Saturday, July 22, 2017

Boat Not For Sale

The Land of Fire in winter
Over the years we've seen a lot of friends and acquaintances reaching the end of their dream cruise, and a unifying feature is that the sailboat in question usually goes on the block immediately. Or sooner - often a cruising boat is listed for sale while the final homeward passage is uncompleted.

This only makes sense. A well-found traveling boat represents a lot of capital, and demands a lot of upkeep. If you're not using the beast, there's little point in keeping it.

Plus, as Paul Beatty points out in The Sellout, having a yacht that you never use is a signifier of the second level of white privilege. And who would want to go there?

We've just completed our first haulout since South Africa. And while Kodiak is a great place to work on the boat out of the water, that doesn't mean it's cheap. When you're living on the boat and traveling widely, that sort of expense just feels like the price of the ticket. But it feels very different when you're back in your home port and looking for a house. What felt like the price of the ticket can start to feel more like a frivolous outlay of cash.

But for all that, we have no immediate plans to sell Galactic. And that has to do with our current vision/dream for what the next stage of our sailing lives will look like.

We've spent the last 10 years as all-in, full-time sailors. No house ashore waiting for us, no vehicles, no furniture in storage save my grandmother's rocking chair and my grandfather's work bench. That's the Fatty and Carolyn Goodlander style of sailing. No compromise to dirt dwelling made, and a sailor sleeps on his/her boat every night of their life.

But over the last few years of our sailing we became more and more aware of another way to pursue decades-long sailing odysseys. We can call it the "home base" model.

When Lin and Larry Pardey very generously opened their home to us on Kawau Island for their annual Thanksgiving dinner, we realized their was a home base for them, and had been for decades, if I'm not mistaken. It certainly makes years of tromping around in very small sailboats easier if you have a small house and a big shed waiting for you somewhere, patiently holding your stuff.

Likewise for the fantastic time that Leiv Poncet showed us at his family's place on Beaver Island, in the Falklands. Leiv's parents are pioneers of far southern sailing, and have decades and decades of sailing achievements behind them, but they didn't do it while using the yacht as the exclusive family home. Even 50-foot Damien II would get pretty small for a family of five during a Falklands winter.

And so for us, we hope. We're stopping the all-in part of our sailing both because being full-time sailors doesn't encompass everything that we want to do in our lives, and because we wouldn't mind having more of a home base than our uninsured sailboat. Our sights aren't set nearly as high as Kawau or Beaver Islands, but I'm sure we'll be able to find something cozy in Kodiak, with a shed as a part of the deal.

And, in our case, as I've written in this space before, we hope to transition to a more purposeful sort of sailing, and start using Galactic as the platform for our marine biology research. No telling how the funding gods will view that idea, but we have plans to submit two research proposals along those lines this year.

And in the meantime, we will continue to live with the maintenance list that comes with Galactic, and work to keep her in good shape for whatever it is we end up doing. We love sailing as much as we ever have, perhaps more than we ever have. And after 10 years all-in, we're as good at sailing as we are at anything else in life. So we're daring fate by hoping that we might be lucky enough to keep the magic going for a few more years in this new way.

This is a good excuse to dig out old Kawau and Beaver Island shots. Here are the crew, in a much younger state of being, in front of Taleisin.
Here and below - Thanksgiving dinner.

I think the guy to my right was spinning a real line of bull...
Leiv and the boys lighting a fire on Beaver Island, to roast... 
...Beaver Island mutton chops. 
Alisa and Leiv canning meat for ship's stores on Peregrine and Galactic

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Better Than Real

Her: I'm so glad to be back in Kodiak.

Me: I know. It's such a real-world place.

*Thoughtful pause*

Her: It's better than real.

Metaphor alert! Stepping off the boat...
I'll begin with a note on congruence between life on a traveling boat and life in Alaska. They're both all about the people.

We have been met by our old crowd in Kodiak with typical understated Alaskan hospitality. Friends met us at the dock with ice cream and beer and home-cooked treats. In the days when we were freshly back, people stopped by the boat to give us halibut and salmon.

Friends who are off the island offered up a truck that we could drive for a month while we were looking for our own vehicle (thanks so much, Heather & Pete!). And friends who were going to the Lower 48 for a family visit kindly offered up their house as a place we could stay if we wanted to get off the boat.

We didn't really want to get off the boat - except.

Except that the middle of summer is the perfect time to haul out a boat in Kodiak. The days are super-long, the temperatures are conducive to painting, and the yard is mostly empty, as Kodiak's working fleet is out working. We always prefer to move off the boat when she's in the yard. So, we took the opportunity of a place to stay (thanks, Sara and Ian!) and hauled.

Real help: Joe and I watch the slings come off.
Pretend help: Eric pressure washing.
Fuller's boat yard is part of the "delightfully real" aspect of Kodiak that Alisa and I were commenting on. At most yards where we've hauled through the years, there is a driver for the travelift and a yard worker or two who pressure wash your boat and position the jack stands. In Kodiak, there are first of all no jack stands - those tall boat stands for sailboats. Commercial fishing boats don't use them, so Fuller's doesn't have them. We had a set of our own ordered and waiting at Kodiak Marine Supply when we sailed into town.

And, as for the yard workers who pressure wash and set up the stands, that would be the crew of the boat being hauled. Who also have to provide their own pressure washer (thanks, Debra!).

Another friend, who just happens to be the second owner of Hawk, which he took through the Northwest Passage, stopped by at just the right moment to give us a hand with the stands.

And so it has gone through our time in the yard. People just stop by now and then to talk and look at the boat. It's part of the pace of life in a small town in Alaska. And it's part of the process of our re-integration into this town, one conversation about this and that and nothing at all at a time.

Elias in a triumphant mood.
Allright - listen up you dreamers who want to chuck it all and sail away but don't know much about sailing. Find someone who has a boat and volunteer to help them with their next haulout, start to finish. You'll learn a hundred times more about the sailing life that way than by taking one of those "learn to cruise" classes.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Dependable

Me and mom (and Eric).
Well.  I would count us as lucky.  We have had a life over the last ten years that has been far richer than the life awaiting us in that alternate universe where everyone gets just what they deserve.

Our good fortune has been wonderfully multifaceted, and, I hope, not been taken for granted. (In conversation with Alisa I have started using the shorthand "white privilege goes to sea" to refer to a certain sort of American sailor.) But just now I want to focus on the tremendous good fortune that we had in our shoreside ship's agent during our ten years afloat.

That ship's agent to Galactic would be Joan Litzow. Mom to me, "JoJo" to my kids. (Someone felt too young to be called grandma almost 11 years ago when Elias was born.)

Anyone who has been on an open-ended sailing trip will tell you how important it is to have someone back in the home country to look after your affairs. We Galactics cut the ties more than most. No house or business back in the home country to tie us down. And the internet has of course made the mundane details of life infinitely more tractable for travelers.

But, for all that, if you're going on a years-long trip, you really need someone to help out with practicalities. My mom was set up to sign checks for us and authorized to deal with our credit card companies on our behalf. She could deposit the checks that came in from my science work and my writing for Cruising World, she could let us know when the credit card company was calling to OK the sudden splurge of spending in the final 48 hours before we put to sea from some foreign port. She could sign the annual application to renew our vessel documentation and send us the new paperwork wherever we might be. She could open our mail and pay the occasional bill that, for all our efforts to live cheap, still somehow made its way to us.

For all those years that we were gone, robbing her of easy access to half her grandkids, she kept our affairs in order, and was an absolutely dependable backstop against late fees and unmet obligations on our part. That role she played gave us a tremendous peace of mind when we were off in some atoll, blissfully pretending that the real world did not exist.

So. For playing such an important role in making our voyage a success, and for all the thankless tasks that she pursued on our behalf, I wanted to say a very public and heartfelt "thank you" in this space.

And, don't worry, mom. We just got a post office box of our own.







Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Family Affair

Allright - passage recap. There have been a few of those through the years.

For this Kona-to-Kodiak leg, the destination was more important than it has been for most of our passages, so we'll begin with pictures of our arrival.

Elias is quietly ecstatic. Eric is suddenly anxious and has taken refuge in a "disguise".
Alisa is overjoyed. And that smear on the shoreline to the left? That would be dowtown Kodiak.
This picture would seem to suggest more complicated emotions on my part.
Our state of dress in the pictures above tells you everything you need to know about the climate that awaited us at almost 58° North latitude. It has been a particularly cold summer in Kodiak.

But we started this 18-day sail in tropical conditions. Check out the crew watching pilot whales, below. 

And that would be the Marine Engineer getting after a broken batten box on our full batten mainsail below that. Schaefer may make some good products, but their batten boxes are rubbish! Luckily we still had one of the spare boxes that we bought in South Africa. If we are lucky enough to sail up to the Arctic Ocean next summer, my bet is that our remaining Schaefer boxes will be off the main... 





And, well. The junior crew. There were some heated parent-offspring moments in the passage, I will admit. The frictions of endless energy (them) vs. short sleep (us) are guaranteed to produce combustion at some point. But those moments are quickly forgotten (by us at least; they may be in therapy for years for all I know). We really have the best under-11 crew you could ask for. You've never seen kids who are more game for a passage than these two.

How's that for insouciance under sail? Eric hasn't been seasick once since we left South Africa, though he did keep the throwup bowl near himself for the first week of this passage....I thought of it as a little comfort talisman, like a favorite blanket for a younger, or more land-bound, kid.
Sleeping arrangements - Elias in the port bunk, and Eric under the table, which is the spot he insists on. Notice the Tintin craze that has gripped our boys...

Elias rugged up to stand an evening watch somewhere in the 50s North latitude. Can you see how proud he is to be standing watch?

We played endless card games...
And, a persistant theme in Twice In a Lifetime passage notes...the fishing report!

A wahoo and...
...a mahi mahi made up our tropical catch.
While a silver salmon...
...(yum)...
...and a rockfish made up the higher latitude catch. Elias managed to grab the rockfish in the ten minutes it took me to pause and check the oil while we were motoring the final miles to Kodiak.
And finally, there was the endgame. For our return to home waters we strung up all of the courtesy flags for the foreign nations that we visited during our 10 year voyage. This is the Chilean flag...it's seen its share of wind!


I have a special fondness for the text-only blog posts that I put up while on passage. It seems so much easier to grasp at the elusive nature of seafaring when you're actually doing it, and when you're not distracted by the literal nature of photographs.

In this land-based, retrospective version of the passage's story, I'll throw up my hands at the idea of any what-it-all-means summaries.

I'll just note that being all alone together on the big big blue can make for the very best family time that we have ever known.


Saturday, July 1, 2017

Voyage

I want to say that it was Lin Pardey who offered up a working definition of a voyage: a trip under sail (preferably with an epic cast, I'll add) that begins and ends at the same place.

There are a lot of things that you can do while living aboard a sailboat.

You can gunkhole. You can island hop. You can be harbor-bound. And you can make great ocean-girdling passages, acting out what you would make of this life on the biggest stage going.

In the last ten years we have done all of these things.

And, while we've been doing all those individual passages and coastal jaunts and seasons in and out of the tropics, we have also been doing this one overarching thing. We have been making a voyage. We have been tracing this secret line, known only to us and only after we have found it, that has led some 65,000 sea miles from Kodiak and now, barring any vicissitudes of the sea over the remaining 9, all the way back.

We left Kodiak literally in tears over leaving a place and a life that we loved very much. And now - wonderfully odd symmetry! - we return wondering just where the hell that town that we loved so much might be. Literally. It isn't foggy, but the clouds are awesomely low, and the City of Kodiak, though it should at this point be in plain sight, remains hidden to us.

Whatever else might have happened on this 10-year voyage, we have certainly found a kind of life that we could thrive in. And now that we're going back to another sort of life, at least for the time being, I have a sense of giving ourselves over to a great uncertainty, and wondering how our precious family will do amidst the shoals and reefs of land life.

Alaskan friends from elsewhere in the State have asked me if we were really going back to Kodiak when we returned, with just a hint of wonder in their voices. But the truth is that Alisa and I have never really considered going anywhere else in Alaska. Kodiak is still home, not least because it's the place in Alaska where we still have a community of friends.

We never like it when people want to come down and see us off at the dock when we're leaving some place. But I have an inkling that we'll see old friends at the dock tonight when we arrive, and for that Alisa and I will be tremendously grateful.

~~
This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

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Friday, June 30, 2017

Through A Portal, Vaguely

Well. If I had never been to Alaska before, I would be very impressed by the approach at this point.

No bad weather on this trip - it's not really the season for it. But we have been sailing for hundreds and hundreds of miles through thick fog and living with clammy, cold conditions on board for quite a few days now. Occasionally a frond of kelp floats by us, and today we saw a tern. Signs that land can't be too far off.

A foggy day at sea might be the most cut-off feeling that I've ever had in the natural world. There's something about being surrounded by walls that are simultaneously opaque, amorphous, and luminous to put you off your normal game. Meanwhile you're tossing this way and that on the swell that comes charging out from those still walls, and you can't see a thing more than a couple hundred meters away...it's a very isolated feeling, almost one of sensory deprivation. And so these days of traveling through fog make Alaska seem like a suitably distant and different destination. This feels like more like something out of science fiction and time travel than a typical ocean passage. Hopefully the stage is being set for a suitably grand first summer for our family in the Great Land.

Eric is already getting wistful. "I'm sorry to see our sailing years drawing to a close," he says. (Where do 7 year olds get their occasional flashes of lucid syntax, anyway?) "But! I'm excited to start our Kodiak years." That Eric doesn't stay down for long.

And Elias was very happy today to go into a long, quite technical exposition on the similarities in feel and action between mahi mahi and salmon on rod and reel.

That's right. Super-big family milestone today - our first salmon in 10 years, a female silver, still a couple months from spawning, caught by Elias on the high seas. When we left Alaska, Alisa and I were surprised by how much we missed the food. So it was a pure delight to dine on the freshest salmon dinner imaginable, cooked perfectly by A. Elias said it was the best dinner he'd ever had in his life.

Just after the boys were in bed I saw the first alcid of the trip - a rhinoceros auklet, I think, which flew by us twice. I told the boys I'd seen it, and then wished I hadn't, wished I'd let one of them have the joy.

And just now, at midnight Hawai'i time / 0200 Alaska time, I looked out from the cockpit to see that the fog has lifted and the sky is already getting light in the north and east. Summer in Alaska...there are very few things in this world that compare.

We expect to arrive tomorrow.
~~
This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Plastics and Pinnipeds

A colleague asked me to report on how much floating plastic we encountered on this passage, since our path between Hawai'i and Kodiak had us skirting the center of the North Pacific high, where the legendary Texas-size patch of floating plastic is meant to lie.

On a normal two and a half week ocean passage we might notice a single piece of random plastic jetsam floating by us. On this trip we were seeing much more than that - very roughly speaking, about 10 or 15 items a day, roughly between 30° and 45° North latitude. A lot of that was fishing debris - floats, and one memorably large chunk of net. We didn't go through the windless center of the high, of course, so I can't report on what the plastics concentration might be there.

We were also seeing occasional pinnipeds for a while there...quite a treat to spot those animals, which I can't help but think of as coastal beasts, a thousand miles out from the West Coast of North America. We never got a good enough look to ID one, but I think the consensus was that they were likely Otariids - maybe California sea lions?

And that's us, except that I'll note we are smelling the barn pretty strongly. Only about 260 miles to go. We've spent the day close hauled on the wrong side of a low, and it looks like the wind from that system should last through tomorrow, which has us very pleased indeed. I started the day by hand stitching a parted seam on our main, and we've spent the rest of the day with the sails reefed down and strapped in tight, Galactic going with a vengeance, well on her ear and a bone in her teeth, the spray at the bow and her somewhat raggedy sails the only white things to be seen on this gray gray stage that we are slowly crossing to the other side. For much of yesterday and last night we were reduced to standing watch with the radar alone, as a thick fog had visibility down to uselessly close confines.

And, final wonder of the natural world to note: As I write this, my 10 year old son Elias is happily keeping watch. Basically, he was so keen to do it and give me a break that there was no stopping him. So he's all rugged up in raingear and various sweaters and two hats and a neck gaiter, with my watch set to rouse him at ten minute intervals to scan the horizon, and otherwise laughing out loud at whatever book it is that he is reading.

When I think back to the little nubbin that he was when we set sail...well. Parents know the abyss of time that you look down when you consider that sort of progression, from drooler to watchkeeper. We can natter on about Twice In A Lifetime this and that for the sailing life that Alisa and I have been lucky enough to lead over the last ten years, but for our boys this trip has been exactly one lifetime long a piece. And I'd like to think that the proof of what sort of life it is for kids, being raised on a traveling boat, is coming back to Kodiak with us - one of them currently sacked out under the raised saloon table, where he likes to sleep no matter what tack we're on, and the other looking out for ships on a somewhat shitty evening on the wide-open North Pacific, completely unfazed by the experience, and what is even more remarkable, trusted by Alisa and me to do an adult's job, or better, in the face of all that responsibility.
~~
This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Gray Flash and Purple Prose

As we bear down on the last 800 nautical miles between ourselves and Kodiak, I find my attention divided between mundane observation and the most outlandish wrap-up thoughts.

To whit.

This day that is just ending we passed at the center of a 1034 mb or so high. Absolute crap for sailing, but top marks as a day of decadence, spent lounging around in the greenhouse heat of the dodger. Something there is about a blue sky day that turns your most industrious kind of Protestant into an instant human lizard, happy to sun on a rock while thinking blank thoughts.

The unhappy truth is that we had been freezing our various small parts off for a few days previous, even though we are still well south of the latitude of Seattle, much less Vancouver. Neoprene boots and goat roper hats have appeared on the crew. We made the "that's sort of cool, sort of" discovery that Elias' deck boots still have dried penguin shit on them from South Georgia. So it was nice for us to shed some layers today and take a break from breaking the news to the boys that no, Kodiak will actually be much colder than this.

Elias noticed that even in the midst of that sunny day, the water kept what he called a "glacial" cast. The miraculous blues of the tropical oceans are now, for the Galactics, regulated to that place where god meant Teutonic Americans and Midwesterners of the Lebanese diaspora to enjoy them: as screen saver photographs.

Oh, fudge. "Screen saver." That's me speaking from my 2007 time warp again. Re-entry is going to be so problematic.

By dinner time (thanks, Alisa!) we had reverted to the gray skies at the edge of the high. Baking on a rock on a sunny day may be fine, but there is something about a gray-on-gray sky and sea combo that does make a mariner sit up to take notice. I found myself scanning the horizon, scanning the sea, glancing quickly back at a particular set of clouds to make sure they weren't trying anything while I was looking away. Maybe these gray seascapes put me on notice of the chance of something Nautical going down. Anyway, I'm apparently the kind of guy who comes alive around mother of pearl seascapes. Maybe it's all for the best that we're going back to Kodiak.

And so, instead of the blaze of a tropical sunset, the day ended with the sun just sort of collapsing into the wet blanket of clouds heaped on the horizon. "No more green flashes for us," observed Alisa. "Gray flashes from here out."

Well-meaning folks have occasionally asked if we have any concerns about returning to land life. There is one that I will easily confess to: that of immediately getting swept up into the chase-your-own-tail swirl of everyday life, so that this decade of full-time sailing just fades away, without us having the time to properly ruminate over everything that came to pass from that one wild-eyed act of selling up and sailing out just after our firstborn joined us.

This is where the purple prose comes in. This afternoon I was sitting in the sunny cockpit, enjoying the Captain's prerogative of an Atlas beer from Panama while coding away in R, the computer language for data analysis that has become the Esperanto of 21st century ecologists. Suddenly I found myself taking a break from my joint problems of noisy data and complex hypotheses in order to fire up a Word document and record How It Feels, this particular moment in my life that has me as close to Ulysses as I hope to ever come.

Unfortunately, my impression of How It Felt at just that moment had me yammering on about a fire that burns hot, about a desire to get out and know this world of ours in the least abstract way imaginable. And while I might not know where that desire might lead me, I do know by god that it's a desire that I would ignore at my own peril.

That kind of stuff. I blame the Atlas beer.

But, for all that this quick scribble was not-ready-for-Cruising World type stuff, I felt the glimmer of insight in there somewhere.

There is a part of me that feels like a wild-eyed, wild-haired lunatic riding back to Alaska on the bow of our little ship, completely transformed by two lifetimes' experience packed into a single decade. Alisa and I have played it very straight on this trip in a lot of ways. For my part, I've stayed gainfully employed for about eight of the ten years, I did my PhD, and I've managed to be a no worse than average sort of dad to our two boys. But for all that, we've been living these ten years on the bleeding edge in important ways. Alisa and I set off to follow our dreams, knowing in advance that we might dream in a vivid, Patagonia-in-winter sort of way. As a result, for days or weeks or months at a time we have been living in the arena where our seamanship and our love for each other and our willingness to meld entirely into a single, single-minded unit are tested in their ability to keep the family safe and prospering and pursuing happiness on the high seas, or in some southern frosty fjord far from anyone else at all. It has been a tremendously fulfilling way to live, and like most long-time sailors who are returning home, we look forward a little nervously to belonging to a milieu where we can't share an unspoken bond over that sort of experience with our peers.

Anyway...my 2000-0000 watch is rapidly drawing to a close, so it's time to wrap up these late-night musings. A prize has been set for the first Galactic to spot an alcid, that guillemot-murre-puffin-murrelet tribe of continental shelf seabirds that will be our first notice that we really Have Arrived, even if land isn't yet in sight.

I'm putting my money on Elias to win the prize.

~~
This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Is This One That We Won't Want To End?

Seven-year-old Eric to me the other day, in conversation: "Dad, when you're sailing, it's like you're smiling and frowning at the same time."

So...that's me saved the trouble of writing the next book!

It is indeed like smiling and frowning at the same time, this business of sailing the world with my family.

On one hand, the highs are Olympian - the sun-drenched, champagne-sailing, endless days with nothing but the clouds and the birds and the horizon and ourselves for company.

And even the everyday, less-than-peak moments make me smile. Like when I realize how many hours a day I manage to spend with my children on average through the year.

And yes, there are the frowns. For anyone who thinks that we take unreasonable risks by taking children on ocean crossings: believe me, you haven't even begun to consider the risks in the depth that Alisa and I have considered them. We've lived those risks, really, for the last decade - evaluating them, and evaluating our ability to evaluate them, and coming to grips with our own set of best practices for managing them. I don't know how Alisa feels about it, but it's enough to keep a furrow on my brow at sea. And also enough to set me into a flurry of parental over-reaction when the boys do something boyish like mucking around on our steep companionway ladder.

Besides those big-picture frowns, there is also that everyday background frown that comes from sharing space with Eric when he just needs to get off the boat and go for a run already, and I just need to catch up on my fractured sleep.

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that my own personal sailing frown/smile equation balances out at just this side of rapture. Chucking it all to set out while our oldest son was still too young to walk turned out to be the most worthwhile hare-brained undertaking that I can imagine.

And so now, as we return to the Rock (Kodiak's nickname for itself) from whence we set out, I have found myself wondering if we'll pull a Moitessier. Will we reach one of those blissful end-of-passage states that we sometimes achieve and decide to just keep sailing until we find ourselves anchored once again off the Iluka pub?

Don't bet on it. We are the do what we set out to do crowd, Alisa and I, and in this instance we set our minds on what we might rediscover in the place we used to call home.

Meanwhile, here's some of the more quotidian details of the passage as it stands...

We showered in the sun on the back deck yesterday, and spent today in thermals and rain gear, even though we are still south of the latitude of San Francisco. Just now we're trying to keep a low from running us over, and then we hope to harvest a day or two more of southerly winds from that system, keeping us pumping along in more or less the right direction. It's been a fiddly passage, as befits one mostly outside of the trades. I feel like I'm forever trying to eke a few more degrees out of whatever setup we're using, trying to fall off or come up just a bit more without poling out the jib or taking the pole down or gybing. We have spent barely any time at all aiming right at Kodiak, and are meandering back and forth across the North Pacific in more or less the right direction.

And, our real news: for several days now we've been seeing albatross. Mostly black-footed, and a few Laysan.

We do love the tropics, but those oceans where the albatross roam might be our true home.

~~
This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

With the Flow

From Kona, on the leeward side of the Big Island of Hawai'i, northbound boats are faced with the surprisingly not-straightforward task of reconnecting with the open ocean.

In one sense, we were on the open Pacific as soon as we left Honokohau Harbor. But we were also on the leeward side of the chain, and had to somehow get ourselves back to the windward side, where the tradewinds blow.

We didn't even think of heading south around the Big Island. That would involve miles and miles of travel straight into the trades.

Likewise the 'Alenuihaha Channel, which funnels the trades between the Big Island and Maui. We were content to just get ourselves into the tail end of that one and race downwind along the middle of the main island chain - past Maui, Kaho'olawe, Lana'i and Moloka'i.

The place names are surely one of the delights of this American Polynesia.

On our first night out I pointed the bow up towards the Kaiwi Channel, between Moloka'i and Oahu. On the midnight watch change a calmer head prevailed and we fell off to pass Oahu to starboard.

So we got to see the towers of Waikiki in the night. Where we saw rivers of lava pouring down the hills when we first made landfall on the Big Island at the end of the passage from Panama, on Oahu we saw rivers of street lights pouring down the hills in the night.

During the day I had the very pleasant experience of recognizing the towers in Makaha where my grandparents had a condo for years and years. A picture of my beloved grandfather from that place rides above the chart table on Galactic - him in 1980s leisure wear, feet up, out on the lanai, a tumbler of scotch and ice in his cupped hands, his ever-recognizable smile anchoring the picture. Neat in a closing the circle kind of way to sail by that spot all these years later, with one great-grandson he never knew, and another with whom he shared the briefest spark of mutual regard.

And thence through the very tame Kauai Channel, and to the tradewinds one last time on this voyage. All this mucking around on the leeward side taking us more or less no closer to Kodiak, as Elias was not ashamed to point out to me.

Once we found the trades they were fresh, and blowing dead from the east. So we fell off to the north-northwest, being completely unwilling to take fresh trades forward of the beam. From the beginning we have always seen travel under sail as a process of working with what the ocean presents us, rather than bending wind and wave to our will. I suppose all sailors look at it that way. And only a landlubber would expect that a boat could travel dead north on an easterly while beam reaching. Your apparent wind, which is the sum of the true wind and the boat's motion through the atmosphere, bends ineluctably towards the bow, and demands a falling off away from the wind in the interest of comfort and sanity.

So. That's us still, sailing north-northwest, and not much towards Kodiak, which lies just east of north from us.

With luck, though, we will describe a beautiful sinuous track back to our home port, as the winds begin to bend southerly around the North Pacific high, and we then pick up the westerlies of the mid latitudes.

Alisa began this passage quite sick, with a cold that flared up into fever and sore throat. I began severely sleep deprived by my final push to meet science work obligations. And so poor Elias, who is desperately keen to wet some of his new lures from the Big Island, has had to hold off on the fishing, as neither parent has been up to gaffing and cleaning in these fresh trades. When he did get lines into the water briefly he came within an inch of catching a petrel, and had to hurriedly pull out.

And now, the sun is rising with low clouds heavy with rain all around us. We are completely alone, as alone as you ever are on a small boat on this big big ocean, and completely reliant on ourselves to get where we are going.

Is it a wonder that land life might seem stale?

~~
This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Symmetry

So...to bed late and up early. That certainly doesn't change.

One difference from a very big day almost 10 years ago is that now we use our internet connection to get a final hi-def weather download onboard before we go.

But aside from that little detail, and bigger details like having a crew of four instead of three, I am very struck by the symmetry of this moment and its bookend.

The prospect of sailing to Alaska is nearly as exciting as the prospect of sailing to Australia.


Monday, June 12, 2017

A Month in Hawai'i


"We just spent a month in Hawai'i," said Alisa. "I think we'll look back at that and be blown away."

And so it is with this nautical existence of ours.

I tend to cast a gimlet eye on sailors' easy talk about "freedom".

But having discretionary time in such quantities that we can spend a month in a place like Kona, meeting the locals and getting a taste of the life, while we're also working on making little contributions to our understanding of the North Pacific (me), or making very big contributions to the education of the next generation (Alisa)...well. That's the thing right there, isn't it?

But this time in Hawai'i has come to an end. Elias has raised the Blue Peter (below), that age-old signal of a ship about to put to sea.

And...I'm feeling the moment. Tomorrow when we wake, we will set sail for Alaska.


This picture and and the one at the top - our good friend Jamie, a long-time Kona connoisseur, turned us onto this great walk south from Honokohau Harbor. It was good fun to discover something like this just off the boat at the very end of our stay.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Restrained Pessimism

Today, Saturday the 10th of June, was at one time the target that we set as the very latest day we might depart on the Kona-Kodiak rally.

As it turns out, we're now hoping that we'll actually leave at dawn on Monday the 12th.

There is a wonderful bit of symmetry here.

Summer solstice, June the 21st, 2007, was at one time the target date that we set as the very latest day we might leave Kodiak to begin this trip. We actually limped out of town on June the 23rd.

Leaving port always turns out to be a deal for us. In those early days we pointed to a crew member in diapers as our ready-made excuse. These days we point to my science work load.
Who's the old guy fitting deadlights on Galactic?
I'm approaching this passage with what I call restrained pessimism.

I figure there's an even chance that we'll hit a gale up north. So I'm fitting deadlights, those extra-strong polycarbonate outer window that protect our portlights. We'll leave with the trysail bent to the mast and lashed in place, the naval pipe plugged with plumber's putty, etc., etc. We always figure that the best time to prepare for bad weather is when we're still in port.

But I won't go all out and attach the series drogue to the stern cleats and lash it to the deck in its bag, ready to deploy at any moment. That sort of preparation is fine for New Zealand-Chile or South Georgia-South Africa, but it is summer in this hemisphere after all, and I don't foresee things getting so nautical that we actually have to resort to the drogue.

So, you see: restrained pessimism.

And, more than anything, I'm struck by what a different crew it is that is eyeing this last homeward passage. Early on in our trip, the idea of a gale at sea made my knees weak. Now, we just think in terms of trips that fall along a continuum of easy to less so. We'll set out from Hawai'i and see what we get. I'm reminded of an account I read by a 19th century inhabitant of the northwest Alaskan Arctic, writing about his Inupiat companions' attitude towards the hazards of winter. They understood better than anyone the dangers of winter weather, he wrote, but they evinced no concern over them.

I think that we might have earned just ever so small a modicum of that attitude when it comes to long passages outside of the tradewind belt.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

To Poncet

Long-time readers (my favorite people!) will remember the idyllic Christmas that Galactic enjoyed at our friend Leiv Poncet's family island-farm in the Falklands two and a half years ago.

Left to right: Galactic, Leiv's Peregrine, and the family boat, Damien II
Beaver Island is a very beautiful place (above). And it is an even more practical place (below).
Inside the Beaver Island shed
Leiv's family have been keeping Southern Ocean working boats going for decades, and they are the kind of people who can turn their hands to anything. During our visit we gained a tremendous respect for Leiv's practical skills, and it didn't hurt my estimation of him when he expressed his very laissez-faire attitude towards marine engineering ("Regular engine maintenance is a waste of time.").

What a breath of fresh air from the de rigueur anal-retentiveness about maintenance that American yachties so often take as a given. Leiv has a great let's-get-this-boat-ready-for-the-charter-season attitude that has seen him across a lot of oceans. As is ever the case with a sailor, the proof is in the miles he has sailed.

So recently, Alisa and I hit upon the perfect way to distill our appreciation of that wonderful combination of vast ability and relaxed approach.

To whit, we coined a commemorative, eponymous verb: "to Poncet".

Alisa, in the act of Ponceting the main
To Poncet a job is very akin to the "get 'er done" of the American male vernacular, but, well..."get 'er done" somehow doesn't translate to solo Southern Ocean circumnavigations.

With the inaugural, one-boat version of the Kona to Kodiak rally just about to commence, we've had a few jobs to knock off. And...well...the bloom is well off the frantic pre-passage preparation routine. For once we just want to get the damn barky ready and go to sea without any bashed knuckles and late nights.

So, "Poncet it!" has been our rallying cry.

When we got the main down on the deck to attend to its rotten luff, I was at first dour about our chances. I figured the best we could do would be to patch it, nurse it up to Kodiak, and then ship it off to a sailmaker in Seattle over the winter.

But then we got into the job, and got into the spirit of Ponceting it - get it fixed, don't sweat the details, and move on with life.

And...it's a very liberating attitude. After a couple days of working together on the project, we realized that we were doing a fine job. We don't need no stinkin' sailmaker. Give us a floor large enough to lay out the sail this next winter, instead of our cramped foredeck, and we'll be able to finish the job proper.

So here we are...ten years into the life, and just reaching the point where we're really ready to go off and sail the world in our own boat.

Post-Poncet

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Sailors' Delight


You know a passage is coming up when I start posting pictures of the weather forecast.
We just got a call from a friend in Kodiak, asking when we might be setting out from Hawai'i on this final leg of our trip, and would we be interested in a party when we arrive. (Thanks, Debra!)

In a way that's the first tangible (is a call tangible?) sign of our fairly imminent arrival.

I'm sure that I'll get excited when the time comes. But right now Kodiak still seems too far away to get worked up over.

What I am excited about - in a very visceral way - is the forecast that I looked at this morning (above). The classic summer North Pacific pattern seems to be setting up, at least for a day. That circle in the isobars at the middle of the basin is the North Pacific High, and the circle around western Alaska is the Aleutian Low. And it's pretty easy to imagine how the winds those two pressure centers are spinning up might waft a boat every so delightfully from Kona to Kodiak.

After what has been, by any reasonable measure, a lot of passagemaking over the last decade, I find that I get this nearly sensual anticipation over the possibility of a good one.

We'll see what transpires.

Alisa had the sewing machine out to work on the sails and whipped out this holder for Elias' trolling lures at the end of the day. The lures were given to Elias by a very kind local fisherman in the sport charter trade. (Thanks, Sean!)

Stainless, or, A Parent's Progress


So this was our sole crew - Elias James Abookire Litzow - exactly three days after we left Kodiak and began this decadal Odyssey of ours.

At that time, Alisa and I were simultaneously learning to be parents and full-time sailors. We were drinking from the fire hose, every day, all day long. We marveled at all the discretionary time that sailors with all-adult crews had to enjoy.

And, when I was feeling expansive, I would ridicule those no-child sailors of our acquaintance.

"All the time in the world," I would say to Alisa. "And what do they do with it? They polish their stainless!" (Pause for horrified look.) "And then they complain about how busy they are!"

Coming from a robust working port like Kodiak (484 million pounds of fish across the dock in 2014), it was easy to pick out the sillier foibles of the yachtie world. And taking the time to polish the stainless steel on a boat that spent its whole life in salt water was very high on my personal list, indeed.


Can you see where this is going?

The picture above is our younger crew, Eric Leo Abookire Litzow, just this Sunday.

School was off. He had the whole day open for himself. Parental opinion was that he was doing a very poor job of filling it.

The kids on yacht Pelagic, who just pulled in from Nuku Hiva, were inconveniently off touring Volcanoes National Park. Eric didn't want to go off the boat and play. He did want to take every chance to pick a fight with his brother and make us all miserable.

It didn't take too long for the light bulb to go on over my head. After Eric pulled one too many outrageous provocations on his older brother, Elias was set loose to go to the beach by himself while Eric was set down in front of our acres of dull stainless with a tube of polish and two rags. (One for applying the polish, the other for buffing it out.)

After all, a boat should look its best, right? And who wouldn't want polished stainless when the labor isn't their own?

Monday, June 5, 2017

Stop and Think

What sailors really think about - the weather. In this case, the weather between Hawai'i and "home".
It doesn't look uncomplicated!
After a visit back to the mainland US to catch up with our families, we are now very happily ensconced once again on the mothership.

One more big ole jump across the blue marble and we expect to be back "home" to Kodiak, that delightfully real commercial fishing town that our boys know not at all and that we know only through ten years of selective memory retention.

(How "delightfully real" is Kodiak as a commercial fishing port? I just looked at the numbers. For 2014, the weight of landings in Kodiak was 35 times the weight of landings for the entire nation of Australia.)

That arrival back at our starting point remains firmly abstract to me. I'll believe it when I see the green hills of Kodiak off our bow.

What's not so abstract is the way that we are engaging with the future that we hope to build for ourselves there.

For me, that means the endless quest for the scientist's Beast Glatisant, or "research funding", and the resulting fascination with the Beast's fewmets, or Requests for Proposals, Proposal Reviews, and Panel Decisions. (Yes, I have recently read The Once and Future King to my boys.)

And for both Alisa and me, that means another attempted act of transference, as we look to work that magic trick of bringing a dream to life. In this case, it is that long-standing dream of ours that goes something like this: "Hey, we're two marine biologists who have a boat of our own. Surely there is a worthwhile research project out there that we are uniquely suited to pursue?"

No mean feat, bringing a dream to life. Especially when that dream requires outside funding. But, given our track record in the living-the-dream department, I wouldn't bet against us. We're focusing the dream idea on the northern Bering and southern Chukchi Seas in the Alaskan Arctic. Stay tuned.

But as our entanglements with land life grow, I can feel the capacity for thought and reflection, one of the treasures of the sailing life, slipping away from us.

Any transition from a ten-year sailing trip back to a more settled existence is bound to entail some pretty big jumps in perspective and moments of cognitive dissonance.

But we have the unique "good fortune" of looking to plug back into our far corner of the US just as that country is going through a time that most politely might be described as "uniquely interesting". On top of the normal personal transition ahead of us, there are larger historical questions at play, some of them existential, that are so difficult to answer in the flash of the moment. (Mad props to you, George Orwell, for so often correctly calling the big historical questions of your time.)

As that transition gets closer, I only hope we keep some of that big-horizon perspective that comes to people who sail the world in their own boats.
School daze - Eric takes a spelling test, Elias yawns.
After 10 years on the Pacific Seafarers' ham net, we finally met longtime net control and former  yachtie Randy, KH6RC. And, incredibly kindly, he gave Elias all of his old pelagic trolling lures and a rod and reel. Very happy kid there.
The latest issue of Cruising World.
The Galactics love national parks! And, like all true westerners, we love public lands in general. It's those people Back East (Wyoming, thinking of you!) who want to lock them up in private ownership.

Kilauea Iki. This was a lake of lava in 1959. We visited on a drizzly cold morning and saw exactly one other party of tourists on the whole four mile walk.