Friday, March 29, 2013

Follow The Sound Of My Voice

Five a.m. is not my best time of day.  I know this.  And yet, when Bob May of Bob's No Wake Zone Boating Radio Show out of Clinton, Missouri asked me to be a guest on his show, we agreed that a 5 o'clock taping was going to be the best fit for our different time zones.  We all need to be flexible, after all.

My mother, she of the perpetual morning perkiness, will tell you that I am like my father's side of the family: less than fully functional in the a.m.  Only my sister inherited the early morning gene; my brothers and I are late night people.  Indy also shows worrying signs of being an early riser, although she has modified her habits to a more reasonable seven a.m. over the ghastly six a.m. she used to prefer.  Stylish, on the other hand, can hardly be roused with less than a marching band before nine o'clock.  Civilized.

But five it was.  Bob was going to talk to me about cruising and life aboard, and I thought, "Well, that is kind of early, but this is going to be fun.  I'll be alert because I'll be excited.  Plus, I've talked about cruising a thousand times.  I can do that in my sleep!"

Well, for any of you that may find yourselves interview-proximate in future, let your Aunt Amy give you some kindly advice.  Although you may think you can do something in your sleep, you should not, in fact, do it in your sleep.  And what you explain to friends and neighbours in the comfort of your cockpit is not as easy to distill into a pithy anecdote for a one-shot deal like radio.  I have great admiration for people like Bob who can just get up talk and still sound interesting.  They make it sound so easy.  I am a writer; I am slow.  I like to ponder, and write, and ponder some more, and edit and edit and edit.  And even then I'm often not satisfied that I made my point clearly.  So I was a little concerned that I would be a terrible guest, but I pushed aside those pointless worries and looked forward to the day.

At quarter to five I got up, closed the bedroom doors, and left Erik and the girls quietly sleeping.  Bob and I got started.  Like a pro, he guided me through the treacherous waters of the interview, and I think I was doing alright until he asked about the boat layout.

Now.  This ought to be a "gimme", right?  Do I or do I not live aboard Papillon?  And do I or do I not know what is where on said vessel?  I do.  But for some reason, when it came to describing the deck, I fell apart.  My five a.m. brain was suddenly convinced that a center cockpit had to be in the precise center of the boat - which is ridiculous.  I stumbled and equivocated and finally realized I was floundering.  I ground to a halt and commented to Bob that Erik was going to give me heck for my answer.  Bob laughed and, like the gentleman he is, moved on.

It isn't as complicated as I made it sound.  Here we are looking forward...
...and looking aft.  Not even the most urban landlubber could get confused.

We made it to the end, and Bob graciously thanked me for being on the show.  I took off my headphones, poured myself another cup of tea, and shook my head.  Did I make cruising sound like the great life it is, or did I just sound like a crazy boat lady?  I feared it was CBL for the win.

The bedroom door creaked open, and Erik emerged.
"You sounded good," he said.
"You were listening?"
He nodded.  "Yep."  He paused.  "But what was that nonsense about the center cockpit?"

My segment on Bob's No Wake Zone Boating Radio Show aired on Saturday, March 30th, 2013.  You can listen to the archived show on Bob's website.  Click on the On Demand Dock Box, scroll down to the March 30th show, and look for Amy Schaefer and Sailing Papillon.  Thanks for listening!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Taking Care of Number One

Looking back through my photos, I can see that we on Papillon are animal junkies.  Sealions, birds, dolphins, fish - all of these things get far more play than the landscapes we visit.  Only pictures of the girls on the beach outrank the animal world.  So it is no surprise that we went to visit to Kangaroo Island last weekend.  We have a mere handful of days left in Australia, and, although we have seen a lot of birds, we are running a major marsupial deficiency.

So, that means I saw all sorts of adorable animals, right?  Yes.  And.

And I saw every restroom on Kangaroo Island.  Because Indy is four.

It is a well-known fact that a child "needs to go" in direct proportion to the ickiness of the toilet facilities.  No kid will deign to do their business in a pristine, just-cleaned facility.  But if the only thing going is a murky bucket in an abandoned warehouse?  It is clear-out-the-pipes time.

Friday, March 22, 2013

We Make This Journey Together

A lot has changed since I started this blog two and a half years ago.  My original motivation for writing about our cruising life was simple: reassure the grandparents.  And I wasn’t always successful.  It never really occurred to me that anyone I wasn’t related to would ever be interested in our broken fingers and broken masts, our sealion bites and four-legged pests, or riding around in a Colombian police van.  Twice.

But new people came, and new people stayed.  The blog grew, SAILfeed invited me to join their site, and here I am.  And here you are.  And we are sharing this now.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Art Of Making It All Fit (with helpful how-to video)

One of the more common questions I get about life aboard is, "How do you make it all fit?"  That's easy.  Step one: prioritize.  We follow a simple space allocation formula on Papillon.  I'll draw you a pie chart.
A place for everything, and everything in its place.  Provided it is boat related, otherwise it's out.
As I am (loudly) reminded every time we run out of something, I am the Provisioning Officer aboard.  We have lots of locker space so dry goods don't present an issue, but I did used to think my fridge and freezer were too small.  But when we were in Cartagena, Erik ripped them out and made them even smaller!  Ha ha, what a fool I was.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

What's Cookin'?

The trouble with feeding a family is that it is relentless.  It can be fun to prepare a good meal - chopping vegetables, sniffing at the pot bubbling on the stove, watching everyone's smiling face as they dig in.  And then, zip! it's gone, you have a stack of dirty dishes in the sink and, four hours later, everyone is hungry again.  But the fact is, whether cooking is satisying or not, we all need to eat.  Even I can't survive on crackers and cheese forever.

I have run the gamut on kitchens from Well-Equipped Western World Standard to Fire On Beach.  And you might be surprised how they stack up against each other.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


It isn't often that I really miss "land" things.  But every once in a while, I'd like to have a bath.  Unlike the kids, I can't fit in a five-gallon bucket.

I once made the mistake of musing aloud that I would like to take a bath.  Erik, fixer of all problems, immediately started offering solutions.

"Go swimming," he said.
"I said I'd like a bath, not a swim."
"What's the difference?"
"A swim is for looking at fish and giving the kids rides and moving around a lot," I said.  "A bath is for lying in warm water and reading a book.  Possibly with the addition of a lovely beverage."
"You can read in the cockpit."
"Then I wouldn't be in the water, would I?"
Erik gave me a look I know well.  It is Husband Look #5: Are We Still Talking About This?  I Thought I Solved Your Problem Eight Minutes Ago.  He put down his socket driver and sighed.  "Do you need me to build you a bathtub?  I can build you a bathtub.  You can put it on the back deck, and haul up water in a bucket.  It'll be a pain, but I can do it."
"Oh for crying out loud!" I threw my hands in the air.  "I am not asking you to build me a ruddy bathtub!  All I said was it would be nice to soak in a bath once in a while!"
"Why'd you bring it up then?" Erik muttered as he wandered off to find a problem that actually wanted to be solved.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Falling In Love

It's that time of a year when a young woman's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.  By that I mean I just had to pay the boat insurance.  And what says love like transfering risk to a third party?

We met Papillon in the usual way: in Panama, on a blind date.  Sure, we had seen some pictures, like the one above, but since that photo was taken before I was born, we didn't want to get too excited too early.

Our broker had been talking her up for months.  "She's a great girl.  You'll love her."  But the boat was far away, it wasn't the cabin layout we wanted... there were a hundred reasons to look at other boats first.  And we did.  Boat after boat after boat.  But the chemistry was never there.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Book Junkies

We have a friend on another boat who is obsessed with "keeping the weight down".  This isn't directed at any of the crew (luckily for him - you take your life in your hands with that kind of action,) but rather at the boat itself.  Every few months, a sort of fever grabs Mr Light Boat, and he starts sorting through their possessions with a grim and critical eye.

The first time we witnessed this, Mrs Light Boat was not a happy camper.  She drove the dingy over to Papillon, and offered us a stack of books for the kids.  I accepted gratefully, but we were shocked when we realized the problem.

"You don't mean he's making you get rid of books?" I asked.  She nodded sadly.
"Because they are too heavy?  Books?" asked Erik.
I was still having trouble processing this.  "Yours and the kids - not just his own books."
"Everyone's," she confirmed.  "It's the seasonal purge.  Just give those a good home, would you?"
"Books," Erik repeated as her dingy retreated into the distance.  "That can't be right."
I shook my head.  You wonder how a marriage can survive such trials.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Incredible Shrinking Living Room

There is nothing the kids like more than visiting someone else's boat.  There isn't much I like better, either... because I want them to make friends and be independent.  It's not just to get them out of my hair for an hour.  Certainly not.
Let's all go exploring...
Just as often, other kids come to us.  After all, I'm not the only parent out there who wants small people out from underfoot while there is teak to be varnished or floorboards to be removed.
You can almost see the wheels turning.

Now that Stylish has mastered the VHF, she invites the under-12 set to Papillon with great regularity.  She even usually informs me ahead of time.  And I don't mind: boat kids are a delightful breed, and are great at entertaining themselves and each other.  I can work in another part of the boat while they play, and no one needs me for anything but opening the heavy lid of the fridge.  And if they get too crazy, it's into the water with all of them.
No point removing the ladder - they can climb the anchor chain.
The trend has continued on land.  Stylish collects school friends like stray puppies.  Every day, she exits the school clutching the hand of another girl, the two of them laughing uproariously at something or other that I'm surely far too old to understand.  They skip over to me, and look at me with expectant eyes.

"Can Tabitha/Isla/Poppy/Minnie/Eve come over to play today?"  Stylish grins at me.
Tabitha/Isla/Poppy/Minnie/Eve does her best to look shy and retiring.
"Okay," I say.  The girls begin to celebrate.  "But we have to ask her mom first."
Parental permission is quickly secured.  Mom has two other kids in the car already, and is delighted that Tabitha/Isla/Poppy/Minnie/Eve won't have to attend Brother #1's tennis lesson.

"I'll pick her up at five!" the mom trills as she speeds away.  It's a bald-faced lie and we both know it.  "I'll pick her up at five," is like answering "fine" when someone asks how you are today - it's just a formula.  It really means, "I'll try to be back for her by sundown, dependent on traffic and the general injury tally.  Please insert some crackers into her if it isn't too much trouble."

The walk home is uneventful, although the girls are starting to exhibit Brownian motion and have to be begged to stay on the sidewalk.  I finally turn my key in the lock, and the kids stream inside.

But it has happened again.  Our two-bedroom apartment, which is easily twice the square footage of the boat, has shrunk.  As the children start shrieking and bouncing off the walls, giggling and running and begging for ice cream, the apartment gets smaller.  And smaller.  And smaller.  It's like we have all eaten biscuits from Alice in Wonderland.  Soon, I feel like the four of us have been stuffed into an unusually loud broom closet.

"Go outside," I order, moving one child off my foot and pulling a second one out of my hair.
They go outside.  Three minutes later, they are back.
"I thought you were throwing paper dragons."
"No, don't want to," says Stylish.  "I know, let's have a pillow fight!"
We are in no way certifiably insane.
The whirl of activity gets faster.  Crafts-drawing-cutting-paper-hide-and-seek-run-outside-run-back-inside-drink-juice-dollhouse-Barbies-ponies-can-I-sew-a-saddle?

Around six o'clock (I told you so), Mom or Dad shows up to retrieve their progeny.  I can't invite them aboard for a beer - that would be weird - and, anyway, they are busy, busy, busy.  Time to run home for a quick dinner before taking Tabitha/Isla/Poppy/Minnie/Eve to swim practice, Brother #1 to cricket and Brother #2 to football, then it's homework, bed, and do it all again.

"Thank you for having me," says Tabitha/Isla/Poppy/Minnie/Eve, resolving into a still figure for the first time in three hours.  "I had lots of fun."
She and Stylish throw their arms around each other, bounce up and down some more, and say goodbye a hundred more times.
I look around the apartment.  No one injured.  No stuff broken.  And it seems to be back to its regular size.
I smile and wave goodbye to Tabitha/Isla/Poppy/Minnie/Eve.  "You're welcome back any time."

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Making Ends Meet

Hand over your snap shackles, cotter pins and epoxy resin!

A reader recently asked me what we do for money on the boat.  I get this question from time to time; I write about the price of tinned beans often enough that people understand we aren't living off a trust fund.  So they are curious.  How does your average human being leave work behind?

His note contained the flattering suggestion that maybe my writing paid the bills.  Writing and sailing are indeed a natural fit; both pay back far more often in intangibles than in cold, hard cash.  I remember my pride after selling my first article.  I waved my contract at Erik, and proudly informed him that I would be able to spring for a whole week of groceries.

"A whole week, eh?"  Erik continued fixing the bilge pump.
"Well, most of a week." I looked at the figure again.  "If we went shopping at the outdoor market in Cartagena."
"At the very least we could get the good brand of beer this time."
He looked up from his work.  "Oh?  Then write on, dear lady, write on.  Hand me the vice grips, would you? "

So, in the absence of J.K. Rowling money, how do we compensate?  Most cruisers I know have a portable skill.  They can weld, waitress, teach, or rebuild an engine.  When they are short of funds, they stop and work for a little while, then sail off again when the cruising kitty is healthy once more.

But the best way to keep your tiny pile of money is not to spend it.  An overdeveloped sense of frugality is a plus.  We do boat work ourselves whenever possible.

This is exactly what I wanted to do with a rainy Sunday afternoon.
You begin to notice the little things, like whether the supermarket in Panama is selling 5 oz tins of tuna this week, or 6 oz.

You can't fool me, Charlie.
And when things are on sale?  We stock up.

So maybe I really, really like beans, okay?
We are slow to spend money on luxuries.  If we have learned anything aboard Papillon, it is that we like doing stuff more than we like having stuff, so if we are spending, it will be on an experience.  We've dropped some old habits; in the past 2.5 years, we have only been out to the movies twice.  But we get to lounge around on the beach with sea lions, and swim beside giant sea turtles, so I can't say we are hard done by.

I asked the kids how we should make money for the boat.  Stylish thinks we should run a fruit stand.  I'm not surprised.  When she was six, Stylish opened a lemonade stand in front of our house.  Her adorability factor was so high that people often pressed money into her eager little hands without accepting a lemonade in return.  I had to shut down production when I realized that she had raked in almost $25 in less than an hour, and we still had a third of a pitcher of lemonade sitting on the table.  So she may not be the most reliable witness of capitalism in action.

For now, Erik is stuck with the heavy lifting on the work-a-day front.  But when columns about family life on a boat become the next big trend, I've promised he can retire.

Who knows?  Maybe we can buy the good beer every time.