Friday, September 28, 2012

Around the North Pacific in 80 Days

by Richard, age almost 12

Hi, it's been eighty days since we departed Seldovia on the good ship Northern Passage. We are currently in Newport, Oregon, 1,340 nautical miles from Anchorage as the crow flies, yet we have traveled 2,465 nautical miles due to our winding route down the North American coast and the islands in Southeast Alaska. We have seen hundreds of animals, weathered storms and crossed the Gulf of Alaska, and that's only in eighty days!

The best animal sightings were the whales, both humpbacks and orcas, some even sounding not fifteen feet away! Then in Prince William Sound we saw a shark that must have been at least six feet long!

Crossing the Gulf of Alaska, we ran into eight to to twelve foot seas for about eight hours before calming down after midnight. The next day I woke up with a stiff neck from sleeping in the cockpit. "Only two more days to go," I thought as I lay in the cockpit, then I saw an albatross skimming over the waves and I saw that they had calmed down a lot. I was really relieved. We've had some rough seas since then, but nothing worse than that night entering the Gulf of Alaska.

We've been waiting out a storm here in Newport, Oregon and are leaving tomorrow, bound for Eureka, California. We will be out for two days and I hope for calm seas and a following wind. Wonder where we will be in another eighty days, Mexico maybe?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Getting Ready for A Few Nights Out

When we depart Newport, Oregon on Thursday, we will be out at sea for two nights in order to arrive in California on Saturday.  When we are on an overnight crossing Bruce and I split the night, each taking a watch for six hours and sleeping for the other six hours.  The kids usually stay up with us for an hour or so of our shift to keep us company.  We turn on the autopilot, and when she is working properly we are able to rest, read, play cards, have snacks, and even write, but not to sleep during our watch, for we always need to keep an eye out for other ships passing quietly in the night.

Of the 80 days that we have been sailing so far, we have only done five overnight crossings.  Bruce has a lot of experience with this from his years as a merchant mariner, tug boat crewmember, first mate aboard a cruise ship, and project manager aboard fiber optic submarine cable ships.  The rest of the crew are just getting the hang of it. 

I am no longer afraid of the overnights, in fact I have begun to enjoy the solitude, the feeling of being no different than the birds and whales and sea lions traveling the ocean day and night.  I am growing to love the sweetness and simplicity of it, the uninterrupted time with the three people I love most in the world, the quietness.  Still, the all-nighter thing is hard to recover from at 47 years old, nothing like the ones I pulled in college when I could go to classes and carry on the next day as if nothing had happened.

One of the big tricks I know I need to master in order to have a pleasant overnight experience is to sleep at OTHER times of day.  It reminds me of being a nursing mom, at the beck and call of an infant who needs to nurse every hour or so around the clock.  Back then, I resisted the nap; it was nearly impossible for me to sleep when the baby slept, because I yearned to have my own time, do my own thing, read that book or take a bath or do that laundry.  I do the same thing aboard Northern Passage.  I fiddle and fuss, I don't want to miss anything.  I resist.  Bruce is a master napper.  He will sleep anywhere, anytime.  I wonder if he has always been this way, or if he learned it from his years at sea.

Although this 6-hour shift from 9pm-3am is hard to get through, it is not without its rewards.  I found this bit of writing (below) from a perfect night watch a few weeks ago.  It is difficult to capture the magic that occurs during that time of night out on the sea.  So, while I drift to sleep at 9:30 tonight in an attempt to bank the hours I know I won't be getting out there, I'll attach this bit of night watch writing:  

     A moonless star-filled night on the Pacific Ocean outside Washington state.   It is 1:27 am and I have another hour to go on my night watch at the helm.   
     Steering through the black night on black water is a little bit like driving around at night without streetlights or headlights on a road that is constantly rolling beneath you.  Although we are steering a course, our 51-foot boat feels miniscule in this great body of water.  
     The bouyancy of a boat has always been soothing to me, though, the gentle swaying, the lapping and pulsing of water along the hull, and it seems even more magical at night.   As a kid growing up in Chatham, Massachusetts one of my favorite things to do was to go out in our little dinghy under the full moon, and drift.
     Tonight is about as perfect a night as a sailor can ask for.   A slight breeze keeps two stabilizing sails full while following seas push us along.   The air is crisp but not cold, the sky a magnificent display of light - first sunset colors, pastels painting the entire sky and now starlight wonder.
     We bob along, the subtle glow of the gps chart plotter and the green of the radar keeping me alert.  I have kept busy tonight, making tea, reading a book, reefing and adjusting the mizzen sail, playing and singing along to music, and now with head sticking out of the cockpit, looking straight up at zillions of stars, I write. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Teachers, I Bow to You

 “Treat me like you treat your teacher, NOT like you treat your mother!” I yelled.

When I heard these words come barreling out of my mouth a few weeks ago, I felt utterly defeated, both as a teacher and as a mother.  The statement was directed at my eye-rolling 6th and 4th grade children when I attempted to give them a writing assignment and they sprawled across the couch in their pajamas, moaning, “Ugh.....Mom, do we HAVE to?”  My wiser than wise 9-year-old daughter’s response to my outburst went something like this, “Maybe if you want us to start respecting you as a teacher, you should start respecting us as students!  Teachers are nice to us when they teach, just like you are nice to us when you tuck us in at night.”  Ouch, insert knife and twist.  That girl has a way of getting right to me, of pointing out the honest truth in the most brutal (and loudest) way possible.
Carmen during "P.E." class -
climbing and swinging.

The image I had envisioned of a carefree and unstructured boat-schooling environment went right out the window.  I found myself fantasizing about strict schedules and dress codes, about punishment for disrespectful treatment of teachers and classmates.  I felt like giving up.  Only a few weeks into our foray into this world of home-schooling and their bad attitudes combined with my lack of training in teaching made me want to quit. 

I was reminded once again of my deep-rooted belief that teachers are the most important, powerful, influential, undervalued and underpaid professionals in our society.  Having grown up with teachers as parents, I have spent countless hours debating this point to my peers over the years, and have seen first hand the amount of work, energy, time and dedication it takes to teach.
Bruce giving the kids their sailing/physics lesson.
Our boat-schooling started about a month ago, when Bruce and I became our children’s academic teachers in addition to being, as parents, their primary teachers in life.  The kids wanted to start school at the same time they would have started back home, so we began on a Wednesday in late August.  The first week and a half went well, as they arrived at the table fresh and eager, ready for a change from summer adventures.  They seemed thirsty for the familiar structure and knowledge they receive at school.

Working at the table that serves as our classroom, dining room and living room, the kids were enthusiastic, jumping into their math and spelling textbooks and excited about writing their thoughts down in journals.  All jazzed about the science unit Bruce taught them on the physics of sailing and on cartography of the ocean floor, we saw the sparkle in their eyes and felt proud of them (and proud of us) in achieving success in our boat-based classroom.

The kids made wooden sailboats
to learn about points of sail.
Then came week 3, the week the charm wore off, and the outburst from their teacher/mom ensued.  I now realize this was no different from the first few weeks of school on land, when the kids started to feel bored, the information was mostly review, and they missed the unstructured freedom of summer.  For some strange reason I have yet to discover, I had thought it would be different out here.  What was I thinking?!

Luckily, this negative attitude from both students and teacher came right when we had planned to take a week off from school while their grandparents rendezvoused with us in Victoria, British Columbia.  We closed our textbooks and sunk head-first into FIELD TRIPS!  Now I understand how important they are!  We attended museums, studied architecture, read about the history of the city, went to a castle, talked with artists at the market, and learned about the history of the nearly 100-year-old schooner in the slip beside us.

After this much-needed week off, the grandparents returned home, we set sail and are getting back into the routine of school.  I feel ready to make it work.  With $170 worth of books and teaching materials from Amazon, I am now armed with tools at my fingertips written by educators, and I feel confident I can become a better teacher with a better attitude.  My teaching will not come close to the skilled teaching that comes from years of experience and a proper and continuing education that our public school teachers pursue, but it will improve, I am sure of it.

We took the classroom outside this day,
and learned that it was too difficult to
concentrate on the beach....but if we
hadn't gone there, we wouldn't have found
Ernie and the boatbuilding shop
So, we march on.  As Bruce reminds me, these two children are learning every day out here.  We navigate and map our routes, we notice changes in weather, identify birds, watch animal behavior and learn about the history of the maritime world.  While ashore, we go to museums and talk to people.  Last week, we walked into a wooden boatbuilding shop and talked with Ernie, who told us to come back the next day.  We returned, and the kids stayed with him for four hours, building a boat.  Emergent curriculum is what this year will be about.  We will engage in the types of educational experiences that enrich us as human beings.  Meanwhile, the ABCs and the 123s will happen in our makeshift school, one way or another.

Richard machining wooden plugs to go in "Pocahontas"
Carmen installed the plugs in each rib.
The plugs ready to be installed.
I am confident that Richard and Carmen will learn to accept the teaching styles and limitations of their new teachers and we will respect with kindness the students we are teaching.  One day, perhaps we will find that we treat our mothers like we treat our teachers, and our children like we treat our students.  Wouldn’t THAT be lovely?