Monday, May 27, 2013

Go Frances, Go
By Michael

Eleanor counting the loot post-sale.
In the last weeks of her sixth year, Frances’s mind was focused and consumed with one thing: the bake sale she would organize to help stray dogs in the city of La Paz, Mexico. Her interest in the project never wavered and on a Saturday before her sixth birthday, my determined little lady (along with her sister and her friends aboard Wondertime and Eyoni) sold cookies and brownies to raise over 1,500 pesos for Baja Dogs La Paz.
In Canada this past January, without having been prompted by the sight of skinny street dogs everywhere, Frances asked us to help her find a Victoria organization for which she could raise money, “One that helps dogs…I want to have another bake sale,” she announced.

Windy took her for a visit to the BC SPCA shelter and I later took both girls to a day-long BC SPCA kids’ camp where they were taught how to care for dogs. Frances was sold and when her seventh birthday rolled around in February, she was ready. She’d made two large signs to advertise her sale and to promote her cause: "Canada of Pets." She wanted to hold a bake sale for her birthday.
We urged her to wait: “It’s freezing cold out there, the sidewalks are empty. Wait and have your sale in the spring, just before we leave—there’ll be tons more people out and about and you’ll raise a lot more money.”

With only her seven-year-old’s sense of time, our pitch made sense. But for the next couple months she waited neither quietly nor idly. She asked often when the time would be right and she recruited Eleanor to help her to gather and paint rocks to sell along with baked goods. But by April, her requests about the timing were less frequent. By the start of May, they’d stopped. The signs she’d made were no longer handled often, but were folded and lay buried beneath other things. She was occupied with other things in her life.
But the season did turn, her signs were found, and the time was right. We told Frances and with the news, she seemed to grow a bit eager again, though her passion seemed dimmed.

Both girls dutifully let their friends know the date for the sale was Saturday, May 25. This was the date for the start of the Swiftsure International Yacht Race and the Inner Harbour was sure to be filled with boats and vendors and tents and crowds. Frances, her sister, and some of their friends (Liam and Neli from Riki Tiki Tavi and Kai and Jonah from their drama class) gathered outside the marina at noon with cookies, brownies, bagels, and rocks to offer up for donations.
I was gone all day, off taking pictures from a chase boat and interviewing racing crews participating in the Swiftsure race. Windy reports Frances wasn’t as involved emotionally as she was for her sale in La Paz, wondering aloud whether the wait we suggested may have been too long.

When I returned to Del Viento late in the afternoon, Frances was quick to fill me in on all the details of her fundraiser and begged me to guess how much she raised.
“Uh, seven dollars and twelve cents.”

“No-oo! Guess for real,” she pleaded.
“Okay, twenty-one dollars and thirteen cents.”

“Okay, okay…a hundred and fifty bucks?”

She and Eleanor looked at each other and laughed.
“Two-hundred, twenty-five dollars and fifty-two cents!” Eleanor said.

Frances nodded with assurance, her brown eyes wide, her smile broad.

I smiled back at her, wondering about the ways my kind-hearted, proactive little organizer—who somehow emerged from the womb with an extra-long strand of the empathy gene—will benefit the world around her in the years to come, when we’re out of the picture and there’s nobody to hold her back.
Late in their hours-long sale. The cookies are nearly gone, the
second loaf of banana bread is out, the Riki Tiki Tavi kids have
left, and lots of rocks still for sale on the table to the right.
Pictured are Jonah, Frances, Kai, and Eleanor.

Monday, May 20, 2013

My Techie
By Michael

Everyone should cruise with at least one
kid, the skinnier the better. Exhibit A:
Here Eleanor runs cable for me so
I can install our VHF remote in the
cockpit. She squeezed through one
of those drawer cut-outs to get back
where I needed the cable. 
On our road trip from Washington, D.C. to Puerto Vallarta (where we bought Del Viento), Windy studied for her HAM radio license as we drove cross-country. The process culminated with a brief detour through a small, rural Wyoming town where the girls and I played in a park and got ice cream while Windy passed her technical exam in a nearby Kiwanis Club hall. The year was 2011.
Since then, our designated Onboard Communications Director hasn’t really used the Icom 710 single sideband (SSB) that came with the boat. Everything she learned is theory and she’s admittedly forgotten much of it (though radio guru Michael on Wondertime gave her a tutorial in Mexico last year).

But these past couple weeks, after admiring the way Kyra was able to post a report on the Nyon blog every day of their passage across the Pacific, I urged Windy to finally get fluent with our radio so we could do the same on our trip north this summer. After all, I imagine there will be lots of time when we won’t have internet connectivity.

And what she did today is very cool.

She plugged our laptop into the mic jack of the SSB, tuned to a broadcast being sent from Hawaii, and our cabin filled with the beeping, static-noise of an office fax machine.
“Watch,” she said.

Soon, a beautiful satellite image of Vancouver Island and northern Washington state was rendered on the glowing screen, line-by-line. We all stared, holding our breath. Then maps of forecast weather and waves were slowly--miraculously--reproduced before us.
“Whoa,” I whispered, much like when Nemo first reached the edge of the reef.

Now even though this is like black magic to the crew of Del Viento, I totally acknowledge that receiving weather faxes via short-wave radio is absolutely nothing to most other cruisers--basic, basic stuff.
But there’s more.

In a flash of genius that reminds me why I married her, she downloaded some app on the iPad, set a pair of ear buds next to the mic jack on the iPad, and reproduced the same thing there.
She says that somewhere in our lockers is a different sound card she needs to dig out and play with before we can send and receive email via her PC, but I think she’s caught her groove and it’s clear sailing from here. Soon we'll be equipped for getting and sending the info we need when we’re off the beaten track. You'll know we've reached that nirvana when you see one of those TESTING, DOES THIS WORK? posts, a milestone indeed.

Here's my wife, the magician, at her nav station.
"How have you gotten weather info previously?" some
might ask. The answer is that since we started, we've
nearly always had internet access available, at least
prior to beginning a passage, and we've simply come this
far by the grace of, and
the buoy data at've
infrequently relied exclusively on VHF-broadcast
weather, even when available.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Disco Winches
By Michael

Here are most of the innards from the big
48s--missing the drum and largest bearings.
After this I did our two Barient secondaries
and two Lewmar 30s on the mast.
The 1970s have long been maligned for their negative contributions to humanity, things like the Vietnam war, 20% mortgage interest rates, and disco. But what most historians fail to include in this list is our 1978 Lewmar 48 self-tailing winches.
Del Viento’s got two of them, one on each side of her cockpit. They’re big, they’re black, and they’re stout. Several times, fellow boaters have complimented them. I always acknowledged the compliment with a simple thank you, but I’ve always thought to myself: Oh yes, they are damn nice.

Indeed, without them Del Viento wouldn’t look half as serious as she does. Her coamings swell where the Lewmars are attached, to accommodate their big footprint. As a prospective buyer, these winches spoke to me: Just look at us! Nobody would put us on a 40-foot boat that wasn’t strong and ready for big loads.
I recently serviced them for the first time.

It was easy enough to start: nine Allen screws, three sets of three. They loosened easily and in turn released the top cap and both halves of the self-tailing cleat. I then lifted off the cast-aluminum drum to expose a solid bronze base housing the main drive shaft and two sets of gears fitted neatly at the bottom.
Now I’ve rebuilt winches before, different sizes and makes. To get those two sets of gears off (and to expose the pawls and springs between them), I had only to remove the vertical axles that held them captive. But for the life of me, I couldn’t see any way to remove these axles. Only after a long, difficult search online, having tried a bunch of key words and having waded through about a dozen online forum discussions on winches, and having returned to the cockpit several times to confirm what I was seeing, did I turn up a PDF of a tattered manual for our vintage Lewmar 48. There in that ancient record, in clear monospace, were instructions that validated the worse-case scenario I’d stumbled on in my online search: these gear axles are pressed in from the bottom and it takes a punch and a hammer to knock them back out, through the bottom. By design, the winch must be completely removed from the boat for servicing.

Isn’t that absurd? What were the 1970s Lewmar engineers and designers thinking? Have they never owned a boat? Has anyone else come across a design like this?
In the end, I recruited Windy’s small arms and hands to reach into the underside of our coaming and hold each nut while I loosened it from above. After completely cleaning, oiling, and greasing each winch, I re-bedded them and we reinstalled them.

Once I finished the first winch, I did notice the word England forged into the top. So maybe it’s not simply a 1970s thing, but a 1970s British thing…
After all, in America S&S designed Del Viento in the 1970s—and there was even Star Wars, Farrah Fawcet, and bean bags. But apparently, overseas it was the decade of IRA violence, the infamous 1979 Fastnet Race, and the Lewmar 48 winch that must be completely removed from a boat to be serviced.

The girls at Beacon Hill park near Del Viento. They love it there
and usually spend several hours exploring after their Monday
morning shift at the petting zoo is over.

Monday, May 6, 2013

North To The Light
By Michael

After trying seven tattoo parlors, some more
than once, we stumbled on Pair O' Dice where
Olivia was there and ready to make holes in
Eleanor's ears. No gun, she simply held a
cork behind the ear and pushed a needle
through the front. Eleanor grimaced, but
no tears. She was all smiles afterward and
is pleased with the results, go figure.
My friend EW suggested we take
Eleanor to the mall for this procedure.
But would a distracted, gum-chewing
16-year-old working at a mall kiosk
do a better job than Olivia, an artist,
a professional with about a dozen
piercings of her own, that I could see?
And would the girl in the mall
wear black latex gloves?
“All hope lies in one’s openness to experience and ability to change.”
That was Alvah Simon’s takeaway from his year in the Arctic ice aboard Roger Henry, his harrowing, “sojourn into the darkness.” I re-read Simon’s North to the Night recently—for like the fourth or fifth time—and I finally no longer feel inadequate, like my own cruising experiences are diminutive in comparison. After all, where did Simon freeze himself and the Roger Henry in over the winter? Yep, Canada. The exact same Canada where we and our good ship Del Viento just survived a long, cold winter.

Yes, I can hear the skeptics now: “But Alvah was alone.”
Of course he was, that’s why he had it much easier. Did Alvah have to constantly remind two kids not to leave the hatch wide open? Did he have three other bodies exhaling warm, moist air that would condense on the cabin walls? No, he had a cat.

In fact, Simon had it easy as he chose to winter-over in a part of Canada where mold doesn’t grow on the inside of your boat. Do you know how many trips Simon had to make in the cold drizzle to buy yet another gallon of vinegar so he could wage his battle against the nasty stuff? Zero.
Because Simon has long been a hero of mine, I’m going to stop with the comparison. Even though we’re now more or less equals, he was first and that’s worth something.

But we’re now facing a challenge Simon could not have imagined.
Where to Alvah the coming of spring meant a speck of moss spotted on a tundra stone, to us it is the roar of bow thrusters echoing through our hull as an 85-foot Nordhaven sidles in next to us, blocking our access to the spring sun.

Here on our docks in Victoria’s Inner Harbour, we grew accustomed to the long, lonely winter, the isolation, the quiet. We made our own rules, with plenty of space between us and our few hearty neighbors. We became a community, bound not by familiarity, but by shared adversity. Through the long, dark winter, we’d nod as we passed each other, heads down, along the 300-yard trail to the showers or laundry, too much cold and drizzle to stop and chat.
It was a month ago now, on
a freezing cold morning that
I rented dive gear for the day
so I could check our zincs
and scrub the bottom. That's
a 7mm suit doubled up over
my thighs and torso--the
water's cold. 
Things have changed with the season. It’s warm enough to stop and chat, but our community is pulling out, one by one, headed out to explore as we plan to do. They leave us behind, at ground zero of a tourist mecca. Our new neighbors are transients, in for only a day, just long enough to browse the shops, walk the crowded causeway, and take their picture in front of the Empress. The gates that were locked for the winter are now open and tourists stream by our little sliver of dock, through our front yard. Security guards now patrol, picking up detritus left around by the kids and returning it to us with an admonition.

And the irony is painful, how now that I finally have the weather to do a little sanding and touch-up the varnish on my toe rail, I can’t. The couple entertaining friends on their stern deck is barely five yards away and downwind of where I need to work.
But our winter in Victoria was much more than adversity and our spring is much more than the crowds that have descended. We’ve made many friends, some of whom we’ll leave behind and some of whom are cruisers we’ll likely cross paths with in Mexico. And we are going to miss Victoria. We bonded with this pretty, resource-rich city, everything we want and more just a short walk away.

The end of the month is advancing fast. When it arrives, it’s hard to believe we’ll be gone.
But do have hope, Alvah. As we prepare to leave Victoria, to go north to the light, we’re open to the experience and I know we have the ability to change.


The same day Eleanor got pricked, the whole family stumbled on
this blood donor center. In solidarity with our daughter, Windy
and I donated blood. I used to do this every 56 days like
clockwork back in our conventional lives. We now have a
new cruising goal to donate blood--at least once--in
every country we visit. Of course, the more countries
we visit, the more likely we are to get ourselves excluded.
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