May 25, 2012

Drawn to the Ocean

What is this irresistible pull we feel for the sea? Where does it come from?

evening swim
Going for an evening swim - Makemo atoll, Tuamotus, French Polynesia

Half a lifetime ago, I lived for a while in Bali. My Balinese family was fascinated by the attraction of the coastline for all the tourists. For Balinese, it’s the realm of fishermen… who usually don’t even know how to swim. Not really a local pastime. We had much discussion over why it was appealing for all these people to hang out on the beach and splash in the sea.

Here's how they explained it. First, you need the context that rivers in Bali wash waste into the sea. Until plastic became widespread 30ish years ago, that wasn’t much of a problem… you just hucked your plant-based garbage over the walls of the family compound to a ravine below. Those ravines- they’re everywhere on this big cone-shaped volcanic island. Water runs through them from the peak to the shoreline, sweeping refuse out to the ocean and away.

In Balinese culture, when a baby is born, the placenta and umbilical cord are buried in a sacred place at the entrance to the family compound. It’s done to ensure that children will always find their way home again. In modern western countries, babies are usually born in hospitals, not homes. And what do hospitals do with their waste? Incinerate it, of course, but my Balinese family didn’t know about that. They applied their frame of reference and assumed that the hospital waste (and thus, the placentas and umbilical cords for all those babies) were washed down a ravine, and into the sea.

My family's theory, then: all these visitors from outside… they are irresistibly drawn to the sea by the syren call of their collective placentas and umbilical cords… drawing them back to the place where these precious parts of life have been swept. Their reaction? Between amusement and pity. All those poor souls, unable to find their way home.

I love that explanation, but I love this quote from JFK even more.
I really don't know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it is because in addition to the fact that the sea changes and the light changes, and ships change, it is because we all came from the sea. And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch it we are going back from whence we came.
At the end of the day, they aren't terribly far apart.

May 13, 2012

When bad things happen to good dinghies

As cruisers, our dinghies are a lifeline. So when we heard from our friends on Ceilydh this morning that yesterday's beautiful day had ended on a sour note when their dinghy was stolen, we had an inkling of the kind of gut punch it probably felt like.

that's a minivan
Better days in the tender to Ceilydh

As I can draw a finger along the path of our travels, there are only a handful places where we didn't spend our nights at anchor. We have a few options for going ashore, but the dinghy is our fundamental  mode of transportation. And every once in a while, bad things happen to good dinghies.

Although we felt safer in Mexico than we have pretty much anywhere, there were a couple of places where petty theft could be a problem and it was imprudent to leave your dinghy in the water overnight. Word gets out on the "coconut telegraph" about hot spots. Lock the outboard, lock the dinghy to the boat, and haul them up in one manner or another. We would generally just use a halyard clipped into a webbing harness Jamie made for the dinghy and pull it up to about deck height, rather than going through the full stowage procedure. The ├╝ber cautious (or those that don't like cleaning dinghy bottoms!) haul theirs every time.

On shore as well, security was only occasionally an issue. In locales where it was, there was generally an enterprising person you could pay to watch your tender and ensure it would be there waiting for you after a shore trip. If not, we'd just turn it into a shuttle, and split up our trips.

It's kind of a bummer that here, in what has felt like such a safe place, we seem to be around a dinghy hotspot. I'm not sure how often it happens, but it's occurred twice to people we know- and that's really more than enough. In Mexico, petty theft probably meant a meaningful income to the perpetrators. What appears to be the happening here skews toward hooliganism and joy rides, the by product of people who are probably just bored or drunk. It's a lot harder to forgive.

Ceilydh has an inflatable kayak, but that's not really effective as the single mode of shore transport for their busy family. So today, instead of enjoying a leisurely Mother's Day, they were renting a car to tool around SE Queensland in search of a dinghy and outboard to purchase.

Some dinghies at the Brisbane city dock are locked, and some aren't. We have had a far from a perfect record of locking ours, although I suspect we'll be better now.

May 7, 2012

Integrity is for sale, and it is cheap

I recently received a solicitation for advertising on the blog. At first blush it was intriguing... flattering, even. I briefly imagined some of the great stuff we use on board Totem, and being approached by one of the manufacturers to share more about something I already use and love. So I asked for details.

Caleta Partida panorama
Hey, sometimes people actually are interested in what we have to share.

Well, the reply to that email was a whiplash back to reality and minor casualty for the ego. The advertiser: a creator of educational websites. The pitch: an article would be written for me by their writers, containing promo content and links to the advertiser's sites. The catch: I would be expected to post their work to the blog as if it were my own; it could not be identified as a paid/sponsored post.

The return for accepting?


Happily, I read the reply on my phone instead of at my laptop... the snorting and spluttering of tea after reading their offer might have have done real damage to the keyboard.

I am stunned at how cheap the price of integrity is and somewhere between sad and amazed that there are enough people selling out to make this viable. And you know what? It's really not even the content of the article that they care about. The advertisers are mainly after the links that go in the content. It's just a cheap trick for link building, to help the advertiser's sites build their quality score and improve their placement in the organic returns in search engines. Imagine the quality of the post that would be provided...

It made me think about when we're being sold to. I'd like to think that whatever I got from the unnamed educational portal would be freakishly different from the typical post here, but advertising is not always obvious. Those glossy magazines that prompt us to dream, that show us the boats and tools to help us sail away toward the horizon...when are we reading one writer's truth? And when are we reading an "advertorial" fiction?

There's definitely some great writing in the mags (thank you, Fatty Goodlander, for all those excellent CW contributions). And they include material from some other awesome writers we know (*cough* Diane! *cough*) who write about their direct personal experiences with a place or product - not blind placements. We write a monthly article for 48 North, and our only editorial pressure is to write honestly from our cruising experiences in a way that is interesting and relevant for the boaters reading at home.

Ultimately, most mags are in the business of selling advertising. Sometimes that ad is in a box on the page. Sometimes it's more subtle. A friend of ours in the marine industry was recently approached by a magazine for "reviews" of his products.  Basic product reviews started around $150; new boat model reviews went for $2,000 plus expenses. Did your gut just clench too? And not in a good way? It's all just selling, but when you look at how they are presented, it's not apparent. That's just not cool.

What's the best way to figure out what you need to know? It's different for everyone. For me- it means getting a lot of opinions, from a variety of sources- but leaning most toward the experience of those who are our cruising compadres, and those who have gone before us. Their integrity is not for sale, and neither is ours.

May 3, 2012

What do you need to go cruising? Part 4: well... not Stuff.

It was fun putting together the series of posts about things you to think about sourcing in advance for your future cruising life. No question, there are some great economies when you can take the time to wait for sales or have the patience to troll for deals online.

morning paddle
Most important: getting OUT THERE! CraigsList kayak a bonus.

We have a tendency to want to solve our problems, or seek to actualize our future, by going out and buying things to fix them. Take a look at the market of all things environmental. Does buying something you don't need make you an environmentalist? Mostly, it just makes you a consumer influenced by marketing. Spending money on “stuff” doesn't make you the person you want to be. Planning and acting on your plans go a lot further than discretionary dollars when it comes to realizing your dreams.

So before you buy something that tastes and smells and feels like your cruising dream, consider if it will really help- if it can really bring your dream closer to reality. Sometimes, yes. But I think of the kind of boat a friend referred to as a Dock Queen. All dressed up, but not going anywhere. And the friends with lots of things, but little time to enjoy them.

The truth is, most of the path of acquisition really does feel like a distraction.

So think about it this way. Cruising is a few years away. Is there something you need to replace in your daily life, that can be replaced with something that will later make the transition to your boat? Put the "marine" filter onto the things you do need, and make smarter choices.

Or maybe- maybe, it's not the Stuff at all. Probably the best pre-cruising preparation I had was a couple of weeks of training with Nancy Earley.
Hands-on learning with the patient and knowledgeable Nancy

Nancy leads on-board ISPA certification experiences from her boat, Tethys, on which she has completed two circumnavigations. The time I spent with her was invaluable. I couldn't dock our boat, so we spent hours (and hours, and hours) one day while I made pass after pass until I had it nailed. In my head, in my muscles, and in my heart. She answered all questions, from the inane (I am sure I had them) to those based in fear of the unknown and helped point down the path.

You can have all the right gear, all the right books, but knowledge and confidence are more important than all the Stuff you can buy put together. What are the gaps you need to fill?