Monday, February 29, 2016

Long Way Home
By Michael

Almost to Windy's folks' house.
“You must be Eleanor and Frances!” the woman behind the REALTonga counter said as we approached, smiling at Eleanor and Frances. You know things have not gotten too big when a quick glance at the day’s passenger manifest makes it easy to deduce who passengers are as they walk into the terminal. I was still surprised when we checked in and got our boarding passes without ever showing identification. Our bags were weighed and tagged and taken from us. Then a roar overhead let us know that our plane had arrived.

REALtonga is the only Tongan airline. Their website features a picture of a generic, 737-sized jet streaking across the sky. But this is misleading. The REALtonga fleet is jet-free. The airline is almost 3 years old and began with only a single plane, a Xian MA60 that the Chinese government gifted to the Kingdom of Tonga and which the Kingdom of Tonga then leased to the burgeoning airline. But this arrangement didn’t pan out. The plane apparently has such a poor safety record that the New Zealand government issued a travel advisory to its citizens and withheld $10 million dollars in Tongan aid in a bid to get them to stop flying the thing. Within a year, the Tongan government returned the plane to China and the airline announced the purchase of two aging British Aerospace Jetstream 32 aircraft. That’s what I thought we’d be boarding.

“So what kind of plane is this?” I asked our Kiwi captain through the cockpit window after we landed in Nuku Ľalofa, in southern Tonga.

“It’s a Harbin Y12, a Chinese knock-off of the Canadian Twin Otter.”

It would have been possible for us to fly from Neiafu to Nuku’alofa and then board a flight to Nadi, Fiji the same day, but we’d been warned. Apparently, REALtonga flights are VFR-only. This means they don’t fly during weather conditions—either at the departure point or the destination—that require pilots to use instruments. Also, during the seven weeks we were in Tonga, we heard several stories of folks whose travel plans were interrupted because of a mechanical issue with a REALtonga plane.

“You should really give yourself a day or so buffer; just plan an overnight in Nuku’alofa.”

So a month before leaving, we walked back to the high school in Neiafu, to the room that serves as the REALtonga office, and changed our flight.

“Great, so we leave a day sooner, same time. Is there any charge for changing our fare?”

“No, there is no charge.”

Once in Nuku’alofa, the REALtonga portion of our itinerary was over. We spent the night in a modern, New Zealand-company-owned hotel and the next afternoon boarded a Fiji Airways turbo-prop for a two-hour flight to Nadi (pronounced nahn-dee). There was again no taking off our shoes, no x-ray machine, no security check at all.

In Nadi, things got familiar. The terminal is modern and similar to any big-city airport terminal in the world. Burger King didn’t have their veggie burger available, but the friendly Fijians behind the counter came up with their own solution for me: a cheeseburger with all the trimmings, but substituting the meat patty for onion rings. Sold.

This time we did pass through all the customary security checkpoints and then boarded a clean wide-body A-330 for a 10-hour red-eye to Los Angeles. There, bleary-eyed and spent, we passed our two-hour layover lugging ourselves and stuff over to the Virgin America gate for a short flight up to San Francisco.

Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, I realized that while it had seemed we’d been traveling for days, it was still two hours prior to the date and time that it was when we left Nuku’alofa. We’ll pay for that time gain on the way home in a few weeks, when we head back across the Date Line, back to Del Viento. I miss her bad.


Windy and the girls crossing the tarmac in Neiafu.
The pilot I talked to has flown both the Twin Otter and the Y-12
and he said the only discernable difference between the two planes
is the cost. He said operators who choose the Y-12 save
about $1M.
The following day, headed for our ATR-72 in Nuku'alofa.
Homeschooling is as much about mindset as practicalities. It's about
integrating learning into every facet of daily life, even when it slows
things down or is not easy. Here the girls are filling out their own
customs forms, requiring we wait and wait and answer about 25

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Interview: 10 and 12
By Michael

Good times in Tonga. This is Eleanor on a
kneeboard, being towed past Del Viento by
Michael of Wondertime.
So, back in the spring of 2011, I interviewed Eleanor, the soon-to-be-cruiser. A month later, I asked the same questions of 5-year-old Frances. I just read those posts to the girls tonight and they thought they were the funniest things ever, images of their old selves and perceptions. This week, Frances turns 10 and I no longer have a child in the single digits. It’s sad, unbelievable, and exciting.

Five years later and I’ve again interviewed the girls, this time they’re cruising veterans. Their answers are more considered and the perspectives more complicated. In the same way they tonight enjoyed reading interviews of their 7- and 5-year-old selves, I hope that their 17- and 15-year-old selves appreciate these—and I just cannot fathom that those young women are only another 60 months away.

What aspect of the cruising life appeals to you most?

FRANCES: Hmm, like traveling to different places and seeing new things and eating new foods and talking to different people, things like that.

ELEANOR: Umm, pretty much the same as Franny, except I also like that I get to spend a lot of time with my family.

What about cruising do you wish you could change?

ELEANOR: Umm, definitely that I never, or very rarely, get to see like my extended family or my friends, my close friends.

But don’t you see your extended family more than you would if we were living in a house in D.C.? Back then we’d have only a two-week vacation each year to see people. Since we’ve been cruising, we’ve averaged a lot more than that with family.

ELEANOR: Yeah, that’s true, so I guess it’s more about friends.

FRANCES: I’d say the same as Eleanor.

How is the boatschooling going?



You’ve been aboard a bunch of boats now. How is Del Viento as a home? Do you wish it was bigger or smaller or laid out differently—like would you rather it was a cat, for example?

ELEANOR: No, I love Del Viento. I’m really glad that it’s a monohull and that it’s not too modern-y. Umm, sometimes I wish I had my own room, it’s just nice to have like someplace to go, but, uh, I also like sharing a room with Franny.

FRANCES: Same as Eleanor, just, um, yeah, it’s like the perfect size and everything.

If you could snap your fingers and be back to living in a house, living a more typical life, would you?

FRANCES: Definitely not.


At what age do you think you’ll want to stop cruising?

ELEANOR: Umm, I don’t know, it depends. I want to go to high school, someplace, maybe in Japan, and I think that would be a good time to stop cruising.

FRANCES: Probably in, like, my late teens, eighteen or seventeen.

Do you think you’ll want to sail around with your own family when you’re my age?

FRANCES: No, but I still would like to travel a lot.

ELEANOR: Same as Franny, but I would like to, umm, maybe do it when I’m a young adult.

Franny, what about you, cruising in your young adult life?


Do you have a favorite place you’ve been?

FRANCES: No, just like, I’ve loved all the places. Umm, I especially like Santa Rosalia and umm, like Juneau in Alaska, yeah.

ELEANOR: Umm, a little of every place we’ve been. Some places feel more like home to me, some places hold a more significant memory like Santa Rosalia, La Paz, and, umm, probably Tonga in the future. Yeah, but I probably couldn’t choose.

Is there any place we’ve traveled to that you would want to live someday?

ELEANOR: Umm, I don’t know. I love Mexico and I fantasize about living in Alaska, but I doubt that it will ever happen. But, yeah, I love Mexico, I guess that would be the biggest one.

Why do you doubt you’ll ever live in Alaska?

ELEANOR: Just because I don’t think it’s something I would realistically do, but I like the idea of it.

FRANCES: I’d love to live in Alaska.

What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you since we started cruising?

FRANCES: Umm, mmm, probably like, I don’t know, maybe like storms comes to mind, like really bad storms where you just have to stay in. Like when we waited in Mexico for the hurricane to pass over us.


FRANCES: Yeah, Odile.

ELEANOR: Umm, yeah, hurricane Odile comes to mind, that was definitely way up there, but I’d have to really rack my brain to be positive.

Of all the places we’ve been, which has been your least favorite?

ELEANOR: Again, I’d have to think.

FRANCES: There’s really no place that I’ve went to that I hated. Some places I’m sort of like “ick.”

Like where?

FRANCES: Hmm, I can’t think.

ELEANOR: Umm, yeah, like I know there’s bad places, but, I guess probably someplace in Mexico where there are a bunch of drunk ex-pats! I don’t know.

What is the best advice you could offer a kid your age whose parents are thinking about going cruising?

FRANCES: Oh gosh, umm, like, something like, mmm, it’s not as scary as it seems, something like that.

ELEANOR: It’s not as scary as it seems, but I think that depends on the person. Like I don’t think I get scared that easily, but that person may. Umm, I don’t know, it definitely isn’t like it is in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Like that’s what I was thinking of when I was first moving onto a boat.

The most surprising aspect of the girls' responses is apparent to me only when I answer these questions for myself. Many of the questions I would answer similarly. But some I would answer very differently. For example, "What about cruising do you wish you could change?" They both focused on friends and extended family. I would have answered: faster internet, regular hot showers, and a fridge that opens normally. Also, I asked them whether there was a boat they've been on that they'd prefer to Del Viento. I could think of a dozen boats they might have picked, but they both agreed Del Viento was the boat for them. And who knew Santa Rosalia was such a hit? I thought the terrific Tuamotus would have earned a mention.


The girls aboard the home they've lived in for so
long, they think it's the best.
In the galley.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Reducing Sail, It's What We Do
By Michael

A view of Windy at the mast, from the cockpit.
Far and away the most common reaction we receive from people unfamiliar with our nomadic life at sea is, “What about storms?” As in, “Aren’t you afraid your boat’s going to sink in a storm, down to the bottom of the ocean, all hands lost?” Our pat answer is to assure them we don’t like storms and to tell them that we don’t sail when stormy weather is forecast and that forecasting is getting to be pretty reliable.

The more accurate answer would be that we don’t aim to sail in bad weather, but it happens and we deal with what comes. We’ve thus far succeeded in avoiding thereally bad stuff. But the question of the day is: How do we deal with what comes, with squalls and other higher-wind events?

There are many references out there to find answers for how some people think a sailboat crew should respond to adverse weather. Do this. Do that. Follow these steps. The information that’s out there can be digested and memorized and there’s probably even an app for that. Unfortunately, that’s not enough.

Before I first left to go cruising in 1996, I took comfort in having read the Pardeys’ tactics for surviving storms. I carried their book and others on my shelf. No matter that I’d never even practiced heaving to. Six months after casting off, I learned that the reality of life on a pitching, rolling, chaotic boat in weather is difficult to imagine realistically and then subject to shaping by a multitude of factors I never anticipated. The takeaway: you’ve got to go out and experience it and practice your response, on your boat, with your crew.

Fast forward 20 years and I’m well into my second cruising chapter. This time I’m aboard a bigger boat, voyaging farther afield, and with my family aboard. I’m more experienced, we leave port better prepared, we have better access to information, and we still occasionally run into bad weather. But fortunately, we have a simple, tested, and effective strategy for facing strong wind: we reduce sail. It works every time. It hasn’t always been easy for us; we’ve traveled a long, bumpy road to learning exactly when and how to reduce sail. But we’ve got it down now.

We don’t have a furling main sail. We don’t have a slippery mainsail track. We’ve got a honkin’ main that we hoist old school, up the mast on plastic sliders. We need almost all pressure off the main before she’ll drop. We used to go straight for the motor when it was time to reef, firing it up to point our high-freeboard bow into the wind while we reduced sail. It was a poor approach. First off, I’d rather listen to a baby scream and cry than to the racket the main and boom and all the attached hardware makes as we point into irons for what feels like an interminable period. Second, watching me go forward at night on a wet, pitching, rolling, bucking deck is not Windy’s idea of a good time. Fortunately, we learned a while back that reefing our main sail doesn’t have to involve the Yanmar. Today, we heave-to before doing anything else.

Gone are the noise, cacophony, and sense of urgency that comes with pointing a 400-square-foot main into the wind. Instead, we simply sheet in the main, backwind the headsail (first deploying it if necessary), counter the forces with the helm, lock the wheel, and relax. Things are then relatively quiet and peaceful and we can go through our reefing steps at a slower, safer pace.

Following are those steps we take to reduce sail. There are other approaches to reefing, depending on the boat and the equipment and the sail configuration. This is what works for us on Del Viento.

  1. The two of us sit in the cockpit for 20 seconds to 2 minutes—however long it takes—and we review out loud the actions we’re about to take. Even though we’ve been sailing together for a long time, even though we’re about to do something we’ve done time and time before, and even when there is a sense of urgency because we’re late to reef, we don’t skip this step.
  2. On a cloudy or moonless night, one of us ducks below to turn on the spreader lights.
  3. I release the Cunningham rope clutch in the cockpit (we use this to secure the tack for the reefed sail--I know that's not its intended role aboard).
  4. I make sure both reefing lines are uncoiled in the cockpit (they both run through rope clutches).
  5. Windy runs the first reefing line to a cockpit winch that she will use for the final few feet of pull.
  6. I go forward to the mast and make sure I have slack on the Cunningham line and disengage the hook from where it’s stowed.
  7. I remove the main halyard coil from the winch, uncleat the line, and ease tension on the main halyard while Windy pulls the first reefing line in. Even though this approach is slower than dropping the main quickly to its reefed position, we coordinate because if we don’t, despite having lazy jacks, the main sail will fall forward or otherwise into a position where we often cannot pull the reefing line tight without first wrangling the sail.
  8. Windy pulls in the slack we’re creating in the second reefing line, to keep it from wrapping the main sail batten ends.
  9. As the tack for the first reef point meets the boom, I hook it with the Cunningham, call back to Windy to pull the Cunningham line tight, and then I tension the main halyard.
  10. I coil the main halyard tail and stow it before returning to the cockpit.
  11. Windy unlocks the helm and tells me which direction she is going to fall off, we fall off, and during that maneuver I control the main sail via the traveler lines, the main sheet, and the boom brake lines.
  12. We high-five and resume our heading.
I think the point I’ve not made—and one that has been made a million times by others, but that is so important it really cannot be overstated—is that reducing sail changes everything at sea. Sailing in a gale is never as calm and peaceful as sailing in 10 knots, but when not overpowered, when you have the right amount of canvas up, sailing in a gale is just as manageable as sailing in 10 knots. Imagine that, experience that, and practice that and you’re ready for (almost) whatever the weather throws at you.


Underway in about force four conditions, both sails full-on.
Wind slightly aft of the beam, main not yet reefed, outhaul relaxed,
sail up against the leeward lazy jacks.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Voyaging With Kids for Less
By Michael

Is this blog title misleading? Apologies. Frankly, I don’t know how to voyage with kids for much less than we’ve been lately spending to voyage with our kids. But I do know that the Voyaging With Kids publisher temporarily slashed the price of the Kindle edition of the book. That’s what I’m referring to.

L&L Pardey reduced the price to accommodate requests from print edition buyers for discounted eBook editions for their mobile devices. But Amazon has no purchase restrictions in place, so for three weeks beginning today, this special $9.99 price is available to anyone and everyone.

Also regarding Voyaging With Kids: SAIL Cruising Editor Charles Doane just this week posted an enthusiastic review of the book on his personal blog, Wavetrain. Check it out (and his blog is a good one to keep up with, he's smart and funny). As a co-author, it's deeply gratifying to read the sincere, positive reviews the book has received from professional editors in the industry. On top of this, the feedback each of us has received from the people we wrote the book for—cruising and looking-to-be cruising families—makes me smile, makes it all worthwhile.

Coming soon to this space, in no particular order:
  • My big next-book announcement.

  • An updated interview with the girls. I interviewed them both prior to heading off cruising. That was more than five years ago. It’s time to learn how they’ve changed. To learn what comments they want to make about the good and bad of their nomadic childhoods and what they hope for the future.

  • I want to write a technical post about how we approach squalls at sea—about exactly what we do and especially how we go about reefing Del Viento, step-by-step. We’ve got our system down and it’s time to share.

  • Almost 6 weeks into our 3-month visit with family in California, I’m feeling much of some of the same emotions I’ve heard people experience when they stop cruising and return to conventional U.S. life. It’s not all pretty. I have stuff to say.
So we were in this restaurant here in the Bay Area, and strangers recognized
me and brought over their book for me to sign. Okay, that would never
happen, but here Eleanor and I are in a restaurant where we had lunch
with family who did bring a copy for me to sign. It was embarrassing and
nice at the same time.
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