eat them up like candy.

WD rafted up with "Salt and Light" in the Bahamas, 2008

It has certainly been getting better and I have not been low like that again but I know the ocean is not out of my blood and probably never will be.  I still almost drive off the road if I am passing a boat yard because I am looking at all of the sailboats up on the hard.  When the wind blows hard enough to move the boat in her slip I can’t help but think of a horse trying to get out of a stall.  I know it will happen someday and I am also comforted by those of you who have reminded us that not only are we still fairly young but that we already own our boat and live aboard her which is closer than many dreamers ever get.

So what has happened in our lives in the past few months?  Rebecca has worked a couple of jobs.  Her first job was at a resort as a bar tender for banquets.  When summer came to an end so did the banquets so that dried up.  She put out over 100 resumes as a server or bartender and was only called back a couple of times.  One of those places hired her.  Extreme Sports Bar in Fairhaven hired her and she really enjoyed her time there.  The owners were great and allowed her to be herself and do her crazy things like dress up as a superhero every Tuesday night.  It looked like she had found her niche and then... they went out of business.  She went to work one day only to find out that it was her last day.  The owners kept her on for a couple of days a week at the other bar they own across town.  She has continued to put out resumes but never gets a call back.  It makes me crazy because I know how great she is.  People love Rebecca and they show up just because she is there.  She has such a HUGE heart and genuine interest in the lives of people she only meets once and that spirit is infectious.  She pours herself into the place she works and gives her whole heart to it.  Of course it doesn’t hurt that she ALWAYS looks like a million bucks.  

How could anyone ever say "No" to her?
I have been continuing to homeschool the boys.  One thing is for certain; More schoolwork gets done on a boat sitting at a chilly dock than on one anchored off a pretty little Caribbean beach surrounded by warm water!  I think these boys have learned more actual schoolwork in the past six months than they did in all the years at Honeymoon Beach.  It has really been fun though.  They have all matured and are actively taking part in their lessons.  They have grown to love the Blaine Library which is probably the most “kid friendly” library in the world.  It is actually a hang out for kids in Blaine!  I have tried to find something close to do in the afternoon to help bring in a little cash.  I had sent my resume in to a couple of places for stocking jobs and considered security but I never had a call back.  I did manage to get a full time job at a peanut butter plant and after only one day I realized that there are some jobs not suited to 47 year old former beach bums.  I came home that night dragging myself down the dock in pain that lasted all of the next day.  I now get a bit of a kick out of those folks who say something along the lines of, “Work is work!  You should just do what ever you need to to earn a buck!”  or  “Nothing is to hard, you can do it if you really want to!”  These comments are meant in earnest but spoken in ignorance.  Trust me there are some jobs that are not worth the money.  Life is too short with only a finite number of hours before the casket and I personally don’t want to waste any of them if I don’t have to.

A few weeks ago a friend of ours passed my name off to a friend of hers who knew a guy who worked for a company that was looking for boat captains for their Launch Service.  I quickly sent out my resume and was super excited when I was called back for a face to face interview with them in Port Angeles.  Rebecca and I drove over there this week and I was offered a job with them.  The job is in Anacortes so we will have to move to the marina there in a couple of weeks.  The marina is right beside the docks where I will be working and there are a LOT of places for Beck to work if she wants to.  This is a great job and it is 15-days on call, 5-days off.  During my on call days I can be on our boat and continue to school the boys.  The library is only a couple of blocks away so the boys are happy.  Anacortes is still only about 40 minutes away from Bellingham so we can still stay close to family.  The other cool thing is that they were also looking for dock hands and Jimmy will be going down there for his face to face interview this coming Monday.  If everything works out Jimmy will have a job on boats as well!  I am super excited to be back on the water doing what I love.

I will also continue to work on editing our videos for YouTube and I have been writing a book about our time on Wandering Dolphin.

If it sounds like we are becoming permanent dock jocks you can flush that idea right now.  The Pacific awaits us and in a few years we will set sail again.  Until then we will sail the beautiful Pacific Northwest and live on Wandering Dolphin.  

By the way, Charlie loves being on the dock!  He has offered no complaints whatsoever.

Tightening The Springline,

Captain Tofer

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Beginnings 2006-2008

In January 2006 we left our farm and boys home in Montana and moved aboard our sailboat "Wandering Dolphin." This was supposed to be a part time arrangement but within only a few months, while we were sailing in the Bahamas, our house in Montana was burned to the ground.

We suddenly and unexpectedly found ourselves to be full time cruisers/live-a-boards.  Wandering Dolphin was all we had left.  We sailed North to Charleston, South Carolina where we regrouped and made a choice to stay on our boat and cruise/work as a full-time lifestyle.

The next summer we sailed north and ended up spending a few wonderful months in Oriental, North Carolina.  In Oriental the real healing for our family began as we met lifelong friends and were enriched by this lovely little town.

In January, 2008 we sadly sailed away from Oriental towards the Bahamas.

The pictures in this video are all from this tumultuous time in our lives.  I hope you enjoy them.

The Crew

Saturday, November 22, 2014

How Much SPACE Do You REALLY Need?

A couple of days ago two guys were outside on the dock admiring Wandering Dolphin.  I am sure they didn’t know anyone was aboard so I listened to them for a few minutes before I made myself known to them.  They were both dreaming about offshore.  I invited them aboard and they told me about their families and their dreams.  One of their concerns was the idea of space for a whole family on board a boat.  I love to see the look on peoples faces when I tell them that we have five kids and that this is our only home.

As you can imagine because we have lived on a relatively small boat with five kids for so many years we get a lot of questions about living space.  

Most people who dream of moving the whole family, kids and all, onboard a sailboat full time seriously overestimate the amount of space they need.  We did the same thing.  Ten years ago when we were in the “searching for the boat” stage we assumed that we would need a boat with a minimum of 50 feet on deck.  We were not looking for an actual cabin for each kid or anything but we figured that our only girl, EmilyAnne, would need her own room, Rebecca and I would need a cabin and our four boys would all need dedicated berths in a shared cabin somewhere on the boat.  We also figured that we would need at least two heads and copious storage for provisions etc.

What we ended up with is Wandering Dolphin.  She is 47 feet over all, only 41 feet on deck and has only one head.  My wife and I share the V-berth cabin, two kids have pilot berths in the salon area and there are two small aft cabins for the older kids.  When our oldest son was still onboard our youngest was small enough to sleep in the convertible table berth in the salon.  If this sounds a lot like camping in a motorhome or trailer that is because it actually is.  

The common misconception is that because this living arrangement is similar to camping it will not work full time.  The reality of our life is that within the first year we were all used to the small space and it has never even been an issue at all.

Our kids have grown up a little differently as a result of this close living.  They do not have the normal American bubble space requirement.  When we visit family in a house our kids, even now as teenagers, all sit on a couch snuggled close together.  Don’t get me wrong, they still bicker and fight like normal teenage siblings they just do it close together rather than across the room from one another.  One common thing teens say in anger is, 

“Mom!  He’s touching me!!!”

It is an interesting thing to note that this is never one of the complaints our kids make.  They are always close, often rubbing arms, legs or feet, but more often what we do hear is, 

“Mom!  Tell him to stop bugging me when my headset is on!” or

“Dad!  He’s eating with his mouth open again!”

Our bedroom is the V-Berth.  This has worked out very well over the years and has not been a problem unless we were on an offshore passage to windward.  While the V-Berth is not usable as a berth to windward it is actually very comfortable when the wind is anywhere aft of the beam.  Our V-berth is down a short hall, past the head and has no door, only a curtain.  The very first thought that comes to the minds of most adults is,

“Well how do you... you know?”

All I have to say is that it might explain to our friends on Water Island in St Thomas why our children were sent to the beach so often.  

When we first bought the boat I was actually quite concerned that we only had one head.  Now, If I did ever own a boat with more than one head the first thing I would do would be to take the head itself out of the little room and turn it into either a storage pantry or a workshop.  Even one head is a constant battle of maintenance and work.  The head has been the single biggest maintenance pain in my ass. (pun intended) One of the things that has helped in this area is that with five guys on board and only two ladies we a large bottle in the cockpit for urine for the guys and just dump them over board.  If we had only two guys and five girls we might think two heads would be worth it after all.

We have found that the advantages in owning a smaller sized vessel under fifty feet far outweigh the disadvantages.  Most often rate hikes on docks and in haul out facilities  start at fifty feet.  There are cruising places like the Bahamas where at more than 40 feet the cost of your permit actually doubles.  The other thing to consider is that all maintenance issues are reduced by a lot.  Everything is smaller on a 45 foot boat, sails, engine, etc.  The boat is also very easy for two people to sail, or even one person in a pinch.  It’s not that we don’t have enough people onboard but it sure makes the offshore passages a lot easier if only two people are needed on deck for any job.

Wandering Dolphin is not only a smaller vessel but she is a performance sailer designed by Gary Mull.  Her fast, light weight hull design with a flush deck means that she has less storage space below.  When we first moved aboard, we had hammocks hanging all  over filled with stuff that we thought we needed.  We piled the decks high with extra crap.  The lifelines had boards with jerry jugs tied to them and water jugs full all the time.  We had to actually raise the water line six inches because the boat was so heavy.

Over the years we discovered that we didn’t need all of that stuff.  We discovered the freedom and joy of living with less clutter and slowly the hammocks came down, the tons of extra spares were disposed of or used and not replaced.  The decks were completely cleared off.  We carry only the fuel and water in her tanks and the water line is back to the design specs.  The difference in the performance of our boat was shocking.  Now anything that is coming aboard our boat full time has to pass a pretty rigid test of its need in relation to its weight or the space required for it.

Provisions are also a common concern.  Once again, when we first moved aboard, Rebecca tried to provision the boat for months and, of course, we didn’t have the storage for all of the food.  Let me assure you that this next truth is commonly overlooked.  People everywhere you cruise have to eat!  There is absolutely no need to carry a ton of provisions everywhere you go!  We have found that most of the food in other countries is actually cheaper than in the US Islands.  When we first sailed from St Thomas to Trinidad we loaded the boat with provisions and discovered that the food in the huge grocery stores in Trinidad were almost half the price over all of the food in St Thomas.  In Dominica we bought fresh eggs, fruit and bread from the boat boys for peanuts.  As a disclaimer however, I do want to note that if there are certain “American” foods that you or your kids cannot live without like peanut butter, strawberry jam, or Miracle Whip.  You should stock quite a bit of that stuff somewhere on the boat.  The other note is: If you are planning on wintering in the Bahamas you should stock your boat with about as much food as you can load on her in Florida.  Food in the Bahamas is easy to find, unless you are in the out islands, but it is ridiculously expensive.  Also, a watermaker will extend your time out in the out islands and while the savings won’t pay for your watermaker it sure feels a lot better to make your own water rather than pay some guy a couple dollars a gallon for it!  

We did survive for almost a month anchored off a deserted little island in the Bahamas living only on the fish we caught and the rice and beans we had stored on board.  I also lost a lot of weight from both the diet and the fact that I was out spearfishing for a few hours every day.

I know that there are a lot of families out there trying to decide how much space they need and I would like to assure you that you can get out cruising a lot faster if you do not make the space requirement such a rigid problem.  

On a side note, we have met other families with two or three kids who were happily cruising on even smaller boats.

Live Small!  Live Happy!
Captain Tofer