Saturday, February 28, 2009


Well, I'm sure that any sailing friends who read the last post have been passing sleepless nights, wondering how things are going in the yard. "Poor Mike," they've been thinking. "Doing all that regular work and then finding a split in the rudder."

Fret not! We're happily back in the water. The best part of the whole experience was Graham the yard guy's reaction when I told him I was ready to launch. I had told Graham that it would take me an extra day in the yard for me to fix the rudder. He's worked in the yard for twelve years and is familiar with the wild underestimates of do-it-yourselfers for how long different projects take. So it was great to get the job done in a day (a long day - 0730 to 2200!) and then have Graham say "you are?" when I told him I was ready to go the next day.

Was also great to see the difference from the first time the rudder split in the sun. That was in Port Townsend after we'd just bought the boat, when I was struggling to get everything ready to launch for the delivery home to Kodiak. Seeing that split in the rudder felt like the end of the world, it looked like a problem that could spell doom for the whole sailing enterprise. That time I had the yard fix it. This time I had all the supplies for the job on the boat, and knew what to do, so I just did it myself.

Here's me, feeling triumphant just before the re-launch:

Check out the paint job. Eight liters of bottom paint was always more than enough in the States, but Australian bottom paint doesn't go as far. So I scrounged some blue paint for the keel and black paint for the rudder repair:

We're in our holiday rental for another week so I can work on the interior of the boat. Alisa and Elias have met lots of moms with little kids who have been great about loaning toys to Little Salty. ("Poor little boat child," they say among themselves.) Here he is at brekky this morning with one of the loaners:

Monday, February 23, 2009

Yamba Surprise

On Friday we hauled Pelagic out at the Yamba yard, across the river from Iluka. Our last haulout was in Alameda, California, which seems impossibly far away from New South Wales. Every now and then it seems like that huge trip must have happened to someone else.

Whenever we haul out I get nervous about what sort of surprises we might find beneath the waterline. This year we found two.

The first surprise was an extra set of bite marks from the shark that attacked our wind vane 170 miles off the Australian coast. Turns out the miscreant elasmobranch also had a go at Pelagic's rudder. The white spots are where it bit in, and the trails below are the scratches as the rudder pulled through its mouth:

The second surprise was very nearly, but not quite, how well things went in the haulout.
When we put Pelagic on the hard, we take our nice domestic boat, the scene of all our most tender family moments, our trusted and comfortable home that has carried us so far, and we turn it into a work site. Everything gets filthy, everything gets disorganized. I sand bottom paint in the blazing sun and leave black greasy fingerprints all over the interior when I come in for lunch. In order to access our tools and supplies I have to move or cover up everything else on the boat, and our home gets so far from comfortable, so topsy-turvy, that I invariably despair of ever putting it back together again.
But not this time. Things are a mess, but all the jobs have gone reasonably well, and as late as today it looked, to my surprise, like we might get the boat back in the water and be done after four days on the hard, which would be a record for us.
Then our rudder split open in the sun.
It's true: the rudders of fiberglass boats are hollow, built of a fiberglass shell over foam over a steel skeleton. And if they're left in the hot sun the water that invariably gets trapped in the foam wants to turn into water vapor, which makes for an expansion force that is satisfied only when the rudder splits open to let the vapor out.
I know that you should shade a rudder from the hot sun, but I forgot to do it.
So the second surprise of the haulout was the foot-long crack in the trailing edge of our rudder that I found this afternoon. And I'll spend tomorrow grinding and glassing and filling and fairing and painting that cracked rudder.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

News From Home

Elyse Johnston, Stephanie Love and Jay Johnston were the last Kodiakers we saw as we were departing on our grand trip across the Pacific. Their motor boat, the Toni, accompanied Pelagic on the five mile passage to Long Island, our very first anchorage of the entire trip. We spent the night anchored next to each other, then had breakfast together the next day. When they headed back to town they took our garbage for us and gave us a half bottle of good gin and a melon. This established a benchmark of success for trading with the locals that we were never able to beat.

And so it was a fitting bit of symmetry that Elyse, Stephanie and Jay were also the first Kodiakers to visit us in the Antipodes. (If you are temporarily living in either Australia or New Zealand and doing a bit of writing, you cheat yourself if you don't use the word "Antipodes" as often as possible.)

Their visit to Iluka was much anticipated on board Pelagic. When the big day arrived, though, there was one problem. They brought awful Kodiak weather with them. Really. Check out this picture of Jay, Alisa and Little Salty on the beach at Woody Head:

A few minutes after that picture was taken, our beach barbecue ended with Jay and me snatching a platefull of lukewarm snags ("sausages" in the non-Antipodean English-speaking world) and making a dash for the cars through torrential rain. We ate the snags back at their holiday rental, where we had the leisure to reflect that a snag really is better when you eat it outside. It turned out that we spent most of the visit in their holiday rental. A couple times we thought of getting them out to Pelagic, and got as far as planning a dinner aboard with them once. But then we would ride out to the boat in our little dinghy and get soaked in salt water and decide that we didn't want to put them through that discomfort. We don't mind getting wet in our very wet little dinghy, nor do we mind making the leap from tossing dinghy to the decks of Pelagic, but for some reason we hesitate to include friends in that part of our daily lives, even if they're hardy Alaskans like these three. The weather got so bad that Alisa dug out Elias' raingear bibs, which I forgot he even owned:

From the look on his face it appears that Little Salty is not looking forward to the time when he will be asked to resume his Idyllic Alaskan Childhood.

Today the weather finally moderated and we had Jay, Stephanie and Elyse out to the boat for cards and lunch before they headed north for their flight out of Brisbane:

Our visitors brought letters from other Kodiak friends, and we engaged them in hours of conversation about Kodiak. They insist that things are pretty much the same there, but we suspect that we'll be surprised at the accumulation of little bits of change that people living there have absorbed and forgotten.

When we left the Rock, we wondered if we would ever come back to stay. I am now inclined to think we will, although I recognize all the uncertainty filling the years between now and then. The idea that I would like to return (and I think Alisa would, too) makes it so important to us to keep our Kodiak friendships as living things. This visit sure helped. And it got us ready for our visit to the Rock in June. Stephanie is already planning a party.

When we finished our cards and our lunch I shuttled our visitors to the beach in the dinghy. Alisa got a little choked up, as you might expect she would. But aside from the obvious distress over saying goodbye to friends, I think she was also realizing how much friendship we have given up to do this trip, how much she misses out on by not living within the embrace of a stable circle of mujeres simpáticas. She was crying when she remembered how important that is, and how much she misses it.

And (I think), she was recognizing that what we have going right now makes doing without that allright.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Storyteller

Well, I guess this is what you would call a "grandma clip" - a bit of video of Little Salty being cute in a way that will be fascinating to his grandparents, then progressively less interesting as the viewer's degree of relatedness to the little bloke declines.

With that warning out of the way, I'll say that Elias is a consummate storyteller. He gets into his material. Here he is at lunch today, talking about whale meat.

What I Forgot

Here in Iluka we've settled into our version of the traditional "he commutes, she stays at home with the kid" lifestyle.

I commute from Pelagic to my rented office in downtown Iluka via inflatable kayak, then spend the morning laboring in the Creative Nonfiction saltmines and the afternoon working on a biology contract. Alisa and Elias meet me for a walk out to the beach after I'm through with work and Alisa tells me about their day. She usually ends by saying something like, "I cannot believe how much I'm enjoying this. This must absolutely be the best routine for a stay-at-home mom in the whole world."

So, something happened this morning that brought home how relaxed this routine is.

I finished my morning commute and tied the kayak to a tree. I realized that I had left my flip-flops at the boat. No drama! I'm just doing the day barefoot.

So, to all our North American friends and family: when is the last time that you forgot to put shoes on when you went to work?


Regular life is going on here, and in much of Oz. Australia played New Zealand at the SCG last night and ended their streak of 5 consecutive losses in one-day international cricket.

In Victoria, 108 bodies have been recovered from the bush fires that still burn. In bush fires people are burned to death by radiant heat, rather than being killed by smoke as in house fires.

And far north Queensland is suffering under devastating floods.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Australia Day

Ozzie! Ozzie! Ozzie!

Oi! Oi! Oi!
That's the cheer that you hear whenever the Australian team is competing. Whatever else you can say for it, it's definitely an improvement over the traditional cheer of University School, the private boys' high school I attended, team mascot (and I am absolutely not making this up): The Fighting Preppers. Our school cheer ran, "That's allright, that's ok, you're going to work for us some day." To understand its full charm, imagine that little gem of Prepper spirit being chanted by a bunch of spotty 16 year olds who already drive sporty little cars and who cannot wait to turn 18 so that they can join the Young Republicans.
Anyway, cheers come up because Australia Day, which was one week ago today, caps a sports-mad weekend down here in Oz. Australia Day is the big summer holiday, sort of like our Independence Day, except that the Australians haven't actually taken care of that pesky detail of declaring their independence from the British crown. "Independence Day", if you need a translation, is what non-U.S. English speakers mistakenly call the Fourth of July.

The Australia Open is going over Australia Day weekend. "The tennis" is passionately followed by Australians of all walks of life, particularly those Australians of Serb and Croat descent, who traditionally hold brawls in Melbourne to celebrate the result of any match between a Serbian and Croatian tennis player.

Cricket is also a big part of Australia Day, though this Australia Day was just another chance for the South African team to beat the living shit out of the Australian team one more time...if you can use the phrase "beat the living shit" to describe the outcome of something as non-confrontational as a cricket match.
Anyway, we spent the Australia Day weekend touring around and visiting family. We got as far north as Bundaberg, where Alisa saw leatherback turtles hatching out of the sand and scampering down to the beach at Mon Repos turtle sanctuary. Elias narrowly missed the same moving sight, haven fallen asleep in the baby backpack on Alisa's back 15 minutes earlier. I was back in the motel room, working on a proposal.

So, here are some pics of some of the good fun that visiting the family entails. We'll concentrate once again, and only because they provide such good visuals, on the harness racing branch of the family.

Danielle introducing Elias to Vanilla.

"Fancy Little Salty!" says Uncle Darryll. "Surrounded by five sheilas!"

The junior trots are incredibly smile-provoking to casual spectators. Check out Jade driving - how could you not smile?

The kids, though, take it deadly serious and their game faces show that. No smiles.

Here's Jade returning to a bushel of cheering cousins after a race. There's a smile in there, but it's not getting out.

When Danielle finishes in the money and drives up in front of the grandstand for her prize, a smile finally breaks free...

...but it goes back into the smile closet when she recieves congratulations from her uncle and grandad.

The adults are a little more relaxed about it. Here's Lola Weidemann before a race, clearly smiling.

I'm told that Lola is a good driver - all I know is that her face is very photogenic.

The races end with fierce intensity. Nobody smiles.

Afterwards we went to Darryll and Lynn's for a barbecue.

Alisa and my cousin Debbie.

Elias got to ride in the ute while Uncle Darryll worked the horses.

The only time Darryll will tolerate a camera is when he is around the horses.

The horses, on the other hand, can be downright terrified of a camera.

The kids finished the day watching...harness racing on TV.