Sunday, November 25, 2012

New Zealand Attained

Papillon has arrived in New Zealand!  Although we had been warned that the sail from Tonga to New Zealand can get pretty peppy (a boat was lost the week before we left), we had the quietest passage on record.  There was so little wind that we had the spinnaker up for a few days, and many people had to motor for up to 100 hours.  (This is usually the point at which Erik accuses me of being a wind killer.  I can’t help who I am; maybe someday I’ll get work travelling the country dousing tornados ).

So, what did we do on passage?

For school, we chopped up plants to separate out their pigments.

And nobody lost a finger!

We crossed into the Eastern hemisphere.

All Erik noticed was our speed.

We admired lovely sunsets as the days got longer and longer.

Lovely sunset, glassy seas.

We repatriated misguided flying fish.

Oh, fish.  Why do you want to die in our scuppers?

We pulled out our cold weather gear when things got too chilly.

At least Indy wasn't cold.

 At the quarantine dock, we had a visit from India, the drug dog.  Stylish fell in love with this very sweet Labrador, and followed her up and down the dock on her rounds.

Please, Mom?  Please, please, pleeeease?

India was also being followed by a cameraman for an episode of “Dog Squad”.  Stylish quickly made friends with the cameraman.  When interviewed about what it is like to live on a boat, she told him about a) her stitches, b) Indy’s stitches, c) getting bitten by a sealion, and d) breaking the mizzen.  I drop my head into my hands.  We really have had some fun times too, you know.

"And then I hurt myself when I..."

 We are now getting settled in Opua.  So far, life has been one big party as we all reconnect with friends we haven’t seen for months.  Tomorrow, the work begins.  We have to start on sail repair and ordering a new mizzen.  Cyclone season has begun!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Five Failed Attempts To Feel Sorry For Myself

Friends, I'm having a little difficulty with this post. Maybe you can help me out. We are about 800 nm from New Zealand, and I'm trying to make the point that I'm kind of sad to be leaving the tropics. But every way I try to tackle the issue… well, you'll see.

Attempt #1: No more mermaids

A few days ago, I was snorkeling with Erik and the girls. There is a fishing boat wrecked on the reef in Ha'afeva, and it has become the usual habitat for coral and fish. Stylish delighted in seeing how deep she could dive, peering through rusty hatches and surprising the shyer fish. Indy discovered she could blow bubbles around her mask and snorkel, and was gainfully occupied in increasing the length and strength of her exhalations. I drifted off the wreck to look over the staghorn coral garden next door, when suddenly I realized: this is it. My last snorkel. The world of tropical coral gardens was closing to me for half a year.

Cut! Well, I mean. I can hear you all weeping into your hankies. Boo hoo for Amy, no more daily snorkel amongst the sharks and healthy reefs.

Years ago, a friend introduced me to the concept of "Champagne Problems." (Forgive me if this is nothing new; this may be a common phrase for all I know.) A Champagne Problem is a non-problem, a my-biggest-issue-is-what-sort-of-champagne-to-drink problem. A problem only a person enjoying the great privilege of having all of life's true needs taken care of could possibly call a problem. And that is where I have landed. I hang my head in shame.

So, I strike through attempt no. 1 as grossly insensitive. Let's try again.

Attempt #2: It's cold down there

I've never been a cold-weather person. I have a mild circulation problem that makes winter pretty uncomfortable; if I want to enjoy the great outdoors, I need to wrap up like the Michelin man and keep the fun under 30 minutes duration or lose the use of my extremities.

One of the appeals in moving aboard Papillon was avoiding the January chill for a few years. But I have fond memories of the girls building snowmen, tobogganing, ice skating, and making snow forts in the backyard, and, in my own mind, I've built a rosy picture of how pretty winter was. Then a little rain cloud passes by and the temperature dips to 20 C and I start to feel very chilly, and I remember that, in Southern Ontario winter, the thermometer would have another forty or fifty degrees to fall. I remember scraping ice off my car, stuffing the girls into snowsuits, the colds and flus, the snow plow closing off my driveway, and none of it seems so romantic any longer.

We are on our way to New Zealand. On most passages, we lounge around in bathing suits and bake in the hot, hot sun. But on this passage, I'm reminded that we are headed into a temperate clime. Daytime is still t-shirt-and-shorts territory, but at night I've actually unpacked my long winter underwear to use as pajamas.

We've heard from friends ahead of us that it is only 11 C in Auckland right now. Isn't spring supposed to be turning into summer down there? Even worse, the girls have outgrown their cool-weather clothes, so Mom is going to have to go shopping when we arrive, a dreaded task at any time.

Stop, stop, stop. We were doing okay for a while there. But let's remember our readership. It is mid-November, and most of our friends up north are hurtling straight towards the long, cold winter I've painted in such ugly strokes. 11 C is not going to sound like much to complain about. And I've pointed out that summer is coming, meaning the weather is getting better, not worse. This is not a way to build sympathy. The icing on the cake is the shopping thing. You don't have clothes? You haven't needed long pants for two years? Hold on, my hankie is saturated with tears.

Okay, shake it off.

Attempt #3: We are stuck in New Zealand for five whole months.

Nope. I'm not even going to try to write that one.

Attempt #4: We have so many repairs to do.

Nothing is going to be worse than the painting/fridge debacle in Cartagena. Your correspondent is battle-hardened.

Attempt #5: We're leaving our friends behind?

No we aren't; they are all sailing to NZ, too.

All right, time to regroup and reassess. What have we learned? Yes, leaving the tropics behind temporarily is kind of sad, but going to New Zealand is awesome. Did I mention it is a place I've always wanted to visit? And I get to explore it with my husband and kids for five whole months. My in-laws are coming for a month, my parents hopefully will, too. Before we know it, we will be bidding a fond farewell to Hobbit-land and be headed back into the tropics. Maybe Fiji, maybe French Polynesia again, maybe…

Maybe I don't feel so sorry for myself anymore.

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Monday, November 12, 2012

Long, Beautiful Hair

When I was little, Saturday morning was not complete without cartoons on channel 29 out of Buffalo. One of the staple commercials breaking up He-Man and Scooby Doo was The Hair Club For Men. Happy clients shook their newly-thickened locks as they cavorted in hot tubs with young models in blue eyeshadow and grinned knowingly at us, the viewers, around their Burt Reynolds mustaches. I never understood why men would want those elaborate, shiny perms, and I put it down to Strange Things Grown-Ups Do.

Maybe the problem was that I didn´t identify with the untamed styles of the late 70s. In my family, hair was neatly cut, no matter whether you tended to the thinner end of the hair continuum, or you fell on the hairy end of the curve. When my brothers were about seven and ten, a movie was filmed at their summer camp. My brothers were instantly cast to wrestle in the background of a certain shot. Why? Because the movie was set in the 50s, and their crewcuts were perfect.

The girls had long hair when they first boarded Papillon; they now they have considerably less. Between the salt and the sand and their casual acquaintance with the hairbrush, they were starting to look somewhat feral. Chop, chop. I bought a proper pair of scissors from a beauty supply shop and, when we couldn't find a decent (read: cheap) haircut, Mom would do the honors. And I'd like to claim that I can produce a fairly decent bob. I've promised them they may grow their hair when they can take care of their hair; we'll see when the magic day arrives. As for me, I have long, straight hair. Erik won't go near it with the scissors, so about twice a year I find a salon, have it trimmed, and that is that.

And then there is Erik. His hair is a thatch. Curly in childhood, it is now a wavy landscape of wiry bristles that obey no man. If you have ever seen an aerial view of Mayan pyramids still buried in the jungle, you will have an idea of what I mean.

This mystified me at first. I am no stranger to full hair; my father's family - every man, woman and child - grows hair in what I can only describe as a luxurious abundance. My nonagenarian grandfather still sports a snowy coif to put one in mind of Cary Grant. But every man Jack of us has straight, manageable hair. Not so my husband. Make no mistake - his hair is the envy of men half his age. It is thick, grows quickly, and there is an almost-impossible volume of it sprouting from his noggin. (If you are familiar with the Artemis Fowl books, Erik has Mulch Diggums hair - impossibly thick and quite possibly alive.) But, he has only sixty seconds after leaving the water to brush or otherwise manage his hair. After that, the die is cast. Nothing will shift the geologic strength of those patterns.

During the decades we've been together, Erik's hair has slowly gotten shorter. In high school he sported a mop that followed the letter, if not the spirit, of our school rule that a boy's hair never fall below his collar. Gravity had no effect on the twisting strands erupting from Erik's head; the hair just went up, up, up. He cut it shorter during university to ease the summer job hunt, but the peaks and valleys returned quickly if he didn't keep ahead of the game.

On the boat, Erik's hair has gotten shorter still. To his delight, Erik discovered that he has Latin American hair. This meant the haircuts he received through Central America were the best and most ridge-free he had ever enjoyed. By the time we reached the Galapagos, Erik was sporting what the girls and I dubbed the Caesar look, and, as a totally unbiased onlooker, I must say he's looking pretty good these days.

The problem is, the 'fro comes back: the new hairdo won't last much beyond 3-4 weeks. So, when we got to Tahiti, we decided the time had come to buy our own set of clippers. No more paying an outrageous $3 for a haircut! I could figure out how to work the clippers before we left on passage, and any disaster would grow back by the time we hit land again. Simple. Brilliant.

We perused the clippers at the department store. We bought what looked like a robust pair. We took them home and opened the box. After some debate, we decided to start with the conservatively long teeth, just in case things didn't go smoothly; ie. let's not scalp Erik right out of the gate.

"Ready?" I asked.
"Ready," said Erik.
Bzzz brrrrp rruh rruh rruh.
We were stuck.

I turned off the clippers and gently teased them out of Erik's hair. I looked at them. Three sad wisps sat in the hair catcher. I pressed the button again. Bzzzzz! The clippers buzzed merrily in the air. I put the clippers back against Erik's head. Bzzz brrrrp rruh rruh rruh. We were stuck again.

We switched to the shorter teeth. Then the shortest teeth. Rruh, rruh, rruh. No go. All thoughts of saving Erik's delicate scalp were gone - we cranked the dial to eleven. Erik's hair just tangled in the clippers and refused to be cut. I think I heard it snicker.

We debated the problem with our male friends in the harbor. They laughed and ran nervous hands through their own fine hair. Everyone agreed: Erik has too much hair for man-clippers.

"Right," said Erik. "I'm going to the pet store."

And he tried. He went to every pet store in Papeete trying to buy dog clippers, but there were none to be found. I don't suppose many sheepdogs roam the tropics (and if they do, they don't last long in that heat). Worse luck for Erik.

He is getting shaggy again. The pyramids are slowly erupting through the Caesar cut. But in a few weeks, we will be in New Zealand. And if there is one thing Kiwis know, it is how to separate a fleece from its owner.

Industrial clippers, here we come.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Weather Window

Here we are, anchored in Tonga. We are surrounded by coral reefs and tropical vegetation. Sharks and rays swim lazily by. We can snorkel into caves filled with fish below and bats above. And there are boats aplenty. And what are all of these people doing in this natural paradise? Let's listen in to the chatter around the harbor.

"Did you get a grib file today?"
"Hmm, what do you think about that low that's forming? Is it going to hit us squarely, or push off to the west?"
"I don't like the look of those isobars."
"Did you see the wave height at 25 S 176 W?"

Right. Everyone is talking about the weather. While they scrape the algae off their hulls, when they run into friends on the reef, over a cold one at five o'clock.

Farmers have a well-deserved reputation for talking about the weather. No report from home is complete unless we get an update on my father-in-law's soya beans. But I would suggest that cruisers are worse, if only because they have more components to compare.

Farmers: fixed land area, usually measured in acres. Farm: not moving. Primarily concerned with crops getting too much/little sun/rain. Experts at riding the razor's edge of how wet a field can be before you can no longer drive heavy equipment on it.

Cruisers: moving area, often measured in thousands of square miles. Boat always moving, even at anchor. Need to ensure boat will not hit anything else, ever. Need to watch wind speed, wind direction, barometric pressure, highs, lows, troughs, convergence zones, convection, wave height, wave direction... Concerned with (in priority sequence): 1. Arriving; 2. Arriving safely; 3. Arriving safely with the minimum of damage to the boat.

There is always weather-talk going on in the cruising world. Paying attention to sailing conditions can mean the difference between having a lovely outing and losing your boat. So, fair enough. But right now, it is an obsession, and everyone is out to earn their amateur meterorologist badge. A massive information collection effort is underway. We listen to the experts from New Zealand on the SSB. We get the text files and gribs and weatherfaxes from authorities around the Pacific. And heaven help you if you go to town, because the moment you return, the whole anchorage wants to know the latest from Passageweather.

Why? Cyclone season has begun in the Southern Hemisphere - technically if not literally - and most of us in Tonga are headed to New Zealand for the duration. The north island is about 1200 NM from Vava'u, so we have about a 10-day passage ahead of us. And everyone is waiting for the perfect time - the weather window - to leave. Even the bureaucrats watch the weather; a friend of ours once tried to check out of an island group and was solemnly told by the customs official that, "Sir, the weather window is closed."

It is a game of Should I Stay or Should I Go? A big low is coming through within the next couple of days, so there was a mass exodus on the weekend as people tried to get ahead of it. We decided we would rather wait it out here, but that doesn't mean we can sit back and sip pina coladas. Instead, we were left with the question of where to anchor. Is our anchorage appropriate for the coming winds? Do we have good holding? What is our likely wind direction going to be? How much fetch is going to build? When your home moves, there is a lot to consider if you want it to stay where you put it.

We watch the weather. We subscribe to grib files, and get weatherfaxes when we can. We listen to expert reports on the SSB, and, when we go, we will join a net that gives us position-specific weather information. In short, we try to make good decisions based on the information available. And I've been as guilty as anyone for asking for the latest news. But I try not to make myself crazy over it, because there is no weather service on Earth that can tell me with perfect certainty what kind of weather I'll enjoy during the entire 10 day trip to New Zealand. We'll choose the best window we can, and deal with changes as they arise.

And, when we visit home again, we will nod in sympathetic understanding when Farmer Grandpa is frustrated because the summer has been too hot and his crops are withering in the fields. We know very well what a pain the weather can be.

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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hallowe'en Riddles

Q:  What do you use for a jack o’ lantern in the tropics, where pumpkins are not to be found?

What am I?
A:  A watermelon, of course!

Pah, pumpkins.  My seeds are way scarier.

Q:  What did the girls wear for Hallowe’en, after all?

A:  Dad’s clothes?

No, not this time.
A:  Roman standard-bearer?

Nope.  That was Fatu Hiva.

A:  Princess pirate chef?

Come on, everyone is doing that.
A:  Well, what then?

Happy Hallowe'en!