Monday, December 31, 2007

Only a Test

Bringing Back the Sun
Originally uploaded by relentlesstoil
who happens to be one of my best friends
in the world and whose art is
routinely an inspiration.
At night the mast resonates in the wind, humming atonally and sending irregular shudders through the boat. We can feel the squalls as they howl up from the south spitting cold breath on the deck and the bimini. The girls coined a new term for this form of precipitation: slain. Slain is snow and rain and sleet. It is miserably cold and disgustingly wet. It doesn't stick to make pretty white landscapes yet we can see the big fat squishy flakes fall to the water as we stare disconsolately out the salon window.

Santa brought the girls scooters this year. Santa is out of his effing mind. Those girls are like minions of Evil Knievel (may he rest in peace) zooming through the elegant, high brow marina with little consideration for friend, foe, or fauna. I swear we would have long since been kicked out of the marina except no one is here in the dead of winter.

Winter in a marina that – for the most part – prohibits liveaboards is a very quiet neighborhood. When a gale blows up from the Pacific, you'll see a small percentage of owners pop over for a half hour to check lines and fenders. But for the most part, we have acres of million-dollar boats, a five-star restaurant, and the attention of all the marina staff to ourselves. I am occasionally tempted to sneak over to the nearest Nordic powerboat, fire up the genset, kick back with my feet up drinking brandy toddies while watching the HD-TV wide screen. It's the guilty dream of those who live on the other side of the tracks.

This winter is a test, I suspect, of our fortitude and our stubbornness. All by ourselves in a sea of much more comfortable housing, we are developing an esprit of mutual admiration in the face of deep deprivation. Dr C and I are both still working in a last push to plump the cruising kitty before the weather breaks. With the spring, our income trickles to a dribble while our sails take us northwards, following migrating birds and the string of broadband wireless, marina hot spots which speckle the cost.

I grow plumper each week, even if the cruising kitty fails to make marked progress. Double-time work plus homeschool and holidays combine to make Toast a very fat girl. One item of household gear that I shed, however, was the scale, so I have not the slightest clue whether this feeling of fattitude is merely a product of a fudge-crazed, mascarpone riddled mind or a true indicator of increased girth. Ultimately, it matters not since the sensation of adding a seal-like layer of blubber seems so appropro of our current lifestyle, I have trouble mustering the outrage to get myself out into the harsh weather to get some exercise. Along with t-shirts, time to relax, and dry sheets, fitness awaits the spring.

This purgatory in which we find ourselves of our own making is halfway between our old life and our new one, and following some karmic law has all of the disadvantages of both and apparently none of the advantages. It is no longer enough to softly chant “May May may may May” as I clutch my coat around me on a arduous round trip to the shore head. I have graduated to a calendar thoughtfully donated to the cause by a local chandlery and am now crossing the days off each night with a somewhat vicious snap of the wrist.

It is a test, this winter. And I always do well on tests.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Cold Day in Don Quixote

You Know It's Bad
You Know It's Bad
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
I have learned so much more respect for our pioneer ancestors. It always seemed so implausible to me that you could arrive in the Pacific Northwest and literally freeze to death in the winter. After all, it never freezes here. So how is it done? Well, let me tell you.

One very creative way to freeze to death in the Pacific Northwest in the winter is to move on to a friggin’ sailboat in the middle of winter and bob around in 40-degree water with the wind whipping by at 40 knots. Let us compound the problem by killing the heater. Twice. Since the “fix” costs $300, after the second breakdown we pretty much had to make a decision between freezing and eating.

We chose to freeze.

What I learned this winter is how you can completely and utterly do without traditional heat sources.

Back in the good old days when we were rich and normal, we had a house with central heat. The furnace would kick on in mid-October and grind away until mid-May. We felt oh so self-righteous when we took the Global Challenge and turned our thermostat down to 68 Fahrenheit. It was chilly enough that people remarked on it when they visited the house. But on the whole, 65 to 68 was quite pleasant as long as you wore a sweater – or as is more common in Seattle, a fleece pullover. We would snuggle beneath an Ikea throw on the couch, watching our movies, sipping red wine (box, of course) and munching on microwave popcorn, replete and smug in the knowledge that our thermostatic sacrifice was helping to ensure a future for our children.

Let's contrast this to our current state. When we stepped onto the boat this evening, the gauge read 44 degrees. Through the creative use of halogen lights, a kerosene lantern and baking cookies, we've raised the temperature in the salon to a balmy 59.

Unfortunately, heat rises. This ensures that any heat we generate making dinner and eating it in the light of our own personal sun lamp does not make it down into the cabins. As I type in the master cabin, my breath is frosting and floating to the ceiling to condense on the hatch cover and slide down the walls. The principle source of heat in here is the adapter for my laptop charger. Never have I more appreciated the fact that Apple chargers are roughly hot enough to fry eggs. We're using it as a bed warmer to ward off frostbite.

Yet, we are not actually all that uncomfortable. I think, in fact, that were it not for all the condensation, I could actually live this way pretty much indefinitely. I can assure you unequivocally that our future land-based house will never have a winter temperature setting higher than 60. There are tricks to living in the cold that you learn quickly or run away from this life screaming.

Pretend Like It's Warm
– There are lots of ways to make your boat look warm even when it is not. Believe it or not, our mammalian brains are truly stupid enough to buy this nonsense. If you fill the boat with a warm glowing ambiance, your dumb ass brain registers the color and flicker as a radiant camp fire and makes you believe it's warmer than the thermostat actually reads. It helps, by the way, to turn the thermostat around so that you can't see it. Again, the human brain is surprisingly stupid. If you don't know it's 44 degrees, maybe it's 50.
Think positive.

To create that warm radiant glow, I recommend BeanPod candles. Get one with a nice campfire sounding name like Cedar Chest or Evergreen. Put one of these beauties in the center of the table. Then surround yourself in cheap tea candles from Ikea. Put them absolutely everywhere. They do not generate heat. You just think they do.

Cook РNormally, I find cooking on the boat a bit of a chore. There are only two burners, virtually no counter space, and the oven has two temperatures now that Dr C has ditzed with it: off and nuclear. However, cooking generates two absolutely critical byproducts: heat and odor. Your boat is not a very big place, and simmering soup or chili for half an hour, boiling a pot of tea, or baking a lasagna can actually heat the boat all by itself. Also, the aromas of roasting meat, saut̩ing onions and garlic, and baking chocolate chip cookies do wonders for encouraging the hind brain to think warm and happy thoughts.

Kerosene Lanterns – These are absolutely great on a boat. A kerosene lantern produces a truly astonishing amount of light. It’s also hot. HOT. Our lantern can take the salon from 45 to 55 in 20 minutes. I recommend purchasing these from the Amish catalog. Believe it or not, despite their complete repudiation of electricity, the Amish are served by a fine web site. Okay, this seems totally oxymoronic, but I recognize now that this site must do a really good side business in idiots like us.

Halogen Lights – Ironically, everyone on my catamaran list is yackity yacking about how to swap out all these halogen bulbs in all the fixtures on the boat with more efficient LED. The halogens are the second largest consumer of electricity on the Lagoon catamarans. Swapping them for the more parsimonious LED’s makes for more light at considerably less electrical cost. If you live someplace cold, however, don't do it. The halogens easily increase the temperature of the cabins by five degrees.

Ultimately, what it takes to live on a cold boat is the willingness to be cold. It's really that simple. If you stop taking heat for granted and treat it for the incredible and expensive resource it truly is, you will find the nights endurable and the days at the office pure pleasure.
Challenging the Cold
Challenging the Cold
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas with the Congers

For our last land-based holiday season for who knows how long, we drove all our worldly goods down to my parents in California. My dad lives with my step mom in a lovely, updated cabin at the base of Squaw Valley Ski Resort. Their idea of retirement strikes me as a little slice of heaven: he works security in the winter and as a golf host during the summer while she caters and works at a lodge restaurant. They work as many hours as makes them happy, don't work when they don't feel like it, and get to know everyone in their community as the well established, well-liked locals they truly are.

So for my first video entry on this blog, a small, unedited bit of my boat girls on the ski slopes. I freely admit this is a test -- just a test -- of the emergency video blogging system. In the event of a real vlog, I'll do a considerably better job of making it interesting to more than the children's grandparents.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Some Things Are Easier Than Others

Three years ago I was landed gentry. We owned a ten acre parcel of wooded beauty on Vashon Island. Actually, the bank owned it but we were on the right path towards gentrydom. Dr C had a vision – a dream really – to build a house in the woods. We went so far as to mortgage our souls and start looking for an architect.

The dirty little secret is that I loathed it. I loathed everything about Vashon, from the endless waits in the ferry line to the miserable slog up and down the cliff to get to the beach. The neighbors were snotty little pissants, and the regulatory climate for building in King County is about as restrictive as those traditionally reserved for historical monuments and archaeological digs. All along, I understood that enabling Dr C in this particular fantasy would result in a balance of labor something like this: Dr C would visit the construction site every weekend to invest his sweat and toil in nailing something or stringing an electrical line or digging a post hole. I would spend all day every day for nine months on site as a combination project manager/general contractor to ensure we didn't get our financial asses handed to us on a platter.

I hated the very idea of living in the woods. The property had lousy cell phone access and no Internet connectivity. A raccoon ate my macaw and a deer ate all my roses and peach trees. And one fine winter, a tree fell on our palatial two-room tent. I hate trees.

Then Dr C decided to sail away. Is it any surprise I leaped at the opportunity? The first words out of my mouth were something like, “Okay, Dean, but you get one dream, not two. You get the house in the woods or the boat. Which is it?” He wanted the boat. Praise be.

And Away We Go
And Away We Go
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Which found me several months later sitting on the beach of our property two days before the closing, waxing wistfully nostalgic for the death of all our construction plans. The sun was setting, turning the waters of Colvos Passage to burnished bronze and warming the air with the smells of cedar and crushed ferns. My children were in the woods, building fantasmagorical fairy palaces in the salal, their imprecations to do this or say that merging with the soft shush of the tide pulling tiny crabs and pebbles back into the Sound. For a brief moment, I came perilously close to regretting our decision.

At which point a 40' Beneteau sailing on a close reach up the passage, mostly riding the northbound tide in the light wind, brought me to my senses. Instead of owning one beach, I now owned a million. Instead of enjoying this single land-bound sunset, I would be spend many years witnessing the daily spectacle from the deck of my floating home. Instead of giving something up, we would multiply this single experience to infinity times five.

Most importantly, there are no raccoons on a boat. Some things are easier to give up than others.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Reenforcing the Lesson

It took exactly 72 hours before I was able to put my newly minted American Red Cross First Aid and Adult CPR card to use.* The story goes like this...

The time has come to store all our worldly goods that can not, will not, or should not go with us on into our cruising life. There are a few antiques, some personal momentos, some old, analog pictures, CDs and video, and a metric buttload of useless ophthalmology books that DrC insists on keeping.

So on Tuesday, we rented a UHaul (do not do that, just don't... story later) and literally tossed everything we would like to continue to own into the back of a long truck. Then we poured ourselves and the children, literally drenched and dripping from a steady, miserable rain, into the truck and our van and drove to California. My mother has agreed to house our goods in garage-like splendor for however long it takes for us to come to our senses.

After dumping everything on her, we schlep over to the Chevron/UHaul/Carl's Junior/... to turn in the truck before heading through a blinding snow storm up to my dad's place in Tahoe. At the drop off point, the girls and DrC witness a nasty argument in the parking lot between two women. The battle escalates, culminating in one of the women clocking the other across the jaw with a cell phone.

DrC decides both of them are idiots and proceeds inside to turn in the truck.

Jaime and I, on the other hand, spring into well trained action. We get the victim inside where I proceed to tell everyone what to do. If I do say so myself -- and I must since only reluctantly will DrC attest to the facts of this situation -- I handled myself very well for a pushy, recently minted graduate of the American Red Cross First Aid and Adult CPR course.

I checked the victim. Scruffy, noisy, dirty, and bleeding all over frickin everywhere. I ordered one totally catatonic witness to call 911. I ordered a second nitwit in a Carl's Jr uniform to get me a bag of ice and a stack of napkins, a third to get me a pair of food service gloves and a final bystander to stand at the door and keep an eye on the assailant while we waited for the cops to show up.

Then I cared for the victim in a rather brusque albeit remotely polite way by slapping a stack of napkins and an icepack on the wound, asking for particulars, making sure she was coherent and not hurt anywhere else and altogether behaving like a model of First Aid Citizenship.

Ten minutes later, the cops and an EMT show up, ask me a few questions, and then tell me that I'm done. Go away. So I did that "wait until someone smarter and more experienced than you shows up" bit.

Call it karma, the fates, God, or the Lords of Cosmic Jest, but there is no way you could have planned a better training scenario had you been an instructional designer with the task, "Write exercise to verify that student didn't fall asleep during the bloody wound section of the class." It was like a field test. The only thing that would have made it better was if one of the catatonic witnesses had collapsed in a heart attack and I had to administer CPR. Though "better" is a slippery word in this context, I'll grant you.

At least Jaime was impressed.

* The card itself is now at the bottom of Elliott Bay along with my wallet, a set of keys, and a $163 million winning lotto ticket. I only know that the ticket is a winning ticket because of Murphy's Law, of course, but I am nevertheless convinced with a degree of certainty that borders on obsessive.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Step 1: Check Call Care

Jaime Meets Manny
Jaime Meets Manny
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Jaime and I are now proud owners of that valuable bit of information: if someone has a heart attack, check them out, call 911, and render what care and assistance you can until someone smarter than you shows up. It may seem obvious to the point of idiocy, but perhaps there are a sizable fraction of folk for whom this needs to be said. Moreover, Adult CPR and First Aid is the first and most basic course required to learn how to navigate the intimidating world of taking care of folks on a boat. So even though I've got clients breathing down the back of my neck, we are moving all our furniture to California tomorrow, and Santa hasn't gone shopping yet, Jaime and I spent the weekend at an American Red Cross course.

The best part of the experience was seeing Jaime so engaged. I'm not saying she wasn't bored at times. Frankly, our teacher displayed all the personality of a wet cod left for three days on transom in a snow storm. I'm also not saying she was the star of the class. I was, however, quite impressed with her attention span and willingness to participate in the hands on activities.

Readers one and all, if you have not already taken your first aid and CPR course, I strongly encourage you to do so. Not only is this class the gateway drug to more advanced and potent coursework, it is useful to anyone and everyone who lives with other people as well as hermits who conveniently break accessible limbs or choke on something amenable to self-inflicted Hymlich maneuvers.

In all seriousness, it does give you lots of information which will make you more useful in your next global climate change induced natural disaster. You also can not really do much better than the American Red Cross first aid kits unless you have a doctor handy to tell you what additional to buy. Four and a half stars.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Homeschool Curriculum

Any homeschooler will tell you that one of the chief advantages to teaching your children yourself is that you as a family get to decide what is important to learn. Never mind national standards, the state curriculum, or the care and feeding of 4th graders.

Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
And please god throw away What Every Second Grader Should Know. I know the authors mean well, but those books are comparable to What to Expect the First Year. Before you have a child, you read the book religiously and think it's an instruction manual similar to the user guide accompanying your DVD player. After you've survived a year with the first kid, the instructions make no sense whatsoever. What's that saying? With the first you boil the bottles, with the second you rinse them, with the third you just check to make sure nothing is stuck to the bottom.

On the other hand, maybe you will have a typical, average, normal second grader... or fourth grader or nth grader. Surely there is at least one child out there that actually knows all the appropriate things for a 3rd grader – no more but no less. The rest of them are more like mine, I suspect, all over the academic map.

I have a 7-year-old taking high school Shakespearean drama whose handwriting skates perilously close to illegible. My eldest T.A.s in virtually all of her classes and volunteered for a pet store for nearly a year, but does language mechanics exercises only when forced to at the point of a gun and gets the answers correct only through the laws of statistical probability. Come to think of it, her printing is pretty lousy, too. Maybe it's the teacher's fault. I haven't written anything down in nearly a decade. And Mera? She's a class all by herself. Actually, she's three or four classes since her academic ability stretches from 3th to 9th depending on the subject.

But unless you educate your children via the most radical unschooling path, eventually you join the rest of us -- we all have to answer that question, “What do I teach next?” For the most part, the question solves itself as your children dive down a literary, scientific, artistic, or historical rat hole. What you do next is to stand back like the tutu girl in a magic show and unobtrusively hand your magician tools, colored handkerchiefs, and small domesticated animals while he or she awes and delights the crowd. Then you pack up all the props and costumes and move on to the next show.

Sometimes, however, this process needs a nudge. Or a shove. Or maybe you just need to push your child off the cliff. I believe the unschoolers call this process “strewing,” an activity which sees you littering your home or boat with things that might happen to tweak the child's interest back into the learning process. You might drop a magazine on a table or add a book to the library shelf. There are email messages with interesting links, trips to craft shops and hardware stores, or a walk in the woods with a jeweler's loupe and a notebook. The process is elegant in its simplicity and in the gentle, almost noble manner in which it brings out the eager learner in your child.

And this is where I depart from the radical unschoolers, because I just don't have the patience for strewing. When the girls run out of things to do and start whining at me like “regular” schoolers two weeks into summer that they have nothing to do and are “bored, bored, bored”, I pull out the state curriculum and tell them it's time to learn World History.

I think of World History as the bully club of strewing. Where subtly fails you, a large book entitled America: Revolution the Present or World Geography and You do wonders for inspiring your children to more seriously take their education into their own hands.

The Girls Visit the Farm
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Your best bet, however, is Ancient Civilizations. It even sounds good. The title rolls on the tongue. As you riffle through the pages, you are tantalized with images of pyramids, cave drawings, and photos of half naked statues. Art History is pretty good for the sheer number of naked people, but Ancient Civilizations one ups it with all the funky jewelry and depictions of human sacrifice. I challenge any child to make it past the Minoan section without diving down another academic mining pit. And if your kid isn't completely captivated... well, never mind. Let her go play in traffic while you reacquaint yourself with the marvelous folly that is the human race.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Interlude for a Cold

It doesn't get better on this boat. As of December 1, we are officially moved aboard full time on our Catamaran With No Heat. To celebrate, it snowed all afternoon and the temperature plummeted to 27 last night. I have a post-release head cold which has settled into the back of my throat and makes swallowing a three step exercise: think about swallowing, swallow, wish I had spit up instead.

Post-release aches and pains are a tradition in the software/hardware world I come from .You work your puttola off for a few months, each day getting progressively more stressful as achieving the release objectives becomes increasingly unlikely. The hours get longer, the pressures get higher, and the bugs get more intractable until the day of the release. On that fine day you build the damn thing one more time and throw it up online, releasing it to a vulnerable, patient and unsuspecting public. Somewhere in the middle of the afternoon, a low grade head ache starts to take hold. By the time the product is out the door, everyone in the room wants nothing more than 72 hours of sleep, hot Theraflu, and a back rub.

Instead we go drinking. This is what the family did Friday evening. We've been prepping for the practice closing since January 2005 but somehow there were still approximately five million things to do on that one day. All day Friday, I put out fires, fed people, and assisted in the transport of 10,000 folders. I can assure you that the move was not HIPAA compliant. We just tossed the patient records into boxes and the boxes into a van and shlepped them from one building to another.

I asked DrC Thursday if he was releived to finally see his last patient as a solo practioner. He admitted, “I'm a slow learner. I don't feel any different.” And I didn't either until Friday night. As I strolled out of the back door, letting it slam behind me with a satisfying thud, I felt like someone had lifted a zebra off my shoulders. Maybe an entire herd of zebras. I still have a two really enormous elephants, mind you: collecting the money from all the patients DrC has seen over the last six months and selling everything we own. But it felt good. It felt big.

And Saturday, it felt like those zebras had thrown one last party before their departure because my body was beaten. I ached in every bone, sinew, and nerve ending. I spent the majority of the day curled in a fetal ball in my cabin nearly buried in blankets and with only my nose popped into the sub zero air. DrC was tremendously nuturing. He made Noregian leek and potato soup, and administered hot tea, analgesics, and crusty sour dough bread at regular intervals. He also discovered the secret to really amazing hot chocolate is a bar of the real stuff, sugar free vanilla syrup and a half cube of butter. I love this man.

The World On Its Head
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Staged Entry

Where We've Been
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
I've been asked many times to describe the process of becoming a liveaboard, cruising family. I don't think there is a “typical” path though there do appear to be commonalities in the families with whom I have compared notes. The rule of thumb is that from the moment you truly make the decision, the average time to cut the lines is roughly five years. That's a long time. Most of the delay stems from financial challenges. Others relate to family or getting the boat ready. Some of it is simple fear.

I always thought of myself as a “balls to the wall” sort of individual. Once I decide to do something, I pitch myself into the project with complete abandon, holding nothing back. My sanity is sometimes called into question but never my enthusiasm or energy.

Yet, looking back on the arc of our progress from upper middle class yuppiedom to full time liveaboard hippies, I can see that we haven't done this with my characteristic abandon. Rather, the story is one of singular steps, each monumental in its own right and adding up to enormous change. Really, this is a lot like going to Mars with the family, jettisoning a large chunk of something at each phase.

So let's take a brief walk through Conger history:

January 2005 – My husband has a mid-life crisis four months after achieving all of his life's ambitions. He decides to run away and asks if I would like to come with him. I agree enthusiastically, but I recommend that we take a house and the children with us. We compromise on a boat.

Summer 2005 – I have no idea how to sail. I've never spent more than three days consecutively on a boat, and then it was roughly the size of a mid-town hotel. It strikes me as a reasonably good idea to take a few sailing classes.

August 2005 – We buy s/v Don Quixote. I once documented how perfectly wrong we were in both our selection and purchase process. Let's suffice it to say simply that we bought the boat sight unseen with no previous experience of the model or craft from an advertisement on the Internet. We'd never even sailed a catamaran ourselves.

September 2005 – I quit my job of nearly seven years and dropped out. The next six months are a perfect blur. I swear I do not remember them. It is quite possible I did nothing but read romance novels and browse Froogle the entire time. The bank records indicate that during that time I actually had several lucrative documentation contracts and completely reconstructed my husband's accounts payable system. This I do not remember.

June 2006 – I remove the girls from their ridiculously expensive private school. This made sense from a sheer opportunity cost perspective. I purchased a packaged curriculum and started my journey towards throwing away everything I've ever heard and believed about “school.”

July 2006 – Contemplated killing Jaime.

August 2006 – Contemplated burying her with Mera and Aeron.

October 2006 – Threw away the Calvert curriculum and started over, this time with the help of the Seattle Homeschool Resource Center, some serious mood elevators, and some unschooling friends.

Summer 2007 – The summer of 2007 saw us accomplishing several major feats. First, Jaime and I managed to travel for week with the boat sans DrC, proving that we could dock and sail the boat without breaking anything. We also made several extended, multi-week sojourns on the boat, proving that we could do so without killing each other. At this point, I was feeling fairly confident that the boat was ready for coastal cruising, although I wouldn't want to try to try an offshore passage with her. Unfortunately, to get to San Francisco we need to make an offshore passage, so there's a bit more work to do.

September 2007 – We finally sell DrC's practice and can build a realistic and reliable schedule for the rest of our lives. Granted, the contract commits him to working through April, but who wants to cruise in the Pacific Northwest in the middle of winter anyway? No worries, we'll just move onto the boat and pretend we're Seattle tourists.

November 30, 2007 – Which brings us to today. Today is DrC's last day as a solo practitioner working for Eye Craft, PLLC. We move all his charts, our server, and a few select pieces of equipment to the offices of Evergreen Eye Center. We're living on the boat more or less full time now. Less only because the heater broke a few weeks ago and I can stand the freezing cold only for about five days at a time before I cry Uncle and run to the heated basement to thaw out in the hot tub of our former backyard.

Where We're Going
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Now looking forward:
April 2008 – DrC stops working. Completely.
May 2008 – We leave Seattle. Mor or less ppermanently. We head north initially into the San Juan Islands, Gulf Islands, then Desolation Sound, the Queen Charlottes and back around the west side of Vancouver Island.
August 2008 – Return to the south Puget Sound for a few weeks of outfitting and provisioning. Then we turn south.
November 2008 – Pick up the Baja Haha and that's the last of the cold weather for a pretty long time.

There you go. Simple, right? Now you try it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Redux - The Marine Tax

Toast Note: During NaNoWriMo, I'm posting introductions to some of my favorite cruising and cool stuff web sites as well as backlinks to my personal favorites from the Toast Floats archive. x

We have all said it... ruefully but truthfully. Everything associated with boating is mind numbingly expensive. My name for this insanity is The Marine Tax. Reduxing this one is particularly relevant after just learning that the $325 water pump for our heater from the chandlery is available at the BMW dealership by a different name for $125. ARGH.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Subscribe to THIS - The Green Life

Any sailor that is not also a bit of an enviro fantatic is quite literally missing the point. Sailing and the cruising life are probably the most perfect living lesson for how to reduce your environmental footprint yet invented. Did you know the average American uses 200 gallons of fresh water per day? Did you know that Don Quixote's water tank for 5 people for 4 days is only 80 gallons? Tell me you don't learn really quickly how to do more with less when you live on a boat.

Yet, you can always learn more. The conservation movement offers sailors endless ideas for how to make our boat lives simpler and more environmentally sensitive. There are products available to us now thanks to the efforts of the E.U. to reduce carbon use that were not available a mere ten years ago.

To keep up with all these changes and ideas, I subscribe to a daily blog sponsored by the Sierra Club called The Green Life. It mixes proselytizing of The Environmental Movement with generally useful tips on how to decrease water and power use, find less caustic products to clean our stuff and selves, and where to find the latest in green tech. And while some is not applicable to our lives, much we already “do even more with considerably less”, about once a week I get a great tip that I turn around and apply on our boat. Example? This Oct 16 tip on how to replace chemical mothballs with pungent herbs.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Cruising Blog - Mahina Expeditions

No list of excellent cruising blogs would be complete without Mahina Expeditions. Their web site is, of course, primarily devoted to their commercial endeavors – books, seminars, and cruising expeditions. However, you can learn a great deal about 'round the world cruising by perusing both the current expedition travel log as well as entries from past trips.

A bit of a disclaimer on this one. I owe Amanda a great deal. She has been both a source of great motivation (e.g. repeatedly kicking me in the pants) as well as important introductions which have provided me with an entree into the sail magazine publishing world. Nevertheless, I read her log because I enjoy it... though you can pretty much write me off these Nordic destinations after reading about their most recent trip.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Redux - A Failure of Saltiness

Toast Note: During NaNoWriMo, I'm posting introductions to some of my favorite cruising and cool stuff web sites as well as backlinks to my personal favorites from the Toast Floats archive. See you in December!

Another theme I find myself returning to again and again is the issue of woman and sailing. The boating world is full of happy men and indulgent, if sometimes miserable, women. It is a rarity and a pleasure to find fellow female cruisers who take a delight in all things nautical. Yet the misogyny rampant in the style of advertising, the ambiance of boat shows, and the endless pounds of dragged aboard spouse literature makes me want to scream.

Women can find this life absolutely wonderful. It can be liberating, challenging, and fascinating. Ultimately, I think women have more to gain by getting on board and sailing away then men do. It is perhaps my own personal mantra. You can. You will. You just have to want it badly enough.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Subscribe to THIS - The Daily Giz Wiz

Granted, the Daily Giz Wiz is not a web site. Nevertheless, I strongly recommend that if you subscribe to no other podcasts, sign up at least for Leo Laporte and Dick D. Bartola's irreverent and enjoyable daily show. Dick is known as “Mad's Maddest Writer” and has been doing the gadget gig circuit on T.V. and radio for years. Leo is basically the patriarch of the Web 2.0 crowd... it seems like nearly everyone one of this whipper snapper entrepreneurs worked for Leo at one time or another.

Each show they pick a gadget and, theoretically, discuss it. They spend considerably more time listening to jingles, poking fun at one another, and generally diving down rat holes. The energy is contagious, and occasionally – believe it or not – they introduce a gadget that I in turn recommend to my readers as a tech tip. Example? Wallies Peel and Stick Chalkboards.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Just When NaNoWriMo is Getting Me Down

This morning we are trapped on the boat. The winds are howling at 40 knots, gusting to 60, and it is just frankly plain safer to stay indoors till the front passes in a few hours than try to move my offspring off boat, down the dock, and into warmer pastures. I thought I would use this time to craft prose and catch up on my lagging NaNoWriMo count.

But alas, it was not to be. First, I alphabetized my homeschool supplies. Then I registered domains under my children's names. Somehow in the process I started searching for all things Conger Clan related on Google to see where we are popping up.

And I stumbled on this: Toast Floats. It is a piece of fan fiction... someone writing most eloquently about a Toast I barely recognize. But Kei reminded me of two important points.

First, not only can I write, but there are people who enjoy reading it that do not consist of my family and best friends. Second, you never know when something you say or do will touch someone's life. I barely remember the conversation to which he alludes, and while it sounds very much like what I would say, I am certain that at the time I never expected it to be memorialized many years later.

Be careful how you to treat people. That's the message. Your strength is preserved, your kindness reciprocated, and your hate multiplied in all the worst ways. So thanks to Mr. Gowda, I am now off to actually get more work done with renewed energy and frozen feet. Thank you, Kei.

However, if DrC doesn't fix the heater soon, I will memorialize his ass on the bottom of my foot.

Redux - Boat Proofing the Child

Toast Note: During NaNoWriMo, I'm posting introductions to some of my favorite cruising and cool stuff web sites as well as backlinks to my personal favorites from the Toast Floats archive. See you in December!

Early in this blog, I published a flurry of rather snarky and defensive articles about making the boat safe for the children. There's no doubt these were in response to needlessly helpful friends and bystanders pointing out that boat life was no way to raise a child. After considering the subject at some consirable length, I've come to the conclusion that there is a kernel of truth in their comments.

There really is no way to create a safe and sane home on a boat for small children. Their very human-animal-cub nature makes it impossible. Instead, the key is to protect the boat from the children. After two years of living with them on s/v Don Quixote, I'm positive my poor boat needs a great deal more help surviving my girls than vice versa. For more details on how to protect the boat...

There is No Door Knob Cover for a Boat
Things That Go Boom in the Night
Rounding Up This Round of Safety Talks

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Cruising Blog - Dos Gatos

Dos Gatos is the companion blog to the excellent podcast “Podcastaway: the sporadic blog of the cruising catamaran Dos Gatos.” Martin's relaxed style provides an enjoyable window into cruising life in the Pacific. He details ports of call, weather and sea conditions, and goes into some considerable detail on good places to dive. I'll admit that I prefer the podcast, but then I love podcasts in general. The blog, though, supplies more details as well as includes many fine photos to enhance the story of their travels.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Subscribe to THIS -

I have a hero, and his name is Merlin Mann. He's roughly my age. He's not sexy, but I think he's hot. He's not an academic, but I swear he's brilliant. He's not a comic, but his stuff makes me laugh out loud – frequently. Best of all, his stuff is just plan useful.

Merlin's primary web site is This site caters to the geek in many of us while still offering helpful life hacks and useful productivity tips to the average worker bee. Merlin is something of a cult figure in the world of Getting Things Done and life hacking. His blog routinely yields small insights and ideas to make your life just a bit less frustrating. And if that isn't sufficient incentive, he's a brand new parent. That should make for loads of entertaining tips on surviving babies.

Cruising Blog - Tad-n-Tina

The first summer after Dr C and I decided to dive off the deep end and go on a long cruise with the family, I enrolled in a sailing course with the San Juan Sailing school. As a side note, they do a great job and I highly recommend that school if you live in the Pacific Northwest. On the second weekend, I met a friendly couple - Tad and Tina - who were just learning to sail together. We exhanged stories, and I swear they didn't say anything about becoming cruisers. I think I'd remember that.

Yet, here we are vicariously living through the s/v Imagine as she sails south from Neah Bay to Mexico. It's been delightful previewing the ports of call, weather and provisioning obstacles, and culinary delights we will experience when we head south ourselves next fall. I particularly enjoy Tina's style and her choice of subject matter and photo selection. I'm looking forward to seeing if they kick around the Sea of Cortez or head straight down the coastline. If they say up there, we might actually catch up next year!

Redux - (Wo)man Overboard

Toast Note: During NaNoWriMo, I'm posting introductions to some of my favorite cruising and cool stuff web sites as well as backlinks to my personal favorites from the Toast Floats archive. See you in December!

The one article I keep trying to get published in a magazine somewhere is (Wo)man Overboard. I don't know why this one appeals to me so much. It's the least fictional and probably the most functionally useful piece for a sailing magazine that I've written to date. On the other hand, who really wants to hear about an idiot tyro slipping on her ass and getting rescued by her kids?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Cruising Blog - The Excellent Adventure

My friends tell me I have "monohull" envy. Maybe it's just that there are so many of them, and so few of us. So it was a relief to stumble on The Excellent Adventure, a cruising blog about a family living on a 47' Lagoon catamaran.

Laureen and her family are roughly a year behind Dr C and I in the prep and leave timeline. On the other hand, they don't seem to have any plans on returning, and Laureen is years beyond me in the environmental, spiritual, and zen thing. We're considering combining our blogs sometime in the future into a single site for folks interested in the cruising family life. She's an amazing person, inspiring to me in ways I find difficult to describe.

Laureen also blogs about homeschooling at Life Without School.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Believe it or not, this blog started as a romance novel. No, really.

About a year ago, my very good friends Hbunny and K1rk told me about the National Write a Novel in a Month organization and talked me into participating. This group urges participants to “write 50,000 words in 30 days.” The whole premise is founded on the notion that you should write your first novel and then promptly throw it into the trash.

I spent the waning days of October 2006 preparing to finally knuckle down and write my first romance novel. In retrospect, my arrogance was stunning. I like reading romance novels. They seem formulaic enough. I am an experienced technical writer, so I know how to write. I am an experienced documentation manager so I can edit just about anything. I have lots of ideas. I'm smart. I'm literate. I have a computer. I have a word processor. What the hell else could I need?

One week into November, it was clear that what I needed was a completely different personal history, a tremendous amount of self-discipline, and possibly a brain transplant with Jayne Krentz. By day nine, I admitted defeat. I was two pages into my romance novel and nearly 10,000 words into a series of increasingly acerbic vignettes about the horrors of homeschooling, boat life, and sailing. I fired a few of these off to my mother and a few friends, who promptly told me that this – THIS – was what I was meant to do.

I made it to only 23,000 words last year. Instead of a novel, I produced the raw materials for roughly two thirds of the articles you've seen on this blog since January. Some of my best ideas – including the two articles recently published in northwest boating magazines – originated during that fateful month. I also came to grips with the fact that my inner muse is not really so much a Julia Quinn or Jude Devereux but rather more like a David Barry and Erma Bombeck.

This year, Hbunny is not forgiving. He says I can sign up for NaNoWriMo, but it's not right for me to put the logo on my site. So this is the only time you'll see it. Starting November 1, I will disgorge roughly 2,000 words per day in a raw uncensored flow of boat life crap. Lucky for the faithful readers of this blog, I have no intention of posting any of it until December. I'm afraid you'll have to make do for the next month with back links to my older, more favored articles and outlinks to those of fellow cruisers whose blogs I follow semi-religiously.

Editor's Note: Bethany's comment made me realize I wasn't completely clear... I've prepared roughly a dozen small "look at this" posts that I'll dribble out during November. These will point you to my favorite cruising sites, general purpose blogs, and my own favorite articles from the first six months for my new readers. It won't go dark.

Use your time wisely, my friends. When I get back from NaNoWriMo, the holding tank contents are likely to hit the heater vent.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Oh Yes You Can

Learning to Ice Skate
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
It is not true that all people think you are insane when you tell them you are planning to homeschool. In fact, if you live as we do in a state with just about the lowest per student expenditure on education in an urban district which consistently characterizes itself by embarrassing us with its imcompentance, you would find the folks around you quite supportive. There are considerably less responses along the lines of “Why the hell are you doing it?” and more in the vein of “Wow, I so admire you. I wish I could do that.”

Well, of course, you can. Let's be clear, here. Most of the people with whom my husband and I come into contact are upper middle class folk with at least two incomes, one of them in the medical or computer software industries. These are not people who lack for ready credit. To homeschool their children, they merely need to give up a few cherished notions.

Money is More Important Than Happiness
Theoretically, we all know this. If you asked point blank any man on the street, “Is it more important to be happy or to be wealthy?” the little lemmings will immediately reply, “Happy of course!” Of course! It's so obvious. However, our entire culture of consumerism tells us in overt, covert and down right insidious ways that money IS happiness, stuff is important, things are the path to righteousness, and prosperity is measured in the number of your toys.

So if you want to homeschool – and for many of you that means giving up half your annual income – you are going to have to trade a substantial amount of money, things and stuff for an intangible gain in family harmony and experiential wealth. Sometimes I feel as if this tradeoff is literally one to one. One toy foregone for one amazing moment with my children, an expansion slot on my Mac for an afternoon with the girls studying sun fish in the tidal zone. If you're going to homeschool, you have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, and give up things for unthings.

Schools are a Fact of Life
Well, not so much. Historically, the modern industrialization of education in which we put all the children in one spot, divide them by age, and crank them all out of the system like widgits is relatively new. While there were “boarding schools” for the past several hundred years, prior to that there were monks and private tutors for rich people, a master-journeyman-apprenticeship for the middle classes, and nothing for the masses. Even in the US, “schools” as we know them didn't open till the 1900's. Rural schools for many decades longer were one-room classrooms with multi-age education.

So just stop believing that school, like death, taxes, and tides, is a fact of life. Public education has done absolute wonders for the United States, democracy, and the middle class way of life. It is not, however, inevitable. Nor is it necessarily preferable. I'm not even clear that it falls into the same status as democracy, which basically sucks but is clearly better than all the alternatives. You don't have to go to school. You definitely don't have to send your kids there.

You Will Kill Your Kids
I know it seems odd to describe this as a cherished notion, but I can't tell you how many times I've heard this stated in a rueful but somewhat relieved voice. “Oh I can't homeschool my kids, I'd kill them.” It's a very easy out. Look, I'm not a poster child for harmonious relationships between parent and child; My children and I alternate in a bipolar rhythm between a Burning Man style love fest and absolute, mutual loathing. However, I can affirm that you won't kill them.

In very important ways, your relationship with your children in the Real World is distorted by the mechanization of the patterns of your life. The clock, in particular, dictates so much of your lives, and the clock is unforgiving. It causes tension, increases frustration, and makes you miserable. Another warp comes in the form of the very divergent interests between parent and child when the child spends all his day with other children and you spend all your day with adults. The moat between your lives is so wide as to be nearly uncrossable.

When you spend the day, all day, every day with your kids, these twists in your relationship are removed, leaving you to build something completely different. I can't describe it. In fact, I suspect that these changes are unique for every homeschool family. I also sense that the further you drift into the homeschool world, the less able you are to explain to the Real World just how your lives differ.

* * *

Oh Yes You Can
Oh Yes You Can
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
It is so hard to give up a long held belief. To this day, I refuse to believe that my mother had sex with my father. The prospect is so unlikely. Yet if you really plan to change your life in any dramatic way, you need to run roughshod over your own assumptions. It is not enough to just say, “I want to...” “I wish I could...” “I envy you...”

You are going to go around on this planet only once. After that, you're likely to reincarnate as either a rat in Bangladesh or a three-eyed, five-legged sentient octopus in Betelgeuse. The probability that you'll get to be a human being – with these people, these children, this spouse – again is astronomically unlikely. Stop telling me that you wish you could spend more time on the things that are important to you and start proving that those things are more important.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Why is It Always the Impeller?

Warm Hands
Originally uploaded by brainswax.
We broke the boat again. Specifically, we broke another diesel engine. Yet more specifically, we broke the impeller on the diesel engine that drives hot water through pipes in the boat to heat us all to a toasty warm, happy state.

As breakages go, this one is only to cost us roughly 1/3 of a boat buck. We also do not need to have the mechanic install the part. I am rather proud of Us. Us as in We. We as in Dr C and I both diagnosed the problem and then he figured out what part we need to fix it. We as in hopefully he'll let me do some of the replacing of said part when it finally arrives from its home in the Black Woods of Prussia.

It is unfortunate that this break could not have taken place some other time. Say six months from now when a heater on Don Quixote will be a fundamentally obsolete piece of technology. However, October in the Pacific Northwest is not the time to play footsies with hypothermia. You will lose, and it will be an unpleasant, humiliating loss.

It's also clear to me now that we are not truly boat worthy. Had we been truly boat worthy, we would be on the boat still... heating our hands on the kerosene lantern, drying our clothes and bedding in the shore laundry, and attempting to sleep through the sound of our snot condensing on the cieling and dripping down the walls. But we are not boat worthy at all and completely wimped out. We packed up the kids, the perishable food items, and the gold fish and decamped to the basement of our former home.

Where upon the pipe to the bathtub above us promptly burst and filled our basement head with a steady drizzle of foul smelling liquid and splats of dissolved dry wall.

Someone is trying to tell me something. Translators welcome.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Where's the Shovel?

Originally uploaded by brainswax.
A scream of pain rose from the starboard hull. Children have many screams. The smart Darwinian money is on those parents capable of quickly distinguishing between the “cry wolf” style screams and the Real Thing. This was the Real Thing, no question. Based on volume, pitch, and sincerity, this one involved physical injury to my youngest.

Mama Bear sprung into action. I levitated out of the bunk and up the companionway. Then I dashed across the salon, grabbing a blue cloth en route. I never go anywhere without a clean blue cloth. I threw myself into the children's hull and rammed my way into the girls' cabin, from experience simply leaping over the pile of detritus that litters their cabin floor.

Aeron, still mid-scream, was holding up a rather bloody paw. The story revealed much later is that a lose, metal catch on her art box had finally given way, and she had gashed out a good chunk of her left palm. Unfortunately, I couldn't get to her. She was huddled on the back wall and twitx me and thee were a veritable herd of stuff animals, pillows and blankies.

In full Mega Mom Mode, I started brutaly tossing precious dolls on to the cabin floor. A confetti of beanie babies, throw pillows, and Build a Bear sweater and pants sets flew into the air as I forced my way towards my baby. Getting close, I reached out, grabbing Aeron by her uninjured arm, and lifted her out of cacoon of bedding and into my lap. I slapped the blue cloth onto the wound, put pressure on it, and then held up her hand to slow the bleeding. Aeron is a trooper. Things were definitely in hand now, literally, so her screaming subsided to a choked, indignant snuffling as I craddled her and explained to her that everything would be okay. We would put some stingy stuff on, wrap it all up carefully, and she'd be back in business in no time. We just needed to get the first aid kit and Daddy.

I shifted her to start making our way back to the salon when I recognized my serious mistake. The cabin floor was literally hip deep in bedding and toys pressed firmly against the door. Jaime was pushing against the outside, asking if we needed help, but she could barely move it. Like a landslide on a major interstate, it would take a crew of hundreds and some heavy equipment to shift the load out of the way of traffic.

Aeron in a Good Mood
Aeron in a Good Mood
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Aeron and I simultaneously came to the same conclusion and looked up. The only way out of there was through the ceiling hatch. Still gripping Aeron's hand to staunch the blood, we each reached our free arms up to undog the hatch. I went up first, then helped her out just as Dr C boarded the boat. There are times when he earns his sobriquet as Dr and this was one of them. He immediately grasped the situtation, scooped up a now giggling Aeron, and whisked her off to do his professional medicine man dance to heal her hand. Ever the diligent sailor, I redogged the hatch and went to wash my hands and pour a glass of wine.

At some point, I'm going to have to face the challenge of getting back into that cabin. I might write it off as a dead loss of space, given over to a herd of rampaging giraffalopes and cackling furbies, but I can't. I think we left Mera in there.

Monday, October 15, 2007

TechTip: What's In a Label?

Short Story
It's stormy, the boat is bouncing, and you just need to know which handle to turn to empty the toilet. There is nothing more helpful to you, your crew, and guests at that point than a handy dandy label. I recommend that every boat carry a simple low tech piece of gear called a label maker.

Long Version
It seems obvious to my husband, “Tighten the main sheet!” he belts out as the choppy seas and off side winds bob us around like a ping pong in a bathtub full of toddlers. And to him, it's obvious. The main sheet is the white line with the little red specks. To anyone less familiar with the boat, however, the main sheet is any one of four lines which inexplicably all disappear into the mast only to emerge somewhere north of the bimini and completely out of sight. The blank look on the face of our guest as he stares in bewilderment at the lines is a very sad testament to our failure to state the obvious.

The best boats, in my opinion, come with instructions. You get on board, and you immediately know which locker holds the propane tanks and which one holds the dock lines and fenders. You glance over at the row of blocks on the starboard side and make note of the main halyard, reefing lines, and jib sheet. You do not spend five minutes trying to find the place to put your toilet paper after you've done your business. And never mind guests, there are things you only touch on your boat during a haulout, overhaul, or maintenance emergency. I don't want to fumble round trying to figure out which of three thru hulls is the holding tank outlet, shower outlet, or raw water inlet when there is a leak. I absolutely don't want to ever wonder which direction to set the holding tank Y value. Then there is the electrical panel with its airplane like array of buttons, knobs and unnamed LEDs.

To render your boat self-explanatory, get yourself to the nearest office supply store and buy a label maker. The model I recommend is the Brother PT-1280. This little device runs on two AA batteries and produces a steady stream of verbal idiot lights. You should be able to find one for about 20 USD, so this is not a major investment. Do not, however, let your children play with this thing as the tape is rather pricey.

Once you get the labeler on your boat, you will be surprised how many rolls of tape you go through. The captain and I routinely leave pithy notes to our future selves to remind us not to make the same mistake twice:

Behind the head.....................If you haven't eat it, don't put it in this bowl.
Over the second water spigot in the galley......Do not make coffee with this. It's salt water.
Next to the ignition switch............Check the dinghy painter.
Under the previous one.................Count the children. You should have at least three.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

War of the Roses

There are some choices in life for which there is no correct answer: paper vs. plastic, cloth vs. disposable, tastes great vs. less filling. Then there are others which you simply must avoid in the interest of self-preservation since registering your opinion will bring down the wrath of fundamentalists on both sides of the debate: to vaccinate or not to vaccinate, pro-life or pro-choice, Starbuck’s or Tully’s.

I try to avoid these debates. It’s not that I don’t have strong opinions. In fact, it is probably fair to say that I have strong opinions about virtually any topic you should care to mention. But as I grow older I have begun to recognize my limits, and there are hills I just do not care to die on. Unfortunately, along with my new cruising life my husband accidentally thrust us into one of the most vigorous verbal battles of our generation: mono-hull versus multi-hull.

Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
The two camps break down roughly as follows. In the right corner, we have rich and fascinating 500 year history of western European mono-hull sailing. There are literally berzillions of words written on the topic and entire regions of the world devoted to the successful production and maintenance of these vessels. The modern cruising community as we know it started with mono-hulls, and these single-keeled craft still dominate the cruising landscape. Certainly, most of the major authors writing in the trade magazines, publishing their work and delivering seminars at boat shows, began in a mono-hull and remain convinced of their superiority. This camp is championed by a handsome white man, about 50, distinguished, knowledgeable, stylishly dressed for dinner at a seaside restaurant.

Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
In the left corner, we have an eclectic, pan-Pacific 3,000 year history of multi-hull crafts reaching from tiny Polynesian trading trimarans to the stunning, blade sharp 180 foot long hulls of modern racing catamarans. Catamarans enjoy increasing popularity in the charter trade as folks discover how many more relatives you can fit on a 50’ boat with six bedrooms and four heads. As a result production manufacturers appeared on the scene about a decade ago pumping out two-hulled, house boats with a profligacy resembling a rabbit breeding program. This camp is represented by a guy in his early 30’s of indeterminate Heinz-57 varieties ethnicity who casually tossed on a pair of Crocs, Bermuda shorts, and a loose tropical shirt.

Ding ding ding! Round 1 – Safety

Monohull Man: Catamarans break anchor and run aground.

Catamaran Guy: Snort. Everything breaks anchor some day. But when your boat does it, the thing hits shore and flops over like a dead fish. With my boat, we call it beaching and do it on purpose.

Monohull Man: Yes, but your two hulled wonder flips over and stays that way.

Catamaran Guy: Yeah, but your leaner sinks when you put a hole in the hull.

Monohull Man: Ha! Your boat can’t handle the stress of heavy winds!

Catamaran Guy: Fine! But your boat is so deep keeled you can’t get into half as many protected anchorages.

Judgement – I’m going to call this one a draw. Any boat is dangerous in the wrong hands. Any decently well-founded boat is safe if not taken into conditions it can’t handle. Know your boat, watch the weather, and make your decisions based on the conditions rather than the calendar.

Ding Ding Ding! Round 2 – Cost

Monohull Man: Cost per square foot on a catamaran is higher.

Catamaran Guy: What do you want? Two hulls for the price of one? Yeah, sure, it’s a bit pricier, but you can bring the entire gang, invite all your friends, share the cost.

Monohull Man: Two engines, two electrical systems, two hulls to paint. Need I say more?

Catamaran Guy: Yeah, how about you sing the Safety Dance? Re-dun-dan-cy, babe. You keep harping about safety… how about the safety of having two engines?

Monohull Man: Dock space for those enormous floating turtles is hard to find and more expensive.

Catamaran Guy: Dude, there you are flat out smoking crack. You pay by the foot at most guest docks, and my boat’s a good fifteen feet shorter than yours. You want to park that long tube in a marina for months, your problem. You want to anchor out, ride the non-existent waves of my boat.

Judgement – Round 2 to Monohull Man. No question cats are more expensive in dozens of different ways. It takes a well-heeled dreamer to afford the space and comfort. It’s also true, though, that there ways to reduce the cost of cat ownership including anchoring out more and in greater comfort even in choppy weather.

Ding Ding Ding! Round 3 – Comfort

Catamaran Guy: We aren’t really going to have this conversation, are we?

Monohull Man: Well…um… no.

Judgement – Round 3 to Catamaran Guy. Only the most hardened and fanatic monohull manic will tell you the single hull life life is more comfortable. They’ll try to spin a yarn about rocking horse motion and booming against the bridge deck. It’s sour grapes.

Ding Ding Ding! Final Round – Performance

Monohull Man: Can we skip this one too?

Catamaran Guy: Yeah.

Judgement – Final round goes to neither actually. While sailors agree in principle that cats should be faster than monohulls, the truth is neither category takes the prize here. Our lovely Lagoon is a complete lazy bag and couldn’t win a race if her very existence depended on it. She truly is a floating house. On the other hand, catamarans are handily winning major races around the world with their longer water lines and lean lines. Performance is about a specific design not about whether there is one hull or two. You’d be hard pressed, however, to find a trimaran that doesn’t blow past all the competition at faster than wind speed.

* * *

So who wins this War of the Roses? Those who buy a boat and go.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Temperature Control - 48 North

This month 48° North featured an article by yours truly. For those folks who don't live in the northwest and can't pick up a hard copy, you can find the article online. I LOVE the illustration. I want to thank Amanda Swan-Neale of Mahina Expeditions. She has been very supportive and very insistent that I keep working to get published. With friends like these, who needs an agent?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Voices Carry

Aeron Blowing in a Shell
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
I can hear the girls approaching the boat from the parking lot. Their dulcet tones raised in delightful cries of, “Did not!” “Did too!” “Did not, you snot!” “Did so, you bigger snot!” beat a pleasant counterpoint to the staccato beat of their Crocs smacking down the boat ramp at full speed.

In a vain attempt to reduce the volume, I call out through the salon windows, “Kitty cat feet, girls! Kitty cat feet!” Kitty cats are light. Kitty cats are small, delicate, delightful, and cute. Kitty cats do not sound like a stampede of elephants. Kitty cats do not thump, bang, and flop. They do not bellow, rage, or pull hair.

Okay, maybe they pull hair.

Water is a fabulous transmitter of energy and sound. You can whisper something discreet to your husband at the end of Dock N such as, “You still have the cutest ass west of the Rockies,” for example, and your friends at the fuel dock half a mile away will start laughing. A bickering couple battened down in the Catalina 28' project their negative energy out into the evening with THX volume and clarity.

So when you live on a boat, you learn to tread more lightly, speak more quietly, fight less ardently. Your music goes down at dusk, and you use salon cushions to bury your screams of frustration when the propane tank runs out about half-way through barbequing the chicken.

But the kids fail to grasp this concept. A child who is humiliated when you mention in front of another parent at school the need to purchase new underthings thinks nothing of broadcasting to the entire anchorage the fact that mommy needs to stop running around naked between her cabin and the head in the middle of the night. “It's disgusting. I can see your panties and your BOOBS.” Or how about, “DADDY, stop PEEING OVER THE SIDE OF THE BOAT. Someone might SEE YOU.” Well, I bet we're the local peep show now, thank you very much.

At times, this auditory property of the waterfront is a parent's friend. For example, when you lose a child – easy enough to do when you have three of them – all you need do is stand on the bow, still and quiet, and within moments you can hear their cries like those of gulls on the evening breeze. It takes practice to learn how to adjust for refractive error, wind speed and direction, and the pitch distortion due to elevation to triangulate precisely where the voices originate. Once you perfect your skills, though, your children rarely remain lost for long.

Butter Wouldn't Melt
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
However, most of the time I long for the sound deadening influence of dirt, trees, and SUVs. In the suburbs, my neighbors never knew precisely how frustrating it is to get the kids fed and dressed in the morning, Dr C's love of Led Zepplin at high volume was our own dirty secret, and sex was an uninhibited, noisy affair.

In fact, this may be the answer to that favorite land lubber question, “What do you miss the most now that you live on a boat?” An acoustical buffer zone.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Questions from the Class - Interviewing Aeron

Dollar Bill
Originally uploaded by brainswax.
This series ends with my interview of Aeron. She wasn't a heck of a lot more responsive than Jaime. I think Keet is right... this would work better if I just interviewed them for an audio podcast.

* * *

Q: What do you think about our plans to cruise?
Really really really cool. I feel really happy.

Q: What was your favorite trip on the boat?
I gotta say it's probably going up into Canada. 'Cause I was with my grandparents and I'd never been up to Canada before.

Q: What was your worst time on the boat?
Being stuck in my cabin seasick. I was stuck there because it was too roly poly outside.

Q: What is your favorite thing to do as a boat kid?
Go everywhere. I'm always on my boat and my boat makes me happy.

Q: What is the thing you hate most as a boat kid?
Doing dishes.

Q: Are there any places you want to go? or see?
I'm looking forward to seeing dolphins, going down south, and swimming in warm water.

Q: What do you think about homeschooling?
It's cool cause I get to spend more time with my mom and my family. I like sailing.

Q: Anything else you'd like to add?
No. Not really. I itch and I can't think about this.*

* Note to boating families: Sea air is good for your health but bad for your skin. LOTS of sun screen and LOTS MORE moisturizing lotion are in order.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

It Tastes Like Boat

“I can't eat this oatmeal,” Aeron informs the table with a grimace one clear, autumnal morning.

I haven't finished my first cup of coffee. “Eat your breakfast.”

“I can't!” she avers firmly.

It's cold. We're running late. “You can.”

“Can't!” declares Aeron.

It's not wise to engage in verbal fisticuffs with a technical writer. Inevitably, we'll trump you.“MUST.”

“It tastes like boat!” she wails.

Mera Samples Carefully
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
However, even a technical writer succumbs in the face of hard, cold facts. The instant oatmeal does taste like boat, which means it tastes roughly the same as sweetened fuel rags dipped in day old dishwater and used to wipe mold off the back of a refrigerator.

Oatmeal, crackers, cereal, flour, cookies... all serve the combined function of deodorizer and dehumidifier on our boat. They suck the manky boat smell and humid exhalations of five human beings and bind them in a carbohydrate matrix that would do proud an environmental engineer working on reducing total global carbon load. Forget Dry-Z-Air, Stickups and aromatherapy candles. All it takes to get rid of the smell on the boat is to buy a package of Mother's Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Of course, our food sacrifices its most important property – edibility – on the altar of rendering the boat more livable. If your crackers taste like boat, it seriously detracts from the wine and cheese experience. And instant oatmeal is just nasty anyway. I shouldn't buy the stuff. I wouldn't buy the stuff if the kids didn't insist and my mother hadn't spent most of my younger years imprinting me on Quaker Instant Oatmeal with Apples and Cinnamon. But Quaker Instant Oatmeal with Maple, Brown Sugar, and Diesel is simply gawdawful. I broke down and whisked us all off to Starbucks.

Unfortunately, there is no Starbucks in the middle of the Pacific. Or maybe there is. What do you bet there is a Starbuck's on Easter Island? But I digress. Living on a boat requires some ingenuity to seal your fresh dry goods away from the odoriferous bouquet that is your home. I think you need to divide your hermetically sealed solutions into three broad categories: Short Term, Long Term, and Very Long Term.

Short Term – Start with the basic question of how long is the short term? I define short term as the duration it takes to turn a box of Ritz Crackers from crispy goodness to soggy sea gull food. So let's say 15 minutes. In the short term, your solutions need to meet the following criteria: cheap, capable of taking an entire package of Oreo's, and easily stowable in accessible lockers. It must be cheap because you need a bazillion of these things for every dry good you bring on to the boat: rice, pasta, flour, cereal, crackers, sugar, spices. If it doesn't hold the entire package of cookies, you will eat what you don't stow – right there on the dock in front of God and everybody. Finally, if you can't get your hands on it without rearranging the deck chairs, you won't eat it in the short term. Actually, you will probably forget you even bought it.

For the short term, our boat uses Ikea plastic sealable boxes. We would use Tupperware or Rubbermaid, but those companies have decided to price their products somewhere north of Caphelon but not quite as high as Waterford crystal. Ikea prides itself on producing goods in every conceivable size and shape which works well for the storage issue. The seal isn't perfect, but it's good enough to last a week or so, and we find the Swedish look goes well with our curvy French boat.

Long Term
– In the long term, we're all dead. Unfortunately, most of our human byproducts such as plastic bags, toxic waste sites, and Twinkies are not. On the boat, I stuff into long term storage under the salon cushions things that either: (1) I can't find them easily in the grocery stores near the shoreline (e.g. wasabi powder, sea salt, and buckwheat flower); or (2) I need to buy in large, bulky quantities to make myself feel like a Real Woman. Frankly, all our long term storage needs are a direct result of an impulse buy at Costco: a metric butt load of graham crackers, 20 pounds of unbleached wheat flour, or a year’s supply of Frosted Mini-Wheats. I find it ironic that while these products often ship in plastic bags, the bags are permeable to boat stench.

For these items, I bought a FoodSaver vacuum sealer. There's something weird about the FoodSaver plastic with the bumps which enables the vacuum process to work. The cost renders it roughly the equivalent of applying gold leaf to your food. However, we've discovered that you can buy 4mm painting tarp at Home Depot, cut it into the appropriate sizes and shapes, and then just use a 1” x 4” strip of the FoodSaver bumpy stuff at the opening to seal the package. That small strip renders the whole vacuum process possible.

The FoodSaver is also a pretty good way to seal spare parts against the marine environment, compress yarn into microscopic flat packages, and package extra meat and fish for longer freshness in the refrigerator and freezer.

Very Long Term – For the extremely long term, let me remind you of something a salty chef said to a group of us at the Seattle Boat Show last year. “People in other countries? They eat.” You don't need the 50-pound bag of rice, 100 cans of Vegie-Mix, and 30 pounds of dried navy beans. Buy what you can eat in a week, two at the outside, and save all the space for things you can't easily find while you are traveling in other countries.

In our case, we've got every spare inch not already full of box red wine crammed full of Jiffy Peanut Butter. It's a life style choice.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Questions from the Class - Interviewing Jaime

Jaime Skirt
Originally uploaded by brainswax.
I strongly recommend never interviewing a teenie bopper. We started off okay. Her answers were a bit canned, mind you, but there was a wee tiny itty bit of thought. Then she lost interest in the exercise. It would be slightly improved if you could hear the insouciant, hip Facebookian coolness with which she manages every word and gesture. However, I don't think we're going to learn much from this one.

Q: What do you think about our plans to cruise?
It's hecka fun! I think it would be fun to go new places and see new things and meet new people and stuff.

Q: What was your favorite trip on the boat?
I don't know. I think I like all of them. I don't think I have a favorite. I just like being out on the boat.

Q: What was your worst time on the boat?
When we were on really rolling seas and we couldn't go outside because it was too hard and we had to stay inside and we got sea sick.

Q: What is your favorite thing to do as a boat kid?

Q: What is the thing you hate most as a boat kid?
I don't hate anything about being a boat kid. I don't like high seas.

Q: When you look forward to the time when we sail away, what you do want from this trip?
I really want to see new animals and new sea life and stuff. New marine activity.

Q: Any places you want to go? or see?
I want to go everywhere and I want to see everything.

Q: What do you think about homeschooling?

Q: Anything else you'd like to add?
Ask me another time.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Questions from the Class - Interview Mera

Looking up from reading
Originally uploaded by brainswax.
Question: Ask your kids what their hopes/expectations are for cruising life -- what are they excited about? What are they dreading?

I started this project with Mera. Now before you accuse me of putting words in my child's mouth, I want you to understand that Mera is a very literate, bookish nine year old with an incredible vocabulary and an imagination like nothing I've ever seen again. She is enrolled this fall with a teacher at the resource center to start middle and high school literature studies. These replies are direct quotes.

Q: What do you think about our plans to cruise?
I think it might be dangerous, but it's going to be very fun. It's a change; we're going to get to spend more time with each other. The new experiences will help us when we grow up.

Q: What was your favorite trip on the boat?
My favorite trip is when we went over to one of the islands and saw fireworks. And later that day, the Mushens -- our friends that live upstairs -- came over and we all sat on the tramp covered in blankets. I think the fireworks were better than the ones you see from Seattle.

Q: What was your worst time on the boat?
This might not really be the worst time but I can't think of anything worse. Well, we were anchored of Blake Island and we went for the longest walk I've ever been on. I couldn't see Jaime and we barely even talked. And we just walked and walked and walked. My feet ached.

Q: What is your favorite thing to do as a boat kid?
Hanging on to the metal bars that keep up the big clothy thing that shields us from the rain. Looking at the open sea and getting rocked back and forth and back and forth. It's real pleasant and fun.

Q: What is the thing you hate most as a boat kid?
Being shut up in my cabin when it's too windy outside.

Q: If you look forward to when we sail away, what
do you want from this trip?

I want great experiences, more time with my family, more time to learn about my dad and my mom, more time with the wildlife, more time to swim and more time to just do stuff.

Q: Are there any places you want to go? or see?
I'd love to go to this good hotel that one of my mom's friends described to me. It sounds like a really lovely place. I'd like to see a dolphin burst out of the water and see it's whole body before it goes below the water.

Q: What do you think about homeschooling?
I love it. It's great! It's really really fun.

Q: Anything else you'd like to add?
Boating life is hard but fun. And the hardness is what you pay for having fun.