October 30, 2009

Booo! Trying to scare up a decent Hallowe'en

It’s the holidays that really mark time when you’re a kid. And Maia, being eight, is at that intersection where the magic and mystery of the seasons is just beginning to give way to the reason of adulthood.
So holidays are important to her (which makes them important to us) but this whole sailing thing is putting a crimp in her joy.

So the pressure is on to make Hallowe’en special. We already messed up Thanksgiving and no amount of day-after-pumpkin-pie could repair the damage done when we failed to produce a turkey. Even though we had a nice dinner with good friends the absence of a bird and its trimmings was definitely noted and will probably come up in some future therapy session.

The complication with Hallowe’en didn’t come with not knowing when it would occur (Maia started counting it down right around our non-Thanksgiving) the complication came with the fact we didn’t know where we were going to be for the occasion - which made it hard to plan. Until yesterday afternoon our fate was in the hands of our riggers. But this morning, after signing a cheque that had quite a few numbers in it, we were released into the wilds with a mast that could withstand just about anything.

But today is the day before Hallowe’en and our next planned anchorage is two days away. See the problem?

So despite the fact that we’re parked at a dock beside a loud bridge and across from a cement plant, right in the heart of an industrial district – we decided being in a place we sort of know is better than going to a place we're clueless about. So we’re staying put and we’re going to make this work.

We have pirate costumes – thanks to the nearby Sally-Ann (actually we have a bunch of new clothes – this place has the best thrift stores ever!) And we have a pumpkin, which was carved with a ghoulish glee. The pumpkin seeds are roasted and the boat has a festive look. I've found an outdoor hybrid ice rink that’s having a Hallowe’en skating party (which is puzzling, but we’re game) and after our skate we’re going to parachute into the closest posh neighbourhood for trick-or-treating.

Hopefully, despite my worry about the holiday (which Maia claims is the best of the year) not being just right, a little ghastly enchantment will come our way. And maybe, with a bit of luck, childhood magic will soften the rough edges of our efforts and Maia will remember the year she went trick-or-treating in a strange and random neighbourhood with just her parents at her side as a good one.

If not we’ll send her to our friend’s place for their party next year – that should make up for it.

On a completely different topic, my other blog for a green living magazine called Granville just won Best Blog at the Canadian Online Publishing Awards, so feel free to pop over and check it out.

October 24, 2009

San Francisco Days go on and on...

The weeks seem to be slipping by and here we are - still in SF. No further ahead than we were when we arrived.
Actually - we have made progress:
We have way less money now.
And our mast is held up by shiny new stays and lower shrouds. We're still waiting on the main shrouds because it seems who ever initially did our rig cobbled it together out of parts that our extremely experienced riggers say they have, "never seen anything quite like." So they've had to order a few unexpected things - which of course are on back order.

The upshot is they are impressed we made it as far as we did. Fab.

For the first week we were here I panicked about how far behind our non-schedule we were falling. In fact I was a pretty stressed right up until yesterday. But then, as we paid for an unplanned engine repair and I took on another last minute writing assignment (which will almost pay for the engine repair), I thought about all the loose commitments that pepper our calendar and tried to sort out how we could make it all work.

We can't.

So we've traded the whole non-schedule, schedule for no schedule at all. We're now at the mercy of the wind, our moods and my work schedule. We're not trying for the South Pacific in March, not worrying about where we are for Christmas, heck we're not even sure where we'll be for Halloween - which we're not telling Maia, she's pretty sure we have that one in hand.

It's all sort of freeing - in a disturbing sort of way. I can't quite tell if I'm giving up or letting go - the two things can feel remarkably similar some days.

The thing is, living with this much uncertainty isn't as easy as people think it should be. Consider all those straightforward questions that people ask:
Where are you going next?
Where can we send you mail?
When would be a good time to hang out?
What are you doing tomorrow?
Would you like to order now?

None of them have answers.
None of them.
Well, we're pretty sure we're doing our laundry tomorrow and I'll take a beer, but aside from that, Maia's Magic 8 ball has a better chance of predicting the future than we do.

October 12, 2009

San Francisco Days

 If you’ve ever traveled with a child you’ll know there are certain magical moments that come when you find a place that causes them to fully engage and leaves them wonderstruck. It’s in sharp contrast to those other moments, the ones when they are hungry, thirsty, tired, bored, cold, hot, have sore feet or want to buy that tacky souvenir and that one too.

As parents, we kind of aim for those sublime moments of fascination, but the trick comes in knowing where to find them and what will leave them awed (which I guess is why Disneyland was invented). The whole thing gets even more fraught when you want to show them a place you’ve been and that you loved. Because if you loved it, they probably won’t enjoy it.

The thing is, despite the fact we raise her and influence her heavily we still don’t really understand Maia. She doesn’t quite see the world the way either Evan or I do. She’s constantly surprising me by being fascinated by things that confuse me,  by being bored by the things that enthrall me and by being left cold by the things that move me. And she likes Brussel Sprouts...
 So when we got to San Francisco and started choosing what to do and where to go, Maia had her own ideas – and a chocolate factory (which I pointed out didn’t actually give tours and only had a retail store selling regular priced chocolate) was inexplicably at the top of her list. Riding on the cable cars barely rated, she didn’t like the hills. And the other options only got a shrug.
 The thing with kids though, is even if they don’t like the stuff you like, it's easy to learn to love the things they are fascinated by. There is something about that moment, when time slows down and every thought they are thinking is pure and clear on their face, that lets you know you’ve been privy to a moment of enchantment.
 It’s worth searching for – even if it takes you to places you never meant to go. And makes you speed through the places you really thought you would linger.

For those wondering about our rig, we moved to a dock in Alameda this morning. We're really pleased to have arranged for Glenn Hansen to be our rigger (and equally thrilled that our dollar is doing so well for when it comes time to pay him!) Glenn will be taking apart the cap shroud that failed and will let us know what happened to the damn thing. Then we'll get to be a sailboat again!!

October 7, 2009

Leaving Harbour

Deciding when to leave a harbour is rarely straightforward. If we leave when we’ve seen everything we wanted to see, done everything we’ve wanted to do and spent enough time every interesting person we meet – we may never get anywhere.
We need to leave when the weather is right for leaving.

I was thinking about this the afternoon before we left Eureka. A silver-haired fisherman named Ken had slowed his boat down while passing our boat and pointed out a dock on Indian Island. “That’s my dock. You can go for a walk on the island. There’s lots of deer.”

We decided to go for a quick walk before heading to the grocery store to load up on passage food. We couldn’t take long because in the morning the perfect weather window was opening up – one with flatish seas and almost no wind to strain our damaged rig. But the lure of Indian Island’s storied shores made us squeeze it in before shopping and readying the boat to go south.

Our walk was nice – we saw a red-bodied hawk, snowy egret and heard a deer. Then just as we were leaving, to rush to the store before it closed, Ken and his partner Linda invited us into their historic old cabin. The practical side of me wanted to get going – we had food to prepare, routes to program into the GPS and stuff to store away.

We followed Ken into his cabin and learned when it was built. All through the rooms were clever built-in cabinets, the sort of building modifications that always mark the homes of sailors and fishermen and ones that made me think of the books I needed to put away. He showed us old pictures and told us how Eureka had changed over the years. I wondered if San Francisco had changed since my last visit.

With each twist in the conversation my mind would slip off. I’ll make chicken stew for a passage dinner, with extra potatoes, I thought, as Ken began to walk us down the coast – describing each contour and harbour the way only a fisherman – who has seen every bay in every type of weather can describe. I thought about needing more ginger ale as he talked of storms. It tried to recall where I had stashed my hat and mitts while he told us about his garden – not because I didn’t want to hear, I wanted to hear.

I wanted to sit by candlelight, sipping wine and listening to his generous stories.

The desire to stay conflicted with our need to leave and we said goodbye. Ken gave us a jar of sparkling peach jam, for passage sandwiches, he said. Maia could make those while I cook, I thought.

We thanked Ken for his gifts – the jam and the stories.

And we prepared to leave.

In the first light of morning I looked back at Ken's dock and then I looked forward, toward our next destination, hoping for a gentle passage.

October 3, 2009

Apple Festival

Writing about the fact that we spend much of our time visiting beautiful places, but never take the time to see them as tourists, made us (well, me) decide today needed to be different. We needed to explore. Especially because it doesn't look like our next weather window will be arriving for a few more days...

When I told Ev and Maia that the other options for the day included trouble shooting the broken autopilot (In Sidney we made a last minute purchase of a new unit after spending the summer fighting with the one we had, but we still have to repair the original), sorting out why the diesel is burning too much oil (may be from that time we sunk the hull…), or doing a general boat clean - taking public transit for an hour to Fortuna, for the annual apple festival, won.

Fortuna is a small town; nestled amidst a number of other small towns, in an area the California tourism people have dubbed ‘the lost coast’. And, as we strolled down main street Fortuna, taking in the beanbag toss, the jumble sales and the pie baking and Dutch oven contests (still uncertain what this was…) we realized we were at an authentic small town celebration and definitely not at an experience developed for tourists.

 Actually, I realized it wasn’t a tourist event when one of the organizers expressed shock that a visitor all the way from Canada had heard about Fortuna’s festival. “Sometimes people come from as far as Eureka,” he said “but we don’t tend to get the tourists.”

 The focus of the festival was the local cidery – which was celebrating its 100th anniversary (it even has a few original old trees). I have a thing for heritage apples, it grew out of my discovery of the old orchards in BC’s Gulf Islands (which blossomed into several articles on the topic) so anytime I get to eat an apple from a really old tree I’m pretty much sold on the outing.

The other thing that made me decide that Fortuna was worth an hour’s ride (each way) on public transit was the promise of hay rides.

Sadly, hayrides are like hot air balloon rides – they are far more exciting to contemplate than take. Our hayride consisted of a few bales stacked on a flatbed and pulled through city traffic by a tractor that seemed to be lacking a clutch (or something rather important) past the mall and out to the orchard where we drove past apple trees and ate apples.

 It’s easy to be sarcastic when faced with a sweetly hopeful small town event, to mock the church ladies selling their cute little hand-crocheted doggie smocks, to poke fun at the egg smash game and at the local museum, which boasts a display of over 400 types of barbed wire. But despite the fact we came from somewhere else, knew no one and were at a local event for local people, we were welcomed warmly.

 And for a moment, when I chatted with the antique store lady and eavesdropped on a conversation between Joy and Linda about Clare’s daughter who was pregnant with twins, again and would need everyone’s help, I wondered what it would be like to live in a little town where someone called Anna won both 1st and 3rd place in the pie baking contest and where people celebrate 100-year-old apple trees with pulled pork sandwiches.

I wondered what it would feel like to belong.

October 2, 2009


We’re often asked how we spend our days.
This is an especially good question when we arrive in a lovely port like Eureka, California. The old town has loads of history – starting with its name. The Greek word “Eureka” means “I have found it!” The name’s a reference to the role the city played during the 1849 Gold Rush when the Josiah Gregg expedition rediscovered the entrance to Humboldt Bay (it had been found and noted before – but then lost because it’s a very narrow river opening). Given its popularity with gold seekers, in 1849 California was in dire need of a second safe harbour, beyond San Francisco. And despite its tricky bar (where the bones of more than a few ships rest) Humbolt Bay was the answer. In 1850 the first ships arrived soon after the town was established by lumber barons and gold miners.

Considering this intriguing history, it’s easy to imagine us getting up early (to the sounds of local bird life and the lapping of water on the hull.), having a leisurely breakfast (while reading the local paper, which we picked up in town on our arrival) and then spending a short while tidying up the boat before heading to shore. There we would explore the historic old buildings, pausing to admire the stunning examples of Queen Ann architecture nestled side-by-side the old Italianate style ex-brothels and saloons before taking in all of the towns highlights – like normal tourists.

It’s not like that.

We do get up early. Madaket, the tour boat run by the Humbolt Bay Maritime Museum, wakes us each morning when it blows its whistle before heading out on an early tour of the bay. The boat has taken to including us in its narrative and when it passes we hear a voice over the loud speaker booming out a story about Canadians fleeing winter by boat and making their way south.

When we do get to shore (after Maia has done her school work and I've finished my assignments) we bypass the typical tourist offerings – our budget will only stretch to include so many attractions and we have stuff to do. We need to find the grocery store, laundromat, hardware store, book store, marine store, gas station (because the fuel dock is closed and we’ll be ferrying jerry jugs of diesel back and forth to the boat until our tanks are filled), post office and pharmacy.

We do vary our route while we run our errands – to take in different streets and different views. We see the nice shops that attract tourists – and even wander inside to pick up a post card now and again. We read the restaurant menus and peak through the windows of hotels.

When we arrive in a touristy place like Eureka, we understand we’re not tourists. Rather than spending our days on sojourns into the redwood forest, we look for docks where we can fill up our water tanks. Rather than exploring the entire city – we content ourselves with knowing the strip of waterfront across from our boat.

I sometimes wonder though, when we miss the galleries but learn the life story of a clerk at the marine store, if spending a week living in a place, rather than visiting a place, helps us to know it more deeply?