Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Juggle Juggle

This blog is one of my guilty pleasures.  

I could be spending my time more profitably in terms of writing - where is that next book, after all?  

And time spent on the blog doesn't really "get" us anything.  (Except for the consideration from Cruising World for reposting it.  Thanks, guys!  And why do you still have that Del Viento character at the top of the page?)

But even though I can't always justify the time I give it, the comfort of keeping this little travelogue going, year after year, and with something of an audience to boot, is its own reward.

Looking down on Simon's Town from Swartkop
So in one month we'll reach the ninth anniversary of our departure from Kodiak.  As we've been meeting locals here in Simon's Town I find that I have fallen into a set way of explaining our backstory: We left Alaska with enough money saved to live on for two years.  Then I discovered that I could work on the boat.  And now we've been going for (almost) nine years.

We've been extraordinarily lucky that I can more or less earn a living at science from the boat.  In addition to keeping our finances afloat, the science also gives me an intellectual engagement that I enjoy very much (though at the expense of time for writing!) and when we return to Alaska re-entry into my professional world should be made a lot easier by the fact that I never entirely left.

I try to keep two research projects going.  That seems to be a good workload while we're sailing.  Just now I have two ending and two others beginning, so it's been a little bit of a crunch time.  The pictures above and below capture my split attention in recent days.

Science - the up close and personal view from my laptop screen
I'm sure I've written about this before on the blog - how it can be such a funny experience to be somewhere new, like South Africa, and holding back from exploring it while I work away on the boat.   Among many other delights, the Cape Peninsula, where we are, has some fantastic hiking.  I get out for an hour walk most days, but I've only taken time for one proper hike with the family in the month since we've been in Simon's Town.

But, as I've often said, no regrets,  The boat makes a pretty good office setting, wherever it is.

And that one family hike that I've been on, and that these pictures are taken from?  I wildly under-estimated how long it would take, and neglected to pack a lunch.  We got back to the boat at three.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Just Another of the Great Capes

So, we started our South Africa sojourn in Cape Town.

And, no, we Galactics are not city people.

I will say that sitting on a bench in the chi-chi Waterfront Mall in Cape Town, watching a swath of the world walk past me, just 36 hours after we completed the passage from South Georgia - that was pretty good as a life-as-hallucigen experience.

But once we'd done that, and taken in the view from Table Mountain, there wasn't too much to keep us.

Luckily, Giselle on Pelagic had told us, way back in Stanley, about Simon's Town.  (And no, not this Pelagic.  This one.)

Simon's Town, she said to us.  That's where you want to be.

After a few days of watching the turds float by on the tide at the Cape Town marina, and not having any place for the boys to run, we were ready.  The trip from Cape Town to Simon's Town is a totally routine day hop of about 60 miles.  Get up at 0400, be more or less awake and away from the dock at 0430, and you're finished well before dinner.

But the trip from Cape Town to Simon's town has an added bonus above most coastal hops.  The route (below) just happens to take you around the Cape of Good Hope.  (What a name!)

Now the Cape of Good Hope isn't the southernmost point in Africa.  That title goes to Cape Agulhas, just a short way down the coast.

But if you compare the two names, you'll quickly see why one gets all the press.

We were on something of a roll.  Only a few months before, Galactic had, improbably enough, been off Cape Horn.

Cape Horn had been a total lark - we weren't going anywhere else but there.  It was just a side trip to see that most famous of all landmarks, and nothing like the traditional experience of rounding the Horn at sea.  But even though it was a lark, we also got a bit of a floggin'.  Three reefs, a staysail, and parted aft lower shrouds.  Lord have mercy.

For this Cape, we were actually going somewhere.  It was legitimately on our way from point A to point B.  But although we had a more businesslike purpose in hand than we had for the Horn, the actual day trip involved was much more tranquilo.

Eric, incapacitated at the Horn ("Grab a bucket!") got his chance to shine this time.
My captain's hat, that physical embodiment of the nearly divine authority that I bear within the confines of our little floating home - that came out for photos in front of the Cape, just as it did at the Horn.
The beast itself
Elias.  He always shines at sea.
So, yeah.  Just another Great Cape.

(And, if you're wondering, I reckon there are five of them: the Horn, Good Hope, and Leeuwin, plus the southernmost points of Tassie and En Zed, whatever they might be called.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Where to Begin

The problems of the world are writ large in South Africa.

Now, some of our very favorite people are South Africans of the diaspora whom we've met elsewhere in this delightful Southern Hemisphere.  And of course we've met quite a flood of wonderful South Africans in the month that we've been in the country.

As an American who travels widely I am very attuned to how tiresome it can be to hear your country criticized.  Even if you share the criticism, outsiders are rarely informed enough for the tenor of their arguments to be very inspiring.  So I should stress that I am not keen to come here and complain about the place.  The locals can do that without my help, I'm sure.

Razor wire on the waterfront

But the troubles of South Africa take some effort to ignore.

Most obviously, there is the number of desperate people about.  A lot of people are struggling to meet their basic needs.  Even in the most protected and privileged enclave in the country, where we have been spending our time, you come across desperation every day.

Then, there is a tremendous concentration of wealth in a few hands.  Some few people are living in quite rarified luxury here.

The signs you see everywhere
And then, there is race.  Everything, for white people at least, is first about race, and then about something else.  And of course there is the history of the country to consider.  Thanks to friends' recommendation I am reading A Dry White Season, by André Brink, which is a reminder of that past.

And, if that isn't enough, there is the failed political system and a weak state.  President Zuma is (from what I can gather) a complete failure.  The state cannot meet its basic obligations, like, for instance, enforcing law and maintaining a monopoly on the use of force.

Simon's Town, where we are now
The upshot of all the above is that we are living like rich South Africans - behind razor wire, in the gated community of a marina.  We are living in the safest area in the whole country, from what I can gather.  But after the places we've just been - South Georgia, the Falklands, southern Chile - the attention to security even in this safe enclave feels quite smothering.

There are some great hiking trails just above Simon's Town, where we are now.  But right after we discovered them, we heard some very strongly cautionary advice about venturing onto them.  And that made the town feel like a cage.  If we couldn't go walking in the hills, and had to spend our days within the marina gates, or walking the short walk down the coast to see the local penguins, then we'd just as soon sail away, thanks much.

We did what travelers do, of course.  We asked questions.  We asked every local we could about whether it was safe to go on the trails.  And we got the widest variety of answers you could imagine.  From "absolutely safe" to "unthinkably risky".

Meanwhile, I've been venturing onto the trails, mostly by myself (i.e., without the family).  And I finally met some local hikers, who were much more authoritative than the other locals we've spoken to, who don't actually go walking.  And the local hikers said there was nothing at all to worry about.  So we've at least got some good family walking to look forward to.

I'll close by noting that it appears we have every chance of going our entire time in the country without having a social interaction with a black person.  It reminds me very much of my time in New Orleans in the early 90s - my personal reference for a segregated situation.  There was a vast swath of the social and artistic and cultural life of that city that was almost completely invisible to most white residents.  And so it feels here - so much of South African life is a no-go zone for us, not least because we have no local knowledge about what is safe and what isn't, and are being very conservative as a result.  But that seclusion from what might be vibrant and exciting in South Africa - that feels like the real loss from a traveler's point of view.

Next post - some of the good stuff!