Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Keys Disease

"Keys Disease," that infectious virus that temps every visitor to the Florida Keys to stay far longer than originally intended. (from

How can you not fall in love?

First, an apology to anyone who reads this blog with regularity and enjoys getting updates on our little adventure.  The month of December seems to have gotten away from me, but not for the usual reasons of shopping and holiday preparation.

After my last post in which I talked about us not knowing which way to go, we spent a lot of time brainstorming and soul searching to find what we really thought would be the best option for us at this time.  We looked at boats again, but ultimately came to the conclusion that we just can’t afford that right now.  We talked about going West, but with the weather this time of year we ultimately decided to get as far south as we could and stay as warm as possible this winter.

So, we headed back to the Florida Keys, this time to find a place to stay.  When we first visited the Keys in November we knew there was something special for us there.  It’s the water, it’s the coconut palms, and it’s the laid back free-spirited vibe that one gets down here.  Short of moving to the actual Caribbean, this is the closest you can get and still drive to it, and it’s pretty great.

We looked at a half dozen apartments between Key Largo at the northern end of the keys and Stock Island, which is next to Key West at the southern end of the keys.  We ultimately settled on a small (400 sq. ft. or so) studio in Key Largo, with a deck that is twice the size of the apartment on a corner lot with two canals running by.  Included in the lease is 25’ of dock space, so some sort of boat is definitely in our future.
See, dock space!
After the whirlwind second tour of the Keys and a few days unpacking the RV and settling into the apartment, we made a mad dash back to NY to return the Rialta to my family and pick up our Honda Element and two kayaks and some other things we had been storing.  It was a brief visit, but enough to see both of our families, visit some friends, and give us a taste of the winter we have left behind.  After freezing our butts off in NY for most of a week, driving back into south Florida felt like driving into spring time;  layers were shed, windows were opened, the sun came out, and it was good!

We have been settling in nicely in our new digs.  After living in the 150 sqare feet of the motor home for two months, a studio apartment feels downright palatial.  It’s great to have a kitchen again, and a full sized shower.  What really sold us on this place though was the tremendous amount of deck and dock space with it being right on the canals.  We have already been visited by manatees a couple of times.  

As I write this, we are experiencing something of a cold front in the Keys, today’s daytime high is only expected to be in the upper 50s!  Imagine that!  At the end of December, we are experiencing the same weather we wouldn’t have seen in NY until late March.  Sold.

So, what does this mean for this blog?  Has our change in course been completed?  

In short, I don’t think so.  Living on a sailboat and cruising still loom large in our dreams.  Our new life in the Keys is probably just a port of call on our meandering journey through life.  But it is definitely a nice stop.

I will keep posting about our adventures, and this may turn into a more frequent "here is the cool place to kayak that we found today" type of blog for a while.  But I want to keep everyone updated on where we stand on our journey at large, how we are able to live this life because we chose to live simply, and ultimately how these “crazy” decisions have enabled us to live a life closer to our dreams.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Our Journey in Sunsets

Not much news to report from the past week.  We are still bumming around Florida, now on the east coast, outside of Melbourne.  Still trying to figure out (procrastinating) our next move.

So, I thought I'd post some of the pictures I've taken of sunsets during our voyage thus far.  I always love watching the sunset, it's such a magical time of day.  It can feel like getting a show for free everyday.

Marathon, FL Keys.  Nice of that bird to sit up there for us, right?

Bahia Honda State Park, FL Keys.  Considerate sailboat anchored for us to enhance the sunset.

Through the uprights, it's good!!  St. Pete Beach, FL

Near Charleston, SC

Outside Annapolis, MD

Sunset on the Chesapeake

From Mallory Square, Key West

Hope you are having a nice weekend!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cross Roads

Today is supposed to be the day where we sit down with internet access and figure out where we are going next.  It's as simple as choosing a destination, but what are the greater implications of such decisions?

If we get somewhere and don't like it we will have wasted gas and therefore money, of which there is a finite amount.  If we get somewhere and love it, will we want to stay?  If we go somewhere, will it be further from where we want to go?

We are at a cross roads.  We've had a wonderful time on our trip thus far, but we are weary of much of the suburban scenery we see day to day.  It seems every exit off the interstate looks the same:  there is a Walmart, a Burger King, a Dunkin Donuts, three or four gas stations, a couple of strip know the scene. 

There have been places on our trip so far that we could really see ourselves staying at for a while.  Key West and Charleston come to mind.  Both towns have done a great job of keeping vibrant downtown scenes and keeping big boxes to a minimum and pushed to the outside.

A funny thing is that we don't mind living in the small space of the RV, it's more a sense of place that we are missing.  However, we aren't ready to just settle into an apartment or house again and be tied down with a lease, or furniture.  If only there was a place to boondock in a nice community's downtown for free!

So, what do we do?  Do we head further West into the vast greatness of this country and see if there is a place for us there?  Do we follow through on our initial quest to find a small sailboat to live on?  Do we pack it in, get on a plane and go to another country?

Somehow, I don't think I'll find the answer by the end of today...

Friday, November 26, 2010

Beach Bummin'

St. Augustine Beach
Since we arrived in Florida two weeks ago we've tried to hug the coastline as closely as possible, driving on A1A down much of the East coast and stopping at any interesting beaches that caught our eye.  It's been a laid back time for sure, which would explain the absence of blog posts.

We visited family in Jacksonville, saw dolphins play in the surf off New Smyrna, saw some ginormous houses in West Palm, went to an awesome free concert on Miami's South Beach (Zac Brown Band & Nic Cowen), and finally made our way down to the Keys.

The Florida Keys were another of those places where we could really see ourselves hanging out for a while.  If not for the ordinance against overnight parking, and the impending Thanksgiving Day holiday, we probably would have stayed longer there.

It's a bit as if we had driven out of the US and gone right into the Caribbean.  The water alternates between shades of turquoise, green, and gin clear; there are coconuts to be found around the palm trees; roosters walk the streets of Key West; there are very few box stores; and almost everyone seems to have a boat of some type. 

We thoroughly enjoyed the laid back vibe we experienced in the Keys.  There was no traffic, so many sounds of the mainland that bother us were absent, and we have a new found appreciation for Key Lime Pie (Snapper's in Key Largo has some of the best we've tried). 

We also treated ourselves to a Hobie Cat rental on the beach and got in an hour or so of sailing.  The wind was piping along pretty good, I'd say 15 knots.  After a bit, I dropped Trish at the beach to warm up and went back out and I got to have a an inadvertent man overboard drill as the extra life jacket flew off after crashing through a largish (from a Hobie Cat perspective) wave.  My technique wasn't perfect, but I managed to snag the jacket back by my lonesome.

We also took the opportunity to try out Stand up Paddleboarding, or SUP, through SUP Key West.  Trisha was a natural, whilst I was the first in the water after falling off the board.  I only managed to fall in twice, and took the stance that if you haven't fallen off, you aren't really trying.  All in all it was a great experience.  We traveled across the flats and saw Pelicans dive bombing the water for their meals, went through mangrove tunnels, and saw Jimmy Buffet's old house on a canal (pretty small, but so are a lot of houses down there, another thing we like).  SUP is definitely a new water sport that we will have to try more of.

Now we are in the Tampa area on the West Coast, visiting with more family for the holiday, without a destination in mind for where to go next.  Time will tell...

Zac Brown Concert

Rose on South Beach

Oooh I wanna take ya

Not a bad campsite

Obligatory stop at Margaritaville

Do you think Manatees have statues of Humans to hold their mailboxes?

Only 90 miles to Cuba!

End of the road on the old bridge at Bahia Honda State Park

Key West Sunset from Mallory Square

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Row of Houses in Charleston, SC
We arrived in Charleston, SC last Wednesday.  After two days in the city we weren't sure we would leave again.  What an amazing place.

You see, on our original plan for this trip, we were supposed to leave Southern Virginia and make a b-line for the Florida Keys.  Sounds great, right?  Well, upon further review we decided it would be best not to burn that much gas and bypass everything in between Virginia and Southern Florida.  For whatever reason, we decided to stop in Charleston.  We didn't research the decision much and had just a fuzzy idea of what awaited us.

If ever we were looking for a place to settle down to again, Charleston has all we are looking for.  It has architecture and history.  Enough restaurants that you could probably spend years without going to the same one twice.  Great beach towns surround it.  Did I mention the 3000 slip marina!?  Oh yeah, it never snows there and we were visiting in the midst of a "cold-spell" where daily temperatures only got into the mid-60s in November.  Meanwhile, back in NY where we left from, they got a freak snow storm.

Immediately upon driving into the city we got a great vibe.  There was a pulse to the city.  People out on the streets, horse drawn carriages traipsing down cobblestone streets, gas lights, houses that are hundreds of years old, dark alleys (of the not-going-to-get-stabbed-if-you-walk-down-them variety), Spanish moss, and palm trees.

We've been walking a lot on this trip, and this stop was no exception.  We had arrived in time for the city's first Friday; which is where local galleries open up on the first Friday of the month to showcase new works.  It is an event we used to attend in Albany, but Charleston's was significantly larger.  An added perk is that most galleries serve free finger foods, and some serve drinks.  At the last gallery we made it to there was a man playing Flamenco guitar in the rear courtyard.  Art, food, drinks, and music.  For free.  Sign me up.

We also treated ourselves to a Walking Ghost Tour.  It was a fun experience and we heard some pretty interesting and chilling tales.  No ghosts though.  But it did show us a different side of our new favorite city.

Before arriving in Charleston, something had been missing from this trip.  We couldn't quite put a finger on it, but everywhere we had gone we didn't quite "belong".  Even in Annapolis, which we had had high hopes for, we didn't get the feeling that it was for us.  All that changed in Charleston, we could have happily never left.  In fact, we met several locals who had had similar experiences.  They were displaced for some reason or other, arrived in Charleston and just stayed.

We do have other places we want to explore though, and after brief stops in Savannah and Brunswick, GA, we've since arrived in Florida where we will be for the next few weeks at the least.  If we don't like it here, South Carolina is only a few hours to the North.

Cannons for Shelling Ft. Sumter


Creekside Reggae

Beach Bench

Looking out to the Harbour

Monday, November 8, 2010

What We Like (and Don't)

Parked in Charleston, SC

Well we’ve been living pretty much full time in the 160 sq. ft. of space allotted in our VW Rialta for about three weeks now.  Here’s a brief list of things we like and don’t like about it:


Home is where we park
Life is simplified
Not having clutter
Freedom (though it’s quite scary sometimes)
Exploration, we’ve seen some truly stunning scenery
As winter gets closer, we’ve only gotten warmer
Cooking simple meals with a two burner stove
We don’t have a lot of clothes, hence it is simple to get dressed
We use our microwave as an extra cabinet rather than a microwave
It’s cozy
Friendly locals (more the further south we’ve gotten)
We can fit in most parking places in the city (only 22’ long)
We have a TV, but we don’t watch it (we watch the occasional movie or show on the laptop)


Staying at WalMart too much
The suburbs that we have to drive through to get to the Wal-Marts
Not having a sense of community – we miss our friends, and our local shops
Doing dishes in a mini-sink
Banging a knee or a head into something at least once a day
Having to move various items (ie. Fishing rods) to get to storage (ie. the kitchen cabinet)
One of us can sit while eating, the other has to stand (we’re sleeping on the dinette)

Things We Miss

The aforementioned friends and local shops
Unlimited hot showers
Laundry facilities
Going out to eat more often – we’re on a very limited budget to be doing this
Being able to be “greener” (we had a worm compost at our house)
Grocery shopping for more than two days at a time
A couch
A kitchen table


All in all, this has been a great experience thus far.  We have our days where we look at each other and say “what the f*ck are we doing!?”, but the good experiences outweigh the bad.  In looking over our lists of likes and dislikes, it seems the things we dislike or miss are many of the conveniences that we take for granted when living in a house or an apartment: furniture, unlimited water on demand, etc.

Will we stay living in an RV forever?  No.  Our ultimate dream is still to live on a sailboat.  We are living in less space than the size sailboat we will eventually live on, so this has/continues to be a good primer for that.  In the meantime we will continue our travels on land, but keep the water in our hearts.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Most of last week was spent on the road, traipsing down the DelMarVa Peninsula (“gunkholing” is the term sailors use) from Annapolis, MD in the North till finally crossing the 20 mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and entering Virginia Beach last Thursday.

We had really high expectations heading into Annapolis, and while it definitely has some cool spots and nice architecture, our heart still lies in that other sailing town up in RI: Newport.  I think Newport has a more “small town” feel about it that we didn’t get out of Annapolis.  Outside of downtown, the big box chains take over pretty quickly and it loses all of the colonial charm of the city center.  One bright spot was the neighborhood of Eastport that occupies the peninsula just south of Annapolis.  We spent most of one day just walking around Eastport checking out the cool beach shack type homes, the tiny Oyster museum with public docks where we learned about crabbing, watching boats go out to the bay, and exploring the little beaches that existed as every street ended at the water.

The Chesapeake is beautiful country.  There are literally thousands of small rivers, creeks, and estuaries that flow into the bay, and as such you are never far from water.  We had the privilege of camping right on the water last Monday on Taylor’s Island, MD.  The campground was back in the woods without any signage and I was pretty sure men in coveralls playing banjos were going to greet us at the gate, but it turned out to be a really great evening despite it being our first time dumping the land yacht’s waste tanks.

We also had opportunity to visit the Atlantic side of the DelMarVa Peninsula when we visited Chincoteague Island, VA.  There is a protected barrier island there that is a national wildlife sanctuary.  As such, we were unable to drive onto it (we are travelling with our dog), so we parked at nearby hotel that was nice enough to let us use their lot and walked in.  Three hours of non-stop hiking and about ten miles later we returned after having seen more birds that I can ever remember seeing at any one time.  We also had an opportunity to view the wild ponies of Chincoteague; if you’ve ever looked at horses grazing in a field you can imagine what that was like.  Overall the area was very pristine and beautiful.  We walked down the beach on the Atlantic side of the barrier island and didn’t see another soul for over a mile.

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel is quite the feat of engineering prowess.  I wouldn’t in my wildest imagination try to construct something over, and under open water for twenty miles!  I’d probably opt to run a ferry boat, but then again I’m predisposed to messing about in boats.  Anyway, it’s quite impressive and was worth the $12 entry fee, I mean toll, to see it.

Last Thursday was the four year anniversary of our marriage.  It was on our Honeymoon just after, in Jamaica, that we first tried sailing and first experienced that notion of “Island Time”, a state we have been trying to get back to ever since.  That week, more than any other time in my brief stay on this planet, affected my outlook on life and what I want to get out of it more than any other.  We celebrated our anniversary by grilling some shrimp and tuna, drinking a couple of Red Stripes, and staying at a campground on the beach in Virginia.  Towards the end of our meal it started to rain, and then it really started to rain; huge droplets coming down in sheets, soaked the second you walk outside kind of rain.  So we danced in it. Best anniversary ever.

We are now back on the road after a brief stay at my parent’s home near Smith Mt. Lake, VA.  While we had a great run of weather last week on the Peninsula and were able to wear shorts and flip flops for most of it, the forecast has turned decidedly chilly and we’ll be making a push to get a bit further south before stopping to fully explore one area like we did the DelMarVa again.

Some pictures:
Annapolis Street

Crabbing in Cambridge, MD

At Quiet Waters Park outside Annapolis

Boardwalk on Chincoteague Island, VA

Deserted Beach on Chincoteage's National Seashore

Sunset over the Severn River

Spanish Moss in Virginia Beach

Colonial Williamsburg, VA


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The "Land Yacht"

On the Chesapeake
She is a 1996 Rialta, a hybrid VW engine & chassis with a Winnebago body.  She’s been in my family since new but hadn’t been used much in recent years.  We’ve just broken 70,000 miles on her engine, there is still lots of life in her.

I mentioned in a previous post that we have about 160 sq.ft. of living space:  22’ L.O.A. (length overall), minus about 2’ for the engine compartment, so about 20’ of living space by 8’ of width.  Of course there are a couple of feet chewed up by the cockpit as well, but I’m counting that as living space.  I’m guessing we have the interior volume of a 27 or 28 foot sailboat, pretty spartan, but we have everything we need within reach…literally.

There is a two burner propane stove, small refrigerator, sink, and even a microwave though we have not had the occasion to use it, right now it’s another storage cabinet.  The head has a unique design with “pull out” walls and a pull up floor so that it can expand to take up most of the middle of the living space and become a useable shower room.
Sunset Reflection
There is a convertible dinette at the rear which we have been using in the bed configuration.  We have a futon mattress on there for added support.  One of the great features of the Rialta is the large rear window which offers great visibility while driving, but also good views from our bed of some of the beautiful scenery and sunsets we have found so far.
Panoramic Views
She is very comfortable underway and purrs along at cruising speeds of 65-70 mph.  The Rialta has a small five cylinder engine, so she won’t win any races but we get gas mileage unheard of on most RVs.  On the run from Trenton, NJ to Annapolis, MD we averaged over 13 mpg, and then more recently as we drove around the DelMarVa peninsula we’ve been averaging 18 mpg!
Boondocking at Sam's Club (see the full moon?)
Of course the systems on an RV are similar to what we will someday find on a boat.  We have a propane tank in an outside locker, an electric water pump, and 12v power system with deep cycle marine batteries for our house system (about 200 amp hours for those who might be interested).  We also have limited holding for both fresh and not-so-fresh (grey & black) water, so we have to find someplace to dump every few days.
She’s not without some quirks.  Unless we are plugged in (on shore power), we can’t really use the fridge, so we have been using it primarily like an ice box with a 10lb. bag of ice in a container on the bottom and anything that needs refrigeration packed around it.  So far this has worked pretty good.  And just yesterday morning we couldn’t get her to start for about an hour and a half.  Just as I was about to start pulling what I suspected was the fuel filter off (after further review it turns out it was not), Trisha worked some engine voodoo ritual (found on the web) which involved turning the key a few times, flooring the accelerator and then cranking her over, and sure enough it worked!  Since that mishap the engine has been fine, actually running a bit smoother.  I (and my dad) suspect that there might have been some gunk in the fuel filter from sitting that finally got worked out.  Suffice to say some fuel system cleaner has been added and the situation will be monitored.

So, that is our “land yacht” in a nutshell.  She is nothing too glamorous, pretty small, and looks a little bit like a space shuttle, but it is what is getting us out here sooner than later.  After reading many books on sailboat cruising, one of my favorite pieces of advice comes from Lin & Larry Pardey:  Go simple, go small, but go now.
By the waterfront in Cambridge, MD

Comparison shot to a 30ish foot sailboat