30 October 2015

Boat Pictures From Rhodes & Symi, For No Particular Reason

I've been busily working on a secret project for the past few days, so I don't have anything interesting to share with you on the blog today. If I manage to pull this project off, I'll tell you about it one of these days. In the meantime, here are some random pictures of boats from Rhodes and Symi for no particular reason. Maybe one of these days we'll take S/V Tickety Boo over there so that she can see it for herself.

Random pictures from when we traveled to Rhodes & Symi in 2007.

28 October 2015

Sorry To Be Nosy, But What Makes You Neurotic?

Yikes. I'm having a little bit of a panic attack here today and I need your help. Can you hang on for a second?

{Pause for a deep breath and a morsel of dark chocolate.}

Okay, I'm back. I'm feeling a little bit better, but I could really use your help. You might recall that, in a moment of insanity, I signed up for NaNoWriMo, which means I have to churn out a 50,000 word draft novel during November. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I have to confess I had had a couple of glasses of wine when I jumped on this bandwagon.  

Bandwagons always seem wonderful - happy, smiling people holding balloons, clapping their hands and screaming words of encouragement, "Come on, jump on up! We're going to have a fabulous time!"

Of course, once you're on the bandwagon, those same people tear off their masks and it turns out that they weren't happy smiling people after all. They were in fact those frightening aliens from that really bad TV series V. You know, the ones that want to take over our planet and snack on live rats. Yep, they're the same people that created NaNoWriMo. They suck you into thinking this will be the best creative exercise ever and then when you've collapsed in mental exhaustion on your keyboard because you can't think of what to write next and you're 46,433 words short of your 50,000 word goal and it's already November 29th, then they lock their tractor beam onto you, take you up into their evil spacecraft and do unspeakable things to you.

Apparently, folks with writer's block are a delicacy up on the mother ship. Rats are just everyday food, frustrated writers served up with a drizzle of hollandaise sauce are for special occasions. 

I don't want to be a delicacy. So, I need to avoid writer's block at all costs. Here's where you come in. 

My idea for the novel is something loosely like this:

A neurotic woman's husband convinces her that sailing around the world is a good idea. Only one problem. She's afraid of the water.

I can kind of relate to the main character. Okay, I can relate a lot. I have my fair share of neuroses when it comes to this sailing thing. The good news is that I'm not afraid of the water. And, just in case you were wondering, we don't have any plans to circumnavigate. We may do that one day, but then again, we may not.

While I have some ideas about what this neurotic woman is like, I need to flesh out her character and her backstory. As part of this process, I've been puzzling over the questions below and would love to hear your thoughts.

1 - What types of things would make someone neurotic when it comes to setting off on a crazy adventure like sailing around the world? What do you think their biggest fears would be?
2 - How would they overcome their fears?  

3 - What words of advice would you give this woman as she sets off on this adventure?

You don't have to think about it just from the perspective of sailing. There are many types of crazy adventures out there (like selling your house, buying an RV and traveling around North America or quitting your job to write the Great American Novel), so any ideas you have about what it would be like to decide to do something crazy and be a bit fearful about it would be fantastic. 

I'd love to hear your thoughts - leave a comment below or on our Facebook page, or send us an email at thecynicalsailor (at) gmail (dot) com.

Thanks to everyone for all their support and encouragement! November should prove to be an interesting month. 

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26 October 2015

Fixing Toilets | The Joke's On Me

The toilet on our boat broke the other day. This sort of thing wasn't in the glossy brochure Scott handed me a few years ago when he was trying to convince me to chuck it all in, move onto a sailboat and go cruising. There were pictures of tropical islands, people frolicking on the beach, dolphins and magical sunsets. It looked wonderful, so I signed up. Wouldn't you?

I realize now that I should have read the small print and the disclaimer which said:

"TERMS & CONDITIONS APPLY: The pictures in this brochure are for illustrative purposes only. Your experience may differ. We cannot be held responsible for things that break on your boat, adverse weather conditions or sharks."
The other thing I should have picked up on was that there wasn't one single picture of a broken toilet in the brochure, let alone someone fixing a toilet. Imagine my surprise when I went to flush the toilet the other day only to find all of the stuff that should have flushed down into what I affectionately call the pee and poo box (aka holding tank or black water tank), just sitting there refusing to comply with my wishes. I've got one word for you to describe this - GROSS. Actually, here's another one - DISGUSTING. And, why not, let's throw in a third - ICKY.

I shouted out for Scott to come check it out and fix it, but he was nowhere to be found. I looked everywhere - in the cubbyholes in the v-berth, at the patio area at the marina, even up at the local bar. Man, is he ever good at playing hide and seek - he was nowhere to be found. Then I remembered that he's back in Scotland working just now, which explains why no one brought me a cup of coffee in bed that morning. 

Sure, I miss Scott while he's away, but let me tell you, I was really missing him on that infamous DAY OF THE BROKEN TOILET. This could only mean one of two things:

1 - The toilet wouldn't get fixed until Scott got back; or

2 - I would have to put on my big girl pants and sort the little bugger out. 

So, here's the problem with Option #1 - I'm middle-aged. That means there are trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Having to walk to the marina bathroom at 3:00 AM really wasn't gonna happen for very long. After all, there's alligators swimming out there and they're hard enough to see during the day, let alone at night.

This meant I was going to have to sort things out. Darn. 

I assembled all of the items required - a screwdriver, plastic gloves, bleach spray, a turkey baster and a joker valve. The screwdriver is pretty obvious - you have to unscrew things on the toilet to fix it. The plastic gloves and bleach spray are also probably pretty obvious - it's a gross job. But, you might be confused about the turkey baster. 

Yes, American Thanksgiving is coming up, but this has nothing to do with basting your turkey. Basically, you want to get the icky stuff out of the toilet bowl before you start opening up the parts of the toilet which drain the icky stuff into the pee and poo box, because when you're fixing the toilet, some of that might drain out where you least want it. I refer you back to the importance of the plastic gloves and bleach spray. 

By the way, if I invite you over for a turkey supper with all the trimmings, don't worry as I've since put this particular turkey baster into a Ziploc bag clearly marked, "Not for use on turkeys." But, just to be on the safe side, we'll have chili instead.

I asked people on our Facebook page what they thought was the most important item needed to fix a marine toilet. Originally, I was thinking it was the bleach spray, but then someone rightly pointed out that I was missing the most important item of all - a huge glass of wine or pint of beer to drink after sorting the stupid toilet out.

For those of you who don't know anything about marine toilets (and I was just such a person until quite recently), you might not know what a joker valve is. It's a plastic device that keeps waste from backing up into your toilet bowl. When you pump the toilet to flush it, the pressure opens up the joker valve to let icky stuff make it's way to the pee and poo box. When there isn't any pressure on it, it stays closed, keeping the waste where it should be. Joker valves are one of the things the commonly break on a boat - fortunately, they aren't too expensive to replace (approx $15).

Before I set about fixing the toilet, I watched a video on the Jabsco site on how to do it. These guys made it look dead easy. Of course, they were "fixing" a brand spanking new toilet with no grossness inside, which wasn't connected to anything and on a table with lots of space to maneuver. This does not correspond with reality.

Whenever you need to fix anything on a boat, you can be sure the space you have to work in is cramped and a pain to work in. After placing absorbent pads by the waste discharge hose (you know for that icky stuff that might escape), I unscrewed some part attached to the bottom of the pump (I'm sure it has a name, but I couldn't tell you what it is). Then I had to try to maneuver that part so that I could extract the old joker valve. Easier said than done.

Next, I pulled out the old joker valve - this is when it got really stinky - and popped in the new one. Screwed everything back into place and Bob's your uncle. While I was at it, I even unscrewed the pump and greased it so that everything works smoothly. How's that for going above and beyond the call of duty?

Finally, it was off with the plastic gloves, lots of bleach spray all around and a nice cold Goose IPA. 

I guess the good news of this little exercise is that I've recently been promoted to CHIEF SANITATION ENGINEER. Turns out that I don't need Scott around to fix everything that breaks. The bad news is that I've been recently promoted to CHIEF SANITATION ENGINEER so if the toilet breaks again, guess whose in charge. {Sigh} I guess that would be me.

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23 October 2015

The Free Table & The Not So Free Table | Thoughts On Consumerism

There's an article in The Guardian about how stuff had consumed the average American's life. It's been making the rounds on Facebook lately and it made me stop and think. Not literally stop, mind you, as that would imply that I was busily moving around the place tacking boat project after boat project. No, instead I was sluggishly lounging in our aft cabin engaged in one of my favorite time wasters - hanging out on Facebook. Which, of course, is how I found this article. I had a read and figuratively stopped what I was doing (meaning that I sat up just a little bit straighter, not that slugs lounging in bed sit up very straight) and thought about all the stuff we've been buying for our boat, all of the stuff that we still need to buy and all the stuff we want to buy.

Well, let me tell you, that turned out to be a depressing activity! Nothing worse than adding up all of the potential costs of the stuff you need to buy along with the stuff that you don't necessarily need, but want to buy. At this point, I would have had a chocolate chip cookie to calm myself down, but I didn't have any. In fact, I haven't had any chocolaty treats on the boat for a while because I don't need them. I want them desparately, but I don't need them. At least, that's what I tell myself. And keep telling myself over and over again. It's amazing how often I stick my fingers in my ears and ignore what I'm telling myself. 

When I look at the stuff I want to buy, but don't need to buy, I'm pleasantly surprised by the types of items on the list. Things like sheets, travel coffee mugs, a messenger bag and picture frames. Generally, not too many "frivolous" items. If you had asked me a few years ago what was on my want to buy list, it probably would have been cluttered up with things like scented candles, snazzy work clothes, adorable wedge sandals, a new dining room table, a pretty table cloth to cover that new table and the latest product guaranteeing to make my hair ooze volume and shine. 

Nowadays, that kind of stuff doesn't even come close to my want to buy list for three reasons

1 - We've got space constraints

When we decided to set off on a nomadic life of travel on a sailboat, we downsized considerably. Living in a small space forces you to think carefully about what you keep and what you buy, because you can only fit so much onboard. According to the article, the average American lives in a 2,480 sq ft house (775 sq m) and that's often not big enough for all of their stuff, so they have to rent a storage locker. And that's just the average American - many folks live in much larger houses. We live on a boat which is probably far less than 400 sq ft (122 sq m) in size (it's hard to measure the square footage of a house which has pointy ends on it). Space is at a premium. You can't be a hoarder when you live on a boat!

2 - Taking a cheap & cheerful approach

When you decide to chuck in working in corporate la-la land and set off traveling instead, then you've got to take a much more frugal approach to things. At least we do - our savings will only stretch so far. I like to think of it as being cheap and cheerful. We think carefully about where we spend out money, but in a cheerful fashion. Being frugal doesn't mean that you have to live a horrible life without joy. Instead, you find happiness in experiences, not in stuff you buy. You can't fix your problems by going out and buying stuff for that fleeting moment of happiness brought about by owning a new gadget with flashing lights or killer shoes.

3 - We need less stuff

When you're not working a corporate job, trying to keep up with the Jonses and you change your way of life, then you find you need far less stuff than you used to. In fact, you find that you never did need it, you just wanted it. Coupled with that is a realization that our planet probably needs less stuff too. We produce so much stuff and we throw away so much stuff just so that we can get brand new shiny stuff. I really like the Non-Consumer's Advocate philosophy of "use it up, wear it out, make it do and do without." I'm not great about keeping this front and center in my mind, but I keep trying. Do I need it or want it? If I do need it, does it need to be shiny and sparkly and new? 

When I think about my want to buy list from the perspective of a conscious consumer, on a budget and living in a tiny floating house, I probably won't end up buying all the items on there, but I will buy some. For example:

  • Sheets - Our current sheets are fine, but they have some stubborn stains which won't come out. They're not pretty, but they're functional. Verdict - keep the current ones until they get worn out. 
  • Coffee Mugs - Our travel coffee mugs keep our coffee hot, but they make a weird burping noise at times. Strange and a bit annoying, but probably not worth replacing with brand new ones at this point. Verdict - keep and live with the noise.
  • Messenger Bag - I have a Kathmandu messenger bag which I bought in New Zealand a few years ago which I love. It's a great bag for schlepping stuff around with me and I like how I can wear it across my body (keeps it from accidentally falling in the water). It's developed some rips inside and has ugly staining on the outside, but I'm going to hang onto it for the time being because it still works and new one would cost a pretty penny. The old me would have just bought a new one. The new me thinks about how much it would cost and puts her credit card back in her current messenger bag. Way to go, new me! Verdict - keep it, mend it and try to get a few more years of use out of it.
  • Picture Frames - We want to hang some of Scott's pictures of the places we've traveled to on the walls in our saloon. Enter the desire for picture frames. This is one thing on the list that I am going to buy. Being conscious of your consumerism isn't necessarily about not buying anything at all, but about carefully considering what you do buy. Our boat is our home and we want to make it homey with some pictures. I'm never going to be the person who doesn't buy anything that they don't absolutely need. That would be silly. Life is about balancing needs and wants. Verdict - Buy them!

There are two tables at our marina - the free table and the not-so-free table. What I like about the free table, besides the fact that stuff is free, is that it's a way for the stuff that people don't want to be reused by someone who does want it, rather than being chucked in the trash dumpster and ending up in a landfill. The other day, I found a silicone baking pan (it's the red thing in the picture below). I've always wanted one of these, but have never bought one because it was too far down the want to have list and definitely not on the need to have list. But, here was one, just waiting for me and free to a good home. Win for everyone - I get to have something I want and there's one less thing gone to waste on this planet. I'll be keeping an eye out on the free table for non-burping travel coffee mugs too. 

Of course, I do spend a lot of time at the not-so-free table picking up packages of stuff shipped from Walmart, Amazon, Defender etc. But, I try to make sure these are things we need (for the most part) and can't find used or one the free table. I don't always succeed, but I'm trying.

Do you ever get stuff from free tables or free piles in your neighborhood? Do you think you have too much stuff, the right amount of stuff or not enough stuff in your home?

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