Monday, March 28, 2011

A Book Contract

So, long-time readers of Once In A Lifetime will remember that I've been working on a book about our trip from Alaska to Australia.

I finished the first draft of the manuscript just before Eric was born, then sent it out to a few friends to read.  I figured that it needed a good re-write before it would be ready to shop around, but with Eric's birth and our boat swap and my science work, that re-write never happened.

Then, one of those friends did me the favor of passing the first fifty pages to someone she knew at the University of New South Wales Press.  And the upshot of that is that I am now working on that re-write, but with a deadline and a contract in hand.  The book will be published in Australia by New South/UNSW Press in November, and for those outside of Oz will also be available on Amazon.  The title is still up in the air.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Twice In A Lifetime

I don't actually think that we'll have too many moments of déjà vu in our upcoming trip to Australia - just as you can't step into the same river twice, I'm sure that you can't sail across the same ocean twice.  I expect that our experience this time around will be something quite different from what we found on Pelagic in 2008.

But today we did have a been-here-before moment - Alisa was splicing a line while Eric sat in his eating chair, (top photo) and we both simultaneously remembered a very similar moment - same chair, even - with Elias back in 2007, a week or so after we left Kodiak (bottom photo).  Funny how the photograph becomes the memory.  If we didn't have the photo of Elias and the anchor line, we never would have remembered that particular moment aboard Pelagic.

Meanwhile, it's after midnight and Alisa is off the boat, sewing our new deck awning for those tropical anchorages ahead.  She was sewing until 0230 last night, and Eric took her absence as an invitation to have a uniquely bad night, screaming and hollering and keeping me up.  So today was a bit of a washout for both Alisa and myself, as the combination of built-up fatigue from weeks of work, too little sleep, and too-hectic kids kept us from doing much meaningful work.

Eric, by the way, has lately developed an incredibly piercing, high-pitched scream that he rehearses for us through much of the day.  Not a good sound to be sharing a boat with, even as big a boat as Galactic.  I've been re-reading some of my descriptions of sailing with Elias at a similar age, and that has reminded me how tough it can be to share a boat with the under-one set...

Overall, though, things are great.  Alisa and I remind ourselves that this preparation stage is challenging enough that many, or even most, aspiring long-distance sailors never get past it.  So we're putting out heads down, working as hard as we can, keeping smiles on our faces, and consoling ourselves with the conviction that days of languid passagemaking are not far off.

Friday, March 18, 2011


All this boat work would sure be easier if we could spend entire days on it.  But I've been working on other things most mornings, keeping my science and writing commitments moving along.  And Alisa has been shouldering the vast majority of childcare, as always.  The upshot of this is that we've gotten on a very late schedule - me because I start on boat work halfway through the day, Alisa because she can't do much until the boys are asleep.  My goal is to cross two jobs off my list every day, and I'm often up to midnight to do it.

I'm cautiously optimistic that we're on schedule to get out of here - if for no other reason than we're pretty fed up with the restricted horizons and constant work of Alameda, and can't wait to start sailing!

Meanwhile, yesterday I had the first person tell me that I was going to die on the trip.

I was talking to a canvasmaker about doing us a shade for the cockpit.  He couldn't do the work on our schedule, but instead of just telling me that, he also had to take the opportunity to tell me that I would die in the tropics without a shade ("bimini") for the cockpit.

I might be a little picky on this front, but really, even if you mean it metaphorically, telling someone that they're going to die on their upcoming trip might not be the best idea...

I was actually a bit relieved that he couldn't make the bimini for us anyway.  It turns out that even when someone else is doing a job like that, you end up putting in a lot of time interacting with the worker to make sure the job goes right.  So far we've got the rigger, the electrician, the autopilot guy and the metal shop working on the boat.  And as pleasant and professional as they have generally been, I'll be glad when we're not dealing with them anymore, and the autonomy of our little ship is returned to us.

So now we just have to fit that bimini job into Alisa's schedule.  I figure that if she could finish the sailcover for Pelagic before Eric was born, she can do a bimini before we leave California!

Monday, March 14, 2011

She Sails

Well, it happened - we finally got out for a sail on Galactic.

And we liked what we saw.

The boat is a lot bigger than what we are used to, but she doesn't feel too big to handle.  Much of the core sailing gear - sails, mast and boom, rigging - is brand-new and higher-quality than what we would have bought if we were fitting out the boat ourselves.  One of the benefits of all this good sailing gear is that she sails quite well in light airs for a boat displacing 20-odd tons.  Alisa and I agreed that she promises to be a good sea boat, and we are looking forward to some heroic sailing when we get to the trades.
There were some other things that we liked about the new boat a lot.  All the control lines for jib and main are in easy reach of the wheel, making it easy for one person to sail.  And it turns out that there is plenty of room under the dodger for both boys - Eric in his car seat and Elias on a cushion.

And, just to make it a real-shake down sail, we got some unplanned action out of the day: the wind blew, the boat heeled, two drawers emptied onto the sole and a coffee pot ejected its contents all over the galley.  Meanwhile, that part of the crew who was down below changing a stinky diaper began to harbor dark thoughts about that part of the crew who was on deck and apparently making the boat heel for the sheer dirty pleasure of it.

We had both stayed up late the night before, and in our tired and grumpy state we found ourselves enjoying a spirited discussion about who had the tougher job - the person changing the 10-month old's diaper down below, or the person watching the antsy four year old in the cockpit while sailing the boat between the pylons of the Bay Bridge under conditions of shifting wind and adverse tide.

This is the sort of moment that I suppose might lead some people to reconsider the whole notion of sailing with small children.

Alisa and I, though, having been through it all before, kept in mind that most of the program of sailing with the family is wonderful.

We finished the day with a lovely sail down the narrow ditch separating Oakland and Alameda.  Our spirits revived, I risked a look back by saying to Alisa, "You called me an ------- back there."

"Don't be silly," she said.  "I would never call you an -------.  Or at least not in front of the boys."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Coffee, chocolate and beer

Occasionally, I close my eyes and daydream of scenes like this:

Then I open my eyes and see this:

We're immersed in all the details of getting this new boat ready on a very accelerated schedule - sails, rigging, autopilot, electrical, the anchoring and propane systems, deck hardware, the galley setup, routine maintenance, etc. etc. etc.  Galactic has never crossed an ocean before, so most of the work that we're taking on involves adding the gear and features that we think are important for long-distance sailing with the family.  There's so much to do in such a short time that we are hiring out big chunks of the work, something we almost never did on Pelagic.

Our schedule is so tight that we're provisioning even as we fit out the boat.

During our year of looking for this boat, Alisa and I talked a lot about the big picture: what this living afloat stuff really means, what sort of things we're looking for with this next chapter, our hopes and aspirations, that sort of thing.  With any luck I'll be writing about all that in the months to come, but for now any hope of making sense of the big picture has given way to an all-day-every-day effort to just get to sea.  I'm living with a job list in hand, and fueling myself with a steady diet of coffee, chocolate and beer.

Meanwhile, though, this new boat has become our family home.

Both boys quickly got used to having their own bunks.  Elias seems to see his bunk the same way that fishermen in Alaska view their bunks - as the only place on the boat that can be considered personal space.  Note the horse-themed decor.

Eric's bunk, on the other hand, is a more spartan affair.

With everything that is going on, we still haven't been for a sail!  Hopefully that will change this weekend... 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

It's A Wrap

We're in the water again, living aboard in this second epoch of our lives afloat.  So the Pelagic years, and this blog, are now over.  Please join us at Twice In A Lifetime.

Day One

Ha!  Gather around and observe this one moment of joy that way too much money, way too much effort, and many nervous moments of what-the-hell-are-we-doing introspection have bought us.

Today we christened our boat.

We launched early on a rainy morning.  The yard guys kindly let the family wait in the workshop while the travelift was doing its thing.  By the way, we hauled at Svendsen's, which was also the scene for out last haulout for Pelagic before crossing the Pacific.  We generally cannot say enough kind things about that yard.

Galactic leaving the hard.  That's one long drink of water!

Alisa letting the champagne fly, and making the name official in a way that no Coast Guard paperwork could.

The crew on our maiden voyage, from yard to marina, about a half mile down the much-abused waterway that separates Alameda from Oakland.  Left to right: Cabin Boy Second Class Eric Litzow, Cabin Boy First Class Elias Litzow.

And so that's us.  By naming the boat, we of course also named ourselves.  Wonderful sailing friends whom we haven't yet met will soon, if everything goes to plan, be referring to us collectively as "Galactic".  I could explain our choice of the name, but I think that would belabor what is essentially the process of us amusing ourselves...

And now, back to the job list!  We have six weeks until we want to be leaving San Francisco, and a heap of boat prep, one book re-write, and a round of family visits to accomplish in that time.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Waiting for the Paint to Dry

That's exactly what we've been doing.  First it was too rainy to paint, then when we did get the paint on it was too cold and wet for the paint to dry.  We painted the last coat of bottom paint on Thursday, and it was finally dry enough for us to go into the travel lift slings today - Tuesday.

Now the painting is done, and the new name is on the hull, and the California "champagne" is cooling in the reefer.  Tomorrow at 0700 the yard guys will lower us into the water.  But before they splash her we'll take a moment for a bit of maritime ritual, and thereby mark and observe this remarkable moment,  the launching of this new boat that we have selected to be the home for our family and the vessel for so many of our hopes.

So tomorrow is a beginning for us, a beginning of things that we cannot yet guess at.

But it is also the end of something, the end of what happened when two people, a bit startled at what they found themselves taking on, sailed away from home with their ten month old son, completely unsure of their ability to carry through on the plans they had set.

Those of you who have been following the blog know that the three years that followed that departure day gave us more than we could have reasonably have hoped for.

This will be a different trip; we are four of us now, and Alisa and I (and Elias) know much more of the sea, and ourselves, than when we left on Pelagic.  And since we know more, we are of course looking for different things with this second incarnation of our life afloat.

So, to mark the transition between boats, and the "ending of the beginning" of our maritime lives, we'll be moving to a new address for the blog - if nothing else, the name of this blog demands the change.  And it's also nice in a way to end this particular blog, to declare a wrap on this particular phase in our lives, and to mark the start of something new.  We'll link to that new blog once we've christened the boat - I hope you'll all come along to the new blog to continue finding out what happens next.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Cloth Diapers Afloat

This blog will only apply to the rare (dare I say, mad) sailors who chose to take infants as crew. While I was pregnant with our first son, Elias, our very good friend Debra thankfully informed me how dreadful it is for nonparents to hear about diapers and baby poop. So you have my blessings to skip this blog.
So cute! Elias in 2008. Note the blue swivel lids on diaper buckets. 
That said, I know there must be a few crazy parents out there that can benefit from what I learned sailing with 10-month old Elias… Most families we met with children had kids age 4 and older. In three years we met only one family that sailed with infants, and by the time we met them their children were 4 and 6 – but I was reassured that they were still cruising.  Living at the dock or on a mooring with children is different from cruising with kids; although many issues are the same, there are a few that are specific to cruising families. Cloth diapers is one of these issues, because with a proper landfill or the ability to burn your own dirty diapers ashore with kerosene, you have the option to at least entertain the thought of disposable diapers. But when you find yourself on a 3 week passage from Mexico to the Marqueses, cloth is the only option.  Similarly, when you find that many of the 'landfills' across the Pacific Islands are only a beach on the far end of town, you cannot with clear conscious use anything except cloth.

Jessica (SV Yare) and Marls (SV Sea Dragon) have both asked me for tips about cloth diapers, so I will present what I learned sailing with Elias. The timing is very good, as I am about to repeat the experience with 9-month old Eric this season so I will surely have updates to these methods and I’m hopeful that Jessica and Marls and other sailing parents will share helpful comments and tips as they discover them.

In 1997, months before we left Kodiak , I tried in vain to find a guide for dealing with cloth diapers at sea. So many families have done this very thing, but I could only find one reference to help me (possibly there is one written in French?). Don Street, who I admire as a sailor, wrote something along the lines of 'all you need is 4 diapers, one dragging behind the boat, one hanging on the line to dry, one in waiting, and one on the baby's bottom."  Well, now, that's real helpful isn't it?

Enough dancing around the subject - Here are the supplies you will need: 1) enough diapers for 4 days 2) hemp liners for diapers 3) a mesh bag with line attached for towing diapers 4) two 5-gallon buckets with turn lids 5) rubber gloves 6) bungie cord or shot of line and clothes pins 7) a winning attitude!  
I washed diapers every other day. I washed 2 days of diapers at once, so you need at least 3 days of diapers so the baby can wear something on the day you are washing and the extra day's worth of diapers are there in case the clean diapers take longer than a day to dry (not in the tropics but yes in Alaska), or if you lose a diaper out of the mesh bag (happened  mysteriously to us twice), or if a shark comes and eats the entire mesh bag with diaper (happened to us just outside the pass off Tahiti).  In the tropics your diapers will dry in a few hours of sun or wind or even on a calm day if you rinse them sufficiently.  But in foggy, rainy, coastal Alaska you will have to pray for wind and then after a few hours of wind you will have to move the diapers down below to hang near the diesel heater while you bake bread. I know they are bulky but if you can take 4 days-worth you will be glad you did. I should probably say that I used the old-fashion cloth diaper that is a Chinese prefold with a cloth insert (or 2 at night) and a plastic outer shell. Elias was using about 7-8 diapers a day when he was 10-months, so we had a duffle bag just for diapers that got moved about 20 times from one spot to another around the cabin. I took approximately 32 Chinese prefolds, 25-30 cotton inserts, 10-15 outer plastic shells, and two huge rolls of hemp liners.  Clean Chinese prefolds stack very compactly and they are probably easier to wash than the newer diapers that are on the market…plus, I got them all as hand-me-downs from friends in Kodiak.  I think Eric will be the sixth child to use these diapers, and they have no smell whatsoever and only stains from the zinc diaper-rash ointment that I had to occasionally use. Truly amazing!
             Hemp liners are disposable and will dissolve in seawater, so while they don't catch all the poop they are helpful and can be immediately tipped over the side as you are preparing to drag the diaper. Also, instead of using baby wipes which are not biodegradable, I used hypoallergenic lotion (a cheap brand – nothing fancy) with toilet paper. Get a lotion with a squeeze top and just squirt some right on baby's behind and wipe with toilet paper.  This can then be tossed over the side or flushed down your head, depending how close to shore you are. 
            Dragging diapers works – yes, I know, I was skeptical at first too. I had a great anxiety about getting the diapers exposed to salt water because I worried that it would be impossible to dry them – especially at high latitudes- if I didn't rinse every last salt crystal out of them. Also I was concerned about diaper rash.  When our commercial fishermen friends in Kodiak laughed and said I just had to drag diapers behind the boat to clean them, I would ask 'but have you done this?' and then they would go quiet (very rare reaction for any fisherman and only furthered my anxiety).  But I decided I had to try it to find out, and dragging the diaper for 10-20 minutes flushes out all the pee smell. At anchor it is MUCH harder to wash diapers as I had to use the deck hose and it isn't nearly as effective as dragging diapers at 5 kts.  A heavy duty laundry bag with large mesh or a mesh SCUBA collecting bag will work fine. A draw-string for easy and quick closure is helpful and can be tied to a towing line.
            Once sufficiently dragged, diapers were wrung out to get rid of as much seawater as possible.  Then they soaked in either the pee or poop 5-gallon bucket that adorned the stern of Pelagic. I found swivel lids to be very convenient. I put ½ tablespoon of nappy san detergent in the poop bucket and no detergent in the pee bucket.  Each bucket had 2-2.5 gallons of freshwater.  Cloth diapers that are not rinsed properly will smell, so I used little or no detergent in them.  Pee diapers get cleaned by the sea.  I am not sure, but I think hanging diapers to dry also lets the sun and wind disinfect them.  Initially I boiled water and used that for the poop diapers, but I soon decided I could skip that step. If they smell then they need to be dragged for longer. The poop diapers, after a 2-day soak, would get wrung out and then swooshed around in a bucket with as little water as possible to rinse them. After all the poop diapers were wrung again, they were put with the wrung out pee diapers and then all the diapers were swooshed around in a very small amount of constantly changed fresh water and wrung out.  It is important to really wring out all the water between steps.  We carried 75 gallons of water on Pelagic and while it was enough, there was none to spare. Aside from the water I had in the soaking buckets (which was changed 1-2 times a week), I only allowed myself 4 liters of freshwater to rinse diapers every other day.  Elias got mild diaper rash less than 5 times, and I think the hemp liners probably added a protective layer.
            Hanging the diapers to dry could be the hardest part of the entire process when the trade winds were booming, simply because it takes two hands to hang diapers and that leaves you with none for hanging on! I would harness up and hang a line high up out of the spray and once it was done I would always think that clean diapers hanging in the rigging was a happy sight.  Over time, make it easy on yourself and cut a bungie line to fit your rigging so you can stretch the clothes line fast and move it quickly while leaving all diapers still pegged on. You will be doing this every other day so each small step that makes it easier adds up to a lot of time saved. 

Drying diapers in Mexico.   This is not the best way to tie clothesline, because in order to move the line to a better spot I would first have to remove half the diapers and then untie the line.

Elias eventually started to 'help' me wash his diapers and I would let him play with a clean diaper and some water in the cockpit while I worked. I never once let myself complain about the work involved. It is good, honest work and it is much better than putting plastic in the ocean. And it is just part of what has to be done to reap the benefits of cruising with infants and toddlers as crew.
Happy sailing!