Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Beauty of Straight Lines

I know that Twice in a Lifetime readers are geographically switched on. But just for some perspective...

In another lifetime, one that does not involve me working in marine science while we're also traveling the world, Galactic would be sitting in some anchorage in Cuba, and we would be wrapping our heads around the strange travelers' luck that saw us in that nation on the day that Fidel Castro died.

However, we do find ourselves in this particular everyday (and increasingly interesting) world of ours. And I do pour a tonne of effort into trying to "make discoveries, and share them with others", as E.O. Wilson so winningly defined the job of a scientist.

So, after our cracker of a sailing year, which began in the Falklands and saw us cross the Atlantic twice and finally visit South Georgia after years and years of thinking about it, it has been time for me to tend my discovery garden. I have been lucky enough to be funded to work on a long-standing pet idea of mine with an excellent group of collaborators who know much more than I do about all sorts of things about how the ocean works.

And while I'm very grateful that this work got funded, it means...doing a lot of work. And then there is the scientist's lot of continually looking for more funding, and a second project that is just getting off the ground...and, well. I'm becoming afraid that our boys' most enduring memory of sailing with dad will be me, sitting at the chart table with ear plugs in, looking at the laptop with a face suggesting that I'm in the final round of the World Grumpy Stare-Down competition.

All of which is the lead-in to say that Alisa and I, very far into the first decade of our life afloat, are waking up to the joys of straight-line travel. Cuba would have been...a big detour. And as worthwhile as it would have been (had we the time, and were my work not so internet-dependent), we are happy for once to just travel from point A to point B. Which in this case, means going from Curaçao to Panama via Colombia.

With one brief detour. We could not resist the temptation for a little backtrack from Curaçao to Bonaire to make up for the family snorkeling deficit that has been building ever since we sailed to Patagonia.

So here we are now, and we had a fine day of seeing the underwater sights today.


I imagine it's a wonderful place to live, and I will plead guilty to having seen very little of the place, but...what a distressingly boring destination for a visit.

We're having fun and all, and I know we've only scratched the surface of the Caribbean. But it's hard to escape the idea that this entire sea exists only to remind sailors of how great the Pacific really is.

We're going through one of those periods when we don't take many photos. Here's one of Willemstad, in Curaçao. The brightly-painted buildings are meant to be iconic in some way...

Willemstad does have an excellent slavery museum, which A. and the boys visited while I was away in the States.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Unhealthy Living/Nice Work If You Can Get It

The beast in situ
I swear up and down that I want nothing to do with that awful sailors' habit of talking about boat maintenance.

(Just kill me now!)

Normally, I talk about boat maintenance only with Alisa, after the kids are asleep, in the dead of the night, with the curtains drawn and a "to do" list growing under the pen held in her shapely fingers.

Boat maintenance. It's personal that way.

But, for all my denialism, boat maintenance is a huge part of my life. It's my hobby, it's how I while away my idle hours (ha!). It's how we've managed all the crossings that have gotten our family safely (so far!) from here to there. And, with my sideline career in marine biology that both allows us to keep sailing and keeps me forever slightly time-poor for doing the sailing, boat maintenance is my nagging regret, that part of life that I always feel just a little behind on.

So, with all that as a background, perhaps it's appropriate to, well, celebrate boat maintenance for once. Sure, the individual jobs might still give me varying degrees of heartbreak and heartburn. I'm not really handy, and even nine and a half years in, some of these jobs can be too much effort to be healthy.

But on the other good a problem is that, to have a life that is dominated by the maintenance of your own magic carpet?

So, here's a photo essay celebrating a boat maintenance victory - getting rid of our clunky old genset in South Africa.

The dang thing was occupying about a third of my maintenance time budget all by itself. We have beefed up our solar and wind power to the point where we didn't really need it. And finally getting up the gumption to rip the thing out gave us two things that every sailor should crave - simplicity and space.

How good is that?

The beast in cartu

And the scabby hole that was left after it was gone
The hole, de-scabbed.
Nature abhors a vacuum, nowhere more than on a traveling sailboat.  We now call the hole the "sail locker"

And my next trick! Replacing the transmission in Curaçao. 95F/35C in the engine room.
Learn a lesson from the Brazilian sailors - only a speedo will do in this situation.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Thinking Up a Hurricane

Good book alert.

We picked this one up in South Africa - a memoir of family sea-going life with a not-so-good father.

The author, Martinique Stilwell, is very good on the child's perspective of how life turns out when parents are derelict in their duties, and how parents make a long series of choices for their children when they decide that it's too much bother to educate them.

The story is from the tail end of the 1970s, when there were a lot more parents out there happy to let their children grow up (euphemistically) free and (actually) ignorant. But the book does offer an interesting perspective for contemporary parents disinclined to put  effort into their kids' education.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Way Forward

Well, I'm back to the boat.

And what a visit to the home country that turned out to be!

The only good part of being in the US when the White Power candidate was elected to the highest office of the land was that on election night I happened to be in the company of the best man from my wedding. He and I went out and got drunk, both thoroughly and publicly.

It didn't make me feel any better, really.

So that hopeful feeling about returning to the home country? That has been replaced by something much more wary.

We do all have Australian passports, of course. And a boat that experience tells us is probably adequate to the task of sailing back to Hobart.

I remember going through the "we're outta here" phase on election night. I think it was mostly between drinks number six and nine. I found myself declaiming, to anyone who would listen, "I hope that works out for all y'all!"

But the draw of Alaska is strong.  There is also the thing about not wanting to be driven out of your country, but I find that consideration works on me only when Alaska is part of the equation. Without the Great Land, I think I'd prefer to go and be middle class in Oz, thanks much.

So, when we exit the Panama Canal early next year (everything going to plan), we expect to turn right for Hawai'i, rather than left for Fatu Hiva. Unless the Pussy Grabber In Chief has managed to start a particularly egregious war in the first couple months of his administration.

The year so far, as seen by the Caribbean Safety and Security Net
So. That leaves us in the Caribbean for a couple more months. It seems like a pretty trivial concern at this point, but we have so far completely failed to see the magic of the Caribbean. Our loathing for crowds and very low tolerance for crime risk are a tough combo here. See the map of reported thefts, assaults, and general non-fun sailor moments above.

We had thought about heading up to Cuba, but a chance comment from some Canadian friends about how Cuba wasn't such a fascination for them as it was for American sailors resonated with me. I had a visit to Cuba with that same best man about 19 years ago, and it was great. I don't think I really need to go again.

We thought about Guatemala as well, but very little research told us that it was the kind of place where sailors lock themselves into their boats at night behind stainless steel bars. Not the Galactic way, that.

So for now it looks like we're bound for Colombia.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


That's us Galactics. We're in the US and on hiatus from the sailing life.

For me, that means a period of immersion in the science life (above).

I've been thinking a lot about the practice of science.

Like the difference between skepticism and conservatism in science - the former is the foundation of our approach, but it can too easily transform into the latter, in which we're skeptical about everything but the status quo paradigm.

I've been thinking about how our current understanding of the problems I work on is fundamentally wrong in some way. That error will be painfully obvious in the future, but it is so hard for us to see the error now.

I've been thinking about the paths that a scientist can take in their career. You can contribute to the incremental progress of the larger community, which is guaranteed to produce results over time - a safer approach. Or you can step back and try to see a path that everyone else has missed, and which might give a shortcut that can bypass a decade of more incremental work - a much riskier approach!

And I've been thinking about how difficult it is to make a really useful contribution in a field where there are a lot of really smart people working really hard on the same questions.

Science, like sailing, rewards the state of being all-in.

In between science meetings and time spent navel-gazing on the questions above, I have a two-week break in which I've joined Alisa and the boys as we catch up with our State-side loved ones.

We've been having a great time.

A dry run for their first Halloween. Tintin and Captain Haddock.