July 30, 2012

I'm feeling somewhat overwhelmed

It's quiet on the blog... because it's anything but quiet on Totem. We went from zero to sixty in planning our departure from Australia. We had been thinking we'd be stay into 2013, but life had other plans, and there is a lot to do to get prepared.

homegrown passport photo
Niall's homemade passport photos. Yes, that's a sheet. No, I don't have an iron.

It might seem as though being on our own floating island, carrying our world with us, it would be a very simple task to raise the anchor and take off. Not so much! There's some maintenance we can't ignore - being fairly prudent types and generally quite risk averse (really!).

My "punch list" has spawned lists, to the extend that I need a list to manage them. That should be a joke, but it isn't really, although I do think it's funny!

There are the family essentials, such as organizing and acquiring whatever learning materials we think three children from the ages of 8 to 13 might want or need over the next 1-2 years. Stop a sec and think about that. This is a tremendous amount of research, and then time (not to mention cost) for sourcing. If we were following "school in a box" curriculum I could do it with a single phone call, but we're not. Our homeschooling approach is more freestyle. At times like this I wish it were simpler!

There are the safety essentials: everything from replacing batteries in our EPIRB and emergency radio to recertification of our liferaft (if we can even find a vendor in Australia who can/will do this for us), to replacing our worn-out mainsail. There are bent stanchions to be dealt with and running rigging to replace. Careful inspection on board is probably going to bring a few more things to light.

There are the things we haven't used in a while:  we are recommissioning gear that wasn't needed in our cushy coastal Australian experience, but will be essential in returning to blue water passage making. Our watermaker has been pickled for over 18 months. We replaced our HF radio and upgraded the pactor modem for better communications, but need to get out and test it. Our batteries have spent so much time dockside that we're out of touch with their condition (and our usage).

There are the health considerations We're finding ourselves making more than the usual trips to the doctor. It's time to make last rounds of dentists, dermatologist and GP. For the first time we'll be in areas with some very real probability of disease and are taking precautions with the help of a travel clinic. I came down with malaria and typhoid while living in Indonesia ~21 years ago, and would like to spare the rest of my family that experience, and avoid a personal repeat! So our arms are a little sore, and we get to stretch out visits for rabies boosters.

There are practicalities: This includes sorting out country formalities- our PNG and Indonesian visa and cruising permit paperwork takes weeks to sort out, to our own passport status. The children's passports expire next March. This seemed far away, but it wasn't not far enough for entering PNG in September. Road trip to Sydney for a consular visit! But there are a host of on-board practicalities, as we make our boat an organized home to take us further afield. While we wait on shipments of books and gear, Jamie is building out new storage areas in most of the cabins on board.

That's the tip of the iceberg. I considered pasting in my master list, but it's overkill. Please just forgive the radio silence- we're a little busy! But there will be plenty to come, soon enough.

July 9, 2012

It's Friday, at 4:30 p.m.

We're in the middle of heady days. The excitement of making big plans, of imagining the possibilities.

Cruising Guides
More than just dream fodder.

As soon as Totem is ready, our passports and visas in hand, we'll be heading out into the big blue again. It's a matter of weeks that we can count on our hands. 

I've been downright giddy. A friend of ours put it perfectly in perspective: it's a little like a Friday afternoon. The prospect of the weekend stretches in front of you. Saturdays you live the freedom and open opportunities to your heart's delight. Sundays, though, you have the prospect of Monday looming.

For us, these days lately are like a string of Fridays. 

Soon, we'll be heading off soon into a world of adventures, after our relatively predictable and structured time in Australia. Here we know the places we'll get food, what it will cost, where we can anchor or moor, how much the bus fare costs, the (many) rules to follow and benefits to enjoy. By contrast, our near future includes islands without stores, without a cash economy- much less public amenities and sidewalks. It's going to be wildly unpredictable. It's going to be SO EXCITING.

It's Friday, and a long weekend awaits.

July 7, 2012

Canning on board: papaya chutney

Some amount of eating from cans is a reality for most cruising boats. Between limited refrigeration, passage making (19 days at sea to the Marquesas!), and minimal resources available in some of our destinations- it's necessary to keep our bodies happily fueled.

removing labels from cans
Provisioning staples for six months - Mexico, 2010

Much better than buying commercially canned food, though, is canning your own. No BPA. No unpronounceables. So much more tasty. The delicious conundrum of whether to use that peach butter for toast, or a fuzzy navel.

Canning food brings with it childhood memories and associations with people I love- making blackberry jam with my grandmother, bringing home pickles from Jamie's mother. Borne from necessity, it became nourishment for the soul as well as the body.

And just as our grandmothers know, it's also a great way to take advantage of local bounty. This is what got me back into canning when we were in Mexico: mountains of gorgeous fresh papayas, coupled with the prospect of weeks at sea during our passage to French Polynesia. The fact that we would face limited (and expensive) food when we arrived didn't help. I made several large batches of papaya chutney, and it turned out to be the perfect addition to kick up many meals on board.

Later this year, we'll be spending a few months sailing through Papua New Guinea. In almost every place we expect to stop, there aren't going to be any grocery stores. We'll trade for fresh produce, but to keep things interesting (and at least a tiny bit predictable), I'll be getting busy canning before we leave.

Good news for me: papayas will be coming into season here just in time for our departure!

Totem's Papaya chutney
1 Tbsp minced garlic
2 Tbsp finely chopped ginger
Grated rind of an orange
1 c vinegar
1 ½ c sugar
Spice it up: pinch in cloves, cardamom, cinnamon
Spice it up a little more: dash in hot sauce to taste
1 large, firm papaya, peeled and chopped

In a saucepan, combine garlic, ginger, orange rind, vinegar and sugar. Bring to a boil, then add remaining ingredients. Simmer until sauce thickens. I process these minimally, similar to the method here.

July 4, 2012

Sailor or Traveler?

There is a spectrum that exists between identifying as a sailor, and identifying as traveler. Who is cruising because living aboard a boat and voyaging are core to their being? And who is cruising via sailboat because it is a means to and end- a way to satisfy wanderlust, and just happens to be by boat?

Sailing is part of who I am. 

I find great joy being on any vessel, large or small, powered by the wind though water.

I fell in love with sailing as a teenager. It was the ideal escape from summer boredom or teenage angst to simply take off in our little Sunfish, point straight out from our cottage into Lake Huron and find peaceful solitude on the water. I mastered the art of sailing the little boat from a fully reclined position, nudging the tiller with a toe, browning in midwestern sun. It followed me through college; it was how I met Jamie. There may be some family history at play: my parents had their first date on my father's sloop. I can't imagine life without sailing.

Another day, another sunset...
Being on the water makes me happy. Full stop.

Traveling is part of who I am. 

Finding those moments where you cross an invisible bridge into another culture are some of the keenest experiences of really living I can think imagine.

This probably stems from my family's move from San Francisco to Taipei when I was in high school.  Travels though the island coupled with school trips to Indonesia, Singapore, and Hong Kong infused me with wanderlust. A truly great teacher helped me peel back the layers to find the common bonds and shared humanity between vastly different cultures. For more than two decades have I collected travel guides, many for places I have yet to experience. I can't imagine life without traveling.

poor man's Galapagos?
Traveling is the gift to see those far corners of the world

So which is it? Sailor or traveler?

For years, these two loves developed on parallel paths. In my early 20s, my sailing world revolved around racing. Jamie was racing, too, but he cracked open the door to a life of traveling by sailing. He introduced me to Robin Lee Graham, and to Joshua Slocum. And even more important, he brought our cruising mentors, the Jessies. Through their actions and their support, I learned how these loves could be intertwined.

There are external factors that have glued sailing and traveling irrevocably together in creating this life I love. It is not just because I love to sail, or because I love to travel. It is the desire to live a more simple life, a place apart from the gross consumption of the modern first world. The desire to teach my children respect for our fragile planet by living with a light footprint. The desire to embrace live in the now, and not postpone it for an amorphous "someday." And to give my kids crazy fabulous childhood memories, like the time they held a tiger cub.

Once in a lifetime
Siobhan and a small friend- Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

I am a sailor, and I am a traveler, and most of all- I am so incredibly lucky to just be here, making my dream a reality.

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