Friday, February 25, 2011

By Michael

Still from Crowhurst's self-shot video
While much has been written about the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, it is such an incredible story, on so many different levels, that it is worth repeating for anyone who is not aware. Several nights ago, I again watched the 2006 documentary, Deep Water. It is about the Race and its most fated entrant. If you want to watch a compelling, riveting, true story of a man pushed over the edge by the pressures of a classic Mexican standoff in which he plays both sides, Deep Water is for you.

In July 1967, all of Great Britain—and much of the world—was captivated by the knighting of Sir Francis Chichester, an experienced and accomplished yachtsman who had just finished sailing around the world alone, in record time via the southern capes. This had never been done before. This was a remarkable achievement, one that catapulted him to fame.

The newspaper that sponsored Chichester’s voyage enjoyed a tremendous return on their investment, given the success and sustained popularity of the story. They were eager to repeat their success…but how?

Less than a year later, The Sunday Times upped the ante by announcing a £5,000 purse to the person who not only repeated the feat,  but who did it non-stop (Chichester had stopped for repairs and supplies in South Africa). Many doubted such a voyage, non-stop and much of it in the southern ocean, was possible. Even if a vessel could endure 26,000 miles without stopping, could a human being cope with the stress of such sustained isolation?

Nine men entered the race. Eight of them had impressive sailing resumes, one did not.

Donald Crowhurst was an Englishman and tinkerer with a failing business and a wife and three kids to support. He day sailed on the weekends and hatched a plan that eventually put forces into motion he could not control.

While he’d neither owned nor sailed a multihull, Crowhurst had an idea for an inflatable airbag device that could be mounted atop the mast and prevent a multihull from capsizing.

Crowhurst believed that if he could sail one around the world non-stop, alone, and faster than his competitors, he would prove the viability of his airbag invention and sell a ton of them, or so he hoped. He commissioned a yard to build his vessel, a Piver-designed trimaran. Teignmouth Electron was finished only a few weeks before the departure deadline for entrants. The construction was rushed and incomplete when he took delivery. He had only a few weeks aboard the new vessel to shake it down and learn to sail her. Crowhurst departed on the last possible day with strong reservations about the undertaking, little faith in his vessel, and the knowledge that if he didn’t start and finish the race he would lose his house under terms he signed to fund his boat.

He had spent very little time sailing her. He was still making repairs and installing fittings the day he left. His invention was neither complete nor installed. But on that cloudy day, thousands of his countrymen gathered to see him off. His campaign was heavily publicized by the paper. He was the underdog and had become immensely popular.

Diaries and log books recovered later reveal that Crowhurst determined early on that his boat was not fit for the trip. He knew that if he continued on to the southern ocean, he would die. He knew that if he sailed home, he would lose his home and face financial ruin and humiliation. He hatched another plan: Crowhurst decided to fake his trip.

He would hang out in the relatively benign equatorial region, sailing nowhere for months while the other racers made their way around the globe. He would report fake positions over the radio, keep a fake logbook, and at some point tuck in behind the others and finish the race, but not win the race.

Crowhurst radioed false position reports that gradually put him in a competitive position. (This was 20 years before the first GPS and the complexity of interpolating a false position, recording false celestial sights and the corresponding calculations, is noteworthy.)

However, in short order, the 9-boat field shrank down to four boats, following five sailors' abandonment of the race. Of the remaining four, Robin Knox-Johnston finished the race, leaving Bernard Moitessier, Nigel Tetley, and Donald Cowhurst in a battle for the finish and the prize for the fastest time (Knox-Johnston departed much earlier).

Moitessier looked to be the sure winner, but just prior to completing the race, he decided to forego the fame and instead did a one-eighty and headed back around the world without finishing (reflecting his personal rejection of the commercialization of the race).

This put Tetley in line to win, but he was not far ahead of Crowhurst (so he believed) and so he charged on, pushing his boat hard. But Tetley’s boat was falling apart by this time and not prepared for any charge. It sank and he was rescued from his life raft.

When the English press announced that Crowhurst was now likely to win with the fastest time, the English people went wild. When Crowhurst learned of his fate, sailing directly into exposure of his fraud, and financial ruin, his descent into madness was brief. His suicide followed.

Again, the documentary about Crowhurst and this remarkable race is called Deep Water. It is in video stores and on Netflix. It is a fascinating, detailed telling of this story and includes a lot of video of Crowhurst—the anxiety on his face the day he leaves is apparent. Almost 40 years after the race, his wife and one son are interviewed extensively in the film, as is the reporter from The Sunday Times who followed the story as it unfolded.

I would love to read your comments if you’ve seen it already, or your impressions after you do.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Another Way To Provision
By Michael

SAIL magazine Associate Editor Charles Doane keeps an interesting blog called Wavetrain. His dry humor and perspective are a pleasure and he covers "cruising sailboats and other aquatic miracles." True to his subtitle, he posted recently the fascinating video below of Haitians loading a truck onto a sailboat. I figured it must be a one-off, an incredible attempt to do something that is probably not a good idea.

But clearly my Western thinking blinded me to what is possible because once on YouTube, I found several such videos , featuring increasingly larger trucks (first a Mack dump truck, then a large box truck). It is now clear that our first order of business when we get aboard Del Viento will be to strengthen her toe rails.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Healthcare and Cruising
By Michael

Several of the responses to my guest post on Get Rich Slowly (mostly an audience without a knowledge or understanding of the cruising community) asked simply, "What about health insurance?" As our departure date approaches, we are crossing one thing after another off our list(s). But one thing we haven't yet resolved is whether or not to buy health insurance (and not having health insurance does not mean not having health care).
Windy bandaged up and listening to her instructor at NOLS

In the United States, the cost of health care rightly leaves folks feeling like health insurance is an imperative. The employer-based nature of our health insurance industry leaves many folks feeling like maintaining a relationship with an employer who will make you a de facto member of a group policy, is an imperative. Furthermore, switching employers severs ties to that group and can leave you unable to join another group, should you have any pre-existing condition. Because illness and corresponding health care expenses are one path to personal bankruptcy in the U.S., it is understandable that the first mental roadblock when contemplating an adventure like ours is, "What about health insurance."
Well, we've already decided to leave the employer-based system and the only question that remains is whether or not to purchase insurance on our own, and if we do, what kind?
As I see it, there are three non-employer-based health insurance options for the U.S.-based cruiser:
  • A traditional policy through a U.S.-based company like Blue Cross/Blue Shield. This can be either a policy akin to what most folks get from their employer (in terms of coverage and deductible limits) or it can be a high-deductible ($5,000 to $10,000) policy that includes defined lifetime caps.

  • A traditional policy through a company based in the country we happen to be in for an extended period of time. These policies are used by cruisers who spend many months, or years, in one country. Mexico is the example I am most familiar with. In several ports of call, there are cruisers who have obtained FM3s, or long-term non-immigrant visas. They often carry insurance through Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social (IMSS) and/or a private carrier. In both cases the costs are almost negligible.

  • An international policy that provides coverage in any country. These policies are underwritten by non-U.S. companies and intended for long-term international travelers and feature high-deductibles. Not surprisingly, they universally limit to six months per calendar year the amount of time that can be spent in the U.S..
I've looked into the first option and the cost is prohibitive (roughly $7,000 per year for our family), even with a large deductible ($5,000). Even if costs were within our budget, coverage is not designed for folks who receive care outside of the U.S.. For us, this option is not really an option.

The second option, buying into the Mexican system for the time we are there, and perhaps supplementing this with a private carrier, is attractive, for the time we are in Mexico. I've read numerous accounts by cruisers in Mexico who have received excellent care, for everything from routine dental work to complicated surgeries. I have no reservations about Mexican health care for us and the total costs are comparable to what we pay in co-pays and deductibles in the U.S.. I've read that the annual cost of IMSS is $250 per person.
The third option is a popular one. I read last year on Lin and Larry Pardey's blog about their 2002 research leading them to purchase health insurance through Lifeboat Medical Insurance. Another company I read good things about is Seven Corners and their Reside plan. (Note: Seven Corners happens to also be the administrator of the Lifeboat plan, though I think the underwriters are different, and the rates for Lifeboat seem to be a bit lower, but require membership in the Charter Yacht Society, only $25) I received quotes from both companies for our family at roughly $1,800 per year (Reside) and $1,500 per year (Lifeboat), with a $5K deductible. These companies are attuned to the needs of folks of all nationalities living and travelling all over the world.
Just based on blogs I've read, I suspect there are cruisers, and even cruising families, who do not carry health care insurance of any kind. For all of my adult life it would have seemed an insane proposition: considering whether or not to maintain health insurance. Even in the early stages of planning for this lifestyle change, we assumed we'd budget for the premiums of high-deductible private health insurance (often referred to in the industry as a catastrophic plan).

But I am no longer certain we will purchase conventional health insurance, perhaps at least not right away, perhaps not for the time we are in Mexico and have access to excellent care for very low cost. What we may decide to do is to remain uninsured while in Mexico, and purchase high-deductible international coverage when we leave. (The only hitch I imagine is whether a gap in coverage will present a problem when re-entering the market.)
Too, cruisers are a self-sufficient lot, often because we have to be. If you are anchored on a remote spot in the Sea of Cortez, you will address a whole range of injuries yourself that you would not think to address in a land-based U.S. life, simply because neither an ambulance nor a drive to the hospital is an option. Windy completed a comprehensive National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) First Responder course last year and she is busy putting together a comprehensive medical kit, complete with prescription antibiotics and painkillers.
Additional thoughts on addressing health care as we prepare to move aboard:
  • Another consideration is the period of time between quitting my job and crossing the border into Mexico. During that time, we will be doing a lot of driving and I may be able to increase the coverage for accident medical insurance on our auto policy.

  • What also warrants mention is the emergency medical evacuation insurance that Divers Alert Network (DAN) provides for a nominal annual fee ($55 per year for a family). They have a stellar reputation for repatriating insureds in the event of medical trauma (emergency medical evacuation). Joining this network is on our list of things to do before we leave.

  • While advances in health care technology and knowledge in the United States are impressive, I think that the system under which that technology and knowledge are administered is messed up. First, for lack of tort reform in this country, the threat of litigation forces doctors to increase the number of interventions. No matter how advanced those interventions are, they are often generally counterproductive when they are unnecessary. In 2007, I wrote about this phenomenon (that is not me in the picture) in Mothering magazine with respect to pregnancy and our decision to home birth our girls. Furthermore, unnecessary interventions increase the cost of health care, along with the high cost of premiums doctors pay to insure themselves against litigation. These self-perpetuating factors are the reason our health care costs are the highest in the world. And because they are the highest in the world, all non-U.S. based companies that provide coverage throughout the globe, restrict access to care in only one country: ours.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The How Of It All
By Michael

A few weeks back, I wrote here about an article I wrote for the personal finance blog, Get Rich Slowly. The article is about our decision to turn our lives upside down and is titled, "Sailing Away from the American Dream." That article is out today.
Our decision to drop out and sail the oceans of the world on a boat (more thoughts on this here) is the basis for interesting philosophical discussions with folks, especially other families, who are not so inclined. But before those discussions can take place, the big elephant in the room is the how of what we are doing. How in the world can we quit our jobs and live without working? The assumptions people have are usually expressed in questions that come up right away: "How long are you going to do this for?" and, "Is it your boat?"
If I answer, "Indefinitely," and "Yes," I'm bound to explain that we have not inherited a small fortune nor won the lottery. I usually offer that we are of modest means, but that we've been good savers and that the cruising lifestyle can be much less expensive than what most imagine. 
But the details about how we are making this possible usually go unanswered. Hopefully this article on Get Rich Slowly will provide those answers and thereby motivate others able and inclined to follow a similar path. Also, cruisers aboard Just A Minute provide their well-put perspective on the topic in their recent post, "About Money."

While I plan to supplement our cruising kitty by selling my writing, it may be that we find we need to stop along the way to make more money, by working in different places. If so, that will be a part of the experience—and we will embrace it. For us, this is a lifestyle change, an opportunity to expose our girls to an awful lot they could not possibly be exposed to in the lifestyle we are leaving. We are eager to take what comes and to do what we need to do, like we have done the past 14 years, and like at least a billion families do the world over, everyday.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Pirates Aboard Quest
By Michael
News broke today that pirates captured the cruising boat Quest yesterday while she was underway a few hundred miles offshore of Oman. News reports indicate that four U.S. citizens are aboard.
I checked out Quest's blog and found the following on their home page:
I thought we should have a contest and see if you can figure out where this guy on the left came from!! The winner gets to join Scott & myself for our trip across the Indian Ocean, up the Red Sea to the Med. Hurry up before this offer expires!

"The guy on the left" they refer to is a picture of a guy who appears to be a Pacific Islander. I'm not trying to win their contest, but wondering if the winners are the two other Americans with them now...
There is not yet a lot of news available about this incident. Reports do not indicate that s/v Quest (hailing from Drummond Island, MI) was travelling in a convoy of crusiers, a practice that seems to be common in the area over the past few years.

The Quest crew took delivery of their Laurie Davidson-designed sloop in New Zealand in 2001 and sailed her to California. Since that time they have cruised extensively, apparently with the goal of circumnavigating (and she was in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in 2003). Their site is rich with information about their travels. We extend our best wishes for a quick, safe resolution to this incident to the Quest owners and their crew.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Things I Will Miss: Homeschooling in D.C.
By Windy

Eleanor and her friend Ally
at the Kennedy Center
Our decision for me to quit working two years before leaving was one of the best decisions we've ever made. Even though it was an unneeded strain on our money-saving ambitions, it gave me a new perspective of D.C. and introduced me to a group of other homeschooling parents whose company, support, and inspiration I have enjoyed immensely.
I wouldn't know the city like I now do had I stayed in the workaday world. The girls and I have explored it together during the past two years, all of its nooks and crannies. As a die-hard Californian, I have come to appreciate D.C. because it's a truly international city, because of the fantastic museums, because the local government doesn't meddle too much in the affairs of homeschoolers, because of the excellent (and forgiving) public library system, because we can trek down and watch the inauguration of the first African American president, because we can walk a few blocks and stand on the mound where Lincoln came under fire, because of great public transportation, because the great outdoors runs through the middle of the city (Rock Creek Park), because it's a short drive to family-run farms, the beach, and the mountains.

Our D.C. homeschooling co-op
To top it all off, so much of what we do here is FREE (or very inexpensive, American taxpayers, I am deeply grateful). Last year I took Eleanor and her good friend Ally out for an elegant evening at the Kennedy Center to see They Might Be Giants. Total cost: $5 for the train ride, round trip.   We regularly cavort in the shadow of Teddy Roosevelt's Stalinesque statue on Roosevelt Island. (Aside from the monument, Roosevelt Island is a green pocket of wildness, surrounded by the waters of the Potomac River. We love Roosevelt Island). Total cost of each trip: $2 in fuel. When our homeschooling co-op met at the National Zoo, the cost was $5 for the the train. The museums, the monuments, the Supreme Court, the Capitol: all free. These things I will miss.
Eleanor at Calvert Cliffs State Park
Finally, we enjoy all of this in the company of a growing population of homeschoolers, many of whom, over the last couple of years, have become close friends to my daughters and me. Though these families came to homeschooling for a variety of reasons, they remind me of the cruising community in their pursuit of a lifestyle that bucks convention and sacrifices monetary gain (which is really another way of bucking convention, I suppose). Lately I find myself imagining, not wishing, but imagining our life continuing as it is today. I imagine the girls growing up with these amazing kids who are their friends. I imagine years down the line, sitting with the same parents I sat with today, sharing our misgivings and our triumphs. It would be a good life. The problem is that it doesn't include Mike, not enough of him at least. And we can't have both because D.C., aside from all of the recreational opportunities I mentioned, is a costly place to live. Most families here live on two incomes. We are fortunate that we can live on Mike's income alone.

I'm painfully aware that the decision to move onto a boat with our kids is a compromise. We hope to gain much, but we will lose much in the process. In all likelihood, we will leave D.C. and not return. We have a lot to miss.

P.S. Here are two articles written by a friend and fellow D.C. homeschooler about homeschooling in D.C.: Part 1 and Part 2 (I'm quoted in this one)
Winter at Roosevelt Island

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Boat Cards!
By Michael

Two big steps this week: boat cards and a mailing address.

Hoping to get carded
I didn't get the whole boat card thing before we left on our first trip. We had cards on board the first Del Viento only because someone gave them to us as a goodbye gift (thank you Larry). We were soon glad we had them. Cruising is a very socially transient lifestyle. Boat cards were a way for us to remember the folks we ran into. I can thumb through our collection from 15 years ago and recall people and events I may have well forgotten.
Rather than a photo on our cards this time, I commisioned a nautical artist in Washington state to sketch our boat. I heard  about Jeff Orlando from a post by Andiamo III, about how he drew the picture of their boat on their cards. When I got to Jeff's site, I liked his gallery of drawings and boat cards he's done for others. Using just a few pictures of our boat and a description of the scene I wanted, he did an outstanding job. He was generous with his time and just a nice guy.

Of course, before we could get our cards, we needed a mailing address to put on them. We ended up using St.Brendan's Isle. While I like the folksy, mom-and-pop quality of their competitor, Voyagers Mail Forwarding Service, SBI's reputation is stellar and they offer a mail scanning service that may alleviate the need for most physical mail forwarding. Though, given that all of our banking and billing has been paperless and online for years, we don't get a lot of mail that will have to be forwarded. But they also offer a service whereby they will acquire a boat part for you at their discounted rate and ship it out right away.
In either case, it is going to cost us about a quarter-boat-buck per year, and both companies will take care of renewing our USCG documentation each year (why isn't that online yet?!). We considered asking family to handle our mail, but the knowledge these cruiser-oriented companies have in getting shipments to far flung places in the least time, with the least hassle, and at the least expense, is worth the expense, I hope. I've heard countless stories of cruisers waiting months for a package, never getting a package, extorted by customs officials, or all of the above.

It's pretty exciting to have a new address (though Florida doesn't feel like us, neither of us has any association with the place--and I meant to put our boat's Washington, D.C. hailing port on the cards and forgot). It is one more bit of tangible evidence that this huge thing is actually coming to pass.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Thread Bare and Hanging in There
By Michael

A very cold walk home from the bus stop tonight, and the winter wool coat I wear to work is thread bare, long over due for being replaced. I walked in the front door, greeted my girls, and headed straight for the back of the house to check the thermometer on the back porch. It lay broken on the ground, fallen off its mount. Crap, another thing busted.

The work sock of a soon-to-be cruiser
I returned to the living room to hang up my work bag in the coat closet; I do so carefully because the spine of the bag is broken and hanging it by the shoulder strap causes the bag to collapse on itself. I removed my shoes, no longer comfortable as they were before the insoles wore away at the toes and heel. I can feel the cool wood floors through the hole in the sole of my right sock.
This past weekend, I noticed that the squirrels chewed a large hole in the thick plastic wall of our backyard composter. Untouched by them for 10 years, we probably could have gotten $50 for the thing at our moving sale, now it is nearly worthless.
It goes on. We regularly hand-wash our motley collection of soup and cereal bowls because the few that remain don't get us through dishwasher cycles; seven of the original set of eight busted one-by-one over the past five years. Lately, we've been repurposing ramikins and our dainty collection of Chinese soup bowls--both also dwindling in numbers as they slip, one by one, through tiny, milk-slick hands. Windy's reporting a strange knock from the rear of the car and our living room furniture is cat-clawed. The finish on the dining room table is worn through and we used up the last of our firewood over the holidays. Frances's knees nearly touch her chin as she pedals her bicycle .

It feels as though everything around us is falling apart, disappearing, or begging to be replaced. We've maintained our house and ourselves, but our personal property that isn't going with us to the boat, is taxed, much of it used up or used beyond the point of donating it to the thrift store. It's hard to go out and buy new work clothes or cereal bowls when we know we'll only be using those things for a few more months (hopefully). We start a lot of sentences with, "If we weren't going cruising, we'd get a new..."

In this way, the Robertsons began austerity measures long before they were The Thing. And while this has been good for the cruising kitty, the side effects are not pretty. We've become a rag-tag bunch. Only eighty days remain before the house goes up for sale...


Monday, February 7, 2011

By Windy

Paul and Oli at Koh Samui
My brother just sent this picture from Thailand of himself and my nephew Oliver playing in the water in Koh Samui. Paul and his wife Pao are there now visiting family and showing off Oliver and Pao's belly bulge. They lived on the island for years and still own a home there. They've since moved back to the Bay Area.

Our cruising plans have never been about a circumnavigation, maybe because I insert my fingers in my ears and sing "la la la la" as soon as the subject arises. It's just so far from where I am right now--literally sitting in our house in Washington, DC looking out at the gray trees and piles of dirty snow. Still, seeing this photo I admit to a tickle of inspiration and, for a moment, sailing half way around the world to play on the beach with family seems like a completely reasonable, obvious thing to do. Who knows, maybe that tickle will someday grow enough to propel us around the globe.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Digitize Me
By Michael

All to be turned into ones and zeroes...
Tonight, all of my life in pictures, about 2000 prints, are in a USPS truck, somewhere between Washington, D.C. and West Berlin, New Jersey.
These include prints of model planes taken by the 10-year-old me with 110 film. Prints of family vacations, parachute jumps, my first motorcycle, my second motorcycle, cars I've loved, and women who were part of my life. Prints of scuba diving trips and waterski trips and friends with whom I've lost contact. Prints of the first Del Viento and the cruising adventure that inspires us today. Prints of Windy when she was still a relative stranger, our early life together, our Humboldt apartment, and our Mexico engagement. Prints of our first house and our early efforts to fix it up...prints of my life up until 2001 when we bought our first digital camera.
For about 11 cents a print, a company called FotoBridge is going to scan them and send them back to me with a DVD containing the digital files. I think I will destroy or give away all but a very few of the prints I get back. It's much easier to view and share digital photos. Once I get these uploaded as digital albums on our Kodak Gallery site, I look forward to sending links to folks who have forgotten these photos exist, folks who shared all of these experiences with me. Isn't that what they're for?
Of course, the point of all this is the 9 bulky, empty photo albums Windy and the girls brought to the Goodwill today. Spring feels like it is around the corner and we're deep into down-sizing mode. Windy's on a tear with her Craigslist app. A framing nailer, computer armoire, maple table, and two fire wood racks are gone. Hundreds of books sold and given away. All of our CDs are digitized and gone.
If the FotoBridge experiment with my life's memories is successful, Windy says her pictures can go too. That's about 9 more albums gone, less stuff to sell, give away, or move. We are indeed getting lighter and it feels like progress.
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