Thursday, May 19, 2016


This photo is of our last time on a mooring ball with our sailboat this past January.  After three trips home since September and the past two seasons getting only as far as the Bahamas, we realized our sailing area had diminished substantially.  It was time for the gorgeous Antares 44i we’ve called home for 6 years to carry new owners to far away seas.  We sold Alberta Crewed quickly in February, and while the time was right for us to begin new adventures, selling the boat proved to be as daunting a decision as buying one.  A boat is more than just a home.  It is a cocoon of safety against the elements, a means to go to places rarely seen by humans, a magnet for meeting kind and generous people, and a relentless test of one’s mental and physical dexterity.  Over time, one learns to recognize minute sounds and movements indicating all is well, or conversely that something is amiss. 

We bought Alberta Crewed to stay on our toes and to travel.  What could give us the same gift of adventure we received from her?  Another boat.  While preparing Alberta Crewed for listing, we stayed at our broker’s dock, next to a 34 foot PDQ power catamaran. 

This boat has the same DNA as our sailboat from world-class designer Ted Clements, and was built in Canada.  I had stepped on one while at the Miami sailboat show in 2007 and was impressed by its use of space and quality of construction.  It is not a sailboat but will take us to quiet and shallow anchorages comfortably and in a fuel-efficient manner.  Because she is 10 feet shorter and 5 feet narrower, everything becomes hopefully simpler; maintenance, maneuvering, and hauling out. The process to leave her for long or short periods of time is less complicated.  We won't be going offshore but will instead explore shallower North American inland waters and more remote areas in the Bahamas.

Two kind and savvy sailors from Texas now own our sailboat and to our delight, changed the name to “Texas Crewed”.  We transferred the name “Alberta Crewed” to our new boat and moved just down the dock. 
The new Alberta Crewed, photo taken from the former Alberta Crewed
I looked back on my first posting of this blog exactly 6 years ago entitled, “Displacement”.  I used a quote from Robert Pirsig about a couple who had spent four years preparing to move on to their sailboat, and subsequently moved off within 6 weeks.  They could not cope with the challenges and unpredictability of living aboard and I completely understand their decision.  I think we did all right.  We sailed close to 10,000 nautical miles and visited over 15 countries.  We had neither illness nor injury and managed to keep everyone who came aboard safe and entertained.  We always felt safe.  I have a new found reverence for the kindness of the human spirit.  Those with much less than we have helped us, gave us provisions, and made sure we were taken care of.  Given our pathetic state of uni-linguality our only communication was often through smiles and gestures.  I remember while we were in central Brazil and how Craig let me know that his friend, Eduardo, was coming over for a visit.  How could they visit when neither spoke the other’s language?  Smiles and gestures, for three hours.  And they were just fine.   

I’ll finish my brief sailing reflections by returning to Robert Persig’s article, written in 1977.  It is difficult to summarize how much we have learned.  I’ll be pondering that for the rest of my life.  Persig gives a glimpse into how sailing “displaces” us:

“…those who see sailing as an escape from reality have got their understanding of both sailing and reality completely backwards. Sailing is not an escape but a return to and a confrontation of a reality from which modern civilization is itself an escape. For centuries, man suffered from the reality of an earth that was too dark or too hot or too cold for his comfort, and to escape this he invented complex systems of lighting, heating and air conditioning. Sailing rejects these and returns to the old realities of dark and heat and cold. Modern civilization has found radio, TV, movies, nightclubs and a huge variety of mechanized entertainment to titillate our senses and help us escape from the apparent boredom of the earth and the sun and wind and stars. Sailing returns to these ancient realities. “

We endeavor to stay displaced on our new boat as we head up the US coast this spring and finally into Canadian waters where we will explore the canal systems and waterways.  We may not have sails but the winds, clouds, seas, stars, and dolphins still matter.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

From Sailing to Space

Getting pointers from astronaut,  Jon McBride

I want to be an astronaut.  NASA is planning to send a mission to Mars by 2034 and that gives me just enough time to get ready for it.  I’m sure they’ll take me.  I’ll be 75 years old so I won’t care about not coming home.  I’ll be in excellent health and know how to pack lightly from all of my summer hiking trips.  I can pay my way if I sell everything and since I’m not coming home, I won’t need anything anyways.  Craig, you’ll be fine.  Just get used to eating a lot of oatmeal.  I don’t get motion sickness very easily, I can sleep for long periods, and I’m Canadian.  Extreme, cold temperatures are no problem.

Packing practice - all of my bedding in one bag
Training with an 18 kg pack
I am an annual pass holder to Kennedy Space Center and I know every inch of that magical kingdom.  We are booked to have lunch with astronaut, Jon McBride, next week and I am signing up for the Astronaut Training Experience, which involves the Multi-Axis Trainer spin test.  Finally, I live on a boat.  That fact alone should put my resume on the top of the pile. 

Craig has gone home to Canada for a few days so Rusty the cat and I are on the boat on our own.  This is an excellent training mission so I am going to practice with Andy Weir’s form from The Martian as a way to document my preparation for my own Mars mission:

Log Entry SOL 0  - 21:00
Craig is safely on the plane and I am back on the boat.  Adopting space date units is my first big step in becoming an astronaut.  Here on in, SOL will indicate the date, and refers to the length of a solar day, with 0 being touch down.   I have much to prepare in the next few days.  Along with reviewing all systems since we are back in the water, I will be preparing for our passage to the Bahamas and continuing with stainless cleaning and inspections.   We have replaced our dinghy engine starter battery and house batteries, and are waiting for generator and main engine starter batteries, which I will pick up and install.  Until then, it’s all solar.  We are used to that, being fully off-grid at home.  Monitoring the MasterLink battery indicator panel (ML) is critical.  It currently indicates 12.5 volts and needs to stay above 12.0.  I am the commander of the electronics panels like the pilot of a 747.  Click, click, click; helm sub panel off, tank monitor on and off, inverter output 1 off, inverter output 2 on, cabin fans on.  A pod of dolphins swim by and the water fireworks of bioluminescence sparkle in fluorescent green at the transom.  All is well and in control.

Log Entry SOL 1 – 09:00
Daily routine begins with 06:30 weather report on SSB.  Not looking good for Gulf Stream crossing next week.  Waiting to hear about batteries.  Running diagnostics on solar power with a cloudy day ahead.   ML indicates 12.2.  Delaying stocking freezer until batteries arrive and will charge electronics on shore.   

13:00 – A squall is blowing through our bay and pounding buckets so I rig up a hose system from the bimini gutter to catch the water into our large water jugs.  It’s blowing so hard that I consider tethering in.   I don’t think Rusty could reach the life ring for me.  Tanks show 75%.

Log Entry SOL 2 – 16:00
Clear and quiet.  Still no word on the batteries.  No surprise since it’s New Years’ Eve.  Off to shore to meet friends for dinner. 

23:55 – Lovely evening.  Make it back to the dinghy just before midnight.  Just out of the dock area, the engine quits.  No luck on getting it started.  Check fuel lines and attachments, remove the cover and check the fuel filter.  Everything looks okay.  It starts for a few seconds and stalls so likely a carburetor issue.  I just pull out the oars when Flying Pig crew comes along and tows me out to the boat.  Lucky for me, since it’s so late and there’s no one around.   Brilliant moon, clears skies, and dolphins have returned.  New Years’ Eve fireworks explode over the mainland.

Log Entry SOL 3 – 11:00
Nothing is open today, of course.  ML down to 11.9.  All electronics turned off, except for fridge.  Blowing hard from the north so a row to shore would be great fun but the trip back, not so much.  We are at the far north end of the anchorage so I’ll stay put.  Inventory of food indicates we will be fine, although I am quite sure I too could grow potatoes aboard.  Being a member of the Alberta Mycological Society, I know I can at least grow exotic mushrooms.  Only problem is I had our septic tanks pumped out on SOL 1.  I can always break into Rusty’s cat food.  ML hovering at 11.7.  No movies.  Phone running low.   Still humid and hot but not going to run any fans.  Rusty is flaked out on the floor in the port hull, trying to stay cool.  My neighbours are showing off by running their generator in my ears all night.

Log Entry SOL 4 – 13:00
Dinghy engine may be stalled but battery is brand new.  Detach it and haul it to the forward locker, with Craig’s voice in my head, “Negative ground first off and last on.”  Presto!  Generator fires up immediately and my cheers are reminiscent of those from Mission Control after the Moon modular landing.  Now we have power galore.  Movies, popcorn, nav. instruments, fans, CBC on Sirius.  I’m set for months if need be.  Especially if I can grow potatoes and mushrooms.  I once kept a basil plant alive on board for six months so anything is possible.

Step 1: Remove battery from dinghy

Log Entry SOL 5 – 17:00
Productive day.  Cleaned out cupboards, fired up Furunos and entered route for crossing, checked bilge pumps, and collected more water.   Read latest National Geographic magazine entitled, Are we alone: And other mysteries of Space and watched the movies Apollo 13 and In the Shadow of the Moon.   The Apollo 13 disaster was the result of a surge of electricity to a thermostat that couldn’t accept the voltage level.  With my now vast knowledge of electrical systems, I am sure I could help fix that problem.  Power is powerful. 

Log Entry SOL 6 – 13:00
Preparing for my 30-minute row to shore to pick up Craig by going through my shore supplies list.  Car keys, wallet, shoes, rain jacket.  No coming back if I forget anything.   All in all, a productive 6 days and I am that much closer to being prepared for my Mars mission.


Batteries arrived and dinghy engine purring along.  It was a simple fix.  We are provisioned up and at the starting line, waiting for our Gulf Stream crossing opportunity.  I am good at hurrying up and waiting, another trait I’m sure is needed for that 2034 crew.   

Weir, A. (2011). The Martian. New York: Random House.

Thursday, December 24, 2015


Boat yard sunrise view from our boat of the Intra Coastal Waterway.
Chris Parker’s weather forecast is playing over our SSB radio in the background as water for my coffee boils in the galley.  It is 06:15 and Craig and Rusty are still asleep.  The sun is pushing bright pink and orange waves of reconnaissance across the intracoastal skies.  This pre-voyage morning routine is my first aboard in several months, and a favourite time to contemplate a day of frenzy and hyper multi-tasking midst the well-worn procedure list we attempt to follow in returning to the water.  It is a calm before a storm. 

We are finally back aboard, doing the boat-yard exit.  Alberta Crewed is finished in her spa, and after three months looks and feels like a new boat.  Her hulls are polished with a reflective shine, she has a new coat of wax and bottom paint, and our list of 64 pre-launch items is down to 4.  We’ll finish those up while tied to a mooring ball in Vero Beach, Florida while we wait for a weather window to cross to the Bahamas.

Our good friend and seasoned sailor, Danny Cross, describes patience as one of the most important qualities to have as a sailor.   I would add persistence.  The boat yard is filled with like-minded, purpose-filled sailors who are trying to get their vessels worthy enough to at least sit in the water until the majority of tasks are at least underway.  As our new decking installer declared, “If you’re on a boat with nothing to do, there’s something wrong.”  

I’m okay with the never-ending list but it requires focus and tireless purpose as we trudge to various marine supply stores looking for a plastic ring that wraps around our dinghy engine start button, or the replacement cartridges on our self-inflating life jackets.  

Testing our inflatable life jackets
That list enables us to watch a pod of dolphins in their frenzied, collaborative hunting ritual whose thrashing interrupts the calm waters with a foamy spray.  And of course, many of the items fall into Craig’s lap.  He’s not so enamored with 64 items, but is an expert at all of them, and the reason why Alberta Crewed is looking and feeling like a new boat.  His diligence is relentless, and his knowledge continues to astound me.  I stand close by as he completes his tasks, hoping I can absorb some of his expertise through osmosis. 

I hear him stirring now, so will wrap my extra fender around my neck in preparation for the lift that will come and hoist our boat.  Someone inevitably calls out for one as Alberta Crewed is lowered into the water.  It happens every time. 

Dave, along with several of his colleagues at Riverside Marina, were responsible for much of the bigger work we had done on Alberta Crewed.  During our launch, Dave watched quietly from the boat he works on across from us.  We are so very grateful for all of the staff at Riverside Marina.  They took wonderful care of us and our boat.
 Always ready with fenders.