Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Should be Easier

"Should be easier," our friend Smoke emailed me the other day.  "Need boat, find boat, buy boat."

He hit it perfectly.

I remind myself that we are searching for a yacht, after all, and that there are much harder fates out there.  But, really, talk to people who have particular ideas about what they want and a limited budget, and again and again you will hear stories of long, hard boat searches.

We're still very excited about Taiko, the steel boat in Sausalito.  But a talk with a surveyor has identified a couple of issues that might be real problems.

First, the engine really does seem to be too small for such a big boat.  I had resigned myself to the idea of getting along with 50 HP, but the surveyor pointed out that this particular engine will only deliver 35 HP or so at cruising RPM, which really might not do the trick at all.

And then there's the issue of insulation.  Both the surveyor and the aforementioned Smoke, who knows a few things about steel boats, get very serious when they talk about the suitability of a metal boat with uninsulated frames for the sort of high-latitude work that we have in mind.

Stay tuned!

Kodiakers in Tas

We just had a great visit with our Kodiak friends Pete and Margaret and their mob - Clayton, Laurel and Jack.  They all came down to Tas and we met up in Cradle Mt. National Park.  Here's the crew setting out on a hike, experiencing very stereotypical early summer Tassie weather.

Jack in the buttongrass.

We stayed in a great cabin in the park.  Elias was very excited to sleep in the top bunk.

I busted out one afternoon for a walk by myself in the hills, where I got the views above.  Cradle Mt. is a very pretty place, and we're keen to go back.  Maybe it was the presence of our Kodiak friends, but as I was walking around in the hills I did what I never do when travelling and compared the place to home.  "Jeez," I thought.  "You could set these hills down in Kodiak and no one would notice them."  But that was just my relict Alaskan bias talking and of course comparisons of this sort are odious....

After a day in Hobart we all trekked out to the Bicheno for Christmas.  Actually, what we were aiming to produce for our Alaskan friends was an Australian "chrissie" instead of a northern hemisphere Christmas.  The northern Christmas is a midwinter festival, but the Australian version is very much a "summertime and the livin' is easy" sort of holiday.  Thus our choice of Bicheno, where there is a very nice beach where Elias and I braved the cold water for a swim.  On Boxing Day the surf was up and I finally got my longboard wet in Tassie.

We rented a great beach house and set up a little Christmas tree complete with lights.  Here's Elias with a plate of cookies for Santa and a plate of carrots for Santa's eight 'roos.  (Turns out he doesn't use reindeer down here.)

We had Christmas dinner complete with the Australian touch of party hats and crackers and noisemakers.  Good fun.

Pete and Margaret and their troupe caught the ferry back to the North Island on Boxing Day, leaving behind a very warm impression of their family dynamic.  We're looking forward to seeing these good people again...maybe our boat search will find us close to Alaska sooner than we know...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hull Knocking

One of the things that Alisa and I love to do in anchorages is to row over to a nearby boat, knock on the hull and chat the owners up.  It's always a crap shoot when we do this - sometimes we get baffled reactions from the people we approach, sometimes we meet people whose outlook doesn't match well with our own, and often we meet casual acquaintances whom we know for a week or a month while we're travelling the same path.  And occasionally we knock on a hull and end up making good friends out of the bargain.

We just had a couple of the latter sort of people visiting - Diana and Alex from Kukka, whom Alisa and Elias met on a whim at an anchorage at Magnetic Island in Queensland last year.  They just came down to Hobart and we had a good time catching up on everything that has happened since we last saw them, over New Year's 2010 in Sydney.

Really, cruising is just an elaborate way to expand your circle of friends.  The boat stuff is all secondary.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

It's your job

-It's your job to be excited, I said.  It's my job to be nervous.

-Good, said Alisa.  I am excited.

-Well, perfect, I said.  I'm nervous.


So, the big news: we have an initial purchase agreement on the California steel boat.  That was the one that we initially ruled out after we learned the headroom, then ruled back in after Alisa measured me and found that I'm 5/8" shorter than previously advertised.  To refresh your memory, this is the beast:

We always knew that we would have to make some big compromises on whatever boat we got...  It's just taking me a bit to get used to the actual compromises that we see in this boat.  She's bigger than we want (45 feet).  She's steel, which I've not quite resigned myself to.  And she's a one-off, which I never wanted.  But there appears to be some good to go along with all that.  And at a certain point, if you want to stop dreaming and start sailing, you've got to go out an put your money down on one particular, imperfect, boat.  I fly over on January 11th to see her for myself.


This is a boat with a bit of a history:

Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

It's All Good

Well, no boat in the offing and our latest short-term housing situation will end in about three weeks, with nothing secured to take its place.  Oh, the joys!  Alisa and I have agreed that if we ever swap boats again we'll do everything we can to buy the new boat before we move off the old.  Of course, we could move back onto Pelagic, but at this point that feels like a lot of effort to take a step backwards, so we're going to try to hold out for a while before we play that card.

I'm reminded of hunting deer in the mountains of Kodiak - on those days when I spent hours tramping around in the tall wet grass, seeing nothing, I'd remind myself that it just took one second for everything to change...

I also told Alisa today that I sure never thought our boat swap would put the family through such a long spell of uncertainty.

Through all this uncertainty, though, things continue to be generally great for us in Hobart.

We celebrated Thanskgiving for the first time in Oz... the last two times we just went to the beach for a barbie.  But this time we invited over two North American friends (and an Australian significant other).  Alisa baked two chickens and two pumpkin pies and the friends brought salad and ice cream and we had a great time.

And our friends Robb and Emma invited us out for a sail on their 40-footer, Aratika.  We had a great time sailing, and Elias always has a great time with their girls.

AND, my dad dropped in for a just-under-a-day visit, part of a whirlwind visit to all the Australian family over nine days or so.  Check out how sick Elias was.

Actually we've all been sick.  Right now it's my turn, and it's been going on for almost two weeks, and I missed a very very fun barbie today as a result, and I'm just about fed up with it.  Anyway, Alisa got a great "three generations of blokes" shot with my Dad.

It's all good.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Chalk and Cheese (and a bit of a revelation)

This boat search will come to an end.... I'm sure it will.

As of three or four days ago, we were onto two candidates, neither of them metal.  They were the proverbial chalk and cheese - it would be hard for two boats to be more different.  Here are pics of each:

The underbody of the top boat is very similar to that of Pelagic.  A deep, modified fin keel, skeg hung rudder and a deep hull sections.  The bottom boat is completely different: twin rudders, a very flat bottom and a centerboard.  The only thing that unites the two is that they each appear to well kitted-out with reasonably new gear, and ready to start crossing oceans on short notice.  This has always been our top criterion in the search.

But then, predictably, after we got excited about each, they both seemed to go pear shaped.  The listing broker for the top one is in the hospital, and he works for a large brokerage that is apparently so disorganized that no one else has any info about the boat, not even the seller's contact details, so no one can tell us if the boat is even still for sale.  And while there's a lot to like about the bottom boat, it is very very light indeed - as near as I can figure, she displaces 8400 kg half loaded, on a 12.8 m waterline, for a displacement/length ratio of 112(!), which, if I'm figuring it correctly, is about half of the D/L of an OVNI 43.

Our friend John, who may have more first-hand knowledge of boats than anyone else we know, said, "Mate, she's too light.  You'll feel every pothole in the road.  You'll wake up every time you go over a ripple."

We tend to agree.

Which brought about a low point in group morale - "When will we ever find a boat?" I wailed.  So many of the boats that we are interested in don't have the required 1.95 m headroom, and that seems to be making a tough search much tougher.

So, today, on a whim, Alisa measured me.

My height is something that I've always known about myself - 6' 3 3/8".  But I have no memory of ever measuring myself - the last time must have been in high school.

Alisa made my height at 189.5 cm, or a hair under 6' 2 1/4".  So either I've been wrong all this time, or I've lost an inch.  Either way, it's a bit embarrassing to have been ruling out so many boats because of a faulty piece of information.

Hopefully this revelation will breathe a little life into our search.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Headroom. And headroom.

Well, the hard-luck, "I coulda been a contender" epoch in our boat search continues...

We were very enamored with this steel 45 footer, lying in San Francisco Bay.  We got used to a few drawbacks, including an undersized engine, and were about to make an offer.  But we had asked the broker to check a few details on the boat for us, and to measure the headroom.... It was advertised as 6'4", but he measured it at 6'3" on the centerline, and dropping from there as you go outboard.  So suddenly she was off the list, after four or five days of frenzied interest as we queried our friends about various aspects of the design and built up to the emotional apogee of deciding that she might be "the one".  But luckily we had a second choice in hand:

41 feet, steel, lying Queensland.  We had ruled her out back in April because we didn't want a full keel design unable to sail out of its own wake.  But she's new, with quite good kit.  We gave her another look and she ended up second on the list.  I had a chat with the broker and he assured me that she had enough headroom...But then he called Alisa a day or two later (the same day the previous boat fell through) and recanted - he had been aboard and realized that at 6'3" he was unable to stand up...

So, on one day, two good possibilities vanished and we were back to the beginning.

On the rebound we briefly considered this steel 45 footer in Sydney:

But the displacement is listed at 17 tonnes, which is a bit rich for us, and also 2.5 tonnes over the design displacement...  We'll take another look, but at this point our heart isn't in it.

But we don't stay down for long!  Our current first choice is something completely different, this cold-molded, Kiwi-built, French-designed 43 foot dériveur, lying Raiatea.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Why we love Hobart

It's spring in the southern hemisphere.  Today we went for a "wander" ("hike" in American) up on top of Mt. Wellington with some friends.  Elias absolutely loves these two little girls.

The trail was challenging, and we continue to calibrate our sense of what is and isn't good fun for a four-year-old.  There was some carnage - check out the rock rash below on the little fella.

But he generally had a great time.  And the landscape up there was unreal:

As were the views.  That's Hobart spread out along the water below.

And then after dinner Elias and I went for a walk and saw a playtpus in the Hobart Rivulet, ten minutes from the house where we're staying.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Hunt

Some snapshots from our search over the last week...

43 ft., steel, lying Malaysia.  This boat had been high on our "maybe" list during the months we were waiting for the aluminum boat in New Zealand that eventually fell through.  I emailed the broker this week with the idea that we would probably put in an offer and found that someone else had gotten there first...

I heard about this one at a get-together in Anchorage... a friend's sister knew these people and knew they were about to sell the boat after having reached New Zealand.  Turned out to be a 50 footer, much too big for us...

44 feet, aluminum, lying New Zealand.  Was working up to the top of our list until we checked the specs again and saw the 2.5 meter draft.  Fuhgettaboutit!

38 feet, aluminum, lying east coast U.S.  Took a while to get over the draft - 6'9".  And getting her back to Oz in our time frame would be a push.  But, oh dear - the price.  We just couldn't get past the very very good price.  When we first contacted the broker, she estimated the head room at 6'4" or 6'6".  We got her to go measure and it turns out it was 6' or 6'1".  A deal breaker.  On the plus side, I had a chat with another broker in the same company who turned out to be the pushiest a**hole used boat broker in the whole world.  So at least that's behind me.

40 feet, steel, lying Melbourne.  Appears to be very nice, doesn't need to be imported into Oz (a big plus!), and is right in our back yard.  But also has a spade rudder, only supported by a stainless steel rudderpost in an oxygen-starved environment.  Maybe I'm being too picky, but I just don't want a spade rudder.


So that's what we've been doing this week.  Many are close, and we think that means that the right one will soon be at hand.  Our current list of hot prospects includes two boats in New Zealand and one in the U.S.  Stay tuned...

Monday, November 15, 2010

First Bites

If you're wondering if this will ever again be a blog about sailing the world, take heart.  We have resolved to make an offer on a boat this week.  Unfortunately we just heard that the boat that was edging towards the top of our list is under contract.  But the search continues!

Meanwhile, to paraphrase someone, life is what happens while you're looking for your next boat.  We had a big milestone yesterday - Eric's first solid food, which Alisa kindly delayed by a couple weeks so that I could be present.

I don't know if waiting for me to get back had anything to do with it, but he was clearly ready, following each spoonful of rice cereal with his eyes and leaning forward, mouth open, as they came within range.

The entertaining part for us was his reaction as each mouthful went down... apparently the sensation takes a little getting used to.

Another milestone passes...


Elias in his wooly mammoth mask.

The end.


I went back to North America without a camera, so all I have is the five pictures that I took with my computer during the flights.

It was a work trip - one week in Oregon and two weeks in Alaska.

I don't miss Alaska when I'm gone, I think because I'm still enjoying our traveling so much.

But I was surprised at how powerful an experience it was to fly into Alaska on this trip - it was really a bit overwhelming to be back in that place.

Part of it is the scale and the beauty.  Alaska is so much more, and more beautiful, than anywhere that we've been lately.  The state is as wide as the continent of Australia, and you could lose New Zealand in Chugach State Park and forget where you put it.  I've always thought that Alaskans who go traveling to compare things unfavorably with home are particularly tiresome.  But when you return after an absence, the comparison with everything that you've seen since you've been away is inescapable.

But the draw of the place is more than the roadless mountains and wild rivers.  Alaska is just home, the place where we still have good friends in a whole bunch of different places, the place where Alisa and I each put our roots down seperately and then built a life together, the place where we plan to return.  We were lucky enough to be young in Alaska and to feel it as a place that was equal to our boundless energy, and now it's just part of us.

So I enjoyed the trip, and seeing our friends, even if about half of them did let me know that if only one of us could come back, they'd sort of prefer that it was Alisa and not me.  And when I got back to Hobart I found Eric with croup, and Alisa with a fever, and Elias with ants in his pants.  If we're lucky Alaska will be home again, but for now home is wherever the four of us are, and I got home just in time.

Monday, November 1, 2010

What do we want?

Heather asked, so here it is - the list of things that we are looking for in our next boat.  This will likely be most interesting for people who are really into sailboats!

1) A metal hull.  If we really want to sail the Northwest Passage, we want a metal hull.  Aluminum if we can get it.

2) An insulated hull.

3) Total length 39-42 feet.  A little bigger if we had to.

4) Three sleeping cabins.  One for us, one for the boys, and one for the survival suits/cockpit cushions/bikes/sails/deck awnings and everything else.  Or alternately, two cabins and some very serious additional storage space.

5) A cutter rig.  Or a sloop that we can convert to a cutter.  Or a ketch, if we had to.

6) A skeg-hung rudder.  Or even (god forbid) a keel-hung rudder.  But not a spade rudder.

7) A well-maintained boat, with good sails and standing and running rigging.

8) A u-shaped galley.

9) Big water tanks.

10) A hard dodger (optional!).

11) A specific set of bells and whistles: windvane, radar, a good autopilot, an over-sized windlass, over-sized anchors and chain, solar panels, life raft, folding propellor, wind generator, ham/SSB radio, steps on the mast, cruising spinnaker.  As many of these as possible.

12) 195 cm of headroom.

13) In our budget!

It doesn't seem like an unreasonable list.  But though we've seen many boats with eight or nine of these items, we've never seen one with ten or more.  

Some serious compromises seem inevitable.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How'd that happen?

This one really snuck up on me: Alisa reminded me that October 22nd is the second anniversary of our arrival in Australia.

The pictures are of me raising the courtesy and quarantine flags on our arrival Down Under, and poppin' the Dom to celebrate the end of our Pacific crossing.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Auckland airport, international departure lounge


Before anything else, the awareness of again being in Polynesia.  Signs in a Polynesian language and Polynesian faces create inescapable images - of the Land of the Long White Cloud, of voyaging canoes, and tapu and a cosmology expressed in swirling tattoos.  Having sailed a small boat through the vowel-rich archipelagos of the Marquesas and Tuamotus and Tonga, it will be forever impossible for me to be aloof towards Polynesia.


Driving to meet a yacht broker at a marina, I see the unmistakable signs that I'm entering the uneasy territory that yachties at times cannot escape.  In this case, the signs are literally signs – street signs.  People living on sailboats, as much as they resist, at times find themselves needing a marina.  And the marina, so often, is the centerpiece of a multimillion-dollar coastal development scheme, soulless and expensive and straight from the imagination of an inadequately-talented designer of some sort.  Terrible places just because they are so diametrically different from the dream of palm-fringed anchorages that beats in the heart of any yachtie.   I know I'm arriving in one of these places when I start passing signs for "Spinnaker Dr" and "Trimaran Ct" – in the US and Australia and now NZ, it seems that designers working on these sorts of places cannot resist these specific names.

The Joy of Fatherhood Travels with You

Driving along a twisting two-lane highway through countryside that is lush and hilly but not mountainous, offering the visual delight of family-scaled farms passing one and another.  And then, around a bend in the road, a vision: a small flock of sheep all inexplicably dyed bright pink-red.  A sign announces "Sheep World: sheep and dog demonstrations daily".  A dismissive thought about impossibly rustic Kiwi attractions might have come to mind.  Instead, that cringing feeling that I get right where the heart is meant to be as I think, oh god, Elias would LOVE that.

Is it Their Fault?

I viewed four boats beside the one that I came to 'en-zed' to see.  One was very nice.  Painfully, dreamily nice.  Nearly too nice to be true.  A 40-footer, 1987 hull.  Bought in the U.S. by a Swiss couple who had already circumnavigated the aqueous sphere in a different chapter of their lives, on a different boat.  They knew what they were about.  They refitted the boat, and where normally a "refit" is broker-speak for a bunch of big jobs done on a boat poorly, these two did it right.  New rigging, new sails, new liferaft, all new electronics, new fuel and water tanks, a new Monitor windvane glinting like yacht jewelry on the stern.  And all of it done proper.  Not "professional", since being a shipwright is usually halfway to being a criminal, and a "professional" job in the sailboat world typically means something done to a standard good enough only for boats that live in marinas.  This boat is better than professional.  And so it offers half of what we want – proper kit, used enough to work, but not tired.  But the other half of what we want, a particular set of design criteria, isn't there, so I move on.

And then I see three disaster yachts in quick succession.  One a terrible design, and two others that will be ready to cruise again just as soon as someone spends a year or two working full-time on them.  I walk through these two, noticing dozens of jobs that need doing.  Meanwhile, on each boat, the broker is standing in the background, muttering things like, "they knew how to build them back then", and "for the price of a little new gear, someone's going to get themselves a rock-solid yacht here".  And all I can think is how impossibly hard it must be to remain honest with yourself if you flog over-used boats for a living.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Oh, no! Not another learning experience!

Whangarei, NZ

It's been a very whirlwind existence for the crew of the good ship Pelagic over the past 72 hours.

I flew into Auckland on Thursday, just three days and (it seems) a full lifetime ago.

I came on a very special mission, shoehorned between the demands of my family life and work life back in Hobart and my upcoming trip to the States.

That mission: to see if a particular boat might be the one.

The answer, disappointingly, is a resounding "maybe".  And on the way to that fun-as-kissing-your-sister answer (sorry, Jenny), Alisa and I had a few intense conversations via a very poor skype connection, and I gained all sorts of insights into our approach for this whole boat search.

Insights into the self are really best left to the 20-somethings.  Given my druthers, post-40, I'd rather skip any further experiences in self awareness.

The main insight had to do with our standards for the next yacht.  In our sailing experience we have met people who put all sorts of different amounts of effort into preparing their boats for the grand voyage.  At one extreme, we met a South Australian who spent 12 years working full-time to build the boat that he finally circumnavigated on.  At the other extreme, we met a Kiwi family who bought a boat in the U.S. that really was "ready to go", and left on their trip across the Pacific two weeks after the purchase.  Alisa and I have been generally hoping to replicate the experience of that Kiwi family.

But after seeing this boat, I'm thinking that our expectations might be unrealistic.  I realized that I came over to see the boat with fairly utopian expectations, and what I found was a typically non-utopian 15-year-old cruising boat.  It really is in pretty good nick, but it's the same sort of ongoing project that any cruising boat is.  And when I first saw the boat I decided that for the kind of price that we've negotiated, we really need something better than an ongoing project.

But by the end of the second day of looking the boat over, I was starting to come to grips with the ongoing-projectness of it.  After all, I said to myself, it's a damn boat.  What do you want?

And today the seller and I went out for a test sail, and really I was very impressed.  We had a fantastic day for a test sail: spitting rain and average windspeed of 25 knots for a good part of the day.  (That's him above.)  We reefed her down and pointed her into the wind, and I was impressed.  This dériveur, an internally-balasted centerboarder with absolutely no keel at all, tacked into that wind just fine.  Maybe we had some tidal current helping us out, but I couldn't see much leeway at all, and the boat felt solid solid.  Jeez, I thought to myself, this really could work for us.

But then I remembered the kicker – on the first day I had discovered that the boat has no insulation at all.

Our whole idea for spending the big dollars on an aluminum boat like this is to be able to travel high latitudes at will: to winter in Patagonia, and sail the Northwest Passage, and then after we get back to Alaska, to live aboard through a winter in Kodiak harbor, where the winds gust to 90 knots and the temperatures can fall to -20° F.  I know that people have done all of these things in uninsulated boats, but Alisa and I are nothing if not savvy about living at high latitudes, and both of us recoil at the idea of anything but a factory-insulated boat for situations like these.

So, for now it's back to the drawing board.  I've realized how important it is to see a boat in the flesh in order to judge her, and we'll have to figure out a new plan given how far Tassie is from places where we might look at a number of possible boats, and how long the whole search might reasonably take.  We've been very impatient to stop moving the family from house-sit to house-sit, very keen to be on a boat, and eager to find a boat that is in good enough shape that we can have it in the South Pacific tropics by the next cyclone-free season, even with me working full time in the intervening months.  But now we're thinking that we might just have to take a deep breath, rent a house for six months so that we can shop for a boat without the pressure of needing a stable home, and then see what happens.

Meanwhile, if any yachties with high-latitude experience might want to weigh in on the issue of insulation, we'd love to hear your views.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Shack Weekend

Tasmanians have this endearing habit of calling their beach houses "shacks".  We're not sure why.  But if nothing else calling a place a "shack" is a great way to resist the urge to over-fancy it up.  Last weekend we went with some friends to a shack in the delightful seaside town of Bicheno, two and a half hours or so from Hobart.  We walked on the beach and went for a bushwalk to a billabong and stayed up late at night drinking wine and playing games and slept late the next morning.  All good.  Plus, there were penguins nesting under the bushes around the back porch, and in the woodpile, and under the house itself, and they all groaned and roared through the night.  Too cool.  Our friends ended up staying an extra night, but we had to get back to town as the dogs we're watching at our current house-sit needed our attention.  Plus the fact that I'm heading to New Zealand this week to look at a boat, then I'll turn around two days after I'm back in Tassie to fly to the States for a three-week work trip.  Things are suddenly feeling a little rushed.

Top picture is backyard cricket at the shack - the dads are playing and the four year olds are lying around in the grass.  Middle picture is of the mob on the bushwalk, and the bottom picture is Elias drinking out of the billabong.  He LOVED drinking this way, and did it over and over, though inevitably it ended with a slide into the water, soaked clothes, and tears.