Monday, February 25, 2013

Easier Than Ever
By Michael

Frances in her element, in Mexico
last year, a few months shy of 6-
years-old. Tomorrow she turns
seven in Canada.
Muriel Blanchet wrote The Curve of Time, a book about her adventures cruising in British Columbia—with her five kids. She took the helm of her 25-foot powerboat, loaded the gang and supplies, and took off for summers to explore near her native Vancouver Island. She sold magazine articles about their times to publications such as Atlantic Monthly. She was born in 1891, married at age 18, and widowed at 35. A single parent, five little ones, gone cruising.
In 1958, Sterling Hayden defied a court order to take his four kids across the Pacific Ocean (Wanderer).

In the 1960s, Lyle and Norma Graham took a young Robin Lee cruising through the South Pacific (Dove).
In the 1980s, Tom and Mel Neale raised their daughters up and down the ICW (All In the Same Boat) while Fatty and Carolyn raised their daughter cruising the Caribbean.

Clearly the parents’ desire to take their kids to sea is not new.
But today that desire is fulfilled in record numbers; look at all the families I’ve linked to over on the right, 33 of them—and just a fraction of the cruising families out here today. This is surprising because families are a tough lot to get out here—people typically with careers in their prime and stretched thin with middle-life expenses.

Yet despite the inherent obstacles wannabe cruising families face, I think the real barriers are diminishing and that the number who do cast off the dock lines will continue to grow. We live in a unique time:
  • A Glut of Fiberglass—Moxie Marlinspike first turned me on to idea that almost all the production fiberglass boats built since the late 1950s are still with us, and they aren’t going anywhere. This has resulted in many, many good, durable, plastic sailboats on the used market for comparatively, and increasingly, cheap prices. There is now a cruising boat out there for every family’s budget.

  • Communications Technologies—Nothing has shrunk this planet like advances in communications. The Internet is increasingly available and employers are increasingly willing to accommodate folks working from afar—even if afloat.
  • Workplace Mobility—Forbes reports that, “job hopping is the new normal,” and that workers stay with an employer an average of 4.4 years. This mobility presents opportunities to turn a transition into a cruising itinerary.

  • Sailboat Technologies—Advances in sail-handling and navigation systems reduce the demands on all crews. For a cruising family on a boat big enough to house a family, and with one parent often managing the needs of smaller crew, these steps forward are a boon.
I just exchanged email with the father of another family. After sitting behind the same desk for 17 years, dreaming of buying a boat and sailing away, he and his wife bought a Cal 34. Their passport applications are in the mail and his last day of work is only two weeks away. They’re filled with crazy emotions anticipating casting off. I can relate, it’s heady stuff.

Windy left February 2 for Thailand with her sister-in-law and nephews
(Oliver and Otis, pictured here in Bangkok). She is back now after three
long weeks. The girls and I had a good time though, missing Momma

Monday, February 18, 2013

Good Friday
By Michael

In The Tale of the Unknown Island,
Jose Saramago writes about boats:
"Liking is probably the best form of
ownership, and ownership the worst
form of liking." I sure like Del Viento.
This past Friday I received two prizes for my writing on this blog.

Boating Writers International (BWI) is an, “organization of writers, editors, publishers, photographers, broadcasters, public relations specialists and others in the communications profession associated with the boating industry.” For twenty years they’ve held an annual writing contest for members in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. The group awards $17,000, split among 51 articles (1st, 2nd, and 3rd place in 17 categories) published online and in boating magazines. Four judges (writers and editors) review and score the entries in each category blindly—author and publication names are blacked out.

I was recognized for both my submissions (click here for a list of all the winning entries):
Writing original stories on a regular basis is work. I spend a lot of time writing and re-writing paragraphs until the post is clear and interesting. Then the hard part begins.

Windy is an outstanding editor, often catching all kinds of errors of omission and things that don’t make sense. But she also often sends me back to the drawing board with hyperbole that’s maddening to my literal mindset.

“It could be much shorter, one-third the length.”—(What? How can you just say 66% of the words have to disappear?)
And she’ll go at my text with a hatchet instead of the scalpel it deserves.

“Delete this paragraph.”—(And what happens to that thought, it’s central to this post…?)
Do you remember that scene in Heller’s Catch 22 in which Yossarian (charged with reviewing soldiers’ outgoing correspondence and redacting sensitive info) turns it into a game and sends letters to anxious families on the home front in which everything but pronouns or adjectives is obscured? That’s what it’s like around here when I mention Windy in something I write for the blog. And her reaction to the first draft of this post?

“Obviously I don't like this post.”—(I know, I know…)
It’s always frustrating, but the feedback and the process are helpful to me as a writer. And the effort feels good. And I really enjoy collaborating with my wife.

Thanks for reading.


What do girls who live on boats play with?
Houses--until the swan comes by.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Over A Barrel
By Michael

Given that Victoria's Chinatown is
more like a Chinablock, their celebration
of the Chinese New Year today was
pretty impressive, though difficult to
see over the crowds. We did pick up
some sparklers to play with tonight.
I’m wrapping up a big preventative maintenance job on our 55-hp turbocharged Yanmar auxiliary. It started small, I intended only to replace the coolant and pop the caps on the heat exchanger to see how the tubes looked. But if you give a moose a muffin…
The coolant drain cocks were clogged with crap and the coolant that did drain didn’t look so good. So I decided I would remove the heat exchanger from the block (it is also the exhaust manifold) and have it serviced. But if I pull and service the heat exchanger, I might as well do the oil cooler. And once these parts are gone, the raw water pump is irresistibly accessible. And if all that’s gone, it would be foolish not to service the starter motor at the same time.

Two weeks passed and the parts are flushed, dipped, serviced, greased, pressure tested, soldered, and painted. I’m beginning reassembly, happy to have found and addressed several problems.

The only sting was the total cost of the Yanmar OEM replacement hoses and gasket: $431. I’m talking about seven small hoses that pass saltwater and coolant and one gasket for where the turbo mates to the heat exchanger. Yikes.

Boaters complain about this kind of thing all the time: “Those bastards charge an arm and a leg because they know they’ve got you over a barrel!” And boaters complain for good reason, hapless mariners do get gouged sometimes by manufacturers or retailers who slap the Marine Tax on goods. But this is different.

Seven little hoses
from Japan
Only Yanmar-authorized distributors can sell Yanmar parts. And a Yanmar distributor can sell Yanmar parts only in their proscribed geographic area. This means if I find a Yanmar part online, with a distributor in California, that distributor cannot ship that part to me in Canada—they can’t even ship that part to Washington state.

Is this a big deal? It is in this case.
Take the exhaust gasket. Authorized parts distributors in Victoria sell it for $60.68. In Washington state, distributors have it for $14.63.

Take one of my U-shaped hoses (I need three of them). In Victoria, $67.44 each. In Washington state, $26.60 each.
My $431 Victoria parts bill shrinks to $157 in Washington state.

I don’t have answers for this discrepancy, but I do have a solution. Port Angeles, WA is 90-minutes away via a $32 ferry. I’m on my way.


There's no question the hoses need to be replaced. They
felt stiff, but once off I saw stuff like this.

Monday, February 4, 2013

At Long Last
By Michael

The bread is always a 50-50 mix of
whole wheat and unbleached white
flour. But to each loaf I add things
such as seeds and rosemary. This
loaf has oats and ground flax meal
in it.
Bread: is there another non-boat-related topic covered more extensively in the sailing magazines and cruising books? It’s recurrent (and resurgent since the 2007 release of Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day sparked a bread making revival). In fact, it was a magazine article based on that book that sparked Windy’s and my interest in bread making.

For a couple-month span while still living in a house, we tried and tried to make bread. The results never surpassed marginal and were often closer to inedible. This was especially frustrating because the loaves were nearly always beautiful things…that tasted like cardboard. As our cast-off date approached, our lives grew busier and busier. We stopped the bread experiments and eventually forgot all about them.
Then, in Mexico last year, the French family aboard La Loupiote gave us a portion of their mother (bread starter). I wrote all about it. We followed Delphine’s instructions and the results were encouraging, right off the bat. Granted, disappointment is a product of expectations, and we were in Mexico, eager to celebrate anything better than Bimbo. Regardless, our joy was motivating and we’ve been nurturing and experimenting with our starter ever since.

I took over bread-making duty about six months ago and sometime this past month, I realized...I had arrived. I reliably turn out very good loaves of bread and it feels effortless. I don’t even measure ingredients or time dough rises, I just create.
My advice to any cruiser whose ever been frustrated trying to make good bread, is twofold. First, stick with it. Even after nearly a year at this, I know there is still a ton to learn and I look forward to experimenting more. Second, though most recipes call for dry yeast packs, instead try to either mooch some starter off of someone or make your own. I think using a starter makes everything easier.

I’ll leave you with two more things. First, the crew of Sweet Pea posted a series on their blog that is pretty close to the bread-making method I use (minus the oil and cooking spray). Second, check out the following tiny excerpt from Henry Miller’s essay, “The Staff of Life” written in the mid-1940s.
“…Begin today by baking your own bread. First of all, you need a stove. A wood or a coal stove. Not a gas range. Not an electric apparatus. Then let the flies in. Then roll your sleeves up and get your hands in the dough. Lick your fingers. Never mind if you lose your job. Eat your bread first, then maybe you won’t want to work in an office or a factory. Life begins with bread.
And if you can’t make your own bread? Following is Miller’s recipe, from the same essay, for making mass-produced store-bought loaves palatable. This should work even for Mexico cruisers and their Bimbo bread:

I have now found that the only way to eat our most unwholesome, unpalatable and unappetizing American bread, the staff of our unsavory and monotonous life, is to adopt the following procedure. This is a recipe, so please follow instructions to the letter.
To begin with, accept any loaf that is offered you without question, even if it is not wrapped in cellophane, even if it contains no kelp. Throw it in the back of the car with the oil can and the grease rags; if possible, bury it under a sack of coal, bituminous coal. As you climb up the road to your home, drop it in the mud a few times and dig your heels into it. If you have a dog with you, let him pee on it now and then. When you get to the house, and after you have prepared the other dishes, take a huge carving knife and rip the loaf from stem to stern. Then take one whole onion, peeled or unpeeled, one carrot, one stalk of celery, one huge piece of garlic, one sliced apple, a herring, a handful of anchovies, a sprig of parsley, and an old toothbrush and shove them into the disemboweled guts of the bread. Over these pour first a thimbleful of kerosene, a dash of Lavoris and just a wee bit of Clorox; then sprinkle guts liberally with the following—molasses, honey, orange marmalade, vanilla, soy bean sauce, tabasco sauce, ketchup and arnica. Over this add a layer of chopped nuts, assorted nuts, of course, a few bay leaves (whole), some marjoram, and a stick of licorice cut into fine pieces. Put the loaf in the oven for ten minutes and serve. If it is still lacking in taste, whip up a chili con carne piping hot and mix bread with it until it becomes a thick gruel. If this fails, piss on it and throw it to the dog. But under no circumstances feed it to the birds. The birds of North America are already on the decline, as I pointed out earlier. Their beaks have become dull, their wing-span shortened; they are pining and drooping, molting in season and out. Above all, they no longer sing as they used to; they make sour notes, they bleat instead of tweeting, and sometimes, when the fogs set in, they have even been heard to cackle and wheeze.”


Eleanor poses at the scene of my flour transfer. I buy
10 kgs each of  white and whole wheat flour and portion
them into this old olive vessel a circumnavigator picked
up in Greece and sold to us for a buck at a Mexico marina
swap meet. Between this and three of the smaller white
canisters, we can stow 20 kgs of flour aboard.

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