Saturday, June 30, 2012

Under the Pump

Australian vernacular continues to provide colorful ways to describe the family situation since Monday.  It turns out, according to one of my most dependable linguistic informants, that we are under the pump.  Must admit that the image feels completely apt - the metaphorical water gushes over us, cold and bracing, and we keep eyes and mouths closed, waiting for the flow to ease.

Elias is sick with the chest virus that put him in the hospital last time, and therefore not eating.  His dressings will be changed again on Monday, and that will be our next chance to find out if he will require a skin graft.

He may also be discharged Monday.  And we got the word from a surgeon on the burn team today that medical advice is we take him to a house, and not back to Galactic, when he is discharged.

Today is Saturday in the Antipodes, so that gives us 48 hours, over a weekend, to organize housing.  Bob and weave(!), as some of our oldest sailing friends used to say.


Meanwhile, this is a sailing/family blog, so a little boat news might be in order.  We've been considering the very good advice we've gotten from sailors who have been to New Zealand that the price of things like new diesel engines is much lower there than it is here, and the standard of workmanship if anything better.

For a while that sounded like very good news - we could take a pass on the wildly over-valued Australian dollar, and also put off the existential misery of repowering until next summer.  But then I had a chat with a friend here in Sandy Bay who has actually repowered a couple of boats.  He pointed out that it's a job that takes months - and if we did it in New Zealand, we'd be doing it without a car, without any local knowledge, and without the seasonal dock space that we enjoy now.  And we'd have to count on blowing half the sailing season, or more, to do the job.

All of this might justify the added expense of repowering here in Tasmania, where we know we'll be based for the next five or six months.  So stay tuned on that one - I can't wait until simple problems like that occupy our minds!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Trouble In Mind

Well, whatever passed for our everyday life is again out of the window.

I am doing the nights and mornings at the hospital with Elias, and Alisa is taking the day shift.

Among other things, this has meant that Eric has had to get used to me cooking his lunch and dinner back on the boat.  Alisa has kindly been leaving me lists of suggested survival meals - I think she may have some concern for our welfare during my tenure as cook.

Eric is the calmest, easiest two-year-old on the planet when he's on the boat without his brother.  This has made our days together pretty enjoyable.  And, he still takes a long nap every day!

Elias, meanwhile, is a hurting little boy.  It's going to take him a while to get over this.  But I should stress that we expect a complete recovery.

And Alisa and I, predictably, feel like shit.  It was a lot easier to be philosophical about things when he was in hospital with a virus.  We know that accidents happen to good parents, and my thanks to the people who have pointed that out.  But I think we'll have to go on feeling like shit for a while nonetheless.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Very Ordinary

Yesterday was a very ordinary day, in Australian parlance.

Meaning, one of our worst ever.

On Galactic, we make coffee in a stove-top espresso pot.  Yesterday morning, the kids woke us up well before first light, just like they do every morning.  Alisa got out of bed, got the coffee going, and got Eric out of his bunk.  When the pot boiled, I told her "I've got it," and turned the stove off, then stepped into the shower.  But I didn't pour the coffee - I just left it on the stove where it had been, without either locking off the stove gimbal or tucking the top-heavy espresso pot behind the tea kettle, where it is more secure.

Alisa started changing Eric's diaper.  And before she even realized that he was in the galley, Elias did something he's never done before - he tried to climb up onto the counter next to the stove to reach down into the under-counter storage space where we keep the cereal.  He put weight on the stove, which, since it was free to swing on its gimbal, spilled the just-boiled pot of espresso down his leg.

I came running out of the shower.  Alisa already had Elias' PJs off.  We could see immediately that it was a bad burn.  The outer layer of skin had peeled off his thigh in one large sheet.

In the past, I've thought that I do well in a tight spot.  But I don't think that I did a great job for Elias in the next 10 minutes or so.  Alisa had the right immediate idea, to get cold water on the burn.  But when we finally got to the ER, and I saw how long they continued to apply cold water, I realized that we hadn't cooled it down nearly long enough.

I wasted some time finding and applying the silver sulfadiazine cream that we carry, when we should have just been cooling the burn off and getting him to hospital.

And then I had the waking-nightmare experience of not being able to find the car keys, anywhere.  Alisa finally remembered that I had hung my pants up to dry in the cockpit the night before, and the keys were in the pocket.

That's really just the tiniest detail of the whole event.  But I cannot forget the completely helpless feeling of not coming up with the keys.

I finally carried him off the boat, and we pulled into the ER entrance eight minutes or so later.

I'll be glad when we can stop remarking how good the ER staff is at the Royal Hobart Hospital.

I'll also be glad when we can stop remarking what a tough little guy Elias is.  After his hour of agony was over, and he was bandaged and afloat on a sea of analgesia, he kept telling me how happy he was...

So now he's a day and a half into his hospital stay.  The burn runs from his hip to his calf, about 8% of his total body surface area.  He just had the bandage changed for the first time earlier today, and the burn nurse tells us that we should expect him to be in hospital for 7-10 days.

Poor little bugger.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Five Years Out

It doesn't seem like five years, Alisa said.  It seems like a lot longer than that.

I think she meant that in a good way.

Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of our departure from Kodiak.

Us, one week into the life afloat.

Five years is a pretty significant chunk of time, but the anniversary has passed quietly - no cake, no introspective talk about "what it all means".  Living on a boat and traveling as much as we can is something that we pretty much take for granted at this point. 

The last five years have been great, but who knows - not to tempt fate or anything, but the next five years might be even better, if we end up being lucky enough to keep going that long.  The boys should be coming into the age when they can really reap the rewards of living on a traveling boat.  That counts for a lot.

For now, all that I'm thinking about is the small rewards that have come our way over the last five years.  Like, for instance, the way that tools are such a big part of my day-to-day life, and the way I've become semi-capable at any number of hands-on jobs for keeping a boat working, far from outside support.  I'm no fan of boat work, but I do love the way that sailing has saved me from the fate of being another over-educated person without practical skills.

And there have been any number of little moments at sea - the sunrises far from land, the family dinners when the sea is calm and we all gather around the cockpit table, the promise of a new speck of land appearing on the horizon.  Those moments are gold.

And there is the bigger stuff - the really good, though transient, friendships that we've made with people from all over the world.  And the chance that our family has had to live together, day in and day out, without the separation that is imposed by the workaday world.

It's taken an immense effort from Alisa and myself to pull off these five years.  But we've also been lucky as hell to be able to do it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


I've often thought that one of the few real drawbacks of this long-term travel of ours is that we see family so infrequently.

So it was a great treat to have my dad in town last week.  He was on a quick visit to Australia, mostly spent driving around to see the various rellies in Queensland, but managed to get down here for a couple of days.

The boys were very excited, and even Eric seemed to remember him, which I guess means that our Christmas visit in Iluka wasn't all that long ago.

A while ago I was saying to Alisa that we should try to get back to the States every year to see family.  But if nothing else, the cost of four tickets looks to make that idea unrealistic.  So it's a real treat every time that someone from the family makes it all the way over here to see us...

Monday, June 18, 2012

Optimism writing down a plan for what you'll be doing for the next six years.

The other night Alisa and I sat down with Jimmy Cornell's World Cruising Routes and came up with the outline of an itinerary to get us back to Kodiak in six years.  The last time we sat down with World Cruising Routes and wrote out an itinerary like that was back when we were sitting in our house in Kodiak, wondering how we would get to Australia on Pelagic.

It's just an outline, of course, and subject to change.  In particular, we wrote down one or two ideas that we know are likely not possible, agreeing that we would figure out the details when or if they become an immediate problem.

Of course it tempts fate to plan out this far.  But that's really half the point - a sea adventure needs a pinch of the audacious about it, you have to be grasping at big things from the outset.  And I (and I think Alisa) have always operated best when the adventure is a bit goal-oriented.  I like to have a destination in mind, especially if getting there involves just a little struggle.

So this itinerary has us ending up in Kodiak, and starting off by leaving Tasmania this coming summer, bound for Lord Howe and the Auckland Islands.  Then a season in the western tropical Pacific.  And then...

Saturday, June 16, 2012

This Place Is Different...

The very best thing about travel is that it forces you to be engaged.

Travelling frees you from the grip of numbing routine.  You're constantly exposed to new places and new situations, you're always learning, always trying to figure something out.

Traveling won't make you live longer.  But I'm sure that it makes your life seem longer, just because, by keeping your synapses buzzing as you deal with novel stimuli, you're packing more awareness into a given unit of time.

A few days ago we drove out to the forests of central Tasmania and took a quick walk around.

We've gotten out of Hobart very little since school started for Elias, and all of our forays have been on board Galactic.  So we haven't seen the interior of Tasmania at all on this visit.

On this day trip of ours I was overwhelmed at how little I know about the natural history of this place.  In Alaska, I feel like I know a little something about any ecosystem that I might find myself in - I might know a little of the geology and a few of the plants, and I'd definitely know most of the vertebrates, and I'd have a bit of a feel for how it all goes together.

But in the forests of Tassie, I have none of that.  I can see that the understory of this particular spot was dominated by outrageously big ferns, and the canopy by outrageously big eucalypts.

Other than that, I didn't have any idea of what was going on.  Which made me realise that we've been taking Tasmania a bit for granted on this visit.  We've been acting like we live here.  But, of course, we don't.  We'll be leaving next summer, and we have no expectation of ever sailing back.  So it was a bit of a wakeup call - this is our chance, now, to get to know this pretty remarkable little corner of the world, and that chance won't be coming back.

I'll let you know how we do.

Friday, June 15, 2012

And, a Winner...

So a copy of the book is heading to the UK - to Adam, in Lowestoft.

Something that I didn't expect from this little experiment was how fun it was to get messages from the people entering.  Even with the comments, this blogging thing is mostly a one-way street.  I guess that's just an immutable characteristic of writing, no matter how the technology changes.  So it was cool to just hear from a bunch of readers for once...

I'll do it again in a month.

And thanks to NewSouth for providing the copies of the book to give away!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

12 Hours To Go

Just had a look, and there has been quite a nice response to the book raffle.  The draw will be at 19:24 Hobart time, or about twelve hours from now.  If you're interested in winning a copy of South From Alaska, send an email to, with the word "book" in the subject line.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Enough Already

In much of Australia, today is the observance of the Queen's birthday.

I had firmly decided not to share any of my thoughts about the holiday.  This is a sailing blog, after all.

But this evening, I was exposed to an outrage that could not stand.  My weekly tennis league was cancelled - for the Queen's birthday!

What kind of Australian holiday involves the cancelling of sporting events?

So, I have been motivated to share my thoughts about this nation's relationship with the British crown.  This is a long-standing source of personal irritation.  Ultimate political authority in Australia still resides in the British Monarchy.  People here call themselves "monarchists" with no sense of being ridiculous.  The Queen's representative hasn't invoked her authority and dismissed the democratically elected Australian government, well, not since the 1970s anyway.

The American in me just wants the Australian in me to join up with my 20 million co-citizens and tell the royal family to bugger off back to Germany, already.  "People!", I want to say to every Graeme and Sheila that I see in the street.  "We don't have to be vassals of the British!  Let's find some tea to dump in Sydney Harbour and get on with the job of governing ourselves!"

All joking aside, I cannot for the life of me get over the idea that we don't at least pay lip service to the idea that all political authority in this nation stems from the people.  It's such an antediluvian notion, this continued obeisance to the mother country.  It's so... I don't know, so Canadian.

OK, joking aside for real this time.  Surely Australia is a fine enough country, and at this late date in our history, a confident enough country, to declare our complete independence.

Let the Poms start coming to our representative, asking for permission to form a government.

OK.  I think that's off my chest for the year.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Three Gems Update

Well, we haven't had a sudden outbreak of common sense that tells us that it's a bad idea to try to visit Port Davey, Lord Howe Island and the Auckland Islands next summer.  Alisa lights up every time we mention the idea and says things like "why not?"

So, the planning is getting under way - I've made first contact with the New Zealand Department of Conservation to enquire about getting a permit for the Aucklands.

And I've started hunting up a good marine engineer here in Hobart to advise us about the likelihood that we can use a bigger prop on Galactic, given the restrictions that the design places on clearance between the prop and hull.  We're leaning towards saying yes to the idea of repowering, but there's no point in doing that unless we can fit a prop that will get the extra power to the water.

We're in that blessed stage of pre-trip prep when we still have months to get ready.  But experience tells me that it will suddenly be December, and we'll be scrambling to finish our boat jobs and get out of town!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Book Raffle

I've got a few publicity copies of South From Alaska from the publisher.  What to do with them?

Well, I figure that since the book is published only in Oz, it might be nice to give readers outside the Lucky Country a chance to get a hold of a copy.  So I'll try an experiment here, and give a copy away.  If you're interested, send an email to, with the word "book" in the subject line.  Anyone, from Australia or elsewhere, is free to have a go.

One week from today - let's see, that's next 19:24 on Thursday, the 14th, Hobart time - I'll use a random number generator to choose from the entrants.  Postage is on me.  And don't worry, of course I won't put your email on the blog or anything like that - I'll just identify the winner by first name and city.

If this experiment works, I'll give a copy away every month until they're gone!


Zoya shared a movie that she made of her visit with us.

Luckily, the late-night footage, with us in our cups and expansive, was heavily edited.

It's here.

In Transit

This morning the family went to a public viewing of the transit of Venus at the physics department at UTas.

The organizers were doubtless possessed of pure motivations, but their "public viewing" involved sitting in a lecture theatre, watching an internet feed of the transit on a big screen.  Meanwhile, some guys were fiddling around to set up a camera feed of the local view of the transit, to be displayed on the same large screen, in the same lecture theater.

Visigoths!  Barbarians!  Imbeciles!

As if we all don't spend enough time inside, staring at stuff on screens.  The transit of Venus is a physical event that is meant to be experienced personally, outside, as it happens.  The whole idea is to behold the actual light that is cast by our glorious orb 93 million miles distant, with the single blemish that is the shadow cast by our lovely neighbor, the morning star.

Actual light, actual shadow, actual solar system, actual experience.  No pixels, nothing digital, no tape delay.

After all, Hobart only had viewing conditions that looked like this:

Plus, sailors feel a bit proprietary about the transit.  Captain Cook, tiare Tahiti, Fletcher Christian.  All that.

So we left the big screen behind and set up our own private viewing - all it took was a pair of binoculars, a wheelbarrow for a tripod and a convenient shipping container for a screen.

Statistically speaking, I reckon Eric is the only one of us who has a chance of seeing the next transit.  He would be 107.

You can do it, mate!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Oh Right - Should We Have Had a Party?

This one completely slipped me by - I knew that the fifth anniversary of our setting sail from Kodiak was coming up later this month.  But I just realized that this blog, which we began in the lead-up to our departure, is now three months past the five-year-old mark.

Here's our very first post.  Nothing fancy - just a suggestive title and a single pic.

The photo is from a trip that Alisa and I had made along the Alaska Peninsula in Pelagic the summer before we set off to Australia.  She's reacting to the fact that we were up and moving at three am (dig the endless summer light in Alaska!) after a wind shift made our anchorage untenable.

But of course the title of the post gets at something else.  In those days we just couldn't escape the idea that it was time for a bold move, time to take ownership of our lives and to start living exactly the way that we wanted to, and that every day that we delayed was a chance that was gone forever.

And I guess we still think about things pretty much the same way.

Three Gems

Well, I should really know better than to post such a vague notion, such an unformed whiff of a plan, online.  But here goes.

We've been talking a lot about future sailing plans lately.  And our recent visit from Rex and Louise, who are based on Lord Howe Island, got us thinking about that place, which we've been wanting to visit for a few years.

Lord Howe is the home to the southernmost coral reefs in the world, and has the reputation in Oz as being a purely wonderful place, a gem lost in the great watery expanse where the Tasman Sea meets the southwest tropical Pacific.  As we begin to contemplate the end of our stay in this corner of the world, we realise that if we want to see Lord Howe, we'll have to make it happen soon.

The only trouble is that we were already hoping to visit Port Davey, in southwestern Tasmania, during the next austral summer, as well as the Auckland Islands, in the New Zealand subantarctic.  Visiting all three of those place in a single summer would be tough - it would involve a lot of time in the Tasman, dealing with uncooperative prevailing winds and waiting for a low to come along.

But, a summer spent visiting three places that are meant to be as unique and wonderful as those would make for a pretty appealing adventure.  So the idea is starting to turn in our heads.  No guarantee that it'll happen, of course.  But just talking about the possibility got us excited, it made us feel that old magic of planning a voyage to somewhere wonderful and strange.  And pretty soon we were talking about the austral winter after that, and realized that, inshallah, we might find ourselves back in the tropics exactly a year from now.

Sailing to distant places will never be easier for us than it is now - our whole lives are organised around sailing, we have a good boat that is ready to take us places, and (touch wood!), there's nothing much holding us back.  So it was great to feel the excitement of it all coming back to us, to feel the anticipatory joy of setting out, to know that, nearly five years into the life afloat, we're not at all jaded by it all.

Saturday, June 2, 2012


Travelling well depends on the joy that you find in small discoveries.

The trophy destinations - the Taj Mahals and Grand Canyons - are all well and good.  But they're not yours to discover.  Your experience of them can only be muffled by the layers of received experience from the generations of travellers who have preceded you.  It is the reputation of the place, after all, the previously agreed-upon value, that brings you there in the first place.

When I'm travelling, I'm always drawn in by the details of everyday life in a new place.  The way that it's polite to use both hands when you're handing money to someone in Korea, but impolite to use your left hand in Yemen - that sort of thing.

In Tasmania, I keep my ears open for the word "cobber".

Hobart is the second-oldest site of European settlement in Australia, and for much of its history it has been an unfashionable place, far from the cultural and economic centers of the country. These two qualities have combined to make it a refugium for bits of English usage that have long ago disappeared on Australia's North Island.

"Cobber" just means "mate", but it's a word that disappeared from the mainland generations ago.  Here in Tassie you still hear it, but its use is class- and origin-specific.  Stereotypically, it's a word that you hear from working-class blokes whose ancestors first came here in chains.  Which is to say that I don't hear it from my cohort of acquaintances, which is dominated by university-educated folks who came here from somewhere else in Oz.

So when I dropped off some templates at the sheet metal shop in Moonah yesterday, and the guy behind the counter called me "cobber", he made my day without knowing it - it was the first time on this entire visit that anyone used that word with me.

So that leaves one linguistic holy grail for the remainder of our time in Tassie - to hear someone address me as "cock".  This is a very Tasmanian form of address between blokes - as in, "G'day, cock, howyagoin?".  It's sort of like "mate", but to my ears a bit more affectionate, perhaps just because it's so much less generic than "mate".

"Cock", unfortunately, is clearly on its way out of common usage, and I'll have to either be very lucky or get more off the beaten path in Tassie to have someone address me that way.  I've only heard it with my own ears once.  And that, in a great modern/anachronistic twist, was from someone sitting in a stall in the Royal Yacht Club men's room, talking on his mobile phone...