Friday, March 9, 2018

It's (almost) Over Johnny
By Michael

Shortly after arriving back in Ajo from Fiji,
we took a quick trip down to Mexico (the
border is only 30 miles away). Sunsets like
this were our reward.
After seven years that stand as among the most enriching and illuminating of our lives, we’ve got an end game planned.

After we return to Del Viento in Fiji in early June, we’ll haul the old gal and paint the bottom and re-grease the MaxProp. Then we’ll check out of Fiji and head west for Vanuatu. Uncharacteristic of this crew, we won’t spend more than a few weeks there before setting sail for New Caledonia. Then, still on a delivery-like schedule, we’ll raise anchor soon after arriving and point our bow for Australia, likely making landfall in Brisbane. At this point, we’ll pack our things, clean Del Viento, put a For Sale sign on her, and fly back to the States to build a new life on land.

We’ll be back in time for Eleanor to start high school—she’s 14 for goodness sake, she’ll be 15 this fall. Frances is 12. My kids have spent the bulk of their lives so far as sailing vagabonds.

In fact, this has been such a unique and vibrant and recent chapter in my life that it feels like the bulk of my life. Seven years on a tiny private island with my family. The beauty and magic of that, especially in retrospect, is something I’ll always be grateful for.

My friend Wendy Mitman Clarke once wrote that she doesn’t like the term cruising lifestyle, she wrote that it feels smarmy, perhaps illicit. I see her point, but it leaves me with a loss of words when trying to describe the way we’ve lived as cruisers. Because it is a lifestyle, and one so removed from what is common, from how I grew up, for example, that living the cruising lifestyle imparted an identity. To most family and friends and acquaintances, we’re the only ones they know living like we do. For a decade, it’s been who we are, first as the family with the crazy plans and then as the family enjoying the cruising lifestyle.

The cruising lifestyle has suited us. It’s made us happy and rich, though not financially, but in many of the ways in life that matter. As the end draws near, we don’t have a smidgen of regret for deciding to cast off as we did. For that I’m grateful. In fact, I remind myself that most families don’t even get the short sailing adventure we still have ahead of us.

Of course, things could be different, right now regret could be the primary feeling about our cruising lives. On more than one occasion, only blind luck saved us from a very different reality. But that’s the case no matter the path we choose in life. No question I’d rather be on a path that challenges and provokes than one that pacifies. The cruising lifestyle taught me the meaning and value of the idea that life is short.

Which begs the question: why stop?

I think the reasons are different for each of us.

I feel like I have no choice but to stop, regrettably. For the past year, my gig as Good Old Boat editor has been more than a full-time job, and one that requires regular Internet connectivity. Both those demands are at odds with the family cruising lifestyle. Upon accepting this role (the previous role as managing editor was half-time and not such a conflict) we cancelled plans we’d had to head north for Japan, something that was upsetting to all of us. (Even getting to Australia this year will be a challenge, in terms of juggling work.) But, I need an income and at least this career provides an enormous amount of flexibility and mental stimulation and genuine interest. I’m fortunate that have successfully navigated a mid-life career change, and to have put it off long enough to have the time on the water we did.

Windy wasn’t ready to stop, but realized we must. And now, having gotten her head around the idea, she’s among the most enthusiastic stoppers of us all. No regrets, we’ve had a good run, time to move on. Let’s plant a garden!

Eleanor would have gladly retired from the vagabond sailing life a year ago. She wants permanence. She wants to be in a setting where she sees more people her age and sees them regularly. She wants to find her tribe. I don’t understand this. I’ve told her how miserable I found high school, but she’s got a mind of her own and that we can’t ignore.

Frances is content to keep cruising, just as we have, indefinitely. I guess she and I are of like mind that way, but I’m part of the reason we’re stopping, and she is not. I feel badly for this, but I reason that she’s the kind of kid who will be happy anyplace and she’s extraordinarily lucky to have had the time she’s had. I also feel that part of her reticence to leave the cruising life behind is tied to the fact that it’s really all she knows. Frances remembers very little of the house in Washington, D.C., the house she was born in and that we left seven years ago. She’ll be fine, but she’s not ready to leave the party.

So we’re almost done.

Going back to the identity thing, there is a nagging feeling that when we leave Australia, I’ll be leaving part of who I am behind. We’ve become those people who live on a boat and travel. I think the molting that’s coming will be good. “I live on a boat and travel,” was too easy. It begged questions for which I had pat answers guaranteed to impress. I rarely had to explain or define myself further. It was my skin and it was comfortable. Our cruising lifestyle was the why of everything. When it’s over, I'll be just another guy who lives in a house. I won’t fall back on “I used to live on a boat and travel.” Perhaps that’s the new journey ahead, a challenge to find the life ashore that provokes.

View from a road in Fiji.

Eleanor aboard Del Viento opening the package of nori
in preparation for assembling her sushi. We had dinner
together as a family (at a table) nearly every night of our cruising
lives. It's something that we take for granted and a practice
we'll maintain in our land lives.

Here we are at the Nadi airport. Windy's face says it all, it was grueling
to get to this point. We brought a lot of stuff back with us this time--one
more load like this from Australia this fall, and everything else goes with
the boat.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Even the Losers
By Michael

Some of the bearings and shrapnel
that came out of my Yanmar.
Last fall, when I left Windy and the girls in Fiji to return to the States for the boat show in Annapolis and a visit with my folks in central California, I left them with a sick Yanmar. The raw water pump was on its way out, the interior walls corroded so badly that it was ripping up impellers and not allowing much water to be pushed. I called my Yanmar guy in San Diego and asked about a new pump.



“Yes…but, you can cut that in half by fitting the pump of another model on there—pumps the same volume of water—but you’ll have to order a specialized hose kit to make it work as the alternative pump input and output ports are in totally different locations.”

So I brought the alternative pump home with me, understanding that it would be a straightforward R&R.


I looked at the new pump from every angle, comparing it to the old. The gears lined up, the bolt holes matched. It looked good. The ports weren’t labeled, but I figured out the orientation based on the new hose kit and then confirmed. I was good to go.

If you’ve ever installed a backwards-facing raw water pump on a Yanmar with front-of-engine-only access, you can appreciate the challenge of this job. After removing the alternator to get in there, it’s working totally by feel and restricted to turning a couple nuts with a box wrench only about 20 degrees each go. All the while leaning forward at a difficult angle with only your forehead to support you. Typical boat work.

So I got the pump in and tightened her down and started the motor.

The pump squealed and made awful noises and the plate on the front of the engine, housing the bearing support, got really hot, really quick. I just knew I’d done something to mess up the gears and they were grinding themselves to bits. But lots of water shot out the back and then the noises stopped. And the plate cooled. And the water continued to shoot out the back.

Something had happened. Something was wrong. But all seemed good. Except for the slow leaking of water from the pump. With a flashlight I could see it drip, drip, drip. Obviously, the seals in this new pump were bad, or had been damaged by whatever had made that awful noise at start-up. But the water continued to gush out the exhaust like never before.

After a while, the oil pressure alarm began to faintly protest, not a full-blown alert, just a weak, sporadic buzz. I shut the engine down.

I got a good night’s sleep and resolved to taking it all apart again. To figure out what was going on.

The first thing I noticed in the morning is that the pan deep below the engine was filled with motor oil. I pumped out a few quarts.

At some point I realized that the dripping I’d assumed was water, had been oil. I felt for where the pump flange meets the engine and found a gap, and found that the pump was loose. It didn’t make sense. I’d tightened down the four mounting bolts as tightly as I could, now I could turn them by hand.

Here is the new pump fresh out of the engine,
with the inner bearing housing pressed on
(by me) to the hex nut.
I began taking everything apart. I started by removing the backing plate for the bearing support. Bearings and bits of ground-up metal fell out. This looked really bad. Then I realized what had happened.

This wasn’t a simple R&R. I should have noticed that the new pump wasn’t designed with a shaft intended to rest in a bearing support. In fact, the new pump had a hex nut on the end of the shaft that would be totally incompatible with any bearing support. For some reason, I’m dismissed this difference between the two pumps when I compared them.

I’d tightened up the new pump against the bearing support that prevented the pump flange from mating fully with the engine. When I started the engine, two things happened: oil leaked out the gap and the hex nut tore the bearing support to shreds.

The now-unnecessary bearing support.

Things were looking good. I reached into the housing to make sure I’d recovered all the bits and pieces, fortunately trapped and confined to that area. I removed the bearing race from the support. I reinstalled everything. I filled the engine up with oil.

All is good.

For all the nightmare scenarios that had been running through my head after hearing the noises, then to see the bearings and metal bits spill out of the engine, for this dumb error, I got off super easy.

As sung by the late, great Tom Petty (how I hate to write that), even the losers get lucky sometimes.

New pump and old, note on the old pump the smooth shaft intended
to rest in the bearing support. Note on the old, the hex nut beneath
the bearing inner race that is jammed onto it.

This is the bearing support housing plate that is bolted to the front
of the engine.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Stuffed and Ready
By Michael

"What’s this?"

Windy and I borrowed bikes one
morning and toured part of the small

"Stuffing? What’s that?"

I heard this back-and-forth about 5 times beside the long table where all of us had lined up our Thanksgiving dishes for what turned out to be a surprisingly grand potluck at Musket Cove’s outdoor Island Bar. All the kid boats are gone, Terrapin and So What off exploring, the rest on their way to New Zealand. (We’re missing all of them.) So the potluckers were a mix of ex-pats living on-island and several cruising couples, still here or planning to stay through the cyclone season. We and the American couples who spearheaded the potluck are the only folks here from the States. There was at least one Canadian couple, but all the rest were Kiwis and Aussies.

Apparently stuffing isn’t widely consumed in New Zealand and Australia.

When not eating, we’re in the throes of again readying Del Viento for her months alone in the Tropics. It's turned into perhaps our biggest spring cleaning of the past several years (and before you object, spring is exactly the season we're in now, here in the southern hemisphere). We're emptying lockers and realizing how much has accumulated that we no longer need, how much the girls have grown up and out of not just clothes, but stuff. All the books that have been read. We're literally up 1/2 inch on our waterline.

This time we’ve got Don helping us while we’re gone. He’ll be moored next to us and will open her up and run the pumps regularly. He’ll check the batteries and start the motor on occasion. If a cyclone looms, he’ll take Del Viento deep into the mangroves near Denarau.

Not the Marquesas, the high point on this island
(separated by an isthmus from the larger part) is
only about 100 feet.

Doing something without the kids!

Del Viento is among the boats moored in the upper right.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Fast Lane to Nadi Town
By Michael

Loading the dinghy on the dock in Denarau
for the trip home.
We've been pretty stationary in one of Fiji's main cruising boat hubs: Musket Cove. It's not a remote remote Fijian village, it's not the bustling and interesting Suva, it's just a tourist resort that opens its doors to cruising sailors. No apologies, it's a lovely setting, we'll protected, and we've had the pleasure of  hanging with one of the best cohorts of cruising families we've seen in a while.

But for all it offers, Malololailai Island is not a good place to provision. The veggies here aren't bad, but we left our last good place to provision with too few staples aboard, and knowing that we're leaving Fiji at the end of this month, we've been careful not to over-buy. The result is we've needed to get back to Nadi Town (via Denarau) a few times to get what we need. Fortunately, Windy found a mode of transport much cheaper and more appealing than the only (high-priced) ferry that brings the tourists and their luggage back and forth.

About a month ago, Windy went exploring by dinghy with Susan of Wiz. They found a couple of villages on the island and met Sia. At some point, the cruising women learned that Sia's husband makes the trip to Denarau every Saturday (market day in Fiji and much of the world), for a shopping run. His panga makes what would be a 3-hour trip in Del Viento into a 30-minute E-ticket ride (does anyone even use that expression any more?).

So a few times now, Windy's made the passage. The panga arrives at 7:00am, they're in Denarau by 7:30, the village usually has a driver waiting at the dock to take shoppers into Nadi Town. In town, Windy fills her cart and then lets the cashier know she's with Sia, her stuff gets boxed and put aside, and she's free to go to another store. When shopping day is done, a driver collects all the people and provisions, takes everything back to the panga, everyone loads up, and makes the passage home.


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Boo and Birthday
By Michaeal

Even Mona gets thirsty.
The end of October is always a special time for the Del Viento crew. Windy turns a year older, Eleanor’s birthday is just before Halloween, there’s the dress-up-and-candy day itself, and then soon after, I pull another year away from Windy.

Eleanor’s birthday was low-key and enjoyable. For Halloween we planned to be on a mooring off Musket Cove, a resort on an island off the coast of Nadi. We heard there might be other kid boats there, many waiting for a window to make the hop to New Zealand.

It didn’t disappoint, one of our girls’ favorite cruising Halloweens so far—and that’s saying a lot, given the success of Santa Rosalia a few years back and Woodacre before that.

Next Halloween? We're shooting for Montana. More on those plans in a future post.


It's really all about this group, kind of magical. All the kids
clicked, nearly all a bit on the older side. They're not all pictured
here, but from Del Viento, Terrapin, Pesto, Me Too, So What, Enough,
and an unnamed boat.

Eleanor opening one of  her birthday gifts, a
pedal for her electric piano. All wearing her new
21 Pilots t-shirt and her new bandana.
Definitely a black theme, welcome 14!

On the beach doing the birthday cake thing.

The girls came up with and executed their costumes
themselves. Surprisingly, all we had to acquire were
the plastic flowers for Frida's head décor. Leo wasn't
around, so Mona painted her own cardboard
background and frame.

Halloween 2017

Not all of them, only those we could rally for this photo.
Many of the adults were in costume too and thanks to
some of us just back from trips to the States,
there were the Halloween staples like you
cannot find in Fiji: Snickers, Take Five, Twix, etc.

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