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Sunday, May 25, in Holland, Michigan

Hi everyone. Well, a lot has changed.

After our entire adulthoods filled with sailboats, we decided that it was time to put Second Wind into the care of a new owner. I admit that the decision, or at least the timing, was to meet my needs. We’d traveled along a fair number of wet European edges. From here on out, staying in the Mediterranean, we’d be visiting places we’d traveled before. Indeed, we had already been retracing steps – or glides – in Mediterranean waters for two seasons.

I confess that I felt as though we’d been left with the uncertainties of expatriate onboard life – the language struggles, unfamiliar and relentless differences in culture and cuisine, and the lack of American creature comforts – and without the adventure of discovering new destinations. From here on out, if we were to stay in Europe for half the year, we’d be living like locals ignoring the tourist attractions. I wasn’t sure that this would be enough for me, and Art put Second Wind up for sale.

Some might wonder why we didn’t keep the boat and sail to the US. While the boat would easily have made the trip, Second Wind would have had the same cultural unsuitability in the US that I might have continuing a life in Europe. She was too tall and too deep for the Intracoastal. We no longer lived in a place with a dock. The boat was VAT-paid, a real plus for people cruising in Europe but no place else. And we realized that if we were to be traveling around in our own country for a while, we needed to move faster than we’d traveled in the past.

After quite a bit of research, Art settled on buying a Grand Banks 47 Heritage Classic powerboat. We followed advice we always gave other people and almost never obeyed, and bought a used vessel. It happened to be residing in a Lake Michigan boatyard in the US Great Lakes. Thus we now had a boat and a cruising ground.

All of our personal belongings had been packed and shipped to the new boat from the sold boat in Malta. We understood from friends that had made this same transition that powerboats give you lots of elbow room, but much less storage. Almost half of a sailboat’s interior volume is under water, and much of the underwater volume in a powerboat is used by large engines and fuel tanks. Furthermore, seven feet of length makes a big difference between one boat and another, and we needed to make 54 feet of life fit into a 47 foot box.

We’d packed in rather a large hurry in Malta, so we knew that we’d find objects we could toss when we unpacked them. Because our new boat had been the last into the winter shed, it would be the first out and launched. Moving aboard would be worlds easier indoors than afloat, so we needed to get this accomplished before the first launch, potentially in early April. We booked a week in Holland, Michigan in late March and looked over the three palates that had arrived with our onboard life inside them.
It took about five days or so to unpack, evaluate, and stow all of the gear that we’d decided to keep. We tried to be ruthless at disposing of anything we didn’t need. In the end, the boat held everything we wanted to keep and more. I need to stop complaining that powerboats are short on stowage. This one wasn’t.

We returned to Florida with a lot of satisfaction of a big job behind us, and high anticipation for a summer that will be new in many ways.

Our return to Michigan in mid-May began with a slight improvement to the weather, although not as much as I might have hoped. The arrival day brought rain and temperatures in the mid-40s (F), but the boat had been launched and the onboard heat considerately turned on by the marina staff on the day we arrived.
There were still jobs to do, but we didn’t feel swamped by the to-do list and we knew that we now had months to get the boat right for us.

We busied ourselves the next three days with installing items that we’d brought over or shipped in, figuring out the tiny conveniences of life (hooks for hats, or what gets stowed in hard-to-reach places, or a cooler on the flybridge), larger necessities (new fenders and covers), all made evident when we were really living aboard and not just there for a visit.
Every day, we’d drive our rental car to the suburbs of Holland, where every chain store we knew and some we didn’t provided acres and acres of possibilities. And we returned to our favorite places for lunch and discovered some new ones.

I wore long underwear beneath my clothes and a wooly watch cap on my head. This wasn’t Norway, but the chill, when it was there, went right through the bones. In the afternoons, when the sun was out, there was definitely a balminess tucked inside the air, and long underwear was oppressive. But the evenings and mornings had that knife-like jab.

The trees were convinced that summer was imminent. Many of the flowering trees were still ablaze with pink. Tulips seemed to know that they were in a place called Holland. I swear that some of them were smirking. Many trees were covered in the first blush of pale green leaves.

Whether we’d ever move away from the dock was still a mystery. I wasn’t going anywhere until it became springtime for real.

We finally had a reason to enter the actual city of Holland for an errand. Driving from the marina, there was a somewhat unappealing entry angle by an energy substation and a pile of dead automobiles (not that different from the airport entry in our hometown of Philadelphia). But right away the scene changed to a charming Dutch sensibility. House rooflines climbed up in stair steps to a crowning tiny pediment. Apparently, this town is serious about its Netherlands roots. On the topic of roots, tulips were everywhere. It's a defining characteristics of the place, in the artwork you see in the galleries, printed on tee shirts, and celebrated in an annual festival. That festival, the Tulip Time festival, has to be scheduled well before anyone really knows when the little bulbs will decide that spring is here and poke out their heads. So occasionally, we're told, they call it a Stem Festival instead. Stem Fest 2012 had tee shirts.

Holland is one of the few places I might even be able to imagine that dedicates downtown land to the city greenhouses. And the products of that sunny enclosure were everywhere. Medial strips in the roads were ablaze with tulip color. Tulips lined the curbs of block after block. The Shell station was decorated with boxes of tulip blooms. My day was made when tulips festooned the waste management facility. They looked well-fertilized.

The weather was improving day after day. Mornings and night times were chilly but tolerable. Sunny afternoons were perfect for outdoor work that involved the hose, even in shorts and bare feet. Closer to the holiday weekend, we noticed that people were generally underdressed compared to us by a whole season; while we went to lunch in long sleeves and cotton pants, everyone else seems to be in shorts and tees. We learned soon that people coming to their boats from town expected that the temperatures ten miles away would be similar. But we were sitting by a lake that had only recently been a block of ice, and the air was still cold. A surprising fog rolled in one morning, looked around, and scattered. That was the day we took the boat out with the broker who sold it to us, to test the single unanswered item remaining from the November survey. We knew that the engine would pass this test, and it did. The previous owner of the boat had generously driven down to visit and shown Art all of the idiosyncratic behaviors that only the boat owner would know. He stepped Art through every system, and answered innumerable questions that had occurred to Art over the course of many weeks. It was a very productive day for Art, but it filled him with self-imposed pressures about all there was to finish in not much more than a week. There was a lot for him to learn, too, but we had all season for that, and more.

In the meantime, we got some things off of the to-do list. Some tasks - changing some filters, installing a fender rack, and repairing a switch on the bow thruster -were handled by the boatyard. Art and I did a few things together, washing the boat down and treating the teak with an anti-mildew treatment. I cooked a little in advance of visitors. And Art did many, many things on his own. In fixing a wayward pump, he found a small leak farther down the line. He diagnosed the hatch handle on a watertight hatch that had been dripping a tiny puddle the one night it rained and replaced the part when it arrived.
We went back to Holland on a Saturday morning, and the semi-weekly outdoor market was enjoying its first balmy day. The whole civic center parking lot was open to visitors, but Art circled around and around, unable to find a place to stop. I arrived at the chef demonstration five minutes before it started and almost couldn’t find a place to sit down.

A walk around the downtown charmed us, from the bronze statues in park areas carved from end buildings, shops with vacationers in mind, and restaurants that varied in ethnicity and formality. Holland made a concerted effort decades ago that it would fight the superstores in the suburbs with a flanking move: cuteness. And it worked. We settled on breakfast at a place with a long line that calls itself – what else? – The Windmill.
Our formerly desolate marina was now filled with Memorial Day family cars in the lot and empty places along the docks left by weekend cruisers. The season had started. We’ll probably never be alone again before Labor Day.

Happy Memorial Day weekend to all, and we'll keep you posted of our travels, even when the most foreign experience we have is cappuccino at Dunkin'.

Love, Karen (and Art)