Wednesday, September 22, 2010


The crew is concerned with citizenship lately.  We on team Pelagic are firm believers in having two passports each, since you never know when one nation or another might let you down.  (Joke.  Sort of.)

Yesterday Alisa checked into the necessary steps for parlaying her permanent resident visa into Australian citizenship.  We've long known that Oz inconveniently doubled the required length of residency for new citizens just before her visa was granted, and she was calling to find out about allowable waivers to the current four-year requirement.  Stay tuned.

Meanwhile Eric, who already has his Aussie passport, has an appointment at the U.S. consulate in Melbourne for early next month to be registered as a Yank.  Alisa will fly up with him for the day while Elias and I keep things going here, so I had to sign an affidavit giving my consent for him to obtain a U.S. passport.  And that affidavit gave us a great interaction with a nearly bygone world of trans-border paper shuffling.

First I had to have the affidavit notarized, which is a bit of a production in Oz - you can't get it done at a 7-11, the way you can in the U.S.  And then I had to get an apostille,  which is French for "you give me 80 bucks and I give you this nifty green ribbon."

That's the apostille above - certification of the notarization by the Australian government for use by a foreign power.  It did cost 80 Australian dollars, which lately is about $77 in real money.  But for that price I figure we got a great look at a nearly-vanished world, the world of official seals and Ribbons that Mean Something and ink-stained clerks laboring at high desks.

And what a treat it will be to recount this tale to Eric twenty years from now:  "I had to sign a piece of paper, with a pen.  Then I took it to one office to get it certified as authentic.  Then I took it to a second office, where they certified the certification that I got at the first office.  Then mom got on a plane with you and flew to a whole other city, where she surrendered the piece of paper.  And then the people in that office sent the piece of paper to a different country.  That's how things were done back then."

I reckon that's one of the joys of this fast-changin' modern world: the chance to savor a situation as anachronistic, even as you're living it.

Elias getting a haircut yesterday.  "How do you want it cut?"  I asked.  "Like yours," he answered.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Two house-sits ago.

One house-sit ago.

Current house-sit.

Three diaper blow-outs ago.

Most recent dinner party - baked Alaska!

Four precious moments ago.


Last night after dinner Elias and I set out to look for penguins.  We had heard of a colony of little penguins (Eudyptula minor) right here in suburban Hobart, on the Derwent estuary, and sure enough after a quick drive and a ten minute walk down a narrow track in the dark, holding hands and shining a red-filtered flashlight so we didn't trip over roots, we found it.  

We only saw one penguin who happened to stumble into us on the track in the dark and went squawking into the undergrowth to escape.  A local had told me to put red cellophane over our flashlight to reduce the impact of the light on the birds.  But even with that precaution I didn't want to shine the light around the colony too much, and the brief stabs of light that I did allow myself revealed thick bushes that would make seeing any more penguins pretty unlikely.

But we could hear the penguins calling around us.  We were in a little drainage above a tiny pocket of beach between the cliffs that dominate that part of the coastline, and all around us in the dark penguins were calling, sounding very much like common murres from the northern hemisphere and also very much like the dinosaurs that they are.  So Elias and I just found a comfortable place to sit down and listen to them.  He was very good about whispering so as not to disturb the birds, and though he was disappointed at not seeing any more, he was happy enough to sit there and listen to them, and now he can do a mean penguin imitation to boot.

We likely won't go back.  Little penguins can be very tolerant of people at their colonies, but the population that nests in the Derwent is facing the same sort of pressures from urbanization that are slowly killing off the belugas and salmon of Cook Inlet in Alaska.  So I figure that the local penguins have enough to worry about without being harassed by an ex-seabird biologist and his kid.

But what a moment that one visit was.  It made me remember how exotic Tasmania really is to us.  Sitting on the cool ground in an oceanside forest, moonlight shining down through the trees, surf breaking on the beach, the penguins calling out their lust from the bushes.  And Elias whispering into my ear with his four-year-old's sweet voice: "Daddy, I'm smiling."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Modern Kastom

Here's some recommended reading in case your Twitter account has gone silent.  Our friend Diana has been writing about her travels in Vanuatu with Alex aboard Kukka.  She does a great job of describing the strange cultural mix that awaits modern sailors:

The Logical Route and Aluminum

With the search for the new boat dragging on, it’s perhaps inevitable that we’re living in the future when it comes to our sailing life.

We think about how our next boat might match up with the kind of sailing that we want to do, and that raises the question of how we might get home to Alaska, if we’re lucky enough to keep sailing for the next eight years or so.

I've long thought that the best way for us to get home, in a Grand Poetic Gesture, Logical Route sort of way, would be via the Northwest Passage, the most legendary and ill-fated sailing route of them all, right across the top of Canada.

Only thirty years ago, the Northwest Passage was a horror show of ice-choked waterways, completely unsuitable for a small sailboat with two children aboard.  No private yacht made it through the Passage until 1977.  But the shrinking of Arctic sea ice has been so dramatic that the Northwest Passage has suddenly turned into an adventure that is accessible to anyone with a reasonable bit of ability and a reasonable boat.  The high-latitude sailing grapevine has it that ten yachts made it through last year, which is really astounding when you think about the misery and mortality that attended so many of the historical attempts at the Passage.

We would have to be quite lucky and quite determined over the coming years to have a go at that route.  But we figure we might as well get a boat that would be suitable, just in case.

So that’s why, at this point at least, we’re only looking at aluminum boats – strong enough to operate thousands of miles from repair facilities with a reasonable amount of peace of mind, but without the maintenance issues of steel.

In a way, we’re making things hard for ourselves – there are a lot of boats out there that would be great general-purpose cruising boats for us, but the Anglophone sailing world is very short on aluminum boats.

“There seem to be so few aluminum boats in the southwest Pacific,” Alisa said the other day.  “Do you think we can find one?”

“Well,” I answered.  “I did find a Lebanese wife in Alaska.  So maybe lightning will strike twice?”

Stay tuned…

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Transit of Venus

As every aficionado of South Pacific sailing knows, it was a transit of Venus that brought James Cook to Tahiti in 1769.  His expedition successfully measured the time it took Venus to pass across the face of the sun, and thereby contributed to the global effort to calculate the size of the solar system.  (It's so easy to imagine the response of climate science deniers, had they had been around then: "How could you possibly measure such a big thing as the solar system by timing that little dot in front of the sun?  How can you know that little dot is really Venus?"  And on and on.  But I digress...)

So, Cook successfully observed the transit of Venus.  And, perhaps more importantly, he brought back the stories that begat the Western perception of Polynesia as a slice of paradise on earth, a perception that all these centuries later can still motivate otherwise responsible people to sell their houses and start traveling the world in inconveniently slow sailboats.

Transits of Venus occur in pairs, eight years apart, with more than a century between pairs.  Before the transit that occurred in 2004, there was not a person alive who had seen the phenomenon.  The next transit of Venus is coming up in June of 2012, and if you miss that one you'll have to wait until 2117 for your next chance.

If you were in the southwest Pacific, looking to buy your next world-girdling sailboat, how could you not take the opportunity to voyage to Tahiti and observe the transit from Point Venus, the very spot where Cook did the same?

I can a Family Quest coming to life.

We just need to find that sailboat.

Making a dawn landfall at Tahiti, 2008.  We both looked younger then.

The north shore of Tahiti.