Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Ahh, the Space Center - the gift that keeps on giving.  This blog is going on hiatus until the holidays are over, and I find another good (read: unsecured) internet connection.  Merry Christmas, all!  

(Indy had fun, I swear she did.  It was just really, really cold the day we were there.  Really.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Calling All Worrywarts, or, Next Stop, 1996!

As this little blog has grown, I have gotten the odd bit of mail from you, my dear readers.  Most of it is kind.  Some of it is mystifying.  But much of it comes from landlubberly types.  With that in mind, it is time for the educational (or, as Stylish, age 3, would have put it, edumacational) portion of our blog.  This will take the form of a Q&A with concerned readers Heckle and Jeckle.  Today's topic is:

When do we call the Coast Guard?

"I'm concerned about this sailing business, old bean!"

Heckle & Jeckle:  Look here, Papillon Crew.  Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.  You move around too much.  You don't move around enough.  Your track goes higgeldy piggeldy, hither and yon.  Your track has gaps.  Your track goes impossible places.  You stopped in the middle of the ocean.  All you do is write blog posts.  You never write blog posts.  You don't answer emais.  You don't take calls.  All this makes me anxious.  How will you ever get help without us?  We're calling the Coast Guard.

Papillon Crew:  No, you're not.

H&J:  But...

PC:  No.

H&J:  Oh, come on...

PC:  No.

H&J:  Fine then!  Explain yourselves.

PC:  Avec plaisir.  Let's go through our issues in order.

Complaint #1:  I disapprove of your frequency of movement!

Response:  In the early days, we moved almost every day.  That is because a) we needed the practice, and b) it was getting very, very cold in the Chesapeake.  And if there is one thing I object to in this life, it is being cold.  As we reached points south, the weather improved.  (Well, not here in Florida, apparently.  It is frigid here.)  Otherwise, hurray.  And so we started to linger.  Contrary to what you may think, we are out on this tub to loaf about in the tropics.  We aren't trying to circumnavigate, or race, or do anything else that would involve a lot of moving.  Yes, we want to have fun sailing, but we also want to drop anchor and swim.  And make sandcastles.  And fly kites.  You get the picture.

Summary:  We'll move when we feel like it and not before.

Complaint #2:  Your tracker is misleading, confusing, and makes me worried! 

Response:  Our Spot, while a nifty little gadget, has its flaws.  First, it will only track us for 24 hours at a time.  After that, we have to press the button again to keep it going.  That may not sound like much, but we're usually otherwise occupied on passage with things like fatigue, feeding children, and whichever alternator has caught fire that day.  So, a few hours go by before we remember Spot.  Thus, the gap.

Also, batteries die.  With the aforementioned feeding and fires, we also don't always have time to change out batteries the moment Spot dies.  Result: more gaps.

As for the funny tracks, Papillon is a sailing vessel.  When we need to muck around with the sails, we turn head-to-wind.  It may look like we are veering off-course, but really we're just changing something.  Keep watching and... see?  Back on course.

As for those mid-trip float-abouts, they are occasionally a necessary evil for rather benign reasons.  If we find that our current course and speed will get us into port in the middle of the night, we need to choose: speed up or slow down.  Unlike in a car, there is only so much velocity-adjustment you can practically do.  Tides, currents, wind speed... all of these things constrain us.  Once in a while, we'll choose to heave-to and just float around for a while on a calm day.  That may get us in at 7 am instead of 3 am, which is much, much safer.

Summary:  Spot is spotty and sailing means funny tracks.

Complaint #3:  Your communication stinks.

Response:  Well, now.  Our boat has an aluminum hull.  That means we live in a big Faraday cage.  We don't get signals down below - not internet, not cell phone.  And the honest truth is, as time goes by, more often than not we forget we own these fancy devices.  We're busy doing math with Stylish, or reading a book to Indy.  We've wandered off to the craft fair in town and forgotten to turn on the phone.  It isn't that we don't love you.  We are just doing other stuff.

Plus, the internet hates us, and that is that.  Connections have been worse and worse as we moved south.  And I just won't waste an hour every night trying to suck my email over the three seconds of connection I manage to grab.

Summary:  Our boat is rejecting your call. Don't take it personally.

Complaint #4:  You have no concept of safety and can't take care of yourselves, you tiny babies.

Response:  Hold on.  My eyes have rolled right back in my head and I can't see to type.

Ohhhkaaaay.  Here's what we've got, just off the top of my head, in case of trouble:
Warning systems: Fire alarms.  Carbon monoxide detectors.  Erik's inhuman hearing.  AIS so big ol' ships know we're there.
Preparedness training:  Man overboard drills.  Fire drills (kids included).  And I mean full dry runs, right up to mock-activating the life raft.
Response systems: Fire extinguishers.  Fire blankets.  Self-inflating life raft with food onboard. 
Communications:  VHF to talk to your friends the Coast Guard.  SSB for offshore.  An EPIRB registered to our vessel which automatically gives all of our information to the Coast Guard, and has its own GPS unit.  It is independent of all other boat systems, and would go with us if we abandon ship.
Natural suspicion:  I don't pick up hitchhikers, and if you think I'm inviting anyone strange onboard without pointing a flare gun in their face, you don't know me very well.  We will radio for help for other people, but my kids come first.

Summary:  For reals, we know how and when to get help.

H&J:  Yeah, okay.  I guess you've thought of a few things.  But I want to be connected to you right now!

PC:   Tough nuts.

H&J:  Hey!

PC:  No, seriously.  During university, I spent a month on my own in Indonesia for a research project.  There was rioting in Jakarta just before I went.  Towns I visited got burned down after I left. And did anyone panic because they couldn't reach tiny Amy during this dangerous time?  No.  Because it was 1996.  No one expected me to have access to a phone or email during those prehistoric days.  Everyone had to trust I was okay, and wait for a postcard.

So here is the deal.  We are all going to pretend that it is 1996.  Jump into your DeLorean and visit us in the past, because that's where our communications systems are living.

 "Could you give Papillon a message for me?"

H&J:  We're still calling the Coast Guard.

PC:  Like fun you are.  Those people are busy with real problems - real problems, incidentally, that we have heard and even helped with on our aforementioned VHF radio - and they don't have the resources to hold your hand.  Plus, if we get blacklisted for fake calls, you'll feel guilty forever that we can't get help when we need it.

H&J:  You're mean.

PC: I've come to terms with that.

This post is dedicated to the real Heckle and Jeckle, who are unrelated except in their well-meant concern for us.  And I'm sure they have learned their lesson. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Adventures on the Space Coast

We have just arrived in Fort Lauderdale after a week in Cocoa, FL.  Despite the bitter cold, we found it a lovely town.

To date, I’ve avoiding writing a list of our adventures.  What is more boring than reading someone else’s blow-by-blow of their vacation?  I might as well just give up right now and buy myself a powder blue, elastic-waistband granny suit and a slide projector.  “And here we are passing red buoy number 30.  And up ahead, you can see the green daymark...”  I’m asleep already.  But I am going to take a little break from my random storytelling to recount our trip to the Kennedy Space Center.  Because it was AWESOME.  It was, in fact, SO MUCH BETTER THAN WHATEVER YOU DID YESTERDAY THAT I NEED TO GLOAT IN ALL CAPS!

As a young Amy, I briefly entertained notions of becoming an astronaut.  This dream was sidelined in part because I lack any discernable blood pressure.  On the plus side, I’ll probably never have a heart attack.  On the minus, my vision often greys-out from such simple activities as riding a roller coaster with a loop in it.  Or standing up.  Anyway, I imagine that circulation and the ability to retain consciousness are advantages on a space mission, so tough for me.

When I realized that Cape Canaveral was an easy stop for us on the boat, I couldn’t pass up the chance.  Stylish and I have been working on a Space unit for school, so, bam!  Instant field trip.

Well.  The Center did not disappoint.  We took a bus tour of the facility, saw the launch pads, the enormous assembly building (which is so tall that it was actually in view from the ocean for hours as we came into Cape Canaveral), actual rockets, space gear.  We touched a moon rock.  We saw an IMAX movie about Hubble, which was simply beautiful.  My favourite part: moving through the nebula below Orion’s belt.  Stylish’s favourite part: an astronaut eating lunch in space, spinning his tortilla around.

We met astronaut John-David Bartoe, an expert on the outer layers of the sun, who gave a great little talk.  Stylish spoke with him afterwards, got an autograph and a photo.  (We learned through this chat that a prominence and a filament are really the same thing from two different angles.  Are you geeking out right now or what?)

Indy greatly disapproved of the astronauts’ suits on display.  She tapped on the glass and yelled, “Take the helmet OFF!” at each display.  (Only Alan Shepard was spared this harangue, as his suit wisely had the helmet tucked under one arm.)

Now, no trip is complete with a trip to the gift shop.  Stylish has recently been granted an allowance, to do with as she pleases.  (There is nothing like a disappointing purchase to teach you the value of being choosy with your money.)  Carefully hoarded dollars in hand, she went through the two-story gift shop like a pro, considering and discarding options with efficiency.  And what did she choose in the end?  Pink glow-in-the-dark nail polish.  Nothing says “I visited the Space Center” like glowing fingernails.  And while I am not a nail polish kind of girl – I’m kind of proud when I manage to brush my hair in the morning, now - I can’t fault her choice.  When I was six, I got a bottle of Cabbage Patch Kids peel-off nail polish for Christmas.  I painted, dried and peeled my nails for three days straight until the bottle was empty.  Watching that burgundy-coloured goo turn to rubber and then peel off as though it had never been there?  Magic.  And if that stuff had glowed?  Pah.

As if all this space tourism weren’t enough, there was a SpaceX COTS rocket launch scheduled for the next morning.  The girls and I patiently did school on deck (one of us always on Rocket Watch), and then, at about 10:45, there it was!  A super-bright light shooting into the sky, leaving a gorgeous, puffy contrail.  Hooray!  Take that, traditional schooling!  I might as well retire my teacher’s cap right now, because I’ll never top that.

I'll leave the last word to Stylish.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Laundry Day

There are aspects of being an at-home mom that are great. Spending time with the girls. Not having to drive to work every day. Those are true bonuses.

But I don't love cleaning. I love a clean and tidy house... I'd just rather not be the one to put it in that condition.  I do it anyway, but there it is.

Nonetheless, if there is one domestic task that I almost enjoy (and what a ringing endorsement that is!), it is laundry. Back on land, Monday was laundry day. Strip the beds, sort the clothes, and get a load into the wash. Erik and I bought a Miele in Germany a decade ago, and it has faithfully followed us from country to country ever since. And for those of you who have never had a German washing machine beat your whites into submission at 95 degrees Celsius for three hours, I say you've never had really clean clothes.

So it was somewhat of a let-down to me to attempt laundry on the boat. We'd talked about installing a machine, but that takes more water than we can justify. So, the marina and local laundromat it is. Bag up the clothes, stagger out to the facilities, haul out your bag of quarters, and we're off.

Well. Not only are those off-brand machine not my Miele (oh, the stains that remain!). That's bad enough. But worse is the Not-Really-A-Dryer. These units masquerade as dryers, sure enough. "Oh, hi!" they say. "Yes, sure, I'm a dryer. Give me $4 and I'll show you!" These mimics heat your clothes. Yes, they get them nice and hot. But they do not dry. At all. No matter how small your load, no matter how many quarters you plug in. Humidity = 100%, baby.

Don't believe me? Well, check it out.

This is my nightmare.  A week of soaking wet (but hot!) laundry hanging in our salon.  Because we had nowhere else to put it!  And the dryer ate all of my quarters!  Of course, it was quite cold the night we tried to dry it, so the boat was closed tight and we turned on the diesel heater.  Erik woke in the night and condensation was weeping off every surface.  The salon was wet for a week, and the laundry took at least three days to dry.  And even then...

So.  Laundry: no longer my favorite domestic activity.  I think I'll pick cooking, at least until the first time I'm trying to prep something in thirty-foot seas.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Singing Norwegians

Back in Norfolk, oh so long ago, we found ourselves docked not far from a Norwegian tallship named Statsraad Lehmkuhl. A neighbour told us the ship was pulling out at 6pm; as it was already 5:15, we of course hastened over.

Erik couldn't get enough of this boat. He examined it from every available angle, took photos, and pointed out the sights to us. The girls and I were getting hungry and cold. As six came and went, I was wondering when this thing was going to get moving.

Then the crew started climbing the ratlines, then filled the yards on the front mast. Well. This was a curious development. The ship started to pull out... and they began to sing.

I have to tell you, this warmed my Grinch-like heart. It was worth every moment of standing in the cold.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Breaking up is hard to do

Hooray!  After two days on the Atlantic, we made it to Charleston.  Time for a rest.  We didn't have a breath of wind the whole way, and Erik is exhausted from trying to sail anyway.  I'm exhausted from the night watches.  Where is a handsome paid crew when you need them?
Dear Autopilot,

Baby, where did we go so wrong?

I remember the day I met you.  You were the answer to problems I didn’t even know I had.  All quiet and confident there on your little stand.  “Let me drive,” you said.  “Put your feet up.  Read a book.  Auto’s got it from here.”  And you did.  No more mindless steering on those long, straight routes.  Just keep an eye out for other boats and obstructions, and let Auto do the rest.  Those were good times.  Happy times.

Oh, Auto.

Then we planned a passage – round-the-clock sailing for days on end.  Maybe that was too much of a commitment for you.  Maybe the thought of 36 hours of driving gave you cold feet.  Baby, why didn’t you just say so?  We could have figured this out together.  Had you serviced ahead of time.  Because this rudder communication error you came up with?  Lame.  We’ve got a communication error, all right.  Let me be clear: steering us off-course and sounding alarm bells to get attention?  No.  Not okay.  We’ve come too far together for you to start playing games with me now.

Cards on the table, Auto.  I took you for granted.  I know it.  And maybe that makes me a bad person.  But you know what?  You’re the motherf***ing Autopilot.  Your entire existence revolves around driving for me.  That’s right, I said it.  And if you can’t do that?  Well.  There are plenty of other Autos out there who can.  Either pull it together and steer like you’re built to, or sit back and watch a newer model take your place.  Because I am not hand-steering this boat at 2 am ever again.

My heart is growing cold, Auto.  I won’t wait for you forever.

Yours, but not for much longer,

Friday, November 19, 2010

Down the ICW without an engine

We are in Beaufort, NC for the night. Tomorrow, the ocean!

Back in the days when we still had a car, Erik was usually the driver. This was doubly so in bad weather. This was less about me and driving (I can take it or leave it) than about Erik and driving (he loves it). Once again, the signs were there, had I only been looking.

Years ago, we went to a party north of Burlington in a snowstorm. The weather was bad enough when we set out, but by the time we hit the country road, we couldn’t see a thing. The plow hadn’t been through yet, it felt like about 0.1 Kelvin outside, and the snow was whipping around our car. I sat in the passenger seat, feeling grim, and hoping we would hit whatever we were going to hit in that lovely slow-motion that snow can give you. Gently bumping a tree or sliding into the ditch looked like our best options.

Then I heard a whoop beside me. “This is great!” said Erik, eyes shining. I looked at him sideways. Great. He was having the time of his life, and I was considering the ignominy of perishing inside a yellow Volvo. We reached our destination without incident, but I knew I wouldn’t want to be the one driving under those conditions.

Sputter, sputter, pteh, ptuh. Silence.

“Take the wheel!”

And that is how I found myself “steering” the boat down a tiny canal in the ICW, engine dead, trying to avoid the two-foot shoals along our port side. Erik was bleeding the engine and cursing the air that had killed it. Did I have useful control of the boat? I did not. Did I want to be the one to run our home aground? I very much did not. And yet, there I was. It wasn’t as though I knew how to bleed the engine. So I white-knuckled it until Erik emerged again. And since one time wasn’t fun enough, we did it three times.

Then, peace. After a lovely afternoon of watching Stylish do magic tricks with paper mermaids, Erik smelled something. (I didn’t, but I think we’ve established that Erik’s senses are more dog-like than human.) All I could smell was the lingering remains of the oatmeal I’d burned at breakfast (tip: don’t use the thin interior portion of a double-boiler alone on a hot propane stove. We have yet to get all of the black out of the pot.)

Soon after, Stylish, turned on a light in the salon. It exploded. And I mean, the bulb flew apart at speed, scattering glass through two pots of Duplo and around the room.

What was the issue? Well. The alternator was over-delivering power to the 32 V batteries, which started to boil. When Stylish turned on the light, it was over-powered, and so it exploded. Erik disconnected the batteries (Amy again at the helm). This left the alternator with nowhere to send its power, so it instead loudly melted its belts. And oh, the stink. With Erik back at the wheel, we made a quick about-face and fought the dying light to head to Oriental, NC. I had the delightful job of opening the engine room every few minutes to check if the alternator was on fire yet.

And that is how we ended up in Oriental for a week. We lucked into a wonderful place called Deaton Yacht Service. Aside from the great people, we were berthed right beside the Travelift, so the girls and I got to watch boats getting hauled from and returned to the water several times a day. Also, they had a fancy popcorn machine in the office. The girls made shameful use of this perk.

As for the alternator, the copper melted. The alternator man said he’d never seen such a thing. I believe this means the incident was unavoidable (read: in no way my fault, which is all that matters). A mystery.

We seem to be in good shape again, and as I write, we are preparing to head out into open water. Yes, the Atlantic beckons. We are going to make a 36-hour push to Charleston, SC. Let’s see if my stunningly awesome night vision can keep us in one piece during my watches.

For those of you who are worried about The Ocean, let me remind you of something. There is a lot less to hit in the ocean. The ICW taught me what a plus that can be. The weather looks good, so some seasickness aside, we should be a-ok. (You can all watch the drama on the tracker, which, according to my dad, is enthralling.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Under the sea

Okay, I admit it.  I'm writing ahead and setting a time to post.  This way I can keep things churning even when we are off the grid.  I'm guessing we aren't far from Oriental, still.

Things that have ended up in the water over the past month*

Shoes: 7
Hats: 5
Tupperware: 2
Cups: 2
Small toys: 1
Goldfish crackers: 40+
Bamboo: 1
Fruit: 1
Books: 2 (Mr Forgetful and Are You My Mother?)
Indy: 1**

*Recovery rate is 100% to date for all non-food items
**This occurred at the dinghy dock in Solomons, which was almost at water-level, while she was wearing a life jacket.  She was about two feet away from me, so her total time in the water was less than 1.3 seconds.  Happily, this has given Indy a healthy respect for the combination of gravity and water, and she is quick to tell everyone, “don’t fall in the water!”

One of the most common questions we got before leaving was, “how are you going to keep the kids from going overboard?”  This was usually asked in a tone on the sliding scale from concerned to accusatory.  (Now, really.  Did you honestly think we wouldn’t have a safety system in place?  That your question was our very first prompt to consider this topic?  “Oh, safety!  Gee, Erik, we forgot the safety!  Now what?”)


Here we have a lovely photo illustrating The System.

 As you can see, both girls are wearing PFDs.  Fancy PFDs imported from Great Britain, I might add, after no small bit of asking around and listening to cruisers with kids.  As you can also see, they are wearing harnesses connected to a crash bar.  They cannot undo the harnesses; they loop through webbing on their backs, and the other end is far too difficult to open.

This would normally be the point where I would tell you a funny story about a safety-related disaster, but, thankfully, I don’t have any of those, and I hope I never will.  Both Stylish and Indy know the rules well, and they are quick to catch Erik and me out if we try to set a toe outside the cockpit without our own lifejackets.  Even in the shallow waters of the ICW, lifejackets are the rule.  Hooray, safety!  So rest easy, friends, at least on this point.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Question and Answer time

Your faithful correspondent isn't so faithful, I know, but I will try to post more often.  We are currently in Oriental, NC, repairing... well, lots of things.

Q:  What is worse than having to do the dishes by hand three times a day?
A.  Having to do the dishes by hand three times a day with a finger you can't get wet.

It was a sunny morning.  We'd gotten the anchor up with minimal annoyance (read: mud), and I was clearing up the deck and feeling rather good about life in general and this trip in particular.  I opened the port deck box to put away a hose.


The spring holding the lid buckled.  Down came the lid onto my right index finger.  It hurt so much I didn't make a sound; I just crumpled onto the deck.  And just how bad did it look?  Well, let me show you.  (WARNING: yucky photos follow.  Skip along if you don't want to see.)

And that was back when it looked good.  The nail is lifting off now, and the tip remains swollen enough a week later that I'm pretty sure I broke it.

Lucky for me, I married A Man of Many Talents.  Behold, Erik's excellent bandaging job:

Copper fuel line: it's not just for diesel anymore.

Combining skills learned from instructor Doug at St John Ambulance and helping his dad bandage up declawed cats, Erik made me this lovely splint/bandage ensemble.  If the girls would only stop smashing into it, it might actually heal this calendar year.

On an unrelated note, it is internet rumour time.  Stylish informs me that Justin Bieber is really Miley Cyrus.  Her evidence: a) he sings like a girl, b) if you put Miley in a Bieber wig, they would look identical.  I can't argue with her on either point.  You heard it here first.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


We are currently in Norfolk, VA, staying at a marina after a week of anchorges and not leaving the boat. This weekend should be a whirlwind of doing laundry and visiting kid-friendly locales.

There are many thorny questions a sailor must answer. Should I reef the sails? Will that anchor hold? Can I make port before the sun sets? And, most importantly, where should we spend Hallowe’en?

This issue dominated our planning in the week leading up to the 31st. Where could we find a likely town for trick-or-treating? Candidates were turned down for one reason or another. Too small. Too far. Local fish-packing industry too smelly. At last, we settled on Solomons, MD.

And, success! Despite arriving late to find the sun dying and the anchorage full, we found a good place to settle on Mill Creek. The weather was decent, and we spend some enjoyable days taking trips with the dinghy. A particular highlight was the Calvert Marine Museum. There is a big Miocene deposit near Solomons, and the museum had a great interactive display for the kids. Stylish netted a tiger fish tooth, and Indy a dolphin bone. There was a model of a giant shark that reportedly grew up to 52 feet. To help wrap your brain around a shark that large, our boat is 57 feet. (So now when the endless Duplo and puzzles on the floor get to me, I imagine we are living in a giant shark and I feel all badass.)  On the contemporary marine side, there were live horseshoe crabs, starfish, turtles, and otters. There was even an old-timey lighthouse for Erik to tour. A hit all around.

Anyway, back to Hallowe’en. Stylish settled on being a Ghost Pegasus Unicorn, and of course, Indy chose the same. Some artfully applied construction paper and yarn later, and kapow!

Quake before the nuclear-grade cuteness! Oh, my eyeballs are melting from the adorability! I mean, spookiness. Ooooh, spooky! Now, I have to tell you, none of the good people of Solomons were able to figure out their costumes. The most common guess was Skeleton Fairy. My favourite was Ghost Narwhal (the horns were listing by that point).

Erik had done a fair bit of recon, and heard from his sources (a cab driver and his barber) that a townhouse complex a couple of miles away would be a winner. We trooped out there, and sure enough, the sun went down and the kids came out.

Indy, at two somewhat new to the Hallowe’en scene, steadfastly refused to let anyone put candy directly into her bag. Little old ladies would bend down to drop in a Snickers, and she would quickly thrust the bag behind her back. She took the candy, eyed it carefully, then dropped it in the bag herself. I didn’t see her refuse anything, but she sure gave the impression that she might. For days afterward, all she would say about Hallowe’en was, “A bear gave me candy.” This appears to be in reference to a werewolf whose costume was so frightening (to everyone else) that Stylish had to help some smaller kids make it to the door.

Stylish, of course, is a pro. Trick-or-treat, thank you, check out the loot, move on. A military operation.

The girls got a good haul. However - and here we see cultural differences at play – they did not receive a single bag of chips. Not one. What is Hallowe’en, I ask you, without those tiny, overpuffed bags that only hold eight chips? Not to mention, those are my favourite things to liberate from the stash. Geez. In place of chips, they got a truckload of banana-flavoured Laffy Taffy, which is just as appalling as is sounds. Not an upgrade at all. Bleeh.

We have a rule around our house, reportedly originating with my dentist uncle. You have three days to eat your Hallowe’en candy. That’s it. Any extra gets thrown out on morning four. The idea is, your teeth have hit sugar saturation during this time, and the damage would actually be much worse if you only had a little each day over a longer period.

I’m pleased to report that, following in my footsteps, all of the candy was gone by sunset on Day Two.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Listen well

Annapolis is a day of sailing behind us. We are currently anchored in La Trappe creek, behind Martin’s Point. Someday I may tell you the delightful story of how I nearly lost the anchor, but then again, maybe not.

Back in the halcyon days of our early courtship, Erik taught me how to drive standard. This was ostensibly for the purposes of a cross-Canada tour, but there were, in fact, more sinister forces at play.

The vehicle in question was a yellow ’81 Volvo station wagon (a car that many of you are familiar with, and will note will interest is still a going concern out on the farm, or, as I call it, the Superannuated Car Retirement Village). Said Volvo had all of its working parts, save a working speedometer and rpm gauge. This is relevant, because, when driving standard, one must learn the optimal point at which to change gears.

“Just listen,” said Instructor Erik. “Do you hear that... there. Right there. Now you shift. Okay, listen again. Wait. The motor sounds like... that. Shift again.”

In this manner, I learned to keep half an ear on the engine and so, even years later, I never needed to look at my gauges to change gears.

Oh, what an innocent young Amy I was.

“Listen,” says Erik as he demonstrates the use of the Shower Sump Pump. “Okay, listen, listen, here it comes, hear it starting.... wait... okay... now! Turn the breaker off!” He turns to me expectantly. “Did you hear that? Exactly that sound, when the pitch starts to rise but before you get a real whine? That’s when you stop it.”

I look at him in despair. Unlike the ruddy Volvo, which I only rarely had to drive, this boat is full of Systems That Need To Be Listened To ALL THE TIME. One cannot even flush the toilet without carefully marking the rise and fall of the water, the whine of the pump. And the sea gods help you if you stop listening for a moment, because Crazy Ears will be on you in a moment.

I was helping Indy wash her hands when Erik appeared at my shoulder, eyes wild. “Did that sputter? Did the water sputter? [deleted expletive]!” He was gone, under the kitchen sink. “As soon as that happens, you have got to switch tanks!” came the muffled shout. “If the pump dries out, I’m going to have to pull the whole thing!”

Indy looked up at me, eyes wide, no doubt wondering if she really needed to wash her hands after all.

Even sleep does not stop The Listener from his solemn duty. In the middle of last night, Erik sat bolt upright and half-shouted, “The macerator pump! It’s siphoning sea water! I need to poke a hole in the hose!”

By the time I’d cracked an eye open, trying to make sense of this string of words, he was gone. Squinting aft, I could make out the blurry form of my dear husband, headlamp affixed, removing floor panels. (He seemed to have it under control, so I went back to sleep.)

Even now as I write, Erik has appeared in the companionway, a suspicious look on his face. His eyes shift from side to side as he listens to the Coleman lantern burning above the table, the generator humming away in the engine room, a spider spinning her web in the corner. Satisfied for the moment, he moves on.

The moral of this story is: if I were in charge of this boat, it would have sunk by now.

Monday, October 18, 2010

What did we do last week?

 The girls played on a huge pile of sand...

 ...went fishing with their new Barbie fishing rods (is there anything that isn't Barbie?)...

...and toodled around the harbour in the dinghy.

Hooray for plumbing

Fair warning: this post has everything to do with plumbing and its key uses.  Skip along if you don't want to hear about it.

For those of you familiar with Erik, you know that he likes to tinker.  A lot.  To give him his due, the man can fix anything, and I am grateful.

However, there are days when I would come home to find the bathtub residing unattached in the middle of the room and the water for the house turned off.  (Those were inevitably days when the girls would be in dire need of a cleaning, and we would have to make do with a pile of Wet Ones for a few hours.)  I was, shall we say, ticked off.

Yes, I used to think I occasionally had it rough.  Then came... the forward head.  (That would be the guest bathroom.)

Until last night, we were without a functioning toilet onboard.  That is a full week, my friends.  The nearest heads are about 100 feet down the dock - not so far, in the grand scheme of things, and they are delightfully clean.  But Indy is toilet training.  She is in that key phase when "I have to go," means, "I have to go RIGHT NOW!".  So, many times a day, I had to scoop up the kids, jump off the boat and pound down the dock like a madwoman, elbowing scandalized retirees aside, in hopes of making it RIGHT NOW.

Meanwhile, Erik had to take apart the whole bathroom and much of the nearby hallway floor (leading to the girls' cabin, naturally).  You may recall that we don't exactly have the room to skirt around each other here, so this lead to the odd tense exchange.

But oh, happy day!  It works!  My genius husband has built a toilet for the gods.  And did I mention it works?  It works.  No more sprinting down the dock in my pajamas!  The retirees will be so disappointed.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

And we're off!

The long drive to Maryland is behind us, and we are now officially living aboard Papillon.  Hooray!

The past few days have been spent moving in.  More accurately, moving all of the leftover stuff out and then moving in.  Imagine moving from a house to a bachelor apartment shaped like a rabbit's warren with many deep and mysterious closets.  The previous owner left all of those closets stuffed to the gills, but you don't have the luxury of keeping your things elsewhere while you take his things out.  So, for a week or two, you feel like you belong on Hoarders as you crawl over piles of things and try to dispose of everything you can.  Meanwhile, your six- and two-year-olds are stuck in the apartment with you.  Doesn't that sound like fun?

But really, it is fun.  The girls have enjoyed digging in the sand and exploring the marina.  Erik and Stylish are currently out in the dinghy, and Indy is attempting to rest.  Blogger is resisting my attempts to upload photos, so that will have to wait.

Indy is demanding apple juice, so I will leave our preliminary report here.

UPDATE: Photo success!

   This was taken by the lovely Eleanor, our neighbour in the marina.  Of course, there is probably a proper marine term for neighbour, but I don't know it haven't been forced to learn it yet.  Something like "hobbentrope" or "gallyfinglewagler".  (For those of you following along at home, as a newbie sailor, one of my big beefs is with the pointless set of nautical terminology.  Ask someone where the bathroom is, and you'll get a blank look, but ask for the head and they'll point you the right way.  Why?  Why, I ask you?  Why must I cook in the galley, sleep in a berth (or a bunk) and help Erik sheet the gollywobbler* (shorten a sail, but how could you possibly know?)?  Expect further examples of ridiculous names to surface as the days go by.)

*Erik insists I clarify that a gollywobbler is a quadrilateral staysail on a schooner, and, as such, we don't have one.  Yes, this was his problem with my sentence.  Not the use of "sheet" to refer to a rope.  Not the mere existence of a word like "gollywobbler".  No.  Misleading use of (ridiculous) terminology.  My apologies.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

History of Papillon, part I

Part of the fun of buying an older boat is discovering its history.  As it so happens, aside from reported visits from a Pope and William F. Buckley (not concurrently) and an appearance in Classic Yacht Interiors (Jill Bobrow, WW Norton), Papillon was the site for a Covergirl commercial in 1980.  And that is much more interesting, right?  Behold, our beautiful boat:


Of course, our family will always look just this beautiful and carefree while onboard.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Lessons learned

I'm back from a week of sailing lessons on Papillon.  Coincidentally, this was my first time sailing, ever.  Unsurprisingly, I learned a few things:

1.  You can never use too much sunscreen.  Ow.
2.  Mouth-pipetting diesel will make you throw up.  (lesson learned by observation only.)
3.  Dropping an air conditioner on your leg leaves a large, decorative bruise.
4.  Heeling over freaks me out.  I swear we tipped over about 60°.  (Erik says, maybe 15°.  But things fell over, didn't they!  Didn't they!)
5.  Mosquitoes are the enemy.  They are worse than the heat, worse than the waves, worse than snoring cabin-mates.  Sleep is impossible.
6.  A sunburn on your lower lip has the same effect as Botox.
7.  Sailing mnemonics were written by boys, for boys, if you know what I mean.
8.  Erik can fix anything.
9.  I thought consultants used a lot of jargon, but sailors have them beat, hands down.  Or, by a nautical mile? (groan)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Papillon is a beautiful boat.  If you wander over to the Images page, you can see a few photos I managed to take before things became too exciting.  Papillon felt like a good home the moment we stepped on board.  It was the same feeling I had when we first toured our current house: this is a place I can live.

In short, the girls had a wonderful time.  Stylish examined every inch of the boat, and even climbed into the engine room with Erik.  No one went overboard, although Indy came close.  (As an aside, Indy has also fallen in love with her lifejacket, and has taken to wearing it around the house.  Strange, but useful.)  An ear infection provided an eventful (read: loud and sleepless) night, but as of mid-day today, everyone was once again well and happy.  Erik made a list of jobs to do, so he is happy, too.

It was hot in Fort Lauderdale.  Very, very hot and humid.  The boat lacks A/C, so it was a little muggy until we could get all of the hatches and portlights opened.  It took some time to get all systems running on the boat, and so we were without water for a while, but we made do with bottled.

Living on the boat this weekend was much like camping.  Once we have everything in place (food in the galley, sheets on the berths, books in the shelves), no doubt we can upgrade to a cottage-like state.  Eventually, with the heads scrubbed and re-hosed and a host of little jobs behind us, we will no longer feel like we are making do and instead will feel fully at home.  And, someday, the day will come when we have improved Papillon from bow to stern, mast to keel, and have attained True Comfort. 

If the past is any indication, we will sell the boat two days later.

Friday, May 21, 2010

It begins

Once upon a time, Erik and Amy lived in a  comfortable house in a nice town with their two lovely daughters.  One day, Erik turned to Amy and said, "Let's give all of this up to go live on a small boat in the searing heat, with no money and no escape from each other on the high seas."  Amy nodded sagely, as this was clearly an excellent idea.  So our heroes bought a boat, sold their house, car and other possessions, and took to the water.

Perhaps I am getting a little ahead of myself.  The boat is bought and the house is sold, but the rest is forthcoming.  Right now, we are in the preparation stages of our adventure.

Now.  I am a practical soul.  I know this adventure could go one of two ways.  We're all hoping it looks like this:

...but let's face it.  Sometimes it will look like this:

Is this the greatest thing we've ever done, or a disaster waiting to happen?  You, dear reader, can join us here to find out.  Burn with envy as we drink daiquiris and play on the beach!  Lounge smugly on your couch as we battle the elements and repair the diesel engine with bent wire and glue!  Oh, the fun we are going to have!

Tomorrow, the adventure begins in earnest: we are going to visit Papillon.  Erik knows the boat, but the girls and I are new to her.  Let's see if we can keep anyone from going overboard on our first visit, shall we?