June 17, 2010

Images from the Tuamotus

Totem has made landfall in Tahiti. While we process on being here (Tahiti! Center of many tropical dreams, here we are: in the very same bay where Bligh grew breadfruit saplings to take to the West Indies, and Cook came to watch the transit of Venus across the sun) ...we have found the best wifi in months and are putting pictures from the last few weeks in the Tuamotus up on flickr.

Feast...click through any one for more on Flickr.

Mairen, getting the hang of that Polynesian flower-behind-the-ear thang.
flower girl

Siobhan, getting a lift on a long reef snorkel.
Siobhan has the best ride

Stunning coral forms and colors.
beautiful coral

Pearl farms. Which, naturally, come with pearls.
pearl farm

Cephalopods.
cephalopod posing

Good times with old friends...
mairen and bryce

...and a passel of new friends, too.
Makemo friends

June 11, 2010

Questions about the passage- part II

As noted in the prior post, we received a number of questions about our passage and are aggregating them for responses on the blog. Several questions were specifically related to cruising with children, and are combining them here. If you have differences or something to add, post a comment!

How did the children do on the passage?

They did really, really well! I'm so proud of them. Jamie and I came down the coast (Seattle-San Francisco) without them, so their prior passage experience was limited to shorter hops -3 days at most. As a result, we weren't really sure how the longer passages would work for them. They did have some mild seasickness during the first few days out, which were managed with Meclazine. Having a couple years of cruising experience under their belts was definitely a big help: they are adept at finding things to do and never need to be entertained. They play board games, create highly involved imaginary worlds and role play, draw, read, talk, play with legos, and watch the odd movie. I fully expected them to get cabin fever, but it didn't really happen.

Where do the children sleep? What are your thoughts on sharing a v-berth vs. having separate spaces and privacy needs when they get older?

Our girls currently share the v-berth, and our son sleeps in a bunk in the cabin aft of theirs. Space for the children was a significant factor in our choice of cruising boat. In our old boat, an HR 35 (aft master, v-berth forward), the kids were happy puppy-piling into the master bunk, the v-berth, and/or the settees. They were also that much younger, and weren't living aboard at the time. Still, it didn't seem like a viable long term layout for our family. We felt it would be important for the girls and our son to have separate cabins as they edge toward adolescence, and enough space to call their own. It's hard to find a layout in an offshore monohull that accommodates this in less than 50', and is one of the reasons we decided that the Stevens 47 was perfect for us. Some boats are able to make the shared v-berth work for boy-girl siblings by hanging a curtain or otherwise creating some separation, but we don't know any teenagers currently in this situation. Frankly, I don't think it's workable for longer term cruising.

What do you think are good ages for kids to go cruising?

I think we're smack in a cruising sweet spot of age 5 to 12, where the kids are young enough that they like hanging out a LOT with mom & dad, but old enough to have safety sense, and old enough to learn about, appreciate, and remember the places we're visiting. At the same time, they are not so old that a set peer group is the center of their lives. They are very adaptable to new situations and new friends. It also helps with adjusting to living aboard, although being on boats since they were babies also helped fast-forward through some of the acclimatization to living aboard full time.

I really think kids can go cruising at any age, although it seems that the very young and teenagers add different pressure. One of the most nerve-wracking ages for the kids on board, at least for me as a parent, was the year or two once they become mobile. I will never forget the shock and horror of waking up one morning to realize that our babe had managed to climb up a steep companionway INTO the cockpit, and was laughing down into the cabin at us! Partly because of the added demands on watchful parenting with young children, we had an artificial departure timeline in mind of "whenever the youngest turns 5." As it turns out, we ran out of patience and left when the youngest was barely four. but she was particularly happy on board and we were past the challenges of toddler years.

At the other end, while we do know a number of teenagers out cruising, I can only think of one who is older than 14. I'm sure they are out there, but it's much less common. We have seen several families stop cruising based on the needs or desires of their teenage children to be in a land-based school with a larger and steadier peer community.

June 9, 2010

Questions about the passage - part I

We covered a variety of aspects of the passage on our blog as we crossed from Mexico to the Marquesas. Wondering what we might have missed, we put out a call for other questions. Questions came along a few similar themes, which I've blended below with our responses. This is the first of two posts to answer questions, and of course, they are all just our opinions. If you have differences or something to add, post a comment!

You had a crew member. Would you have gone on the passage without a third adult on board?

We would have gone without an additional crew member, but it wouldn't have been as fun or as safe, and I would have been much more nervous in the time prior to our departure. We had a great experience with our crew member, Ty- a truly wonderful person, with great depth of experience. I know not every boat out there had as great an experience as we did. I think it's good to know the person you bring on board - it's not a big space to share for several weeks! Also, understand expectations on all sides. Not everyone had as great an experience with their crew as we did, and I think that makes a big difference.

What is your water capacity, and how did you use water on the passage?

We have two tanks for water storage: our primary (stainless) is 60 gallons, and the secondary (bladder) is another 40 gallons. Tanks are filled with a lower volume (6-7 gallons per hour) water maker, which we run every 5 days and whenever we have excess power.

We use about two gallons per person per day for cooking, drinking, and bathing. We hit on this usage rate while we were hanging out in the Sea of Cortez during the 2009 hurricane season. It was a little light for our freshwater rinse after showering, but we weren't swimming every day on the passage like we were in the Sea. We do all our cleaning (bodies and dishes) with salt water and add a fresh water rinse as needed. Dishes and most cookware are washed entirely in saltwater; drinking glasses and cutlery get a freshwater rinse. We don't have a saltwater pump inside yet (that is high on the list of desired projects!) so this means schlepping a bucket down below, or bathing on deck. I have used saltwater to some extent for cooking, although I'm usually too lazy to bother getting it since it's never more than a cup or two at a time.

What weather information did you use on a daily basis during the passage and from where? Were the reports accurate? Any prefs on text vs. grib or just "both"?

Our primary weather sources during the passage were 1) grib files, requested through our Airmail application 2) NOAA text forecasts for our region, also requested through the catalog on Saildocs and 3) reports from boats around us on SSB radio nets, which we tuned in for twice daily.

If I had to pick one source for information.well, I'm not sure we could. You can't rely too much on one source, and it helps to have a few to work with- and then make your own choices. Gribs were great for the big picture, although they tend to underestimate wind speeds. Near the equator, they also lacked accuracy and information sea state and current. The text files gave us the best picture of where the ITCZ was at a given time; it moves, of course, but we could plot it with each update and get a sense for the shifts. The reality is that what you have is what is around you, and in an area as unsettled as the ITCZ- your weather may be entirely different than what someone 20 miles away is experiencing.

We didn't think as much about general sea state before we left. We ended up with seas coming from 2 or three different directions: there were two definite swell directions, and the wind direction and wind waves did not necessarily correspond with either of them. This made things pretty uncomfortable at times. We had better information on the sea state from the text forecast but it wasn't perfect either. Current was the other major factor we didn't get a good picture of from the forecasts (and believe me, it was nothing like the expected charted current); we are not aware of a free resource available which includes up to date information about currents.

Reports from individual boats are extremely useful: we could get a better idea of weather coming our way based on their information. This was particularly useful in anticipating currents, which proved to be a significant factor during our crossing and of course, isn't reflected in the weather reports.

The biggest weather information challenge we had is that all of our sources relied on a functioning SSB. About 2/3 across the Pacific, our SSB stopped transmitting. We were no longer able to send requests for these resources. We could, however, still listen into the daily radio nets. Hearing the reports from boats around us suddenly became very, very important as our sole source of weather information between the mainland and French Polynesia. It was far from complete information, but enough to get us by.

We are hoping to buy and outfit a boat in the mid-40s for less than $200k- any suggestions?

People cruise on all manner of boats, and what works for you is such a personal choice, it's hard to give general feedback on a selection. I think it's prudent to be aware of all the costs that are involved in any boat that seems to be a good deal. Almost everyone we have this conversation with has significantly underestimated their final cost at getting a boat ready to depart. While shopping for Totem, we saw a lot of boats that were billed as "cruise-ready" but very few that actually lived up to the marketing. The more you are able to evaluate the boat and rigging yourself before making an offer and hiring a surveyor, the better.