We are David and Sheila (aka Martina or Maya…long story), a happily married couple fortunate enough to have retired early and spent the past two years traveling to Asia and Australia. This year, we’ve decided to stay closer to home. Follow us on our blog as we share our experiences traveling on the Atlantic Inter-coastal Waterway (ICW), from our home on the Chesapeake Bay to Florida and maybe even the Bahamas, aboard our pocket trawler, the Mary Jo, a modified 1984 Albin 27.
It’s currently below freezing with wind gusts above 40mph here in the Sunshine State of Florida. This ‘bomb cyclone’ that forced us to seek refuge in the warmth of Mary Jo (our 27 foot Albin pocket trawler), also gave us an opportunity to update our blog to share some of the key lessons we learned over our first 60 days cruising down the Inter Coastal Waterway (ICW) from Virginia to Florida.
• Prepare for your trip, but at some point, just go!
Taking a diesel maintenance course and joining boating associations like the MTOA to attend seminars and events to meet and learn from other boaters have been invaluable. Getting the boat ready for heavy use (so far, we have ran over 200 hours, about 4 seasons for an average boater) and to make it a pleasant home is important. However, it’s easy to spend too much time and money in trying to get ready. You will never be completely done, so at some point, you just need to go. You will be working on the boat all along your adventure, and each day, you’ll learn something new, so don’t delay. Just go before it’s too late.
• Never have a schedule!
Every experienced cruiser we met warned us about having a schedule. We heard it several times, but it wasn’t until we experienced the stress of having to be somewhere by a specific time did we actually undersand what it meant. If you intend to be somewhere by a specific day, give yourself several extra days for weather and boat issues, and if you really can not miss it, have a Plan B, like getting there by land, for example, if needed.
• Marinas (Slips, fuel and pump outs)
We were lucky to have our boat docked on a floating dock behind our house in Virginia. Unfortunately, it didn’t really give us a lot of experience pulling into a slip with other boats around or having to tie knots around fixed docks. Fortunately, all the marinas so far have had floating docks, but we expect more fixed docks as we continue.
When going to a marina, we found it very helpful to find out as much detail as you need to effectively dock your boat. Where exactly is the slip? Can you use google earth to see it before you get there? Will it be to your port or starboard? Will you be able to pull in or have to back into it? Port or starboard tie up? Will there be wind or current to deal with? If you need fuel or a pump out, do that first, then walk over to see your slip if you can. It will make docking much easier. Oh, most Cruisers tip the dockhand $5 for helping you dock your boat in the slip and / or the fuel dock or a pumpout.
• If staying at a marina, the monthly slip is the way to go.
Anchoring is an awesome experience. We had intended to anchor out 4-5 Days, then stay at marinas 2-3 Days a week. However, we soon learned that transient slip rates by the day can get very expensive fast. Consider getting a slip for the month. You’ll save a lot, but more importantly, you’ll to get to know the area, meet fellow cruisers and with less time travelling, more time enjoying what you enjoy doing.
• Maintenance isn’t bad; repairs can be demoralizing.
Checking your engine before you run each day is a must, and at first, it can be very intimidating. But soon, you get into a routine and everything becomes so simple….unless you find something broken that needs to be repaired. For us, it seemed like it was a constant battle, finding one problem after another. Each repair or maintenance work that needed to be done, wasn’t really a big deal. However, having so many issues come up, all within the first few weeks has been very demoralizing. We have been lucky to have been able to do most of the work ourselves so time delay and costs involved in having mechanics schedule the work, hasn’t really been too much of an issue. We have had nights when we couldn’t sleep or mornings waking up with that sinking feeling (not literally), worried in anticipation of what might break next.
We have an old boat with an old engine. Most of the engine parts were rebuilt or replaced by the previous owner. Fortunately, the problems we’ve had so far have been on the parts that weren’t rebuilt or replaced, worn out due to age and recent heavy use, or something we broke in the process of fixing something else. Cruisers often call this the “shake down cruise”. Apparently, even boaters with brand new engines on brand new boats experience issues. To cruisers the phrase “It’s a boat” sums up the feeling that on boats, something always needs to be done.
On the bright side, we are now experienced to troubleshoot and fix problems relating to fuel fIlters, alternators, coolant hose leaks, fuel tank leaks, fuel hose leaks, glow plug solenoid failure, starter failure, water pump failure, shaft log cracks, oil pressure alarm sensor failure, oil pressure sending unit failure and stuffing box leaks. To be honest, we never even knew what these things were before we started planning for this trip, so we’ve learned a lot! And of course, now we have the confidence that if any of these parts break down again, it won’t be a big deal at all to fix!
• Solar panels
We cruised from the Maryland/Virginia line on the Chesapeake Bay through Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and most of Georgia and didn’t realize that our alternator was broken. It wasn’t until a rainy and cloudy week when we noticed the alternator wasn’t charging our batteries properly because our solar panels were doing the job! We have since replaced our alternator, but being able to cruise such distance on a mix of solar and shore power (when at marinas) was awesome!
• WiFi: non-existent at most docks; consider the Verizon Plan, no contract
We use our iPads to watch movies on Netflix and Amazon, surf the internet and listen to music, just like we do when we are at home. In addition, we also use our iPads for navigation and planning for our anchorages (or marinas) and our route. We have found Verizon’s unlimited plans for data to be the best for us. There’s no contract if you have your own device, so when we get back home, we can change or cancel our plans and turn our home WiFi back on.
We spent over $800 on food and 6 cases of beer at Walmart before we left home. So far, we found that the beer was a good idea, but the 5 bins of packaged and canned food, might be a little over kill on the ICW. until we get to the Bahamas. With a little planning you can get to a grocery or farmers market pretty easily by walking, public transport or for a few bucks, with Uber. It is also very easy to rent a car and do a big Walmart trip if needed. Fortunately, for a little boat, we have a ton of storage (the benefit of having a trawler!). But, if space is limited, plan to have essentials on the boat, then supplement by weekly trips to get veggies, fresh meat, bread, etc.
• There’s never enough time!
We planned to catch up on projects while underway. We have hundreds of hours of video from our previous trips but never had time to go through them or edit. So why not work on them as we run for 6 – 8 hours on the boat? We didn’t want to!
There’s so much to see along the way down the ICW. If we worked on a project while the other was driving, we would be looking down and might miss out on enjoying a sunny day, seeing the marshes, a Creek, a boat, a house, a dolphin, or a pelican, an egret, a manatee, a cormorant, a sunset….
• The cruising culture
We have travelled a lot over the years and have never encountered a group of people like those in the cruising community: New acquaintances who invite you over for cocktails or a meal or a ride to the local grocery store. Neighbors who would go out of their way to take you on a tour of the area, jump into the engine box to help you figure out what’s going on or find a candle for an impromptu birthday celebration. Fellow boaters we met along the way later hosted dinners or a get together for us as we made it down to their home port. The other day, we met a former cruiser while shopping at a local grocery store. As soon she found out we were Cruisers, she immediately offered to give us a ride back to the boat because she knows what it’s like.
It’s not just Cruisers. It’s also the mechanics such as Al’s Mobile Service in Palm Coast Fl or Steve at Zimmerman’s in Southport, SC who have each spent 45 mins – an hour looking over the boat and giving us guidance and help, all for free. Last, but not least, it’s people like Brian at American Diesel who has already spent hours on the phone with us trying to help us identify a replacement part, or to just be that calming voice on the other line when we needed it, who truly have made these last 60 days so touching.
The jury is still out….we are not sure if this lifestyle is for us full time, but it is our life today, and it’s sunny and getting warmer out, so time to go out and enjoy today!
Join us as we prepare and travel south from our home on the Chesapeake Bay to Florida and the Bahamas aboard the Mary Jo this Fall!
The Mary Jo is a modified 1984 Albin Family Cruiser that we purchased last year. We have enjoyed our short 2 – 11 nite cruises on her over the summer and have decided to go on an extended cruise to warmer weather when it gets cold here in Virginia. Like most trawlers, she is designed to be a SLOW boat, allowing for excellent fuel consumption and an opportunity to truly experience the journey. Unlike most of the trawlers, however, Mary Jo is very small in comparison, but certainly has what we need!
She is fully equipped with a galley, a head (and as of yesterday, a shower!) and a v-berth for the occasional visitor!
Our salon is small but also very roomy for a boat her size.
Here’s a picture from this summer when we had 6 family members aboard for lunch.
This is where we spend most of our time…with windows all around, we can see the sights during the day, and the moon and stars at night.We just recently ordered new cushions for our 6 ft settees. The cushions will also function as our mattress so we can comfortably sleep in the salon.
Our intent is to begin our journey south on the Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway this October, (see map below), but until then, we will be busy getting her and us ready!
We have been learning a lot from other Cruisers we meet and from reading their blogs, so we plan to give back by providing some info on some of the repairs of upgrades we do, along with updates about our life and adventures on Mary Jo.
We have a lot of hard work ahead, including the installation of a starter, solar panels, dingy davits, provisioning and continuing to learn how to drive the boat, but it’s also all part of the fun! (We hope!).
Ok, we are guilty! We have taken the easy way out and posted updates on Facebook this past year instead of writing a blog. We’ve tried to write a blog so many times, but due to slow internet, laziness and being so busy, we just never did it until now. So if you, like us, wondered if retirement would be boring once we return from our second 5 month trip to Australia and Asia (this year it was Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, West Papua and the Philippines), we can definitely confirm that retirement is a busy life!
Really! Since we’ve been back from our trip south, we’ve been really busy working:
Ok, so it wasn’t all work and no fun.
Since we’ve been back, we’ve been fortunate to visit with some of our family and friends, and hope to do more of it this year since we don’t plan to go as far south this year….just planning a trip this Fall / Winter down the Intercoastal Waterway to Florida and maybe the Bahamas on Mary Jo, our 27 foot pocket trawler.
Here is a 5 minute video of our latest trip to Washington DC by boat. We encourage you to view it, especially if you live near the Potomac River and wondered how far down river it went, or if you’ve ever driven on Highway 301 or stick on I-95. What typically took 3 hours by car (5 hours on a Friday afternoon with traffic!), took us 3 days by boat! It was an AMAZING trip! It was so nice seeing an area, so familiar to us from a totally different perspective….! It was also great to “go home” to Alexandria, where we lived for over 20 years and to D.C., where we both w*rkd at some point in our lives.
Beautiful destinations, live entertainment, private accommodations, great people, drinks, activities,and all you can eat (if you can catch it!). The perfect cruise? It’s all new to us, but so far, we love it and think it could be something we’ll want to do in retirement….check it out!
If you have ever thought about the possibilities of just sailing away into the sunset, we encourage you to explore it further. We wanted to learn more about the cruising lifestyle where people yacht or sail to different locations, so we pack up MaryJo and headed three days north to Annapolis (she only goes six knots an hour). In Annapolis we took a week long course at the Cruiser’s University. We met people who have lived the dream and have sailed around the world alone, with their spouse, or even with their little kids! Some had million dollar yachts, some had fancy trawlers, but some had little boats like our Mary Jo and some, often the most inspiring ones, just had a small sailboat that didn’t cost much to buy and operate but had taken them to far away places. We learned a lot in class, but spending 11 nites on the boat also made us realize that we still have a lot to learn. Things like:
- How do we set the anchor so we don’t end up waking every hour to see if we floated away?
- How much clearance does our boat need to go under the bridge….and who do we call to have the bridge drawn?
- How do I dock the boat properly at a fuel dock without embarrassing myself?
We look forward to spending more time on Mary Jo next year, cruising around the bay, and possibly further south. For now though, it’s time to winterize Mary Jo and head back to Australia and explore the west coast!
Coming home after a 5 month journey, was a little busier than we expected, but glad to finally be able to sit down and write a blog! Fortunately, we did not come home to a house with burst pipes, or a tree on the roof, or any of the other horrible things we worried about when we winterized our house back in early December. The house was generally fine, except for evidence of rodents who must have broken in to the house and the car, seeking shelter from the cold. Yikes!
Unfortunately, within our first couple of weeks back, we discovered some unexpected repairs that we have been dealing with since our return. Replacing the brakes for our Rav4, a needed repair to our Ford Ranger’s gas tank, a broken pressure washer, a faulty well pump, and the most recent issue….a broken boat!
Real life, that was put on hold, now had to be handled…NOT fun! But that’s just part of owning a home, owning a car, or owning anything. Things break, and they either need to be replaced or repaired. When we lived out of 2 suitcases and 2 backpacks for 5 months, we didn’t have to worry about maintenance or repairs as much. Just basic lawn or car care when we were house sitting, but otherwise, the minimalist lifestyle required by extended travel just meant there was not much to break!
Yup, life isn’t perfect, but in the midst of it all, we’ve managed to also find time to do things that make us happy.
Since we’ve been back, we’ve also had a chance to catch up with some or our friends and family. Spending time with them at a graduation party, lunch, a beer festival, or even just a quick hello, made us feel so welcomed. Reconnecting was so natural, making it seem like we never left. But yet, it also made us realize how much we missed them.
We are looking forward to enjoying the summer working on some projects, spending time with friends and family, and enjoying our local area.
As you can see, daily life can easily consume your time, energy and outlook in life. There is only so much time in a day, but only you can decide how to spend it. Clearly, you don’t have to travel to Australia, or the Philippines to do things you enjoy….what are your plans this summer to live a happy life?
It’s been 3 weeks since we got back to Australia, and just now able to update our blog because we have been very busy hanging out with Lucie! We decided to house sit here in Eynesbury, a new golf course subdivision about 45 minutes north-west of Melbourne, mainly because we thought it would be really cool to dog-sit a boxer. Her parents are on their honeymoon in Europe and needed someone to stay with her. We’ve been with Lucie for 2 weeks now and I think we are in love!
Lucie is very easy to take care of. Aside from her daily walks in the neighborhood, or morning play, hunting for rabbits at the park across the street, she doesn’t expect much.
We try very hard not to spoil her, so we try to do things without her, like scuba diving or biking or going to a food and wine festival without her. But, if we go to see the sights where dogs are welcome, why not bring her along as our tour guide? Here are some pictures of where Lucie’s taken us over the past two weeks….
Red Rock beach is part of a rewarding hike along the Great Ocean Road. Dogs aren’t really allowed off-leashe, but with no one else in sight, we figured Lucie deserved a little swim after a 9km hike.
We’ll be with Lucie for a few more weeks and have a few things planned, so if you’d like to hear more about Lucie future blogs, let us know!
Unlike a typical two week vacation, travelling for 5 months allows us to go to multiple destinations and not have to worry about how to get to each one in the shortest or fastest way. In fact, we chose a cheaper round trip flight from Australia that has an 18 hour lay over in Singapore. Saving money is a huge plus, but this way, we can see some of the best sights of the city and then have dinner with a cousin I haven’t seen in years!
When we first landed on the island of Cebu (after a flight from Sydney to Singapore to Manila), we had to get to Maya Port to hop on a boat to Malapascua, our first paradise destination. We took a private car and driver, organized by our resort, for a 5 hour ride. We paid $50 each to ride a new, air conditioned SUV, up the coast of Cebu Island.
As we drove further from the city, the beautiful ocean, just 100 ft away, lined with roadside houses and shacks slowly moved further as the road turned more inland, giving way to beautiful farmland of coconuts, bananas and sugarcane. We sat comfortably in the car, wondering what life was like out there…..
But that was a month ago. For the past few weeks, we have chosen to avoid riding in cars altogether and opted for public transportation. In the Philippines, that means buses, jeepnies, tricycles, habal habals, scooters, ferries, bankas and of course flip flops. We wanted to experience the way people lived in the Philippines…at least how they travelled, and maybe get a better glimpse of their lives. Here are some highlights of what we learned on our journey….
1. Fishermen can no longer make a living due to poor fisheries (use of explosives to catch fish, legal up until recently, depleted most of the edible fisheries all over the country). Those who are lucky, are able to find other jobs such as boatmen, taking tourists on bankas (a local bamboo outrigger) for island hopping, snorkeling, or scuba diving trips.
The sweet job, for them, however, if you don’t mind living on a boat and only seeing your family once every 2 weeks, is to work on a large boat like Royo (click to see our Facebook post on the boat that took us around to 21 dive sites on 9 islands in 6 days). Experienced crew make 50 pesos per passenger (max of 12) per day on the water ($1 per person, max of $12 dollars a day). ($3-4 a day when at the home port)
2. Helicopter parents don’t exist on 19 of 21 islands we visited (don’t worry, obsessed parenting is alive and well in Manilla and Cebu city). Neither do play dates. Kids play wherever and whenever they can. For some kids, it meant finding time to play even though you’re only 10 and responsible for babysitting your 6 month old sister wth the help of your six year old friend. For others, like a 7 year old tasked to sell gasoline to help the family make a living, it meant happily singing to pass time while waiting for the next customer to drive by. The kids we meet all seemed happy, healthy, respectful and shy, at least at first. Once you stopped to talk a little their cheerful and play personalities really shined through.
3. Who knew you can find the best coconut pie on a bus! Vendors hop on at one end of the town and hop off on the other, selling water, local bread and if you’re lucky to be on the right bus, the best coconut pie, ever!
4. The local families living near a cave, now a popular tourist destination on the island of Siquijor, make a living by nominating one family member to be trained and work as a cave guide. Entrance to the cave is controlled by the Barangay (town). During peak tourist season, each guide will be assigned two days during the week for an opportunity to guide and make 200 pesos ($4) a day. The can be a big bonus to the home espesecially if they can get a tip after the trip.
5. Bilingual teens have the opportunity to also work in the hospitality industry. One 18 year old food server told us she was saving up her money to help her family build an outhouse near their home….most people in their town share a common toilet down the street from her home and take showers at a local spring.
6. Saying hello to complete strangers when driving by on a jeep or a motor bike can truly make someone’s day. David and I waved, or said hello to a lot of people from busses, jeep, tricycles and a motorbike. The smiles that the people had when we said hello were unforgettable! However if you happen to be passing through a small barangay while school is letting out be prepared to slow down an say hello to every kid as they wave and smile and try to practice their English.
7. Trying something new can be intimidating. To get to Twin Lakes, two lakes on top of an old volcano, you either had to drive a car or a jeep, or as the Internet recommended, hire a habal habal (a motorcycle driven by a complete stranger!). Fortunately, the passengers on this jeep were very friendly and helpful and gave us the advice we needed “Better to take a jeepney up the mountain when it’s raining” We decided to stay on the jeep!
8. Planes and private cars get you there quickly but to really experience an area, you need to make yourself available, talk with, and experience the people. Slow down and enjoy the journey to destinations. If you have spent time on a tricycle, jeepney or bus you really travelled in the Phillipines.
9. You don’t need 5 months to appreciate the journey. Its pausing to notice your surroundings, taking time to get to know the people around you that you wouldn’t normally talk to, or even just a moment to say hello to someone who isn’t expecting it.
10. No matter who you are, we are all on the same journey to the same destination….take the time to get to know someone!
Please comment to share how you are enjoying your life’s journey!
We got to the Philippines about 10 days ago and have spent 7 days on a small island just north of Cebu island. Malapascua doesn’t have roads (so no cars), no doctors, and no shopping malls. It is known around the world, however, for its scuba diving, specifically, to see Thresher Sharks!
Aside from the beach side resorts, restaurants and scuba diving operations, the only source of income for the locals was fishing, using dynamite. As a result, edible fish are now extremely rare in the Philippines, putting most fishermen out of work. Although some locals are now working to support the large diving industry, many still live in shacks or native huts without running water or a toilet!
So aside from sharks (now protected from fishermen), what else do crazy scuba divers like us see under water? A LOT! There is actually a lot of communities with marine life that are somewhat similar to humans….
THEY LIKE TO BLEND IN…everyone wants to fit in somewhere, right? Here are a few…ready for an eye test?
THEY WANT TO STAND OUT….even marine life need a little style…..
THEY HAVE SEX! …..Yup, figured that would get your attention!
They are dangerous! ….
Fortunately, we were warned in advance about Nemo and made it back topside, to see yet another beautiful sunset on the island of Malapascua!
So if you saw the crab or the fish, let us know by adding a comment below. What was your favorite picture? We have a ton of other pictures but with slow internet and no teenagers to show us how to quickly download / upload go pro videos, it’s taking us awhile….but let us know what you find interesting so we can upload more next time! Thanks for reading our blog! Be sure to follow us to get updates and share with others who might have an interest!
Well we recently took our three new furry friends (Cesska, Bridie, and Kai) on our last sunset walk. The next day would be all about cleaning the house and car and making our home of the past 5 weeks ready for our host’s return. So while there were sheets to be washed and bathrooms to be cleaned, this was time was set aside to enjoy the sea air, relax and be “with” the dogs. The next day we were both a bit sad to be leaving the dogs (Martina cried a little as I pretended not to notice) but at the same time we realized how blessed we are to have been able to have this magnificent experience.
Imagine 5 weeks in a beautiful water view home on Austrailia’s Central Coast surrounded by beautiful beaches, lots of national parks full of hiking trails and crazy plants and animals and endless other things to do. To top it off we got to spend time each day with three great dogs. The craziest part is the whole thing was free!
We did it. We pulled it off. No dogs were harmed in the making of this adventure, no cars were crashed and nobody’s house burned down. I think I even lost a few pounds.
On Saturday we will complete our course at the Gosford Sailing Club http://gosfordsailingclub.com and say goodbye to some cherished new friends and on Sunday our time on the Central Coast will come to an end. So while we wish we could stay longer, we now know this was the right path for us, to have ventured to the land down under and look after Kai. Our lives have been forever changed for the better. This is why we we travel.
So goodbye to my little mate Kai, I will miss you. May your bowl always be full and your walks long and smelly. I hope someday we meet again.
It’s been two weeks since we arrived in Saratoga, NSW and we are happy to report that we are settling in very well. We are scheduled to dog sit until January 12th for a very nice family, staying in their 4 bedroom house, located in the heart of Australia’s Central Coast.
We have gotten into our routine of getting up early to let the dogs out, making our cappuccino and having our ‘brekkie’ (papaya, banana, granola and honey) on the deck overlooking Brisbane Waters, before taking the dogs for their morning walk.
Our hosts were very helpful, showing us around the many beaches (at least a dozen within 20 minutes drive!) and teaching David how to drive on the left side of the road using a car with a driver’s seat on the right!
Since I’m too chicken to even try to drive here in Australia, we are taking advantage of using public transportation whenever we can. With the great train, bus and ferry service, along with neat cycle ways in the area, we decided to purchase ‘push bikes’ and take bike rides whenever we can.
In addition to exploring the area on our bikes and visiting beaches, we have also had a chance to go scuba diving twice (The Skillion Cave and the EXHMS Adelaide) at Terrigal Beach, 20 minutes drive from where we are staying. It’s not part of the Great Barrier Reef (that will be in April), but it’s our first time to dive in the Southern Hemisphere….and certainly the coldest dive I’ve done!
Of course, when in Australia, ‘bush walking’ is a must! We have done 4 walks since we’ve been here, twice on the Great Coastal Walk (3 km down to Maitland Bay Beach and back up; and an 8km down and up and down again to Putty Beach, then back again), once on Kilkare Mountain, and yesterday, at nearby Sommersby Falls.
We also managed to join a local Yoga Studio. We’ve done 4 classes so far. It’s Hot Dynamic (Vinyasa), so don’t worry – we promise not to share (nor take) any pictures of us doing our sweaty poses!
We also joined the local Yacht Club, the Gosford Sailing Club. We signed up for sailing lessons and participate in Wednesday night and Saturday sailing races on Magic 25s. This week, during the club’s Christmas Race, I was on the main sail (for the first time), David was on the jib and later the helm….thanks to our skipper and instructor, Brian #2, and our lucky mascot, Frosty, we won our very first race!
Today was our first Christmas away from family and friends, but we have been fortunate to have met a lot of new friends here in Australia. We also enjoyed celebrating Christmas in the summer, where the temperature is in the 70s and having Christmas dinner on the verandah.
We had a wonderful Christmas today, and wish everyone a very Merry Christmas!