April 26, 2014

Land Ho

Hotspur in the Sea of Cortez

Not ours sadly. As appealing as it is would be we, haven’t slipped the lines and set off for somewhere new. But we have had the privilege of following our dear friends Jim, Meri and Carolyne aboard Hotspur as they crossed the Pacific toward the Marquesas.
We miss this lovely family and hope they have a blast in the pacific
Evan provided them with weather routing and as seasoned shellbacks (ha!) Maia and I emailed them with tidbits of information and encouragement. Reading their emails and blog posts brought back a lot of memories of our own crossing three years ago. One thing that felt familiar was their initial unease followed by a palpable joy and excitement as they found their rhythm and discovered just what a wondrous experience crossing an ocean is.

It’s not always easy—like us they had their fair share of breakdowns and testing moments. But I think joy comes from not being knocked out by them—by reaching down through the fear and frustration and discovering you really can make it to port on a broken rudder (us) or that you have the skills to fix an autopilot without directions, several times (them). The fun also comes from being a family out there—you’re together, alone in the middle of the ocean, every minute of everyday, and somehow sometime after you arrive and the world gets busy again, it feels like it may not have been enough.

It might be a long way to come for a play date--but Maia hopes they catch us somewhere

I’m excited and envious for the hours, weeks and months that Jim, Meri and Carolyne have coming up. Making landfall can only be described as magical. Despite our modern technology: the radios, GPS, heck, the charts(!) it still feels like you’ve reached back through the centuries and crossed wakes with the navigators when you sight land.

It’s not often you get to sail into your dreams and live them full on. As I picture them making landfall I can smell the floral sweet tiarĂ© mingled with warm heavy jungle; I can hear the drums back in the hills and kids laughing on shore; And I can recall my own giddy excitement as I stepped on land after several weeks at sea only to have my legs wobble as though they were giggling in glee.
Landfall Bora Bora
To celebrate their accomplishment I’ve been playing sailing music and dreaming about our next landfall, wherever it may be.

April 24, 2014

Easter Traditions

Our Easter tradition-for now

They say with kids that if you celebrate the same holiday the same way twice, it’s a tradition. With boat kids, and a nomadic lifestyle, doing anything the same way twice is a feat. And doing it three times is unheard of.

Before we left we tried to streamline our core holiday traditions so that they’d be easy to replicate anywhere. What we never took into account is just how unpredictable ‘anywhere’ can be. Seasonal holidays don’t work that well for distance sailors. For one—our seasons tend to by ruled by cyclone and hurricane seasons—which is why many an Easter and Christmas are spent at sea. And if you travel far enough, the seasons are upside down: favourite dishes aren’t as tasty in the heat (if you can even find the ingredients) and even hiding Easter eggs is a challenge in high temperatures (sandy, melted chocolate anyone?)
Ceildyh and Mangoe -- anchored together again after 17 years
This year though was our third Easter spent out in the islands of Moreton Bay. Each year the effort has become more casual—the first included a big land-based Easter egg hunt and fancy dinner (bless power boats with air con). Last year we moved the Easter egg hunt to Ceilydh’s foredeck and timed our dinner with Convivia to coincide with a big-as thunder squall.

This year, with a busy schedule leading up to Easter, I was happy to throw a few chocolate eggs and groceries into the boat before heading head out. And after an evening of catching up with our friends on SV Mangoe (little SV Ceilydh and Mangoe were last together in the La Cruz anchorage in 1997—how cool is that?) the kids all curled up to sleep in the nets and the Easter Bunny made an appearance sometime before dawn.
watch out Easter Bunny
Some time after the Easter Bunny arrived, but before the kids woke, Charlie the cat realized we had been boarded and was concerned for the kids. So the brave kitty attacked Maia’s treats and knocked them overboard. I think this could make a cool Easter tradition but Maia disagreed. Fortunately I had chocolate eggs on hand for our now tradtional foredeck hunt.
Hunting for eggs--before they melt
See those pink spots? Those are the kids...
 Then after a day of snorkeling and sandsurfing—we convened on the foredeck and celebrated Easter supper with a not so traditional meal of home made carnitas and pakoras.

April 9, 2014

Parenting Dangerously aka The Kids are Alright

 If you missed the news of our friends on Rebel Heart being rescued at sea and losing their boat (it’s kind of been everywhere in the news—but we do have friends who are pretty remote…) their misfortune created a firestorm.

Once it was clear the family was safe, the judgements and comments started. It’s odd having your life picked apart by the masses and I was asked to respond in a story for Slate. Slate isn’t known for having the kindest comments section and this morning as I read through them with Maia (hey, it’s her childhood people are arguing about…) we started noticing that in amongst the hundreds and hundreds of annoying comments there was also understanding, support and some really excellent questions.

The questions and concerns come in two forms. The first are about Charlotte and Eric specifically: Were they experienced enough? Were they prepared to parent under the conditions they found themselves in? Was this trip wrong for their family?

I can’t answer those. We opted to wait until Maia was older for a variety of our own reasons but we know many families who safely crossed oceans with less experience or with younger children.
Arriving in the Marquesas

The more general question: is cruising with kids okay? This is the one I answered whole heartedly and with a resounding, Yes. For us. And then people wanted know the nitty gritty:
School seems to be going fine: she loves learning and is a keen student
Are we and other cruising families living on trust funds? Because how the heck do we afford to sail the world.

Not rich. Most of us are lucky. We’re lucky in that we had a dream and we had the type of jobs (or found the type) that let us work remotely, or in other countries. We also tend to be a really frugal lot, living on a fraction of what middle class Americans live on. In some cases families we know sold or rented out their homes. But most of us skipped buying homes and cars, took cheap (usually boat-oriented) vacations, got good at thrifting and used all the money we saved to buy a boat instead. Then we set a deadline and saved and saved and saved. When we arrived in Australia our bank account was down to fumes. It was huge risk and Evan was lucky to find a job. Our alternative would have been to sell the boat and head home.

Is Maia lonely?

She’s had moments of loneliness and short stretches of travel when there weren’t that many other kids around. Our 19 day passage was just the three of us—but we all enjoyed the time together. For the most part we seek out other kid boats and have always had at least one and as many as 20 + other families around. We tend to travel slowly—mostly for this reason. This gives us the flexibility to spend month and months with other families and have been fortunate to encounter some of the same kids year after year. She also makes an effort to meet local people and has forged an ongoing friendship with one young woman from Fiji.

Is Maia weird? Because I met someone once who was dragged to sea by their parents and they are weird.

So far she seems pretty normal. But I asked her what she thought. She thinks she’s okay. Then we talked about all the boat kids she’s known, past and present. Some are weird. Mostly this applied to the boys when she was younger though. Some are the coolest people she knows. Some are sort of ordinary. She’s says what’s really interesting about them is how easygoing most of them are. They tend to be friendly, helpful, non-judgemental and strongly individual and independent. Some are super smart and excel at school, some are musical or artistic others are funny.

How do you educate her?

Right now she's in public school in Australia and seems to be holding her own with no trouble after 3 years of homeschooling. We use a really wide variety of resources to educate her though and do tend to hold her to a schedule.After breakfast has generally been the time for all of us to work--wrapping up at lunch to head out and explore. Depending on the heat and weather, we reverse that. 

You are white and speak English. Are you all a bunch of rich white people going to look at poor brown people? And cruising is a creepy name.

Yes, we are white. If it helps you feel better about our little microcosm of the world we crossed with a Jewish family and sailed for a while with a Korean woman. We even know gay people. Sheesh. Offshore sailors do tend to come from a few core countries: Canada, the US, England, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France and South Africa. Some of that list speaks English, some not so much. The fascinating thing has been to watch sailing diversify--I correspond with a Russian sailing group, and we've met cruising boats from Vanuatu, Mexico, Japan, Jamaica, Portugal and many, many more. As more international sailors get out, and share their experience, the mix will become even more interesting.
As far as who we encounter when we cruise--it's sort of a geographic thing. The tropics tend to be home to people with darker skin. When we sailed up to Alaska we met First Nations people and fishermen. If we get to Norway I think we'll meet Norwegians.
Cruising does sound weird. I’ve never loved the term, too easy to misconstrue. We ran into trouble using ‘boat people’ when we arrived in Australia though. If you have a better phrase to describe us, bring it on…

What about sun damage, lack of pop culture and sharks?

We dip her in sunscreen. Seriously. And she has a huge hat collection. She’s had 2-3 mild sunburns since we left.
Maia is a huge Dr Who (the modern version even) and Sherlock fan and she’s going to her first concert in a few weeks: Lorde. So I while she doesn’t know what’s on TV in North America and isn’t up to date on the latest crazes, the good stuff tends to percolate to the top and she finds it.
She likes sharks. They are a sign of a healthy reef. The kind of sharks she sees are reef sharks which are pretty mellow and a few other exotics like tasselled wobbegongs. She knows enough about shark behaviour to judge if one is getting territorial—it’s a lot like interacting with an unfamiliar dog.

Why should tax payers pay to rescue you if you get into trouble?

Many people have written about the importance of a tax-funded rescue system. So I won’t. I don’t think subjecting an emergency to a means test is feasible unless there is clear rule breaking involved (I.E. heading into an out of bounds area) otherwise how do we do it? It’s hard to say if someone was 50% stupid, 25% unlucky and 25% ill-prepared or just 100% did the best they could in the situation they found themselves in.

Every cruiser knows if you call for help you’re likely going to lose your home and all your possessions. The rescue itself can also be hazardous as hell. This doesn’t even take into account the fact that outside of major developed countries there’s no one there to rescue you. This is why most of us work so hard to be safe and self-sufficient. It’s also why there is such a strong code of the sea. We look out for each other. Dangerous, incompetent sailors are a bigger risk to me and my family than they are to taxpayers. So as a community we share information, we offer assistance, we teach each other. And if something goes wrong we shut the heck up and help. Afterwards, we pick apart each and every accident, but not as a means to point fingers and lay blame. We do it to learn.