Six weeks into our stay in Annapolis, we have made some progress in our transition to a land-based life. As with just about anything boat-related, it appears it will take some time.
We have settled in nicely here at the Bert Jabin Yacht Yard in Annapolis, the very same place where we first saw and then purchased Thalia. From this very spot, we sailed her off to start our 10,000 mile adventure in November, 2013. Three years later, sailing is (perhaps ironically) low on our list of priorities, as we work both physically and psychologically toward a new normal.
Over the course of nearly a week, we ground down the cracked old nonskid on Thalia's upper decks, then replaced it with pristine white nonskid. It was a hot, messy job, but so rewarding! She looks nearly new now.
Now that Thalia is actively listed on Yacht World
, we started working on prioritizing and then tackling a long list of projects. But just a few days after we settled into our slip here, a massive heat wave descended upon us. Now, we've made it three years in relative comfort living on the East Coast with no air conditioning whatsoever, and have always been rather rather proud of that - you might even say a bit smug, in true Oregonian fashion. Less than a week of temperatures in the high 90s and high humidity here in Annapolis changed that perspective rather quickly. Being docked here in a sheltered creek is one big difference; normally we'd be anchored out on open water where we'd enjoy cooling breezes even in hot weather. Another difference is knowing we have shore power here to run air conditioning, a luxury we have not enjoyed when at anchor.
A pretty typical summer day here, with hot, humid weather broken up by some awe-inspiring thunderstorms that cool everything down.
The hottest temperature we've seen so far (actual + humidity) has been a heat index of a staggering 121º! More often the heat index is in the high 90s to low 100s, which is hot enough.
Our friend and Thalia's broker Stephen took pity on us and drove Larry to a nearby Home Depot to purchase a portable air conditioning unit, which we immediately dubbed R2D2 and installed in our aft cabin. R2D2 has been a huge blessing, keeping the boat reasonably cool even in very hot conditions.
R2D2, our air conditioning droid, has been a real lifesaver. Almost literally.
Of course, with no car, we still had to deal with the logistics of walking or biking in extreme heat. We figured out the Annapolis bus system rather quickly, and took advantage of their air conditioned buses to do grocery shopping, but even that required a fairly long bike ride to get to the nearest bus stop. My weekly physical therapy appointments downtown (for a frozen left shoulder I'm working to rehabilitate) have required a dinghy ride to the 6th Street public dinghy dock, and then a bike ride up over a bridge and through downtown. At least I arrived well warmed up for my therapy.
Another factor that started us thinking about buying a car was a psychological one. We've been used to moving, moving, moving all the time, never staying in one place more than a week or so; often just a few days. Being tied up at a dock, especially once we'd finished most of our big boat projects and our girl was ready to show, caused us to start to feel quite restless. At least for me, a big part of this has been the passivity of just waiting for the right person to come along to fall in love with Thalia. The waiting became difficult for me, and I yearned for the freedom some wheels would give us.
The Car Search
My brother Dan has owned a 2003 Honda Element about five years now, and swears he's never owned a car he loves more. My dear friend, chef, and mentor Robert Reynolds owned one, too; I have an indelible image in my head of him driving around with Thomas the standard poodle perched proudly in the front passenger seat. Elements are kind of funny looking - a boxy body on a CRV base - but are relatively inexpensive, extremely reliable, versatile, roomy, and fun to drive. Honda stopped making them after 2011, so they're only available used, most with quite a few miles on them. We did some research on used cars and, given our low budget and Dan's knowledgeable and enthusiastic recommendation, set out to find the same car.
It took us several weeks of research to narrow down exactly what we wanted, and then to find likely candidates in Virginia and Maryland. We also had the logistics of not having a car when we needed to go look at cars. So we rented one from Enterprise - a great rental agency for boaters because they pick us up - and drove down to Fredericksburg to look at two Elements at a used car dealership. We were armed to the teeth with research showing what these cars should cost - much less than was being asked, of course. We liked one much more than the other, took it for a test drive, and then drove it to a mechanic to have it checked out. There were minor issues, but it was a good car with low miles for a 2003. However, the asking price was several thousand dollars more than what we felt it was worth. The dealer was very polite and professional, but intractable, reducing the price only $500 after a long negotiation. Somewhat dispirited, we walked away, then made the long drive back to Annapolis and collapsed back aboard Thalia, quite exhausted.
The following weekend, we ventured back out in another rental car, this time to the DC area. We went to see one car in Falls Church, parked on one of those dinky corner used car lots. Something didn't seem quite right about that car, so we drove a half hour to Chantilly to check out another Element - a 2003 with low miles that seemed priced suspiciously low. Larry combed through that car as only an engineer can, finding nothing of real concern. So we took it to a mechanic to have it checked out, then returned to repeat the negotiating game. This time, however, the dealer countered our offer with a very reasonable price. So we ended up being the proud owners of a really nice Honda Element for $2,500 less than the first one we'd seen, which was the same year and had similar mileage. We have since had some work done including replacing worn front brake pads and rotors, but overall our "toaster" is in great shape and has been a game-changer for us in terms of mobility. We love it.
We don't have a name yet for our new Element, although brother Dan calls them "toasters." We'll come up with one eventually; meanwhile, we're just enjoying having wheels again.
The Insurance Game
Obtaining auto insurance was a surprisingly difficult process. Because we haven't had anything but yacht insurance for several years - no auto or homeowner's policies - the quotes we got for the car were outrageous. Turns out when you get off the grid for even as few as 90 days, the computers automatically consider you a high risk and that is that. We were only able to find a workaround for our dilemma with the help of our daughter Kelli, who graciously added us to her own policy. That immediately cut our rates to a quarter of what we were being quoted. Six months from now, we'll once again have a track record and be able to stand on our own.
Kelli and I had a laugh over the irony of this. As she lives in Alexandria, Kelli was also helpful in letting us use her home address as our own. Otherwise, we wouldn't have been able to register the car in Virginia as Virginia "residents." Technically, we don't even have a residence, as far as officialdom is concerned. From our point of view, we live in a lovely floating home. From theirs, we're homeless, unless we have a proper street address. This boat, this marina, and our Florida mailing address do not count. So even though we're not sure we'll end up living in Virginia, we have to pretend we already do, to make the bureaucrats happy. We had to have a bank statement mailed to that address as proof of our residence. Once one statement was received, we went right back to online statements.
We've had similar issues over the past several years trying to get health insurance, register to vote, and acquire a safe deposit box in a credit union. These experiences have been eye-opening to us. There is little room in society for those who fall outside its expectations, which obviously has much more profound implications for folks who really are homeless than it does for us. It has given us some real perspective on that, though; just part of our shift in perspective since choosing to follow a different path than most people do.
Last Sunday, we drove to Baltimore and settled in for a week with son Mike, daughter-in-law Meghan, and three-month-old Max. Mike, now in his tenth year as a middle school teacher, was returning to work after three months home with Max. Meghan has already been back at work for several weeks. The daycare they've lined up for Max doesn't start until the end of August, so we volunteered to care for him last week, with Meghan's parents Dee and John covering next week.
Sweet little Max is the light of our lives. Here, Grandpa gives him his late morning bottle.
The transition from our quiet life aboard Thalia to taking care of an infant full time was rather a shock to the system. Max is a cheerful, bright-eyed, sweet little guy, but he's three months old, with very strong opinions about what he does and doesn't want. And although between us we've raised five kids, of course we are just a bit rusty.
Monday was a good day overall, Tuesday was our seriously fussy baby day, and Wednesday I awoke with extremely sore biceps from hauling around a 16 pound baby for two days. It got better from there, though, as Larry and I figured out Max and he got comfortable with us. He only naps about 45 minutes at a time, several times a day, so we had to adjust to the timing and demands of his needs and schedule. By Saturday, we were feeling pretty good about how well we'd all done. I know it was a help to Max's parents, and we were treated to a week of adoring, gummy smiles from our spunky little redheaded grandson.
The Home Search
Young Max, his parents, and Larry's two daughters and son-in-law are all very good reasons for us to try to settle close the the DC/Baltimore area. For months now, we've considered some of the favorite cities and towns we've seen during our travels - St. Petersburg, Charleston, Bluffton, New Bern, Raleigh-Durham, Portsmouth, Baltimore... the list of places we've looked at is long and varied. Recently, we've narrowed our search to just two cities and the surrounding areas: Charlottesville, Virginia, and Asheville, North Carolina.
We'll be driving to Asheville next week for a visit, having only ever driven through and stopped for dinner, three years ago on our way to move aboard Thalia. But quite a few people have suggested it, enough that we finally contacted David, a Portland friend who moved there years ago, and asked for his take on the area. The subsequent conversations have been intriguing, as has our research on the area. Asheville is surrounded by the Smoky, Blue Ridge, and Appalachia mountains, with somewhat cooler and drier weather than here on the coast. It is spectacularly beautiful country. The city has a large population of educated retirees, tremendous cultural amenities, a great farm-to-table scene, and (at least in the surrounding areas) very affordable real estate by Portland standards.
However, it's an eight hour drive to Baltimore or DC - or a short commuter flight - so that's less than ideal. Charlottesville, on the other hand, is just a few hours' drive from the kids. Home to University of Virginia and Jefferson's Monticello, it's in Virginia's lovely wine country, with rolling hills, just 30 miles east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There's a pedestrian-friendly historic downtown, a thriving farm and restaurant scene, and really good educational, cultural, and medical facilities. Like Asheville, the city proper is relatively expensive, but just outside the city and in nearby towns like Staunton (home of my hero, the rebel organic farmer Joel Salatin), homes are inexpensive and have big yards for the vegetable garden, dogs, beehives, and chicken coop we're planning as we dream about our next phase.
In addition to dealing with the car, we've had some fun, too. Kelli visited for a day and we took the opportunity to tour the historic home of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and Maryland Governor William Paca.
The two acres of gardens - including a working vegetable garden based on the actual 18th century design - were inspiring to tour, and reinforced our interest in finding our own little patch of earth soon.
Larry and Kelli enjoy a break in the formal gardens at the William Paca house.
And we've done some exploring on our own, on bikes and in our new ride, discovering some terrific little parks, residential areas, and cafés. Most notable of the latter is a place called Davis' Pub, a local hangout for nearly 100 years that features ice cold beer, delicious hot crab pretzels, and really great service.
Enjoying an ice cold Natty Bo - a local favorite - while waiting for our meal at neighborhood hangout Davis' Pub.
When it's not too hot, we've done some cooking, too, and have taken advantage of the glorious summer produce, especially the local peaches.
The Maryland peaches have been amazing this year. Some of these were eaten fresh, and some were made into a cobbler with blueberries.
Three years old and going strong, our sourdough starter makes really delicious pizza crust, a favorite boat meal for us.
So, no decisions yet, but we're closer to knowing where we'll end up. All of this depends upon finding Thalia's new owners, which we're confident we'll be able to do as we head into the high season here in Annapolis, leading up to the October boat show. Check out the Yacht World listing
to see detailed photos of the home we've occupied these past few years, including a couple of walk-through videos we just uploaded.
For now, we're content to enjoy the beauty and comfort of our tiny floating home, while exploring and dreaming about our next big adventure.