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.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Pelagic Sails

Spring has made it to Tassie.  Today we observed the change of season by taking Pelagic out for a daysail.  What with our second child being born and all, it's been something like six months since we were sailing.

The experience was a bit nostalgic - Pelagic, after all, was our home for more than half of Elias' life, and therefore for more than half of our life as a family.  The top pic is of Elias burrowed into a duvet and deep into his afternoon nap on the outboard side of the forward bunk, his old bed and the scene of hundreds of good-night books and songs in his past.

We had a great sail.  Hobart has one of the greatest settings for sailing of any city I have seen.  We glided along, pointing out penguins to each other, and looking up at the dwindling patches of slush on Mt. Wellington.

Alisa, Elias and I all felt the old magic coming back.  Ah, Alisa and I both thought, this is why we're so keen to be living aboard again.  And we gave Eric the first lesson for sailors who begin as infants - the joys of playing with lines (third pic).

And we had a quick taste of what it might be like to sail full-time with two little people on board instead of one.  We didn't have a crib rigged up where we could leave Eric to sleep soundly on either tack, and, denied the chance to lie down when he really wanted it, he cried and cried, and we didn't leave the dock until he was finally asleep.  Meanwhile Elias was taking a bit of our attention, and our two-hour sail was only accomplished after about four hours of preparation.

Alisa and I agree that for all our bold schemes for sailing from New Zealand to the fabled Austral Islands, and counting seabirds in the less-visited of the Cook Islands, we will in fact be starting off on some very slow cruising, some very no-goal adventuring, when we do move aboard the next boat.

Cheap, Fast, Out of Control

Our friends who crossed the Pacific with us might remember the cherubic little one- and two-year-old who lived on Pelagic with us at the time.

Well, that was yesterday's Elias.  Today's Elias seems to be a little, well, high on testosterone for someone who's only four.

Lately Alisa and I have noticed a pattern developing in our interactions with the little guy.  We ask him nicely to stop doing some incredibly disruptive thing.  Then we ask nicely again.  Then we ask nicely a third time.  Then we yell.  Then he throws a completely nuclear fit.  We (well, I) scream.  Afterwards we wonder how it all went so wrong.

(Don't get the idea this happens all the time.  But it does happen!)

It's really just the common lot of parenthood, and we're blundering our way through it just like everyone else.  But I have noticed how much my mood at a particular moment plays into these interactions, and whether they escalate or dissipate.  And that, logically enough, has gotten me thinking about the current state of our funny little society's ethnopharmacology.

Apparently it's become over-the-top popular in America to feed kids behavior-modifying drugs.

I'm starting to think that this approach is just another way that our lazy society rewards the guilty.

If anyone needs a some big pharma magic to get through childrearing, shouldn't the parents get first dibs?

It's just an idea...


Elias and his mates.  Australia above all is a place where it is easy to make friends.

Alisa and Eric the morning they flew up to the U.S. consulate in Melbourne.  He's now officially American.