March 26, 2012

Don’t Just Do It

navigation error

One year ago we were in countdown mode: finishing boat projects, compiling lists, making plans, and in our spare moments dreaming. Dreaming about the months to come where we’d sail across the South Pacific, stop in extraordinary places and live out the ultimate fantasy.

It’s still a bit surreal to realize we did it—but each time we’re asked for advice, or our opinions, it becomes a little more real. The typical question is a vague one—what advice do we have for wanna-bes? What could we tell those who want to follow in our wake?
I know the popular answer is, ‘Just go! Go now. Don’t wait. Don’t let life hold you back!’ And sure—that’s great advice if your boat, your bank account, and you are ready enough to go.

If not? Our honest advice? Don’t go. Not yet…

I know—this is a very unpopular position. Quite negative really… Especially if you’ve read those blogs and books by the bumbling sailor types who were clueless when they started but then all the misadventures led to grand adventures and finally a book deal. But those sailors are the exception. Honestly.

Too often momentum, money and skill run out before the adventure is done. Want proof? Go look for a cheap used boat—you’ll find them all over the world, abandoned when the cruising kitty ran dry, or the marriage ended or the breakdowns mounted up. No one blogs about these trips and these abandoned dreams—but seriously no one sets out with the plan of selling a boat with a hole in it from Vanuatu
towed in from the sea

Is your boat ready?
Boats don’t need to be fancy or outfitted with the latest and greatest, but they do need to be well founded and in good repair. Rigging needs to be relatively new (we know of several boats that lost masts in some very isolated locations—and have encountered several abandoned sailboats that didn’t have sticks). Sails need to be in good shape and you should have the ability to repair or swap them out. You need to have spare parts for engines and outboards. In short, every major system on your boat needs to function well and you should have the ability to repair it, or do without.

Is your bank account ready?
How much money is enough? No two budgets are the same… So I can’t offer a number. I can say this—it’s hard to make money when you are travelling, so plan to be financially self-sufficient for as long as you plan to be out. Planning to stop and work is cool—many of us do that—but you need have money enough to bridge the gap. Assume expensive things will break. Assume you’ll need some sort of medical care. Assume you may need to suddenly fly home. Assume you will need to pay to haul your boat or put it in a marina.
Budget for these things—then if nothing unexpected happens, you get to cruise a little longer. But if you hole your boat on a reef, or need surgery, or your dinghy is stolen—the unexpected expense won’t end your trip.

Are you ready?
Bumbling sailors do make it across oceans and around the world—and they learn as they go. But they also make mistakes. Last year one set of sailors came in to Nuku Hiva after more than 50 days at sea, they were out of food and water, their batteries were drained, the boat had a good deal of damage—it turned out they didn’t know how to sail. Seriously. Sail trim? Not a clue...

We encountered other boats that went out in terrible conditions because they didn’t understand how to read Grib files or obtain weather faxes. We met one family that drove up on a reef because they didn’t realize Fiji charted with different symbols. Not knowing the basicslike how to reefmakes a funny story, unless you trash the boat beyond repair. So learn—and do it somewhere safe. Join a racing boat, sign up to crew on a long passage, take classes in navigation and weather and then take your boat through a challenging shakedown cruise.
anchorage after a squall
 So I know—I’m a total killjoy. Saying, ‘just go’, is way more fun. But here’s the thing—cruisers look out for each other. Which means we offer advice, but we also rescue each other: we haul each other off reefs, or tow each other in through bad weather, we help fix broken stuff, and patch up wounds. And when there are too many sailors who don’t have well-founded boats and competent skills out there—it puts us all in danger.

March 22, 2012

Talking to Australians

 Maia: “Mum, I have no idea what Mr. A said about my work today. He said something, but I don’t know if it was good or bad.”
Me: “You couldn’t hear him?”
Maia: “I heard him fine. But it sounded like a foreign language…”

When we enrolled Maia in school one of the questions for foreign students was, “will your child need a translator?” We joked that yes, between the Queensland accent and the heavy use of slang, she just might need someone to interpret the ‘Strine. We weren’t really serious…

The thing with the Aussie language is it’s excellent fun to listen to, while eavesdropping. It’s liberally sprinkled with mate, g’day, reckon and heaps as well as barbie, bikkie and bogan, arvos, avos and ambos—and after a few tries we got those. The thing-o seems to be if you can shorten a word—you do (sandwich becomes sanger, petrol station becomes servo, Salvation Army Stores become Salvos, bathing suit becomes bathers). Australians, it seems, are lazy…

It’s one thing to truncate a word—it doesn’t take too long to figure out that a snag is a sausage, a yewy is a u-turn (though you don’t want to be sorting that one out in the moment—as in “quick, do a yewy”…), a sickie is a day off, a mozzie is a mosquito and a journo is a journalist. But where we struggle is with the words and slang that are sort of random—it took us a while to realize an op-shop is a thrift store, being shouted a drink was a good thing, and that an eskie is a cooler. I’m still not certain what daggy is and think I may be using fair dinkum wrong.

Maia explained her teacher looked at her work and said something which may or may not have been a compliment. And she was uncertain, should she have said thank-you or sorry? Then she shrugged it off, “I reckon she’ll be right, mum. He said ‘sweet as’ as part of the words.”

March 18, 2012

We’ve Got Wheels

Boats and bikes, despite all the expensive fold-up, rust proof, light-weight wheeled contraptions to the contrary, just don’t go together very well. Or maybe they do—but we’ve never been that successful at making the combo work…

We had bikes on our first boat. The two of us were cycle commuters and couldn’t imagine traveling without bikes. So we road tested all sorts of options and after finding that the folding bikes we could afford were too wimpy for hilly rides on rough roads, we settled on light-weight hybrids with quick release front and back wheels. I sewed storage bags for them and they found a home in a back locker—where they stayed.

Oh, they came out a few times—but the effort to load them into the dinghy, row them into shore, assemble them, set off on some road that was a death trap to cyclists and then afterward try to find a safe place to lock them up, or repeat the trip back to the boat meant that as our travels went on--we used our bikes less and less. We finally sold them off in the Western Caribbean.

This time, even though we have a bigger boat (easier storage) and a bigger dinghy (easier transport) we still know from lugging scooters and a unicycle to shore that, for us, the effort to cruise with a bike would outweigh the benefit of having a bike. And honestly, there are not that many places where bikes work that well—most places you can easily get what you need by walking and a lot of islands are just too hilly for bikes to be useful.

This said, we still like bikes, and still think that they are an excellent idea for cruisers who spend more than a few weeks in a given port. I just don’t think they belong *on* boats.

Some of my favourite marina setups have had bikes for cruisers to use. Sometimes the bikes are fancy but most of the time (at least in the kind of places we stay) they are beaters that were abandoned by previous cruisers. We’ve also rented bikes, been lent bikes and know other cruisers who have inherited bikes.
bike parking at Gardens Point
 Our new bikes are what Maia calls ‘ugh’ bikes: Which means they are a) ugly and b) ugh is the sound you make when your mum shows you your new bike. They are also very inexpensive bikes—my lock is worth more than my bike—which makes them perfect cruiser bikes. So we’ll use our new ugh bikes while we’re here—and at some point when we carry on we’ll pass them along to the next cruiser who arrives in port.

March 11, 2012

School--From the Boat to Brick and Mortar

How is my boat-schooled kid going to do in school? A school in a foreign country where she needs to wear a uniform and where we don’t even really know what grade she should be in? Is she going to be picked on? Find it too easy? Too hard? Too boring? Too strict? Is it going to damage her adventurous spirit and teach her to think like an automan? Is it going to turn me into one of those hovering, nervous mums who keeps trying to fix things for my kid?

Oh, the uncertainty…
heading up the dinghy dock
 We’re beginning week two of our new routine. We had mixed feelings about Maia giving up home schooling for school here--but she has great memories of grades k-2 and has been looking forward to all the things a brick and mortar school has to offer.

Evan and I were a bit more hesitant. We’ve been sailing without much of a curriculum the past few years—deciding that the excellent BC provincial curriculum, which we used the first year, was a bit too constricting for our lifestyle. We wanted the option to focus on where we were travelling and what Maia’s interests were—and we didn’t want to be sending work in and trying to rendezvous with new books every few months.

The result of our geography based curriculum (we focused on projects) seemed great to us—Maia is intelligent, articulate and most importantly interested in almost everything—but we weren’t sure if we were missing the odd essential here and there. And we were a bit concerned that all the confidence and independence she’s gained through travel would be damped down in a school setting.

The arguments in favour of school won out though and we settled on the same school the other cruising kids in the area go to. The principal there explained that as a small urban school with a mobile, international student body they have a very diverse group of kids and their turn over rate is high—so they’re practiced with being flexible about kids coming in with a wide range of knowledge and backgrounds.
 After some hemming and hawing Maia’s now in year six (she’d be midway through 5th grade at home). She’s studying the expected lessons plus a few exotic seeming subjects (she takes Mandarin, gets swimming lessons for PE, plays water polo for ‘sport’ and she’s joined the garden club—so she can raise chickens…) And it seems like we didn’t miss too much—though math is being taught differently than Evan taught her and she really has no idea what the capital of Australia might be…

What we’re also discovering is that as a home schooled kid she takes her education (and the fact that she has an important role in it) very seriously. She’s irritated by busy work but tends to plunge full force into things that seem to have value to her. Most importantly though—she seems happy. So I’m happy.
off on her own to school
 So we’re both learning.

March 7, 2012

Back in Oz

We're back. A soft breeze is blowing through the boat and I have a stack of deadlines—stories about the Tuamotus and Antigua, pacific regattas and Olympic sailors. In short we’re settled and stable and if weren’t for a hard drive full of images and a very bad cold it would seem like our whirlwind tour of New Zealand was a dream.
camping in the Bay of Islands


visiting the Tasman Sea

Exploring Hobbiton

Riding through the countryside
Mud pools, geysers and spas in Rotorua

Cultural night

Rafting the Kaituna River
America's Cup boats in Auckland

Sailing Lion New Zealand

In some ways it was a dream—a two and a half week fantasy of sailing, spa-ing and adventure that passed more quickly than most holidays do because there wasn’t any anticipation to draw it out. But when it feels like it never happened—there are still the pictures…