December 30, 2010

American Dream movie trailers, and an invitation to discuss

Back in November I shared information and a link to the movie that our family has a bit part in: American Dream. The story of our family's journey to find a different path for our lives is woven with that of others: all questioning the "American dream" and finding a way to . 

Joel, the film's director, recently set up a Facebook page that has easier to access links for a few trailers (yeah guys... sorry about those massive downloads. I never was able to see them myself! these will load much better). 

Take a look, and let Joel know what you think on the FB page- he's reading and listening. Enter the discussion: what do YOU think of the American dream? What does a new dream look like?

interview on the boat
filming back in 2008, below deck in the relatively unfinished Totem

December 27, 2010

Ho-ho-holidays on Totem

Christmas feels very different here. First, the obvious. Even though we've had a couple of years to get used to "tropical" climate Christmas, it still feels strange. Our higher-latitude, northern hemisphere rooted brains just think that cold weather (and maybe even a little snow) are part of the essential holiday package.

Here, though, Santa gets with the warm weather program. We were graced with a visit at the marina, and the kids pointed out- no shoes! I'm sure he was happy to get the big boots off down here.

naughty or nice?
Aussie Santa don't need no stinkin' shoes. Sunglasses, however, are essential.

The long days are great, and with summer solstice just a few days before Christmas, it's light very late. This is perfect for the spontaneous marina BBQ potlucks, which seem happen a few times every week! It's not so great for viewing lighted holiday displays, though, when it's still light out at bedtime. Somehow, seeing lights decorating the outside of homes (and trees inside them) feels so much a part of the holidays... there's comparably little visible decoration here, by contrast.

On Totem, we reprise our "mast tree": we wind the mast with tinsel and LED lights, and hang ornaments off them. I think we were only up late enough to bother putting the lights on once, though. It was simply too light to see them.

Not that we were falling short on the festive front.

holiday favorites
Holiday favorites: an advent calendar (3-D, house design), Mr. Willoughby's Christmas Tree, and lots of tinsel... that's the Mast Tree in the back  

Some of our Aussie friends said they like to play cricket in the park on Christmas day. Sounded great to us! We planned a picnic with fellow cruisers at a waterfront public park near the marina. It was a stunning day- blue skies, warm breezes. Crews from Totem, Quartermoon, A Small Nest, Sea Level, Tangaroa, Further and others brought our toys, picnic baskets and blankets to pass the afternoon. Propane barbecues are standard issue at Australian parks, and having a sausage sizzle also seems to be as Aussie a tradition as you get. But somehow, the cricket game never materialized. When they tired of flying kites, a baseball game broke out instead! I guess that's what happens when the American boats outnumber the Commonwealth participants...

yer out!
Flor, Niall, and Ward playing our pick-up baseball game on Christmas day

There are so many slivers of holidays from home that I miss. Feasting with dear friends and family, gathered from afar. The progressive dinner in our old neighborhood. Chilly evenings warmed by a glowing fireplace. The annual holiday ball at SYC. The caroling fire truck on Bainbridge. But as seems to happen, our cruising family steps in and new memories, new traditions are made.

It wasn't the same, but it's hard to imagine having it any other way.

Ward's turn!
Ward, from the Belgian crew on s/v A Small Nest, bounding up for his turn on Santa's lap.

December 16, 2010

Follow up to FAQ: using strops

We had a question from Okeebc on the first passage safety post last week, wanting to see a strop rigged as we use them on Totem. Here's one example- our boom with two strops (yellow) at the outboard end.

The squall in the background of course is nice dramatic effect!

The forward strop is to attach to our mainsheet block, since the 3/8”, 1 year old stainless steel eye that had been attached the block failed while in route to the Marquesas. Fortunately, we rigged the strop before leaving Mexico, as a just-in-case precaution. It made quick work of getting the boom under control.

The second strop is in place as a spare. It can be used for mainsheet, reefing, boom topping lift, preventer, vang (we do also used a strop for the vang), etc. As mentioned last week's post, we also use strops- or soft shackles, from  1/4” Spectra line- in many other applications. Which reminds me to share just how much Jamie loves Spectra. I mean... sometimes, I feel a little threatened. I tease him that he wants to legally change his middle name to Spectra, and he doesn't object nearly enough.

The straps shown are made from 2” nylon tubular webbing. One length of webbing, rolled to the correct diameter so that it is 4 or 5 layers and then hand-sewn. Our good friends on Ceilydh loaned us their Sailrite machine. This was great for a bunch of pre-passage projects, but not the strops- they are too thick. Break out the sailmaker's palm...

Jamie feels the need to point out the mainsheet twist (old double braid) in the picture. It drove him nuts! He'd work it out, but it would quickly re-emerge. A different line choice is in order for the next mainsheet.

December 14, 2010

Passage Safety III: all the other stuff

Here’s the balance of the safety gear ruminations that didn't make it into the last two posts. Bottom line, gear breaks and safety can quickly become an issue; so minimize the likelihood and have resource available to deal with it as best you can. The same goes for the boat. The best passage preparation is knowing your boat; the sounds, look, and feel of how it should be. You want to get to that distant shore in one piece, but also with nothing more important to do than hike to a killer view.

Anaho Bay
Looking down at Anaho Bay - Nuku Hiva, Marquesas, French Polynesia

1. For boaters who have been successfully cruising for awhile, don’t be lax about inspections or convince yourself the last one was “not too long ago.” Do a complete inspection of the rig, rigging, through hull fittings/hoses/clamps, steering components, autopilot, sails, and safety equipment. It’s best if someone else,  like another cruiser, helps out. They’ll catch things that you’re used to seeing and might miss. In the 2010 crossing I think of at least 20 boats with very notable problems in one or more of these areas. Just about everyone had at least minor issues.

2. Start watching weather patterns at least a week before intended departure. Gribs are a nice and often misleading tool, so use them as only one piece of the weather puzzle. Have an intended departure date, subject to change based on weather condition. If the weather is not right FOR YOU, don’t go then. Don’t expect the weather to be like books say. Currents meander and “normal” trade winds are subject to influence from variables like La Nina.

3. Your EPIRB registration allows you to edit a note field online. Update that field before each passage with the dates and start/end destination of trip. While you're at it, check out my friend Toast's recent blog post about International SAR, and make sure those registrations are all current and talking to each other.

4. Have an emergency radio “cheat sheet” near the radios with documentation number, MMSI, Station ID, and with step-by-step instruction for different type of emergency call. If you’re exhausted or a wreck under pressure, written steps help. We created this in a laminated sheet and would be happy to email it to anyone interested- just drop us line at sail at sv-totem dot com.

5. We would often talk about “situations” with our children - not in a dire way, but to educate them. Only small bits stick, but response themes develop: we know we can count on them for getting out of the cabin for one emergency situation or finding the nearest grown-up for another. It also helps attune them to situations and make them full crew members:  junior knows to tell you about subtle but odd / different sounds, you might find a plumbing elbow has cracked, spraying fresh water into the bilge.

6. Below deck, stow things well, especially galley items. I seemed to have near misses and stopped using knives in any kind of seaway. Weeks worth of meals offshore can get interesting (or tedious) when you’re bouncing around so much that it takes four hands to get and add just one ingredient. It’s helpful to do some cooking ahead, and have a list of one-dish / easy prep meals aboard. This truly does not come naturally to me, and required practice! Lots of easy, nourishing, dense snack items help too. 

7. Squeaks and rattles will drive you nuts (leading to a gruesome outcome, no doubt). If you know of any now that occur now when underway, fix them if you can.

8. Safety equipment, including first aid gear, is more subjective then I thought possible. I'm not really going to go here now. Just don’t go offshore with regrets about your preparation. This is different than not feeling “totally ready”, because nobody ever does. Know what safety gear you have and that it works properly when you depart. Once off the dock you have to live with it, literally. 

December 9, 2010

Passage Safety II: Fatigue

Fatigue is perhaps not something you prep for, except to think through how you will manage it and get rested before a passage... but we think it's really important for safety.

1. GET SLEEP. Being overly tired results in making bad choices. Under normal passage conditions getting enough sleep can be difficult. During rough weather or during stressful situations, sleeping is harder to get. Think through how your berths will accommodate different situations, and how you can adjust your location, position, whatever... to get sleep. Consider earplugs. The counterargument is that you need to hear what's going on, but at some point, sleep prevails. Seasickness, of course, compounds fatigue.

Catching Zzzs
Jamie catches ZZZs underway

2. Watch schedule: this is different for everyone. Cruising World had an interesting article a few years back that compared the watch schedules of a half dozen circumnavigating couples. NONE of them were the same! Between Mexico and the Marquesas, we were joined by the wonderful Ty Anderson from back home on Bainbridge Island. The difference between a 2-person schedule and a 3-person schedule is very positive for sleeping. In general, our approach is not to have a strict schedule, but instead, use practical rules.
  • generally 3 to 5 hours per watch 
  • Plan for a basic routine that matches to each person’s natural biorhythm (for example, don’t make your night owl start watch at 6 a.m. Jamie is great in the wee hours; I tend to lose it if I wake up for watch at 1am) 
  • Based on adverse or cold conditions, shorten the length of time on watch 
  • Don’t miss sleep opportunities, especially during the day. You need more sleep than you think, since the quality of your sleep is reduced 
  • If you feel over tired (rubbery legs, dozing off, etc), just make a watch change. Don't be a hero, 
  • Our kids help, too. At night, Niall would join the watch because it was fun for him- it was great for the adult crew on watch, too, because talking together made it easier to stay awake and alert. During the day he would stand 1 hour watches solo, so that we could sleep or manage boat chores. 
3. Being rested helps keep a positive attitude. Feeling tired, queasy, bored, scared make some people less pleasant, and then there otherwise chipper self. Being 1000 miles from land can enhance all of this and rub off on the other crewmembers. In general, and especially with kids that pick up on things, a whole passage can go from being ok or uncomfortable, to downright miserable... and potentially lead to bad decisions. There were boats out there in such a state, so I put this in as one of those mental prep things.

December 7, 2010

Passage Safety I: Boat Handling & Communications

Thanks to our friend Laura on Just A Minute for putting the question out there in response to our FAQ- looking for elaboration on safety precautions and procedures for long offshore passages. Jamie's email back to her got really long, so I'm breaking it into some more digestible chunks for the blog.

As always... fellow cruisers, what would you add?

Boat Handling

Hats, yes, but no socks yet.
Niall & Jamie staying attached to Totem

1. Be diligent about wearing a PFD and/or safety harness. Truthfully, we didn’t always wear them, but common sense prevails. At night, in weather, and anytime you leave the cockpit- no matter how short the time or how close the distance. Two people were lost off boats when we were in Vanuatu, the kind of reminder nobody wants to hear. Fundamentally, they weren't attached, and stuff happened. For prep, discuss with your sailing partner(s) so everyone is on the same page about usage and what's OK.

2. Setup/use a boom preventer.

3. Know how/when to reef/unreef in different wind angles/strengths. Reefing at night, when you’re tired, in a squall, going downwind tends to be more challenging.

4. Figure out likely chafe spots (lines and sails) and plan ahead for what you’ll to too reduce it- and how you'll handle it if there's meaningful wear during the passage.

5. Seize all shackles, meaning... don’t forget those mainsheet block shackles, etc.

6. Use strops (loops made of webbing or line). Jamie is a huge fan of these and they have been really, really useful on Totem. Have one ready for us on the boom should the mainsheet, preventer, reef block, etc. fail . In addition to webbing, ¼” Spectra is useful for smaller diameter strops, should shackles fail. We made three strops between Mexico and the Marquesas to deal with various gear failures, and used several more as part of normal boat handling.

7. Tie down everything on deck. While you're at it, make sure the deck is as absolutely clear as possible.

8. Don’t trust lifelines. Not even going to get into not trusting netting on lifelines. Just... don't.


Niall checks in
Niall checks into the 'net underway

1. We liked staying in touch via SSB. The PPJ net was sometimes tedious just because of the volume of boats, but we never missed listening. The PACSEA net is the hands down best net in terms of efficiency and dealing with emergencies. We've said it before, but these are the guys you want watching your back! We also had mini-nets with closer friends. If you haven't participated in nets before, it helps to begin listening and practicing with checking in before you take off to get a feel for it.

2. Tell friends/family the passage plan before departing. Designate a shore side emergency contact that understands passages. Then if your parents get nervous about not hearing from you, they call the contact rather than initiating a CG search. It’s important to communicate that being out of contact or being “overdue” doesn’t mean there is a problem. You have ways of communicating problems (EPIRB, SSB, etc). We always update the notes field in our EPIRB registration with details about the passage, too- dates, destinations, etc.

On a related note: we posted blog updates daily underway to the Marquesas. My parents recieve these posts via email, and could feel more comfortable knowing that although they couldn't reach us directly- we were OK. Great, until our SSB stopped working! PREPARE YOUR FAMILY, so they don't freak out if they suddenly stop hearing from you- because things are probably just peachy!

There is lots of room to expand on communication suggestions depending on the use of sat phones, SPOT (which we dropped after Mexico because it doesn't sufficiently cover the Pacific islands... as in, it mostly doesn't cover them), dolphin carriers, notes in bottles and the perennial favorite, mid-Pacific smoke signalling.

Next time... dealing with fatigue.

December 3, 2010

Comments on the FAQ

Our friend Brian on the M/V Furthur, a Selene ocean trawler, reposted our FAQ on his blog and made some great additions from his perspective. We first met Brian in Mexico and expect to see him soon here in Sydney- he's traveled many of the same miles along the way. I hope other cruisers can benefit from what we can share of our experiences. Anyone else have more to add?

We appreciate the comments & direct mail. Our answer to Laura from the Lagoon Cat Just a Minute (see comments) on safety prep turned into a lengthy reply that will have to be another post soon. Hopefully, we all have peaceful passages with beautiful sunsets- like this one off the coast of Australia- but there's no insurance like good preparation.

sunsets at sea- amazing