Friday, July 31, 2009

Dream Team

The compression post is in. Shaped from a length of exotic hardwood known as kwila, the post is lustrous, straight and strong. It elegantly transfers the load of our mast and rigging to our solid lead keel.

And I think it’s illegal.

But before you rush to judgment, allow me to share with you some persuasive arguments in my defense, which are:
• And anyway, it’s just a LITTLE bit of old-growth rainforest.

Furthermore, like consumers of Persian rugs everywhere—many of which are made in caves by little blind slave children—I have to add: It may be wrong, but damn it looks good.

It’s all Ken’s fault. Ken is Peter’s crusty Kiwi friend, a madman, carpenter and shipwright who’s in charge of the compression post. He’s the one who picked out the kwila.

Which comes from Papua New Guinea, in one of the world’s last stands of old-growth forest. The trees take almost a century to mature, and at present logging rates, they'll be extinct in about 35 years.

Did I mention how good it looks? It looks really awesome.

Tropical deforestation aside, Sereia’s renovations are coming along rapidly. This is because Peter has finally achieved the perfect team for Maximum Boatyard Productivity, which is: Crazy Coot and Young Buck. Allow me to explain.

When he was working alone, Peter had a tendency to drown in his lists. He would anxiously examine the old compression post for awhile, imagining the cabin top crushing his family. Then he would wander over to the galley, and think about how our old propane regulator might blow us all up. Then he would fret about the rudder falling off, and the engine overheating, and the steering quadrant going limp and loose like an old sesame noodle, and then he would have to go lie down for awhile.

As a Crazy Coot, Ken doesn’t worry about these details. He’s built a fleet of sailboats over the years, and he’s probably mowed down a few acres of rainforest, and these things don’t faze him in the least. “They cut a tumour out the back of me head a few years back,” he explains. “Took out my hearing in that ear, and my sense of responsibility with it.”

Hence, the illegal compression post. Which, while evil, is also lovely and strong.

Then there’s Zack. Zack, as I may have mentioned, used to be a responsible citizen back in the US, with a clean shave and a job. Then something snapped inside him—something fragile and irreparable, like possibly his sanity—and he moved to New Zealand to farm tamarillos. And now, thanks to our corrupting influence, he wants to sail.

“I just want to live on a boat. For six months. With a crazy old guy. Who knows EVERYTHING. And have him teach me EVERYTHING. He can beat me every day. I don’t care. I just want to LEARN.”

It is precisely this kind of youthful enthusiasm that Peter is eager to exploit. So he puts Zack to work, in the most filthy and uncomfortable jobs. And then he pays the poor guy in pizza and beer.

Little by little, through slave labour and illegal logging, Sereia is getting to be safe and seaworthy. One of these days, we’ll run out of excuses. Then we might actually have to go sailing.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


It is important to remember that adventures are horrible, especially while you are having them. By their very nature, adventures are uncomfortable, unpleasant and at least a little bit dangerous. These are necessary qualities, ones that distinguish the "adventure" from the "packaged holiday," in which consumers spend a lot of money to see beautiful things with no perceptible risk at all.

I have to remind myself of this when I get down-hearted about the fact that Sereia is still on the hard, eating away at our finances, while paradise beckons just a thousand miles to the North.

Take Thor Heyerdahl, for example. He crossed the Pacific in a balsa wood raft, just him and five other cute young Norwegians. They dodged sharks, they read Goethe, they turned the academic world on its head, and they all got bitchin’ tans in the process. It made for a great story afterwards. I have no doubt that if I had been around in the forties, and met up with a deeply-tanned vagabond named “Thor,” who spent the evening regaling me with stories about catching sharks with his bare hands on the high seas, I would have thrown myself at him in the most silly and embarrassing ways.

But consider, for a moment, what Thor and his mates actually endured. The Kon-Tiki expedition was funded by private loans, because the academic world thought Heyerdahl was such a wackjob that nobody would even read his manuscript, let alone give him a grant. Before they could even build their raft, they had to collect hundreds of balsa wood logs from the Ecuadorian jungle, dodging native head-hunters armed with poison-tipped arrows. Once they got out to sea, they contended with frightening weather systems and sharks who were lusting for tasty man flesh. And to top it all off, their food was provided by the US Army. Circa 1947. Delicious home cooking, it was not.

And at least the Kon-Tiki expedition had sunshine. What about Earnest Shackleton and his band of intrepid adventurers? With their ship sealed in ice for an Antarctic winter, they had to slaughter their puppies for food. They ate penguin fried in seal blubber, a flavor that Shackleton likened to “bacon… though persons living under civilized conditions would probably shudder at it.” And once they realized they wouldn’t make it to the Pole, and that their only hope for survival was to send out an expedition party to South Georgia, the men left behind on Elephant Island had to starve and freeze, chewing their shoe leather in the never-ending darkness of the frigid polar winter.

Allow me to emphasize here that the crew of Sereia has no plans to chew shoe leather. Actually, we’re just looking to enjoy some nice sailing and swimming off our yacht. But despite our GPS and lavish stores of extra-virgin olive oil, going to sea in a small plastic vessel is an adventure just the same. We live in close quarters, we cope with rough seas, we eat dried beans and we pee in a bucket—because all that discomfort, in the end, makes the world a sweeter place.

Besides. If this were easy, everyone would be doing it.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Greatest Gift of All

The Greatest Gift of All is a subject of considerable debate. A quick tour of the Internet reveals a wide variety of opinions, including Jesus, a puppy, and a shot glass with a plastic otter stuck to it. One spirited young lady claims the Greatest Gift was when her friend branded her arm and removed chunks of her skin with a scalpel—thus proving that the Internet really does need an editor. There’s also a Greatest Gift Foundation for the organ donor community, which implies that the Greatest Gift of All is a nice juicy liver on ice.

Sam Goode, a moron who is a credit to religious fundamentalists everywhere, has a classic take on the subject: “Since virginity is one thing that every woman has and it is the most precious thing she will ever possess… it is understandable why it is the greatest gift that a woman can give to her husband.”

Poor Sonia Sotomayor. Here she spent all that time educating and honing her brain, just so that she could one day make a significant contribution to constitutional law, and all she really had to do was hang onto her cherry.

Personally, I used to think the Greatest Gift of All was when my brother offered to buy me a new set of teeth so that I wouldn’t have to keep wearing dentures into adulthood, but today I realize I was woefully mistaken.

Because the Greatest Gift of All, it turns out, is a burgee. And by burgee, I do mean one of those stupid little triangular flags that yacht clubs use to decorate their lounges. This morning, one of my readers designed and sent me one. It’s the burgee for the Mutual Admiration Society (of Literate yet Troll-Like Women). It looks like this:

(In case you didn't catch it, that's hot chicks dancing, a brain lit up with ideas, and a feast of wine and cheese. What more could one want, really?)

Then she pointed out that that if she’s going to sing instructive Aristotelian syllogisms to my son, she will have to construct them in spondaic pentameter. “A bold choice, the spondee,” Melissa writes, “but necessary to account for the extra syllable required to convert the age-inappropriate ‘shit’ into ‘ka-ka.’”

I don’t know what I did, but interesting people are reading this blog.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Rumor Mill

Sereia got hauled yesterday, and it all went fine. Watching your yacht getting lifted out of the water by perfect strangers is always a bit nerve-racking, rather like how it feels to watch your child getting sedated by a doctor. In this case, it would be a dodgy-looking doctor, with a scraggly beard and a wild look in his eye, driving a giant bulldozer. But he treated our princess just fine. She’s up on blocks, scrubbed and ready for her surgery.

I mention this because when I logged on to my email account later that day, I had several messages from a concerned fellow cruiser. The gist of them was something like this: THAT YARD YOU’RE AT IS RUN BY A THIEVING GYPSY WHO’S GONNA OVERCHARGE YOUR ASS AND HOLD YOUR BOAT HOSTAGE TILL YOU PAY AND PAY AND PAY.

Naturally, this struck fear into my heart. I nearly texted Peter right away, and asked him to push Sereia back into the water himself if he had to, and sail away. But then I reconsidered.

Rumors get spread around the cruising community quicker than swine flu in a Mexican kindergarten. For a group of people that chooses to live such a crazy lifestyle, liveaboard sailors are surprisingly fearful. Remember, these are folks who cross oceans in Clorox bottles. You’d think we’d have balls made of stainless steel. And yet, we worry and fret, worry and fret, until it’s a wonder we don’t come down with swine flu ourselves.

Sometimes, being a paranoid neurotic can make you a better sailor. Peter is convinced that every system aboard Sereia is constantly on the verge of rusting out, breaking, or blowing up—and most of the time, he’s right. If he weren’t such a conservative sailor, we never would have come so far, so safely. Sereia would have caught fire long ago, blown sky-high by a toxic combination of propane gas, electrical sparks, and rum.

But then there’s the other kind of worrying. The kind where a fellow cruiser puts down his beer and leans in over the table, and tells you: “Mexico’s FULL of thieves, and the officials are ALL corrupt. Give ‘em an inch and they’ll take a mile. All they’re after is your wallet.” Or: “New Zealand customs officials are out for blood. They’ll take ALL your food, and ALL your carvings, and ALL your woven baskets. You’ll be left with NOTHING once they’re done with you.” Or: “I know a guy who knows a guy who got cheated at that boatyard, so watch your back.”

The problem with this kind of fretting isn’t just that it’s often exaggerated, or just plain wrong. It sets up an expectation that can sometimes become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When we left our boat for a couple of days in Acapulco, Peter and I didn’t tell anyone in the harbor we were going—we were too scared that all the local thieves would take that as a cue to clean out our boat. While we were gone, Sereia dragged anchor and smashed into two fishing vessels. That never would have happened if we’d just relaxed and asked someone nicely to look after our boat for us.

And when Peter checked into New Zealand, the customs agents who came aboard were nothing but charming and reasonable. Not only did they let us keep all our native art, some of which was made of filthy rawhide, but they were so busy chatting merrily with Peter that they forgot to confiscate half our food.

If you walk into a port captain’s office expecting to be cheated, you’ll come off as suspicious and hostile—which is a great way to incur an “attitude tax.” I know this, because as a naturally unpleasant person, I’ve incurred lots of them. Peter, however, has been coaching me on how to behave like a pleasant human being, and this has garnered us much better results with officialdom.

I don’t have time to be scared of rumors. I’m much too busy with real fears, like the fact that I haven’t seen a porcini mushroom since I’ve been in New Zealand, and I'm going into risotto withdrawal. I’m getting so desperate, I might have to bribe a customs official to get me some.

Only… damn. You just can’t bribe them here, like you could in good ol’ Mexico.

Here's a movie of Rei-Rei getting bulldozed around:

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Nice and Simple

Today, we’re not tearing any arms off. And we’re not stabbing anyone with a pair of scissors. Today we will talk about nice things only.

Lin and Larry Pardey make their living from writing and speaking about their sailing adventures, which is very nice indeed. Their books have given us lots of good ideas for cruising on a budget, like using a pressure cooker, and mending our own sails, and keeping things generally simple and strong. Because of Lin and Larry, Peter’s done a lot of rowing in a crappy plastic dinghy. He’s also carried hundreds of five-gallon jerry jugs of water and diesel through dusty, tropical towns. Neither of these things is nice for Peter, but having my husband row me through crystal clear waters is very nice for me, so I include them here.

Thanks to the Pardeys, we have three hundred feet of massive steel anchor chain, and we’ve never dragged Sereia. Or hardly ever. There was that one time in Acapulco, when we behaved like numbskulls and left the boat for two days during hurricane season, while we went off on an inland adventure. While we were gone, a tropical depression churned the anchorage into a giant washing machine, and Sereia took out two local fishing vessels before the port captain asked if we would be so kind as to pay him a visit.

But that wasn’t nice. And today, we are just being nice. So.

Allow me to tell you about our coffee grinder. Thanks to Lin and Larry, we have a manual coffee grinder, which works beautifully with just six moving parts:

Nobody uses manual coffee grinders anymore, because it is much easier to just grind your own beans with a flick of a button. But electric appliances are problematic at sea: they have a tendency to expire in a pool of salt water-induced ennui. Our coffee grinder continues to work like it did the day we bought it, even after four years of ocean life.

But here is the real reason why I mention our coffee grinder. The other day we took it apart to clean and oil all the bits. And what do you suppose we found? No, it wasn’t a rolled up wad of hundred-dollar bills. That would have been exceedingly nice, but it would also have been a lie. What we actually found was this:

It’s beautiful. Here’s the inside of a funnel on a household coffee grinder, and it looks like a piece of Art Deco sculpture. They didn’t have to design it like that. Nobody was ever going to see it, except some poor shlub doing his spring cleaning. But there it is, all the same.

When did we lose that? When did we start buying the cheapest, flashest, easiest things, made to break in a few years so we can buy more crap? I don’t know when this coffee grinder was made, but we bought it used, for $15 off eBay. Nobody wanted it. It was junk.

The point that Lin and Larry are making is that if you keep your boat simple and strong, it will be unstoppable. You won’t get stuck in tropical ports for eight weeks, waiting for your fancy new watermaker from Holland to clear customs. You won’t go through caffeine withdrawal because your electric espresso machine had a temper tantrum.

For the most part, I agree with the Pardeys, though they do take matters to extremes. Since they don’t trust computers, they navigate by the stars, as voyagers did for centuries before the advent of GPS. This means they are extravagantly bad-assed sailors, but just thinking about all that arithmetic underway makes me seasick. I’d rather have six or seven GPS units on board, so if one of them expires we can just move on to the next.

And then there’s the matter of the engine. The Pardeys are known for sailing without inboard power, which gives them lots of extra room down below. They use that extra room to install a sitz tub, which is a sort of radical cruiser’s version of a bathtub, a very small water vessel where a person can wash up and relax.

It’s a nice idea…but still. A sitz tub? The name is so medical, like something you might need to soothe your anal fistulae. And I don’t care who you are, or how you sail. Anal fistulae are NEVER nice.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Well, that little nautical love affair lasted for about an hour and a half. On Monday, as I may have mentioned, the diesel heater failed to light. The night was freezing cold, but that was OK. We were boat people. We were snuggling together in our berth like hot cheese, while the enchiladas and milk cooled in the bilge, or some such horse shit. And… hey! The toilet and stove worked great!

On Tuesday, the head broke. Again. Back to peeing in a bucket. While squatting and peeing on the freezing cabin sole, I began to have second thoughts about the bohemian glamour of yachting life.

By Wednesday, Silas’ cough was worse, and he was starting to sound like one of those wheezing babies in a made-for-TV movie about the dreaded plague. I took him to the doctor, and she noted that his ears were inflamed from congestion. She prescribed amoxicillin. Amoxicillin has to be refrigerated, but since we are carefree bohemians, we just sealed it in a plastic Ziploc bag, and stowed it in the filthy hole we call our bilge. We were essentially living in a refrigerator anyway, so surely that would work just fine.

Thursday and Friday, we didn’t work on the boat. Thursday was taken up with cleaning and repairing the borrowed house we’ve been living in. This entailed such projects as re-gravelling the driveway that we’d managed to tear up, replacing the electric tea kettle that we’d managed to melt, and replacing the $200 bottle of Courvoisier VSOP cognac that Silas had spilled all over the floor while batting it around like a wounded mouse. Yes, I did say TWO HUNDRED dollars. French imports are rather pricy in New Zealand. (And Silas’ new name, by the way, is “VSOP.”)

Friday was intended to be a day off, a “date” day, in which we enjoyed our boat and each other while our baby was occupied in nursery school. However, the romance was blighted somewhat by the fact that I still had to pee in a bucket. Also, by that point I’d caught Silas’ cough, and every time I was overtaken by a violent fit of hacking, I wet myself. Thank you, natural childbirth.

People are always saying that “being a parent is the most wonderful thing in the world!” Then they look at me expectantly and wait for me to chime in. Either they’re lying, or I’m a bad person, because I don’t really see it that way. Parenthood, as far as I’m concerned, is a lot like having a multiple personality disorder.

Friday night is when things really started to break down. Silas launched into one of his gurgling cough episodes, sounding like the consumptive heroine of some Puccini opera, and Peter lost it. He started frantically mopping at the walls with a rag. “This is dumb, this is bad, what were we thinking?” he started muttering to himself.

I peered at him from the galley. “What are you talking about?”

“It’s cold, it’s wet, our boy is sick—LOOK AT THIS CONDENSATION— this isn’t healthy, what were we thinking? Why are we doing this?” The right side of Peter’s face started to twitch alarmingly. He kept wiping the walls with his rag, trying to soak up all the moisture before it made his baby any sicker. But Sereia’s just an old plastic boat. The battle against condensation is futile.

Peter was already high on Dad chemicals. And then I felt the shift.

Just like that, Antonia receded into my unconscious, forgotten like an old childhood memory. And in her place, came... MAMA BEAR. Here is the thing about MAMA BEAR: you write her name in all caps, or she will rip your fucking head off. When you think of MAMA BEAR, you do not think of Teddy. You think Kodiak. You think eight hundred pounds and ten-inch claws.

“Don’t you even start with me,” I growled. “I am on a razor edge here, and I am THIS CLOSE to moving off this boat.”

Peter and Silas just stared at me. I didn’t even sound like myself.

“What you don’t seem to understand,” I snarled at my beloved husband, “is that I WILL GNAW OFF YOUR FUCKING ARM to keep this baby warm and dry.”

Peter blanched. “One week,” he urged me. “We’ll give it one week. Just give it a week, and we’ll see how it goes. Then if you want to move out, we’ll move out.”

I took a breath. MAMA BEAR retreated, and Antonia agreed. But Saturday morning, the skies opened up, rain poured down on Sereia, and winds gusted to thirty knots. We had this stupid idea that Silas and I would leave the boat during the day, so that Peter could work, but we didn’t really make provision for stormy weather.

So there I was, cuddling my sick baby in the main berth, while Peter poured diesel into our tanks. The floor lockers were opened up, so we couldn’t walk on the cabin sole. All the portholes were closed to keep out the rain. My head started pounding from the fumes. But there was nowhere to go. We were trapped. Silas started coughing.

And MAMA BEAR charged out of her den.

People who undergo a psychic break describe a feeling of unreality, as though they are moving in a dream. There’s a guy in New Zealand who’s just been convicted of stabbing his girlfriend 216 times with a pair of scissors, and that’s how he described it in court, as though he were looking down on himself, observing his own actions from afar.

Floating on the cabin ceiling, I watched as MAMA BEAR collected her baby, and held him out of the rain as she stormed into the marina office. I watched her make phone calls in a cheerful human voice, looking for a furnished flat to rent, short term. I watched her drive out to the rental, a cute little cottage with heat, refrigeration, and hot water. And I watched her rent it on the spot.

Peter was furious, at least at first. “I thought we were going to give it a week!” he protested. It isn’t cheap, after all, to rent a marina slip and also a furnished apartment. Puts a hell of a dent in the cruising kitty.

“It’s a done deal now,” I replied. Antonia had returned, and she was throwing Silas’ clothing into a bag. “Why didn’t you tell me how you felt before I agreed to rent the place?”

“It’s no use,” said Peter woefully. “You can’t argue with a mother when she feels her baby isn’t safe.”

Truer words have never been spoken. What is it they teach you when you go camping in the woods? Never, EVER get between a MAMA BEAR and her cub. Because before you know it, she’ll tear off your arm.

It’s much safer to let her rent her an apartment.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ixnay on the Ijifay

Up until this point, Peter has been in charge of making Sereia safe for us to live aboard. He’s been fixing leaks, making sure the head and the stove work, and keeping electrical fires out of the bilge. Every time he looked at the bent compression post, he started babbling incoherently about hiring engineers and jacking up the mast, so we tried to keep things manageable. We avoided talking about what it would take to make Sereia safe for coastal cruising, or ocean sailing, because we didn’t want Peter’s head to explode.

And now we’ve moved on the boat. Sereia is safe for living aboard. And Peter’s head is exploding.

The problem isn’t that any one system is broken. Sereia is a thirty year-old boat, and she’s been held together with duct tape and dreams for some time now. Before I met Peter, when I first noticed that my chainplates were rusting out, I hired a rigger to take a look at the problem, and he said:

“Well, you’ll probably be fine. It’s probably just surface rust.” He was a very cute rigger, and he had an Australian accent. I wanted to believe him. But I had to ask.

“What if it’s not? What if it’s deeper?”

“Then you might lose your rig. But you wanted adventure, right? And that’s when the adventure begins, mate!” Then he charged me fifteen hundred bucks, and I realized it would be cheaper to get a husband.

Since then, Peter has drilled out the rusted chainplates and replaced them, and he’s upgraded our boat in countless other ways. But we’ve also cut plenty of corners. Sereia’s rudder, for example. Sereia has an enormous barn door rudder, held on by massive gudgeons and pintles that look as though they could bolt an elephant to the hull. Unfortunately, they are frozen shut, so the rudder can’t be removed and inspected. We know there’s water in the rudder, but we don’t know how much. Over the years, Peter and I have dealt with this by drilling small holes in the fiberglass, allowing sea water to drain out for a couple of days, then shooting the holes full of epoxy and calling it a day. “Ha, ha,” we’d say nervously. “If we lose the rudder, then that’s when the adventure begins, mate!” Then we’d have another beer, and talk about how we might dangle a wooden door overboard, to use it as a steering device.

Ha, ha. Side-to with no steering in massive South Pacific waves. Trying to save our own lives with a piece of a door, bobbing on the end of a line. While the baby is screaming down below. Getting rolled. Losing the rig.


As you may have gathered, the problem here is cultural. Now that we are parents, we are raising the bar for acceptable safety levels at sea. Safe play areas, clean drinking water, and PFDs are all good. Broaching in large seas without reliable steering on board is bad. So are brain-eating worms. And busted masts.

Last night, we made a list of everything that needs to be done on board Sereia for her to be safe for a family at sea. Then we estimated how long each project should take, and whether or not we can be living on board Sereia while we do it.

The list looks something like this:

And the conclusions we have reached are as follows:
1. It is going to take between a month and six weeks of hard work to make Sereia ready to cruise.

2. By the time she is ready to sail, it will be too late in the season to go to Fiji. Even if we pick a good weather window, we would then have to spend the entire hurricane season in the islands, and we can’t be out of New Zealand that long without losing our visas.
On the other hand, by mid-September, the weather will be getting warmer in New Zealand. By October, it will be gorgeous. And we have tremendous cruising grounds, right here! We could sail to the Far North, check out all those hundreds of little emerald-rimmed islands that sparkle along the coast, practice fishing, learn a little Maori, explore this new country that we are adopting as our own, and maybe sail all the way down to Nelson and Cook Strait!

Then, come April, we’ll be very well-placed for a safe and timely trip to Fiji.

Our plans are changing. Stay tuned for lots of posts about rudders and compression posts. I expect there will be a few about Vegemite, as well.

It’s going to be a rough winter.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Boat People

Yesterday, we moved back on Sereia. No more refrigerator. No more hot water out of a faucet. We draw cold water with a foot pump, and if we need warm water, we heat it on the stove. No more flushing the toilet with a flick of a lever—now we have to open the valve, pump ten times with sea water, then close the valve and pump ten times dry. We couldn’t get the heat working last night, and the temperature slipped below freezing. In the morning, the docks were slick with ice.

And it's abso-freaking wonderful.

Who needs refrigeration when it’s this cold outside? Milk and cheese just go right in the bilge. And when it’s time to go to bed, the whole family snuggles up in the main berth. Under our big fluffy duvet last night, we were as snug as three little hot enchiladas in cheese sauce.

Perhaps I should back up. Our move was postponed for two days, due to a low pressure system that brought torrential rains and gusts of up to 75 knots to Whangarei. Yep, that’s seventy-five knots. We figured that might not be the best time for Silas’ inaugural voyage on Sereia, so we took the opportunity to do some serious movie-watching indoors.

Monday dawned clear and sunny. It took a little while to bail out the dinghy, which was flooded with about half a foot of water:

Antonia’s job was to keep Silas entertained, which she did by torturing him with his PFD:

Luckily, Peter had enlisted the help of this upstanding fellow:

Zack is a CPA who used to have a job and a clean shave. Now he’s running a tamarillo farm in New Zealand. Don’t ask.

Sereia was all ready with her new baby-catching net:

The netting, incidentally, was imported from Bologna. We’re not sure why a length of white net needs to be shipped to the opposite side of the globe, but I’m sure it made lots of money for a wide variety of people. It wasn’t cheap.

Soon after casting off from our pile mooring, Silas fell asleep in his new crib:

The “crib” consists of a custom-made lee cloth blocking off the forward area of the salon. The “blanket” he is using is a pile of clean rags. “You’re such a lucky baby,” I cooed to him as I tucked him in. “Little orphan babies in the Sudan only get piles of dirty rags to sleep in. You get clean ones.”

Once we arrived at the dock, Silas spent the afternoon charging around the boat, exploring every inch of his new home. Toys? Who needs toys? The kid spent twenty minutes playing with a garbage bag:

It’s a funny thing. Two years ago, when we first left Sereia and moved back on land, we made a very comfortable nest for ourselves. Our little apartment had hot running water, a freezer with ice cubes, and matching throw pillows. Each new possession made our lives more convenient. And with each new purchase, I felt the noose tightening around my neck:

As we have prepared to move back on Sereia, we’ve been shedding our stuff like a bad case of dandruff. As a Mom, I’ve been a nervous wreck. What if my baby is uncomfortable? What if my baby needs more space? What if my baby falls overboard?

But ever since yesterday, Silas has been babbling and panting non-stop. He has a huge smile on his face. If he could talk, I’m pretty sure he’d be saying “HELL YEAH!”

Because Silas is a boat person. And no matter how long we’ve tried to pretend otherwise on land, so are we.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Some of you may be wondering why it’s the beginning of July and I’m still going on about throw pillows and peeing in a bucket. Here we are, fiddling around at the dock, while sailing in the Southern Hemisphere gets steadily colder and more bracing. Low pressure systems are bouncing all over the charts like cats in a hot buttered skillet. And meanwhile, just to the north of us, Fiji’s got swaying palm trees , tropical sunshine, and a friendly military dictatorship ready to welcome us with open arms. So what’s the hold-up, already?

I can answer that question in two words: compression post.

Sereia’s mast, as you may recall, was installed by Taiwanese children who lived in an industrial sweat shop and didn’t get much time off to go yachting. As a result, they stepped the mast six inches forward of the supporting beam. The problem with this is that when Sereia is under sail—as she would be, say, when completing a 1,000-mile passage to Fiji—enormous pressure is exerted on the mast from the combined forces of wind and rigging. I’m no engineer, and I don’t know exactly how much pressure we are talking about. Lots and lots of pounds, though. More than you could lift.

And in the case of Sereia, that pressure is transferred to the deck, which consists of a very thin sheet of marine plywood, sandwiched between two relatively lame-assed layers of fiberglass. This is a very dangerous situation, one that could result in the mast smashing down through the cabin top, thousands of gallons of sea water surging through our home, and Sereia sinking to the bottom of the ocean. Which would be unpleasant.

If you’ve been following our adventures for some time now, you will remember that Peter solved this problem in 2005 by installing a steel compression post beneath the mast. We were particularly fond of this fix, because it had the twin virtues of solving our structural problem, and providing us with a stripper pole in the salon.

At the beginning of the cruise, the compression post was straight and strong. Designed in two pieces so as to incorporate the dining table, it kept us safe through 12,000 miles of ocean voyaging.

Here’s what it looks like now:

Not sure what the problem is? Let me help you with that:

Now that our crooked steel pole has roughly the same compressive strength as a cornflake, Peter’s been having Dad nightmares. Usually these involve the mast falling down on the baby, an unhappy scenario that also creates a hell of a mess. Clearly, the pole will have to be replaced. Peter is considering several options, such as using a solid length of wood, or retaining the same design, but with much thicker steel.

Thank God I’m not the captain. I’ve been having much better dreams. Like last night, for example, when I dreamed I was standing at the helm in nothing but a fishnet body stocking and a harness made of black webbing and stainless steel shackles.

Unfortunately for Peter, he’ll have to get us to the tropics before that dream can come true. Strange… I’ve never seen him so motivated in my life.

Monday, July 6, 2009


Peter and I had a little contretemps on Thursday. Thursdays and Fridays are big days, because Silas is in nursery school, we are baby-free, and I get to row out to Sereia with Peter and do boat projects all afternoon. Last Thursday was particularly exciting, because with just one week to go before we move on board, I was looking forward to the finishing touches, like buffing the woodwork with a soft rag, and deciding what color scheme to use for my throw pillows.

When I got on board, one thing was instantly clear. Sereia isn’t ready for throw pillows.

To begin with, there was a six-inch hole in the cabin top. Peter’s temporary solution was a wad of shopping bags and duct tape, which had leaked, causing a geyser of water to cascade into the forward salon. He’d cleaned up the salt water and dried off my stores, thereby opening up all the lockers and destroying the single tidy area I’d managed to create on board. There were no safety nets or lee cloths to be seen anywhere, so visions of drowned babies floated gruesomely through my head. The entire boat was sprinkled with tiny bolts and screws, perfect for choking toddlers. And to top it all off, we still had to pee in a bucket.

I got very quiet.

After four years of marriage, Peter doesn’t care when I yell and make abusive wisecracks. Those are the good days, the days we cherish as a couple. He gets concerned when I’m kind and considerate, because that usually means I’m sick, and I don’t have the energy to be a bitch. And on the rare occasions when I shut my mouth completely and go quiet, Peter starts looking for places to take cover. It doesn’t happen very often. But when it does, I’m furious.

“But the head works,” he mumbled evasively. “It just leaks a little, so if you want me to fix the leak, I just have to take it apart one more time…”

We have one week,” I snarled, my voice shaking with emotion. “AND I DO NOT FEEL SAFE ON THIS BOAT WITH MY BABY.”

Really, that is just the most cynical form of female manipulation. It was a Molotov cocktail of all the deadliest weapons in a woman's arsenal: I implied that Peter was a bad father by not making the boat safe for his child. I implied that he sucked at boat work, the activity that gives him his greatest sense of accomplishment. And I managed to sound simultaneously weepy (making him desperately want to protect me), and enraged (making him think he will never get laid again, ever.)

Also, my reaction was unfair. I knew perfectly well that Peter had been busting his ass for a month, and that the fruits of his labour were simply not visible while standing in the forward salon. This is due to a universal principle known to philosophers as “infinite regress,” and known to alcoholic sailors the world over as “a goddamned cluster fuck.” In case you are reading this and do not have a boat, allow me to illustrate:

Beginning your work with bright-eyed optimism, you start project A, but soon realize that because your boat was built by sadistic gnomes, you can’t work on A before completing projects B, C, and D. D is located under project F, which will have to be dismantled in order to reach project D. Unfortunately, once you access project D, you accidentally spill water on electrical part G, which will now have to be replaced. Luckily, part G is very easy to access. It’s just inside locker H, but the hinges on locker H have been frozen shut by oxidation, so you’ll have to saturate them in WD-40 first, then clean up the rust and open them with pliers before you can reach part G. Eventually, you manage to lubricate locker H, access part G, replace it, fix project D, and reassemble project F. Now you are ready to complete projects B and C, but B requires a very tiny specialized screwdriver that you haven’t seen since El Salvador, and C requires the use of a bedding compound that will only harden in sunshine, and it’s the middle of the rainy season. You tear apart the entire boat looking for the tiny, specialized screwdriver, but can’t find it anywhere (although you do find some very swollen sardine cans from 1997 and shocking number of dead baby cockroaches) so you get off the boat and drive to three different stores looking for the goddamned screwdriver. No one has it. You get back on the boat and notice that a) you’re taking on water, and b) the bilge pump is making a very weird noise, so you reach down among the filth and slime of your nasty bilge, only to find the teeny-tiny-assed screwdriver sucked into the bilge pump. Using the bitch-whore-piece of shit-fucknose screwdriver, you finally manage to complete project B, the sun shines just long enough for the bedding compound to cure on project C, at which point you ascertain that the parts for project A are only available in Bologna and will have to be ordered in Italian.

Then your wife yells at you.

I’ve lived on my boat for years. I knew this about boat projects, and yet I still rode Peter’s ass about Sereia not being ready. I choose to think of this less as selfish and unreasonable behavior on my part, and more as a form of delightful feminine whimsy. Peter, on the other hand, demurred.

“I don’t deserve this,” he retorted. “The boat will be ready. The boat will be safe. If you don’t feel safe, we’ll rent a place on land until you do.”

A place on land??? What would I do with a place on land? With all that refrigeration and pressurized water? With all those fruity throw pillows? I’d be bored out of my skull in a week. I’d be so bored, I’d probably have to get a job or something.

Besides, I’m good with languages. And somebody’s got to call Bologna, to order those parts.

Um. How do you say “turnbuckle toggle jaw” in Italian?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Isle of Enchantment

It would be fair to say that apart from violent death by drowning, our family’s main concerns with taking our baby to sea fall into two categories:

a) We are neglecting our financial futures and therefore the child will be raised in poverty, and

b) The child will not be properly educated and will never fit into mainstream society.

As responsible parents, Peter and I take these concerns very seriously. So when one of our readers spotted Silas’ special talent, a gift with which very few children on this earth are blessed, we recognized his potential immediately.

Silas is the spittin’ image of Hervé Villechaize.

Let us pause for a moment to consider the ramifications of this discovery. Hervé Villechaize had an acute thyroid condition that stunted his growth so that he never grew taller than 47 inches. And yet, at the height of his popularity as Tattoo on Fantasy Island, he commanded a salary of $25,000 an episode. And that was more than twenty years ago.

Just imagine what Silas could do. He’s shorter. He’s cuter. And he’s perfectly capable of ringing a goddamned bell.

We can sail Sereia to Fiji, an archipelago encompassing more than three hundred Fantasy Islands. We can dress the kid in a suit. We can give him a bell to ring when the guests arrive. And once we get picked up by the networks, our midget superstar can start making his parents’ dreams come true.

You can sail pretty far on $25,000 an episode. That’s an awful lot of margaritas.

I can see the opening shot now:

There will be the naysayers, of course. There always are. My mother for example, the messenger of cheer and good fortune. “But what about FRENCH?” she’ll screech. “We raised YOU with private bilingual schools. Don’t you know that the best window for second language acquisition is before the age of five??!”

Of course we do. And that’s why we’re starting Silas early. Not with French, though. That’s so Old Europe. No, we’ve picked a much more relevant language. One that will help Silas adapt to his native land. Under our tutelage, Silas is learning Elvish.

There’s lots of time to work second language acquisition while sailing around the South Pacific. We have a stack of flashcards, and a little Elvish dictionary for children. Silas is so clever. He already points to the butterfly and says “Wilwarin,” and he knows the name for dog is “Hû.”

This is all part of a greater plan, of course. The networks will need a new twist for our Fantasy Island revival. That’s why we’re planning to film the whole thing in Elvish. We won’t even call it Fantasy Island. We’ll call it Tol en Gûl, The Isle of Enchantment.

There’s no need to worry about this family’s financial future. Once we hit Fiji, we’ll dress our baby in a tux and teach his to scramble up a belltower. There's no Elvish equivalent for “De Plane, De plane,” but Silas will make do. We’ll teach him to yell “Gûl Tink Thoron Nor! Gûl Tink Thoron Nor!” which, roughly translated, means “The magical metal eagle flies above!”

It'll be a smash hit. You'll see.