We are so far away now. We are no longer anywhere near a place we used to call home. It seems close, but much like when you abruptly find yourself in a foreign place, it is a jolt, this distance, once a closeness. It’s a jolt the speed and ease with which one leaves the recognized and enters the foreign.
Friday, 22 Sept.
Tonight we have a wild dance party on board the boat. Well, it is as wild as three people in twenty square feet of space with an iPhone connected to a less-than-large sound system can have. We have just finished dinner, pho ga made in the pressure cooker by the kid chef. Glenn is washing dishes. I am reading the political news on my phone when I recognize what I think is a tiny piece of the home I used to know. It doesn’t really matter, the specifics, just that it jolts me to my feet in a burst of WHOOHOO! In celebration, I dance. I dance in the cockpit. I dance on the benches. I twirl around the rigging like a chubby pole dancer. I middle-aged twerk. This makes Ava shriek and come over with corrective demonstrations. (She can never resist!) Now there are two of us. We dance. We clap. We increase the tempo. But the music isn’t loud enough. So, we move the party indoors where the walls help elevate the decibel levels. Glenn, still in the galley, is standing by enjoying an after dinner drink and watching us shake our souls loose while Usher yells “Yeah! Yeah!” back at us. It takes another song or two, but soon we cajole him into our swirl. Now the three of us, our sweaty little family, moves together to the beat. It’s tight, but we move back and forth enjoying the release and fun of the moment.
This is not our first dance party. We dance a lot at home and on the boat. It’s something we do together. Is that weird? I never did it with my parents. Though they liked to dance socially, they didn’t do it at home with me. They didn’t play music too loudly or drink too much or have big parties. They kept a calm home with a lot of structure where they were always the parents, and I was always the (only) child. But if this sounds somehow strict or harsh, it wasn’t at all. If anything, the stability they cultivated in their home coupled with their open-mindedness provided me vast freedoms. My parents came to this country in their twenties. The oppressiveness of the regime under which they lived whilst very young made them into serious-minded people who understood the need to work hard if they were to escape. And escape they did. Once in the U.S. my parents found themselves in a much more liberal environment – the kind of environment they had been longing for – but this change didn’t change them. They didn’t have to partake in every freedom available to understand the value and vulnerability of all of those freedoms. They didn’t have to dance at home to know that dancing at home is cool. And they didn’t have to dance at home in order to pass on home-dancing to me. They came here not to dance, but for the dance. Thanks mom and dad.
Saturday, 23 Sept.
Glenn has been working on the autopilot since we arrived in Halifax. It is not currently going well. This story starts a month and a half ago. We were in significant breeze and seas when I heard Lena, the autopilot, groan. Had this groan been there before? It was low in tone and short in duration, so maybe it had been with us all along. Or maybe the rougher weather was exhausting her. After all, she had kept us on course for two months straight. “Grrruuuuuuuuhhhnnnn,”after a while she groaned again. I looked over at her to see if I could see any outward problem or an obstacle in her way. When Glenn arrived back in the cockpit instead of the easy brush-off he normally gave my fears, he looked tense with worry. It was a new and troubling sound for him too.
People who don’t sail may not understand our dependence on Lena. Before I sailed longer distances I thought that a boat was steered by, uh, people, just like a car is. Don’t. Be. Crazy. Due to the vast amounts of time we are under sail, we typically use an autopilot to physically steer (in our case push a tiller) for most of durations of our trips. Our autopilot drives a very robust hydraulic piston that pushes the tiller to the directed compass bearing for hours, and sometimes for days, at a time. Without it we would be physically exhausted. Plus, you know, we’re lazy.
I worry because I don’t know things. This means I worry a lot, but it’s rarely of consequence. Glenn worries because he does know things. This means he doesn’t worry a lot, but when he does, it’s significant. What he knows about the autopilot now is that we don’t have a backup. For all of our other essential equipment, we have redundant parts, but not for Lena. While we do have a wind vane (another form of mechanical steering), we have only gotten it to work in selected points of sail. Thus, we don’t have an alternate form of auto-steerage. And while we did once steer for three days straight in the Caribbean each of us trading shifts on two-hour rotations, that was misery. So, very soon after we noticed Lena gagging and we decided not to cross the ocean, we also decided to purchase a backup autopilot. From the road we ordered all of the parts to duplicate our existing system. We had them delivered to the yacht club here in Halifax. And we picked them up as soon as we arrived. All hail Amazon Prime! Since Monday Glenn has been installing and adjusting the new system. There have been various challenges. Presently he needs to bleed the hydraulic lines, but has no way. So, off he goes to find an 8mm nipple valve to makeshift a mechanism. Cross your fingers!
Sunday, 24 Sept.
Do you know what you really need to fix something? A good set of tools? No. A lot of know-how and skill? Nope. Patience? En-oh. What you really need is a car. The parts that Glenn needs are available in Dartmouth, a town about five miles to the north of us. Taking the bus there requires a 50-minute bus ride and then a twenty-minute walk to the shop, provided you don’t miss the bus in confusion over the route direction. (Then, it’s more like an hour and a half.) Unfortunately, once there, Glenn finds out that they only have 7mm and 9.5mm nipple valves, but not 8mm. Back on the bus…
Monday, 25 Sept.
Yesterday Glenn found his proper nipple thing at the Walmart. He returned to the boat hooked up something to something, then fitted something to something, and then bled the hydraulic lines for the autopilot. He is a mechanical genius!
Today though, when we go to test the autopilot we find it doesn’t work. We are set to leave, got fuel and water, battened down the hatches, etc. etc., but then, in the process of turning circles to calibrate the autopilot, we realize that it will need further work. Glenn is not sure what to do next. He feels like he should have left everything alone. After all, the autopilot was working fine, albeit a little groany. It’s remarkable just how down he can get about this stuff. He takes it personally, like it’s his failure. He forgets that he was trying to do something good and important. He forgets that he’s not a mechanic who should know how to do this. I try and cheer him up, which I think helps a little. He spends some time in his head. I can tell he’s beating himself up. In a bit of time he calls a few mechanics and gets one to come for diagnosis tomorrow.
In the meantime, since we have this extra chunk of time, we decide to beach the boat. There is a small flat beach that will work well. Our boat, because it has a centerboard and not a keel, can easily be “dried out.” We want to do this mostly to replace the zincs by the propeller as they have eroded substantially. Our boat’s hull is made of aluminum and because of this we have to protect it from galvanic action. Because it is a mushier (re: less noble metal) we use blocks of zinc as sacrificial anodes that get corroded before our more noble hull does. Now, we have never beached the boat before. So this plan is a bit nerve wracking, but as this option is so much cheaper (like, 100% cheaper) than having the boat pulled out by a yard, we are enticed to try.
Around 1PM we bring the boat to the beach area. It’s about an hour or two after the peak of high tide. Glenn gently drives the boat into the soft sand. Then we wait. Slowly the hull gets more and more uncovered as the tide subsides. Netzah looks good on her underside! Our Baddeck scrub down has really worked. By 6PM the rudder and propeller are fully exposed. Glenn replaces the zincs while I make our first land dinner in a long time.
In the cockpit we eat and listen to a guitar player who is on the same beach with us. It’s completely lovely and a bit surreal to be on a boat… on land. Soon, Colin comes over and says hello. He is friendly and gregarious, in his mid-forties, with a thick Canadian accent. We invite him up for a beer. As soon as he hits our deck he tells us all about himself. I mean, ALL about himself… He’s a musician and a carpenter, but more a musician who wants to move to Iceland because he’s sick of Canada for so many reasons including that he’s not a fan of Trudeau, which nobody is, and he’s not a fan of Trump either because I mean, come on who could be, but he is a fan of marijuana, and he is also a fan of a nineteen-year-old woman with whom he is in love but cannot see due to legal reasons which is just as well since she has a serious drug problem besides which he is leaving to go to Toronto next week to record an album. Whew. He asks us nothing about ourselves, but who can blame him?
At midnight the tide frees us and we go anchor. As soon as we’re set Glenn pours himself a whiskey. Woah, he says, I wasn’t sure we were going to be able to get off that beach just now. Wow! This guy really suffers.
Wednesday, 26 Sept.
The autopilot is officially fixed. Over the past two days we have a professional help us with it. He has manufactured and installed a proper valve for each hydraulic line to be bled. While Glenn had the right idea, he didn’t have the right equipment or supplies to get this done by himself. Luckily, we found a very experienced semi-retired guy who was both knowledgeable and available. Now we have two autopilots! Thursday will be a re-supply day at the supermarket and Friday we will be off. It has been two and a half weeks in Halifax and we are ready to go.
In the evening I watch a Korean movie called Poetry. This movie is completely up my alley: It is very slow, character-driven, has an older woman protagonist, no violence, and with an excellent plot. Can I recommend this movie to you in this era of overblown, hyperbolic, vitriolic discourse? It is simply about the immense power of staying silent and it is moving beyond any words I could ever use to describe it.
Friday, 28 Sept.
We. Are. Off.
This is one of the best days of sailing we have had since the start of the trip. The seas are flat and the winds are following and strong. We sail (sans nausea) in very good time to Lunenburg averaging between 5 – 7 kph. It’s sunny and fantastic the whole way there! To top things off we arrive at the public dock right by the Fisheries Museum and are told we can stay for free. Lunenburg, I love you already.
Next time: Lunenburg! This is the most beautiful town we have been to so far. The entire town is a UNESCO world heritage site!!