MOVING DAY, TONS OF SMOKE, AND NO AIR CONDITIONING!

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It was the last weekend in May. Moving day! There were boxes everywhere. Some were labeled storage. Others were labeled boat. And, the rest were piled up for Richard’s repeated trips to Goodwill. We’d given some of our furniture to our adult kiddos and the rest was being picked up by a junk hauling outfit.

No Tan Lines (“Tanny” for short) was “on the hard” at Embree Marine Service (which is EXCELLENT, by the way) for repairs required by the insurance company, and we wouldn’t be getting her back for another 10 days or so. We packed our suitcases, and headed to a hotel with the kids, dog, and cat. It was the off-season here in Florida so we were able to get an oceanfront room for a very good rate. It was a “suite” (a tiny one) with a bedroom, two queen beds, a kitchenette, a small living room, and a fold-out couch. It was quite cozy and the view couldn’t be beat.

We decided to turn our transition period into a mini-vacation and we had a great time there!

During those 10 days, Max and Mason started their beginner sailing lessons at the The St. Petersburg Sailing Center and they LOVED IT! I was so happy! Max was so excited on the day he was able to sail out of the basin, and into the bay where he saw dolphins and a stingray! He developed a great camaraderie with his fellow students. Mason, because of his age, was stuck in the small boats so he wasn’t able to have as much adventure time. But, he learned how to sail a small boat all on his own!

During the last day of that class, the parents were invited to not only watch the kids, but to sail with them. I rode in the tiny boat with Mason while Richard rode in a larger boat with Max. We were so proud of everything they’d learned in just 10 days of class! We just got in for the ride and they did everything all by themselves! Sails up, rudder, keel, tacking, adjusting lines – the works! They have both moved on to the intermediate class. After that one, they’ll start the racing class!

On our official “moving-onto-the-boat” day, we packed up the kids and pets, and drove to the boatyard. Capt. Brian was already there, prepping the boat for the trip to our new “home,” the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina. I went upstairs to pay the boatyard bill. We’d had a ton of work done and all of it came in at or under the estimates they’d given. $11,200 total. I was THRILLED!

We settled into No Tan Lines, which was still on the lift, to wait for Capt. Stan, who was going to help us take her to the marina. It was beastly hot that day so Brian had the generator running, and turned on the air conditioners. And, a few seconds later, all the ACs turned off, flashing error messages on their panels. Oh NO! A quick inspection by Brian showed that there was air in the hose leading to the seacock – the NEW seacock. Chad at Embree promptly sent one of his guys down and it was fixed in no time. Brian turned the ACs back on and the boat started to cool down. Aaaaaahhh. We were finally about to be on our way! But, while we were sitting in the cockpit, talking to the nice gentleman who’d just fixed our AC problem, he suddenly said, “You’ve got smoke!”

TONS of smoke was coming through the outside vents. Brian literally jumped into the salon and turned off the generator, threw open the floor hatch, and started to investigate. The amount of smoke was quite impressive! I had already shooed the kids and pets out into the cockpit. There was no fire. Brian assumed it was a belt (and, later, we found out he was right). I was praying it wasn’t electrical. I was a bit nervous about the boat catching on fire once we plugged into shore power. But, Brian had been right. It was just a belt and it’s since been fixed.

Capt. Stan arrived, No Tan Lines was splashed, Stan easily backed her up, and turned her into the channel, and we were heading home! It as an easy trip to the marina, which was just around the corner. We were only in Tampa Bay for about 15 minutes. We had to stop by the marina office so we could be measured and inspected. Then, Stan steered her around the corner again, to our slip.

She was smoothly docked and Capt. Brian got busy hooking up the shore power and adjusting the lines. I sat nervously for about half an hour, hoping we wouldn’t have more smoke. And, we did not!

Richard and Max drove to our storage place for our “boat” boxes and we spent the rest of the day unpacking and settling in. That evening, we all sat in the cockpit, eating our dinner with plates on our laps, watching the gorgeous sunset, and feeling the stress of moving finally leave our shoulders.

It had taken about a year and a half of planning and a WHOLE LOT OF WORK but we were FINALLY LIVING IN OUR FLOATING HOME!!! My dream had come true!!!

NEXT: THAT DARNED ILLEGAL TOILET!

UH OH! OUR REPEATED ATTEMPTS AT MINIMALISM WERE FAILING!

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The last time we moved into a new home, I’d said, “NEVER AGAIN!” But, here we were, once again moving. I can say that moving is down near the very bottom of my list of favorite things…right above a colonoscopy.

In Maine, we’d lived in a 3-story, 3,600-square foot home with 7 bedrooms. And, because we had six kiddos living at home at that time, the space was necessary. Before you think we were loaded (we were NOT!), please know that homes in Maine were dirt cheap back in the year 2000. That huge, waterfront home was only $92,000, if I remember correctly.

When we moved to Florida in 2011, we got rid of about 75% of our belongings. We were heading to an 1,800-square foot rental in Florida with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. At that time, four of our kiddos were still living with us so we knew it would be a bit “cozy” (crowded!). Unfortunately, we started buying stuff again after promising ourselves we would not.

We lived in that house for a year before buying a 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom home on the water in Bradenton. That was The Money Pit house. And, unfortunately, we kept buying more stuff. It had felt so good to get rid of all that junk that we never used in Maine (did we really need two blenders, seven spatulas, and a rabbit-shaped chocolate mold??) but we continued with our bad habit, wasting tons of money.

When we decided to sell The Money Pit, I started researching minimalism. The descriptions online vary quite a bit but here’s what minimalism means to me:

The more junk you have, the more “cluttered” your life becomes. Your stuff starts to control you, by cluttering your living space and your mind, and by making you work harder to make more money so you can buy more stuff to…further clutter your home and mind. I don’t like clutter. It creates a noticeable tension in my body. When I’m trying to work and there’s stuff sitting out, not put away, I feel off-kilter and stressed. Then, there’s the hidden stuff in the closets and drawers that you maybe used once…or perhaps not even at all. All of that “junk” makes me feel crowded, bogged down, and boxed in.

When I started researching minimalism, I didn’t even want to think about how much money we spent on all that stuff we sold and gave away when we moved from Maine to Florida. And again when we moved from the rental, and again when we moved from The Money Pit. Worse, I didn’t want to think about all the junk we’d purchased after promising ourselves, during each move, that we wouldn’t fall into that trap again.

We did do a lot better when we moved into the apartment. It was much smaller than all the houses we’d owned and we knew we’d eventually be living on a boat, and wouldn’t be able to take a bunch of stuff with us. Still, when we started packing up the apartment to move onto the boat, we realized we’d accumulated more than we’d planned. It felt good to go through the cabinets, drawers, and closets, and to fill up boxes for Richard to cart to Goodwill!

We were on a deadline now. We had to be out of the apartment in only two weeks. The task seemed impossible. Would we be able to minimalize once again, now down to just the very basics, in just 14 days? Would we be able to remain minimalized or would we start filling our beautiful new floating home with “stuff?”

NEXT: MOVING DAY, TONS OF SMOKE, AND NO AIR CONDITIONING!

CAPT. RON DIES FROM A HEART ATTACK…A WEEK AFTER WORKING ON OUR BOAT :(

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After securing financing and insurance, and landing a slip at the Municipal Marina, we were in a holding pattern. The boat was still at The Harborage Marina while we had the #1 most important upgrade made. The very FIRST order of business after buying the boat was to have three new air conditioners installed.

Capt. Brian knew of an AC guy with an excellent reputation who lived at the municipal marina. His name was Capt. Ron. We had planned on getting another quote as well but AC guy #2 hadn’t even returned our calls by the time Capt. Ron was available to start work. Ron showed me the manufacturer’s catalog, with the prices listed, telling me he got 15% off anything in their inventory and he offered to pass that savings on to us. Better still, his hourly rate was more than fair. I estimated the final price would be around $10,000.

In between Capt. Ron and his helper working all day long, every day, for about two weeks (with a few breaks for small jobs for other customers in between), we were able to get to know him quite well and, in the end, considered him a friend. Afer all, we were about to be neighbors!

Capt. Ron was probably in his early 70’s and it was obvious he was having a difficult time going up and down our stairs into the salon. They’re pretty steep so that wasn’t surprising. We helped when we could, handing him things to save him the up and down trips. Other than that, he seemed to be in good health. He told us about gatherings on nearby islands where folks would show up in their boats, party all weekend, and then head back home. He’d recently returned from one. He regaled us with exciting tales of his sailing adventures. He said he planned to sell his business in the fall, and his dream was to do the “Great Loop.” I wrote in more detail about Capt. Ron’s plans HERE.

After two weeks, the ACs were finally in. It was a rough job. I’d requested teak panels to replace the old, ugly, white ones that had surrounded the old units. Capt. Ron had patiently worked on all my special requests and I knew the bill was going to be higher than I’d originally planned. But, the service had been outstanding. He’d gone above and beyond to make us happy. A big part of the job had been adding an additional pump. We didn’t want to lose all of the air conditioning in the boat if the one existing pump failed. The foreward AC has its own pump and the mid and aft ACs now share a second one.

The final bill, with labor and the three new units, the new pump, and the teak panels (and the cutting, staining, and installation of those) was $11,600. Since we’d be living ON the water, with the scorching sun baking our fiberglass “roof” every Florida summer from now on, those shiny new ACs were worth EVERY SINGLE PENNY.

A week later, Capt. Stan texted Capt. Brian to let us know that Capt. Ron had died of a heart attack on his boat. I felt so bad for his wife. They wouldn’t be traveling the Great Loop after all. 🙁

The lesson we learned from Capt. Ron is to live life to its fullest. Don’t wait until “some day” to do what you really want to do because…that “some day” may never come.

NEXT: UH OH! OUR REPEATED ATTEMPTS AT MINIMALISM WERE FAILING!

BRIBING THE BEST MARINA IN TOWN TO GET A SLIP!

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Now that the final price had been agreed upon, we had to finalize financing and insurance. We’d been pre-approved for 60% of the purchase price (that’s all that firm does on boat loans) and we’ve been saving up for awhile so we were all set there. The broker assured us that doing a boat loan is easier than getting a mortgage. Well, that may be true as far as the number of signatures that are required but, otherwise, it was quite a mess of paperwork. We got through that unscathed.

We’d also gotten pre-approved for insurance. That was easier. We double- and triple-checked that we had hurricane coverage. We didn’t want to have to move the boat to another country, or far up the Eastern seaboard, if a hurricane was approaching. With homeschooling our two youngest children and running a business, along with having adult kiddos nearby, and our first grandchild on the way, that just wasn’t going to work.

If a named storm is going to hit us, we must have the boat hauled out at a local boatyard. If that happens, we’ll go stay with our daughter, who is 45 minutes away. However, her home is in a Class A flood zone so, if a bad one is coming, we’ll pack up the kids and pets, and head to Orlando. Captain Stan  says we really don’t need to leave the marina if it’s anything lower than a Category 2. We’ll make that decision if and when the time comes.

Now, we just had to find our new “neighborhood.” A place to call “home” for our new floating house.

Since learning about Captain Brian’s dock fees at the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina only costing $700/month, we’d had our eye on a spot there. Not only was it the cheapest place in town but it has an incredible view of Tampa Bay AND the St. Petersburg skyline! And, there’s plenty of grass and a playground for the children.

We’d visited the marina office in early December, and paid the $50 fee to get on the waiting list. Here’s how it works. You get on the waiting list. Each time a spot opens up, they start at the top of the waiting list. The person at the top has a specific amount of time to pay to get the spot. If they don’t, they move on to the next person on the list, and so on.

Unfortunately, they told us they’re doing major repairs to many of the docks and that the wait was estimated to be two years. TWO YEARS!!! We had a spot at The Harborage but, it costs twice as much. At this point in our lives, we were trying to downsize all of our expenses. Saving $700/month would be HUGE!

Another problem with The Harborage is that they don’t currently have a pump-out boat. So, you have to either walk to the marina bathrooms if you have to do # 1 or #2, or you have to drive your boat to the pump-out station when your tanks start to get full (and smelly). That was a HUGE negative for us.

We’d heard from several residents at the municipal marina that, if you call them once a week, you’ll get in a lot faster. Well, I had a better idea! Heh… Richard is the chef in the family. He makes all of our delicious meals and he makes THE most AMAZING gigantic chocolate chip cookies! (Hint: Double chocolate chips, double vanilla, and a small sprinkle of salt on top.)

It had been five months since we’d gotten onto the waiting list. Richard and I showed up one morning in May with a large Tupperware of his gigantic, scrumptious, homemade chocolate chip cookies. One lady in the office said, “Oh! Why did you bring us cookies?”

I coyly replied, “To bribe you with, of course.”

We talked to another awesome employee, who shall remain nameless, and they looked through the list of names. They had two spots available, and were waiting for responses from them.

Now, I’m not sure if it was the scent of warm, delicious, mouth-watering chocolate chip cookies wafting through the air or what…but they then said we were #3 on the list! If even one of the people in front of us passed on a slip, we’d get one!

Magically (or maybe not so much), just two weeks later, I got the amazing phone call. We had a slip! It had only been six months, not two years!!!

We eagerly went in the next morning, signed the paperwork, paid our rent ($770/month because our boat is a bit larger than Brian’s), and we had a new home! After we left the office, we drove to the dock to check it out. We were way out near the end. The slip was so empty. Almost forlorn. There was a very large motoryacht on one side, and a sailboat on the other. It sure didn’t look like “home” but I remembered that none of the houses we’d purchased immediately felt like home, either. In fact, when our daughter and son-in-law purchased a new home, she’d made a comment that it just didn’t feel like “home” yet. I’d told her, at that time, that it definitely would feel like home about three months later.

We gleefully went back to the apartment, where we’d already started packing, and getting rid of stuff. After all, we didn’t need to move any furniture onto the boat! It would be our fourth move in six years. And, hopefully, our last.

NEXT: CAPT. RON DIES FROM A HEART ATTACK…A WEEK AFTER WORKING ON OUR BOAT 🙁

MASON GETS SNAPPED BY A LINE, BUT DOESN’T CRY

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We’d just left the boatyard for the sea trial, and headed into Tampa Bay. There was a Northeast wind blowing a steady 20 knots and the seas were running 4-6 feet. The entire bay was covered with foaming whitecaps. Our hair whipped around our faces and we were all soon covered in salty spray. It was AWESOME! Only two other vessels were out on the water and one appeared to be floundering as he tried to take his main sail down.

John Banister, the surveyor, had the captain, Josh, run the engine and other systems through specific maneuvers. When that boring other stuff was over with, we finally got to hoist the sails and get some REAL action! Despite the messy, washing-machine appearance of the bay, there were some good swells and the boat sliced easily through the chop, gliding up and down. With each descent into a trough, we’d get another slew of spray across the bow and port side. Brian ventured out to stand on the bow and got quite a soaking!

At one point, something went wrong and one of the lines came loose. It flapped violently in the wind, right next to the port side of the cockpit. I instinctively reached out and grabbed Mason, pulling him to the starboard side. But, it was too late. The line snapped him clean across the cheek and the arm. He had quite a welt growing but he didn’t shed any tears. He was having far too much fun during the ride!

Amanda apologized profusely but we assured her that these things can happen as we knew that boats bring bumps and bruises, just like RVing.

After John and Josh had put the boat through all the maneuvers, we headed back to The Harborage Marina. The boat had previously been in a broker’s slip but, today, the owners were supposed to move it to a permanent slip. As luck would have it (not!), that slip was a crooked one at the end of a row of docks, and right against the seawall. You had to go in at an angle. We had full confidence in the captain’s abilities. After
all, he drives a 300+ foot tanker! Using the bow thruster, he expertly turned the boat around and backed it in. There was one close call when we came within six inches of the bowsprit of another boat but we didn’t hit it. We were all yelling and pointing but Josh was unfazed. We backed in smoothly and a neighbor, also named Angie, was standing there waiting to be thrown a line so she could tie us off. We were and are continuously amazed at how friendly and helpful people are who live on boats!

After we docked, Richard took the boys back to the apartment, came back to the marina, and the survey continued. It lasted until about 7:00 p.m. and then we took John out to dinner so he could give us the highlights (or low-lights) about what he found.

The major issues were:

The bowsprit was damaged from a trip they took. They’d traveled in 15-foot seas for 5 days and the bow went under a wave at one point. Estimate was $7K-$8K.

One AC was working (but was very old). Another one was blowing luke-warm. And, the third AC had been removed entirely at some point. We planned to replace all the ACs. The final cost ended up being $11,600.

A rudder hinge had been replaced with a piece of wood (yes, really). It needed to be replaced. Estimate was $5K because it needed to be custom made. That actual repair later was far less than that.

The boat needed to be rewired. There was quite a spaghetti mess going on in there and a household extension cord had been used for the charging system. Estimate was $3K-$4K.

The forward head was dumping overboard. A bladder tank was available but its condition was questionable. Sure enough, later it developed a smelly leak. Estimate was $2K-$3K to replace that.

Bonding – The boat didn’t have continuity in the wires. Estimate $1K-$1300.

The salon windows needed to be replaced. They were terribly cloudy from sun damage.

Some wood inside had gotten warped from damage during their rough trip (lots of water found its way inside).

There were many other, smaller items to note. Dozens of them. But, overall, the boat, a 1981 52′ Irwin, was in really good condition.

The original asking price was $139K.

Our preliminary offer had been $115K and they’d accepted it without a counter.

Our revised offer was $93K. I was hoping to get the owners down to $110K.

They countered with $110K and we accepted that. And, that was a good thing because we’d already given our apartment a notice to vacate. We only had until May 31st to move out.

I’d originally planned on spending at least $160K on a boat PLUS extra for repairs and upgrades but we’d now be able to buy a boat AND make all the repairs for about that sum. So, we were happy. VERY happy! That boat was going to cost 1/3rd of the price of our previous house. And, that house ended up also costing us $100K in repairs the first 4 years alone.

The sellers invited us to the boat for “cocktail hour” to celebrate the deal and they showed us the ins and outs of it while we were there – things we hadn’t had time to cover during the survey and sea trial. Captain Brian came along, too, because we had NO idea how to handle a boat this size!

A few days before closing, Amanda flew back to Maine. She gave us the keys and we hugged. We have stayed in contact via text since then. They have graciously answered all of our questions – ones we didn’t think about before, like, “Um, where’s the handle for the manual bilge pump? We can’t find it anywhere and we have an urgent situation here this morning!”

And, Amanda says she loves hearing about our new adventures.

NEXT: BRIBING THE BEST MARINA IN TOWN TO GET A SLIP!

THE SURVEY AND SEA TRIAL! WHAT WILL WE FIND???

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After the “second showing” of the 52-foot Irwin, we gave Gene a $10,000 downpayment (escrow), and Brian arranged for John Banister to come to our coast for the survey and sea trial. We had to wait two weeks because Amanda’s husband, Josh, wanted to be in town for the big day.

When the day finally arrived, John met us at the marina early. We ran into Amanda near the marina office and she took us all to the boat. We’d left Max and Mason at the apartment, offering to pick them up later for the sea trial. Brian and John immediately got to work. John’s surveys take all day long. He is detailed, meticulous, and excellent. Remember, he’d recently saved us tens of thousands of dollars by alerting us to a huge lemon.

After an hour or so, the suspense was killing me so I pulled John aside and said, “Well?”

He said, “This is a good boat. It’s been well-maintained and the captain took good care of it. I’m trying to figure out why the price is so low. And, I WILL figure it out!” He got back to work.

I’d brought my laptop with me to get some work done but chatting with Amanda, and watching the guys with their butts in the air and their heads below the floor was far more fun than working. Another hour passed and Richard took sandwich orders, offering to go pick them up from Jimmy Johns. The captain, Josh, was jovial and kind. You could tell he was very protective of his boat. He had to let the guys do their work but he also didn’t want anything going wrong. Of course, he definitely wanted to sell it. After some nosy questions from me (which is normal for a writer!), Amanda told me more about their lives.

Over the years, they’d owned smaller boats, and even lived aboard with their three small children at the time. When they weren’t cruising, they were RVing around the country. And, they homeschooled their children, just like us! Amanda and I couldn’t believe how much we had in common. She and I were getting along GREAT!

After their kids were grown, they cruised together alone, and sometimes with friends. Since Josh’s job required him to fly back and forth to wherever his ship was stationed at the time, he’d leave Amanda alone at foreign ports, where she’d make herself at home on the boat, venture onto the mainland for supplies and fun, and wait for him to return. She said she was never nervous, not even on the night when she saw a line of drug boats leaving port. She said you always know the drug boats in small countries because those guys are the only ones who can afford cigarette boats. She spun a pretty good yarn and she had my vegabond spirit screaming, “I wanna do all of that, too!”

I asked her why they were selling the boat. She said Josh’s mother had recently passed and that they were taking care of his elderly father at their home in the northeast, who wasn’t doing well. They planned to buy another RV, and travel on land for awhile. And, they knew they’d eventually buy another boat but they were ready to give this one up. And, I was so happy they were!

The sea trial was EXCITING! First, Josh drove the boat around the corner to a local boatyard (Salt Creek), for the haul-out.

Our amazing surveyor, Capt. John Banister, getting down and dirty to find all the flaws!

That lasted for a couple of hours. It was unseasonably hot that day, but very windy. A local broker’s office was right next to the boat lift. They had a shaded patio, and offered to let us sit there. They even gave us all the bottled water we could drink, and allowed us unlimited use of their bathroom (which had a door that didn’t quite close all the way – ha ha). They were so nice! And, when one of them asked me what we were going to change the name of the boat to, I told him, “No Tan Lines.” That’s when he started getting REALLY friendly with me, openly flirting, and finally asking if he could see my “no tan lines.” Oh, those brokers! They are rascally devils! I just laughed and waved him away…after thanking him for the water, of course.

After the haul-out was complete, the boat was splashed, we all climbed back on board, and we headed out into the bay, where the wind was blowing a steady 20 knots, and the seas were running 4 to 6 feet. It was going to be an exciting sea trial!

NEXT: MASON GETS SNAPPED BY A LINE, BUT DOESN’T CRY