Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Retirement Fantasy, or Retirement AS Fantasy?!

"Hey girl, how about dinner?"
"Oh gosh, got a French/fitness/yoga class tonight. Another time?"

Everyone knows someone who was busier after retirement than before. I'm on a fast track to membership in that club.

Three weeks after walking out of the National Science Foundation, I flew to Vancouver, British Columbia, and boarded a sailboat headed for the Pacific Ocean. Two months after that, Pope and I moved aboard a different sailboat headed down the Atlantic seaboard to the Bahamas.

Six months passed slowly while I sailed, swam, and recounted my adventures and shattered fantasies about bliss on a tropical island on this blog.

Two weeks ago, we returned to our house and neighborhood--and I picked up the pace. In that short time, I have enrolled in a fitness class and a French class, resumed studying guitar and participating in jam sessions, tackled Windows 8 on a new laptop, and brought home a stack of library books. I got together with friends, went to a writing workshop, and dutifully attended two Board of Directors meetings. I bought tickets to concerts and theatre.

Busy, yes. But no surprises there. Long before leaving my job I had looked forward to having time for these activities. The surprise lies instead in what I am NOT doing.

As I met with counselors and financial advisors to plan for my pensioned years, an important part of the plan was to launch a freelance writing business. In preparation, I purchased a laptop and business cards. I sent query letters to magazines and newspapers, proposing to write articles about my upcoming sailing trips.

On both boats, I lugged along camera, computer, paper and pens, and samples of magazines, intending to record my impressions and transform them into clever, humorous travel pieces that readers would gobble up like hotcakes.

As you know, I religiously tended my blog--and loved it. However, I have been less than enthusiastic about writing anything serious. Was that just another fantasy?

You see, when I walked away from my private office with the courtyard view and ergonomic chair, I experienced a profound sense of relief. I was free of deadlines. Free of other people's standards. Tired of taxing my brain to write words that sell.

There will always be problems to solve. But for now, they are my problems, and my solutions, not somebody else's.

Will I return to writing for pay? Writing to please an editor, to get my name in print, and to keep my skills sharp? Stay tuned.

Maybe I am learning from Pope how to be laid back instead of uptight. And that, my friends, may be a good thing.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

How To Survive 151 Days At Sea Together: A Relationship Primer

During the five months we lived on our sailboat, Pope and I probably averaged 20 hours together each day. The majority of those hours were spent in the cozy confines of a 30’x10’ space—a v-berth, 6-foot-long settee, dinette, and outdoor cockpit.

V-berth where we slept--always damp, and 11 inches wide at the foot
On some days, we experienced difficulties with anchoring, leaking, and engine breakdowns. The weather wasn’t perfect: hot, cold, humid, windy, stormy.

 Rough weather for a sailboat, in Fernandina Beach, Florida
Several friends and readers have marveled that our relationship survived. A typical comment: “You and Pope may have broken some record for staying together in trying situations.”

Here is the thing about relationships: they are full of compromise and sacrifice and personalities and habits you have to accept. Or at least tolerate. (Or not, if you choose to dance alone. It takes two to tango.)

I had only seen the boat for 5 minutes in the dark before Pope signed a contract to buy it. It had features he was searching for: a shallow keel for avoiding Bahamas sandbars; a stable beam to avoid heeling when sailing, which was important for minimizing my fear of tipping over; and a self-steering wind vane. When I next saw the boat, in daylight, I suggested we ask for a refund. The boat was full of mold, torn cushions and curtains, bad odors, uncomfortable sleeping and seating areas, dirt, gunk, and general degradation. I suspected the operating systems had also been neglected, which turned out to be true. We had agreed to buy a boat that was ready to live on and didn’t need much work. This was not it.

Pope got stubborn, which sometimes happens when he is challenged. He gave me an ultimatum: he was going to the Bahamas on this boat, with or without me.  I could have said no, and that would have been driven a serious wedge between us. Instead (isn't it often a woman who compromises?) I paid for professional cleaning and new upholstery--$4,000. We tore down the moldy carpet lining the hull and glued up fabric. Pope replaced the blackened hoses and did some carpentry to reshape the seat backs—work that he would not have bothered with for himself.

Repairs and upgrades of boat systems and living quarters engaged Pope for six months and me for two months. Despite our labor, I had to put up with leaks, dampness, and odors. Pope didn’t care about those. As you know from the blog, some of the mechanical and electrical systems also caused trouble. At those times, he paid more attention.

Trying to get Pope to pay attention to my complaints
I never grew to love the boat like Pope did. (And even he had some qualms after the engine breakdown and electrical problems.) However, I got used to it. We fixed the mechanical problems. The sitting areas were comfortable and attractive. I covered cushions with plastic when rain threatened and bunkered down when we crossed the ocean; opened hatches and vents to keep odors down; sewed mosquito nets to keep out no-see-ums. I  relied on cleanliness and organization to stay sane. Pope tends to lay things around and lose them; I put them away and find them. It's our M.O. at home.
Preparing for rain
I poured out my frustrations in my blog. I complained about the boat--a boat that suited his personality as a happy-go-lucky optimist. He complained about the blog--a blog that reflected my personality as a critic and pessimist.
The daily blog: my life preserver
Underlying our willingness to spend 151 days floating in fiberglass was our commitment to relationship. I tolerated the conditions and the discomfort of crossing ocean passages because the trip was important to Pope. For at least three years he had dreamed of sailing his own boat to the Bahamas, talking about it continually, showing me articles in sailing magazines, travelling to look at boats for sale. 

So I moved aboard and served as First Mate, housekeeper, part-time cook, tour guide, and chief finder-of-lost-things. Pope served as primary driver, navigator, mechanic, and handyman. When I cried, he tried to address the source of my fears. When I screwed up or got hurt, he came to my rescue--such as when my fingers got jammed between the anchor chain and cleat, or when I got knocked down by a car on my bike. 

Near the end of our trip, Pope acknowledged the legitimacy of some of my complaints about cruising and the boat and became more sympathetic. That step, which was probably hard for him, went a long way toward improving relationship harmony.   
For now, we left the boat with a broker in Florida and drove home in a rental car. It is a better boat than when we started--everything is fixed. The next owner will probably be blessed with a trouble-free cruise.  However, I am happy to be home where life is easy and I can hang out with people I know.  Pope has mixed feelings about being in a boring, stationary house and ending the adventure. He misses his boat. We understand each other's point of view.

A few other things important to relationship during those long winter months:
- Books. Pope and I are avid readers and can spend entire days and nights engrossed in a mystery or crime novel, biography (Amber only), or treatise on politics (Pope only), psychology, or philosophy.
- Separations. I went swimming, snorkeling, and shopping alone or with people I met, while Pope read books, met with mechanics, or worked on the boat.
- Resets. A technique we learned from another couple: when we can’t agree, and the conversation deteriorates into acrimony, we agree to start over.
- Third-party mediators, i.e., cruisers we met and friends we made. They would listen to both sides of the story, laugh, and suggest another beer or rum cocktail—restoring a proper perspective.
Enlisting the ears --and shoulders--of third-party mediators

All's well that ends well. We are home, more or less in one piece, and still committed to making a life together.
Restoring harmony after a long, hard day on the boat

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Gee, It's Good To Be Back Home Again!

In keeping with my latest theme, "It Ain't Over Til It's Over," we arrived back in the Washington area with a splash and a mud bath. No easy finish for us! Why lessen our record now??!!

As previously reported, we left Ft. Pierce, Florida, in a rush: in a frantic 24-hour period, made decisions, turned the boat over to a broker, crammed half our stuff into a rented van, and carted the rest to a rented storage locker. Spiffed up the boat and hired a cleaning lady. Enjoyed a last supper with the crew of sailboat Pearl, who are living at the Ft. Pierce marina for a while.

Spent the first night onn the road visiting friends Bobby and Joanna and cousin Laura in St. Augustine. The second night, we naively charged up a red dirt road in southern Virginia in our fully loaded, giant rental car--apparently with bald tires. Stayed up late jawing with old friend and fellow sailor Sally at her family farm. By morning, a light rain had turned the infamous Virginia clay to gooey orange mud. We rocked the car back and forth, piled rocks and tree bark under the tires, and dug huge holes in Sally's lawn. Oops. Left her to clean up the mess.

So much for an early start. We got the car back to the freeway, sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic from Fredericksburg to DC, arrived too late to return the car, and spent several hours in pouring rain lugging giant garbage bags of stuff from the nearest parking space, two blocks away, to our house. Ah well, better than snow and ice.

Returned to a sadly neglected house--quarter inch of dust, sticky kitchen floor, ring-around-the-toilet, and smell of dead mouse in the wall. What! No one cleaned while we were away?!

Finally, the payoff: making cream of broccoli soup and strawberry salad in our own kitchen. Loading the dishes into the dishwasher. The heat is on, the house is dry, and we've got a soft, warm bed on solid ground.

Boy, is it good to be home!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Post-Cruise Progress: It Ain't Over Til It's Over

Dear readers: sorry I have neglected to bring you up to date on our progress. I got distracted by all the hard work of winding down a cruise and getting home. (No, we're not there yet.)

I last left you in West End, an expensive, half-finished hellhole of a resort with a rocky, weedy beach, strong winds, no shade, and a hundred no-see-ums vying for a choice capillary on my left ankle. Even Pope got bit!! (Grin. Now he can be more sympathetic.)

We crossed the Atlantic Gulf Stream on Sunday. After the first two hours of agitation on the whites/cottons cycle, the waters calmed down to perma press.

We were able to sail for a while, and by the time we neared Florida, switched entirely to the gentle cycle. Entering Palm Beach inlet and anchorage, we passed a dozen or so boats who had left Wesr End  with us and passed us by, leaving us in  their wake. Only one 32-foot, whose crew we met in Green Turtle, arrived at the same time.

I settled down for a relaxing return to the USA and leisurely journey home.

Alas, twas not to be. We were tentatively headed for a storage facility in North Florida, a week away, near Jacksonville. Instead, our second night out, at a marina in Ft. Pierce, we realized that lots of boat sales were taking place right there! Revelation! Not ones to be left behind, we got with the program quickly and begged a boat broker: Me, too! Sell ours!

The drill: in a mere 24 hours, we made decisions, rented a van and a storage locker, negotiated a broker contract, cleaned out 7 holds, 9 shelves, 1 closet, and the whole quarter-berth, cramming our 4,700 pounds of stuff--or so it seemed; the boat lifted 4 inches out of the water!!--either into the storage locker or in the van to take home; visited with our old friends on Pearl (remember them?) who are living here; and still managed to gobble down a meal or two. Whew. A marathon.

More work is in store tomorrow: cleaning the boat, pumping out the holding  tank, moving to a new slip for the long term, and then, if we have any energy left at all, starting for home with the van--due back to Budget in DC on Sunday at 2:00 pm. A long drive with a full car and tired limbs; one we are not exactly looking forward to!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Saturday Update: Another Vacation Day

We are going to attempt a crossing to Florida tomorrow, Sunday, March 23. The wind will be against us, but it will be light, whereas today and all next week the wave forecasts are too formidable. Six boats left this morning, all before sunrise. One of the largest sailboats turned around after an hour and returned to the marina, reporting that the ocean was "lumpy" and they were getting beat up--enough to convince us to wait another day.

So we are paying to stay another expensive day at the dock in the Old Bahama Bay marina and resort at West End, the western tip of Grand Bahama Island, 47 miles from the Florida coast. I am determined to squeeze every penny's worth of enjoyment out of this resort. Yesterday, lap swimming in the lagoon-shaped pool, a half hour on the treadmill in the fitness center, and hot shower.

This morning, a long walk on the beach, followed by delicious coconut french toast at the beach bar overlooking the Little Bahama Bank

Now, borrowing a marina bike to ride to a nearby village. Also available for later: kayaks, paddleboards.

Just like Green Turtle Cay, this is not a bad place to be "stuck".

Friday, March 21, 2014

What I Did On My Winter Vacation: My Personal Bests of the Bahamas

Now that we are only ONE DAY from leaving the Bahamas—and excited about it!—I can let go of the anxiety, set aside the hard work, and reflect on the highlights of our visit to approximately 21 islands (it’s hard to keep track) since December. As the breakdowns, injuries, and no-see-ums fade in memory, the pleasiant memories--of interesting people, special activities, and beautiful places--will undoubtedly grow. Below are some of my favorites.
Nature as art: the water colors at Warderick Wells.

White sand, warm water, and the lively social scene at Cabbage Beach on Paradise Island, made more vivid by the company of Pope, Henry, John, and Carole and her friends.

Highbourne Cay: gorgeous swimming beach, graceful ray under the dock, and friendly motor-cruisers at the marina.

Swimming in beautiful, calm, sandy Gillam Bay on Green Turtle Cay; at secluded Pirates Beach on Staniel Cay; and in the gloriously clear and warm mangrove river on Shroud Cay, shown below (“swimming in place” against the powerful current there).

The tiny pink market on Staniel Cay—my favorite grocery. Run by friendly Eleanor and featuring her delicious coconut bread. (No photo; however, Eleanor may visit us in DC this summer when she attends her god-daughter's graduation from GWU.)

Conch stew at Taste and Sea on Staniel Cay. Cracked conch at Ruth’s shack on Potters Cay, shown below, shared with Henry and John. Deviations from my vegetarian diet that were worth every tender, savory bite. 
Pomegranate, sopadilla, and guava fruits picked fresh off the trees and given to me by Ren and his daughter, residents of Little Farmers Cay.

Fresh lettuce salad at restaurants in Marsh Harbor and Highbourne Cay. (Not grown in the Bahamas,  probably; a very welcome treat!) Kale and cilantro freshly picked by Leslie, resident of Manjack Cay, in her garden.

Dancing to energetic Abaco musicians at Green Turtle Club and Pineapples tiki bar (Kevin, shown below), and being introduced to the Bahamas-centric ballads of Barefoot Man.

Having my folding bike on board for touring Harbour Island, Staniel Cay, Green Turtle Cay, and others, and for running errands. Shown below on Pinder's Ferry to Eleuthera.

Cruisers met at marinas, on docks, in bars, or at anchorages because they pulled up to our boat in their dinghies just to say hello. Bruce and Gayleen (below), Judy and Dave (below), David and Sherl, Gabe and Gail, Vic and Gigi, Connie, Steve, George, Hans and Shirley, Pierre and Liza, Bill and Carmen, Bill and Alicia, and many more. (Some of whom can be credited with convincing me to keep going instead of flying home…)

Spending five months in close quarters with Pope, nearly 24 hours a day, sometimes enjoying life and sometimes coping with disasters. Despite a few disagreements, overall a positive start to my retirement.

The glorious joy of reaching West End, 53 miles from Florida, and knowing only one day of travel separates us from the USA!



Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Nature's Bounty: Flora and Fauna of the Bahamas

Spotted eagle ray gliding gracefully under the dock in search of prey, at Highbourne Cay in the Exumas
Banyan tree on Eagle Cay in the Abacos
Curly tailed lizard hiding in tbe grass on Manjack Cay in the Abacos
Orchids growing on trees, Manjack Cay in the Abacos
Nurse sharks hanging around fish-cleaning tables at Highbourne Cay and Staniel Cay in the Exumas and in Nassau Harbor
Soursop fruit tree, Manjack Cay in the Abacos
Hermit crabs hiding in their shells on a path to the ocean, Little Harbour Cay in the Abacos
Bougainvillea on porches and fences everywhere
Starfish in the water, Marsh Harbor in the Abacos