Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Making the Grade

Before I homeschooled my daughters for a year or so, one of my principle concerns was how I would mainstream the girls when we finished our cruising life. This is both an administrative challenge – what paperwork do I need to maintain to get the kids enrolled in a Real School, and an educational problem – will the girls know enough to “make the grade”?

On registration issue, I encourage you to check these two resources sent to me courtesy of Frank Maier, one of the more *cough* vocal members of the homeschooling/boating community:

Check out what you need to do for your own state. If you don't like the rules and you are truly a boatschooler, pick a state, any state, and then register with that state. You don't live in any of them so it's not clear you have to go with the rules for your originating community. There are a few for which you have to establish residency, in which case it would be good to get a post office box, I suppose. Right now, s/v Don Quixote is registered in Washington state, but I won't promise to stay there. I would not force my worst enemy to take the Washington State Assessment of Learning (WASL) as it is presently constituted, so you can imagine my feelings towards administering it for my daughters.

As for the problem of whether or not the girls can make the grade, I worry about this less and less as each day goes by. I'm lucky. My girls are natural readers, strong willed, and very bright. My opinion might change if they refused to learn or hated to read. As it is, education on our boat consists to a surprising degree of strewing books around and seeing what sticks. We do a lot of “traditional” unschooling. Don't quote me on this, but the sum total of my knowledge of unschooling is that you let the kids learn whatever they want to learn when they want to learn it. I am forever baffled that this works. But when I hand up the star chart to my husband as he and the girls struggle to get the moons of Jupiter into focus one night, I'm haunted by the words of my unschooling friends that learning gets done when you stop working so hard to teach.

And the kids are clearly learning... or at least they believe they are and for the elementary years that may be all that is truly required. Case in point is a conversation I overheard last night between my six year old, boatschooled daughter and a fourteen year old, schoolschooled boy.

* * *
Aeron's strident voice floated to us through the cool night air, “I am finishing the second grade. I start third grade soon. If you don't believe me, ask me questions. ”

“What's 8 + 8?” the boy challenged.

“Sixteen and you aren't that old,” came the immediate reply.

“Your sister told you that,” came the accusation from another boy.

“She did NOT. I can do math and spelling and map work and some science stuff and I'm a third grader."

"You can't be, you're only 6."

"Yeah, well ask me more questions. I know 3 + 2 + 1. I'm a third grader. I do third grade book, that makes me a third grader. I know about mountains. ”

"You can't even read," came the slightly desparate reply.

At this all three of my girls started laughing, which was reassuring because I was pretty convinced Aeron was ready to belt the disbelieving young man. Jaime noted wryly, "Collin, I'd give up about now. She probably reads better than you."

* * *

What makes a good elementary school student? The desire to learn, enjoyment in the learning process, and last and absolutely least, the ability to accummulate facts. By this measure, my girls are going to make the grade.

Questions from the Class - Worst Cruise

Question: What was your worst cruise?

Oh, this one is easy. The one where the port head exploded, and I spent three hours standing in two inches of shit working to get it fixed. I don't think I have ever been so unhappy in my entire life.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Questions from the Class - Best Cruise

To help me break through a stress induced case of writer's block, my good friend and illustrator Keet suggested that I just start answering her questions. She pointed out that while acerbic and amusing, my life couldn't be nearly as horrid as I was making it sound.

Or maybe it could.

In any case, we start with Keet's questions about s/v Don Quixote, Toast, and crew. If any of you, my fine readers, have unanswered questions, please send them to me so I can tackle them over the coming weeks.

Question: What was your best cruise so far? Where'd you go? What made this cruise the best? The destination or the way the cruise itself went?

Best is such a funny word. I have to start with a challenge to anyone to define the best experience of their lives. What makes up “best” on a cruise? The least number of repairs? The most fun had by all? Great wind? Good weather? Memorability?

For me, the best sail of my life was after the weekend of the 4th this year. I was single-handling the boat from Dockton State Park on Vashon Island to Elliott Bay Marina. This is a one day trip, mind you, not some odyssey, but I was completely sans Dr C. I motor sailed up Colvos on a 13-knot wind, taking advantage of the winds by tacking back and forth periodically. As we rounded the north end of Vashon, the wind kicked up to 18 and I turned off the motor, put her into her most favored angle to the wind, and did my damndest to top out our knot meter. At one point, I had her flying along the waves at 8.53 with 9.7 over ground. For our condomaran, that's good speed. We sailed all the way home and just kissed the dock when I slid her into her slip. It was a thing of sailing beauty and marked a turning point in my confidence in myself as a sailor.

But there are so many other bests. There was the cruise with Dr C's parents to the Gulf Islands last month during which my husband smiled for the first time in so long it's hard to remember. He is so very unhappy here in the Real World, still tied to a job that requires he spend six hours a day in a dark room. It makes him ill. Literally. After days rolling around on the deck of our boat, blowing holes in it and installing things, Dr C finally woke up to life again and smiled at us just because the weather was fine, the girls were healthy, and he was happy.

There was the time Jaime navigated us through a tricky anchorage, and she decided she was a sailor. And then there was the great evening when the girls set up a tent on the tramp and camped out all night. There was the week I actually managed to provision the boat with just the right amount of food, the day Jaime and I pumped out the heads without getting covered in shit, and the many days we spent with s/v Reverie buddy boating through the South Puget Sound.

The best trips have this in common:
  1. We hook up one or more times with a buddy boat, preferably one with children but even that isn't a requirement.
  2. We stock the boat with lots of hardware for Dr C to mess up, books for Mera to read, and power for my laptop.
  3. We do not have a set destination but rather just go where the wind blows us.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Stop Blowing Holes in My Boat!!

“Stop blowing holes in my boat!” I scream at my otherwise innocent husband.*

Dr C looks over his shoulder where he is not blowing anything up but merely vigorously sawing through a bulkhead. “What?”

“You. You are a menance,” I inform him, complete with aggressive fists on hips and jutting chin. “You keep cutting holes in this boat and we're going to sink. SINK! I tell you.”

Dr C looks at his work in surprise, as if considering for the first time the connection between a hole in a boat and the basic principle of watertight integrity. “It's just a little hole to run wire to connect the blah blabity blah...” I lose the rest as it drifts into techno-babble and my temper starts to reach the point where little bees are buzzing around in my ears and the world is going a rosy red.

On every boat, there is a basic conflict between the need to improve its safety and functionality and the requirement to make it comfortable. This conflict is frequently gender based, with a sailor-guy installing gear, improving the running rigging, swapping out ground tackle, and the sailor-gal sweeping up fiberglass shavings, buffing gel coat, and recovering the salon cushions in child-proof material. If you don't own a boat, don't worry. The tension all this activity causes is precisely the same as a kitchen remodel. And we've all been there and done that.

I know of several cruising families in the preparatory phase who are in the midst of their “Boat Remodel.” Now of course the husbands call this “outfitting.” Outfitting, my ass. “Outfitting” is visiting R.E.I. and buying a sun hat, a hand crank blender, and new tent spikes. “Remodel” more closely reflects the sheer destructive power of a sailor bent on improving the seaworthiness of his boat. In the case of one family we know, we might as well call it a rebuild.

Note to sailor dreamers: Do NOT buy a “fixer upper” boat. This isn't a Victorian which you can live in in a tent in the backyard while you fix it up. Your floating fixer upper is a hazard to health and happiness. Spend the extra up front and get a boat that is basically ready to go.

On s/v Don Quixote, our remodel proceeds with Dr C's usual flare for the utilitarian. My husband is big on functional improvements and is completely oblivious to aesthetics. In our first house, we had a wall mounted air conditioner unit that leaked. Dr C was brilliant and handy. He fixed that right up with flashing and spackle; Leak all gone. All that was left was spackle, sandpaper, and paint. The tub of spackle along with the pan, spackle knife, sandpaper, and a paint brush sat next to the air conditioning unit until we moved out two years later.

Since then I have learned that Dr C never does the last dish. He never touches up the paint. It would never occur to him to plug the holes from the weather fax we removed and sold. So as Dr C ticks through his outfitting list, I am delighted with his handiness, ingenuity, and steady progress. I am also frustrated by the increasingly long list of holes in my boat.

Just sitting here in the salon I see:
  1. Two 6” holes from the old speakers
  2. An unvarnished wood panel taped with blue tape to cover the gaping hole on the navigation table
  3. Two round and two square openings where the old stereo system used to live
  4. A friggin enormous cavern under the helm seat where Dr C decided we need access to the rudder chain and throttle cables
I've learned. These are now my problem. Like the Scooper Clown that follows the Budweiser Clydesdales down the parade route, I will work through the boat adding the finishing touch and cleaning up. To the horse goes the glory, to the clown goes the spoils.

* Is there a cruising sailor out there that does not want to park like Cap'n Ron and knock folks off our boat with the boom like Cap'n Jack? So, I think it's acceptable for me to channel my inner Sparrow and steal from Warner Brothers for the theme of this article.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Stretching His Creative Muscles

Originally uploaded by brainswax.
Some of the best moments in our lives come when we see a friend or a family member we think we understand and know well break out in an unexpected, exciting new direction. For me, Noey's recent foray into photography has been one of those wind fall happy surprises.

I underestimated my friend. I'd be more apologetic, but I'm having too much fun showing off this new creative side of him. It helps that he's finding my boat and my daughters such fruitful subjects.

Keep an eye on him, I say. I think he's going places that we're going to enjoy.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Change is Good

I sit in the master stateroom listening to the screamed protests of giggling girls wrestling with their father in the port hull and revisit the reasons for this voyage. We can talk about the desire for adventure, the need to do and see more than the working world can provide us. But what it really comes down to is the peals of laughter in the opposite hull.

My husband and I have always tried to be hands-on parents. While we did not completely subscribe to attachment parenting, we nevertheless undertook many of the characteristics of that creed. I breast fed all three children to six months. During that magical time, they each spent more time sleeping with us than in their cribs.

It was not a decision brought about by ideology. On the contrary, it was all about getting more sleep. I discovered early into our first infant that nothing shuts up a screaming baby like a tit in her mouth. Of course married life had taught me that this worked very well for men, so it struck me as highly appropriate that it should work for the by-product of spending time with one. Rather than get out of bed, heat a bottle, rock the baby, go to bed, rinse, repeat every three hours, the baby would cry, my husband would sit up and move the baby to my opposite side, I would roll over, and we’d all go back to sleep. By the third child, we could do this without any of us waking up.

My youngest spent her first six months at my office. It was the height of the first dot com boom in the late 90’s, and my company quite literally couldn’t replace me. I politely told them I’d find another job at half again as much pay three months after the birth, or they could have me back immediately as long as I could bring in my baby. Maybe it wasn’t polite, but it worked.

They took the latter offer. I spent the last three months of my pregnancy attending bug meetings during which the engineering boy-man-children crunching the code stared at my roiling belly in horror, anticipating no doubt the emergence of an alien at any moment. Aeron herself dispelled all comparisons to Signorney Weaver as she sucked boob during project meetings after her birth. It was the first, last and only time I’ve felt that I was on the front line of the feminist revolution.

However, this is simply a long way of saying that Dr C and I have always been hands on parents. We attended all the school functions, sat at the dining room table to do homework in the evenings, and tried to go on regular family outings.

And yet two years ago we realized it wasn’t enough. Our oldest is almost too old to be called a child. At eleven, she increasingly seems like a young woman – a strong willed, temperamental, inexplicably annoying young woman, but a creature fast moving towards adulthood nonetheless. And we were missing it.

I don’t want to look back on my life and smack myself on the forehead with a resounding, “Doh!” At age 50, I do not want to start sobbing at lyrics to Cat's In the Cradle channeling Johnny Cash and wishing I had done it all differently.

Let’s face it. Many cruisers fall into one of several obviously mentally instable categories: those suffering a mid-life crisis, those who have never grown up, and those with more money than sense. My husband and I clearly fall into the first category. I would like to believe – and maybe this is a rum-inspired delusion that allows me to sleep at night – that what we really recognized was our need to spend more time with the girls.

Our children are growing up so fast. We just don’t want to miss it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

We Take to the Waves

Editors Note: This week I start branching out a bit with posts that are both more current and more personal. The pieces are about our boat and homeschool lives, but won't have the same draft, edit, redraft, and post process so they are likely to be less polished.

toast and mera
Originally uploaded by sammy baby.
Mera and I traveled to Philadelphia last week to visit an extraordinary person. Sometimes you look in the eyes of your child and realize that the only way to explain something is to show her. With Mera, I knew that I needed to take her to someone who could provide a living example of how to live with your inner child successfully inhabiting your outer shell. Life, love, success, family are all attainable even when your mind is full of fanciful ideas and fantastical imagery.

Of course, while that was a successful experiment -- Mera and Keet took to one another precisely as I anticipated -- the unexpected fall out was to discover that Mera is not actually a fairy disguised as a little boat girl, but rather she is a mermaid disguised as a fairy in a 9 year old muggle costume.

Mera took to the waves and perforce I also spent hours tumbling around off the coast of Ocean City, NJ like a rock in a jewelers polishing can. We rolled around in the swells from an offshore front for nearly four hours. Every so often I would persuade my mergirl to emerge for a brief warming period during which she queried me with relentless efficiency, "Are we done yet? Are we warm yet? Is rest time over yet?"

mera dancing
Originally uploaded by sammy baby
The carnival on the boardwalk lifted her brows, the Blizzard turned her head, the t-shirt shops were boring the games did not even merit so much as a moment of her attention. Mera's explanation to her sister Aeron on her return was simple, "The water was warm!" She danced in the rain like a sea nymph, reveling in the fresh warm water rinsing off the salt and sand, singing her own personal tune while Jersey and Pennsylvania natives huddled beneath their umbrellas. At our hosts' puzzled look, I shrugged, "We're from Seattle. If we let the rain slow us down, we would never do anything."

And then we ran hand in hand back into the tumbling waves, ducking under the big ones, bouncing over the small ones, and crashing through all the rest.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

TechTip: Entertainment Outside the Box

Short Story
With our long passages and passionate desire to avoid spending money, free mind candy is a necessity. Podcasting offers a way to get your content when you want it, how you want it. Use iTunes to manage your podcast subscriptions and download all that stuff with a single click.

Long Version
I can think of probably five dozen reasons why you don't want to buy music and videos. Let's just do a top five:
  1. It costs money
  2. It takes up valuable stowage space
  3. It has to be shipped from a home port
  4. You might not like it once it arrives
  5. Did I mention that it costs money?
I hate paying for anything I can get for free. And with the Internet the way it is today, you can get more free content, LEGALLY, today than you could two decades ago commercially. I repeat legally, because while I can tell you all sorts of things about how to get illegal content like the latest movie release or Cold Play album, I don't do it. Seriously. I make a living distributing Creative Commons licensed content on the Internet and I don't steal.

But mostly, I don't steal because I don't need to. People all over the world are putting together great shows – audio and video – that you can download to your laptop computer for free. These distributions go by a variety of names: podcasting, netcasting, RSS feeds. All you really need to know at this point is iTunes.

iTunes is an application distributed by Apple, Inc. to support its infamously prolific iPods. You can download iTunes for free from Apple. It doesn't require the purchase of an Apple product, and it is available for both Windows and Mac devices. The instructions to install this software are straightforward. If you want to purchase any content from Apple, make sure that you set yourself up with an Apple account during the installation process.

This article really isn't about iTunes, however. iTunes is just the first – and probably the easiest – of applications that let you gather your podcast subscriptions in one place and download them automagically. This article is about the podcasts themselves.

Now let me repeat this important bit of information: just because we call them podcasts does NOT mean you need an iPod. Podcasts are music or video files regularly distributed by some artist or news organization. In fact, podcasts are free music or video files regularly distributed by nobodies like you and me as well as luminaries like National Public Radio. A quick peek at my own iTunes podcast subscription list shows some of the variety of content available. You can subscribe to music channels, news, humor, even books on tape.

To get you sailors out there started, I recommend the following sailing-related podcasts as a place to start your free media consumption: PodcastAway, from the catamaran Dos Gatos currently sailing in the Pacific, and Distant Shores hosted by sailing authors Paul and Sheryl Shard. If you are a news junky and miss your daily fix, cruise the NPR feeds. They break them down by topic: business, technology, environment. I enjoy getting the weekend shows such as the Lake Woebegone stories of Prairie Home Companion and This American Life. Those traveling with children MUST subscribe to WNYC's Radio Lab and the Best of YouTube.

iTunes tracks which podcasts have been downloaded and which have been read. When you shlep your laptop to an Internet cafe or locate the nearest WiFi hotspot, fire up iTunes. It will check the podcast providers, download all the new episodes, and delete all the ones you have listened to. This may take some time, but it can run while you are busy with other Internet chores such as posting your photos or sending email to your family back home.

After you disconnect, you will motor back to your sailing home, your laptop full of entertaining goodness for the next long spell in the middle of beautiful nowhere.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

When Your Basement is Like Your Boat

A good friend of ours recently posted to one of our many cruising lists a copy of a cruising favorite -- The Liveaboard Simulator. I wish I'd written that. The green gremlin of professional jealousy springs up whenever I read that article. However, I think I would make it funnier, because as it's written, it's not very funny. It's totally depressingly True. If you do not yet live on a boat and would like to empathize more closely with our life style, I encourage you to set up your own simulator. Merely reading the instructions is for wimps.

We actually did this, by the way. Live in our basement. All five of us. In fact, at least on the books we still do. It happened like this: Our marina does not allow full time, liveaboard families. The waiting list for marinas that accept liveaboards in the Pacific Northwest is roughly as long as the waiting list for a Toyota Prius, which is somewhere north of three million last time I looked. So after a long discussion with our fine harbor master, we moved on to our boat part time. The other half of the time, we live in our basement.

The basement is bigger than the boat but smaller than a breadbox. We never actually got around to finishing the finishing work to make it habitable. So it has a clammy, faint whiff of cat smell vaguely reminiscent of a boat head on a warm day. Dr C and I are wedged into a double in one room while the three girls pile like kittens on a king in the other room. We purchased a European refrigerator. I can assure you that does not mean it's full of fine cheeses and fine chocolates. The German idea of cold things is a small box which can hold approxrimately one liter of sparkling water, a package of Wheat Thins, and a sausage. The unit sits on the ground in such a way as to ensure that your plus-six-foot husband has to contort himself into a Bavarian pretzel shape in order to retrieve his beer.

The basement is always dirty. The entrance is from the backyard, so it appears that the children are incapable of entering the rooms without tracking in a metric buttload of woodchips and pea gravel.

Also. I believe that dust settles downward. Thus, every particle of grit generated by our upstairs tenants floats gently down into our living space like Seattle pollution drifting in black sooty waves onto the deck of our boat. As with Don Quixote, there is no dishwasher, the sinks are impossibly annoying to use for that purpose, and we share the laundry appliances with people whose constitutional makeup includes a gene for keeping panties in the washing machine at every possible moment we might choose to wash our own underthings.

Again, shades of living on Don Quixote, we find our expulsive tendencies result in a spillage of miscellaneous crap out of the living quarters and into the surrounding environment. On the boat, we leave our lines draped in towels, wet suits and blue cloths, tools are scattered in the cockpit, and bags of garbage line the helm like dishonorably discharged soldiers awaiting transport to shore. In the basement, we spew construction materials, gardening tools, and endless boxes of Stuff awaiting freecycle pickup across the lawn and down the street. And the result is so similar: Our slip neighbor pointedly told us we couldn't possibly be good boaters as we didn't keep our boat up to sparkling snuff while our land neighbor asked our tenants, “Don't you have any house pride?” To which I really just have to snort, “Oh yeah. Just wait until I move in the dead truck and the broken tractor.”

And the girls are irrepressible, unstoppable, energetic heathens no matter where you put them. Like three whirling Tasmanian devils, they explode out of the confines of the basement or boat and spin off into incredibly loud, semi-destructive forces of little girl goodness. Sure they break things, lose things, and hurt themselves in every conceivable way. They also loop into their sphere of influence every other child within a radius of one mile, suck into their Charm Maw many of the stray adults, and identify with the instincts of blood hounds every dog, cat, hamster and gecko available for play, care and cuddling. They locate dead things, find hiding places, and introduce themselves to store owners, marina staff, neighbors and fellow boat owners. They routinely drag these reluctant adults back to boat or basement for introductions and fellowship, wine or chips or vanilla wafers. And while our both our basement and boat worlds are messy, gritty and essentially microscopic, our reputation for hospitality grows with each passing month.

Originally uploaded by rolling2hills
So The Liveaboard Simulator works. You get all the dirt, the confined quarters, and the inconvenience. You also get a similar sense of family squishedness, members banding together in the face of extreme adversity. However, I must say the view on the boat is better and the backyard is larger.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Congratulations! You've Won the Lottery

You: “Holy garbanzo beans, batman! I've just won $1,000,000 in the lottery!!!”

Friend: “Congratulations!” slapping you on the back and looking over your shoulder at the enormous check, “That's great! Fantastic... wonderful. Did you know that they did a study that showed persons who win the lottery are on average less happy than persons who don't?”

The little green monster of envy or the yellow quivering imp of fear feed many reactions to the news that a friend or family member is cutting the lines and going on an extended cruise. While the initial reaction is excitement on your behalf, happiness and admiration of your intrepid boldness and daring, once the news settles in you will find that most of your peers and loved ones can't help themselves.

“I think you're a bit insane. It's exciting but let's face it, you're insane,” explains your drinking buddy. I think that girl you're dating is insane, too, but I have better manners than to tell you she made pass at my husband and carries drill bits in her purse.

“What are you going to do with the children?” Oh I don't know, Mom. How about I leave them here with you?

“Did you hear about the catamaran that washed up on the coast this week?” informs a friendly helpful client. I watch the boating news. And yes, three people died and it was a tragedy. Your point?

“We can't let you participate in the after school activities... we've had bad experience with homeschooled children,” says your child's former teacher. Wow! Could you define bad experience? Medical? Psychological? Criminal?

But I choose to think that if you dig past the words, what we often witness is a syndrome similar to Lottery Envy -- the compulsive need to talk yourself into believing that someone who wins the lottery is really miserable. And it does no good to be cross with normal, land-based family and friends. Their feelings are legitimate, whether generated by genuine concern or merely their inner child in a fit of toddler temper.

By taking our passions, our needs, our excitement and making it so visible – so absolutely out there for the world to see – we thrust our chins in the face of normality and metaphorically belt out, “SEE! ‘Just do it’ is not just a slogan to sell Nike's!” It's not very nice. It's a lot like doing hands-free cherry drops on the monkey bars while chanting, “I can do it and you're a scaredy cat, nyah nyah na nyah na na!” We never really leave the elementary school playground.

Remember, your family has a right to worry about you. Our parents have the right to question our sanity and to fret over the safety of their grandchildren. Our colleagues have good cause for concern when our absence changes their working lives, the pattern of their days, and the stability of their company. It is perfectly reasonable for those with unrealized dreams to express their frustration in ways that do not help.

So you need to develop a strategy and armor for getting through the inevitable wave of stupid questions, concerned inquiries and familial resistance. If you're a parent, this process is quite similar to what you do when people provide helpful tips on how to raise your children. It combines diplomacy, tact, a thick skin, and a sick sense of humor. When people asked me why my 3rd child never learned how to crawl, I explained that we were remodeling the kitchen and the floor was covered with bent, rusty nails and broken glass and she was afraid to do so. Rather stops the conversation since no one quite knows whether or not to believe you.

My recommendation to fellow cruisers is to make a t-shirt that answers all the friendly, pointed questions simultaneously. On the front, the shirt might advertise: So you want to know about our boat trip? And on the back it might say something like this:

  • 1 + N Years
  • Take them with us
  • Homeschool
  • They'll make new friends
  • South
  • 38 foot catamaran
  • Renting the house
  • Selling the business
  • We weren't sane to begin with
  • Turn About is Fair Play

    Author Note: As protected static pointed out, a repeat of something I posted awhile ago. Ugh. I'll leave it up because I've been DARED to delete the comment... Hah! Not me. At least I did different pictures.

    There are two types of folks on a sail boat: those who twiddle the sails, and those who avoid it.

    What is a sail twiddler, you ask? Well let me tell you. A sail twiddler is a person who can't leave the lines alone during a long tack. He trims the jib, twitches the main sheet, fiddles with the traveler. She constantly fidgets at the helm, adjusts the bearing and the course. His eye is always on the telltales and the knot meter, her attention never wavers from the GPS indicator for speed over ground. All of these actions are taken in the hope of coaxing additional teeny weeny fractions of a knot out of the sails.

    A sail twiddler is the least relaxing human being you can possibly cruise with. The scenario looks like this: you are trapped in a boat with four people for five hours. The wind is 12 knots from the south 55 degrees off your starboard bow. Ideally, as helmsman you set the sails for a starboard close haul and put Auto in charge. Then you grab a good book, a glass of lemonade and a bag of pretzels, and settle in on the tramp, glancing up every few minutes to check for freighters, power boats, and stray seals.

    But if there is a sail twiddler on board, you'll find that your starboard close haul is not the most efficient way to get from Point A to Point B. No, your boat is a catamaran and would go a lot faster if you were to fall off the wind a bit. Then you're going to let out this deelybob, slide over that thingamajig, tug on the other whatchamaclallit, and poof! now you are going at least a half knot faster.

    The problem with this theory is that at some point in the not so distant future, you are going to have to tack. Tacking involves getting up off your cozy cushion on the tramp and shlepping to the back of the boat to mess with rope. There will be yelling even if everything goes well because that's what you do. You yell cryptic things like, "Helms alee!" and "Fire in the hole!" Then you yank on stuff. Inevitably when you get back to your cushions, the wind will have lost your page or knocked over your drink. But now you can sit, right?

    Wrong. Because now you're whipping along in this broad zag toward a big rock in the middle of friggin’ nowhere and at some point you are going to have to zig to avoid it, then zag to get more wind and speed along, then zig to get back to your course, then zag into a tidal current, then zig to avoid running into an island.

    And so on.

    And the horrible thing to admit is that I always thought Dr C was a sail twiddler. I really expected him to be a sail twiddler. He sure as hell is an everything else twiddler. The man doesn't have the slightest clue how to sit still. On our first vacation down at his parents' cabin in Baja, I drank tequila on the deck and read romance novels for three days while Dr C moved the water tank and rebuilt the outhouse. His idea of relaxing at anchor is to install a new inverter.

    So pardon me if my natural expectation was that I would expend a great deal of ingenuity in conjuring clever methods to avoid helping trim the sails. He would twiddle, I would drink lemonade, and basically we'd do same ole' same ole' at the Conger household... except on a boat.

    However, this pleasant familiar scene does not play out on Don Quixote. Au contraire! Dr C has better things to do while we are underway. Take today, for example. During our three-hour trip from Seattle to Port Madison, Dr C reinstalled the galley foot pump, changed the lamp mantle, fixed the squeaky starboard doors, and installed a speaker for the VHF in the cockpit.

    You know what I did? I twiddled the sails. And let me tell you, the pleasure I get from twiddling the sails makes it feels as pornographic as it sounds.

    My name is Toast. And I'm a sail twiddler.