Saturday, August 27, 2016

How Life Can Suck - When You're Ten

We don't fish at most of the tropical islands that we visit. Either there is fish poisoning in the vicinity - ciguatera - or Alisa and I, being the concerned marine biologists we are, cannot stand the idea of adding one more insult to some over-exploited reef ecosystem or another.

So Elias' tropical fishing has largely been confined to the very passive undertaking that is trolling on passage.

But here at Ascension Island (we're at Ascension, by the way) things are different. Everyone tells us that there is absolutely no ciguatera here. And the water below Galactic, just off the town pier, is HEAVING with fish. Most of these are trigger fish that would not excite a gourmand, but there are also any number of jacks and groupers below the boat.

And those wonderful fish are desperately happy to snarf up any lure that is inexpertly dangled off the side by a 6- or 10-year-old sailor.

Elias has been sooo happy at the idea of providing meals for the family through his own efforts. On our first day here he kept me busy clubbing and butchering fish. I even got into the act and speared a nice something-or-other while standing on the jupe.

But on that first night, when I moved onto the third fish that had made it onto the table - the larger of two grouper that Elias had caught - something funny happened. My lips went numb. Ever so slightly, but definitely.

This is one of the first signs of ciquatera exposure.

So the fish went over the side.

I heroically forewent my second beer of the evening. (Alcohol is verboten in situations of ciguater exposure.) But I showed no other symptoms. And no one else had eaten of that fish yet.

I'm pretty sure that the there isn't ciguatera here. But Alisa and I, having gotten this far by relying on our own judgement, were not going to ignore the evidence of our own experience. So grouper are now off the list of permitted species for anyone catching fish from Galactic.

And of course, you can guess. Elias spent most of today trying very diplomatically, for a fish-crazed ten-year-old, to talk his parents into a reconsideration. And then when we came back to the boat this afternoon, he brought up a very fine grouper on a handline. I used the pliers to get the hook out of the fish, but it didn't go well. The fish was hooked in a gill, and went drifting off lethargically when I finally had it back in the water.

It was too much for Elias. He retreated to his cabin in tears. To have fishing *that good* and to not be able to keep the fish! When everyone knows there is no ciguatera at Ascension!

After he'd been shut away in his cabin for a while I called him out and had a try at a comforting paternal talk. I commiserated with him over how terribly unfair the situation was. And then I patiently explained that things would occasionally suck like that for the rest of his life.

I hope it helped.
This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

You Have To Zoom Out - A LOT

So said Miles, good friend to Galactic and to Pelagic as well, after he had a look at St. Helena on the map and reported on what is required to get any other land onto the screen at the same time.

Just now we are 850 nm from Liberia and 1350 from Brazil. There's a lot of water around us, whichever way you go.

The South Atlantic is lonely. As lonely as the South Pacific, and more depauperate in islands as well.

We have reached the realm of sensual tropical sailing, here at 9°S in the Austral winter. After weeks of overcast, we are making our way across a heavenly-blue sea under a cloud-flecked sky. Flying fish occasionally explode from the waves before us, and the ones that end up on deck during the night are recruited to our frying pan. The boys are getting along - the bickering and constant turf-marking that has driven me crazy on some of our past passages hasn't been in evidence. This morning before dawn I jibed while everyone else slept. A light drizzle had come up, and I took off my shirt to keep it dry and found myself comfortable, shirtless, in light rain in the night. A welcoming, caressing temperature that is effortless to exist in, and still after all these years capable of unmanning an exiled Alaskan at the sheer delight of it.

Ascension Island tomorrow.
This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Butchering Helena

That title comes from our friend Leiv, who was referring to his record-fast sail from the Falklands to the Aleutians this year. He plowed through the canales of Chile so quickly that he told us he had utterly "butchered" the experience and would have to return again some day.

So it has been with us and St. Helena, this completely delightful bit of volcanic-English rock in the middle of the South Atlantic.

We could easily have spent three weeks here, but only spent three days. Nine years into our sailing lives, we on Galactic have fallen into that beginner's fault of being on a schedule.

But! We will thrive on that energy of being at sea, and when we set sail for Ascension today, I trust it will be without regret, and with delight at the traveling microcosm that Galactic is for the family. Wherever that boat goes, we are at home!

Below: Elias' 10th birthday Sea Shepherd cake, his first-ever mahi mahi, landfall at St. Helena, a celebratory pie on the high street, and Jamestown from above.

Viva! Onwards!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

One Day

Well, it seems a pretty sure thing that I'll pass through life without doing much to clear up the big mysteries. Those questions of what it all means get under my skin as much as the next person's. But even with all the nightwatch stargazing time that I have scheduled for myself over the last nine years, I haven't made much progress on answers.

So I have pretty cheerfully fallen back on the comfort of the small moments. The everyday delights. Those easily encompassed treasures that with any luck at all any of us can wrest out of life. Take my recent birthday, for instance. It was spent on the sun-beaten, dead-flat winter high pressure sea surface of the southeast Atlantic Ocean. My boys, especially Elias, had been at it hammer and tongs all the prior week, making me presents. I had an enormous pile of loot presented to me along with cake.

One gift I opened was a pair of fishing lures that the boys had rescued from high tide line on a beach in South Africa. We promptly put one of the pair to work, and not long after had a hit. Elias would not be denied the joy of reeling in the mahi mahi that turned out to be on the other end of the line. And in spite of the fish's three or four leaps clear into the air, and my three or four unsuccessful attempts to gaff it, we did eventually succeed in getting it on deck and with no further delay into the oven for my birthday dinner. It was Elias' first-ever mahi mahi, and his delight was even more complete than my own.
This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

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Saturday, August 6, 2016

No News, Thanks

So, we're three days out from South Africa.

Our expectations for this passage were written in level of preparation. For every passage during our last two years outside of the trades we've left port loaded for bear. Storm trysail bent to its track and lashed to the mast. Jordan series drogue already made fast to the cleats and lashed on deck in its bag. Deadlights over the opening portlights. Double lashings on the dinghy forward.

For this trip to St. Helena, we bothered with exactly none of that. We left port expecting a passage muy tranquilo. And that's exactly what we're getting. The winds have been light light light. We'll catch up with proper trades in a while, but for now we're quite content to just whisper along with the windvane doing the only hard job on board.

During our last passage, from South Georgia to South Africa, we received fairly regular updates on world and US news from my mom, our indefatigable agent for the quotidian details of whatever remains of our presence in the US. I enjoyed getting those emailed snippets of news as we stayed up nights, dodging icebergs on the radar. After all, we live in interesting times.

But for this passage, I opted not to get any news of the world at all. The self-outing of the American right as a white identity movement with a clown fetish, while it does make for very interesting reading in port, is something that I decided I could do without paying any attention to while we're at sea. Being on passage is still one of our favorite parts of the sailing life. And what we love about being at sea is the chance it gives us to pay attention to the most important things. Family life, and the natural world. The experience of our own lives, as we're living them, and the consideration of other peoples' experiences, as Gutenberg meant us to to consider them: through books.

Who would invite news of the current US circus-tragedy into that?

Our news is more to the point.

To whit, we have two evenings running seen a *triple* green flash at sunset. One each day the waves were large enough, and timed just right, to swing the very upper limb of the sun just below our perceived horizon three times, giving a glimpse, and sometimes much more than a glimpse, of that perfect emerald blaze of physics. We've had plenty of double green flashes before, but never a triple.

And we've seen four species of albatross on the trip: Atlantic and Indian yellow-nosed, shy and black-browed. Plus a juvenile either wandering or royal yesterday while I napped. Also cape petrels, a favorite old friend of the South, and Wilson's storm petrels, and giant petrels, and various other pelagic denizens. The downside of all the albatross has been that the fishing lines have had to stay aboard. No Ancient Mariner stuff for us.

And...Elias happily turned ten yesterday. He is the kind of boat kid who is content to have his birthday at sea.

And that's all our news.


This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016


Leaving Cape Town before dawn
I have so so so much more to say about our time in South Africa and Namibia. But all that will have to wait for another venue. The course of events has overtaken my desire to consider the past. We are, in that way that is essential for this particular lifestyle of ours, moving on.

We have left behind the gilded palace of the Waterfront Marina in Cape Town and shifted our program northwards, to Saldanha Bay, one of the few protected anchorages in the whole of South Africa. Here I've given some attention to that blessed science work that keeps us going financially. A front is meant to pass through tonight. And then, tomorrow, the gods and the vicissitudes of the sea assenting, we are setting off for St. Helena and points north.

To be more specific, points far north. All the sailing that took us from French Polynesia to South Africa has been taking us farther and farther from Alaska, even as we've been metaphorically looking over our shoulders at the delights of the North, and resolving that we would soon point the bow in their direction.

Soon is a concept that is lived at the ages-old speed of sail on board Galactic, just as it is on any traveling boat. It's been twenty months since we left the Gambier and soon has arrived. Every mile that we will sail on this coming passage, and every mile on the passage after that, and the passage after that, will bring us closer to Kodiak, Alaska, the home that we left nine years ago. All the uncertainties that pertain to any attempt to cross one ocean and a major chunk of another on a family sailboat aside, we hope to arrive in Alaska in a year or so. We are sailing home.

And, we're not at all sure what we'll find in that strange place that we've been mentioning whenever people ask us about our home for the last nine years. Our old life there is as gone as anything. The house that Alisa and I came home to after we were married, and that we brought Elias home to on the day he was born, that's gone. Our old jobs, they're gone too. We still have good friends in Kodiak, though of course the scene there will have changed in the ten years of our absence, though not nearly so much as we have changed over the same time. We don't know what we'll find, and our plans for re-entry into Alaskan life are so shamefully vague as to not deserve the name. And of course just as we've been deciding that it is at long last time for us to sail back to Alaska, we've been watching the home country teetering on the edge of some dark place.

We're buoyed by the memory of how completely Alisa and I loved Alaska before. Alaska, as a place and as a group of people, is something that we haven't seen surpassed anywhere we have gone. We're eager to rediscover the place, and to share it with our sons. We'll sign up for that, for sure.

And, as for a concrete plan for what we'll do once we're there...Well, there's always Galactic, and the siren song of the sea. We have been lucky beyond measure to get these years afloat as a family, and maybe, just maybe, that luck will go on.