Questions for the Bernons
By Bernadette Bernon
June 2, 2000
This week we actually moved onto the boat — a BIG week! We also received many great messages from Cruising World readers — thank you — and a few interesting questions. We've chosen two to answer this week. Several questions that came in will require us to have a few more cruising months under our belts in order to give intelligent answers. Stay tuned and we'll get them as time goes by.
Q: Now that you've moved onboard the boat, how does the reality of that compare to the anticipation of it?
We moved our favorite artwork into a friends' attic, and sold the rest at our yard sale. Mary, the anticipation of moving aboard was overwhelming in so many ways, and I'm so glad we're almost past it now. Up until last night, when we officially moved aboard Ithaka and slept here, I felt as though I were living two completely separate lives. One life was lived on land, in our house, as we cleaned and repaired it, and boxed things up to get ready to move out — a giant task. The other life was this new one afloat, bringing with it all the daily challenges of learning a new boat, and the excitement of stepping into the unknown. It's been a month of chaos, not to mention exhausting. Plus, we felt like we were living in Grand Central Station; friends we love stopped by constantly to have tea and chat, offer good wishes, express their sadness at our leaving — or blurt out their concerns for our safety. Workmen went in and out the front door at will. The house echoed everywhere as it emptied out and more people wandered around shaking their heads — all very weird.
Last week, we placed away the last of our furniture, only to realize we had nothing left to sit on but the bed and the floor! We had dinner at a friend's, and sat on our own couch in their living room. The night before last, we went to a local bistro named Tucker's, and on the walls around us were our own paintings and pictures; Tucker had been at our yard sale the week before. Yesterday morning, I brought most of my "office" clothes to a consignment store, and now I half expect to see women walking around town in my outfits looking like I do, I mean looking like I did, oh it's all so confusing! Yesterday afternoon, we gave our dog Gracie to a wonderful friend and I thought my heart would break when the two of them drove out the driveway. There are parts of us everywhere now, and this has given life a disconcertingly surreal quality that is very cool in one way, but in others not pleasant.
Of course we've brought too much stuff and too many clothes onboard during this frantic moving process, and there's no place to put any of it, so today, after the closing on our house, we began the process of taking stuff off the boat that we'd painstakingly brought on only days before. Friends who've been cruising say we shouldn't feel too silly about this. Before they left on their voyage, they took a couple of cartons of stuff off every week until their boat could breathe again.
Cutting ties with land is a process far more complicated than I'd realized. We all have so many more tentacles than we know, reaching out into so many corners; pulling them in is a formidable undertaking. Selling the house today was bittersweet. I admit it was neat to get the money, but at the same time it was tough to close the door on our home, and know that we wouldn't be going back. Whatever happens now, for the first time in my life, is something I really can't anticipate at all. That feels pretty exciting and completely petrifying, all at the same time.
As I write, at the end of our first full day as liveaboards, the sunset is just beginning to give the inside of the boat a warm glow. Douglas, taking a break, is stretched out in the cockpit reading a book. The air is still. My head seems to have stopped spinning. The kettle is beginning to sing, and life is beginning to look pretty good to me again.
Q: Bernadette What made you think Ithaka was the right boat for you guys to live on go offshore cruising?
Bernadette and I spent more than eight months trudging painfully up and down the Eastern seaboard looking at various boats and being continuously disappointed before we gratefully found what emerged as the right one for us. During that time we were often exulted and discouraged, nearly giving up once, and out of desperation almost buying a very popular but dreadful looking boat that we would have forever regretted. During that time our criteria evolved as we learned more about what we felt we needed and didn't need, and what we liked and didn't like and about specific brands that had once caught our fancy but for a variety of reasons did not look so hot under the practical microscope of "Is this really the best boat? Is this really the right boat?"
We had a number of factors on which we easily compromised and others that were non-negotiable. For instance, we didn't want teak decks. (We got them, re-caulked them and now they're just fine, thank you.) We didn't want a lot of systems. (We ended up with two very independent refrigeration systems: a 12 volt and an engine driven, but beautifully installed. Humph.) Bernadette wanted a scoop transom with built-in ladder and shower area. (Nope. We got a beautiful champagne-glass stern, and no place to sit, but the perfect set-up for the self-steering vane.) We wanted a keel stepped mast. (No, again, but an excellent deck-stepped mast installation.) We wanted a separate stall shower. (Nope. But we're not heading North, and we do have a perfectly good shower in the cockpit.) We knew we wanted something 38-45 feet. (We got 39'8")
We refused to compromise on what we came to call the "momma nature" factor. Can mamma nature kick the daylights out of this boat and it will be just fine? As Bernadette said in one of her essays, we wanted something seriously robust, a boat whose strength would help compensate for our inevitable shortcomings and errors. We found a magnificently over-built, heavily constructed, well-tested, gorgeous vessel with attributes that far surpassed what we first looked for. Separate shower stalls became small potatoes.
Our requirements were financial, practical and aesthetic. In the long run we ended up spending more than we had expected because in the current boom there are boatloads of yuppies out there looking at boatloads of boats, and that keeps the market high and the brokers happy. We found early on we could not rely on one broker to find our boat. It is, after all, our boat, and that made it our job to find it, which meant doing our own homework. This seems a symbolically useful lesson regarding this entire enterprise. Our trip. Our responsibility.
One hears agonizing tales of the great good fortune of someone's cousin's brother-in-law who found his dreamboat in a divorce/distress sale for $20,000. (Bastards.) There may be boats like this out there, but we surely never stumbled on any and, as with everything else, there comes a crucial intersection of time and money. Which one are you willing to spend more of? Also, there's cachet and inflated expense with certain brand names. In my curmudgeonly way I'd rather snip the external labels off my clothes than be a walking billboard for some corporation not paying me for the favor.
On a practical level, we wanted a vessel that we could handle easily as a couple. We both favor cutter rigs for just that reason. Also, while neither of us is much a racer, we wanted to be able to rack up the miles every day. And, we definitely did not want a major project boat. I all too well remember my first house and the renovations I did there. One of my friends commented after the second year that he knew I had made some progress when I had finally moved into my bedroom and replaced the wheelbarrow with a vacuum cleaner. I also recall the wooden boat I lived on 25 years ago. I rarely sanded and sailed on the same day, and I did not enjoy sistering the ribs or scarfing planks. Every vessel needs upgrades and alterations, but we didn't want to spend a year doing them. Most importantly we wanted a sturdily built boat that had a track record of serious cruising and not just an advertisement that said it was capable of such.
To be sure, beauty is always defined in the most intensely personal ways. We KNEW — really knew this time — that we wanted our boat to be a beautiful space in which to live together, both above and below decks. As one of our friends said, "When you step into that dinghy and row somewhere, you want to look back and smile."
This article first appeared as a feature in the June, 2000, issue of Cruising World.