The Log of Moira

Frequently-Asked Questions (FAQ’s)

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1.      What’s a Moira (μοιρα)?

The "Moira" acornMoira is an old (pre-Christian) Greek concept which means something like your “potential.” Your moira is a characteristic you have, a combination of “nature and nurture.” So the moira of an acorn is that it should grow up to be an oak tree. But moira isn’t fate: though the moira of the acorn is to become an oak tree, it might get eaten by a pig, thus falling short of its moira. Likewise, a human can fall short of his moira (say, through substance abuse) or go beyond it (which usually requires one to be a criminal or a saint). We chose “Moira” as the name of our boat and home to remind us that anything less than one’s best efforts will result in falling short of one’s moira, which on the ocean, can lead to a wet experience. (Pedantic footnote: The Greeks did sometimes personify moira as three sister goddesses, the Moirae, and they did act as arbiters of the length of one’s life. Fate, however, was a much later, Roman concept.)

2.      Where are you from?

This is always a hard question to answer. Although our legal residence is in Florida, we have no real estate (if you don’t count the plastic tray at St. Brendan’s Isle where our mail accumulates). Moira’s hailing port is San Francisco, California, but a hailing port is not a home port, and we have no ties to San Francisco. So we usually say, “We’re from that boat over there.”

  1. Are you worried about pirates?

    Not really. There is a whole list of higher-probability Bad Things to worry about (the captain’s stupidity leading the list). Piracy (strictly defined as armed robbery on the high seas, i.e., in international waters), is rare outside of a few well-known, restricted geographic areas: the entrance to the Red Sea (Somalia/Yemen), parts of Indonesia, the coast of Venezuela. A map published by the International Maritime Bureau of the International Chamber of Commerce shows the “bad parts of town.” Some alarmist registries such as the Yacht Piracy Information Center make it look as though attacks are pervasive, but a glance at the dates shows that, outside of the “bad parts of town,” there are very few incidents per year. Your odds of a pirate attack in most of the world are roughly those of being mugged at noon on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

    We have been approached many times by small- to medium-sized vessels, sometimes at night. They have always turned out to be fishermen who were trying to protect their nets. (Example)

    On the other hand, some of us who sail may be forgiven for finding the current fashion for pirate-cute a trifle unfunny.

    Update, August, 2008: Far more likely than piracy is burglary or robbery while at anchor. Dinghies, outboard motors, and fuel cans on deck are the usual targets for such enterprises. The policy discussed above leaves room for one great fear—the “good” anchoring area that suddenly “goes bad.” During the summer of 2008 there was an outbreak of robberies of boats in the Río Dulce of Guatemala, with several murders of cruisers while on their boats at anchor. The Río has long been an area that has been insulated from the worst economic problems of the rest of Guatemala, but that insulation seems to have broken down. It is not clear at this writing whether the rapid official response (arrests) and unofficial vigilante justice (reported murders of several who were suspected of involvement in the robberies) will restore order.
  2. Have you been in any big storms?

    Nope, sorry. It was pretty breezy coming down the coast of Nicaragua (35-50 knots), but the wind was off the land, which was only maybe half a mile away, so the seas were flat.

    Several times we’ve experienced a condition known as “confused seas,” where waves are coming from multiple directions at the same time. The sensation is rather like driving a heavy vehicle over large boulders, and is quite uncomfortable. Several days of that becomes exhausting, and the solution is to heave to and rest for 12 hours or so, after which, with any luck, the condition will have dissipated.

    That’s not to say that we’ve never been in a situation where we had more wind than we liked.
  3. How long would it take you to get from A to B?

    We generally plan based on 100-120 nautical miles per (24-hour) day. Depending on conditions, we may do better or worse. It took 7 (24-hour) days to get from Golfito, Costa Rica to La Libertad, Ecuador (about 750 miles), a duration which included heaving to for 12 hours or so to rest.
  4. Suppose you’re on a trip from A to B that takes 5 days. Do you anchor every night?

    No. We’d never get anywhere. We go so slowly, averaging about 5 knots (about 6mph) that we have to keep going 24x7 to cover any distance.

    Besides which, we only carry about 300’ of chain for our main anchor. How would we anchor when the water is a couple of miles deep?

    So we soldier on, trading watches of three hours, one person on watch, the other sleeping (or at least resting).
  5. Do you get seasick?

    The short answer is: she doesn’t, I do. She frequently uses one of those electronic wristbands, which cause some sort of electronic burns on the inside of her wrist, but she never gets sick anyhow. I’ve tried wristbands (electronic and acupressure), Stugeron, ginger, suppositories, etc. When I am mareado, it is usually prompted by pitching into an oncoming swell with an apparent period of about 2 seconds, and on occasion, nothing works. The good news is that, in my case, the infirmity is relatively rare, seldom debilitating, and often self-curing.
  6. What do you do for water?

    After air, of course, water is the most urgent biological need. In the tropics, we drink a tremendous amount of water. And then there are showers, which consume about 2.5 gallons each. We carry 140 gallons of fresh water in four tanks. The two forward tanks are kept as a reserve, and we use our Spectra 200C watermaker to “make” fresh water from sea water into the aft two tanks in alternation. So when the port aft tank becomes empty, we switch to using the starboard aft tank, and run the watermaker to fill the port aft tank. That way, if the watermaker packs up, as it did on our trip from Cartagena to Panama, we always have at least 70 gallons of fresh water in reserve. Without any attempt to be careful of our usage, we go through about 17 gallons of water per day at anchor, somewhat less under way (because we take fewer showers).
  7. How do you provision? What do you eat?

    The same way we did on land. Wherever we’ve been, there have been people, and they eat stuff, too. So we buy where and what they do. Even the smallest village will have tiendas (shops, sort of small “7-11” class stores) that sell a few vegetables, some cheese, beer, and such; there may also be a carniceria (meat shop), pescaderia (fish shop), panaderia (bakery), etc. Towns of medium size and larger will have a town mercado (a bit bigger market, sometimes a lot bigger, rarely several city blocks in size) one or more days a week, where vendors rent stalls under one roof, and sell vegetables, meat, fish, and so on. The big mercados such as in Cartagena, Colombia; the fish market in Balboa, Panama; or the huge market in Guadalajara, Mexico run every weekday and can be a real treat to walk through.

    Depending on how awkward it is to get to the source (Do we need to row the dinghy ashore? Surf landing? Do we need to take a taxi?) we may shop every day or two (if access is easy), or every few weeks (if difficult).
    Provisioning - bread
    In some places, such as the marina at Mazatlán, a vendor drives his truck with beer, veggies, or magnificent shrimp to the marina several times a week. On rare and delightful occasion, such as the fishermen and veggie boats of the San Blas Islands of Panama, or the famous María and the “French Baker” of Barra de Navidad, Mexico, the vendors come to your anchored boat!

    The shopping regime means that, with one exception, we eat what the locals eat. Not only is this less expensive, it’s far more entertaining. The exception is that we like our wine, and most countries south of San Diego are beer-drinking countries. As a result, we stock up on wine when we can (we have a bodega on Moira that can hold 80 bottles).
  8. Why aren’t you on the boat in the summer?

    In the northern tropics, where we’ve spent most of our time, the hurricane season runs officially from the 1st of June to the end of October (in the Pacific) or to the end of November (in the Caribbean). The official definition corresponds roughly to the period used by insurance companies: if your vessel suffers damage due to a “named storm” in the Caribbean during this period, within a geographic box that runs roughly from 11 degrees North (about the north coast of South America) to roughly the Florida-Georgia border, your coverage is limited or void. (There are other “boxes” that apply to the eastern and western Pacific.) So we put the boat in some kind of storage, usually outside the “hurricane box,” and go touring.

    Besides which, it’s damned hot.
  9. If it’s so hot, do you have an air conditioner?

    No. Well, yes-and-no.

    An air conditioner and its supporting subsystems consume a lot of space that we felt could better be used for other things: (1) there’s the unit itself, which must go somewhere; (2) the ducting to move the air to the far corners of the boat must run through and consume space in storage cabinets; and (3) air conditioners demand a huge amount of (electrical) energy, so an AC is useable only at a dock, unless one installs a generator, which carries its own space and maintenance requirements, and is pushy in other ways.

    However, a boat that is unused and unoccupied for an extended period in the peak of tropic heat invites damage to the interior from a number of sources, including mildew (a constant problem in the tropics). So…

    When we parked Moira for a summer off-season’s rest in Mexico, Colombia, and Guatemala, we purchased a small (8-12K BTU) window-style air conditioner which we perched on the cabin top in front of an open hatch. We shrouded the AC and open hatch with a tarp, and powered the AC directly via an extension cord from a dockside outlet. In this way we kept the boat electrically isolated from the marina’s power supply, reducing the risk of corrosion and lightning-induced damage.

    When it’s time to go sailing again, we try to sell the AC to another boater. In Cartagena, we gave our AC to Sr. Estvarto, the laborer who looked after Moira in the marina at Club de Pesca.
  10. Can you sail across to Europe?

    Moira certainly could. The trip might run from the Chesapeake to Bermuda (about 700 nautical miles, conservatively 7 days), Bermuda to the Azores (about 1900 miles or a bit more, depending on the route chosen, maybe 19 days), and the Azores to Europe (800-1100 miles depending on landfall, 8-11 days).

    The longer duration of the passage is balanced by the fact that one can be considerably more relaxed about navigation, that there will be far fewer fishing nets to dodge, and that one can always “pull over and park” (heave to) to rest if needed.

    It’s an open question at this point whether the crew is interested in the effort. There are alternatives to sailing over, of course, which include various ways of having the boat shipped, or leaving the boat here and renting or buying a boat over there.
  11. Where does your electricity come from? How much do you need? Do you have a refrigerator?

    Wind energy farmWe figure our energy budget is in the vicinity of 100 Amp-hours/day when at anchor (remember that these are 12-volt Amps). Roughly 50Ah/day goes to the refrigerator. Another 20Ah/day goes to the watermaker. When we are under way, the demand jumps because of navigation lights and electronics (especially RADAR) which are not in use at anchor.

    When things are going well, we get all our electricity from 3 Kyocera 120-watt solar panels. When we were in Ecuador, we installed an AirX-Marine wind generator, which earned its keep when we were in Panama.

    If it gets cloudy and windless for an extended period (as it was in Ecuador, for example), we run the engine, which is a horribly inefficient way to generate electricity. The good news is that we run the engine for charging purposes very rarely, maybe once or twice a month over the long term. If we find that we’re getting behind regularly, the first thing we check is whether the refrigerator needs a shot of refrigerant.
  12. Skin cancer?

    We do the usual things with broad-brimmed hats and sunscreen. Our bimini usually provides a shady place in the cockpit when underway.

    Update, November 2008: This summer I visited, for the first time, a dermatologist. He did a skin-cancer screening, carved a suspicious chunk out of my shoulder (lab test was negative, i.e., OK), and used large amounts of liquid nitrogen to remove various ugly moles from my face and arms. I’ll need lots of such treatments: after all, beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes straight to the bone. Annual screenings are going to be part of my cruising life from now on.
  13. Customs/immigration problems?

    Customs and immigration have never been a real problem for us, either entering the US from abroad, or vice versa.

    When we leave the US to return to Moira, our suitcases are always bulging with spare or replacement parts. In principle (that is, by international law) boat parts for a “yacht in transit” are exempt from import duty. The problem is that the customs agent who checks you in at the airport may not know or care about international law. In any case, once aduana (customs) takes an interest in your parts, any process necessary to liberate said parts from their clutches—even if you eventually pay no import duty—will likely involve a hotel stay of several days in a remote city, costing hundreds of dollars, etc. But in our experience, with very rare exception, the airport inspectors really don’t care what you’re bringing in so long as it’s not illegal.

    On the other hand, if you ship something in (FedEx, DHL, etc.) you will almost certainly have long delays, you will almost certainly pay significant duty (15-50% of the invoice), and you may never see the “something” at all. We had some stuff (mostly our accumulated mail) shipped in to Nicaragua and, though we paid no import duty, we wound up spending a day and $80 in cab fares to pry it loose. We considered that we got off easy. It is often cheaper and more reliable to fly to the States, pick up the “something,” and bring it back in a suitcase.

    One must “mind one’s P’s & Q’s,” though. Overstaying one’s visa can lead to very expensive complications. And, depending on the country, your boat often has her own “visa” (variously called a cruising permit, an import permit, etc.), with its own expiration, which must be respected.
  14. Corruption, bribes, mordida?

    Acapulco poster: Mordida is prohibited, report it!With one or two arguable exceptions, we’ve personally seen none of this (knock wood). While those we’ve spoken with who run commercial ventures tell us that corruption is rife in their relations with their governments, it simply hasn’t been visible to us in our transactions with the governments. I won’t try to guess why the public perception is so at odds with our experience.

    (One possible exception was in Mexico, where a new, less costly set of regulations was on the cusp of being implemented. The local official denied that the regulations were in effect, charged us more than we were used to, and gave no receipt. But that incident, if it was an incident, was a long way from many of the reported cases of near-extortion we’ve read about.

    The other possible exception was in the outlying islands of a certain Central American country where we were asked, nicely, for $20, by the immigration guy. In principle, there are no immigration fees in that country. On the other hand, the immigration guy, with a wink-and-a-nod, spared us the problem of having to go in to the capital city to get real tourist visas, which exercise would have cost us considerably more. So I looked at it as a fee-for-service.)
  15. What do you do all day?

    When we’re on passage, one of us is on watch and the other one is asleep, excepting an hour or so around 6PM when I’m on watch and Susan is managing dinner, and the odd call-out when the one on watch wants assistance or advice from the one off watch.

    Otherwise, in the tropics the day is always within a few minutes of 12 hours long, sunrise to sunset. The time goes to enjoying ourselves in whatever port we’re in (what the hell, that’s why we’re out here), provisioning (we often shop every day when we can), and maintenance (there’s always something broken). A siesta takes out an hour or so in the heat of the day. Maintenance jobs take an astonishingly long time, because, if the necessary parts or chemicals are not on board, one needs to find the right ferreteria for each, which can involve multiple taxi or bus trips, then stopping at each store to see whether they have the left-handed rifnoid or tube of dilithium paste you need.

    The best I have been able to come up with is that it’s about one third “cruise ship/drinks with little umbrellas” kind of living, one third “Home Improvement” (like the TV show), and one third Two Years Before The Mast (Dana). Read it, if you haven’t.

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