life aboard

Superfluous Adults

16 Aug
I spent a lot of my childhood with my siblings down the ravine behind our house.  In summer, we found salamanders under rocks and built dams across the foot-deep stream.  In the winter, we slogged our way down the snowy slope to crack through... Read More

Should We Worry About the Youth of Today?

17 Jun
Summer 2010 - lemonadeSummer 2013 - handwashingLast night was Family Movie Night.  We don't do it often, but Grannie had taken a stroll through the local used DVD emporium, and sent us Ghostbusters as part of a care package.  And who can say ... Read More

The Ninja Sailor

9 Jun


Stylish descended the companionway, muttering to herself.  “Lanacote, small brush, Lanacote, small brush…”
“Everything okay?”
She glanced up at me as she started rooting through the drawers in the nav desk.  “I had to pass Dad to get up the ladder.”

There are many obvious skills one needs to cultivate to live aboard.  Good seamanship.  Knots.  Basic weather analysis.  But a successful crewmember must also learn secret talents you will never find mentioned in any manual on seafaring.  And primary among these are Ninja Skills.

It is impossible to pass Erik without being asked for something.  A tool, a glass of water, a hand.  More irritatingly, these are usually reasonable requests.  You are passing that way anyway, or the top two-thirds of him is stuck in the bilge.  So you do it.  But by the seventeenth request, you get a little grumpy.  No, let’s be clear.  I.  I get a little grumpy.  I get a lot grumpy.  I like to help as much as the next person, but there are times when I’d just like to get on with my own work uninterrupted, and getting up to find a rubber mallet or similar every ninety seconds can put me on edge.

But there is a good alternative to snapping, “Get it your own &$@# self!”  And it is this: be one with the wallpaper.

It isn’t easy.  This is high-level Jedi-style ninja stuff I am talking about here.  But it’s worth it.

Let’s break it down.

Situational Awareness
First, you have to cultivate a locational awareness of your Help-Me Spouse (HMS).  This doesn’t mean tracking their every move, but you do need to notice where they are, and, more importantly, when they are coming.  The HMS can descend on you like a hawk on a mouse.  Learn to look for that tell-tale shadow, hear that creaking floorboard, smell that engine oil, and make yourself scarce.

Be One With Nature
Ninjas, at least according to my kids’ Magic Treehouse books, are all about mimicking and fading into the environment in order to hide.  So try to blend in with the mast.  Melt against the engine room.  Merge with the shadows cast by the wheel.  (You can feel less dorky about trying this yourself by calling it “getting to know your boat” if you like.)  Not as foolproof as out-and-out hiding, this ninja trick has the advantage of speed.  HMS coming?  Bam!  Instant camouflage.

Exit strategies
Here on the hard, we have one exit from the boat: down the ladder.  It would be unkind of me to suggest that my HMS intentionally chooses to work at the bottom of said ladder, lurking there, Gollum-like, waiting to ask someone for a 9 mm wrench as they pass by.  I’m sure it is just a convenient place to mix paint.  Point being, for the ninja, this bottleneck is an issue.  An ambush waiting to happen.

So get creative.  Set up some scaffolding on the other side of the boat.  Learn to scale the anchor chain.  Climb the neighboring boat and take a flying leap to your own deck.  Buy a hang glider or a trampoline.  Grow gecko pads on your hands and feet.  And those solutions are just off the top of my head.

What Happens as a Ninja Stays as a Ninja
For the love of Mike, whatever you do, don’t let your HMS catch you in your evasive maneuvers.  You can’t have a bad Ninja day.  Not only do you look like a jerk, pressed up against the teak and pretending to be a floorboard, but it puts on you HMS’s radar.  They know you know.  The hawk will be extra vigilant, and that doesn’t mean anything good for you.

Returning to Papillon earlier today, I crunched across the gravel, lost in thought about what I wanted to write in this post.

Erik popped up like a jack-in-the-box from behind the stern.  “Ame, you going up?  Could you grab me my grinder?  I’m filthy.”

You see?  Constant vigilance!  Now where the heck is that grinder?
Read More

What Do You Do All Day?

5 May
This is one of the most common questions I get from land folks.  It is usually accompanied by a wide-eyed look and a shake of the head, as though we wake up every morning in our floating prison cell, wondering how to fill the dark and heavy hours until lights-out.

Never.  Erik and I wake up every day, roll over, say good morning, and wonder, "What is going to break today?"  There are few things you can count on in this world, my friends, but I can promise you this: on a boat, there is always something advancing along the 'breaking' continuum.  And usually more than one thing.  Owning a boat is much like what I imagine being an assistant for a very demanding and unstable celebrity must be like.  You fulfill strange and unreasonable requests at all hours of the day and night, working yourself to exhaustion trying to please someone who will never, ever be satisfied.  But, sometimes, you get to do something incredibly cool and amazing as a result of working for this crazy person, and it all becomes worthwhile.  So you stay, living for those moments.  And the rest of the time you live head down in the bilge, dreaming.

In short, filling the hours is rarely an issue.


Fixing something?  Nah, I just felt like climbing the mast.
Over time, I have come to realize that people are really asking me, "How do you fill your time without a tight and action-packed pre-determined schedule?"  Because if there is one area where the first world shines, it is in scheduling.  School, work, appointments, soccer, gymnastics, piano lessons, dinner with the in-laws: all of these things are keyed into your Blackberry/iPhone/cranial implant on a minute-by-minute basis to ensure you maximize your quality-of-life output.  Or something like that.

Rather than living in the future like that ("Great, Sherry; we'll see you for dinner at 8pm, seven weeks from Saturday,") we live almost solely in the present.  When the water pump breaks, that becomes Erik's job for the morning.  When we hear about a festival in town, that takes care of our afternoon.  Friends from another boat just sailed into port?  Invite them over for dinner.

Oh, sure, when it is time to see a dentist, we'll find one and make an appointment, but, for the most part, planning doesn't work very well.  When we consider sailing on, we wait for the wind and weather to be right.  Sometimes, we wait for weeks.  That stopped stressing me out years ago.  I now enjoy the peace of sipping my morning Darjeeling, and wondering what the day will hold.  I enjoy being wrong about what the day will hold.  Surprises are good things.

"Fine," you say.  "Good for you and your zen-like state, Amy.  But what do you guys do?"

Our main fixed task for the day is school.  When breakfast is done, Erik heads off to fix whatever he is fixing that day, and the girls and I break out the school books.  Except when we don't.  If something great comes along first thing in the morning, we will delay (read: skip) school.  Since we don't take weekends or summer holidays, it all works out in the end.  But on a regular morning, we do some combination of math, history, reading, science, music, etc. until lunch.

Preparing to separate out pigments from plants we found in Tonga.
The afternoon is when "let's see what is happening today," comes into its own.  Stylish and Indy may call a friend on the VHF, and arrange to play aboard or ashore.  They often delve into the recycling to make crafts.  They dress up.  They invent elaborate games and make-believe worlds.  Stylish writes books - sometimes on paper, sometimes written in Sharpie on a scrap piece of blueboard, the words wrapped around a 3-D model from the story.  Indy swings on the halyards, often in her ballet gear.  They swim.  They snorkel.  They snack.  They set up restaurants on deck, selling to us and each other.  They help Erik and me with our jobs, both the fun and the icky.  They run around inventing and exploring until it is time for bed.


How high can I get, do you think?
The kids don't do these things because we tell them to.  It is a rare day they look to us for suggestions.  As long as they can spend most of the day outside, using their imaginations, they are happy kids... without a scheduled hockey practice in sight.

But, surely, without the need to hover over the kids, that leaves Erik and me with oodles of leisure time?  I chortle.  Yes, of course we have down time.  We lay down our tools when something good crops up, just like the kids do.  Part of the fun of cruising is learning to be spontaneous and say 'yes'.  But we also have the aforementioned fixing of things to accomplish.  Also, people need to be fed, laundry washed, floors de-crumbed, dodgers repaired, books read to small people, articles written... it amounts to a busy day.

Father-son bonding via windlass repair.
There is no typical day on Papillon.  On passage we do our sailing things, and at anchor we do our port things.  But those vary widely.  The only reason I know the day of the week is that I write it on the school board every morning.

So, what do we do all day?  We take care of our basic needs, and we have fun.  No Blackberries required. Read More

A Fork In The Road

18 Apr
The Papillon crew is a family divided at the moment.  While the girls and I visit long-lost friends and relatives, Erik is on the boat, hard at work welding fuel tanks and replacing swage fittings.  It is a little disconcerting to be so ... Read More

War On Corrosion

3 Apr
 My can opener didn't always have vice grips attached.  Once upon a time, it had a plastic handle.  And then one day last December, the handle simply fell off.  The plastic hadn't broken - the metal underneath had rusted away. ... Read More

Singing in the Rain

31 Mar
Rainy days are always a treat on board.  Well, okay.  Rainy days in the tropics are a treat,because it is warm outside.  Rainy days in, oh, I don't know, New Zealand, when it's Christmas and it's freezing and your in-laws are visiting an... Read More

What’s Cookin’?

16 Mar
 The trouble with feeding a family is that it is relentless.  It can be fun to prepare a good meal - chopping vegetables, sniffing at the pot bubbling on the stove, watching everyone's smiling face as they dig in.  And then, zip! it's go... Read More

Making Ends Meet

2 Mar
Hand over your snap shackles, cotter pins and epoxy resin!A reader recently asked me what we do for money on the boat.  I get this question from time to time; I write about the price of tinned beans often enough that people understand we aren't li... Read More

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