April 30, 2012

Radio and Weather Guru Don Anderson

This weekend, Don Anderson's ashes are being scattered in his home waters near Oxnard, California. Don analyzed weather data and shared the information via radio "nets" to cruisers around the north Pacific, particularly Mexico. Our introduction to Don was through the Amigo net, a daily marine maritime net we participated in for the better part of two years. We were dedicated listeners and participants from the days before we first entered Mexico, in late 2008, through our departure in early 2010.

Sunrise at La Gringa
La Gringa, one of many anchorages where we listened to Don's forecast

Don didn't just bring dependable interpretation of weather data. He seemed to take his role as an educator of newbie cruisers to both radio and to the real (and unpleasant) possibilities of weather seriously, to the benefit of all. Nobody would ever tell you that Don held back when offering his analysis. He also didn't let proper radio handling protocol slide.

This wasn't just edifying, it was refreshing. Cruisers on radio nets tend to "go with the flow" rather than voice disagreement or challenge the view of another. It's a gross generalization, but I can't think of any instances from the Nets to the contrary. The truth is, these things are extremely important. It wasn't a picnic to be the target of his ire, but Don's frank corrections helped many cruisers get over the hurdle of participating and figure it out. I remember thinking it felt a little bit like a badge of honor to be taken to task by Don for a lapse in my radio handling (the particular infraction was using Ham jargon on a marine SSB frequency).

With many cruising miles under his own keel, I think Don understood better than most just how critical his information was to boats "out there," especially those getting their cruising feet wet in Mexico- a common first stop (and for many, the last one as well).  The schedule of nets he participated in attest to the many hours he gave to his volunteer role - as much one would give to a full time job. He did this year in, year out, with few breaks. If you asked for his help, he gave it, and offered support outside the schedule for cruisers needing different tuning and timing to make a connection. His volunteerism is admirable, and it's inspiring.

For someone who we never met, his personality loomed large for us as it did for many others. Don's  forecasts were often shared in a way that could be particularly...enthusiastic, especially when severe weather loomed. I'll confess that we let the tone of Don's delivery color our conversations long after the Net was over. Can he have any idea how many times his name was invoked over a few Pacifico ballenas in a Baja cockpit? During the 2009 hurricane season we spent up in the Gulf of California, one member of the fleet even composed a song in his honor: the Don Anderson Rag could be heard at cruiser potlucks and floating sundowners all season. Jamie (who has a similar propensity to be energized by the delivery of severe weather information... I may have referred to him as Calamity Jamie before) took to using deliberately Don-like tone and cadence to share his own weather opinions. 

If someday we can give back to the cruising community at a fraction of the level Don achieved, I'd be very proud. I wish we could have told him in person how much he gave to our little floating family on Totem, but it's some comfort to share that with his family. He leaves some big shoes indeed.

Did you benefit from Don's contributions? His family set up an email address to share your thoughts with them. It would mean a lot for him to hear from cruisers who have benefitted from his knowledge over the years. Send yours to SummerPassage@gmail.com

April 8, 2012

Keeping holidays: and island style Easter

A future cruiser had asked recently about celebrating holidays after you've left behind the familiar traditions at home. Was it good to plan ahead and bring packages with those unique specialties that are in tune with memories of how you usually celebrate?

Egg hunt
Mairen hunting for Easter eggs - Moreton Island, Australia

We've had the chance to do a little of both, and with time and perspective, have found that what works for us is not to import the familiar (or dig it up from locker stash) but to create what is meaningful for you from what's available.

At departure, our children's ages (4, 6 and 9) put them smack in the heart of egg-hunting-chocolate-bunny-eating-Easter-basket-madness. We had some very specific rituals and accessories. But when we left, we didn't bring any of the usual Easter accoutrements with us, in part because we assumed the basics would be available in Mexico. Not so much, as it turned out!

Our first Mexican Easter was in the coastal town of San Blas. Few gringos and definitely no Paas dye kits. We found veggies in town to make our own dyes with, Mexican chocolate treats, held an egg hunt on board and didn't feel the least bit deprived.

The second year, friends brought good ol' bright colored store-bought kits down from the States. We were in the marina in La Cruz with a herd of other prospective "jumpers," getting ready to take off for our Pacific crossing. Easter would actually fall a few days after cast off, so there was a celebration for the kids during the week prior to departure. Lots of fun, to be sure. More familiar, more like Easter at home.

It sounded like such a great idea at the time. But- it missed something. In hindsight, I realized how much I loved our previous improvised holiday. Learning to appreciate how much we could make our own fun by working with what was on hand, to give a holiday the color and vibration of the place we find ourselves.

Our Australian Easters have been on the theme. Our first Aussie Easter was among our marina friends from Sydney. Let me tell you: Oz Easter is all about the chocolate bunnies. Forget the peeps and the jellybeans. It's CHOCOLATE. I think every one of the half dozen boats brought our children chocolate bunnies. No deprivation there!

This year we anchored off Moreton Island with our friends on Ceilydh and Oso Blanco. There aren't egg dye kits in Oz, either, so we're back to the purple cabbage, tumeric, and onion skins to color ours. Our "dinosaur" eggs were hidden in the scrub of the island nearby, in a sandy saddle that felt like a tropical fairy dell. And we had chocolate bunnies... lots of bunnies. That evening, a combined feast brought together our traditions...roasted leg of lamb, and a big wreath of Italian egg bread.

Island Style Easter
Keeping it simple... still plenty of fun, without all the Stuff.



Sitting back with our cruising friends, we came up with a rough rule of thumb. Sabbatical cruisers, who are working in a finite window of time for their adventures afloat, are more likely to have a Paas kit in the bilge, a favorite flavor of cake mix stashed in the provisions. On a more open ended path like ours, that planning and stowing isn't practical and falls to the side compared with other priorities. I think it's a gift: we open our selves to find the core of the holiday from our own traditions, and the best of what ever country we claim guest status has to share to broaden our experience...

...like dune surfing. Happy Easter, all, from Totem!

Dune surfing- Niall with Siobhan
Easter weekend on Moreton Island: boogie boarding down the monster sand dunes