Saturday, July 22, 2017

Boat Not For Sale

The Land of Fire in winter
Over the years we've seen a lot of friends and acquaintances reaching the end of their dream cruise, and a unifying feature is that the sailboat in question usually goes on the block immediately. Or sooner - often a cruising boat is listed for sale while the final homeward passage is uncompleted.

This only makes sense. A well-found traveling boat represents a lot of capital, and demands a lot of upkeep. If you're not using the beast, there's little point in keeping it.

Plus, as Paul Beatty points out in The Sellout, having a yacht that you never use is a signifier of the second level of white privilege. And who would want to go there?

We've just completed our first haulout since South Africa. And while Kodiak is a great place to work on the boat out of the water, that doesn't mean it's cheap. When you're living on the boat and traveling widely, that sort of expense just feels like the price of the ticket. But it feels very different when you're back in your home port and looking for a house. What felt like the price of the ticket can start to feel more like a frivolous outlay of cash.

But for all that, we have no immediate plans to sell Galactic. And that has to do with our current vision/dream for what the next stage of our sailing lives will look like.

We've spent the last 10 years as all-in, full-time sailors. No house ashore waiting for us, no vehicles, no furniture in storage save my grandmother's rocking chair and my grandfather's work bench. That's the Fatty and Carolyn Goodlander style of sailing. No compromise to dirt dwelling made, and a sailor sleeps on his/her boat every night of their life.

But over the last few years of our sailing we became more and more aware of another way to pursue decades-long sailing odysseys. We can call it the "home base" model.

When Lin and Larry Pardey very generously opened their home to us on Kawau Island for their annual Thanksgiving dinner, we realized their was a home base for them, and had been for decades, if I'm not mistaken. It certainly makes years of tromping around in very small sailboats easier if you have a small house and a big shed waiting for you somewhere, patiently holding your stuff.

Likewise for the fantastic time that Leiv Poncet showed us at his family's place on Beaver Island, in the Falklands. Leiv's parents are pioneers of far southern sailing, and have decades and decades of sailing achievements behind them, but they didn't do it while using the yacht as the exclusive family home. Even 50-foot Damien II would get pretty small for a family of five during a Falklands winter.

And so for us, we hope. We're stopping the all-in part of our sailing both because being full-time sailors doesn't encompass everything that we want to do in our lives, and because we wouldn't mind having more of a home base than our uninsured sailboat. Our sights aren't set nearly as high as Kawau or Beaver Islands, but I'm sure we'll be able to find something cozy in Kodiak, with a shed as a part of the deal.

And, in our case, as I've written in this space before, we hope to transition to a more purposeful sort of sailing, and start using Galactic as the platform for our marine biology research. No telling how the funding gods will view that idea, but we have plans to submit two research proposals along those lines this year.

And in the meantime, we will continue to live with the maintenance list that comes with Galactic, and work to keep her in good shape for whatever it is we end up doing. We love sailing as much as we ever have, perhaps more than we ever have. And after 10 years all-in, we're as good at sailing as we are at anything else in life. So we're daring fate by hoping that we might be lucky enough to keep the magic going for a few more years in this new way.

This is a good excuse to dig out old Kawau and Beaver Island shots. Here are the crew, in a much younger state of being, in front of Taleisin.
Here and below - Thanksgiving dinner.

I think the guy to my right was spinning a real line of bull...
Leiv and the boys lighting a fire on Beaver Island, to roast... 
...Beaver Island mutton chops. 
Alisa and Leiv canning meat for ship's stores on Peregrine and Galactic

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Better Than Real

Her: I'm so glad to be back in Kodiak.

Me: I know. It's such a real-world place.

*Thoughtful pause*

Her: It's better than real.

Metaphor alert! Stepping off the boat...
I'll begin with a note on congruence between life on a traveling boat and life in Alaska. They're both all about the people.

We have been met by our old crowd in Kodiak with typical understated Alaskan hospitality. Friends met us at the dock with ice cream and beer and home-cooked treats. In the days when we were freshly back, people stopped by the boat to give us halibut and salmon.

Friends who are off the island offered up a truck that we could drive for a month while we were looking for our own vehicle (thanks so much, Heather & Pete!). And friends who were going to the Lower 48 for a family visit kindly offered up their house as a place we could stay if we wanted to get off the boat.

We didn't really want to get off the boat - except.

Except that the middle of summer is the perfect time to haul out a boat in Kodiak. The days are super-long, the temperatures are conducive to painting, and the yard is mostly empty, as Kodiak's working fleet is out working. We always prefer to move off the boat when she's in the yard. So, we took the opportunity of a place to stay (thanks, Sara and Ian!) and hauled.

Real help: Joe and I watch the slings come off.
Pretend help: Eric pressure washing.
Fuller's boat yard is part of the "delightfully real" aspect of Kodiak that Alisa and I were commenting on. At most yards where we've hauled through the years, there is a driver for the travelift and a yard worker or two who pressure wash your boat and position the jack stands. In Kodiak, there are first of all no jack stands - those tall boat stands for sailboats. Commercial fishing boats don't use them, so Fuller's doesn't have them. We had a set of our own ordered and waiting at Kodiak Marine Supply when we sailed into town.

And, as for the yard workers who pressure wash and set up the stands, that would be the crew of the boat being hauled. Who also have to provide their own pressure washer (thanks, Debra!).

Another friend, who just happens to be the second owner of Hawk, which he took through the Northwest Passage, stopped by at just the right moment to give us a hand with the stands.

And so it has gone through our time in the yard. People just stop by now and then to talk and look at the boat. It's part of the pace of life in a small town in Alaska. And it's part of the process of our re-integration into this town, one conversation about this and that and nothing at all at a time.

Elias in a triumphant mood.
Allright - listen up you dreamers who want to chuck it all and sail away but don't know much about sailing. Find someone who has a boat and volunteer to help them with their next haulout, start to finish. You'll learn a hundred times more about the sailing life that way than by taking one of those "learn to cruise" classes.

Sunday, July 9, 2017


Me and mom (and Eric).
Well.  I would count us as lucky.  We have had a life over the last ten years that has been far richer than the life awaiting us in that alternate universe where everyone gets just what they deserve.

Our good fortune has been wonderfully multifaceted, and, I hope, not been taken for granted. (In conversation with Alisa I have started using the shorthand "white privilege goes to sea" to refer to a certain sort of American sailor.) But just now I want to focus on the tremendous good fortune that we had in our shoreside ship's agent during our ten years afloat.

That ship's agent to Galactic would be Joan Litzow. Mom to me, "JoJo" to my kids. (Someone felt too young to be called grandma almost 11 years ago when Elias was born.)

Anyone who has been on an open-ended sailing trip will tell you how important it is to have someone back in the home country to look after your affairs. We Galactics cut the ties more than most. No house or business back in the home country to tie us down. And the internet has of course made the mundane details of life infinitely more tractable for travelers.

But, for all that, if you're going on a years-long trip, you really need someone to help out with practicalities. My mom was set up to sign checks for us and authorized to deal with our credit card companies on our behalf. She could deposit the checks that came in from my science work and my writing for Cruising World, she could let us know when the credit card company was calling to OK the sudden splurge of spending in the final 48 hours before we put to sea from some foreign port. She could sign the annual application to renew our vessel documentation and send us the new paperwork wherever we might be. She could open our mail and pay the occasional bill that, for all our efforts to live cheap, still somehow made its way to us.

For all those years that we were gone, robbing her of easy access to half her grandkids, she kept our affairs in order, and was an absolutely dependable backstop against late fees and unmet obligations on our part. That role she played gave us a tremendous peace of mind when we were off in some atoll, blissfully pretending that the real world did not exist.

So. For playing such an important role in making our voyage a success, and for all the thankless tasks that she pursued on our behalf, I wanted to say a very public and heartfelt "thank you" in this space.

And, don't worry, mom. We just got a post office box of our own.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Family Affair

Allright - passage recap. There have been a few of those through the years.

For this Kona-to-Kodiak leg, the destination was more important than it has been for most of our passages, so we'll begin with pictures of our arrival.

Elias is quietly ecstatic. Eric is suddenly anxious and has taken refuge in a "disguise".
Alisa is overjoyed. And that smear on the shoreline to the left? That would be dowtown Kodiak.
This picture would seem to suggest more complicated emotions on my part.
Our state of dress in the pictures above tells you everything you need to know about the climate that awaited us at almost 58° North latitude. It has been a particularly cold summer in Kodiak.

But we started this 18-day sail in tropical conditions. Check out the crew watching pilot whales, below. 

And that would be the Marine Engineer getting after a broken batten box on our full batten mainsail below that. Schaefer may make some good products, but their batten boxes are rubbish! Luckily we still had one of the spare boxes that we bought in South Africa. If we are lucky enough to sail up to the Arctic Ocean next summer, my bet is that our remaining Schaefer boxes will be off the main... 

And, well. The junior crew. There were some heated parent-offspring moments in the passage, I will admit. The frictions of endless energy (them) vs. short sleep (us) are guaranteed to produce combustion at some point. But those moments are quickly forgotten (by us at least; they may be in therapy for years for all I know). We really have the best under-11 crew you could ask for. You've never seen kids who are more game for a passage than these two.

How's that for insouciance under sail? Eric hasn't been seasick once since we left South Africa, though he did keep the throwup bowl near himself for the first week of this passage....I thought of it as a little comfort talisman, like a favorite blanket for a younger, or more land-bound, kid.
Sleeping arrangements - Elias in the port bunk, and Eric under the table, which is the spot he insists on. Notice the Tintin craze that has gripped our boys...

Elias rugged up to stand an evening watch somewhere in the 50s North latitude. Can you see how proud he is to be standing watch?

We played endless card games...
And, a persistant theme in Twice In a Lifetime passage notes...the fishing report!

A wahoo and...
...a mahi mahi made up our tropical catch.
While a silver salmon...
...and a rockfish made up the higher latitude catch. Elias managed to grab the rockfish in the ten minutes it took me to pause and check the oil while we were motoring the final miles to Kodiak.
And finally, there was the endgame. For our return to home waters we strung up all of the courtesy flags for the foreign nations that we visited during our 10 year voyage. This is the Chilean's seen its share of wind!

I have a special fondness for the text-only blog posts that I put up while on passage. It seems so much easier to grasp at the elusive nature of seafaring when you're actually doing it, and when you're not distracted by the literal nature of photographs.

In this land-based, retrospective version of the passage's story, I'll throw up my hands at the idea of any what-it-all-means summaries.

I'll just note that being all alone together on the big big blue can make for the very best family time that we have ever known.

Saturday, July 1, 2017


I want to say that it was Lin Pardey who offered up a working definition of a voyage: a trip under sail (preferably with an epic cast, I'll add) that begins and ends at the same place.

There are a lot of things that you can do while living aboard a sailboat.

You can gunkhole. You can island hop. You can be harbor-bound. And you can make great ocean-girdling passages, acting out what you would make of this life on the biggest stage going.

In the last ten years we have done all of these things.

And, while we've been doing all those individual passages and coastal jaunts and seasons in and out of the tropics, we have also been doing this one overarching thing. We have been making a voyage. We have been tracing this secret line, known only to us and only after we have found it, that has led some 65,000 sea miles from Kodiak and now, barring any vicissitudes of the sea over the remaining 9, all the way back.

We left Kodiak literally in tears over leaving a place and a life that we loved very much. And now - wonderfully odd symmetry! - we return wondering just where the hell that town that we loved so much might be. Literally. It isn't foggy, but the clouds are awesomely low, and the City of Kodiak, though it should at this point be in plain sight, remains hidden to us.

Whatever else might have happened on this 10-year voyage, we have certainly found a kind of life that we could thrive in. And now that we're going back to another sort of life, at least for the time being, I have a sense of giving ourselves over to a great uncertainty, and wondering how our precious family will do amidst the shoals and reefs of land life.

Alaskan friends from elsewhere in the State have asked me if we were really going back to Kodiak when we returned, with just a hint of wonder in their voices. But the truth is that Alisa and I have never really considered going anywhere else in Alaska. Kodiak is still home, not least because it's the place in Alaska where we still have a community of friends.

We never like it when people want to come down and see us off at the dock when we're leaving some place. But I have an inkling that we'll see old friends at the dock tonight when we arrive, and for that Alisa and I will be tremendously grateful.

This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

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