Thursday, November 28, 2013

Losing the Language Wars to a Five-Year-Old

“So, what did you do at school today?”
I know better than to ask this question.  There isn’t a child alive who has ever replied with actual facts when their mother asks about school.  But it was Indy’s first day at her new école in Noumea, and I was hoping that she would throw me a crumb.  After all, she is a boat kid; she might not realize that it is her duty as a child is to withhold school-related news at all costs.
“Nothing,” she said.
Darn.  Someone must have tipped her off.
“Le poisson, le poisson, le poisson,” sang Indy as she skipped along the path.
I raised my eyebrows.  She picked up a word already!  We had been a little concerned that Indy would find the first few weeks of school difficult, being an anglophone in a francophone world, but she emerged from class unfazed by any communication difficulties she might have encountered.
“Le poisson,” I repeated.  “Fish.  That’s a good word.”
She stopped skipping.  “No, Mom.  Not like that.  You draw it out.  Le poiiiisssssson.”  She slowly drew her hands apart.
“Le poiiiisssson,”
"Listen: poisson."
"Le poisson," I said again.
She shook her head and resumed skipping.  Six hours of school, and Indy's French was already better than mine. Whose idea was it to send this kid to school, anyway?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cyclone Choices: Making the Decision

Over the past few months, I have sent a lot of emails with a line that looked like this: “Our current and almost definite plan is to head to Tasmania for cyclone season.  We’ll check in at Newcastle or Sydney, and wait for the weather to be right early in January to make the last hop to Hobart.”

Now, because you have been paying attention, you know that cruisers are totally unreliable when it comes to reporting their own plans.  And so it was with us.  Erik and I were 98% sure we were going to Tas.  We were keen on Tas. We had heard nothing but great things about the place: not many boats make the trip down, the cruising is spectacular, the people are great.  They understand cruisers there, which has not always been our experience in Australia.  In short, it sounded perfect.

But we’re not in Tasmania.  We’re not even in Australia.  We are still in Noumea, with a cyclone-secure berth waiting at the marina and the kids enrolled in school.  What happened?  In a phrase, the cruising life happened.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Picnics With Europeans: French vs Swiss-German (with Bonus American After-Party)

Ring, ring.
"Hello.  This is Boat French.  Would you like to go with us to Le parc provincial de la Rivière Bleue for a picnic on Sunday?
"Bon.  See you at 0900 on Sunday."
Ring, ring.
"Hello.  This is Boat Swiss-German.  Would you like to go with us to Le parc provincial de la Rivière Bleue for a picnic on Sunday?
"We'd love to, but Boat French just asked us.  How about Tuesday?"
"Toll.  See you at 0900 on Tuesday."

Sunday: French picnic

Thursday, November 14, 2013

When Are You Coming Home? Lies Cruisers Tell

Q: Do you have a planned end to your cruise? When you get to a particular place? After a set number of years?  When you (or the girls) get to be a particular age?

A:  It is barely mid-November, and already I am getting reports from home about snow.  I sit in the cockpit reading my email, and when a chill wind blows and the temperature plummets to 24 C, I put on a fleece.  I can't even handle the suggestion of snow anymore, much less the reality.  Perhaps these notes are my family's passive-aggressive way of keeping us out at sea.  So if you ask me today when I'm going home, I'll shout out, "Never!  Not in a million years!"

Which is a lie.  Of course we're going home again.  But the problem with asking about The End is simple.  It is the absolute, number one, gold medal, top-ranked worst question to ask a cruiser because the answer you get will be worthless.  Because nobody really knows.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Meet Our Neighbours on the Reef

There are days I think that we moved onto Papillon not to sail the seven seas, not to give Erik endless tinkering projects, not to spend family time - but to visit every coral reef on Earth.  We are reef peekers.  I feel no shame in that.

Erik and I used to do a lot of diving back in the day, but now we are snorkelers because it lets the kids get involved, and there is so much to see in those first twenty feet, anyway.  Now that Indy has joined the ranks of strong swimmers, it is all the easier.  Not that I didn't enjoy towing her along by her lifejacket strap or carrying her on my back.  But sometime over the past few months she made the switch from child to fish, just as Stylish did when we were starting out.  And now we are a well-oiled snorkeling machine.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Sinking Just a Little Bit

We woke up on Monday to discover the boat was sinking.  On my way to the bathroom, I heard an unwelcome drip drip sound coming from beneath the companionway.  We pulled up the floorboards, and, sure enough, the centerboard trunk was leaking.  The bilge was full.  We were going down.

"Ugh," I said, slapping the bilge pump switch.  "Does it have to be now?  I haven't even made tea yet."
Erik stared at the spitting centerboard and sighed.  "Well.  Let's get 'er fixed."

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Trick-or-Treating on the High Seas

I'll admit it - I'm a sucker for Hallowe’en.  Oh, Christmas has its charms – lots of family, lots of presents.  Easter is a chocolate-lover’s dream.  But nothing celebrates a combination of excess and rule-breaking like the 31st of October.  “Wear whatever you want!”  “Sure, you can go for a walk in the dark and take candy from strangers!”  “Imagination is a good thing!  Believe in ghosts and fairies all you like!”  Hallowe’en is ironically, for all of its scary trappings, a day when members of the community agree to trust each other and take a one-day break from fear.

I am fully aware that I fly the Hallowe’en flag alone on this boat.  Indy and Stylish like it, of course, but since our Hallowe’en activities change from year to year, they haven’t built up a sense of tradition-through-repetition the way I did.  Erik finds the entire urban trick-or-treating formula mystifying.  As best I can tell, he travelled back to the rural 1880s for his Hallowe’ens.  On Hallowe’en night, he and a friend rode on horseback between a handful of farms.  They clopped down lanes lit with candled sheep skulls, and were invited into dim kitchens to sip hot cider and eat home-made treats while gammers and gaffers told them terrifying stories of local murders and haunted inns.  What a show-off.  I’m sure I had just as much fun strolling from house to house dressed as a punk rocker and collecting tiny Mars bars in a pillowcase.