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.


  1. I LIKE the coffee grinder. When we moved aboard Time Machine, I searched long and hard for a manual grinder and got crap (expensive crap) for results from Amazon and the like (obviously, I suck at searching--just ask Joshua). So we made do w/pre-ground coffee while cruising. We might have made a mean on-board cocktail but don't plan on spending the night on our spacious spacious yacht.. the coffee often sucked. (Those are painful words for a pacific northwesterner to say too.)

  2. It might have a funny name, but if you did indeed have the fistulae, the tub would probably become a nice thing in short order... :)

    I met the Pardeys at one of their lectures about a year ago. Very nice people, and very encouraging. Down to earth folks. Make you think that this cruising lifestyle might be achievable after all... then you remember that these are people who have not only circumnavigated multiple times without engines or modern navigation, they did so in a wooden sailboat that they built by hand by themselves. Rather humbling.

    I think you are definitely on the right track here, though. The whole "unstoppable boat" theme they have going is truly the most commonsense thing I've ever come across. Difficult to achieve, but once you get over the hump of doing without some of the "conveniences" (which mostly just get in the way anyway), you're more than halfway there.

    Nice coffee grinder, btw.

  3. you are the one and only Princess of Poo....