Saturday, July 22, 2017

Boat Not For Sale

The Land of Fire in winter
Over the years we've seen a lot of friends and acquaintances reaching the end of their dream cruise, and a unifying feature is that the sailboat in question usually goes on the block immediately. Or sooner - often a cruising boat is listed for sale while the final homeward passage is uncompleted.

This only makes sense. A well-found traveling boat represents a lot of capital, and demands a lot of upkeep. If you're not using the beast, there's little point in keeping it.

Plus, as Paul Beatty points out in The Sellout, having a yacht that you never use is a signifier of the second level of white privilege. And who would want to go there?

We've just completed our first haulout since South Africa. And while Kodiak is a great place to work on the boat out of the water, that doesn't mean it's cheap. When you're living on the boat and traveling widely, that sort of expense just feels like the price of the ticket. But it feels very different when you're back in your home port and looking for a house. What felt like the price of the ticket can start to feel more like a frivolous outlay of cash.

But for all that, we have no immediate plans to sell Galactic. And that has to do with our current vision/dream for what the next stage of our sailing lives will look like.

We've spent the last 10 years as all-in, full-time sailors. No house ashore waiting for us, no vehicles, no furniture in storage save my grandmother's rocking chair and my grandfather's work bench. That's the Fatty and Carolyn Goodlander style of sailing. No compromise to dirt dwelling made, and a sailor sleeps on his/her boat every night of their life.

But over the last few years of our sailing we became more and more aware of another way to pursue decades-long sailing odysseys. We can call it the "home base" model.

When Lin and Larry Pardey very generously opened their home to us on Kawau Island for their annual Thanksgiving dinner, we realized their was a home base for them, and had been for decades, if I'm not mistaken. It certainly makes years of tromping around in very small sailboats easier if you have a small house and a big shed waiting for you somewhere, patiently holding your stuff.

Likewise for the fantastic time that Leiv Poncet showed us at his family's place on Beaver Island, in the Falklands. Leiv's parents are pioneers of far southern sailing, and have decades and decades of sailing achievements behind them, but they didn't do it while using the yacht as the exclusive family home. Even 50-foot Damien II would get pretty small for a family of five during a Falklands winter.

And so for us, we hope. We're stopping the all-in part of our sailing both because being full-time sailors doesn't encompass everything that we want to do in our lives, and because we wouldn't mind having more of a home base than our uninsured sailboat. Our sights aren't set nearly as high as Kawau or Beaver Islands, but I'm sure we'll be able to find something cozy in Kodiak, with a shed as a part of the deal.

And, in our case, as I've written in this space before, we hope to transition to a more purposeful sort of sailing, and start using Galactic as the platform for our marine biology research. No telling how the funding gods will view that idea, but we have plans to submit two research proposals along those lines this year.

And in the meantime, we will continue to live with the maintenance list that comes with Galactic, and work to keep her in good shape for whatever it is we end up doing. We love sailing as much as we ever have, perhaps more than we ever have. And after 10 years all-in, we're as good at sailing as we are at anything else in life. So we're daring fate by hoping that we might be lucky enough to keep the magic going for a few more years in this new way.

This is a good excuse to dig out old Kawau and Beaver Island shots. Here are the crew, in a much younger state of being, in front of Taleisin.
Here and below - Thanksgiving dinner.

I think the guy to my right was spinning a real line of bull...
Leiv and the boys lighting a fire on Beaver Island, to roast... 
...Beaver Island mutton chops. 
Alisa and Leiv canning meat for ship's stores on Peregrine and Galactic

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Better Than Real

Her: I'm so glad to be back in Kodiak.

Me: I know. It's such a real-world place.

*Thoughtful pause*

Her: It's better than real.

Metaphor alert! Stepping off the boat...
I'll begin with a note on congruence between life on a traveling boat and life in Alaska. They're both all about the people.

We have been met by our old crowd in Kodiak with typical understated Alaskan hospitality. Friends met us at the dock with ice cream and beer and home-cooked treats. In the days when we were freshly back, people stopped by the boat to give us halibut and salmon.

Friends who are off the island offered up a truck that we could drive for a month while we were looking for our own vehicle (thanks so much, Heather & Pete!). And friends who were going to the Lower 48 for a family visit kindly offered up their house as a place we could stay if we wanted to get off the boat.

We didn't really want to get off the boat - except.

Except that the middle of summer is the perfect time to haul out a boat in Kodiak. The days are super-long, the temperatures are conducive to painting, and the yard is mostly empty, as Kodiak's working fleet is out working. We always prefer to move off the boat when she's in the yard. So, we took the opportunity of a place to stay (thanks, Sara and Ian!) and hauled.

Real help: Joe and I watch the slings come off.
Pretend help: Eric pressure washing.
Fuller's boat yard is part of the "delightfully real" aspect of Kodiak that Alisa and I were commenting on. At most yards where we've hauled through the years, there is a driver for the travelift and a yard worker or two who pressure wash your boat and position the jack stands. In Kodiak, there are first of all no jack stands - those tall boat stands for sailboats. Commercial fishing boats don't use them, so Fuller's doesn't have them. We had a set of our own ordered and waiting at Kodiak Marine Supply when we sailed into town.

And, as for the yard workers who pressure wash and set up the stands, that would be the crew of the boat being hauled. Who also have to provide their own pressure washer (thanks, Debra!).

Another friend, who just happens to be the second owner of Hawk, which he took through the Northwest Passage, stopped by at just the right moment to give us a hand with the stands.

And so it has gone through our time in the yard. People just stop by now and then to talk and look at the boat. It's part of the pace of life in a small town in Alaska. And it's part of the process of our re-integration into this town, one conversation about this and that and nothing at all at a time.

Elias in a triumphant mood.
Allright - listen up you dreamers who want to chuck it all and sail away but don't know much about sailing. Find someone who has a boat and volunteer to help them with their next haulout, start to finish. You'll learn a hundred times more about the sailing life that way than by taking one of those "learn to cruise" classes.

Sunday, July 9, 2017


Me and mom (and Eric).
Well.  I would count us as lucky.  We have had a life over the last ten years that has been far richer than the life awaiting us in that alternate universe where everyone gets just what they deserve.

Our good fortune has been wonderfully multifaceted, and, I hope, not been taken for granted. (In conversation with Alisa I have started using the shorthand "white privilege goes to sea" to refer to a certain sort of American sailor.) But just now I want to focus on the tremendous good fortune that we had in our shoreside ship's agent during our ten years afloat.

That ship's agent to Galactic would be Joan Litzow. Mom to me, "JoJo" to my kids. (Someone felt too young to be called grandma almost 11 years ago when Elias was born.)

Anyone who has been on an open-ended sailing trip will tell you how important it is to have someone back in the home country to look after your affairs. We Galactics cut the ties more than most. No house or business back in the home country to tie us down. And the internet has of course made the mundane details of life infinitely more tractable for travelers.

But, for all that, if you're going on a years-long trip, you really need someone to help out with practicalities. My mom was set up to sign checks for us and authorized to deal with our credit card companies on our behalf. She could deposit the checks that came in from my science work and my writing for Cruising World, she could let us know when the credit card company was calling to OK the sudden splurge of spending in the final 48 hours before we put to sea from some foreign port. She could sign the annual application to renew our vessel documentation and send us the new paperwork wherever we might be. She could open our mail and pay the occasional bill that, for all our efforts to live cheap, still somehow made its way to us.

For all those years that we were gone, robbing her of easy access to half her grandkids, she kept our affairs in order, and was an absolutely dependable backstop against late fees and unmet obligations on our part. That role she played gave us a tremendous peace of mind when we were off in some atoll, blissfully pretending that the real world did not exist.

So. For playing such an important role in making our voyage a success, and for all the thankless tasks that she pursued on our behalf, I wanted to say a very public and heartfelt "thank you" in this space.

And, don't worry, mom. We just got a post office box of our own.