Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Outboard Trouble, Part II

"Don't dwell on it," Alisa said as I paddled away from Pelagic late this morning.


Last night was the rowdiest night we've yet had on the boat. For a full-time sailor I still know shockingly little about meteorology, so I can't tell you how the blow developed, but it apparently had something to do with a low pressure system in the Tasman Sea.

Yesterday the rain was biblical. Alisa and Elias came over to my office after visiting a friend and I expected to see the various beasts of the world following them through my office door, two by two. It was raining hard enough to impress a Kodiaker. But then the rain eased and we made it back home for dinner and tied the dinghy off on the stern of Pelagic.

After we went to bed the wind began. It started off blowing in the mid-20 knot range. I stuck my head out of the companionway to check on things and thought how unimpressive a 20-something knot wind sounds in the telling, but how impressed most non-sailors would be to experience that much wind on a boat.

I went back to bed, and was again stirred by the building wind. Now it was blowing a steady 30 knots. Both of our headsails are off the boat for repairs and the empty roller-furling foils were vibrating so hard in the wind that we could feel it through the cushion of our bunk. I checked on things again and went back to bed.

When it started blowing a steady 40 knots I got up and stayed up. Pelagic pitched and yawed and swung. The rigging moaned. I looked out the companionway again and saw that two other sailboats had dragged. Alisa joined me and we watched one boat's lights turn this way and that as the owner apparently tried to motor into the wind and back into the anchorage. The rain came back to biblical strength. The dinghy filled with water and our flipflops and gas can began floating around in the full boat. I thought about bailing the dinghy out, but the way it was bucking against the waves made me think that the flipflops and gas can would have to look out for themselves.

Our anchor held firm.

At dawn it was still gusting into the 40s and we watched the water smoking with the violence of the wind. The two dragging boats were down at the far end of the harbor, past the moored boats, but they weren't side-on to the wind and hopelessly beached. Their bows were still pointed towards the wind, which was a good sign. The wind died quickly. After coffee and yoghurt I went down in the dinghy to see if I could lend a hand.

The two dragging boats had fouled each other's anchors, then stopped when a moored trimaran caught the tangled gear. The runaway yachts ended up on either side of the trimaran, and behind it, with their keels touching the sand bottom. I helped John, the single-hander on a beautiful wooden ketch, to get off, a process that involved another collision with the moored motor boat that he had mauled on the way in. We eventually buoyed and cast off his fouled anchor, and got him resettled on his second anchor.

I took John ashore in the dinghy and was very pleased to find the two flipflops, one mine and the other Alisa's, that had gone missing from the dinghy during the night.

Then, at my suggestion, we tried to retrieve John's anchor and chain.

We ended up swamping the boat. And submerging the outboard.

Our brand-new outboard, that replaced the stolen one.

Our brand-new outboard with less than a week of use on it.

When the dinghy went under, done in by the combined weight of chain and two men and too much water slopping over the sides, John and I ended up overboard, hanging on to the gunwhales.

All I could say, over and over, was "goddammit!".

I was mad at myself for letting it happen, of course, but what really ticked me off was that if I had been trying to retrieve the anchor with Alisa, or alone, it never would have happened. There was something about being in the boat with someone else, and somehow deferring to the judgement of our little group, that made me much less decisive than I normally am on the water. Something about hesitating, at various junctures, to do things the way I wanted to, and waiting for and considering John's opinion.

And that's what really got me - that I didn't just act on my own instinct, that I let the presence of someone else change my approach to the situation.


The outboard, meanwhile, is in the shop.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Iluka Again

I just re-read Kingsley Amis' Lucky Jim, motivated by a search for a quote that turned out to be less well-put than I remembered. I was rewarded, though, by the funniest public speaking scene in all of English-language literature, as well as a bit of wisdom described (apocryphally, I'm sure) as an Arab proverb: Take what you want, and pay for it.

That could be our rallying cry right now, as we find our way into Epoch Two of our sailing lives, which, I/we hope, will be best described in retrospect as, "And then they went on and on and on."

There's a price to pay for living that kind of life, of course. But maybe some part of wisdom is knowing the life you want, and being willing to pay for it.

Anyway, that's one of the great pitfalls about writing about sailing - it can devolve into endless justification of lifestyle choices.

Or, perhaps, "lifestyle" is a word that cheapens those choices, and what we're really thinking about as we sit on the hook here in Iluka and contemplate the future has to do with the essence of life, something much more at the heart of what's important than any question of "style".

Maybe it's time to start thinking again about the value of grand gestures, and a disregard for nearly everything that is generally agreed on back home in the Lower 48.

Oh dear.


So here's an update on us.

Often I go to the office in the morning. This is me, commuting. Notice the coffee cup on the bow of the inflatable kayak. The blue dry bag in my lap holds the computer.

Sometimes Elias comes to visit at the office.

We make it to a decent number of barbecues. Australians have a knowledge of barbecuing that is deep and subtle. Below are Miles and Melissa and their sprouts, whom we barbecued with last week. Miles and Melissa are the Australians whom we would most like to take to one of those old parties in Kodiak where everyone would have a little too much to drink while we talked from eight at night until two in the morning.

As it was, we had just a little to drink and talked until the mozzies came out and the kids began to get tired and whinge.

Check out two year old Malachy on the grill. He will grow up into a fluid and confident barbecuer.

And then there's the beach. Alisa and Elias get to one beach or another at least once a day, often twice. And sometimes I come along.

Elias takes his beach fossicking very very seriously.

That and tide pools.

Yesterday we were about to settle into our everyday routine when we got an invite to travel down to a beach 45 minutes or so to the south. That's our little party on the right. To the left is kilometers of empty beach. Alaskan friends, can you just feel the sand between your toes?

We went with two other families with little kids.

I had a fun thrash in the surf. My technique still needs lots of refining before anyone would call me a surfer. Elias is laying the groundwork of his own technique right now.

The end.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Growing Shallow Roots

Last night there was a rowdy thunderstorm. You could see the big thunderhead clouds building all afternoon. When the wind built, the lightening was soon to follow. There were continuous bolts for hours. I’ve never seen lightening go on and on like that. The loud thunder cracked and rumbled much later and was accompanied by wind gusts of 35 kts. that sent Pelagic spinning dizzy around the anchor. One other boat in the harbor dragged. The only other time we were anchored in a storm that had Pelagic heeled over at anchor was years ago Terror Bay off the west coast of Kodiak Island. Both times I felt grateful and content to be dry and secure and in the company of the ones I love the most.

Things in Iluka are still pretty sunny-minded, despite the theft of our outboard last week. It took me a few days to rebound from that event, but we have resumed our praise for Iluka as we simultaneously begin planning for our departure in a few weeks. Mike has been working very hard on everything: his book, his new consulting business, plus nonstop work to get Pelagic shipshape. There’s some routine maintenance and some unexpected breakages. Last night he said ‘why should I be surprised that the sink pump isn’t working. I’ve only fixed it twice and everything seems to require getting fixed 3 times”. Today he spent 9 hours rewiring the bugger only to discover that although it does now function, it would also benefit from a new switch. Someday.

We have been here for nearly 3 months, and it feels like we have grown some shallow roots. We’re feeling the restlessness and also the benefits of being in one spot for a while. Here’s Pelagic, in full resting mode with sails off (for annual inspection and minor repairs) and laundry drying in the rigging.

Since February began, Elias and I have had a fun weekly routine shaped around Monday playgroup, Wednesday story time at the library, and Saturday swimming lessons. In between we swim at the numerous ocean and river beaches that are in walking distance to our anchorage. The playgroup has been terrific for both me and for Elias.
The kids at playgroup are great for Elias to play with – they are all struggling with the concept of sharing and they are sweet with their manners. There are crafts, plenty of toys, and we end with songs. We are both on the cusp of making good friends. Here are a few playgroup photos.

The moms at playgroup are incredible, strong, and active women. Most subscribe to the ‘Dr. Sears’ mindset that was also accepted as wisdom by my Kodiak girlfriends. In fact, they have inspired me to include Elias in the meal preparations and he loves it! When he’s not stirring the salad, he sits with a cookbook open and ‘reads’ me a recipe while wearing an oven mitt. It’s gotten to the point where last night he actually asked if we could cook something with eggplant for dinner, so we did and he ate two bowls of it! Here's a photo of our first shared cooking experience, which took place in the unit we rented during Pelagic's haulout in the boatyard.

It will be bittersweet when we sail off, as even shallow roots require some tugging.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Iluka Bummer

Well, we stayed a few extra nights in the holiday unit to finish up all the work we wanted to do on Pelagic. We finally moved back on board today, but it turned out that was a couple days too late.

Yesterday, coming down to the beach, I saw that the oars had been stolen from the dinghy. I swam out to Pelagic, towing the dinghy, and retrieved the outboard and spare oars from the mother ship. Last night I carefully locked the boat and motor to the pier with our trusty cable, and I took the oars back to the holiday unit as a precaution.

This morning, I found that the cable had been cut, and our new outboard stolen.


In a twist, the oars were retrieved on a skiff that a trawler found floating on the harbor. The motor, though, we have little hope of seeing again.