Thursday, February 27, 2014


That's our prop shaft.  Pretty mundane looking, you might say.

And that's the point!  You're so perceptive!  It's in completely fine shape.

But it's not in the boat, joining prop to engine.  Instead, it's sitting on a pallet in a corner of some boatyard in Whangarei.

The prop shaft is stainless steel, and it is 25 years old.  Stainless steel rots in low-oxygen environments, like the stern tube of our boat.  But the low-oxygen places where it rots are, by definition, hidden from view.  So, with a trip to Patagonia in the cards, I decided it was worthwhile to go to the trouble to yank the thing out of the boat and see how it's faring.  All well.  Now it just has to go back in the boat.

There are a lot of jobs like that going on on Galactic.  Anticipatory jobs, you might call them.  Making deadlights for all the opening portlights to keep them watertight when things get too nautical.  Beefing up the companionway hatch for the same reason.

I figure that's a big part of the game for sailing ocean passages, especially once you get out of the tradewinds.  You have to put the work into solving problems before you have them.

Here's the most anticipatory job of them all: adding cones to the series drogue.

There are 147 little cones on that long piece of line, and the idea is that if things get way too nautical, you chuck the line over the back of the boat, all the cones catch water and slow you down and keep your stern into the waves, giving you the chance to wait for everything gets better.

Meanwhile, our visit to the boatyard is past the three-week mark.  We've been waiting to get into the painting yard to get some sandblasting done on the hull, but the company that does that work has been over-the-top busy, so we've waited two weeks.  Today the travel lift finally took us to the blasting area, and the blasting and priming should happen tomorrow.

No prop, and no rudder

And not a day too soon, as our wonderful house sit is at an end, and we move back aboard tomorrow.

We had a dinner of fish and chips to celebrate our final night here.

Is this haircut getting too young for him?
Oysters collected at the beach at the house sit

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Help From Afar

When my family told us they'd like to visit in February, we were torn.  Our first reaction - "GREAT" - bumped right into our considered reaction - "but we'll be right in the middle of the haul out then."

"No problem," came the reply.  "We know you're busy.  So we'll watch the kids while you and Alisa both work in the boat yard.  That still leaves coffee time in the morning and beer time at night for us to visit."

So they all came, all the way from Boston to New Zealand - my parents, my sister and her two kids.  And it worked out exactly as planned.  Alisa and I teamed up in the boat yard every day that it wasn't raining, and as a result we got way more done than we would have had I been soldiering on alone.  Our kids had a great time with the family, who stayed at the beach cottage just down the hill from our house-sit.  The whole mob made a few sightseeing trips out into the country, cause, hey, this was looking pretty certain to be their once-only family trip to New Zealand.  And we got that coffee-time and beer-time to visit.  (I notice that nearly every picture of adults taken during the visit features wine glasses or beer bottles.)

I'm very glad that they were willing to make such an expensive visit under less-than-perfect conditions.

Alisa and I made great progress on replacing portlights on Galactic while they were here.

The new event for the Yachtie Decathlon - painting with exam mirror in hand 

Busted knees and fierce concentration
Only the advent of a rainy spell kept us from finishing all five windows while we had the gift of unlimited kid-minding.  Yesterday the family left and the rain cleared in the afternoon.  Alisa and I got two more windows sealed up, even with the kids aboard the boat.  It was a pretty good performance by team Galactic - we got them sealed up just before the rain resumed, I only yelled at Elias twice (or three times?) and we were back at the house-sit in time for dinner.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Long Yard, or Doubt

Where to begin?  I guess by observing that if it were easy, a lot more people would be doing it.

Let me be clear - no pity is looked for!  When we look around at what our peers living ashore are up to, we're pretty sure that we wouldn't want to trade with any of them.  Nothing against what they're doing, of course, but just to say that we're generally very very happy with family life afloat.

Alisa, and a boat cabin in transition
But it does take a heap of effort to secure enough research funding, and do enough research work, to pay for it all, at the same time that we're keeping the boat in the kind of shape that we'd want her to be in if we were doing ocean crossings with the family (which we are), at the same time that we're keeping family life going.

Normally I don't spend too much time worrying about any of that - we just do what it takes, and we love what we do, the effort be damned.

But the annual trip to the yard is when I wonder about it all - all the effort that just disappears on boat maintenance and improvements (what if I worked this hard at writing?) and all the money that gushes into the boat, despite our efforts to staunch the flow.  And the dark thoughts of safety, or the opposite, when I consider this possible contingency or that aboard, and how we might anticipate it now.  When I take a break from thinking about all that, I give a thought to all the multi-day projects that I have awaiting me before we're "ready" to go.  Ambitious sailing, like our plans for Patagonia, definitely increases the work load beyond what we'd be doing if we only planned more downwind sailing in the tropics.

So all that, psychologically, makes the annual haulout tough for me.

Luckily, this year we have some helpers from afar who are watching the kids so Alisa and I can both work in the yard.  Everything, physically and mentally, is much easier when two are working together.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


The biggest difficulty of sailing with young kids?  Boat maintenance, hands down.  You just cannot find any complicated/messy/frustrating/expensive boat job that cannot be made more so by adding a 3-year-old to the mix.

As a result, we have one rule we strive to live by when it comes to the annual haulout - we move off the boat.  We know that some other sailing families continue to live aboard while in the yard, and more power to 'em, we say.  But for us, the only route to an outcome where Alisa and I are both more or less sane is to move off for the duration.

When we were first anchored at Whangarei Heads, before we'd even made it up to Whangarei town, we happened to meet a very remarkable couple who set sail from England on a 30-foot cutter the same year that I was born.  They sailed as far as Whangarei, and have made their home here ever since.

The bloke was on board for a cuppa a few days later when Alisa let slip that we were looking for a house-sit during our haulout.  An hour later he called to say that he had found one for us - he'd run the idea by his wife, and they were happy to lend us their home and car for the month of February, when they'd be off visiting family in the South Island.

I don't know if it's because we're traveling with kids, but people occasionally show us such naked kindness, such pure human goodwill, that it really humbles me.  Whether it's the Marquesan with "nothing" who gives us 10 kilos of mangoes, or the Aussie ship captain who offers us house and car a half-hour after meeting us at a barbecue, people infrequently, but regularly, stun us with their hospitality and kindness.

Often it's ex-travelers, like the couple who we're house-sitting for now, who are most unguardedly kind.  I'm at a loss for what we could possibly do for this couple to reciprocate.  But I reassure myself that our chance will come when we've settled down in some interesting corner of Alaska, and people from the other side of the world happen upon us in our daily lives.

One of the nice things about a house is all the room that is on offer for laying out boat jobs.  

Friday, February 7, 2014

It Happens

Yes, it happens - the annual trip to the boat yard.

Hauling out Galactic always feels so odd - the family home/mothership/repository of all our hopes and dreams is suddenly parked on some obscure patch of gravel and taken all to pieces, and the long uphill journey to getting back into the water begins.

There's a funny transition where you go from being the master of your own ocean-going vessel, in your own watery realm, to being a mere rent payer in someone else's domain.  The yard guys know more about hauling your vessel than you do - they do it all the time, after all.  But you've also got to watch every decision they make, since you'll be living with their mistakes.  A funny transition.

And there's also the funny transition where you start thinking exclusively about the things that are wrong with the boat, and need to be set right.  This begins to open the door to self-doubt.  Who are you to be sailing the world with a boat that isn't absolutely perfect?

Everything will be fine once you get in the water again, and you retain a faint memory of how good it will feel to really shove off and point the bow to somewhere a hundred times farther than you can see.  But to get there you've got to put in the boat yard time.

Our bed, disassembled in order to drop the rudder out of the boat - for the second year in a row!
Of course, any fool could take care of a simple haul-out if that were all they were doing.  But I'm also coming up on the one month mark until the PhD thesis is due, I've got a brand-new biology project beginning this month, and we're now less than two months away from the day when we'd "like" to be ready for Rapa.

I feel strangely calm - is this a bad sign?