Monday, March 31, 2014

A Reprieve…And A Goal

eeek! I meant to be a public intellectual - when did life turn so practical?
It's been a very practical New Zealand summer.  So much so that Eric asked this morning if we'd have to give Galactic a new name.

-Why's that, honey?  I asked.

-Because you've put so much new things on the boat.

Last year was different.  Last year we sailed in New Zealand, and we saw a bit of the country (on this day in 2013 we were in Lyttleton Harbour, way down yonder on the South Island).  But this year we've tended our own garden - doing two seasons, temperate and tropical, back to back tends to make that necessary.

We've taken very few breaks to get out of the international yacht bubble that is Whangarei.  So it was a nice reprieve to peel ourselves away from the boatyard to see our good friends Alex and Diana.  They were from Kukka when we were Pelagic and we met them at an anchorage in Queensland.  Now they're aboard Enki in the Med (scroll through their blog to see how well it's possible to spend a couple seasons sailing through the classical world) and it was only a family visit back to En Zed that gave us the chance to see them.

Alex and Diana camped out with us at our fleeing-the-blasting-yard motel for a couple nights - and then we had the great treat of visiting them - and some family - at Diana's family beach house.

Elias after an outing with Diana's bro-in-law.  Look at those eyes and tell me that this isn't as good as life gets

The two crews
Alex has been getting along famously with our boys since the days when it was only Elias
People say that living on a traveling sailboat boils down to fixing your boat in exotic locales.  I maintain that it boils down to meeting fantastic people - and then saying good-bye to them too soon.


But the visit with Enki is already a memory.  The season is turning, and we're feeling like the birds.  (Not that I notice many migratory birds in Whangarei.  But I'm sure they're here.)  We're restless - the big shift is coming.

Alisa has been buying in bulk at the catering supply place in Whangarei.

And, spurred by the example of our new friends on Ganesh, she has revisited her old Alaskan habit of canning meat.  Back home, it was salmon and mountain goat that went into the jars.  But we reckon that canned New Zealand beef will be plenty welcome in the months to come.  We're hoping to go a long time without seeing a supermarket. 

Whatever we could have or might have gotten done during our season in New Zealand  - on the boat and in life more broadly - has been replaced by what actually transpired.  It's time to give up on anything that isn't materially necessary for getting us back to French Polynesia.

Luckily - or not - the six-month extension that I thought I had received on my PhD turned out to be a one year extension.  The funding is over, and I am 45 after all, so I should just finish the darn thing.  Likewise the US and Kindle editions of South From Alaska - they're so close to being done, and I'll be so happy to have them out there and just get on to writing the next book.  But I have a family to safely get across the southwest Pacific, so anything that doesn't contribute to that goal is going to have to wait...

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Enrollment Grows

At this point...
…the schooling is pretty basic.
Living on a traveling boat full-time makes you come up with your own approach to a hundred different important aspects of life.  How-to references can get you started (I quite liked Hal Roth's How to Sail Around the World), but they can only get you so far, simply because everyone does this thing in their own way.

Educating the kids on board illustrates the range of ways that people answer important questions about life afloat.  A number of American sailors lean towards the "no-school" approach, stressing the real-world learning opportunities of a life afloat, and de-emphasizing formal education.  At the other end of the spectrum, some families spend hours each day on home-schooling the kids.

(The variety of approaches exists among nations, too.  As I understand it, school-age German citizens are legally expected to be in school, in Germany.  So we've met a few German boats with pre-school kids aboard who were looking to get back home in time to start school.  France, on the other hand, supports traveling families by providing an intensive home-school curriculum.  Alisa just met a mom who is teaching her under-tens in the morning and afternoon each weekday, and some weekend hours besides, with completed schoolwork sent back to France monthly.)

On Galactic we fall pretty far on the formal education end of the spectrum.  Alisa has been homeschooling Elias since we left Tasmania, and it's an hours-a-day affair (I'm off the hook as a teacher due to the time I spend doing science work.)  Because he's an Australian citizen and did a year in Tassie schools, Elias remains in the Tasmanian system - for the same (nominal to us) school fee that we would pay back in Tas, we're supplied with a curriculum, all the materials, and access to a teacher in Hobart when Alisa needs help.

We decided early on that we would emphasize the importance of school to Elias - other things fit in around the daily schoolwork, not vice versa.

And over the past few weeks Eric has been lobbying to be allowed to do schoolwork too.  He's not meant to begin his preschool until he's four, but that birthday is only a month away, so Alisa has given in and let him start in a small way.

The day is coming, soon, when the work involved in Alisa's biggest job is going to double.

And Setting it Straighter

All joking aside (and who can resist being dismissive when someone says something nice about you in public?), that was really a very nice write-up from Fatty in CW.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Setting the Record Straight

Well, I wasn't going to bring it up - but Michael of Del Viento mentioned it in a comment the other day.

There was this article in one of the sailing rags this month.  Completely typical copy for this sort of publication - dreamy-eyed, soft-focus stuff about the "cruising life".

The factual misrepresentations were legion - just to begin with, our family is described as "personable".  Believe me, nothing could be further from the truth.

We've submitted a rebuttal to the editors...


-Hmm.  Was the stuff you wrote for that magazine dreamy-eyed and soft-focus?
-Yeah, well.  It's kind of a joke.  You know.
-We've been married twelve years and I still can't tell when you're joking.
-That's what I wonder about.  Online and all, you know, people have such stringent mental filters for evaluating what they read.
-You're joking.
-Right.  (sigh)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Great Things Ahead

This was the scene yesterday morning - 38 days into our two-week haulout, we launched.

The good part is that we did the right thing by the boat - the bottom has been professionally sandblasted and painted, and should be in good nick for years and years to come.  The bad news was the 38-day part, and the associated costs.

If you're nurturing the salty dream, and have plans of sailing the world's oceans in your own boat, beware of the maintenance surprises that will come along.  Plan, if you can, for the unplannable.

Pulling off the last of the blastyard wraps after we're afloat
But beware, too, just how firmly the sailing life might grip you, unpleasant surprises be damned.

A friend of short acquaintance came by in his dinghy to help us manage the lines as we slid into our barely-big-enough pile mooring on the Hatea River.  Another friend, someone whom we've known for five years or so, but, in the way of sailing people, have only shared a couple anchorages with, happened by in his dinghy.  Soon we were all having a coffee and a chat in the cockpit of Galactic.  These two sailors who were aboard are both of the "all-in" variety - been doing it full-time for decades, still have big goofy grins on their faces showing how much they're loving it, and have no plans to stop.

It was fun to watch the big globe-circling worlds of these two sailors overlap in a quick chat.  And, sitting there in our own expression of the maritime dream, floating once again, I realized how much I enjoy the company of other sailors, how much I enjoy being part of this international group of people who honor life by being forever on the move.

I guess I'm still hooked.

The boys, meanwhile, loved the boatyard.  (Elias said that he wants to own a boatyard when he grows up, which sort of has me worried.)

"Mommy, I measured the roof!  It's two minutes long!"

We got back in the water just in time for the arrival of cyclone Lusi (left).  It felt a bit odd to be hurrying to get into the water in time for the arrival of a blow, but the system appears to be giving us nothing more than a day or two of agreeably rainy/blustery weather to snuggle down on board and think about the future, near-term and far.

Near-term, we have a month or so of prep time left to us, then we plan to jet eastwards, bound for French Poly and Patagonia.  I can't shake the conviction that great things await - it's the incorrigible dreamer in me.

Longer term, I can't shake this idea of the family doing some serious sailboat-based biology in the Arctic a few years from now.

It's the incorrigible dreamer in me…

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


"This is the part that Cruising World doesn't ever mention," says Alisa.

The barky - behind a fence and under wraps
And the view up close - feeling blue on the bottom
Sailors talk about being "free", and I suppose our lives are very free, more than most.  But more so than freedom, I think it's self-determination that characterizes our life afloat.  We choose our destinations.  We shape our own course, literally and figuratively, and go where wind and whim will carry us.

Because everything is usually more or less up to us, we sailors are masters at getting stuff done.  When it's crunch time for boat maintenance, we make every hour tell a tale.

But when you pay someone else to work on your boat, you give up that self-determination.  Suddenly your progress depends on someone else's ability to finish their work.

I think this is one of the greatest drawbacks to not doing all your own work on your boat.

Temporary quarters
So when we made the decision to have the hull professionally spot-blasted, we knew we were buying a ticket for an uncertain ride.

From our perspective - well, it feels a bit like the boat is a hostage.  From our go-go pace of getting stuff done every day, we've gone to hauling out and then waiting two weeks to get into the blasting yard.  Now we've been in the blasting yard for five days - and the blasting isn't finished.  Note that I am NOT complaining about the pace of work per se.  The business can't be expected to have Galactic as their central priority, the way we do.  From their perspective, we're one of many jobs that are getting done in this busiest time of the year.

So we wait - and every day the yard bills mount, and, at least until the blasting is finished and we can take the wraps off Galactic, the bills for temporary housing mount.  We keep a good contingency fund for just this kind of expensive surprise, so in the big picture the expense isn't too bad.  But sailors maximize their use of money even more than they maximize their use of time - we happily squander an afternoon on doing nothing at all (outside of boat maintenance season!) but we never blow a hundred bucks for the hell of it.

But now we wait, with money and time both pouring away…

Luckily, we know two other boats in the yard who are either doing much bigger jobs, or have had found much bigger surprises, than we have - and the sailors involved are smiling through it all.

They give us a good model to emulate...

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Do The Lot - Or Not?

This is gonna be messy.  And expensive
There's a boat in there somewhere
Big doings yesterday.  One, our house-sit came to an end, and two, areas of failing paint beneath the waterline of Galactic would finally be sandblasted.

Camping out at the boatyard office
The blasting/painting yard is conveniently right next to the boat yard where we hauled out - it's only a $140 travel-lift ride away for Galactic.  Our plan was to have the blasting and priming done, start living on board that night, move Galactic back to the old spot in the boat yard the next day after the primer had dried, then continue to live aboard while we finished painting the bottom.

But then the blasting began, and plans changed.

Big flakes of paint came shooting off under the blasting nozzle, exposing the bare steel beneath.  There was much shaking of heads from the blasting crew, and the opinion that there was not enough good epoxy paint left on the hull to warrant a spot blast became universal.

I made the butterflies-in-the-stomach decision to have the entire hull beneath the waterline blasted and repainted.

Now, we were not planning on this expense this season.  The thought kept occurring to me that we could have Elias read about this job on the blog in eleven years, when we would be breaking the news to him that he couldn't attend an American university.

A full blast also meant that Galactic would be in the painting yard, tarped and uninhabitable, for days.

Which meant that we suddenly had nowhere for the family to stay.

We found a place, of course - after some quick work online and on phone, Alisa found a two-bedroom unit, with kitchen, in a motel reasonably close to the necessities of life in downtown Whangarei.  At $150 NZ a night, it's a further blow to the budget, but not having a backup plan organized in case we couldn't move on the boat meant spending the money.  And the woman we had been house-sitting for very graciously offered to drive Alisa and the kids and all our gear over to the motel, so the problem of transport was solved as well.

But, it was still a bit of a low point for Alisa and me - camped out in the dusty boatyard, with dinnertime a few hours away, and bedtime soon to follow, and having no idea where the family would be staying - well, that's not the sort of situation that we seek out.

The kids, though, made it as smooth as could be.  "Are we going to another house-sit?" Elias asked as he was getting into the car to leave the boatyard.  When told that we would be staying in a motel, he answered, "Hooray!  A motel!  I've always wanted to stay in one!"  The motel rooms turn out to be a very clean version of the painted-cinderblock variety.  Elias calls them "the best rooms in the whole world!"

Say what you will about that kid, negativity is not his strong suit…

This morning the full blast commenced - and then halted.  It turned out that the view of paint quality had been too pessimistic the day before, and there were actually acres of firmly-adhered epoxy that were hard work to remove with the blaster.

So we're back to a glorified spot-blast.  All the antifouling paint will be blasted off, leaving the epoxy beneath in place.  Any failing epoxy will be blasted away to bare steel, and the coating built up from there.

We'll still have to spend a few nights in the motel.  But we should be saving thousands of dollars on the cost of the job.  So though Elias may not get to go to an American University, I expect we'll be able to afford to fill the tanks with diesel before we set off from New Zealand...