Report card: early April

I keep meaning to announce a big, round number of days until our departure. 100 days left! 75 and counting! But I keep missing the mark. So: 67 more days!! How are things coming?

Bureaucracy  Done: Passports in hand; bank accounts set up; taxes done, and we’ve got a solid plan with our accountant for next year; bills are being paid online; most vaccines and doctors’ appointments are taken care of. Needed: a few pieces of officialdom (marriage license, one person’s birth certificate), and a handy binder to tie everything together; health insurance planning; last-minute library card renewal. Media compression/sorting will continue until the day we leave. The kids can’t seem to swallow pills, so their typhoid immunization remains unfinished–they’ve been training with mini-marshmallows, but can’t seem to get the meds down!

Boatschooling: Looking good! Most math books are in; we have dozens of lit books and study guides for each kid; spelling books, grammar books and journals are packed and ready to go; books and gear are in place for science, civics and Spanish. We’ve met with the kids’ music teacher, and have a plan based on Suzuki books and youtube videos; we just need to pick up some extra violin and cello strings, and finish some repairs to a fiberglass cello case we found on the curb (score! Thanks, Fin).

Kids camped out in the living room while their room is painted

Kids camped out in the living room while their room is painted

House Done: Rented! Downstairs guys are renewing; upstairs, we’ve got a family moving in who want to take charge of the garden, and plan to stay for a few years. We’ve signed the contracts with the management company, and done most of our major repairs. Needed: forward bills to management company; a couple small landscaping and painting touchups to the property.

Packing Done: Initial purge in the attic, basement, kids’ room, bathroom. Needed: oh, so much. It’s been a cold spring, and most of our winter gear keeps getting called into use. I’ve also realized how disruptive it is for the kids to have their family stuff disappear overnight, so I’m slowing down a bit on my plans to clear things out. We’re in good shape; but being constantly surrounded by all our possessions, this is the category that stresses me out the most.

Boat Done: Nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing. At least, that’s what it feels like. Needed: finish storage in pilot berth; finish refrigerator project; finish new electrical panel installation; install solar; replace windows, one hatch; finish installing helm station for iPad, depth finder, autohelm; touch up rust spot on keel and add two coats bottom paint; install new through hulls; install new shift and throttle cables; upgrade bilge pump; improve and replace stanchions and lifelines; install new spinlocks; seal leaking lazarettes; tune outboard; replace headliner. That’s not exactly all, but that’s most.

 Many projects on the verge of completion: electrical panel, instrument pod, pilot berth build-out, refrigeration…

Progress is being made in all directions, but it’s difficult to feel like we’re getting anywhere. Michu and I waffle between excited enthusiasm and wild, uncontrolled panic; the kids are starting to anticipate some of the sadder points of leaving–most especially, saying good-bye to friends.

One foot in front of the other….

Staying safe


Don't set off the EPIRB!

Don’t set off the EPIRB!

We held off getting most of our safety gear until the last minute. Partly, this is because things expire (flares); batteries die (EPIRB); and some items need to be re-armed (inflatable PFDs) or re-certified (life rafts) after a few years. Partly, this is because the category of safety gear is a never-ending rabbit hole of expensive tech that will hopefully never be used. For example: a dip into the forums yesterday for advice on whether to mount our EPIRB to the cabin wall or keep it in our ditch bag led to EVERY SINGLE PERSON advocating for multiple EPIRBs–one for the wall, one for the ditch bag, and personal locator beacons for everyone on board. Our EPIRB cost $400. Personal locator beacons are between $200-$300. We already have a VHF with DSC, and expect to have a sat phone before heading offshore. How many ways are enough for communicating with the Coast Guard?

Pile o' safety gear, including liferaft.

Pile o’ safety gear, including liferaft.

So we’re waited until we could better evaluate our finances and our actual needs, and pared down our lists of what we think is important based on professional advice and real-world accounts of problems. Of course, no one is asking us how many EPIRBs we are carrying. Instead, they are asking about two things: hurricanes and pirates. As an obsessive reader of sailing blogs, there are certain topics that are so redundant as to be universal. Apparently none of our landlubbing friends have read these blogs, though, so let’s run through the standard reassurances.

Hurricanes: We live in Wisconsin. By the time we hear about a hurricane or cyclone, it’s either about to hit the East Coast–making for excellent television of gusty palm trees and reporters being knocked off their feet; or it has already hit some part of the world–making for excellent television of devastated villages and wrecked fishing boats. In places where hurricanes are a frequent threat, the process is a little different. People know a good week in advance when a hurricane is developing. The storm’s progress is tracked obsessively by those with something to lose; and while it’s difficult to predict with exactitude when and where the storm will hit, people generally have plenty of time to prepare. Hurricanes are huge. They are not like the tornados we see in the midwest–popping up in the course of an afternoon, without warning, from a thunderstorm turned violent. You can see a hurricane from space.

The other thing about hurricanes: they have a time and a place. While it might seem that the ocean is an open book for our free-wheeling sailboat ways, the reality is that we will not be visiting the parts of the world where hurricanes are likely to land, during the season they’re likely to show up. That means avoiding a section of the tropics, from say North Carolina to southern Nicaragua, from early June until the end of November, more or less.

Map of North America with historical tracks of hurricanes in North Atlantic and Northeast Pacific Oceans.

Hurricane history, courtesy of NOAA

So, we really don’t expect to be ambushed by a hurricane. That doesn’t mean we aren’t taking precautions to outfit our boat, if we happen to find ourselves in an unexpected storm; but the biggest precaution we are taking involves having access to good weather information, and a relaxed schedule so that we can wait to travel during favorable weather windows.

Pirates: Pirates are real, and they are not hilarious or sexy like Jack Sparrow. They are armed with automatic weapons, and travel in very fast boats with big outboards. The thing is, there aren’t a lot of them, and they’re in very specific locations. If you really want up-to-date information on global piracy affecting cruisers, please look at Noonsite, the best aggregate source we’ve found. Piracy is real, but we won’t be visiting the places where they hang out.

We’re much more likely to run into run-of-the-mill petty crime, just as we would if we were RV-ing across the US. While we might be middle class in the States, by income we are in the global top 1%. We’ll be as much a target as any American tourist, and we’ll be using pretty standard precautions to try and avoid getting into unfortunate situations–locking our boats; not wearing flashy jewelry (not a problem, as we don’t have any) or super-nice clothes (ditto); and avoiding places that have a reputation for not being safe. The most common items for theft among cruisers? Dinghies, outboard engines, and anything left overnight in the cockpit. Maybe not a reason to stay home.

Lately, we’ve been asked a lot about defending ourselves with our guns. So…we don’t have any of those. I swear, I want to you keep hunting, and send us over some venison when you get a buck, but it’s still true that the best way to be shot by a gun is to own a gun. Even if we were people who felt safe around guns, we wouldn’t be bringing one on the boat. Very few governments want you sailing into their ports armed, and will ask you to surrender any firearms at your port of entry. If you want to retrieve your weapon, you have to return to the spot where you left it and then immediately leave the country–not so great for traveling. If you decide to lie and conceal a gun aboard, you run the risk of having your boat confiscated. None of these things appeal to us. So no, we won’t be carrying a gun.

Safety is a big deal, and traveling with our kids makes us very cautious. If you’re not a sailor, there’s a good chance you’re worrying about the wrong things. Please know, we take safety very seriously around here, and we’re doing our best to thoughtfully prepare ourselves.

This morning's homemade Sour Cream Doughnuts For A Snowy lighten the mood.

This morning’s homemade Sour Cream Doughnuts For A Snowy Day…to lighten the mood.

Rudder repair

I was looking back over our blog yesterday–sheesh, I can’t believe how much we’ve written on here–and I realized that I’ve been a little ambiguous about the work being done to our lovely little boat. It’s all Michu. When I say, “We’ve now got two foot pumps in the galley,” it’s not like they were installed for us by paid professionals–they were measured, ordered, finessed, and installed by Michu.

There are, however, a couple of things we’ve hired out in the last two years. One of these jobs is repair to our rudder.

No full keel here.

No full keel here.

I wouldn’t ever say a rudder is not important, but there are some boats where a perfectly functioning rudder matters more. On a catamaran, you’ve got two rudders–if you lose one, you can limp along with the spare for a bit. Some boats have their rudders attached to their long keels, making them harder to damage; because these keels run the length of the boat, they help the boat track even if the rudder straight-up falls off.

On our boat, the rudder is just hanging off the back, ready to hit a rock or a whale. If there’s a problem, we’re going to spin like a top; advanced rudderless boat handling techniques, like dragging wraps and steering with the sails, won’t really work for us. The thing needs to be bombproof. So it was a little disconcerting when, in the spring of 2015, it started leaking unidentifiable goo.

Drilled out pin and collar. Wrecked.

Drilled out pin and collar. Wrecked.

Michu spent two days trying to get the rudder out–a process that involved drilling through a heavy stainless steel pin that wouldn’t budge, and that we would later need to have custom fabricated–along with the stainless collar that surrounded it. We then hired John at Hi Seas to split the poor baby in half and see what was in there. For all we knew, we could have been looking at rust fragments and horsehair. Instead, we saw this:

Something is missing...

Something is missing…

That is one massively overbuilt rudder. (Turns out, this is a theme on our boat. When we were ordering new standing rigging, the guys at US Spar kept telling us that every piece of wire and turnbuckle was too beefy for our boat.) It turned into a talking point for the whole marina–as in, let’s wander over with our beer to the shop and check out how overbuilt that rudder is! The water intrusion hadn’t done any damage; this was essentially a thousand-dollar expedition to make sure everything was ok. John dug out the old foam, filled it in with new foam, and sealed it, fairing it up like we were a real race boat.

The last few inches were tough.

The last few inches were tough.

It was no easy task to get the rudder back in; the boat had to be lifted high, and the rudder jammed in by several of the afore-mentioned beer-drinkers. I believe hammers were involved, along with a tire jack. But in it went, and she works great.

Yellow fever vaccine shortage

One of the many exciting things we checked off our list this spring break was a little trip to Rock County Public Health for yellow fever and typhoid vaccinations. We plan to spend some time in the San Blas islands of Panama, which is yellow fever territory.Map 3-36. Yellow fever vaccine recommendations in Panama

Map from the CDC. Apparently yellow-fever-infected mosquitoes are terrified of the Panama Canal, and unable to cross it.

Our insurance refused to cover any part of the vaccines, which is why we drove to scenic Janesville–it was the cheapest nearby clinic, but still set us back $930. This is obviously insane, and I’m sure we could have gotten the vaccinations much cheaper in another country once we left the US, but it turns out there’s now a good reason to get it done in advance. The World Health Organization is reporting an outbreak of yellow fever in Angola, so far killing 178, and attempts to control the disease has led to a global vaccine shortage. According to their press release, officials are beginning to discuss diverting vaccine from national routine vaccination programs. I’m guessing most US travel clinics are already pretty well-stocked, but by the time we’re traveling, options may be more limited.

So–maybe just skip the vaccine and rely on DEET and screens to keep the bugs away? The problem lies with leaving Panama. Many countries will not permit entry to unvaccinated individuals who have recently been in an area affected by yellow fever. If we left the San Blas without our yellow vaccination cards, we wouldn’t then be able to travel to Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, or Mexico. Basically, we would just have to turn around. But we couldn’t travel up the Caribbean islands, either–most of them have yellow fever vaccination requirements as well.

The same mosquito that spreads yellow fever is also responsible for zikadengue fever, and chikungunya. (Jerk.) None of these additional fun tropical diseases currently have vaccines, so we’ll be diligent with mosquito abatement anyway; but we’re feeling pretty lucky to have already cleared the bureaucratic hurdle of WHO vaccination cards.

Obvious choices for spring break

What do you do when the kids are out of school and it’s sleeting outside? Inspect the sails, naturally…. DSC_0680

The principal at the kids’ elementary school let us use the cafeteria-slash-gym during break. We checked for loose stitching, figured out how the Chutescoop works, and tried to clean the dirt off the main left by Texas mud daubers.