Saturday, December 31, 2011

Nah, we miss 'em

We just had family visiting us in Iluka - my parents for three weeks, and my sis and her fam for ten days.

On Boxing Day everyone was gone.  One of our Iluka friends said to Alisa, 'Whew, you must be relieved!'  But we didn't feel any sort of relief to see them going.  We're lucky enough that there isn't a clinker in the bunch (no "druncles", as a friend in Kodiak calls them), and I'm doubly lucky that Alisa gets along super-well with everyone in my clan.

Really, being so far from the families is one of the only downsides of this extended travel of ours.

Monday, December 26, 2011


Americans are forever protesting their faith.  But if actions really do speak louder than words, the evidence would suggest that in America, Christmas is a semi-pagan holiday given over to the ritualized spending of money.

Australians rarely protest their faith.  To them, Christmas is 'Chrissie', a frankly semi-pagan holiday organized around the ritualized spending of time at the beach.  To an American, Christmas in Australia is reminiscent of the 4th of July without all the tiresome flag waving - the perfect summer holiday.

 Guess which version I prefer!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

You Can't Go Back to Iluka

For many months at the end of last year and the beginning of this, as we were up to our eyeballs with buying Galactic and getting ready for the Pacific crossing, I just wanted to be in Iluka, with nothing more ambitous in my routine than a daily surf and hanging out with our friends.

I was a bit surprised, when we finally got here, to find our local friends more or less as flat-out in their daily lives as we were.  Just like us, they're serving the triple demands that people in their thirties and forties find themselves beholden to  - raising the kids, making a living, and, with whatever energies are left over, trying to organize things around some vision of what might add up to a satisfying life.  As every generation finds out, it's all too much, and it warmed our hearts to see that our land friends are just as overwhelmed with it all as we are.

Of course, these folks have the great Australian cure coming up, in the form of a few weeks of summer holidays, beginning now.  But our timing is a bit off.  In the way of these things, our original plan of staying here for months has been whittled down to six weeks, and we're planning to leave soon after Boxing Day.  We caught Iluka while our friends were in their frantic end of the year push (well, "frantic" in a limited Iluka sort of way), and now we're about to leave as their weeks of leisure begin.  So we didn't quite recapture the magic of our previous stays here, when we were in town for months at a time and it seemed that the barbecues and beach sessions would never end.  Even though our small group of friends here includes some of our very favorite people, this time around we didn't have nearly as many peak travel experiences that we've had while hanging out with them in the past.

Maybe that's why surprise and spontaneity are so valuable when you're traveling: long-anticipated destinations have that way of not quite meeting expectations when you finally reach them.  Everyone knows that you can't go home again.  But it turns out that it can also be hard to revisit your favorite travel spots, too.

Elias giving a tour of Galactic.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Famn Damily

We've had family visiting us in Iluka - both North American and Australian.  Lots of intergenerational/binational barbecues going on, and Elias and Eric have been getting in some good cousin time.

Yesterday we took my parents and my sister and brother-in-law and niece sailing on Galactic.  

It was a windy day, and some of the family are really not natural sailors.  So even though I knew they were enjoying it, their enjoyment was a little...muted at times.  But it was great for us to show them the boat under sail, and to give them a little taste of what our life afloat is like.  Alisa and I were happy to be sailing again, and suddenly keen to start off on the southward leg to Tassie once Christmas is past.

After the sail was over and we were all back ashore, Elias asked us where we would be in five years.  Out of the blue and apropos of nothing, as is his wont.  Don't know, I said, might still be living on the boat.  Might even be in Patagonia!

Alisa gave me a quiet look.  If Daddy's migraines are better we might be in Patagonia, she said.

So that's why she's been hedging on the question of sailing to Patagonia! I thought to myself.  It's not the cold and the horrible sort of weather, it's the fear of dealing with all that by herself while I sleep off what we hope are "just" migraines.

What a softy!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Not an adventure

OK, I'm back from a bit of a mini-holiday from the blog.  Although 'holiday' isn't really the word, as I've been very busy with all sorts of stuff that I won't go into...

We've settled nicely into our old haunt of Iluka - pictures to prove it below - and are enjoying a breather from the on-the-go, "always another anchorage" approach to the life afloat.  Galactic has been sitting in one place for a month now, long enough that I'm thinking I'll have to brave the murky river water and the bull sharks to clean the barnacles off the prop before we'll even be able to move again.

Meanwhile, our family activities have concentrated on the old Iluka standbys: the beach...

...and the barbie.

I suppose we'd get restless if we lived in Iluka for a year or two and did this stuff all the time, our feet being as naturally itchy as they are.  But right now we've got a strong feeling that we earned a bit of this classic Aussie existence, and we're soaking it up.  It's not an adventure, and that's just fine with us.


Meanwhile, one notable development.  I stayed up late finishing a science proposal a few nights ago, submitted it the next day, then collapsed into a quivering heap for a few days, just like I do sometimes on passage.  Luckily, we've got family visiting, and my brother-in-law the fancy Boston doctor has offered a tentative hypothesis of migraines (absent the splitting headache), triggered by sleep deprivation.  It's an idea to go on, and gives us our first suggestion of how we might tackle these mystery bouts of infirmity that occasionally leave Alisa doing everything on her own at sea.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Good on you...

At the risk of making people think twice about being candid in their communications with me, I am going to post an excerpt from a friend's email:

...Read your book mate. I really enjoyed it. It's un-Australian of me to say this but you write very well, in my humble opinion. Good on you...

Ha!  I loved reading that - it so summarizes a big part of the Australian identity.  To paraphrase:  I'm going to give you a compliment, but first I have to signpost it / apologize by noting that it's not quite the Australian thing to be saying something nice in such a straightforward way.

This whole country is an antidote to the Montessori, everyone-wins-first-place attitude.  No wonder I like it here.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Coming Down

The new motor for the windlass came from New Zealand the other day.  So of course I opened it up and looked at the instructions for installing it.  At the head of the page, before step #1, was this notice: "Workshop facilities are necessary for this work".  I winced and read on.  Step  #1 read, "Remove winch from boat."  There were 18 more steps after that.  I stopped reading, and put the motor in the engine room, where I won't have to look at it.

I can't face another boat job just yet.  In the ten months we've been on this boat I've fit in about three lifetimes of boat jobs.  Luckily there have been other things to keep me busy over the last couple weeks, as I write proposals to get more science work going in Alaska.

When we had our friends from Akimbo on board to show them our new ride, I found myself explaining my current state of mind about the Life Aquatic.  "I really love sailing," I told them.  "But I actually kind of hate boats.  They're mostly too much trouble to be bothered with."

But a few days ago, as I was walking back from a bout of trying to teach myself to surf, I found myself thinking about how fun it will be to get the boat ready to sail to New Zealand.

And then, it's been nice to catch up with some of our peers here in Iluka, and back in the States, and to be reminded of just how, well, non-fun living in a house can be with very young kids.  Living on the boat is such a self-selected existence that it's easy to navel gaze a little bit and wonder what you're doing when things are tough.  Good to be reminded that things aren't necessarily any easier with a nine to five and a mortgage to feed!

All of which is to say that I think we're coming down from the crazy spell in our lives that consumed the last ten months or so.  We've gotten past thinking about how much work it was, and we're mostly just remembering the fun bits, and what a blast the whole trip really was.  As the crossing slides into the past, we're easing into the easier existence of being just another couple with a one year old and a five year old who happen to be living on a boat and sailing around on the east coast of Oz.

Meanwhile, we're four years into this adventure.  I realize how long it's been since we left Alaska when I realize that we're now living on a boat that's never been to Alaska, and have a child who's never been there as well.


OK, so I'm done writing about the hard parts of the trip - we're over it, after all!

But there is just one more thing...

The picture above was taken on our trip down the coast from Bundaberg to Iluka.  The weather was fine throughout, really too little wind if anything.  But, once again, I got miserably sick.  It clearly wasn't seasicknsess, as there was no motion at all.  But after a night of trading off the watch with Alisa, I found myself starting the day by vomiting up breakfast.  We're not sure what's going on, but more and more often being sleep deprived seems to set me off on a spiral that ends with me throwing up and then collapsing in a heap on the cockpit seat.  Whatever it is, we need to figure it out, as it really is an existential threat to our family life afloat.  I can only ask Alisa to mind the boat and the boys, alone and sleep-deprived herself, so many times...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

After the Fact

Here's the before and the after.

In Alameda, California:

And, seven months later or so, in Bundaberg, Queensland:

Quite a bit of living (and sailing!) went on between those two photos.

You often hear that circumnavigators find themselves adrift when they finally make it home and their long-sought goal has been reached.  I'll admit to feeling a little bit of that here in Iluka.  There's the sudden loss of focus - whatever else sailing a strange boat across an ocean with your two little boys may do, it certainly makes you focus.  We had a lot of fun on the crossing, but there were also many days, from the start of boat prep in February to the final passage a couple weeks ago, when Alisa and I were flat out, all day, to serve out twin masters of Family Responsibility and Safe Navigation.  Now one of those masters is suddenly gone.  Galactic bobs happily at anchor day after day, with no immediate need for my attention - no gybing, no plotting, no tweaks to the windvane required.  I find myself awake at odd times through the night, failing to sleep through the hours when I used to do these things.

And then there are the after effects from the effort that it took to get here only eight months after the purchase of the boat.  Alisa and I agree that it was almost too much to take on.  Eight months ago we had a Grand Plan confidently plotted out, something that would keep us busy sailing this boat for years and years to come.  But now we agree that we'll be happy to sail to New Zealand next year, and that there's little point in thinking beyond that.  We know something that we didn't know before, or had forgotten - someday the well of our effort will run dry.

I guess that's not too big a sense of transition for the end of such a big trip!

Meanwhile, it's been a joy to see how easily Elias has slid back into Iluka life.  With some mates to play with every day and lots of space to run, his tantrums have nearly disappeared.

(Not Iluka!)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Last Passage

We've been in Iluka, NSW for four days - long enough for us to catch up with our team here.  We've been to a couple barbies, Elias has had a couple of long plays with his mates, and I've been for a surf.  And we had the great treat of overlapping with some good sailing friends who happened to be anchored here, the same people who were sailing in company with us the first time that we came to Iluka, on Christmas Eve three years ago.

It was only when we arrived here that we felt that the trip was really over.


I'll just share a few photos of our 18-day passage from Futuna to Australia, the last passage of the trip, and also the last offshore passage that we're planning until we head to New Zealand in a year.

When we left Futuna we knew that a "squash zone" of enhanced trade winds was heading our way, but we just couldn't talk ourselves into sitting at anchor for another three days to let it pass us by.  So we sailed into it - here we are, with all hands tethered to the boat.  Once the winds piped up poor Eric threw up twice, and after that we kept him in the cockpit, where he doesn't get sick as easily.  Keeping a 1-year-old entertained while he's strapped into a seat all day is a bit of a challenge...

 Once the weather improved, Elias started to spend a lot of time fishing from the rail...

...but the only fish we caught was this flying fish that landed on deck.  Tasted great.

Soon after this picture was taken it was my turn to get sick - I was useless all day, and barely managed to stand watch that night.  Not so easy for Alisa to cover all the bases solo!  And hard to imagine doing a trip like this with someone who wasn't so supportive.

We anchored in Ouvea for the night to get some sleep.  I rigged up a buoy swing on the end of the boom for Elias while we were there.

 Baby sea snakes were attracted to our lights at night.

Elias doing his school work, back at sea.

Sooty/short-tailed shearwaters near the south end of New Caledonia.  These birds split their time between Tasmania and Alaska, and are therefore very close to our hearts.

After New Cal we sailed into a giant wind hole.

On the second half of our trip the mahi mahi drought finally ended - in a big way!  We ate a lot of mahi mahi.

That last fish was caught the day that we made it into Bundy.  By then, we had been sailing long enough that the beginning of the trip was already fading from memory.  Before the fact, I had confidently predicted a twelve-day passage.  Alisa was kind enough to only bring that up once or twice.  We still love long passages, we still felt the peace of being at sea, far from everyday cares.  But we missed the radar alarm on this one - would have been good to get some more sleep!

The end.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Oh yes...

..Alisa's hand is coming along fine.

To Iluka

One of the great things about traveling by boat is how you miss the too-quick transitions of jet flight. You have plenty of time, in the days or weeks it takes to get from one place to the next, to digest what you've just seen, and think about what you might find in your next destination.

Suddenly, though, it seems that everything has gone too quickly. We're sailing down the east coast of Australia again, and I'm wondering where the last year went.

We had a great six days in Bundaberg, visiting with relatives and re-immersing ourselves in Australia. A moment of excitement was provided when the swift arm of justice, in the form of 20 customs agents and Australian Federal Police, fell on the yacht two down from us in the marina one Friday night. Seems it's still a really bad idea to use your yacht to import quantities of illicit drugs into Australia.

And now we're on our way to our favorite place in Australia, north of Hobart - Iluka.

Poor Elias had his worst tantrum ever this morning, working himself up to the point of vomiting. I wish someone could tell me how to deal with those scenes calmly. Aside from that, we're back in the passage-making groove - trailing dirty nappies behind the boat and parsing the night into tiny little compartments of sleep that we trade back and forth. Weather and whims of the sea aside allowing, we should be in Iluka Tuesday morning.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Futuna Is

Well, if you'll indulge me, I'll backtrack a bit to Futuna, which was the starting point of our 18-day sail to Bundaberg.

Futuna is...

...the kind of place where you go to check in with Customs, and come away with the lei that the Customs official had been wearing.  This has to sum up everything that I love about Polynesia - it's the place where strangers give you flowers.

Futuna was Alisa's very favorite stop on the whole crossing.  It's a little French dependency northeast of Fiji that gets only about 25 yachts a year, and almost no non-yacht tourists.  People were incredibly friendly and helpful and eager to interact with us.

By the time we reached Futuna we were starting to get a little dazed from all the travel we've crammed into the last six months, and our photography suffered from the travel fatigue.

 But I did get a pic of Elias in the back of a pickup on a hitchhiking foray around the island.  We're going so fast, he said.

Futuna is at 14° South, and I found the heat to be a bit insufferable - check out my sweat-soaked t-shirt.

Lucklily, we could swim off the boat every day.

Elias discovered the joys of jumping off the jupe.

And, as always, we had lots of chores to attend to.

I hauled water.

And we made a new cage to keep the escape artist safely in his bunk at night.

We pulled the jib down on deck for a bit of sewing.

And Alisa did some laundry.

With all that to take care of, it's not surprising that I never got around to drinking kava with the men.

Hopefully we'll go back some day when we have a little more time...

The end.