Monday, January 28, 2013

The Grim Teacher
By Michael

The girls with their fear monger papa
in the background. They donned their
goggles and are showing their displeasure
with the onions I'm chopping in the galley--
drama, drama, drama. 
“Eleanor, Frances: we are surrounded by death,” is how I started my safety briefing to the girls when we arrived in Victoria. I knew that up to this point, their lives afloat hadn’t prepared them for the danger of Canadian marinas. They were used to running around on Mexican docks, surrounded by 85-degree water. Accidents happen and they’ve fallen in before; Frances even rode her bike off the dock once. But here, where a layer of sheet ice forms on the salt water surface some mornings…well, I thought my intro was apropos.
“If you scare the life out of them, they’re not going to be able to help themselves,” Windy said later when the girls recounted to her my safety briefing.

“The girls said you told them they’d instantly go numb and not be able to climb out.”

“Well, I just want to impress upon them…” I didn't continue. She may have a point. I thought I was doing a service by scaring them, but I risked creating a situation wherein someone falls in and is then unable to play an active role in their own rescue because they’re too freaked out, paralyzed with fear.

So, in a brilliant act of redemption, the next time Windy was out, I showed both Eleanor and Frances where the marina rescue ladders are located and how to deploy them. When Windy returned, my prodigies gave a demonstration that impressed.
Check it out:

If six-year-old Frances can manage this, every marina dweller over 50 pounds should be able to deploy the ladders in the marina they frequent. They may save a life someday.
In teaching my kids where to find the ladders, I realized I was blind to the ladders prior. Like fire extinguishers in a building, rescue ladders and other safety devices are so ubiquitous they can go unnoticed—and can then be difficult to locate and deploy in the stress and chaos of an emergency.


Monday, January 21, 2013

It's A Small Boat World
By Michael

A tourist town, Victoria has no shortage
of street musicians vying for change.
You've got to be creative to stand apart.

The girls have been writing up a storm: letters and postcards to friends and family. They love receiving responses, but there is another motivation: “Does this count for school, Dad?”
“You bet,” and off I went to the Black Ball ferry terminal, hoping to find a courier willing to drop off our U.S.-stamped mail in Port Angeles, WA. When none of the passengers I queried last time were willing to take our mail, the ship’s purser, Pat, saved the day.

This time I’d only stepped through the door when I caught sight of Pat at the other side of the terminal, his arm outstretched to receive our mail.
“Hey, thank you, my daughter sure appreciates this.”

“It’s not a problem, your daughter is a friend of Zada.”
I was dumbfounded, trying to think of a response. Eleanor does indeed have a boat friend she met in Mexico named Zada, aboard Eyoni. But he couldn’t mean…

Pat continued, “I thumbed through the mail last time, noticed a letter to Zada Smith, there can’t be that many Zada Smiths—her grandpa works on this ferry.”
“No way. Are we talking about the same Zada? She’s a little girl, lives on a boat in Mexico? That’s where we met her, before we sailed up here.”

I headed back to Del Viento to share this story with Windy, amazed once again how small the cruising/boating community is (in this case, including ferry boats).

Outside the marina showers, there is a boaters’ book exchange. I’m always looking for interesting reads for myself and the girls. Inside one children’s book I noticed an inscription: “Amy Boren.”

Wow, I know that name! Amy is a kid on Third Day, she and her family spent four years in Mexico. And here was her cast-off book, having journeyed all the way up the coast, from one kid boat to another. So incongruous to see it here!
“You’re not going to believe this.” I held up the book so Windy could see. “I found this in the book exchange. Guess where it’s from!”

“That’s Amy Boren’s book, we picked it up in La Paz. Eleanor just finished it, why are you bringing it back aboard?”

I've removed just about every peripheral from our engine. This is the
bottom of the heat exchanger. This freeze plug looks bad and may
be weeping, or maybe this is muck and moisture from the raw water
hose that's been pressed up against it for thirty years, chaffing with
the vibration. There is a gouge on the hose, but not obviously
punctured. The inside of the exchanger is filled with gunk.
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Monday, January 14, 2013

16 Months Out: The Cost Of Cruising
By Michael

Windy underway: cruising is much cheaper when
you stay on the move. Settling into a marina
means slip fees and all kinds of opportunities
to spend. We're all itching to get moving
north at the end of this winter.
Before we left, I projected our rich new lifestyle would be had for less than the U.S. government’s poverty level for a family of four ($23,050 in 2012). I was wrong (so far).
We moved aboard Del Viento the first day of September 2011, sixteen months ago. Since that date, we have been a family of four cruising full-time, and tracking every dime we spend. Not including refit costs, this lifestyle is costing us $2,980 per month, or $35,760 per year. We aim to bring that number down quite a bit. It shouldn’t be too hard once we are spending less time in marinas and we are back outside the U.S. and Canada. (Though we plan to spend nearly all of 2013 in the U.S. and Canada, so it may be 2014 before we see a big dip.)
But let’s look back on the past 16 months. The two biggest expenses for that period were refit costs and food.
Refit Costs
While I didn’t include the refit costs in our monthly average, I understand that these are not one-time costs; Del Viento will continue to need repairs and improvements. But I don’t anticipate another year or so where we spend as much money on the boat as we have over the past 16 months ($39,830—and this on the heels of the money we spent before moving aboard).
Following is the list of major things we spent our refit dollars on since September 2011:
  • New outboard
  • New dinghy
  • New chainplates
  • New water tanks
  • New holding tank
  • New instruments
  • Haulout
  • New injectors
  • Turbocharger rebuild
  • Stainless welding (stanchions, pulpit, anchor roller)
  • New mainsail
  • New foil-less furler and code zero
  • New interior lights
  • New hatches
  • New mattress
  • New radar and mount
  • New mainsail cover
Not included in this list (nor in the refit cost since September 2011) are the refit items we paid for prior to moving aboard. This includes stuff like a haulout, bottom paint, portlights, batteries, standing rigging, and a solar panel. So really, since starting this endeavor, we’ve replaced nearly all the major systems. For this reason, I think that over the next few years, our cost to keep the old gal going will be minimal. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to look back over the next couple of years and see what we end up spending. (I know we have a leak where the rudder meets the post—when we haul out the rudder weeps for days. We plan to be in Mexico next year, where we'll haul out,  open up the rudder to investigate, dry out, and re-seal. This project should involve lots of our labor, but inexpensive materials.)

Food Costs
Food is our biggest monthly expense and reflected in our monthly average. In our case, the Food category includes everything involving eating and drinking: a coffee at Starbucks, dining out, alcohol, groceries, and tea at the Empress with my sister over the holidays. Over the past 16 months, we’ve spent an average of $983 per month on all things food. (In Mexico we ate out often and our food expense was reliably between $700 and $800 per month. In Victoria, we seldom eat out and our food costs are always over $1000 per month.)
So $2,980 per month; could a family of four cruise for less? Absolutely, far less, by reducing marina time and cutting back on discretionary spending.
  • In Mexico we spent much more time in marinas than we wanted to simply because of the work we were doing on the boat. Slip fees in the U.S. and Canada are high. In the U.S., we chose to visit friends and family in places where anchoring out wasn’t an option. In Canada, we’ve chosen to winter over in a slip (and in an expensive city).
  • Here in Victoria, we’ve spent money on gymnastics classes and climbing wall passes for Windy and the girls. We don’t eat out much, but we drink alcohol. And we’ve traveled: Windy went to Thailand for two weeks earlier this year with her brother’s family, Eleanor flew back to D.C. for a week, and Windy and Frances flew back to San Francisco from Mexico.
A last note about our cruising costs concerns constants and surprises. Health insurance is an annual constant for us (I wrote about our health insurance). We spend about $1,700 per year on a catastrophic policy for the family. The annual cost of our boat liability insurance is about $550 per year—though it doubled for our time in Victoria because the marina requested we double our coverage (I wrote about our thoughts on insuring our own boat). We spend roughly $25 per month on our mail costs (the box, mail scanning, mail forwarding) and usually about $50 per month on an Internet data plan.

Fortunately, the only surprise this year (besides the need to replace our water tanks) is about $800 we spent on medical care for an eye problem Frances had (this highlighted for us the cost difference in obtaining health care in Mexico and the U.S.—I wrote about this too).

So that is it in a nutshell—a good look at the cost for this cruising family of four during our first 16 months. It is not likely to be the same for your 16 months, but hopefully the information is helpful to those planning their own cruises. A comprehensive and detailed list of all our costs is on The Cost page, above.


NOTE: the writers at the Sail Far, Live Free blog recently posted a great rundown of cruising costs, citing other cruisers. Too, on our The Cost page, I list other sources of cruisers' costs.

But stopping in one place for a while, especially in a slip, does
give me the opportunity to tear things apart and find the sources
of problems. This corroded butt terminal buried deep behind a wall
in the head was a source of lighting problems for a while.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Nomadic Family's Dilemma
By Michael

Eleanor uses Frances's finger puppets to
practice French dialogue.
You want to rile a homeschooling parent? Mention the s-word. No, not that one,* I’m talking about socialization.
It always comes in the form of a question, almost always from someone who is benevolently curious about our out-of-school kids. And what they’re keen to know is how we overcome the liability of not having access to an entire school of other 6- and 9-year-old playmates to entertain our kids and teach them how to get along with others.

For years we rejected the assumptions buried in the question, and in answering, we sought to educate the inquisitors. After all, the girls had Windy and me, each other, neighborhood friends, and a lot of time spent with a core group of other homeschooled kids their age and those kids’ parents. With the parents facilitating, our kids reaped the benefits of social interactions that were overwhelmingly positive. There were squabbles from which lessons could be learned, but no cliques or bullying. Socially, it was ideal.
But we are no longer simply a homeschooling family, we are a cruising homeschooling family. And while we aren’t the only family afloat, cruising families are small in number and spread across oceans, literally. Friendships with other cruising kids end sooner than everyone wishes as kid boats coalesce and then ultimately scatter.

Before we went cruising, I wrote about this. About how most people are quick to congratulate parents on their decision/good fortune to be able to give their kids this life. And I think the positives are overwhelming, particularly over the short term. Yet, as Wendy Mitman Clarke (Osprey) wrote in Cruising World years ago, “A darker side of this life may also be a deep understanding of loss at too tender an age and a fear of commitment that comes with never knowing what will happen next and of always saying goodbye without knowing if and when you might meet again.”
We’re lucky that 6-year-old Frances and 9-year-old Eleanor are the best of friends. But Eleanor’s world is growing fast. She is devouring books and can’t recognize Frances as a peer on some levels. She wonders whether she will meet a 9- or 10-year-old-friend she clicks with, let alone stay in the same place long enough to bond with them.

In Victoria’s vibrant homeschooling community, social opportunities abound. But what happens when it’s time to depart again? What’s down the road? We don’t know. But we do know that the average duration of a family cruise is relatively short compared to how long we hope to continue, and we know our daughters are growing, changing rapidly and so are their social needs. What about socialization?

* Eleanor asked the other day, “What is the s-word and the f-word?” Windy and I raised our eyebrows and Eleanor continued, “Is the s-word STUPID?”
“No, not stupid. Tell you what, they’re both words you hear all the time, you just haven’t noticed them. Now that you’re interested, you will probably hear them soon.” Eleanor begged us to just tell her. “No, but when you hear it, let us know and we’ll tell you if you’re right.”

That night, we all watched a Storytellers concert DVD with Sarah Mclachlan performing and I’ll be damned if she didn’t drop both the s- and f-bomb talking between songs. Windy and I started cracking up each time. “Did you miss it? She just said the s-word.” Eleanor’s eyes grew wide and she was in a panic, begging us to rewind. “No, just keep your ears open,” we told her.
The next day, Windy showed the girls something on YouTube and Eleanor noticed the s-word in a comment along the side. “Is that it? Shit?” she asked. Later I found SHIT scrolled across the top of the girls’ drawings (“I’m trying to remember it.”) and Frances keeps chanting it because she can tell that we still can’t stifle our bemusement when we ask her to stop.

The two are best friends, but is that enough?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Expensive Winos*
By Michael

Thankfully, the Walmart gingerbread houses
did not taste good enough for the girls to
eat, they became fish food.
I have a drinking problem. Hell, Windy and I both have a drinking problem. There’s no denying it.

It wasn’t with us in Mexico. In the peak summer heat and humidity, I could put down four or five ice cold Tecates in a day, each refreshingly teased with lime and salt. Total cost? About 58 cents a pop. When the weather cooled, a fair bottle of red wine could be had for three to five bucks.

In the U.S., our drinking problem began, but it wasn’t a surprise; we’d lived there, after all. And remembering we’d have to pay $11.99 for a 12-pack of beer was tempered by the fact that it was much better beer. Thanks to Trader Joes, our wine cost remained stable.

We arrived in Victoria, B.C. with beer and wine stores aboard that lasted into our third month. Then it was time to replenish.

The Strath is the closest liquor store to the marina and it’s pretty fancy. I opened the black French doors and stepped in from the cold. The magnitude of my drinking problem was evident right away. There wasn’t a 12-pack of beer for sale under $25 Canadian. I didn’t see a bottle of wine priced in the single digits. Then I caught my breath: I was still in the heart of the tourist shopping zone, of course these prices are absurd, this isn’t where the locals buy alcohol.

We enjoyed the cousins' visit. Their parents
kindly brought a bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream,
but their mom drank nearly all of it
while here.
Five blocks away and out of tourist-landia, I found it. Swans Liquor Store on Pandora. The floors were linoleum and beer and wine were displayed simply, stacked in the boxes they were shipped in. Handwritten sale signs were everywhere. I ventured in to find a bargain.

But there were no bargains. The prices were barely a tick below The Strath. I pulled out my credit card anyway.

We brought our last bottle of wine to a friend’s boat for Christmas. I’d consider stopping drinking, but not until the kids are older—could I possibly cope with the demands of parenting without the promise of a glass of wine in the evening?

People told us we were crazy to head north for the winter. They warned us of the cold and the rain. But nobody prepared us for the high cost of beer and wine. And we expect our drinking problem to continue through this coming fall, with little hope of price decreases as we sail north. If you visit us, please bring a bottle.


* A nod to Keith Richard’s band by this name. I just finished Richard’s fascinating autobiography, Life.

Where did we go wrong? Frances: "I didn't want to waste my time
telling a fake Santa what I want for Christmas when I should be
writing to the real Santa about what I want." Eleanor: "I'm too
old for that."
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