Thursday, May 20, 2010

If I Could Just Accomplish One Simple Thing Today...

So often, owning a boat feels like a chicken fight with Entropy.

The other day I was stomping around in the dark, perhaps on my way to change a crappy diaper, perhaps on my way to do some other chore. My foot caught a piece of wood trim near the base of the companionway ladder and cracked a big piece right off.

That was weeks ago. Work, grad school, baby all intervened. I just got around to gluing and clamping it today. Ah, the small satisfaction of a day where I fix more than I break!

Now going to attempt a rescue mission for a kerosene jug that was glassed into the stern anchor chain locker when we had the cockpit redone. It won't fit through the access hatch, so I've got to cut it into tiny chunks, then mount a strong eye down there so we can secure the bitter end of our rode. Any chore that can be done with a Sawzall is typically a good chore!

- Ari

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Yemaya's First Sailboat Race

Ever since Yemaya was even tinier than she is now, she has laughed whenever she gets a gust of wind in her face. She closes her eyes and puffs out her cheeks and sputters and chuckles. It was so funny that we made up a rhyme to go with it:

Breeze in the face
Breeze in the face
Just enough for a sailboat race!

Last night Yemaya got introduced to the thrilling white-knuckle world of sailboat racing... which for her was much the same experience as the thrilling world of sitting in the backseat of a car on land...

Our courageous crewmember had all the latest high-tech sailing gear:
  • Stuffed dog. Check!
  • Rattle ball. Check!
  • Jingle bell bracelet. Check!
  • Soggy Ak-Mak cracker to slowly masticate into paste and rub into carseat. Check!
  • Mama's sunglasses to open. And close. And open. And close.... Check!
  • Jammies in case I fall asleep. (Don't worry, I won't) Check!

We weren't planning to fly the spinnaker, but Yemaya held onto (and chewed on) the pretty yellow pole topping lift just in case.

Since beer can racing on the Oakland Estuary is such a serious, competitive pursuit, I diligently printed 2 out of 3 of the available documents on the web site:
  • Course Map. Check!
  • Sailing Instructions. Check!
  • Fleet Assignments. We'll never need that...
Flash forward to 6:25pm. We are circling the starting line with a few dozen other boats of varying sizes trying to find other boats that look "like us." I see a Santana 25. That's gotta be similar rating to a Santana 22. I sail close enough and ask "Do you know when we start?" He replies "Are you racing non-spinnaker? You guys are all Fleet A. That was your warning gun." Doh! We were kinda slacking because, being slower, we're usually among the last boats to start. We are nowhere near the start.

Minutes after our starting gun, I'm still singlehanding the boat towards the line while Sarah breastfeeds Yemaya down below. It's a little dodgy trying to steer and trim both sails while peeking underneath our 155% Genoa. The two boats that started on time are miles ahead of us, but miraculously there are boats behind us too!

In light wind, less-wetted surface trumps longer waterline. In our small, stripped-down boat, slowly but surely we pull away from the pack of longer, heavier keelboats. The wind is coming over Alameda instead of down the Estuary, so what would normally be an upwind-downwind course is a reach both ways. The wind direction favors a genoa over jib+spinnaker, and later we even pace some of the spinnaker fleet.

Some of the racing highlights were slaloming the narrow gap between two Columbia 5.5's, rolling one to windward and one to leeward, while the baby shrieked "DADADADA" (I'll never get tired of hearing that!) and the other yachtsmen looked on in horror at being overtaken by a floating pack-n-play.

We finished just as we started, with Sarah down below breastfeeding Yemaya. The race instructions specify two laps around the course, but we heard a horn as we finished our first lap. "Hmm, I guess that's it." We looked around and kept sailing just in case, but it seemed the other boats are dropping headsails and going home.

In the end, we came in just ahead of the middle of the pack. But I think we won a moral victory for proving we could sail well with the baby, and enjoy almost every minute of it!

562 Joey Hansen Magic Mercury 234 19:22:10 0:52:10 0:41:15 1

18686 Fred Minning Svenska Peterson 34 123 19:17:49 0:47:49 0:42:05 2

53 Ari Rubenstein Mardi Gras Santana 22 237 19:27:56 0:57:56 0:46:52 3

3674 Robert Hamner Pequod Catalina 27 Tall 189 19:33:31 1:03:31 0:54:42 4

18020 Roger Mystic Newport 177 19:35:56 1:05:56 0:57:40 5
157 Leroy Gilles Summerplace
198 19:37:27 1:07:27 0:58:13 6
285 Warren Taylor Kiwa Ericson 32-2 183 DNC : : 8
535 Paul Mueller Iskra Mercury 234 DNC : : 8

It was amazing how Sarah multi-tasked between sailing and mothering. At one point she was literally trimming a genoa sheet with one hand and a putting on a puppet show with the other. Damn. There are moments in any marriage where you think, "If I wasn't already married to this woman, I'd get down on one knee right now..."

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Great Vallejo Race

I think Craig said it best: "These two sailing days are ones to remember as the good old days!"

The intrepid crew of Chorus raced downwind from Berkeley to Vallejo on Saturday, and back upwind Sunday.

Conditions on the first day were gorgeous: warm sun, flood tide with us, just enough wind to move the boat at a good clip, but light enough wind to make spinnaker handling drama-free.

When we arrived, we saw the entire boat population of the Vallejo Municipal Marina had been emptied out. (Where did they all go?) which left room for hundreds of race boats of every size, shape, and age to raft up in every available slip (and even rafted four deep in the fairways.)

We stayed for a few beers and deadly Tequila Sunrises. Toby the dog ate about 30 leftover sparerib bones, to his later intestinal distress.

The single and childless among us rocked out in Port Costa at a bar and former-brothel-turned-hotel, while Sarah and Yemaya and I headed back to Macha for bedtime stories and diaper changes.

Sunday morning's low tide was VERY low. On the way out of the marina, boats were getting stuck in the mud left and right.

Anticipating problems, we pre-emptively warped the boat around so she'd be pointed straight out the fairway. We moved all crew to the shrouds, and gunned the engine full forward. (Hey, isn't this blog supposed to be about engineless sailing?!?!?! Well, I'm not so purist as to refuse rides on beautiful sailboats with engines!) Another boat was already stuck in the middle of fairway, so we aimed for the narrow space between the boat and the dock. With about a foot of clearance on either side, the skipper of the other boat started yelling "What are your intentions?" In fact, I think our intentions were all too clear!!! Despite our strenuous hiking, we slowed slightly as we dragged the tip of our keel in the mud. Rock the boat slightly, we inched slowly, slowly forward. Freedom.

The second day's race opened with an exciting downwind start under spinnaker, followed by a run down the channel between Vallejo and Mare Island. Bain, our mast man, re-injured his knee, so he went below for Ibuprofen and beer while the remaining three crew members multitasked for the douse.

The finish was amazing. Latitude was reporting that about 200 boats finished within 20 minutes. Ahead of us, we caught sight of Kame Richards on Golden Moon and our moral and spiritual advisor Peter English on Sunda, so we figured we were headed towards the line even if we couldn't see it through all the traffic!

We finished 2nd for our class, 3rd overall for PHRF boats. Not bad for a bunch of Uzbeks!

- Ari

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sailing with BGIers

A few weeks back, I went sailing on the Tuna with friends from BGI. We had a great time dodging cargo ships on the Estuary. It was really cool to see the team dynamic we've developed in writing papers and case studies together transferred to the water. We then went back to Macha for Solar Curry. Aw yeah.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Wooden Boat Forum: Sailing with No Engine?

(This blog post is a slight edit of a response I wrote on Wooden Boat magazine's online discussion forum. You can find the whole conversation here.)

We have a fiberglass hull, but I read this forum because I love OTHER people's wooden boats, and because wooden boat geeks frequently have insights and wisdom to share about gaffers, traditional seamanship, etc.

I was really very impressed to see how respectful and thoughtful this thread was! Normally, discussions of engineless sailing quickly devolve into explorations of alternative propulsion (electric engines, bicycle geared propellers, cold fusion drives, etc.) -- which respectfully is a completely different topic than sailing without any sort of engine.

Nevertheless, the various forum posters collectively enumerated many of the tropes, misunderstandings, and frequently asked questions we hear about sailing without an engine.

"For open water sailing the engine is just dead weight and wasted space, but if you routinely sail where there is lots of traffic and tricky channels, the engine is a piece of safety equipment and definitely worth the trouble."

"For long distance stuff an engine is nice. I remember reading something by the wife of the builder of the Spray replica Scud, about how painful it was to sail past beautiful Pacific atolls because they would have needed an engine to get in or out."

What I love about these mutually contradictory opinions is that they really elluminate the difference in philosophy between cruising by motorsailing, and cruising under sail.

Yeah, it's too bad that there are parts of the world that you can't get to with an engineless sailboat. But, if you're a skier, it's also too bad that there are parts of the world that don't have snow.

If you're a surfer, it's too bad that there are beaches in the world that don't have waves.

But for sailors, skiers, surfers, and anyone else who takes part in a weather dependent sport, it seems to me that seeking out or waiting for proper conditions is part of the sport.

I choose to focus on all the places in the world I CAN sail to, rather than the few places I can't. And I also realize that as my skills improve, there are more and more places I can get in an out of. For example, the latest edition of the Pardey's book describes sailing in and out of the coral atolls described above.

"For me using the engine is largely a safety thing."

Another way of saying this is: "Every time I motorsail somewhere that an engine is REQUIRED for safety, I'm implicitly trusting my life to my impeller, my fuel filter, my alternator, etc., etc." Modern diesels are pretty reliable, but there are still way to many single-points-of-failure for me to feel comfortable trusting my life to one.

I've heard somewhere that mountaineers say, "it's never the first thing going wrong that kills you, it's the third thing going wrong" I would argue that motorsailors often forge the first few chain-links of a tragic cascading failure without even realizing it, by placing their craft into a pickle they can't safely sail out of. By the way, this is true whether or not they actually even use their engines when sailing. The point is if and when they NEED their motor, they are literally betting their boat and maybe their lives that it will start on cue.

"Our Great Grandfathers sailed in a world with far far fewer vessels in it."

Not necessarily true. At my marina in Alameda California, there were more (and bigger three masted) sailboats at the turn of the last century than now. You could practically walk across the Oakland Estuary on the decks of the Alaska Packer fleet tied up there.

Of course, in those days there were harbor pilots and warping bollards and skilled line handlers, etc. See below.

"Yacht harbours are no longer set up for pure sailing."

That is definitely true!!! If you want to sail without an engine, you need to be choosy about where you keep your boat. Mooring or anchoring is definitely easier than docking. We keep our boat in a marina, but we shopped around carefully for an end-tie that would be easy to sail in and out of. Again, I think this is part of the sport for me. I would no more choose a slip I HAD to motor out of than I would choose a bicycle trail I HAD to drive to. Interesting thing is that side-ties around here seem to be easy to find, since the long walk from the parking lot is perceived to outweigh the short sail from the Estuary... :-)

"If you work for a living and need to get back, you probably could use an engine."

I totally agree. This is the main argument I see for engines. This is me trimming a gennaker with my teeth AND rowing so I could get home in time for a school-related conference call. Sarah was on baby duty down below.

But there is a difference in priority between boaters and sailors. If there is light wind, I find it insanely challenging and fun to try to keep the boat moving. If there is NO wind, I'd rather be reading a book than motorboating. And if there's an irreconcilable contradiction between working for a living, and sailing, who to say it's the sailing in your life that's the problem? :-)

"What did our great great grand fathers know about sailing that we dont? they sailed up the rivers what did we loose when the engine became king?"

Ultimately, this is why I sail engineless. I want to learn how to SAIL. If those salty old buggers could do it back in the day, why can't we?

I hear a lot of people say things like, I can't sail engineless in (location X) because there are currents of up to X knots here and the wind is unpredictable. I always want to say, "Yes, the moon's gravity also affects the ocean near where I live!" Pretty much anywhere you go, there will be tidal currents.

Pretty much anywhere you go, the weather man's forecast will not be 100% right. And yet, intrepid sailors have historically ventured into all these areas. (Hopefully at slack tide!!!)

To quote Charles Stock:

"the cruising man will take a fair tide as naturally as he selects the up or down escalator at the underground station depending on which direction he wants to take."

When people say they NEED a 50 horsepower engine to stem a 5 knot tidal current, to me it's like saying you need a gasoline-powered pogo stick to go up a down escalator!

- Ari

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Scull This

Looks like the oarsmen is relocating his floating home as well as a goodly number of his neighbours.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Stone Age Didn't End for Lack of Stone

"The Stone Age didn’t end for lack of stone, and the oil age will end long before the world runs out of oil."

This fabulous and pithy quote from former Saudi oil minister Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani in a 2005 New York Times article 'The Breaking Point' is often trotted out by those who wish to ridicule the concept of peak oil.

The quote itself is a wonderful piece of rhetoric. It uses the literary device of parallel structure to make a point that is concise, funny, and dead wrong. It contains an unwritten appeal to technology and to linear historical progress (after stone comes bronze and after oil comes hydrogen.) Unfortunately , this otherwise perfect sentence falls victim to the fallacy of False Analogy. One could unpack the sentence further to make this logical error stand out in greater relief:

"Stones are not scarce. Therefore the reason for the end of the stone age was not scarcity. Therefore all resources are not scarce..."

The conclusion simply doesn't follow from the first two premises.

Until now, that's been my pet peeve with this particular quote. But now, in a news headline worthy of The Onion, it now appears that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia IS actually suffering from a shortage of stones! (specifically rock and gravel for concrete construction)

Saudi Arabia Runs out of Sand!

You can't make this stuff up!

- Ari

Friday, October 16, 2009

Peak Oil Debunked

I still can't tell if this is a joke.

"This video exposes the eco-socialist Gaia conspiracy to rob hard working Americans of God-given V-8 power and tax them into the poorhouse. Combined with the Global Warming hoax, this will bring our ravenous economy to a halt by 2016.

Don't believe the Marxist geologists with their sky-is-falling doomsayerism. T. Boone Pickens got lucky with some price pickings, nothing more. Technology has act More..ually made oil easier to find every year and high prices are not due to extraction costs. They are the result of Green Hollywood propaganda attached to hidden tax code amendments after the recent Democratic takeover."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Solar Cooking

Ari asked me to post this here, but I also posted it on my new, more baby centered blog, Boat Mama,  You are welcome to keep up with our silly baby posts there.  They are mostly intended for those who want to know what our daughter is wearing at all times.  If you happen to be one of the three people that read this blog we didn't know if you needed that much baby all the time.

Anyways, Ari bought us a solar cooker a few weeks ago.  He found it on some boat website I think (perhaps Ari can fill in the details).  It is called Hot Pot and comes with a metal reflector and a glass bowl and lid that a black bowl fit inside.  So far it has just been taking up space on our boat.  In fact, Ari was quite surprised when I used it today.  In his own words he said, "I just assumed you thought it was another one of my crazy ideas."  Well, it was not a crazy idea at all.  More like a miracle in cooking.
I decided to start with something simple and that would not be inedible if it didn't really cook all the way.  I picked veggies enchiladas as my first solar cooking project.  (To be honest I have made some kind of solar cookies at some workshop I went to, but I was only sort of involved.)  True to my boat cooking principles I like to see how many "bilge ingredients," canned goods, I can use in a recipe.   These enchiladas are about half from the bilge, half fresh.  I did not use the pickled asparagus in the end because I felt like it was plenty of food, but I know it would have been great too.  I took maybe five minutes of prep including cutting the mushrooms, broccoli, cheese, and red peppers, and then making the layers.  The five minutes of prep puts it in a special category of good boat cooking in my mind.
We had some errands to do during the day and I intended the enchiladas to be dinner.  The recipe I used as a guide suggested two hours of cooking.  The book also suggested that you can sort of use the sun as a timer and turn the solar cooker so that when you put it out the sun is not directly hitting the cooker and it is turned towards where the sun will be when you really want it to start cooking.  So, I put it out about 11:30am (see the first close up of the cooker) and turned it so that it would be in direct sun what I guessed would be a few hours later.  We returned from errands around 3:30pm and Ari was already hungry because he had gone without lunch.  The enchiladas looked cooked and when we took off the lid they smelled yummy and I stuck my finger in and it was HOT!  (I want to buy a little thermometer that I can just put in there with the food.)  The cheese on top was starting to brown and the top tortillas were a little crispy.  I was surprised how wet the bottom layer was, but I read that all the water will come out of the veggies in the cooking process.  The lid is tight so none of it evaporates.I served it up with sour cream and salsa.  Ari said it was the best, and only, solar cooked meal he has ever had.  And it really was great.  A few bites were too hot to eat with out blowing on themwhich really surprised me.  I will definitely make solar enchiladas again.
In case you want to do some solar cooking of your own here is my recipe for what it is worth.  But, I recommend using what ever you have in your bilge. And for you land lubbers out there I sure your cupboard has some cans dying to be used as well.

Solar Veggie Enchiladas

5 Corn tortillas (I recommend 6, but that was all we had)
1 small can green chillies
1 small can enchilada sauce
1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes
1/2 jar roasted red peppers (about equal to one red pepper)
4 brown mushrooms
1 small bunch of broccoli
1/2 cup cheddar cheese
SalsaSour Cream

Cut up all veggies and cheese into small pieces.  Lay down two tortillas in bowl.  Put half of each of the veggies in a layer in top.  Pour over half the enchilada sauce and sprinkle on one third of the cheese.  Lay down two more tortillas.  Layer on the rest of the veggies, pour on the rest of the sauce, saving just a little to go over the top, and one third of the cheese.  Lay down the last two tortillas and sprinkle on the remainder of the cheese and enchilada sauce.  Place solar cooker in the sun for 2 hours or more until the cheese is melted and browning and the inside is hot.  Serve with salsa and sour cream.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Anthropological Field Guide to Common Peak Oil Debate Participants

This post was inspired by the now infamous Michael Lynch piece in the New York Times.

Rather than a point-by-point scientific rebuttal of every point in his op-ed (which is hard because it's relatively "content-free"), I decided to answer the more pressing question: "Who the heck is this idiot and what's his angle?" To help, I compiled a field guide to the types you're likely to encounter while reading about Peak Oil.

(Spectrum is from total denial to extreme paranoia)

Abiotic Oilers: Related to creation scientists, these folks believe that oil is not a "fossil fuel" but is generated deep in the earth by mysterious geological processes. No really. There's plenty of oil, we just have to put on our tin foil hats, drill deep down into our Flat Earth, past the underground cities of reptile aliens who control our secret Zionist world government, down into the petroleum-rich "Creamy Nougat Center" of the planet.

FUD Peddlers: Snazzy professional deniers on the payroll of the PR/consulting firms in the high-stakes "denial racket". Given enough money, a good haircut and well tailored suit, these guys can wedge a crowbar of doubt between the links of even the most obvious chain of causality: cancer and cigarettes, processed food and obesity, carbon emissions and climate change, finite oil reserves and oil depletion, gravity and falling down, etc.

BAUers: Peak oil? Never heard of it. Go away, I'm watching American Idol and microwaving a Hot Pocket, in the back seat of my Hummer. Unfortunately, this group is also known as "Nearly Everyone You've Ever Met in Your Life."

Drill Baby Drillers: These folks get that our dependence on foreign oil is a problem, but haven't yet gotten that we depend on oil because... um, we don't have that much NON-foreign oil. (The U.S. only has 3% the world's proven oil reserves, and it's sure not for lack of looking.) Like the old aphorism says "Wish in one well, and piss in the other. See which one fills up first."

Not Yetters: Of course the world will reach peak oil... decades from now. Plus, we have 400 years of coal. Often Oil Company CEOs or OPEC oil ministers. (For example Shell CEO recently reassured the world press that we have 40 years of oil left -- when did 40 years become the foreseeable future!!!)

Government Softpedalers: It is vital for our national security that we strive for energy independence. But not THAT vital. Certainly not important enough to switch party affiliations or anything. Please go back to worrying about your job and health insurance.

Free-Market Cornucopians: If the world demands energy, the free market will find a way to supply it. Likewise, if three hungry economists are locked in a bank vault, the free market will provide them a sandwich. (Of course, this turns out to be true if the first two economists decide the third would look good between a couple slices of bread -- see "Doomers, Cannibalism" below.)

Techno-Utopians: The world's oil production will peak (or has peaked) but it's no big deal because we'll just run our "hyper cars" on organic bat spit or cold fusion or nanotechnology or hemp seed oil...

Peak Oil Liters: Of course I don't believe in that lunatic Peak Oil theory (because then I'd be ostracized as a weirdo). I just believe that over time, oil will get more and more difficult to extract... so we won't be able to pump quite as much as we used to... and therefore energy will be really expensive... and it will have far reaching economic effects on our society. (Dude, that's Peak Oil in a nutshell!) Like the many "postfeminists" women I have met who vehemently shirk the feminist label because they don't want to seem extreme or strident, but certainly want to be treated as equals, and can't really name any substantive disagreements they have with the central tenets of feminism.

Just the Facts Ma'am'ers: In this camp I would include the originals like King Hubbert, Colin Campbell, and Matthew Simmons. They noticed and spoke up about the geological facts, without drawing a lot of far-out sociological inferences. (And really, I think that's the strongest critique I have of "peak oil theory". The geological science seems rock solid (groan, sorry), but does that mean that X, Y, or Z will happen in N decades from an economic/political/historical perspective?)

Mainstream Gentle Nudgers: Well spoken, reasonable sounding guys like Jeff Rubin, who has done a lot to promulgate the view that due to peak oil, everything in your life will change without standing wild eyed on a soapbox screaming "OH MY GOD, EVERYTHING IN YOUR LIFE WILL CHANGE!!!!"

Locavore Mafia
(a.k.a. Bike-Lane Fundamentalists):
Peak oil is here, and will fundamentally shift our civilization. But that's good, because our civilization sucks and the SUV-driving earth rapers out there deserve to suffer for their eco-sins! Once the global economy collapses, finally we'll be able to get a decent salad!

Long Emergency Preppers
(a.k.a. Kunstlerians/Orlovians):
Things are going to get crazy!!! We could see the collapse of nation states, and certainly things will be different and harder than we've ever seen in our lifetimes. Time to start stocking up on canned food and learning to scavenge wild foods.

Neo-Malthusians: Ditto. Oh yeah, we've also massively overshot the non-petroleum carrying capacity of the Earth, and are headed for a massive die-off. Time to get your swine-flu vaccine.

Doomers: We are so completely screwed that it’s not even worth planting a community garden. We are headed for the neo-neolithic ages, so better get ready to fight tooth and nail for a good cave. Complete collapse of the grid will be followed shortly by roving hordes of cannibal former-suburbanites.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Welcome Yemaya

Yemaya was born July 11! She is healthy, happy and very cute. So far she seems happy with life on the boat. Ari and I are never far and there is plenty of milk, blankets, diapers, and arms to hold her. She has not been bothered by the piledriver that has been here since we came home. Although, I do think that Ari and I will go crazy soon. Luckily, they work very fast and it seems in a few days they are likely to be finished.
It is one of those hot weeks here in Oakland so by mid afternoon we are quite toasty on the boat. My sister brought us a fan and some ice yesterday that really helped morale. I hope that global warming gives me a break soon and we have some nice cool Bay Area summer days that I love.
One of our neighbors saw Ari on the dock and asked him how things are going. Ari explained the crazy cycle of sleeping a few hours at a time and then tending to Yemaya's needs. Our neighbor suggested it was like single handed sailing. At the very least Ari and I are practicing a watch schedule for cruising. Ari does better at the 2-6am shift than I do.
So far we have been able to cram all the needed baby items onto the boat and have turned down all sorts of offers of unnessasary baby junk. Of which there is no short supply. The baby industrial complex will cretainly be one of the first to fall in the peak oil scenerio. Everything is made of plastic and apparently we "need" the items for our babies survival. How anyone ever raised a child with out all the junk is hard to say, but I am sure that many, many generations of humans came about without it all.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Volitan: Bad Design, Wharram: Good Design

This Volitan boat is featured prominently on a number of "Green Design" blogs, as well as June's Pacific Yachting magazine. I saw it at the checkstand while buying lines at West Marine. Google "Volitan boat", you'll find it.

This is literally the dumbest boat design I've ever seen. Where do I start.

First., we already have an existing technology for eco-friendly boat propulsion. They’re called “sails”. Hey genius, you're 5,000 years behind the news...

The site touts the twin 225 horsepower electric engines. At approximately 746 watts per 1 horsepower, that's 335,700 watts. Judging by the picture, the wings are about 92 feet tip to tip by about 10 feet wide. That's 920 square feet of solar panels, or about 86 square meters. Because of the X-wing design, only one of the wingtops will ever be facing the sun. (And the solar panels on the bottom of the wing never will be, what's that about?) At a charge rate of 150 watts per square meter per hour times 43 square meters, and assuming climate and weather allows 10 hours of direct sunlight per day, you'd need to soak up over 5 days of blazing sunshine to motor for one hour at full throttle. Well, maybe that tiny wind generator at the top of the mast will help. Or maybe you can throttle WAY back and just kinda bob around...

Notice the entire boat is enclosed:

Less usable deck space than a Colombian Narcosub:

This starship/greenhouse design makes it impossible to actually interact with the ocean. Now in order to "sail" (I cringe at the thought of using that term to describe motoring VERY slowly while powered by tiny windmill) you'll no doubt need a bunch of sensors to let you know wind direction and force, sea state, etc. Since the "sails" are solid (and not foil shaped -- how's that gonna work?!?!?!) they offer no visual or auditory feedback that you're luffing or stalled. More sensors I guess? The systems are all electronic and hydraulic. And new and custom and untested and non-redundant. This is the type of thinking that Michael Pollan describes as splitting a holistic, elegant solution into multiple, discrete problems.

The sheer dimensions are ludicrous: a 100' boat with a 92' beam -- good times docking this beast! The building materials are pure Unobtainium and the scale guarantees that only billionaires will be shopping for this marvel of sustainability.

Shift your eyes away from the big picture down to the details: Where are the deck cleats to tie this montrosity to a dock? Where's the anchor windlass? Missing are the myriad and sundry details that allow you to live, work, and play on a boat. Has this guy ever even been on a boat? The propellers are at the very bottom of the x-wing keels. Hmm, do you think over hundreds of years, naval architects might have found propellers mounted just under the surface, directly behind the keel/skeg to be a little less, um, exposed? Can you imagine trying to navigate kelp or crab pots or coral reefs with fragile ducted fans on underwater stalks as your primary propulsion?

The kicker is that Volitan won the International Design Award for the best transportation vehicle of 2007!!! This abortion is the symbol of everything that is wrong with "sustainable design" : the belief that giant, expensive, overengineered gadgets are the solution to the world's problems. It's clearly dreamed up by an industrial designer with a deep, abiding hatred of everything boat-like about boats...

Sigh... OK... done ranting. For a link to a guy who HAS advanced the art of sustainable boat buidling, check out James Wharram (the guy often credited with the catamaran revival of the 50s and 60s.) Lately he's been doing great work designing boats to revive sail-powered trade routes in the Pacific.

His designs are an elegant blend of high tech, low tech, tribal tech. When you look at his boats: the lines, the simplicity, the ruggedness and yet performance, they're clearly drawn by the hand of a man who's been to sea.

One of the things I've learned my involvement with open source software as well as boats: the best human tools come from thousands of incremental improvements made by generations of average working people working and living with the product, not from ego-driven idiot-savants incented by the marketplace to create mystifying objects of passive aggressive novelty, rather than simple, honest artifacts of enduring utility.

Incidentally, I believe Macha, descended as she is from hardworking channel cutter and sailing lifeboat lineage, is an another example of evolutionary rather than revolutionary design. The builder and previous owner Jay definitely added some cool innovations, but the basic design is pretty darned traditional. In sailing her, and living aboard her, even still when I'm faced with a new situation or a new maintenance/repair task I'll frequently notice some new detail replete with robust elegance, and think "Oh... that's why it work's like that..."

A well designed tool or vehicle should feel like that to own. It fills you with confidence that generations of intelligent people have stood in your shoes, experienced the pickle you're now in, and tried their best to design and build for it... Good, traditional, evolutionary yacht design is a subtle, nonverbal communication from a lineage of seafaring forefathers, quietly whispering reassurance when the sailing gets rough. "Don't worry, this boat can take these conditions." In contrast, when I look at a boat design like the Volitan, (or a Hunter, or a MacGregor 26X), I feel like I know more about boats that their designers. And that frankly scares the hell out of me, because I certainly don't know much!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Top 10 Reasons I'm Having a Kid Even Though the World is Going to Shit

This is a repost from an another forum, in response to a dear friend who called BS on me. I was taking the position that overpopulation is a central, but often unspoken issue in the context of sustainability, economic justice, limits to growth, etc. And she replied, "Wait a minute, how can you say that when you're having a baby any week now?!?!"

Disclaimer: I say "I" and not "WE" in the post above cuz this is how I feel about it. Let's see if Sarah has a follow up post...

(As a quick aside, we've nicknamed our soon-to-be baby "Tree Frog" because we know her primarily by her kicks and jumps, and because her legs and butt seem about as long and boney as picture above)

So here, dear friends, are the Top 10 Reasons I'm Having a Kid Even Though the World is Going to Shit:

10 - Because I want to. I'm an American damn it! It's my God-given right to do what I want whenever I want. You're not the boss of me and I don't have to tell you why. If I ever feel twinges of guilt in the middle of the night for the way I live, I can always fall back on my fancy education or hire a shrink or a life coach to help me muster rationalizations to justify my actions. Just joking. (An alternate #10 for a lot of folks might be "because the condom broke" or "because I live in a Red State where we learned that storks bring babies", but Sarah and I were actually trying.)

9 - Because I'm curious and in love. When all is said an done I want to have a kid because I have a deep longing to see what a tiny human being comprised of half me and half the love of my life will be like. I literally can't wait to meet her, take care of her, teach her, learn from her, love her.

8 - Because my parents did. And their parents did. And their parent did... It's a tautology to point out that all of us were born to people who consciously or otherwise ended up as parents -- but still, it's pretty cool. Each of our matrilinear mitochondrial DNA stretches back in an unbroken lineage that started with the first single celled mother of all life. I'm not saying that the purpose of human life should be procreation, and I'm DEFINITELY not saying that the only purpose of procreation should be creating life. (that wouldn't be fun) But, I'm saying that we're wired such that the instinct to procreate and therefore create new life as a frequent side effect is incredibly deep and primal. Capitalize the "L" in Life and it approaches religion for me... If this all sounds like heteronormative biological essentialism run amok, let me say that recent evolutionary studies in "community selection" seem to confirm that it literally does take a village to raise a child. There are many ways to serve nascent Life; parenthood is just one... The world needs aunts and uncles and teachers and mentors and role models. And yes, we'll be calling on all of you loved ones to fill those roles...

7 - Because kids don't know any better. I was just listening to a public radio show with people telling their childhood stories about growing up in the Depression. The common theme was that it was a fun time to be a kid: lots of family/neighborhood togetherness, simple games & activities, etc. Kids that grow up during crises or wars always seem to find way to enjoy life and have fun. When I was in middle school, I was on a school trip to the parliament buildings in Quebec City when an ex-soldier burst into the room next door with a machine gun and started killing people. In retrospect, it seems pretty scary. But at the time, we were in the next room, so heard shots but didn't see any blood spatter or dead bodies, didn't really believe the guy would kill us, and it all just seemed like a cool adventure. I remember hiding under a table and really wishing I was hiding under the same table as this girl I had a crush on. I was listening to a neuropsychologist on the radio the other day who categorized stresses as either Positive, Tolerable, or Toxic. The first category are normal emotional growing pains. The second category are major life traumas, but which can be overcome with good family and community support. The third category are deep traumas like abuse, neglect, etc. What stuck me was that the researcher used hurricane Katrina as an example of a "Tolerable Trauma." I was heartened, because I think most of the problems our children's generation will face will similarly fall within a tolerable range. Our kids will adapt to the unfolding post-peak-oil & climate change world and will have challenges, triumphs, loves, losses, depressions and exhaltations just like any other generation.

6 - Because it will be a wild ride. Why deny the next generation ringside seats to the greatest show on Earth: the collapse of postmodern global capitalist civilization? The next few decades will be fascinating!

5 - Because limits to growth are soft not hard limits. The population of humans this gorgeous little planet can support is not a number, but a spectrum of numbers. On one side of the scale, a pristine Earth ecosystem with a "leave no trace" standard of nomadic human civilization would probably allow a human population in the high hundreds-of-thousands to low-single-digit millions. A sustainable Earth ecosystem with decentralized agrarian societies based on permaculture principles could probably support a human population in the hundreds of millions. If everyone lived the way North Americans currently do, the earth could probably support about one billion people. With two-thirds of the Earth's population living on two buck sa day with a lifestyle resembling a scene from a Hieronymus Bosch painting, we've proven we can support high single digit billions. If we choose to transform our planet into "Factory Farm Earth (tm)", exploiting every photon of sunlight, every drop of water, every speck of ore, eliminating in the process every "competing" species, we can probably support many tens of billions of people. Note that we're currently on trajectory for the final and most extreme scenario. Good times.

4 - Because human timescales are different than geological, civilizational, or even historical timescales. The problem I see with dismissing peak-oil or climate-change believers as "doomers" or "neo-millenialists" is: it's like the proverbial wheezing, hard-drinking, 400-pound, 4-pack-a-day-smoker, bacon-double-cheeseburger eating, stunt-motorcycle riding, chainsaw juggling, shark wrestling, russian-roulette playing guy who says to his doctor's repeated warnings, "Well, this lifestyle hasn't killed me YET, so I don't think it ever will..." When religious leaders tell me the End is Nigh, I blow them off. When scientists tell me so, I listen. The heuristic "this is the way things are; therefore this is the way things will always be" is one of humanity's most odious varieties of stupid. As many people point out, people have been having these end-times debates for a long time... but only a long time in human terms. Climate change is happening in a geological blink of an eye. But in human history, uncertainty of plus-or-minus a generation or two means that my kids' might be relatively unaffected by the unravelling future, and MAY not be part of the generation to be left without a chair when the music stops. Maybe even their kids?

3 - Because kids make us think differently about our lives and our place in the world. You really can't argue with Whitney Houston that "children are the future." Without some sense of responsibility for the legacy of coming generations of human and non-human life, I believe people on average would be LESS eco-correct, MORE hedonistic and self-indulgant. I mean, why turn down the thermostat, carry around goofy looking water bottles, carpool, etc. etc. if my life, right now, is all that matters?

2 - Because maybe our kids can fix it. I've been watching the bailout and the futility of trying to sustain the unsustainable, and at this point I'm not even sure what "fix it" means any more. Perhaps "heal it" is a better phrase, since mechanistic rather than organic thinking seems complicit in this epic mess. Maybe we've passed the point of no return, but maybe we haven't. If anyone can do it, our kids can.

1 - Because I'm an optimist. No, really. Look, I think a lot of people (and frankly a lot of people especially in the sustainability movement) don't understand the difference between thinking and feeling. I THINK (in simplistic terms) that the world is going to hell in a handbasket (for all the usual reason: peak oil, climate change, economic meltdown, yada yada yada.) But I FEEL challenged, curious, engaged, and even cheerful about the coming changes. I don't feel postive for any particular REASON (because then it would be thinking, not feeling...) but because the basic orientation of my personality is optimistic (underneath the crustiness.) To recap: what my rational thought leads me to believe will happen (or not happen) in the future is not, I repeat, not what determines my place on the optimist-pessimist spectrum. The attitudes, feelings, and most importantly ACTIONS with which I meet the future ARE. I'm often accused of being a pessimist, but like Jay (a sailing peak-oiler friend of ours who's now homesteading in Hawaii) says "Pessimists don't plant trees." I think that goes double for raising little humans...