Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | December 29, 2013

Transitions

N 27° 77’  W 82° 64’

St. Petersburg, Florida.

Tampa_Bay

View from our current berth toward Tampa Bay

We had requests for an update on the return to shore life.  What was it like to return to the US and make the cultural & lifestyle transitions?  What are we up to at the moment?   While not as interesting as our Caribbean travels, we thought we would share some of the ups and downs of the past five months. The most frequent question we are asked is “Would you make the same choice if you had it to do again”?  The answer is “absolutely yes”.   With that being said . . .

We had not had the luxury of flying home during our 2 ½ year trip.  The first few weeks of discovering what was the same and what had changed was exhilarating:  re-acclimating to shopping in the US, being introduced to the latest gadgets, exploring old neighborhoods.  The joys of reconnecting face to face with friends and family were a high.  I had the chance to spend 10 days with my mother, something we had not done in many years.  It was a really special time.

There were some offbeat moments like the nostalgic visit to the house we lived in for the 21 years before the cruise.   I didn’t quite feel up to that outing emotionally but it turned out to be a neat experience.  The Smiths (the new owners) have done a fabulous job turning our comfortable former abode into a spectacular beach-themed home complete with Texas-sized accents including an enormous outdoor tiki hut bar & BBQ among the many improvements.  We had to congratulate them and admit that we are simply not creative people.   We would never have thought of all their delightful enhancements.

Early on in our adventure we had confirmed that our spending habits would require pursuing post-cruise work in some form to replenish the bank account.  Bob had been granted a leave of absence with his employer and it made sense to take advantage of that generosity and go back to full-time flying for a while.  I had pondered being the boat-keeper/dog-sitter with perhaps volunteer or part-time work.  The week we returned to the states Avantair closed its doors forever due to financial insolvency.  Mismanagement for sure, such a shame, maybe even fraud.  It was not a total surprise.  The unfortunate timing put a new twist in the game plan.  I realized I was ready for a change from the role of domestically oriented cruising partner and eager to pursue a career again.  There were many lively discussions of work and living options – what, where, how long, amount of flexibility & how future cruising might fit into the mix.

Bob’s interest in marine electrical systems had been cultivated during our trip and he decided to pursue work in this field.  He built upon an electronic correspondence with a highly experienced and well credentialed marine electrical engineer in St. Pete who agreed to serve as a mentor while Bob built a part-time business.   Thus, where to settle immediately was narrowed to St. Petersburg & vicinity, although the Captain worried if he could handle the mid-Florida weather zone winter chill after the last two warm Caribbean winters.  (Seriously.)

We signed on with the Harborage Marina in downtown St. Petersburg where there are sturdy floating docks with extra high concrete pilings, an advantage for weathering tropical systems.  There is an active and friendly boating and liveaboard community.  It is a comfortable spot most of the time, other than the long walk to the car in inclement weather and when easterlies stir up Tampa Bay and the swell rolls in.  Downtown St. Pete has been revitalized since our departure in 2011 and the new ambiance, plentiful outdoor cafes, greater influence of young people and weekend activities are especially appealing.

Transportation was the next issue to resolve.  We found that getting around on foot and via public transportation was not as easy here as in our foreign destinations. We tried to share one vehicle and it did not work for us.  As used car shoppers we found the car buying experience to be not as pleasant as in our prior life.  We ended up owners of a low mileage 2004 Lincoln Town Car, the perfect vehicle for Bob’s work needs and a flashback to his Dad’s former cars.  For me, we decided on a new basic model Subaru with an all maintenance included lease, over the protests of a cynical salesman who thought it was impossible for two unemployed liveaboards to qualify for a lease.  He didn’t want to waste his time talking with us.  After the Captain personally made our case with the Tampa dealership owner who had sold us a number of vehicles over the years the arrogant salesman was re-educated, apologies rendered and the deal further sweetened.

It was not so easy for me to jump back into the workforce, even in the booming healthcare field. Explaining a 2 ½ year professional gap and describing exactly what I was doing during that time resulted in a few surprised looks during interviews.  I briefly considered pursuing an executive role once more, despite all the lessons supposedly learned about the virtues of a life and work balance.  A clinical position seemed a better lifestyle choice with more options for a flexible future but perhaps not an easy transition either since I was many years removed from direct patient care.   The best fit seemed to be a Rehab Director position in a local skilled nursing facility providing an opportunity to learn a different healthcare setting, work more closely with patients and perhaps regain some clinical Speech-Language Pathology skills.  I can only imagine a lot of eyebrows raised among my friends and colleagues in the acute rehab realm when they heard the news, much as jaws had dropped when our cruise was announced.

The pups quickly adapted, as dogs do, to marina life with a rare weekend cruise.  We got back into the routine of long walks in the early morning and late evening.  The barking camaraderie of the many marina dogs and romps in the lovely St. Petersburg parks perhaps made up for time spent in some less-than-dog-friendly destinations over the past couple of years.   We lost our beloved little Bandit in October suddenly to a failing health at 14 years of age.  I miss my sweet little social butterfly with the personality that facilitated so many human connections.  Bob was sad to lose his “furry little hot water bottle” as she managed to make her way into the middle of our bed each night during her senior years to snuggle, over the reluctant snarls of Lady the Alpha.   Lady, 13, with her egocentric persona has adjusted easily to being an only dog.  She loves the higher human to canine ratio and knowing that she probably doesn’t have a lot of time left either has resulted in even more bounteous attention, especially from the Captain, whom she absolutely adores and vice versa.

Fulfilling the need that was often stirred during our travels to make a personal connection and a difference in the life of someone less fortunate , I signed up for a volunteer role with YouthLift, a local non-profit organization that matches tutors with homeless children.  One night a week is spent with my assigned fourth grader grabbing a bite to eat, visiting the library, pouring over homework, and trying to catch him up on math skills.  I am back to extreme time juggling to get everything I want to do accomplished.  It has been a return to sort of overextending myself, but a refreshing change at the moment.

The Captain was initially not so happy about my full schedule but has managed to create a jam-packed itinerary for himself, researching and implementing a self-directed 401K focused on investment rental properties in addition to his marine electrical endeavors.  He has set a goal to be a great landlord and no doubt he will succeed once we get this new venture figured out.  We have initiated a portfolio of modest properties that should achieve better returns than our conservative investments were generating.  Hopefully that will be a success.  If our plan is flawed we might never get to re-retire.  Maybe some day we will live in one of the little Historic Kenwood 2/1 bungalows, which seem huge compared with our current quarters.

Our lives are a blend of old habits and new.  Some things have changed and some remained the same. I check the weather first and foremost every day, the same as when cruising.  Weather remains such a heavy influence on life.  Is there a tropical system brewing that require extra lines and fenders?  A front coming that will generate a need for the golf umbrellas or careful timing of dog walks, laundry and shopping expeditions?  Can we safely plan to entertain on the aft deck or will it be too cool or breezy? The daily presence of the water is a joy, even if the marina hue woefully lacks the clear glistening blues and greens of the Caribbean. Sunrises and sunsets on the water are still an especially inviting time of day.  The nearby Coast Guard station with its loud broadcasts of the day’s activities and the occasional long blast of a ship’s horn announcing a departure (followed by Lady’s WOOF-WOOF in protest) reinforces our membership in the marine community.  The close proximity to neighbors and much time spent on our front porch, the sundeck, result in spontaneous opportunities to shape our social time.   The marina lifestyle is easy, informal, and mostly comfortable.

We are okay with a small living space and have not regained a desire to move ashore and accumulate stuff, with the exception of the cars.  We did have to purchase a larger and more efficient scanner to convert the growing piles of real estate papers to electronic documents.  We are committed to a “no storage lockers” policy, although Bob is debating taking a little space in the garage of one of the rental units for his expanding workshop. I am thankful that my job requires a simple wardrobe:  khakis & polo shirts with a lab coat thrown on top for polish. Boat projects have resulted in some disarray inside and out and there were a couple of super-cluttered, teak-dusted days where I felt like moving into one of the rental properties.  We were spared a haul-out this fall thanks to our diver who diligently cleans the bottom and thinks we are good until spring when the dreaded and disruptive event will likely occur.

There is still a lot of schlepping of supplies, just as when cruising.  It’s a LONG walk to the car from the more economical breakwater section of the marina and I don’t have a helper like in the islands when the rule in logistically challenged locations was “no help, no eat”.  I keep reminding myself this is great exercise.  Some days when the tide is extra low I insist upon a stronger arm to control the dock cart down the steep ramp that threatens to launch my goods into the water.

Shopping is much easier knowing what is available and where to find everything on the list.  The urge to hoard is gone, and in fact, we are still using up some of the supply reservoir.  We chuckle every time I pull out a fresh tin of the no-refrigeration-required Dutch butter I thought would be consumed long ago in the San Blas.  We miss some of the foreign flavor of shopping these days –  the Colombian produce, the European canned goods, the fresh French pates.  There is a special delight when we find an item that reminds us of our past shopping adventures like the South American baby bananas that Publix carries from time to time.  Even if they aren’t 50 for $1, paddled direct to your door by a guy in a canoe.

I am happy to have Bob home each night, a pleasant change from pre-cruising life that has become a wonderful routine.  This is a better quality of life than when he was away on pilot travels every other week.  We enjoy happy hour, conversation, dinner and an episode from an old TV series via DVD (currently Star Trek) almost every night.  Although I didn’t mind my prior independence I’m secretly glad the flying didn’t work out.

Thriftier habits, gradually adopted in the pre-cruise couple of years have become a bigger part of our lives.  We track every expense to be sure we stay on top of trends and opportunities.  We still enjoy eating aboard most of the time and have not gone back to the old routine of numerous weekly restaurant outings.  We have returned to being mail-order fans, something we missed while cruising and explore the local thrift stores on occasion.  I often navigate the aisles of Walmart these days, a shopping experience I used to detest, finding the 10 to 15% savings worth the effort.  I will admit to digging through other people’s discards at Goodwill, where great bargains can be found. We decided to continue our TV-less lifestyle for the time being, not really missing it very much.  Except for football, and the Bucs aren’t doing so well anyway. We feel connected with our splurge on smart phones and have good internet both in the marina and via our phones as back-up. While Bob does most of the boat maintenance himself, we decided to treat ourselves to the luxury of hiring Alex, The Boat Doctor to get the teak back in shape, something that is clearly not our forte.

Work is harder than I thought it would be.  Bob says maybe we are getting slower as we get older.  Sometimes I think he is right and perhaps I am headed for the dementia unit in the future.  It is not easy to learn a new job, new company and new systems and many days are absolutely insane.  Healthcare in this country is crazier than ever with the cumbersome regulations absorbing oodles of administrative time.  With 40 direct reports, none salaried, no overtime please, managing electronic documentation & misbehaving Ipads, staying on top of the critical and ever-changing 7 day a week schedule and following the progress of 75+ active cases – the work is a greater challenge than I envisioned.  Many days it seems harder than my past role.   Still, I absolutely love being part of this team that is so passionate about their work.  Yes, there are differences in the new setting, but great care can be found in the subacute & skilled nursing arena.

In summary, we have no regrets.  We are glad we made the trip, took the leap of faith that it would work out in the end, accomplished the changes in our lives and experienced something beyond our wildest dreams.  Thinking I would be doing good to make it to the Bahamas when we left, it was a thrill to get as far as South America.  As Bob says, cruising is not “rocket science” and with a little persistence anyone who is motivated to do so can figure it out.  While the sheer beauty of many of our destinations was a highlight, for both of us the best part of the journey was experiencing the different cultures along the way.  And yes, we could have had those experiences via air/land travel, but there was something really special about sailing into a new port and getting there slowly, mile by nautical mile, under our own power.

Would we retrace our path and make the same trip again in the future?  The Captain says “yes”.  I’m in the “probably not” realm at the moment.  Always the optimist, I remember setting out on every voyage hoping for the best and more often than not was disappointed with the travel conditions.  Maybe time will change that perspective, but in truth I found the Caribbean to be brutal especially considering that we traveled in better-than-average weather most of the time.

Do we look forward to cruising again?  “Absolutely yes” from the Captain.  He would love to take on the eastern US seaboard to Maine or thereabouts, although he is still trying to figure out how to accomplish that journey at our preferred slow travel pace, continue to live aboard and avoid cold weather.  “Maybe” from the Admiral, relishing roots and a shore-oriented life at the moment.  We’ll see!

Russ_Susie

One of our first St. Pete reunions with former Broadwater neighbors Russ & Susie and an orientation to the new and improved Beach Drive

Four_Generations

A special visit to MD, VA & PA and reunion with four generations – fabulous!

Mom

A memorable lunch with Mom featuring home grown veggies

Elizabeth

Bandit had her own reunion with her beloved pet-sitter Elizabeth

Smart_Phones

The bemused AT&T saleswoman educates two wide-eyed and somewhat tech starved boat people about smart phones

St_Pete_Sunrise

One of many gorgeous sunrises over the Coast Guard Station

Alex

Will gladly turn the teak work and our paychecks over to Alex, “The Boat Doctor”, master of teak and awlgrip

 

St_Pete_Waterfront

One of the lovely St. Pete waterfront parks, overlooking the Harborage, our current home

Lady

Lady doesn’t care where home is as long as she is beside her master

Motivation

Found at a beachside café at our last stop on the cruise. The sentiment seemed to fit the occasion.

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Responses

  1. Thank you for the excellent update Elaine (I’ve missed your blog these past several months). Your new home at the Harborage is beautiful! Please come visit any time.


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