Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It Gets Boring

No, I'm Border
No, I'm Border
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Research research research. Write write write. As the post on ditch kits a week ago ably demonstrated, our focus is narrowing down on preparing for the Puddle Jump. I can not stress strongly enough to my non-cruising friends and family how very much DrC and I are aware that we are "taking it to the next level." It's a big ocean. Some bits of the trip are ugly. We get it.

We really really get it. So much so that we've doing some pretty heavy research on topics we've largely been able to fudge in the past when we were traveling along the coast line. Granted, certain planning myopia was just stupid (e.g. pathetic ditch kits), but a lot of it was simply unnecessary. For example, why worry about climbing the mast to keep a reef and coral head watch when there are neither reefs nor coral heads?

The results of our research are interesting to another set of the readership of this blog, our fellow cruisers. Many of them are providing the raw data that inform my posts while others are preparing for their own cruises. A very special few are getting ready to Puddle Jump with us next year and will no doubt be reassured that Don Quixote is planning on taking care of herself. Mostly.

So anticipate the periodic posting of incredibly dull articles. The next one in the queue, for example, is on the exciting topic of registering beacons for international search and rescue services. Try not to fall asleep... or better just delete it in bound. I'll tag all these as "Coconut Milk Run" and "techtip" if you want to do some agressive filtering.

Cruisers, all of these technical articles BEG for your input. I may Write Confident (which is somehow analogous to the infamous "Fly Casual"), but DrC and I are fully aware we are missing bits. We received some very useful input on the ditch kit post. Keep the outstanding information coming! We need it, we appreciate it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Dance Class at the Civic Centre

Go Away
Go Away
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Her hands frame her face then glide two inches over her breasts and then her butt, "Crown, beautiful, beautiful." This graceful movement is made to the somewhat Arabic sounding rhythm blasting from a boom box at the front of the room.

I'm in bellydancing class.

My attempt to mimic the movement is not nearly so graceful, though I like to think it's improved since my first effort at this step. It's been 7 weeks, and I have just about reached the point where I can move my hips completely independently of my shoulders. My shimmy no longer looks like a palsied octogenarian trying to get her pants down to go potty. And I've definitely figured out how to make my boobs jump up without moving my knees. You'd be surprised how resistant the boobs and the knees are to disassociating their movements.

I don't think it is possible to imagine a group of women more unlikely to bellydance. We are none of us spring chickens. We range from clearly overweight to just merely pie-laden, and the majority are dressed in loose shirts and forgiving dark sweat pants. There are no real dancers present. We're just a bunch of worker-bees, office drones, mothers and grandmothers.

Yet, our instructor Angie somehow makes this motley crowd beautiful. It's not that she is particularly stunning herself. She isn't. She's a tall, rather average looking woman with no lean figure herself. What saves Angie is that she knows how to move. Moreover, when she moves she believes she is beautiful, and it shows in very gesture and step.

It's incredibly inspiring.

I want to move like that, look like that. More importantly perhaps is that I want to feel like that. I want to lift my head and arms and glide around in the Princess walk like I own this room. I'd like to shimmy so that everything jiggles and gain the discrete control over the muscles in my core that enables a bellydancer to push her nipples straight at you without curving her back or poking out her butt. In short, I want to feel sexy.

DrC believes that bellydancing is a specifically female dance. Unlike ballet or jazz or ballroom, there is no room for the male physique or macho sensibility here in bellydancing world. Every pose and combination appears specifically designed to highlight the beauty of the female form, feminine movement.

What I should have known and seems blindingly obvious to me now is that beautiful, sexy women are made, not born. Take a slightly overweight former cruiser and teach her how to rotate her hips just so, lift the chin, tuck in the butt, smoothly jiggle, shimmy and quiver, and you've got something special. And it doesn't really matter whether or not you, the onlooker, agree with me that I am a beautiful sexy goddess. All that matters is I feel wonderful and beautiful when I hear the bangles on my skirt clash and see the fringe swirl as I turn. I feel special.

During this epiphany, Angie has moved on. We are now strutting around in a large circle, shoulders thrusting aggressively forward in a Goddess Walk -- unlike the pretty, sly and delicate Princess glide, this is a power move. We hold our heads high, breasts up, toe-heel, arms gracefully extended holding imaginary golden eggs. My egg is made of crystal, and there is a glowing green jewel in the center.

Of course it is. If I want to be a jewel toting Goddess in my mind, well that's precisely what I am. It's my imagination. Look at me strut!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Preparing for Disaster

Captain Potential
Captain Potential
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
“Opinions are like -holes; Everyone has one. Unfortunately, not so true of ditch kits.” – Toast in a really bad mood after reading a million and one forum entries on the subject

If you are like most cruising sailors, you've made a completely half-assed job of putting together a ditch kit. I believe that the reason most of us do not have really good, well thought out ditch bags is that we are in a collective state of denial. After all, you are not going to need it. Like making a will, a ditch kit acknowledges mortality, puts straight in your face the depressing fact that life is fleeting and boats are friable.

And I confess, while we travelled the coasts of Canada, the United States, and Mexico, our ditch kit was pathetic. Oh we had one... at least we weren't that bad. However, it is true that the kit was neither well thought out nor was it particularly accessible. Had we needed to abandon ship, it is not clear to me that anything about that kit would have saved our lives. We also suffer from the fact-based, catamaran delusion that our boat won't sink. Another interesting trade off in the monohull/multihull debate is that catamarans are considerably less likely to sink to the bottom of the ocean. Most have positive flotation and are even more stable upside-down than right-side up. The situations in which it makes sense to abandon a catamaran rather than just attach yourself to it and ride out whatever broke the boat in the first place are limited to two: your vessel interacts with something super hard that breaks the entire thing into its constituent parts (e.g. a reef or cargo container) or the boat is on fire.

But those two catastrophes can and do happen to catamarans just as they do to multihulls, and it is a foolish crew who does not prepare for the ditch scenario. Even coastal cruisers are not safe from the need to have an emergency ditch plan. Witness the terrible events of the Baja Ha Ha 2009 during which a boat literally swept down the front of a wave and landed on a whale. The whale didn't like it, and the boat sank 5 minutes later. Sank. No more boat. Really. SANK.

This time, the crew of Don Quixote plans to go out with a well-thought out, easily accessible ditch kit and an emergency plan. There is the “abandon ship” option, and there is the far more likely “foundered and/or upside-down” option. We need to have equipment, survival gear, and communications systems figured out in advance. Over the years, we have individually read many accounts of emergency situations and preparedness plans. We have all sorts of ideas. I also made a foray on the Internet to see what the hive mind recommends. Two hours later, my head hurts, my stomach is growling, and I feel considerably less informed than when I started.

One quote that really made me think I found on Boatsafe.com: “While it may come as a surprise to some, by now most boaters realize that the survival equipment stocked in most life rafts, even rafts designed to meet SOLAS requirements, is often inadequate, sometimes woefully so. In many cases not only is the selection and quantity a problem, but the quality of the equipment and supplies is also less than desirable.” Wonderful. So right out of the gate, let us assume that we all need to build a survival bag, even if the boat is equipped with a “fully stocked” life raft. Also, there is duplication between what goes in a ditch kit, and equipment you need to have on the boat ready for regular use. For example, you need to have a handheld VHF and life jackets... but you use these all the time. Part of the “ditch kit” strategy needs to be a plan to gather these disparate bits and get them off the vessel with the crew.

Before I launch into the specifics, my personal editorial team for practical posts like this of s/v Totem and s/v Third Day came back with some questions I'd like to preemptively address:

Are you going to have a life raft or use your dingy as a life raft?”

This is going to probably generate angst, anger, and F.U.D. We are not going with a life raft. I don't think I've ever said this about a blog entry before but... please don't comment on this particular choice (all other comments still welcome!). You'll stir a raging debate that is likely to spiral downward quickly and irrevocably. All I am going to say is that we came to this decision not for financial reasons. Mr. Salty of s/v Totem reminded us to get our survival suits in order. I like to think we would have thought of that eventually, but full credit to our far more experienced friend for getting us moving early on the issue.

“Why would you even bother with a ditch kit if you don't have a life raft? Is it that much more helpful when you're sitting on an upside down hull?”

Yes, it is that much more helpful if you are upside down. In a turtle situation, everything you own is upside down, tossed like hell's breakfast, and mostly in water destroyed – particularly food stores and fresh water. However, if you have a ditch kit, you have all your emergency gear in a single place (accessible from either the topside or when inverted), it is in a dry bag, and it can be taken as a unit outside the boat if you plan to shelter between the hulls on the trampoline for all or part of the time.

As usual, the place that had the best, cleanest, and easiest to understand list was found on Wikipedia. From this and reading a dog-awful number of bickering forum posts, we've decided on the following:

Dedicated Kit – We will prepare a large dry bag with the following dedicated items. This kit will be stored either in the helm locker or in the aft, moulded inset between the transoms. Both areas are highly accessible when the boat is overturned or from a floating craft next to the boat. What goes in the dedicated kit:
- Survival suits
- Small emergency medical kit
- Compass
- Flares, mirror, and smoke signal
- Solar powered AM/FM radio
- Emergency high-calorie rations and/or hard bread
- Fishing kit
- Rainwater collection equipment
- Seawater desalination kit
- Water
- Hatchet and knife
- Waterproof flashlight
- Heaving line
- Rope ladder
- Small sea anchor
- Bailer
- Manual bilge pump
- Bucket
- Water proof matches
- Marine whistle
- Zinc oxide
- Tarp
- Deck of cards
- Paper and water proof pencil (log book)
- Copies of passports, visas, and boat paperwork
- Secondary credit card (the one we don't normally use but is a valid account)

Stored at Navigation Station/Helm – The items that must come with us if we ditch that we use regularly are going to be stored at the helm, in the helm locker or at the navigation table.
- Life jackets
- SPOT personal messenger (Yes, I know it doesn't work in the middle of the Pacific.)
- Flares
- Solar powered lantern (We use this as a boom, anchor-light. If you don't, put it in the dedicated kit).
- VHF handheld
- GPS handheld
- Boat hook
- Celestial navigation equipment
- 2 5-gallon water jugs
- Doctor's medical bag

Emergency Plan – We have been very successful training the Don Quixote crew on emergency roles. Depending on the type of emergency, each person has a specific series of tasks. If someone is unavailable for their assignment, we know who is to take their place. For example, when there is a Man Overboard, Aeron's responsibility is to stand on the deck and point to the victim, never ever taking her eyes off the victim. She might be the only reason we are able to back track and find someone who has gone overboard. If she -is- the victim or otherwise unavailable, Mera takes her place... and so on. We will develop “Abandon Ship” and “Pitch Poled” assignments and responsibilities and then regularly drill the crew as we have historically done for MOB, fire, and navigational hazard emergencies.

From the Bottom Up
From the Bottom Up
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Lamintated Checklists – From s/v Capaz, we learned of the wonders of lamination. They make checklists, inventories, and radio scripts, laminate these instruction cards and place them near the radio and in emergency kits. This is brilliant and deserves an entire, well thought out article of its own that I'll tackle next week. For now, it's just on my list to review the Capaz list, update for Don Quixote needs, and include in the ditch kit(s).

Ditch Kits Plural – Another by-product of research was the notion of individual kits. These are small dry bags with individual water and food, emergency gear, and personal items. The hall mark of several survival accounts I've read is an individual escaping a sinking vessel where other crew and the principle ditch kit and/or life raft is lost, but the individual had their own, much smaller bag of gear which prove instrumental in their own survival.

* * *

Additions, suggestions, and deletions welcome! What do you have in your ditch kit?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

You Are Such a Druggie

You Little Devil
You Little Devil
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
I suspect the following dialogue between myself and the attendant at the local Liddil's will only make sense to a Kiwi.

* * *

Toast: Is this a drug store?

Man (indignant): No. Absolutely not. It's a chemist.

Toast (looking around at the makeup,vitamins, over the counter pharmaceuticals, not to mention the busy professionals bottling pills behind the counter): Hunh. Okay. Chemist. Right. A new word. Got any hydrogen peroxide?

Man (even more indignant): No. It's illegal.

Toast (startled): Really? You're kidding. Why?

Man: It is a key component in making drugs.

Toast: Wow. I didn't know that. We use it for road rash.

Man: Road rash? Is that a drug?

Toast (laughs): Uh no. You know... a scrape, like rubbing your knee on a road.

Man (looking a bit relieved): Ah.... no. No … road... rash... We do have plasters.

Toast: Huh? For walls?

Man: No. For wounds.

Toast: Plasters. Okay. So no hydrogen peroxide. How about sudafed?

Man: Sue duh fed? What's that?

Toast: Pseudoephedrine.

Man (immediately returning to state of offense and suspicion): Do you make pee?

Toast: Of course I make pee. All the plumbing works fine. What does that have to do with it?

Man (moving to push some magic button behind the counter): No pee. PEE! The drug?

Toast: People take pee? What?! What on earth does this have to do with my cold?

Man: A cold?

Toast: Well... yes. Why else would I need pseudoephedrine?

Man (now equally confused): To make pee?

Toast: It's a diuretic? I didn't know that! No, I just need to clear up my sinuses. I've got a cold. Need a decongestant. I usually take either pseudoephedrine or guaifenesin.

Toast Explaining the FSM
Toast Explaining the FSM
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Man (enlightened and reaching behind the counter for a package): Oooohh! Of course! We have that in combination. Here you go.

Toast (reads the package and gasps): Fenfen! Holy cow! This stuff is illegal!

Man (baffled): Why?

Toast: Teenage girls OD on this stuff, pop it like candy as a diet drug. Hot damn! How much will you sell me? Fantastic for colds.

Man (reluctantly): Well... it's available over the counter, but we have to be sure you aren't using it to make pee...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Burning Guy

Guy Fawkes Day
Guy Fawkes Day
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
It turns out that one reason Halloween in New Zealand is so unsuccessful is that it immediately proceeds a far more important annual ritual: Guy Fawkes Day. If you are like me – an ignorant, unlettered American – you have probably never heard of Guy Fawkes. Or maybe you have, though in passing as you tried to decipher the messaging of that oddly fascinating Wachoswki movie V for Vendetta.
“Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.”
Apparently, it's not just the poet...no one knows a reason to forget this event. Certainly not the British or any of the residents of their commonwealth countries. Even after watching V for Vendetta – maybe because of that movie – it wasn't clear to me that Guy was The First Guy... the Guy who created the word 'guy.' Nor was it clear to me that he attempted to blow up the British Parliament in 1605. And it absolutely never occurred to my historically shallow American sensibilities that the English would still be blowing stuff up over four hundred years later to commemorate the thwarting of the Gun Powder Plot. Yes, as baffling as it seems, the English are still so pissed off at Guy, that they have been burning him in effigy for four centuries. Talk about holding a grudge.

It's obvious why Kiwi's celebrate this holiday; It's a great excuse to drink a lot and blow shit up. Falling as it does at the beginning of the summer season, it's the ideal opportunity to kick off the holidays and the start of tramping season, vacations, and the pending consumptive Christmas extravaganza... with a bang, as it were. Everyone troops off to the nearest park or stadium at about five in the evening armed with chilly-bins, pavlovas, piss, lollies, sizzlers, and pies, children, chairs and grandparents. Some even haul out a couch. Then everyone nibbles and sips for hours while the bands play, the singers sing, the dancers dance, the kapa haka groups stomp and pound and the teenagers strut their teenage stuff. At dark, the stadium lights are doused and the fireworks begin.

Sunny Girls
Sunny Girls
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
New Zealanders see no reason to burn Guy, though. At least we didn't see a bonfire in Pukekohe. We spent the holiday this year with an Irish history teacher who was full of all sorts of interesting quotes and historical trivia. He noted that in his home country, bonfires are pretty much an essential component of the Guy Fawkes Holiday celebrations. But then again, unlike New Zealand, it is cold in the U.K. on November 5. Standing around the bonfire prevents spectators from freezing to death while waiting for the fireworks. Apparently, the tradition of burning a guy has been expanded in the U.K. to include the burning of just about any disliked public figure. There's a great quote in Wikipedia: “Effigies of other notable figures who have become targets for the public's ire, such as Paul Kruger and Margaret Thatcher, have also found their way onto the bonfires.” I admit to being highly tempted by the opportunity to burn in effigy a few public figures that have earned my own personal animus during the past year.

After the fireworks were over, slightly sunburnt, stuffed with food and good company, we trooped over to our friends' house and got quietly soused while the kids played Wii. The entire experience was like a Fourth of July celebration without the jingoism and Sousa marches and the addition of a haka and a rugby team autographing posters in the in-field. Just a word of advice to Americans moving to the antipodes – buy your fireworks in November if you plan on celebrating the “real fourth.” They don't sell them here in the winter.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Not Charlotte

Spider Solitaire
Spider Solitaire
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
It started months ago. A small spider took up residence in the corner of the kitchen window next to the stove. I don't know why we didn't remove it. DrC didn't, the girls would never think to do so, and I just shrugged and probably thought it was someone else's (e.g. the Man's) problem. Even small, she was very black and very spider-like.

I can pinpoint the date that I decided I liked her and wanted to keep her. It was the morning I was standing semi-comatose, warming my hands over the stove as the espresso brewed and noted that she had caught three ants in the night. Any ally in our ongoing war against the Chicken House Ants is welcome. I poured myself a latte, toasted the newest member of the family, and went to work.

This is not the first time the Conger clan has hosted a spider. We used to watch with fascination as spiders would build elaborate webs between the newell posts on the front porch of our West Seattle home. The dew would dust these complicated constructions and provide an endless source of fractal entertainment throughout the fall. The side yard played host on multiple occasions to the million scattered mobile flying dots of spider egg bursts. Every single spider invasion – whether in the lifelines in Canada or in the plants on the dining room table in Philadelphia – has been a source of pleasure, interest, and education for my husband, myself, and now our children.

Honestly, the only spider scare we've ever experienced was a truly notable and hysterically funny encounter between Jaime and a 13 cm spider in the Karangahake Gorge a few months go. I can't remember the last time the entire family laughed so hard as when Jaime came bursting out of that cave screaming and kareening down the trail at high speed with her hair on fire. Even she found the whole thing amusing after we finally caught up with her, calmed her down, reassured her that there were no signs of spiders anywhere on or near her and most particularly not in her hair. You could almost say that we're a pro-spider family.

So she – our latest spider neighbor – settled in for the winter. But this spider isn't exactly a neighbor, now is she? Living in the kitchen, she's more like a quiet roommate. A quiet, growing roommate. We've watched her shed her skin, like a lobster, several times now. Our little spider has grown to nearly an inch now. Yesterday, she caught a horse fly, the day before an enormous moth. Her web stretches over the entire corner of the window – about a square foot. Mera witnessed the fly capture. It blundered into the web in one corner. Mera was doing the dishes and paused to watch our girl dash over, sedate the fly before it ripped the web apart, wrap it up, and drag it into the center of her lair. Short of an Animal Planet video, I'm not certain how Mera could have been treated to a better visual experience of spider dining.

Red Plastic Ones
Red Plastic Ones
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
DrC and I are waiting, I believe, on reproduction. I don't know why, but we're working under the operating assumption that our room mate is a girl. We've been trying to figure out how she'd get preggers, actually. There are no signs of little boy spiders anywhere near by. And if she's a he, he's not getting out there to spread the spider “word” and father a dynasty. So this strategy of “settling into the corner of a window in a house in Pukekohe” might prove an evolutionary dead end. What we're hoping, though, is that before establishing residence in the highly target rich environment of the Chicken House kitchen, there was an encounter between our room mate and another spider which is going to result ultimately in a big spider egg sack.

It also possible that she is just going to keep growing until Jaime freaks out and insists that “Either that spider goes, or I do.” And while I can understand her recent spider-paranoia given her caving experience, I'm going miss her. It's been nice having Jaime around all these years.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Halloween in Pukekohe

Zombie on the Prowl
Zombie on the Prowl
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
Hands on hips, I inform the Kiwi youngsters gathered on my porch, “Not without a costume. You can't have Aeron until you get a costume.”

Panic ensues. These are friends of Jaime's. They already know due to my very explicit instructions in a series of Facebook posts that they can not trick-or-treat without a small child. Teenagers are simply not acceptable at the door unless they are escorting a young one. At their age, free lollies require work. And as an American, I have the Halloween Knowledge to enforce this dictum. This is why they have presented themselves on my back door step on a sunny warm evening at the end of October. They are here to collect Aeron – their token small child.

If ever there were an evening less Halloween-y, this would be it. Spring arrived only two weeks ago here in Pukekohe. It feels like it might be a very short one, transitioning immediately into the lovely, warm, incredibly blue summer we remember from our first month in this country. A warm floral breeze wafts gently through the house clearing out the musty odors of winter. It's almost nine and the sun is just beginning to descend on a yard engulfed in riotous spring growth, the grass almost up to our knees. We've thrown open absolutely every window and door in the house to the outside noises of children, birds, and happy dogs.

“What are we going to do?” they ask me. Fortunately, Chicken House is prepared with DrC's costume, leftover face paints, and a whole lot of ratty clothing. Leading the way, Jaime and the boys troop into the bathroom to prepare for the night.

It took research to figure out how we could signal that our house was open to the trick-or-treating phenomena. Not all houses in New Zealand participate. Halloween has not really taken off here in anything like the way it has in the United States. I imagine that the churches inveigh against this most pagan of pagan holidays while at the same time the anti-materialist Greens go on about its American, imperialist consumerism. So not all homes, not all children participate in Halloween. Those who do can not simply put jack-o-lanterns in the yard to signal their willingness to dispense treats. Thing 1) Pumpkins here are green, not orange... which is awkward looking at best. Thing 2) It's daylight... lighting a pumpkin looks ridiculous and doesn't show up from a distance. In New Zealand, you put black and orange balloons on your letterbox which wave gaily in the spring breeze in about as non-threatening a fashion as it is possible to imagine. It looks like we're throwing a birthday party.

“Mrs. C, are we done yet?” the boys have donned some ratty clothes and put on eye makeup. One of them found a plastic monster mask and a black cape. I've seen these kids with “piss and cigies”, hanging out with friends already lost to weed, drink, and dropping out. But tonight, they are in my world where teenagers can have fun without resorting to adult things; they belong to silly costumes, running around in the streets, and candy without a beer, egg, or cigarette in sight. “Almost, gentlemen. A little more paint...” Jaime pulls them back to the mirror as I head into the kitchen to fill the lolly bowl.

This year, the family variously attended five seasonally themed events. Only one of the events came even close to the real spirit of Halloween and that was the afternoon barbie hosted by some friends of ours downtown. I lay this at the feet of Siouxie and Steven who have a circular of well-travelled friends, no small number of whom are from the U.S., U.K. and Australia. Everyone present wore great costumes, the food was fantastic and the conversation brisk, smart and enjoyable. It helps that the two are both university types, their circle of friends truly bright and interesting people, and that Steve has a really nice barbie. Still, standing in my black devil costume on the porch with a chill pear cider, I realized I had to move inside or get a sunburn. New Zealand is so much like Washington state that moments like these – where it's the same but different – leave me disoriented. I couldn't help but contrast this experience with the years during which I had to find clever ways to hide thermals and sweats underneath the girls costumes.

Hula Girl - Costume Change #2
Hula Girl - Costume Change #2
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
A bullet-riddled zombie and a monster emerge with my sexy, purple-winged eldest daughter and present for inspection and approval. I look down at my prize princess, “Do you approve, my lady?”

Aeron nods eagerly, the smile splitting her brightly decorated face. She is the center of attention, purpose, and fun this evening. For once in her life, being Jaime's youngest sister is conferring enormous advantage, “I approve!”

Sighs of relief and relaxing of shoulders on the cusp of manhood, bags come out, and a practice chorus of “trick-or-treat” as I pass out chocolates and wave the kids on their way. I call out, “Happy Halloween!” as they disappear down the street, little boys just one more time on this night of Halloween and lollies.