Happy is as Happy does. This post is a simple reminder to follow your passions and do what makes you happy.
Happy is as happy does. Some of my friends love to bake. A few of them have not had any professional training in baking. They have been taught by family, learned along the way, or researched their ass off to do the things they enjoy with baking. Other friends enjoy hobbies like rebuilding bicycles, carpentry, gardening, stained glass, and even collecting leaves. Happy thoughts and happy actions bring positive moods. Positive moods and happy vibes make us a hoot to be around.
My happy place is rebuilding boats. It’s the feel, the smell, the tiny baby steps of a project that puts a smile on my face. Years ago, I read a book titled This Old Boat. It explained in detail how boat parts worked back in the old days. I still have that book. It’s beaten up, water-stained, and smells funny—kind of like me after a good day working in the bilge. Hobbies are the best therapy. It gives our hands and minds something to do. Yes, it digs into our financial pockets, but it is worth it. One of my friends has been building a barn out on an old piece of property. The barn doesn’t have a purpose in the traditional sense. It won’t hold an old tractor. No hay will ever see the inside of these old repurposed wooden planks. Not even a mule will walk through the doors. But it makes him happy to fiddle with it on the weekends. He packs a sack lunch and a cooler of iced down cheap beer, drives to the barn, and hammers nails on the weekends. It’s his happy place.
Where is your happy place? What are your hobbies? Do you have an activity that you call therapy?
I keep my politics private. A big mystery among my friends is which side of the aisle do I lean. My Republican friends tell me jokes about the left. My Democrat friends joke about the right. It’s as if I am the human form of Switzerland. In reality, it’s more like I am a private island.
Do you know what I have found on every island around the world that I’ve visited? Trash:
Some of my favorite people are trashy. But that doesn’t mean they throw plastic out and about. Last year I posted a blog article about waterway trash pickup meetups. A lot has changed since then.
These days, when I’m in town, I co-host a Saturday beach clean-up in Miami. It is on Key Biscayne at the Bill Baggs State Park, to be exact. Every weekend we go out with our buckets and long-handle grabbers. Every weekend we return with full buckets of plastics.
One misconception that I’ve learned is about plastic straws. Rarely do I find those on the beach. The politics of the matter will steer the topic to the left or the right. “It’s because more people are using paper straws.” “It’s because the turtles are eating them before they make it to the beach.” See, even that can be polarized. The real question is, do you really need a straw at all? It’s more of a want than a necessity. I will argue that there are reasonable conditions for straws. I’m referring to the ADA. (You just googled ADA, didn’t you? Good, you probably should. That’s why I placed it there.)
The thing I find the most on the beach are bottle caps. Yep, those little things that go on top of the water and soda bottles. This is another good reason to drink beer on the beach or a boat. Skip the plastic and reach for the glass option.
In December 2020, a theatre troupe commanded my attention while they were on stage at the oldest house in Miami, Florida.
In December 2020, a theatre troupe commanded my attention while they were on stage at the oldest house in Miami, Florida. This Equal Play Production called Quickies was written and produced by my friend and crew member, Tracey Jane. Tracey captured her memories of a summer sail with a pencil on paper. From there, the real magic started. Quickies is a concept of four short plays with the same four actors. In reality, the idea is brilliant, and it works. The plays were named Save the Pets, Build a BOB, The Morning Menage, and Saving Sapphire. Sapphire, as in Aquatramps floating abode, was the centerpiece of my excitement. This performance was about the resilience of the crew during a week-long summer sail in 2020. Just like a lot of things in 2020, the trip did not go at all as planned. The words personified the ups and downs, like the crowns and troughs of waves. For this humbled Captain, it was a relief that the actors showed humor and warmth on stage. Opposite the stage sat the audience, where other crew members of that trip watched and even laughed at the inside jokes we all share. I overheard a stranger in the audience say, ” the writer has spent time on a boat!” Some things are difficult to describe about the follies of sailing unless you’ve spent time on deck.
After the show, I met up with the crew at a local outside Pub. We drank, stretched our memories, and realized that we share a bond of those days out on the water. Agua es Vida – Water is Life
The sun peeked through the portholes and started waking the crew. We wolfed down breakfast before finishing the final preps. The moment was upon us to bugout of Ft Pierce and sail back to Miami.
In early December, we untied the dock lines then pointed the bow toward warmer weather. The course from Ft Pierce to Miami kept us within sight of land for the multiple-day voyage. Omar and Derek joined me for a mini-adventure. We packed the catamaran with food and supplies for the nonstop trip. A few parts that were already broken had us on our toes even before we started. Plus, a weather front changed at the last minute for a return to port. After we were finally making-way, we reflected on the earlier decision we had made as a collective to stay put. That little extra time gave us room for a sail repair and relaxation after the beating we received from the weather the night before.
Game Time- Derek received points for reaching top speed. Omar received points for being Omar. I received points for baking the lasagna.
Miami welcomed us with a beautiful skyline and colorful sunset. With the anchor firmly set, we crashed. We slept hard and apologized to our boat neighbors for the deep sleep snoring coming from all three cabins. So generous of sleep I barely even noticed the rain shower pass in the middle of the night. The sun cracked the dawn like an egg. With smiles and a pang of hunger, we headed to town to find breakfast in the city that Sapphire calls her home port. Welcome to Miami- Bienvenido a Miami Rise and Shine.
The choice is thick or thin. Families have been at stalemate for centuries with knife and fork in hand.
The thing to know about pizza is that there is no middle ground for thick or thin. As you read this, you already know your favorite style. Unless God forbid, you are a carb counting, card-carrying, cauliflower crust loving Karen! If that’s you, go ahead and stop reading now.
For the rest of us, we want flavor. We like cheese, especially for Americans; we want every topping, including the kitchen sink on our pizza. I mean, can you really be a Fun-guy without mushrooms? For me, I’ve always favored thick crust, double mozzarella, Canadian bacon, mushrooms, and dare I say it… pineapple. Yep there it is. Perfection.
During a recent trip up North, I started daydreaming about pizza. I messaged friends who I know live or have lived in Chicago, asking for authentic deep-dish pizza location recommendations. They all messaged back with the name Lou Malnati’s. With an honorable mention, they named Giordanos as their second choice. From where I was in Michigan, I charted my course to the Windy City. It was three states and two hours away. With a full tank of gas and an address plugged into my GPS, I was on my way.
Chicago signage has a sense of nostalgia. Maybe it reminded me of the way Hollywood portrays the strong economic era before the 2nd World War. Strong, confident, and welcoming. The sign to Malnati’s is no different. It beckoned me from across the street as soon as I saw it.
I was that guy. I was the hungry guy who followed my nose through the front door. My timing was perfect. It was that sweet spot between lunch and dinner. Lucky me, they had a table at their rollup glass garage door. On a 1-10 level of food excitement, I was a 10. So excited that I ordered two pizzas. I wanted to experience all of it.
The uniqueness of Lou’s is the Butter Crust. It coats your fingers and prepares your tastebuds for the boldness of the pie. I chose “The Malnati.” The sausage had a little kick that made my nose run before I finished my first slice; thats a good thing. Along with the vine tomato sauce and extra cheese, it would be hard to beat. My second pizza choice was “The Lou,” named after the founder. In my opinion, this is an excellent complement to the first pie. The three kinds of cheese bridged the void from the plate to my mouth. Add the flavor of spinach, garlic, basil, onion, mushrooms, and sliced tomatoes!!! Yes, please. I washed everything down with an Italian beer and took in the moment. I was sitting in Chicago and happy in a food coma on deep-dish pizza.
The Food Pirates stole my journal. Time for a fresh start on our culinary journey.
Last month my travel journal fell into the hands of food pirates. Wait, you have never heard of them? Seriously, they are real. You may not realize it yet, but I bet you have been a victim of them at some point.
Think about it. Have you ever looked at your dinner plate and said, “there is no way I ate all that.” Or maybe your best friend had already ordered her third margarita when you didn’t see her pound the second one. And let’s not forget about the late nights you are standing in front of an open refrigerator, staring at the old cheese beside a half-empty White Claw. Yep, it’s all because of those sneaky Food Pirate bastards stealing things off our plates and tables, robbing us of the things we love most. Maybe a better term would be “Pie Rats”.
You may have seen glimpses of my travel journal on older Facebook posts. During my travels, I’d jot down notes of things I was seeing, hearing, smelling. Lots of times, I would even try to draw out the moments. They are great memories. I guess it was time to retire that book.
The best things in the world happen at a dinner table, and I believe every meal has a story. Here’s a toast to the next year full of recipes and new friends. Let’s start.
One lost writer’s reflections on the water. From recent Aquatramp initiate, Central Florida playwright Tracey Jane.
“Most beginners oversteer.” Sapphire’s Captain Gary turns the wheel until the heading reads 132, and wind snaps the sail taut again. “You’ll get the feel for it.” His eyes scan gauges, sails and sky. I fixate on the digital number before me, but the sea shushes all around, dark in the clouded moonlight, lulling me to introspection.
Maybe I’ve oversteered my life, too. Especially in the beginning, when I had it all figured out: Get good grades in school, get a good job, get married, get a house, have kids, do all you’ve been told to do, believe only what you’ve been raised to believe. My heading was clear. And I was always firmly focused on the number in front of me — but never on where I was actually going.
The busyness of life becomes the business of living. That’s how it was for me anyway, until one day I looked up and realized I was exactly where I was “supposed to be.” Yet completely lost. I wasn’t following my own inner compass, or whatever else you might call it: each person’s unique heart, spirit, energy … The number dances: 126, 128, 119. I spin the giant rim sharply to the right.
“Small movements,” Gary calls from the saloon, where he’s writing the last hour’s log entry. He never looks up, having apparently felt the boat’s movement more clearly than I could see it. “Give her time to adjust.”
It’s been twenty-two months since my divorce, after twenty-two years married. Half my life and nearly all my adult life. While I can’t worry about the weather behind me, it still chases me, the good as much as the bad. The failure looms, even if shared, even though ultimately without blame. The grief of that loss, of love — and even more, of the dream that it will last forever — still crashes over me sometimes, like an abrupt big wave. 138, 143 … I pull back left, and Gary reappears.
“This is distracting you.” He grins and switches off the illuminated gauges. “See where the moon’s hitting the horizon?” I mumble assent, only then noticing that the clouds have moved, revealing a glowing gibbous moon. Nearly centered over our bow, it splays light across the water. “Stay on this side of it.” I nod, setting my outlook to the shimmering triangle. Gary lies down on a cushion atop the cockpit and closes his eyes.
Like the other crewmembers he’s gathered for this venture, I’m here for a reason. Maybe he knows we’re each in deep need of something, even if it’s just this shared experience at sea …
Meg is the free-spirited gypsy who survived a rare aortic aneurysm in her early 20s. Another real-life badass is Omar. A veteran first responder haunted by the Pulse nightclub tragedy, he’s the gentle giant who’s turned his observant eye to professional photography.
David and Alice are the couple straight out of Eden. (Technically, she’s from Britain, but you get the idea.) Together, this tow-haired Adam and Eve have trekked the globe and faced the formidable, including a precarious collapsed lung and devastating family accident. Onward they choose to sail and are restoring their first boat, a classic monohull.
Gary also invited his longtime friend from their quintessential Southern hometown of Erwin, Tennessee. Easygoing Robbie and his flame-haired wife Nicole, our onboard firefighter and medic, are walking metaphors of everything to love about America: likable, tough, and even stronger united.
Then there’s our buoyant first mate. The brother of Gary’s best bud from Navy days, Dan is the likeable, knowledgeable wingman in every great sailing movie you’ve ever seen. You know, the ones where the adventure goes nothing like planned but changes everyone aboard as they rally together through adversity to the unexpected end. But I’m getting ahead of this story …
Dan takes the helm for our overlapping watch. In between the continued lapping of nighttime waves, I comprehend half of all Dan says as he freely dispenses wisdom about wind. Like how you can’t sail right into it. And how it’s more often in front of you and not behind you, hence tacking, approaching the wind from alternating sides. So, in fact, the fastest way to get from point A to B is never a straight line. Nor was our route from Titusville to Miami, which was our intended July 4th destination.
“Asshole,” Dan calls the wind when it shifts again. “It keeps clocking around on us.” The navigational relationship between clock and compass, time and direction, has always been a fascination to me. Movement is measured in degrees, minutes and seconds of the earth’s sphere. Or a person’s lifetime.
At the end of my shared hour with Dan, I go to the logbook, thinking of how I might verbally capture the conditions I had witnessed him contend with. I scribble some jumble about the wind clocking around a lot. Then I look at the line above and see Captain Gary’s perfect summary: CONFUSED SEAS.
The entry could just as well describe my post-divorce mindset. Or all the “unprecedented events” that have marked 2020. But like “these uncertain times,” the mysterious ocean has a way of revealing us, of distilling our brokenness to the surface.
The sea tests us. This pandemic and its destructive wake are testing us. But maybe in the end, these trials that force us to change course will prove to be the unwanted events that also help us change ourselves.
I climb to my cabin bed and close my eyes, exhausted, feeling the waves. They rise and fall in equal measure. Some pass soft and gentle, others sharp and jarring, but with an endless balance that in itself is reassuring.
The names and locations are changed to protect the guilty.
On some accounts, in certain circles, a few folks may say I come from a long line of runners. Moonshine, cars, weed, guns, tobacco, I may have even heard a story of fine cutlery swapping hands without paying taxes. It’s a culture that crosses borders, not just lines on a map, but also civil status. Rich and needy people around the world make money from just moving goods from one place to another.
The names and locations in this story are changed to protect the guilty. It was spring, and I was about to sail through the Caribbean. The boat was waiting for me in Miami. All that was needed was for my work contract in the Carolina’s to finish. A few friends of mine were keen to find out what this sailing lifestyle was all about. One had just escaped his 3rd or 5th marriage engagement. The other was happy in a longterm relationship. I didn’t think I needed the help, but I thought the company on the trip would be nice. The invitation to go sailing for a few weeks was given to both of them. Cassanova immediately said yes. The other friend, well, he needed to convince his girlfriend.
During the next few days, we jumped into the planning stage. Options were thrown around to find the most logical way for the guys to get to Miami and meet me at the boat. A friend who dabbles in high-end golf resorts overheard us. “Hey, you know that beer is $50 per case in the Bahamas, right?” “If I brought a few cases over to your boat, would you drop them off as you pass by Nassau?” I thought about it and said yes.
My idea of a few cases is around three. The guys arrived at the sloop with sixteen cases of various Cerveza. I was immediately thinking of how we were going to accommodate the volume. The best option was simply to turn the boxes on their sides and walk across them inside the boat. Problem solved!
We consumed the next few days preparing the boat for the trip, food, water, fuel, fishing gear. Yacht and crew ready, we dropped the mooring ball and made our heading for Bimini in the Bahamas. It was a quick overnight sail where we found ourselves tied up to a dock by late morning. With little sleep, we still made it a point to explore all of what Bimini had to offer. Starting at the marina bar, then to the marina bar next door, followed by the Big Game Club, most notable for where Hemingway made memorable moments. We soon found out why our friend wanted us to bring cheap beer. Everywhere we went, the beer was going for 7 USD per bottle. OUCH! At some point during the night’s festivities, we noticed one of the cases of beer on the boat had popped open. Being a pro safety captain, I ruled that the safest option would be for us to stop buying beer and drink the loose cans rolling around on the floor. You see where this is leading, right?
After three more weeks of floating around the Bahamas, goofing off and exploring, we made our way to the Atlantis Resort in Nassau. Our friend arrived with his band of merry men to help carry the 16… 15… I mean, 4 cases of beer that were left unopened. The only reason there were four cases still on the boat was that those four were Budweiser. I mean, we do have standards on how low we would go even with free beer!
To this day, I remember him saying, “you are the worst smuggler ever!” He was right, and I never pulled a stunt like that again. I guess this is one time that the acorn did fall far from the tree.
From being the life of the party as a Caribbean charter boat to surviving a fiery grave, our girl has had quite a colorful history. Here is a little insight into the past of our beautiful catamaran, Sapphire.
Our story starts with humble beginnings in the small coastal town of La Rochelle, France, where the catamaran, originally named Shawna Raye, was built in 2006. After sailing through the Mediterranean, she braved an Atlantic crossing to take up residence as a Caribbean charter boat. Her days were spent amongst guests scuba diving, dolphin watching, and partying into the early hours of the morning. After a few years, she hung up her dancing shoes and retired to the coast of Florida (in other words – she was put up for sale).
She had been on the market for a while with no interest from eligible suitors, when a fire started onboard, spreading rapidly and burning right through to her very core.
Perhaps it was a coincidence that she was up for sale when the fire broke out… Or perhaps she was set on fire for the insurance money.
Maybe the owner had been burnt by his lover then torched the boat he had named after her as a symbol of their love going up in flames.
Or maybe she was set upon by pirates only to go down in a blaze of glory.
We’re not entirely sure.
What we do know is that after the fire, she was bought by an eccentric guy from Michigan and his two pet lemurs. Lemur guy had big plans (we suspect he wanted to turn her into a floating zoo – although this is an entirely unsubstantiated claim), but nothing ever eventuated. While the trio was vacationing in Key West, one of the lemurs leaped off his shoulder and bit an unsuspecting passerby. With the legal bills piling up, it was time for him to give up on his plans and move to Albuquerque… lemurless and boatless.
Shawna Raye went back on the market, and that’s when she set our hearts on fire – burns and all – we were smitten by this beautifully broken lady.
It seemed lemur guy hadn’t done much with her, besides remove the incinerated mattresses. She was still in a bad way. Captain Gary began clearing out all the crap. Literally crap. Like he actually had to pump out the clogged up toilets. There was even a family of feral cats that had set up camp in the galley, seemingly guarding the carcass of a sacrificial cat.
Day by day, piece by piece, the burnt components were removed, sanded down, and replaced. Shout out to our good mates Robbie, Steve, and Tim, for all their hard work! Accompanied by a soundtrack of taunts and ridicule from locals at the marina, we worked tirelessly for 18 months until she was restored. She took a fresh coat of paint. And a new name. Sapphire.
Did you know that the most beautiful sapphires come from being heat-treated at high temperatures? Well, our Sapphire is no different. She stood up to some pretty extreme heat. She’s not a perfect cut. She’s a little rough around the edges. But to us, she is beautiful.
Sapphire now sparkles wherever she goes. She’s a little like glitter. You know how glitter instantly adds a little brightness to the moment. And then days later, you’re still finding pieces of it scattered throughout your entire life? Like, how did I end up with a piece of glitter in my eyebrow six days after I used it to paint my toenails?! Well, we like to think that after taking a journey with Sapphire, you keep a little of her sparkle within you.
With a new lease on life and challenging the Riviera Marina stereotype of being a place where boats and dreams go to die, Sapphire left the marina and successfully completed her maiden voyage, sailing around the coast of Florida in June last year. Our tribute to Poseidon requesting counsel and protection was obviously heard because we were blessed with safe travel, beautiful seas, and special memories with new friends. You can read more about her maiden voyage here https://aquatramp.com/rivieras-rooftops-and-rockets/
And now, no port can hold her down. She is a free-spirited wanderer, rolling with the tides. She has big things planned for her future. We hope you will follow her journey and maybe even join us somewhere along the way!
A look at the last 24 months of this Catamaran project, and self reflection.
This catamaran project has taken 24 months so far to date and has been chicken soup for my soul. Not the watered-down generic type, but the proper homemade style with hearty bits. Technically I had been homeless for over a year by my own design since I had sold my last sailboat in St Augustine, Florida. I was sleeping in everything from fancy hotels, my truck, friends’ spare rooms, and even under a bridge once to see what it was like. I knew my next boat would be a catamaran, and I searched until the right one came along, and it did. I was on the beach in Bora Bora when I received the email stating that my offer was accepted.
Rebuilding a damaged vessel is, in a sense, building a relationship with yourself. There are options. Do you take the cheap and easy route on this project to finish fast? Or do you realize that you must pay now or pay later? The 20-year-old me would have not known where to start and abandoned the idea quickly to chase the nearest skirt. The 30-year-old me would have taken on the project to prove that he could. And then there’s the 44-year-old me who has learned from his previous three sailboat rebuilds and slowed down to attempt to do it correctly. As they say, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”
The Websters dictionary says love is: warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion.
Can we choose what hobbies we love? If we can, are we good at selecting the right ones for ourselves? Do we decide on things that come from natural talent and easy? Or something we are interested in but have to try really hard with the learning curve? Recently on a trip to Washington DC, I had dinner with a longtime Chef friend of mine. We chatted about why the deviled eggs on the appetizer menu only came in odd numbers. Where is the other half of the last egg?
During the meal, we noted that Captains and Chefs have a similar character. Both careers have people’s happiness and safety in our hands. Also, both professions can have a dark side that rears it’self in high-stress situations. We like to think we are the smartest person on the ship or in the kitchen. We keep the tricks we’ve learned close to our vest, and we thrive on seeing the looks of enjoyment. Over the summer, I had a Hell’s Kitchen moment in what I perceived as a stressful maneuver. The look of disappointment from the crew, and the immediate feeling in my heart will haunt me.
I travel, therefore I am. I also like to eat, learn, build, and dance when I think no one is looking. However, this blog is about the journey. The journey of rebuilding an abandoned burnt-out catamaran and where this vessel takes me and the connections made with the people along the way. On the two year mark of this project, I ask myself:
Have I been building a better boat? Or have I been building a better Gary?
It gives me pleasure to introduce the first guest writer for the AquaBlog. I have known Michelle and her husband, Tim, for awhile. This article is of her first sail on Sapphire from Coconut Grove, Florida, to Cape Canerival. -Captain
Over the summer, I had the wonderfully unique experience of sailing on the Sapphire Catamaran/living the Aquatramp life for three days that went by way too fast. I hopped on board, and after a few hellos, I had instant friends. For three days, the five of us did fun things together (watching a rocket launch from Kennedy Space Center! enjoying a sunset cocktail!). And we also did mundane things together (boat repairs! cleaning up after dinner!). All done with shared warmth and mutual gratitude during all of it. It was simply amazing.
My new friend Natalie from Australia has traveled the globe by herself and with friends and sometimes strangers. She seemed so sweet and innocent. Not a being a wild child hitchhiking in Alaska or sleeping on strangers’ couches during her adventures through Europe. She had just finished a story when I read a text out loud that it was free donut day, the world traveler’s face lit up “Free Donut Day is a thing?! I love America.”
My assigned task was to make a playlist for everyone to chill to in the afternoons….. since that is about the extent of my boating skills. For some reason, the theme song from Full House ended up on the radio (everywhere you look…. everywhere you look…), and my new friend, Pierre’s head popped up from over his book. In his beautiful accent, he asked, ‘is this from a TV show?’. We learned that they watched the same Full House in France that we all remembered from childhood in the states. We all shared a nostalgic few seconds. We all got such a kick out of having that silly show in common. Who knew?
Captain Gary has a laid-back generosity and is as open as the ocean itself. Nobody feels like a guest on the boat. When you’re there, you are the crew. Everybody belongs. You would contribute with stories, chores, cooking, playing a board game, a shared bar of soap if someone forgot theirs.
I’m looking forward to making many more playlists on many more adventures with the Aquatramp lifestyle onboard Sapphire, each one with totally different songs and memories than the last.