The game we seem to play most aboard Tenaya is "Find that noise". At anchor as the boat gently sways she is usually quiet. If there are little creaks we barely notice. When the swell picks up and she frolics more enthusiastically, or if the wind picks up strongly, new noises tend to pop up. The game starts here. Where is it coming from? Is something rolling or knocking? Metal, wood or plastic? Jim seems to be able to tune out many of these noises but often times plays anyway when he sees how much fun I am having. He wants to find the source first. The game is on.
Just one thing out of place is all that is needed. It is the pencil left on the chart table rolling back and forth. It is the peanut butter jar sliding around in the locker because we used a can of peaches that kept everything wedged tightly. It is the tupperware container that was not shoved into the locker far enough to be a tight fit. It is the coffee cup and filter holder that were put back in reverse order. It is the can of WD-40 in the bottom drawer put in the wrong direction. It is the ball inside the spray can of McLube mixing up the contents. It is the water bottle that tipped over on the cockpit sole. It is the washboards rattling in their storage spot in the cockpit locker. It is the block at the bottom of the running backstay line hitting one of the shrouds. It is the storm jib halyard hitting the mast. It is the outhaul that is too loose banging on the boom. Irritating noises.
Keeping lines and halyards tight on deck and stowing items carefully can really reduce the times we get to play the game. Surprisingly, pots and pans, tin cans, wine and water bottles and spare parts seldom make noise. I have a lot of towels aboard but we use very few for ourselves. They wrap and cushion things. They pad and protect things. Still noises pop up and the game starts again.
Buying a boat and learning to sail ... in Europe
I had just returned from a live-aboard kayaking trip in the waters off Vancouver Island. The beautiful scenery, multiple quiet anchorages and simple living in harmony with nature had a profound impact on me. I came back to my husband excited about the experience and vowing that I could spend more time on a boat.
Having loved sailing for years, Jim knew my passion was snowboarding and skiing. This was his opportunity! He began researching boats online and buying books on cruising. Quickly my interest turned to excitement about sailing. Jim homed in on a Swedish brand, Hallberg-Rassy, appreciating their reputation as well-built, center-cockpit sailboats. Being US citizens allowed us to buy a new boat in Europe without paying the additional VAT, a tax levied on most goods in the EU of about 20%, depending on the country. Buying a new boat was a viable option.
We met with the dealer in Holland and were impressed by his knowledge and service. He helped us through the ordering process, giving us sage advise on everything. He offered input on boat length, sail inventory, winches, electronics, power options for 110V and 220V, galley outfitting and much more. He took time to educate us and was always available to answer questions. The plan was to have our new HR-40 delivered to the dealership, berth in the adjacent marina for a year, and learn to sail through the excellent sailing school in the marina.
As an American living in the U. S., it would seem daunting, if not impossible, for me to have considered buying a boat abroad. We had been living in Belgium for 6 years so doing so was not completely far-fetched. Otherwise, the idea of moving to another country with language and cultural differences would have scared the daylights out of me. But it’s not that scary and offers many benefits. International airports are nearby, most marinas have wifi, and nearly every Dutchman speaks English better than I do. I found it to be a fabulous way to jump-start our cruising lifestyle. We could explore Europe on our own sailboat and not have to sail across the Atlantic!
It was a wonderful experience for us. The huge areas of flat water and consistent wind are perfect for learning to sail. The wind usually blows 8 – 20 knots, with many days of winds around 25 knots in the afternoon. What better place to learn to sail proficiently, while appreciating the wind? Holland, the land of windmills, of course! We took 50 hours of private lessons on our boat, Tenaya, 2 hours each day, 2-3 days a week. This gave us time to learn and time to practice on our own. Each of us spent equal time at the helm. We learned to maneuver in the marina with their fingerless berths. We learned to throw dock lines and to use them to our advantage while docking. We learned the proper use of our gear and to trim the sails correctly. We learned to pass through the locks and eventually how to sail on the open ocean. The more we learned the less nervous and anxious I was and the more excited I became. This was fun! We were living on our boat in Holland and could sail everyday if we chose. It was our best vacation ever!
Things broke and went wrong, as things will do when they are new. It was a tremendous advantage being near the dealer and in a marina with full maintenance facilities. Problems were quickly addressed and fixed. We had none of the headaches I’ve heard about when people buy boats someplace and then take off immediately, only to have problems in an unfamiliar place away from anyone with anything at stake. I’m sure we will have problems along the way but at least we headed off in good shape.
While learning to sail we were also learning how to live on a sailboat. Our first weeks were filled with evaluating what possessions were necessary. The piles for charity and return to the US grew daily. It didn’t help that Jim kept buying more things he said were absolutely mandatory. Nesting is very important to me and I like to decorate. I bought colorful pillows to make the main saloon feel like my home. I bought down comforters and linens to make our sleeping cabin comfy and cozy. We split the organizational chores. Jim stowed the tools, parts and maintenance stuff, I stowed everything else. We made lists and reorganized several times. It took all summer for me to realize that I’d brought way too many clothes. I returned to the US a few times that year, always hauling the maximum allowed baggage. Each time I returned with more important stuff from the large West Marine store in Point Loma.
We were learning how to sail and how to live on a sailboat. Might as well learn to cook as well! During our working lives we ate out often and prepared simple meals at home. We didn’t spend much time cooking. Now we had time and a few cookbooks. What fun we had shopping for fresh ingredients in the local market and farm stand and preparing yummy, healthy meals.
As we became more confident we sailed to other marinas and anchorages on the inland waters. In the Netherlands, and indeed all the way to the Baltic, it is possible to day sail the entire way in protected water with many, many options to moor for the night. The waterways are dotted with many historic fishing towns. These towns were built around their natural harbors centuries ago. Often we sailed into a city center and spent the night tied up to the wall along the promenade lined with picturesque buildings. Invariably there was an old windmill and the remains of fortified walls from a bygone era. For an American growing up on the west coast, being in towns that were built in the 15th century, with many of the original buildings, was a delight in itself. Flying Old Glory, we were a bit of a novelty and the locals loved to chat. “No, we didn’t sail across, we bought the boat in Bruinisse” was repeated often by Jim or myself. Being able to experience the culture of a new country and learn to sail at the same time was an incredible experience.
Couples can have a hard time dealing with retirement. Had we stayed in Antwerp, or moved back to San Diego or Mammoth, I would have felt a bit crowded by Jim’s constant presence, much as I adore him. Moving on board a sailboat was a great way for us to move to the next phase of our lives together with neither of us invading the other’s domain. Being new to the boat and this lifestyle, we addressed the challenges and enjoyed the benefits together.
In order to retain our non-VAT status we must leave the EU every 18 months. It can be for a very short time. This was the case when Tenaya crossed over to Morocco from Gibraltar for 2 days in September. That reset our clock so we have 18 months to reach Tunisia, Turkey or Croatia as we travel further east in the Mediterranean. Plenty of time! It’s a wonderful, exciting lifestyle full of adventure. I’m cruising Europe and I didn’t have to sail across the Atlantic!
I've never been thrilled to do laundry but it's always been a chore that I kept up on and tried to do well. By well I mean not ruining anything in the process. Organizing by color, fabric type and what temperature would be needed for drying, I tried to be as efficient as possible. That was tough enough in our apartment in Antwerp where a wash took two hours and the drying might take longer. That was nothing! I had control over the machines then. Now, as a cruising yottie, I compete for the machine(s) in marinas for the items I can't wash out by hand in the galley sink. Laundromats are few and far between, especially in Northern Spain.
I used to be considerate. No matter how much I had to wash I would be sure to leave a machine free for someone else should they come along before my load was done. Not anymore. It's every person for themselves in this race to get it done. Today I am lucky. There are 2 new high capacity washers and a large dryer that take 30 minutes each. This is laundry luxury! I had a bit to do as I haven't done any cottons (sheets, towels, t-shirts) since before crossing the Bay of Biscay a few weeks ago. Small things can be done in the galley sink and hung to dry from the life lines and improvised clothing lines strung between the rolled jib and shrouds. Undies flapping in the wind are no longer a source of embarrassment. It's possible to dry sheets and even towels on the lines given a dry day. I haven't had a surplus of those this year, or last year for that matter. I have great expectations for when we are further south.
La Coruna was ridiculous with one washer and dryer each in the men's and women's shower rooms. They were home models, not industrial, so slower than molasses on a cold winters morning. That being a major port for people being out several days, the demand for machines was huge. Although it was a clean and friendly marina otherwise, their laundry facilities were terrible. Here in Portosin, a town tucked along one of the rias along the coast, the demand isn't as high. I've even seen times when the machines were empty. Never before in my life would an empty washer have brought a moment of joy.
The machines here even take coins. That is rare. Usually they require tokens only available from the harbor master or reception. It's amazing how many types of tokens exist. They are all round and nearly the same size but it seems every marina has its own pattern. The instructions for machine use are always in the native language, never in English (I hope this changes when we get to southern Spain with so many British). So operation is usually by trial and error, often times with the machine gobbling up valuable tokens or proper coins only to sit there refusing to start. Sometimes it is just a matter of sequence in paying, closing the door and selecting the proper mode. Other times it's more complicated and I end up losing several coins or tokens to the obstinate beast. Once I gave up completely and went in search of assistance. If you haven't stockpiled a few tokens forget about doing laundry early in the morning or late at night when the machines might be free. That is, if you can get to them. Often times they are locked when the employees leave for the day. The considerate marinas supply access cards or codes for unlimited availability.
Priorities change when you live on a boat. Forget sorting laundry by color or fabric types. Forget drying at different temperatures for various fabrics. I can count on one hand the times I've been able to do that this year. By now all our things have been washed so many times the colors no longer run. Clothes have shrunk as much as they are going to. Synthetic items have been baked in high temperature dryers. What has survived has become our primarily used stuff with the favorite items needing special treatment taking up space in a duffle bag under an aft bunk waiting for transport back to the US. Large, thick towels hang in our condos in San Diego and Boulder City but not here on the boat. Last year I experimented with sizes and thickness to see what would eventually dry in the damp Dutch environment. I settled on the size smaller than bath towels as they would hang free from clip hangers from the main salon grab rails during the night. They were still too thick and didn't always dry completely. During the winter I found the ideal weight, very thin (and cheap) at Target. They were a little longer but dry so much more quickly. I bought 4, 2 for Jim and 2 for myself. We have our own colors for everything to keep washing down. This larger size is appreciated when it's necessary to dress and undress in a communal room away from the shower stalls.
Showers .... I'll save my ranting about those for another day!
Jim and I have new Di Blasi folding bikes and did our first shopping trip today. We've attached our old handlebar bags, which fit better hung towards us, and used a shopping bag from the bike company on Jim's rack. I'll use larger bags from Body Glove (regular or insulated) on my rack once we make a stable platform. What fun to have these great little bikes! They ride surprisingly well. 8 gears are more than enough for Holland. We'll see what happens when we get to areas more topographically exciting. We've got 20" wheels instead of smaller ones in the hopes that we'll travel some distances on them.
We watched the salesperson fold them up making it look simple and straightforward. When we got back to Tenaya and tried to fold them they took on a life of their own. A stubborn one. Parts collapsed and folded but when we were done with the first one it was much wider than in the store. After several unsuccessful attempts we opened them up and rode back to the store for help. We'd gotten most of it right but a few key points made the difference. It worked. Thinking about it now, I should have taken a video just in case we can't do it again. Hmmm.... a project for tomorrow.