Saturday, May 28, 2011

Papillon Crew vs The Tourists

Summertime is rapidly approaching, even in the waterlogged depths of Ontario.  Many of you will travel during this time – north into cottage country, south into even hotter weather.  But wherever you go, are you prepared?  When you strike up a conversation with your neighbour on the beach, do you even consider he or she might be... a boat person?

To avoid any social embarrassment as you traipse through your vacation, here is my handy guide to distinguishing cruisers from the land-based pack.

Regular tourist
Hello, my name is Generic.
Hey, you live on that Bill Tripp yawl, right?  Oh, that’s a nice boat.
Small talk

Where are you from?  Where are you staying?  What do you do?

Is that a CQR anchor?  Heck, no, you should really get a Manson instead.
Clean and varied.
Usually, yes.  Do the holes show?
Handheld VHF
It is no secret that your average pale person views the sun with a terror more appropriate to an imminent apocalypse.  Ugly hats are a must for the sun-fearing tourist.

Erik wears an old straw hat he found floating in the water.  Enough said.
Swimsuit style
New, brightly coloured and fresh from LL Bean or similar.
Also new, but faded and shapeless due to constant wear.  Bought cheaply from the tourist shack at the last port of call.
Swimsuit I – family time
Coverage is key.  SPF 5000+, and long sleeved, especially for kids.
Sole criterion: comfort.
Swimsuit II – party people
Go small and show it off, baby!  How else are you going to get a brutal burn on your milky-white shoulders?
Either bright white sneakers or new flip-flops.
Flip-flops of indeterminate colour, barely held together with epoxy.

Burnt.  Cruisers wince as you pass, imagining the pain you will be in this evening.

Tanned.  Tourists shake their heads and hope you’ll enjoy having skin cancer in later life.

Well-mannered and well-controlled.  Close to the parental units at all times.  Eating and sleeping schedules scrupulously adhered to.

Somewhat feral, but happy.  Possibly filthy.  Someone made them peanut butter on a playing card a few hours ago.  And I’m sure I saw them around here, somewhere.
Kids’ greeting
Hi.  Do you want to play?
Hi.  Do you live on a boat?
Where is that sushi place that Christine was telling us about?
I'm looking for the laundromat and the book swap.
Beach umbrella
Yes, please!  I'll have a bucket of cervezas and some nachos and a pineapple juice and...
Pfft.  Pay for something?  No.  I’ll dump my stuff in a pile here on the sand, thanks.
Arriving at the beach

By taxi, or on foot from the road/hotel.

By dinghy - preferably with a motor issue - or on foot along the beach.
Beach stuff
Bathing suit, sunscreen, beach cover-up, towel, novel, sunglasses, new sand toys, flip flops, camera...
Bathing suit and scavenged sand toys
Clean, polite, and clearly away from home.  Determined to maximize the value of their precious vacation days.
Faded, a little bit dirty, friendly, and (perhaps overly) relaxed.

And there you have it.  You will know within mere moments whether the creature in front of you is land- or water-based.  You’ll be the envy of your friends and neighbours!  I’m so happy to help.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Q & A, part II

We're back!  Let's see what the mailbag has for us today.

Question: hindsight
What would you have done differently, or better, so far?  Would you have kept the same route and timing?

This is a tough question.  Although it was no picnic coming down the Chesapeake in fall (so, so cold), we did get a lot of practice in fairly calm conditions.  It also gave us time to discover some issues before we hit Fort Lauderdale in December.  There are places I would have liked more time in and place I could have skipped, but all in all, I’m pretty happy.

Question: togetherness
I love my spouse, but that sounds like pretty constant close quarters.  Should we be worried about you two?  Do you ever wish there were other adults to talk with besides each other?

First, let’s take a step back and see who we are dealing with.

This is Erik:

Look at me!  Look at me!  Look at me now!

As you can see, he is fun, happy, and likes to juggle many projects.  Erik is a classic over-achieving extrovert.

On the other hand, here I am:

One was Johnny who lived by himself, and liked it like that!

I am quiet.  I like to read, I like to write.  I am about as big an introvert as you’ll find outside a hermitage.

The girls take strongly after their father.

The wonderful thing about Tiggers is Tiggers are wonderful things

This is a boisterous and noisy boat.  There is no lack of company, even though there are only four of us.  I certainly had to adjust when we moved aboard, as there is no place to hide.  But now it all feels pretty normal, and we have all gotten good at respecting each other’s space, both physical and psychological.

But I’m not going to lie to you.  There have been days when I could have quietly sidled up to Erik on deck, given him a sharp shove overboard, and then practiced my crying face for when we encountered the authorities.  He has felt the same way about me.  This is normal, and neither of us takes it personally.  For many years we have followed a strategy of, “vent early and don’t stew.”  This means we get grievances out while they are still small, and nothing grows into A Big Issue.  In general, we get annoyed, bicker, glare, then forget the whole thing.  It works for us.

As for talking to other people, that is no problem.  We are always anchored out with tons of other boats, or in the marina with neighbours right beside us.  Any time we want to talk to retired white men, we can throw a stone and hit one.  (Do you see how I subtly gave you some information there?  I’m tricky some days.)

Not to digress too far, but this does bring up a point about cruising.  The people we have met are kind, generous, delightful company and generally all-around Good People.  We’ve had people show up with banana bread, lend us apartments, and watch the girls.  Strangers ran to get ice for Indy when she took a nasty spill.  Cruisers are made of awesome, in my opinion.  Anyone is doubt as to the inherent worth of their fellow man should live on a boat for a while.

However – and you knew there would be a “however” – cruisers are homogeneous.  This is what the cruising community looks like:

The Cruising Community: very nice, but very the same

It is white.  It is older.  It is mostly male.  In short, it lacks diversity.  Delightful people, but there it is.

Question: adversity
What has been the hardest thing to overcome?

There has been less to overcome than one might expect.  We’ve had to learn to be sparing with our fresh water.  I miss having laundry handy, and this whole top-lid fridge nonsense gets to me some days.  Even the seasickness isn’t so bad; Dramamine turned me into a zombie, and I developed an allergy to the scopolamine patch, but a friend put us on to some Mexican medication that I’m sure will do the trick.  Eternal optimism!

If I had to choose, I’d say our toughest problem is finding other kids, but that is improving.

Question: joys
What good things have you done?  What is the coolest thing you have seen on land and on water during the trip thus far?

We toured the Kennedy Space Center, met an astronaut and saw a rocket launch.  I did a night watch on a calm, cloudless, moonless night, and saw what the night sky should really look like.  We’ve seen dolphins and manatees, caught a tuna, and seen flying fish zoom hundreds of meters over the waves.  We climbed a Mayan pyramid and saw ruins still hidden in the jungle.  We’ve played in parks all over the US and Mexico.  We saw a baby goat minutes after it was born.  I get to read to my girls whenever the mood strikes us.  And we’ve done it as a family.  Even when we are driving each other bananas, I wouldn’t trade it.

Question: leaving civilization behind:
What do you miss most from home, after us of course?

When we moved, we got rid of many carloads of stuff to charity.  I am still waiting for the day when one of the girls asks about something that has been given away.  I know I haven’t missed our things.

I miss the Miele – the world’s greatest washing machine.  I miss my neighbourhood.  I’m hard-pressed to think of anything else, aside from friends and family.  I do not miss my car.  I do not miss having the haul the kids out of bed at an ungodly hour, stuff them full of breakfast and hustle them out the door and onto the school bus.  I don’t miss TV, newspapers or advertising of any description.  I don’t miss feeling I need to acquire things.  At all.

Question: food, glorious food
What is your favourite meal on the boat?  Do you eat ice cream and treats on the boat?

I polled the crew for favourite meals.  Stylish: lasagne.  Erik: hot dogs (or le ‘ot dog, as he calls it).  Indy: gummy worms.  Amy: anything I don’t have to prepare myself.  (Boy, I think I am going to have to monitor our eating habits.)  Yes, we have occasional treats.  Gelato is a favourite, as it is so hot down here. 

Question: gettin’ educated
How long does Stylish spend in school?  What days and times?  What does Indy do during school? Does Indy go to school too?  What are they learning?

We do school most mornings, weekends, too, unless we have something else going on.  We tend to slow down or stop when we have visitors.  I intend to continue school through the summer, so there is no need to race ahead.  I have Stylish’s books for next year already, so one day we will discover we have started grade two.  We follow the curriculum from Stylish’s school back home in terms of math, reading and so forth, and supplement with our own projects.  We’ve done Leonardo DaVinci and Space, for example.  Right now we are doing the Mayas, since there are lots of ruins in the area.

Indy insists on attending school, too.  Her letters and numbers are quite good, and now she is starting to identify words.  She looks for “a” and “the” in magazines and writable books, and circles them.  She is keen to read like her sister.

Question: houseguests
When can we visit?

We love visitors.  Reading this blog, it may seem like we are all alone all the time, but that it not the case.  We have met friends and family along the way since the early days of our trip.  I don’t tend to write about them because, well, I like my friends and family, and they deserve their privacy.  I tend to write humourous stories about our experiences, and I don’t want to use my people as story-fodder.  They didn’t sign up for that.  This is a failure on my part – a writer should serve the story at all costs – but I am willing to take that hit.  Our visitors are part of the hidden life of Papillon.

Question: time
What time do you get up in the morning?  When do you go to bed?

All too early on both counts.  Indy is a morning person, and arrives in bed with us by 0630 demanding juice and breakfast.  Stylish and Erik would stay up all night if they could.  Some nights, I’m so tired by the time I get the young people to bed that I am asleep myself ten minutes later.  Other nights I do better.

Question: flora and fauna
Do you have any pets or plants on the boat?

Afraid not.  Papillon is critter-free.  We have encountered a lot of boats that have a dog or cat, though.  Plants are a bigger problem, as countries don’t like you taking that stuff across borders, so not many people have plants.

Question: girls just wanna have fun
Do you ever get to go to the movies?  What games do you play on the boat?

We haven’t been out to the movies, but we do have a little DVD player on board which gets occasional use.  We have board games like Monopoly jr, snakes & ladders, and Sorry!  Stylish and I play modified Scrabble.  Mainly, the girls like playing with Duplo, bristle blocks, Little People, race cars and Barbies.  We make up more games than anything.  They also love drawing and writing in notebooks.

Whew!  That was a big list.  I hope that gives you all a bit of insight into Papillon.  And feel free to send further questions; I’ll do this again sometime.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Q & A, part I

Eliciting questions from you, dear readers, was an interesting exercise.  Most people want to know about the same things: our route planning, our kids, and above all, our safety.  Oh, boy, did I get questions about safety.  In contrast, Stylish’s best friend, a girl we will call Gemini as the two are practically twins, asked the best question of the crop: What good things have you done on your trip?  I leave it you to decide who is focused on the right things in this scenario.  I know where my vote goes.

I am going to split this into two posts.  First, we will deal with some nuts-and-bolts practical issues.  In a couple of days, we’ll look at the touchy-feely aspects of our trip.

Well, then.  On with the show!

Question the first: destinations
Are your plans secret?  Where are you going?  When are you going to get there?  How precise is your route?  Where do you cruise to stay comfortable? 

As a reminder, here is a quick look at where we have been:

Follow the red line.
Cool, right?  We’ve gone pretty far, considering we max out at about 8 knots.  (That is about 9 mph, or 15 kph, to you land-based types.)  But that is the past.  What is our future?

First of all, we do not have secret plans.  I find it difficult to believe that anyone is trolling the internet looking for sailing blogs so they can accost said sailors.  Seriously.  Desperate people are either a) too busy trying feed themselves or b) just generally have bigger fish to fry.  If we have trouble, it will be a crime of opportunity.  So, no secrets.  We just kind of don't know.

Some of the first advice we received when researching this trip was: when people want to visit, give them a place or a date, but not both.  Sailing is too uncertain.  I’ve repeated this so many times to so many people.  And everyone nods sagely, says they understand completely, and then asks where we are going to be on such-and-such a date.

I understand this is a difficult concept.  I clearly remember speaking to a woman last summer about our upcoming trip.  She shook her head and said, “I couldn’t deal with that much uncertainty.”  And she nailed it: cruising is all about uncertainty.  Sometimes we don’t know where we are going tomorrow, much less next week or next month.

That said, we have ideas.  When we leave Isla Mujeres, we will continue south along the coast.  Belize has beautiful reefs, so we’ll likely do a lot of daysailing with diving/snorkelling in between.  After that, we may go to Rio Dulce (Guatemala).  Or maybe not.  We are aiming for Cartagena in the medium term.  Long term, we want to hit the San Blas islands, and the Galapagos.  Maybe a Pacific crossing waits for us next spring.  In truth, all of that is so far away as to be almost imaginary.  In reality, when we wake up in the morning, we have a direction we want to go and we have the weather we’re given.  We work from there.

As for comfort, I'm not going to lie to you.  It's hot.  We deal with comfort by both toughening up, and swimming a lot.  We have a tiny a/c on board, but we don't use it as it is a power hog.  I'm more worried about the bugs that are to come.  In the end, I think we'll manage by leaving places that are too uncomfortable.

Question the second: kids
Do the girls spend much time with other kids?  Is the age gap an issue?  Has the boat become normal for the girls?  More normal than a house?

One of the tough things about this trip has been the lack of small fry.  Certainly, Stylish and Indy have made friends along the way.  But no one has been around for more than a week, which is tough.  We keep hoping to see more kids as we head further south.  Keep your fingers crossed for us.

The age gap is there, but isn’t too terrible.  The girls can play together, and although it isn’t the same as having a peer, a sibling is a pretty good substitute.  I feel for the solitary kids on boats; I don’t know how they manage.

As for “normal”, that is the big question.  Stylish is starting to forget what our house looked like.  I doubt Indy remembers much pre-boat; she was barely two when we moved aboard.  There are days when I worry the kids are becoming feral, but then again, mainly they seem happy and curious and interested in life.

Just to show how disgustingly wholesome and happy they are, here is a video Stylish riding a horse last week at the ranch we visited:

Question the third: the boat
Does the boat and its systems meet your needs?  Some systems must have performed flawlessly; the hull, for example.

As I feel underqualified to answer this question, we have a guest comment from His Nibs: “Based on the horror stories we have heard, Papillon is above average system-wise.  Happily, we managed to identify and rectify many of the flaws before leaving.  Currently we continue to be plagued by the complexity of a legacy electrical system.  But time and patience will surely get us there as well.”

Doesn’t that sound optimistic?  I know I feel better.

Question the fourth: safety
There are pirates out there!  There are so many pirates in the Caribbean, they made them into a Disney ride and series of terribly boring movies!  What are you doing about the pirates?  Ahhhhhh!

Lookity.  Pirates are no joke.  They are desperate people.  I know that.  But we are not going to the Gulf of Aden.  We talk to other cruisers to get local information.  Trust me, we don’t want to see Bad Guys either.  Seriously, people.  If you are choosy about where you go and use some common sense, the risk is low.  You don’t see me giving you grief about commuting to work along the 401, do you?  Your risk of a car accident is much higher than my risk of encountering pirates.  But cars feel familiar.  They are part of the background of urban life, so you just file Car Accidents in your brain in the Normal & Mundane Acceptable Risk box.  As you never have to think about pirates in your daily life, they get slotted into the Scary & Unfamiliar Excessive Risk box.  But that doesn’t mean they belong there.

But do you know what no one is talking about?  Whale attacks.  Check it out:

This whale attack occurred last summer near South Africa.  And only a few days ago some poor sods were attacked in Oregon.  But is anyone writing to me in a  panic about that?  No, sir.  Because whales are all cute and endangered.  And they didn’t mean to do it.  Ri-iiiiight.  Sure they didn’t.  You keep telling yourself that.

Question the fifth: medical roundup
So, how's about that broken finger?

Why, thank you for asking.  It has finally healed.  The new nail is almost fully grown in, and it looks pretty normal.  I still have a lump of scar tissue inside the finger; it feels like I have a pearl stuck in there when I press on it.  I notice that I don't type with it any longer.  But it works, and that is all that matters.

That about does it for today.  More is forthcoming!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Home again

Did you miss me?  Of course you did.  Well, those of you who sent in questions did.  To the rest of you lurkers - and I know you're there - shame on you.  You people could have come up with something.  I'm looking at you, relatives.  (Except CLL, who is made of win).

Our trip was a great success. I'm tired, so I am going to leave the questions for another day.  Instead I present you with a brief account of the day of our departure.

0424  Wake up.
0500  Unload small people from the boat in the dark and high winds.  Depart marina and find taxi.
0530  Ferry to Puerto Juarez
0600  Taxi to Cancun airport
0630  Arrive at terminal in plenty of time for 0800 flight. Stare bleary-eyed at screen and wonder what FBO means under the gate assignment.  Information stand is closed.  Decide to eat breakfast.
0705  Aided by a passel of waiters, determine FBO is another terminal.
0720  Board shuttle.  Beg driver to take us to FBO, which is a request-only, unscheduled stop.
0742  Check in with blasé girl, totally unconcerned that we leave in 18 minutes.  Wait in living room-sized area.
0758  Follow flight attendant with other 15 passengers through miniature security and out to plane.
0759  Discover flight attendant is actually co-pilot.
0800  Depart Cancun in very noisy turbo prop plane.
0810  Circle airport and land again.
0811  Listen to lengthy announcement in Spanish.  Full English announcement: "We have mechanical."  Return to living room waiting area.
0945  Once again pass through mini-security.  No boarding pass or documents requested this time through. 
0946  Reassure Stylish that the plane is fixed, the noise is normal, and we really, really, I swear really are going to be fine.  Depart Cancun.
0955  Watch pilots navigate via handheld garmin gps.

"At the intersection in 400 meters, turn right."
0958  Indy needs the restroom.  There is no restroom. Tell Indy every three minutes that she is going to have to "be a big girl and hold it in."
1045  Land in Merida.  Rush inside to use restroom.
1051  At urging of co-pilot, rush back outside with restroom group to reboard plane to continue on to our desination, Villahermosa.  No boarding pass or security this time – just a door to the runway.
1245  Arrive at Villahermosa.  Starving.  (Meal times of 0730, 1200 and 1800 are strictly observed on Papillon).  Climb in car and head out to ranch.
1500  Lunch (hungry).
2200  Dinner (oh so hungry.  And sleepy.)
0000  Bed.  Vague feeling that sentience fled body about three hours previous.  Mental shrug.  Sleep.