Sunday, August 30, 2015

Home Is...

...wherever the Mothership is.
Yacht Club Micalvi, Puerto Williams 
And that's where we are now.  Back on Galactic in Puerto Williams with our 200 (?) kilos of food and baggage after five weeks away and 90 hours of travel, door to door, to get back.

He'd never seen snow before...and spring breakup
was a revelation, too

We slept one night on the redeye to Santiago, one night in the hotel in Punta Arenas, and two nights on the ferry to Puerto Williams.

Night one
Being able to cook in the hotel was crucial.  Thanks for the tip, Anasazai Girl 
The ferry was great, though the trays didn't make the comparisons
with prison food any less obvious
Bedtime story on the ferry Yaghan
We retraced a part of our route on Galactic on board the ferry Yaghan.  The trip was great, though being on a boat is a little dull if you're not actually running the show.  And, since you don't want to hear about the good stuff, I'll just mention the down spots.  Like, 1: when we piled our two taxi-loads of baggage and groceries at the top of the loading ramp for the ferry in Punta Arenas, and then watched an extra-big wave sweep ten meters higher than the previous high point to soak our stuff, and 2: when the TVs that were on in every room on the ferry were showing non-kid movies (Avatar, some Leonardo DiCaprio thriller) until arrival time at Puerto Williams last night (that would be until 11:30 PM).  All the other passengers gave every indication of being completely screen-saturated in their lives, and paid no attention, but our little media innocents were completely shell shocked by it all.  In English, I could get the damn movies turned off.  In Spanish...I guess I'm less assertive.

The 200(?) kilos of stuff, on arrival in Puerto Williams.  No idea how we'll
get it all to the boat, and there are no taxis in town.  If you can't just grin
and wait to see what happens in a situation like that, you're a tourist and not a traveler
The Yaghan unloads in Puerto Williams
So, a quick shout-out to all of our family, to thank you for a wonderful visit.

And, a closing note on how great it is to be back on Galactic, particularly in this place.  In addition to being home again, we're back amongst our tribe.  We don't have to explain anything to anyone here about the hows and whys of the way we live.  They just get it, because they're doing it themselves.  And, as is the case with the best sort of yachtie, the other sailors here all seem to have big stupid grins plastered on their faces.

How could you not?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Home Country

 I'm writing this as we're about to fly back to Chile.
We started in Puerto Williams...
...then took the flight to Punta Arenas...
...then, magically, landed in summer in the suburbs.  The kids
didn't comment on the transition at all
We've just spent five weeks visiting both of our families in the US.

A need to renew a couple of  passports got Eric and Alisa and
me a day trip Manhattan to visit the Australian consulate 
Our perspective on this country is now firmly expatriate.  We've never lived as a family in the US.  Even though the focus of this trip was entirely on seeing our extended families, our visit also gave us a chance to catch up on how things are going with the 4% of the world population that lives in America.

In other words: visiting the home country is a travel experience for us.

But the US is big enough, and fractured enough by its various tribalisms (red state/blue state, the race hierarchy) that you don't need to be an expat to find terra incognita in the country: there are plenty of good travel experiences available for resident Americans in America.

To whit: one of the things that is impossible to miss is how segregated America continues to be.  My extended family is racially mixed, but when it comes to integrated situations with strangers - in the milieu that we inhabit, those most often occur when black service workers are interacting with white customers.  After a lifetime of being American, I have yet to have a black American friend.  I'm reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie just now and she has a great humorous take on that state of affairs.  Don't blame the white American liberal, says a character.  Of course they don't have black friends.  There just aren't enough middle-class blacks in the country to go around.

So one of my ideas for a travel experience on this visit to the US?  To take the boys to Hot Sauce Williams, the barbecue place around the corner from an apartment I rented in the late 1980s.

Without doing something self-conscious like that, my boys wouldn't know what it's like to be in a black neighborhood.

But, as things worked out, we never made it there...

Not that my boys would have necessarily taken much notice of being in a black neighborhood.  I don't spend time thinking about the good and bad things that they have missed by growing up on a boat.  But if I did,  the soul-corroding exposure to racism would be on the list of things they've been lucky to miss so far.  At one point on the visit, I forget where, Eric looked around and said, "There's a lot of dark-skinned people here!"

I think that most white American five year olds have already learned that race is a taboo subject that can't be referred to in a public setting in that way.  They've picked up the strange white American habit of insisting that they don't see race.  (Or am I wrong?  Are land-based five-year-old Americans still innocent of the weight of our cultural preoccupation with race?  If so, let me know.)

In general, spending time in a majority black setting is one of the finest travel experiences going for white Americans.  I got a lot of that in New Orleans, in the early 1990s, when a friend of mine was in the Little Rascals Brass Band and I got to tag along to the second line.  At that point the social aid and pleasure clubs and second lines were getting exactly no notice from outside their native neighborhoods, and my memory is that we sometimes went the whole afternoon, in a crowd of thousands of people, without seeing a white person we hadn't come with.

Which is a very powerful experience for a white American.

Especially if you can imagine an alternate universe in which all those black people are the ones doing the hiring, except that they don't like to hire people with non-traditional names like "Mike".

 After we were done at the consulate we stopped at the Museum of Modern Art to take in the iconic works.  And there we discovered a new trend in cultural consumerism.  People just walk up to the iconic treasures of western culture, snap a picture on their phones, and then walk over to the next iconic treasure to snap another picture.  Surely the point is to take a moment to enjoy the original, rather than making yet another reproduction of these paintings?

Eric and Marc Chagall
But all of this is a very long digression on one small part of our experience of coming back to America.

This is a sailing blog, of course.  But if you sail the world long enough your relationship with the place you left becomes part of the story.

Taking the subway downtown

Can you hear it?  

You must take the A Train
To go to Sugar Hill way up in Harlem

We also took in Elias' first-ever baseball game
And went walking in mountain meadows in the Rockies.  Lucky us...
We've enjoyed every day of our stay here in the heart of the northern summer.  But now that we're returning, I think we'll also be glad to resume our life aboard Galactic.

Thursday, August 20, 2015


Was it all a dream?  Or a giant conspiracy, featuring photos shot on a sound stage, like the moon landing?
Not just another marina experience
 Every trail comes to an end.  For our first season in Chile, the trail's end was Puerto Williams.
Looking past the armada dock, over the Beagle Channel to Argentina
Puerto Williams is the southernmost town in the world - 65 nautical miles north of Cape Horn, on the Beagle Channel.  The "yacht club" there is a very famous place in the very obscure world of everyday people who like to do adventurous things funded out of their own pockets on their own boats.  The club consists of the Micalvi, a 1920s freighter that has been scuttled in a little inlet to make a structure for visiting boats to raft to.

Since Patagonia is "the uttermost place in the world", the Micalvi is by extension the uttermost yacht club in the world.  We hear that it can be a bit hectic in the summer when the charter boats are loading and unloading passengers.  But when Galactic arrived we swelled the population to six crewed yachts.  The large majority of the boats were empty, their owners elsewhere for the austral winter.

Those five other crews, not surprisingly, provided us with the society of some ridiculously simpatico people.  Those who winter in the far south - that would be our crowd.  The people to whom we have to explain nothing.

Alisa, the master at figuring out any provisioning situation
But now we've left that crowd behind.  We set out north - first on the hour-long flight to Punta Arenas, then the next day the flight up to Santiago and then the red-eye to JFK.  And we landed in the delights of the boreal summer, and the company of our families.

We'll be going back to Williams soon.  When we get there it won't be our first season in Patagonia any more.  And we'll have a new season to make the most of.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Expert Advice

If you read this blog you'll know that Alisa and I are completely sold on the experience of raising our boys on a traveling sailboat.  Selling our house and quiting our jobs and sailing away from Kodiak when Elias was ten months old was a huge jump for us to make.  But we remain very glad that jump we did.

But - caveat emptor - it's a big jump, leaving behind the land life that you know and going down to the sea with your young ones in tow.

When Alisa and I were getting ready to leave, we of course had never met anyone who had sailed long distances with a kid in diapers.  And there was no comprehensive guide available for what we were planning to do. We could only find one quite limited book on the subject.  We each read it cover to cover more than once, willing the answers to all our questions to somehow appear from between the lines.

Into this breach come Behan Gifford, Sara Johnson and Michael Robertson, who have written a new book, Voyaging with Kids.

I "know" all three authors in an online sort of way, so I got an early look at the book.

And it's a fantastic resource.  Each of the three authors has sailed thousands of miles with kids of various ages, and they've tapped a wide group of other sailing parents to offer extra insights.

Voyaging with Kids is the book that Alisa and I wished had existed when we were getting ready to leave.  If you're thinking about going sailing with your kids, this book will answer your questions.  It will show you how you're not even asking the right questions.  It will show you how other sailing families have dealt with the rigors of the life afloat and made the family cruise a delight.

The book is available from L&L Pardey Books at a 30% discount prior to the official launch date. After October 1 it will be available at Amazon and other retailers.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Notes From a 'Nother World

It's my childhood!  I own it!
So, this trip that I've been writing about was a gem...except that it wasn't solid like a gem.  For all the effort that we put into this endeavor, it didn't profit us in the obvious way that a gem would.  We got nothing from it except the subtle way that it might have changed all of our characters, and now that it's over, it has immediately wafted away to the realm of memories, in a very non-gemlike fashion.

Brazo Noroeste (Northwest Arm), Beagle Channel

Everything that happened on that trip - all the concerns and sensations and considerations and moments of wonder and everyday living that filled each day - they're all a part of another world, very different from where we find ourselves now.  Very different.

Seno Ventisquero, Brazo Noroeste - centolla fishermen unloading their female catch...
After Caleta Brecknock and Bahía Desolada we found ourselves in the northwest arm of the Beagle Channel.  Because we had been doing all we could just to figure out what was happening day by day and week by week, we hadn't been anticipating Brazo Noroeste, and the wonder of the place took us completely by surprise.

I suppose that's another benefit of going in winter, when there aren't other yachts around to tell you about the delights of the place you're about to see.  It can be so nice to just discover the whole thing on your own.

We started off in Brazo Noroeste by attempting to commit some glacier tourism in Seno Ventisquero.  But we found sea ice (mixed with glacier ice and curious South American sea lions) miles from the glaciers at the head of the fjord.  We turned back.

Talking to the armada

As we retreated to an ice-free backup anchorage for the night, the sun was still shining.  But mares' tails told us that the days of bluebird weather that we had been reveling in were coming to an end.

A centolla feast was fair consolation for the missed glaciers.

The weather was shutting down the next day as we traveled east down the Beagle Channel.

The sea lions were still curious.

Our goal for the day was another attempt at glacier tourism - this time in Seno Pia.  As we approached, the blue skies that make the mountains come alive were just holding on.

But once again our hoped-for anchorage was iced over.

So we turned around again.  But spirits remained high.

We anchored in Caleta Julia, and dutifully reported our position to the armada the next morning by email.  It wasn't until a week later that we realized that this anchorage is forbidden to yachts.

¡Lo siento! Quiero hacer la cosa correcta, pero soy extranjero y no entiendo mucho.

This shot above was taken the day after we arrived, and much of the ice in the caleta has melted out with the arrival of the warm front.  When we pulled in the night before, the spot where Galactic is sitting (just to the right of center in the pic) was completely surrounded by ice.  When we saw how difficult it was to tie the boat in with that much ice around, we were glad for our decision to turn around from the much icier glacial fjords we'd visited over the past two days.

Dawn at Julia.
Snowball fight.
Beagle Channel

After we left Caleta Julia behind we sailed into some of our most demanding situations of the whole trip.  But we weren't quick enough, or interested enough, to get pictures of those moments.  So for the purposes of this post, we'll forget that they happened.

Some things are best told in full narrative form, anyway.

I'll close with this moment that I did photograph - southern right whale dolphins, bowriding Galactic in a driving snowstorm, in the Beagle Channel.

That moment is gem enough for me.