Friday, September 23, 2016

Opportunity Cost

One of the upsides of our stop in Grenada was meeting the like-minded crew of "Pelagic", people with whom we share some Alaska connections.

In conversation, Amy of Pelagic commented how an economist friend of theirs is horrified at the way they have gone sailing, and therefore foregone three of their "prime earning years". The opportunity costs! Unfathomable!

Alisa had the ready reply that perhaps that's why, while it seems impossible to get together any collection of traveling sailors that doesn't include an engineer or three, we have yet to knowingly meet an economist afloat.

Finally, it's been discovered! A class of people less romantic than the engineers! (My colleague and a reader of the blog, Alan Haynie, excepted, I am sure.)

Me, I'm more vulnerable to that talk of opportunity costs. I have this memory of the staff at a very good chandlery in San Diego that I cannot shake. The place seemed to be run entirely by people who had buggered off in their prime to go sailing, and were now passing their sixties working retail for none too high a wage, I imagine. I will admit to the occasional middle-of-the-night fear over the past nine years that that not be us.

And there is another sort of opportunity cost involved in a trip long enough to be measured in the lifetimes of our children. That's the what-might-have-been scenario that imagines us putting all the immense time and effort that has gone into the business of sailing across oceans into some other endeavor. While we've been servicing winches and slapping on bottom paint my sister has built a practice as a pediatrician and my brother in law has made himself a successful career in academia. Maybe we could have done something more concrete with our energies.

I think this is a big hurdle for a lot of people who consider the sailing life. We know people who could afford to take it on, and would like to, but I suspect are unwilling to make the commitment to giving up other endeavors in their lives.

You can only sit in one chair at a time, as the saying goes. And the sailing life, more than most, rewards the quality of being all-in.

(I might have some recourse to argument on this point, since I am the only full-time yachtie whom you will ever meet who completed a PhD while crossing oceans. Ironically, I likely wouldn't have done that if we'd stayed ashore.)

Ultimately, though, I think this "lost opportunity of endeavor" that is presented by the decision to go to a-rovin' on the oceans is a weak argument for your better sort of yachtie. There is a class of people, even in this post-post-modern age where screen time stands in for life experience, who believe that human endeavor is best measured at the scale of oceans, and in the experience of self reliance. For these people, going to sea isn't such a choice as a burning desire, to be realised if it at all can be. "The oceans are wide, but my ship is up to the task, and who knows what adventures I'll meet on the far shore?" If that idea doesn't at least occasionally strike you as enough meaning for life, if the rising tide and steady glass don't quicken your breath and make you long for the feeling of decks coming to life beneath your feet, well! Then why in the world are you reading this blog, anyway?

And it's those same people who feel that pull of an active and questing life, who know in their marrow that living for at least a few years in a way that relies on sinew of arm and speed of wits is to know what it was to really live when life's end comes, who have the most irrefutable answer to the economists' "lost opportunity cost".

To whit: what a circumscribed view of life, to see our arc of existence as nothing more than an economic endeavor! The real opportunity is to go sailing now, while you still can. Go while you and your kid are still able to have a civil conversation. Go while you still have enough adventurous spirit of youth that you might consider some daunting itinerary of remote navigation and decide you just might be up to it. Go, above all, while you're still hale and hearty. Regret what you did, and not what you left undone.

(I wonder if that's how the staff at that chandlery in San Diego see things?)

This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

Monday, September 19, 2016


We played a more traditional game with our approach to Grenada. Would the wind qet us there in daylight?

The night before the wind was a whisper and I was fatalistic. What would be, etc. Then the day a perfect palace of light - the tropical sun's thousand-fold brilliance, making objects either glow or burning them back to some essence that can't be revealed by more temperate light. The only "object" around us the occasional ship. Everything else being either ethereal - the towering thunderheads of squally weather brewing - or liquid - the marble-blue sea.

Not wanting to either glow or be burned back to our essence, we Galactics huddled in the shade.

A squall came sweeping through at lunch time. Here's us, half a jib and no main, making 8 knots. Nothing could be finer.

And then after the squall, the wind settled in to do its tradewind business. We boomed along, Grenada firmly in the bag.

But then! Who expected zephyrs by evening? The wind died and died as we closed the shore. The current that has been helping us along since before the equator did its final bit.

Through binoculars we marveled at the thickets of yachts crammed into every anchorage. We have heard about such things, of course, but never had seen the absolute numbers before on display.

As we made the final turn into our chosen bay the wind left us completely for a long long moment while the current kept rocking us along. If it stayed like that we dasn't approach the shore. The sun now was frankly closing the horizon.

The wind rallied, and just enough of a breeze saw us shooting in towards the floating condo field that is a Caribbean anchorage almost safe from hurricanes during the season. I laughed at the thought that a couple hours before we had been discussing whether we should sail in with one reef or two.

A quick assessment of the scene - look, there's a channel marked through the anchorage - look, there's some room behind that black hull just behind the cat - then a luff, followed by a tack and a short board and another luff and, "let it go now"!

Followed by the inevitable reply from crew to captain, that age-old response that is carven in the salt-stained oak of nautical tradition: "let it go now?"

"Yes, now!"

And, we cold-cocked it. Easiest thing in the world, really, if you're happy with the outermost spot in a very open bay. After we had settled down against the wind an attempt to set the anchor revealed that we now have neither forward gear nor reverse.

And so now we've crossed the Atlantic twice. In one year, mind, which makes 2016 a great capper to our year spent in the south. Twenty days out of Ascension, and 45 out of South Africa. Thirty-eight or 39 days at sea all up.

We had cheese and olives and drinks in the cockpit while a very spectacular sunset played itself out. I allowed myself a second beer, even though I knew the risk in terms of migraine, and sure enough paid the price this morning. If this were fiction I could be someone's uncle, exasperatingly predictable in their less respectable behaviors.

And now! Once more into the marine engineering breach, this time re. the gear box.

(Pelagic, if you see this and are nearby, we're the outermost boat in Prickly Bay. Would be great to meet you!)

This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

By the Numbers/Is Life Better In Reverse?

I think it might be because of the way that my day job is so number-intensive, but I tend to be pretty relaxed about quantifying various aspects of our life afloat.

Our fuel consumption, in liters per hour? The size of our water tanks? Our average daily run?

These are numbers that most of our traveling tribe of global gallivants, our fellowship of cashed-up (or not) misfits, our fellow full-time sailors, that is, can readily rattle out. These are reasonably important numbers, after all, if you're gonna go a-cruisin'.

Of those three questions, I can only answer the middle with a rough sort of certitude. Six hundred liters, and no, we don't have any way of gauging them at sea. To the first question I can offer a dumb look, and to the last I can only say that we more or less guesstimate 150 nautical miles if we're doing something so gross as trying to plan a passage. But really we don't know. Most of the time, I don't even calculate our daily run. I think it might be that the little corner of my psyche that is given over to the poetic rebels at all the time that I put into the scientific endeavor, and that poetic crumb of me vigorously defends sailing as its turf.

Bugger off, it says to my over-developed science side. Who cares how many miles we made? We'll get there when we get there.

Recently, though, we have all been having fun at guessing the daily run. It's enjoyable when we're putting up numbers like we have been - a string of oddly regular 178-mile days, interrupted by an occasional 180. This in spite of light winds, and thanks to the booming current off the northeast corner of South America that our mate back in Tassie has kindly been steering us into thanks to the magic of online current mapping.

Here's a startling set of numbers. Looking at the chart to pass the nightwatch hours, I see that from our current position off the coast of Suriname, we're actually closer to Kodiak (5,550 nm) than to Hawaii (5,930). The magic of a spherical globe!

And, there's this number: 40,000. We've kept the odometer on our GPS running ever since we set out from Alameda on this boat, and we passed over that notable number a few days ago. That's a lotta saltwater, I can tell you.

Oh, and this numerical correction to my post about the equator. Alisa points out to me that we were in the Southern Hemisphere (bless it) for five years and change, not four.

And, finally, this number: in a bit more than a week Alisa and I will have been married for 15 years. Those of you who were there for the party will doubtless marvel at how quickly the time has gone since.

So that's life by the numbers. As for living in reverse, which is not the Galactic way, I can tell you, that is a bit of grudging acknowledgement of the fact that we are now without a operating gearbox, and cannot engage the motor in forward. I say our acknowledgement is grudging because, at least at sea, it's no consideration at all. Who cares about the bloody gearbox out here? True, its demise did lead us to forego a visit to French Guyana and our friends on Oberon. We sorely felt that missed visit with long-lost friends, but it's hard to stay down long when you're on passage.

And we all seem to be thriving on this passage. Except occasionally for poor six-year-old Eric, who can't yet engage himself by reading for hours, and dearly wishes his ten-year-old brother, who can and does, would agree to play with him a lot more often.

But aside from that one little hiccup, we are thriving.

To whit: Alisa and I sat in the cockpit today, marveling that the sea could be so flat. We had honestly forgotten how gentle and easy tradewind miles can be.

Eric reeled in his first-ever tuna yesterday, a sardine-sized skipjack that did us well for lunch. You should have seen him, with the fighting belt strapped uselessly around his little waist. He was so pleased. And he is always so eager to see if a fish I am butchering is a male or female, and to see what's in its stomach. Definitely the child of biologists.

Elias, meanwhile, reeled in a blooody *marlin* the other day, with a little help from me. Needless to say, we released it. And the quiet smile that graced Elias' face for the rest of the day came from somewhere deep within.

Alisa occasionally mutters something along the lines of, "this is the best of life", or "I'm so happy".

The sea is blue, we are completely on our own and glad for it, and the days go so fast that it's hard to hold onto them.

Who could argue with her?
This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!