Monday, July 30, 2012

40 Knots

This is the team the other night on board Peregrine, Leiv Poncet's boat.  He very kindly has us over for dinner and we had a great time for about an hour and a half, before an Eric meltdown loomed and we had to retreat home.

An enjoyable hour and a half on someone else's boat at dinner time - that's the gold standard when you have two-year-old crew.

Leiv is the guy who is taking a breather here in Tassie after sailing the leisurely Falklands-S. Africa-Crozet-Kerguelan-West Australia-Tasmania route.

I hear that trip really used to be something, back in the day, before the crowds ruined it.

(If you didn't get that that was a joke, hither thee to Google Earth.)

Leiv is bound to New Zealand next, just as we are, though he'll be leaving much earlier in the season.   He is a sooooper-understated guy, which is something we've always liked in adventurous people.  But he let drop, when we were talking about the crossing to New Zealand, that he's been watching the weather over the Tasman all winter and has only seen two blows that he would have wanted to avoid.

Oh yeah, I asked, what's your threshold for weather you'd like to avoid?

Well, 40 knots, certainly, he said.  Anything more than that, if it blows for long, gets unpleasant.

I didn't have the heart to tell him that our threshold for weather-best-avoided is 30 knots...

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Bit Tired

So this is the scene every night up in the forward cabin.  Elias surrounded by stuffed animals and Eric netted in to guard against any two-year-old's nighttime wanderings.

It looks pretty peaceful.  But lately the sounds that have been coming out of the boys' cabin at night would turn your hair gray.

They cough cough cough.

They cough and then moan in their sleep.

They cough until it sounds like their lungs are just little bags of mucus.

They cough and their breath smells of rot.

Not uncommonly, they cough until they vomit.

They wake up at all hours, screaming unconsolably for us.

Sometimes, just for a change, they peak a fever.

For Elias especially, it's been going on for months.

We wondered about boat mold as a trigger, but during both of his stays in the presumably mold-free hospital, Elias kept on coughing.  And we're told that other kids (and adults) in Hobart are suffering similarly this winter.

We've done the doctor visits (and the hospital for Elias).  Some treatments seem to help a bit, but in the end the cough always comes back.  So, we wait for them to get better.  And at this point we're a bit tired of it all, tired of listening to them suffer through night after night.  At times I wonder if Elias is getting any rest at all, since he seems to wake up coughing every two minutes.

At least it's nearly August.  Spring will be here soon.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Selfish Pet Owners / Dead Penguins

On Sunday we didn't get off the boat for our family walk until 9:30, so we headed for the Boronia Beach track - an old favourite just down the Derwent Estuary from Hobart, and short enough for a two-year-old to walk before lunchtime.

Boronia Beach is a wildlife reserve - it's fenced off to keep dogs and cats away from the little penguins that nest here.  And there's a big "no dogs allowed" sign on the gate.

But - you can guess where this is going from the title - we found the beach covered in dog tracks, and the carcass of a penguin.

The penguin had been bitten in the neck and body.

This unfortunately, isn't an isolated occurrence - we used to have a housesit near another beach in the area that is supposed to be dog-free to protect nesting penguins, but I would see dogs on that beach more often than not on my daily walk there.

Well, what to say - this isn't a soapbox, but I did used to work as an ornithologist, and I'm acutely aware of how much damage pets do to wildlife - they commonly destroy entire bird populations.  And Australian marsupials also suffer incredibly from pets.

(Cats are really really bad when it comes to bird conservation - you can't get an ornithologist to be polite when it comes to cats.  And I guess that includes me.  Anyone who lets their cat roam outside is failing a moral test.  I just re-read a post by some travelling yachties about the various animals their cat brought back to their docked boat in New Zealand every night.  My blood boiled.  I'm not linking to the post because, in spite of being complete idiots in this instance, they generally seem to be quite nice folks.)

But, back to this instance at Boronia.  Either the gate was left open, and free-range dogs got in, or owners took them in on purpose.  Either way, bad news for the penguins.

OK, off the soap box.

Now - comic relief.

Turns out the Boronia Beach track was a little too long for a particular two-year-old:

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Home Country (again)

Well, as you know, this is a blog about our sailing life, not about current events.

But an inescapable part of long-term travel is how it changes your perspective on the home country.  The longer you're away, the stranger that home seems.

Witness, for example, this quote about the latest Colorado mass-casualty incident, from the July 20 New York Times:

That's a widespread opinion in the U.S. - the key to ending gun violence is to make concealed handguns ubiquitous.  It's hard to imagine anything that could be more delusional.  But it is also a completely mainstream political view back home.

So, good luck to ya'll back there.  I can only hope that Alaska is refuge enough for us when we get home.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Where Hobart Excels

There's one thing that Hobart might have over any other anglophone city in the world.  I reckon this place has a higher concentration of completely mad high-latitude sailors than any place outside of Ushuaia. 

As an example, I give you our dinner guests aboard Galactic last night.  That's Dave Pryce on the left, and Leiv Poncet to the right.

Leiv is stopping over in Hobart on a little jaunt around this aqueous sphere of ours, beginning and ending at his home port in the Falklands.  His itinerary?  Falklands - South Africa - Crozet - Kerguelen - West Australia - Tasmania.  In a few months he's planning on completing the circle with two more legs: Tassie - New Zealand and New Zealand - Falklands.

Look that up on Google Earth and know fear.

Dave, not at all to be outdone, has run three high-latitude charter boats, and worked on one or two others.  Or, I think he has - it's kind of hard to keep track of everything the brother has done in the Southern Ocean.  He has all these stories that start off like,  "the time we flipped Blizzard", or "the time the crew went overboard", or "the time we got hung up in the Falklands because a crew put his finger in the wind vane and broke it in three places".  The maddest story of his that I know (if I have it right), involves leaving Hobart for Patagonia on board Blizzard, running charters there and on the Antarctic Peninsula, then continuing around to Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica, for another charter and finishing up in Hobart - a circumnavigation of Antarctica, involving three charters, and all of it done in a single summer. 

The great part about these guys, though, is that they seem to do it all without ego.  No chest-beating, no making sure you know how badass they are.  They're like the best sort of mountain climber - they've found a really engrossing thing to do in life, they're motivated by the strange sort of joy that this pursuit gives them, and that's good enough, thanks very much.

We had a great time swapping tales over dinner.  It took us an hour just to get through everyone's hilarious stories about customs officers in various ports of the world.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Winner!

Well, everyone will have to forgive me - I'm two days late on the drawing for the book.

Alisa tells me that everyone cuts a writer a little slack when it comes to being on top of the details.  I don't know if that's true for "everyone", but I do suspect that one of the cornerstones of my happiness is the fact that she certainly has an understanding attitude when it comes to be and details...

But enough of that...the winner for this month is Dan from Vancouver.

And once again, I loved getting the messages from people who were entering.

If you weren't lucky this time around, you'll have another chance next month.

(I wonder if Moitessier ever raffled off books?)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Reintroduction to Tassie

Elias had his final outpatient dressing change on Friday.  The burns unit doesn't need to see him until September, and we have the feeling that everything has turned out just about as well as it possibly could have.  (Of course things would have turned out even better if we hadn't left a pot of coffee unattended on the stove in the first place.)

So we celebrated by taking a couple of day walks this weekend - nothing very ambitious, unless you happen to have a two-year-old who passionately hates to be carried.  That's Elias on our first outing in the picture above, at a spot where a line of ferocious dogs was part of the penal infrastructure back in the bad old days.

The track we walked on that first day was the best setting for a little-kid bushwalk that I can remember.  It was wide and smooth and easy for Eric to navigate.  It followed the tops of sea cliffs and accordingly gave up dramatic scenery.  And every couple of hundred meters there was a viewpoint that was securely fenced in, so that we could enjoy the feeling of being right on the edge of the cliff, without having to worry about the boys and gravity.

You can just see the figure of a guy at the top of the cliff in this pic - grey hair, dark shirt.  He's standing outside of the fence.  And what's he doing?  He's fishing.  Gotta love those Taswegians.  We talked to the guy, and he was completely unembarrassed about being caught in the act of lowering a baited hook from the top of a 150-meter cliff.  He even claimed to have caught one - 'my arm nearly fell off reeling it up!' he said with a smile.

And today we revisited one of our favorite family walks in the shadow of Mt. Wellington - the perfect spot for a picnic and walk in between the rain showers.

Lately I've been having the feeling that our experience of Tasmania is just like the "Alaska" experience that a visiting family might get from a year spent in Anchorage.   So this weekend wasn't any big adventure, but it felt like, after Elias' two stays in hospital, and the various distractions that came along earlier in the winter, like we were leaving the microcosm of Hobart behind, and reintroducing ourselves to Tasmania.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Perfectly Fine Procrastination - Ruined?

We had finally and completely decided to put off any thoughts of repowering Galactic until we got to New Zealand next summer.  All indications were that the job would be about 25% cheaper there, which was enough of a difference to justify the huge kink in our New Zealand sailing season that swapping engines would create.

The final straw was when I looked into purchasing an engine GST-free in Oz, since we are after all a foreign-flagged vessel on an international voyage - an overseas port is our next port of call.  No dice.  The Kiwis, on the other hand, make GST-free purchases totally easy for foreign yachts.

So we once again resolved to skip the over-valued Australian dollar and wait on the job, and this time we had the added joy of deciding to skip the inflexible Australian policy towards taxing foreign vessels, to boot.  And, to make our happiness complete, we had an ironclad reason to procrastinate on an incredibly troublesome and expensive boat job.

But then, just to be sure of the facts, I called up an engineering shop in NZ and priced out the Volvo engine that had been suggested to us here.  And, low and behold - it'll cost us $700 AUD more in New Zealand than it would here.

Now, we're not at all sold on the Volvo.  Particularly since our good friends on Enki are currently going through the nightmare of a Volvo with mysterious debilitating faults that a parade of factory-trained mechanics cannot fix.  But even with the cheaper labor (and I cannot shake the prejudice that it is likely better labor) that we would find in New Zealand, there's no point in waiting until next summer if the engine will cost us more.

So, procrastination may be out the door.  We're going to price out a Yanmar in both countries, just to be sure.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Well, we've learned a lesson about living aboard through the winter.

When we were getting the boat ready for this season, we were concerned with keeping warm and keeping dry.  Condensation and mold forests are the killers on a heated boat.  

And we've been really successful in those terms.  The boat is toasty and, except for one or two trouble spots, free from condensation.  We had the beginnings of a mold forest around some of the portlights in our cabin in the autumn (above), but insulating those portlights took care of that problem.

But the side of living aboard during winter that we hadn't thought about was that old bane of cold climates and living with other people in enclosed spaces - getting sick.

All four of us are still fighting chest colds - little Eric hacks away in his sleep, Alisa nearly lost her voice, I've got a symphony of wheezes going on, and the day before yesterday poor Elias once again coughed until he threw up.  (Much to his delight, we let him go to school anyway.)

It hasn't really been a harsh winter or anything.  But still and all, we are beginning to long for the tropics.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Raffle #2

I was happily surprised with the response for the first book giveaway last month, and it's time to do it again.  As a reminder, I've got some publicity copies of South From Alaska that are looking for a home.  And, since the book isn't easily available outside of Australia and New Zealand, I thought it would be nice just to give folks a chance at a free copy.  Anyone, from Oz or elsewhere, is eligible - just send an email with the word "book" in the subject line to  I'll choose the winner with a random number generator one week from today (around 0922 July 15, Hobart time).  Postage is on me.

Oh, and, Adam - did your copy arrive?


So things are getting back to normal.

We were overjoyed to have Elias out of the hospital and back on board.  But of course everyday life has a way of reasserting itself.  As soon as we were done with our celebratory meal of fish and chips, we got back to the business of living with a five year old and two year old in an intimate space - while we were all, individually, fighting a version of his chest virus.  It was easy to overlook the joy now and again.

But the main thing is that Elias is getting better, both his chest virus and his burn.  We have another dressing change scheduled for Monday, and then we're thinking he'll be able to start back to school on Tuesday.  Meanwhile, we've been passing the days with activities like getting him his first-ever professional haircut and taking every opportunity to get some food into him.

Now that this crisis is largely behind us, I'm feeling the pull of going to sea again even more strongly.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Three things about this picture: celebratory fish and chips, the "you are special today" plate, and Elias back home on board Galactic.

The little fellow put on an impressive bout of healing and got himself discharged on Monday.  For a while there was some back and forth about whether medical advice would smile on the idea of him being discharged to Galactic rather than going to a house somewhere.  The plastic surgeons who were part of the team looking after him seemed in particular not to have come across the idea of a sailboat as family home before, and the images that came to their minds didn't appear to be....salubrious.

However, the paediatrics doctors (bless them) were a saltier bunch, and a few of them even seemed to have dotty uncles who messed around on boats, and they were generally much more at ease with the idea of Elias coming back to the family home.  Which we did, eventually, with joy.

Now, we're all back home, and we're all sick as dogs with the chest virus that has been dogging Elias for so long.  The joys of sharing.


To close, I want to thank our friends who helped us through the last week by watching Eric, by cooking us dinner, and by offering us places to stay if we weren't going back to Galactic immediately - we even got an offer from as far away as Iluka.  Thank you all.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.
                                                     -Samuel Johnson

When a man is tired of nurses, he is tired of his son being in hospital.
                                                     -Mike Litzow