Monthly Archives: July 2014

You Load Sixteen Tons…

And what do you get? Another day closer to being free of debt.

With apologies to Merle Travis and Tennessee Ernie Ford, this more upbeat version of the classic working man’s lament had become an ear worm. As Rhonda and I toiled in the hot Florida sun, I unloading shovel after shovel of red landscape rock from the back of my pickup, she spreading and raking, I could hear Ernie’s fingers snapping cadence to time my shovel strokes, Shovel and twist and dump and turn, shovel and twist and dump and turn. Snap, snap, snap, snap…

OK, you’re probably wondering at this point what the hell I’m talking about. Well the subject today is debt, and the quest to be free from it. Debt is that pernicious burden that enslaves us, restricts our freedom, reduces our options. Often when I tell someone of our plans to embark on an epic adventure aboard a sailboat, they will say in response, “I sure wish I could do that.”

Well, why don’t you? Quite often, the answer is “Because I have a mortgage/car payments/huge credit card balance/student loans/tons of bills that I have to pay, so I have to keep working.” Debt. They’re prisoners of their past financial decisions. They must forego their dreams in order to serve their economic masters. They are effectively indentured servants to Visa or Suntrust or GMAC or AT&T.


When we first started talking about embarking on a Life On The Hook™, we were living the classic American Consumer life. We spent what we wanted. We bought new cars when the old ones started needing repairs. We took elaborate trips that we paid for with a credit card. And if we came up a bit short, well, the rapid rise in home values provided a ready source of cash to tap.

But that was then. As we began to seriously consider whether it would be possible to launch into what we hoped would be the next phase of our lives,  we realized achieving the dream would be dependent on freeing ourselves from service to debt. So we started to make changes in how we lived. We sought ways to reduce, scale back, make do. Simple things really, nothing overly dramatic. Things like eating out less, and when we did, choosing the restaurant that had the best coupon that week. Fixing the old car rather than buying a new one. Dropping HBO. Stopping the paper. Opening a sellers account on eBay and unloading some things we don’t need or use.

Before long, things began to change. First the car loans were gone. Then the credit cards were paid off. And now we’re close. We’re so very close. We still have the mortgage, and a note on the boat. But if we sell the house, the equity in one should be enough to cover the principal on the other. And at that point we’ll be free. We’ll have a steady source of income and our retirement savings, and not owe anyone a penny. Not even a cellular contract to pay on. And that is huge. It means being able to decide how much insurance we want to buy for our boat, rather than what the bank tells us we must. It means being able to sail where and when we want, for as long as we want, rather than having to obey the insurance company’s restrictions on where they’ll allow us to go. It means not losing sleep over what a tenant might be doing to our house while we’re down island, or how to make the mortgage payment if they move out unexpectedly. Less hunting for an internet cafe to pay bills, more sundowners in the cockpit. Less “Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr,” more “Ahhhhhhhhhh!.

Which brings me back to this day of toil in the hot Florida sun. While many of our friends were out playing on the water, we were working to get our house ready to place on the market. Curb appeal is huge. Curb appeal can turn a potential buyer’s drive-by into a “this looks nice, let’s stop and see.” We knew we had some curb appeal issues. Our front flower beds looked like the Gaza Strip, the result of an abortive re-landscaping attempt over a year ago. Something had to be done, and quickly. But nothing too elaborate or expensive. Something fast, cheap, and visually appealing. Rock. We’ll spread rock. That will work!

And so I shoveled red landscape rock from the bed of my pickup, while Rhonda artistically arranged it. And while it wasn’t quite sixteen tons, it was three pickup loads.  Snap, snap, snap, snap… And did I mention the sun was hot?

But I believe it was worth it. I think we did wonders for our curb appeal. House1House3House4

Hopefully within the next few weeks we’ll see.

So do you also have a dream to embark on a waterborne life? If it’s debt that’s holding you back, then develop a plan to attack it and free yourself from bondage. Even if you never throw off the dock lines, you’ll still be much better off. And freedom is a wonderful thing…

Work Before Play

I squirmed in my seat with frustration as I surveyed the long line of cars ahead of us. What idiot of a traffic engineer designed a four lane highway that feeds through a six lane toll booth and then dumps you onto a two lane bridge? The sign on the shoulder says “Foley Beach Express.” Foley Beach Parking Lot would be more appropriate. And then thank you very much, I hope you enjoyed your half hour of traffic hell, that will be $3.50 please to finally squeeze though the booth and merge into the single south bound lane to cross over to Orange Beach. We’d left home with ample time to make the trip. I had allowed for an hour to browse and sightsee before our 6PM dinner reservations at Villaggio. Now I wasn’t sure if we were even going to make it.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We’d booked tickets back in February to see Peter Frampton and the Doobie Brothers at the Amphitheater at the Wharf. The Amphitheater sits adjacent to the Wharf Marina, located on the Intracoastal Waterway in Orange Beach, Alabama.

wharf-marina It’s a delightful four hour motor sail from our marina in Pensacola, and on concert weekends we like to travel over on our boat, take a slip for the weekend, and vacation in our backyard as it were, enjoying the restaurants and activities the Wharf has to offer. In how many places can you dock your boat and walk to a top-name concert? Florida living at its best.


But not this time. We had to cancel our slip. There was not going to be a relaxing weekend lounging with boat drinks and good books. We just have too much to do. In February we knew we’d be starting our transition from dirt dwellers to Life On The Hook™. But we couldn’t have foreseen how fast the pieces would start falling into place once we got serious. Normally we spend every weekend we can from April to November out on the water. But it’s all we can do at the moment to keep up with the pace of transition. The season is half over, and we’ve been able to get out on the boat for only two weekends. We just have too much of this to do: Painting

We promised the realtor we’d be ready to go on the market in the next few weeks. The work list is still very long, and the time grows short. We must work before we can play. But I know it will all be worth it in the end. These missed weekends on the bay will eventually enable us to depart on our waterborne search for perpetual summer.

We did make it to dinner on time by the way, but with only a few minutes to spare rather than the planned hour. As for the concert? The Doobie Brothers are still Rockin’ Down The Highway as good as they ever were, and Peter Frampton still Feels Like He Did, although it’s hard to adjust to hearing that voice, which hasn’t changed at all, coming out of a middle-aged bald guy.

DoobieBrothers But the real surprise of the evening was the opening act, a young new blues guitarist named Matthew Curry. I was shocked after hearing him perform to learn that he is only 19 years old. He played a short set, but it was all original music, and his talent has not gone unnoticed. Fender has admitted him into the Brotherhood of the Guitar. I think we’ll be seeing more of this young man in the future. I certainly hope so. Have a listen:

Not your typical boat music, but I do believe that a little Blues is good for the soul.

Now where did I put that paint brush…

The Return Of The Blues

For those who aren’t aware, we call Pensacola, Florida home. Pensacola is a town with an enormous amount of history (it’s America’s first city, after all) that has often stumbled over greatness but has always managed to find a way to pick itself up and continue on as if nothing happened.  It’s a city of contrasts, offering incomparable beauty along with a record number of Superfund sites, elegant Spanish moss draped turn-of-the-century neighborhoods beside pockets of drug and violence plaqued squalor, and an approximately equal number of “A” and “F” rated public schools. But while we may often feel overshawdowed by flashier and better marketed towns to our east and west (the beaches of Destin to the casinos of Biloxi), we have one thing that no other city in America has. We’re home to the US Navy Blue Angels. And Pensacola loves their Blues.


Of the numerous iconic cultural events scattered throughout the year, one of the brightest stars on our community calendar is the Pensacola Beach Airshow. The show includes a variety of aerial performers, but it’s the headliner that everyone is really there to see. The Blue Angels, our own home town heros, performing for their family, friends and neighbors.  The show is held every year on the weekend following the Fourth of July, and for the businesses along the beach, it’s the weekend that lets them make bank for the season. Tens of thousands of hungry, thirsty, souvenier craving locals and tourists descend on the beach in need of cold beer, warm food, sun screen, tacky T shirts, pool toys and hotel rooms. They spread across the white sand like a human carpet, erecting acres of colored canopies and umbrellas to stake out their personal front row seats to the greatest show on wings.

This year was special. The Blues were back (caution – gratuatious political swipe ahead, proceed at your own risk). Last year, our beloved government, in a petulant fit of pique over its citizens daring to complain about its out-of-control spending, reacted to having its budget trimmed a few tenths of a percent by looking for ways to impose the maximum amount of pain on we unruly citizens. Rather than spreading the minor cuts across the entire Federal bureaucracy, the government threatened layoffs of fire fighters, police, border control agents and air traffic controllers. When the political heat from that threat grew too great, they then turned to shutting down all national parks and museums (even though the cost of renting barricades and deploying additional personnel to ensure we obeyed the closure signs was greater than the amount saved). And the Blue Angels were grounded for the 2013 season. So while the Blues’ annual budget was less than the cost of a typical Obama family vacation, the weekly celebrity-studded White House parties rolled merrily along while the Blue Angels performance at the Pensacola Beach Airshow was cancelled. (End of political commentary for now).

But that was then, and this is now. The Blues are flying again, and the show was a go. The civilian acts start flying at noon. The Blue Angels arrive promptly at 2PM. To see the show, people start arriving on the beach the Thursday before. Most locals know the best day is Friday, when the Blues fly their full dress rehearsal. The crowds are lighter, and the traffic less intense. By 6:30 on Saturday morning, the main parking lot is full. By 8AM, the traffic over the bridge is backed up over six miles. To see the show, you can either show up before dawn, or spend hours in traffic.

Or, you can come by boat. We learned years ago that the best way to see the show and avoid the traffic and parking hassles is to sail over on Friday morning and watch the entire affair from the comfort of our cockpit. Of course, thousands of our fellow boaters know this as well, but that just adds a dash of color. Seeing more boats than you can count jockeying for position, many operated by drunk mariners with little regard for COLREGs or rules of the road, makes the show on the water almost as good as the one in the air.

But enough prose. We’ll let the pictures do the talking.

An early Friday underway means breakfast on the bay.


We picked our spot and watched the crowd build.


The predictions of a record turnout looked accurate.



We thought we saw a familiar face in the crowd. It was an emotional moment to see our old boat that we had just turned over to her new owners sail up and anchor several hundred yards away.


While waiting for the show to begin, we watched the Hilton Hotel catch fire and burn. Apparently no one was hurt, because the fire was out by show time and we never heard any more about it. I’m guessing it probably had something to do with drunken tourists and leftover Fourth of July fireworks.


The show began with the civilian acts. They were good, but they weren’t what had drawn all these people to the beach.


Between acts, these young ladies worked the crowd selling ice cream. If only they’d been offering Margaritas and Bushwackers!


Finally, after a two year wait, the Blues returned to the beach and the magic began.

Blues1 Blues2 Blues3 Blues4 Blues5 Blues6 Blues7It was 45 minutes of kerosene fumes, thunderous noise, and amazingly awesome acts of aerial artistry. In short, simply stupendous. God we’ve missed them so.

I have no idea where we’ll be at this time next year. Maybe we’ll still be sorting out our affairs in preparation to begin the next phase of our life, or maybe we’ll already be living Life On The Hook™. But I’m glad we had the opportunity to spend this wonderful weekend on the water together taking in this glorious performance by Pensacola’s favorite sons. If we’re still here next July, we’ll definitely be back for more.

Here’s a better tribute to the Blues than I am capable of producing. Please enjoy!

The Week Of Living Anxiously


Our broker said he’d never seen anything quite like it. Our ad appeared on Yachtworld late Friday afternoon. The next Tuesday, we had an offer. After two brief days of give and take, we arrived at a negotiated price. And just a few days after that, we were standing in the warm afternoon sun watching Eagle being hauled out of the water for a bottom survey.


It normally takes three or four days for a surveyor to complete their paperwork and deliver their final report. But the buyers had plans. The next day was the Fourth of July, and they wanted to spend the day on the water. They wanted to spend it aboard Eagle. They had already delivered the check to the broker. All they wanted was a verbal OK from the surveyor — an assurance that everything was as we had described it.

We needed to provide a Captain for the sea trial. Our friend has a 100 ton Captain’s license. We asked. For a Margarita and a Royal Barbados cigar, he said “Sure.” It’s good to have friends who work cheap.

Dressed To Impress

Dressed To Impress

We knew Eagle was in good shape. We’d worked extremely hard to make her that way. But it was still an anxious week. Things seemed to be going so well that we were almost certain something would upset the apple cart. But Eagle strutted her stuff. The surveyor smiled and nodded. The buyers said “We’ll take her.” We shook hands. And she was no longer our boat.

Our heads spun over the speed with which it had all happened. We owned only one boat now rather than two. In an instant the anxiety vanished. We were suddenly emotionally exhausted. We were supposed to return Eagle to her slip that evening, where the buyers would take possession. But we were totally drained. We needed a drink. We asked Eagle’s new owners if we could do it the next morning. We promised to get her to the marina in plenty of time for them to head out for the 4th. They agreed.

Dinner for everyone at the Oar House. The first round is on us. We can’t believe it happened so quickly.

Our broker had never seen anything quite like it.

We’ve been told we were lucky. We completely agree. But we worked very hard for a very long time to make Eagle what she is. And there’s an old saying that goes “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.” (attributed to Thomas Jefferson, but there’s no record that he actually said it).  Also, as I explained in The Broker Dilemma, we priced her to sell, not to sit on the market for months on end. I think our strategy apparently worked.

Our Last Moment On Eagle

Our Last Moment On Eagle

When we started the year, we had three major hurdles to clear. Sell the Eagle. Find the right boat to take to the islands. Sell the house. Well, the Eagle is now sold. We bought Eagle Too last April, and we’re getting her ready to move aboard. We’ve had our first meeting with a real estate agent.

We’re continuing to work hard to realize our dream. I hope our luck continues to hold. The pull of the islands grows stonger…

The $400 Solution

The year we bought our first boat, we were “boat poor” and couldn’t afford a dinghy. I had an old pool raft that I had owned for more years than I care to admit (let’s just say it was from a time in my life when Spring Break was still a thing for me), and we used it to paddle to and from shore.

How Cool Am I?

How Cool Am I?

It did the job (barely), but it was very, how shall I say it, “cozy” for two, and so damn difficult to paddle that we always had to anchor much closer to the beach than we liked. We did laugh ourselves silly a time or two as Rhonda and I corkscrewed around, paddles flailing, as we attempted to make the beach. But a few afternoon-thunderstorm-driven anchor dragging incidents taught us why the phrase “lee shore” strikes fear in sailors hearts, and we knew we needed a better solution so we could anchor further out.

The second year we owned the boat we bought ourselves a shiny new Mercury airdeck CSM (Hypalon) inflatable for Christmas. We named it Eaglet. What a difference a decent tender makes! Now we could stay several hundred yards off the beach. We were only limited by how long my arms could hold out, since we had to row ashore.

Definitely a "Life Doesn't Suck" Type Of Day!

Definitely a “Life Doesn’t Suck” Type Of Day!

Eaglet was easy to tow while we were sailing, and we worked out a way to use the spinnaker halyard to lift it onto the foredeck between uses. Life was good.

The third year we owned the boat we really stretched out our range by adding a 6HP Tohatsu outboard. Since I knew I was going to have to strongback the outboard on and off Eaglet every time we wanted to use it, we limited ourselves to the largest single cylinder model they made, the six horse. Stepping up to an eight or ten horse like I would have preferred would have required a two cylinder, which would have been too much weight for my poor old back to handle. Try doing the squats on a rocking platform while bear hugging a heavy, oily piece of toe-crunching, finger munching machinery with buttheads on jetskis throwing wakes at you and you’ll see what I mean!

It took up residence on our stern rail. We used an Edson outboard mount, which is a really nice piece of gear – highly recommended by us here at Life On The Hook™.


With our new found mobility we could now range across the entire anchorage in search of the perfect Bushwacker. But the intricate ballet required to launch the dinghy and mount the outboard was tiresome. I started looking with envy at boats with davits. That’s the ticket – davits! Life would be so much better if we could just drop anchor, lower away on the dinghy, and be sitting at the bar sipping our first Margarita less than 15 minutes after dropping sail. Another year and twenty five hundred dollars later, we were in business.


At this point we ran smack into the law of diminishing returns. The modest investment we’d made in the dinghy had made a big difference in our enjoyment of our boat, and purchasing the outboard had paid huge dividends by greatly extending our range and letting us get where we needed to go fast. But the davits. Well, let’s just say that in my opinion, they’re just not worth the expense for a boat our size. Raising the dinghy was at least as much a chore as hauling it onto the foredeck had been. Lifting it with the outboard installed put so much weight on the stern rail that it flexed alarmingly, so I was still taking the engine off whenever the dinghy came out of the water. Storing Eaglet on the davits just didn’t work. It would hang out over the dock too far (we like to back into our slip), and I was terrified of thunderstorms because I had nightmares of the suspended boat filling with rainwater and the extra five hundred pounds of weight tearing the stern apart. The davits had cost almost as much as the dinghy and outboard combined, and they honestly just weren’t worth it.

So along came our island boat, Eagle Too. And I thought I had a better idea. The dinghy fits on the bow even better that it did on Eagle because there’s so much more room. And once I reversed the stern seats to move the trademark Hunter cupholders out of the way, there was room to mount the outboard. But I didn’t want to have to go back to dancing with the greased pig whenever we wanted to launch the dink. What I needed was an engine hoist. A good, strong, not too expensive solution to what was actually my real problem – getting the outboard on and off the dink without dropping it in the drink or amputating a toe with the prop.

And Garhauer makes just such an item.


It was the perfect size for the space we had to work with, it had the perfect reach to lift the outboard from its home on the rail and swing it free of the stern, and at slightly less than $400 delivered to our doorstep it was just the right price. The perfect solution! Installation was less than two hours start to finish, and now that we’ve done one we could probably do another in under 30 minutes. And it detaches from the rail, folds up and stores in a locker in a jiff, although I personally don’t see the need.

If you’re not familiar with the gear that Garhauer makes, you owe it to yourself (and your boat) to look them up. They’re a family run business that makes all their own gear, have great prices, and actually answer the phone when you call them, giving darn good advice and technical support. If, say, you needed a hoist, but you wanted the mast to be taller or the arm a bit shorter, just tell them and they’ll make it that way for you.

Garhauer Marine

That hoist is going to be a godsend when our future Life On The Hook™ has us depending on the Eaglet to bring fuel, water, and groceries aboard. I can’t wait!