Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Pulse Quickens

With the boat search getting longer and longer, we're digging our heels in, determined to find the boat - the one that will carry us all the way until Elias is ready for high school (inshallah!), and through the Northwest Passage as well (inshallah, inshallah!).

We don't want to go through a boat swap again.

Our internet search has lately taken us off the well-trod paths of the slick yacht broker websites and into the overgrown byways of Francophone for-sale-by-owner sites.  "Our boat's gotta be here somewhere," we mutter as we push the button on Google Translate for the 1,000th time...

And, then, a few days ago, we found our best candidate yet.  A fantastic design, a bit old but not geriatric, properly set up to sail great distances, and apparently well maintained.  And, conveniently enough, already in the southwest Pacific.

Our pulses quickened.  We made enquiries, and received satisfactory replies.  Figuring that Fortune favors the Bold, we prepared to make an offer.

But then we discovered that the boat is out cruising for the next three months or so, and the owners would rather not discuss a sale until the cruise is over.

Fair enough, we figured.  But it was a bit of a come-down from the plateau of excitement we had reached.

So we'll get in touch with the sellers in a few months.  And meanwhile the search continues.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Backyard

The feeling of sustained uncertainty that has been the hallmark of our time in Oz continues.  When we arrived in October '08, a bunch of big questions were open before us.  Would I find work?  Would we have another child?  Would we decide to sell Pelagic?  For that matter, would we like Australia?

As it turns out, we came up with answers to all those questions.  In order, they were: yes, yes, yes and yes.

But of course those answers have lead to new questions: When will we find the new boat?  How closely will I end up working with the science community here in Hobart?  Should we buy a small place to be our home during our stay in Tasmania, or should we cast ourselves on the mercy of the very expensive rental market, or should we continue to put together a string of housesits to cover our time here?

The impending end of this delightful five-month housesit in Kingston is bringing all these questions to the fore.

But, on the bright side, we have recently become smitten with a used cruising boat that we found in internet-land.

We'll let you know how that goes.


Meanwhile, we have of course not been spending all our time pondering questions about the organisation of our lives, but have mostly been getting through the hectic day-to-day of people with small children.  I've been keeping regular hours in the home office, laboring away, and taking the weekends off - it's a great indication of how non-overcrowded Hobart is that I'm not tempted to take my days off during the week, when parks and such are less crowded.

Lately we've been going for a family hike each weekend.  Normally I'm not so great at exploring my immediate backyard - I've always put my time and energy into exploring beyond the horizon.  But with an almost-four-year-old hiker in the family, and the goal of one family outing a week, we have a great setup for exploring our immediate environs.  It doesn't hurt that there are heaps of good trails around Hobart, and that the Tasmanian winter, which we were warned of at great length, turns out to be a complete and utter fiction.  Many a summer day on Kodiak is colder than what we've been having here.

We've decided to concentrate on the trails on Mt. Wellington, the backdrop for Hobart.  The mountain is a 20 minute drive from the housesit, it's covered with trails, there are no crowds, at least this time of year, and Charles Darwin hiked up the mountain when he visited Hobart, giving it a nice history-of-science touch.

This is what we saw on our hike on saturday:

Alisa and Elias looking down on the Derwent River and Hobart.

South towards Storm Bay and the Southern Ocean.

Lunch at the Junction Cabin.  Eric is the white lump beneath my chin!

Elias once again was a great little hiker, even though we had somewhat negligently put him in his new gumboots, which are a size or two too big, and therefore made for treacherous footing (read 'falls and tears') on the rockier sections of trail.  It was a four-hour outing.  Elias was very happy for the first three hours and forty minutes, and completely over it for the remainder - a good reminder to temper our ambitions! 

Saturday, July 17, 2010


One of the most fun things that Elias and I have found to do at this housesit is spotlighting - we take a big 6 v flashlight out to the neighborhood golf course just after dusk and look for marsupials, which are mostly nocturnal.  This picture was taken before we went out  last night, as Elias practiced his search image with 'possum', one of his many stuffed animals.

Every time we go spotlighting we see brushtail possums, which are big and impressive for arboreal animals, and also not very fleet, which makes them a great viewing species for an almost-four-year-old.  We also see pademelons every time - little kangaroos 70 cm tall or so.  One memorable time we saw a potoroo, an even smaller, and, at least for this individual, much more shy kangaroo - one flash and it was gone.

Alisa and Eric came along for the first time last night.  It was a brisk night, good for walking but after a while a little too cold for an almost-four-year-old.  At first we walked a little faster than normal, which is often the case when you go wildlife-viewing with a new group, and so we didn't see much.  At one point Alisa asked, "Do you normally see something by now?"

But then we got a real treat - an eastern barred bandicoot, which we normally see only about every third time we go.  They're not at all shy, and this one hopped along the fairway right towards us, getting within 7 or 8 meters or so.  We even got a picture.

Bandicoots are delightful little marsupials that, in our experience of them, bound frantically from one spot to another on the golf course, nosing around for worms and other invertebrates.  It's amazing how easy it is to see these little critters right on the edge of Kingston.  

There's a poignant twist, though.  Eastern barred bandicoots are common in Tassie, but they're on the verge of extirpation from the mainland, with the population estimated at 200 individuals.  The main cause of their demise has been introduced European foxes.

Pademelons are already extinct from the mainland, due to...foxes.

Ditto bettongs, another kangaroo species still common in Tasmania.

And now foxes have reached Tassie, either as deliberate introductions, or as stowaways on ships from Melbourne.  Since 2002, 56 scats from the island have been genetically confirmed as fox scat.  There's an effort to eradicate them, but Tasmania is a very big island, with lots of places to hide, and foxes are incredibly wary.  If the fox population becomes established here, the bandicoots and pademelons and bettongs and a heap of other species are looking at the abyss.

Australia is the global capital for historical vertebrate extinctions - according to Wikipedia, if you count both species and sub-species, 23 birds, four frogs and 27 mammals have gone extinct here since 1788.  Although millions of dollars are being spent on fox eradication in Tassie, it's hard to look at the hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on extending the highway south of Hobart without seeing where true priorities lie.

A big theme of our trip across the Pacific was enjoying the world as we found it, and not getting stuck on always bemoaning the changes that have inevitably come along to this place or that.  I guess that's what Elias and I are doing when we go spotlighting - we're delighting in how easy it is for us to see animals that remain very exotic to my eyes.  Hopefully an adult Elias won't look back in wonder - did it really happen? - at a time when he and his dad could go out with a flashlight and look at bandicoots and pademelons, just like that. 

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Square One

"I guess it couldn't hurt to ask?" I said to Alisa.  The boys were asleep, we were in bed, and I had the laptop balanced on my knees.  Before we started looking for our next boat, I never took the laptop to bed.

"No, it couldn't hurt," she answered.

So I left a message on the webpage of the builder of the hottest thing on the seven seas - the Boreal 44.  This is a new production yacht designed specifically for high latitude sailing and, significantly, the company was started by two long-term cruisers.  So there is a lot that we like about the design.  But the company hasn't been around long enough for used versions to be on the market, and we knew that a new boat would be way outside our budget.  But still, it couldn't hurt to ask.

The next day a very nice note from one of the company's founders arrived, along with the answer to my question - base price 308,000 euros, without even getting into necessities like a windvane.

"Ooof," I said to Alisa.  "We were wrong.  That did kind of hurt."


Now, I know that in the range of possible problems to have in life, the travails involved in finding your next yacht don't count for much, might in fact be the kind of problem that about 99.5% of the world's population would dearly love to have.

It's just that I'm realising that we really are going back to square one - searching out a reasonable boat on a tight budget, getting her ready to the point where chronic-worrier me feels ready to take her to sea with All I Hold Dear In the World on board.  Meanwhile, Pelagic is apparently setting a modern-era record for being stuck in customs limbo (more than five months!) as we try to import her to Australia, and so is still not on the market, and until we sell one boat and buy another we are looking at dragging our kids through a period of short-term housing gigs.  (I can already hear Elias trying to exploit the nurturing side of girls at college with the stories of how he never had a permanent home when he was growing up.)

In other words, the process of switching boats is turning out to be slower, and harder, than we had hoped, and land life is turning out to be as sticky as we had feared.

But we are, of course, holding onto the long view.  Eric is only 2 months old.  We'll be patient in our boat search, and choose wisely, so that we don't have to go through another boat swap any time soon.

And, meanwhile, we can easily lose ourselves in the quotidian delights of family life - like setting Elias loose on the bike that his grandparents bought him, and watching the purest state of joy that results.  If only the next boat would make us so happy!