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Considering The Cruising Lifestyle?

For me, it is hard to recall the first "let's buy a boat and cruise the world" conversation. I can tell you that it wasn't long ago, and in the course of only one year, my husband Wayne and I had sold everything we owned and were on a plane flying to the East Coast to pick up our "new home."

This was not a lifetime dream for either of us. We had been living in Baja California, Mexico, for many years. I was 55 years old, Wayne, 52. Wayne had been building vacation homes for foreigners, and we had just completed a major renovation to our beachfront home, complete with an oceanside pool. I was in heaven, and had no thoughts of ever leaving. We owned a 30-foot Black Watch sportfisher, and we both loved fishing and taking an occasional week-or-so cruise on the amazing Sea of Cortez.

What seemed like out of nowhere, I started hearing Wayne say, "Wouldn't it be fun to buy a boat and live on it for a few years?" Not wanting to sound closed-minded, I agreed. Boat magazines started appearing around the house, and I could tell that this wasn't just a passing idea. One day he sat down with me and said, "Let's do it. We can sit here and do the same thing forever, or we can try something new." I had been reading the magazines, too, loved the stories of the exciting places to see, and it did sound like fun. But I just wasn't ready to give up my new home and all of my friends. Wayne said, "We will just list the house. It probably won't sell, and even if it does, it will take a while to get the paperwork done." Thinking I had a good two years to enjoy my paradise, I went with the plan.

Well, that was January 2008. Long story short, in February, we had buyers that loved our home, and the only glitch was that they wanted to close the sale in about 45 days! By then the ball was rolling and it just seemed like this cruising plan had a life of its own. Everything–and I mean everything–fell into place at the right time. I won't give you the list of what we had to sell in short notice to make this plan happen, but it did, and in March we flew to Florida to attend the Palm Beach Boat show "just to look."

We knew that we wanted a trawler. We wanted space, a comfortable ride, and the ability to go anywhere we wanted to go. Wayne had been studying the big three: Nordhavn, Kady-Krogen, and Selene. We liked them all, each with their own special features. All would be represented at the boat show, and we were excited to see them in person. We were sorry to find out that the boat we wanted to see, a 48-foot Selene, had been delayed and would not be at the show. So there we were, in Palm Beach, on our second day of the show, and we had seen all of the boats that we had come to see. We still had three more days and were cruising the boat show wishing there were more trawlers to look at. During a visit to a beautiful new Express Cruiser, the owner mentioned that his father had a Selene up in Marblehead, Massachusetts, that we should look at. That night we thought about it and said, "Why not? What do we have to lose?" We booked a flight, and first thing the next morning we were boarding a plane bound for Boston.

Since we had flown to Florida from Baja, we were in beach mode. We were surprised to view the TV weather monitor on the plane, which told us the forecast in Boston: 37 degrees! Oops, we were sitting there in shorts and T-shirts, and only a sweatshirt in the suitcase. We borrowed jackets to view the boat. She was out of the water, protected with shrink-wrap. She was a sight to see and we climbed a tall ladder to view her.

She turned out to be a beautiful boat, exceptionally well cared for, and we were very excited as we flew back to Baja to give it all some thought.

Before long, we were negotiating a deal and making another trip to Marblehead for the sea trial. At the sea trial we met the previous owner, Bradley Noyes, an 80-year-young man who is well known in Marblehead and has a long and fabled history in the yachting world.

The sea trial was a success, and we had our boat. Now we just had to return to Baja, move out of the house, pack the stuff we could take with us on the boat, and grab the dog.

In June we returned to Marblehead to take possession of our new boat and start a new chapter in our lives: the cruising life.

It took another month to commission her to our needs. On July 4, 2008, we moved aboard My Sharona and our adventure began.

After a short breakdown cruise to Provincetown, Massachusetts, we got busy and provisioned for the next leg of our journey–a month-long trip to Maine.

We were feeling confidant, excited, and scared as we pulled out of the safety of Marblehead Harbor. Little did we know our first big learning lesson would come on our very first day.

We drove "down east," a long nine hours to Biddeford Pool, Maine. We arrived late afternoon and there were quite a few boats in the harbor. We saw an opening near a moored boat. We had a 55-lb. Delta plow anchor with 3/8-inch chain rode. We were in 8 feet of water and we put out 50 feet of chain, thinking that 4 times the depth would be sufficient.

We dropped back and looked around; everything looked great. We settled in, had dinner, and a nice bottle of wine to celebrate our safe trip. We went to sleep thinking what a wonderful way of life this is.

In the middle of the night the wind started blowing, and Wayne went out to give everything a look. He quickly came back and said, "I think we have a problem–we are getting close to the moored boat!" I jumped up and joined him in the pilothouse. We were looking around and happened to notice that our depth was now 18 feet! We had forgotten about the famous tidal flows in Maine. We knew we needed more rode, but if we put out too much, we would be even closer to the boat. The wind switched a bit, and we moved away from the boat. We thought about going back to sleep but opted to wait a bit more. Good thing we did, because as soon as the tide started going out we switched around again, and got so close to the boat that I actually ran up on the bow and pushed off her railing.

So, at 4:30 a.m. we pulled up our anchor and looked for another place to go. We saw an open spot, and put our anchor down again. This time we accounted for the tide and put out 100 feet of chain; we wanted to make sure we would hold. Again, we watched for a while until we felt that all was fine and headed back to bed, ready to finally get some sleep.

The sun came up, and we slept in. We had some breakfast and talked about last night's excitement. We heard a motor coming and looked up to see the Yacht Club's water taxi coming to us. The man asked us if we were going to be leaving, and we told him that we planned on staying a few days. "Well then," he said. "You will need to move because you are anchored in the middle of the entrance channel!" We looked up and sure enough there were little green and red markers on either side of the channel, and we were smack dab in the middle. Oops again. No wonder there was this nice opening last night!

We moved again (this time to our own spot), put out the right amount of rode, and had a great time exploring this beautiful area. Biddeford turned out to be one of our favorite anchorages in Maine.

Lessons Learned: Be sure to know what the tide situation is at each anchorage. Also, it's best NOT to anchor in the middle of an entrance channel. To be safe, anchor rode should be at least 5 to 1 of your depth after adding the distance from your bow to waterline and tide.

Our next stop was Falmouth, Maine, where we took a break from anchoring and picked up a mooring. We hiked into town and bought our first Maine lobsters! Wow–what a treat! In Freeport, Maine, it was rainy and messy, but we did take the time to get a ride to town so we could visit and leave some of our money at the famous L.L.Bean store, which has been in Freeport since 1917. Today, besides L.L.Bean, there are more than 100 neighboring stores, making Freeport high on any Maine visitor's to-do list.

So far, we had been lucky with the weather. We hadn't seen any of the famous "pea soup fog" that Maine is famous for and our winds had been minimal. Overall, the seas had been very friendly.

The only navigation hazard we experienced so far was the absolutely amazing amount of lobster buoys EVERYWHERE! We had been warned about them, but until you see them you can't imagine how many there are, and how difficult it is to drive through them without catching a line or buoy on your propeller.

Our plan had been to pick up a mooring in Potts Harbor, but we tried and tried to raise the harbor on the VHF, but couldn't reach them. Fearing the harbor might be full, we continued on to the small but beautiful Mackerel Cove.

Sometimes the unplanned anchorages provide a hidden gem, and Mackerel Cove was one of those surprises. A small fishing harbor filled with lobster boats. Quaint little houses dotted the shoreline.

It was late afternoon as we pulled into the harbor. The moored lobster boats were swinging and we found a spot in the middle of them. There was an empty mooring ball ahead of us a bit, but since it was late, we didn't worry about it.

We figured our depth and put out enough rode to cover the tides. The anchor went down, engine off, and we settled in for a lovely evening. Or so we thought.

It was just about sundown and we were sitting up top enjoying the view when we first heard, then saw, the lobster boat from the empty mooring pull in and grab his ball. Almost dark, we calculated how far away the boat was, and felt it was probably fine. The captain of the late boat did a few chores, and then jumped in his dinghy to head for shore. We waved him over and said hello. We told him we were a little concerned that we might be too close to him and asked what he thought. He looked back and said that we looked good, and not to worry. Off he went, and we finished off our evening and tucked ourselves in.

Sometime during the night we noticed the wind was picking up and we heard thunder in the distance. It started to rain, and a little more wind. Wayne went up to look around and again he called for me to come have a look.

We were beginning to swing with the wind, and with every swing, we were getting closer to, first, our "friend's" boat, and then, to another nearby. The rain and wind came harder, and with that, the closer we got to these boats. Wayne went out in the storm to pull in some rode (thinking that would pull us a bit away) and came back in soaked.

We sat in the pilothouse and watched the wind switch again, and now we came close to the boat again! This went on the rest of the night. Finally, the storm eased, and at 4:30 a.m. the first of the lobster boat captains came out to his boat and drove off for a day of fishing. One by one they came and left, and at 5 a.m. we watched our friend unhook his mooring ball and head off, unaware that we were sitting there exhausted, sleepy, and happy the night was over.

Lessons Learned: Trust your instincts! When something doesn't seem right, it probably isn't. Take care of it now. Also, don't anchor near moored boats! They have shorter anchor rodes, which make them swing differently than boats on anchors.

On our next two stops, Sebasco Harbor and Booth Bay Harbor, we rented moorings again instead of anchoring.

The anchorage at Sebasco Harbor, Maine, is tree lined and well protected. The resort is beautiful with two excellent restaurants to choose from, and lovely grounds to walk.

Booth Bay is the opposite of the quaint towns we had been visiting. We were there at the height of the season, and the shops, restaurants, and streets were filled with both land and sea tourists.

The next day started out with sunny blue skies and mirror-calm water. We had a four-hour run to our next destination, Tenants Harbor. We wanted to make sure a mooring was available so we called the harbormaster on the telephone. We were told that the moorings were first come, first served. Continuing along our route, we heard a few other boats calling the harbor, getting the same message. We knew the harbor was small and were worried about finding a spot.

About an hour out, the famous Maine fog paid us a visit. We had our radar on, and were inching along, both of us standing at the helm keeping a sharp lookout. The fog would completely surround us, and then move out a bit. I don't know which was better because then we saw the numerous rocks and jetties that we were navigating around.

As we rounded the entrance to Tenants, the fog blanket engulfed us again. We couldn't see anything!

We were watching the radar, trying to keep the boat in the middle of the channel, but every few feet we would see a moored boat. We would turn around it and try another path, and another boat would appear. We also knew there were at least three boats doing the same thing we were.

The harbormaster had told us that she didn't know how many, if any, moorings were left–she couldn't see them in the fog. It was like being on a game show "musical moorings," and trying to find them blindfolded.

While searching, I thought I saw a float that was the right color. "Yellow and orange," I yelled to Wayne. "There's one!" We got there before a sailboat that was heading in its direction. I quickly reached out and grabbed it. Woo-hoo! We high-fived each other and called the harbormaster to check in. She asked us for the mooring number. I looked at it and couldn't see a number. I described it to her and she said, "Honey, you got yourself a lobster trap! You'd better put that back!" We looked at each other and said, "Now what?" We were sure the last of the moorings were taken. The harbormaster took pity on us and told us to come up close to the dock. We could take her brother's mooring since he was out fishing for a couple of days. We got settled, ran into the office to check in, and gave the harbormaster a big hug.

The next morning arrived sunny and clear and revealed a beautiful Maine harbor filled with cruising boats, fishing boats, and quaint houses lining the waterfront. With clear visibility, we also saw a clearly marked entrance channel that we never saw in the fog.

Lessons Learned: Expect the unexpected. Weather can and will change without notice. Stay calm, alert, and battle the elements as best you can, or head to safe harbor.

Next stop, Camden, Maine. Camden is a beautiful, large harbor, and it is also the unofficial hub of the Penobscot Bay. Most cruisers visit this harbor and city on their journeys through Maine. We were assigned a mooring, and we spent a few days exploring the town's wonderful shops and restaurants.

From Camden, we went as far as Castine and Northeast Harbor, and then it was time to think about getting back to Marblehead.

Our trip back was especially beautiful as we wound our way through the Eggemoggin Reach, a beautiful, narrow, and rocky channel, and Deer Island Thorofare, which takes you by Deer Island and the quaint village of Stonington. We also made stops in Camden, Christmas Cove, and Biddeford again, and the last stop on our whirlwind journey was Gloucester, Massachusetts. It was a beautiful evening, as we took in the sights of this famous fishing port. Gloucester is one of the oldest fishing ports in the country, and everywhere you look you could see a thriving commercial fishing industry.

The next day, after 24 days, 49 engine hours, and tons of fun and excitement, we pulled back into Marblehead Harbor. We wound our way around the masses of moored boats and we high-fived each other on a successful trip. We were especially happy that we had gone to Maine and back and only had one encounter with those famous lobster buoys.

As we neared our mooring, I was pointing the way, 5 feet, 3 feet... I've got the boat hook out... BAM! Chunk, chunk... I looked over the side and saw a lobster buoy sticking out of the side of our bow thruster. We just looked at each other and laughed. We finished picking up the mooring. Oh well, if it had to be somewhere, it's good it was here. We called Diver Dan, and made an appointment for him to come take care of it in the morning.

For now we were home. I can truly say we had a great time, learned a lot, and realized that we had made the right decision when we decided to change our land-based life to the sea.

Feeling like seasoned cruisers, we started planning the next leg of our journey from Marblehead to Florida and then on to the Bahamas for the winter.

Lessons Learned: If you have the itch to go cruising, do it! There will always be a reason to discourage you, but once you get out and give it a try, you realize that there is a big, beautiful, new world out there, and sometimes all it takes is a conversation starting with: "What would you think about buying a boat?"

Many thanks to all who have helped us along the way. From the technicians who readied My Sharona for this adventure, to all the friendly cruisers who were always ready to lend a hand or offer advice.

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