Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Simple Life Christmas in Vero Beach

A view of Simple Life's electrical nightmare
at the navigation station.
     All I want for Christmas is AIS...and a hand held fiberglass buffer. No diamond baubles needed for a sailor woman. You're probably wondering what The heck I'm talking about. AIS is the abbreviation of Automatic Identification System. A tracking device which is installed with "great difficulty by the captain (Joe)" and must be hard wired on the boat. It is a wonderful invention in that it allows other both commercial & pleasure boats that have the system to identify Simple Life and it allows us to "see" them on a laptop and identify their vessel as well.

     Joe and I sail offshore as often as possible when weather cooperates. Every time we're offshore during overnight passages it seems ships come out of nowhere. That's when it becomes stressful. It seems we never spot a ship during daylight. Curses! We have radar aboard Simple Life which gives us blips pertaining to objects (hopefully ships) nearby. It does not provide names of ships, their size nor whether we may be on a collision course with the vessel. AIS does provide this information and more making travel offshore at night much safer and less nerve-wracking. Those are the key words, LESS STRESSFUL. Imagine yourself driving at night with no headlights on the car, no streetlights, no road and just for kicks and giggles throw in some fog. Suddenly, off in the distance maybe for or five miles away lights are spotted...or were they?

     Fast forward to sailing Simple Life offshore. We spot a blip on radar. Something four miles to starboard. Opps, it's gone...oh there it is again. "Joe! call the ship! Ask if they see us." No response from the ship (we give a Lat Lon position over VHF radio, but receive no response from the ship. It keeps coming! Let's change course, we'll take its stern. Still no response." Last spring during a 36 hour passage from the Bahamas while returning to the States we spotted over 15 cargo ships and three giant cruise ships. One passed so close astern of Simple Life that we could hear the music and watch TV on the giant screen on the top deck all while under sail in 20 knots of wind!

The AIS transponder installed & working!
The VHF antenna splitter for the AIS 
Christmas 2015: Michele gets AIS! Christmas 2015: Joe gets to install AIS! With fingers crossed we both suffer through a few days of numerous phone calls with the AIS manufacture with Simple Life's electrical system torn apart along with lots of heated cursing. Joe's favorite being, "Come on you bastard!" I chuckle every time I hear it, swearing is so out of character for him. Captain calm. Although, I feel his pain. I must admit I don't care what the Ten Commandments say I swear often and rather enjoy it! I'm Irish.


Relaxing after a successful job well done.
     On Christmas Eve...a bright full moon lit the harbor and all was still. Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. We killed that little bugger last September. The good news? AIS is up and running! Simple Life is transmitting and receiving. The captain, Joe, felt quite pleased with himself and settled in for a long winters...sail, admiring the nearly full moon with a cigar and noggin of rum. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Holidays in Vero Beach

Robin Clay, Joe Boulay & Bob Clay
Kiwi friends we met cruising 12 years ago
in the Bahamas have returned for another season.

     The official onset of the holiday season for the crew of Simple Life and more than two hundred other boaters kicked off with the annual Thanksgiving celebration at the Vero Beach City Marina where a high energy sensation of revelry was in the air.

Bentley Smith & Michele Boulay
Photo by Hayden Cocoran

Celebrating Thanksgiving with friends

     At this time of year which is for many the start of the migration season it's not so much about what is happening at the moment, but more about possibilities for the upcoming season in both south Florida and the Bahamas. It's about reuniting with old friends whom we haven't seen in awhile as well as meeting new people. 
Michele with a new fan of the Bodhran
Photo by Joe Boulay
It's about the excitement and thrill of catching the first Mahi of the season along with unanticipated events that are already in the stars, but to us are unfathomable at this time. 
The Salty Paws performing with friends
Photo by Joe Boulay



Bentley Smith, Michele Boulay & Jim Austin
performed after Thanksgiving dinner in Vero Beach
Photo by Hayden Cocoran
     In some manner I think we who sail oceans are excitement junkies. We relish the unknown and sometimes uncomfortable situations in which we sometimes find ourselves. I don't know all the reasons why we have chosen this particular lifestyle, but I do know that the close camaraderie among boaters is what unifies us all as good friends.

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Captivated by Charleston again

Dawn in Charleston Harbor
     This blog backtracks a few ports since we have already arrived safely in Vero Beach, Florida, but our stay in Charleston was as always interesting and noteworthy. I thought you might enjoy reading this latest entry.

     Have you experienced a city that seems to emanate a radiance while whispering a certain je ne sais quoi? Charleston has this effect upon me. Warm balmy evenings, rustling leaves with miniature snapping live oak acorns under foot, historic architecture and the mannerly ways of the locals. Charleston exudes a fusion of these and other warm attributes that seem to flourish effortlessly.
Historic Charleston


Bluegrass musicians entertaining at the farmers market
The Emanuel African Methodist
Episcopal Church



     While enjoying one of our leisurely meanders through town on a warm, brilliant Saturday afternoon we enjoyed the weekly farmers market in Marion Square. Numerous vendors selling everything from farm fresh vegetables to unusual ceramic ware enjoyed brisk business as townspeople stocked up on provisions. On our return to the Simple Life armed with fresh local tomatoes we passed by the sobering site of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church where on June 17, 2015 nine worshippers were shot dead during services. It was difficult to fathom that on a calm, balmy evening during weekly bible study such a horrendous terror attack overtook this beautiful city only a few month ago.  The residents of Charleston are resilient. They want to move on. The church is a constant reminder to the rest of humanity the reality of the world in which we now share.

Happy hour at Pearlz Oyster Bar
 On a lighter note our recent layover in Charleston did not disappoint. World class restaurants, lovely southern architecture, a fantastic Saturday farmers market, perfect Autumn weather with a couple of rainy days for working on boat projects and of course most importantly, great local music. Charleston is a small peninsula city ideal for walking. Its perimeter can be easily covered within a couple of hours. A stroll toward the center meanders through lovely restored historic neighborhoods ripe for exploration.
Oysters by the dozen at Pearlz

Chef Blair preparing Shrimp & Grits
     Since we were in a city famed for fabulous southern cuisine I decided to register for a cooking demonstration at Charleston Cooks a well known store on East Bay Street specializing in gadgets and cookware along with everything and anything a cook might desire in the kitchen. The store also offers cooking classes and demonstrations each day in the well appointed classroom kitchen.

Michele, Dan & Daria

     Anyone who follows my blog knows that I am partial to local southern cuisine especially shrimp and grits. I have sampled numerous versions of this southern dish at several restaurants throughout the city. I even own a cookbook exclusively featuring shrimp and grits. Oh, no...I'm starting to sound a bit like Forrest Gump. Getting back to shrimp and grits. Charleston Cooks offered a demonstration class with Chef Blair preparing shrimp and grits with bourbon pecan pie for dessert. I registered immediately. Later that evening we met up with with friends Dan and Daria from MV Gypsea at my absolute favorite restaurant in Charleston Amen Street Raw Bar & Restaurant. Knowing that Daria is a great cook I mentioned that I'd registered for a cooking demonstration. On Friday we met at Charleston Cooks at 2:00 PM and procured front row seats. The perfect setting to watch Chef Blair work his magic while first preparing the bourbon pecan pie then walking us through the shrimp and grits recipe. During the demonstration overhead video cameras positioned directly over the stove offered us a birds eye view into the pots. The best part of this event came at the end when Chef Blair prepared eight dinners of shrimp and grits for the participating guests along with a glass of wine and bourbon pecan pie.

Elaine & Lawrence with a new friend at the
Natural History Museum
Yikes! Check out those teeth
      A surprise treat this season evolved when our friends Elaine and Lawrence arrived in Charleston aboard Elle & I. Elaine introduced us to her childhood friend Gail and Gail's husband Dr. Jim Carew who invited us to a private informative tour of the Mace Brown Natural History Museum at the College of Charleston where Jim is the museum director and curator. One of the most fascinating exhibits featured the Evolution of Whales. The exhibit spans a 50 million year time period with several evolutionary whale skulls on display. Several specimens in the exhibits were collected in and around the Charleston area. Gail who is an informative guide in her own rite is clearly as enthusiastic as Jim when discussing the exhibits.
Joe and Dr. Jim Carew check out an exhibit

A fossilized shrimp specimen

Joe managed to catch a couple of dozen live shrimp with a
cast net off the Charleston docks during our stay in town.
    Charleston never disappoints and once again has succeeded in captivating my heart. After our wonderful visit we looked forward to heading offshore with Vero Beach in our sites to celebrate this special Thanksgiving with our family of friends in our close knit sailing community.

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Friday, November 6, 2015

Offshore Passages Along the Eastern Seaboard

Sunrise on Charleston Harbor
Photo by Joe Boulay
     This season has been surprisingly favorable for offshore passages along the eastern seaboard. Lately it seems that northerly winds have predominated the autumn months which is not unusual, but they have also been relatively benign with only a few minor squalls and fewer strong weather fronts. This has enabled more cruising sailboats to venture offshore relying less on the Intracoastal Waterway route.


An early morning hike at Cape Lookout, NC
Photo by Joe Boulay

     Simple Life has taken advantage of this offshore travel season. We've been able to hop off from Beaufort at Cape Lookout, North Carolina to Wrightsville Beach, NC by leaving Cape Lookout at 3:00 AM with an arrival in Wrightsville before sunset. This passage enabled us to travel one day instead of two which would be the norm along the ICW. The following day we motored along the ICW from Wrightsville Beach to Southport, NC taking a dock for the evening in preparation for an offshore departure the next morning which would encompass an all day and overnight passage to Charleston, South Carolina.

     Charleston has always been such a great spot to layover, rest and enjoy the town. We booked a week in port this fall. When our stay had come to an end a couple of days ago the weather once again cooperated and we hopped offshore for a 29 hour passage from Charleston, SC to Fernandina Beach, Florida!

Joe passed out after a long haul offshore.
Photo by Michele Boulay
 Offshore travel can be exhausting and usually is when the passage lasts just over 24 hours. There isn't enough time for the crew (Joe & me) to settle down and get into a rhythm of watches. Night watches usually work well when the crew is out for a couple of days. Cat naps are one thing, but they don't allow enough time for much needed rest and recovery. For this reason arrivals in port are so welcomed and we often pass out after grabbing a quick coffee and hearty breakfast. Joe actually checked my breathing when I succumbed after this latest passage. Although, I think he caught on within a short time when a period of sonorous snoring began. All video of this particular event has and will forever be deleted from YouTube. Sorry for the inconvenience.

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Friday, October 30, 2015

Ol' Front Porch Music Festival

      Saturday October 17, 2015 was the date of the 2nd annual Ol' Front Porch Music Festival in the quaint town of Oriental, NC. A town where Ol' front porches adorned with pumpkins and corn stalks are the distinguished architectural element embellishing nearly every home in town.


     The filtered sunshine warming the autumn day
was picture perfect for a lazy stroll along the
The Carmonas performance was a crowd pleaser
typically quiet streets of Oriental and for stopping to enjoy the melodic phrases straining from 21 predetermined front porches where crowds gathered in anticipation of the down home sounds of Appalachian folk, sea chanteys, gospel and bluegrass.


The Salty Paws
Michele (Bodhran), Bentley (banjo), Jim (guitar), Dave (guitar)
     This year The Salty Paws Band was invited back for a second performance on the front porch of The Bean on the waterfront. Bentley, Jim, Dave and Michele were scheduled to perform on the porch from 1:00-2:30 PM. We geared up early prior to our engagement in order to be able to enjoy the festival's diverse assemblage of opening acts starting at 11:00 AM.


A few members of the Uhoos

The Dixie Strings
     The festival opened with The Uhoos (Ukulele Hoalohas of Oriental) a fun loving group of 30 members who have been playing a diverse genre of music together for two years. After a stroll from Hodges to Broad Street Joe and I also enjoyed the performances by Dixie Strings a youthful talented bluegrass/gospel group on mandolin, fiddle, guitar and stand-up bass and The Flat Mountain Dulcimers. We had just enough time to enjoy a few tunes by Green Creek Bluegrass at The Old Hotel front porch before it was time for our set up and tune up at The Bean at 1:00 PM.
The Flat Mountain Dulcimers

The Salty Paws
Michele, Bentley, Jim and Dave performing at The Bean
     The Salty Paws Band was able to play through our entire playlist including favorites such as Fox on the Run, Mary Ellen Carter, Whiskey in the Jar, Rant & Roar along with numerous other sea chanteys as well as a fusion of genres. A few encore pieces such as bluegrass/gospel I'll Fly Away and the well known favorite Rolling Home were performed to the delight of the festival audience. At times there were over 50 roving festival attendees enjoying our porch concert!


The Carmonas

     When all was said and done we reflected back upon a great experience. Perfect weather, talented
bands, good food and good friends. Life is and has been, so far (we're cautiously optimistic)...even better than expected!

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Return to Sea Level

The Cape Lookout Lighthouse from sea level.
     The onset of autumn marks our fourth year of living aboard and cruising full time aboard theSimple Life. Cool evenings requiring an extra blanket and crisp mornings signal the eventuality of winter. The time to sail south has arrived.

Simple Life at Portsmouth, VA
on her way south in 2015
Simple Life hauled for
Hurricane Joaquin

After the storm. Simple Life
launched for the southern
This season has been fraught with a series of events that hampered southern migration for nearly everyone. Hurricane Joaquin's sudden development and unpredictable path of destruction wreaked havoc upon Long Island, Bahamas prior to heading north toward the States. By good fortune, Joaquin's path eventually veered away from the U.S. mainland and out to sea. Although, not before lashing South Carolina with heavy rains resulting in severe flooding, higher than normal tides at bridges where sailboats with 62 foot masts needed to be cautious when transiting. The storm also deposited considerable debris into channels.

      Long Island, Bahamas was not so fortunate. The hurricane hit the southern end of the island with a vengeance wreaking massive destruction as it spun out of control while hovering over the island's inhabitants for several days. This is one of our favorite islands and we hope the locals are able to realize their hard won existence once again.

Joe has crabs...again!!
     While the storm threatened and meteorologists made up their minds in the States we all waited. Simple Life was hauled on the hard at Mobjack Bay since two days before Joaquin's forecast arrival landfall predictions were near or directly at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. We visited friends who kindly offered shelter from the storm until the boat was launched after the hurricane's departure. We all made the best of a tough situation by busying ourselves with cooking and entertaining. Joe managed to catch a bucket of blue crabs off the docks with a promise of my delicious crab cakes as an incentive.
Blue crabs await their fate.


   Conditions have improved beyond measure since the storm. Boats are on the move heading south once again. Everyone seems to be settling in to the rhythm of life aboard. Weather has been dry and favorable with numerous opportunities for offshore passages.


Cape Lookout Lighthouse, Cape Lookout, NC
     Simple Life motored out of the Bight of Cape Lookout on the Outer Banks of North Carolina yesterday morning before sunrise at 4:00 AM en route to Masonboro Inlet at Wrightsville Beach, NC. The stopover at the Cape was our first and it seemed logical to spend a day exploring its pristine 54 mile beach, historic lighthouse and lagoon with hopes of spying the Shackelford Banks renowned wild horses.

Sunrise Cape Lookout

     At this time of year along with the unpredictability of east coast weather it seems most boaters have their goals and objectives written in...yogurt with a few blueberries in the mix. Vero Beach at Thanksgiving is one of the most popular. Joe and I still enjoy the ride whenever weather and conditions cooperate. Tomorrow morning we plan an offshore overnight passage from Southport, NC to Charleston, SC. After all the reason all of us are out here is joie de vivre. Lets hope for fair winds and following seas.
Cape Lookout Lighthouse at the national seashore

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Simple Life in France

The Seine, Paris at 10:00 PM
     In the event that you're a blog follower of Sailing Simple Life you may have noticed that we haven't updated our blog in a few months. The reason? We had an opportunity to spend the month of July in France. This may disappoint some in that we didn't sail there given that it was much more efficient to hop a plane from Boston to Paris where we spent a few days before traveling south spending July exploring the Charente and Dordogne regions.

The orchard in the side yard overlooking the sunflower field.
photo by Joe Boulay

     Sailing across the Atlantic to France wasn't an option and after traveling aboard Simple Life for months in "slo mo" it seemed almost miraculous flying across an ocean and arriving thousands of miles away within a matter of hours. On a given day while traveling aboard Simple Life we are typically underway for seven or eight hours while covering only 50 miles!


Michele with a baguette at the Marche in Aubeterre.
Photo by Joe Boulay
      Last January after several weeks of persistent, strong easterly winds resulting in zero opportunities for Gulf Stream crossings we holed up at anchor in South Beach, Miami. Tough life right? Actually, it was pleasant, but while lying at anchor (not in a marina with any facilities) for weeks waiting for a favorable weather window I longed for a month or so ashore. I was growing weary after a few false starts across the Stream. It was during our layover that I finalized plans for Simple Life's French connection.
Aubeterre a medieval village in the Charente region.
Photo by Joe Boulay


Michele & Porgey enjoying the warm evening at the house.
Photo by Joe Boulay
     The simple life in France was à la bonne heure. The historic country home we lived in was akin to living life on French film set. Visualize a French country kitchen with exterior provincial blue shutters shielding the midday sun. An aloof pure white country cat. Geraniums blooming in every window box. A menagerie of copper pots hanging over the red tilled back splashed stove. Floor to ceiling windows cranked open sans screens filling the rooms with warmth and sunshine and a few bugs.

Flowers and vines adorned the exterior of the house.
Photo by Joe Boulay

Evenings by the pool with wine & fromage.
      Back yard views of undulating hills of sunflowers and freshly baled hay, c'est magnifique! I must admit that five years of French in high school and college (I'm certainly not fluent in French) were helpful, but did little to prepare me for actually speaking French in the countryside. I've included a number of photos in this blog from France even though we were land trekkers and not technically living the simple life abroad.

Bee on a sunflower
by Joe Boulay

      Living aboard the Simple Life consumes most of our year and believe it or not occasionally there are times when we long for shore leave. Not for long periods of time mind you, just something to whet the pallet offering an hors d'oeuvre if you will of life ashore. A block of time when we don't always have to be so connected and concerned with wind, weather and whether or not our neighbor's home might drag into ours during an unexpected nighttime storm.
Joe loves cheese


Cheese vendor at the Aubeterre march.
Photo by Joe Boulay
     Our French hiatus was splendid, better than expected. A life unexpected. We had no preconceived expectations! We knew little of where we were staying. Everything including a trip to the InterMarche (the local market) was a new adventure. That was how we lived our simple life in France.

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