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, http://boatmama.blogspot.com/  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...

Monday, June 1, 2009

Volvo Ocean Race Game

This online video game is currently destroying my life: Volvo Ocean Race Game

It's a deceptively simplistic flash game. All you do is point your boat and pick your sail. But, the addictive part is that it happens in real time, with 300,000 real time competitors and real time wind downloaded from real life GRIB files. All this encourages sleep deprivation (which I keep telling Sarah is good practice for the baby.)

For a sweet, brief, moment at the start of Leg 7, I was tied for #1 (with about 10,000 French teenagers I'm sure)

The exigencies of my job, relationship, social life, and need for sleep conspired to distract me from the game. I went aground, and have fallen back to #30,113. Still, I'm finding it's a great way for us cubicle-bound sailors to experiment with VMG and route strategy.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Master Mariners Regatta 2009

On May 23rd, I got to crew on Bradley's boat Chorus in the wooden boat regatta sponsored by the Master Mariners Benevolent Association.

My dad was in town, and despite the overcast, chilly weather it was simply a great day of sailing with some great friends, and the man whose infectious love of the water got me into sailing, windsurfing, and all manner of ocean-based activities in the first place: my father.

It was an amazing learning experience to sail with such a wide variety of boats: large, small, old, "old at heart". There were boats from such venerable SF Bay one design classes such as the Bear and the Bird boats, there were gaffers in all shapes and sizes, lovely schooners and piratical square riggers.

It's a fun-loving event, as evidenced by the "potato rounding rule." Less weatherly old girls who can't quite round the weather mark can opt instead to throw a potato at it. Close counts; just like in horseshoes and hand grenades.

I was on foredeck for the first time; and had many fumbles and recovery due to my unfamiliarity with the role and various equipment gotchas.

Bradley was on the helm, Craig trimmed spinnaker.

Aaron, who I've sailed with on the Ultimate 24, was on mast.

Our tactition (as well as moral and spiritual advisor, hehe) Peter English, sailed such a perfect course that despite our (I should say my) clumsy hoists and douses we won our class by 6 seconds.

It was a literally photo finish, with the second place Farallon Clipper right on our quarter as we heard the shotgun blast signalling our win.

We relaxed as we sailed down the Estuary to the post-race party at Encinal Yacht Club. Seeing the stately wooden craft rafted up three or four boats deep, I was reminded of the pictures I've seen of the three-masted Alaska Packer ships that used to raft up in the spot now inhabited by our marina. It was easy to half-close my eyes and daydream about a not-so-distant past and rapidly approaching future where "wooden boats and iron men" (these days a growing sisterhood of "iron women" too!) are central to Alameda's economy and culture.

That night we enjoyed a celebratory dinner and reception put on by the Encinal Yacht Club.

It was a great weekend with friends and family, and a great introduction to racing! We plan to practice as a team until we get our symmetrical spinnaker mojo working better!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Baby Aboard

Our biggest question about having a baby has been how to keep her safe in the marine environment. We have bought all six books that I could find on Amazon about cruising with children. Clearly tons of cruising families have lived with children from newborns to teenagers on sailboats. And it just so happens that everyone that writes a book about it says it is a great experience. If anyone knows of a book about how unhappy a family was cruising with children, let us know.

Most of the suggestions I have read have been the same. To sum them up:
  • Put the kid in a life jacket when underway.
  • Devise some kind of toddler harness and tether system when ever kid is above deck.
  • Teach them to swim.
  • Teach older children to row the dingy. Started by having them practice row with the painter still tied to the boat. As they get better give them more line.
  • Put netting up around the life lines.
  • Lash a car seat above or below deck.
  • Have some kind of playpen area, either a commercial "pack and play," or create one in a bunk with netting or lee cloths.
  • Bring things to entertain them like toys and books.
  • Let them participate in sailing, steering, etc. But don't push it because it is really not that fun for kids for very long periods of time.
  • Find other kids and cruising families. Meet up with them again if possible.
  • Hide fun treats and toys to take out for long passages and bad weather.
In addition I have found some unique ideas online. One family created a flotation system for the car seat, and tested it in the pool. Not sure if we will do this, but it does seem like there is an untapped market for various baby flotation devices. I really enjoyed one families description of buying an immersion alarm for their three year old. I won't ruin the funny part, so you can read it yourself. On one online forum I found some interesting posts including one that has some pictures of hanging the infant seat in the companion way. I'm not sure that the carseat companies have safety tested all the ways that parents are using the seats on boats, but it does make me think.

Carseat flotation

Immersion Alarm (LOL)

The V-Crib

Comments by Gaff Cutter family and Hanging Carseat

Monday, April 20, 2009

What is it like to live on a boat?

Our friends and family have been asking what it is like to live on our boat. We have been on our boat almost two months, and I keep waiting for the boat to be clean to take pictures to post. Well, today I decided that we should just tell the truth. Neither Ari nor I excel at picking up. We even got rid of most of our stuff, and yet there is still clutter.

So life on a boat is exactly like life on land, we are surrounded by junk. Above is our Nav desk where we we put project and mail junk. Ari has been constantly doing projects since we moved aboard. I doubt we will ever really clean this area up.

This is the "nursery." Most day we keep this clean, but today is laundry day, well really yesterday was. We have friends who are expecting a baby a month after us, they already put the nursery together, we try and keep it clean.

Here you can sort of see our bed. I didn't make it up all nice, but it is small. I bought a foam mattress pad to make it softer. We have to tuck the full sized pad in to make it fit. We have worked out a clever system of taking turns sleeping on the inside and outside throughout the night. I think soon I will be too pregnant to sleep on the inside. It is getting hard for me to roll over when it is time to switch.

Despite the mess we are loving living on the boat. Like tonight when Ari took the little boat out for a row, and later a sail. The sun was setting, it was warm, and we enjoyed a cool drink on deck afterward.

We are excited for the little one to join us on our adventure. More pictures of boat life soon.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sailing Home

We had a great sail back from Berkeley to Alameda with our friends Bradley and Craig. I love sailing with those guys. Bradley is like some kind of crazed sailing prodigy: he's only been sailing for a couple years, but he brings so much passion and intensity to it that he sails way better than folks I know who have been sailing for decades. Craig is a super experienced, experimental, and intuitive sailor. I'd sailed with him a bunch on my old Catalina and his old Catalina, but it's only in sailing with him on engineless boats that I really began to appreciate what a truly gifted sailor he is.

While the wind was light, we warped from one side dock to the fuel dock. Basically, this involved giving the boat a giant bobsled shove and letting it coast around a corner and upwind to the fuel dock. We kinda bungled the maneuver. We had two crew aboard, but the two "pushers" failed to jump on in time, so we had to sprint around the docks to get in position to catch Macha. We got to the other side of the dock in time and no J24's were harmed. Phew.

We debated just sailing out, but we had previously arranged a tow out of the breakwater from Steve, the guy who did our cockpit. He arrived in a vintage wooden mini-tugboat and, as soon as the towrope was made fast to our samson post, dragged us straight upwind at 4 knots. It was only the second time we've towed the boat. It's always a blow to the ego, and reinforces the perception that engineless sailors get towed everywhere. Still, it really helped, as the flood would otherwise have been setting us right into (through) the pier. Basically, it turned what would have been a two day sail into a one-day sail.

Once past the end of the Berkeley pier, I faced a moment of truth. The winds were REALLY light. Should we drop the tow rope now and sail behind Treasure Island? (much shorter, but less wind) Or radio Steve and ask for a further tow around the front of Treasure Island? It made me realize that the reason I don't have an engine is the same as the reason I don't have a TV or a Playstation. Not because I'm a self-righteous purist, but because I find it REALLY hard to "unplug" from addictive technological conveniences...

With some urging from Craig, I decided it was time to stop motoring and start sailing!

With the extremely light wind, we got to rotate through every sail: main, topsail, staysail, jib, yankee, tow staysail, asymmetrical kite. Great learning experience!

We ghosted along, drifting with the current with just enough way on to keep steerage. We ran a slow-motion slalom course through the anchored construction barges near the Bay Bridge construction.

As we got closer to the bridge (right by Clipper Cove), we picked up the strongest wind of the day (probably 7-9 knots) which we used to maximum effect to work Westward to pass through the upwind gap in the bridge. Once on the other side, we drifted again until the flood carried us out of the wind shadow of the island. We bore off on a broad reach towards the entrance doused the headsails and hoisted our giant asymmetrical spinnaker to fly wing-on-wing.

At one point coming down the Estuary, Craig suggested we take down everything except the kite so it could draw better. I was skeptical to take down the mainsail, since I figured we had more sail area going wing-on-wing, and that raising the main again would be a pain. But with so many crew aboard, I figured it was worth the experiment. Wow -- we instantly gained a half-knot. We had been pacing a pretty little navy blue Etchells the whole way down the Estuary, but we figure we would have beat them if we had taken down the main sooner.

Then the wind died completely, and as the current was about to change, we towed ourselves with the dinghy lashed on the quarter for a little while. Again, I felt like I was cheating by using the outboard. But it ended up being a great exercise: we now know that in near-perfect calm the 15 horse two-stroke can push the big girl at 4+ knots. Something to add to our bag of tricks...

As we towed ourselves deeper into the Estuary, our wind came back and we sailed with the kite, dowsing it to put up tow staysail to slow ourselves, then lining up for final approach under bare poles.

Home sweet home!