Happy Anniversary To Us

2015-08-07 15.26.34

Lin Pardey’s memoir, Bull Canyon: A Boatbuilder, A Writer and Other Wildlife, is the engaging story of building Taleisin, their second boat, in a California canyon. The book is a fun read but what really resonated with me is Lin’s description of what Seraffyn, their first boat, meant to them:

…the link we had with the beginning of our relationship, the one constant we had besides each other in an ever-changing life.

East coast of Greenland 2003, one of four voyages to that island.

East coast of Greenland 2003, one of four voyages to that island.

I couldn’t describe the role Morgan’s Cloud has played in my life any better than that, nor could I have stumbled across this sentiment at a more propitious time, for December 2016 will mark 25 years that John has owned Morgan’s Cloud and 20 years since John and Morgan’s Cloud entered my life.

The One Constant Link

It was Morgan’s Cloud that brought my friends Doug and Sandy together with John when they met sailing in the Bras d’Or Lakes in the early ’90s, followed by Doug going as crew with John on multiple northern voyages.

And, though John and I had an enjoyable dinner together thanks to Doug and Sandy’s introduction, if I hadn’t accompanied him on Morgan’s Cloud for that early spring delivery from Bermuda to Maine—when none of his (in-the-know) Bermudian friends would go—the fragile connection between us would never have survived our ensuing separation—John carrying on from Maine to cruise the Arctic and on to Europe, and me back to Newfoundland after my one-year stint in Bermuda (well, that was the plan, anyway!).

Arctic Norway, 2001.

Arctic Norway, 2001.

Since then John and I have sailed tens of thousands of miles together on Morgan’s Cloud. She’s been our home, our magic carpet, and our entrée into the lives of people wherever we go—the one constant besides each other in our ever-changing life (thanks, Lin).

Blood, Sweat and (A Few) Tears

Then there’s the sweat equity we’ve put into Morgan’s Cloud over the last 25 years, as we’ve shaped her to suit us and our philosophy of cruising:

  • navigation equipment on deck,
  • simple gear,
  • efficient rig, etc.;

and our philosophy of what makes a beautiful boat:

  • almost all the exterior varnish gone,
  • teak deck removed and industrial Treadmaster in its place,
  • stainless handrails instead of wood,
  • black galvanized hatches instead of white paint, etc.
Looking the biz.

Looking the biz.

“Beauty is as beauty does” and “doesn’t she look the bizz” are two of our favourite phrases to describe the present Morgan’s Cloud. Where she was once a yacht, she is now an expedition sailboat.

Bound for Bermuda with Dolphins, 2009.

Bound for Bermuda with Dolphins, 2009.

We never forget, however, how fortunate we were to start with a beautifully-designed boat, both aesthetically and for sailing ability, thanks to the designer Jim McCurdy.

Part-Time Voyaging With a Full-Time Boat

As I wrote about in my post about our transition to part-time voyaging, one of the most stressful parts of this (very slow!) process is what to do about Morgan’s Cloud.

We take our responsibility to care for her properly very seriously—she’s not replaceable. But taking care of her properly is a lot of work, which is becoming harder as we get older.

We also take our responsibility to use her properly very seriously—she’s not a marina queen, she’s an offshore voyaging boat. But can we use her properly on a part-time basis or do we need to move to a smaller boat?

(John will be writing about these considerations in upcoming posts.)

Mixed Feelings

Phyllis looks out over "home", Greenland west coast 2011.

Phyllis looks out over “home”, Greenland west coast 2011.

On a prosaic (but I think relevant) note, both John and I have slept more nights on Morgan’s Cloud than any one other place, ever. She makes a wonderful home, one we are extremely attached to, which is why we have considered a move to warmer climes, where we won’t have to move off the boat to be part of a community.

And, added to all this, without going into any details, we are also facing a non-life threatening, as far as we know, but who-knows-how-disabling-it-will-be health problem, which is muddying the waters of where to go, how to go, what to do next.

All of which are part and parcel of our mixed feelings as we anticipate our anniversary(s) in December.

Thank You

Thanks very much to our friend Sarah Webber for making and sharing the lead image of the three of us.

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Meet the Author


Phyllis has sailed over 40,000 offshore miles with John on their McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, most of it in the high latitudes, and has crossed the Atlantic three times. As a woman who came to sailing as an adult, she brings a fresh perspective to cruising, which has helped her communicate what they do in an approachable way, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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9 comments … add one
  • Marc Dacey Jul 7, 2016, 6:50 pm

    The only constant is change is the sea’s first lesson.

  • Dick Stevenson Jul 8, 2016, 4:20 am

    Hi Phyllis,
    This was a nice essay. Thanks.
    Tough stuff these transitions. They can really twist you around.
    A thought/advice I have on a familiar transition many of us encounter, retiring, may be more broadly applied. I do not recommend retiring: just to transition to an activity that one is passionate about that just happens not to earn money. This is for volitional transitions: those imposed are far more difficult.
    After 12+ years of full time live-aboard life, in the last 2 winters we were drawn to 6 months on/6 months off by some land based considerations as well as the thought of wintering over in the (relatively) higher latitudes we have been visiting of late (The Shetland Islands for ex.).
    At the onset of our live-aboard life it felt weird for a while (a couple of years at least) transitioning to the point where I spontaneously thought of Alchemy as our home, our only home. This present on-again/off-again in-between stage may be even more difficult. Leaving Alchemy for the winter is a real wrench made more emotionally challenging by the fact that we have looked hard for a place to plant some land roots and failed miserably to find one.
    For those whose goal is wandering and experiencing new and different peoples, cultures, geographies etc., doing so on an RV around North America is pretty amazing. We have done so on a small RV part of the 2 winters we have been off the boat so far. We figure that “statistically” we have 5 years or so of the kind of sailing/cruising we have been doing of late. It is nice to know that our lust for travel (and our wish for our own mug of tea and our own pillow under our head at the end of the day) can continue in a less demanding fashion. A power boat may also fit that picture.
    My thanks for writing essays that provoke me to clarify and articulate my own thoughts.
    My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy, Clifden, Ireland

    • Phyllis Jul 9, 2016, 11:15 am

      Thanks, Dick. A wonderful thoughtful comment. It is interesting how closely our thoughts about all this align.

      Yes, a wrench it is (made more wrenching, as you said, when there isn’t another “home” to go to). Which is interesting because to an outsider a boat looks like an inanimate object, but not to those of us who have lived aboard and trusted our boats to carry us safely over the miles. Somehow there is a relationship there…and I will go no further with that so as not to be defined as a quack!

      Land cruising is also on our radar for the future. We have neighbours who were full-time live-aboard sailors who have lately moved to land cruising in the winters. We are getting lots of good advice!

      And we also agree on the not retiring part (AAC being the obvious result of that line of thought!). Not only does AAC generate just enough income to allow us to keep “Morgan’s Cloud” but it also keeps us interested and challenged. Without writing and photography, we would have given up fulltime life aboard 16 years ago.

  • Colin Speedie Jul 8, 2016, 2:26 pm

    Hi Phyllis

    we have had to approach our cruising from the other direction – full time life aboard was never an option as we aren’t wealthy enough to do that! Not only that, we have been lucky enough to have fulfilling work that we would be very loathe to give up, which has softened the blow somewhat. Not that there aren’t days when we’d love to just sail away….

    Part time cruising has its blessings, too, as Dick has so eloquently explained above. In fact, it’s often a real pleasure to get away from the sea in order to put it’s appeal into perspective. I like riding motorcycles and would miss that a great deal if we cruised full time. Lou loves world music and missing WOMAD spoils her year. And we’d miss my children desperately – seeing them is such a wonderful part of our lives.

    Part time cruising works for us. Whether maintaining a big beast Like Morgans Cloud and/or not using her to her full potential is the right thing to do is an almost existential question for the likes of John and yourself, as anyone who has lived aboard for any length of time will know. Boats like ours, Morgans Cloud and Alchemy have a soul and we know it – even the idea of parting with such a member of the family is awful!

    Thanks for the candid and honest post and best of luck with the transition.

    • Phyllis Jul 9, 2016, 11:37 am

      Thanks for your comment, Colin. Yes, we’ve been very fortunate to have had 20 years of fulltime cruising but I think it’s important to point out that we made some tough choices in order to do so.

      We also look forward to breaks from the vigilance that a boat in the water requires and to doing other things that living aboard fulltime has precluded (racing about on a motorcycle not being one of them, sorry!).

      Part-time cruising, if one can figure out how to do it without an inordinate amount of labour, does seem in many ways to provide the best solution, though Morgan’s Cloud’s size (she’s big but I just can’t get next to “beast” as a descriptor for her!) does mean a high maintenance and commissioning/decommissioning workload. (We are coming up with some strategies to deal with that, which John will write about in a future post.) We’ll just have to see!

  • Geir ove Jul 10, 2016, 6:33 am

    Nice words, there are x-roads up a-head. there always are.
    We are sailing of this year, and i hope it works out fine, then in some more years, we sail of for a much longer time. So, then somewhere in the future we will meet some new X-roads, and have to take the one we want to walk.
    Al we want to do is take the good one 🙂
    And i am sure you do find yours.
    As i hope we will find ours.
    Take care and sail safe, where ever the wind takes you.

  • Marc Dacey Jul 11, 2016, 12:34 am

    It’s interesting because we are closing in on full-time cruising, but with a limit.

    I turn 55 in a couple of weeks. My wife is 42 and our son is 15 in September. We should be able to leave next late spring for the east coast of Canada, overwinter in N.S. and do a transatlantic to Ireland, the U.K., Brittany and Portugal…etc. We have a circ in mind with a five-year window. We will by renting out the house we have yet to buy, something more compact than we currently own, on the prospect that one flush tenant is easier than two pairs of students. We’ll keep the basement as a pied-a-terre/storage locker.

    Of course, if finances, health and the vessel permit, we could perhaps just keep going, but that’s too far down the road to predict. Were we to return, reclaim the house and just sail the Great Lakes, I don’t think I’d have a steel passagemaker…I’d have a simple classic plastic circa 30 feet. On the other hand, more experienced sailors say you never go “down” to a smaller boat. We’ll see. Did you two think you’d cruise so many years when you started, or, like us, did you think “well, five years and that’s it”?

    • John Jul 11, 2016, 9:10 am

      Hi Marc,

      When I first started full time cruising (before Phyllis and I were together) I figured it would be for 5 years…the rest is history. More here:https://www.morganscloud.com/2013/11/27/a-house-that-makes-me-think-about-cruising-and-life/

      • Marc Dacey Jul 11, 2016, 1:02 pm

        Yes, the “house-equity” thing is basically supplying our cruising kitty, so I grasp this. We hope to find a place we won’t actually live it (except for flying visits in the basement), but which can yield a “diesel and rum” monthly budget sufficient for us to pay property taxes and insurance (and still be our principle residence, which as a stealth Canadian, you probably understand the implications for taxation and health care). The future is never certain, and even if we tire of sailing, or we simply tire out, having a place in a big city is still an option. Of course, we might just move to Nova Scotia, where ocean-front property with a tidal dock is about 1.5 Toronto garages in price. I find it somewhat perplexing that our plans stay the same, but the budget changes in terms of things I can’t affect, such as the madness of crowds seeking real estate. Less perplexing is that SSB email and internet access has made it possible to both educate our son offshore through high school, and to run at least in part my editing and writing business. I’ve been inspired by people like Andy Schell (currently recovering from an appendix extraction) and Mia Karlsson and by Paul and Sheryl Shard, who’ve got a nice thing going by producing TV shows in a boat smaller than Morgan’s Cloud. We’ll see how my somewhat younger family does in the location-undependent brave new world of offshore commerce and education, but we are already pretty savvy with it.

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