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.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


I have nothing to write.  I’m not on my Boat.

This is our eighth year at the Annapolis Sailboat show (minus 2010 when we were in Argentina picking up our boat), the annual spectacle of everything sailing held on the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend.   On the first of our five days in attendance, I met an Antares Yachts admirer.  Although not an owner (yet), he was engaging in the pre-purchase ritual most of us have gone through.  He was just sitting on the boat…for hours.  Once introduced, he replied excitedly, “Oh, you’re Alberta Crewed!  I read your blog.  By the way, where is your blog?  It’s been pretty quiet.”  “I don’t have anything to write,” I responded.  “I’m not on my boat.” 

This year, we have had a wonderful summer at our Canadian home.  With the edge of the Rocky Mountains less than an hour away, I hiked several times with an enthusiastic and hearty local hiking group.   We climbed some challenging peaks, often ascending 900 metres of elevation, and 10 to 15 km of distance in a day.   I now know about boulder scrambling and scree skiing, and have the scars to prove it on my nose where I face planted and ended up with a nasty gash.  We have also finally begun to build a more permanent home on our small farm.  We have a road, septic tank and field, the site dug out, pilings installed as the house base, and 24 solar panels on order.  Construction begins on Wednesday and as self-contractors, we have racked up the miles getting permits, architect plans, materials, and people.  One hot summer day, we pulled some siding off of a hundred year old barn that was being torn down.  The weathered planks will find a home somewhere in ours. 

On the way down from Carol's Ridge near Nordegg, Alberta
Measure twice...

It is lovely being at home but I’d rather be on my boat.   When I’m not on my boat, I’m waiting to get back to my boat.  We are heading into our fifth season aboard and I still feel as though we are just starting.  I am as excited and enthusiastic about this boat show as I was at our first.  I attended seminars again on weather and cruising the Caribbean.   I watched wistfully as Maite and Ed on Calypso and Gail and Jason with Two Fish (click for their blogs) prepared to head down the Intra-Coastal waterway.  We have followed their boat construction and ocean journeys, and hope to meet up with them on the water. 
With Maite on her gorgeous Calypso

My land world is shaped by experiences on the boat and I am seeing more integration of the two with exploring, constructing, adapting, observing, and reveling in the moment.  Perhaps I do have a little bit to write while on land.  It is at least a way to keep my fingers dipped in the water.