Monday, June 28, 2010

Inspiration Strikes

Aeron and Stephanie
Aeron and Stephanie"
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
"What are you doing?" mumbles my husband as I leap out of bed. It's the middle of the night. It's cold. I mean it's really cold. He doesn't sound happy, I must have accidentally lifted a gap in the covers.

"Just thought of something," I reply as I rush into anything, any item of clothing that will prevent my small parts from going numb as I make my way to the bathroom.

What my thought consisted of is: I need to go potty. You'd think after twenty years of marriage, I could simply say to my spouse, "I gotta piss like a racehorse." And that would be that. However indelicate that phrase might be, it would have the benefit of being the truth, not to mention striking the right note of desperation.

It takes desperation to pee in the middle of the night at Chicken House. The house is stygian and a breeze ripples down the long uncarpeted hallway as I pad my way towards the back of the house. Even more than the lack of appliances or basic climatic amenties, I find myself routinely flummoxed by the hardware in our rental quarters; For some inexplicable reason, the Kiwi builders of a century ago thought it reasonable to retrofit the house with light switches at about eye level scattered randomly around the house. All the door handles are also at this odd height. I can't find a light. I can't find a door knob. I just bump around in the night like a zombie in a B-grade movie. Before I find the bathroom, I hear Jaime's bed squeaking against the wall and a murmur from my youngest.

Having roused the house with my antics, I now treat them to the pleasant sounds of water plashing into the echoing hollow pit which is the toilet. The cacophony is rendered particularly acute for several reasons. First, Chicken House possesses neither curtains nor carpet while the roof is made of tin. Every familial twitch and twitter bounces around within the kettledrum confines of the hallway and reverberates off the cardboard walls.

The second reason my tinkle resounds like a flash flood through an Arizona arroyo is that I have learned not to put my ass on the toilet seat in the middle of the night. Ceramic, it appears, can actually drop below the freezing temperature of water. Placing warmed butt cheeks on the lid surface results in profound numbness and red ring on the skin that can take hours to fade. So during the night, my privates hang roughly 3 feet above the water level assuring the highest possible volume of sound and splash. It is my hope this tactic will thus avoid a fecal, gluteus toasticus scenario similar to sticking my tongue on a frozen lamp pole.

The third problem is of course that my bladder is full. It is so full that I have been driven from fleece and husband-filled warmth into the dark, frigid night knowing full well that I'm bound to quite literally freeze my ass off. There is a chill, damp wind blowing through the cracks in the window behind me, down the back of my neck, and pooling in a swirling mist at my feet as the torrent goes on and on and on. Long enough that I hear Mera's voice call out in concern, "Mom?! Are you okay?"

Um. A nice little muscle twitch and a frantic attempt to deal with paper, lids, and jammies without making contact with any surface in the bathroom including myself, "Uh… yeah… yeah…" Just what I need. A solicitous pre-teen banging around in the dark with me. "I'm just … cleaning the bathtub!" She must not actually have been awake as silence greets my announcement.

Fumbling around in the dark, I decide that hygiene be damned, I'm going back to bed without numbing my hands under freezing water rubbing a chunk of frozen Ivory fruitlessly between my palms. No self-respecting bacteria could survive the Arctic conditions in Chicken House in any case. Rebounding off the wall a couple of times, I make my way back to my bed, kick off my slippers, and huddle shuddering under the covers.

DrC obligingly curls around me, generously donating unequivocal love and manly warmth to the effort of thawing me out. "Cleaning the bathtub? Is that the new hiking the Appalachian trail?" He sounds hopeful.

"If it wasn't before, it is now…"
On My Walk
On My Walk
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Matter of Perspective

We Contemplate the Entrance
We Contemplate the Entrance"
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
A classical education familiarizes the attentive student with the geographical distortions inherent in all maps of our beautiful Earth which are not projected on to a spinning globe. The most famous, of course, is the distortion of the Mercator projection map model wherein Greenland looks like it could swallow North America while Europe looks like it could fit into Washington state. I’m not really much more impressed with the Gall-Peters projection which makes the globe look like it’s having a really sad, depressing and long faced day… though I’ll grant you the relative sizes of the continents are an improvement.

It turns out that there are all sorts of map models. There is one that breaks the world into a bunch of equilateral triangles and one that stretches the poles lengthwise causing Central America to curve around and South America to look like it’s about nine months pregnant.

Yet, what really strikes me about all these maps is how consistently cartographers cut the world right through the Pacific. Map makers declare, “Look! A place we can slit the globe open and smear it flat without chopping any countries in half!” However, I suspect their subconscious is probably noting, “Holy frickin’ hell that’s a big ocean. Let’s just chop it into chunks and hope no one notices.” Because no matter which projection you use, no matter how you cut the world up, the Pacific is just a great big bloody ocean taking up roughly half the planet.

A little noted side-effect of this tendency to cut the Pacific in half is that you end up either chopping New Zealand in half as or losing a chunk of it in the cropping at the edge of the page or somehow failing to include it whatsoever. The result is that most northern hemispherians tend to think of New Zealand as an island off the coast of Australia. Hell, most Americans – who frequently are incapable of naming all 50 states let alone their capitals – don’t even recognize that New Zealand is a separate country. So when I flew from Australia to New Zealand the first time, I was dismayed and surprised to learn that the trip was going to take hours. Many hours and two time zones.

Cartagraphic epiphany number one: New Zealand is a very long way from Australia.

The corollary to this discovery, of course, is a reinforcement of the first argument, “Holy frickin’ hell the Pacific is a big ocean.” I dwell on this quite a bit as my husband blithely reassures me that we’re ready to sail across it next Spring, citing our good friends Hipnautical and Totem and Sea Level as proof that it can be done. Tisk tisk, DrC. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should! It’s a really long way. Have you looked at a map recently?

But that brings us to cartographic epiphany number two: The Pacific is full of crap.

That’s both a literal and a figurative discovery, mind you. Studying oceans and marine biology with the girls, we are learning more and more depressing stuff about just how much garbage is floating around in the Pacific. There is an island of plastic larger than the state of Texas just swirling around out there waiting for the human species to come to its senses. Fortunately for mariners, it turns out this Trash Island is not a hazard to navigation for the average cruiser on the Coconut Milk Run. There are far more solid and fixed objects to worry about, however. Islands and muotos and all kinds of rocks in the middle of absolutely nowhere just ready to reach up and grab your keel. The big empty blue bits on the edge of your map are chock o’block full of ridges and mountains and plateaus and atolls. An hour with Google Earth in those blank blue bits zoomed down to about commercial airline height is quite an eye opener.

But then in Google Earth I ran into cartographic epiphany number three, which quite literally rocked my world: There is no up.

The thing is that history is written by the winners and so all human history – and hence all the maps – have been written by a bunch of northern hemispherians. Somewhere along the lines someone decided that the North pole is up, and the South pole is down. Quite literally everything flows from that assumption. But what if the cradle of human civilization had been in Australia? What if we started from islands in the middle of the Pacific? What if life actually began in Africa?... wait… it did. Um… Okay, so what if the Africans had actually been asked how they wanted to draw the map? What if South were up, and the planets actually revolved around the sun clockwise?

Serious Business
Serious Business"
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
It is. They do.

Turns out you can flip the world upside. You can invert the entire solar system, in fact, and nothing changes but our perspective. New Zealand and Australia are in the top hemisphere, it’s Winter Solstice today, and sometime next spring we’re going to sail the boat all the way up here. It’ll be a long haul uphill against parental opposition and societal expectation. But when we arrive, we’ll be at the top of the world.

* * *

Editor's Note: I want to thank friend and reader SteveF for posting a link in the comments to this fabulous web site on upside down maps: The article is full of fascinating information on the relative and culturally specific nature of maps and includes images of many variations. I'm embedding my personal favorite which is both upside down and does NOT cut the Pacific in half. Thank you SteveF!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Guest Post: Just A Minute Needs Parts

Boat Kids!
Boat Kids!"
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
INTRODUCTION: s/v Just A Minute is a sister ship Lagoon 380. In fact, she was built the same year, just two hulls down. We stumbled on s/v Just A Minute two winters ago in the Sea of Cortez at Isla San Francisco's seaside anchorage. After a pleasant breakfast, they pulled the hook and ran away. This either indicated that they were new to cruising or that s/v Don Quixote terrified them. Probably both. After over a year kicking around in Mexican waters, however, they've settled into an enviable cruising rhythm. In addition to sharing boat geekery and Lagoon 380 tips, we share cruising-with-kids notes as JaM is another kid boat. The girls speak very highly of 12 year old Jack who is growing like an absolute weed into a handsome young man. Recently, Cap'n Patrick contacted us regarding replacing a broken rudder cable. We told him what we knew and then he ventured off into the Mexican countryside to replace it. This is his story.

Jack and I went into FerreMar in Loreto, and they had a decent assortment of small cables. They told us to try another place down the dirt road pass the cow on the right just before the river. So we did.

After finding a semi trailer with an old Mercury sign hanging on it all locked up, I went around back through the goats, chickens and dogs and found a very nice lady doing her laundry. Have you ever noticed how some Mexicans don't speak English a lot worse than others? Well, we spent the next half hour convincing this nice lady doing laundry to let us into the trailer.

It was very hot inside the trailer but Jack and I found piles of cables to dig through. All too small. After another half hour and I was ready to give up when a Mexican man came in and started talking to the lady as if we were not there. He started digging through the cables as well. It was all very strange.

He finally looked at me and in perfect English said, "How long is it?".

I said, "28 feet."

He replied, "Oh, I have one of those." He then marched passed me out the door.

We followed him around back passed the goats and chickens into the mercury grave yard and then into a large shop with brand new shrink wrapped Mercury 200 outboards lying on pallets and lots of other boat stuff. He reached up on the wall and took down a gray cable and handed it to me. Volvo Penta 28' stamped on the side of it. Used, but for 200 pesos I couldn't pass it up!

You can literally get anything in Mexico. At the risk of repeating something I've said in this blog about a berzillion times, if you plan to cruise Mexico, then just get the boat seaworthy enough to get it down there. Then park in La Paz until your boat is cruiser ready. My overwhelming impression of La Paz after my brief 4 day whirlwind return is that Mexico is a wonderful place to provision, and Mexicans are fantastically helpful people.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Editor's Note: The Toast Floats Plan

The long trip to the States is over, but my back has yet to recover. Part of my time was spent with folks who had tremendously good suggestions on where to go with Toast Floats over the next year or two. Part of it was spent finding Real Work (tm) which might distract me from implementing all those suggestions. However, the support from readers, friends and family was strong, steady and encouraging. I'd like to go back to the more optimistic, positive mood that characterized the first two years as well as completely revamp the look, combining the web site with the blog. Work work work.

So for the next few weeks, the content may be thin as I concentrate on look and feel. Fortunately, I have friends all over the world who are writing some truly fantastic content. My plan is to introduce you to these people and their adventures (a rather lazy way of saying I'm not going to write my own new stuff) then get back under full sail with my own writing mid-winter (that's July to you Northerners). Let me know if you have any suggestions as I'm open to all ideas at this point.