December 30, 2009

This American Life

Boat travel is all about cultural immersion. Actually, it’s all about finding grocery stores, Laundromats, boat parts and cheap showers. But along the way we do get immersed in culture. Or, in the case of Southern California, a reasonable facsimile of culture.
 It started with Disneyland. I have Disney issues. It might be because my parents opted to go without us when we were kids because my dad thought it would be more fun that way (who does that?), the fact that every movie seems to have a dead mother as a plot point, or simply the rampant consumerism, but honestly, the magic is sort of lost on me. But we went anyway, twice, and as Maia said, “If I had to chose between this and surfing, I’d go with surfing. Providing the water was warm.”
 Then it was back to Newport Beach, where we were greeted by a billboard that read, “Get her something you both want for Christmas – New Breasts!” Which was almost as hard to explain to Maia as the Disney Princesses…
 Christmas in Newport Beach is spectacular, in an utterly over-the-top Disney kind of way. Between houses that take weeks to decorate and a boat parade where owners spend up to 30k decking their decks we were treated to more twinkling lights and holiday cheer than we thought possible.
  But just when we had reached Santa saturation, our friend Sarah arrived and we headed out to Catalina Island where it was us, the bison and a handful of boats for a peaceful Christmas.
 Peace on Catalina was destined to end though and now we’re in San Diego, doing what every sailboat that’s perched on the precipice of heading into Mexico does: we’re soaking up the culture, shopping at Trader Joes, stocking up on decent chocolate and buying the odd boat part or two.
Pirate at the San Diego Big Bay Parade

December 7, 2009

Lost Lustre

Maia is homesick.
It happens every so often. She starts to think about the fun she had with her friends and extended family and our new life, our sailing life, seems to pale in comparison.

She misses the simple things: walking to the park and finding her friends playing there, visiting a neighbourhood house that as Maia says, “goes over the top” with Christmas decorations, or visiting our neighbourhood grocery store where the owner always called her, “my beautiful princess”.

We try to convince her that someday, these memories, the ones we are creating now as a little nomadic family of three, will be just as poignant as the ones she’s clinging to.

We try to tell her to open her mind and her heart to what each place, each experience, has to offer her.
We try to convince her that pouting and being sad is a choice.
We get nowhere.

But sometimes when just we let the day unfold – when she visits a shell shop and makes such good friends with the shop keeper that he gives her a bag of shells for half-off, or when we attend a Christmas block party and she joins an informal children’s choir, or when she is so excited by Christmas lights that she can’t help jumping up and down – those are the moments when we know it will be okay.

In these bright moments our new life gets its lustre back – and it shines.

December 5, 2009

The Trouble With Washing

The search for a place to bathe has a long history on this coast. Harking back to the days of the gold rush, weary (and likely smelly) travellers would disembark from the ships that brought them and head straight for the bathhouses and shaving saloons. Often part of a hotel (and brothel) you could get cleaned up for a small fee then enjoy an evening with the ladies.

Those kind of public bathhouses are pretty much a thing of the past – but sailors still arrive in harbour with the same basic needs. Whenever we get somewhere new, the first bit of local info that people provide us with is where the showers are. This would kind of worry us if it weren’t just part of a whole ancient boating custom. You always tell the new sailor where he can wash, find spare engine parts and who has the cheapest beer. I’m not sure about the brothel part…

We do have a shower on the boat – a pretty decent one in fact. But washing burns through water, so whenever possible we shower on shore. But shower day is a bit of an undertaking - we have to pack up all our bath stuff, find enough quarters and then head off in search off hot running water. It's really not surprising that Maia has taken to poring over pictures of fancy bathrooms in magazines - she probably dreams of someday soaking in those tubs, or going into bathroom remodelling...

Bathing just isn't a luxury for us anymore. It's about as relaxing as flossing our teeth. And sadly the bathing facilities for boaters lack the charms of those traditional bathhouses. But here's our list of the best and worst showers on the coast so far:

Coos Bay – Cheap at 25 cents for 3 minutes, this shower had great water pressure and temperature unless someone was using another stall. It smelled though. 5/10

Crescent City – The cement shower stall wasn’t pretty and it looked like a few too many burly fishermen had washed up after bloody fishing battles, but the water was hot and the shower was free. 6/10

Eureka – Despite the town's rich and lurid bathhouse history – these days the showers are only for marina patrons. n/a

Alemeda – Free with our marina slip but a bit grubby. And we all know that other people’s grub is kind of yucky. 6/10

Halfmoon Bay – The showers were for marina patrons. n/a

Morro Bay – Maia was so traumatized by these showers that she may never bathe again, ever. The open air stalls are downright frigid on all but the sunniest days and when you're small and skinny, getting out from under the warm water (that shut off far too suddenly) into chilly air and having to use a damp towel - well, it scars you. The water’s hot and they smelled like someone had splashed cleaner around though. 4/10

Ventura – We coughed up some serious cash for this marina and were happy to find the showers were not only clean, heated and free but that they had fresh flowers in them – orchids even. 8/10

Newport Beach – We’re pretty sure if the locals saw the grubby cement stall where the boat folk wash up they’d use hand sanitizer after smiling at us. The shower may be free – but a little more hot water would help kill off some of the germs. Or maybe not... 5/10

December 2, 2009

Waivers and Warnings

A few people have pointed out that I haven’t mentioned how Charlie and Maia are doing on the cursed-ship-Ceilydh (seriously, we are starting to wonder if someone has hexed us because all these breakdowns are not normal…)

As far as the sailing part of things, Charlie is fine. He’s a cat, and not that bright of one. He’s found his six or seven secure sea-berths and wedges himself in them when things get noisy. He comes out to be sick when things get rough – then after eight hours or so he feels better and wants to sit on the chart we’re using, or play.

Which is why we have Maia.
She only seems to get queasy if she insists on reading too much when we first start out. We’re thinking of banning books for the first hour or two and just listening to podcasts together. She’s recently discovered Stuart Mclean and the Vinyl Cafe (we think she identifies with Sam) so that might be an idea. Once Charlie is feeling better they tend to play together, forage for food and wander about.

Maia’s noticed that we’ve had quite a few things go wrong--but with no frame of reference I’m not sure she knows it’s not typical. She did surprise us by supplying our most recent guests with waivers.

Her home schooling program really encourages communication so she’s found a number of other ways to express how she’s feeling and doing. When a large rusty fishing boat moored on top of our engineless selves in Morro Bay and the Harbour Patrol needed us to move she was clear on how she felt. Because she posted it in a window where the harbour patrol (who was moving us to a safe place) could see it, she also got to express herself in a letter of apology.

A big reason for doing this trip now – was to have more time to spend together as a family. And while I’ve been home with Maia all her life I’ve also been working a lot for the past four years. The most startling thing to me has been to discover she’s eight – I mean, really discover it. Somehow she was still mostly four in my mind – this little person I could carry on my hip, who hung on my every word, who did what I asked with a minimum of protest. I’ve felt like I’ve been rediscovering her on this trip. She’s a neat person.

That alone has made it all worthwhile.