Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Floggin'

We gave up two days of beautiful northerly winds so that Alisa could get an ultrasound in Proserpine. Otherwise, the winds have been from the south. And we're heading south, with a deadline in hand: the early-November visit of my parents at Iluka, New South Wales.

We've been sailing into the wind to make sure we're there to meet them.

And we've taken a bit of a floggin'.

Day after day we get up at 0400 and sail all through the sunlit hours at a thirty degree angle, tacking back and forth into the wind, dodging spray in the cockpit and sopping up water on the cabin floor, and at the end of each day we find we have made 30 miles.

Sailing to windward is uncomfortable enough for the non-pregnant, but Alisa is approaching that part of her pregnancy where everything is uncomfortable. And Elias is, well, three, and doesn't necessarily understand why he has to sit next to us in the sloping cockpit for hour after hour, reading the same books and singing the same songs, and why he never gets to go ashore.

But, we've also been getting into the adventure of it all. We will be in Iluka on the appointed day to meet my parents! Suddenly, we're not aimless vagabonds - we have a mission! So we have pounded into the weather day after day, the only concession to pregnancy and early childhood being the compromise of putting the hook out each night instead of slamming into wind and waves around the clock. And when a brief spell of easterlies arrived, we jumped on it, sailing and motoring for 40-odd hours straight to get south while we could.

We figure that it's better to rush things now instead of in January, when we'll be trying to make it to Tasmania while Alisa tries to steer her six-months pregnant body around the boat.

Alisa has been great through it all. Her do-what-it-takes attitude about being on the water has come through strong. There really are very few sailing partners out there who would sail to windward day after day, while pregnant and caring for a three year old, with no complaints at all.

Cruising dudes of the world, continue to eat your hearts out.

And Elias has been the nearly perfect trouper as we arrive in anchorage after anchorage too late in the day to go to the beach. But he has started to express the desire to go stay in a marina for a few days.

We're getting a little worried.


Right now, we're on the home stretch - sitting inside Wide Bay Bar, only 211 strait-line miles from Iluka. The forecast is for southerlies for the next week or so. So there's clearly no sense in waiting for favorable weather to come along - we're just going to keep slogging into it.

Life at an angle.

The main has been reefed day after day.

Alisa and Elias sacking out for a nap while the leecloth holds them in place.

And we caught another tuna!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Little Lamb

We needed fuel. We needed water. We needed groceries. Pelagic needed a washdown to remove the mixture of sea salt and airborne dust from the Red Center that had descended on Townsville during our stay.

More to the point, we needed guaranteed mobile phone coverage for a consult with the obstetrician.

Mackay was the next town on our way south. No anchorage there, so a night at the marina was called for.

I was hosing off the decks in our marina slip when a passerby chatted me up.

-You heading south or north? he asked.

-South, I said. We're going to Tasmania.

-You'll be here a while. It's gonna blow from the south for a week.

-Well, we'll just sneak out and hole up somewhere until it comes around north.

His little smirk said that he'd been walking up and down this marina dock long enough to hear a lot of itinerant sailors talking bravely about "holing up somewhere" at the outset of their weeks spent at the marina, waiting for a northerly wind.

-Good luck, he said.

Well, forget that, I thought as he walked away. He doesn't know team Pelagic. We're not gonna hang around some marina waiting for perfect conditions. First thing tomorrow, we're outta here.

Our plan was to leave in the morning and run the 24 miles to Goldsmith Island, where we could get a secure anchorage to wait out the southerly blow. We celebrated our night in town with a very Australian dinner of lamb and potatoes.

Alisa woke the next morning to find a big hunk of lamb stranded under her gums, between two molars. We'd been through this situation before - if the lamb morsel didn't come out, swelling and pain would follow.

So I played dentist, fishing around with dental floss and random sharp objects from the tool kit. Elias found the situation hilarious:

I could see the lamb, but I couldn't get it out.

-Do you mind if I try the Dremel tool? I asked.

-I'm going to a dentist, said Alisa.

It was hard to find a dentist open on a Saturday, but Alisa did. He spent an hour digging around until he fished the entire hunk out of her gums. Later that night, a new aquaintance at the marina explained why it took so long.

-On a Saturday? said Graham. That wasn't the dentist. That was the janitor.

By the time Alisa returned it was early afternoon. The southeasterly wind was shrieking in the rigging of all the marina-bound yachts. A "why are we going to set off in this wind?" attitude prevailed. Alisa went to the office and paid for another two nights.

The outlook is for 20-30 knot southeasterlies as far out as the forecast extends. So here we sit, on Pelagic, in the marina, waiting on the wind.

Friday, October 16, 2009


This is a shot of Townsville, where we just spent a month. Townsville is the place where I was born, and so I completed quite a grand circle when I came sailing back here, forty one years later, with my wife and son. I don't have any family in Townsville, my parents just happened to be here in 1968 because my dad was teaching at the new Uni. So it was an abstract sort of homecoming - no family to visit, nothing really to tie me to the place. We did catch up with some sailing friends, though, and we met some great people during our stay.

The idea was for me to spend a month of concentrated time writing in Townsville before we started sailing south for the summer. I wrote every day for the first two weeks, though typically only during the morning, with the afternoons given over to boat work. By the final two weeks boat jobs had taken over completely, and the writing was set aside. Sigh.

It was instructive talking to our friends Ashley and Brenda, who have sailed the world on the same boat since 1973 - when Alisa was one year old! They spent the bulk of the winter in Townsville, and plan to sail south for the winter a few weeks behind us. As they reached the one-month point on their pre-departure countdown, Ashley could occasionally be heard fretting about the amount of work they still had to finish before they left. In other words, even if you spend a lifetime sailing, you'll always be pushing up against the amount of work that it takes to keep an ocean-going boat seaworthy.

It's nothing but work that gets us from one place to another. Lots and lots of work!

Here's me checking the specific gravity of the house batteries while I'm equalizing them with a controlled overcharge. Love that bubbling suplhuric acid - my expression says it all!

When we tired of the "rat race" of Townsville, we retired to nearby Magnetic Island, where we chucked out the anchor in some very beautiful bays. Maggie has the great Australian public spaces that we now take for granted. Here Elias is helping me grill snags 'n aubergines on the beach in Horseshoe Bay for A's and my 8th (!) anniversary.

We've now been sailing south from Townsville for a week or so, and we very much like being on the move again. But we're not at all on a carefree wander along the Australian coast. We're dealing with lots of logisitics and plans and non-boat work and child rearing as we try to make this crazy lifestyle work, and there are deadlines of being in this town for a scheduled medical appointment and that town for a much-anticipated family visit and this far south so that we're poised for a weather window to get out to Lord Howe Island for Christmas and then down to Tasmania by January so that we're poised for our big April deadline. Coastal sailing is slow, and a bit of a grind, as we wake at 0500 and sail all day against light headwinds to make an anchorage at dusk and then wake early the next day to repeat it all.
But our days are also full of incredibly sweet family moments, and as I watch Elias growing up in this environment I realize that even though Alisa and I are often tired and sometimes grumpy with the demands that we've put on ourselves, we are also creating a world out of whole cloth for the little fellow, filling his head with a thousand memories that will be the foundation of who he is as a man. We're creating a dream-world that we'll never completely enjoy ourselves because of the heckling quotidian details that fill our time, but it's a dream world that is completely real for Elias, one that he will look back at in wonder long after we're gone, and realize he can never recapture.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


-Romeo, I said.

-Come on, be serious, said Alisa.

-I am serious. What better gift to give your son than naming him Romeo?

-We're not going to use it. Here's a good one - I saw it on a boat today. Ramblin' Rose.

-That's a great name!

-I know, it's a great name.

-Who would have ever thought I'd own a boat with a name from a Grateful Dead song?

-But we can't use it. It's already taken, end of story.

-Boat names are hard.

-Baby names are hard.

-Boat names are harder.

We paused and thought.

-I've got it! I said.

-What? asked Alisa.

-Elias, Jr.

-Ha ha ha. Actually, it did work the first time.

-But what a way to give Elias a complex.



-Pelagic is such a good name, said Alisa.

-Yeah, it's a name you don't mind answering to for sure.

-But we could never do Pelagic II.

-I agree. Never. How about Tall Cotton?


-Steady Roll?


-I know. Get this. Stranger.

-I like it! It works on two levels.

-Yeah, right. We're always strangers in a new place. Plus the other meaning.

-That could work.

-Or Everywhere.

-That's good too. I thought you said boat names were harder than baby names.

-OK, baby names. How about Thelonious?



-Not since your sister's mother-in-law turns out to have a dog named Django.

-How come you're not suggesting any baby names?

-Because mine are serious, so I want to save them and see how they feel first.

-Pelagic is such a great boat.

-I know. I hate to think of selling her.

-Dave and Jaja sailed high latitudes with three kids on a 33 footer. It's not like it's impossible.

-But I don't think we could do four people on Pelagic.

-I know. I need a door I can close behind me as it is. I just can't take sharing a single room with a three year old twenty four seven.

-Much less a three year old and a six year old, said Alisa.

-Much less, I agreed.

-So I guess we'll try to swap boats while we're in Tasmania?

-It makes sense, I said, we have to spend some time ashore there anyway. But I want to get back on the boat with the new baby as soon as we can.

-Back on the new boat with the new baby, said Alisa.

-As soon as we can, I said.

-Right, as soon as we can, agreed Alisa.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Wahoo! Smooches! Over-confidence!

We always find it a good omen to catch a nice fish when we're heading out on a long trip. So on the day we left Townsville, starting the long trek to Tasmania, we were very pleased to pull in our first-ever wahoo.

One of these days we have to get a picture of Elias' reaction when we land a big pelagic fish - you've never seen such pure excitement.

As I started filleting, Alisa said, "I wish I'd bought a new pressure cooker in Townsville." Pressure cookers allow us to can fish, but ours gave up the ghost somewhere on the Pacific crossing last year.

Meanwhile, I was thinking of all the people out there who would love to go fishing for wahoo, while I was the one doing it, even though fishing has always bored me.

We made some other sailors very happy at our anchorage that night when we came over with fish meat to share.

In Townsville we got a fancy new inflatable to replace our nesting hard dinghy that is not aging gracefully. I love it! The new boat is easy to get into the water, so we can have Elias ashore on some delightful beach a half hour after we anchor Pelagic. The nesting dinghy was such a pain to put together and launch that we usually didn't go ashore if we only had an hour or two in hand.

We've named the new dinghy Smooches.

This picture of Smooches on her inaugural water-hauling run was taken in the "Duck Pond", the anchorage in Townsville. The boat in the background is Sacha B, who we dragged down on a day or two after this picture was taken. It was a real lesson. We had never before dragged anchor in the six years we've owned Pelagic, and we had become so used to our 20 kg Spade anchor and heavy chain holding us tight that we (I) got to thinking that we would likely never drag. And then a northwest wind came up and blew steep waves into the Duck Pond, and we only had 50 feet of scope out, so that the motion of our bow jerked the anchor loose from the thin mud bottom. Luckily we were on board and could just motor away and reset the anchor. If Pelagic had been unattended she would have hit Sacha B.
I had been warned (by the owners of Sacha B, as it turns out) about the poor holding in the Duck Pond. We should have had much more chain out. But we were used to getting away without a lot of scope, and we were more concerned with how shallow the anchorage was, and didn't want to swing onto a shallow spot at low tide, and...yadda yadda yadda. We really just didn't anchor properly.

So, we got a very cheap lesson in overconfidence. We've sailed enough miles to feel very comfortable on the water, but the complacency of routine has to be added to the litany of potential traps that are out there.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Water playground, Dirt playground

We've been in Townsville for nearly three weeks but we haven't stayed in one anchorage very long. We routinely go back and forth between the 'duck pond' where we are anchored just off town and Magnetic Island, which is a lovely spot and only a daysail from Townsville. The days go by quickly with errands and bus rides to various shops, but when we are in Townsville I try each day to get Elias to the water playground. It is centrally located, always packed with screaming kids, and free! The Australians really know how to create delightful public spaces. And now, whenever we ask Elias if he wants to go to the playground he says 'YES' and then specifies if he wants to visit the water playground or dirt playground. Water playground usually wins.