Monday, December 31, 2012

Christmas Accomplished

It is a beautiful morning here in Russell.  The cyclone-induced storms are behind us for the moment... or still ahead, depending on how you look at it, since more bad weather is on the way.  But, right now, it is lovely.  The family is still sleeping, so I sit here with my cup of tea, and wave a cheery greeting to you, dear reader, on the last day of 2012.  What do you mean, that's tomorrow?  Well, Papillon and New Zealand live in the future, and here it's almost over.

Many of our younger readers have asked, did Santa come?  How did he find us?  Fear not, young nibblets - Santa found us, and delivered presents under our very noses.

Omi made Stollen, which is essential for any decent gift-giving affair.

Blurry from sheer deliciousness.
The girls got new wetsuits (extra vest and hood not shown) and boogie boards, and have already logged a hundred hours with them.  (An extra shout-out to the good people at Wettie in Auckland, who specially-made a small wetsuit for Indy, and did a fabulous job.)

"Which way to the waves, dude?"
The ladies each received a scooter.  Stylish was a past expert, but this was something new for Indy.  After a few initial difficulties and one barely-averted tantrum, she was merrily zipping along just like her big sister.

"Ride to freedom, amiga!"
And Erik got his dog clippers.

Hooray, hooray, hooray!
Oh, you think I'm joking?

Do you think they'll add Erik's picture in with the horse and those poodles?
Yes, Erik is eager to have a go with the Oster Golden A-5s.  They don't have the plastic guides, as you would for human hair, so we are going to have to be pretty careful not to clip him down to nothing.

Today, we are taking the ferry to Paihia to visit the Waitangi treaty grounds.  We're making the most of our non-cyclone weather while it lasts.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

All aboard for Christmas

It seems to be a rule of life that, when you are living in tight quarters, something happens to make your space even smaller.

Christmas is here, and it is time for family visits.  Last weekend, my cousin and his family came up from Auckland for a few days.  Eight to a boat is nothing to sneeze at, but everyone was in good spirits, and we had lots of fun.  We sailed, we anchored, we went ashore.  The kids, eschewing the banality of playing on the pristine sand beach, found a muddy pool of stagnant water under the trees where they built bridges and mud castles.
I'm filthy!  Hooray! 

Guests bearing delicious home-made banana cake are always welcome.

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse… until 3 am.  My eyes snapped at the sound of weeping and small feet pattering along the floorboards.  Indy, stomach in knots, was making a beeline for the official safe haven for all nighttime ills, ie. Mom.

Unfortunately, the salon was full of sleeping relatives.  My cousin rolled over on the salon bench and asked her if she was okay.  Indy, sick and half-asleep, was sufficiently puzzled by this unexpected voice in the dark that she stopped in her tracks.  Then she threw up on the floor.

And the dam broke.  Our two- and five-year old guests soon followed Indy’s lead.  Inevitably, they decided it might be fun to let things out the other end, too.  You can paint your own picture.  In order to give up the main head to our guests, Indy and I trooped back to spend the night in her bunk, a convenient six feet from the aft head.  So I spent the night in a single bunk at least a foot too short for me, wedged next to a sick four-year old, and waking every half hour or so to guide her head over a bucket.  Delightful!

And so I learned: eight people = snug, but snug becomes crushing with 3/8 of the passengers under five and over-sick.

The sickness was gone by morning.  The kids behaved as though it had never been; the adults were a little on the slow side.  Stylish missed the whole thing (and had the gall to complain about being “woken early” at 9 am).  But we had a lovely Sunday, and all agreed that we should do this again later in the season.

Tired?  Who is tired?
A few days later, Erik’s parents arrived for Christmas.  After all that excitement, what could be easier than having a mere two grandparents aboard for a relaxing month-long visit?

And then the rain came.

We are currently enjoying the last wisps of a cyclone.  The rain is driving, the boat is bucking, and we didn’t get to sail further than Russell before Christmas.  Trapped aboard together, the boat is feeling a little snug again.

But Omi and the girls are baking Christmas cookies.  After all, when did a massive refined sugar injection ever make a situation worse?

Happy holidays to all.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Musical Education

Most of the time, things are peachy-keen on Papillon.  Most of the time.  But I have a particular objection to puns and inventing hilarious new lyrics for popular songs.  Inevitably (and possibly because of this), Erik has great talent in this area.  He is a master of the jingle-bells-batman-smells style of songwriting, and the girls eat it up with a spoon.  He and the kids have rejigged many a song, and some endure years later.  But I have gotten used to the “classics”, as it were, and I try to ignore them.  The novelty soon wears off, at least for Indy and Stylish.  But musical repetition of any sort – rude or not – is always popular around here.

For this reason, I always heave a little sigh when new music makes it aboard.  It is too tempting.  And so, I had to close my eyes and grit my teeth when my cousin introduced us to “Gangnam Style” last weekend.  (I know, we are the very last four people on the planet Earth to have even heard of Gangnam Style.  We reside somewhat outside the loop of popular culture these days.)

Erik immediately found the video on youtube.  And he and the kids watched it.  And watched it again.  And again.

“You are eating up all of our precious bandwidth!”  I cried.
Hoots of laughter.  I shook my head.

Very quickly, the girls were doing a version of the dance, accompanied by shouts of: “tootin’ Gangnam style!”, which they (and their father) found hilarious.  This has now morphed into: “Tutankhamen style!”, which even I find a little bit funny.  And every half hour or so, I hear the song drifting down from the cockpit, and they are at it again.

When they aren’t practicing their Korean, the three of them are singing: “Istanbul was Constantinople / Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople...”.  As you might guess, we reached the Turkish attack on Constantinople in our history text a few days ago, and Erik immediately launched into the They Might Be Giants tune.  Stylish still has trouble with the chorus, and sings: “Even old New York was once New Hamersterdam,” despite my best attempts at correction.  Still, it could be a lot worse, and it is somewhat sweet to hear a four-year-old sing: “Why did Constantinople get the works? / That's nobody's business but the Turks.”  The two of them will remember that bit of history for the rest of their lives.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I hear that we're back to Tutankhamen style.

Monday, December 17, 2012

When Family Comes to Call

Dear Readers,

Please excuse the lateness of this post.  My cousin came to visit this weekend.
My cousin came to visit this weekend and we went sailing.
My cousin came to visit this weekend, we went sailing and he and his wife got seasick.
My cousin came to visit this weekend,we went sailing, he and his wife got seasick and we had four young kids aboard.
My cousin came to visit this weekend,we went sailing, he and his wife got seasick, we had four young kids aboard and three of them spent Saturday night throwing up.

Yes, that's the one.

Dear Readers,

Please excuse the lateness of this post.  My cousin came to visit this weekend,we went sailing, he and his wife got seasick, we had four young kids aboard and three of them spent Saturday night throwing up.  I will write a more complete post soon.

Yours sincerely,
Papillon Crew

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Adventures in Customer Service

One of the necessary first steps when visiting a new country is figuring out How Things Work Here.  You would think that would be obvious, but I assure you it isn’t.  No matter where you go, things are at least a little different than back home.  Store hours.  Public transit.  Just buying a cold six-pack is surely a mystery for visitors to Ontario, because how could you possibly guess that you have to visit a state-operated outfit called The Beer Store?  When you grow up there, it’s normal.  Otherwise, it is a puzzle to be solved.

Such simple tasks as buying food or disposing of your garbage can take a fair bit of study before you figure out the right way.  By “right” I mean “easy”, and, more often than not, I mean the way the locals do things.  It is funny to watch cruisers greet their newly-arrived comrades, because the conversation invariably starts with a 30-second info dump about where to buy food, do laundry, refuel, and get clean water.  You will impart this information to all newcomers, whether you have ever met them before or not.  Thus the community thrives.

When we arrived in New Zealand, I knew things would be a little different from home.  But Canada is also a small British Commonwealth country, so I figured the differences would be fairly minor.  And they are… but they are there.

My first adventure came when I wanted to special order a Christmas present for the girls.  I did my research online (first shock: the internet is a prepaid system, with ridiculously high costs and low bandwidth limits.  I’ll have to take up a collection if I want to post photos again any time soon.).  I traded emails with the shop, and received an invoice.  Great.  I tried to pay online.  Nope.  You need an Australian or an NZ credit card.  Fine.  No, they wouldn’t accept paypal.  Okay.  I was told to do a bank transfer.

Now, there isn’t a bank in Opua.  This place is petit.  Luckily, I caught a ride with some other cruisers to Kerikeri, a town about 30 km away.  Problem solved, I thought.  I strolled down the main street and found a bank.  I walked in, explained what I needed to the teller, and showed her my invoice.

She glanced at it for the briefest of moments.  “You need to go to National Bank.”
“National Bank,” I said.  “Right.  Where is that?”
As luck had it, it was only a couple of blocks away.  I strolled back down the street.  My invoice didn’t mention National Bank, but maybe there was some sort of routing code on there I just didn’t know.  Or maybe National Bank handled all this stuff.  Or maybe the teller just didn’t like the look of me.  Whatever.  I was still confident that I could make this work.

Attempt #2.  I walked into National Bank, and repeated my earlier explanation.  This teller was more interested in my invoice.  I felt confident enough to proceed to step two, and explain that I did not have a New Zealand bank account.

“No problem,” said Friendly Teller.  “We can do that in cash.”
Hooray!  I drew out my bank card.
She waved her hand in a shielding gesture, as though I were trying to hand her a grenade.  “Oh!  No!  I can’t give you money here.”
I looked at her.  I looked at the many clues indicating this was, indeed a bank.  I looked at her little sign which read, “Teller.”  Then I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I just didn’t know How Things Work Here.
I smiled at Friendly Teller.  “Shall I use the ATM, then?”
She gave me a relieved smile.  “That would be lovely.  It’s just over there.”

So I walked fifteen paces across the room.  I withdrew the relevant amount.  And I walked back to Friendly Teller and handed her my cash.

The transaction was simple after that.  But now I know – if I want money in New Zealand, I’d better find an ATM, otherwise I will make the human tellers cry.

Not long after, I found that I needed to call my bank back home to check something.  My bank has a special number for collect calls, so I tried to call the operator.  No luck.  I tried another number for the operator.  No luck.  So I called the good people at Vodaphone.

“Hi, there,” I said.  “I am trying to make a collect call from my mobile phone to Canada.  Could you give me the correct number for the international operator, please?”
“I’m sorry, we don’t offer that service.”
“You don’t… I can’t connect to the international operator from my phone?”
“No, sorry.”
“Well, then, how do people make collect calls out of country?”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, we don’t offer that service.”
“Well then, how about the regular operator?”
“We don’t offer that service.”
“You don’t offer the operator?  How is that possible?”
“I’m sorry, ma’am.”

I hung up.  Erik took the phone and called back.  I hate to pass on the problem, but the fact is, Erik is a master of these things, and I was sure he would figure it out.

The conversation began just as mine had, but Erik was not going to give up so easily.  He moved on to a supervisor.  That also went nowhere.  Then he decided this must be a vocabulary issue.  He established that the supervisor did not know what a collect call was, so he started to explain.  I expected any moment for the lights to go on, and for the poor man to say, “Oh!  You mean a Bounce-back Ringer!” and we would say, “Yes, how foolish of us.  Of course we meant a Bounce-back Ringer,” and then we would move on to the meat of the issue, which was, of course, someone ringing our bank and having them accept the charges for our call.

Except, it didn’t happen that way.  Because this man, a supervisor at a telephone company, had no idea what we were talking about.  Reversing the charges on a phone call was just about the craziest concept he had ever heard, and I suspect he thought we were making it up.  And he wouldn’t even admit there was such a thing as an operator in New Zealand.

Is there really no such thing as a collect call in New Zealand?  I have a hard time believing it.  Surely a Kiwi has, at some time in human history, managed to reverse the charges on a telephone call.  Tell me your secrets, friends, because this one has me stumped, and I have no idea How Things Work Here for collect calls.

My next job is finding a place that does passport photos.  We’ll see how it goes.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Bad Influences

How can you beat that?
Look at that.  Beautiful Papillon en route from Tonga to New Zealand, with our lovely butterfly spinnaker flying.  What’s that you say?  We look a little different than we did before?  True, friends, true.  We used to be a yawl, albeit a bent one.  So how did this change come about?  Gather around, children, and I will tell you a tale of mizzens and busy husbands.

Boat owners have a lot in common.  In my experience, the vast majority love to tinker.  This is good, because boats and tinkering are a natural fit.  Erik loves it.  As for me, not so much.  This makes it a little hard for me to understand his fix-it tendencies, but a marriage is all about coming to terms with the idiosyncrasies of another human being, right?  As long as I’m not required to pass him channel locks every ten seconds, I'm fine with it.
The problem with having a Mr Fix-It aboard is two-fold.  First, he is forever looking for projects.  And sometimes those spontaneous projects involve dismantling the pantry just as I am trying to cook dinner.  But that is just a matter of scheduling and logistics.  Second, and more problematic, he is weak-willed and easily led when it comes to boat repair.  Because the real problem comes when Mr Fix-It becomes friends with another Mr Fix-it.  This is a case of the total exceeding the sum of the parts.

This is my non-scientific depiction of the thought processes of Mr Fix-It.

As you can see, he is at his most dangerous when he has nothing to do.  Because being ahead on boat projects is no problem for Mr Fix-It.  No!  There are other boats in the anchorage, aren’t there?  And those guys could use a little help, couldn’t they?  Except, it isn’t just offering help; a bored Mr Fix-It can easily initiate a job on another boat.  And that is not always popular with the crew.

Imagine.  We were in a beautiful anchorage in Tonga, enjoying our last few days of tropical weather before heading back to the temperate zone.  There were reefs, a beach, and sunny skies.  Then some friends we hadn’t seen since Panama (a Mr Fix-It and his family) came into the anchorage.  Friend Fix-It took one look at our boat, shook his head and said, “That needs to come down.”  And the dulcet tones of the grinder rang out on Papillon.  Because Erik had needed just that one, tiny, feather-light push to bring down the mizzen. 

Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go...

Stand back, kids.

And, we're down.

Hey, Mom, aren't you having fun?
I can’t really complain.  They felled it like a tree, no one got hurt, and it was probably the safest thing for what could have been a bumpy passage to New Zealand.  But we’ve set precedent.  Here we are in Opua, and Erik has been over at Friend Fix-It’s boat for hours now, talking rigging and making plans.

I just hope the next project is on their boat.