Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Travel Gear

Big doings in the engineering department lately.  New batteries and cables. New wind generator, new bearings for the old wind generator.  New charge monitor, new charge regulators.  New radar.  New water heater.

Based on the effort and money that we're putting into Galactic, it would be reasonable to conclude that we're in it for the long haul.

But all that is just stuff - useful stuff, but just the means towards getting us to an end of freedom and bliss on the high seas.

Here's the travel gear that's really gotten me excited lately - a sport coat for the engineer to use when he is allowed on shore:

When you're traveling you occasionally find yourself as the guest of honor at a very special event for people you've just met - an event like a christening in rural Eritrea, or a school opening in Penrhyn.  The graciousness with which people welcome a stranger to events like this will astonish a traveler, especially since the warmest hospitality is (nearly always) shown by people who would seem to have the least to share.  So I reckon that the least a traveler can do in return is to kit himself out in a bit of formal gear in order to show his respect for the event, and for his hosts.

So all of that is why I've been meaning to add a sport coat to my travel kit ever since we left Kodiak on Pelagic.  And Alisa's citizenship ceremony finally gave me the excuse to do it.

Meanwhile, though, we've now got less than four weeks until we'd like to set sail for the season.  So I don't think the engineer will be wearing a sport coat again any time soon.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


At first we didn't celebrate Thanksgiving in Australia - at the very most, we just went down to the beach wherever we happened to be and threw a few snags on the barbie.

But during our last visit to Tasmania we invited some North American friends over and did the holiday up.  Doing that, we discovered a certain expat delight in Thanksgiving Down Under.  Because the holiday isn't on the radar screen at all for Australians, sharing the meal with other Yanks (and Canadians) turns into a little moment of shared cultural understanding.

We had Thanksgiving on Galactic yesterday.  That's Alisa with a 2.5 kg turkey that she special-ordered from the local butcher.  She also made up 3 kilos of her famous mashed potatoes - turned out to be way too much.

Our friends John and Jenny and their son Rowan shared the meal with us.  Like all of the Galactics, they're dual US-Australian citizens.  Jenny made pumpkin pie.

And, just for some historical reference, here's a shot that I always liked - this is our first-ever Thanksgiving afloat, on Pelagic, as we were sailing down the Big Sur coast.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

On Deadline

The chart table of Galactic yesterday.

It's November 20th here in the Antipodes.  We have one month until the last day of classes at Albuera Street Primary School, which will mark the end of this long season at the dock for Galactic.

Our plan is to set out to Port Davey, the jewel of Tasmania, the day after Elias finishes school.  And after Port Davey we'll be setting off across the Tasman Sea for New Zealand.  So that means that we're on deadline.  All of the improvements that we've planned for Galactic will either have to be done in the next month, or wait until another season.

I've been very gratified to meet sailors who have been at it much longer than we have who nonetheless find themselves in a complete scramble to get ready for each season.  That's certainly the situation that we're in; a very simple bit of extrapolation shows that the pace at which we have been crossing jobs off of our list will be inadequate for finishing them all before Port Davey.

I think this perennial scramble to get ready just speaks to the impossibility of boats.  Especially if you've got a few other demands on your time, like raising a family, and earning a living, and enjoying the places that you sail to, and finding a bit of time to write about it all - keeping up with the the boat in the remaining time becomes too big an ask.  And so one of the tricks of the sailing life is realizing that your boat will never be completely ready, and you'll have to learn to recognize when things are ready enough, and just go sailing.

I think, too, that preparing the boat for a long trip, and then making that trip, draws on two very different sets of characteristics.  Right now, in prep mode, I have to channel my Inner Meticulous Engineer.  Later on, when we're heading out for New Zealand, or Vanuatu after that, I'll have to channel my Inner Wild-Haired Poet, that Bernard Moitessier part of my personality that revels in the vastness, and freedom, of the open ocean.

To successfully sail across oceans, you've got to be mentally ambidextrous, able to draw on each of those sets of characteristics.  The marinas of the world are full of engineering types who never managed to cut the docklines and head out over blue water.  And the waterfront bars of the world are full of poet types who never learned to tie a bowline, or bleed the air out of a fuel line.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

As Australian as...

Very big day for the Galactics yesterday.

Alisa became an Australian citizen.

A little background: I was born in Queensland, and my Dad is Australian.  Those two facts are enough to make me, and the boys, Australian citizens.

During our two visits to Australia, first on Pelagic and now on Galactic, Alisa has been in the country on a spouse visa.  Now that visa is nearly expired, and Alisa had spent enough time in Oz to qualify for citizenship.  And so now, legally if not culturally, she is as Australian as Julia Gillard, or Banjo Patterson.  And all four of us now hold citizenship in both the U.S. and Oz.

We're planning on leaving Australia soon - off to New Zealand in February, and then to Vanuatu, and our plan is still to eventually wind our way back to Alaska.

But though we're leaving Australia soon, it doesn't feel like we're leaving forever.  Alisa and I have  found a lot to like about this place.  This country is imperfect, of course, and we don't see it as any sort of Antipodean utopia.  But, since we all have dual nationality, it's natural that we see Oz through the lens of the U.S. experience.

Comparing the two countries would give me enough material for my next book, and this post is about our very happy milestone of Alisa becoming Australian, and not a place for a comparison of the relative merit of the two countries.  So I'll just make one point in comparison, which is that Oz is a much more equitable place.  This isn't a country where one percent of the population hoards thirty-five percent of the national wealth.

We really like the feeling of a society that offers a more level playing field to its citizens.  We can imagine calling Australia home at some point in our lives, and, if I can be presumptuous enough to speak to Alisa's motivations, she, and I, felt that it would be a great thing if we all had a stake in this country, that it would be a great thing if the whole family had cast its lot with the Australian experiment.

Which, by birth or by choice, we now all have.


So of course we had a little celebration with our nearest and dearest in Hobart.  And this is how yachties throw down - Tasmanian bubbly on ice in the deck bucket.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Nitty Gritty

It's all about the nitty gritty on Galactic lately.

First, Alisa has been finishing up her annual round of winch maintenance.  And, since we've owned the boat a little less than two years, and are perennially behind schedule, it's the first annual round of winch maintenance for us on this boat.

This is the winch that she opened up yesterday, one of our big 'ole primaries, for the genoa sheets.  It probably hasn't been greased in ten years.  Very bad operating conditions, very bad nitty gritty.

Then for something pretty different, this is the space over Eric's bunk.  We've been giving him an animal sticker every time that he successfully takes a dump in the head.

As you can see, he's had a lot of success lately.

That's also pretty nitty gritty, but in a good way - sooner or later, the fecal-intensive period of child rearing will end for us.  Alisa has her heart set on a passage to New Zealand that doesn't involve diaper buckets.

I can't shake the idea that these two things are connected for us somehow, the ying and yang of our detail-rich lives...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

An Accent

Yesterday our friend M.-A. confirmed what I've been noticing for a while now: Elias is developing a very noticeable Australian accent.  His year in an Australian school seems to have done the trick.

It's not at all the Paul Hogan caricature of an Aussie accent that we think of back in North America.  It's much more organic than that - he's lost his terminal "r"s completely, and "r"s in the middle of words are just hinted at.  Meanwhile his vowels have stretched into weird Antipodean dipthongs.

I imagine it will all fade when we leave Oz.  But meanwhile I've noticed how this little accent makes Elias seem like a slightly different person.  And I've also gotten an insight into how odd it must be to have a child with a completely different accent from your own...

Friday, November 2, 2012

Denied (by my Wife!)

I was in yachtie heaven.

This was the week that "replace batteries" made it to the top of the job list.

(I know, that doesn't sound like "yachtie heaven".  We'll get there.)

A little bit of reading online revealed that the selection of batteries, and figuring out the proper setup for charging them, is a topic that sits right in the double-negative zone for my personal Venn diagram of Unpalatable Boat Stuff.  Buying batteries is both expensive and complicated - two qualities I deal with poorly, especially in combination. 

There's a huge range of battery and charging technologies available for sailboats - so much so that this is one of the favorite realms for that (large) part of the Anglophone sailing world that mostly sees the life afloat as engineering school for rich people.

I'm not trying to pick on the wonderful people on Morgan's Cloud, and I readily admit to drawing on their excellent site now and again for some engineering help.  But really, if you hang around a certain type of full-time sailor long enough, you quickly find yourself wondering if all the technology on their boats serves them, or if they serve it.

I suspect the latter.

So, imagine my joy when I found the online price in the photo above.  (This is the "yachtie heaven" part.)

Those are golf cart batteries, in case you're wondering.  And golf cart batteries are my kind of boat gear.  Let other people clog up sailing chat forums with stories of how their fancy-pants AGM batteries did or did not charge properly, did or did not keep their watermakers/toasters/microwaves/water heaters/cocktail blenders going.  I was just going to buy some old-fashioned flooded lead-acid golf cart batteries, series them together to get 12 volts, save myself eight hundred bucks or so, and move onto the rest of my life.

But this is where the denied by my wife part comes in.

I explained my find to Alisa, and told her how we'd just have to get a couple of new battery boxes fabricated, and build a shelf in the locker right behind the nav station to take the two batteries that wouldn't fit into our current battery locker.

Alisa says "no" to me so rarely.  Which is why, I suppose, we've been living on a boat for five and a half years.  

But this time she did say "no".  Said it gently, but said it.  Firmly.

She reminded me of the times she's had to keep the kids out of the cabin because I've been blowing off sulfuric acid fumes while equalizing our flooded batteries.  She reminded me of how long it took me to build a new battery box when we bought flooded batteries for Pelagic.  She let me know that super expensive, fancy-pants AGM batteries sounded just fine to her.

So that's what we're getting - four 6v AGMs, at a hundred and five pounds each.  And I must admit that the simplicity of installing them - no battery boxes, no shelves - is pretty attractive.  And I promise not to write anything on the blog about charging them, etc.

Unless, of course, "charging them, etc." ends up providing an insight into the endlessly fascinating topic of Marriage Afloat...