LIVE From Chez Nous to YouWere Still At It

By Tom Neale, 7/12/2007


Tom Neale's logs have a new name and home on BoatUS Magazine. We know Tom has a loyal and devoted readership, so we wanted to share his tips and insights with an even bigger audience! For the latest articles, click here for Onboard With Tom Neale.

Tom's office

Many people who get into full time cruising do it to the utmost and then decide it’s time to go back to a more normal lifestyle. This makes a lot of sense and it also takes a lot of guts, planning, commitment and drive. It isn’t easy to leave a good career. (We know—we both did.) It isn’t easy to take a radical departure from what we’ve known as normalcy and take up a tough new life and make it work. Cruising is fun, but it isn’t easy. And it isn’t easy to say, “OK, it’s time to go back.” But it’s often the right thing to do. Life goes on.

This is the “norm” of cruising. Another norm of cruising is that we’re always sailing away from our friends—and they from us. It’s the nature of the thing. But when your cruising friends turn up again in harbors with you, it’s like you just saw them yesterday, even though it may have been years. Except that the reunion always seems so very special.

We’ll miss having Eileen Quinn and David Allester on the “Little Gidding” out here, and we’ll miss Bernadette and Douglas Bernon on “Ithaka.” We didn’t see them often, but the times were special. Eileen helped our daughter Carolyn on the guitar one winter in Elizabeth Harbor. Bernadette and Douglas and Mel and I knew each other long before they took off. For years I wrote the “On Watch” column for Cruising World while Bernadette was editor. We saw each other regularly then. We saw each other less after they moved aboard, because our migrations were different, but we saw each other on some very special times, like Bernadette’s—well, as best I can remember it was her 29 th birthday—when we were both in South Florida a few years ago. And like when we were both anchored in Newport Harbor when they first moved aboard and Douglas was like a three year old kid with a box of new toys. And like when we were in Annapolis Harbor together during a boat show and they were having the usual getting-away run of equipment glitches, but determined to conquer them and have fun anyway. You can’t be sure of much these days, but I feel sure our courses will cross again. It seems to work that way.

Evaluating What You Read

1. Reports, articles, opinions and experiences of others (including us) may help, but they should never replace your own use of prudent seamanship.

2. When you read a product evaluation, see if it, or other sources, gives you the experience level of the person(s) who made the evaluation and the protocol they used if they rate products.

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But we on “Chez Nous” are still at it. We have no plans to “go back.” “Going back” means going back to what many would call a “normal life.” But this, to us, is normal. It’s hardly for everybody, and we wouldn’t recommend it for many. But there are varying degrees of cruising, as we define it, and they certainly aren’t all our brand. Cruising can range from a day trip up a creek in a kayak, to going out in the boat to a pretty beach on a Sunday afternoon, or taking a long weekend or vacation on the boat. There’s nothing exclusive about cruising. Most people who have boats and enjoy them cruise in them in one way or another at one time or another.

We’ve been living aboard and cruising since 1979. We raised our family aboard and home schooled our daughters aboard through high school. But before that we were on boats almost every chance we got. I owned my first when I was nine and Mel took long summer cruises with her family, beginning as a small child. It hasn’t been a vacation thing, a hobby or one of life’s passing interests. It’s been our life.

We appreciate the fact that BoatUS has us on this site. And we hope you do to. We want you to let us know about things you’d like to hear about or types of stories you like to read. We really appreciate the emails we get from you. We try to do our best, but we can always do better with your input. Hopefully this section of the BoatUS site will make your cruising better, whatever kind it is and whenever it occurs. This section is very different from many typical slick magazine articles.

When you read many glossy magazine articles, you’re often reading something written about boats only from the perspective of a cubicle in a building. Or you may be reading about a product that sounds really neat—but the information you’re getting came from the press release of a marketing rep for the manufacturer. It didn’t come from the actual daily experience of the person who’s writing about it. And often when you read a boat review, you may be reading about a vacation experience from someone who normally sits in an office but who, as a perk, sometimes gets to take a ride on some one else’s new boat and tell you about it. All of that may have its place and there are some excellent magazines and magazine articles out there. (I write for a few.)

But what you get from us comes from daily life aboard a boat. Often the boat is underway. We write many articles as we’re rolling along in the ocean or passing down the ICW or another inland waterway. We also write articles at anchor, calculating battery time before we have to start the generator to keep the computer running. We also sometimes write articles while sitting at a dock—but we’re in a boat while sitting at the dock.

When we tell you about a product, it’s about one we’ve used on one of our boats. When we tell you about an experience, it’s about one we’ve had as a part of our daily routine of being on a boat. When we report to you in East Coast Alerts, we’re trying to report what’s going on from the perspective of actually being out here for years. We don’t have other motives such as selling related products.

Mel's office

Things that we pick up in this lifestyle are often relevant to all types of boaters. For example, if we say we like a pair of binocs, it doesn’t mean that we’ve taken a day off from the office and gone out in some one’s boat and looked through a bunch of them provided by a lot of marketing firms. It means that we’ve used the binocs that we like day in and day out in just about every condition and, based on that, we like them. We normally aren’t trying to tell you that they’re the best, because we really don’t know because we haven’t tried them all like this. (We don’t want to. We’re too busy running our boat.) If we talk about fog, it comes from many experiences in many conditions of fog and in many locations. If we joke about something, it may mean we’ve had so much trouble with it or personally screwed up with that “something” so badly that laughing about it is about the best thing we can do.

So here’s where we’re coming from—and, yes, it’s still floating. Take a look at the photos of our “cubicles”. On this page you’ll see a picture of my “office.” It’s really in the aft cabin of our motor sailer, “Chez Nous.” It’s also our stateroom, but on a boat you have to double and even triple up on space. Our queen size bed is on the starboard side of the cabin. My desk used to be another smaller bunk. I built shelves over it and had a sliding computer station built so that I could slide it out when working but slide it back when we need the space for other things. Plastic boxes serve as my file drawers, because you need a lot of paper to do this. I have lots of unique problems with my “office,” like the fact that if ANY porthole on the boat is going to leak, it’s going to be the one over my computer and printer. They don’t work very well when wet, especially with salt water. So “To hell with it,” I thought, and finally sealed the port hole shut. Mel’s office is in our nav station in the main cabin, just to the starboard of the companionway. Opposite her is the galley.

We have printers, a scanner and all that stuff you need in offices, including a LAN cable running from her computer to mine, under the deck and through the engine room. Since we’re on a boat we have to be really careful about power supply to this computer stuff and we have an entirely separate protected electrical system to hopefully feed them well. That’s another story in itself. When we’re in the states, we have the ability to be on line most of the time through Verizon Wireless, except for a few cell phone challenged areas like some spots in north east North Carolina (which also happens to be one of our favorite areas). (See Article # 62 under “Past Articles” on this section of the BoatUS site.) When we’re not in the states we arrange to get on line, but it’s a real pain and costs a fortune.

When we’re underway, one of us (the one off watch) is often writing, or doing research to give you good and hopefully helpful info. When we notice something particularly good about a piece of equipment, or when we notice a navigational problem—or whatever—we make note of it and then, when we get the chance, put it in the computer so that we can share it with you.

Life out here constantly and forcefully reminds us that you never know what tomorrow is going to bring. It’s true in all walks of life, but perhaps not quite so chillingly obvious as it seems at sea. The most beautiful and perfect ocean can turn into a monstrous maelstrom in just a few hours. Eager anticipation of that perfect harbor ahead can literally end on a killer reef as you close with the island. A quietly purring engine can throw a rod without the least warning. A nicely drawing mainsail can come ripping and tearing down because an un-inspected cotter pin vibrated out. But, we’re still here. We’re still doing it. And we hope to keep on. And it’s coming to you LIVE (Well, maybe sometimes a few weeks old) from “Chez Nous.”

Copyright 2004-2008 Tom Neale