One-Year Anniversary Aboard Ad Astra

It is 6 am, and before anyone else woke up, I wanted to write this note to think over the last year of adventure together. There is a minor tropical wave rolling by overhead with grey sullen skies, winds gusting in the high 20s, rain and thunder. Drinking my cold-brew iced coffee and with RUSH playing it is the perfect mood to reflect.

* * *

A year ago our home was Austin.

We had so many friends from our Elite Martial Arts dojo, the homeschooling families and from colleagues and their families. Many people came together in our last month in Austin to help us get the house ready to sell and it seemed like every day was another goodbye party. Great times.

But a year-ago, yesterday we flew into St. Thomas with a bunch of bags and ready to finally move aboard Ad Astra full-time. Sold and gave away everything. My Dad is holding our wedding pictures and a few artifacts, but we have nothing in storage. No house, no cars, no “stuff”, and no home to go back to.

Now our home is the sailing catamaran Ad Astra.

* * *

Sailing around the world has been a deep goal of mine going back about 10 years, and Kaiwen has been gracious (and robust) to agree to take the family on this non-standard adventure.

It was not a simple decision.

At first, there was not much of “we” in this plan. It was me learning on smaller monohulls – a 27′ Newport and later a 36′ Sparhawk ketch. The healing of the monohull was a deal-breaker for her, and not following my dream to blue-water sail was a deal-breaker for me (both of these are understatements). We both got lucky when we went to a boat show and had the opportunity to walk around a Lagoon 450 live and instantly we knew this would work.

So we bought Ad Astra in 2012 and had fun in in the Atlantic side of France, Spain and Portugal, but came back to Austin for a 4-year side adventure. Starting another game company, buying a home, learning all sorts of DIY crafty-things: brewing beer, making an epic treehouse, open fire pits, gardens, compost piles, bee-keeping and raising chickens, learning mixed martial arts, and just enjoying the great family-friendly city of Austin.

The game company had run its course, we did some successes and we did some failures. The failures were painful, but it was not my first time experiencing a business going sideways. Sure, we could have pivoted again, and we could have struggled for years more, or we could have done a number of things to change a sideways outcome to a slightly “better” mediocre outcome. But I recognized what the situation was, and the 40-year old in me had more wisdom than my younger self. I was not going to lose those years. And even the investors were better served with a crisp resolution, and the employees were snapped up in a competitor or hired by the acquirer within a week.
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But Austin friends! That was a harder decision than the business.

So many good times in Austin. If you have not yet visited Austin you should, and if you are thinking of moving, Austin is an amazing to live. We so easily could have stayed.

I had achieved a brown belt in our mixed martial arts system and it was the main structure of my week and it would only a few more years to get that black belt – right!? The boys enjoyed Austin immensely. They had great friends, science team, the dojo. There were a number of new things I could do for work…

…but Ad Astra was waiting so patiently for me – and for us.

* * *

I took the fairly standard-track of preparing to cruise full-time. I worked my way up in boat sizes, with Ad Astra being the 3rd boat. I started with day-sailing with an experienced friend Tim Ehrlich. Later, on my own, with friends and then weekends to Catalina, and up in San Francisco, weekends to Angel Island, Napa and Petaluma on the 36′ ketch Andiamo II.

The ketch was a great boat and I miss her. She had this wonderful custom-built top-opening freezer/fridge that was far more efficient than any of the units on Ad Astra. With two huge cat-rigged carbon-fiber free-standing masts she loved to go wing on wing for fast downwind sailing – which was always great at the end of the day to sail the fast sea breezes back to her berth in Emeryville. And she remains the only boat I have sailed back into a berth in a marina.

* * *

Every time I slept aboard Andiamo II, even in the marina I was sublimely happy. Waking up in Angel island, or in the town anchorage of Petaluma made me feel just so good. There are rich complex feelings that are difficult to express. Waking up on a boat strikes deep resonate memories of going camping in the summers with my grandmother June. Cooking in the camper my grandfather Norm hand built with my dad and his brothers. The simple pleasure of taking time slower and walking and hiking. She took me on a trip to England for a month and often we would have simple meals of fruit and a pastry while walking. Those are still some of the fondest, most luxurious meals. Growing up in the depression, she was never a Consumer but was fiercely into Experiences way before hipsters figured out that Experiences >> Stuff.

For my whole life, I have been a night owl and never enjoyed waking up in the morning. But now I am usually awake naturally between 5 and 6 am, fully rested and no use for an alarm clock. It is a great feeling to grab your coffee and gaze as the sky lightens. On passage making, I always seek out the 3am to 6am shifts, I love the mornings now.

Food is better. We cook almost all of our meals, and we take time to think about the ingredients and recipes. There is a lot more effort involved in sourcing our food. No longer can we simply hop in the car, 5 minutes later walk into a mega supermarket and load up the trunk. Now, we have to actively think ahead in time, where will we be? What markets do they have? Local farmer’s market? Fish? Meat? Do they have a modern-style supermarket? Do they have a dinghy dock – or at least a dock nearby? Or do we have friends with a car that will help us with a big provisioning run? All of this work can sometimes be annoying.

For example, last night after another long day of attacking The Boat List, Kyle and Abby wanted to get some groceries. It was 7:45pm we motored to the dinghy dock here in Marigot, and then walked the 15 minutes to the market they wanted to go to, and they were closed. Google let me know that there was still another market open on the Dutch side for another hour. But that was going to be a 6-mile round trip run in our dinghy Exit Strategy, at night, with scattered rain. With the 20 HP Tohatsu we can go pretty darn fast – with just myself it will plane and manage 23 mph, but with 3 people and the overhead of locking up it would be about a 20 minute ride to the market, plus the 10 minute walk back to the dinghy dock, and another 20 minute ride back to Ad Astra – clearly not the same as a 5 minute drive to the local market! We all just smiled and simply went back to Ad Astra and I cooked a pretty awesome dinner of garlic/miso salmon, rice, and stir-fried veggies. I would have made fried-rice, but the eggs were on that list of items we wanted to pick up. Oh well. We still had a great meal and I know we appreciate the food so much more.

And our “backyard” is HUGE – it is the world. I spend much of the time in the cockpit facing the back looking almost always to the west (trade winds). There are mountains to my left, a broad white-sand beach in front of me, and a peninsula with almost an isolated island-hill at the end of it that we need to explore still. The scenery changes all the time. Even at the same spot the weather changes the water, different fish hang out with you. Right now we have a huge 5 foot barracuda that acts like a curious dog that swims up and checks you out as well as another generation of newly-spawned sergeant major reef fish that use the hidden recesses of our starboard sail drive as they roaming reef.

Our neighbors change often, and you meet amazing people. Interesting people who have also made their own choices and paths. We have made great friends with a number of South Africans, Danish, Swiss, English, French, Dutch, Irish, Scottish, Canadian, American, Kiwi, Ozzie, Bequian, and many who do not seem to have allegiance to a nation-state.

We have had a dozen incredible friends crew aboard Ad Astra at various time over the last year, and we are picking up two more from the airport today. It is always a deep pleasure for me to share Ad Astra.

We have visited just about every island in the Eastern Caribbean:

  1. Puerto Rico & Spanish Virgins, Culebra & Culebrita, Viequez
  2. US Virgins: St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John
  3. British Virgin Islands: Salt, Cooper, Norman, Peter, JVD, Tortola, Anegada, Fallen Jerusalem, The Dogs
  4. St. Martin, Sint Maarten, Ile Tintamarre,
  5. St. Barts, Ile Fourchue
  6. Anguilla
  7. Saba
  8. Nevis
  9. Montserrat (and sailed real close to Redonda)
  10. Antigua and Barbuda
  11. Guadeloupe, The Saints, Petite Terre (missed Marie Galant and Diedre)
  12. Dominica
  13. St. Lucia
  14. St. Vincent, Bequia, Tobago Keys, Union, Canoun, Petite St. Vincent, Petite Martinique
  15. Grenada and Carriacou

But thinking back over the last year what stands out in my mind is how much we have all learned. Hard skills, soft skills, culture, nature, and emotional growth. As I had hoped, we are all different people than we were a year before on land.

While I could still be better, I am now far more patient than I was before. When full-time sailing, nothing ever happens on time. The weather does her own thing. The wind and the waves are not yours to have any demands or expectations.

We used to spend every July on Ad Astra while I had her in charter. Naturally, I was full of plans and expectations and I made sure we visited every anchorage, island, cool spot and did every activity we could do – sometimes moving the boat 3x a day. Now we go a week or two without moving the boat at all. When we go someplace we wait until the wind and the waves are simpatico with our destination. No more needless wear and tear on Ad Astra’s gear or crew. We arrive fresh and happy.

When I need to get something ordered or fixed I leave plenty of time for it to actually happen. Today means this week, this week means next week, this month means sometime in the next 8 to 10 weeks. I do not even get annoyed by it. It just is. Just bake it into your plans. Why rush anyways? You can always do something else while you wait. Do some more coding, more exploring, more diving, fix something else, have a BBQ with friends.

It is strange for me to think how carefully planned out my days used to be:

I had Important Appointments all day long

Emails flowing in that Had To Be Answered Now

Stuff To Do!

Now when I make an appointment with a friend we use time resolutions of:

  1. let’s meet this evening
  2. or let’s meet tomorrow
  3. or I will see you in St. Martin in June

Every once in a while, I need to do a call at a specific time for basic life overhead tasks, it now feels like a huge intrusion into my life. Having your own time is the most precious luxury. I would be an asshole not to appreciate this luxury.

But patience with myself has grown – and is even more important. When I am trying to fix something and it is not working out, sure I get frustrated. But a lot less frustrated than before. Now, if I get stuck I have learned to set it aside for a few hours or days even, then a new line of attack on the problem will present itself.

* * *

Hard skills! Check out all the specific stuff we have learned:

  1. Both Max and Kyle have become decent junior programmers in Python and will be work-ready software engineers, if they so choose by the time they are ready to leave Ad Astra
  2. SCUBA – open water certified last summer, advanced this spring and now on to rescue diver for us, 60 dives so far and many dead Lionfish (and some lobster) to our credit
  3. Landed some tasty saltwater fish
  4. Achieved US Coast Guard Master
  5. Learned how to kite surf at Union Island
  6. We do 90%+ of the work to improve, maintain and repair the systems on Ad Astra
  7. Diagnosing and repairing my diesel generator is now straight-forward
  8. I designed our 2050 watt solar system and stainless steel arch and installed them with skilled techs
  9. Have rebuilt toilets, swapped out dead bilge switches, added in solid state switches and bilge counters
  10. Learned way too much about our life raft!
  11. Removed and re-bedded our stanchions and fixed quite a few different leaks on the starboard side
  12. Removed and had our bow-roller built from a machine-shop, re-installed, and fixed our windlass counter
  13. Repaired countless dings and chips in the gelcoat
  14. Learned how to be WIFI pros via the BadBoy extender
  15. Created a whole new 12v sub-panel and installed an AIS transponder, 8 TB hard drive for our movies, pix and music, and a new digital NMEA2000 to network all of the ship’s systems to any device with a screen.
  16. Repaired and improved our dinghy in so many ways: hypalon patches, navigation lights, oars handles, new engine, bumper, added planes, re-finished the bottom with anti-skid
  17. Learned to raise the main quick and professional with one person at the mast hand pulling past the lazy-jacks
  18. Learned how to replace our zincs while in the water and how to scrape the bottom clean saving us thousands from a haul-out
  19. Designed our new 1200 Ah lithium house bank from scratch cells, and installing in a few weeks
  20. Repaired a broken batten with sail thread and epoxy
  21. Repaired a carburetor with epoxy and a brass nipple using a cordless drill as a lathe
  22. Anchoring, mooring, and docking are all now simply routine for all of us – Max and Kyle are fully capable and have done complete passages on their own.
  23. Max does all of our navigation plotting and maintains the ship’s log
  24. Experienced how to tie-up our boat in a mangrove swamp and prepare for hurricane Matthew
  25. Rigging the bowsprit and flying the gennekar is a straightforward task for the crew now
  26. Added Racor fuel-filters to our dinghy and both main diesel engines
  27. Researched and acquired critical spares for all our systems
  28. Repaired the water maker by replacing the brushless feed pump
  29. Learned to splice rope and made an all-new Super Bridle for the anchor and spliced in new Dyneema lifting straps for the dinghy
  30. Installed a butane cooking system in parallel to the propane system

We have so many people to thank – my Dad, friends both in Austin and across the Caribbean, but I want to especially thank Kerry Ollivierre of Bequia for teaching us so much, Michael Steele for landing the Gillespie airplane and Michelle Kindig for kindly allowing us to have our mail delivered to her home.

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