Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Get a Cat* - Redunancy

Pacific Crest
Pacific Crest
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Two men stand on a field of white. The one on the left is a handsome white man, about 50, distinguished, knowledgeable, and stylishly dressed for dinner at a seaside restaurant. The one on the right is much younger, casually attired in Bermuda shorts, Crocs, an open T-shirt, and hailing from some mixed Pan-Pacific ancestry. A pleasant jingle plays unobtrusively in the background.

Both men are jogging quickly in place. They've jogged long enough to ruffle their hair and look a bit sweaty and tired. The younger man speaks first:

Catamaran pants, “Hello, I’m a Catamaran.”

Monohull says breathily, “And I’m a Monohull.” He gulps down air between each sentence as he continues, “Today was sunny and calm. No seas. No wind. But we need to get to the next big marina. Restock, showers. Water.”

Catamaran pumps for a moment gathering his breath, “So we decided to motor. It's a long way for a beer run. But what are you going to do?...” Abruptly, Catamaran starts coughing and slows down to a walk.

Monohull glances over, concerned, and slows his pace as well, “Are you all right, Catamaran?” He begins a slow walking circle around Catamaran as he looks over his companion.

Catamaran shakes his head ruefully, “'Fraid not. Lost the port engine.” He continues to walk as he shakes out his left arm. “I think it's the impeller.”

Monohull's expression changes to a knowing look, “Time for some maintenance, heh? Well it happens to all of us. There's a little anchorage just there you can hole up in till you fix it.” While he tries to appear sympathetic, it's quite clear that he's delighted to show up the younger man. “I guess if you don't need me, I'll just be heading off to La Paz.” His pace starts to increase.

Catamaran smiles and also increases his pace to match that of Monohull. “No need. I'll just fire up the starboard, and we can be off.”

Monohull looks chagrined as the two increase to their former rapid jog. He mutters, “Oh right. The starboard engine. How could I forget.”

Aerial View of Don Quixote
Aerial View of Don Quixote
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
That second engine is going to cost you: Time, money, maintenance. On the other hand, it's also a backup engine that pretty well ensures you won't get left out there without a motor. This redundancy vs. cost equation is true of many aspects of your catamaran. Two engines, two heads, two hulls. Break one and the other holds you up. I'm reminded of a concept from that luminary of the sailing world Lin Pardey. She talks about being “unstoppable.” Unstoppable isn't so much a state of equipment as one of attitude.

I, for one, have a much better attitude when I get to my anchorage on time.

* Author’s Note: All credit to the Get a Mac marketing team whose incredibly clever work inspired this series. This will be the last one unless something inspires me.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Doing More With Less - Food

The boat teaches many lessons in conservation. This is part of an ongoing series of posts about how we boaters do more with considerably less. The tips are valid for land based life as well, though, so hopefully folks can use some of these ideas.

* *

Trolling for Fishing Boats
Trolling for Fishing Boats
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
The second largest item in our budget is food. I have friends who get upset with me that food is not the single largest chunk of our disposable income. Those friends should try owning a boat. People who eat and eat well spend money on food today rather than on medicine, doctors, and hospitals in the future. Averaged over a life time, this is not only a very reasonable economic trade off, there is also the side benefit of a considerably better quality of life.

Our family eating motto is cribbed from Michael Pollan, whose wonderful book on the food industry opened my eyes wide to the need to change my buying patterns as a gateway to changing my eating patterns. So in our family, we aim to: “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” We shop the periphery of the grocery store, avoiding runs down the “aisles of processed death” as much as possible. The girls make something of a game of this. They stand at the end of an aisle, peer down to find the tomato paste, dried beans, or peanut butter, then race through and back to safety as quickly as possible as if all the minions of industrial food processing hell were biting at their ankles. I do not think this is precisely what Michael had in mind. On the other hand, it makes shopping go fairly rapidly.

Cruising life adds a challenging dimension to eating well while at the same time it makes it almost impossible to do otherwise. Food is obscenely expensive everywhere we go now. We’re provisioning mostly at small coastal towns and tourists stops where everything is shipped in -- literally by barge, boat, or store owner truck. In addition to the pain everyone is now feeling due to fuel costs flowing into our food costs, we’ve got that added spice of remoteness to give grocery store owners the geographically granted right to shaft the customer. We literally can not afford to eat anything.

So we are learning how to eat a lot less of everything. The somewhat ironic result is that we are also lowering our carbon bite-print by a substantial margin since meat and dairy are almost expunged from our diet. This is okay. The fact that we are now almost completely dry, however, is a hardship with which Dr C and I struggle daily.

The end result of all these traumatic trips to the grocery is that I have some tips on how to reduce your food budget while improving your eating habits:

Buy Local Orowheat is $4.39/loaf up here. Local bakeries drop the price to $.99. Rinse and repeat for locally grown in-season produce, domestic beer and wine, and local dairies. Buy domestic brands of cereals, canned goods, frozen foods. Your familiar brands aren’t necessarily tastier anyway.

Bake Bread I bake costs roughly $.55/loaf including the cost of fuel -- still cheaper and available even three weeks after I’ve left the last store. Muffins, scones, biscuits, dinner rolls, and desserts are so much cheaper that the comparison is ludicrous.

Reduce the Animal Foods I went vegetarian in college, because I couldn’t afford the meat. Several decades later, and it appears I’m back where I started. We save our meat money for cured meats such as italian sausage, ham, and bacon which we use in small quantities to flavor soups and bean stews. We use the small grater on cheeses and sprinkle them on foods rather than dumping big stringy clumps or digging into thick sliced wedges. When we bake, we often substitute powdered milk and eggs which cost less, last longer, and weigh less.

Go Fishing Jaime catches it, Dr C cleans it, I cook it. The ocean is a great source of protein. If we were on land, I’d extend this to growing it yourself*. If you can catch or grow it without sinking a fortune into supplies, you can probably reduce your budget while improving quality.

Drink Less As much as it pains me to admit it, you can cut your alcohol budget in half by drinking one glass of wine an evening instead of two. You can cut it further if you skip drinking some nights.

You Catch It, You Clean It
You Catch It, You Clean It
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Eat Less This idea is so profound it deserves a moment of silent reflection. If you eat less food, you spend less on food. Most folk in the modern world eat far more than needed for health and survival. This fact is reflected in the gradual, collective expansion of our butts as well as the general slide into obesity of every major, industrialized nation. The Grand Solution is for the country to eat less. Applied to an individual family, however, we are often confounded by the abundance around us.

Not so when you are cruising north of Nanaimo. Not only is there no abundance, there is no Taco Bell. At five bucks a bag, it’s easy to tell the kids they are not going to get chips and salsa between meals. When you face two to three weeks between provisioning stops, you account for every pound of fruit, every jar of jam, every package of crackers. There is a schedule to eat these foods and woe betide any crew member diving into Mom’s store of apple sauce before the appointed hour. The only things the crew are allowed in unlimited quantity are sun tea and leftovers.

* *
I am not advocating starving yourself. In fact, if you are a typical American, you need to spend more money on food, not less. What I do recommend is that you read Palen’s book, start shopping on the perimeter of the grocery store, and start making food a priority in your life. When you worry more about where the next meal is coming from, you take considerably better care to ensure that you get the highest quality at the lowest price into the familial tummy.

* Shout out to Rod, a friend from high school, who has actually taken the square foot gardening thing to a level which deserves respect, a longer look, and envy. I want his citrus. I did this square foot thing, BTW, in Philadelphia nearly 15 years ago with considerably less professionalism but pretty good results. His garden shows just how much you can get out of a really small space.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Experimental Community Building

I've been going back and forth on whether to install a comment aggregator and if so, which one. I've been looking at disq.us and Intense Debate. Today, we'll go with Intense Debate and see if this works for everyone. The idea is that those who comment regularly develop their own voice and audience. By aggregating comments, we can "own them". It let's you track an interesting commenter across multiple sites as well as find other places and topics to which they contribute.

For example, I'd enjoy blog stalking protectedstatic, singularity and Laureen as I generally find their comments insightful and/or amusing.

And if it doesn't work, I'll go back to the old way of doing things.

TechTip - Animated Photo Sets

This is not fancy, but I've been listening to too much TWiT. While I have unlimited Internet access, I can't help but play with some of the picks from MacBreak and net@nite. Today, I was messing around with Animoto. This is a quick way to make a professional video presentation out of a bunch of slides. The 30 second version is, IMHO, too short. Go for the longer format after you've had a chance to use it once or twice.


* Set up a separate flickr set before you log in to Animoto.

* Alternatively, use photos directly from your computer. You'll get higher resolution and a better final product.

* Get your own music. They have a lot of good stuff but I took forever picking one out and I still don't like it.

* Prepare to be sucked in like a vacuum for a few hours.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Two Months or Six Years

“It’s only been two months, but it feels like six,” Dr C mused this evening over a pint at the Pass N’Tyme in Alert Bay. “I don’t know what that means.”

I don’t either. He is correct, though. According to the calendar, we left Seattle merely eight weeks ago. Measured by how we feel, we’ve been out here for considerably longer. Our original plan to be out “a year or two, maybe three” due to financial obligations in the real world no longer seems far too short. If dog years are 1 to 7, cruising years must be at least 1 to 3. In Cruising Years (TM pending since I just made it up), thirty-six months is nine years. I’ll be old and grey by the time we run out of money. It’s an open question whether or not we’ll run out of fun.

More puzzling is why the incredible sense of time distortion. The girls estimate we have travelled for close to eight months. I peg it somewhere around four months. We all agree that the calendar is just wrong. As Aeron pointed out, we had “three days of summer, a week of fall, and it’s winter again so it must be a year. “ She refers, of course, to the fact that mid-July has brought us rain, winds of 15 to 30, and temperatures in the salon each morning in the tens (e.g. low 50’s). The water is once again between bone chilling and brain freeze, and we button down the covers every afternoon to convert our cockpit into a green house so that we can all spread out and enjoy the bright but attenuated evening sunlight.

Dr C’s theory is that each day is so different from the previous day we have no ability to group our days into bundles. He believes that the sheer repetitiveness of our working lives enabled us to lump our days into “Mon-Fri” and “Weekend” -- thereby mentally converting us to a two day week. Now, even though we usually have absolutely no clue which day of the week it is, we nevertheless have to think about each one as a unique individual with its own foibles, challenges, and personality.

Jaime’s theory is that our days are completely filled from top to bottom. “We’re always doing something. Our days are just so busy. Besides, when you look at a clock, it barely moves.” Again, I have no idea what that means. “It drives me crazy,” she continues. Her first reaction is that she feels we’ve been out here too long, “We don’t get enough civilization. When we’re at anchor, we can’t just go ashore. You have to drop the dingy, put the engine on, make sure you have a walkie talkie, yadda yadda. It’s a hassle.”

This is another truth to our lives up here. There are not enough people, not enough cruisers, no children. An entire Canadian province and we’ve seen -- quite literally -- half a dozen children. We have enjoyed the company of fellow cruisers three times in eight weeks.

We expected this isolation as we moved north of Port McNeill. Yet due to timing, location, or sheer stupidity, we’ve managed somehow to avoid every other boater in the northwest. For those who dream of isolation, privacy, and quiet anchorages, I have only one thing to say, “Go North.” You do not need to sail to some exotic destination in the South Pacific to get remote.

On further reflection, Jaime recants her desire to end the cruise. “I don’t want to go back yet. We see so much. We do so much more.” Lonely, cold, and pining for a few consecutive days of hot, unlimited showers, yes. But on the whole, we very much enjoy this life. We do so much more. I couldn’t tell you what exactly, but we do do quite a bit of it.

Yet Another Sunset
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
I am posting this because Behan told me to. I was actually going to save this picture to appropriately accompany some pithy commentary on jumping off the map. Never mind.

Note to sail boat owners: There are three essential photos you must have of your boat:

1) Everyone jumping off of it -- preferably kids but the whole family is good if you can get it;

2) Looking down from the mast;

3) Under sail;

All pose photographic challenges, but you are not a real sail boat owner till you have all three in hand. There is a certain type of sailor who feels that the "sexy hot babe with big tits and a cocktail" shot is also obligatory. I'm not one of them.

At least until I lose another 15 pounds.

Tied in Knots

Jaime Retrieving a Stern Tie
Jaime Retrieving a Stern Tie
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
“I’ll anchor. You take the stern tie line in the dinghy and loop it around that tree,” Dr C orders as we come into the tiny inlet near Hardy Island. He continued, “The girls can help with the anchoring.”

I don my life jacket, wrestle the dinghy off the davits and into the water, and transfer the million pounds of yellow stern tie strap into the wobbly boat. “Dinghy away!” I shout up to the helm as I push off and start frantically rowing towards shore.

The first phase of this project does not go well. Wind and tide grab the dinghy and send it winging at an angle completely orthogonal to the direction in which I want to go. I’ve never quite grasped rowing to begin with -- the notion of doing everything with my back to the direction in which I want to travel striking me as completely counter intuitive -- but even I can tell that the far shore is getting closer instead for farther away indicating negative progress towards my objective. I mentally gird my loins, dig in my heels, invent new cliches, and start vigorously rowing back towards the tree. I finally get into a rhythm and, with a brief lull in the breeze, make it to shore.

Getting up on shore to tie the line presents yet another challenge. The tide is out, the sheer wall of the inlet covered in barnacles, seaweed, and indescribably stinky goo. There is no place to tie the dinghy painter so I take it with me as I scrabble up the face of a large granite rock to the designated tree. Chafe protection in place, stern tie looped around the tree, I make a less than graceful descent back down to the dinghy only to find my home boat is gone. Don Quixote is miles away down the inlet anchoring in what appears to be the next county.

“Dean! DEAN!!!” My voice echoes off the canyon walls, unfortunately sounding like a panicked fish wife on market day when the ice man doesn’t show up. I clear my throat, take a deep breath, quell my fear, and try again, “Dr C!!” That was better. He leaves Mera and Jaime on the bow with the anchor to come back and see what I need.

Using hand gestures, I somehow make it clear that there is no way on earth I’m going to make it back to the boat with the stern line. For one thing, the stern line is only 300 feet long. At this point, Don Quixote is probably a half mile away. He points to another tree, closer to the boat but about 30 feet up the sheer wall of the inlet. A gecko lizard crossed with a star fish might make it up that cliff with a 100 feet of high quality line and a bosun’s chair. It was out of my skill set. Vigorously shaking my head and nearly knocking myself off the ledge, I communicate how little I think of this new plan.

Much heavy sighing takes place on Don Quixote. Much yelling at the girls to raise the anchor, much backing and forthing to get the boat positioned to haul up 200 feet of rode. The canyon reverberates to the rattling of the chain. I squat uncomfortably on a ledge near the tie. God only knows where he’ll have me go next. There’s no point getting settled.

Finally, DQ has her anchor firmly set in 60 feet of water not 100 feet perpendicular to my precarious perch. I get back in the dinghy and start to row back to the boat. This simple act proves impossible. I’m rowing against the wind, against the tide, trying to pay out 300 feet of soaking wet line from a tangled heap at my feet. The line keeps ensnaring the oars, and as it drops out of the boat, it takes on the weight and consistency of lead window glazing. One oar pops out of its mount, then the other. The wind grabs me, spins the boat around, and tangles the stern line in the end of the painter.

It is at this point, I completely lose it. I grab one recalcitrant oar and shout a four letter word which starts with F and inevitably makes a grown adult look like an utter idiot. To complete the picture, I bang the oar on the side of the dinghy a couple of times to emphasize my repeated and utterly heartfelt use of my chosen profanity. Just for good measure, I also stomp my feet. I might have stomped them twice. I don’t know. Dr C later tells me he had rarely more desired a video camera than at that moment. This comment does not earn him any nooky credit.

Temper released, I take a few deep breaths and start hauling and coiling the two ends of the stern line. With both ends properly stowed, I pause to catch my breath, orient the dinghy, and then row like a bat out of hell towards Don Quixote, the line gradually trailing out behind me. The effort required is asymptotic to my proximity to our catamaran. Each foot closer to our transom increases the rebounding drag of the stern line towards shore. In the last few feet, the girls and Dr C start chanting, “You can do it! You can do it! YOU CAN DO IT!” Frantic, I toss the painter at the boat, desperate to be hauled in the last few inches. With a lurch and a grab, they get the painter, only to see one end of the stern line unravel and go winging off the dinghy and whipping towards shore.

“Quick!” Dean shouts, “Go get it! Grab the end before it comes undone.” Jaime leaps into the dinghy, grabs one oar, and helps me send the dinghy shooting after the rapidly receding tail of line. We speed towards the tail, grab it up, and then with Jaime pulling us back to Don Quixote hand over hand, I hang on to the errant end with every fiber of my being. On our arrival, Dr C moves quickly to tie off both ends and gradually reduce the slack. When all is said and done, with the anchor snugged up on the bridle and the stern tie tightened from aft to tree, our transom is about 20 feet from the canyon wall. Wet and exhausted, Jaime and I collapse on the deck to admire our work, while the captain stands on the bow to evaluate the condition of our anchor and the lie of the boat.

Ten minutes go by. The wind, hard on our beam, yanks Don Quixote down into the inlet, eagerly tugging at the stern line and anchor. Dr C doesn’t come inside. This is never a good Anchoring Sign. Like an omen of impending doom, Dr C puts his life jacket back on. “This isn’t going to work.”

“No?” I ask. Jaime looks resigned.

Mera pipes up, “I didn’t feel comfortable with this wall near the back anyway.”

“No,” Dr C says, “We’re beam on and pulling the anchor out of position. We’ll drag.”

Silent Anchorage
Silent Anchorage
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
We couldn’t have thought of this before I put in a half hour of some of the most intense physical exercise of my life? Of course not. Today’s Cruising Lesson: Never use a stern tie to position the boat beam on to the wind. “Okay.” I release one end of the line and start hauling in the stern tie hand over hand. Fifteen minutes later we’re firmly anchored in the middle of the bay in 65 feet with a million feet of chain out and enough room to swing more than just our cat around.

From a limp heap in the cockpit, I inform the captain, “Next time, I’ll drive.”

Monday, July 14, 2008

Cooking Idea - Fish Chowder

After the Cooking
After the Cooking
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
The kids like to fish. Jaime in particular is into that whole “fishing thing” and routinely throws out a line and hook whenever we sit still long enough for her to do so. The problem with your children fishing is that they frequently catch stuff. The bigger problem is that they expect you -- the wonderful, loving, appreciative mother -- to then prepare and serve it. This is, after all, the point of the exercise.

However, anyone who has ever consumed a Pacific Northwest “mud fish” knows that the reason they are so named is that they taste precisely like the gunk from which they are pulled. Gunk is fantastic for anchors. You can drop a hook into the water and your boat will not drag in a 6 knot current or a 25 knot blow. However, once you pull a fish out of it, it is quite clear where it came from.

Inspired to find a way to consume these things without actually tasting them, I stumbled on the following recipe. You can use with any white fish from any source. It also works with shell fish, but if you’ve got shell fish you can probably do something better with it.

Fish Chowder
This hearty, white chowder feeds five plus a dish for leftovers. It's more like a stew than a soup. I suppose you could make it soupier by adding more milk and flour. It works in our pressure cooker doubled if for some reason you need to feed a horde -- or someone has caught a LOT of fish.

Dr C wants us to try it with olive oil instead of butter... maybe. I think I'd like it with bacon fat instead of butter. I'm evil that way. Every chowder recipe I've ever seen calls for bay leaves, but I don't have any. They wanted to charge me $15 for a jar of them in Friday Harbor... to which I told them what they could do with themselves.

1# white fish - any
1/3 cp flour
1 cube butter
1 onion diced
2 tsp chopped garlic (e.g. 2 or 3 cloves or a big heaping spoonful of the pre-chopped)
1 cp chopped celery
3 carrots shredded
1/2 cp chopped parsley (or dried equivalent)
3 tbs chopped fresh dill (or dried equivalent)
1 lg potato diced
1/2 bottle beer (I recommend an IPA or heffewiesen rather than anything dark or red)
2 chicken cubes
2 cps milk
Pepper to taste

Drag the fish in flour and brown in the bottom of your pressure cooker with a chunk of the butter. Remove and reserve fish. Brown onions and garlic in same pan with another chunk of butter. Throw in everything else, including any leftover flour and the rest of the butter, and give it a few turns of the spoon. Bring to a good hearty simmer then cap the cooker. Cook under pressure about 10 minutes (depends on your cooker but what you're after is cooked potatoes and celery). Serve with biscuits.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Get a Cat* - Underway

Let Me Explain
Let Me Explain
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Two men stand on a field of white. The one on the left is a handsome white man, about 50, distinguished, knowledgeable, and stylishly dressed for dinner at a seaside restaurant. He’s standing at an angle while trying with limited success to eat from a package of Cup-O-Noodles.

On the right is a much younger man, casually attired in Bermuda shorts, Crocs, an open T-shirt, and hailing from some mixed Pan-Pacific ancestry. He’s seated at a table with a glass of wine, a steaming bowl of what appears to be bouillabaisse, and a crusty loaf of bread.
A pleasant jingle plays unobtrusively in the background.

The younger man takes a sip and speaks first in a relaxed, cheerful tone of voice, “Hello, I’m a Catamaran.”

Monohull glances up and says wearily, “And I’m a Monohull.”

Catamaran addresses the audience, “Today, my friend Monohull and I have had a really nice sail down the coast. We left early this morning, but we are almost there. Good, strong winds and a bit of chop, but absolutely beautiful weather. I’ve been tacking a lot, but Monohull here has been having a great run pointed up into the wind. He’s made fantastic time!”

Monohull demurs, “Well, I don’t like to blast my own horn, but I do think I’ve made better time than you today. Just shows you, Catamaran, that you’re not as speedy as you thought, heh?”

Catamaran smiles and shakes his head in admiration, “You are so right, Monohull. This is your sea! You look great, sleek, fast!”

Monohull blushes and looks down, but clearly he’s rather proud of himself. “Well… you know… I am a trim vessel…” He pats his belly with a tired smile and allows, “It’s been a good day for both of us.”

Catamaran apparently agrees and stands, holding up his wine glass. “A toast to you, Monohull, for a well sailed trip!” The younger man is standing straight, throwing into sharp relief the slant of Monohull man. Catamaran looks full of energy and happy for his friend.

Monohull glances over, “A toast? What’s that?...” For the first time he notices Catamaran’s dinner, the elegant table setting, the steaming fragrant soup. He asks incredulously, “What are you eating?”

“Oh, we whipped up some soup from the shellfish we got at the market yesterday.” Catamaran glances at the table, then the glass in his hand. “Baked some bread, found a good bottle of Merlot in the starboard bow that I’d forgotten was there. I think we’ll make a crème brulee for dessert.” He turns his gaze to Monohull, “What are you having?”

Monohull glances at his Cup-O-Soup and then hurriedly hides it behind his back, “The same.”

Point of sail makes a difference. Catamarans do not point as high into the wind as monohulls. So depending on the wind direction, you can find yourself following a monohull all day long as you tack back and forth, or you can sail off on a downwind run at half again their speed but way out of your way. It is a rare day when you're lucky enough to turn the much ballyhoo'd speed differential of your multi-hull into an actual improvement in time to anchor.

Name That Mountain
Name That Mountain
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
However, a crucial difference in sailing a catamaran is that the double-hulls dramatically reduce heel. So no matter how good the sail or how long it takes you to get there, you've spent the day on a largely even surface. Just the lean alone on a fast moving monohull can exhaust the crew. Cooking on a swinging stove is dicey at best. Moving on the slanting deck can be tricky, slippery, and add to the fatigue. Soups and liquids are not happy at a 20 degree tilt either.

Ditching the rail on a leaner represents the height of sailing excitement, and at times we regret the loss of that exhilarating feeling of speed and movement. However, for the long haul, we prefer to arrive refreshed and ready to dance the night away at the local cantina.

* Author’s Note: All credit to the Get a Mac marketing team whose incredibly clever work inspired this series.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Swinging From Limb to Limb

We're pinned down by a nasty south easterly here in Heriot Bay, Quadra Island. If you're trying to find it, look about halfway up Vancouver Island where everything pinches towards the mainland and the water squeezes up to the top through a series of very narrow passages. We're swinging around like a kite in a wind storm -- which is precisely what we are so that seems an appropriate image. The winds are steady 20 gusting occasionally to 25. A few minutes ago Dr C crowed when the anemometer registered 30.

My mother looks nervous. For a land lubber, the rigging of a sailboat in 30 knots is a high pitched nasty whistle straight out of a nightmare generated by watching Perfect Storm and Master and Commander back to back. However, we've not only heard considerably louder and worse, we've sailed through it recently. For Dr C, the girls and I, the happiness comes from watching our Bruce anchor hold Don Quixote fixed relative to everyone else. We picked a spot to hunker down where the leeward shore is roughly two nautical miles away. Jaime and Dr C figure that with that long a run even idiots like us can't hit something before cottoning to the fact that we're dragging. We positioned the boat behind a low rise as close to shore as we could anchor with enough rode out to pin us to the ground through sheer weight alone. With no fetch in front of us, the ride is smooth even if it is noisy. If Mom's nervous now, it would be nigh impossible to get her to sit through a few days of bobbing up and down in chop with round the clock anchor watch.

Other than swinging back and forth and trying not to get bored stupid, there's nothing to do but wait it out. Going out around Cape Mudge is out of the question until this breaks. The fetch at Mudge stretches all the way down to Port Townsend in an unbroken channel of nearly 300 miles. The waves crossing yesterday were a bitch and that was before the Wind Fates had spent 36 hours stirring them up. I have this image of an Olympian toddler standing a thousand feet tall astride Halibut Bank paddling wind and waves north with every fiber of his being, a look of concentrated temper and frustration on his face. Fortunately, his mother -- in the form of two weakening lows north of us -- should show up late this evening and usher him to bed. By morning, we anticipate conditions will improve enough to make our long awaited provisioning stop on the docks in Campbell River.

Everything up here is considerably more challenging than we thought. From what I'm hearing in comments and personal letters, it is probably more challenging that anything Don Quixote will face cruising Central America this winter. The tide routinely swings 15 to 18 feet. What you think is open, deep water suitable for travel or anchor can six hours later reveal itself as a unfriendly landscape strewn with house sized boulders and encrusted with oysters and mussels. This tidal swing presents unique efforts to practice high school trigonometry as you calculate whether the rise over run between your anchor and the boat will result in your stern ending up 10 feet higher than your bow at low tide. Stern ties are ubiquitous since by the time you get close enough to shore for the depth sounder to actually get a reading (ours converts everything greater than 500 feet to 1.9 feet which is a bit disconcerting), you are practically picking pine needles out of your teeth.

Books and charts don't even bother to discuss a passage if the currents run less than four knots as so many around here top eight at peak. Many come with Sailing Direction descriptions that turn the blood absolutely cold. The words "overfall" and "whirlpool" scare me spitless. Rocks abound everywhere -- charted and uncharted -- and bow watch as you pass through narrow spots and near shoals are absolutely mandatory. Services are few and far between, Internet connectivity even more rare, and except in the notable Desolation Sound areas, the water is really cold, thank you very much.

On the other hand, the scenario is stunning. High snow capped mountains, fresh water mountain lakes, and wildlife everywhere create a landscape that routinely takes the breath away. The stars are vivid and bright, the air clean, and on windless nights the anchorage is so quiet you can hear the blood move behind your eye balls. The girls are thriving, turning into little brown balls of organically fed goodness despite every effort on the part of their father to keep them slathered in sun screen. We're all growing leaner and stronger, smarter and calmer. My waistband is getting looser, Dr C's beard is getting longer, and our school morning routine is becoming a smooth transition from one state to another rather than an abrupt, unhappy context switch. My mother caught me reading non-fiction books to prepare me for my "job" as a cruiser; she caught my husband reading Harry Potter. This role reversal is so profound it rendered her momentarily mute. And while Jaime and I are not friendly, we are gradually learning how to live and work together. She even made me a hemp bracelet, her way of saying I’m not a total monster.

We are through the honeymoon period of cruising and well into the zone between vacation and lifestyle. While we no longer have the sensation that we are on an oddly extended holiday, we are not as yet fully adapted to cruising life. The planned stay in Seattle, for example, looms large in our collective conscious as a visit home rather than just one more provisioning stop on a series that stretches in time out to infinity.

In the next six weeks, we'll confront of the most difficult water we'll face during our entire first year as we run from Campbell River to Port McNeil and from there over the top and around Cape Scott. If we survive the wind, current, waves, weather, and each other, we will have earned our vacation in Mexico.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Liveaboard vs. Cruiser

At Least We're Warm
At Least We're Warm
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Jim Trefethen, author of The Cruising Life: A Common Sense Guide for the Would Be Voyager, argues that you should probably not live aboard your boat before you go cruising. His argument is based on the notion that living aboard a boat is very different from cruising on a boat. He feels that the difference is so dramatic that the first does not prepare you for the second. Moreover, he argues that you might be deceived by your live aboard life into thinking you can be a cruiser.

Jim and I are going to have to agree to disagree on that second bit. While I agree wholeheartedly that the live aboard lifestyle differs dramatically from the cruising life, I am convinced that our time aboard Don Quixote prior to departure was key to our transition to cruising.

Before I explain why a popular author with one of the better cruising books out there is wrong and I -- a complete novice and dilettante -- am right, it might help to elucidate some of the key differences between these two, superficially identical ways of life. A live aboard is someone who lives on a boat but who otherwise lives an essentially “normal” mainstream life. Her boat is probably tied to a dock near a large town or city. He goes to work five days a week, probably commuting via bus or car. Liveaboards shop at the grocery, go to the movies, and check out the opposite sex at the local bar just like folks who live in houses.

A key to being a liveaboard is that the boat is tied up, often semi-permanently. Many liveaboard craft are directly plugged into power, water, and sewer systems. Showers are readily available on the boat or at shore-side facilities, and the trash is regularly picked up from the shared shore-side dumpsters.

The Pacific Northwest is a haven for liveaboards. Other locations with many live aboards include Florida, the Great Lakes, and any place where good marinas, high land prices, and a love of boating exist.

Cruisers, on the other hand, do not hold regular jobs. They may make money, but it’s definitely in a more ill-defined, contract sort of way. The boat is rarely tied to anything for more than a month. Their homeport is a distant memory. They have no regular phone service, Internet access, power, water, or trash. They definitely do not own a car. Cruisers are highly independent drifters who have managed to drift with their homes. Entertainment comes in the form of the company of fellow cruisers, books, saved movies, and contemplation of the navel.

And when you write it all out like that, you can understand where John is coming from. Basically, he’s pointing out the obvious. Liveaboards are regular folk with weird houses. I’ve lived in weird places before -- big houses converted into 15 “student apartments”, a remodeled backyard shed, the basement. Arguably, living on a boat does not prepare you to cruise. The car and job alone make the liveaboard life completely different from cruising.

However, John is in my opinion discounting the utter weirdness of living on a boat -- what distinguishes it from any other form of odd housing. This is probably because he’s done it for nearly two decades. I think he’s forgotten just how difficult it is to move on to a boat.

A boat is small. It’s wet. It smells a lot. The stove sucks, the oven is worse, and for some damn reason the entire marine industry hasn’t come up with a way to make a comfortable bed that doesn’t rot. The refrigerator is 4 feet tall, 2.5 ft wide and 15 feet deep. Sounds carry in the water, on the water, through the hull. You can hear your children breathe at night from 20 feet away, inspiring the invention of an entirely new form of sexual pleasure based on the principle of absolute and utter silence.

Most of all, the boat -- she moves! Even at a dock, your boat home moves. Little moves add up to chafe. You hear stories all the time of liveaboards pulling out their “best wear” which had hung for a year in a hanging locker only to find that those small movements added up to literally wearing the shoulders out of their jackets. It takes awhile to learn how to pack so things won’t chafe, filter out all the little sounds of water on hull and items clanking to identify those you really need to hear, and sleep even when the boat is rocking back and forth and the mast is singing in the wind.

So Wannabe Cruisers, go ahead and live on your boat at the dock for a few months or even a year before you head out. You will learn a great deal about what you can do and what you like about living on the boat while you still have an opportunity to change it up. You’ll get a chance to hit up Ikea for floor mats and storage boxes, Costco for bedding, and Target for bathroom accessories. Then by the time you cut the lines, all you’ll need to sort is how to live on only 400 amps of power for a week.
Sunset in Smuggler's Cove
Sunset in Smuggler's Cove
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.