Monday, December 22, 2008

La Paz

In The Log From the Sea of Cortez, Steinbeck wrote in 1941: "La Paz grew in fascination as we approached. The square, iron-shuttered colonial houses stood up right in back of the beach with rows of beautiful trees in front of them. It is a lovely place."

It is so lovely that I think many boaters just wash up here and never leave. There seem to be a lot of extremely relaxed people in flip flops, strolling back and forth on the docks; their boats look like they haven't been sailed for years.

I have already fallen under its sway and find I can sit on the deck watching Pelicans for hours, doing face plants, fishing just a stone's throw from our boat. I never get tired of watching them come up, their fleshy lower beaks full of squirming fish. In the morning they sun and preen on these nearby pilings.

A curious bird is the pelican

its beak can hold more than its belican (Ogden Nash)

There are wonderful bronze sculptures along the waterfront. I love this one. It's called El Viejo y el Mar? The Old Man and the Sea?
There is a poem with it. I've translated it (crudely)

I have a paper boat.
It's made of a page
on which I wrote my dreams.
It has no anchors or moorings.
I want to sail the seven seas and the eighth
where I will run aground in the longed for port.
Has anyone seen the bright beam of its lighthouse?

Guillermo Gomez Mac 2004

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Images from Magdalena Bay

   We rounded Cape San Lucas at the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula yesterday around noon.  It was a little strange.  Houses, condominiums and hotels cling to the cliffs and beaches of the cape as thickly as intertidal life on the deserted beaches to the north.  We are happy though to be able to tie up to a dock, and to catch up on sleep and correspondence!  Tomorrow we head north for the first time since we left home. Onwards to La Paz, where we'll pick up Lindsay, Sophie, and friends for holiday-making. 

Snowy Egret, mangrove estuary

About a Boat

Okay, I can see why a blog about a sailing trip might eventually talk about the boat.  Circadia is a J120.  It is 40 feet long, 12 feet, three inches wide, with a 7 foot draft. It is a little unusual to cruise a J120--they are mainly known as race boats. She is fast and light and has an extendable bow sprit from which a spinnaker can be launched easily.  In high winds, like we had one night coming down the west coast of Baja, she just keeps on sailing, but tends to surf over chaotic seas rather than dig in as a heavier boat would.  I have to admit, I'm still not used to these kind of conditions and still feel like I've survived a near death experience...But back to the boat: unlike most race boats, the interior is pretty, (white, with wood trim) and comfortable.  There's a double berth in the fore peak and also aft.  The salon has cupboards and lots of book shelves.

the fore peak; note sprit (spinnaker pole)

The main salon

The Galley is small, but everything is in arms reach! There's a two burner propane stove with oven. We don't use the oven much, although lately, sailing in remote areas, Kim bakes bread. Our eating habits are a little different from home. Less red meat, more fish (which has been easy to get from local fisherman on the west coast of the peninsula).  Hardly any butter, lots of olive oil; very little sweet stuff, plenty of wine (which we loaded under the fore peak boards in San Diego).  We bought an ingenious little 12 volt fridge before we left the US, which to our delight is just tall enough for a bottle of white wine. 
Kim in the galley

Monday, December 8, 2008

Living in the Light

San Juan Capistrano, Edgar Payne, early 1900's

It has rained twice since we left Vancouver Island in mid-September. At first the blue skies were like drinking champagne every day. Eventually I longed for rain. Some mornings I would wake up and imagine the sound of the snapping shrimp under the dock was the light patter of drops on the skylight, but then I’d stick my head out the hatch and there was the San Diego sun, sometimes veiled with sea fog, but climbing resolutely out of it by mid-morning.
I used to love fall. You know that old “My sorrow when she’s here with me thinks these dark days of autumn rain are beautiful as days can be…” But in recent years my sorrow moved in around mid-November and by January even she was getting kind of pissed. So I was pleased to check out of a whole winter of rain, which where I live would put everything under three feet of water if it didn’t run off or evaporate.
And it’s not exactly like I miss it now. It just feels weird. I start thinking about how much of what we are is where we come from. For instance, what would Neil Young have been like if he didn’t come from that town in North Ontario, where he had nothing to do but stare at the blue windows behind the stars? Would he have felt so helpless, helpless, helpless, helpless, if he grew up in San Diego?
Maybe Jesse Winchester, shivering in his Montreal flat, put his finger on it when he wrote that song to a lover, fled to California: “if you are never cold girl, who’s gonna keep you warm, you’ll take the sun for granted, you’ll run from every storm.”
Still I can see the appeal. I recently went to a show of California paintings from the early 1900’s. I don’t know what California painters are painting now, most contemporary painting seems kind of tortured, but back then they were called the California Impressionists, painting landscapes (which would be considered sentimental now) bathed in that gorgeous light. I think they were happy.

Monterey Cypress, Edgar Payne, early 1900's

Even the California poets seem less morose than most. Kay Ryan, the Californian who was recently named American poet Laureate writes:

“The Best of It”

However carved up
or pared down we get,
we keep on making
the best of it as though
it doesn’t matter that
our acre’s down to
a square foot. As
though our garden
could be one bean
and we’d rejoice if
it flourishes, as
though one bean
could nourish us.

I’m sure people suffer anxiety in California. Judging from the cosmetic surgery advertisements in local magazines, at least some of it seems to go along with trying to look as good as possible in skimpy clothes and the unforgiving light. But let me just say (except for perhaps the homeless men who seemed to inhabit every public bench, which is another, sadder story) I didn’t see much evidence of it.
Which brings me to my final question. Do we each get a standard amount of happiness? Do we either take it measured doses, as we might living in sunny latitudes. Or do we use it up in spurts, running on empty in our northern winters, and guzzling it down in the summer?
Me, I guess I’m too old to give up my existential angst very easily. It may have been doped by all this sunshine, but I can feel it, like some desert plant, biding its time, waiting for the rain.


Circadia at anchor, Turtle Bay, Baja

We left San Diego a week ago and are now sailing down the west coast of Baja (which is long and mostly deserted). Many wonders along the way though: pods of bottle-nosed dolphins, estuaries full of northern breeding ducks, grebes, geese on their wintering grounds; my first ever sighting of a Burrowing Owl in the wild.
Plan to be in Cabo in a week or so…

Thursday, November 27, 2008

An Idiot's Guide to Evolution

“You said you needed more space, more time. Whole dimensions!”

Protagonist to her boyfriend, who has broken up with her. (From a novel in progress, by a writer whose name I have lost, Banff, 1999)

I think there are some things that the human mind is just not capable of grasping: how almost 50% of Americans voted for McCain/Palin, how a remote control really works, and deep time.
I guess it’s not our fault, at least the time part. We’ve buried it under human clutter, roads, houses, malls, sports arenas. Inside them our clocks are set to tick away in bite-sized pieces. We think in fragments of the day, maybe weeks, months, sometimes, though we resist it (look how we ignore history and are in denial about the future) years.
There’s a clock in Strasbourg with a gear that turns once every 1200 years. That’s more like it! You could sit and watch that gear making its infinitesimal progress and contemplate time. Or maybe we should all wear a geological watch, along with our Timex. Then, while we were obsessing about how quickly our kids grow up, how much we’ve aged, or how there’s never enough time to do everything we have to, we could look down at our wrist and notice the millennial hand hasn’t moved.
O.K., speaking of time, you have things to do today, so, where’s this going? This, of course, is about the Galapagos. Because since getting back I am not in culture, but rather in time shock. There are some landscapes that pull us back into the flow of deep time. Perhaps even before we understood how vast time is, we have been drawn to them. In Jane Austen’s Persuasion (which I picked up in the Houston airport) the party of young people (including the sensitive, intelligent heroine and the man of excellent wealth and character she agonizes over) take the air in Lyme. They went to the sands, to watch the flowing of the tide, which a fine south-easterly breeze was bringing in with the grandeur which so flat a shore admitted.
It is as if certain places quiet our minds, give us a little escape from the relentless micro-timing of life. Places where the land is opened, where we can see its bones: seashores, mountains, volcanic islands.
In the Galapagos the landscape is still being made by an oceanic hot spot. Moving through the islands, from newest to oldest lava is like moving through time, on stages where everything is laid out clearly for us, so that there is no way for us to misunderstand: here is the land, the sea, the tides and currents, here is the life that has arrived and been fashioned through time to thrive here: an idiot’s guide to evolution.
Still it takes mental effort to comprehend how a perfectly ordinary cormorant becomes flightless, sporting tiny stubs of wings, how an iguana, unlike other self-respecting lizards in the world, takes to the sea, its face becoming pug for grazing marine algae, its nostrils spritzing brine from glands which extract the extra salt from their blood.
For some people the effort seems to be too much. Here in the US nearly half the citizens (I would guess the same half that voted for McCain) do not believe in evolution, but rather that the world was created by God, in something like its present form, within the past 10,000 years.
This strikes me as odd. The world didn’t come to an end when we found we weren’t at the centre of the universe. The faithful simply re-arranged God’s cosmos and carried on.
I guess it’s harder for us to give up on ourselves as God’s special favourites than earth being his special planet.
Darwin knew what his theory meant. And he was a reluctant messenger. He waited years to publish. He lost his own faith. But he found consolation in the elegance of what lay spread before him and wrote “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."
As for his fellow man, he wrote in a letter to the zoologist Asa Gray, “I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope and believe what he can.”
I'm thinking a pair of boots this colour some day. Maybe the next time I'm in Montreal--that wonderful Greek boot maker (Imperial Boots) on rue de Bleury....

Monday, November 10, 2008


We arrived back in San Diego from Catalina just in time for Obama's election speech. And what a wonderful piece of work it was! There is a palpable sense of relief here. Most of the people we know are Democrats. Interesting aside, along the vein of "differences between Americans and Canadians"--Americans say "I am a Democrat" where as Canadians would say "I vote Liberal, or I belong to the Liberal Party". (Another aside, our friend Tracy was shocked that one of our major parties called itself the Liberal Party--liberal is a charged word here, somewhat like socialist.)
I think people here of all (two) stripes are happy the election is over. We are only sorry that Sarah Palin has faded back into Alaska and the spoofs have come to an end.
I'm off to the Galapagos Islands, leading a trip for Hidden Places and Maple Leaf Adventures. See you in a couple of weeks.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Images of Catalina Island

Catalina Tiles

together but apart, waiting for the tour bus.

detail, Bronze door, Wrigley Memorial

The "Casino". Actually a movie theatre and ballroom, built in 1928.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Company of Women

Tile Mural "The Casino" 1928, Catalina Island

I read the other day that a UK magazine recently canvassed its readers for words and phrases which women use (and which men would be unlikely to use). They included: pilates, body image, book club, empowerment, emotional intelligence, kitten heels, and pomegranate.
I went through the list carefully. I have to say I believe that I have used each of these words myself lately with the exception of kitten heels. Though I did note the reference in something I was reading.
I love my husband. I also like him; I find him quirky, funny, and interesting. We share many passions (beyond our endlessly absorbing children) including sailing, hiking, birding, reading (maybe minus poetry on his side), and music (minus Wagner on mine).
Before we left for this year away, the most common question women asked me was “are you nervous about spending so much time together?” At first I was surprised. It seemed like our lives were so busy, especially before we left, that we didn’t get enough time together.
We have been gone for 6 weeks now. And here’s the thing. I’m not tired of his company. Sometimes I need to be alone and so I just take a day off, go wandering, or painting, stop in a café and scrawl in my journal for awhile.
But last week I spent an entire morning lost in blogs, reading about the joys of Clairol Cream hair dye, a great thrift shop coup (which included a pair of plaid mules with kitten heels) and the anguish of failing to conceive after the last of many IVF attempts. As I sat at the computer, tears streaming down my face, I realized what I was missing—the company of women.
While in San Diego I have the temporary but perfect yoga class. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m short on women, but I feel like I could be the best friend of anyone in the class. We could go out for coffee, talk about jobs and children; then we would discuss books and the last great movie we saw, and maybe, eventually share some secrets. But of course the women in yoga have their own lives and mostly they rush off after class to their busy days.
Which leaves me to blogs. I always seem to come late to technology, being preoccupied with pre-industrial crafts. So if you know this already, read ahead. But blogs are amazing. I first started reading one regularly, the wonderful materfamilias writes. What entranced me was how the medium conveys the rich texture of ordinary life. Not that Materfamilias is ordinary—I can unequivocally state that as she is the only blogger I follow whom I actually know. Through her blog I have found a community of stylish, clever, worldly, anxious, ardent women. And, conversely, I feel the presence of my own community of women (because, let’s face it, it looks like “blog” is one of those words women are more likely to use than men) when I think of them reading my own posts.

Blogs I follow:
Materfamilias Writes
La Belette Rouge

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ohh. Canada?

Sometimes I feel that we are from some small protectorate. Americans see us as quaint, a kind and compliant folk, but a little like the perpetual adolescents living in the upstairs bedroom, who haven’t had to take on the full responsibilities of adulthood: grappling with racial strife and inner city crime, policing the globe with a massive military, shouldering the mantle of world pop culture.
Granted the population of California is similar to that of our whole country. But still, we’re big—I mean square miles (oops, kilometers) wise. Still most Americans don’t seem to notice us. Take our election. I didn’t talk to a single person here who realized that, just like them, we were having an election. Kim and I spent the big night huddled around our computer, listening to a bad CBC stream that kept looping back on itself. (Though it hardly mattered, as apparently the election looped back on itself.) Mainly we were on pins and needles hoping our friend Briony would take the Gulf Islands, Saanich seat (she lost after a close race). I also had great hopes that the vote for the environment strategic voting approach might have made a difference. But, though we were deeply disappointed at the outcome, it still felt that the election unfolded through measured debates.

At a friend’s here the other day I noticed that she had an enormous map of British Columbia on her office wall. That would not be unusual I guess if she’d actually ever been to BC. “What’s that for?” I asked.
“That’s so I can think about where we’ll move to…” I looked puzzled.
“In case the Republicans get in and introduce the draft.” (Her twins, Sam and Helen are 10). “Next time it’s going to include girls as well as boys!”
Perhaps, I thought, Americans are thinking of us more than we suspect. Like these two vowing to move to Canada if Sarah Palin becomes VP.

It is hard for most Canadians to believe, but there are actually people here who haven’t noticed that McCain’s choice of running mate is from the lunatic fringe. And though I gnashed my teeth at the division of the left in our election, there is something about this deep polarization between two parties that seems to force people into extremes, leaving little room for subtle discourse. No, I am glad I am a Canadian, even though, in the end, the only person here who commented on the outcome of our election was Jon Stewart. Oh, and Gordon Lightfoot.

I was so excited when I realized that Gordon Lightfoot was performing just ten minutes walk away from our marina. “Kim, do you know what this means?”
He looked at me blankly. “I may finally get to see Gordon Lightfoot sing "The Canadian Railroad Trilogy". Another blank look, which meant he was forced to hear me sing it from beginning to end (O.K. I forgot a few lines.)
I phoned my good friend Nancy (who has lived in California for several years).
“Nancy, I’m going to see Gordon Lightfoot!”
“No way!...there was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run...” She launched right into it…
I’m not a member of Gordon’s fan club, but his music was the soundtrack for some heady years of my life. And though he kind of slid a little into country there was still something about him—rough around the edges, a little coarse even, but then those poetic lyrics. And, of course, the Canadian Railroad Trilogy. Now I know the Canadian railroads where built by oligarchs on stolen land, but somehow that song always gives me goose bumps.
Gordon never did sing it last night. The man who walked onto the stage would not have been able to get through half of it. He spent 6 weeks in a coma after an aortic aneurism a few years ago. It was a year before he picked up his guitar and this is his first tour since. He was bone thin, and his voice, frankly, was shot. After the first song, I was worried for my fellow countryman. But the audience, a packed house of determined fans, with that American warmth and generosity, cheered right through to the end of the two hour concert. As we turned to go, three young men looked at him with adulation.
“Too bad he didn’t play the Canadian Railroad Trilogy,” one said.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Painting Palms

Palm Tree, Nassau, Winslow Homer

The only book I brought along from my studio is “Winslow Homer Watercolors”. If I could paint like anyone it would be Winslow Homer, his strong compositions, economy of brush strokes, and clear color. I find myself constantly admiring the palms here. They are so graceful and limber in the wind and carve such strong shapes against the sky.

moonrise over palms, San Diego

I have been trying to identify some palms growing along one of the streets we ride every day. They caught my eye because of the strange flowers, palm pom poms I guess you could say. They are most interesting just as the flowers are emerging, like presents being slowly opened. The wrappings unfold and drop onto the streets like sheets of building materials.

Also strange are the cones of the cycads buried in domes of decorative leaves, heavy and soft as felt. I find the diversity of plants here wonderful and bewildering—basically the streets, gardens, and parks are stuffed with plants from all over the world, especially Australia, South Africa and the Mediterranean. To see some of these check out sandiegoplants

Sunday, October 12, 2008

a windy day

street art San Diego

It's been windy the last couple of days--a relief from intense heat during the week. They tell us that September and October are the hottest months of the year here (sea fog rolls in in the summer). Fall here is also the time of the year when the famous Santa Ana winds, which blow from the hot interior can sweep fires through the dry hills. Anyone with homes up away from the city lives in fear of this combination of heat and wind. Down here, at sea level, the wind was welcome. Yesterday we actually got out for a sail for the first time since we tied up here. We joined the other day San Diego boats, sailing back and forth, back and forth in the harbour.
It was fun to see it by day though, as we arrived in the city in the dead of night. Apart from day sailors in the harbour, there are tourists lining the rails of a few sleek x-America's cup boats. At first they look very impressive, but then you notice that the sails are moldy, and they rarely have them all up. Once these boats are finished one race season, they are obsolete and too expensive to keep up. We got a look from afar at the new America's cup trimaran "BMW Oracle" leaping off the waves at breakneck speed, reefed down, in 15 knots of wind.
By the way, we managed to sight the other "most famous American boat" on this trip too--on our offshore passage just south of San Francisco--monstrous sails emerging from the mists, visible for miles. It was the superyacht Maltese Falcon, just arriving home in the US, 2 years after it was built in Europe. Apparently it's already for sale, for a mere 150 million euros.

Today we set off in the wind on our bikes for a little expedition to town (about half an hour away). That's where we saw the bicycle wind piece--the wind was ripping through the sculpture, sending the bike wheels spinning like mad. This installation is one of about 12 along the waterfront--they all have the same base--each artist was given the task of making a vertical sculpture. Somehow, like butterflies and teapots, the constraints of the design make the differences seem more delightful and ingenious.

tile bench

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Sharkey's Pier

fishing buddies

Sharkey's Pier

Brown Pelican, waiting for scraps

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Rooster, Tapestry
Joseph Domjan

A Temporary Life

"Don't Look at Me" 
Tony Oursier

Museum of Contemporary Art,
La Jolla

We have been in San Diego for more than a week now. Angus and Tavish have returned home. 
I had heard that port life is mostly about fixing the things that were broken while sailing and so far that seems to be true. We are also getting some things installed for the next leg of our journey. A bimini for shade from sun, a watermaker, an extra autopilot. Kim spends a lot of his time on short visits to various businesses to talk to experts and sales people.
A few days ago we moved from the transient dock and now have a slip in a regular marina—fewer dogs and derelict boats, but not nearly so entertaining. It’s like living in a leafless fiberglass forest. Though nature tries its best to intervene. Every day a flock of itinerant starlings rushes in from the palms along the beachfront and settles on the masts, chattering and happily shitting all over the blinding white boat decks. Every so often a boat owner arrives, curses and hoses down the mess. Along the edge of the breakwater where the tide moves sluggishly in and out its 5 or 6 feet, little flocks of sandpipers and Marbled Godwits with amber-coloured bills probe the mud. An osprey flies over often and once in awhile a pelican drops among the masts, fishing between the dock fingers.
As for the human community on Shelter Island, there are the people who work at the marinas, hotels, and beaches, and the people who use the marinas, hotels, and beaches. At the end of the day many of them leave. At night, other than the snapping shrimp, we feel like the only living things.
Beyond Shelter Island and all its boat businesses though, of course, is a real neighbourhood. The streets wind up a hill planted with palms, hibiscus, jasmine and eucalyptus. The air smells resinous. So far we have found: an excellent wine store, an internet café, a couple of good restaurants, an artisan bread shop, a video store, and a drug store. For our first week here, that was our world. Then we got second hand bikes! Now we ride 15 minutes to shop for groceries. And three days a week I ride straight up the hill to a yoga studio. I was very happy to find La Playa Yoga. It is in a private home, and looks out into a sunny garden and beyond to a sliver of ocean. The teacher is blond and willowy, and the women are very nice and smile and ask me questions about myself and I’m sure none of them are Republicans. Even though I know I will not have time to make good friends here, it was a relief to find a place which feels personal. Usually when Kim and I travel we do not stop for long, which solves most of the question about what to do next. But staying in a place for two months is very different. For the first time in a very long time I find that I have to actively make a life, give it direction and content. I am used to doing this. But I have realized that the infrastructure of my home life: time, materials, my studio, but most importantly, my community, allows me to spend so much time working alone.
Now I have wireless on the boat and can talk to friends and family via email and the blog every day.  Also we have a few friends and family of friends here who have invited us out. Yesterday, Tracy, the sister of our Portland friend Terri, drove us around the area, pointing out spectacular walks, the local library, where to get a good martini, great Mexican food, a pair of running shoes...
A couple of visits to galleries have been wonderful.  Saw “Don’t Look at Me” at the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla (a beautiful, once private home, perched on cliffs looking over the sea). The face on the figure was a video projection (which gazes at the viewer and says things like “don’t look at me, go away, I’m not here…”). It was mesmerizing, a strange combination of the highly realistic and the obviously formless.
One of my favourite museums here is the Mingei, a craft museum in Balboa Park. I will go back again to see the jewel-like prints (some of which have been made into huge tapestries) of the Hungarian artist Joseph Domjan.
Off to see the San Diego Watercolour Society’s International Show…

Friday, October 3, 2008

Dock Life

We arrived in San Diego (a week ago) at 4 am, straining to find the red and green corridor of navigation lights superimposed on all the lights of the city.
There was a surprising amount of harbour activity in the wee hours of the morning: fishermen, police run-abouts, military patrols roaming the edges of the Point Loma Naval Base, panning great spotlights over its brushy slopes. Just inside the harbour mouth is the “Transient Dock”, the public dock.
We tied up and had a celebratory dram of scotch and sleepily congratulated each other on making it to our destination. The docks were quiet but gradually we realized the water around us was crackling. It sounded as if someone had lit cedar kindling under the boat. We poked our heads above decks, we leaned out over the water, we took Kim’s stethoscope out and held it to the hull. Finally, baffled, we fell into our bunks and slept until 9 (well trained by now to sleep in 4 hour watch stretches!).
The public dock in San Diego is at the end of a long thin peninsula of land called Shelter Island. Looking down into its quiet waters, one sees a forest, a watershed of masts. There are said to be 15 marinas and 7000 boats in San Diego. There are sloops and ketches, schooners, and motor yachts, micro and mega yachts, stripped down racing boats and gin palaces. And here’s the thing, there’s nowhere to go. Past the harbour is open ocean; the nearest islands are over a day’s sail away. But that doesn’t seem to bother anyone. On the weekend, the bay is a traffic jam of boats sailing back and forth, back and forth.
When you get tired of that you can shop for boat things. Shelter Island is one of the world’s major yacht centres. There are brokers and maintenance yards; there are chandleries and stores where you can contemplate upholstery, water makers, navigational instruments, refrigeration, canvas, carpentry, charts, books, tackle, sat phones and radios; there are painters, carpenters, fiberglassers, sailmakers, riggers, and people to maintain engines, plumbing, and electronics. In other words it is guy heaven.
There are women on the boats at the dock of course, but they don’t wander with a glass of beer or a cup of coffee, lean on each others’ boats shooting the breeze, they don’t spend hours talking about hull shape, this self-steering or that navigation system, the best configuration of sails and solar panels.
The transient dock turned out to be the place where almost everyone who arrives in San Diego first ties up. This time of year most boats are on their way to Mexico. You can spot the veterans by the amount of gear hanging off their rails: barbeques, extra gas tanks, solar panels, kayaks, generous awnings. Circadia, with her simple light lines and spindly radar pole looks naked.
The transient dock is also the place where permanent denizens of the harbour mooring buoys come to pump their tanks, get fresh water, charge their batteries, and have a shower (you can stay there 10 days out of every 40). They are recognizable by their leathery skin and their derelict boats.
Almost every boat on the transient dock seems to come with a dog, Chihuahua, border collie, pit bull… When a new boat comes in they all start barking at the newcomer on the bow.
But there are other life forms on the dock. By day great blue herons pace thoughtfully. Green herons hunch over bowsprits. And at night the black crowned night herons stand under the lights, gazing steadily into the water with their ruby eyes.
And, oh yeah, we did finally figure out what the strange static in the water was: beds of snapping or pistol shrimp, tiny critters only a couple of inches long. One claw is super-sized and comes with a thumb-like thing. The military first took an interest in them. A commander of a US submarine in 1942, suggested that “the Japs may have some newfangled gadget that they drop” to make so much underwater chatter. Since then someone figured out that the claw creates a bubble of water, which snaps when it breaks. Under the boat, and on the pilings, as I write, hundreds of snapping shrimp are at work—or whatever it is—speculations are it is both defensive and stuns prey. Check out Wikipedia for some amazing underwater footage.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

San Diego Rooftops, sunset

San Diego

Japanese Friendship Bell--entrance San Diego Harbour

Sunday, September 28, 2008

weather report

Tavish and the spinnaker

Marine forecasts aren’t like other weather reports. We listen to the weather at home to decide, should we plan a picnic, take a raincoat, pack our sunglasses? Marine weather is not concerned with such trivial things. No, there is only one thing marine forecasts care about. Wind. How much of it and from what direction, whether it is building or dropping off. And its effects: wave swell and height. Whether it is going to be rainy or sunny is not even mentioned.
As we are still close to shore (20—70 miles) we can get weather reports on the VHF radio—a monotonous drone updated four times a day, by a faceless employee, I imagine sitting in a regulation grey room with fluorescent lights at a coast guard station. What does he think about between the endless repetitions of wind speeds and wave heights at scores of coastal stations and offshore ocean buoys? Is he tempted to read it in a seductive voice or with a Russian accent?
The ultimate weather report is something called GRIB (still trying to find out what the letters stand for). Almost everyone, except the determined luddite, makes sure they can get these files (usually through a single side band radio)—pictures of the ocean scored with little feathered arrows (the feathers corresponding to wind strength). You can scroll through the short and long term forecast to see a virtual picture of the wind moving over the surface of the sea in time. GRIB files help you to find the winds you want, and avoid the ones you don’t want.
Our single side band isn’t up yet but we get a verbal summary of them from a sailing friend Tavish calls each day to report our position. And we always download GRIB in port.
You may recall our last stop was just north of Cape Mendocino, where very high winds were promised. We ducked into Eureka to watch and wait. The GRIB files showed the winds downgraded to moderate—a little energetic in places, but dropping off.
Tired of days of motoring we set off looking forward to a free ride down the coast on northwesterlies, which would push us along from behind. One of the amazing things about sailing downwind is that, though the wind may be blowing 20 knots, the boat is also going forward and the winds magically cancel each other out. So, if you’re sailing at 10 knots, you’ll only feel a gentle 10 knots on your back. If you turned around and tried to sail upwind, you might go 8 knots, and would face an unnerving 28 knots on your face.
By dinner the wind was blowing 25, gusting to 30; by dark, 30 gusting to 35. Circadia was flying only a handkerchief of mainsail, moving at 10 knots. The only good thing about night falling was that I could no longer see the sea, which seemed to be moving in all directions at once. All I could watch was the water lit up by our stern light—waves the size of box cars racing towards us, lifting us up then tearing on past as we surfed down their faces (clocked one at 17.1 knots before we fully reefed). It was a long night, with all the crew taking short turns steering, which required constant concentration to keep the boat on course while it was being spun on the wave tops: readjusting the wheel moment to moment, sometimes having to throw your whole weight into it, with legs braced wide.
Down below the sound of the water rushing past the hull was deafening. “It’s like sleeping in a waterfall” shouted Angus as he tried to catch a quick nap.
By early morning the wind was down to 25 again and dropping. The crew spent most of the day taking turns sleeping. I can’t imagine better sailing companions than Tavish and Angus—dependable, unshakeable, and cheerful even in the tough moments.
In the end it was good to have experienced the storm (actually, technically a “near gale”). We found out what the boat could do and what we could do (or didn’t do, ie., in my case, curl up in the fetal position below, something I wasn’t absolutely sure of before).
The next few days brought the dreamed of perfect winds, 15-20 knots. We hoisted the big blue spinnaker and didn’t take it down for almost two days. The nights were full of stars and dolphins shooting by in sleeves of light. My favourite sight: a flying fish, shooting out of the face of wave, lit up, silver in the morning sun. It flew and flew and flew, just like a bird, then slipped back into the water and was gone.
Arrived in San Diego at 4 am Saturday morning.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Eureka, California

detail from the wall of a fish and chips store

"The Pink Lady" 1889

Rusty Hull