Virginia in the Rear View Mirror

My wife Pamela and I were talking yesterday about the old proposition, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Attributed by various Internet sources of variable reliability to Buddha, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and theologian Lynn H. Hough, the proposition suggests that how you travel–the quality of the spirit you bring into each day’s movements–is more important than any point toward which you happen to be moving.


“Unless you’re moving toward a chocolate chip muffin,” Honey thought.

By that criterion, I am a lousy traveler. Because I’ve had a destination in the state of Florida in mind for three months now.

And the two months we just spent in the state of Virginia, waiting for our misaligned stars to set themselves straight and point the way south, now have my teeth set firmly on edge.

Messrs. Buddha, Emerson, and Hough would no doubt think I had a spiritual problem. And I do believe they’d be right.

Entering Virginia

On November 30, 2015, Pamela, Honey the Golden Retriever and I were motoring down the Chesapeake Bay, crossing the mouth of the Potomac River into Virginia from the neighboring state of Maryland, when we heard the first sound from Meander that would interrupt the progress we were making toward the Florida Keys.

That sound caused us to alter our short-term plans. Instead of proceeding directly toward Norfolk and Mile Marker Zero at the beginning of that fabled part of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) known as the Ditch, we made what we hoped would be a short detour to the small but important boating community of Deltaville to fix whatever trouble we had picked up in the Potomac.

There, we found that what we had heard was the unfortunate sound of our cutless bearing being drawn up into our stern tube. We also found that our feathering propeller was badly in need of being sent across the country for reconditioning by its manufacturer’s U.S. affiliate; and that our propeller shaft was scorched in two places, requiring a custom replacement to be machined. So as long as we were waiting for all that to happen, we decided to have Meander’s engine’s injectors inspected and reconditioned, and her engine mounts replaced.


On the hard at the Deltaville Yachting Center.

All of this was a very good, necessary, and productive time. So much so, in fact, that I didn’t really mind the two-and-one-half weeks it took us to get underway again.

We got underway again on December 18, 2015; and one hour after leaving the dock, we hit a line in the water that would turn us back. Faithful readers of this blog will already have read about our December 18 in my post about The Longest Day.

Staying in Virginia

When we reached Deltaville again, we discovered that the line we picked up basically undid the cutless bearing work we just had done. (One brand new cutless bearing; one hour of service life; one premature and painful demise. RIP.)

But a few days before our yard hauled Meander out to discover that small problem, our marine technician had found a much larger one as we sat on the dock: the gears in our gearbox had been ground into a collection of small bronze shards on the longest day, probably toward its end when I ran us up onto a shoal and had to pound Meander’s engine to get off again before a gale predicted for later that day descended upon us.

With the relative inactivity of Christmas and the New Year upon us, this second work period in Deltaville felt like swimming in molasses as we went through ordering a new cutless bearing, locating and ordering a new gearbox, arranging to have the newly reconditioned propeller sent back from across the country for refitting (since we were waiting again, why not?), and clearing up the various misunderstandings it turned out our various vendors had been holding about our various holiday shipping and staffing schedules. And by the time the work period had dripped to its end, another three weeks had slid passed.


At least the view was pretty.

Getting a little impatient, we decided to leave as soon as the work was done, foregoing the sea trial that would have told our marine technician that the pitch on our newly reinstalled prop needed a final adjustment.

Moving through Virginia

We departed Deltaville again on January 7, 2016. And long before we reached Hampton, VA that evening, we knew from our engine’s inability to get to within seventy percent of its maximum specified engine speed that we were badly “overpropped.” After a confirming phone call back to our marine technician, we decided with great precision of intent that we would do this “not necessarily right away,” but “sooner” rather than “later.”

After the relative remoteness of Deltaville, Hampton was pleasantly urban. We stayed through an extended weekend during which we ate at restaurants, drank beer at bars, and bought Astronaut Ice Cream (freeze-dried!) at the museum store of the Virginia Air and Space Center, a large, contemporary structure on the Hampton waterfront designed to educate and entertain visitors who would otherwise get underfoot at the nearby NASA Langley Research Center.


The Virginia Air and Space Center.

Five days later, on January 12, we took Meander across Hampton Roads (this is the name of a waterway, dear reader, not a series of highways as seemingly implied by a TV ad we saw for a local car dealership) and finally reached Mile Marker Zero.

Motoring down the Elizabeth River to the ICW’s Virginia Cut, we came to rest that evening in Chesapeake, VA on the dock of a well-respected boatyard in the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal.

Overstaying in Virginia

And we decided there to take the bull by the horns and get our prop’s pitch adjusted, a nice simple task that also ended up taking twice as long as we expected.

What we expected was a short haul and a three-hour job. But our expectations changed when, as Meander was being hauled out, it occurred to me to discuss with the yard’s mechanic a topic of some subtlety that our Deltaville marine technician had advised me to monitor quite closely.

“Before we start,” I suggested, “we should talk about the type of grease we’ll need to relube the prop.”

“The Teflon grease?” replied the mechanic.

Ah, there’s the rub.

Our Deltaville marine tech had warned us that many yards would expect to use Teflon grease in our feathering prop, unaware that the manufacturer’s instructions explicitly warn against it. The working pressures to which the prop’s gears and grooves are subject are high enough to wash Teflon grease out in a few weeks. And white lithium, another type of grease commonly kept in boatyards, was also apparently not up to this particular job. What we wanted, our marine tech and the manufacturer’s instructions noted, was Lubriplate 130-AA, a brand-name calcium grease rated for extreme pressure applications.


With this many parts, the right grease is important.

So we lost another day, first to educate ourselves and the boatyard staff about the differences between these types of grease, and then to have the staff confirm our findings in a phone call to the manufacturer’s U.S. affiliate, and then to ensure the right stuff was ordered, received and applied.

No sweat, I said. Well worth the investment in preserving the longevity of our $1,000 prop reconditioning job, I said. Pam, by this time noticing a certain stridency starting to creep into my increasingly forced declarations of optimism, sought to fend that tone off by heartily encouraging my brave attempts to sustain that optimism.

And so we were ready. Expecting to leave Chesapeake, VA behind, we cast off from the boatyard dock at 8:05 AM on Saturday, January 16, we once again resumed our trip south.

And once again, we were turned back—this time, by a clutch cable that decided to snap underway.


Returning to our boatyard, we landed again at 9:30 AM to wait out another long weekend. On Monday, we located our mechanic, had him remove four seized bolts from the top of our steering pedestal so we could get to the broken cable and related parts (six hours of labor, not one of which was wasted), and got the parts identified and ordered.

The parts didn’t ship until Wednesday, and didn’t arrive until mid-afternoon Friday. And I didn’t get done installing them until Sunday afternoon, leaving just enough time in the day for a quick sea trial to make sure this time that everything was, in fact, in order.

Another week gone, along with the last of my patience.

Learning from Virginia

This past Monday, January 25, 2016, we left Chesapeake, VA again, motoring out of the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal into the North Landing River. And at Green Daymark No. 63, we slipped, finally, into North Carolina, leaving Virginia in the rear view mirror.


The distance we traveled through the state, from the Potomac River to that daymark, is about 150 miles. And it took us eight weeks to cover it.

That’s just too long a time.

I should point out here that I have nothing against the state of Virginia. Indeed, I love Virginia. It is my father’s birthplace and, for that reason among others, the sacred ground of some of the best family vacations I ever experienced as a kid. It has mountains to the west, the Bay to the east, and mighty rivers running down from one to the other. It has natural beauty on every summit and in every valley, along every river bank and around each bend of every waterway. It has history. It has culture. And it has good, kind, caring people who have carved out distinctive and noteworthy lives amongst these treasures, and who have made our time in their lovely state the best that our circumstances would permit.


Norfolk welcomes you.

No, the state of Virginia is not the enemy.

Rather, the enemy is my state of mind. One that has become consumed in this last week by resenting the delays, worrying about the costs, and despairing of ever getting us to the warmth we sought when we started seeking the ICW back in November.

Tonight, I’m writing from a marina on North Carolina’s Alligator River, about four miles south of the Albemarle Sound. That puts us at Statute Mile 84 on a waterway that stretches more than another 900 miles to the Florida Keys.

And that brings me back to the conversation Pamela and I had yesterday. I am not one who has, in the past, readily embraced the idea that the journey is more important than the destination. Rather, I have more often held that a good destination provides the goal of, and, therefore, the meaning for any journey worth taking.

A journey without a destination is just. . . well, a meandering.

(I never liked that name.)

On the other hand, I have learned more recently to appreciate that it costs too much to sacrifice the quality and the spirit of one’s being today to the anxiety of striving for some far-off destination to be gained, if ever, in some distant and ill-defined tomorrow. Rather, the proper attitude, I suspect, is to value and cherish both—the moment I presently occupy on my journey, and the destination that makes my journey worth taking.

And the point of the original saying is to remember that only the first of these is accessible to me here and now.


Honey, there and then on the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal.

With that in mind, I simply have to allow the fact that the delays that have befallen us were in the here-and-now, and the places those delays allowed us to explore in greater depth were also in the here-and-now, and the people who inhabited them were, finally, also in the here-and-now. I would not have found any of them anywhere else.

And whatever else should befall us in the days ahead, I had better learn today to cast off resentment, worry, and despair, and to relax more in the here-and-now.

Because our destination is more than 900 miles in front of us. And if I don’t relax, there won’t be anything left of me to inhabit it when we arrive.

Oh, For Crying Out Loud: Another Failure Underway

“And the train, it kept on going though it could slow down.” So concluded singer and rock flutist extraordinaire Ian Anderson at the end of Jethro Tull’s classic hit, Locomotive Breath, as he considered the fate of the All-Time Loser being run headlong to his death by said train.

When our binnacle’s shift lever failed us this morning as we came down on a low bridge in the ICW’s Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal, that song flashed, instantly and in its entirety, through the soundscape of my mind.

A game of bridge

Pamela, Honey the Golden Retriever and I had just spent a few days in the boatyard of the Atlantic Yacht Basin in Chesapeake, Virginia, where we had the pitch of Meander’s feathering propeller adjusted. Trying to resume our progress southbound down the Ditch, we were off the dock and approaching the Centerville Turnpike Bridge a mere three miles away. The bridge is one of many relatively low spans on the ICW that sailboats like Meander must have opened to allow their passage. So we contacted its bridge keeper on VHF Channel 13, and he instructed us to come right up to the bridge before he would open it. This instruction is intended to minimize the amount of time bridge keepers must disrupt vehicle traffic over the spans to allow vessels to pass under them.

Small recreational boats, that is. Bridge keepers seem to show a little more alacrity with the thousands of 1,500-ton-capacity barges being pushed around by tugboats on the ICW, often opening their spans long before these vessels would be required to reduce speed to avoid a collision. And, given the potential of any one of these to take an entire bridge down, quite appropriately, too. A sailboat as small as Meander, however, could lose its mast in a collision that would mean no more for a bridge than some scraped paint; so with us, the bridge keepers are somewhat more willing to take their chances.

Of course, we’re not willing to take ours. So as we began to draw in close, I throttled down. Then I tried to shift into neutral, intending to coast to a near stop.

Immediately, we heard a small metallic tink, as of a metal pin parting; and suddenly, the shift lever was drooping uselessly from its pivot on the binnacle.

When you’re headed directly toward a bridge in forward gear and your transmission fails you, you know instantly that there is one thing, and one only, that must be done before all others.

You turn to your wife and say:

“Pam, please call the bridge keeper and let him know we won’t be needing that opening after all.”

After all, you don’t want to keep the poor guy waiting.

Oh, also, any steps you might take to avoid hitting the closed span in front of you should probably be fairly high on your list of things to get done sometime before the end of the day as well.

So you check around for other boat traffic, thank your lucky stars you’re not being followed by a 1,500-ton barge at that moment, make your about-face turn away from the bridge, and point yourself back toward where you came from.

Sometimes, keeping a minor crisis from becoming a major one is really that simple. (For helpful hints on how to escalate a minor crisis repeatedly into a major one, please check out this post on The Longest Day.)

Control freaks

The next step in crisis management was getting our runaway boat (runaway, Mike? at four knots? really?) back under our control. So Pam took the helm, I put Honey in the cabin below, and I opened up the top hatch of our engine compartment.

Fortunately, too many previous and unfortunate trips to this compartment have made me quite familiar with the layout of its contents. Within it, the engine sits fairly far forward. Aft of it sits the gearbox (newly replaced at a cost of about $4,500 in the aftermath to The Longest Day), and on the starboard side of the gearbox is a lever arm connected to a cable. The cable snakes forward, then up, then aft through the compartment and disappears through an opening in the cockpit floor to continue up into the binnacle above. The lever arm is the gearbox’s shift lever, and the cable is the visible portion of the linkage that connects the arm (or should have connected it and, until this morning, did) to the corresponding shift lever on the binnacle.

Aft of the gearbox, the propeller shaft was happily whirring away in forward gear and lowest throttle at about six revolutions per second.

Having guessed from the tink we heard that the break in the linkage was somewhere out of sight in the binnacle, I decided not to concern myself with locating it. The chance of finding it was slim, and the chance of fixing it while underway was, I believed, none.

Rather, I turned my attention to operating the gearbox’s shift lever directly. The fitting that connected it to the cable linkage was a small, oblong steel block with a narrow slot machined into it, looking like a badly proportioned tuning fork designed by someone who had no ear for music. The tuning fork’s two tines straddled the shift lever, and a pin passed through aligned holes in all three elements to complete a freely rotating connection.

It was onto to this block, rather than onto the small, exposed tip of the shift lever itself, that I decided to try to lock my vise-grip locking pliers. Its parallel sides gave the jaws of the pliers a greater bearing area than the rounded tip, and locking onto it would allow us to exploit the pin connection’s rotation instead of rotating our wrists as we pushed and pulled.

So, in the half-suspended, head-aft-of-heels position that has become my favorite for engine work, a position around which I fully intend to create a best-selling yoga program that will keep us financially afloat until I die, I put my pliers onto the block, squeezed them into the locked position, and pulled up on the shift lever.

The lever came up smoothly; and a moment later, the prop shaft wasn’t rotating anymore.

“We’ve got neutral, baby,” I called up in triumph from the engine compartment.

And Pam said, “What? I can’t hear you with your head in that engine compartment.”

So I came up for air, and we discussed strategy for our return to the Atlantic Yacht Basin dock.

Practice ‘til you’re perfect

Our standard operating procedure for docking Meander with our two-person crew puts one of us on the deck, managing the lines with which we will tie her off, and the other at the helm, managing the boat’s speed and direction as we pull alongside the dock. To manage that speed, the helmsperson must operate not just the throttle, but also the gearbox. The necessary tactics include alternating between forward and neutral to keep just enough speed to maintain way on the approach, going into neutral to decelerate on the final coast to the dock, and, finally, in order to bring the boat to a dead stop right alongside, giving it a quick burst of the throttle while in reverse.

In our latest semi-disabled situation, however, the helmsperson could not operate the gearbox directly. That would have to be done by the other crew member, head down in the engine compartment, eyes off the developing action outside. That meant that the helmsperson would have to be in sole charge of bringing Meander in. In turn, that meant that the other crew member—let’s call him the engineer, he would enjoy that—would have to execute the helmsperson’s oral commands.

Granted, that execution would involve no more than pulling back and forth on a lever, for crying out loud. Let’s not make more of that than it is.

But tactically, the helmsperson’s ability to manage Meander’s speed successfully would depend in large part on the speed, accuracy and predictability of the engineer’s execution of her orders, giving her a working emulation of the gearbox control she would otherwise have had right at her fingertips had the binnacle shift lever been working.

That is, the key would be communication.

And that communication would have to happen through the soundscape of a thudding engine.

So, long before we began our final approach to the Atlantic Yacht Basin dock, we practiced with Pam on the helm and me in the engine compartment. I put my head down and tried to hear her shouted orders over the throbbing in my ears. She tried to hear my shouted responses emerge from the din of the open compartment. And after a few minutes, we had worked out the specific bodily positions from which we could reliably send and receive in both directions those critical one-word commands and confirmations: forward, neutral, reverse.

Also, we called the boatyard’s dockmaster, advised him of our impending shorthanded landing attempt, and asked him to meet us on the dock with a boat hook with which he could pick up Meander’s bow line.

And, finally, I reached back into my five months of experience on the helm to advise Pam that reverse should be used to stop Meander at the dock, preferably after the dockmaster had gotten her bow line around a piling.

Then it was show time.

Star performance

Pam took charge of the helm, and I went head down into the engine compartment. Wishing that I had relinquished the steering to her in the past more often, I checked for places against which I might brace myself in anticipation of being knocked off balance by a hard bump off a dock piling.

Over the engine’s thrum, I heard Pam shout, “Forward.”

“Forward,” I shouted back.

Thirty seconds later, I heard her shout, “Neutral.”

“Neutral,” I shouted back.

Another thirty seconds, during which I wondered what the world looked like going by.

“Forward,” Pam ordered.




“Forward just a moment.”

That was a new and somewhat ambiguous wrinkle, one that I, as the more experienced helmsperson, should have thought to anticipate and address in our tactical briefing. Speculatively, I put Meander into forward for one second, then popped it back into neutral. It was a little less than Pam had intended. Raising our eyes to each other, she and I quickly agreed she would give me a more specific duration on the next order.

“Forward one second,” she commanded.

“Forward,” I yelled back. “One-one thousand. Neutral.”

“Forward three seconds,” she commanded.

“Forward. One-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand. Neutral.”

Ten seconds or so drifted by.

“Forward three seconds.”

Forward. Three-count. Neutral.

We continued to coast.


“Okay, this is it,” I thought. I shifted into reverse and braced for the bump of boat against dock.

A moment later, “Neutral.”

Huhmn. What happened to the bump?

Since it would have required abandoning my post at this critical moment to pick my head up, I just turned it skyward, leaving my hand on the locking pliers. Above, the edges of the bimini and the dodger were speeding past the clouds. This startled me.

“Holy crow!” I thought. “We must still be doing one and a half knots!” Yet there was no sound of a commotion or panic above, so I continued to hold my position.

Then it occurred to me: The bimini and the dodger were not speeding past the clouds. Rather, the clouds were speeding past the bimini and the dodger.

We were stopped.

A moment later, Pam confirmed it, calling out, “We’re done.” I came up, killed the engine, turned off the ignition key, and looked up.

We were lying alongside, floating about six inches off the pilings of the dock. It had been a perfect landing. And Pam had had it under control all the way in.

No joy in Chesapeake

So we’re back on the dock again in Chesapeake, Virginia, and I am again reminded that I will not be able in this finite lifetime to exhaust the infinite number of good things I have to say about my wife.

And I can also admit that I’m not entirely displeased with our growing record of successful attempts at self-rescue in emergent crises, in spite of my growing resentment at their seemingly endless repetition. All-Time Losers? Not us. Well, not Pam, anyway.

About Meander, however, most of what wants to be said cannot appear in a family blog without heavy redaction. For the third time in about two months, we are spending a long weekend stuck on the dock of a boatyard, waiting for a service department to open up the following Monday so we can get her figured out, fixed and flying again.

And that’s not entirely fair of me. This is a good boat, a solid boat, one that will someday cross oceans. Under the daysailing and weekending style of her previous owners, she was, perhaps, a little underused. Realizing that fact, they did the right thing by her, selling her to a couple who, with liveaboard plans, cruising aspirations and a bimini dream, intend to help the boat achieve her potential. And here we are now, running Meander harder than she has been run in many years, shaking out her cobwebs, tightening up her loose screws, getting her ready once again to face the entirety of the world she was designed to sail.

To add to the injustice, the second of these three weekends about which I complain came as a direct result of The (rather heavily promoted, don’t you think, Mike?) Longest Day; a day made long not by Meander’s failings, but rather those of her crew; a day on which, if anything, she proved her worth to that crew ten times over.

Right now, though, I don’t care. All I care about is the extraordinary amount of time we seem to be spending in boatyards.

And I’m sorry about that. Sorry to feel sorry for myself. Sorry to pit this resentment and all my other stupid, shallow little personal irritations and inconveniences against the truly big, truly real, critically important injustices the world faces each day.

It’s a waste of good psychic energy. Because in my heart, I know Meander is a good boat, a solid boat, one that will someday cross oceans.

But in my head right now, she’s just costing us money and getting us nowhere.

Paying Attention

When I was growing up, I had trouble sitting still in school. I was a precocious little bundle of nervous energy, and I could not keep myself facing forward in class. If ADHD had been a thing then, I’m pretty sure I would have been considered a candidate for Ritalin.

The onset of adulthood—in particular, the middle-aged, slowing down part of adulthood—has somewhat relieved the mild hyperactivity I carried in those years, which is something, I guess.

But when we left our home port in Cambridge, MD last week to embark on our first-ever trip south to Florida, our first day out of port testified that my entrenched attention deficit is still with me.

Caution cuidado attention

Obstacle course

It’s not possible to spend any length of time on the Chesapeake without encountering the watermen who ply the bay every day with their boats, pulling up crabs, oysters, and all sorts of fish up from its depths and shallows. And when the boats are not in evidence, the presence of these men can yet be seen in the thousands of small flags and floats that mark their dredging routes, their fish nets, and their crab pots.

It’s a fully engaged life, one in which many watermen take pride. But it’s not an easy one. And when other boats run carelessly over their floats, snagging and tearing loose the lines that hold them to their traps, it gets a little harder. A submerged trap that has had its float torn loose can no longer be found, making it a dead loss for the waterman who placed it. Any Bay boater, then, who values his neighbor’s livelihood will take pains to avoid steering too close to the floats for that reason. And any Bay boater who doesn’t might value instead the avoidance of the potential complications associated with wrapping a line around a propeller.

So if I had remembered that the course I had charted from the mouth of the Choptank River would bring us directly through seemingly endless fields of the little bobbers, I might have tried a different route. I might also have played around with our travel hours as well. The midday sun in the southern sky having turned the thousand square yards of undulating surface directly in front of our boat into a coruscating mirror, the floats we were least likely to spot were also the ones we were most in danger of hitting.

They're much harder to see in the water.

They’re much harder to see in the water.

We did our best. Pam stood forward at the bow, pointing out the more distant floats as they glided off to port or starboard, and resorting to frantic hand signals when one appeared dead ahead, emerging suddenly from waves of light. And I, on the helm, switched back and forth between steering hard in response to her commands and mentally adjusting our course to account for our weaving and dodging.

No, I didn’t remember this course being strewn with all these floats. But I could have, and I should have, because this was the same course we had traveled two months ago to come to Cambridge in the first place. And it was as strewn then as it is now.

But two months ago, I wasn’t paying attention.

Attractive nuisance

Clearing those floats made for a long and lively morning.

But once they were finally behind us, we fell thankfully into a relaxed afternoon of motoring that brought us down the Bay.

And as we approached the western shore at Cove Point, the point’s charming lighthouse reached out and beckoned to us, practically asking us to take its picture.

Getting out the camera, I started taking snapshots from the helm, impressed both with the play of afternoon light across the structure and with the level of architectural clarity revealed by how close we had gotten to the point.

Cove Point Light. Pretty, but. . .

Cove Point Light. Pretty, but. . .

That’s when it occurred to me to start thinking about, you know, how close we had gotten to the point. And to glance at our depth finder.

Twelve feet, falling within seconds to ten. Then to eight.

And that’s when I throttled down and made the hard turn to port, tensely watching the instruments as I looked for the deeper water I had inadvertently left behind.

In less than a minute, we were back in thirty feet.

Drawing from my extensive grasp of maritime culture, I’ll just point out here that lighthouses were conceived and constructed not for the purpose of drawing boats onto land, but rather for keeping them off it.

So a photo of one, charming as it may be, would constitute a pretty stupid reason for risking a grounding under motor at seven knots. But, again, I wasn’t paying attention.

Room for improvement

Florida is, give or take, a thousand miles in front of us. And we are planning to get there by one of America’s most heavily used recreational routes over water: the Intracoastal Waterway or ICW.

That’s a thousand miles of wide-open sounds alternating with improbably narrow channels, dozens of low bridges that will require us to call in advance to coordinate with their opening schedules, and more boat traffic in tight spaces than we’ve ever seen before.

So I’m going to have to learn to bear down and focus.

And I hope that somewhere within me, there’s room for improvement in my attention span. Because very soon, there will be no room for mistakes.



–Caution cuidado attention: Stéfan, via photopin under a Creative Commons license.
–Floats: Mike Webster.
–Cove Point Light: Mike Webster.
–Salvage: David Krieger, via photopin under a Creative Commons license.

Welcome Aboard: Meander’s Interior

Today, I’m going to try to do something a little different for a person of my temperament. I’m going to try to celebrate. After two weeks here in Cambridge, MD, we finally appear to be in control of our daily lives aboard this boat.

Because since our arrival about two weeks ago, our days have been dominated by pesky but needful little tasks and errands for which our previous location left us little means and energy.

Two paragraphs in, and I feel my tone slipping already.

It only seemed like exile

Our previous location was the Virginia marina where we found, bought, moved onto and lived for three weeks aboard Meander. It was about twenty-five miles from the nearest town of any size, requiring an hour-long round trip in our rent-a-car just to do laundry.

So, OK, when we were still in Upstate New York, Pam used to take hour-long round trips to do our shopping—by bus.

But the marina was also down a hill six miles away from the area’s nearest cellular antennas. The remote possibility of uploading a blog post in the moment a lifting wave might put us in fleeting sight of two bars would have been something, but we didn’t have that. We had a digital blackout.

And that, for people grown accustomed to twenty-first century technology to locate boat supplies, figure out the tax implications of owning a boat, or stay connected with friends, family and readers, was a backbreaker.

In response to these conditions, the goals we set ourselves in Virginia were few and basic. We kept ourselves to learning the boat, equipping the boat, and training ourselves to run the boat to levels barely sufficient to get it and ourselves out of there. And, eventually, get out of there we did.

The (stupid) little things count

After a three-day trip to the free wifi of the Cambridge Municipal Yacht Basin and the city’s more-or-less walkable grocery shopping (if you are used to long walks) and serviceable public transit, we set ourselves to the fine tuning needed to support a more comfortable routine on Meander.

Here are four stupid little things we’ve accomplished.

  • Measure a galley drawer. Make a stacking set of cardboard dividers to separate the kitchen knives and the flatware in it.

Top tier.


Bottom tier.

  • Measure the galley’s hopper-style plate locker. Make a cardboard insert to discourage the plates in it from getting hung up on its interior latch when closed.

Insert in upper left corner. “Motor oil” motif courtesy of Shell.

  • Measure the navigation table. Make another set of cardboard dividers to keep the charts in it from being crumpled and torn by all the other stuff we’ve stuffed in there with them.

Ther’s that motor oil box again toward the back.

  • Measure the clothing shelf on Pam’s side of the V-berth. Make a cardboard, uh, thingy to hang from it to store her wristwatch and reading glasses.

I don’t know what to call it.

Given that cardboard isn’t exactly marine-ready by nature, there’s suddenly a whole lot of it on this boat. But cutting up packing boxes is cheap, and mistakes therefore cost little. And I call my creations “prototypes” under the happy delusion that I might rebuild them with real materials one day.

Here’s another stupid thing, albeit a little larger.

  • Retrieve the “family car” known as our dinghy from the garage of a supportive relative in town and get it onto Meander.

And another, larger still.

  • Provide the Coast Guard, finally, the form that officially lets them know you legally own the boat you’re living on.

It’s funny how one piece of paper can cost you five weeks’ sleep.

And, finally:

  • Clean up the place, for crying out loud.

So, with these and several similar stupidly small but oddly time-intensive tasks behind us, the interior of our home on the water is finally ready to be shown off.


View from the companionway.


The saloon to port.


The saloon to starboard.


View aft to nav station and galley.


Galley. We still need to fine-tune for the drying dish towels hiding the oven.


This is how you open the refrigerator.


Nav station.


Quarterberth aft of nav station, deep enough to sleep one when not full of crap.


View forward to V-berth.




Honey’s interior decorating contribution, discreetly moved to a place outside on the stern where I hope with all my heart that a gust doesn’t take it into the water and away from the boat.


Honey: “You, sir, have no eye for the canine arts.”

Family Car? Folding Dinghy.

When your boat is your home, and your home is constantly floating in anchorages to save on marina slip fees—I mean, to enjoy the undisturbed tranquility of pristine nature—it is not practical to pull your grocery-laden Subaru into the driveway next to it. Largely because there is no driveway.

That’s why most cruising sailboats carry a dinghy. And now, we do too. After all, until I can train her to take potty breaks on the boat, we need something to get my wife Pam ashore. Oh, Honey the golden retriever also.

Dinghies come in many types and sizes, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. On Meander, we decided to go with a folding dinghy, which, we’ve read, promises the durability and the smooth, fast ride of hard dinghies on one hand and the space savings of inflatables on the other.

And in deference both to Meander’s name and to Austin Powers fans everywhere, we’ve decided to christen her Mini-Mea.

Is a folding dinghy the best possible choice for us? Who knows? Life is in the living, and dinghies are in the, uh, dinghying. And we are content to allow the profound mysteries of liveaboard cruising to reveal themselves to us one day at a time. Because we have no other choice.

Here are some photos from our first day with Mini-Mea.

Where do you sit?

Where do you sit?

Pulling it together: No sweat.

Putting it together: No sweat.

Half an hour later, all is revealed.

Half an hour later, all is revealed.

But what does Honey think?

But what does Honey think?


Doesn’t matter. She’s coming aboard anyway.

Hey, she floats!

Hey, she floats!


Does this guy know what he’s doing?


Maiden voyage.


How do you steer this thing?


Didn’t wreck it.

Pam’s turn.

Pam’s turn.

Victory No. 2: Back safe and sound.

Back safe and sound.

And so, Day One with the new family car ends on a high note.

And once we teach Honey to row it, we’ll be as golden as she is.