Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Sickness & Travel: How to Deal

My ultimate low in travel-related illness came when Stylish was three years old.  The two of us were on our way back to Canada from Spain, and we both had rotavirus.  Every ounce of liquid I forced into her came right back out.  Waiting for a connecting flight in Philadelphia, Stylish went Exorcist on our last clean clothes.  As I stood in the airport bathroom in my underwear, washing my preschooler in the sink and wondering what shirt I could rinse well enough to wear home, I knew I had hit bottom.  Parenthood is a humbling reminder that even the most elegant and cool among us will smell of baby vomit from time to time.

We are on our way home from holidays, and, once again, we are one man down.  When we booked, I was annoyed that our flight schedule would force us to stay an extra night in Cairns.  Now, I am grateful that we have an extra day to chase the bugs away before getting back on a plane.

Illness happens.  Anyone with a school-age child or a family member who travels understands that viruses invade with depressing regularity.  And cruisers, moving from place to place, joining one community after another, understand this as well as anyone.  Sometimes there is a clinic nearby - sometimes not.  So, what do you do to stay healthy on the water, and to fight sickness when it comes?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Lullaby and Good Night

I haven’t slept in nine days.  I don’t mean that in a cool, James Bond,  I’m-in-a-tiny-room-with-a-bright-light-being-tortured-for-the-location-of-the-secret-files kind of way.  No rescue missions required.  No, I’m just on vacation with Erik and the kids.  And I’ll tell you something: sleeping on land is the worst.

Friday, April 11, 2014


One of the much-vaunted benefits of travel is that it makes you open to new things.  It is supposed to be a growth experience.  Spending time with new people, living life in different ways, seeing the beautiful places of the world as well as the desperately sad ones - all of these things are supposed to make me into a wise old crone.  By the time I move home, I should be so full of the Wisdom of the Earth that people will run from my smug face at a hundred paces.  But today, I have learned a different lesson.  Hold on - let me adjust my flowing robes, put on a mysterious smile and gaze into the distance.  Ready?  I have learned... that I can longer tolerate the cold.  Not even a little bit.  I know this because I am sitting bundled up in a long-sleeved shirt, blowing on my fingers in Brisbane, Australia.  A place that will climb to 30 C today.  But, compared to Noumea?  I feel like someone has set me out to drift on an ice floe.

I've never been a cold weather fan.  This is no secret.  But this new development does worry me just a little.  It is not a good idea for my body to turn tropical.  For one thing, my home is back at 43 N.  I remember the scritch-scritch of snowpants and wearing two layers of grandma's knitted mitts.  I dread and respect black ice.  I know that when half a meter of snow falls overnight, you don't call in the army - you just trade head-shakes with your neighbours, send someone to Tim Horton's for a round of double-doubles, and get shovelling.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Wanted: Ride to 1985

I received a package today that contained three mysterious items called "cassettes".  As I understand it, these are audio recording units from the paleolithic.  I need a quick ride back to the mid-1980s to pick up a boom-box, Sony Walkman, or similar.  Anyone with a time machine who can help me out, please leave a note in the comments.  I can pay in hilarious tales of life aboard or in cupcakes - your choice.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Aluminum + Copper: A Horror Story

Q:  My friend has a metal boat.  I had him over for beers last night, and all he talked about was electrolytic corrosion.  I love boat talk as much as the next sailor, but I nearly threw him overboard.  What is it with you metal boat people and your corrosion issues?*

A:  Electrolytic corrosion is the worst.  The worst!  It is a creeping horror ready to eat away our hulls and leave us sad and boatless.  I'm sorry your imaginary friend bored you, but this is a real concern for us.  Why?  Because a penny and a little saltwater could send us to the bottom of the sea.

For those of you in need of a chemistry review, galvanic corrosion (or electrolytic corrosion - same thing) happens when two metals are in contact in an electrolytic solution, like salt water.  Essentially, one metal will corrode preferentially to save the other.  The bad news for us is that Aluminum likes to give up its electrons to almost every other metal.

"Really?" asked Stylish after we explained for the 8,793rd time why Copper pennies do not make good toys.  "Can we try it?"
Hurrah!  Science day!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Love and Marriage Aboard

One of the questions I get with some regularity is: how has cruising affected your marriage?  And I understand why people want to know.  I do.  People are awed by the prospect of spending 24/7/365 with another person, even someone they love.  But this is a question I have avoided so far, because usually it comes from about-to-be-cruisers, and what they are really asking me is, "Is cruising going to be great for my marriage?  Please reassure me."

And I will.  Sort of.  But I'm going to make this an inductive argument, so hold my hand and be patient.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Swimming, Swimming, in the Swimming Pool

Those of you enduring the endless North American winter this year won't empathize, but we are sweltering out here in the South Pacific.  One day I expect to wake up to find my bones have melted, and I'll just have to flow around the boat like Barbarmama.

Indy has a simple solution: go to the beach.  If she had her way, we would pitch a tent and live there, drifting between the water and the sand. Stylish, who is starting to show her age, is less keen for the simple reason that getting to the beach is a pain.  We can either walk 45 minutes in the blazing heat to get there, or we can take the dinghy,  which would be fine, except the motor needs a tune-up and I don't entirely trust it right now.  I know - excuses.  Family life is an exercise in compromise.  The truth is, I don't want to hike all the way over there every time it gets hot, which is always.

So how to help the kids cool down?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Am I Still A Cruiser When I'm Not Sailing?

I spent Wednesday evening packed into a small cafeteria with two hundred other parents.  As we listened to Stylish's principal talk about school rules and signing homework planners, I smiled to myself as I thought of how many similar "welcome to the new school year" talks I'd been to in years gone by.  French or English, here or there, every primary school seems to follow the same script.  Just the like the birthday party Indy attended the weekend before.  Same kids, same moms, same presents, same activities.  Except for the language, it was just like home.

A chill ran down my spine as the realization hit me.  I am living my old, pre-boat life: staying in one place, husband away working, kids in school, me running the household.  Am I even a cruiser anymore?

Friday, February 28, 2014

Surviving a Cyclone in the Marina

March is almost upon us, and with it comes New Caledonia's big cyclone month.  We have been very, very lucky up until now; only Cyclones June and Ian have come anywhere near us.  But the weather has gotten rainier and rainier, and I'm reminded that the country was rocked by Cyclone Erica in March a decade ago.  As Mad Eye Moody would say: constant vigilance!

The old wisdom tells us that, in a storm, a boat is safer at sea than in a harbor.  And I can see the point: there is less to hit out there.  But, as the sad story of the Bounty shows, being out at sea isn't always the greatest strategy.  Even if it were, I'm not about to sail Papillon out of the lagoon or into the mangroves every time the weather looks dicey.  So how are we going to get by in the marina without coming out the other end looking like a crumpled bit of aluminum foil?

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Troubleshooting the Generator, Lady Style

When Erik went back to work, Papillon became My Boat.  By which I mean, Papillon became My Problem.  With my resident handyman thousands of miles away, anything that broke was going to be my responsibility.  And it was just a matter of time before something bad happened.  This is a boat, after all.  So when the generator died this week, I wasn't surprised.

I've made no secret of the fact that I'm not very handy.  As Erik kindly puts it, I'm not a natural tool user.  No arguments here.  But, being the big boss that I am now, I thought I could show some maturity and give this a whirl.  I've watched Erik fix the genset before, usually in my role as Tool Monkey.  I may not be able to do it as quickly as he could, but surely I could start the troubleshooting process.  At worst, I would be setting a good example for my girls.

How to begin?  First, I fell back on my scientific training: I gathered data.  What did I know?  When I tried the system a second time, it died after five minutes, just like the first go-around.  No sputtering, just sudden death.  So probably not lack of fuel.  I checked the temperature.  Aha.  Too high.  Probably a cooling system issue, then.

But it was barely seven o'clock: time to get the kids off to school.  I met our carpool moms in the parking lot, and mentioned my issue.  Immediately, they both offered up their husbands to help me.
"Oh no," I said, "I'm okay for now, but I'll let you know if I need some help."  What a nice gesture, I thought.  People are so kind.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Shoe Destruction

On Sunday evening, Indy buried her head in my leg and cried, "I don't want to go back to school!"
I patted her head.  I was surprised, I had to admit it.  Indy was always keen on school; she had been so pleased that the new school year would begin the next day.
But before I could say anything comforting, she went on: "I can't stand wearing shoes all day!  My feet get so hot!"
"But your new shoes are so comfy," I said, certain I was the only parent in Noumea trying to reassure her child that her feet wouldn't catch fire from wearing shoes all day.  "And I'm sure they will breathe well.  You can take them off the moment you get home."
"How about the moment school is over?"
"Nope.  At home."
"Fine.  I'm going into the hammock."

We have a troubled relationship with shoes on this vessel.  Most of the time, we go barefoot.  It is comfortable, it is breezy, and everyone likes it.  But that isn't possible on shore.  Aside from the issues of broken glass and ubiquitous dog poo, one is expected, as a civilized person, to hide one's ugly hobbit feet in a more pleasing wrapper when gadding about town.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Get Off My Lawn: Learning to Share Space

When my parents decided to visit, I was happy for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the prospect of exploring New Caledonia from the land side.  All too often as we sail around the planet, we stick to strictly water-related activities.  Sailing.  Snorkelling.  Swimming.  The three "S"s.  So this was a chance to try something new.

And over the past couple of weeks, we have been out almost every day.  We explored the reef off Ile aux Canards.  Toured the aquarium.  Hit the beach.

Hmm.  Okay, I guess we haven't completely broken free from our water-based activity schedule.  Even our trip into the mountains to visit Sarramea centered around - you guessed it - swimming in the trou feuillet.

Another family left just as we arrived.  Hot dog!  We had the place to ourselves.  The girls wasted no time in getting into the water.  And after enduring the same safety lecture from me and both of their grandparents about not getting washed down into the next pool, we all had some fun.