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

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


We finally made the tack to head for New Zealand. But we find ourselves sailing into stronger winds, and lumpier seas, than we had hoped for. The cockpit is soaked and little drips and drabs are finding their way down below. And the noise and the pounding are both a bit more forceful than you'd wish for.

After each doing our first three hour watch for the night we decided, for the first time this trip, to let the AIS look out for ships while we both got some sleep. A few chores on deck, and a quick look at the weather to see if we can bear a course a bit less into the wind have me up again in the early hours.

All is well, and there are a couple consolations to make up for the rough ride - the boys are doing fine, and we're making more than 8 knots.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Indefatigable? Indomitable?

Well, hopefully we won't have to rise to either of those standards.

We're sticking with our plan, and the high pressure system to the west of New Zealand is sticking to its plan.

According to the forecasts we're able to receive, the high is completely stalled out, so we find ourselves forever on its leading edge, in the southerly winds of its counter-clockwise flow.

So we're sticking with our plan of patiently, patiently working our way south. We got to switch off the motor this morning, and have sailed towards the southeast all day in a fresh southerly breeze. We're not getting much closer to Opua, but with luck we're getting to an advantageous spot to be once the wind backs a bit to the east.

It's not the most comfortable ride, but it's not bad either. We hear on the radio that there are a dozen boats anchored up at Minerva Reef, waiting for more favorable winds to get to New Zealand. For now, at least, we're happy to do our waiting here at sea, slowly heading in not quite the right direction. The weather still looks fine for making landfall in En Zed, which continues to be our main priority.

Alisa revisited last night's blackened mahi mahi triumph for lunch today, and then performed the high-wire trick of inviting Elias to choose any recipe he liked from the Cruiser's Handbook of Fishing for dinner. He chose the Thai satay mahi mahi in peanut sauce, and she pulled it off beautifully.

OK, time to look at the latest weather forecast.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Tacking to New Zealand

Something happened to the weather forecast yesterday. Instead of the two days of light headwinds that we had been expecting, the forecast charts now show SIX days of southerlies between us and our destination - and not all of them light.

We left Fiji pretty much just because we felt ready to, and because we had a clear window to arrive in New Zealand in a spell of settled weather. (The main trick on this passage is to avoid copping a low south of 30 degrees South.) We told each other, and anyone else who asked, that we weren't too picky about the weather otherwise.

It's too late to revise that attitude now, though the idea of tucking into Minerva Reef and waiting for the southerlies to pass was gazetted.

We're not going to do that, so we've resigned ourselves to a slow, and expensive passage. If it were just Alisa and me, we would suck it up and sail as much as we could. But with the boys to consider, and especially Eric's seasickness, it's much the better solution to reef the main, roll up the jib, and motor into the wind - slowly, and at the cost of much fuel, but reasonably comfortably.

On the bright side, we caught an oarfish-sized mahi mahi yesterday.

At sea... internet!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Deep Blue

Well, I'm pretty sure that my last post from Fiji didn't make it on line - we seemed to run out of Vodafone credit right as I was pushing the "post" button.

Assuming that one didn't post, you now find us, with little in the way of a transition, at sea, about 30 hours out from Fiji, bound for Opua, New Zealand.

We've had a fine start to the trip. Some 8-9 knot bashing along last night, when the boys were safely asleep and didn't need to be watched on a pitching boat, and gentler, but still rapid enough, sailing to fill most of the day today.

The sea has been the deep, happy blue of pelagic waters in the tropics. A wahoo came on board today and gave us two great meals, with at least a third and maybe a fourth promised for tomorrow.

Elias keeps saying things like, "this is such an exciting passage". I finished reading The Sword in the Stone to him today and started in on Tom Sawyer. Seven really is an ideal age for a kid to live on a boat.

Eric keeps hitting his brother and calling his mom an idiot. Alisa and I have been coming down hard on him - we're at our wits' end for getting anything like civilized behavior out of the kid. Three is not such an ideal age for living on a boat. Of course, it may not be an ideal age for living on land, either, I'm not sure.

Monday, November 4, 2013


The past four (or five?) days in Fiji have been occupied by Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.

Being the traveling family with a three-year-old, we didn't get adventurous and head into Lautoka at night to immerse ourselves in the festivities.  But upon learning that fireworks were a major part of the holiday, we added "pyrotechnics that might be illegal in either of our home countries" to the shopping list for Alisa's big bout of provisioning a few days ago.

That's me, last night, in the delight-of-anticipation preparatory phase.

And me in the launch phase:

The real pieces of resistance were the two stand-up bomb throwers/rocket sparklers/noise bangers that I lit and set adrift in a plastic tub tied to the stern of Galactic.  Turns out that after you light the fuse it actually takes longer than you expect to get the darn thing set in the tub and pushed away.  My maniacal laughter at the display had a hint of nervous relief at not having the things go up in my face.

Alisa, preoccupied with the boys and the question of whether I was going to set the boat on fire, didn't manage to get a pic.

But she did get Elias' reaction:

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Will I Miss This?

I changed the oil on the genset yesterday - a totally routine boat task.  Also routine was the absolute cascade of perspiration that I found myself in during the job.

There's the heat of the tropics, and there's the oven-like heat of a generator compartment or an engine room even hours after the generator/engine has been run.  Put them together, and you get a puddle of sweat on the cabin sole after the job is done (right).

So, I said to Alisa, I wonder if we'll ever end up in a cold enough place that I'll miss being soaked in sweat every time I do a job like this?