Small Footprints – At Home on the Sea
In the first part of our discussion with Linda and Rick Clayton, Linda talked about being “able to go where the wind goes.” Despite the tight quarters on a sailboat, there are loads of personal advantages to this lifestyle, as she and Rick point out.
This is part two of our two-part conversation with the Claytons. Get ready to relax, put on your deck shoes, and take a virtual sail on Sojourner. —Julia Wasson and Joe Hennager
BPGL: Where is your favorite place to drop anchor and just stay awhile?
LINDA: I like the beaches in the Bahamas, but every time we get to a new anchorage, we say, “Wow! This is so beautiful!” And it has so many wonderful features that maybe the other ones don’t have. It’s hard to say there’s any one place; each place is a wonderful place because of its uniqueness.
BPGL: Between weather problems, no wind, running out of fuel, pirates, and things like that — do you feel there’s risk to your lives?
LINDA: Oh, yes. There’s risk. But I think you take more risk than we do hopping on the freeway. Unless we’re leaving the boat for days at a time, we never lock it. We never lock our dinghy onto the boat. We’ve never lost anything off the boat. And a lot of that is because, when you get to an anchorage, you’re anchoring with other cruisers. Everyone watches everyone else’s boats. It’s a very safe community.
There’s safety in numbers, and for that same reason, when we make a big crossing, like sailing across the Gulf Stream from Florida to the Bahamas, we more than likely will go with a number of other boats. If there’s any kind of a problem, we all help each other.
BPGL: So you don’t feel alone.
LINDA: We’re never alone. We kind of travel together in groups. We may go to Point A, and someone else may go to Point B, and then we leave and all go to Point C. So we wind up meeting other people who have very similar goals and aspirations. We all sit in the same anchorage, and we all enjoy the same sunset. And we all enjoy the same happy hour together in the cockpit of a boat, whether it’s a $20,000 boat or a $2 million boat.
BPGL: I remember seeing a boating ad that said boaters are a much friendlier group than you would find on a highway.
LINDA: That’s true. For instance, we were up in Long Island Sound. The people are not known to be particularly friendly up there, especially to Texans, and we have Texas as our hailing port on the back of our boat. A lobsterman came by one morning and said, “Hey. Youse guys really from Texas?”
I said, “You bet your bootiestompers.”
He said, “I’m gonna bring youse guys some lobsta.” And he brought us fresh lobster and gave it to us. Boaters are very friendly to other boaters most of the time.
Another time, we were in our little, tiny dinghy going up to a dinghy dock. Usually, if you are coming in a big boat or a small boat, whoever happens to be walking by catches your line to make sure you get there safely. And a guy from a mega-boat was walking past. He took our line and hooked us up. He had probably a $5 million boat. By golly, we were coming up in our little dinghy, and he was walking past, and he was the one who tied us off.
This is the way people are. It doesn’t matter to them whether you’re a retired trash collector or a retired GM executive. Everybody looks at everyone else the exact same.
BPGL: What do you do when you have an illness or an injury?
LINDA: Actually, because we’re out in the fresh air all the time, the only time we ever get sick is when we go on land and visit people. I’m just getting over a cold from visiting our daughter. She was graduating in Cleveland, and it was minus five degrees. We’re used to somewhere between 60 and 85 degrees.
We go to the out islands in the Bahamas, but there are doctors there. On the out islands, there are mostly beaches — and grocery stores if we’re lucky.
There is a divers’ alert network that a family can join for something like $50 a year. It’s not just for divers; it’s for anyone who has a medical emergency and needs to be transported to the nearest hospital. And if anything were to happen to us while we were out in the Bahamas or halfway across, they would transport us by whatever means necessary, via helicopter or whatever, to the nearest hospital. It’s a very good thing to have.
BPGL: If you had an emergency, let’s say a mast broke, or you’re out on the seas, and it gets rough, and something happens, are you in touch with the Coast Guard? Or, what if you are too far away from the U.S. Coast Guard, what do you do?
RICK: We have been enjoying our time in the Bahamas in the winter, and then we go up the East Coast to New England in the summers. We aren’t world travelers like some people. We have what’s called an EPIRB, which is an Emergency Position Indicating Radiobeacon. An EPIRB sends an immediate satellite message to the Coast Guard, and Coast Guard immediately responds to the latitude and longitude of that distress call. Most sailboats have an EPIRB on them, and you activate it if you feel like you’re in danger or you’re sinking.
The EPIRB is a small, hand-held device no bigger than one of those old-fashioned “brick” telephones, when they first came out with cellular telephones. We keep our EPIRB in our ditch bag in case we have to ditch the boat at sea. If we have to get in the dinghy, we grab the ditch bag, throw it in, and then jump in. The ditch bag has an emergency food supply, water for a couple days, the EPRIB, cold-weather gear, sunglasses, hats, and things like that. A ditch bag is an essential for cruising. Most cruisers have that.
And, so we can see at night or in the fog, we have a radar that picks targets out for us. Then we can avoid running into things.
Sleep 2, Eat 4, Drink 6
BPGL: Tell us about your boat.
RICK: It’s a Catalina, model 387. On deck, it’s 38.7 feet. The length overall, including the stem and everything, is about 39 feet 10 inches, so we’re real close to 40 feet.
BPGL: How many people does Sojourner sleep?
RICK: We like to say, “We sleep 2, eat 4, and drink 6.” But if we want to cram people on, it can sleep seven. We have a stateroom in back, which is like the master bedroom. We have a V berth in front, which sleeps two more; it’s like a forward cabin up in the bow. In the salon area, the table drops down and makes a double bed. And on the other side of the salon area, the cabin is like a sofa that you can sleep one person on.
We’ve had six overnight on the boat. Four is okay. If one of the kids comes with their husband or fiancé or whatever, we can very comfortably enjoy four on the boat. But we’ve had as many at dinner as 8 or 10 people in the cockpit.
And just for drinks, cocktails, or sundowners, we’ve had as many as 14 people up in the cockpit. We have one of the roomier cockpits, and that’s why, for purposes of gathering in the evening, our boat tends to be the party boat. It’s not because we are party animals, but because our boat has a very large cockpit. We got it that way because we knew we would be traveling in temperate climates, living mostly outdoors.
BPGL: Do you pretty much have email access all the time?
LINDA: We don’t really. There are some WiFi spots in the Bahamas, but sometimes they’re far and few between. We’re not in Nassau or some of the most populous areas. A lot of the islands we go to, there are only like 100 people or fewer that live on the island. There aren’t many WiFi spots available, but there are beautiful beaches! And the people are delightful.
BPGL: How do you locate reefs? Are you concerned about grounding?
RICK: That’s what we call the draft. We have about a 5 1/2 foot draft on this boat. That’s the depth of the keel. In the Bahamian waters, you’re sailing in anywhere between 8 and 20 feet of water when you’re up on the Bahama banks. We have nautical charts downloaded to our laptop, and we have all of the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) charts that any seaman would have on his boat, all on computer.
Up at the helm station on the sailboat, where the wheel is, we also have a chart plotter that gives us graphic detail of where the boat is in relationship to other islands. It shows the nautical marks, your aids to navigation, the red buoy or the green buoy that allows you to safely enter a harbor. All of these things are charted and plotted very well on a chart plotter, and it shows the GPS satellite where our boat is. The underlying clutter on a chart always has depth.
BPGL: Do you let someone know if you go off on your own — like a flight plan for a pilot?
RICK: Yes. That’s called a float plan for a boat. We have something called a SPOT. It’s not an EPIRB, but it does work with satellites. It sets up an account with us. We pay an annual fee, something like $100, and it allows us to establish an account that we can load up to 10 emails into. So, when we either up anchor or go anywhere, or when we get to a place and we drop the anchor, we send a SPOT signal out and it lets everybody know where we are, and lets people know our progress on a trip.
Let’s say, for instance, we can hit the SPOT satellite messenger system every 12 hours when we’re on a three-day passing from the Bahamas to South Carolina. We’ve left the Bahamas and landed in Charleston, South Carolina. It’s about a three-day offshore trip. Every 12 hours or so, we’ll hit the SPOT messenger service, and it will send a satellite signal to the company, and they send a message to all 10 of the emails that we’ve preselected. Those are family.
They get an email which also has a Google link that shows exactly on Google Earth where we are in relationship to the islands or out in the ocean or whatever. That’s one of the ways we keep in touch. Of course, before we leave anywhere more than a 6 or 8 hour day journey, we always email our friends and family and let them know, “We’re in route here. This is where we are going.” Everybody kind of keeps up with everybody else. Especially our family does. They know what to expect and when to expect to hear from us again.
BPGL: What kind of cell phones do you use?
RICK: We just have the normal cell phones. We have good coverage along the coastline. And we buy and use an air card in our laptop computer. So it gives us Internet basically anywhere on the boat wherever we have cell phone coverage. Our company lets us suspend service up to three months a year. So we don’t pay a communication bill while we’re in the Bahamas. However, we will hit a WiFi spot every day or two at least, so we can keep in touch with our family and get online. We’ve been as long as a week between WiFi spots in the Bahamas.
BPGL: What do you do when the weather turns bad, like a hurricane? Where do you go?
LINDA: Our insurance prevents us from doing stupid things. We have to be north during the hurricane season. However, we are still exposed. For instance, in Cape May, New Jersey, this last September, there was an unexpected storm that came up. We were at anchor, fortunately right off the Coast Guard station.
They had six inches of blowing rain and 80 mile per hour wind. The expected winds were supposed to be 20 to 35 miles per hour. We clocked 80. Once the wind reached a certain speed, we turned on the brake on the wind generator.
And we had a lightning strike that knocked out all of our electronics. We had those replaced, which the insurance paid for. There are times that we’re exposed. The good news is, we’re exposed, and the bad news is, we’re exposed. We say, “Hey, we made it through that. What’s next?”
Trash and Recycling
BPGL: How do you get rid of your trash on the boat?
RICK: You go to the store and they ask you, “Paper or plastic?” and you get one of these plastic bags. We fill a little less than one a day. When we’re in the ocean or doing a crossing, Coast Guard regulations prohibit dumping trash and certain kinds of trash unless you are a certain distance offshore.
When we go across the Bahamas and are 20 to 25 miles offshore, we can pretty much dump anything we want in the ocean, but we don’t do it. A lot of things are just flat prohibited. Anything metal or glass, you can throw over at 25 miles out because it sinks to the bottom. We break our glass up and dump it over. When you get rid of your cans and bottles, that’s a big space that we save on the boat. And that’s what cruisers do. Everything else, we carry back to land and put in trash receptacles. We have a minimum amount of trash.
BPGL: Why can you dump metal and glass? Is that because they will decay?
RICK: You might say there’s all kinds of trash on the bottom of the ocean. Probably more metal on the bottom of the ocean from sunken ships than anything else. The Titanic has taken 100 years to deteriorate. Metal rusts at a given rate, depending on what kind it is. The bottom of the ocean is five, six, seven miles deep.
LINDA: Glass that goes overboard eventually washes up on the beach, and the sea glass is real pretty. When we hit the beaches over in the Bahamas, cruisers — especially the women — are always looking for sea glass. We find quite a bit. When people are breaking glass, sometimes they are creating [art] for 100 years from now. We have a light for our cockpit that looks like a mosaic. It’s made of sea glass. There are a lot of people who have pretty jewelry made from sea glass.
BPGL: Are there recycling places where you dock?
RICK: Some marinas have recycling bins. They’ll be real adamant. They’ll say, ‘We don’t mind you dumping your trash, but we want you to use our recycling bins.
LINDA: Here’s one thing that I didn’t mention. Most of the cruisers are retired. They find volunteer opportunities in the Bahamas. Quite a few of them got together last year and built a school for the Bahamian children.
All along the way in the Bahamas as well as in the Chesapeake Bay, we have cruisers getting together and organizing cleanups along the waterways and the beaches. These are just a couple of examples. There are many ways that they volunteer.
We have some people who are traveling with us right now are gathering supplies. They’ve gone to Costco and Sam’s and Wal-Mart. They’re going to islands where they know that the school children and the teachers need supplies. And they’re taking supplies to drop off. That’s what cruisers do when they go further south in the Bahamas. The cruisers are doing a lot of volunteer work not only along the East Coast but down in the Bahamas as well as some of the other Caribbean Islands.
The Vegan and the Carnivore
BPGL: Do you fish?
RICK: I’m going to let Linda answer that one, because we have a difference of opinion on this.
LINDA: Many cruisers do fish. We don’t. Number one, we have an oversized bimini, or sun shade. You can probably see that in the photos. It’s hard to fish from this boat. But I’m not crazy about fish, and Rick doesn’t really care about it. So we don’t fish. But a lot of cruisers do. During the lobster and conch seasons, they will supply themselves with fresh conch and lobster and fish. They don’t eat meat, they eat that.
I have a good friend who is a cruiser. I hadn’t seen her in many months, and when I saw her, she looked very healthy. I said, “Wow! You look great! What are you doing?” She said, “Well, we quit drinking, and we became vegans.”
She passed a book along to me called Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. It is a compilation of a lot of different studies that support the reason for becoming a vegan. I had been attempting to lower my cholesterol and began to eat that way just for that purpose. And I feel a whole lot better. It did accomplish that purpose for me. But Rick, is a big-time carnivore.
BPGL: Is it hard to keep enough fresh produce on board in a small refrigerator?
LINDA: Not really. A lot of cruisers do go into parts of the Bahamas and the Caribbean where there are no grocery stores at all. They, of course, cannot eat fresh produce. They eat a lot of canned food. We hang out in places where there are grocery stores, so I can get fresh produce just about every two or three days.
BPGL: In one of your photos, I saw Rick on a bicycle. Do you have bikes for your time on land?
RICK: We don’t have bikes on this boat. But when we go on land, there are always people who offer us bikes. Our boat isn’t large, and we don’t have the space for it. But if you want to Google something called the folding bicycle, you’re going to pop up with all kinds of products that sailors use. A bicycle can fold down no bigger than a suitcase and people will store it in their boat and pull it out.
A folding bicycle would be a better option for us if we went into marinas where we could actually take the bicycle and set it right on the dock. But since we anchor so much, we would wind up being in a position of having to unload the bicycle into the dinghy, dinghy ashore with two bicycles, and then unload the bicycles on a beach. The juice ain’t worth the squeeze.
BPGL: Have you considered sailing anywhere else?
LINDA: We’ve considered that. But we’re so happy with what we’re doing. And it’s the people that we know that we see on the way — it’s like we have our neighbors with us at all times. We may not see them for a week or even a half a year, or maybe even a year, but they’re on this same path that we are between the Bahamas and the Long Island Sound.
It’s not so much the seeing new things. We’re seeing the same things over and over and over, but we’re very familiar with lots of places and lots of people. And we enjoy the people that we see. It’s like we’re home. The whole East Coast and the Bahamas is our home.
End of part two.
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