Why is is so hard to give up “stuff”?

When we sold our house and most of our belongings before moving onto our 37 foot sailboat, several friends told me, “It must feel so good to simplify and get rid of stuff!” Well it did feel good up to a point: emptying closets of outdated technology, getting rid of clothes that hadn’t fit in years, eliminating duplicate camping gear. Even clearing out kitchen cabinets of clutter was kind of fun. And I got really good at my downsizing mantras. Does it bring me joy? Does it fit on a boat? But eventually….. I had gotten rid of the junk, and all that was left was things that I loved, and clothes that fit me, and stuff that, darn it, DID bring me joy! And it was still WAY too much to fit on a boat.

So then sh*t got real. And we kept downsizing: digitizing photos, giving away the coffee bean grinder and any kitchen items that could be replaced at Target, giving away running clothes and cycling kits (’cause who can run or bike on a boat?) We finally caved in a bit and decided to store a few boxes at Capt. Mike’s mom’s house – our road bikes, glassware and pottery from our travels and a box of winter jackets for when we eventually leave the topics and visit Buffalo. That decision probably saved my sanity, because t allowed me to keep some belongings.

Jump ahead to the end of our second cruising season. And somehow… We still have too much stuff! There’s clothes in hard-to-get-to storage that I haven’t worn all season. We have a bag of bags – yes really. Insulated cups always sit on the counter because there’s not enough room in the cup cupboard. Don’t even ask how many pairs of shoes I have. Sigh. So at the end of the season, we downsized again. I really think Netflix should feature Sanitas on an episode of “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.”

When we moved from the boat to an Airbnb while working in the yard, the pile of stuff we moved into the condo was pretty huge.

But, to be fair, we were still cooking all our meals (with vegetables!) And using up food and toiletries from the cruising season. We downsized a bit more before flying to Colorado for a month. But packing light didn’t turn out quite how I envisioned it.

Good thing we borrowed a friend’s car! We had cold weather clothing (it snowed in Colorado the day before we arrived, plus we planned to spend time in New York in October) and running clothes and yoga clothes and going out to dinner clothes and backpacking equipment. So not too bad, considering.

But then a crazy thing happened. During the month we spent in the land of plenty, we bought more stuff! Newer cuter clothes. Toiletries. Makeup (which you sure don’t need on the boat). Gluten free snacks galore. Newer, lighter packaging gear. By the end of the month, we again had way too much stuff and had to ship some to new York. By the time we flew out from Denver to Europe, we’d once again skinnyed things down to a comfortable walking around level.

I think we’re pretty good now! I’ve got hiking clothes and gear. I’ve got everything I need for hot temps, chilly temps, and rain. I’ve got a couple of drinking-wine-and-eating-pinxtos outfits. I even packed some gluten free snacks. Why was it so hard to get here?

Who knows! Like most of us, I get sentimentally attached to things I’ve owned that trigger fond memories. And I hate the idea of re-buying something I used to own. It seems like such a waste! Plus there’s always an element of, “what if I need it someday?” But, with everything I need for 3 months traveling Europe in my backpack, I hope to channel my inner Marie Kondo and get rid of the clutter and excess in my life! And on my boat 😁

Crossing the Dreaded Mona Passage

After a month in the Dominican Republic, our 30 day immigration stamp expired, and it was time to move on to Puerto Rico.

When we first untied the lines in Florida to start cruising, we were stressed out by the thought of crossing the Gulf Stream. But after four crossings under our belts, looking back on it the Gulf Stream doesn’t seem that bad. You always know which direction the current will be flowing, there are apps and websites to tell you how fast the stream is running any given day, the distance is short so you can cover it in daylight, and it’s well understood what makes up a good weather window.

The Mona Passage between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico on the other hand, throws in a lot more variables. This is where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea, and the currents here can vary widely with no real means to predict their strength and flow. You just figure out the currents when you experience them. Also, there are several shoals, or sandbars, which change the depth of the water from thousands of feet to a couple hundred of feet. You certainly won’t run aground in that, but the change in depth really messes with the water and kicks up confused waves far from shore. Although the passage itself is only 80 miles, the distance from the anchorage in Samana to the first safe port in Puerto Rico is more like 150 miles. We planned for over 30 hours of travel. Cooling land masses often kick up thunderstorms that won’t appear in any weather report. So we were particularly cautious when choosing a weather window to cross. Capt. Mike listened to the offshore weather reports for three distinct regions: north, in the passage, and south of the Mona for about a week, watching for the right conditions before making our Go / No-Go decision.

Finally, we were pretty confident we’d have a window we could safely motor across the Mona Passage, although it was unlikely we’d have enough wind to truly sail. We said our goodbyes to Marcie and Damon the night before, so we were all set to raise anchor and head out at first light. The Bay of Samana is gigantic – hours later, we could still see the finger of land to our north. But eventually, we broke free of the bay, and motor-sailed down the southeastern coast of the DR, encountering one of those crazy currents streaming about 1.5 knots against us along the way. Winds were pretty calm (Capt. Mike had done his research well) so we considered ignoring the hourglass shoal all together and just choosing a heading that lined up straight with our destination in Puerto Rico. Glad we didn’t do that! Even doing everything right, and picking a longer course to the north of the shoal, we still encountered pretty rough seas on the edge of it.

Otherwise, the trip was smooth and uneventful – but long! Out of 33 hours, we were only able to turn the motors off and sail for about 3.5 hours. After about 28 hours, we got just close enough to land that my Google Fi phone picked up a signal and started dinging. So, apparently we were back in US waters for the first time since January 8th! Time to clear back in! Well the US government has finally managed a web site that works. We put my phone up the halyard to get a strong signal, and Capt. Mike called up the CBP Roam app, let ’em know we were back in the US, and twelve minutes later we were successfully cleared in. That even included a quick phone call with Officer Felice. How cool is that? The best part is, we didn’t even need to go ashore in Puerto Real. We could just continue east, taking advantage of the calm winds. Instead, we lowered the Dominican Republic flag and raised the Puerto Rico flag while we were still barely in sight of land.

We had the best of intentions of sailing around the southwest corner of Puerto Rico and making it as far as La Parguara. But as we rounded the cape at Cabo Rojo, the true force of the easterly trade winds and the sea swells they bring hit us. SV Sanitas slowed down to about two knots. And she was getting tossed around like crazy. Maybe it was because we were tired after 33 hours, or maybe it was because we were attempting to travel east too late in the afternoon when the winds had had time to build. But we called an audible and turned sharp to port and found ourselves a safe anchorage underneath the lighthouse.

While we were resting and recovering from our long journey, a fishing boat pulled up. Now, I get kind of defensive when a strange boat pulls up to Sanitas. My first instinct is to say “No gracias! I don’t want it. How much?” But in this case, one of the guys simply handed Mike a live lobster, waved, and zoomed off. Well alrighty then! Welcome to Puerto Rico!

Welcome to the Dominican Republic! Buenos Dias!

When sailing from the Turks and Caicos to the Dominican Republic, there are two main options of where to stop first to clear into the country:

  • Ocean World in Cofresi which is a world class resort and marina with security gates, electricity at the docks, a theme park, lots of pricy restaurants and bars.
  • Or Luperon, a very protected harbor and a fishing village with a small expat community, inexpensive mooring balls, very few English speakers, and the chance to experience the real Dominican Republic.

Two guesses which we chose!

After a very smooth 24-hour passage from Provo to the DR, we had to actually slow down, to ensure we didn’t arrive before daybreak. We could see the outline of mountains and could even smell land from about eight miles away. We were nervous about finding our way through the shoals into the harbor, but the channel was extremely well marked – a piece of cake! We hailed Papo on VHF channel 68 and soon were safely attached to a mooring ball at a fee of $2/day. We raised the yellow quarantine flag and tried to figure out how to clear customs. We’d heard all kinds of rumors about the nightmare of clearing in at Luperon: “An army of people will board your boat, and they’ll all demand a tip!!!” “You never know what it will cost – you have to keep saying no to all the extra fees!!!” “You need a ‘zarpe’ paper proving that you cleared out of the Bahamas or they won’t let you into the DR!!!!” I think most cruisers skip Luperon just because of these horror stories.

But in our experience, clearing in was quite smooth, although time consuming and requiring some patience. After tying up to the dinghy dock, we walked up to a row of construction trailers and proceeded to work our way down the row: $80 to clear the boat into the country, $10 per person for a tourist card, $10 for Luperon harbor use fee. Now it’s true that not every official spoke English, and my brain wasn’t working very well on no sleep and no coffee so my Spanish was nonexistent. But we figured it out. After a final trip up a dirt path at the top of the hill past the cows to see the Navy commandant, we were checked in and officially in the DR!

The next order of business was to get some pesos. Cruisers previously had to take a bus to another town to find an ATM, but now there are several right in Luperon. Life hack: walk right past the bank ATM and use the one at the grocery store next door. It lets you withdraw 10,000 pesos for the same fee that the bank charges for 5,000. Score! (See the kind of tips cruisers give to help each other out?) Next, a stop at the Altice store to buy a sim card for internet access. Only $15 for 15 days of high speed unlimited data is not bad! Now Mike can have access to social media and funny cat videos as often as I can, and we can even stream Netflix from the boat.

Now that all the chores were done, it was time to celebrate with a cold beverage at Wendy’s. No frostys here! Wendy’s Bar is the expat hub of Luperon. You can’t miss it – literally. It sits on the Y of two streets as you walk into town from the dock, with both sides open to the sights sounds and smells of the town. The beers are cheap and cold. And big! They’ll give you a bamboo mug to keep your $2 liter of Presidente cold while you pour a small glass at a time. Since we’re allergic to beer, Capt. Mike and I ordered rum and club soda with glorious ice, also for $2, or 100 pesos. On a different visit to Wendy’s, we channeled our inner rock stars and ordered bottle service. For $10 you get a bottle of Columbus rum, a cute little ice bucket filled with ice, and you can mix your own drinks. How fun is that?!

And if you’re wondering why I keep telling you the price of everything, it’s because it is such a refreshing change from the crazy high prices of food and drink in the Bahamas. I understand why American expats visit a beautiful, friendly place like this and decide to never leave. Our cruising budget stretches a lot father in Luperon!

We had the best intentions to return to Wendy’s that evening for kareoke but after being awake for 30+hours, we just couldn’t do it. Luperon would still be there the next day.

Key West or Bust

We crammed an awful lot of socializing into one full day in Sarasota: meeting Skirt Sports friends for a run; brunch with Capt. Mike’s cousin; catching up with a college friend, Scott; and happy hour with Pat and Melana of SV Tapati. Scott even spent the night on Sanitas – our first overnight guest!

Then we got serious. It looked like we had a good weather window to cross the Gulf of Mexico in a direct line to Key West. We’d have very light winds during the day, necessitating use of the engine, but winds were expected to increase, allowing us to sail overnight. Planning an average speed over ground of 5 knots, we’d make it in about 35 hours, or before sunset on the second day. So we’d need an early start from Sarasota.

Capt. Mike and I had our first fight of the season (we’re getting a lot of firsts out of the way) The Siesta Key drawbridge bridge is about 1.5 miles from the mooring field and it opens every half hour starting at 7am. We were all packed up and ready to leave at 7am, but Capt. Mike kept putzing around belowdecks; making coffee, looking for a hat, reading Facebook. He said, “We don’t need to leave until 7:15.” Well, The runner in me did the math, and knew that at 5 knots, or a 12-minute mile, we wouldn’t make it to the bridge before it opened. So I pushed for an earlier start, starting the motor, going up on the bow to release the mooring lines, generally nagging. Finally, Capt. Mike got his butt in gear and we were off. After leaving the mooring field and making our way back into the ICW channel, the clock said 7:22 and the drawbridge was not even in sight. Even at full throttle, we couldn’t get there in time, missed the 7:30 opening, and had to make BFC’s until 8:00. Believe me, there were a lot of “I told you so’s” on Sanitas that morning. Then we had strong current against us while trying to make the next bridge, at three miles away, so we missed the next opening as well. So much for our early start.

We exited “The Ditch” (aka the ICW) at Venice Inlet around 10:45 am on Christmas Eve, waving to all the families celebrating the holiday by fishing. Goodbye land! We’re heading out to sea!

The rest of the day was sunny, calm (completely no-wind calm!) and uneventful.

Except, in a sense of deja vu, we learned that when we ran our motor, it wasn’t charging our batteries. Exactly the same problem we had while sailing from St Petersburg to Key West last season! So once again, we had the unpleasant experience of running the generator while motoring, with all the noise and gasoline fumes that entails.

After a truly stunning sunset, Capt. Mike tried to nap in preparation for a long night, and I stayed at the helm.

Around 9:00 I noticed that the wind had changed direction and picked up speed, as predicted. Maybe we could finally sail! I unfurled the jib, and trimmed the sails to the new wind direction on a beam reach, and put the motor in idle. I’m sailing! I’m sailing! With the motor and generator off, we buzzed along between 5 knots and 7 knots for the rest of our trip. Right up until we entered the busy channel and cruise ship port of Key West.

Unfortunately, as we left land further and further behind, and crossed the open water west of the Everglades known as Florida Bay, the seas became much rougher. Waves were only 4 to 6 feet, but they came about three seconds apart, directly on our beam. And the size and direction of the waves was inconsistent or “confused” causing Sanitas to pitch and role instead of settling in of a comfortable heel. Apparently I hadn’t done a very good job of making things ship shape before the passage, because we now had bags, shoes, books, and pillows strewn all over the floor of the cabin. We both had a very hard time getting any rest while not on watch, because the motion was unsettling, and the noises of stress on the boat and waves crashing into the hull kept me jumping up and calling out, “Is everything ok out there?” We kept our PFDs on, and ourselves tethered in the cockpit. And when Capt. Mike decided it was time to reef the mainsail, he came below to get me because we have a rule – no leaving the cockpit at night without the other person watching. Although we don’t plan to ever have a man overboard situation, I’d sure want to know about it if it happened!

We were escorted by a ghostly flock of seagulls all night long. I speculate that our green running light attracted bugs or small fish, and the gulls kept pace with Sanitas diving and calling and eating until they were stuffed. They didn’t give up and leave us until sunrise.

Around noon on Christmas Day, Capt. Mike called out “Land-ho!” Of course it was a Costa Cruise ship at the pier, not actual land, but close enough. It took another three plus hours to make it through the Northwest Channel, around Fleming Key, and into the Garrison Bight mooring field where Chris and Stan of SE of Disorder welcomed us and helped us pick up a ball. About 180 nautical miles, and 32 hours of travel (most of it under sail) and we’d arrived! No fancy Christmas dinner for us, we were happy to nosh on baguettes, brie, and charcuterie, watch Love Actually, and go to bed by 8:30 to make up for a night of no sleep.

My final boat project post

I promise! You must be saying to yourself by now, “I thought I was following a blog about sailing. But she only writes about DIY projects.” Well, fair enough. But in a blatant bid to get a little credit for all the hard work we’ve done getting ready for the actual sailing part of life, here’s my last post of boat projects for 2018. Hooray!

I’ve already shared with you some of the important safety and structural projects we’ve completed. Here, I’m going to share some of the smaller, less critical projects that will hopefully make cruising life more enjoyable this year. Fingers crossed!

Cockpit Shower

Sanitas theoretically has a shower in our head. It’s the simplest kind of shower: a spray nozzle attached to the faucet on the sink, with a pump to drain out the water that collects on the floor. However, we never use it. It’s too much of a mess getting the head all wet, and our composting toilet doesn’t handle extra moisture well. So even while anchored in paradise last year, I sometimes struggled with the lack of hygiene. We’ve made two improvements for this season; adding a spray faucet to the galley sink so that I can wash my hair, and installing a cockpit shower.

I am constantly amazed and impressed that Capt. Mike has the confidence to do things I find terrifying, like drilling a hole in the boat, or tapping into the fresh water system (that isn’t currently leaking) to add a new hose or water line. After the usual boat project problems with finding the right size fittings and hoses, we have a fantastic shower that fits into an cubby hole the the cockpit that we weren’t really using. It connects to the pressurized water system, and uses the water heater to provide warm water showers using a low-flow shower head designed for boats and RVs. Can’t wait to try it out in some gorgeous harbor in the Bahamas!

Soda Stream

I love me some fizzy water! Sometimes, I know I should drink more water in order to stay hydrated, but boring warm water just isn’t appealing. A pinch of crystal lite or Real Lemon often does the trick. But a cold seltzer water tastes so much better! Not to mention it makes an instant cocktail when mixed with the ubiquitous island rum and a squeeze of lime!

Last year, we brought a Soda Stream with us on our cruising adventures. But it has a couple of negatives: the plastic unit is pretty clunky and big and hard to store in Sanitas’ small galley. And more importantly, we couldn’t find ANYPLACE to buy the right size CO2 canister replacements. And we searched in hardware stores, propane shops, stores that sold kitchen supplies, marine supply stores; pretty much everyplace we could think of. So when we ran out of CO2, we resorted to buying club soda or La Croix cans which cost roughly the same as a can of beer! Plus, we had all those empty cans to eventually dispose of.

This year, Mike took a lesson from Stan on SE of Disorder, and made his own homemade soda stream. The ingenious part is that he found a little bit of unused space in the galley between the trash can and the hull of the boat to mount the CO2 canister. The hose that attaches to the water bottle comes from under the galley sink, where it is easy to access. And of course, it is a size that can be easily refilled wherever we go. Now we just need to find a buddy boat equipped with an ice maker, and we will be ready for Sundowners wherever we go!

New House Batteries

Last season, we replaced our starter battery on Marco Island once we figured out it was dead, and we were actually using our house battery bank each time we started the motor. (There’s still some important electrical stuff with the isolation switches we haven’t yet figured out, but that’s another story). By the end of the season, we found that our bank of four house batteries wouldn’t fully charge; no matter how many days of sunny weather, running the motor, or even (and this put the nail in the coffin) when we were connected to shore power overnight. Power management is a big deal to cruisers, so we bit the bullet this year and replaced our batteries. They are big. And heavy. And EXPENSIVE. But we should be good for the next five years, if we treat them nice. I did a bunch of research to find batteries that would fit in the very constrained space we have for them. Capt. Mike still had to jury rig the frame that supports the beasts. Fingers crossed that we have no more electrical issues this season!

Improving the Bed

Last year, we bought a new mattress for the V-berth. It was a definite improvement, but this princess could still feel the pea. So this year, I upgraded to a foam strip that fills in the crack where the mattress is hinged, and also added a “five zone lavender scented memory foam” extravaganza. Pretty comfy, but all these new layers barely squeeze inside the old fitted sheets.

What do you do with the extra lavender memory foam after you’ve cut the topper to fit? Why, make a hat of course! Think this will protect Capt. Mike from hitting his head on every sharp surface?


Somehow, it didn’t seem quite as intimidating to shop for months of groceries at a time as it did last year. Last year, I had a meltdown in Walmart, and called Capt. Mike saying “I can’t believe I’m doing this! I can’t believe I’m spending this much money on one trip to the grocery store!” He had to talk me down. I guess this year, I understand that this really isn’t the last time I’ll shop for food. Whatever I can buy here in St Petersburg, especially at Costco and Sam’s Club, will definitely be the cheapest I can find it. And those cans of chicken, black beans, and curry paste will form the basis of many a healthy meal over the next six months. But where ever people are, people eat. And therefore, we’ll be able to augment what I buy and stash away now with veggies, cheese, and meat if we run out along the way. We might even be able to find gluten free bread here and there. (Although if we can’t, that’s ok too. Probably healthier to skip bread all together). I did learn a few lessons last year. Canned green beans are disgusting. Even though I know I should eat my veggies, they are not worth putting in my mouth, so don’t bother buying them. We can happily eat Thai food at least once or twice a week. So might as well stock up on curry paste and pad Thai sauce at the local Asian market: even canned chicken tastes good this way! Fill whatever storage space is left over when we’re ready to cruise with tortilla chips. Why not? Everyone loves tortilla chips and they are easily twice to three times as expensive in the Bahamas. But eat the oldest ones first, because even a sealed bag can magically go stale in the hold of a sailboat!