Want to Go Sailing But Don’t Have a Boat?

Check out this great post from Astrolabe Sailing for some great tips on how to be a great guest so you’ll be invited back. Yes, it is just as much fun and MUCH cheaper to go with friends!

So you’ve been invited to go and stay on someone’s boat? Awesome! The next best thing to having a boat of your own is having friends who have boats. It is much cheaper and just about as much fun. So to increase your chances of having a fantastic time – and being invited to come […]

via Being a good boat guest — Astrolabe Sailing

A to Z: Zubenelgenubi

My last post for the A to Z Challenge is on Zubenelgenubi.

Have you heard of it before?

I have, actually. I’m not just making this up for the challenge. 😉

Zubenelgenubi is one of the navigational stars. Stars we traditionally use to navigate by. It’s one of the stars in the constellation Virgo (next to Scorpius).

I remember when I really first started learning about all that stuff. When I was a cadet on the Ariadne, sailing across the Atlantic Ocean. The skies were wide open and the stars were so bright. Our sail training master has us out practicing with the sextant, calculating our position. We were challenged to beat the actual ships crew. We got pretty good at it by the end of the crossing. 🙂

That was way before everybody had GPS. 😉

A to Z: Water

Today’s post for the A to Z challenge is: water.

It seems an appropriate subject. I’ve spent almost my entire life in, on and around the water.

Of course I understand (in a back of the mind sort of way) how vitally important water is in so many ways. All life on earth (and maybe space too) depends on water. Without it nothing living can survive for long. But I don’t think of it that way most of the time.

I usually think of it as a necessary ingredient for me to work (and sometimes play). As a merchant marine, I spend my life at sea. I started out working on local fishing boats when I was very young, moved up to the party boats, back to commercial fishing. I moved to Texas to go to school and earn my AB and QMED certificates from the USCG since it was so hard for women to find work offshore back then.

Since then, I’ve worked my way up over the years on crew boats, production boats, standby boats, supply boats, tankers, trawlers, ROV support vessels, dive boats, construction boats, pipe layers, semi submersibles and drillships. Whew!

Thats a lot of years at sea! I only count the 39 years since starting as a cadet in 1977. I still love it and can’t wait for a chance to get back out there. 🙂

How do you think of water? Do you work on/with it? Play on/with it?


A to Z: Sailing

Today’s post for the A to Z Challenge is on sailing.

I’ve been a sailor since I was a kid. How about you?

I grew up on the beach in Florida. At my dads house, the backyard ended at the bay. He kept his big old schooner at the dock right there. I had my own little Sea Snark sailing dingy.

I had so much fun with that boat growing up! I would go out by myself, just puttering around. I might take a friend or two. It was always a great way to spend a couple of hours.

I went to school on a couple of large, traditional sailing ships. I went to a high school that also included a sail training program along with cultural studies, languages and international travel.

I decided while I was there that I wanted to be a ship captain! I wanted to sail around the world and get paid for it! I’m still trying to do that.

Over the years, I’ve managed to find work at sea until being laid off recently when the price of oil hit the skids. It hasn’t been on sailboats very often.

I still go out on those for fun tho. 😉

A to Z: Oceanics

I should have saved this post for today’s A to Z challenge, but instead I’ll tell you about my high school- the Oceanics. That was such a fantastic experience! I’m so thankful I had that opportunity at such a young age. It really did change my life.

The Oceanics was a really special school. It was run by Chick and Stephanie Gallagher out of their apartment in New York City. They somehow managed to round up small groups of students and a few teachers and send them off on round the world adventures aboard various chartered square-rigged sailing ships.

I see a few organizations today trying to do something similar. Not the same tho, not gone long enough, not the right kind of ships, not the same atmosphere. I’m sure they’re still great experiences for anyone who is able to attend. I don’t think there’s any better way to create a confident, competent, creative, cooperative human being than the way they did it at the Oceanics.

Spending months at sea working together to sail the ship from point A to point B. Learning every aspect of how to do the job properly, we earned a sense of a job well done and self esteem. It takes a lot of teamwork and trust in each other to sail a square-rigged ship. Running up the ratlines to furl the sails in a squall with the wind howling and the ship rolling needs to be an immediate response with all hands on deck. Ask the worlds navies why they still use sailing ships as training vessels, they understand.

The ship was just one aspect of the Oceanics. Captain Jespersen was our sail training master. We spent time with him every day learning the names and functions of all the rigging and sails aboard. We sailed the ship from Pireaus, Greece across the Atlantic to Martinique. We spent our time aboard in school, taking regular classes in math, science (oceanology), world history, cultural studies, local languages (Greek, Spanish, Russian), literature, etc. We also learned seamanship, navigation, and how to take care of the ship.

We all stood watch when we weren’t in class. The traditional 4 hours on, 8 hours off. Standing lookout and tending the helm. In between, we kept busy sanding, varnishing, washing the decks, painting, tending to the rigging, splicing line, even helping the cook peel potatoes.

My favorite time aboard was standing lookout on the bow. Watching the dolphins play in the bow waves on a bright sunny day. Seeing flying fish popping out of a wave, to spread their ‘wings’ to fly across the waves before dropping back into the water. Picking out the constellations in a starry, starry night sky. 🙂

I can’t express how truly awesome it was.

And then, when we got to port we could go ashore once we were off watch. Or we might all go ashore together for an adventure. We spent a few days on the Greek island of Agistri hunting octopus for dinner and playing soccer on the beach. I spent a few days with a family in La Gomera (Canary Islands) improving my Spanish and learning more about the locals.

We sailed the schooner Ariadne across the Atlantic to Martinique. On arrival we had a well deserved break on the beach. A few of us hitched our way up the island to hike up Mt Pele. I still remember the deliciously sweet pineapples we had to snack on.



We left the Ariadne in Martinique to fly into Caracas and our South American adventure began. We had been studying Spanish since we left Italy. Now was the time to put it to use. Our plan was to travel from Venezuela to Bolivia, we would figure out the details along the way. We got into some really cool, out of the way places. 🙂

Plenty of the places we wound up had never seen anyone like us before. My red hair stood out like a torch, the locals would surround me and ask to feel it. Young Joe with his bright blond hair was extremely popular with the ladies. People didn’t know what to make of us.

We might show up in a group of 6-10 students (ages 14-21) and 1-2 teachers trying to keep us focused on our studies but also allowing us to get out on our own. We had lots of independent projects. I did one on comparing fairy tales in different cultures and another one identifying plankton I caught in a net on the way over to the Caribbean while we were still on the ship.

We made our way from Caracas through Venezuela to Cucuta, Columbia. From Bogata we headed to Ecuador. Quito, Otavalos, and Guyaquil. We took a boat out to the Galapagos to check out the wildlife and swim with the sea lions and iguanas. We made our way to the jungle and the rivers feeding the Amazon. We traveled down the Rio Napo to visit the indigenous shamans and learn about the plants and animals, (I had to try the ayuhuasca).

In Peru we made our way from Lima to Cuzco (fantastic) and took the train to Macchu Picchu. That was back before it was overrun by tourists. We stayed at the Banos (hot springs) alongside the river and soaked in the hot springs at night after hiking back down the mountain. Another experience I’ll never forget. That place was magical, I could feel it.

We made our way across Lake Titicaca to La Paz, Bolivia to finish up the semester. We were all sad to leave. I didn’t want to go home.

I returned to meet the Ariadne in Martinique a month later. I had another semester to finish high school. Our graduation ceremony was on the pier side in Copenhagen.  Another semester of overseas adventures at sea and ashore. It got in my blood and I’m sure I’ll never get over it.

I sure wish I had a better camera back then. Take a look here for some photos collected by Brian who was along for the trip with me and T. (who met me in Nicaragua). You can see me in a couple of the photos (in the yellow foul weather jacket by the cannon). 😉

A to Z: Mariner

I’ve been a mariner pretty much my entire life. I’ve worked as a professional mariner since I was a cadet during high school in 1977. I love being out on the water, there’s just nothing like it.

I used to love working out there too. 🙂

Things have changed. A lot.

I’ve been laid off since last September. This is the worst downturn in the maritime industry I’ve ever seen. I was lucky enough to keep working through the 80s and earlier in 2000’s. This time, I got hit with everybody else and hurting hard. 🙁

Mariners are simply people who work on the water (on boats). Fishermen, sailors, ferrymen, marine crew on cruise ships, tankers, container ships, drillships, etc. There are a lot of different sectors in the maritime world. Many more when you consider all the shoreside support.

I am a licensed merchant mariner. I have earned a Master Mariners license. I worked my way “up the hawsepipe” after spending a lot of years at sea, studying on my own and taking some USCG required courses before I was allowed to sit for their exam.

I started out commercial fishing. First with my father on his boat, later with some of the other guys around town who knew me. My first ‘real’ job was on the party fishing boats down the street.

I never planned to do this for a living. I was going to be a doctor, or more probably a veterinarian. When I got shipped off to school as a cadet on a couple of traditional sailing vessels in high school, my entire worldview changed and I decided I wanted to be a ship captain. Sail around the world and get paid for it- YEAH!

So I moved to Texas to go to school for my AB and oiler (QMED) endorsements. That way I could work and earn money to go towards my license. I started working in the offshore oilfield. In school, I was able to work on the party boats on the weekends, but in summer for our required projects, we were assigned various supply boats.

I worked for about 4 years on various crew boats, standby boats, production boats, supply boats, etc. I finally got finished with school and found a job I liked and that worked out very well. I started at Kilgore Marine on their vessel the K Marine 1 as an ordinary seaman (even tho I had my AB ticket). I worked my way up to AB, mate and finally master on their supply boats.

supply boats

supply boats

When I earned my 1600 ton masters license at the USCG, they also gave me an unlimited second mates license. Fool that I was, I gave it back. I didn’t ask for it and I didn’t feel ready for it. More than once, I had been stuck in a rating higher than I was hired to do. One time I was hired on as ordinary seaman (not even AB), and wound up taking over as captain! Yes, I did have the same license as the ‘captain’ on there that the company hired.

Before, I had always felt that I could handle it, whatever it was. Now, I wasn’t so sure. I just didn’t want to get stuck again in a position by chance, and because I wasn’t ready for it I could cause some serious damage. I probably should have just accepted the license. I’ve been kicking myself ever since for that mistake. It’s cost me a decades of time and a LOT of money!

Because I gave them back the license, even tho they told me that I could just ask for it “at any time” and they would give it to me, I had to start back over again as a deckhand in order to get my third mates license (not the seconds I had already earned)!

So much for trusting the US government to follow their own rules!

So, I quit sailing as an officer for Kilgore and went to work for SeaRiver (ex-Exxon) as an AB on their tankers. It took me almost 10 years to earn my third mates license and when I asked for a promotion I was told I could never sail in any position of authority with them. Soooo….

I had to quit working there and found a job as third mate for Coastal Tankships. I worked for them for a couple of years til they sold out to El Paso and scrapped all of their ships. I got to take the Coastal New York to China (and spent a couple of weeks in Hong Kong afterwards).

Seeing the writing on the wall at Coastal, I had applied to Oceaneering and luckily their application process finished up just before my unemployment benefits ran out. I went to work as third mate/DPO. I was soon promoted to second mate/SDPO.

I really enjoyed my time there. I had a good ship, a good crew, and we were doing interesting work. We spent all of our time outside the US, so I wasn’t prepared for the culture shock when we brought the ship to the Gulf of Mexico in 2008.

I couldn’t take it. I HAD to get out of there! OMG what had happened?

For as long as ships have been sailing the seas, the captain has always been the one in charge. He is the ultimate authority on any ship. Now it seems he still has the legal responsibility, but he doesn’t have much actual authority. It seems the lawyers and bean counters ashore have taken that from the captain.

I’ve seen it over and over where the office people decide what, when and how something is going to happen on board. Captain’s not even allowed to chose their own crews anymore!

OK, yes, the captain can always stand up and exert his authority. For instance, tell the office that he’s going to delay sailing until his crew is properly rested. How many can continue to do that when their job is on the line? Not many. After all, it costs a lot of money for every hour that ship is not underway…

IMHO, being a mariner has certain meanings. Things like knowing your ship, understanding the weather, being able to work with your crewmates for months on end, able to survive in your own little world out there-on your own. Independence, freedom, a sense of pride and a job well done.

I think a lot of what it means to be a mariner is being slowly stripped away from us. I think we’ve already lost a lot of what it meant to go to sea, I don’t like that at all. 🙁

A to Z: International Living

Today’s post for the A to Z Challenge is International Living (IL). It’s a magazine that I’ve been subscribing to for around 30 years (I love it- it’s so inspiring!).

I’ve always loved to travel. Even as a baby, living in a cabover camper on the back of dad’s pickup truck. When I got the chance to sail around the world on a couple of traditional sailing ships in high school I was hooked.

Schooner Ariadne

Schooner Ariadne

I wanted to sail around the world and get paid for it! Hopefully I could satisfy my wanderlust that way.

I have been able to do some traveling by sea, through my work as a professional mariner over the last 30+ years. But not nearly enough.

I want to move overseas. Permanently.

International Living has dozens of articles every month describing how others (mostly from US and Canada) have been able to make the move. It gives me all kinds of ideas. Sometimes I actually hurt over wanting it so bad.

IL publishes stories about people who’ve moved overseas and retired, bought property, started businesses (all kinds). People write about how much easier it is to do all of those things in places where the cost of living is so much lower and the bureaucracy is less burdensome (usually). They all mention how much less stress there is and how they’re able to really enjoy day to day life for a change.

I’ve just never felt that I could make it work. That I personally had the skills (and/or money) to be able to last for months, years, decades in foreign lands without being able to work (legally). Yes, I’m sure I could probably find some kind of under the table work (I’ve done it before), but I’m much more cautious now than I was at 16. I don’t want to worry about being deported  and shipped back ‘home’. 🙁

I don’t feel comfortable with just dropping everything and leaving. With not having any money. Money is freedom in my mind. It allows for options. I’m not sure I want to travel as a backpacker, staying in hostels, etc. (in fact I’m pretty sure I don’t). I want to be sure I can at least be safe. I want to be able to move immediately if things start going wrong.

Then again, things here at home are not going very well, in fact it’s becoming unbearable. The more time I spend at home, not working, the more time I have to think. The more time to watch what’s going on in the news, etc. I don’t think things here are going to get any better. I feel like I need to get out while I still can.

I have been trying to follow some of the suggestions in IL for years. Things like find some source of independent income, multiple income sources, learn useful skills, find portable ‘jobs’, etc.

I’ve gone to some of their events over the years. Retire Overseas conferences, Fund Your Life conferences, travel writing and photography courses, etc. I’ve gathered up a lot of great information and met some really cool people, but still haven’t managed to do much to actually make a move. 🙁

I have been buying and renovating property for rental income since 2001. At this point, they mostly pay for themselves. There is only one that still needs supplemental income from my job. Since I have not been able to find work for the last 6+ months, I’ve had to put that one up for sale. I just can’t afford it if I’m not able to find work. Once that one is sold, I should be able to live on savings and rental income for at least a couple of years.

NOT the one I’m selling!

I’m thinking this would be the best time for me to move.

I have no job, I have nothing tying me down. I’ll have enough cash to live on for a couple of years when my house is sold. I even have a ‘useful skill’ now, since I just got certified to teach English as a foreign language (TEFL).

The only thing holding me back now is FEAR.

Now how to get rid of that (along with all the stuff I’ll need to pack up and get rid of so I can leave my house to the renters)?