Monday, November 25, 2013

The Silence of Snow in Alaska

A few weeks ago we ventured about an hour outside of Anchorage to Hatcher's Pass, a dead-end road near the top of a mountain where we like to play in the snow.  The small European-style lodge is nestled among the mountains that form a quintessential glacier-made U-shaped valley.

Me x-country skiing in my Skhoop, with the kids, Nala and Bruce up ahead.
Warm fuzzy mitten made it into the picture too :)
The first thing I noticed when I stepped out of the car was the silence.    Snow has an incredible muffling effect.  Even if a car is driving up the road, its sound is subdued.  And more often than not, there is not a car driving there.  Aside from the generator occasionally running to make electricity and the crunch of skis or snowshoes trapsing across the snow-covered tundra, it can be completely silent.  In some places in Alaska, you can still encounter a noticeable absence of man-made sounds.

I had forgotten about the silence of snow.  The peaceful chill of a snow-covered valley.  After nearly a year living in Mexico last winter, the silence of a mountain valley full of snow was impressive and made me pause.  I breathed in the silence.  It filled me up.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Time Flies - And Then It Doesn't - Bringing Life Aboard to Life on Land

At home in Anchorage, Alaska since August 5th, we are now sailors living on land, our sailboat home thousands of miles away.  S/V Northern Passage is out of the water "on the hard" at a marina in Mexico.

It's funny, although we are now rooted to the earth, some days I feel more adrift here in this small American city than I did when I was actually drifting on the sea.  I'm sure my friends from Manhattan and Boston are chuckling at the thought of Anchorage, Alaska seeming fast-paced.  I'll admit, compared to their cities this one is far less busy.  But still, there are streets and traffic lights, shopping malls and grocery stores, schools and restaurants and theaters.  And people.  So many people intent on getting somewhere, doing something.  It is busy, just on a smaller scale.

When we first arrived back home, I didn't have a car because all of the keys to our VW van had been lost since we departed 15 months before.  I moaned and complained about the fact that we had to wait for the VW dealer to order ridiculously expensive keys and it would take almost two weeks for them to arrive.  Yet secretly, I was relieved.  My friends brought me food.  I started to unpack - carefully - one box at a time.  I hung out with Nina, my friend who spent the summer at Fish Camp living off the grid in central Alaska along the banks of the Yukon River catching filleting smoking jarring fish.  She was feeling similarly overwhelmed living back in Anchorage. 

Together we eased into our life here.  We hung out in my clean, empty house.  Drank tea.  Laughed.  Shared stories about our time away.  Breathed deeply and prepared to venture into the world.  My friends instinctively gave me space and love, pampered me as I made this transition from sea to land.

But one day it happened - the keys were made and I got behind the wheel of my beloved VW microbus.  And I drove.  And I drove.  And I drove.  I am afraid to add up the hours we spend driving our car or biking from place to place. Now, we have to be purposeful about stopping and making time for exploration and experiencing nature.  Yes, even in Alaska!  Before, during our life at sea, we explored every day.  We experienced new places, natural wonders, weather, wildlife, sea states every day whether we were traveling from one place to another or we were anchored down in a cove or a town.  Although we were traveling we weren't "busy."  Time passed in a very different way.  It went slower, I swear!

As I drove from one errand to another yesterday, I marveled at the passage of time.  Home for three months already!  I swear I just blinked and the time passed.  Why does time speed ahead at this groundbreaking pace here on land?  Why are we so busy?  Aboard the sailboat it went slower.  If we had an "hour glass" aboard the sailboat, I imagine that two hours would pass before it would be empty.  Here 20 minutes would pass.  Sigh.

All this said, the transition to land has not been as difficult as I imagined it would be.  I feel more grounded inside than I ever have been.  I approach this life with more ease.  I say "no" more often than I used to and I spend more time at home than I ever did before.  The house has become my boat, my "cabin," my refuge.  I am grateful to feel this way about the home in which I live.  Before we sailed, I was always running away from it.  Now I run toward it.

I think J.T. may have said it best - I've been humming this song for a couple of days now:

"The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time
Any fool can do it
There ain't nothing to it
Nobody knows how we got to
The top of the hill
But since we're on our way down
We might as well enjoy the ride"

Saturday, August 17, 2013

My Evolving Elusive "Home"

Home is a concept I can't seem to put my finger on.   Is it a place?  Is it where the heart is?   Is it where the skies are not cloudy all day?  Is it true that there's no place like home?   Or is it true that you can never go back home?

I remember when I first left my childhood home for college.  During freshman year I met new friends from all over the world, and one of the most common conversation starters was "where are you from?"  That first year when Thanksgiving or spring break came around, I would tell people I was going "home."    Home was where I grew up, it was my parents' house, it was not Tufts University or Medford, MA, where I hung my hat every day.

Sometime before graduation, however,  my language about home changed.  By my senior year, when I Ieft Boston to visit my parents, I found myself telling people I was "going to Connecticut" or "having Thanksgiving at my parents' house."  And after visiting there I was returning "home" to Boston.

Flash forward about 17 years and there I am moving 4,000 miles away to Alaska.  For many years I told people I was living "out west," and when I returned to New England I was "going home."   Then one day it shifted.   I was "going back east" when I visited my family and "going home" when returning to Alaska.

I wonder what subtle changes occur to shift my idea of home from one place to another.  Is it time passing?  Is it making connections?  Is it a physical response to my surroundings?  Is it the history, the adventures, the memories I create there?

My most recent home was aboard our sailboat Northern Passage.  She carried my family on a year+ long adventure through the waters of Alaska, Canada, the western United States and Mexico.  From the moment I set foot aboard her, S/V Northern Passage was Home.  She was our contained world that cuccooned us over almost 8,000 miles at sea.

Now, our sailboat home is put to bed, high and dry in Mexico, her soul/sails folded belowdecks, I imagine her paint peeling in the blazing sun, her decks, accustomed to moisture from sea and dew, now dry as a bone and dusty.   And her people no longer cooking, laughing, arguing, splashing, sleeping, breathing life into her.  

Since June we have been driving around the country visiting national wonders, camping and couch hopping with relatives and friends.  I feel like a gypsy even more than when we were at sea. 

Today, finally, we are  flying "home" to Alaska.  I wonder how quickly my psyche, my language, my heart will embrace my new/old home?   Or has the sea captured my spirit forever?  Has my definition of home been temporarily shifted or permanently changed?  

Now, when people ask me where I am from I say "Alaska."   But if they know me for longer than a few minutes, they soon learn that I grew up in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and for most of my life that was home.   Eventually they know that I was born in the midwest, where my extended family still lives, and they know the story about the old mann in a Boston coffee shop who knew immediately that  I was a "good midwestern girl" at heart.

So, my home has evolved.  I will add to the list the Pacific Ocean and Mexican coast.  Perhaps I am a person who collects homes rather than plants my feet in one place.   Perhaps home is where the bonfires happen.  It is where my soul sings and the world feels balanced.  I am embarrassed to say that another old cliche about home rings true for me: home is where the heart is.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Reflecting on What I Learned At Sea, Part 1

Last March we began to sail north instead of south.  North from the southern tip of Pacific Mexico to the Sea of Cortez.  During the overnight passage to La Paz, I reflected on what I had learned since being at sea with my family beginning in July of 2012.  Here is my list of random thoughts as of April 2013.  Of course the amount of learning and discovery that went on was more than can ever be documented.  However, at 3:00am one night at sea, these are the things that popped into my head:

A dark, moonless, windless sea reflects starlight.

The dark velvety sea is alive with phosphorescence that light up florescent green when disturbed by the wake of our bow (or the body of my daughter during a nighttime swim). I am amazed every time I see them, like a small child I jump up and down and point, "Look!  Look!  Wow!!"  They look just like fairy dust.  Maybe they are?

I can see a dolphin swimming with speed and grace even clearer in a black sea than I can during the day, as it is outlined bright green and leaves a trail of phosphorescent fairy dust.

I still love to watch my children sleep.   Now that they frequently fall asleep in the cockpit during a night watch, I get to watch them like I did when they were babies.  I never tire of it.  As I stare at them and pet their smooth cheeks, I am in awe of the fact that I created them.

Pressure cooker meals are DELICIOUS!!!

A dolphin's breath sounds exactly like a human emerging from swimming underwater.

Quiet alone time outside in the wee hours of the night is good for the soul.

Yoga can be practiced anywhere, any time.  

I can design and sew canvas awnings.

A toilet bowl plunger works great as the "agitator" cycle on a hand-wash bucket system of washing clothes.

I honor and respect teachers even more than before, as this homeschooling journey has revealed to me that their patience and knowledge and intelligence and devotion are untouched by any other profession.

A night cool enough to put on a long sleeved shirt and pajama bottoms feels cozy and makes me happy.

I like being out of cell and wifi range.

Tiny Mexican limes pack a serious punch, are much more delicious than standard U.S. limes, and can be used at EVERY meal.

All Mexican fruit blows away fruit from the US, except maybe apples.

There really is such a thing as the "green flash," and it is very small and quick.

My mother is the best mother a girl could ever dream of having.

Cats really are boat animals.   I feel guilty taking Tiger back on land, he is so much more content aboard S/V Northern Passage.

There really is a bird called the Blue Footed Boobie.

Blue Footed Boobies can be seen riding across the ocean standing on sea turtles' backs.

Sunrises are made of magic.

Even baby (juvenile?) humpback whales have barnacles living on their jaws.

My daughter is a mermaid.

My son is a surfer.

My husband is an Adonis.

In an instant, a stranger can become a friend.

The ability to relate to people through their own language is just one of the magical things that happens when you can speak a language other than your own first language.

I am excited about going back to work.

There is a type of dolphin that does all of the tricks you've seen at a dolphin show, out in the wild with no treats for rewards!  Walking on the tail, leaping out of the water, full body flips.

Four bicycles on one 51 foot boat is NOT too many bikes!

I love my home in Alaska.

Fresh air every day is essential to health and happiness.

Wrinkles disappear with contentment.

A tortilla warmer basket, lime and orange squeezers, and many types of hot sauce are essential kitchen items.

For me, there is such a thing as water that is so warm it is no longer refreshing. 90+ degrees.

I do not enjoy the feeling of sweat dripping down my face before 10:00am.

I am no longer afraid of the open ocean.  I even wish we had experienced longer overnight passages (three nights was the longest).  The sweet rhythm we would fall into on that last day was a tease.  Perhaps I am ready to go further offshore.

I like a simple life.  I feel more content, more open, more passionate, more creative, with less.  Less is more for me.

I want to return to the sea - for longer next time.  Maybe forever.

My 125 pound engineer-surfer-deep-in-thought preteen son who is almost my height and whose feet are already two sizes bigger than mine will always be my boy who loves to snuggle and chat quietly with his mama.

My feisty beautiful graceful monkey-dolphin-girl is a poet and an artist and despite incessantly questioning me will always have reserved for her Mommy the biggest "Squeezy" hug on the planet.

My Capitan is my soul.   My breath.  My anchor and my wings. He nourishes me and gives me hope.

Friday, May 31, 2013

All the Comforts of Home Squeezed Onto Our 51' Sailboat

        Back in March, after a 15-hour sail from Acapulco to a small fishing village, we drop the hook and set up the boat for being at anchor for the night.  For some boaters, this means tidying up lines, covering sails, doing dishes, cleaning the cockpit and perhaps taking a nap.  For us, a cruising sailboat with two children aboard, it means getting set up to play before darkness sets in.  It still amazes me that on such a small space we can create as much opportunity for play as we do on our 1+ acres of land at home in Anchorage.  I thought I would try to describe our kid-centered home afloat.

        When we come to anchor, one of the first things that often happens is Carmen helps rig her favorite swinging rope off the end of the boom for tarzan-style swinging into the water.  Meanwhile, Bruce and I share a cold beer before before launching our kayak and paddling around the quiet bay.  Richard often gets to work setting up a hammock to read in or launching the dinghy from which he plans to "dinghy surf."

        This particular afternoon, upon returning from a short sunset paddle, I look at the good ship Northern Passage and started to giggle - "Look at us, Bruce!  We are so obviously a cruiser with kids!"  One image you might have of sea-going sailboats is of pristine, shiny white, glistening chrome and polished wood "yachts."  Such boats do exist, however in my experience, these boats are not the "cruisers," at least not the cruisers with kids aboard.  "Kid Cruisers" are lived in for months or years at a time and tend to spend as little time at docks as possible.  Generally, we go to marinas to fuel up, wash down the boat, do repairs, fill our tanks with water, go grocery shopping, and perhaps take a long hot shower ashore, but we don't spend most of our time there.  We spend most of our time sailing or at anchor.  Our boats often have a, well, sort of "lived-in" family look.  S/V Northern Passage looks very much like our land-based home and yard used to look.  Busy.  Messy.  Lived-in.

      Here are some of the tell-tale signs of a family cruising sailboat (at least this is what OUR family cruiser looks like):

Davits on the stern serve as our "garage" for our "car" - the dinghy.
Notice the stuff stored inside - just like my van at home!
1)  TOYS ON DECK AND CHILDREN ON RIGGING:  Recreational toys on a cruising sailboat serve important functions: they are our transportation to shore and on shore, plus our means to play in the sun and get those sillies out after long passages at sea.  Many kid cruisers tend to have an abundance of toys strapped to the deck of their boats, as four or more people sometimes need to play at once.  Our dinghy (the closest thing to a "car" that we own) hangs from davits off the stern while a paddleboard, surfboard, boogie board, rip stick and skimboard are strapped to the rail; two bicycles are on deck while two more are stowed below in our shower/"storage shed."  Parts of the rigging of a windsurfer also line the rails, just in case we ever run across the other bits and pieces we need to make yet another complete toy.  Fenders are often dangling off the rail as they make for good toys or climbing apparatus.  Snorkels and fins are almost always strewn about the back deck.  Above decks, the entire boat is a junglegym.  It is typical to see children hanging from stays, sitting on spreaders, lounging on booms, swinging from davits.
Dinghy, kayak, paddleboard get everyone ashore.
Yes, that is Carmen - she free-climbed using her
monkey toes up a halyard to sit on the spreader!

2)  SHADE-MAKERS:  Since it is almost always hot and sunny in the tropics, those who live aboard have to create shade however possible.  Until about four months ago, our awnings were blankets and towels hung in strategic locations from the boom and stays.  However, in Zihuatanejo I bought a roll of canvas, set up the sewing machine and designed and sewed "proper" awnings.  Still a bit home-made looking, they have made life in the hot sun much more bearable.  And they keep fragile children's skin from burning to a crisp! 

3)  BOOKS:  Belowdecks, many cruisers' boats are filled to capacity with books.  This is especially true with boat-schooling kids aboard.  Our books are crammed into every available space.  There are also legos, stuffed animals, board games, craft and art supplies in every nook and cranny. 

4)  CREATIVE REPAIRS:  Many cruising sailboats flaunt evidence of home-done repairs, as supplies are often few and far between so we must become creative and adaptable.  On our steel boat, chipped paint gets covered with special rust-proofing paint that we call "duct tape paint" because of its silvery grey color.   The spigot for our washdown hose, long ago broken off, has been a pair of pliers for the past 9 months.  Until we get the fiberglassing materials out, duct tape serves to protect the dinks and holes in our paddleboard.

5)  CREATIVE TOWEL AND CLOTHES DRYING RACKS:  Winches are large gears with handles attached that help us crank in sails under tension.  They also make excellent clothing and bathing suit dryers, and while at anchor our winches are typically covered with such items as hats, bikinis and swim shirts.  Towels get draped over booms and along lifelines.

6)  COCKPITS FULL OF STUFF:  It is a losing battle to get STUFF out of the cockpit.  The cockpit is kind of like the kitchen or den in a house - it is where we hang out most of the time we are on board, the place where we bring food and drinks and books and pens and paper and knives and shoes, pillows, blankets, clothing, bathing suits, sunblock.  After a day of collecting shells and rocks along a beach, the cockpit table is where the treasures are displayed.  It is the heart of our floating home.

7)  NOISY:  A cruising sailboat with kids is not a quiet, serene place.  Especially when more than one kid-cruiser are at anchor, the harbor is filled with splashing, laughing, shouting kids.  On board, there are sibling battles being fought and laugh out loud movies being watched.  I wonder if the cruisers who arrive at an otherwise pristine anchorage turn around when they see a cruising boat with kids anchored up.  So much for a peaceful evening with nature!

All this said, I am sure there are neat and tidy kid cruising sailboats on the sea also.  Our boat is just not one of them.  As we get ready to return to land, at least for the next year or so, I wonder why we need so much space there, when we can fully entertain ourselves aboard our 51' long, 14' wide (at the center) floating home.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Off The Grid in the Sea of Cortez

It happened again - I've been off the grid long enough that I lost time. A few days ago I awoke to songbirds and the tinkling bells of a goat heard meandering across high seaside dessert mountains. I had a vague sense that it was May, but other than that I didn't know the day of the week or the date. So I suppose a more accurate description is that I lost my sense of the Gregorian calendar. Really, I knew just about exactly what time it was, based on the placement of the sun in the sky. It was 7:30am. I also knew that it was a new moon because I see the moon change every day, I watch the tides change, and experience my monthly cycle matching this primal rhythm. But the day? The date? Not so sure.

The mountainous islands north of La Paz in the Sea of Cortez's west coast (the East side of Baja California, Mexico) are pleasantly and surprisingly remote. I long ago abandoned wearing a wristwatch, so my days flow with the sun, the tides, wind and weather. Without internet or cell phones marking my time, I only become aware of the day and date on the occasions (about once a week) when we check in to a local VHF net or are able to download an email from our SSB radio connection.

It occurs to me that to some of you, what I just wrote may look like some sort of strange code. "VHF net?" "SSB radio?" So I'll explain:

The VHF ("Very High Frequency") radio is the tool that boaters use to communicate to each other throughout the day. Most people with boats on the oceans across the globe are familiar with this radio as it is a required piece of equipment like PFD's and and Oil Discharge Plan. However, in the world of sailboat cruisers it is used not only as a formal tool to communicate between vessels to confirm location and make sure we don't collide, but also as a social networking tool. Here's how it works:

-- Most VHF radios have line of sight range or roughly 25 miles. This can be greater with a beefier antenna.
-- Channel 16 is reserved for hailing and important information or rescue efforts. Other channels are used for various functions, depending on the part of the world where you are located.
-- There is a strict "radio etiquette" used that is not only expected but actually legally required in some countries. For example, it is a BIG no-no to chat with another boat on Channel 16. What one does is HAIL another boat by calling their name three times, followed by one's own boat name. Once contact is made, both parties agree to switch to a different channel reserved for longer conversations.
-- All stations are public. Just like the old party lines, or even before that, when the first telephones involved an operator who would connect you to each other. Your conversation could be heard by everyone in town with a phone, anyone could "follow" your conversation. Same goes for VHF chatting.
-- In the cruiser's world, here in Mexico and other places where cruisers gather, there are often "morning nets" on designated VHF channels. These are places where boaters "check in" and receive local information. After spending weeks in remote areas, it is fun to check in to a local net upon arrival at a port and hear that friends you had met months ago are in the same town. It is really like a cruiser's facebook, a social network where people ask for rides to and from places, sell and purchase items, learn about music and social events, and catch up with each other. Most nets occur once a day every day, so there really is no need to know which day of the week it is!

The SSB radio is a Single Side-Band Radio. A license is required to use it, and some channels require a ham radio license to transmit although most all stations can be listened to. This is an incredible tool.
-- Its range reaches around the globe. One can sometimes pick up conversations in Russia or Japan or New Zealand. When off-shore it is the only way to communicate with people further away from your VHF radio (which is usually everyone).
-- These radio frequencies can now be used like a dial-up modem of the old PC days, and that is how I am sending this email today.
-- Things like solar flares affect the ability to use these radio frequencies, and there are long lists of pre-scheduled nets across the world. This is a reassuring tool that gives ocean-crossing cruisers security that they can reach someone if needed, and gives land-based cruisers like us a way to send and receive basic emails when wifi or cell is not an option.
-- There are even stricter rules about using the SSB frequencies than the VHF, as it is like the old days of dial-up modems - while one person is using it, NO ONE ELSE may use it so messages are kept short and sweet.

Which reminds me, this message is getting way too long and I don't wish to become a bandwidth hog, so I am going to cut this short. The reason there are not photos included with this update is because of this SSB radio connection.

So, embracing the technology of old, I send love and well wishes to all I know back home and I hope you have a slightly better understanding now about why our communication is so sporadic. We are healthy and happy playing around this magical world of snorkeling, diving, dinghy sailing, hiking, resting in hammocks and connecting with new friends. Our months at sea are winding down to a few more weeks, so we treasure every moment. S/V Northern Passage will be put on land in a few weeks, and our "yacht" will become a land-yacht with four wheels and engine traveling all over the continental U.S. before returning to Alaska in August.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Early Sunday Morning

Sunday morning off La Ropa Beach in Bahia Zihuatanejo and all is well.  The music of a local wedding reception stopped in the wee morning hours and now there are just the sounds of the birds, waves and couple pangas making the transit across the bay.  A local fishermen works alongside the sailboat’s hull with a casting net attempting to catch bait fish that school in the shadow of the hull in the hundreds, this particular one is in what looks to be an old jetski hull and uses a homemade paddle that appears to weigh an easy 20 pounds.  Our cockpit still showing the remains of yesterday’s small afternoon gathering - empty chip bags, dried remains of guacamole, and a few empty Pacifico Cerveza cans. There is also juice box and grenadine bottle from my daughter’s experiments to create the sweetest drink possible.  The sun’s heat yet to build; it is a great time of day.   The kids remain in their coma like sleep caused by full days of play in the sun and water.  Soon the daily groans of hungry growing kids will warn me that the peaceful morning has ended and the day’s activities are coming.
I have done a few things about the boat ahead of the onslaught; some left over dishes, cleaned out the spilled juice from bottom of refrigerator box and set the boom to allow more sunlight on solar panels.  I will get the cockpit cleared and other odd tasks but Jen left me a cup of coffee to enjoy first.  She skunk off this morning to a yoga session on the beach with a new friend from a neighboring sailboat.  This is the general routine of the mornings.  Next it will be time to feed and direct our offspring to dress and clean themselves before another full day of hard play.  Their playmates, the kids of Sweet Dreams are most likely in the same mode.  Maybe we will attempt a bit of school as well today or not.   
Our stay here has been fun and busy.  We helped out with Sailfest, an event that raises money to help educate local underprivileged kids.  The event raised nearly $ 70,000 this year. That goes a long way here in Mexico.  The town itself is great with good food and shopping and friendly people.  Even watched the 49ers lose the superbowl here.  The kids snorkeled, skim boarded and boogy boarded the beaches, but the best thing they did here was renting Hobie Cats and sailing around the bay.  I was allowed to take the helm until I pitch bowed leaving my daughter hanging from the high hull.  I have to admit the couple hours spent with Richard and Carmen zipping around the bay were fun and brought back a huge wave of memories of sailing Industrial Waste (an 18 ft Sol Cat) around Lake Winnebago many  years ago. 
The next few days we are planning a trip inland to see the Monarch Butterfly migration and the old town of Morelia.  Then we will sail from Bahia Zihuatanejo to points south before making the big u-turn and heading north to find a place to tuck away the boat until the next adventure.  I am starting to hear the kids and the sun is starting to beat down on me – another day on Northern Passage is about hit high gear.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Making a U-Turn and Staying Here Now

Since July 2012 we have been sailing south.  Away from the cold, away from home.  Away from work, school and everyday responsibilities.  Toward a dream.

Today we turned around.  We are heading north (well, west and north).  Away from the heat.  Away from the dream.  Toward home. 

I have mixed feelings about this about-face.  It is a tough cookie to swallow, the end of a lifelong dream.   Especially since we didn't  get nearly as far as we had hoped.  Still, we are ready to close this chapter.  For one thing, we are HOT!   Hot and bothered.  I come from New England and Bruce is from Wisconsin - and it seems we are not cut out for long-term living in tropical heat.   When we find ourselves sweating before 10:00 in the morning as we sip coffee, we look at each other with weariness and sigh.   Another day in the heat.

We decided months ago that the goal of reaching the East coast via the Panama Canal was lofty.   Still, I find myself daydreaming of those pristine islands in the Carribean that we didn't make it to.  Why do I do this?  Pine away for what could have been?

In the end, with over 6,000 nautical miles of sea passing under our hull, we are content.  We have not only passed through Mexico, but embraced it and lived it, experiencing both coastal and inland communities.  

This morning I was lamenting the fact that we didn't reach Panama, and Bruce and I were worrying about where we are headed over the next few weeks and months.  Our wise Zen master, Carmen, looked at us and said, "Can we please stop planning and live in the Now?   Isn't that what this trip is supposed to be?"

Thank you, Carmen, for keeping us on track.   

Sent from my iPhone

Friday, March 1, 2013

A Perfect, Almost Typical, Day At Sea

I didn't get a photo of the moonset, but here is the sunrise.
     Bruce awakens me today at 6:00am, whispering, "come on deck, you have to see the moonset."  I smile, thinking he has invented a new word.  I climb out of the hatch above our bed to the most magnificent sight - the full moon sinking into the western sky, dark orange reflecting the not-yet-visible sun.  We enjoy the moonset together, then Bruce retires below to sleep.  

    I turn off the engine as a slight breeze comes from behind allowing for a silent and slow sunrise awakening.  I make some coffee and watch with my warm cup and a perfectly quiet mind (so rare for me).  I smile even wider when I hear the breath of a dolphin and I look just in time to see it leap full-body out of the water.  More and more of her pod mates come by, and since the morning ocean water is not churned up by afternoon winds I see their bodies clearly in the blue of the Pacific ocean as if I am watching them through glass.  

     There is a group of three - baby, mama, papa? - that circle around us again and again, then more join them.  I see all of the tricks they do at an aquarium show - 1 1/2 flips entirely out of the water; body out of the water with tail pushing as if "walking" on water; tail slapping.  So I wonder - is it for fun?   Is there a biological or hunting reason?  Probably so, but for now I choose to believe it is a display of joy.

     Three hours later the pod continues on their way.   In their place come the rays.   The water appears frothy white where they splash the tips of their "wings" on the surface, then they stick only these wing tips out while swimming in a straight line, appearing for a moment like two sharks swimming side by side.  Finally, in one startling movement, they leap almost vertically at least six feet out of the water, seemingly suspended for a few seconds before plummeting flat down in a loud belly-flop.  A few times I saw their faces as they came straight toward us, and I swear they were grinning from ear to ear as they became airborne, wings outstretched, tips pointing upward like a jet.
NOT two sharks, but one ray swimming on the surface before becoming air-borne.
    Meanwhile, all morning sea turtles have been drifting by and now I see a large boobie bird (the size of a very large gull) standing on the water up ahead.  As we get closer I realize it is poised atop a large turtle.  Carmen says that the turtle looks old and they must be good friends.  As we pass no more than 20 feet away, neither of them move except for the boobie's head turning to watch us watch him.

     The winds pick up steadily and we sail all day, observing a few sea snakes; flocks of hundreds of tiny white birds that swoop like a flock of swallows as if they are one organism (Richard says he saw a large wave behind the group that was about to break on top of them, and in unison they lifted up about a foot to let the breaking wave pass under them before landing back down perfectly in sinc); a tornado-shaped mass of sardines with bright green dorado fish chasing them; frigate birds; a flock of terns.   

     As we participate in this natural wonderland, we see two ships pass in 10 hours, far off near the horizon.  I feel part of these animal's world today, not part of our human world.   Many times, perhaps because the engine (we call it the "beast") has not been running, I swear they look right at me before diving or flying or leaping out of sight.

    "Thanks for visiting us today," I often say (sometimes out load).   I feel honored to receive such visitors to the good ship Northern Passage as we continue our journey south in Mexican waters with our sea dwelling friends.
POSTSCRIPT:  As the day progressed and sunset neared, the wind and seas continued to build, and our calm voyage become an exhilarating ride.  With wind and seas behind us, Northern Passage performed beautifully.  Finally, at 3:00am, when I was tired and thinking I needed to shift with Bruce, our dolphin friends re-joined us, this time glowing green with the phosphorescence.  An incredible ending to a magical nautical day.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


Recently, after seven months aboard Northern Passage and with over 5,000 miles under our hull, I have found myself wondering what to call this sailing adventure.  Is it a vacation?  A dream?  A mid-life crisis?  A calling?  A lesson?   A journey?

I think of vacations as temporary escapes - from work or from the winter weather.  "Being on vacation" implies that you will be gone from the everyday with the intention to return refreshed after a short hiatus.  This year-long journey is not a vacation.   We still have the every day stuff to do.   Cooking, cleaning, projects, laundry, schoolwork, breaking up sibling fights, worrying, about money.  This is hard work, not a kick back and relax experience.

So, is it a dream?  We have always said it is our dream to sail around the world.  Is this what a dream manifested feels like?  Or is a dream, by nature, no longer a dream once you are living it?  Hmmmmm.  

Perhaps it is our version of a mid-life crisis.  At 46 and 49 years old, it is that time of life for us.  And my friends will attest to the fact that I have been spinning my wheels for years trying to figure out Who I Am, which is indeed classic mid-life crisis behavior, isn't it?  

None of these descriptions really ring true for me.

Lately, I am starting to feel as if this is a calling.  From whom?  I don't know.  From my inner always-searching Self.  From my Dad, who died when I was ten and  whose presence I feel most vividly while sailing and exploring.  From Mother Nature, who draws me to her again and again, insisting that I go deeper, feel more passionately about her, find more and more magic in the world.  From my children, whose eyes fill with wonder and joy when they experience something new, and this fills me with a desire to give them newness again and again and again?  From my husband, with whom I feel most connected when we are adventuring together?

This journey has opened me and stretched me and even broken me.  With so much quiet, so little distraction, I feel as if a mirror is being held up very close so that I can see all of my imperfections.  And out here with only myself and my family to judge me and love me, I can look at those imperfections and love them too.  I can even put some of them away, tenderly in that deep dark place where unkind thoughts and negativity reside.  And when I put those things away, in their place comes an energy, a buzzing inside, a peacefulness and quiet in my brain that delights and scares me at the same time.  Because it feels like change.

I think that is it.  This trip is about change.  Change in all of its beauty, excitement and fear.  Change from the daily grind, the status quo, the family drama we had become part of in our comfortable existence in Alaska.  I have always believed that change is good.  From the many times we moved as a little girl and I experienced a new bedroom and home, to the many jobs and apartments I lived in before settling in Alaska.  And, of course, perhaps the largest change I made as an adult, moving 4,000 miles away from home to plant roots and start a family in Alaska.

     From the beginning, this journey was meant to be a means to living in the Now.   A lesson in being present.   Seven months into it and I'd say I am still only occasionally living that way.   But when I am, it feels fabulous.   Like now, four sails gently and slowly pulling us southeast, the only sound water lapping the hull and the usual creaks and groans of the good ship Northern Passage.   I am in it.   Not worrying about tomorrow, not looking back.   

Sent from my iPhone

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Starry starry attempt to capture it in words

Tonight we are sailing the Pacific Ocean about sixty miles northwest of Zihuatanejo, Mexico.  Bright white stars fill a jet black sky, so much so that Orion is not a hollow outline but has a body made of tiny white lights.  The almost-full  moon has not risen yet and we are under sail, no engine, just the wind in three sails moving us forward about 5 knots, a gentle swell nudging us from behind.   Warm air caresses us in our summer clothes, no jackets or blankets needed.  Looking into the blackness of the night sea, Richard and I notice bright green phosphorescence stirred up by the wake our hull makes as she slices through these tiny creatures' massive watery world. Richard wants to take a photo but when he realizes it's too dark, he gets pencil and paper and begins drawing.  Carmen curls up in her sleeping bag in the cockpit with her book and Tiger.   It is silent but for the swooshing of water moving past our hull, the click of the steering wheel chain as the autopilot does her job steering us on course, the scratching of Richard's pencil and the tap tap of this iphone keypad.   Bruce went forward to lay on deck below the jib and mainsail  and rest before his night shift.   I write in the ship's log and then here, trying to preserve this memory.   And now I must stop so I can watch another natural wonder - a dark orange globe rising in the East, the moon painting a glistening yellow road on the ocean in front of us.   

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Anchored Down in Tenacatita

One of my favorite songs is Michelle Shocked's "Anchored Down in Anchorage," a folkie ballad about moving from Texas to Anchorage, Alaska, getting married, having babies, and feeling rooted to the place. When I first moved to Anchorage and quickly married, started a family and bought a house, I felt as if she was singing about me. I blasted the song as I wandered through our home barefoot, breastfeeding, literally anchored to my babies and my small world.

For the past week, we have been anchored down in Bahia de Tenacatita, a beautiful tropical Bay on the Pacific Mexican coast. We dropped the hook (our anchor) last Friday and settled in, with no plan to leave and no plan to stay. Our neighbors here consist of about a dozen other cruisers, mostly sailors, who come and go daily. We are excited about spending time with S/V Lungta and her crew, Dan, Kathy and Mary Joe, as we felt a connection right away when we met them in the past port, Barra de Navidad (Dan described our meeting as a "heart connection"). We are also looking forward to rendezvousing with S/V Sweet Dreams, a family boat we met months ago and who are making their way down the coast to meet with us. The anticipation from the children is palpable!

Until now, I would categorize our adventure that began last July as a journey from one place to another. It has been thrilling, exhausting, sometimes disappointing, and familiar. Familiar because traveling is something we do well. Bruce and I fell in love while traveling across the country in his 1979 Volkswagon bus 15 years ago. We sailed two boats up the west coast thousands of miles, "delivering" them to our home in Alaska. We are good at making plans and keeping moving, embracing a nomadic lifestyle. So, sailing from one place to another feels familiar.

Recently, however, we sat down and looked at each other, and realized how tired we were after journeying from Alaska to Pacific Mexico in 5 months. We wondered whether this was really what we wanted when we set out to sail with our family for a year or more. The truth is, it IS what we talked about - going to many different places, traveling thousands of miles around the globe, going going going. Now that we are in it, now that we have been in it for over six months, we have decided to shift the focus. We are slowing down, trying to not plan more than a few days ahead. It is not easy for us! It is a change from what we usually do, challenging to put on the brakes and maybe not even go anywhere. I am sure a lesson is to be learned here. Something about patience and being present. About being on a passage to Now.

So, as I write this, we have been anchored here for an entire week!


Gently rocking at anchor in the peaceful beauty of Tenacatita, we are part of this body of water, a bay alive with fish of all shapes and sizes, skates, jellies, dolphin and whales. Pelicans, magnificent frigatebirds, terns, cranes, herons and gulls fly overhead. There are also a dozen other cruising boats in the anchorage who come and go, forming "camp tenacatita." Organized volleyball games on the beach, yoga (I taught my first two classes this week!), swims to the beach, excursions to snorkeling spots, fishing day trips, and dinghy raftups are a few of the options. Or swinging in the hammock with a good book and a cold beer.

[INSERT sunrise photo]

This morning I awoke to the glassy still water of sunrise, ground the coffee beans and made my favorite morning drink. I perched on deck sipping and watching a family of three dolphin almost silently swim among the boats. In the quiet, I climbed aboard our paddleboard and joined the dolphin family in their gentle gliding around the boats. Before the kids even awoke, before the snorkeling, swimming, volleyball and yoga began, I felt as if a whole day had passed.

I love the stretching out of time here. This lifestyle makes me smile. And that has to be a good thing. Doesn't it?

Sent from my iPad

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Break in the Silence

Break in the Silence
Finally, an entry on Bruce’s page of the blog is here.  I was originally thinking of writing every significant change in Latitude to track changes in attitude or each border crossing or other physical progress milestone to log our personal progress.  But in truth, writing on a blog does not appeal to me for there is no defined audience; most likely it will only be a few souls that happen to stumble upon my ramblings. What if big brother reads and profiles me or future potential employer or maybe even my mother-in-law.   What should one write about, details of the boat or how the sails were set or the personal relationship of the family members trapped on this 50 ft piece of steel or just describing the ever passing beauty of the world passing by our decks.  To do one subject would be an injustice to the whole and to cover all would be exhaustive and I am too busy in paradise.  However, today I throw caution to the wind and will let the fingers pound out a few of my observations and thoughts of the day.

It is sunrise over the blue bay of Tenacatita, Mexico and we are sharing this anchorage with around 20 other boats.  The community of boats wanes and waxes with departures and arrivals each day which maintains enough change to keep it interesting.  Jim the self-proclaimed mayor of this community holds weekly gatherings to keep the boat folks connected and each morning runs a radio net like a small community public radio station with weather and local news and other items of interest broadcasted between the boats.  There is the daily swim ashore, bocce ball on the beach, Mexican train dominos in the palapas, yoga and volleyball every other day. 
The past few days have been more on the lines of what we had envisioned years ago.  Wake up to quiet beautiful sunrise, do a few tasks around the boat.  Dive off the boat into clear water to cool off and then play.  Kids on a small sailing dingy (borrowed from another boat), snorkeling, playing in the beach waves and then pulled behind our dingy on a surf board.  Jen getting in some Yoga time with other souls from the community and I played some beach volleyball.  All this feed by generally cheap Mexican food and drink.   The one element that we hoped for but has only slightly developed was to have more kids on other boats, so we find ourselves here awaiting a boat we know is coming with two kids.
Now that we have made it to now, we are attempting to figure out what the longer term voyage will be and where to end up.  The big push to East Coast of the US is off the table for 2013.  The plan – which we have learned is a four letter word in cruising – may end up being going a bit further south on the Pacific Coast and then back to Mexico to haul the boat for an extended period or not.  The significance is that we have done what we set out to do and whatever we do from here is bonus and if we had to pack it up today I would be happy.  The passage to now is done and now we are living for the day and all it brings.
So my first blog entry ended up being at a significant milestone, our arrival, so in the present it is back to the tropical sun and fun.