Tuesday, December 31, 2013


A week brings us round trip from Whangarei Heads to Great Barrier Island and back, and back from our serendipitous holiday from internet access.

We compared notes on favorite parts of 2013 at dinner today, and we had quite a list to choose from.  Alisa was keen on Minerva Reef and Tonga, with the passages in and out of Minerva making her "least favorite" list.  The Aucklands were my fave for the year past, with a nod to Port Davey, where we started the year off.

Hauraki Gulf

Last day of 2013
It's all completely hectic, of course - keeping the boat up, and sailing the damn thing all over the place ("Just because we do this all the time, doesn't mean it's easy," I said to Alisa today), and raising the boys and keeping my career in science alive at a level where I can make reasonably useful contributions in my field and pay the bills.  If you're a reader, you know that all this regularly gives us gray hairs.

But looking back on a year like the one we just had is certainly enough to make me glad that we're still going.  As routine as this sort of life as might have become for us, it still adds up to something very rewarding when we take a moment to think about it…

Happy 2014, from Galactic.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


So our week-long stay in the Whangarei marina turned, by the immutable laws of boat time, into nine days. But on that ninth day my last pre-Christmas project (fixing leaky shower plumbing and replacing the bulkhead that had been soaking up water - for years, I think) was close enough to finished that we could leave. And, by the way, for this job Whangarei handily produced a no-nonsense plumbing supply shop and some good-natured chippies who could offered to knock up a new bulkhead by the next morning when they heard we were going out for Christmas, once again proving itself as that most valued place for people living on voyaging boats - somewhere where it's easy to get things done.

So we got down the long estuary that is curiously identified only as the "Whangarei Harbour" on the chart, back to the joyous existence of free agents with no fixed address, this time finding ourselves at the vaguely Middle-Earth Whangarei Heads. Here we had various adventures (a southwesterly blow; a seven-year-old with skin infection on the finger, spreading to the hand, and the implausibility of any sort of GP visit on the weekend before Christmas; parents playing stand-in GP with the ship's antibiotics; a long walk at the Heads the next day). And then we buggered off to Great Barrier Island (as named by James Cook) or Aotea (as named by someone long before).

Here the feared holiday crowds of Auckland yachts have failed to materialize. There are kaka flying through the forest and kereru displaying on the wing, and child-friendly tracks that lead conveniently to waterfalls. And, blessedly, there is no internet access at all. (Everyone is aware that Facebook is a fad, but I am prepared to stick my neck out and call the entire damn internet a fad, and one that we will all be embarrassed to remember.)

Here we have just finished another perfect Christmas, which is quite easy when you're one, prepared to be completely pagan about it; two, have little children to lend their enthusiasm to the holiday; and three, have a few shekels in hand to throw away on their presents. Santa left a bunch of Playmobiles (murderous toy knights) set up on the saloon table and that set the day off with 0600 squeals of boyish delight. Alisa recreated my grandmother's Christmas stollen ("how can you look so Lebanese and bake so German? I asked) and produced four varieties of Christmas cookies; it rained enough through the day to give us the perfect atmosphere for playing with toys and reading and napping, but not enough to keep us from a walk to the waterfall; and we have been discovering the pleasures of Marlborough Sounds pinot noir.

I find that I am falling for life in the Southern Hemisphere, and it may largely because of how much I find Christmas agrees with me as a summer holiday.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Closing the Circles

Most sailors in the South Pacific would rather not spend the cyclone season in the tropics, growing mold on their boats.  Many would rather not put themselves in contact with Australian officialdom.  So that turns New Zealand into a great crossroads for traveling boats.  Many adventures stop or start here.

As a result, one highlight of this season has been catching up with some faces from the past.

There was Pacific Bliss, of course - that's them on board Galactic, above, in the ill-fated marina that we shared with them in Auckland for four days.  It was remarkable really that Colin managed to find us dock space in downtown Auckland in December, and even more remarkable was the price that he organized for us to pay for our stay - one carton of beer.  Colin has the touch, I suppose.

And Colin and Liz, and by extension, their kids, are some of the most remarkable travelers we've met.  They're storytellers, not writers, but check out this tidbit from their stay in northern Vanuatu last season.

In Opua we also caught up with Michelle and Richard on Thélème.  We don't know these folks as well as the Bliss, having met them only briefly in Tahiti five years ago.  But they're the kind of people who you remember - super-adventurous sailors who have been to any number of places (Tahanea for six months at a time! Kodiak!  South Georgia! Five years in Patagonia!) and are super-relaxed about it all.  For a year or two after we first met them, we kept running into other boats who knew Thélème - all that sailing puts them in the way of a lot of other adventurous sailors, and I get the idea they've become well-known to a small cognoscenti.  They were very positive about our plans for Patagonia, and gave us some useful advice.

And, there's one other circle that we've closed here.  The dock that we've been tied to for the last week, in the Town Basin marina in Whangarei, looks back on a dock that I've been to before.  Three years ago, I came here to check out a boat we might buy.  That one turned out not to be "the one", of course, and it's a pleasure to be looking at that spot from the decks of the boat we eventually found, after our year of looking, and to be very happy with what we ended up with...

Friday, December 13, 2013

Time is the Budget

"Time is the ultimate budget - you always run out of time in the end."

That quote, from a project manager-type on one of New Zealand's America's Cup entries, caught my eye at the Auckland Maritime Museum.

The pre-Patagonia list.  It's rare for the to-do list to run more than a page!
With back to back seasons behind us - New Zealand in Feb.-July, the tropics during July-November - we have a plenty long list of regular maintenance items to cross off.  And this time in New Zealand is also our last chance for Anglophone boat services at non-stratospheric prices before getting to Patagonia, as we're planning on spending the next season in French Polynesia.  (I know.  Feel sorry for us!)

So while we had grand plans of sailing down to Marlborough Sounds for Christmas, our realization of how quickly the summer in New Zealand will pass has dictated a new set of plans.

We're in there somewhere
This is the marina at Whangarei, where we arrived yesterday.  In spite of being greeted by some familiar faces and finding mercifully wide aisles after the cramped confines of the Pier 21 Marina in Auckland, I felt the metaphorical wind fall out of my sails as soon as we tied up.

There's something about marinas.  There's the way that the boats are all so useless, tied up in rows like RVs in a parking lot and slowly disintegrating in place.  There's the enforced interaction with neighbors, surely the most foreign concept possible to anyone who lives on a traveling boat.  There's the feeling of dreams on hold, or failing to come to life, that is symbolized by so many boats going nowhere.  There's the rent - another completely foreign concept for voyaging sailors.

But...there's another quote that's stuck with me in relation to our time in New Zealand this summer.  Our good friends on Macy told us that when they look for a place for their annual haul out, they just think in terms of what's good for the boat.  And Whangarei has that in spades.  There are far more marine service companies here than would seem to be justified by the number of boats that are around.  It appears that we can easily organize all that we need to bring ourselves up to Patagonia scratch in this place.

As a (hopefully typical) example, consider that on this, our second day in the joint, a new wind generator pole is already fabricated and lying on deck, waiting to be installed.

Seeing time used that efficiently will go a long way to justifying a stay here...

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Makes Me Feel Better

Going to sea is a balm.  I fear the day when going to sea doesn't make me feel better.

Going to sea and catching a fish - while sailing under spinnaker.  That makes me feel better.

Catching a kingfish - that really makes me feel better.

Oh, and time, too, and being in a new place - those things help.

I think I feel better.

(But another coda.

Today in the Whangarei playground three-year-old Eric chased after a sparrow - and called it a "f***ing bird", three times, very loud.

I guess he was listening during those two failed marina exits.  Which didn't make me feel great.

Boat stuff can be hard - but fatherhood might be harder...)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Worst/Longest/Last Goodbye

In the nine years since we bought Pelagic, we have been in and out of a lot of harbors.  And in all the tight maneuvering that has entailed, through all the vagaries of tidal eddies and crosswinds, we have never once so much as grazed another boat.

But this is a story about goodbyes.

We came to Auckland last Friday to catch up with our good mates on Pacific Bliss, with whom we shared a wonderful time in the Tuamotus and Societies two years ago, and hadn't seen since.

We had a wonderful, and timely, catch-up with them.  Pacific Bliss is in the process of changing owners, and after five years of remarkable travels Colin and Liz and Zinnia and Cosmo are about to transition to life ashore in Nelson, on the South Island.

When Monday rolled around, it was time for us to make tracks.  Which meant saying goodbye to this wonderful family after a too-short, but perfect in its way, re-connection, with no idea of when we'd see them again.

Good-byes are part of the sailing life, and we did it like pros.  Warm.  Kisses, hugs, expressions of love.  But quick.  That's the sailors' way.  And, since the family and boat who we collectively refer to as "The Bliss" were about to part ways, this was likely their last goodbye to sailing friends before they began their new life, off a boat.

Alisa and I hopped aboard.  I put Galactic in reverse.  We backed out of the marina pen, just as per normal.  I put her in neutral and let her drift back while we waved at Colin and Liz and shouted out amusing comments.  Waving goodbye from a moving boat gives a natural stage, a great setting for saying goodbye to friends as they slowly recede into your past.

When our distance from the boat behind us was just so - maybe four meters - I shifted into forward.

And we kept moving back.

I immediately knew something was wrong, and my instinct was to warn everyone.  I gave her more throttle.

We moved back.  Everything slowed down.  I was trapped in this moment where I suddenly couldn't influence the course of events.  Galactic was moving without me.

I left the wheel to try to fend off.

The impact was huge.  Violent.  Loud.  I found myself looking right into the faces of the couple who had been relaxing below on their boat and came running into the cockpit at the first impact.  I was shouting "I'm so sorry," like a maniac.

Things were breaking.

Our wind generator - it didn't used to be like that
And then it was over.  I don't know how I figured it out, I don't remember taking the boat out of gear.

But I had looked back at the boat behind me and, turned around as I was, I had confused forward and reverse on our athwartships throttle/shifter.  And when we didn't move forward as expected, I gave it more throttle, which brought us up to a destructive ramming speed.

I will not endeavor to tell you how awful I felt as I walked around to meet the other boat owners while Alisa and Colin and Liz tied up Galactic.

It being Sunday in North America and Europe, where the insurance companies of the two involved boats reside, we decided to spend another day in Auckland, not wanting to leave the scene until affairs were straightened out.

I will not endeavor to tell you how awful I felt all the rest of the day.  I found that taking the kids to a play park that afternoon was something of a palliative.  I got the chance to do some big-city Christmas shopping with Elias the next morning.

And then, with the two insurance companies notified and the wheels set in motion for making things right, it was time to leave.

Once again we said goodbye to Colin and Liz.  Once again we leapt aboard and I put her in gear.

And once again I found myself in a waking nightmare.

In retrospect, I think that I hadn't adequately explained myself to the person helpfully holding our bow line.  I had instructed him to pull our bow in as we left, to help us make the turn.  I didn't think to say that once we were out of the pen, he should let go of the line.

So, Galactic pulled back, and with the bow held firmly against the side of the dock (I think this is what happened...), we missed our one chance to make the turn so that we could pull out of the marina in forward.  And with that one chance gone, I had no Plan B for salvaging this completely routine maneuver.

I was reduced to backing up and trying to turn again.  And backing up, and trying to turn again.  And with every missed turn, the wind was pushing us back down on the line of docked boats we had just left.

People shouted, and came running, and boarded docked boats to try to fend us off.  Luckily the two boats we hit were docked bow-out, so we hit their anchors and caused them no damage.  And, in spite of, or due to, some desperate shoving against the momentum of our 18 metric tons of home afloat, we managed to escape damage, too.

I was inconsolable as we finally motored free from the marina.  I was livid.  Raging.  I screamed until I went hoarse.  I could not believe I had stuffed it up twice, leaving the same marina.  In front of the same audience.

You might say that I was suffering from nothing more than a bruised ego.

I will counter that going to sea in your own boat, with the idea that you can get yourself and your loved ones and all your worldly chattels across the shifting expanse safely - well, that is nothing but an exercise in ego.  To be successful in this game you have to, of course, forever treasure the humility that comes with realizing how small and fallible you are in the face of the sea.  But you also have to keep alive the belief that you are equal to the test you've set yourself, that you can, with total self-reliance, meet the age-old challenge of going down to the sea.  You have to believe that you can do a thousand difficult things, when needed, to make everything right.

So, in addition to a very public humiliation of twice playing the role of idiot who can't operate his boat safely, I also got to confront my inability to do the most basic thing on my boat, twice in a row.  Phew.

Oh, and the coda.  Colin and the kids came roaring out in their dinghy after we'd finally left the marina, and handed up a six pack of very good beer.

Talking between the two moving boats, Colin told me to go anchor up somewhere and have a beer or three while I began the forgetting process.

And then he said goodbye.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Big P

The title for this post comes from our friend Diana, who writes, "You've got us stumped....where the **** are you heading next?  Could it be the big P??"

It could, indeed, be the big P. 

Like many voyaging sailors, we tend to be cagey, with ourselves and others, about our intentions for the future.  We're conscious of how tenuous and contingent is any long-term plan for a traveling boat.

Put another way, it's easy to draw lines on a map of where you're "gonna go", but there are many a slip twixt cup and lip, as someone said in the pre-blog era.  Cruising World columnists have been particularly prone to this effect, with two back-page authors that I can remember starting off their monthly installments on the preparations for the Big Trip...but then never actually getting away.

So, conscious of how lucky we've been to travel for these last six years, Alisa and I tend to undersell our plans for the future, both to ourselves and to others.

But...the demands of effective storytelling are better served when a journey has a goal that is known to all.  And, we find that we are better served ourselves by having a big-picture goal.  Team Galactic, we don't mind wandering, but we like to know that we're going somewhere.

All of which has led us to agree that it is indeed time to head for the Big P - that being Patagonia, of course.  The idea has been in the back of our minds for years and years, and after our last two seasons, with the passage across the Tasman and the trip to the New Zealand subantarctic and the passages from New Zealand to the tropics and back, we're feeling that we're ready.

And while we would love a season split between Fiji and Vanuatu - Melanesia remains almost completely unknown to us - we feel our nautical clocks ticking.  We love what we're doing, and our salty hearts beat faster when sailing friends who find themselves on the beach warn us to wear ship and head for the safety of the open sea before the reefs of mortgage and effortless internet connection have the chance to grasp our keel.  But all the same, we picture ourselves doing this again some time, but we don't picture ourselves doing it forever.  The ten years afloat mark is still over the horizon, but with ourselves past halfway there, it starts to feel like a reasonable point at which to attempt living in one country, one anchorage, for more than a year or a season.

So, that means that if we ever want to see anything outside of the southwest Pacific, we better get going.  And without ever quite agreeing on it explicitly, we are planning to prepare, during this season in New Zealand, for the passage east to the Austral Islands, and French Polynesia generally, then onwards to Patagonia in the following Austral summer.

Watch this space!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Three Thanksgivings

Three Thanksgivings?!
So this is the story of how four expat Americans managed to avail themselves of three observations of that most American of holidays, Thanksgiving, even though they found themselves spending November in a country that observes Guy Fawkes Night.

The first Thanksgiving we owe to plain confusion.  It was a wholesome family affair - Alisa read some stories about the first Thanksgiving to Elias as we motored out to the Bay of Islands, and we had a family feast in our beautiful anchorage at Urupukapuka Island.

The only problem was that we were a week early.  Alisa had glanced at the calendar and mistakenly decided that November 21st was Thanksgiving.  Some American yachties eventually warned us of our error, but we decided to go ahead anyway - the large chicken had already been bought (turkey being hard to come by) and was thawing in the fridge.

We had a family dinner that was very low-key and also just perfect, and we figured that was our holiday.

But then the plot twists of the traveling life began falling down all around us...

First, through the offices of a kind reader of this blog and a string of quick emails, we found ourselves invited to an improper Thanksgiving dinner (Pad Thai) on the proper date (November 28th) on board the yacht St. Jude (named after the saint of lost causes).  The sharp-eyed reader will recognize this as the boat of famous American sailing writer Catty Goodlander, author of the best-sellers It's a Lazy Woman Who Can't Find Her Husband Two Jobs and Corporate Men Make Better Sailors.  Here are pics of all of us on Thanksgiving proper, as taken by Elias.  You can see everyone's reaction as we wait...for...Elias...to...take...the...pictures.  That's Catty, of course, and her isn't-he-a-saint First Mate, Gary.

We met up with St. Jude in the neighborhood of Kawau Island, whence they had travelled to attend the annual Thanksgiving blow-out, given the Saturday after the actual holiday by another set of well-known American sailing/writing pair.  The cognescenti among you will know of whom I speak by the name of the cottage-scale boatyard in their front yard, famous around the world to those who honor the ancient tradition of ferro-cement boatbuilding techniques:

This of, course, would be the famous Parteys, who have launched a thousand sailing dreams with their famous motto: "You'll never regret having that extra piece of gear".


Ok, enough of the humor - I'll leave that to the professionals.  The folks in those pictures are Cap'n Fatty and Carolyn Goodlander, and Lin and Larry Pardey.

In France, mountain climbers and sailors achieve general fame.  Like, rock star-level fame.  In the States and Canada, though, climbers and sailors become well known only to other climbers and sailors, so they at the most become semi-famous.  Which these four are.

Elias and Eric pose with Taliesin, the Pardey's self-built, engineless, a hair-under-30-feet-on-deck cutter.  There are only a few famous yacht names - Joshua, Wanderer, Spray, Tzu Hang, Gypsy Moth - and I reckon Taliesin can hang with at least a few of that crowd.    

The Pardeys threw down, as we say in the home country, meaning that they were very hospitable.   Lin was kind enough to pass along an invitation to Galactic through the Goodlanders, saying that no Americans should be left out of the party. 

It was raining, so the tables were moved inside, and they achieved their biggest-ever sitdown crowd inside the house - 33 people.  There were two turkeys and all the traditional side dishes, though kumara was of course substituted for sweet potatoes.

And it was a raucous-fun group - Kiwi neighbors and American sailors, for the most part.  Lin remarked that all of the couples at the dinner save two were, or had been, voyaging sailors.  So the conversation was loud and non-stop.  We all had something to say to each other.

Alisa's contribution - pumpkin, pecan, apple
It was a real treat for me to grab a quiet chat with Larry in the pre-dessert lull.  The seamanship that he and Lin brought to bear on their own voyages...well, it's enough to say that they played the game at a different level from most of us.  If you've spent a year traveling on your own boat, close your eyes and imagine sailing on and off the anchor every single time.  And then imagine doing that since 1968, when they launched their first boat, Serrafyn.

When NewSouth asked me for ideas for people to blurb South From Alaska I came up with Fatty's name, and he graciously agreed.  It was a hoot to finally meet him and Carolyn on their new boat, Ganesh (that's the god of lost causes, a mere saint not being up to the task in this case).  The Goodlanders are great fun - plus, Fatty has a real sword on board, which our boys found irresistible.

Alisa and I have always enjoyed the company of sailors who have been going for decades, and still have a gleam in their eye to show how much fun they're having.  But you can also go a long time without running into those folks - most of our crowd are lucky to get away for a few years before heading back to what's reputed to be the "real world".  Meeting these four was a great validation of how well the sailing life can work out, how rich and fun it can be, even as the years turn into decades.

I'll say "thanks" for that, three times at least...

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Branching Out

Early Adopters are in position for the Next Big Thing - Late Adopters are in position to be read in 100 years!

Anyway, that's the most flattering angle that I could cast on my social media habits, which are oh-so-20th-Century.

Sailing to windward - the ecstasy of it!
(My science papers would do quite well to be read in 20 years, much less 100.  And as for South From Alaska, it will always have the first-book place of pride in my heart, and the reviews were quite good...but I think the oeuvre will have to grow substantially to be read in 100 years.)

All of which is a not-to-the-point way of saying that Twice In A Lifetime now has a Facebook page - see the "like" button on the sidebar.  I realize that the Facebook feed is a primary avenue for a lot of people's online experience, so feel free to like the page and get our posts that way.

I'll answer all comments on the Facebook page, just as I do on the blog - and this is a good opportunity to say that I'd love to hear from readers who are thinking of acting on the salty dream themselves.  I don't do much how-to on Twice In A Lifetime, but I've got some pretty concrete ideas about the nuts-and-bolts stuff you need to figure out to get away, and would be happy to answer any questions.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Boy Needs a Beach

When we were looking for somewhere for Alisa and the boys to be parked on board Galactic while I went to Canada for the marine science conference, a friend suggested Savusavu, the delightful port where we cleared into Fiji.

Alisa and I instantly knew why Savusavu wouldn't work - there was no beach.

A beach is the first thing we look for in an anchorage, our great go-to for two very active boys who are growing up without a backyard to scamper off to.  The beach is where Elias and Eric don't have to worry about sharing the space on board Galactic, don't have to worry about being too loud or too rough for the parents who are always hovering over them.  On the beach we give them very free rein to run and scream and be themselves.

We just spent three days anchored at Urupukapuka Island, in the Bay of Islands.   And the beach was perfect - great sand for running, plenty big, and sticks everywhere for turning into swords and lances.

The Bay of Islands has a chamber-of-commerce sort of name that makes it instantly recognizable to sailors in the South Pacific.  Everyone's heard of the Bay of Islands.

In the flesh, it's a tiny place that struggles to serve the demand that reputation places on it.  There are only six islands, seven if you count Moturoa.  In a month or two, at the height of summer,  the anchorages will be heaving.

For now, though, they're not too crowded to enjoy.  Urupukapuka, just like Moturua, where we spent some time last season, has fantastic walking tracks all over the place, and a selection of archaeological sites from the days when these steep islands held the fortified homes of a warlike people.

Some walk, others ride


Boys and tree ferns.

Any place for a sword fight

We had a fine time in Opua.  We spent neither time nor money in the yacht supply shops.  We were lucky enough to catch up with a few acquaintances from past seasons who also washed up in New Zealand with the turn of the season.  But when we made the short trip to Urupukapuka and dropped the pick, we felt the instant relief of leaving, of trading what you're got for something new. 

Since these pictures were taken we've left both Opua and the Bay of Islands behind and started our trip south, into our second season in New Zealand.  We don't have any plans to sail north from New Zealand next year, so it's quite possible that we'll never see Opua again.  It's funny - for all the traveling that we've done over the last few years, we rarely have such a definite feeling of leaving a place behind for good.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Blue World Research

Blue World Research is the company that I began in 2008 when I started working on marine biology research projects aboard Pelagic, our last boat.

I don't write about my science life much on this blog, but it's this research work that has kept us going.  As I sometimes tell people who ask how we pay for it all, we left home with enough savings to last for two years - and that was six and a half years ago.

After five years of owning Blue World Research, I finally got around to one of the most basic items on the to-do list when opening any small company - I just put up the Blue World website.

It was a DIY affair, of course.  Have a look, and if you have any suggestions for the site, leave me a comment on this post...

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Simple Task

Alisa back aboard the mothership, a bit dazed by it all
Opua, where we entered New Zealand, has a few things going against it.  Most notably, there is only one small and expensive, though very friendly, general store for buying provisions.  If you want a proper grocery store, you have to go the three miles or so down the coast to Paihia.  Which, the other day, we did.  And therein lies a cautionary tale about why everything about living on a boat can, at times, take so damn long.

We anchored at Paihia just before noon, and after a quick lunch the whole family took the half-mile dinghy ride to the beach.  There is no wharf near the grocery store in Paihia.  I filled propane bottle and gas can at the local gas station while Alisa gave the boys a run on the beach.

Then we all dinghied back, into a building day breeze.  I put Eric down for his nap and Alisa and Elias returned in the dinghy to do the food shop.  The breeze by this time was pushing past 15 knots, with steep little waves.  Alisa had changed from jeans into a skirt over swim suit, anticipating a dunking while getting the laden dinghy off the beach in the breeze.

They went back to the beach.  I worked on some science.  Eric passed the time loudly not napping in his bunk.

Alisa and Elias returned two hours later - the dinghy full of water and sand, cans floating around over the floorboards, both of them and all of the food soaked.

Alisa, once her morale revived (it took a while) had a very entertaining story to share about pushing the shopping carts down to the beach (in typically friendly Kiwi style, someone from the store came along to push one of the carts), then carrying the groceries down the beach to the dinghy, launching the dinghy and anchoring it just beyond the breaking waves, running back and forth to load the dinghy and keep the gulls out of the pile of groceries, then pushing the boat, laden with child and food, off the beach, into wind and waves, before starting the soaking half-mile trip back to Galactic dead into the now 18-knot breeze.

It took a while to get the story out of her - she was a little tight-lipped until she and Elias and all the groceries were rinsed free of salt and sand.

All that just to fill the larder...

Monday, November 18, 2013

what we can give them

Out for a walk the other day on Opua's delightful coastal track and I found that some anti-social types had ripped off the lock that prevented access to a cliff-top tower holding a range light for the port entrance.  I decided that I was the kind of Dad who would go home and ask his 7-year-old son if he'd like to climb up the tower the next day...
Since we've committed to boat-schooling Elias, and eventually Eric, for as long as we're sailing, I've thought a bit about the potential limitations that implies.  You can only teach what you know.  And Alisa and I, to pick an example, are both very non-musical.  Our kids get plenty of Thelonious Monk on the stereo, but we can't teach them to make music themselves.  So, until we get them into a school where they can be exposed to music (oh, right - American schools cut all their music programs), that's a side of the human experience - a very big and profound side of the human experience - that they won't be experiencing for themselves.

But there are some things we can give them.  And one of these, of course, is the gift of books.  I am severely biased and will tell anyone, anywhere, that nothing will prepare you for a life well lived more surely than being well-read.

I've been reading to Elias lately.  The Sword in the Stone was a bit above him, and really a bit shambling in its prose no matter the age of the audience, but there were enough jousts and falcons to pull the thing off.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was a bit archaic in its language, but the core concept of a rascally boyhood won Elias over.  I told him that Huckleberry Finn was an adult book and would have to wait until he was in high school.

We're on The Hobbit just now.  And this one is perfect - Elias gets it.  And it has opened my eyes again to the quality of J.R.R. Tolkein's storytelling.  Not bad for an academic.

Two days ago we read the chapter where Bilbo and Gollum pose each other riddles.  Do you remember this one?

Alive without breath,
As cold as death;
Never thirsty, ever drinking,
All in mail never clinking.

Before I'd read half the next sentence Elias looked up at me and said, "Fish!"

I couldn't believe he'd gotten it.  Though mind you, "fish!" is the answer to most questions for Elias these days.

All's Well

Just a note to say that all's well with Fandango.  They're in Opua...but we don't know any details about their story.

Sunday, November 17, 2013


By the time we reached Navalu Passage, where we would leave the reefs of Viti Levu and gain a clear path to New Zealand, the weather was completely unsuitable.

Pouring rain in short bursts, and no visibility.  The whole mass of Viti Levu, the biggest island in all the South Pacific between New Caledonia and Chile, was completely lost in clouds.  There is no rain like the tropical rain.

The wind had come against us.  We tacked back and forth on the still water inside the reef, content to move slowly.  The reefs of Fiji have a reputation, I didn't trust CMAP much, and we could see little.

A catamaran had checked out just behind us, and slowly gained on us, alternately motoring and sailing in the changing breeze.  They weren't in a hurry either, and we and they gradually felt our way out to the passage in company.

They ended up through the pass just before us, while Alisa stood watch on our bow and I madly glassed the shore behind us, trying and failing to find the leads for the pass.

You can't imagine what a taut moment that is if you haven't had a go yourself - all your dreams and too much of your money in the form of your own boat that is carrying you out to sea, your kids down below and your wife on the bow, mad breakers on either side of you in the pass and the heaving expanse of the open ocean in front of you, and a week, or ten days, before you'll see land again.  And in this instance, with the poor visibility and the dramatic weather, everything was that much more of-the-moment.

Both boats made it through the big ship-adequate pass just fine, of course.  And we kept company for the rest of the day - both boats obviously heading for the same place and moving at the same speed.

We saw their mast light for a few hours after nightfall, and in the morning we were out of sight of each other.  And then we forgot all about them.

And then yesterday Alisa ran into our mate Pete, who had just cleared in from Fiji on Rapaki.  Yeah, Fandango, he said.  Tough luck, that.  They cleared out just after you, you know.

Alisa and I couldn't be sure, but it did seem that that cat in the pass had been named Fandango.  And now New Zealand radio is putting out a regular safety notice that Fandango is dismasted, with poor navigation lights, no radar and limited ability to maneuver, making her way slowly towards New Zealand.  Pete tells us that she has dodgy fuel on top of that.

We know nothing more about her, or the long struggle her crew must be going through.  Pete says that a long-distance tow will be attempted.

You've got to be so ready to go to sea, you've got to have your act so together.  Again, I know nothing of their situation, but all of our boats are potentially vulnerable to a failure in one little piece of gear - a turnbuckle, say, or a bolt in a transmission coupling - that can have ridiculously big consequences.

So you have to know that all those little bits are ready when you set out on a passage.  But at the same time, if you wait until everything is perfectly ready, you'll join that huge majority of people, actually and metaphorically, who forever sit in an expensive marina berth, going nowhere.

Finding the reasonable middle, getting to the point where you're ready and also going, is, I suppose, what serving an apprenticeship of the sea is all about...

Meanwhile, best wishes to Fandango, and may they be safely in port soon.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

An Elation Not To Be Trusted

Boat, meet ocean
Where to begin?

Perhaps that afternoon about seven days into the trip.

Our sleep schedules were, as usual, complete wrecks on this passage.  We covered the nights by trading off two three-hour watches and two two-hour watches, and attempted, with more or less success, to make up the lost sleep with daytime naps.  The hour after my afternoon nap was often the low point of my day, as my vital force, grumpy over being put to hard use, would refuse to resume a diurnal energy level and would instead mope on about the uncomfortable motion of the boat.  On this particular day, it was worse than usual.  I suspected a developing migraine.  Foolish me, I had let myself run low on the rescue med while we in the tropics - to the point where I had only one of those magic migraine-cancelling wafers left when we set out from Fiji.

And that one got used on day four.

On this later afternoon, when I was ruing my empty medicine chest and wondering if I was about to suffer, the weather wasn't bad.  No gales were in the offing.  But we were sailing into 20 or 25 knot winds, and three meter swells.  The boat was fine, but it was a loud, occasionally violent ride.

And I had my revelation - I didn't want to be in that setting with my kids, wondering if I was going to be able to look after things.  Long-time readers will recognize the situation.

In my sulu at the start of the trip, waiting for the customs officer to arrive and clear us out of Fiji.

As it was, everything came fine.  I took another nap.  The threat of a migraine passed.  We finished what ended up being a fairly tough passage for a boat with young kids - nine and a half days, the last eight of them traveling into headwinds.  And we came out smiling on the other end.

Alisa, doing acrobatics in the galley.  It's hard to get a picture of what life on a heeling boat at sea feels like.  But the braced leg and galley strap give some idea.  Note also the Galactic attitude towards changing your pants at sea, even after they've got salt stains on the bum.  Why bother?
Elias called it the best passage ever.  Eric excitedly told his grandmother over the phone from New Zealand - JoJo, I didn't throw up on the passage!  And I found myself agreeing with Elias.  It wasn't a really tough passage (again, no gales), but it wasn't a cake walk.  And the boat and the boys and ourselves took it all in stride.  And that made it seem pretty special when it was all over.  I found myself dancing down below yesterday morning while we were waiting for the New Zealand Customs official to check us in (though I wasn't wearing a sulu this time).  It was an old feeling, that elation that had 45-year-old me dancing all by myself to Burning Spear, the over-the-top exhilaration that comes at the end of a adventure that had its doubtful moments, but turned out fine.

Watching the waves
That post-adventure elation is always suspect, of course.  Once the passage, or the mountain climb, or whatever, is done, all the hard bits disappear from the victor's version of history.  So planning what you might get up to some day in the mountains, or on your boat, isn't something that you should do in the after-adventure glow.

But, nonetheless, we are planning, and feeling the next version of the dream taking on the shape of real-life undertaking.  For months at least, and maybe years, we've been wondering if we'd get up the energy to sail to Patagonia.  And after this passage, it's starting to look like we might, assuming that my income from science allows us to keep going.  That would have us sailing east from New Zealand at the end of the Austral summer, towards French Polynesia and Chile and the Falklands and whatever else might await beyond.

The inevitable fish pictures.  Boy's second tuna (above)
and a wahoo (left)


And the mahi mahi.  See how quickly he loses his beautiful colors of life (left) once he's dead (right).  You can watch it happening and know that the struggle is done.  I think Alisa told me it took two hours to get this fish on board.  Those are cookie-cutter shark bites in the right-hand picture.  It strikes me that we belong to that subset of marine biologists who do not mind fishing in the right circumstances.  We don't fish coral reefs though - I can only think of one place where we've ever eaten a coral reef fish that we caught ourselves.

Wahoo and chips for dinner

We haven't really officially decided to head for Patagonia.  But we're talking about everything that we'll want to do to the boat this summer to get ready, so without making the decision official we find ourselves starting to come to terms with that old process of bringing a dream to life, of leaving behind the perfect world of the dream and coming to grips with what the limits of time and money will allow you in terms of preparation.

So that's what we're looking forward to at this point.  And, meanwhile, we have an entire New Zealand summer to enjoy.  We keep hearing such good things about Nelson, on the South Island...

Victory breakfast, at the Quarantine dock
Quarantine dock, Opua