Monday, March 25, 2013

My Border Problem
By Michael

To fatten our cruising kitty, we hired
the girls out to a local petting zoo. Once
a week they get there early in the morning
to clean stalls and do other chores. Here
Frances is brushing the goats.
Long time readers of this blog may remember that I have a hard time saying just the right thing when questioned by officials at border crossings (last paragraph of this post). I mean, when you’re cruising, the simplest questions are the most difficult to answer. Where’s home? What do you do for a living?

I took the ferry to Port Angeles (USA) a couple weeks back, to have lunch with friends and to pick up the engine hoses I ordered. Returning to Victoria that same day, the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) officer hit me right off the bat with a simple question that was difficult for me to answer: “What’s the purpose of your visit to Canada?”

A question like this paralyzes my brain. He’s expecting a quick, truthful answer and all I can do is stare back. I’m too literal, the wheels in my head are spinning: the purpose of my visit? Hmm. I’m not here on vacation or business, and I would never refer to our eight months in Victoria as a visit… After an awkward pause, the officer’s eyebrows are high on his head. He’s waiting for an answer to his simple question and no doubt wondering whether he has to call in a translator or if there is something wrong with me.

“Uh, we have a boat here, we’re kind of living here for the time being.”

Did I just say that?

“Who’s we? When did you first arrive in Canada?”

“Uh, my wife and kids are aboard now, here in the harbor, we got here in September.”
“Have you applied for residency?”

“Oh, no, no, no,” I tried reassuringly, “we’re not really living here, we’re just waiting here, waiting out the season until we can head north to Alaska. We come and go every 45 days or so to renew our visas.”
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was applying my Mexico-acquired logic in Canada. In Mexico, a U.S. visitor can stay as long as six months, leave the country for an hour, and immediately return to Mexico with a fresh six-month visa—and they can do this indefinitely, legally. When we planned our eight-month stay in Victoria, we knew we’d be coming and going and it never occurred to us the same strategy wouldn’t suffice to keep our status legal.

“What visas?” he asked.
“You know,” I said, as though I was reminding him, “when I leave the counter here, after you stamp my passport…” His face was blank, just waiting for me to ramble on and further indict myself. “I indicated there on the Declarations form that I intend to stay for 60 days, doesn’t that give me sixty days?”

“Please go have a seat over there, somebody will be with you shortly….Next!”
Eleanor descending
the ramp after dumping
the soiled bedding.
So I sat in a holding area, on a hard bench with a couple other travelers (both of whom looked very suspect to me), all of us staring through the window in front of us, into a room where yet another traveler twitched nervously and wiped tears from her eyes as officials sorted through the contents of her large backpack.

Ten minutes passed and I was absorbed in the drama behind the glass and still wondering about my own fate when an older official approached me, requested my passport, and disappeared behind a computer. After five minutes, he emerged, motioned for me to remain seated and went to talk to the guy who first flagged me. Then he came back and asked me to follow him, over to an area removed from the drama and other travelers.
“Look, it doesn’t matter if you’re going in and out, you’re basically living here and you can’t do that for longer than six months.”

I assured him we have no intention of trying to live here beyond the season, nor of working. “We even have health insurance.” I blurted out. He just nodded and held up his hand, nodding, before I let him continue.
“You’re fine, you’re heading to Alaska soon.”

“But what do I need to do now?” I asked. “Come the end of March we’ll have been here six months—off and on—we’ve planned a visit back to the States around that time…”
“Don’t worry about it,” he told me, “you may be questioned when you come back through here then, but just tell the officer what you told me. Understand you are not to work.”

It turns out that in Canada, you’re supposed to either apply for residency or otherwise formally apply to extend a visit beyond 180 days. Apparently, you cannot just come and go—starting anew each time—as in Mexico. Officially, once you’ve stayed six months for a visit, they expect you to be gone six months before returning.
But in this case, rather than subjecting us to a ton of burdensome paperwork, or the bribe that may have been expected by an official in some other part of the world, I was shown grace by a reasonable person with the experience to understand the intent of a law and the authority to enforce it thusly. In this post-9/11 world, what more could a cruiser ask for?


Here the girls clean the rabbit enclosure.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Hobbit No-Go
By Michael

Eleanor posing gamely with my in-
need-of-servicing heat exchanger. I've
since had it serviced and I put it back on
the engine, good for another 3,000 hours.
We’re fast approaching the two-year mark from the day we embarked on this adventure. Several times I’ve written about our concern for the girls’ wellbeing, growing up on a transient cruising boat. Our concern can’t be helped and conclusions are difficult to draw because the calculus is not straightforward.
And the questions we’ve always asked ourselves have always been in the future sense. All variations of: Will the benefits of this alternative lifestyle outweigh the drawbacks? I realized recently that we no longer have to look forward and wonder, but can look at who they are now. For two years Eleanor and Frances have been living and learning—growing up—as cruisers. It’s a big chunk of time in their lives. And they have flourished.

Eleanor is reading The Hobbit. She also carries a Hobbit script around with her because she and the rest of her drama class will be in a production of The Hobbit just days before we leave to sail north to Alaska. As you can imagine, that girl eagerly awaited opening day of The Hobbit motion picture.
But she’s not going to see it.

She wrote the following in a letter to my mom, her grandmother, a couple nights ago:
"Tonight my mom is going to see the movie The Hobbit in the IMAX theater. She was okay with taking me and gave me the choice, even though it seemed inappropriate she was giving me the choice though, because I am in the play and I am reading the book. She showed me a preview of it...and I said no. It made me sad because I had really wanted to see it, but from the preview (which was on a small laptop) it was really violent and I didn't want to watch it. And I had to remember that I was watching the preview on a laptop, and I would actually be watching it on a six-story-tall screen in a movie theater and it would be super loud."
At nine, Eleanor’s arrived at the age where she can appreciate the weight of decision-making. We give her increasing leeway and it’s gratifying that she’s able to recognize a decision that serves her own interests, even when that decision is unpleasant. And when she demonstrates the maturity to act on her conclusion as she did, and to relate that to her grandma, my heart swells.
It’s impossible to say how she is different than who she would have been had we not left. We may have even seen the same outcome from the same circumstances in our old life. But I’m encouraged nonetheless because it’s evidence she is maturing nicely in this life and I have no evidence to the contrary—for neither of my girls.

We will probably never know whether this lifestyle is the best for them. And even if things are going well today, the girls and their needs may change. Yet I am comforted that as cruisers we are nimble and can adjust our pace and place according to our needs.

And wherever we are, a life afloat means that we live much more closely together, every day. Eleanor and Frances have many opportunities for taking responsibility, both as members of the family, but also as crew of Del Viento. They’re stepping up, doing chores, and accepting other jobs without complaint. Independently, they’re finding and exploring their own passions. They’re kind, happy girls—and thankfully not obviously suffering from our decision to trade the daily grind for sea sickness, financial unrest, and togetherness.


I've been meaning to post more pics of Del Viento's interior.
This is my writing desk in the aft cabin. Okay, no, but it is
Captain Vancouver's desk in a mock-up of his cabin aboard
the HMS Discovery, in our local museum. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Got Culture?
By Michael

We do live next door to the
Royal British Columbia Museum,
though it's a bit light on Americana.
Listening to a local AM talk radio station here in Victoria, I realized I’m missing a bunch of cultural references I need to understand some of the things that are said, and much of the humor. All of the common knowledge Canadians take for granted, such as the names of the major supermarkets, what the previous prime minister looked like, what their version of our 401K is called, the name of the sailboat on the back of their dime—is important to having a fluent understanding of everyday exchanges.
Then I realized Windy and I are raising two little Americans who aren’t growing up in the United States. They’re missing much of the shared American experience. I suppose we automatically compensate a bit when we tell them stories and expose them to the books, movies, and music we love, but will they ever have the fluency?

Of course, for exposure to pop culture, it’s hard to beat the television. And we do get a few nights out of each year in front of that thing, when we’re in a hotel room. And those few hours are good for a weeks’ worth of questions that lead to more questions.
Take our visit to a Vancouver Marriott a couple weeks back. We were there the night of the Academy Awards broadcast. It was very educational. They stayed up until the wee hours with their mouths agape. Thankfully, they now know what the Academy Awards are and what an Oscar is. They learned a red carpet is something fancy people walk on, a score is music behind a movie, and that a screenplay is the written story of a movie.

And has the knowledge ever sunk in. Even almost two weeks later, at the checkout this evening, Frances called my attention to the tabloid covers. “Dad, look! The lady with the red hair, pink dress, and lipstick from the Oscar television!” And when we returned to the boat, she and Eleanor once again amused themselves to no end singing, over and over again, “We saw your boobs!”
I know our life won’t offer our girls the full complement of must-know Americana, and they’ll grow up as deaf to some tones of their country’s culture as I am to Canada’s, but that may be okay.

Returning from our Vancouver cultural rendezvous.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Warm Cometh
By Michael

The Bluewater Cruising Assoc (BCA)
invited us to a cruiser's presentation
at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club. It
was about voyaging from Japan to
Vancouver, a trip we may make
one day. Windy was in Thailand,
so Eleanor was my date. 
We’re in port and I’ve waited nearly six months (and counting) for nice weather. I don’t like waiting. I’m tired of waiting. I’m tired of the long list of topside projects that I’m aching to complete, but that I haven’t started because it is either too wet, too cold, or too windy—or too much of all three.
So I hunker down below and work on the engine or reorganize lockers. The other day I saw what I’m missing, on the side of a can of varnish:

Temperature should be between 60F. and 85F…air humidity below 85%...avoid too much wind or sun.
It nearly brought tears to my eyes.

I realize Canadians think I’m ridiculous for letting this climate slow me down. And to the Canadians we’ve met who vacation here, escaping from their homes in Winnepeg or Saskatoon, who walk around in tank tops because this feels like the Bahamas…yes, I’m a wimp.
I grew up in Southern California. Until I was 30, I could count on one hand the number of days each year it wouldn’t be nice to be outside. I may have grown a bit hardier during the decade Windy and I spent in D.C., but then we bought this boat in Mexico.

Glorious 2011 ended without a winter and 2012 began without a cold snap. After 18 warm months, I may have softened a bit.
But we sailed north, against the prevailing winds, currents, and traffic of other cruising boats with the sense to sail south. We knew what we were in for, but I think I was in denial. I arrived in Victoria with nothing to put on my feet but a pair of Tevas. I did not own any socks. I dug my cold weather gear out from under the v-berth and found only sweatshirts.

Sure, we get out every day (we almost need a spreadsheet to manage the activities the girls are involved in). And it isn’t just rushing around from one indoor space to the other, we’ve walked on the beaches and explored the parks, but for me it isn’t so joyous when you’re bundled up like a Siberian Yupik.
So why would I suffer through boat projects that force me outside under these inhuman artic conditions? Why taint what I otherwise enjoy? I couldn’t think of a reason either and so the projects piled up.

But we can feel spring coming, one degree at a time, the days are warming and getting longer. We are worrying less and less about condensation. Once, recently, when we forgot to monitor the heaters, it actually got a bit stuffy in the cabin.
And just this week I ventured out on deck and started installation work for our new hatches—just a bit, not to risk frostbite. There is a lot to do out there. Besides the hatches, I’ve got rigging to adjust, stuff to re-stow in the lazarette, and lots of cleaning to do. I’ll haul Windy up the mast to investigate a stuck halyard, re-run and secure our SSB antennae cable, and install our remote VHF mic. I’ll remind the girls how to polish stainless steel and run the new antennae for our fixed-mount GPS.

And when we’re done, a great adventure awaits.
We’re northbound. We don’t know how far. We’ll have a solid 4-5 months before we want to be heading south to Mexico again, but it’s 600 miles from Victoria to the Alaskan border. And in that 600 miles are hundreds of islands and 15,000 miles of coast. The shoreline is punctuated with deep fjords. It’s said the geography is akin to Norway or Southern Chile.

We’re immersed in a community that’s largely familiar with these cruising grounds. Weekly people learn we’re newbies with plans to sail north and they gush superlatives like I’ve never heard before. One local captain told us he’s spent a decade exploring this area and has neither seen it all nor grown tired of it. "It will change you," he says. We'll see—as soon as the weather on my varnish can comes.

This is the Parliament Building from our boat--it never gets
really dark at night, and forget about stars.
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