February 16, 2012

Sailing the Farm

One of my favorite books I read during the years we only anticipated cruising was Ken Neumeyer's Sailing the Farm. Long out of print (but downloadable online!), the contents live somewhere between back-to-the-land movements and the anti-establishment ideals of the late 60s counterculture. It's packed full of ideas for growing your own food aboard and foraging from the ocean, and how to survive as your own floating island, living outside the constraints of conventional society. At the time, the yard around our house produced everything from pumpkins and tomatoes to strawberries and herbs, and I loved the idea I could keep a portion of our family's diet coming from the work of our own hands after we moved aboard.

Lettuce growing on  Laureen and Jason's cat
That ideal did not take into account the practical reality of an itinerant cruising life. Coming across the Pacific, we hopped countries at intervals from a few weeks to a few months. Foreign quarantine officials generally don't take kindly to you bringing live plants in, so there was never time for growing anything of our own beyond sprouts. Saltwater spray isn't kind to growing plants either.

Spending extended time in one country changes all that. Last year, we had an amazing community garden nearby to literally and figuratively feed us. Now it's time to bring it home: I'm ready to start boat gardening. It's just a question of what, and where. 

There are spectacular examples of boatsteading, like the hydroponic system used by the Plastiki expedition. I need something a little more achievable than that (I'm not up to welding), and my friend Laureen has a spectacular setup for growing plants on her catamaran that looks like the trick. 

If I can work out the right space for this, I think it's a great model. She's got an old over-the-door shoe rack and recycles plastic bottles into self-watering pots for plants. Water is wicked up from the base, making efficient use of precious fresh water. There's a good, more detailed DIY for making self-watering pots like these on this instructables page (sourced via the now-defunct Green is Universal blog). Achievable, yes!

Vertical garden
Thanks to the Merlin kids for providing a little scale here.
And then... there's the appeal of something I can start by just buying and hanging up, like this cool find at last weekend's market.

Tubes of UV-resistant plastic (insert a groan...but I think the plastic here is probably unavoidable), filled with a lightweight growing mix. Seedlings are inserted in slits through the sides. She had samples growing everything from herbs to tomatoes.

Next, finding seedlings or seeds for plants suited to the Australian climate: lettuce that doesn't need tons of shade, and drought tolerant varieties that suit our desire for minimizing freshwater use. They're out there, and once again, the weekends markets are my friend here. Lettuce that grows in Darwin? Drought tolerant tomatoes? Yes, and yes.

Jamie likes to remind me how I seemed to kill potted herbs in Mexico. ... so boat gardening had been off the agenda for a while. But I've had a little basil friend for almost two months ago. A cheap, overplanted supermarket pot that's so root bound it shouldn't have lasted more than a few weeks. We're still eating from it...I'll take that as a sign. Time to start gardening again.

February 13, 2012

Getting around Brisbane

Brisbane's orientation around a winding river is great for the boaty folks like our family. Public transportation is a breeze, but the things we can do via dinghy is gratifying. Visiting one or another of the weekend markets by dink is quickly becoming a favorite part of our routine.

River City
In the Brisbane core, there are seven bridges along a few kilometers of river.

We were mostly stuck with mass grocers in Sydney. Here, being just a dinghy ride away from places where we can buy beautiful vegetables, browse artists stalls, choose from a wild array of international treats, meet the producer of beautiful raw honey, talk to the farmer selling his organic lamb, play with puppies, flop on the grass and listen to buskers....well, it puts me in my happy place. Making it all accessible by water, and you just might have my idea of heaven.

Besides, you never know what you're going to find.

Best falafel in Brisbane!
I'm not sure about the claim, but there is a delicious assortment of food.

When we have as much as we can carry, and happy bellies full of market treats, we wind our way down a short path to the dingy dock for the trip home.

Big current in the river
Big current in the river.

February 7, 2012

The liveaboard kid posse

For most of 2011, the Totem swabbies didn't have any other children on boats around them. It was one of our big motivators for moving up to Brisbane, and it's played out even better than we imagined.

Foremost was the girls' reunion with Maia. When they parted ways in Mexico in 2010, Siobhan sobbed for her loss as we headed out to sea...and that's saying something, because as cruising kids they become adjusted to the different vectors that other boats travel on. They slid right back into the groove of their friendship as if it had only been a few days, not 22 months! There are many happy scenes like this:

goofy kids

Now we don't just have a boat-kid crew, we have a posse! Nine in our marina. Four more around the bend at the Botanic Garden pile moorings.

Suddenly, our dinghies have become minivans... all they need are a dozen cupholders and seats that collapse.

River City
Jamie with the kid crews of Totem, Ceilydh and Hadar

that's a minivan
Evan brings the kids back from a shore run

February 4, 2012

In the company of friends

It turns out that an excellent way to temper the sadness of leaving good friends is to have reunions with old friends. Much like meeting the Coles again in Port Stephens, it reminds us how our paths can cross and recross- especially in cruising circles. Waiting for in Brisbane are friends from our more recent cruising history. Dear friends with many memories shared from Mexico and the South Pacific, who we can reminisce with about those mouthwatering street tacos in La Cruz or finding what feels like the perfect tropical paradise in the Tuamotus.

Stray Kitty was first (because you're only known by your boat name, you know!). We made it just in time: their boat had just sold, and two days later they were flying out to go land touring Southeast Asia for a few months. A couple of days in Manly were perfect for us to catch up, and make a few more memories.

Stray Kitty reunion!

Taking leave of the Kitties, we went up the river towards Brisbane to find the slip we've been anticipating calling our home. It's immediately next to Merlin, a family we also met in French Polynesia. Tearing around the bend in a dinghy from their spot at the Gardens Point harbour to catch our lines were the crew of Ceilydh. This reunion was very sweet! I was a little busy with docklines, but Diane took some great pictures.

She also perfectly captured how these happy reunions feel for me (being a pro writer and all I suppose that's not terribly surprising):

There are friends who you just know will always be your friends. People who months or years after you say goodbye can sit in your home and pick-up a conversation like it was yesterday. Friends where it all seems easy—where they know you, and you know them, and being together feels like you’ve come home.

I think we really needed this, to be reminded that we were home. That home is where ever our family is, but it's also the warm comfort of the extended circle of our cruising community. Tying up to the dock, with the help of our friends last seen an ocean away, really did feel like a homecoming. And that it can happen again, and again, and again.