Author Archive

Shark Conservation Act Passed!

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Great news! Apparently we have readers in the Senate, as they were surely swayed by Sequoia’s article to pass the Shark Conservation Act! The house also passed the Senate’s version of the bill… so it will soon become law! A great day for sharks, the oceans, and people that love them.

Sharks: Delicacy or Keystone Species?

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

Editor’s note: Sequoia wrote this article for her school newspaper. We hope you enjoy it, and then go get your Seafood Pocket Guide here, or download the Seafood Watch iPhone app.

On July 1, 2010, the state of Hawaii banned shark finning. It is no longer legal to own shark fins, fish for sharks, or sell shark in Hawaii. This is currently the strictest law in the United States, but it only applies to Hawaii. On both a national and international scale, shark finning remains a threat to sharks and our ocean ecosystems.

great white
Shark finning is a practice that involves cutting off a shark’s fins, then throwing it back into the ocean while the shark is still alive. The shark then dies through blood loss, drowning, or starvation. The fins are often made into shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy selling for as much as $100 dollars a bowl.

“Shark finning is inhumane- itʼs a cruel practice,” said Zack Bradford, an Ocean Policy Research Analyst at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “Youʼre catching and harvesting a whole lot of sharks for one part of the shark.” Nearly 89 million sharks are killed each year just for their fins. “It kills sharks for one small part of the body, and really isnʼt worth killing them for,” said Xenia Rangaswami, 8th grade. (more…)

Letter to Latitude

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

We wrote a letter to Latitude about Cruising and Unschooling. It was published in the October issue and is also included below:

CRUISING AND ‘UNSCHOOLING’ WORKED FOR US

In response to Christine Currie’s letter in the August issue, Latitude wrote, “No cruiser has ever told us that home schooling was easy.” Well, we’ve homeschooled our daughter, Sequoia, for the last five years, including two seasons of cruising in Mexico, and it was certainly easier than dealing with the public school system in San Francisco!

Unfortunately, parents may think that ‘homeschooling’ involves re-creating the school environment at home, or on the boat, with the drudgery of textbooks and worksheets that have little relevance to the real world. It surprises me that many cruisers, who tend to think ‘outside of the box’ when it comes to their lifestyle, don’t question whether our ‘one size fits all’ education system is right for every kid. We always felt sorry for cruising parents who spent hours a day butting heads with their kids over school work.

We adopted the ‘unschooling’ approach. Rather than following a traditional school curriculum, we looked for learning experiences in our day-to-day lives. Cruising in Mexico offered so many opportunities! When shopping, Sequoia calculated prices in pesos versus dollars. When we bought diesel, she converted liters to gallons. Baking was a great way to work with fractions, as we halved or doubled recipes.

In terms of science, we had identification books for fish, birds, and marine mammals, so Sequoia was our resident naturalist. After snorkeling, she’d identify all the fish she’d seen. When sailing, she’d scoop up jellyfish in a net. When dolphins rode our bow wave, she’d be on the bowsprit, cheering them on. And though she never wrote a report or took a test on cetaceans, I have no doubt that seeing these creatures in the wild has made a lasting impression on her and her life.

And though the cruising life can be full of activity, there is a lot of down time. Reading was a big part of everyday living for the whole crew. We also had lots of time for games. Multiplication War is a variation of the old card game that taught Sequoia her times tables. Bananagrams, a speedier version of Scrabble, is a family favorite. Scrambled States is a great way to learn U.S. geography. And trivia games like Brain Quest were a perfect diversion when we were underway.

Sequoia also spent time knitting and making jewelry. She bought a recorder at a swap meet in La Paz, found two books about how to play it by asking on the morning net, and taught herself to read music. This is not to mention all the knots she learned to tie, how to drive the dinghy, and all the cool sailing stuff she would have never learned in school! The only task we gave her was to keep a travel journal. Because there were so many exciting things to write about, she was generally happy to comply.

One of the great things about cruising is that everyone is trying something new. Whether it’s how to surf-land your dinghy or fix a finicky outboard, the learning process is a part of daily life. When your kids see you take on new challenges, struggle, fail, and (hopefully!) ultimately succeed, they’ll be better prepared to do the same.

In terms of Christine Currie’s particular situation, I can’t say whether homeschooling is the right choice for her family, but I agree with Latitude’s opinion that “most active young boys would get a better and more useful education cruising on a boat than they would caged up in almost any classroom in America, at least until high school age”.

It seems to us that most kids are happy cruising until they are about 12, at which point living on a boat with your parents loses some of its appeal. Indeed, our daughter decided she wants to go back to school and will be entering eighth grade this fall. Compared to the dread with which I faced middle school, her enthusiasm is remarkable!

I’ve always tried to approach giving parenting advice the same way that one should go about giving anchoring advice. In other words, keep it to yourself! What works for some families may not work for others. But I can say that for our family, cruising and unschooling went together perfectly. We encourage other families to cast off the dock lines and figure out what works for them!

Susan Detwiler & Todd Huss
Sugata, Hans Christian 38
Emery Cove Marina

Latitude 38’s Response

Susan and Todd — So much of the education system in the United States seems ineffective and/or dated. About five years ago, we watched a KTVU 2 news segment in horror as the head of math for the Oakland Schools repeatedly declined to attempt to solve a grammar school-level math problem, such as what’s 3 times 30. She begged off, saying it had been a while since she’d gone over such material. Had she seen it, Mrs. White, who did such a great job teaching us geometry at Skyline High in Oakland in the mid ’60s, would have been furious.

Our son and daughter were lucky enough to be able to attend excellent public schools until middle school in Southern Marin, where most of the administrators, teachers and parents really cared. What a rarity! Even so, it wasn’t a good fit for our son — and a lot of other boys — who seemed to be too kinetic to thrive in such a restrictive environment. We’re sure our son would have gotten a better education if we’d taken him around the world on our boat, where he could have learned by doing and observing.

Education methods haven’t seemed to progress much in the last 100 years, but some brilliant folks finally seem to be doing something about it — and at a pittance. Better yet, they are doing it in ways that are ideal for kids who are going cruising.

Consider 33-year-old Sal Khan, who was born and raised in New Orleans by a Calcutta-born mother and a Bangladesh-born father. Using basic and inexpensive equipment — we’re talking a $200 Camtasia recorder, free Smooth Draw 3 software, and an $80 Wacom Bamboo Tablet on a PC — Khan has personally made more than 1,600 educational videos on everything from basic arithmetic through the most sophisticated biology, chemistry, organic chemistry and physics, to a four-part series on the French Revolution. These courses — which are taught in 10-minute segments — are available to everyone in the world with internet access . . . for free! Khan says that since he already has a beautiful wife, a hilarious son, two Hondas and a decent house, his goal in life is to create the world’s first free, world-class virtual school, where anyone can learn anything. He’s gotten enthusiastic reviews from the likes of Bill Gates.

Could it be that the old education model of tens of thousands of well-intentioned, but perhaps not always the most talented or inspired, teachers facing an overwhelming number of distracted students in prison-like settings might be in for a change? What if all students could receive instruction from the most gifted 1% of the teachers in the country, and for a fraction of what education is costing today? And get education in areas they are really interested in?

If you’re about to go cruising with a child, we recommend that you check out the Khan Academy, or something similar. If you check the list of free classes, we’re pretty sure you’ll see some you’d like to take yourself. And would that set a great example for your child?

By the way, we consider our iPad to be one of the finest educational tools ever. As long as you have internet access on your boat — which is getting more common and better all the time — you can find the answers to almost anything from science to history, and learn to appreciate things like music and art, while lying in your bunk. Over the years we wasted a lot of time reading junk novels while cruising, but now we’ve got a whole-grain diet of stuff to read at our beck and call. And very often for free.

Back at Home

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

We did it! After 27 days at sea and over 3,000 miles under the keel, we sailed Sugata back under the Golden Gate on August 1. This closed the loop on the journey we started back in October 2007. We felt an interesting mixture of emotions: joy, relief, a sense of accomplishment, sadness that our trip had ended, and perhaps foremost, an intense desire for a shower!

The passage from Hawaii to San Francisco, while not without its challenges, was a cake walk compared to our passage to Hawaii. Our experience runs counter to what popular opinion would have you believe about the two passages; everyone says that the trip to Hawaii is easy, and coming back is hard. It does seem true that the weather on the trip back to the mainland can vary greatly from week to week, and boats separated by just 100 miles can have really different winds.

We had great weather leaving Hawaii, with moderate winds and seas. While it made the passage slower, we really enjoyed being becalmed near the Pacific High, with nothing but flat seas stretching as far as the eye could see. Things got a little challenging psychologically when the Pacific High jumped over us and left us beating into headwinds, but other than a period of about 6 hours of gale force winds (which we could thankfully ignore just by closing the companionway and hanging out below), it never got really rough. So luckily, seasickness wasn’t a problem this time! (more…)

Get Out of Sail Free

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Because I’d suffered from seasickness on the passage to Hawaii, we hatched a plan: I would fly home with Sequoia, and our friend Captain Ron would fly in to help Todd bring the boat back. (And no, this is not the Captain Ron from the movie… but there are some eerie similarities!)

But then I got to thinking, and no good can ever come from that. With a third person on board, it wouldn’t matter so much if I were seasick; I wouldn’t need to do anything, because Ron and Todd could handle everything without me. Besides, it was kind of exciting to think of getting ready for another passage, especially one that would culminate in bringing Sugata back under the Golden Gate.

So I was left with the choice: easy flight back and a month lazing around on solid ground, or four weeks at sea with two under-washed, over-liquored men. Oh, how I agonized over the decision! Logically, it made no sense to subject myself to another passage. But emotionally, well, it was more complicated. (more…)

Surfing Safari!

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

We have been having so much fun learning how to surf! Sequoia really took to it and hopes to keep it up back home in California. But it’s easy to have romantic notions in the Waikiki sunshine. I told her to try it out in the cold water before she invests in a board!

On her last day surfing at Waikiki (she flew home on June 22), she convinced us to buy a waterproof disposable camera. We shot off half of it, and were going to take more pics the next time we surfed. Unfortunately, Todd had the camera in his pocket, and somehow it got a huge crack and filled with water. We were so disappointed, but decided to see if anyone could get any images off of it.

Long’s Drugs wouldn’t develop the film because the salt water could damage their chemicals; Ritz Camera said the same thing, but pointed us to a local place called Rainbow Photo. Rainbow dried the film with a hair dryer (in the dark), then developed it. Sure, there are a few water spots on it, but we think it gives the shots a whole live-action, funky 70’s look that is pretty groovy!

So the photos survived surfing with Todd, and I guess the same is true for my back… but I’m still sporting some groovy colors of my own. Capn Longboard and I were side by side when a big wave came; I started paddling for it and he tried to bail because he saw me going for it. Unfortunately the wave caught his board and shot it right into my back. He sure felt awful about it, and let me tell you, I’m riding the sympathy wave all the way to the beach! The bruise is starting to fade, but I figure some strategically-placed purple eyeshadow will keep the ride going.

See all our surfing pics here:

20100620Surfing

Yo Ho Ho, The Tourist’s Life for Me!

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

We had a great sail from Hilo over to Oahu, with plenty of wind. On the way we saw Hawaiian spinner dolphins, and the full arc of a rainbow over the Pacific! We went much faster than we had planned, so we arrived in the middle of the night. Luckily we had no problems coming into the Ala Wai Harbor. We’re currently rafted up at the Hawaii Yacht Club and are thoroughly enjoying the tourist life!

Sequoia flew in with my mom on Weds, June 2. Her sunny disposition brings so much life and happiness to the boat! And she motivates us to get off the boat and do more things, like swinging on banyan trees.

Toro has a Boggle-like game on his iPod. He held the high score of 71 for a while, but in Mexico I scored an 87, and he’s been gunning for me ever since. Well, Koiya waltzed into town and posted a 93! Capn Big Fat Faker adopted a disappointed tone of voice, and shaking his head, asked me, “Did you hear about Sequoia’s Boggle score? Isn’t that a bummer?” But Koiya called him out. “You were all excited when I told you!” she exclaimed. “You said, ‘Your mama is gonna be so mad!'” Oh, busted! (more…)

I Heart My Boat, I H8 The Beach

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

Yes, it was a rough passage to Hilo, and yes, we were sea sick. But compared to the other boats that came in about the same time, I think we actually had it pretty easy! The autopilot on Shamaness had trouble handling the large seas, and the guys on Jolly Roger didn’t have any kind of self-steering, so they were hand-steering the whole way (God forbid!). Our trusty Cape Horn windvane (whom we call Yves) had a couple of hiccups on one tack, but on the whole did an amazing job of keeping us on track. All we had to do was pop our heads up every now and then to check the horizon for other vessels.

And we had maybe a small bruise or two, but we hardly noticed them. Other folks had horrendous “boat bites”- huge bruises and various wounds from being slammed around in their boats.

We had swells coming from two directions, but every now and then they’d unite into a big wave. We’d look behind and see a 12-foot wave towering above us. But Sugata just rose on up, no big deal, and we’d surf along for a moment before settling back into the sailing groove.

We always felt safe, and never doubted that our boat could handle the wind and seas. She may not be the fastest boat around, but she’s got to be one of the most comfortable! (more…)

Hangin’ in Hilo

Monday, June 7th, 2010

We spent just less than a week in Hilo, and while we scheduled our days around eating, we also managed to do a few boat projects and some touristy stuff too.

Radio Bay is kind of an interesting place to tie up, because it is connected to the commercial port of Hilo. There are no finger docks, so you use your dinghy to go the 10 feet or so to the dock. As it’s so little a distance, you don’t need an outboard; you just pull yourself along using the web of docklines. The port is a secure area, so to go in and out we had to call the security people, who came by with a pickup truck to drive us through. The bathroom situation was also unique, as the stalls had no doors! This led Capn Privy to engage in all sorts of strategizing to get private-time on the toilet.

In terms of boat projects, we did a basic clean-up and I put a new zinc on the propeller. Capn Sail Rite pulled out his sewing machine and repaired our spinnaker, which we’d torn on the way over (due to the combination of an early morning squall and our laziness). We put off the more tedious tasks for later…. (more…)

Reflections

Friday, May 28th, 2010

It’s hard to believe we’ve been in Hilo for less than a week; it seems like we’ve been here for twice that. After the simple routine of days at sea, sleepy Hilo is a wonderland of diversion, conversation, and culinary delights!

On our long passage, one day ran into the next, and we were often unclear as to whether something had happened yesterday or the day before, or maybe even 3 days ago? Instead of “Monday” or “Thursday”, we’d say, “the day we showered” or “the day you made tuna salad”. And as our lives were dominated by the weather, we now think of the sequence of the passage in these terms:

– The first 3 days, after we cleared Cabo (the sea sick days)
– The remainder of the first week, when it was sunny (the blissful days)
– The first period of strong winds, big seas, and complete cloud cover (the hellish days)
– The few days when things calmed down, and we got sunshine (the respite)
– The second period of rough weather (no longer remarkable enough to be called anything)
– The last day at sea and the morning we tied up in Radio Bay

We lived in this strange zone of altered time. We ate when we were hungry (not often) and slept when we were tired (quite a bit). Indeed, the hour on the clock grew increasingly meaningless as we travelled west, with the sun setting after 10pm. We looked forward to making landfall (or rather, to a lack of motion!), but “arrival” was such an abstract concept. We didn’t know exactly when it would happen or what it would be like, so it seemed unreal. As the miles ticked down, we cognitively understood that there was an island 135, then 70, then 28 miles ahead, but we saw nothing but sea and clouds. Maybe there would be nothing there when the GPS read 0 miles to go?

In Two Years Before the Mast, Richard Henry Dana wrote of homecoming after a long voyage at sea. He said that “home” was something sailors dreamed of and yearned for every day, but then as they neared their home port, they felt oddly unaffected. Though we were only out for a few weeks, we went through this as well. You’d think we’d be ecstatic as we came within a day of landfall, but we just felt numb. Capn Amnesia, who just a couple days before had been nauseous and swearing in frustration at the big seas, actually broke down and cried- real tears!- in sadness that the journey was ending! I think the strange emptiness we felt was the start of forgetting. Our “time without time” was ending, and we were going back to civilization and the complexities of life in port.

Even while we were making the passage, our recollections of it were hazy, and with each day back on land our memories grow foggier. A week from now, I expect we’ll be left with only a vague mood, just like you might pause for a moment in the afternoon and suddenly recall that, that very morning, you’d awoken from a strange, fantastic dream, the details of which have been lost to you. But the dream conjured an emotion that washes over you again, an unnameable mix of joy, melancholy, and nostalgia….

This could explain why sailors cannot be trusted to accurately recall the details of their journeys. Here at Radio Bay, we’re in the company of a handful of other boats that have just made the same crossing. Almost all have ripped sails (one boat shredded 5 sails on the way over!), some lost parts of their rigging, one blew out their engine, and all have a long list of things to fix before the next passage. Before we set out, we’d all been told that this was “the easiest passage in the world”, and then we got out there and were battered and baffled. At first we thought we’d been lied to, but as one man noted, “It’s like childbirth. If you remembered it accurately, you would never do it twice.” Crossing oceans, like bearing children, makes liars of us all.

It’s comforting to compare wounds and trade stories with the other crews. It was particularly rewarding to hear from Harry on Rhiannon, who just completed a circumnavigation, that indeed, it was quite rough out there. And it’s been great to spend time with Dennis and Grover of Shamaness, who were our main radio buddies on the way over. For the first few days, no one asked, “So what do you do for work?” or “Where are you from?”. We could talk of nothing but the passage, sharing our personal editions of the same story.

So what will we remember of the passage? The dolphins and the flying fish. The whales, and the albatross. The sapphire blue water. The freedom of being surrounded by nothing but ocean, suspended in time.