Monday, February 27, 2012

Notes on Living Together in a Small Space

Putting my dinner dish in the sink tonight, I noticed the grime at the base of the splash board.  It's the kind of dirt that you don't notice - it just gradually accumulates - until suddenly you do notice it, and wonder when you started living in squalor.

"God, this galley is a mess", I muttered to myself after dinner.

I swear that I was just thinking about how I had great intentions of pulling out the stove and cleaning underneath it and generally giving the galley an annual inside-the-corners scrub once we reached Hobart, but had never gotten around to it.

But, what actually happened is that Alisa overheard me and has spent the hour and a half since the boys went to sleep scrubbing at the galley, a frown of concentration on her face.

I'm pretty sure that's not the outcome that I intended.

But then again, our own motives are often mysterious to us!  And nothing happens in a social vacuum on a family sailboat.  Every muttered comment and facial tick contributes to the tapestry of on-board communication.

Next time I'll keep my muttered comments to myself and just pick up a scrub brush.

Books for the Pacific

OK, heads up - I think this suff is important!  Just moving your body from one place to another is not 'travel'.  Traveling well requires an active engagement with a strange place (and the even stranger people who live there).  Having read a bit about the place you are visiting gives you a huge leg up in your ability to do that, in terms of context and appreciation and just having the slightest idea of what's going on.

Plus, reading is a more dignified way to spend your night watch than staring at videos on your laptop like some monkey in a lab.

Alisa and I made a point of seeking out books about the Pacific for both of our crossings, so, with that as a preamble, and another South Pacific cyclone-free season coming up, here are some of our recommends:

Fatu Hiva, by Thor Heyerdahl.  A sympathetic account of a very out-there adventure by Thor and Liv.  And a portrait of Marquesas society before the post-contact apocalypse had yet played out.  Marvel at how different the archipelago was in your grandparents' lifetime.  Very highly recommended for anyone sailing to the Marquesas.  (Oh, and Miles - I think you still have our copy!  Are you holding it as hostage to ensure our eventual return to Iluka?)

Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft, by Thor Heyerdahl.  One of the best-known adventure stories of the 20th century, and a wonderful portrait of the Eastern Tropical Pacific and Tuamotus in the 1940s.  Heyerdahl comes from a tradition that held that a man of ideas could also be a man of action.  The book is dated by the ideas motivating the trip, which are now discredited.  Heyerdahl had the cultural and biological evidence about linkages between Polynesia and and the Americas right, but he had the direction of travel wrong.  The current understanding is that Polynesians originated in southeast China and eventually reached the Americas, rather than arising in the Americas as Thor Heyerdahl hypothesized.  That's the danger in advancing new ideas - you can be wrong!  But the book is still a fantastic read.

Typee, by Herman Melville.  Two 19th-sailors jump ship and live among the people of Nuku Hiva.  Melville actually did spend time in Nuku Hiva, but this is a novel, not an attempt at accurate ethnography.  Invaluable as an account of early-contact Marquesans through the eyes of a particularly perceptive member of New England whaling society.  And won't you be glad you read it when you are welcomed by the inhabitants of Tai Pi Vi yourself (below).

Letters, Paul Gauguin.  Alisa bought this one at City Lights in San Francisco.  Not sure if it was Gauguin's Letters from the South Seas or Paul Gauguin: Letters to His Wife and Friends.  I never read it,  but it rocked her world - intimate background on the one of the greatest Western interpreters of Polynesia, and she highly recommends it for anyone visiting the Marquesas.

An Island to Oneself, Tom Neale.  Read this book and marvel at how the Pacific has changed since the 1950s.  Mandatory before you go to Suwarrow.

An Account of the Natives of the Tonga Islands in the South Pacific Ocean, by William Mariner.  This book was easily obtained in Neiafu, so don't sweat it if you can't buy it beforehand.  Mariner was a teenage clerk aboard the British privateer Port au Prince, which visited Tonga in 1806.  Most of the ship's company was massacred, but Mariner was spared, eventually adopted by a hao (king) and spent the next four years living in Tonga.  Fascinating account of pre-Christian Tonga - imagine my delight at reading about matapules in Mariner's book, and then meeting contemporary matapules at the coronation celebrations for King Siaosi Tupou V (below).

Cook: The Extraordinary Voyages of Captain James Cook, by Nicholas Thomas.  There's no point in sailing the Pacific if you don't have at least a basic understanding of what Cook accomplished.  There are heaps of Cook biographies out there; I found this one to be good.

Mutiny on the Bounty, by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall.  One of the great stories of seafaring in the Pacific.

Islands and Beaches.  Discourse on a Silent Land: Marquesas, 1774-1880, by Greg Dening.  A German yachtie lent this book to me just a few days before we left La Paz on our first crossing.  In the madness of the pre-departure rush, I got to read less than half.  But what I did read was fascinating.  This must be the most authoritative English-language book on immediate post-contact Marquesan culture.  I just had a look and saw five used copies for sale online - at prices between 300 and 1,000 USD!  If you buy a copy, maybe I can borrow it.

So, those are some of our favorite Pacific sailing books.  In a future post we'll add some of our favorite general sailing books.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Friday Night

It's Friday night in Hobart.  Some friends are planning on sailing off to New Zealand on Monday, which we took as an excuse to have a bit of a party on Galactic.  

There was the usual social dinner scene in the cockpit.  But, there was also a parallel party taking place on the dock - the party of...

...the kids.

The kids in this case were Elias and five girls.  They asked if they could fish from the dock, and we said 'yes'.

 'Just don't catch any fish!' we said.

So they caught a fish.

They definitely had more fun than we did.  Which is as it should be.


Coming up....  We've been thinking about all the people who will be leaving Mexico and Panama in a couple months to sail across the Pacific, and what sort of information we might pass along to contribute towards a happy crossing.  We've decided that a successful Pacific crossing really depends on the answers to two questions: which islands are you going to visit, and what books will you bring.

Everything else is a distraction.

We'll be weighing in on both questions in the next week.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Book Show

You can hear the interview I did on the Book Show on Hobart Edge Radio here.  Had a good time doing the show.  Tassie is as close to a home base as we have right now, so I'm kind of keen to tie into the writers/readers world here.  And that Paige Turner is an adept interviewer.

Of course, if I didn't read the newspaper story, you can be sure I didn't listen to the interview, either!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


This story about South From Alaska came out in the book section of the Sydney Sun-Herald last weekend.  It's not online yet, so I'm posting here - if I open the picture link in a new window on my Mac I get a readable version.

Alisa tells me it was a good story - I can't stand to read stuff like this about myself, so I didn't!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ship of the Damned

Man, you don't know how loud a one-and-a-half-year-old can be until you live with one on a boat.

We went to some friends' boat for dinner last weekend and when Eric started screaming the bloke just laughed and said, "You poor buggers!"

So, yes, Eric has been having a lot of screaming fits lately.  And he has been throwing things.  

Food is a favorite projectile, as are cups and bowls and spoons.  Meals have become a Elias doesn't appreciate either the screams or the projectiles.  Eric screams and throws something at Elias.  Elias yells and shakes his fist at Eric.  Eric screams at Elias, louder than the first time.  I push my earplugs deeper into my ears.  

"It's the ship of the damned," Alisa mutters.

This will pass, we tell Elias.  Eric's a little fella, he doesn't know any better.

Then, when the tantrums and throwing seem truly endless, even Alisa loses patience.  This is her "listen, buster" face below.  Better to see Eric get it than me!

Lucky thing for the little guy that he is very cute much of the time.

Or at least when he's asleep.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Edge Radio

Talking up South From Alaska!  I'll be on the book show on Edge Radio at 6 PM tomorrow (Tuesday).  That's 99.3 FM in Hobart, or on the web...

Sunday, February 19, 2012

What We Don't Like (And A Couple More Things We Do)

Alright, so what don't we like about this boat of ours?

Well, the list is pretty short.

The cockpit is too small - four adults can't eat at the cockpit table comfortably, which is a shame on a 45' boat.  Seating six adults comfortably at the table would be even better.

I don't know anything about the people who did the final fit-out, but I suspect they didn't know much about the sea.  The sink drains gave me the screaming horrors - cheap plastic piping that you would use in a spec house, with a bunch of very weak joints that were below the waterline, and therefore were trusted to keep out the big blue sea.  I replaced all those.  There was one portlight that was too small for its hole in the hull, with the resulting gaps just filled with globs of silicone.  Replaced that, too.  And there are these terrible cabin lights that I think were made for RVs, and have the bad habit of melting out.  Those are on the list to be replaced this winter.

The engine's too small.  We knew that when we bought her.  But we like to sail, and we aren't too bothered by it so far.

The structural bulkhead between the saloon and forward cabin is showing some cracks.  Gonna have to strengthen it this winter.

But really, that's not too bad a list of complaints!

And here are a couple other things we like...

The hull and deck are cor-ten steel, which is corrosion-resistant and also very expensive.  The gray area in the photo above is a section of bilge.  Not all of it looks this good, but a lot of it does.  The guys who fabricated this boat obviously had professional skills, and cared about what they were doing.

And (forgive all the boat details!) there's the access to the wiring.  Look how neat it all is...

So that's the boat in a nutshell.  At this point (touch wood), I don't think there are many surprises waiting for us.  Hopefully she'll continue to serve us as well as she did on the Pacific crossing.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Ride, Evaluated

OK, so this whole crazy year of travel that spawned our new blog began when we threw up our hands at the apparent impossibility of finding a semi-affordable boat to our liking in Australia.  Our backs were a bit against the wall:  we had an infant, we had been serial house-sitting in Hobart for ten months, and we were feeling that if we didn't get a boat, soon.... well, it felt like something awful might happen, like we might have to give up on the whole sailing thing for a while and start living a semi-respectable life ashore.

And that didn't sound like fun.

So I flew to California with a fist full of Australian dollars from the sale of Pelagic and spent a very frantic week trying to evaluate this totally off-the-wall steel boat on which we had an initial agreement.

And of course we bought her.

And now that we've sailed this new ride across the Pacific, and turned the odometer over on the 10,000 nautical mile mark just as we entered Hobart, the logical question is - are we happy with the choice?

Let me presage my answer by admitting that I don't really like boats.  Sailing is great.  But boats are unfortunate sorts of things, forever demanding time and sweat and money from their owners.  Some guys get all weak-kneed about the line of a sheer, and enjoy walking marina docks looking at boats and all that sort of thing.  That ain't me.  But as long as we're going to be full-time sailors, boats are something that I'm just going to have to put up with.

When we were boat shopping, we had very general criteria in mind.  All we wanted was a reasonable cruising boat that we could raise the boys in and sail pretty much wherever we wanted to.

The kicker was that I have this long-standing itch about sailing the Northwest Passage to get back to Alaska.  That's the route that goes right over the top of Canada.  Don't know if we'll actually do it, and if we do it will be years away.  But we've got a bad track record when it comes to poorly-advised ideas for big trips - we seem to end up doing them.

So that meant a metal boat.  I know that people sail the Northwest Passage in fiberglass boats.  It's just that we weren't going to.

We wanted an aluminum boat.  Specifically, a French unpainted aluminum boat with a lifting keel.  But who could afford one of those?  So instead we ended up with this very obscure design, the Noble 451, a 45', 18 metric ton steel boat, one of only two that were ever built.

And, I gotta say, we're pretty happy with her.

First of all, she sails pretty damn well.  She was rock-solid when the wind speed pushed past 30 knots at the end of our Bass Strait crossing.  It doesn't take a heap of wind for us to make 8 knots.  And we can fly the spinnaker in 6 or 7 knots of breeze and keep her moving at a respectable rate.

And, for a boat her size, she's pretty easy to single-hand.  All the sheets and furling lines and traveller lines and running backstays are right at the wheel, so you can tweak all that good stuff from a single spot in the cockpit.  The main is easy to reef.  The boat is balanced under sail.  It's all pretty good.

The interior is not production-yacht quality.  No expanses of teak, and certainly no old-world craftsmanship.

And that's actually something that we were looking for, as we figured that giving up the typical floating bordello interior was a way to reduce cost.

And then there's the space.  We'll pay the price for having a 45 footer in terms of maintenance hours and dollars, both of which increase exponentially with length.  But in return, we get some very concrete advantages.

The galley is (relatively) vast, but also secure at sea.

The engine room is, well, actually a room.  I can get at the stuff I'm trying to fix.

The boys' room should be big enough to hold them both in relative comfort for as long as we're living aboard.

There's enough storage space for months and months and months of supplies.

And there's huge deck space - we carry two dinghies pretty easily.

We didn't get the deal to end all deals.  But, having said that, we saved ourselves fifty thousand dollars or more on the price that we would have paid for a comparable boat in Australia.

And that's enough to make a sailor who doesn't really like boats smile.

Tomorrow - the stuff that we're not so happy about...

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Fat of the Land

Tasmanians, like Alaskans, are very hospitable. Fishermen on Baranof Island, Alaska, gave us smoked halibut, and friends in our hometown of Kodiak were constantly giving us salmon and venison and homemade goat sausage. I love wild, locally gathered foods. The Tasmanians we've met seem to share this appreciation of hunting and gathering.

Last week during our few hours dockside in Kettering, Tasmania, both De and Susan brought us bags full of garden greens – peas, zucchini, radishes, basil, cucumbers, oh my!

And then the following day while we were anchored off Bruny Island, some sport fishermen asked if we wanted any squid. "Oh yes!", yelled a very excited Elias. And so we suddenly had 12 huge squid they'd just caught and cleaned. What a treat! The first night I used 8 squid to make calamari rings (simple batter of flour, baking soda and water) fried in olive oil. And the next night we had squid stir fry with onions, garlic, and eggplant.

Eric loved the squid, too!
It is wonderful to receive such bounty from the sea and land. It is also great to be the bearer of these gifts, and I hope that we can do some harvesting (and sharing) during our year here in Tasmania.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Back in the swim of things

The other day my friend asked me if I felt like I was back in the swing of land-life. I said, No, that I would have to first get Elias into school and then start swimming again before I could reclaim the Hobart lifestyle.

And it was this morning, after walking Elias to school that I finally got myself wet and swam laps for the better part of an hour. Let me just say that it felt GOOD. My strokes are slow and I felt a bit clumsy, but it was great to have the exercise and quiet mind space that swimming allows. And how fabulous to swim without fear of sharks!! Oh, those long solo swims in the Marqueses when I would jump from the deck of Galactic and swim to shore - my mind occupied with lurking sharks that surely knew of my presence in their underwater domain.

Penhryn Atoll, Cook Islands, was a place I was NOT tempted to swim.
We always had at least 6 large sharks cruising around Galactic's hull.

After I swam laps I took Eric for a swim. Watching him splash around in the shallows, I began to appreciate what it will be like for us to share one-on-one time without an older sibling ruling the roost. Eric had a blast and learned to say "Mommy Errak swim!"

Here's Mommy and Eric - not at the pool but having fun in Tasmania!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


So, here's the little fella this morning, on the very threshold of his academic existence, his very first day ever at school.

Poor little bugger...

Ha!  Just joking.  As you can see in the pic, he was completely over the moon.  We're glad that we can give him this initial experience of attending school, as he's very ready to have peers and teachers in his life.  After our stay in Hobart, he'll be back to getting boat-schooled.

There has been one hiccup with the whole experience.  His year in school can be either "prep" (kids who are turning six during the school year) or "kinder/prep" (kids turning six mixed in with kids turning five).  Our small community of Hobart friends is fairly unanimous in the opinion that "kinder/prep" doesn't give kids as good an educational outcome as "prep".

So guess where the school placed him.

Sigh.  A week ago I was a freewheeling adventurer, roaming the planet with my little brood.  Now I find myself playing the concerned suburban dad, making appointments to meet with the principal.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Lunch box drama

Today is the last day of summer for Elias. He begins primary school tomorrow, and therefore he needs a few new items such as a school uniform, a pair of new shoes, and a new lunch box.

I like to think that I am open-minded and liberal about letting Elias chose toys that he will enjoy. When we were visiting my parents in Florida I bit my tongue when he latched onto a pink teddy bear with pink ribbons in it's teddy bear ears. And when Elias wanted to carry the said teddy bear all over town and to dinner, I let him.

But shopping for lunch boxes yesterday taught me where I draw the line. Elias really wanted to get a pink lunch box with kittens. It was both the kittens and the hot pink, each individually and also combined. I just couldn't let him chose that one. But what to say? Oh, I just said "Elias, I really think that you will want a different lunch box once you are in school". He didn't ask me why and I didn't offer any further explanation.

Thankfully he decided that Mickey Mouse was pretty cool, too.

Monday, February 13, 2012


We arrived in Hobart yesterday.  This is the view of Mt. Wellington as we sailed into Sandy Bay, where we're planning on living aboard Galactic for the winter.

It was a little surreal to be back in the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania - the last time we arrived here, Alisa was seven and a half months pregnant with Eric.  We've covered a lot of miles, figuratively and actually, since then!

We quickly ran into Mary and Midnight Sun, whom we had previously met in Tahiti and Hobart, respectively.  Both boats have kids under the age of six, and we enjoyed the company of other parents who are out sailing the world with little kids.  Really, there is no one else who can completely understand our day to day life.

Both of those boats are about to hop off on the somewhat daunting passage to New Zealand.  But not us - we're planning on following them, but not until the next austral summer.  We find that an occasional season spent in one place makes this lifestyle of endless travel work.  After all the moving that we did in 2011, we're ready to get to know this one very nice place in depth.  So we'll still be traveling, but we'll be here long enough to work our way into the warp and woof of local life, instead of forever hopping from one place to another, the way you do when you're crossing the Pacific in a single cyclone-free season.

Plus, of course, we have a very long list of deferred boat jobs to get after.  The windlass is first up!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

(Very) Stupid Boat Tricks

Well, live on a boat long enough, and you end up doing some pretty silly things in the name of maintenance.

Like, for instance, when your 120 liter holding tank is full and will not deign to be emptied.

The holding tanks on Galactic are, according to expert opinion, of the most fail-proof design.

We flush the head and the waste enters the holding tank, which is situated directly above a through-hull.   If the through-hull is closed, the holding tank holds the waste.  If the through-hull is open, the waste flows out into the big blue sea.

Except that our through-hull was open.  And the holding tank still wouldn't empty.

It turns out that the best-fed barnacles in all the Pacific were living in the standpipe beneath the through-hull.  And they had gotten so big and fat and sassy that they were blocking egress.

So "someone" had to put on his wetsuit (the water's cold here in Tassie) and remove said barnacles and their said blockage from the outside of the boat.

That's me above ("someone") with my purpose-built barnacle-blockage clearing device - a meter of allthread hose-clamed to a broken scrub brush handle.

It worked.  I dove down.  I cleared the blockage.  One hundred and twenty liters of sewage began flowing into the water.  And I swam like hell to get away.

Too easy!

Tassie, Mate!

Have you ever returned to some place where you used to live and had a funny let-down feeling when at first no one knows that you're back?  You're excited to be there, but you haven't run into any of your friends yet, and you get this deflated feeling that no one is even that excited to have you back.

Well, that's not Tassie.

We still haven't made it back to Hobart, but we're finishing a great weekend on the hook at Bruny Island, about fifteen miles south of the city.  We caught up with our good friends from Aratika II, had a flying visit from the crew of Avenger, who are in the throes of final preparations for the sail to New Zealand, and got a cameo visit from Ocean Child, who happened to be sharing the anchorage.  It was a lot of socializing, and a great antidote to the lingering question in the back of my mind over whether Tassie will be as much fun for us this time around as it was the last.

Below:  Aratika and Avenger rafted on either side of Galactic, the scene in our cockpit (I was having one of those nights where you keep knocking over drinks by mistake), and Elias catching up with his mates while fishing for flathead.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Seeing Mary

At long last, we were sailing Galactic into Storm Bay! There was a nice breeze and we had a few dolphins and albatross to keep us company. Mike and I couldn't resist comparing the sail to two years ago, when we first arrived on Pelagic.  This time around the dolphins weren't breaching, but otherwise the comparison held up pretty well.  Tasmania is a truly rugged and magnificent landscape.

Sailing past Cape Raoul

Before landing in a berth at the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, our plan was to linger a few more days and see friends.  Our first detour was Kettering.  De and John were waiting to take our docklines.  Seeing them after a year I felt in some ways like we had never left.  After all, these were the last two friends that I saw when I flew with 10-month old Eric and 4 ½ year old Elias to meet Mike in San Francisco and climb aboard Galactic.  And so it was a year and a week later, after their sendoff at the airport I was seeing those same friends welcome us back to the Hobart area. Full circle indeed.

In the easy fashion of good friends it almost felt like we had never left.  Almost, but not quite.  You see, two miles prior to our arrival in Kettering we were taken completely by surprise at seeing the Swedish ketch Mary motoring toward us. We last saw Mary at Huahine Island in French Polynesia, and right away Mike recognized her lines. So there we were, going in opposite directions and waving passionately at each other – big hellos of people who anchored near each other several times in French Polynesia and then never saw each other again.  Seeing Mary allowed us to absorb the long distance we had traveled to return to this one spot and resume our journey.
De and Eric reunited!

Thursday, February 9, 2012


"It's not the ship, it's the crew."

That nautical cliche holds so true for traveling sailboats.  People (well, men, mostly) turn their interest in the sea into a fetish for boat design and gear specs.  And it turns out that stuff is tangential to having a happy, or even safe, traveling boat.  What you really need to make the life afloat a success is an above-reproach partnership with the person who you sail with.

I've been aware of all that ever since the first six months that Alisa and I spent as full time-sailors.  We went through a lifetime of tough moments together in those six months of learning the ropes, and the fortunes of Pelagic very much rose and fell based on how well Alisa and I were working together on any given day.

But now, with a couple Pacific crossings under our belts, I'm also starting to see the corollary.  Sailing doesn't just require strong partnership - it also fosters it.  If a couple are embarked on the enterprise of crossing big pieces of water on small boats, they have something external that they are always leaning against.  The challenges of the lifestyle keep you looking outward, they remind you that you aren't the center of the universe, and they keep you from navel-gazing at either yourself or the "relationship".  Having a challenge of that magnitude saves you from the ennui of a sedentary life.

(Or maybe romance just lasts longer when you're both living in your bathing suits.)


Below - transiting between Tasman Island and Cape Pillar, yesterday.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Alisa gave a great overview of the Bass Strait crossing in her last post.  What she didn't go into in depth was Eric getting seasick the first day out.  It's become a part of our routine that he usually gets sick for the first day or two that we're out.

Here's the poor little guy in flagrante in the cockpit in Bass Strait.  Hard to see in this picture, but he's standing in a puddle of just-vomited mother's milk.

That was probably the easiest cleanup we've ever had after one of his bouts of seasickness!  Here he is after the fact, with his toddler-sized wristbands hopefully making him feel better, though he isn't looking too sunny just yet.

At this point our sailing plans are pretty open-ended.  We've decided to keep going as long as we can pay for it, as long as we're enjoying it, and as long as it's the right thing for the kids.  But when things are open-ended in that way, with no set finish ahead of us, there's this certain tension that works into how we look at the sailing life - pretty regularly over the last year, Alisa and I have found ourselves wondering out loud if living on board this traveling boat is what we want to be doing with life at this point.

Every time we've asked ourselves that question, the answer has been some version of "well, what would be better than this?"

But we also realize how lucky we have been to get these four and a half years of sailing, and that the decision to call it quits might be forced upon us one way or another.

Like, for instance, by a child who gets seasick every time we go sailing!

Not that we're anywhere near that point just yet...