shows by example how easily you can eliminate stress, become more independent, raise your children in a safer environment (while spending more time with them, instilling values not based on the mighty dollar) and avoid the traps of commercialism. Because we live and sail simply, we have been wandering for 11 years with no intention of stopping. This is not a trip for us; it is our life, and I hope to share our success with stories of laughter and tears, as well as how-to tips and DIY projects for preparing, sailing and making a boat a home, so that others can join us.

What to do with the To-Do List

October 13, 2014

If you own a boat, you will understand. You complete a long passage, prepare for a long passage, approach the time to haul out, or look forward to launching, and out comes the to-do list. Whether it's a brand new boat, a new-to-you boat, or has been your home for over a decade, she will still need some attention. So, if you're like us, you start dreaming about what you could do, and before you know it, your to-do list takes on a life of its own, crippling you with its demands of your time and money, and seriously hampering your ability to sail away. But there is a cure. Here's our advice for what to do with that to-do list.

First, don't be too hard on yourself. Getting in over your head is easy to do. After owning a boat (and the accompanying to-do lists) for nearly 20 years, you would think we would know better by now, but even we got caught up in it. It started when we decided to put Eurisko on the hard and live in a log cabin in the woods for a year. We figured if we weren't on her, think of how easy it would be to do all those improvements that are nearly impossible to live around, like interior paint and varnish. I've been asking for ceilings in the V-berth for over a decade. The sole needs refinished. It would be nice to finally put some insulating on the overhead. We never have gotten around to painting the inside of the lockers and their doors. The anchor locker door needs rebuilt. I would love to hide the wiring for the fan in the V-berth and finally get a fan in the head--to help stave off seasickness offshore. It would be nice to take the chain out and clean and paint the anchor locker. We really should cut limber holes in the forward lockers. We promised ourselves new cushions when the last of our three boys moved out. I would like to change the canvas color to match the black boot stripe we plan to put back on now that Eurisko is floating on her lines again.

Admittedly, she needs some work.

If we are putting the black boot stripe back, then we need to repaint the hull. The non-skid on our deck could use redone, and it's so much easier to do that when you're not living aboard. We may as well attend to those fasteners in the toe rail that have started to rust, and there are a few small places of possible deck rot that should be investigated. It has been 14 years since we had the fuel tank out, so maybe we should remove and clean it. Dave has been talking about putting a water tank overfill spigot in the galley so there is no freshwater in the bilge. We have had some issues lately with motor alignment, and one of our motor mounts has seized up and needs replaced. One of the screws for the dinghy tie-down penetrates the deck, a chain plate leaks, the masthead bulb needs replaced. Whew! Before you know it, I'm out of breath, Dave is out of energy, and we are out of money.

WAIT A MINUTE! What just happened? We brainstormed, listed all of the items that COULD be replaced, repaired, or refinished, and wrote them all on the list. The tricky part comes now. What do we do with this list?

Before we talk about what TO do, let's set down some DON'T do's.
Do NOT buy the materials for everything on the list. Buying is the easy part. It helps you feel productive, allows you to make some ticks on your list as if you have actually done something. But all you have done is INCREASE your expenditures. If you look at money as FREEDOM chips, you will realize that buying only keeps you tied to the dock longer.

Do NOT start with the easy, most gratifying, or "prettiest" project. Yes, I know, if you put a coat of paint on the interior it will look nice, you'll be proud of your boat, and you can pat yourself on the back and put yet another tick mark on your to-do list. However, once again, it will only serve to keep you tied to the dock. Besides, if you still have wiring to hide, rot to attend to, chainplates to pull, or any other projects that may require removing cabinetry, all that hard work will be for naught.

Cushion makings

So what DO you do with that to-do list?

1) Don't panic. Take a deep breath and be realistic. Think about (and possibly even LIST) your priorities. What do you want to DO with the boat? Do you want to go weekend sailing? Do you want to liveaboard at the dock? Do you want to cruise in her? Do you want to go up and down the ditch every season? Do you want to sail to the Caribbean? Do you want to sail around the world? Dave often has a hard time getting customers to complete this step. He is presented with a wish list of projects the owner would like completed, but in no particular order. At this point, he has to coach his customers by asking those same questions. What are your goals with this boat? Answer that question HONESTLY, maybe even write it in large print across the top of your to-do list, and pull out a new piece of paper. You're ready for step two.

2) Make several columns on your new sheet of paper. Their headings may change as your list progresses, but I'll give you some examples. Before we left civilization 12 years ago, we had a to-do list that was several pages long. After completing step one and deciding that our goal was to sail to the Caribbean with the option of going farther, I labeled my columns:
Before we sell the car
Before we leave the marina
Before we leave the Chesapeake
Before we leave the country
Before we go offshore
Before we cross oceans (There are still a few items on that original list in the "Before we cross oceans" column that have not been completed, because we have only crossed seas at this point.)

For our current list, my columns are:
While in storage
While in the work yard
Before we sell the van
Before we move onboard
Before we leave the country

I am now ready to move on to the next step.

3) Write every item on your original list in its appropriate column. You realize that before you lose your means of transportation, sail away from friends willing to lend tools, advice, and a helping hand, or splash, there are certain projects that will be easier or cheaper to complete. Put them in the appropriate column. Similarly, our marina fees are almost four times higher in the work yard than in the storage yard, so any work that can be completed before we move her will save us freedom chips. You will notice that, at this point, your list is still just as long, just as daunting, and the time and money that will be required have not decreased at all. But that's because we're not done yet.

4) I am a firm believer in mantras. They keep me focused and remind me of what is important in life. When I complete the next step in the process, I try to keep a mantra. For our first list, all those years ago, my mantra was, "We just have to get away from the dock." We were leaving family, friends, the only schools our boys remembered, good careers, and "normal" life. Just breaking those ties and getting AWAY from the dock was our primary goal. Anything after that would work itself out later. Dave created my mantra for our current list. It was something he reminded friends of ours when he was preparing their boat to sail away. "It's okay if your deck paint doesn't match, Frank. You can paint it in the Caribbean." "So what if the boat isn't perfect. You can work on it in the Caribbean." Dave repeated some version of this nearly daily while he was working on our friends' boat. Now, they are in Puerto Rico and I am jealous as hell. So I adopted the "You can do that in the Caribbean" mantra.

5) You have a list. It is organized in columns, and you have a useful mantra. Now, repeat your mantra as you look at EVERY item on your list. When we left the dock, our head had not yet been installed. We ran out of time, and frankly, "we just have to get away from the dock" didn't make its installation a priority. As Dave had promised, it was installed within hours of anchor down that first night. Once you find an item on the list that, keeping your mantra in mind, requires attention, circle it. But be completely honest and carefully consider EVERY item. Let's look at how this plays out in our current to-do list.

The following items on our list are NOT circled, because "You can do that in the Caribbean."

interior paint and varnish, ceilings in the V-berth, the sole needs refinished, put some insulating on the overhead, paint the inside of the lockers and their doors, hide the wiring for the fan in the V-berth, take the chain out and clean and paint the anchor locker, cut limber holes in the forward lockers, put the black boot stripe back, repaint the hull, take the fuel tank out, put a water tank overfill spigot in the galley so there is no freshwater in the bilge, replace the screws for the dinghy tie-down that penetrates the deck

The following items are circle for the reasons indicated:
The anchor locker door needs rebuilt. (This is a safety issue because the chain is likely to spill out onto our feet in the middle of the night if the door fails.)
get a fan in the head (Again, I consider this a safety issue. I get extraordinarily seasick, and we have yet to complete a multi-night passage without children as crew.)
We promised ourselves new cushions when the last of our three boys moved out. (Financial reasons: we have a friend who works in a canvas shop who can get us GREAT discounts on materials. We could take the materials with us, but we have the time, so we are building them now.)
I would like to change the canvas color. (I both won and lost this battle with the captain/canvas guy. He agreed that the canvas that was worn out and no longer protecting our sails could be replaced. But just because we were changing canvas color does NOT mean that we get all new canvas at the same time. He is restitching what is salvageable, and I will get matching canvas as the rest of it wears out.)
The non-skid on our deck needs redone. (Safety issue.)
fasteners in the toe rail have started to rust, and possible deck rot that should be investigated (This is one of those "do it now before it gets too much worse" situations.)
We have had some issues lately with motor alignment, and one of our motor mounts has seized up and needs replaces. (It must be done while on the hard, and we often go years without hauling out in the Caribbean, so it's on the "do now" list.)
fix the chain plate leaks (Potential rot problem.)
the masthead bulb needs replaced (Again, safety. We are changing over to LED so that we can run masthead lights all night, even while under sail.)

Our list is significantly shorter and will require less than half the time--and about a quarter of the money because in the work yard, time is definitely money. This means that we can make our departure date goal and, since we don't have to spend all our time working on the boat, we will have time to make enough money to be able to cruise longer without stopping to work once we get there. As for the rest of the list? It will get done. Maybe. It can certainly all be done once we get to the Caribbean. But as the past has shown us, once we get there, we just might find more important things to do than work on the boat. Like walk in the rainforest and be attacked by monkeys throwing rotten fruit, or snorkel the reef with moray eels peeking at us from under wrecks. Given those choices, I bet you might just have some ideas of what you can do with your to-do list, too.

Does size matter? MONDAY we'll answer the question that we are asked by many wanna-be cruisers: what size boat do I need?

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