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.