Log of Moira
a Moira (μοιρα)?
is an old (pre-Christian) Greek concept which means something like your
“potential.” Your moira is a characteristic you have, a combination of
“nature and nurture.” So the moira of an acorn is that it should grow up
to be an oak tree. But moira isn’t fate: though the moira of the
acorn is to become an oak tree, it might get eaten by a pig, thus falling short
of its moira. Likewise, a human can fall short of his moira (say,
through substance abuse) or go beyond it (which usually requires one to be a
criminal or a saint). We chose “Moira” as the name of our boat and home
to remind us that anything less than one’s best efforts will result in falling
short of one’s moira, which on the ocean, can lead to a wet experience.
(Pedantic footnote: The Greeks did sometimes personify moira as three
sister goddesses, the Moirae, and they did act as arbiters of the length
of one’s life. Fate, however, was a much later, Roman concept.)
are you from?
This is always a hard question to answer. Although our legal residence
is in Florida, we have no real estate (if you don’t count the plastic tray at St. Brendan’s Isle where our mail accumulates).
Moira’s hailing port is San Francisco, California, but a hailing port is
not a home port, and we have no ties to San Francisco. So we usually
say, “We’re from that boat over there.”
- Are you worried about
Not really. There is a whole list of higher-probability Bad Things to
worry about (the captain’s stupidity leading the list). Piracy (strictly
defined as armed robbery on the high seas, i.e., in international waters),
is rare outside of a few well-known, restricted geographic areas: the
entrance to the Red Sea (Somalia/Yemen), parts of Indonesia, the coast of
Venezuela. A map published by the International
Maritime Bureau of the International Chamber of Commerce shows the
“bad parts of town.” Some alarmist registries such as the Yacht
Piracy Information Center make it look as though attacks are
pervasive, but a glance at the dates shows that, outside of the “bad parts
of town,” there are very few incidents per year. Your odds of a pirate
attack in most of the world are roughly those of being mugged at noon on
Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.
We have been approached many times by small- to medium-sized vessels,
sometimes at night. They have always turned out to be fishermen who were
trying to protect their nets. (Example)
On the other hand, some of us who sail may be forgiven for finding the
current fashion for pirate-cute a trifle unfunny.
Update, August, 2008: Far more likely than piracy is burglary or
robbery while at anchor. Dinghies, outboard motors, and fuel cans on deck
are the usual targets for such enterprises. The policy discussed above
leaves room for one great fear—the “good” anchoring area that suddenly
“goes bad.” During the summer of 2008 there was an outbreak of robberies
of boats in the Río Dulce of Guatemala, with several murders of cruisers
while on their boats at anchor. The Río has long been an area that has
been insulated from the worst economic problems of the rest of Guatemala,
but that insulation seems to have broken down. It is not clear at this
writing whether the rapid official response (arrests) and unofficial
vigilante justice (reported murders of several who were suspected of
involvement in the robberies) will restore order.
- Have you been in any big
Nope, sorry. It was pretty breezy coming down
the coast of Nicaragua (35-50 knots), but the wind was off the land,
which was only maybe half a mile away, so the seas were flat.
Several times we’ve experienced a condition known as “confused seas,”
where waves are coming from multiple directions at the same time. The
sensation is rather like driving a heavy vehicle over large boulders, and
is quite uncomfortable. Several days of that becomes exhausting, and the
solution is to heave to and rest for 12 hours or so, after which, with any
luck, the condition will have dissipated.
That’s not to say that we’ve never been in a situation where we had more
wind than we liked.
- How long would it take you
to get from A to B?
We generally plan based on 100-120 nautical miles per (24-hour) day.
Depending on conditions, we may do better or worse. It took 7 (24-hour)
days to get from Golfito, Costa Rica to La
Libertad, Ecuador (about 750 miles), a duration which included heaving
to for 12 hours or so to rest.
- Suppose you’re on a trip
from A to B that takes 5 days. Do you anchor every night?
No. We’d never get anywhere. We go so slowly, averaging about 5 knots
(about 6mph) that we have to keep going 24x7 to cover any distance.
Besides which, we only carry about 300’ of chain for our main anchor. How
would we anchor when the water is a couple of miles deep?
So we soldier on, trading watches of three hours, one person on watch, the
other sleeping (or at least resting).
- Do you get seasick?
The short answer is: she doesn’t, I do. She frequently uses one of those
electronic wristbands, which cause some sort of electronic burns on the
inside of her wrist, but she never gets sick anyhow. I’ve tried wristbands
(electronic and acupressure), Stugeron, ginger, suppositories, etc. When I
am mareado, it is usually prompted by pitching into an oncoming
swell with an apparent period of about 2 seconds, and on occasion, nothing
works. The good news is that, in my case, the infirmity is relatively
rare, seldom debilitating, and often self-curing.
- What do you do for water?
After air, of course, water is the most urgent biological need. In the
tropics, we drink a tremendous amount of water. And then there are
showers, which consume about 2.5 gallons each. We carry 140 gallons of
fresh water in four tanks. The two forward tanks are kept as a reserve,
and we use our Spectra 200C watermaker to “make” fresh water from sea
water into the aft two tanks in alternation. So when the port aft tank
becomes empty, we switch to using the starboard aft tank, and run the
watermaker to fill the port aft tank. That way, if the watermaker packs
up, as it did on our trip from Cartagena to Panama,
we always have at least 70 gallons of fresh water in reserve. Without any
attempt to be careful of our usage, we go through about 17 gallons of
water per day at anchor, somewhat less under way (because we take fewer
- How do you provision? What
do you eat?
The same way we did on land. Wherever we’ve been, there have been people,
and they eat stuff, too. So we buy where and what they do. Even the
smallest village will have tiendas (shops, sort of small “7-11”
class stores) that sell a few vegetables, some cheese, beer, and such;
there may also be a carniceria (meat shop), pescaderia (fish
shop), panaderia (bakery), etc. Towns of medium size and larger
will have a town mercado (a bit bigger market, sometimes a lot
bigger, rarely several city blocks in size) one or more days a week, where
vendors rent stalls under one roof, and sell vegetables, meat, fish, and
so on. The big mercados such as in Cartagena, Colombia; the fish
market in Balboa, Panama; or the huge market in
Guadalajara, Mexico run every weekday and can be a real treat to walk
Depending on how awkward it is to get to the source (Do we need to row the
dinghy ashore? Surf landing? Do we need to take a taxi?) we may shop every
day or two (if access is easy), or every few weeks (if difficult).
In some places, such as the marina at Mazatlán, a vendor drives his truck
with beer, veggies, or magnificent shrimp to the marina several times a
week. On rare and delightful occasion, such as the fishermen and veggie boats of the San Blas Islands of Panama, or
the famous María and the “French Baker” of Barra de
Navidad, Mexico, the vendors come to your anchored boat!
The shopping regime means that, with one exception, we eat what the locals
eat. Not only is this less expensive, it’s far more entertaining. The
exception is that we like our wine, and most countries south of San Diego
are beer-drinking countries. As a result, we stock up on wine when we can
(we have a bodega on Moira that can hold 80 bottles).
- Why aren’t you on the boat
in the summer?
In the northern tropics, where we’ve spent most of our time, the hurricane
season runs officially from the 1st of June to the end of
October (in the Pacific) or to the end of November (in the Caribbean). The
official definition corresponds roughly to the period used by insurance
companies: if your vessel suffers damage due to a “named storm” in the
Caribbean during this period, within a geographic box that runs roughly
from 11 degrees North (about the north coast of South America) to roughly
the Florida-Georgia border, your coverage is limited or void. (There are
other “boxes” that apply to the eastern and western Pacific.) So we put
the boat in some kind of storage, usually outside the “hurricane box,” and
Besides which, it’s damned hot.
- If it’s so hot, do you
have an air conditioner?
No. Well, yes-and-no.
An air conditioner and its supporting subsystems consume a lot of space
that we felt could better be used for other things: (1) there’s the unit
itself, which must go somewhere; (2) the ducting to move the air to the
far corners of the boat must run through and consume space in storage
cabinets; and (3) air conditioners demand a huge amount of (electrical)
energy, so an AC is useable only at a dock, unless one installs a
generator, which carries its own space and maintenance requirements, and
is pushy in other ways.
However, a boat that is unused and unoccupied for an extended period in
the peak of tropic heat invites damage to the interior from a number of
sources, including mildew (a constant problem in the tropics). So…
When we parked Moira for a summer off-season’s rest in Mexico,
Colombia, and Guatemala, we purchased a small (8-12K BTU) window-style air
conditioner which we perched on the cabin top in front of an open hatch.
We shrouded the AC and open hatch with a tarp, and powered the AC directly
via an extension cord from a dockside outlet. In this way we kept the boat
electrically isolated from the marina’s power supply, reducing the risk of
corrosion and lightning-induced damage.
When it’s time to go sailing again, we try to sell the AC to another
boater. In Cartagena, we gave our AC to Sr. Estvarto, the laborer who
looked after Moira in the marina at Club de Pesca.
- Can you sail across to
Moira certainly could. The trip might run from the Chesapeake to
Bermuda (about 700 nautical miles, conservatively 7 days), Bermuda to the
Azores (about 1900 miles or a bit more, depending on the route chosen,
maybe 19 days), and the Azores to Europe (800-1100 miles depending on
landfall, 8-11 days).
The longer duration of the passage is balanced by the fact that one can be
considerably more relaxed about navigation, that there will be far fewer
fishing nets to dodge, and that one can always “pull over and park” (heave
to) to rest if needed.
It’s an open question at this point whether the crew is interested in the
effort. There are alternatives to sailing over, of course, which include
various ways of having the boat shipped, or leaving the boat here and
renting or buying a boat over there.
- Where does your
electricity come from? How much do you need? Do you have a refrigerator?
We figure our
energy budget is in the vicinity of 100 Amp-hours/day when at anchor
(remember that these are 12-volt Amps). Roughly 50Ah/day goes to the
refrigerator. Another 20Ah/day goes to the watermaker. When we are under
way, the demand jumps because of navigation lights and electronics
(especially RADAR) which are not in use at anchor.
When things are going well, we get all our electricity from 3 Kyocera 120-watt solar panels. When we were in
Ecuador, we installed an AirX-Marine wind generator, which earned its keep
when we were in Panama.
If it gets cloudy and windless for an extended period (as it was in
Ecuador, for example), we run the engine, which is a horribly inefficient
way to generate electricity. The good news is that we run the engine for
charging purposes very rarely, maybe once or twice a month over the long
term. If we find that we’re getting behind regularly, the first thing we
check is whether the refrigerator needs a shot of refrigerant.
- Skin cancer?
We do the usual things with broad-brimmed hats and sunscreen. Our bimini
usually provides a shady place in the cockpit when underway.
Update, November 2008: This summer I visited, for the first time, a
dermatologist. He did a skin-cancer screening, carved a suspicious chunk
out of my shoulder (lab test was negative, i.e., OK), and used large
amounts of liquid nitrogen to remove various ugly moles from my face and
arms. I’ll need lots of such treatments: after all, beauty is only skin
deep, but ugly goes straight to the bone. Annual screenings are going to
be part of my cruising life from now on.
Customs and immigration have never been a real problem for us, either
entering the US from abroad, or vice versa.
When we leave the US to return to Moira, our suitcases are always
bulging with spare or replacement parts. In principle (that is, by
international law) boat parts for a “yacht in transit” are exempt from
import duty. The problem is that the customs agent who checks you in at
the airport may not know or care about international law. In any case,
once aduana (customs) takes an interest in your parts, any process
necessary to liberate said parts from their clutches—even if you
eventually pay no import duty—will likely involve a hotel stay of several
days in a remote city, costing hundreds of dollars, etc. But in our
experience, with very rare exception, the airport inspectors really don’t
care what you’re bringing in so long as it’s not illegal.
On the other hand, if you ship something in (FedEx, DHL, etc.) you
will almost certainly have long delays, you will almost certainly pay
significant duty (15-50% of the invoice), and you may never see the
“something” at all. We had some stuff (mostly our accumulated mail)
shipped in to Nicaragua and, though we paid no import duty, we wound up
spending a day and $80 in cab fares to pry it loose. We considered that we
got off easy. It is often cheaper and more reliable to fly to the States,
pick up the “something,” and bring it back in a suitcase.
One must “mind one’s P’s & Q’s,” though. Overstaying one’s visa can
lead to very expensive complications. And, depending on the country, your
boat often has her own “visa” (variously called a cruising permit, an
import permit, etc.), with its own expiration, which must be respected.
- Corruption, bribes, mordida?
one or two arguable exceptions, we’ve personally seen none of this (knock
wood). While those we’ve spoken with who run commercial ventures tell us
that corruption is rife in their relations with their governments, it
simply hasn’t been visible to us in our transactions with the governments.
I won’t try to guess why the public perception is so at odds with our
(One possible exception was in Mexico, where a new, less costly set of
regulations was on the cusp of being implemented. The local official
denied that the regulations were in effect, charged us more than we were
used to, and gave no receipt. But that incident, if it was an incident,
was a long way from many of the reported cases of near-extortion we’ve
The other possible exception was in the outlying islands of a certain
Central American country where we were asked, nicely, for $20, by
the immigration guy. In principle, there are no immigration fees in that
country. On the other hand, the immigration guy, with a wink-and-a-nod,
spared us the problem of having to go in to the capital city to get real
tourist visas, which exercise would have cost us considerably more. So I
looked at it as a fee-for-service.)
- What do you do all day?
When we’re on passage, one of us is on watch and the other one is asleep,
excepting an hour or so around 6PM when I’m on watch and Susan is managing
dinner, and the odd call-out when the one on watch wants assistance or
advice from the one off watch.
Otherwise, in the tropics the day is always within a few minutes of 12
hours long, sunrise to sunset. The time goes to enjoying ourselves in
whatever port we’re in (what the hell, that’s why we’re out here),
provisioning (we often shop every day when we can), and maintenance
(there’s always something broken). A siesta takes out an hour or so
in the heat of the day. Maintenance jobs take an astonishingly long time,
because, if the necessary parts or chemicals are not on board, one needs
to find the right ferreteria for each, which can involve multiple
taxi or bus trips, then stopping at each store to see whether they have
the left-handed rifnoid or tube of dilithium paste you need.
The best I have been able to come up with is that it’s about one third
“cruise ship/drinks with little umbrellas” kind of living, one third “Home
Improvement” (like the TV show), and one third Two Years Before The Mast (Dana). Read it, if you haven’t.
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The Log of Moira by Laurence & Susan Shick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.