July 29, 2009

Sarah wants to meet a sailor.

As a bit of an aside - our friend Sarah came sailing for the first time and loved it. She's single and would now like to meet a sailor. She'd prefer one in New York.
Leave her a message in comments if you'd like to take her sailing.
And be nice - this is a family blog.
It would seem like our life is nothing but fun.
How could you not love sailing in a brisk breeze past gorgeous scenery while sipping boat drinks?

But when you've gotten used to doing everything in a rush, and skip smelling the roses because it's not on the to-do list, it can be hard to kick back and play - even when that is what your life is supposed to be about.

Last time round we did a pretty good job of loafing - but what we almost never did was sail for fun. Our boat was both our home and our car. It wasn't something we took out for a joy ride.

But then one day we realized that the vary thing that made us decide to go offshore sailing (that love of sailing thing) had become a bit of a drudgery. It was the way to get from one adventure to the next, but was rarely the adventure itself.
The best way we've found to remind ourselves how much we love to sail is to take guests out.
So, to mark our first week anniversary of being liveaboard cruisers, we went sailing with eight guests.
Just for the fun of it.

July 28, 2009

Bumping and Banging

Sailing successfully is all about having the right skills. We’d like to think it’s about having the right boat and the best equipment – and often those will get you through. But in the toughest moments it comes down to knowing how to do things right. All that boring basic seamanship stuff.
This came up for us over and over this week.
We’re the first to admit our skills are a bit rusty – but we do have them. When we sail, we check the weather report and have all the sails set to go before heading out. When we anchor, we always anchor with an eye to who’s around us and as though it’s going to blow.
For example - rust at the end of the rainbow is best avoided.

This came in handy in Nanaimo. It was Sea Festival weekend and hundreds of boats were jam-packed in the small basin – hoping to see the fireworks.
Then came the lightening squall.

We sat steady through the chaos of boats piling up on each other. But then, one big power boat tried to smash our dreams. He was on the bow – doing something with the anchor, while she stood on the bridge deck flapping her arms.
We were directly down wind.
It took the shouted advice of the boats around them (I sort of just screamed ‘don’t you dare hit us!!’ rather than offering direction) for her to sort out to turn on the engine and steer the boat.
They really ought to have known how to control a dragging boat.
Our basic rule is there are no plumbers (or mechanics, or electricians) at sea. And we need to know how to take care of our boat and ourselves. I probably rely on Evan far too much for all these things – but we are pretty good at trouble shooting together – which is why we now know the water tank we thought was leaking (think huge repair job) was actually a leaking hose clamp (leak is now checked off on the to-do list).
This week also included the repair of a lost alternator bolt while we were underway (Ev found the bold but not the nut and had to retap the bolt to fit a metric nut). A sheared a bolt on the outboard engine bracket. A *really, really* clogged holding tank and a bit of computer grumpiness.
And while it seems like we had a sucky week of repair after repair – this is pretty much expected on a newly launched boat.
At least I keep telling myself that.

July 24, 2009

School Afloat

One of the questions we're often asked is, "Are you taking Maia with you?" That one puzzles us. The next question is always, "How will you educate her?"

There's a lot of stuff that happens naturally on a boat. Maia's urge to communicate with her friends ensures she works on her writing, our forays into the natural world include numerous lessons in biology, our travels to other countries should cover geography, culture and history quite nicely, sailing provides endless lessons in physics and navigating covers quite a bit of math.

And to supplement all of this we're throwing in some traditional schooling.

A few weeks before we left, we visited the Vancouver School Board's distance learning teacher. We chatted with her about our trip, our needs and our limitations. Options that required wi-fi and scheduled classes were out. We also didn't want such a full schedule that we couldn't enjoy the opportunities cruising brought our way. But we did want a structure. We wanted Maia to know what was expected of her and what was expected of us. After looking through all the options (seriously--we are lucky to be from a place with so many) we decided on 'school in a box' then went to a warehouse and picked up a big box of books.

The books will be interesting - they'll give Maia something of her own to do while we work on boat chores or I have assignments. And they'll provide us with a framework to make sure we haven't forgotten to teach her something vital.

Her education will happen all the time though - and I believe her deepest learning won't come from text books, but will be found in the moments when she learns what a gust looks like as it gathers speed on the water, or when she interacts with animals on the beach...

July 23, 2009


Despite the fan fare of leaving the dock and setting off for adventure, we have something to admit.
We're not finished.
If you ask almost any boat owner, you'll be told boats are never finished. That thing called a "to do list" stretches on forever, sort of like when you're trying to get a seven year old to do something that has the word 'work' in it. In our case it includes things that range from urgent, as in our safety and comfort require that we get to them.
To the wishful, and our wish list is too long to even go into that catagory...
But we know we'll never be done. I'm okay with this.

In fact, I've alway been haunted by a story about Webb Chiles. He wrote about how, after years of toil, he actually finished his to do list, went for a celebratory sail and his boat sank.

Later I learned the sinking was a suicide attempt. But it didn't matter. When I read about the sinking it reassured me that it was okay if we never finish, because if we did - all hell would break loose.
And who knows if having just one frozen head through hull could have kept Webb Chiles and his boat safe through his personal storm.

While I'm okay with the to do list needing attention, I do wish we were more finished before Evan became unemployed and we gave up our warm dry home (which just happened to have a flushing toilet because homes don't have through hulls that can freeze up and require the home to be hoisted out of the water for repair).
But we didn't.
So on day two of our glorious new life, we woke up early and drove the boat up onto the beach.
Which, if I were one of those insufferable catamaran owners who goes on, and on about how much faster, safer and more civilized a cat is than, say, a monohull, this would be reason number #34 on the list of why cats rock. But I'm not like that.But keep in mind that if we were a monohull, we'd be paying lots of money being hauled out in a boatyard. And given that Ev isn't so loose with the cash - we'd likely be without a flushing toilet for quite a while...
Our big boat on a quiet beach drew a few onlookers - even a helicopter came to check on us...
The eagle ignored us though. At least I think it was a juvenile eagle - anyone know?

July 22, 2009

The boat's at anchor.
Everytime we look at each other it's with a huge silly grin.
If Maia is privvy to the grin she slaps us with a rather hard 'high-5'
The reason, if you've not been reading, is because we've spent the past 4.5 years rebuilding the boat. And the past month moving aboard. And the past week planning to leave 'tomorrow'.

But now, here we are. Swinging on the hook. No car, no dock, no home to return to. We're officially nomads.

On top of that good news our first sail out was probably the most uneventful yet. The engine worked brilliantly and the new sail has a great shape. Aside from a rather lumpy (equipment testing) wind against current start (which made the cat rather sick and caused a water tank to spring a leak - more on that another time we're celebrating!) the sail was perfect.
Today we caught redrock crab, went for a kayak and lazed about. Told Maia this is her new life.

July 19, 2009

I know we were supposed to leave the docks a week ago – but in retrospect, the thought that we could move aboard Thursday and cut the dock lines on Saturday was unrealistic. On Saturday we were still buried in boxes and I couldn’t even find my coffee grinder – so we definitely weren’t ready to sail.
We also had a non-skid issue. Evan and I repainted the nasty looking grey decks with some fab paint he found on Craigslist. We assumed because the decks had such a textured nonskid finish that you could coat them in ice and they would still provide traction. So we skipped the step where you add extra non-skid particles to the paint. Ice may have been fine – but the paint wasn’t. When wet, our decks had the potential to be named in a lawsuit claiming a broken hip.
Ev liked the idea of painting in some far away harbour – and simply walking around carefully until we got to it.
I visualized Maia skidding off the deck while crossing the Strait.
A mother’s worry always trumps a father’s laziness.
So one week after our planned departure date, we were woken by our neighbour, who was heading off on a little tour with a few guests (got to admit that we’re starting to worry because 24 hours later, he’s not back yet. Shades of Gilligan’s Island and all that…), got up early and started taping off the deck. And taping. And taping.
Then we sent Maia to her grandparents (because they don’t make respirators in her size) and we started painting. And painting.
Then we went to the pub – because our kid was at her final night with a babysitter!
The decks are nonskid now, though. We checked this morning.

July 18, 2009


Part of untying the docklines and heading out to sea is the idea of disconnecting from society and living more simply.
It's a great concept.
And one that I'm ignoring.
90% of my stress while we've been outfitting has come from the question: How will I stay in touch? It's not simply that I would miss reading the Sunday New York Times online (although I would - I love the Modern Love essay...) my job as a freelance writer requires that editors are able to contact me easily (usually so they can ask me questions that were already answered in the 3rd paragraph of the story...)
I'm also really social and the idea of not being able to call a friend and share my latest angst leaves me cold. Our old system from the last boat, where we had all our mail sent to Ev's parents then mailed out enmass when we were approaching a reliable address, isn't going to cut it this time.
While modern technology does offer us a bunch of options - most of the easy ones (satelite phones and iphones) come with a price that we can't afford.

So this is what we are doing. Obviously we won't know how well everything works until we test it out for a while, but I am currently online - several km from the nearest wifi source:

Ham/SSB radio - We have a Pactor modem, which means when we are out of wifi or cell range we can get email over radio waves. It's slow (think early dial-up) but it will do the trick for basic communication. ("I think the answer to that is in the 3rd graf.")

Netbook and cheap cell phone- I really wanted an excuse to buy an iphone. But when I emailed with someone who used his in the South Pacific, and who incurred a massive bill, and then followed up with the NYT tech editor we came to the conclusion a less elegent (and less fun) solution was best. So we have a cheap, unlocked cellphone that we buy SIM cards for in each country. And we have a Skype number with a NYC area code that is forwarded to the cell. Friends call NYC and the call reaches us in Bora Bora. With the netbook we just roam around until we find free or cheap wifi, which we find by using a hotspot detector or we buy wifi aboard.
Super duper antenna- Look up, look way up. The antenna and high-power USB adapter that is clipped on to the lazyjacks is currently picking up a good signal from a harbour about 3 km away.

Which means I am sitting at my desk reading the New York Times and drinking my morning coffee (organic/fairtrade) and pretending I'm still my normal urban self, while fishing boats plow past, seabirds screech and the wind sings in our rigging.

July 15, 2009

Maia's other bunk. For the overflow toys. She calls it her other bedroom. It's actually the second guest bunk.

Storage comes in all shapes and sizes. This is under our bunk.

Can you fit a mattress through a hatch? You can!!

Quick update
We've been aboard since Friday and have begun (nearly finished) the huge task of unpacking and stowing. Our waterline is further down than we'd like - which means all that essential stuff we brought aboard isn't as essential as we thought. Our goal is to offload a few hundred pounds today and tomorrow...

We're still sorting out systems - and onboard wifi isn't quite a reality. So I'm sitting in a cafe trying to get a story out and some research finished. I'm looking forward to leaving the dock - sort of. The boat's size and unknown qualities intimidate me, but obviously the only way to get over that is to sail her...

July 7, 2009

This whole moving aboard thing is taking its toll on me.
I'm not sleeping very well.
I wake up in the middle of the night with disturbing thoughts like, "Why is the boat's engine cutting out when it idles? Do we need a mechanic? What happens if we're going for fuel at a crowded fuel dock and a fisheries opening is called and the engine cuts out and I don't hear it because huge fishing boats are motoring past at high speed, rushing to get to the fishing ground because if they're late they'll lose out and won't be able to make their house payments? Could our boat be damaged?"

That was last night's worry.

The night before it was, 'What happens if someone calls for our Craig's List sofa and they come alone and are really little and need my help to carry the sofa down our 3 flights of stairs? Could I re-injure the torn ligaments in my knee from the strain? And if I do how will I get in and out of the dingy?"

The good news is Evan's incessant googling on the idling problem led him to discover that our engine's governor needed adjusting. He just called to say it's fixed! And the couch was taken by friends last night. So hopefully I'll sleep well tonight.

Although I am concerned that the floor above the port water tank has been creaking and in rough seas a seam could pop and then the whole thing might rupture and then we'd be sloshing around trying to fix it while a freighter, which we may have missed on the radar, bears down on us...

July 6, 2009

Very Superstitious People

Sailors tend to be superstitious people. It's probably because crossing oceans used to be such a risky and uncertain activity, but early sailors seemed to think if they followed a few rules they'd see land again. We, of course, know that it's more about having a wellfound boat and the skills to run the thing that keeps you off the rocks. But we can still rattle off a few beliefs we've heard through the years:
  • it's good luck to smash a bottle of champagne against the boat just before launching
  • black cats on board are good luck (we'll limit this to one black cat)
  • it's good luck to step aboard using the right foot first
  • a bare breasted woman on the bow can calm a savage sea
  • it's unlucky to name the boat with a word ending in "a"
  • it's bad luck to change the name of a boat without a renaming ceremony
  • it's bad luck to sail on a Friday
  • the word "drown" can never be spoken at sea or it may summon up the actual event
  • Seabirds are thought to carry the souls of dead sailors
  • Whistling, cutting nails and trimming beards at sea will cause storms
  • Banana's are bad luck to have on a boat
Most of our sailing friends claim they don't believe these things. Heck, we claim not to believe them. But we did have a proper renaming ceremony aboard Ceilydh to get rid of a name that ended in an "a", and we painted underwater eyes on the hull on so she can see where she's going, and the only times we set sail on Fridays, well, it's gone badly...

Somewhere along the line I decided rather than fighting superstitions, we'd embrace them. All of them. Which is why if you visit our boat you'd discover we have a Mayan corn god in the galley (to ensure we never go hungry) an Aztec sun god near the door - for happiness and health, a few versions of Yemaya who is known as Queen of the Ocean, a Huichol Indian carved Virgin Mary, a Ganesh (dipped in the river Ganges for extra protection) and a few other assorted gods, goddesses and spiritual items.

Most recently we added a carved raven paddle to the collection. Paddles carved by First Nations people on the North Coast are said to help ensure a boat will always find its way home again. But we got the paddle because it's a beautiful piece of art. Really.

July 4, 2009


Boaters navigate from place to place using charts. Lots of charts. The world is big.
Finding the right charts tends to take up a lot of time when you're travelling to a new destination all the time. Luckily Evan happened upon the deal of century - a private yacht was updating their charts and was selling all the charts for the world for $900. That's about a $40,000 savings. The only problem was the charts weren't sorted - the skipper explained that it would cost more in man hours to sort the charts then to drop another 40k for new ones.

They just came in this huge pile. Pretty much enough paper to sink our boat.

So for the past four months Evan has been sorting the charts by geographic region and then by country. Putting all those pieces of paper in order... He even discovered enough duplicates that we've since made money reselling sorted charts.

Then he boxed them up. Next up is to convince his parents to let us store everything east of Australia in their basement. THEN we need to figure out how the hell to get all those charts to us. Where ever we are.

But the good news is we have charts for the whole world...
Lots of charts.

July 3, 2009

Moving aboard sounds pretty straight forward. Get rid of all the excess stuff and go. Last time we did it, it really was that easy. This time round I'm not sure if it is because of Maia, the fact that I'm older and less flexible or because we have better stuff - but this time it is so much harder deciding what should go aboard and what should just go away. Normally, when you move from one home to the next, most of your stuff goes with you. Even when you downsize you get to keep your favourite books. But on a light boat, with a waterline that sinks 1/2" for every 350lbs that finds its way aboard, we need to say goodbye to a lot of stuff we like.

And with time ticking we're having a Craig's List fire sale. The only stuff we're storing is some art work, a few baby things of Maia's and charts for the second half of the world.

The rest of it is going.

Well, not the cat.