Thursday, January 30, 2014

Too Much to Ask For?

I've been thinking about ENSO and the tradewinds lately.

Both times that we crossed the Pacific we had La Niña conditions, which involve enhanced trades (which blow east to west, natch).  From Fiji onwards, especially in 2008, we had really booming conditions - 25 knot southeasterlies, day after day.

In a Niño year, though, the Pacific trades weaken, or even reverse, and blow west to east.

Can you see why this might be an interesting possibility for a family intending to sail their boat from New Zealand to South America via the tropics?

I've been watching the ENSO pattern pretty closely for the last few years for my work - ENSO is linked to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation pattern, which has strong implications for Alaskan marine ecosystems.  The world has been in a strong PDO-negative/La Niña state since about 2007/08.  There's only been one Niño in that time (in 2010), and the Niño forecast to appear in 2013 failed to materialize.

The current prediction is for continued ENSO-neutral conditions through 2014.  But there is some chance of a Niño developing - 25% according to the consensus prediction published by NOAA, with the seasonal Climate Forecast System (something else I'm interested in for work) showing a switch to Niño conditions around June or so of this year.

Would it be too much to ask for??

Sunday, January 26, 2014

From the Art Department

Well, I look at the blog and see it's been five days since I wrote about being alone on the boat, working away, while Alisa and the boys are back in the States to visit family.

I pass each day with tools in hand, yet my list of accomplishments fails to live up to the promise of all this uninterrupted time.  Surely mounting the new solar panel on the stern arch couldn't have taken two day?

But, never say die - I'm going to clean up this boat (neatness has slipped a lot) and go to bed, confident that tomorrow will surpass all standards for getting-er-done.

I'll leave you with these products of the Blue World Press art department - the draft cover and maps for the long-awaited US edition of South From Alaska. 

I'm very happy with how they're turning out…

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Family-Free Boat

One of my favorite things about raising our boys on a traveling sailboat is how much time I get to spend with them.  No buggering off to work for me - and, as a result, we're around each other for much of the day, every day.

As fast as the years pour by - it's been nearly three years since we bought Galactic - I think there's something about all this time spent with the boys that seems to slow things down.  It's like watching a tree grow - if you never take your eyes off the tree, it seems like nothing's happening…so in a somewhat similar vein, I sometimes pinch myself at the realization that we still have children as young as three and seven.

Right now, though, the boys are notable through their absence.  Alisa and Eric and Elias are in the US, visiting Alisa's parents.  Faced with screaming deadlines to finish my PhD and get the barky Patagonia-ready, I have stayed back in New Zealand to get some work done.

And - it's really odd to be on the boat without the family.  We've never lived aboard without at least one kid, and I've never sailed at all as an adult without Alisa.  So the boat is seeming pretty quiet.

I'm taking the opportunity to cross off some jobs that would be too disruptive with the kids aboard.

Jobs like interior painting - I can't imagine trying this one with the boys aboard!

Or this one, either.

Living on a boat means that we inhabit a domestic arena that is merely a thin veneer over the highly-engineered functional core of the boat.  We live, for instance, in close proximity to 1,000 liters of diesel fuel when the tanks are pressed up.  Giving the tanks their annual inspection and clean-out means tearing up the galley sole to give access to hidden lakes of petro-chemical.  I can just imagine the toy canons firing from the other side of the cabin, defying luck and gravity over the open inspection ports…

OK, enough for now - I'm off to re-plumb the water supply for the forward head...

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Two more circles

I've been thinking more about circles.  How we've been going long enough to close a loop here or there; with boats, or people, or the things that we do again and again.  Also - how we might eventually close the loop on our meanderings and find ourselves back in Kodiak…

Here's a circle that we closed in New Zealand - you probably remember Pajé, who danced with a reef in Tonga in the middle of the night:

One of the first sights to greet us when we motored up the Hatea River was the same Pajé, up on the hard in Whangarei.  You can see how the aluminum hull got beat in around the frames while she was on the reef.

And check out the rudder.

There was also a big split in the skeg that was looks like it was patched up in Tonga.  It must have taken a bit of courage to tackle the passage from Tonga to New Zealand with the boat in that state, wondering if anything else was going to break…

I haven't seen the owners.  I hope everything is going ok for them.

And a happier, ritual-of-our-lives circle: Alisa just now, at about 2230, finished the annual service to our seventh and last winch, completing the week-long circle that takes her all the way around the cockpit and out to the mast and back - a journey of stripping winches down, scrubbing all the parts with turpentine, re-greasing and reassembling without dropping a single little bit overboard…

She fits all this in to little bits of time when Eric is sleeping and Elias is reading, or after they're in bed and the dishes are washed.  I'll know our sailing days are over if there ever comes a year when Alisa isn't determined to get the winches done by some self-imposed deadline...

Saturday, January 11, 2014

In Town

So here we've come to rest, in Whangarei, tied between two pilings in the river.  The pile berth is kind of nice.  We have to row to get between shore and boat, which preserves the wonderful moat effect that an anchorage gives you, with all the world on the other side of the water when the sun goes down.

We have Elias taking a half-hour French lesson every weekday with a French yachtie here in the marina.  She sends us emails saying that Elias now knows how to say this or that en français; when queried, he denies it.  Time will tell.

The boys are also taking swimming lessons.  Here is Eric, using his greatest physical asset (his belly) to good effect.  This is the boy who habitually deafens me with his screams whenever it's time for a shower, convinced as he is that if water ever touches his face that will mark the end of his days upon the planet.  This wonderful teacher, though, quickly had him floating both face up and face down, as well as diving entirely below the surface, water in the face be damned.  When he's swimming with us, though, he still refuses to get his face wet.

And the grownups?  Well, we haven't run out of things to do.  The thing is that there are an endless number of things you can do to improve a boat.  And when you're thinking of going to Patagonia, a lot of those improvements start to sound good.  So far I think I've crossed "tension intermediate shrouds" and "change fuel filters" off the list.  But I'm getting really really organized to start knocking off the bigger tasks.  Just as soon as I finish this PhD.

Alisa, meanwhile, is putting me to shame by managing to squeeze winch maintenance into the odd corners of her day - and night.  It's now 2300, and she's reassembling a primary, with me on standby in case any parts need the hammer to convince them to go where they belong.  I'm not much of an engineer, but if anything on the boat needs to be whacked with a hammer, I'm the guy.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Sod That

I'm deep into the science work - non-metric multidimensional scaling, if you want to know, and I'm clearly missing something important while I'm at it.

Alisa, to more discernible effect, is stripping down the winches.  Annual service is barely adequate for these beasts if they live on a traveling boat.

Our holiday, in other words, is well over.

We've got three months to get our acts together for Patagonia - come April 1, we want to be ready to rock on out of here.  I, of course, am also finishing that mid-career PhD and madly writing proposals for more research gigs to pay for all this nautical carrying on.  Blog posts might be a little…terse…in the short term.

Occasionally the one of us has the common-sense idea that we should just chill out and head straight to Patagonia instead of doing a season in French Poly beforehand.  That way we could stay in New Zealand until October and get everything ready in an orderly way.  The very idea occurred to me only last night, as I made the mistake of trying to figure out our cabin heater installation at the same time I was figuring out the installation for the solar panels.

But rest assured that this common-sense idea has been vigorously opposed.  Sod that, as one of our more English friends might say.  Permission for an orderly approach denied!  We're going to Rapa, and that's it.

So, with a full few months ahead of us, we particularly enjoyed our recently-completed holiday dawdle out to Great Barrier Island, during which we did nothing useful at all.

To whit, some pictures:

I read The Hobbit to Elias recently, but had thought we might wait until he was a bit older before tackling The Lord of the Rings.  But then he found a one-volume edition in the marina book swap - it was clearly meant to be

New Zealand conveniently has a native Christmas tree - the pohutukawa.  A branch from the beach did nicely for us

The finished effect

Alisa made a Christmas stollen from my grandmother's recipe
Elias got mad into the gift-giving spirit this year.  Above - pressies wrapped and labeled for Santa, "Misses Claws" and Santa's dog...
Christmas morning with young children - an early start, and mad joy
A shield and battle axe…two of the many gifts that Elias made or purchased for Eric
Elias' gift for me - a tape for measuring fish.  You can see how happy he is that I like it so much...
The best three bucks we ever spent
This is what happens when you win the Booker - husbands and wives each give each other a copy of your 800-page novel as Christmas presents 

Great Barrier provided plenty of on-shore recreation.  The bird community may be hurting,  but the walking tracks are impossibly good
We managed to beat both down to Great Barrier and back to Whangarei Heads.  Reef, shake it, reef, shake it...
Soon-to-expire satphone minutes were used to call grandparents

We ended the holiday at Ocean Beach.  Some chance acquaintances who settled at Whangarei after decades of sailing the world rowed up to Galactic to ask if they could drive us to the beach and lend us boogie boards.  People who have traveled themselves are so incredibly hospitable to travelers.  These are the same people who brought the gift of ice cubes for Elias and Eric when they came for dinner - they clearly knew their audience.

So that's it for us and wide horizons for a while.  Future reports will come from far up the Hatea River, in the Whangarei Town Basin.