Saturday, May 31, 2008

Moore's Law vs. the Marine Tax

For those few readers so far removed from the world of computers and technology that you are unfamiliar with Moore's Law:

Definition: “The complexity for minimum component costs has increased at a rate of roughly a factor of two per year” -- Gordon Moore, 1965.

Translation: “Moore's Law describes an important trend in the history of computer hardware: that the number of transistors that can be inexpensively placed on an integrated circuit is increasing exponentially, doubling approximately every two years.” -- Wikipedia, 2008

Believe it or not, this very old prediction has held consistently true for 33 years. Bottom line on computer hardware is that you would always be smarter to put off today what you can buy tomorrow. Unfortunately, by the same token, you might as well buy it today because even if you do buy it six months from now, you'll be better off waiting another six months. And it's always a safe bet to wait at least six weeks if Leo Laporte just bought it.

But let's consider the implications of Moore's Law in the context of the Marine Tax.

The marine environment is absolutely inimical to the survival of all things electrical. Actually, the marine environment appears to be inimical to the survival of everything except mold. Even if you don't chuck your power gadgets overboard, electronics do not do well with the fundamentals of boat life: moist air, salt, constant shaking, dirt, more salty air, more shaking, the occasional bolt of lightning, fish guts.

My Client's Laptop
My Client's Laptop
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
So purveyors of marine electronics often attempt to sell a product based on its marine hardiness. This hardiness is sold at a premium which varies from three to ten times the equivalent non-rough-and-ready variety. I've seen the innards of some of these hardened products, and you can understand both why they cost more and why they survive longer. Our SSB, for example, is essentially solid state dipped in amber. I think those chips will be around and functional when roaches, extremophiles and Cylons are the only thing left alive on the planet.

Now call me a product of the disposable culture, but I do not want my electronics to last into the next millennium. In fact, I don't want my electronics to last more than the 18 odd months until the next round of Moorsian improvements.

For example, as part of the prep for cruising, we read of boats investing in a ruggedized, “tough” laptop. Depending on the manufacturer, one will cost you between $3500 to $4000 with otherwise the same specs as a standard laptop of the day. First, set aside with me the basic folly of the phrase, “He paid $4000 for a laptop running Windows Vista.” While I'm an unabashed Mac Fan Girl, this might be a good idea since most marine software isn't ported to Mac or Linux. Yet. It's also true that a “toughy” is likely to last three times longer than my off-the-shelf MacBook whose life span on the boat can probably be measured with an egg timer.

Buy a Toughy?
Buy a Toughy?
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
But now let's play the Moore's Law game... for which I will engage in the gratuitous, inappropriate and incorrect use of a chart since I just got a copy of Numbers. We'll assume the toughy lasts three times as long as my delicately beautiful but clearly fragile Mac.

At the end of three years, for the same amount of money I have a three-year-old piece of crap running an old version of Vista or a brand new Mac with roughly twice the memory, twice the speed, and an upgraded OS. This math becomes even more absurd when considering a non-ruggedized Windows box which you can pick up at Fry's in the $450 range. You could purchase those by the six-pack and still come out ahead.

Is there any universe in which this makes sense?

Well, it turns out there is one. The universe of cruisers who plan to quite literally drop off the map into a world where ordering from the online Amazon or Apple stores and getting something shipped out is just not realistic. Those hardy adventurers need to go marine grade across the board.

If you're a whimpy coastal cruiser, however, doing the milk runs with s/v Don Quixote and routinely stopping in at towns whose names appear on your average 3rd grade Rand McNally atlas, you can rinse and repeat for virtually every piece of electronics on the boat. Need wireless? Browse war driving sites and grab a $100 USB amp. Marine sets start at $300, last three times as long and leave you stuck in 2008 wifi speeds. In five years, you can suck bits in the slow lane or grab a cheap new rig to put you on an express to Googlezon. Worried about reliability? Buy two!! Get hand helds to back up your expensive weather and GPS systems, personal trackers to back up your EPIRB, charting software to back up your fancy all in one unit on the helm.

Go ahead and pay the marine tax on some items; Anything that requires hauling the boat or climbing the mast screams “marine grade” to me. But for all those little electronic gadgets that make life both much more safe and much more entertaining, buy cheap and buy often.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Inventory of Heroics

Recovering a Wallet
Recovering a Wallet
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
I do not plan to be a heroic cruiser. In fact, as cruisers go, I consider myself right up there with couch potatoes who have refrigerators built into the arm rests. I want to relax. I want to spend time with my children. I want my husband to spend a lot of time making me appreciate the difference between the sexes by showing off his big muscles and tremendous handyman skills.

However, we are only two weeks into the active portion of this extended cruising lifestyle, and I feel compelled to point out that I’ve been called upon to do many more physically demanding things than I had ever really intended. Moreover, I’m dreadfully certain that this is barely scratching the surface. It appears quite possible that I will be forced to lose 20 pounds, put on some muscle pretty much everywhere, and start wearing a kidney protective belt.

It started when Dr C’s back decided that the air mattress idea was not a good one. One week out of Seattle and he was moving around the boat like a 70 year old with arthritis, a bad hip, and a melded spinal cord. He was in severe, crippling pain. He was -- in other words -- a complete waste of space.

This meant that I would have to step up to the plate. Or the winch. And the mooring ball. And the dinghy davits. Just because I have spent quite a few brain cells ensuring that I can single hand this boat, doesn’t mean I ever really wanted to do so. There is something very satisfying about helming the boat until you slide the main down just before gliding into an anchorage and then letting the Man take over wrestling with all that physical stuff.

Never mind. We have now definitely proven that when required to do so, I am capable of handling it. My brief list of Toast-heroics are unfortunately the basic items of any cruiser’s daily challenges.
  1. Changed out the anchors. (Thank you, Captain! I hate the delta.) They only weigh 45 pounds, but for some reason the Bruce decided to anchor itself to the crab pot, spinnaker sail and the girls’ scooters at the bottom of the locker.
  2. Rowed, rowed and rowed some more shlepping the girls to shore and back during the time when the 70 pound Yamaha sat on the stanchion taunting us. I wasn’t about to try to get it on and off the dinghy without the pulley system we have rigged on the end of the boom.
  3. Wrestled with the bridle, mooring ball chain, safety line, a 2 knot current and the dinghy for a half hour to get untangled from the ball at Fort Flagler.
  4. Walked 8 miles (in the snow uphill both ways) to the post office.
  5. Struggled for an interminable amount of time with a broken zipper on the sail cover while perched on the bimini in 35 knot winds and 5 foot seas, and this time I swear to god it was raining. No joke. Even jacked in with lines, I was scared spitless.
Then a miracle happened. Dr C insisted we remove the air mattress deeming it a miserable failure. The skies opened up, the sun shone, his back got better, and mine is now so sore I can hardly sit here to type. I have never been so happy to come from a long line of folks with gimpy backs.
6) Gather Wood
6) Gather Wood
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Congratulations! You Got Twelfth!

Show No Fear!
Show No Fear!
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
It drives me absolutely nuts when I attend a children’s sporting event, and every single child present wins. I’m sorry, there is only one word that describes this situation: Bullshit.

Complete and utter bullshit.

Do not tell me that this is about improving the self-esteem of our children. You can not and will not gain self-esteem from some crappy piece of medal on a ribbon which you received for showing up. You will not, can not gain confidence and pride in self for just for having a pulse. The medal makes it worse.

I made the girls give theirs back.

Before you declaim me as the worst soccer mom in the history of the species, the girls were not terribly upset. Despite all societal convictions to the contrary, children are not stupid. They know that a medal received for showing up is a piece of crap not worth the energy used to stamp it. The only item worth keeping that day was the third place ribbon Jaime received for her three-hand reel. The girls were all happy to keep that one on the boat and put it up in a place of honor.

I do not know which idiot pop psychologist got on Oprah and convinced the rest of the nation we had to improve our children’s self-esteem through the distribution of nonsensical and pointless trophies. I would like to take that pinhead by the scruff and shake until his teeth rattle, his eyes glaze over, and he pees his pants.

Self-esteem is built by working your ass off and getting results. It’s earned by arriving to the contest, toeing the line, doing a really bad job, and failing to even place. Then it grows by going back to the drawing board, struggling and practicing and perfecting your craft, and returning to take fifth. Then repeating this over and over until some brilliant sunny day, your world opens up and you attain second or even first. If a child does this even once -- whether in Irish dance, swimming, or competitive lanyard weaving -- that child has learned what it means to succeed.

Do not protect children from failure, people. You are not doing them any favors. Believe it or not, children grow up. I can assure you that when that child gets to work and expects to be patted on the head for just showing up, things are not going to go well. In fact, you do not even get a medal for doing your job. You just get a paycheck. You only get a bonus or prize in the adult world when you work your ass off and go above and beyond the average. This is why we use the word “reward.” A reward is something you get for doing something special.

Call me cruel. Call it tough love. Call it supreme bitch Mom. Call it neglect. My children fail all the time. They fail at math, they fail at Irish dance, they make idiots of themselves on stage and they fall out of trees. They trip, and they make ugly pictures which we call ugly and sometimes they even make food so bad I throw it over the side of the boat. We don’t pretend it’s pretty when it’s not. We do not say it tastes good when it makes us gag. We do not tell them they are doing a good job when we can barely read what they’ve written. As parents of the 21st century, we probably suck.

But you ought to see these girls -- a more self-confident, energetic, charismatic bunch of kids you will have trouble finding anywhere. And I do say so myself.
Cutting the Lines
Cutting the Lines
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Almost as Fun as Watching Paint Dry

For those seeking all the details of the trip, we're copying our notes up to s/v Don Quixote's ship log. This is not a narrative and so has little to no entertainment value that I can perceive. However, we have received several messages from family and friends requesting more details on where we are anchoring and what we are doing.

I don't think my loved ones think I actually tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth in my own posts. Go figure. *cough*

The blog is a combination of entries from Dr C and myself. They will most likely appear in batches as we get fat wifi pipe to post them. You can also follow my tweets on Twitter and track where we've been via Google Maps. Both of these are displayed in brief on the sidebar of this blog as well.

That should about do it. Please let me know if I'm missing anything.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Hall Monitors and Meter Maids

Woo! Hoo!
Woo! Hoo!
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
It’s three in the afternoon, and we’re sailing north at about 5 knots towards Everett. This is only our third day into the cruising part of our cruising adventure. I’m feeling pretty smug and fine. Yes, it’s cold and miserable. It’s the Pacific Northwest. It’s usually cold and miserable. However, the girls are happily playing in their cabins, Dr C is practicing guitar, I’m listening to podcasts and helming the boat. And it’s a Wednesday. I think. I’m not even sure. Yes, I’m feeling fine.

Until the U.S. Coast Guard heads towards us out of the east.

At which point my heart beat increases, and a feeling akin to complete doe-in-the-headlights panic hits me. I start running through the check list of Coast Guard requirements for navigation on inland coastal waters of the United States at a rapid fire clip. These are fresh in my memory having just prepped for the Washington Boater Education Card. The problem is, I know for certain we are not fully compliant.

So let’s back up a bit. Complying with all the USCG rules is similar to complying with all the DMV rules. It’s a really really good idea, but the bottom line is that if a USCG/cop wants to find something wrong with your boat/car, there are always more things you could have and should have done. The trick is to do all the major and important bits, and then obey all the rules of the road so that there is no reason to stop you. Mind you, I’m not dissing either USCG inspectors or traffic police. It’s a traffic cop’s job to find stuff wrong, and they do a fine job. Mostly, they don’t want to bother finding little ditzel crap on your vehicle, they just want to keep you from driving like a complete idiot. Same with the USCG.

However, I am very aware of the ditzel crap that is non-compliant on our vessel. The most significant at this point is probably our hailing port. While we have the WA to convert Vancouver, BC to Vancouver, WA, we haven’t installed it yet. Nor have we actually yet changed our hailing port from Seattle to Vancouver. That’ll happen in August when we renew our paperwork. Another place where we fail our perfect inspection report objective would be with the heads. While we have the thru hulls to dump overboard zip-tied off, the USCG apparently wants something more permanent and incontrovertible to prove you aren’t occasionally sneaking out into the middle of a sloshy big bit of water and just letting your pants down -- nautically speaking.

On the other hand, these offenses are minor. Certainly, the small fines or hassle resulting from their discovery was disproportionate with the deeply panicked, utterly terrified feeling I experienced as I watched Authority zoom in on our craft. Han Solo reminded me to ‘sail casual’, and I did a quick scan of sails, instruments, course, and conditions to make sure that we looked like a big innocent white blob on the water.

Apparently, it worked. Alternatively, they might have -- like half the rest of the Puget Sound -- merely decided to do a drive-by-catamaraning. This is what the girls call the frequent custom of boats around here to go far out of their way to take a look at us. With multihulls in the absolute minority and big condo-cats like ours literally countable on your fingers and toes, we’re something of a curiosity. More likely, the Coast Guard wasn’t paying us the slightest attention.

It took awhile to calm down. It took another long while to figure out why I panicked. It isn’t the graphics on the transom or the poopy head. I have reason to fear Authority. They might catch us. We’re escaping and taking our kids with us. We’re skipping school, playing hooky, taking a personal day that may last several years long.

We’re being irresponsible.

We’re [cue ominous music] ... cutting.

Sail casual, Toast. You might even consider taking up whistling innocently.

East Marrowstone Beach
East Marrowstone Beach
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Fuel Efficiency

Siesta in Transit
Siesta in Transit
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Gas is expensive. Diesel is really expensive. Sailing is free.

I should have bumper stickers made. Sailing is free.

I love the irony of that statement. Let us remember it contradicts another favorite saying of mine, “Owning a sailboat in the Pacific Northwest is like standing in a shower and ripping up $100 bills.

However, as a cruiser, you really can start to take advantage of the freeness thing. It's not like you are in any great hurry to go anywhere, right? So if you pull out of the anchorage and the wind is only 6 knots, what the hell. Put up the sail and let the wind carry you towards your destination. Never mind that the resulting speed over ground is something less than a full trot for a chihuahua in a hurry to take a piss. This mode of travel earns you the privilege of smugly reducing your carbon foot print while you take in the sights.

Unless and until the children get bored.

Peels of laughter skating perilously close to hysterical rise from the children's hull where Aeron and Mera play some rather vigorous wrestling game in an attempt to keep themselves amused. There is roaring and growling and giggling and then a small blond head pops out of the hatch. “Are we there yet?” asks Aeron. “Yah!” screams the birthday girl Mera, “We're there, right?!”

Jaime at the helm is possibly the worst. “Oh god I'm bored. Omigod I'm so bored. I'm so bored. This is so boring. Wow. This is just... boring.” She leans on the wheel and stares bleakly through her sun glasses past the sparkling seas at the stunning vista complete with basking sea lions, green skyline, and distant sail boats. “Oh god I'm bored.”

A Way to Pass Time
A Way to Pass Time
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Dr C, of course, is blissfully unaware of the mutiny brewing aboard. He's busy cutting holes in something. Or rebuilding something else. Or possibly changing some fluid or other.

Ten minutes go by, “Are we there yet?”

Um, well not yet. It's only a 3 mile trip today but at 2 knots per hour on a very broad tack the amount we'll have to travel over ground would just about take us to Canada if we straightened it out and went as the crow flies. It'll take us... let me do the math. Hold on a second.

Three hours. Omigod.

“Dr C, we really need to motor. We really need to motor,” I inform the captain. Saving fuel and money be damned. Get me to the shore on time.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day

Kristina and Daughter
Kristina and Daughter
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
In the rush to get out, you'd think we would forget Mother's Day. Well, technically WE didn't. Technically only my daughters and my husband forgot. They still have a few hours to make it up to me, however, and I believe Dr C invested in a gadget so there is potential forgiveness in the air.

In the meantime, a wonderful young woman from the SHRC sent me the following message:

"Mother's Love
Her love is like
an island in life's ocean,
vast and wide
A peaceful, quiet shelter
From the wind, the rain, the tide.
'Tis bound on the north by Hope,
By Patience on the West,
By tender Counsel on the South
And on the East by Rest.
Above it like a beacon light
Shine Faith, and Truth, and Prayer;
And thro' the changing scenes of life
I find a haven there.
~ Author Unknown

From: Mother's Day Celebration

When i read this, i thought of you straight away! Happy Mother's Day!"

To which I pass on the spirit to the mothers in my life: my own wonderful mother, my fantastical mother-in-law, my patient step-mother, and those mommy friends Kristina, Behan, Laureen, Joanne, Polly, Beth, and Keet whose support and love has touched me in so many ways.

Happy Mother's Day to you too.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Time to Go

Time to Go
Time to Go
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
The shore days grow shorter, and our asset sheet drops accordingly. These last few days have been a rush of going away parties and dinners, last minute errands, and major upheavals.

Probably the most dramatic, if not the most traumatic, has been the sale of both of our cars. They went >one< >two< on Thursday and Friday after weeks of preparing them for sale and posting them on Craigslist. We've owned both vehicles since somewhat before the introduction of the VCR, so parting with these machines is akin to selling a family member.

Towards the end, I started referring to the mini-van as She with a friendly - almost sisterly - affection. When She arrived on my door step, I could not have been more unjuiced about any event. A mini-van. A FORD mini-van. Complete with child seats built into the center bench. My god was there any more insulting vehicle for a wild and sassy lady like myself than the absolute prototypical expression of middle class suburban, soccer mom motherhood than that van. Thank you whims of fate that none of my girls ever played soccer. I could never have lived with the shame.

However, She grew on me. She never broke down, carried everything, forgave my children for being filthy heathens, and took care of us through some really crappy situations. Literally crappy, since She made a great hauling vehicle on gardening days. But now she's gone.

So is the Honda. So are all the library books, the kids' WAMU accounts, and the ends of Mera's hair. We also cleaned our teeth at a cost closely approaching a B.O.A.T. unit, remembered to retrieve the solar panels from the garage, and made a last run to the discount fabric store.

We haven't gone on a "stocking" run to the grocery store... we're not going on vacation. We've made plans instead that put us in the neighborhood of an anchorage with a convenient grocery in about a week.

Ladies' Night Out
Ladies' Night Out
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Today is a Dock Day. I have a list of tasks that henceforth we will always do on a Dock Day. These include: filling up the water tank, washing the boat down with fresh water, laundry, showers, topping every rechargeable battery on the boat, and making my children run on shore for an hour. But these tasks are not in preparation for leaving... these are just going to be part of all our Dock Days.

So in some indefinable sense, we left yesterday when the Honda drove off leaving us carless here at the marina. Thus far I'm happy to report it's a great trip! We've not made many miles, but we're doing well for supplies.

And if Dr C stops futzing with the engines this afternoon, maybe tomorrow you'll finally see a new placemark on our Google map.

Editor Note: Thank you to all for the many comments and emails wishing us well! Yes, of course we'll be trying very hard to post regularly as we head out. This should prove no great challenge until we head south of the border in November. You can be assured, I'll write chapter and verse about how to blog from a boat.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A Tale of 20 Beds

Battery Ho!
Battery Ho!
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
In all my complaining, I'm surprised I've forgotten to mention that DrC and I haven't had a good night's sleep in close to seven months. While the possibility of frozen extremities, drowning in spit, or the sounds of the diesel heater taking off might possibly come to mind as causal, the real culprit has been the bed.

Or perhaps it is more accurate to say beds, because DrC and I have cycled through a startlingly broad range and bewildering variety of bedding in a vain attempt to find the perfect comfort mattress. We've tried Frolies and we've tried Ikea. We added foam padding, bubble wrap, and space age stuffing. We even tried $2.50 swim floats from Walgren's. Thus far, the search for a comfortable night's sleep has been fruitless. Each morning we awake to the same ritual.

Toast yawns, “Okay, that sucked for me. How 'bout you?”

DrC tentatively stretches and clenches up half way to a full reach, “No.”

“No, it didn't suck? or No, it sucked and I hurt like hell.”

DrC creaks as he sits up and edges to the end of the bunk, “We need to try something else.”

There are two possible interpretations of this quest. First – and the theory I personally favor – boat bedding is a considerable challenge. Alternatively, DrC and I are over 40 and getting old. I'm not going to even dignify the second theory with additional clarification. Either you, my dear reader, are old enough that back problems are something you reject on principle in the same way you pull gray out of your scalp each morning, or you are a young whipper snapper, and you need to shut up and listen to your elders.

Going with the first theory, I offer the following supporting arguments:
Thing 1) Boat beds can not have box springs.
Thing 2) Boat beds frequently do not fit standard shapes and so rule out conventional solutions such as popping down to the nearest Mattress Outlet and getting something on sale. And finally....
Thing 3) Boat beds almost inevitably must fold in half or break into pieces because some crucial, must-get-to-it-in-less-than-30-seconds-or-the-boat-sinks bit of equipment is installed beneath it.

It's that last one that screws the pouch on Don Quixote. Real Sailors™ will undoubtedly either sneer or boggle, but the Lagoon's are outfitted with bunks that come in standard, commercial bed sizes. The aft cabins are both queens, the port forward cabin is a twin with wings. This makes sheets easy. It should have made a mattress easy. The problem is that our battery bank and the single most usable locker for stowing books, spare clothes, and parts is under that bed. With DrC's wonderful shelving addition, it is just not possible to put in a standard queen size mattress.

We started with the cushions that come with the boat. Those suck. If you are ever offered an opportunity to provision a brand new boat, just say no to the factory bunk cushions. Say it loudly. Say it really really really loudly. In addition to being wildly uncomfortable, for some damn reason it does not matter which orientation you put them in, they slide everything to the middle. This is great until your husband arrives in the middle of the night in a comatose, massive lump on top of your right hip.

Our Cabin with Air Mattress
Our Cabin with Air Mattress
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Cushions on Frolies meant we slid into each other during the early evening instead of waiting till the middle of the night. Putting the Ikea mattress pad on top made the sliding less noticeable, but DrC's head hit the ceiling when he went to pee in the middle of the night. Removing the cushions dropped us down six inches at the cost of my man's tender hips. Adding egg shell foam from WalMart made his hips hurt less but resulted in a nasty sponging effect that felt like sleeping on the edge of a kitchen sink complete with skanky sponge smell. Covering the egg shell with a super padded mattress pad from Target worked for a few months. However, reluctantly we realized that we'd eliminated the pressure points, but now had no give for the curve of our spines resulting in crippling pain every morning.

Tonight we installed a $25 queen size air bed from Target underneath the Ikea mattress pad. It's possible this will work. As I sit and type, my butt does not hurt. My hair is brushing the ceiling, but at this point, I'd put up with halving the air space in this cabin if I could just get a full night's sleep without waking up feeling like I'd been in traction all night.

I'm no longer hopeful, however. Hope is for young people.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A Life at Sea

Myke and his photographer visited us a few weeks ago to do a piece for the local Queen Anne and Magnolia Times. We spent a long time chatting. He's an easy person to talk with and his daughters are charmers. The article came out this week entitled "A Life at Sea." It's longish but it does provide more back story about the Congers than I've possibly written about us in the entire two years I've been prattling on this blog. Thank you Myke!