Monday, December 15, 2014

My Day Got Better
By Michael

A couple days ago I was moved by a story a fellow cruising parent (and colleague) posted on her blog.

On November 24, Behan Gifford posted a picture on Facebook of a small Burmese boy riding the scooter one of her kids had given him. The picture was taken in the Satun, Thailand boatyard where Behan’s boat is hauled and where this boy and many other kids live with their families in modest workers’ dormitories.

Six days later, the same picture was on her blog with a PayPal button and her pitch to raise money to buy more scooters for more of the boatyard kids. Three days after that, an astounding $1,400 dollars had been raised and Behan went shopping.

Read this post to learn what happened next and then—only then—watch the following video made by the crew of Esper, another cruising boat in the same yard. It’ll make your day. (Note: the video is 17 minutes long and starts with the story I'm writing about, but then features a several-minute update on their boat work. Fast-forward through this for now because most of the gifting story is afterward.)

Behan’s story highlights what a small world this is, and perhaps a benefit of it shrinking. Her's is an example of how a big impact can be made and simultaneously worked into our perversely busy cruising lives.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Books for Cruising Families
By Michael

Based on the emails we get, I think a big portion of the folks who read this blog are parents thinking about cruising with their kids. This makes sense. For five years I read every family blog I could find as we prepared to cast-off; they were good sources of information and inspiration and gave us opportunities to connect with families we were near. This is why I maintain links (eyes right) to more than 100 current and former cruising families.

But in the voyaging-with-kids genre, blogs aren't the only place to turn. There are good books out there too. Here’s a list of several that relate real and entertaining stories of family life afloat.
Blown Away
by Herb Payson
A 35th anniversary edition of this book was just released this month—it’s that good and it isn’t dated. The author was a heavy-drinking nightclub piano player with a cocktail waitress wife, six kids, no boat, and no money. From those beginnings, the family managed to get out cruising and explore the entire Pacific Ocean, for years. The book is both serious and hilarious and a very good read. the Light
by Dave & Jaja Martin
If you’re a family thinking about going cruising, you’re surely familiar with the Martins. But in case you’re not, they once circumnavigated in a Cal 25, many of those miles as a family of four. So if you’re waiting to go until you can afford a bigger boat, get some perspective. But this book is about the family’s next boat, a 37-footer they sailed north to Iceland and Norway and then further north. They even wintered over in Iceland and put the kids in school there. If you think you need to stick to the beaten path, read this book. Also, it’s just a good, compelling story. Dave opens it up on passage, in the middle of the North Atlantic, after he discovers a rusted hole in the hull with water coming in.

All in the Same Boat
by Tom Neale
This is the book that inspired me to suggest to Windy that we not wait until retirement to go cruising again. Tom Neale chronicles not just the story of the years he and his wife raised their two daughters to adulthood aboard a boat traveling along the Eastern Seaboard, but offers detailed how-to information in a guide-like format. This is kind of a dated read in terms of mining information, but still relevant in terms of the story of a family who was inspired to go and who made it work.
Boat Girl
by Melanie Neale
When you’re done with All in the Same Boat, here is a rare opportunity to read the perspective of one of the author's daughters, now grown and looking back at a childhood afloat.


Chasing The Horizon: The Life And Times Of A Modern Sea GypsyChasing the Horizon
by Fatty Goodlander
Capn’ Fatty is like no other. He is a self-described sea gypsy who cruises the world on a sunken boat he salvaged, and got himself a gig on NPR. His monthly Cruising World column is always humorous and insightful. This book chronicles (embellishes?) experiences he and his family had while cruising the Caribbean back when it was a comparative wild west. This is a collection of well-told stories with characters that could not be made-up. Who else could convince a co-worker that his ferrocement boat was an inflatable?
by Mike Litzow
This candid, entertaining account of a new family who leave their Kodiak, Alaska home aboard a boat bound for Australia, is a must-read for any family with very small kids. Mike's first son was 9 months old when they set sail and it was not all easy going. The author invites you into his head from the start of their audacious voyage. The writing is both crisp and beautiful.

The Curve of Time
by M. Wylie Blanchet
Despite being published more than 50 years ago and based on voyages during the 1920s, this PNW classic almost reads like it was written about cruising today. But get this: the author was a young widow with five kids when she took off cruising the Salish Sea for summers aboard her 25-foot powerboat. How many of today's single mothers would make the same choice today? Part of Blanchet's motivation may have been to get out of the house so she could rent it out while they were gone and make money. Her tales are amazing.

I think I could turn up countess other tales, but I think I’ll stop it here, with the titles I’ve read and enjoyed or found interesting. Happy reading!


Saturday, November 29, 2014

On Becoming An Author
By Michael

Del Viento with a bone in her teeth,
heading south last week on a two-
night passage from Punta Chivato to La Paz.
I’ve always wanted to be an author. In kindergarten I made a shoebox diorama that made this clear. Displayed among the other dioramas that featured pilots and astronauts and veterinarians and movie stars, mine depicted a lonely construction paper man seated at a tiny cardboard table on which sat a tiny cardboard typewriter. A sheaf of tiny blank pages was stacked neatly beside the tiny cardboard typewriter.

Well, more than forty years have passed since kindergarten and my dream job is finally a reality (though I no longer own a typewriter). As already announced elsewhere (like at the end of this blog post, or in the second paragraph of this blog post), Behan Gifford, Sara Johnson, and I signed a book contract with the publisher L&L Pardey Books!

The three of us are collaborating to write a non-fiction book to be called Voyaging with Kids: A Guide to Family Life Afloat. It’s scheduled for release in 2015.

For the benefit of other writers and aspiring authors, I’ll share with you how this came to be and then, in later posts, how things are going. I eat up this kind of info when I find it online, so sharing my story is a chance to give back.

An Idea

Cruisers depend on cruising guides, to orient them to the places they visit. These guides include aerial photography and hand-drawn chartlets to show how best to enter an anchorage and where the underwater hazards are. Small maps often mark the locations of customs or immigration buildings, supermarkets, and laundry services. They’re practically indispensable.

When we moved aboard Del Viento, I brought with me the Baja cruising guides that Windy and I used 15 years before. There was another, newer guide on the scene, but I’d once thumbed through it at a boat show and discounted it. It was a pretty book, the pages filled with gorgeous, unhelpful photographs like you’d find in a tourist brochure. Shawn Breeding and Heather Bansmer’s pretty book belonged on a coffee table. I valued the dense, no-nonsense guides of yesteryear; Jack Williams and Gerry Cunningham and Charles Wood knew how to write cruising guides. And though those books were old, the anchorages haven’t moved, how much could have changed? The last thing the world needed was another Baja cruising guide.

But everyone has a copy of Shawn and Heather’s pretty book, it’s all anyone uses down here. I secretly pitied this new generation of Baja cruisers with their colorful, but inferior, guide.

Then Windy bought a copy of the pretty book. For the next several months, for every anchorage we approached, I’d open up all the other guides and compare their information to Shawn & Heather’s guide. Rarely did I find the pretty book lacking. It was usually better. Today, I can’t tell you where the other guides are stowed.

What stuck with me from this experience was that I was wrong, the world did need a new Baja cruising guide. Shortly after this realization, I found myself on a warm, clear, tropical night watch. Amped up on dark chocolate espresso beans and This American Life, my mind wandered all over the place until an epiphany dawned: the world needs another guide to cruising with kids! There are more and more families out here each year and the only informative books available to them are more than a decade old and recount lessons learned by families out there two decades ago. Things have changed!

A pleased Eleanor at the summit
of a hike she led on Isla
San Marcos.
The Approach

The next book on this topic had to be good, it had to bring something new to the table. I knew there are as many different ways to go voyaging with your kids as there are families out there doing it. I knew my perspective, gained over the previous three years cruising Mexico to Alaska to Mexico was relatively narrow. We didn’t have infants or toddlers or teenagers aboard. We’d not crossed an ocean with our kids. I didn’t want to write a shallow, dogmatic book. I needed the perspectives of co-authors.

Within days of my idea occurring to me, I sent a manic email to Behan and Sara asking if they wanted to join me in this project. I made a few things clear. I didn’t want to write with just one other person because how would disagreements then be settled? I wanted this to be our project, not something they’re helping me with. From the start, we would all own this book, 33.3%, 33.3%, 33.3%.

They each responded with enthusiasm that inspired.

The Method

The three of us were on the fence for a while about whether to self-publish or pursue a traditional publisher.

Self-publishing is easy these days. You write your book and then you either pay others to get it print-ready, or do some or all of it yourself. But every manuscript must be edited, every cover must be designed, every book must be designed, text must be indexed, the eBook must be designed, rights must be secured, and an ISBN must be obtained. When ready, a printer must be paid and books must be warehoused and distributed (or printed on demand, at a much higher cost). Then the book has to be marketed, at book shows, at librarian’s conventions, to West Marine book buyers. In short, there is a lot of time, expertise, and money required to get a manuscript turned into a quality book and then put before potential book buyers. The primary advantage of self-publishing is that the author(s) makes more money for each book sold (assuming the publisher offers no advantage in terms of increasing sales, perhaps a bad assumption).

Ultimately, given our fiscal, time, and geographic constraints as cruising parents, we decided to seek a traditional publisher.

Non-fiction books are sold to publishers before they’re written, by way of a proposal. Weird, huh? But in the non-fiction world, what matters is whether there is a market for the book you propose and whether you have the ability to deliver the manuscript (in terms of writing chops) and the subject matter knowledge/credentials/authority to have your name on the cover. (Contrast this with the fiction world where there is always a market for a good book, but can you write a good book? The only way to answer that question is by having a completed manuscript to show a prospective publisher.)

So we wrote a proposal. This was a lot of work. In 87 pages (23,000 words), we presented a case for our book idea. In a nutshell, we delivered an intro to our book, a market analysis of competing titles, biographies to highlight our credentials, a marketing plan we could execute to help the publisher sell our book (we secured commitments from reviewers, we highlighted our own reach via our blogs and social media, we pointed out our relationships with magazine editors to whom we’d each sold articles), and we wrote and included two sample chapters.

Then we wrote a cover letter and sent our baby out to nearly a dozen publishers that specialize in the nautical book market. We considered the responses of several and in the end, we decided without reservation to accept the offer of L&L Pardey Books. Lin Pardey struck us all as a savvy, capable, and connected businesswoman. She has a team of expert designers and editors she works with and she uses Paradise Cay for book distribution (the largest distributor of nautical titles in the world). Lin Pardey is really nice too.

The Next Step

So we contracted with L&L Pardey Books back in May. We were given nine months to complete and deliver our manuscript. We’re all putting the final touches on our first draft now so that we can start the our internal editing process and polish it right up before delivering all our words and pictures to Lin in February.

It’s a lot of work, much more than any of us anticipated. But it’s also been a lot of fun. I’ve met fascinating people through working on this project and have strengthened two life-long friendships in Behan and Sara. We’re all eager, committed writers soon to be eager, published authors. It doesn’t get much better than this.


Eleanor surveying part of a blue whale skull on the beach
on the southern side of Bahia de las Animas, in the Northern Sea. 


Monday, November 17, 2014

By Michael

Frances in Santa Rosalia.
The crew on s/v Shawnigan, another cruising family, thoughtfully commented here a while back saying that they like our blog and want to recognize it. They directed us to a list of questions they want us to answer and invited us to pass on the good will by forwarding our own questions to another blog we wish to highlight. I’m not ready to do the latter at this time, but everyone loves a good Q&A, so I’ll tackle those now. (In fact, to that point, I love answering any and all questions about us and what we’re doing, so please feel free to ask away in the comments or send us and email.)

We’ll get back to our regular programing next week.

What inspired you to start your blog?

Windy actually started the blog—note that the first few posts are hers. But then she asked me to contribute and it slowly became my voice. Though she is still very involved, mostly through editing what I write here.
She was inspired by our desire to share our adventure (and our lives leading up to it) with family and friends. I was originally inspired by the idea that the blog could become an income source. But I never went down that road (until Cruising World asked to republish our content on their site for a stipend). I wrote a lengthy post examining why we share our lives so publically, but I think it boils down to three reasons:
  • to communicate (and make connections with other cruising families)
  • to feel relevant/influencial
  • to practice and improve my writing

Who is your target audience?

Family, friends, other cruisers (especially those with kids), and I imagine the largest percentage of readers are those people who are contemplating or planning this way of living. But I really have no data to back up these metrics.

How or why did you end up with the boat you are currently sailing on?

We were looking for a heavy displacement cruising boat on the West Coast that was big enough to fit our family and in our price range. We found our Fuji 40 in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico about a year before we planned to take off. I wrote a detailed post about our thinking and about our coming to buy this particular boat. Unlike most cruisers who work for years to get their boat ready, ours was virtually untouched by us when we began our voyage. We spent many months tearing it apart and working on it as we went.

What has been the hardest part of boatschooling your kids?

Aboard Del Viento, Windy does nearly 100 percent of the schooling. She has no formal training, but it’s gone very smoothly, especially relative to stories we've heard from others. She credits some of this ease to the fact that she was able to begin homeschooling the girls two years before we left and was involved in a supportive homeschooling cooperative in D.C. during that time. We don’t use a formal curriculum, just a hodgepodge of materials she’s put together. It can be challenging balancing conventional academic progress with opportunities for experiences, but when a whale shark is in the anchorage, it trumps school work any day.

What has been the most enjoyable/satisfying part of boatschooling?

Windy reports that it is simply the pleasure of being a partner in their day-to-day learning, of watching them mature intellectually, and being right there when they make those connections.

Do you plan on traditional schooling at any point? If so, when?

The only scenarios we imagine are a) we land in some interesting place where the girls’ attending school is the best way for them to be involved in that culture, and b) the girls request to go to conventional school, say in high school. By the way, the girls’ schooling also incorporates several learning apps on the iPad. Both girls spend nearly all their free time reading and writing and drawing—or listening to audio books.

What sea creature do you most identify with (what would you want to be?) and why? And how about the rest of the family?

I don’t really have an answer, but I polled the girls so I could put their responses here.

“What do you mean? I don’t have a favorite and I wouldn’t want to be a sea creature.” Said Eleanor.

"Those jelly guys, you know the guys that eat crabs and they suck in--oh yeah, a sea anemone!" Said Frances.

How do you divide your watch hours? Do any of the kids help?

We’ve never done formal watch hours. We do it today like we did in our twenties. I like to stay up late and Windy likes to get up early. After an early dinner I’ll be off watch until just after dusk. Then, Windy will go down and read to the girls and they’ll all fall asleep. At 2 or 3:00 a.m., I’ll be ready to sleep and will wake Windy. She’ll usually then wake me about 9:00 a.m. or so. It’s always worked well for us. Eleanor’s a bit of a night owl and she’ll sometimes stay up late with me. When she turned 10-years-old last year, she started doing thirty-minute daytime watches topsides by herself when we were under power or sailing in light airs. She’ll check the gauges and make autopilot adjustments, following a track on the iPad, and keep a diligent eye ahead.

What is your favorite recipe for your first 3 days of a passage?

I seem to be immune to seasickness and I do much of the cooking anyway, so I spend a lot of time underway down below, in the galley. Unless it’s really rough, we eat pretty much like we do at anchor, though more often in the cockpit. And of course, what we eat depends on where we are—Alaska and the Sea of Cortez each provoke a different appetite. In Mexico we eat a lot of quesadillas and in Alaska we ate a lot of lentil soup. It’s worth noting that when we feel like it, we drink alcohol underway—beer and wine with meals and such. I don't think this is the norm.

What is your favorite ice cream?

I am torn between Haagen-Dazs Chocolate Chocolate Chip and Haagen-Dazs Vanilla Swiss Almond. If I knew I was dying tomorrow, I’d consume a gallon pint of each. Windy says strawberry. Eleanor loves ice cream, but has no favorite. Frances loves cookie dough-flavored ice cream. By the way, you can get Haagen-Dazs in La Paz, Mexico. It costs about US$8 per pint—we’ve never bought any.


Eleanor kissing a long deceased puffer fish. Del Viento at
anchor in the background.

This is the cemetery on the hill above Santa Rosalia. That's Windy's
mom on the left--she came to stay with us aboard for three weeks.
It was a good visit, except that we spent a full week of it at anchor
in Santa Rosalia waiting for the gale-force northers to settle. But we
made it up to Bay of L.A. and saw some pretty anchorages in
between. And that's our good cruising friend, Norma, between
the girls.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Diesel Where It Shouldn't Be
By Michael

The girls walking down a lovely
Santa Rosalia sidewalk. See the bunches
of marigolds up ahead? They are popular
in Mexico during Dia de los Muertos
celebrations. They were originally
called miccaxochitl in the Nahuatl
(Aztec) language, which translates
as flower of the dead. 
I don’t know how to type the noises that Windy exclaimed from the galley, but I can describe them pretty accurately. It’s precisely and exactly and unequivocally the same noise you or your spouse would make after drawing a glass of water from the tap, taking a big swig, and spitting it out after realizing it was diesel.

I didn’t want it to be true. I didn’t know how it could be true.

I removed the inspection plate on the top of the port tank. The smell of diesel hit immediately. But the fluid in our water tank looked like water. But diesel fuel in Mexico isn’t dyed red as in the States. I dipped a ladle in and examined it. It was water, but with an unmistakable sheen of diesel on the top. I moved to the starboard tank, it was a bit worse.

I looked at Windy, “How in the world?”

“Is it possible you spilled some diesel last time we filled up and it ran into the water tank because the deck cap wasn’t tight?”

“No, I haven’t spilled that much diesel in a long time, and the fuel fill is on the port side, and lower than the water fill on that side.”

“What about during Odile, when we diverted rain water on the deck into the water tank—could there have been something diesel-y up forward?”

When I sponged the water-clear liquid
from the tank, it turned this brown
color, seen in the stainless bowl. I
think the sponging action emulsified
the diesel.
“Not a chance, remember the decks were cleared for a hurricane?”

It had to be that we took on contaminated water. Since we’ve been north of Loreto, all our water has come from jerry cans ashore, 5-gallon Sparkletts bottles that may or may not be washed between uses. Maybe one was contaminated with clear, Mexican diesel? Seems improbable. I’m always the guy that lugs them aboard and dumps them in through a funnel; I’ve never noticed a diesel smell, not even when handling the cap or the empty bottle afterward.

But both tanks are contaminated, so it would have to have been two contaminated bottles. But the tanks are connected by a common vent line.

Then I thought of an interface between our fuel and water tanks: the Heart Tank Tender. Small air hoses from a common gauge go to both the water and fuel tanks. I unscrewed the unit from the wall and quickly dismissed it as a possible source of contamination. Not only do the independent hoses travel six vertical feet from the tanks to the gauge, but the air that is pumped through them only goes one way and there were no signs of liquid in any of them.

For the last several days, I’ve been on my hands and knees, emptying the stainless steel tanks dry with a sponge, cleaning every square inch of them I can reach with rubbing alcohol (I read to do this online) and repeatedly flushing them with water and vinegar and with water and dish soap and with water and baking soda (trying everything I’ve read online).

Things are better, but not yet great. Our galley foot pump failed a couple weeks ago, so we were using pressure water when the contamination was discovered. This means that a much larger system is exposed: much more hose, the pressure pump, the lines to the head, and the water heater.

I don’t know how much more flushing is in our future, but I’ll let you know.

Here we are again with our friends Norma and Christian (left) and
also Roy and Gerardo. The latter two are a Mexican father and son.
We met them when we anchored off Isla Angel de la Guarda back in
September, the day before we learned the hurricane was
coming our way. They were a pair of kayakers down from
Bahia de los Angeles and camping on the island. We gave them
the weather report and then wondered for weeks how they
weathered Odile. We ran into them again in Sta Rosalia
and learned they'd done fine, holed up in a cave they
found, about 25 feet above sea level. They're on their way
La Paz, aiming to get there by Christmas.
Surprisingly, even with this obstructed and limited
access to the inside of our tanks (the other is the same)
I was able to clean them pretty well, even given the baffles.
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