Saturday, January 12, 2013

His, Hers, and Theirs

I am holding in my hands the Jabsco replacement kit for our toilet -- which in the nautical world we call a 'head'. The story of how yachties came to call the crapper a head is just gross. Let's not go into it today. The kit looks nothing like a toilet or even parts of a toilet. It actually appears that a dog ate a box of Legos seasoned with a bicycle tire and vomited them back up again. Fortunately, it comes with a sheet of instructions.

I believe firmly in the principle of RTFM (read the f*ing manual). For many years, I wrote manuals for a living. I figure I have a vested interest in devoting at least a modicum of my time to ensuring the gainful employment of my professional peers. However, I immediately note something missing in the user guide for the Jabsco.

"I don't see where in this little booklet it says, 'Make your wife do it'", I inform my husband and captain.

DrC glances up from his latest multi-millionaire dollar investment in Nigel Calder's editorial future and reminds me, "You did say we should divide up responsibility for the systems on the boat, Toast. You agreed plumbing would be yours."

"Yeah," I protest, "but I meant the sink, the water pumps, maybe the bilges..." I trail off weakly as really there is no getting around the salient point. The toilet is the very definition of plumbing. Muttering darkly, I spend the next hour more or less covering myself, the port head, and every tool we own in shit. Literally.

And so we learn our jobs on the boat.

While Don Quixote has a very firm policy of cross-training, it is also true that virtually all jobs fall into three categories: his, hers, and theirs. This division of labour evolved over time and not without a few rather heated discussions. And despite other more forward thinking and 21st century cruisers on the Raft Up rolls and our family's otherwise liberal to point of absurdity politics, the truth is that Don Quixote assignments have a misogynist, old school feel with the macho tasks firmly in my husband's grasp while I tackle the girly chores.

On the the hand, the boating world is an arduous and oft-times unforgiving one. It makes sense to split tasks in the most efficient way policy. In other words, sometimes you need a guy to man-hand something. Sometimes you need a gal to finesse it. And it is always easier to have the person work on a system who has a talent, an interest or a personal vested investment in its success or failure.

DrC is essentially all things mechanical; He supplies water, power, and motion to the boat. I am all things organisational; I do the navigation, provisioning, and scheduling. He makes sure things work; I make sure we have all the right things. The girls keep all the things clean. To be fair, they also get all the things dirty in the first place.

But there are notable exceptions. As mentioned, I do the plumbing. I also seem to gradually be taking over the lighting for reasons that escapes me. We negotiate the weather, routing, and overall itinerary. I am SSB and radio-girl, finances, insurance and visas. DrC is rigging, haul out, and diesel maintenance. We all haul stuff, wash stuff, rig stuff, and move stuff. We squeeze and pull and scrub and polish stuff. The kids never got paid a dime until we landed in New Zealand. Now we pay them to do major maintenance tasks that we would otherwise hire someone to complete, such as end-to-end wax job or revarnishing the salon wood.

Technically, there is another category of work: expensive guy jobs. The expensive guy really needs to visit our boat. Maintenance takes you only so far. At some point, he, she and they can't fix it. Someone with special skills, magic hands, and a box of insanely pricey technical toys must come make a new one. A better one.

So as I stand in front of the starboard head with a second Jabsco maintenance kit in my hand, I can't help but ask DrC plaintively, "Are you sure there isn't such a thing as a boat plumber guy?"

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January's Raft-Up Writers

The topic this month is allocation of labour. We all have different strategies to divvy up chores, responsibilities, and worries. If you haven't already subscribed to these authors, I encourage you to explore the excellent writing my fellows in Raft-Up:

4 Stacey
5 Steph
7 Behan
8 Diane
9 Jessica
10 Lynn
11 Verena
12 Toast
14 Ean
15 Dana

Friday, October 12, 2012

Raft-Up: Counting Heads

Who Me?
Who Me?
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
"I feel like I'm forgetting something," I muse, staring at the skyline as if miles of ocean horizon can reveal the secrets of my forgetfulness. It is calm, cloudless, and unfortunately almost still as we crawl slowly off the Mexican coastline heading south and west for the equator.

Aeron helpfully peeks into the dodger locker, "Cat is here."

DrC grumbles something about fuel from the galley where he is preparing dinner.

Jaime more or less completely unhelpfully notes that she remembered to check her Facebook account before we left the marina three hours ago.

And then there is silence.

In case you haven't been following along, I have three children. Aeron, Jaime, and Mera. We all wait for a few breathless, still moments, the only sound the flapping of the main as it luffs in the gentle swells and off shore breeze. Almost as one, we turn to look at the smudge on the distant horizon.

"I'll look," says Aeron, jumping down off the cockpit seat and scrambling into the port hull.
Jaime, Dean and I don't move. We are all sharing the same, miserable thought. Oh shit. We left Mera behind.

It's not like we haven't done this before. In fact, it is something of a habit, leaving Mera behind. Mera is our quiet, studious, bookish middle child. For years as we learned to drive the boat, we would take Don Quixote out every Thursday night for the Elliot Bay Marina races. Roughly half the time, we'd leave her on the dock and for many of the remaining evenings we could honestly state after sailing for an hour that we didn't actually know whether or not Mera was on board. It got so bad that DrC insisted we put a check list on the helm: dock lines and fenders stowed, instruments on, electrical unplugged, radio on, Mera on board.

Fortunately, the silent miserable tableaux of the three senior crew of Don Quixote is broken mere moments later by a relieved, high soprano voice shouting up, "She's here! She's HERE!"

Maybe we are just rotten parents. If so, we're probably bad pet owners, too. Twice we more or less accidentally left Dulcinea behind. Once we left the dinghy behind. And on one memorable occasion, we kinda sorta accidentally snuck out of an anchorage in the wee hours of the morning abandoning a pair of particularly obnoxious 'buddy boats.'

Yet I must confess that my biggest fear cruising has never been that I would stupidly head off shore for a 2000 nautical mile trip one head short of a full deck. My children are clever, capable souls and can handle being alone for a few hours. At age 5, Aeron proved the point when we drove to the grocery store one day and left her at the marina. As an aside, this was also Mera's fault, as Mera's seat in the van was next to Aeron's. How she could get all the way to the store and into the produce section failing to notice something as loud and noisy as her sister was missing baffles me to this day. A panicky 15 minutes later, we arrived back at the marina and found Aeron eating donuts and entertaining the staff in the office where she had -- quite correctly -- immediately tromped after discovering that her bonehead family had driven off without her.

No, my fear is almost exclusively the loss of one of my beautiful family overboard in the night.

The odds of finding someone -- even someone wearing a life jacket -- in the middle of the ocean at night are astronomically low. If everyone else is asleep when you fall over, the phrase 'zero chance of survival' is not hyperbole. Beacons, personal EPIRBs, and proximity crew alarms all improve your odds, of course. These options were simply not priced in the affordable range a mere five years go, so the Conger family travelled from Seattle to Auckland without them. If we could have, we would have. If you can, do. If you can't...

Well even with all the fancy shmancy gear in the world, surviving a midnight fall off an ocean going yacht is mostly a matter of not doing it. Doctor, it hurts when I do this! Don't do that. My fear of falling informs our boat rules and gear. A simple but well-cared for system of jacklines, harnesses, clips, and life jackets tie the helmsman to the boat no matter what the weather. On passage, no one is allowed to step so much as a toe on the deck without this gear from the time the sunlight turns to burnished gold on the horizon to the moment in the morning where the coffee is steaming and its possible to read a book in the salon without additional light.

Misty Beaches
Misty Beaches
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
And still I am afraid. I still experience panicky moments when I come up at 2 AM for my watch and die a little when I can't instantly track Jaime's movements. Nights when I leap out of my cabin at 10 during DrC's watch, heart pounding, sure he's gone forever. I have tended the boat through 90 knot hurricane winds, managed sails while balanced precariously on the bimini  as we pitched in a heaving sea, leaped overboard at midnight to clear a prop with my feet when we were moments from being driven ashore, and watched my children leap like billy goats along a traverse in Zion with a 1000 foot drop on either side. Yet nothing -- absolutely nothing -- scares me like these moments in the night when I know with a certainty that leaves me cold that one of my loved ones is gone.

Our fears can not define the boundary of our existence or the limit of our reach. To watch my girls swim with whales, I have to let them stand watch in the night. To love them -- to let them live -- I have to trust them not to die. It's hard. It's so hard to count heads and come up one short. And yet every night, we do it anyway.

I keep counting and counting and counting until the number is five plus a cat, and every time the moment of relief is pure and fresh and profound.

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October's Raft-Up Writers

The topic this month is fear. We all have different fears and different strategies. If you haven't already subscribed to these authors, I encourage you to explore the excellent writing my fellows in Raft-Up:
2 Behan
3 Steph
4 Stacey
5 Tammy
6 Ean
7 Lynn
8 Diane
10 Jaye
11 Verena
12 Toast
15 Dana

Monday, September 24, 2012

Juicy News

Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Jaime wants to reboot. Actually, I think she just desperately wants to look amazing for The Ball in two weeks. I can't see how eating nothing but pulverized produce for a week is going to help attain that objective, but I m not 16. At 16 literally anything is possible. The real question isn't why Jaime is juicing, but why DrC and I plan to join her.

I confess that we come late to this fashionable new trend. As soon as I started researching the subject, it became clear that as far as health fads go, we are probably the last people in the world to the table. Maybe this was super hot while we were on Mexico or in the middle of the Pacific with no bandwidth. Regardless, we are complete novices to the notion of the Juice Reboot. Babes in the vegan woods.

Of course, normally we don't do stuff like this. DrC is both a qualified doctor of Western style medicine and a skeptic... Some would say a cynic,actually. We dont go much for hokkum, snake oil, or homeopathy. We are more the ibuprofen, fish oil, and water types. We never went Atkins and my South Beach phase never made it past the third day. DrC's first considered medical action regarding my health nearly 25 years ago was to force-feed me beef to address my anemia. And when I say force fed, I mean it, complete with two inch thick fillets, crumbled bleu, Ceasar salad with fresh garlic croutons, and a really fine Cabernet. He is a truly horrible beast.

So why a more than a little bit trendy fad diet? Maybe just because.

Because we want to eat less meat for health, environmental, and economic reasons.
Because we need to cut down on the caffeine and wine.
Because we have been eating way too much bread and processed food during the last year.
Because Jaime wants to and we are just that awesome at parenting.

Or maybe because DrC had trouble buttoning his top jeans button this weekend for the first time in his entire life.

So this week we embark on a 5 day Reboot. Actually, this week we prep. We need to scope our local, fresh produce, get a decent juicer, make meal plans, go shopping. We pinky promised to start reducing the processed, the white, and the booze. Jaime is pulling down recipes, DrC nutritional info, and me the meal plan recommendations.

The official juice-only days start Monday. I think I will blog it end to end. Reboots have been blogged a million times by people all over the world, so I will add precisely nothing to the conversation. There is, however, something delightfully naughty about allowing myself for the first time to consider blogging what I had for lunch. The slow slide into rut-dom over the last year has been depressing emotionally and creatively. Maybe a steady diet of nasty tasting smoothies will inspire me.

It's also possible it will just make me gassy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Raft-Up: What's in a Name?

That Can't Be Right
That Can't Be Right
Originally uploaded by toastfloats
It's a lovely Saturday afternoon, and I am standing on the dock at Elliott Bay Marina in Seattle Washington staring at the back of my boat. Hands on hips, head cocked at angle, I study the old style script lovelingly plasticized to the transom of our 380 Lagoon catamaran. There's no hope for it.

"Dean. It says Vancouver, BC."

He glances away from his self-satisfied perusal of the brand new, 4-foot tall reproduction of Picasso's Don Quixote sketch afixed to the bow only yesterday. He agrees, "It does."

I point out, "Dean. We're from Washington."

He returns his attention back to the loving perusal of our port bow and notes, "There is a Vancouver in Washington."

It's hard not to agree. I can read a map. I even got a ticket once in Vancouver crossing over the bridge from Portland. A real speed trap there as you cross over the Oregon border... you've been warned.

So I agree,"True." I stare at the graphic giving the problem further consideration and chew my bottom lip. "Dean, we're not even Canadian."

He finally recognizes that I face a deep moral quandry. I'm unhappy, and, good husband that he is, he walks down the finger slip, around the corner and drapes his arm around my shoulder as he pronounces cheerfully, "But we could be!" At my skeptical look, he waves an arm at the city and adds,"We might as well be!!"

I look at the sky line full of puffy clouds, sparkling waters, gorgeous mountain backdrops with tall pine trees framing a beautiful, bustling waterfront city. It does look like Vancouver. I concede, "That's also true..." But my reservations persist, and I must make the case for sanity. "I bet the U.S. Coast Guard doesn't have much of a horseshoes and hand grenades approach to port call signs."

This momentarily dims my husband's enthusiasm. The U.S. Coast Guard. Hadn't of that, had he. I start to feel a bit smug, "This has got to go Dean. We're not Canadian." It bears repeating. I like Canada. I like salmon and rockies as much as the next person, but my eh is more of a California girl uh, and I can not fathom why people watch curling. "We just can't pass."

We are different, Dean. My husband, my love, my insane captain. They are of Canada with a capital C, and we are a US flagged vessel with a capital U.S. So, "Call the graphics company and get them to fix it."

"Yes dear."

I then promptly forget about the graphic faux pas. In our flurry to cut the lines by May, I have many 100s of tasks to accomplish. Even in the simple realm of boat branding, there are boat cards to design and print, an embossing stamp to order for official paperwork (which we never in five years of cruising actually used, by the way), t-shirts to buy, and a flag to sew. We take pictures for the web site, which is a design effort in and of itself. I iron our logos on to hoodies for cold weather, and then I register the domain in addition to toastfloats, toastworks and pretty much every variation of

Which is why in May 2008, we cut the lines and sail away from Seattle on a boat proudly flying the U.S. flag and the home port esignia of our neighbors to the north.

No one noticed.

The U.S. Coast Guard didn't notice.

The Canadian Coast Guard didn't notice.

The Mexican Armada was most interested in our completion of the "Did You Have a Satisfactory Boarding at Sea Experience" card. I'm not sure they even checked if we had visas and the legal right to be in the country, let alone whether the home port emblazoned on the boat was the same as the home port specified in our boat documents.

French Polynesia never looked at our boat, let alone the back, and while the Cook Island folks were thorough, we were checked into the country at a port where every resident of the island had a vested interested in assuring our safe and happy passage through their island nation. I don't think Tonga realized we had a boat, though they did go to great lengths to discuss the proper disposal of our trash.

You know who notices our fraudulent logos?

You got it. Canadian yachties. Every single one dingies up and finds out to their great dismay that we are Seattlites. We've faked them out. We are not carrying a cache of CBC shows. We don't watch hocky. We're clueless about the latest doings of the Prime Minister. Fortunately, Canadians a generous people. And frankly, we are from Washington. Which has a Vancouver. It might as well be Canada.

And we're all a very long way from home. Pass the Molson.

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