Monday, April 30, 2012

April 29th

April 29th, 2010 - Hobart, Australia. 

April 29th, 2011 - Half Moon Bay, California.

April 29th, 2012 - Hobart, Tasmania.

So the little fellow turned two yesterday.  

We had the perfect celebration - a family swim at the aquatic centre in the morning, then meat pies for lunch back on board.  We didn't really plan a party, but spontaneity came to the rescue and we had four kids besides Eric and Elias on board to help eat cake when the moment came.

Alisa took the sheet cake to the next level - that's an airplane.

We think that Eric got it - all day we would ask him, "Whose birthday is today?" and he would raise one hand in the air and answer, "me!"

After cake and presents the kids and adults all went to the park for a impromptu game of cricket.

And then we retired to the boat for a few more pressies.

It was the perfect two year old's birthday party - very low key, and very fun.  And, as a bonus, there was only one two-year-old there!

Now we get a year of living on a boat with a two-year-old.  Poor Elias bears the brunt of it - Eric is a thrower of surprisingly heavy objects, and a wrecker of five-year-old's art projects.  

This too will pass, of course.  And in spite of the fact that our boat is generally a complete madhouse when all four of us are on board, I've got to admit that I am LOVING having such a young kid in the family - it's just so damn nice to be around someone who has everything ahead of him.  

And so nice for us to still be so close to the beginning of our life as a family, which of course is much more of an adventure than sailing the world.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The News From Home

I remember, on our first Pacific crossing, talking to an Australian sailor who had been out for four years.

"Of course the family keeps in touch," she said.  "But your friends pretty much forget about you after you've been gone for a year."

This last week or so we've been enjoying the living, breathing evidence that things haven't worked out that way in our case - our good friend Zoya has made it all the way down here from Kodiak for a visit.

We've had a great time with her.  And it's been a full visit - we just got back from a three-day sail, Zoya is catching the 0600 flight to Melbourne tomorrow - and she and Alisa are out on the town right now, dancing to the best that Hobart has to offer.

In addition to catching up with Zoya, we've taken the opportunity to catch up on all the hometown news.  Kodiak is a town of only 6,000 people, with no road that takes you anywhere bigger.  So it's a place where everyone knows everyone, and Zoya has something to tell us about just about every one of our friends.

Of course it's been fun to hear about what's going on back home.  But hearing those stories has also made it clear to me that Kodiak isn't really home any more.  We still have dear friends there, and it's the place that we hope to return to when our sailing is over.  But everyone's life there has of course been moving along in the nearly five years that we've been away, and we're just a memory in that place, not at all a part of current affairs.

And, well, when I hear about Kodiak these days, it all sounds very small-town to me.  For the most part I loved the small town-ness of it when we were living there.  But when you live in a small, remote town in Alaska, you're very much dependant on the luck of the draw in who happens to be living there at the same time as you, and is therefore available to be a part of your social universe.  When we moved to Kodiak we got unreasonably lucky in being there at the same time as a group of really remarkable people who made the place exciting for us.  Some of those people are gone now, and the ones who are still there don't get together the way they used to.  Things change, and that scene won't be waiting for us when we return.

And, well, since we've been gone we've made friends from France, England, Scotland, Italy, Holland, Switzerland, the Cook Islands, the Marquesas, New Zealand, Australia...and Tasmania!  Our world view has grown accordingly.  When all this traveling comes to an end I'll be happy to scale things down to the delightful corner of the world that is Kodiak.  But I can see that there will be a bit of readjustment that will be required...

A farewell dinner at Zoya & Patrick's house in 2007.  L-R, that's Zoya, Alisa, Elias, and me.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Uncle Fred

So this is the grave of my Dad's uncle Fred.  In France, if I'm not mistaken.  He was killed in World War I, again, if I'm not mistaken, when he was 25.  My cousin is over there right now and searched out the grave and sent around this picture a few days ago.

Fortuitous timing, as the day before yesterday was Anzac day, the Australian and New Zealand day of remembrance for veterans.

Anzac day was established to commemorate the Gallipoli battle.  Today, there's this interpretation that holds that Gallipoli was a foundational event for Australia - the moment when this place became a nation.  That's the sort of thing that prime ministers talk about when they commemorate Gallipoli.

I'm coming into this conversation in mid-stream, so all that goes right over my head - I just don't follow the logic.  But when I do hear that idea expressed, I always think of this line from the American writer, Tim O'Brien:

If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie.

And seeing the photo of the grave reminded of my favorite World War I poem.(That's what you get for going to a private high school - you end up having a favorite World War I poem.)

Wilfred Owen
Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Nothing much I could add to that...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Auntie Zoya

Our good friend Zoya is visiting from Kodiak, and we're going to take her sailing for the next few days.

It's been remarkable how calm things have been on the boat since she got here - because her default position has been at the saloon table, keeping Eric occupied.  Everything goes smoothly on a sailboat if the toddlers in the crew get constant adult attention.  Makes me realize how outgunned we parents are in the modern nuclear family - sure would be nice to have an auntie or two around on a full-time basis. I'm trying to imagine any of Eric's three aunties actually living and traveling with us on Galactic.  Can't quite picture it!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

For a solid week now we've suspected that we had water in the fuel tanks.  You might remember that things got a bit exuberant on our last sail and we buried the rail deep enough to get salt water through the vents and into the water tanks.  The fuel tanks vent to the same place on the boat as the water tanks, so we suspected that we had water in the fuel as well.  And Margot on Silver Lining, our sister ship, confirmed that they've had a bit of drama with water in their own fuel tanks.

Now, the first rule of running a diesel engine is that you've got to keep the fuel clean.  Water in the fuel is a really bad idea.

The old me - say, the Mike from our first trip across the Pacific - would have been completely freaked out at the prospect of water in the fuel tanks.

But, I've gotta admit, I haven't really thought about it at all, except to realize that I have to deal with it before we go sailing again this week.  So another boat problem might have come along - whatever!  Tell me something new!  I'll fix it, and doing so will be either a pain or a total pain, and then we'll move on with life.

My imperturbable attitude is doubtless informed by the fact that we are safely tied to the dock, with expert help a phone call away, if it's needed.  If we were anchored up in some remote atoll, with a highly tidal pass between us and the solace of the open ocean, I'd be a lot less cool.

But more than anything, I reckon it's just that familiarity breeds contempt.  Problems with the boat are a constant for anyone who sails long distances, and now, nearly five years into our sailing life, they aren't nearly the news that they were a while back.

And, a postscript - I finally opened two of the tanks today - that rectangle in the sole next to Elias is the tank with the inspection plate removed - you can even see the diesel reflecting light back at the camera. Poor Elias had been told about twenty times that he has to HOLD REALLY STILL, so as not to knock anything into the fuel.  But, good news - I can't see anything in either the port or starboard tanks except for clean fuel.  Neatly, the fuel in the port tank was bought somewhere where they dye the fuel red, and that in the starboard tank is green.  Opened up one inspection port on the keel tank but couldn't get a good look, so I'll have to open up the other inspection plate tomorrow before we know we're in the clear.

[I love how Elias' innocence is so intact at five and a half.  He was completely happy for the longest time just driving my sockets around the saloon on his brother's red truck.]

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Alisa's Advice

In the world of sailing couples, it's a cliché: the man is the one who has dreamed about going sailing all his life, the woman never thought about moving onto a boat before she met him, but now she's taken his dream as her own.

We've met any number of couples where that's the case.  Sometimes, it works out great - the woman buys into the dream completely, and quickly becomes an equal partner in the equation.  Like, for instance, the couple on Galactic.

In other cases, it doesn't work out nearly so well.  The woman never quite buys in to the whole idea, there are tensions on board, get the picture.

I'm not sure where it came from, but the other day Alisa had a sudden revelation.

I've got it, she said.  The perfect advice for guys who are trying to talk their wives into going sailing.

What's the advice? I asked.

Be a kick-ass sailor.  Don't be out there on passage wondering how to pole out the jib to sail downwind.  You've got to have your stuff together so she can trust you.


I thought about it a bit.  On one hand, if you're new to sailing, it's a pretty big ask to turn yourself into an expert before you leave home.

On the other hand, you do get the idea that there are a few people out there who are crossing oceans while they're still figuring out the basics.

Of course, there is a venerable tradition in every sort of adventure activity of being self-taught, of going out and doing whatever it was that grabbed your imagination until you're eventually competent at it.  But - if you're not used to sailing (and even sometimes if you are), sailboats can be pretty frightening things.  They flap, they heel, and they generate forces that can be really hard to deal with if you get in a bad situation.  And it really is too much to ask someone who hasn't been dreaming of palm-fringed anchorages their whole life to put up with all the scary, out-of-control moments while you're trying to figure out how to handle the boat.

So there it is - if you're the motivating factor for going sailing, and you want to give yourself the best chance for convincing that special someone to share the dream, learn to sail well before you go.

(Oh, and - those "learn to cruise" courses?  Useless, I reckon, for pure sailing knowledge.  The best way to become a better sailor, to learn to trim and balance and control a boat, is to go out and crew on a racing boat.  You might not meet the best class of people doing it, but you will definitely learn to sail.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Elias is loving school.

This is him the Monday after his Easter holiday was over.  Freshly showered, in uniform, and wondering when he can go to school already.

One of the attractions of a season in Hobart was that Elias was so obviously ready for a year in school, ready for a peer group, ready for teachers who aren't named "mom" and "dad".

He was asking me the other day when we would leave for New Zealand.  Sometime after Christmas, I said.  After school is over for the year.

Oh, he said.  And when we get to New Zealand, will I go to school there?

Well, I don't think so, honey.  We're not going to be there long enough.

Disappointed look.  Moment of thought.

Will Stella and Lucia be in New Zealand?

Well, no, honey, they'll be here.  But we'll meet some other good friends in New Zealand, just like Stella and Lucia here.

Not quite a thoughtful look - more of a blankness in his eyes, as he thought, but couldn't quite process.

Who do we know in New Zealand?

Well, nobody, honey.  But you'll see - we'll get there and we'll meet some new friends.


Sigh.  I can already see him crying as we sail away from this place.

I can't for a moment shake the empiricism of my science background, so I hesitate to draw conclusions about how living on a boat for most of his life has shaped Elias so far - it's an uncontrolled, very poorly replicated experiment that we're running here, after all.  But if I had to guess, I would say that some of the magic that is Elias comes from the way he has grown up with both of his parents always around, the three (and now four) of us sharing a family life that is a lot more intimate, and fully immersed, than the American-suburban model of family life that Alisa and I both come from.  When we're sailing, we're a family, full-stop, sharing everything together, and I think the benefits for our boys are immense.

But because this seeing-the-world-from-the-decks-of-our-own-boat business is such an actively chosen sort of life, any perceived downsides for the kids are bound to weigh on our parental consciences.  Downsides like, taking the little fella away from the formal schooling, and peer group, that he obviously loves.

I am forever remembering that I have no absolute answers for these sorts of big-picture questions.  But I think the answer likely lies in that great oxymoron about how to prosecute a life - that true freedom comes only when you have no choice in what you do.  That is, if you are so passionate about some pursuit or another that you can only dedicate yourself to it, then lots of the niggling little questions that come from endless choice suddenly become moot.

And so, I hope, it is with us.  Alisa and I have decided that, given what we know about the world, and how short a time any of us get to be here, that ranging wide and drinking deep are what we want to do.  If that is a settled decision, then we can trust in the knowledge that the young adults we have met who grew up the same way that we're raising Elias and Eric all seem to be...wonderful.  And in spite of the disappointments that Elias will doubtless feel at one time or another about leaving good friends behind, this life we're sharing together will turn out to be the best thing for him, too.

At least that's my hope.

[PS - Another delight of Elias' time in school is how he is becoming so acculturated to all things Australian. Here's Alisa making his standard lunch the other day - a butter and vegemite sandwich.  She still can't belive she's sending her first-born out into the world every day with the dubious sustenance of vegemite in his lunch box.]

The Tassie Version

So here's a Tassie version of our banner photo, courtesy of our friend Robb.  We're wearing a few more layers these days!

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Sting In The Tail

Sunday was the last day of our Easter cruise.  It started off with more of the beautiful weather that we had been enjoying for day after day.  We had plenty of time to get back to Hobart, so we spent the morning ashore.

We tried to track down a rumor of convict ruins in our anchorage.  But that involved walking along a forest track at toddler speed - we never have gotten Eric used to riding in a backpack carrier, so our ability to cover ground as a family is highly compromised.  The convict ruins were safe from us.

We got underway just after a front came through.  Looks like we used up all the good weather, I said to Alisa.

I didn't know the half of it.  We ended up spending hours beating against a fresh southerly wind to get out of Frederick Henry Bay.   This is one of those classic sailing photos that fails to capture the situation - we were heeling over so far that we took salt water through the water tank vents.  This morning I flushed the tanks after realizing that our drinking water was salty.

We passed the time by singing together in the cockpit.  Eric has a very cute way of waving both index fingers in front of his face when he hears music.  After we had sung every song we know two or three times, Alisa resorted to keeping the kids occupied with treats.

Bickies! said Eric.  We were very glad that he didn't show any signs of seasickness.

It wasn't any kind of out-of-control sailing.  But beating into strong winds is more than you really want to take on with such little kids on board.

I was very glad when we finally made it around the Ironpot and headed up the Derwent for Hobart.

I wonder if there's salt water in the fuel tanks, too?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Peeps, Yo!

So, we're heading back to the Big Smoke tomorrow, the Sandstone Jungle that is Hobart.

As I look back on the eight or nine days that we've been sailing around on Galactic, a pattern makes itself apparent - we've spent most of the time hanging out with other people.

Living on a cruising sailboat is sort of like social media for people who never figured out facebook.  The boating stuff is all secondary, unless you're doing long passages.  Otherwise, it's the people you meet who are at the core of the experience.

Of course, we do run the danger of living in a milieu where nearly everyone we know owns a yacht, of all things.  If we do this long enough, we could get a skewed view of the world!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Get Outside, Kid!

Here's one of the great parts about raising kids on a boat - they spend lots and lots of time outdoors.

Even with the up-and-down weather that we've been having over the last week, the boys have gotten ashore every day - to swing on the swing, or for a quick bush walk...

... or to turn over rocks at low tide to find crabs.

(Eric's scared of the crabs.  But he would throw rocks into the water all day long if we let him.)

We get lots of "outside" time when we're on the boat too, since we're up in the cockpit so much of the time.  Here Alisa and Elias are taking a look at the head of a squid that we caught - Elias is taking notes for his "show and teach" presentation at school this coming week.  We'll make a biologist of him, no problem!

We ate the mantle of the squid for dinner - delicious.

Basically, kids are wild animals.  They need to be outside, getting into stuff, if they're going to turn out normal.  If they spend too much time being sedentary and staring at screens, they turn out weird.  Even though our 45 foot boat is relatively palatial, we still have a LOT less inside room than most house-dwelling families.  So the kids have to be outside, just out of necessity.  It all works out perfectly.

And being outside is good for the adults, too.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Rugged Up, Sailing Fast

As an Alaskan, I feel that it is my duty to be dismissive of Tasmanian winter.  If a few snowflakes fall in Hobart, people talk about it for days, but I roll my eyes.  It doesn't count as snow, I maintain, unless you have to shovel it out of your driveway.  

So by Alaskan standards, the winter here doesn't amount to much.

But I will admit that autumn can pack a punch.

We had hailstorms like this on and off through the last day we were anchored up at Bruny Island.

We had spent four days sitting in that one anchorage, waiting for the unsettled weather to pass.  The next day it was time to get moving again.  So we all got on our warm clothes.

Eric considerately took a very long nap, so Alisa and I got the rare treat of sailing together.  And it was a great sail.

Twenty or twenty-five knots of wind, right behind us.  Inshore waters, so no swell.  We reefed down and poled out and watched the needle push up against nine knots of boat speed.  After all the easy living of our six months in the tropics, it did us good to feel some cold air whistling around our ears.  Look at Alisa in this picture - doesn't she just look hungry for a season of high-latitude sailing?

The end.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Toughest

Mate, said Robb.  I don't know any other little kid who would fall that many times without crying.

We were keeping pace with Eric at the back of the pack on a walk with the families from Aratika and Galactic.  I hadn't really noticed the show that Eric was putting on, because I was so used to this sort of thing from him.  But what Robb said was true.  Eric fell down, oh, mebbe 200 times in an hour of walking on a sandy, tussocky track.  He didn't cry, he just stuck his bum up in the air the way that little kids do when they're getting up, and then he got back to it, making another ten or twenty steps before he fell again.  And no matter what, he didn't want to be carried.

He might be the toughest little kid I know.

Hell, he might be the toughest person in our family, period.

Our youngest crew has been making his presence felt more and more in recent weeks.  He's still not two, but it's like he's racing to keep from being left behind by the rest of us.  He's talking a lot.  And he seems to be toilet training himself - he lets us know when he wants to use the head, and raises hell when we're not quick about it.

He's still a very little kid, of course.

But he's not a baby anymore, and he has clearly established his place in the family.

It'll be a treat to see what sort of person he turns out to be.