June 21, 2012

Winter Solstice

 Walking to the bus to meet Maia I was going through solstice plans in my head: Orange food, candles, sunny music… And I was thinking back to a time when the winter solstice marked the point where even if I worked a few minutes overtime I would still have some chance of seeing daylight during the days to come (yes, when you come from a place where winter daylight hours number about eight—this is an issue…)

Though this is technically our second winter in the southern hemisphere—it’s the first wintery winter we’ve had in more than three years.  Though I have to admit a winter where tomatoes can still grow in the garden is hard to classify as real winter. But there are only 10 hours and 24 minutes of daylight here these days.
misty solstice morning
 I was thinking a mash-up of these thoughts when I stopped at a crosswalk and started eavesdropping on the two guys ahead of me:

“This cold snap is killing me,” said the first.
“Yeah, last night I forgot to close my bedroom window and when I got up this morning I could see my breath,” said the second. “I had to go back to bed. It was too cold. I was 45 minutes late for work.”

Too cold means it’s sunny and about 24 C  (75 F) during the day and 10 C (50 C) overnight. Chilly, yes (well sort of—I know it sounds like Vancouver’s summer…). But late for work chilly?

To be honest—I followed the guys further than I should have just to hear the conversation—I figured I’d just hunt Maia down if I missed her at her stop. I was just a bit mesmerized by someone being so shocked at the sight of seeing their breath. I had to wonder what he would think if he found his underwear frozen to the side of a drawer… That’s when you know it’s cold.

“Did your boss mind?” asked guy number one.

Would you mind if your employee couldn’t make it to work because he saw his breath and had to climb back into bed? I think I’d mind. But I’ve actually put on icy underwear that I had to pry out of a drawer—so what do I know?
His boss didn’t mind. In fact he suggested later hours until the coldsnap eases—so the guy doesn’t have to get out of bed before 7am—which is when the sun rises and warms everything.

I collected Maia. She made a lantern and we cooked our dinner of ginger carrot soup, winter squash, sweet potatoes and cheese cake with a sun of mandarin oranges. And we talked about our solstice memories: of bundling up for lantern walks and Morrismen, of warming ourselves at bonfires and watching in awe as fantastical creatures called for the sun. And we talked about those harsh winters that settlers to Canada endured—the ones some never made it through. Solstice so often marked the beginning of the starving time. But the midwinter celebrations: the potlatches, and yules, and festivals of light saw most people through the long dark.

It’s nice to have seasons again. Even if this season wouldn’t really count as season in our homeland. But Maia did find a fallen red maple leaf the other day. And we saw our breath this morning. And in the days to come the sun will shine longer and stronger. And we’ll shift from winter to spring.

June 18, 2012

Life Aboard in Brisbane

A few times in the past few weeks I’ve been asked roughly the same question, “Where exactly are you? I mean I know you’re in Brisbane but how does that work? Where do you LIVE?”

If were to tell someone we lived in bungalow in one of Vancouver’s urban neighbourhoods most people would get a picture in their head—trees in the yard, garden in the back, contrasting trim, short walk to the grocery store, park down the street… But when I tell folks we’re on the pile moorings, beside the botanical garden, and the city centre they get nothing—no image. I don’t even get as far as saying the grocery store is four blocks away. They’re still back at, “Pile moorings? Is that a marina? Are you still on the boat?”
morning view shortly after our arrival in Brisbane
 Still on the boat?

This question threw me the first time I was asked. But then I realized most people think of boats as recreation vehicles—and as far as they’re concerned we’re living in a trailer, albeit a double wide. And technically if you’re not actively camping, you should move out of the trailer and into your real house. But the question also helped me explain where we’re currently tied up. ‘Think of the moorings as a trailer park,’ I said.  ‘For boats.’

Being beside the Botanic Gardens means we get lots of visitors.

View of Brisbane from the Story Bridge--you can see a ferry in the midground and the moorings on the far left. The green foreground is our potluck park.

Most people are familiar with marinas—they’ve walked docks and peaked in through the windows of the boats. Mooring fields and anchorages are also pretty common and easy to visualize. But pile moorings like we’re in—where boats are suspended bow and stern between posts—are a bit unfamiliar.

The logistics work like this: we are tied to one piling behind us and one in front and we take our dinghy a short distance back and forth to a dock—where in the basement of a posh hotel we have a laundry room and showers. We also have garbage and recycling bins, and place to keep our bikes, and that grocery store I mentioned (as well as the big downtown with malls, museums and libraries a short walk away).
the city has a great mix of old and new

Regular ferry service and seven bridges give us lots of options for crossing the river.
 In some ways life in the moorings is not as convenient as a marina; we need to catch rain water or carry it to the boat in jugs from the laundry room faucet, we only have the power we generate from our solar panels and we need to take a dinghy to shore. But for us these minor inconveniences are more than made up for by the fact that it’s cheap (we pay $280 a month) and that we’re in a really cool location: Southbank--the site of expo 88' is across the river from us and about a 20 minute walk away, we have several farmer's markets to choose from each week and we have a huge park as our yard.
Fireworks for some occasion or other--we have front row seats...
 We also have an interesting and ever shifting cast of neighbours who range from your standard trailer park residents in semi-derelict boats, to professionals living aboard before setting off cruising, retirees, world cruisers who have recently returned, and transients cruisers who stop for a while to enjoy living on the edge of a city.

View Larger Map
The pile moorings are found at the foot of Edward Street. Dockside Marina, where friends are located, is visible around the bend of the river.

June 15, 2012

Life Aboard--how we keep busy

Charlie needs hobbies too--he's taken up knitting
 I’m late on this—late on most things this week… But the good ship Ceilydh has pulled into the raft-up a bit behind everyone else and is now eager to share our thoughts on the topics as they come up.

This month’s question was about hobbies. Dana asked us: “With limited space and often a lack of ability to get supplies what do different boaters do for fun? What do you carry on board? Are these the hobbies you had at home? Is sailing a hobby?”
we wish this was how every day was spent--but it tends to be the exception...
 How we spend our days is often a factor of where we are. I think you could say our primary hobby is travel. Our main goal is to get ourselves to as many interesting locations so that much of our time is spent off the boat exploring: hiking up hills, visiting museums, swimming with sharks. To support this hobby we carry a plethora of guide books and other literature. We have the Lonely Planet books for the world and we collect up whatever else we can find that applies to the location we’re visiting.

But that’s sort of what we all do. What I think the question was really getting at is what we do aboard? On those stormy or grey days where shore doesn’t hold much allure or when we’re making a passage from here to there--what have we got aboard the boat to keep us happy:
making sundried tomatoes in Baja
 Cooking—We all love to eat and enjoy cooking and when we had a home I spent summers preserving, baked gifts for Christmas and had weekly dinner parties. So while I know many people strip down their kitchen contents when they move aboard, we didn’t. I still have most of my cookbooks, I have a huge spice rack, we have loads of pots and pans and we really don’t skimp on ingredients.

Truly there is nothing cooler than being in an isolated anchorage somewhere and being able to whip up a batch of English Muffins (and pull out a jar of preserves), or cook up a complex Thai dish or show up at a potluck with something that is more than “a jar + a box + a tin = our contribution”.

Maia and Carolyne wearing the dresses they made (and fetching laundry)
 Crafts—I’m not hugely crafty, but Maia has always loved to build and create, so we keep a variety of supplies aboard. Some are simple craft store items, but as she gets older she’s interested in creating things that are more durable and long-lived. So she’s learning to knit and sew, and we’re trying to integrate the places we travel into the hobby by buying local materials: hand spun New Zealand wool, bula fabric from Fiji, pearls from Tahiti. Some of the supplies (too much of it if you ask Evan) are stashed away for future inspiration, but I know the tapa rolls I bought have a purpose we just haven’t thought of yet.
nothing beats having a few decks of cards around
 Games—When we first left home, Maia was seven and her board game skills were just developing—so we brought (and have since parted with) a few simple games. Most of our games are more oriented to group play—the three of us rarely play on our own, but games days and games nights were a big part of our crossing, our days in Mexico and weekend afternoons in Australia. We find games that suit a variety of ages, numbers, and skills work well. We love: Apples to Apples, Mexican Train Dominos, Make and Break, Boggle and Clue. Games for two are also important and these come out mostly on passages, when one of us is sleeping and the other is entertaining Maia. Stuff to take ashore gets less use—but a volleyball and bocce set do make appearances.

Entertainment comes in all sorts of forms
Media—At some point early on in our cruising we were given access to a hard drive with hundreds of movies and TV shows on it. Initially I had been collecting up DVDs but quickly realized they took too much space and only 7-year-olds really love watching the same movie over and over. With the hard drive came movie night. The trick though is figuring out the family friendly movies when all you have is a title—when we have access to internet we check them in IMDB. But sometimes we need to guess. Must admit Maia’s gotten the odd unintended eyeful and earful…
meeting the ukulele maker in Tahiti--nothing like getting a useful souvenir
Music—Both listening and playing. One of the real losses I feel while cruising is being cut off from new music. We make a point of downloading Q (a fantastic CBC program that highlights new musicians, which over the past few years got me hooked on Adele, the Decemberists and Florence + the Machine) but it’s not as organic as listening to the radio or heading out to gigs with friends—it takes work to keep up. Maia and I are also (slowly) learning to play the ukulele. Seems like we should have loads of time and be good at it by now but I’m undisciplined...

choosing pearls for future projects in the Tuamotus

Learning Something New-I must say that I've probably spent more time trying other peoples hobbies, and learning a few new skills, than I've spent pursuing my own. We've dyed clothes, learned to bead, learned how to cook new things, made jewellry from pearls and so much more since we've been out. I think if the boat had been filled up with hobbies of our own I would have been less quick to try something new--but we left a bit of room for this.

Sailing—I love sailing. And there was a time where going for a day sail was an enjoyable pursuit. But these days when we take the house out for a whirl—mostly it’s because we’re going somewhere. The funny thing is when we do actually sail for fun, it’s fun; It’s this wonderful reminder that sailing isn’t just transportation. Mostly though—it’s transportation.

The funny thing with all our hobbies is how little time we have for them. It seems like most of the time we’re on the go—exploring, doing chores, socializing or simply soaking it all up; so most of our hobbies really are saved for the rainy Sunday afternoons of our life.

June 4, 2012

The Transit of Venus, Cook and Us

In 1769 Lieutenant James Cook traveled to Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus which occurred on Saturday June 3 rd:

This day prov'd as favourable to our purpose as we could wish, not a Clowd was to be seen the Whole day and the Air was perfectly clear, so that we had every advantage we could desire in Observing the whole of the passage of the Planet Venus over the Suns disk: we very distinctly saw an Atmosphere or dusky shade round the body of the Planet which very much disturbed the times of the contacts particularly the two internal ones. D r Solander observed as well as M r Green and my self, and we differ'd from one another in observeing the times of the Contacts much more than could be expected.”

The goal was to take measurements that would be used to calculate the distance of Venus from the Sun--which would then lead to knowing the distances of the other planets from each other. Unfortunately the instruments of the time were not fine enough for the effort and the measurements were too rough to be useful. But Cook’s voyage of discovery continued and he continued on in search of the “Terra Australis Incognita” in the South Pacific Ocean and discovered and charted the east coast of Australia.

 We learned this (and much, much more) after making landfall at Point Venus in Tahiti, anchoring where Cook did. It was part of what Maia called, “Sleeping where Cook slept. Can we stop now? Cook is getting on my nerves… I’m ready for a new topic.”

Point Venus though intrigued her. The low, sandy peninsula covered with ironwood is where Captains Wallis, Cook, Bligh (and us!!) landed after anchoring their (our!) ships behind the reef. Cook built a platform on the black sand beach near where a creek cuts the peninsula in two. It was here that he waited for an inky spot to glide across the sun. Small, dark, almost perfectly round, it was no ordinary sunspot—it was the key to measuring the size of the solar system. Or so hoped the Royal Academy, which sponsored Cook’s Voyage.

These days Point Venus is a park. And its highlights also include Tomb of King Pomare V and the phare (lighthouse) that was built by Thomas Stevenson, one of Scotland's famous lighthouse engineers and father of the author Robert Louis Stevenson. The park is steeped in the kind of history that’s impossible not to feel and not easy to shake off.

Point Venus
 And it came seeping back when we learned that Venus is transiting the sun, tomorrow. Not as dramatic as an eclipse—but much more rare, perhaps the best reason to watch the transit is a historical one. Already I can recall the heavy scent of tiare flowers, the weight of warm humidity, the feeling of black sand between my toes and that mysterious feeling of being linked to a memory I can’t quite recall.

Tomorrow is the transit of Venus. Check it out--just likeCook did 242 years ago. If you miss it the next one won’t happen until 2117.

June 3, 2012

Nothing is Easy on a Boat

Maia and I were laden with groceries and started to load the dinghy as quick as we could before more rain hit. Just down the dock a neighbour was scooping water from his dinghy with a coffee cup—I offered our bailer but he said he was fine and would just lift the dinghy and tip out the water. Before I could suggest he was making a mistake he tipped up his dinghy into the current, ferry wake hit, the 3+ knot current swept into his boat, filling it, sinking it and washing it under the dock.

“Why is this never easy?” he asked me as we both pondered his predicament.

Have you seen those memes going around? The ones that describe different peoples’ perception of a lifestyle? Well the one for cruising might look a bit like this:

  Sure—there are a lot of pretty moments; but to get anywhere, to do just about anything, it’s just not easy.

It started to pour (soaking his freshly cleaned laundry) as we tried to get my neighbour's dinghy free from the underside of the dock (pulling didn’t work, pushing didn’t work, setting it free didn’t work). We talked about the living aboard learning curve and about all the little things you never think of when you’re dreaming about being one of those boats at anchor in an exotic location.

My neighbour explained he was transitioning to living aboard (and now his sole means of transport was trapped under the dock…) How do you stay ahead of the mildew he asked? Ah, the mildew—I think we can watch it grow right now. Seriously—in a matter of hours it blooms. We’ve been told again and again we’re having an unusually wet winter (and it is only four days into the season) but constant humidity and relative warmth is a recipe for growth--all you can do is keep wiping down and hope for sun.

Then he explained this ‘weird’ thing that happens every time he starts a simple project (like bailing a dinghy), “I get into it and realize ten more things are involved. Rather than taking an afternoon—three days later you realize the whole boat’s disassembled.” So I explained ‘project creep’ (this is how fixing a leak can lead to rewiring a light by way of replumbing a sink drain...) and the correct way to predict how long something will take (double the time and take it up to the next unit—so a three hour project will take six days, a two day project four weeks and so on.)

It rained harder and we decided his dinghy wasn’t going to come free until slack water. So Maia and I made our (wet) way home and he headed off for coffee—thinking when he got the dinghy free he might need a new cup for bailing.

We saw him later—rowing home. He commented his lifejacket was gone and he couldn’t swim, so if I saw the dinghy float by without him would I go have a look? Then he surprised me. “That was a great afternoon,” he said. “You convinced me that living aboard is definitely the way to go. Thanks.”