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.