October 31, 2012

Halloween—the Aussie take…

 “That pumpkin is a special one for Halloween,” we were told after picking up the pumpkin from the pile labelled ‘Halloween Pumpkins’. “When you carve it you must be very careful. Pumpkins are hard and knives are sharp.”

The thing about being somewhere that is sort of like home, but not really, is it’s the differences that jump out at you. And Halloween in Australia is, well, different… Part of it is what little tradition there was that came over with Scottish and Irish settlers died out over the years—so the execution of Halloween is kind of like they’re trying to play a game they don’t know the rules to and have only seen on TV.

It’s not that Halloween is complicated—it’s pretty much as egalitarian as a celebration gets, as one Canadian reporter aptly put it, “Halloween has become the ultimate civic holiday. It brings us out of our houses to mingle with neighbours. It shows how we cherish our children. It gathers people of all backgrounds together. Halloween has no religion, no ethnicity. It is the festival that fits our modern, multicultural society best.”

One of the American mums at Maia's school has an annual Halloween party which has grown and grown
 At home Halloween has morphed into a celebration that has roots in the harvest festival of Samhain and the Christian holy days of Hallowmas; and the costumes, decorations and traditions range from fanciful to frightening. Sure the candy is fun—but trick-or-treating is really about letting your imagination go wild as you plan and dress up in your costume, then enjoy all the reactions of friends and neighbours.

The first clue that things were different here was when Maia asked kids in her class what they were going to be for Halloween and none of them really understood the question. The dress code here is witch or ghoul. No one was spending weeks planning a costume and no one’s grandpa was going to end up having to assemble a complicated tractor costume from scratch.

The common complaints about Halloween in Australia are it teaches kids to beg and it’s just a bunch of consumerist hype. And I can see how it can look that way. But as a bang for your buck memory-maker I think Halloween might be as affordable as it gets. And I think the community building that comes with meeting all your neighbours kind of balances out the candy consumption…

Despite the differences; the streets were comparatively empty and the limited houses that participated only sported a discreet balloon or at most they had a pumpkin on the stoop giving it an air of a scavenger hunt rather than the trick-or-treating we’re used to--the kids still had a blast. There’s something quite magical about making your way past familiar but darkened landmarks and getting to knock on a neighbour’s door for no reason at all other than to say, “trick-or-treat!”

October 21, 2012

Adventures in Oz—aka cuddling a Koala never gets old

 Maia and I have been back from Vancouver for over a month. We’ve got our routine down, and well the problem with routine is the days compress into one long stream of days that seem like every other day and you forget to pick out the unique moments and savour them.
Playing in the surf
Saskia--our neice and boat guest catches a wave
And I reckon it’s pretty unique here. You just need to stay tuned into the oddness that is Oz and try not to worry that your new Ozzie friends might be insulted by the fact you find it terribly funny that the purchase of a Halloween pumpkin came with a safety briefing (knives are sharp, pumpkins are hard, but the goal is to cut a spooky face into the pumpkin—here are some directions) or that Evan got a one hour talk (complete with quiz) on how to safely climb a step ladder.
Kings Beach
Palm Beach
We’ve pondered the excessive efforts to mandate safety (the population is stupid? Possibly drunk?) and the local’s impressive ability to miss the point (“Did you notice the new countdown timers on all the walk signals?” “Yup, no idea what they are for…”) But one place we do appreciate the safety measures is on the beaches. AU has an enviable surf lifesaving program—a program that grew after the bylaws the banned swimming on the beaches were lifted in 1902. Yup, swimming at the beach during daylight hours was once illegal in parts of Australia…

Surfers Paradise at sunset
The beaches today are great. We’ve been back up to the Sunshine Coast for surfing and fun at Kings Beach and down to the Gold Coast for a day at Palm Beach (you pass through Miami to get there). Like towns, each beach has its own feel—Kings Beach felt like something out of a 1960’s Beach Party movie, while Palm Beach was a little more rugged and wild feeling. 

October 7, 2012

Raft-up: Feeling the fear and doing it anyway

 I thought for a while about how to write this post. My impulse was to do a top ten fears and how I cope kind of story. It would be easy to write that way—less raw and exposing. I could say I’m fearful of storms but we practice good storm management skills and have sorted out how best to ride out bad weather on this boat. Or I’m fearful of breakdowns but we have repair equipment on board and know how to use it.
But my fear doesn’t work like that. In the moment when sails are ripping, reefs are looming, engines aren’t starting or Maia is crying I am clear-headed and pragmatic, and even though my mouth may be dry and my hands might shake, fear is not a problem.
Then I thought I could write this by telling you the details of a particularly difficult experience (Nearly hitting the reef in Vanuatu? Losing the rudder off the Marquesas? The weather bomb off La Cruz? Maia fearing she will never have friends again?) But realized that without immediacy the feelings fade and it simply becomes a story.

Instead I will admit I would like to be a fearless person.

I would love to embrace high winds and towering seas with gusto and awe rather than with shaking knees and white knuckles on the helm. I would love to look at a chart with a long course plotted out for somewhere marvelously foreign and feel nothing but wonder, rather than the more familiar wonder tinged (heavily) with anxiety. I would love to watch Maia as she takes on this world we’re sailing her through and know wholeheartedly that we’re doing the right thing, rather than having the brokenhearted moments of wondering just what she’s losing in this transaction.

Fear is one of the toughest things about cruising for me. I'm fearful of big seas, high winds and crowded seaways. I'm fearful of docking in adverse wind and anchoring in crowded bays. I'm afraid of stuff breaking and equipment failing. I’m afraid of slipping on deck in rough conditions, or of one of us being hurt, or lost overboard. I am afraid that when all is said and done we will regret our choice to cruise. And I worry I am the only sailor who lives this close to the edge of my comfort zone.

Some nights when I wake at 12 midnight and again at 6 am to take over watches I need to go through my mantra, “The night is dark, but I'm not in danger in this moment. The sounds are loud, but nothing is breaking in this moment. The wind is strong, but right now it's propelling us safely.” Some nights when I wake at 3 am worrying that Maia has no permanent base, and that, for children especially, bonding with new people just gets more difficult the more often you say goodbye I need to remind myself that this life is the best gift I know to give my daughter.  

This is a magical life. But there are trade offs. It’s not secure. Not for us. We gave up good jobs in a loving community for the hope we’d find work when we needed it and that we would create a floating village around us. We are aware that our safety is not guaranteed--not on shore, not at sea. We think but don’t know that Maia will blossom better out here.

I read book called Mimff: the story of a boy who was not afraid over and over when I was a child. It was based on an old fairytale about a boy who ran away from his home and family to find fear. I was intrigued, even then, by the idea of being fearless. Mimff traveled the world in search of ‘the fear’ but it wasn’t until he returned home, defeated, and discovered his mother had become very ill while he was gone that he felt afraid.

To me the moral of the story was that you really need to love and value something, or someone, to feel fearful for its security. So I hold that. And when I feel so very afraid, I know it’s because I love this life so very much.

Read more raft-up:
1 Dana svnorthfork.blogspot.com
2 Behan sv-totem.blogspot.com
3 Steph www.sailblogs.com/member/nornabiron
4 Stacey sv-bellavita.blogspot.com
5 Tammy ploddingINparadise.blogspot.com
6 Ean  morejoyeverywhere.com
7 Lynn sailcelebration.blogspot.com
8 Diane www.maiaaboard.blogspot.com
10 Jaye  lifeafloatarchives.blogspot.com
11 Verena pacificsailors.com
12 Toast blog.toastfloats.com

October 1, 2012

What Does a Sailor Need?

Okay—so the title is a bit of a misnomer, it should read what does an Oz based sailor need from Canada? But that seemed wordy. Really we lack for nothing here in Australia. A bit of searching through shops and on the internet and we can find everything we need for the boat. After all, many world-cruisers take off from these shores.

The problem is that often when you find the boat bit you need to pay for it with a wheel barrow of cash. Often the difference in price is just enough to give you a little wallet strain and you suck it up. But in the case of some stuff; weird things like zinc-anodes—the little (heavy!) chunks of sacrificial metal that keep a boat’s underwater metal bits from corroding away, and sailing blocks—the pulleys that allow ropes to run more freely on a boat the price is enough to cause shock.

Happily both are items that are much cheaper in Canada, but it turns out they are also items that when stowed in your carry-on they cause your hand luggage to be searched extensively by airport security. The reason they were in my carry-on is our checked bags were well over weight limit. And no—I hadn’t stocked up on cheap shoes (though I sort of wanted to), I was bringing back paper.

Our list of stuff to bring back was mainly focused on charts (well, we also had replacement parts for the pressure cooker, sanding disks, seals for the canning jars and a few books). But aside from those random items I brought back 75 lbs of paper charts—which actually only added up to charts for a portion of SE Asia and (unexpectedly) a region of the North Sea.

You might wonder why I would pay overweight fees for navigation materials that thanks to chart plotters have essentially gone the way of the dodo, or the sextant. Well, we tend to be late adopters. On our first cruise we only embraced that new-fangled GPS thing when it proved that our sextant using skills were going to take more than one rushed afternoon to perfect. The GPS, it turns out, was a keeper.

But technology often has this way of removing you from the activity you set out to engage in. Chart plotters are easy to use, convenient to have, save money, free up space and save weight (no need for 75 lbs of charts every time you visit a new region) -- but they also take away one more job on a sailboat.

We sail for a combination of the pure joy of it (setting the sails, handling the wheel, choosing a course...) and to get somewhere. And one of the aspects that makes sailing feel like sailing is the navigation. When you navigate with paper charts you're a lot more involved: keeping an eye on landmarks, plotting fixes, comparing what you see against where you are. With a chart plotter I find it easy to be lulled into navigation as video game. I watch my little boat as it bleeps along its onscreen course and completely miss the real landscape.

There’s a danger to navigating on screen. Boats have been known to run aground (to some very tragic outcomes) thanks to human vs chart plotter errors. With electronic navigation there is no necessity to keep a visual track of where you are going the way there is in paper navigating. And when you take human eyeballs out of the equation and stop trying to locate stars, lights, or other landmarks you can make mistakes. 

Tragedy is a rare outcome of electronic navigation though, mostly the drawbacks are the various risks of failure—what’s the back-up plan if your electricity fails and the screen goes blank? And really as a navigation aid (in addition to paper charts) chart plotters can really improve safety aboard.

So I lugged home 85 lbs of charts, fantasizing all the way about ditching them: maybe we should just have two chart plotters. Or maybe a chart plotter, a tablet and e-charts on the computer?