Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Fellow Travellers

There are thousands and thousands of sailboats out traveling the world at any one time, and their movements follow very definite seasonal patterns.  Right now nearly all the travelling boats in the Southern Hemisphere are moving into the tropics to enjoy the new cyclone-free season and to avoid the rigours of a winter spent at the more dreary latitudes.

We, of course, are sitting out this season.  And while it's not the kind of thing that we think about much, I think that we are missing the company of other travelling sailors.  There's a very special bond that we feel with other people who cross oceans in their own boats.

So it was a great treat to have our friends Rex and Louise on Six Pack just down the dock from us for the last few days.

We first met Rex and Louise in Tonga, almost four years ago.  Then, a year or two later, we crossed paths with them in Mooloolaba, just at the right time for them to be the honored guests at Elias' third birthday party.  And now they've turned up four pens over from us on BB dock.  It's a classic sort of history to have with other sailors - fun meetings, widely spaced.

Six Pack is the size that cruising boats used to be twenty or thirty years ago, before everyone decided that passagemaking boats had to be floating castles.  These guys have been at it for decades, have sailed an amazing amount, and are low-key and understated about it all, in the way that the most accomplished sailors seem to be.

Alisa and I were particularly interested in the winter that they spent in Patagonia on Six Pack, and we peppered them with questions about their experiences there.

Nothing like the promise of future adventure to excite sailors in port...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Going Home

Galactic snugged up at the dock.  Tarp over the cockpit, 
Arctic entry over the back of the dodger, going nowhere.

Sitting still for a season makes sense to us - Eric can get a little older before we go sailing again, Elias can do a year in school, and Alisa and I can take a breather from the constant movement that dominated our life in 2011.

But there's a discontent that comes to a sailor in port.  You want to be going, you want to feel that energy that only comes when you're setting off for somewhere new.  Strangely, though, at the same time that you miss the excitement of long passages, getting moving again seems improbably difficult - it's a far-off state, that existence of constant travel, and when you're sitting all the difficulties in the life afloat suddenly seem so substantial.

So, this season at the dock in Tasmania has given Alisa and me ample time to mull over the future.  One of the things that we've realised is that we need to cook up a new plan.  When we first left Kodiak, we had a very concrete goal - to sail to Australia.  Then, when we bought Galactic last year, we had a new plan - to sail across the Pacific again, get back to Tassie and catch our breath.

Now that we look back on all that, we have heaps of great memories, but it also feels like we've been repeating ourselves a bit, trodding already-known paths.  And, as the five-year anniversary of leaving home in Kodiak approaches (how did that happen?), the question of how long we'll be living afloat is raised - is this a particular phase in our lives, or are we settling in to being permanent vagabonds?

As we've been thinking about our plans for the coming years, we've been thinking explicitly about the answers to big questions like that.  What we've come up with can be summarised generally with three points: First, it's time to start visiting new places.  Our time in Australia has been great, but it's been enough for now.  Second, if we can help it, we won't spend this long sitting still again - while we're travelling, we'd like to keep moving.  And third, it's time to start heading home to Alaska.  It might be five or six years until we get there, but we need to figure out what parts of the world we want to see while we're out sailing, and work them into an itinerary that will take us back.

So, inshallah, when we head off to New Zealand next summer, we'll be starting a new season in our voyaging that will eventually see us closing the circle back at the dock in Kodiak.  

Saturday, May 26, 2012

ABC Local Radio

Well, late notice, but I'll be interviewed about South From Alaska on Hobart ABC local radio tomorrow - Sunday - around 1030 in the morning Hobart time.  That's 936 AM in Hobart, or listen online if you're outside of Hobart.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Back Home

It was really good to get back home to the family.

Things are pretty much as I left them.  Elias still has a barking cough at night.  Eric is still a doll when his brother isn't around, and a terror when he is.  I still find myself occasionally sticking my fingers in my ears to block out the noise of Elias and Eric stirring each other up.

Ah, but - some things did change while I was gone.  Eric is starting to use the toilet, which means that the day when we'll sail (and live!) in a diaper-free state is that much closer.

Another thing that happened while I was away was that winter settled in for good.  It's pretty chilly here, and damp.  The paint touch-ups that I began before Elias went into the hospital might wait a long time before they get their final coats.

Luckily, the boat is very cozy and snug.  While I was away Alisa made this great curtain across the back of the dodger.

It completely closes off the space around the companionway hatch and keeps cold air from coming below - just like the unheated Arctic entryways that are de rigueur on houses in Interior Alaska.

We also insulated all the hatches and portlights with the plastic shrink-wrap that people in North America put on their windows in the winter (thanks for mailing it, Mom!).  It keeps the boat warm and stops condensation, the dread foe of every sailor living aboard in a cold-ish place.

It was pretty heartening to come back and see that even if the boys were running Alisa ragged while I was gone, at least the boat was a comfortable home for the family while I was away.

Monday, May 21, 2012


So the second international conference on climate change effects in marine ecosystems is officially a wrap...

The conference was held on the site of the World Expo.  I did my part to spread goodwill.

The conference gave me the chance to hang out with people who are interested in exactly the same kinds of questions that my research tries to answer.  A highlight for me was a talk by a biologist working in the Baltic Sea who used an approach that a colleague and I developed in the Gulf of Alaska.  It was a great example of how scientific communication is supposed to work - someone I had never met read our paper and thought of ways that our research might be applicable in an ecosystem I've never been to, and then I happened by chance to be at a conference where he was presenting his results.

An unlooked-for bonus of hanging out in a new country with a bunch of scientists is that they tend to be really good travelling companions.  It was a pretty worldly group - people from six continents, most of whom have travelled widely.  A good bunch to go out to a Korean restaurant with.

Of course, scientists are also prone to occasional over-exuberance...

Friday, May 18, 2012

Urban Myth Conference Dinner

It's become something of an urban myth to me: for years, colleagues who have gone to conferences in Asia have been telling me stories about eating restaurant meals where the octopus tentacles are so fresh that they're still moving on the plate.

The other night, I went out for a late dinner with some friends here in Korea, and we stumbled into just that kind of restaurant.  With the language barrier, we weren't sure what we were getting until it arrived at the table - but there it was, several kinds of invertebrates, just plucked from an aquarium, processed and then served.  Both the octopus and sea cucumbers were still moving on the plate.

And it was good!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

And Now For Something Totally Different

I keep noticing the air quality - it's just so bad.  Check out our final approach to the runway.

So, bit of a transition for me - I'm in Korea, attending a conference on climate change effects in marine ecosystems.

Pre-retirement full-time sailors all find one way or another to fund their wanderings - we're doing it through my research in Alaskan marine biology, which I've been keeping going part-time as we sail.  Alaska has seen more than its share of climate change in recent decades, so this conference is right up my alley.

The conference is in Yeosu, at the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula.

It is being held at the site of the World Expo, which has an oceans theme this year.  (I didn't even know that they still had World Expos...)

The Expo is demonstrating that the Koreans know how to organise a spectacle.

Being here, I realise how much I just like to travel.  Korea never would have been on my list of places to visit if this conference hadn't been going on, but I'm really enjoying being here.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

La Vida Loca

Here's Elias, triumphant, as he's about to leave the hospital yesterday.  He's holding a project that he was working on during his time on the inside - that's a Tassie tiger, in case you're wondering.

We brought him home, and the family chaos level immediately skyrocketed on board Galactic.  Our two boys are pretty good at stirring each other up.

It's been quite a run for the family - Elias in hospital for a week, and the book launch, and then, a few hours after Elias got home, I went to the airport and started my trip to Korea for a marine biology conference.  I only go to one or two science meetings a year, and it just happened that this one is happening at a really inconvenient time.

Poor Alisa gets to keep it all running as the outnumbered adult until I return!

Friday, May 11, 2012


Yesterday was the launch for South From Alaska.

This is the first thing that I saw when I showed up at the bookshop - the sign out front advertising the event.  (Notice the author's name!).  A less resilient person might have seen a bad omen...

But it went great.  We had a fine turnout, and the response was good.  I spoke for about 25 minutes, showing images from our trip and reading passages from the book.

You could look at an event like this as a bit of a chore, but I decided at the outset that I would just enjoy the authorial moment of it all - the chance to read a bit of the book to an audience, and to be in a room full of readers, and to just celebrate the book.

And that's pretty much what it was.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

New Age Group

With everything that's been going on, I neglected to mention that birthdays come in pairs on board Galactic.  A few days after Eric turned two, Someone Special turned forty.

It seemed like such a sensible plan - have M-A over for cake with the kids, then she would take Alisa out for celebratory drinks with some friends while I fed the kids dinner and put them to sleep.  But we had forgotten that the kids are so antsy at 5:30 that they can't even sit still to eat cake.  My photography suffered as a result.
So now Alisa is in a new age group.  Our joint attitude towards being in our 40s is informed by friends of ours back home who are competitive runners and skiers - they find that attrition takes care of most of their competitors over the years, and that if they can just maintain their performance as they move up in the age groups, they get better relative to everyone else.

So that's what Alisa and I are looking to do in our forties - we'll just maintain, and let the competition fade away!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

New Routine

Well, we thought it was going to be a really busy week - there's the book launch, and I leave for a marine biology conference in Korea on Friday, and I had all sorts of pre-winter boat work that I was hoping to finish before I left.

All that is of course now on hold.  (Except the book launch - that will go on!)

This is Elias' fourth night in the hospital, and it looks like a fifth is in the cards.

He's generally his chipper self, and isn't really feeling all that sick, but he's also not getting better very quickly.

Alisa and I have been swapping off at the hospital - she does the day shift and I take nights.

On the bright side, Eric has been a delight to watch during the days.  I think he's revelling in being the only child back on the boat, able to play with whatever toy he pleases.

I guess this will go back to being a sailing blog when things get back to normal!

Sunday, May 6, 2012


So this is for the Hobartians in the audience.  

You are cordially invited to the event for South From Alaska that Fullers Bookshop is holding this Thursday.

I'll be reading from the book and sharing a few images from our voyages.  I've already met a few fans of the book here in town, and I've got to say that meeting readers is a real kick.  So if you've enjoyed the book, or this blog, come on down, and bring a friend.

New South Publishing is kindly throwing down for the first $200 of refreshments.  The event begins at 5:30, and Fullers is asking people to RSVP at 6234 3800.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

This Particular Friday Night

One of those classic moments of parenthood last night.  Elias has been fighting a night-time cough for nearly a week, and last night it worsened - he was wheezing a lot, and working hard to breathe, enough that the little triangle of skin just where his trachea disappears into his chest was pulling in sharply with each breath.

We got him out of bed around midnight, when it seemed that there was no space between the coughs for him to breathe.  He woke up, and was calm, but his breathing was still labored.  So, the $64 dollar question - brave the Royal Hobart Hospital emergency room at midnight on a Friday, or put him back to bed and reassess things in the morning?

I drove him to the hospital.  He was calm and chatty, and after we parked the car downtown I thought about just coming home again - he was so clearly not a child in distress, and seemed the picture of a non-necessary ER visit.

But, the chipper story he was telling about the carryings-on at Albuera Street Primary was coming out in this odd rhythm, as he had to pause every three words to catch his breath.  Ah well, we're here, might as well carry through, I thought.  I'm not a doctor, but breathing difficulty seems to be something to pay attention to.

The triage nurse read his oxygen saturation at 88-89%, and that's all it took - we were into the rapid treatment stream, right ahead of the token guy with neck tattoos who had been brought in by the police.

So we spent the night in the ER, and boy was he happy about it.  He got to watch two Pixar movies, back to back, and ate a ham sandwich at two in the morning.  From their reactions, I gather that the staff in the pediatric emergency department aren't used to their patients saying, "I'm having the greatest time!" at three in the morning.

But in spite of his good cheer, his oxygen levels didn't come up, and he had to stay on supplemental oxygen.  No big drama - maybe a bit of pneumonia - but they admitted him to the hospital, and just now we're waiting to see if he'll spend a second night there.


Elias is a public patient, meaning that we do not carry private health insurance while we're in Australia, and his care is being provided by Medicare, the single-payer, socialized-medicine health plan that we have here in Oz.

There's been a lot of grim news about the state of public hospital care in Tasmania lately.  As far as I can tell, the problem stems from the fact that the public hospitals are paid for by the state, not federal, budget.  Tasmania is the smallest state, and likely has the weakest economy of any Australian state recently, and as a result the budget for public hospitals has really fallen.

But I was incredibly impressed by the care that he has received.  It's such a huge undertaking for a government to strive to provide comprehensive health care, free, to any citizen who requires it.  The problems of balancing resources against need are endless when universal care is the goal.  But the public hospital has been everything that we could have asked for in this instance.

And finally, people are people everywhere, and I'm sure that we would have found helpful, caring staff if we'd shown up at a US hospital in the wee hours.  But there is something uniquely comforting about the oh-how-ya-goin-tough-luck-you'll-be-right-soon-mate attitude that Australian doctors and nurses show to a sick five-year-old in the middle of the night.

Friday, May 4, 2012


Allright, this is one of those posts about how the romance of sailing dies the moment you buy an actual boat.  

You've been warned.

This is our engine.  There are two things to know about it.  First, it's an English engine (a Perkins 4108, to be precise).  Because it is English, it leaks oil.  All Perkins 4108s leak oil.  So do Triumph motorcycle engines.  As near as I can tell, English engines just leak oil.  (My friend Reinhard can correct me if I am wrong.)

Lately the leak has gotten much worse - nearly a liter of oil every 12 hours.  I had a well-recommended mechanic in yesterday to take a look at replacing the seals.  And, bad news - to replace the rear seals, you have to take the damn engine off its mounts and shift it forward for access.  Which means the mechanic figured it at a three-day job.  Which, with the injector pump rebuild that we also need, puts us about four thousand dollars out of pocket.

The second salient fact is that this engine is much smaller than is typical for a boat our size.  Perkins very optimistically calls this a 50 HP engine.  General agreement has it closer to 35.  We displace 18 metric tons, mebbe 19 when we're heavily loaded.

So, we knew the engine was undersized when we bought the boat, and we always figured we might end up putting in a new engine ("repowering") if we were going to go to Patagonia or somewhere silly like that.

Repowering was always a hypothetical, "maybe someday" sort of thing.  But the work our current engine needs is suddenly adding up to a quarter of the price of a repower.  It clearly makes no sense to put so much money into our current engine if we're just going to get rid of it in a couple years.  

But, lord have mercy, all this sailing the world stuff is really just an extended lark.  We're trying to keep things fun, and dropping $20k, in Australian dollars no less, just doesn't sound like fun.

Stay tuned...

Don't Hate Me Because I've Got it Good

I do a lot of different things; like any long-distance sailor, I'll try my hand at any number of jobs that require a bit of know-how.  I've even gotten used to the pace of learning new skills on the boat - you count on doing a half-ass job the first time around, and from the second time on you find that you can do it a bit better.

But one thing that I do not do, unless you count making coffee and oatmeal in the morning, is cook.

Alisa is the cook for our family.  She's really good at it, and I figure there has to be at least one job on board that I hardly ever do.

Actually, Alisa is really really really good at keeping the team well-fed in spite of the various exigencies of rolling boat, irregular provisioning and clamoring kids.  If you want independent confirmation of how well she treats us, take a look at our friend Zoya's account of eating the Galactic way.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Any Excuse to Sail

We had an excuse to go sailing last week, and it was a good one - our friend Zoya's visit.

Without her visit, we would have missed this morning light in Barnes Bay.

We would have missed this rainbow in the D'Entrecasteaux Channel...

...and these wallabies on Simpsons Pt.

Our time away from town was a great reminder of how remarkable any regular run of days can be if you break away from the routine and go have a look at the world.

And, lucky us, our routine here in Hobart is pretty easy to break away from.  And we've been able to spend a lot of time during the last five years just looking at the world.

Finally, though we have some great Hobartian friends whom we have been able to see a lot of during our two stays here, much of our sailing life has been characterized by powerful, but ephemeral, friendships.  So it was great to be visited by someone we've known, jeez, for ten years or more.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Other Kind of Childhood

 (Yes, that is a boomerang.)

(Yes, that is a skull.)

The visit of our good Kodiak friend Zoya coincided with an oddity of the Albuera Street Primary School calendar.  Last Wednesday was Anzac day, and thus a school holiday.  Friday was a teacher in-service day, so no school.  

It seemed a little wasteful to hang around town for the second half of the week just so Elias could go to school on Thursday.  So we went sailing instead.

Elias doesn't get any independence when we're sailing, and Eric even less.  At five and two, they're completely dependent on us in the watery realm.  But when we go sailing they do get time every day just mucking around in the natural world - throwing a boomerang or finding a skull on the beach and trying to figure out what animal it came from.

Or whacking the water with sticks.

We're enjoying this winter in Hobart, and Elias in particular is loving the experience of going off to school five days a week.  But it was great to get a few days away on the boat and to be reminded of how different, and wonderful, the kids' lives are when we're out sailing...