Monday, February 25, 2013

City Adventures

The tagline of this blog is: A story of sailing adventures, rain forests, big wildlife, enticing vistas, 2 lovers, and a big old dog.

               Sometimes that’s true.

                                    But other times it’s not.

This is gonna be one of those ‘other times’. (Don’t worry, there is still 2 lovers and a big old dog.)

We’re back in Seattle. It’s a big city. In lots of ways, it’s nice to be back. There is more than one (or none) option if we want to go out to dinner. There is a plethora of regular social outings. If we need a boat part, we hop on a bike and cruise down the road and buy it. There are 326 different varieties of cheese at the grocery store. And beer!

But, like anything, the novelty wears off. The traffic sucks, it rains all the time, there’s too many people, and everything costs money. We dream of being on the move again, of the rain forests, the big wildlife (no, seagulls don’t count), the enticing vistas. We envy our friends just casting off and heading west into waters unknown, across the vast pacific, living moment to moment by the sun and the wind.

But there are other adventures to have in city, different kinds of adventures. Adventures that sometimes seem dull in comparison, but are still demanding, risky, exhilarating, and satisfying. Different, but still adventurous.

We are starting a business. Well, we’re starting two businesses actually.

With his/our partner Trip, John/we are starting an aerial media/remote video company. We’ve been brainstorming for a while, they have the helicopter, and there’s lots of interest.

And then, last week, we kinda sorta accidentally “came into” owning 7 double kayaks, 1 single kayak, a kayak trailer, 9 kayak paddles, 14 kayak skirts, 25 pfds, 6 tents, 2 propane stoves, multiple large pots and pans, and a roll of paper towels.

Well, we thought, I guess we should take people kayaking.

Yes, I know, not detailed enough. Sorry. Soon enough.

I also work full time. My job takes me to Snohomish 2 or 3 days a week. I work for three companies: a law firm, a small-business consulting company, and a math education company. I am a corporate paralegal/business analyst/office manager/sales and marketing director. It is absolutely an adventure. I have a great mentor, and am learning a ton. The commute’s a downer, but it’s worth it.

John also has a job, providing business development consulting services to two marine services companies.

So soon, between the two of us, we will be involved with 7 companies. See? An adventure.

Hopefully soon it will warm up (ha!). We want to go sailing. We want to go find rain forests and big wildlife and enticing vistas. But for now we’re on a different kind of adventure; A City Adventure. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Stylistic Hint

I don’t really understand my writing style. Rarely can I sit down and think: now I will write something. If I can, in that situation, actually put real words on virtual paper, they usually just go right into the virtual recycle bin.

Most of the time, I start with a title. Some people may say that’s backwards, but they just have not visited my brain. I start with a title, like- “Cave Dwellers”, “Holly’s Haida Trick”, or “An Ordinary Moment”. I suppose that gives me the scope, the thesis or at least the hook. A jump-off, so it’s not a blank page I’m staring at, but a page filled! (with 3 words…)

Sometimes it’s not even a title, but just a phrase. A coincidental group of words, thrown together and haphazardly arranged, that lodges itself in my head. And until I write it down, this phrase, and all the words that should come on either side of it, it is loud and raucous- a party animal in the mind, a total instigator. All other thoughts are distracted on their commute, and most succumb, join the party, call in sick.

And so I write. And sometimes I like what I write, and sometimes I post what I like that I write. And sometimes you like what I post. And-


When I’m really lucky, the writing of one blog inspires the next by providing that coincidental word group. I write a phrase and read it back, feeling good about myself. Next thing I know, it has made itself at home in the middle of my mind, ordered a keg, and sent out the invitations. That’s when I know I should boil some water for tea and get comfy, it’s gonna be a two-story night.

That’s what happened last May, when I finally tackled the “Long Awaited Water Tank Blog” (I know the name doesn’t sound too inspired, but it did come first- and gave me just the motivation I needed to start writing). I was clicking away, purposefully listing off supplies and painfully recalling the epoxy mess, when I got a bit too excited talking about baffles.

Step Seven- Make Baffles.    Baffles are blockades inside water tanks to baffle the water so the molecules can’t band together and plan an escape, using momentum to throw themselves violently from one side of the tank to the other. In our case, they are 2 pieces of fiberglass cut to trisect the tank, with several holes to allow the passive water through.

Do you know yet?

I perfect as I write. If I don’t like it at the end of the night, I will likely never like it. While I am great at editing and proofreading other people’s work, I loathe returning to a piece I have written a week later and trying to make it better. Perhaps that’s why I’m in such an argument with my resume right now…

I wrote this last blog in May, immediately upon completing the water tank blog, with the steady rain on the cabin top as company. I read it, satisfied, and put it away. One epic blog post in a night is plenty. When I pulled it back out yesterday, I read it again. Satisfied, still, I posted it without changing a word. I like raw writing. I like the sound of rain when I’m warm and cozy writing on the boat. I like riddles.

How about now?

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Journey

Plunging, falling, faster and faster. I spread out to slow the acceleration, but it doesn’t do any good. The ground grows closer and closer, faster and faster. I brace myself, shut out the world, hold my breath. And it’s over. Mental check- everything still in tact, no pain, full movement. Wow, I really thought that would hurt.

The cacophony sounds far away. I turn my attention to it- and it’s right in my face. Must remember not to be so self-absorbed. I turn and take in the situation. I’m completely surrounded by others, a rally or convention of some sort. They push me, suspend me, drive me forward. Forward- we’re moving fast, faster than I thought. I observe some sort of frenzy. I want to stop and watch, but can’t slow down, there’s too much pressure. Then it’s behind me and we roll on.

It’s loud, and getting louder. Everyone around me seems anxious, excited, nervous, animated, agitated, energized. There’s yelling and jumping, laughing and diving. I notice a few others, timid like myself, obviously new to this process, and try to stick with them. Others look bored, perhaps weary from the mundane routine. I watch them closely. But most are high-energy and it worries me.

Falling, again. This time all of us, all at once, thrown over the edge, no choice, no alternative. A shorter fall, not as far, not as scary. Then the weight of the crowd, the momentum carrying me down, down. A pause, and I’m tugged along again.

The cacophony subsides; the mood is lighter, more tranquil. We flow effortlessly, simply. I relax and drown out the surroundings, trying to make sense of this journey. Why me? Why now? Why here? Hours drift by, days maybe. It’s very quiet. I resolve to accept the journey and the outcome. I’m safe and comfortable now, no use worrying what already transpired or what might happen next.

I feel lighter, more buoyant. There’s a strange aura around me. I drag myself out of my thoughts and into the world. There are more of us now, in every direction, and some that look different. I notice groups, mingling with each other, but I’m shy; I keep to myself and drift along above them.

Maybe I should join a group, maybe that’s the next step. I half-heartedly work my way down, but the sun is warm and I’m feeling so light and sleepy. Maybe in a little while. I doze and dream of flying.

When I awake I feel tingly all over. I search for the merging groups and spot them, far below me. Odd, how did they get so far—I glance around for an explanation but it’s just me. Where did they all go? The world is below me, and falling away, farther and farther. I don’t feel panicked, simply confused. I know I’m not dreaming, but it still feels like flying.

Rest. Peaceful, sincere rest. I realize I’ve made the journey, the complete cycle, and smile knowing the next time will be easier. I will be more excited, more aware, and less timid. I’ve learned to trust the journey, it will always carry me where I’m supposed to be. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Happy Weather Gods

I feel like I only blog about sailing when we’ve had a distressing sail- when the weather wins- when it’s dramatic, trying, wet and cold. Perhaps you are starting to think we never have a peaceful sail, the wind is never our ally, we never come home rested, warm, and dry. But you would be wrong (though only a little bit...). Sometimes we do have wonderful sailing trips, and last week proves it. I will now share with you not one, or two, but THREE wonderful sailing adventures. All in one week!

Number One:

We were stowing the boat in preparation for our departure on Tuesday afternoon with rain pelting the cabin top, loud enough to make us raise our voices. A bright flash just south of us was followed by a deep shuddering rumble. More than unusual out here, lightening is a perplexing event to Seattlites.

Sorry, couldn’t resist … I know, I promised- no dramatic sailing stories. (but it really happened!)

But by the time we untied the lines at 3, that storm cell had moved on and there was a small break in the clouds. We could see the next system sliding up the sound, and made a run for it. Our plan was simply to cross the sound, a 7-mile trip, and tie up at Kingston for the night. Graeme and Janna and the kids were sailing next to us on Pegasus, Janna’s parents’ Freedom 37.

For the first time in too many sails, the wind was behind us. It was strong, gale-force even, but we weren’t bashing into it. Just past the breakwaters, we hoisted the sails and cut the engine. The boat powered up and plunged through the water, racing the 5’ crashers across the sound, graceful and compelling. We sat back and drove, watching Halcyon in her element.

In a minute, we were sliding into the marina, sails flaked, and still dry. The first raindrops blemished the deck just as we tied the last line to the dock.

Number Two:

Wednesday’s forecast was for even more wind, and seemed accurate from the dock. We pushed off around noon (when the tide was favorable) and snuck out just before the front of another storm. The destination was Port Townsend, 30 or so miles away.

Sails up, engine off. Once again Halcyon did her job, the wind pulling her powerfully, the waves providing an extra lift. Riding down one wave, we hit 11 knots, 3 knots faster than our hull speed. It was invigorating, but exhausting. The wind was flukey- strong gusts hit us from varying directions, making it hard to predict and even harder to steer.

We must have worn out the wind, because by the afternoon it had diminished, the waves settled and the air relaxed. We fired up the engine and motor-sailed for a while, until we heard that gut-wrenching sound-- ka-CHUNK. The engine off again, John went below to check it out.

We’ve had some issues losing bolts off our shaft coupler for a while now- and apparently the problem was getting worse. All three bolts sheered and two of them jammed themselves deep in the coupler. (that means we have no steerage) I kept the boat controlled and moving slowly under sail while John managed a single replacement bolt. We sailed right up to the breakwater, dropped the sails, turned the engine back on, and held our breath. The bolt held, and we were able to limp up to the dock. (Hey, I promised happy sailing stories, not happy motoring stories...)

Well, that’s why we have a sailboat.

On Friday, John and Graeme took the coupler apart, found the underlying problem, and fixed her right up. 

Number Three:

We left early Sunday morning, this time with the Esareys on board with us, our minds at ease with our newly functioning shaft connection.

But it’s a sailboat, afterall.

So right out of the marina, the main went up. As we waited for the wind to fill in, we munched on French toast and talked about sails. It was time for a serious sail inspection.

After breakfast, we hoisted our asymmetrical spinnaker, first with a pole, then without, then—well, I’ll spare you the nautical details. We spent the whole day hoisting sails, jibing back and forth, trying different lines, dropping them, hoisting them again and doing lots of figurin’. Graeme was a huge help, as always, and it was fun to see all those sails.

The wind was light, but began to build in the afternoon, once again behind us (three in a row? this never happens). Our most recent hoist was our enormous colorful symmetrical spinnaker. It’s a huge compelling kite that pulls the boat along like a toy. It filled, and we took off. We made a dramatic re-entrance into Seattle, flying along Golden Gardens beach going 9 knots under a great big rainbow of a kite. How exhilarating.

 And of course I can’t neglect the days between sails number two and three— four days full of smoked turkeys, wine tasting, beach walks, card games, marathon cooking, football watching, fresh caught crabs, and endless silliness. Thank you, Cawrses, for hosting us with such style! 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Habits, Chapters, and Phones

I am a creature of habit. Many daily tasks in my life I do the same way today than I did when I was 12. My childhood teddy bear still sleeps on my pillow with me. I always take showers in the same order. I put my bag in the same place when I get home, every time. I have always been happy when things stay the same- same Christmas traditions, same dinner seating arrangements, same toothbrush location, same cell phone number.

John is the opposite. It is not that he doesn’t like routine, it’s that he’s diametrically opposed to it. He decided he wanted to start drinking coffee in the morning. On the 4th morning, he didn’t make coffee—he was sick of the routine. He prefers it when things stay fluid and variable- he moves icons around on his desktop, has 3 different sticks of deodorant in various locations in the boat and truck, and never makes a meal the same way twice.

I do not understand John’s opposition to routine, and he certainly does not understand my infatuation with it. But we respect that characteristc in each other, and it keeps us both balanced. I encourage him to have enough routine to remember important things- like picking up his keys and cell phone before walking out the door, and he helps me break my attachment to absurdly insignificant material things (like my travel shampoo bottle, which I’ve used since high school, that “we” lost)

I used to dread the closing of a chapter – the end of a summer spent doing the same thing almost every day; moving out of a dorm room, apartment, or house; even changing my email address made me nostalgic. This may surprise you, knowing my lifestyle now. I’ve come a long way.

Last week I closed a chapter. To most, the chapter would never have been so long. To many, the event would have gone unnoticed. To a few, it would bring a moment of hesitation, a hint of sadness, an occasion of commemoration. But to persist through that moment- to turn your sights forward, into what is to come, to celebrate the new chapter, the exciting opportunities as yet unrealized. That is what I have learned to do.

I got a new phone number. Yes, you’ll say- you’ve had 6 numbers in the last 2 years, we can’t keep up! I know, but through all of that, I still had my number. The one I was issued with my first cell phone at age 15, the phone that only stored 20 contacts, had no caller id, and was the size of my face. The number that has been associated with my identity through high school, through college, past Ghana, into the move to Seattle, even in Canada it is the number I used most often.

It’s important, though, to close chapters, to allow room for new ones to open. Yes, I paused. Yes, my heart twinged, just a bit. But I did it. And there were no tears or tantrums or anything. This is how John balances me.

And in the vein of changed contact information, I also have a new last name, email address, mailing address, and physical address. I believe now we’re talking less about chapters and more about whole books…

Who knows what kind of wack-o’s have access to this blog, so I’m not going to post all that private information here, ‘cause I’m not that interested in stalkers these days. But if you want that information, send a comment or email and if I like you enough, I’ll tell ya how to reach me :-) 

And if you're really lucky, I'll give you John's new number too.  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A New Perspective

A guest blog, from my Dad:

       Becca's Mom (Laura Lee) and I had a splendid visit with Becca and John for two weeks where we got to observe the two of them together with Chaco in their natural habitat.
        The back story is that Becca and John finished their summer photojournalism expedition with renowned conservationist, Mike Fay, in late September. In this expedition, they had the incredible opportunity to capture 11 terra-bytes (that is a lot of bytes) of high resolution footage of the fragile salmon spawning ecosystem of the far Pacific Northwest. They filmed bears, carribou, sheep, mosquitos, and other indigenous species doing what they do when no one is looking.

       As they were finishing up their assignment, LL and I were hanging out with friends in Napa, California, which is just around the corner from Ketchikan, Alaska, so we went to join them. We signed on as crew for a portion of Halcyon's 800+ mile southerly transit to Portland, or Seattle, or really anyplace that is not Alaska. Summer has a habit of turning directly into winter in this part of the world and early October is predictably a time of unrelenting storm systems. Most cruisers who are going to leave for the winter had already left when we arrived. We were reminded of this fact when incredulous friends of theirs said: "What? You are still here??".
        So we sailed with them for 370 miles down coast to their old stomping grounds in Bella Bella, BC. Here, we disembarked and departed for Richmond just as a serious series of storms (65 mph winds, whew!) pinned them to the dock for over a week.
        On our journey down the coast, we got a taste of rough weather on the front and the back end, but truly in between the weather could not have been more hospitable. Winds blew from every direction, but rarely at the same time. We had sun, which was a bit disorienting to John, I think. Temperatures were in the 30s at night as we were cozy around the cabin heater, and reached the high 50s a few times. John went barefoot on the boat no matter how raw the conditions; yet he gets pneumonia in Mexico where the temperature never dropped below 70. Go figure.
        It is clear Becca and John's (and Chaco's) natural habitat is unspoiled coastal waters. They are accomplished racing and cruising sailors that have easily taken to the live aboard lifestyle. Couple this with the aptitude and intense interest in wilderness photography and conservation and you have a logical self selection of coastal wilderness for their home for the past 15 months.

        We got a glimpse into this world on our visit.
        The shoreline from Ketchikan south on one of the inside passages or outside in the Pacific is devoid of development, for now. The many salmon streams are largely unaffected by industrial waste or over zealous logging, for now. Accordingly, the wildlife and marine life is abundant, for now.

         On our transit, we witnessed 30+ humpbacks, a huge sea lion herd, seals, porpoise, dolphins surfing our bow, at least 100 eagles (I finally just stopped looking up), and proximate evidence of grizzlies. We looked for coastal wolves for two solid weeks and heard them baying a few times, but it was disappointing that we never saw them. Then, five minutes from wheels up to Richmond four of them pranced across the tarmac at the Bella Bella airport. What we did not see was any other people or boats in any of our anchorages and only rarely did we see any boats while underway. That is mostly a tribute to the lateness of the season as these waters would ordinarily be well traveled.
We caught, and ate, Dungeness crabs, northwest clams, rockfish, halibut, perch, and a huge lingcod while throwing back three times what we kept. We caught, and did not eat, sea cucumbers, huge red jelly fish with 10 foot tentacles, spiny crabs and 16 leg starfish. We drank a case of wine that we brought with us from Napa, so I may be confusing what we ate and what we didn't eat.
        Becca and John were the co-captains and Laura Lee and I were clearly the crew. They worked so well as a team, even in stressful conditions, and were always respectful of each other's talents and judgment. I can't express how gratifying it feels to teach a daughter to sail at age 5 and 20+ years later see how much she has learned.
        Halcyon is their home and they were gracious hosts.
        We hope they will have us back sometime.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

"Free" Power

We have been talking about adding solar panels to our boat since before we owned one. The idea of harnessing the wind for transportation and sun for power is as romantic to us as red roses and long walks on the beach.

The time was right when we moved to Alaska, anticipating leaving Halcyon on anchor by herself for a few months with no power hookup. Having worked with solar power at PacificWILD, we already had an idea what we wanted and a relationship with a distributor. So, using some of our (oh-so-generous) wedding gifts, we made a great big order with Arizona Wind and Sun and then eagerly waited for the enormous boxes to arrive.

~We purchased two Kyocera 140 watt panels (these should produce more power than we should need for our system…unless we live where the sun always hides…)
~And a Tristar MPPT 45 amp solar controller (MPPT makes it the most efficient solar controller there is. If you’re gonna do it, do it right, right?)
~We also got a small 10 watt panel and solar controller to keep our start battery topped up.
~An apparently endless spool of cable and a handful of fuses, and we were set.

We mounted the solar controller next to our Magnum charger/inverter, wired and fused the battery connection and the panel connection, and ran the cables into the cockpit as discreetly as possible. We wired the two main panels in series (and the cute little start battery panel on its own), and flipped the switch. No lightbults exploded and there was no smoke, so we considered it a success. Seeing a charge coming in would have been even better, but of course the sun was buried deep in the clouds.

That was the easy part. What we had been struggling over for months was how to attach the panels to the boat. Without a hard dodger or arch over the stern, there are not many stationary places that are both out of the way and in the sun. With them mounted on the lifelines, the new challenge becomes a mechanism that holds them out when it’s sunny/calm and folds them flat when it is rough.

We threw something together for the summer/trip south, knowing it would not be permanent. The edge of the panel bolted onto a piece of PVC, through which we strung the lifeline. That allowed the panels to hang down the side of the boat.

John then resourcefully used an extendable paint brush holder mounted to the rail to prop the panels out. It works, but it’s a bit unstable (solid lifelines would be much better), and the paintbrush holder is already rusting (not to mention that ever-sought-after hillbilly affect).

[So if anybody has any suggestions (short of building a hard dodger or arch)…I’d love to hear what you have done, what has worked, what hasn’t. ]

Finally, almost three months after installation, we got to see the panels at work- powering our batteries while we sat quietly at anchor. It is, indeed, a wonderfully romantic thought. Now if we could just get the wind to blow the right way….