Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Prickling at PFDs
By Michael
VAVA'U, TONGA


The contentious photo.
"In spite of all the efforts of the Power Squadrons, the Coast Guard Auxiliary, state and local boating safety courses, etc., sailors seem to be oblivious to the risks of children (and adults) not wearing life jackets. In ‘Sailing into Paradise’ (Feb. 2016), there is a large picture of a child hanging over the side of a boat underway in a position to slip under the lifelines and go overboard….Is there a chance [Cruising World] editors could exert at least a little influence to encourage those submitting…articles to show people behaving responsibly?"

That is an excerpt of a letter to the editor of Cruising World, published in the April 2016 issue. The child “hanging over the side of a boat underway in a position to slip under the lifelines and go overboard” is my daughter.

My first reaction is to assure the letter writer that I’m on their side, that I agree how important it is to ensure the safety of kids around water and to set a good example.

But I’m not on the letter writer’s side. I’m not even sympathetic to their sentiment.

On what basis can the letter writer assert that this photo is evidence that, “sailors seem to be oblivious to the risks of children (and adults) not wearing life jackets?” I’ve met a lot of sailors—sailor parents in particular—and they’ve never seemed to me to be a bunch oblivious to the risks of children not wearing life jackets. But nor have I met any sailors who think those risks are fixed and omnipresent. Risks rise and fall with changes in conditions. Far from being oblivious to risk, we sailing parents are constantly gauging risk as conditions around us change. When we decide the risk of not wearing a life jacket is too high, we put one on and request our kids put theirs on.

Cruising World published the full-page photo of my daughter on the rail because it’s an awesome photo, capturing a happy moment of our life under sail. The letter writer can allege that we are not “behaving responsibly” and that is fine. The letter writer may have asked their daughter to don a vest in the same circumstances; that’s the letter writer’s prerogative. But I would ask the letter writer to direct his objection to me. I’d be happy to explain our rationale, in this particular instance, for not requesting Eleanor wear a vest. But to ask the Cruising World editors to engineer photo submissions so that the magazine might present a world in which all kids are in vests at all appropriate times…times deemed appropriate by whom?...accomplishes what?

We take the safety of our kids (and ourselves) very seriously. We are hyper-aware of the danger posed by a man-overboard scenario. We sometimes sail in rough conditions on the open ocean in pitch darkness where we know that the likelihood of recovering any member of our family crew who goes overboard, is close to zero. We are aware of the danger inherent even in returning to the boat by dinghy when the tidal flow is strong, when it’s dark, when it’s rough, when the water is very cold. We address the risks that are a part of our cruising lives with an arsenal of tools and strategies, life vests being only one.

Situations are complex, people are complex. Do I wear a seatbelt while driving and make sure my kids are buckled up too? Yep. But might I have last year let my kid sit on my lap, unbelted, so she could steer while we drove down an empty dirt desert road in Mexico at 15 mph? Yep. And allowing her to do that was probably just as responsible as allowing the same girl to sit on that rail that day without a life vest. How responsible? You’re welcome to decide that for yourself. But please let us not advocate a world where broad-brush edicts and assertions take the place of judgment and personal responsibility.

--MR

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Still in the Danger Season
By Michael
VAVA'U, TONGA


The international terminal at Nadi, Fiji is filled
with orchids, hundreds of individual pots.
That's Frances in the background.
We’re back in Tonga, back home aboard Del Viento. Our 38-year-old girl held up in our absence. Alone on a mooring, she weathered two cyclones (Ula and Winston). The only damage she sustained was to the man-overboard pole which we keep mounted in a bracket on the backstay. How we completely stripped our boat bare and forgot to remove that pole is beyond me, though I remember we were scrambling in the days leading up to departure. Anyway, that pole snapped in half. We have both pieces though, so I will try to repair it. 

For the past 10 days we’ve been working to put Del Viento back together. I’m reminded that breaking camp is easier than setting camp. Also, when you’ve not broken camp in years, doing so exposes faults that are easy to ignore in the course of packing up, but have to be dealt with upon next setting up. So, that’s what we’re dealing with now: the dodger zippers and snaps that failed upon tear-down, the frozen shackles that had to be cut off our back-up anchor rode so we could use that rode as secondary attachment points to our mooring, the aluminum solar panel bracket that broke during dissassembly. Also, we’re tackling jobs that we put off long ago, but won’t allow ourselves to ignore now, not when the boat is bare and getting to everything is easier than ever. So, that 1-inch Starboard I bought in Alaska to replace the rotten teak pads beneath our davits? That’s moved to the top of the list. Having someone come aboard the boat to weld struts to attach to the stainless steel arch that supports 3 solar panels? Scheduled.


We’re cleaning out lockers that are normally hard to empty and access. We’re having all kinds of canvas work done. I need to retrieve our primary anchor and 300 feet of chain from the bottom, where we secured them to our mooring before departure. Next week we’ll go collect our dinghy and kayaks from the island where we left them. Eleanor has to change the oil. There is still a lot of mold to deal with. All the while we’re monitoring nearby cyclones (two so far) that remind us we’re still in the danger season here.

It doesn’t sound much like cruising, does it? Well, it is and we’ve no complaints. We’re in Tonga for goodness sake. We are working together like a team, like a family. We’re all healthy. My girls are happy. We’re having lively conversations about where we’ll head next. It doesn’t get much better. I was reminded today that it was a year ago that we left Mexico. It seems to all of us (and not in a bad way)  like at least two years have passed.

--MR


Still the Nadi terminal. We were there, like this, for 11 hours.
There are worse terminals to spend 11 hours.











Home! 45 hours after leaving SFO--though that includes 1 night in
a Nukualofa hotel.
Reunited for beers with good friends in Neiafu, this was taken
before we even got back to the boat, about 1/4 mile away.
Tina is in the black shirt, her husband Shane in the grey
shirt, they are from Vagrant. In the white hat is Tawn, of Palarran.
This is my father-in-law, Paul, back in San Francisco. He is
a master furniture refinisher and restorer. He mostly works on very old pieces,
but here he is pictured with a table from an old, storied 1929 yacht: Pat Pending.







Friday, April 1, 2016

Easy Money for Cruisers
By Michael
VAVA'U, TONGA

Sorry, no pictures this post, I just want to share a gift from the Federal government.

Late last year, Windy and I joined the U.S. State Department’s Junior Diplomat Program (JDP). This is the greatest thing since roller furling--and they’re looking for more cruisers to participate. In addition to a stipend each month ($230, or $115 times two) for our participation, the State Department reimburses any additional costs we incur to obtain Internet access for reporting purposes.

According to the State Department website, the JDP seeks to, “leverage and promote goodwill by U.S. citizens abroad, obtain information that can be used to help resident, in-country ambassadors allocate funding to improve relations, and better understand foreign nationals’ perceptions of the United States from a man-in-the-street point of view.”

We simply complete a form each month online, kind of like a survey. After the basics (where we traveled during the month) we check off the types of interactions we had with foreign nationals (retail, restaurant, hotel, other) and then provide a few details about select interactions.
For example, in the notes section of the report we submitted in December, I reported that I talked to a Tongan welder about the U.S. political race and how folks in the U.S. are pretty divided. I indicated that the welder agreed with my assessment and seemed to dislike Donald Trump. Yesterday I received feedback from a State Department employee indicating this is a perfect example of the kind of anecdotal accounts they are looking for. They said the few junior diplomats they have enrolled today who travel the world on boats are prized because, “they tend to have interactions with people and businesses that are very different from those experienced by casual, short-term travelers.” He urged me to spread the word.

So, I’m letting you all know. Click to access the U.S. State Department Junior Diplomat Program (JDP) Enrollment Form and to get more information. Participant counts are restricted by region, so hurry! (And please forward to others who may be interested...)
--MR

Friday, March 25, 2016

Women and Cruising
By Michael
WOODACRE, CA

Check out the Del Viento crew on the Women and Cruising site. Posted yesterday is an interview I did for them accompanied by a wide range of photos old and new.

If you're not familiar with Women and Cruising, it's worth checking out. The site is intended for the fairer sex, but it's a great resource for anybody interested in cruising. And if you are a woman and you have something to say, it's a great place to submit a story you think will be of interest to other cruising women (just send an email to kathy@forcruisers.com).

Meanwhile, we are a frantic bunch about now. When you've been someplace three months, you've kind of moved in. So we are busy moving out and packing up a mountain of boat parts and the spoils of North American life to schlep all the way to Tonga. We leave in less than 48 hours.

At this time, sailing to Tonga is seeming easier--and maybe only a bit slower--than returning by plane. From San Francisco we take a short flight on Virgin America to LA. We arrive LA about 9:30 at night and then depart for Fiji on Fiji Airways at 11:30 p.m.. By the time we reach cruising altitude, it'll be the next day. Several hours later we cross the date line and it's another day gone. When we land in Fiji, it's about 5:00 a.m. and the start of our 11-hour layover in the Nadi terminal. Early that evening, we board a much smaller Fiji Airways plane for Nuku'alofa, Tonga. But we don't arrive in time for the last REALTonga flight north to Neiafu, so we crash in a hotel. The next afternoon, we get on a smaller plane and skip over the waves for about 90 minutes. After we land for good, take a cab to the waterfront, commandeer a dinghy, and reach Del Viento, it'll be dinner time.

I'm so excited to return, I can hardly stand it.

--MR


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Wanna Write a Magazine Article?
By Michael
WOODACRE, CA

In kindergarten I was tasked with making a shoebox diorama that showed me engaged in my future vocation. The little cardboard me I cut out wasn't playing a professional sport or fighting a fire or walking on the Moon. Instead, Mini Me sat solo in the empty Vans shoebox, in a tiny cardboard chair, behind a tiny cardboard table, in front of a tiny cardboard typewriter. It wasn't a dream I chased very far. At some point growing up I was dissuaded by pragmatism. Having learned that I stood the same chances of becoming a successful writer as my kindergarten classmates did becoming a professional baseball player, I steered clear of ever being caught playing the dreamer.

Nearly five years ago--almost four decades out of kindergarten--we left to go cruising and I was suddenly rich in time. I decided to start writing in earnest. I began selling my writing.

Now, I'm proud and eager to announce a new book filled with all the knowledge I've gained: Selling Your Writing to the Boating Magazines (and other niche mags) (2016, Force Four Publications).

I hope this book gives aspiring writers the knowledge and confidence to get published in their favorite magazines.

Jen Brett, Senior Editor at Cruising World magazine, wrote that Selling Your Writing to the Boating Magazines, "Should be required reading for anyone looking to break into freelance journalism."

Following are additional early reviews I'm pleased to share:

“From now on when I get queries from sailors wanting to know how to get started as writers for the sailing press, I’ll recommend this book. It’s not just the book editors have been waiting for, it’s the book long awaited by every sailor who hopes to make a buck while pursuing his sailing dream.”
Karen Larson, Publisher of Good Old Boat

“Concise, useful and encouraging for any aspiring magazine writer, not just those in the sailing field.”
Lin Pardey, author of more than 400 magazine articles

"Michael Robertson has done a great job composing a primer of practicalities for freelance writers. His clear advice is reinforced by having been widely published himself, allowing him to cite numerous useful examples from his own efforts."
Tim Queeney, Editor of Ocean Navigator

"If you’ve ever thought about sharing your passion by writing about what you love, you need this book. Michael Robertson has put together the ultimate toolkit for launching your freelancing dream."
Beth A. Leonard, freelancer, speaker, and author who supported herself for two decades writing from her boat

If you're interested, ask your local librarian to order Selling Your Writing to the Boating Magazines, or buy a copy at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Kobo.

--MR



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