The Log of Moira
This is one of Larry’s pages.
Susan went back to the States in mid-May, and I (Larry) stayed to work on and watch after Moira in Ecuador. Since we spent these three-plus months apart, it makes sense to segregate our corresponding accounts in the Log.
What follows is a series of mostly unrelated short essays prompted by happenings in Ecuador during the entr’acte. We hope soon to return you to our regularly scheduled programming.
The CIA reports that the GDP per capita in Ecuador was $3,700 in 2004 (compared with neighbors Columbia at $6,600 and Peru at $5,600), with 45% of the population living below the (locally defined) poverty line, and a life expectancy of 76 years (which is actually doing rather well).
Ecuador has been involved in recent (1900-1940’s and 1990’s) wars with its neighbors that resulted in significant loss of life and territory. In a sense, Ecuador is the last of the “banana republics,” with frequent military governments, political instability, and an agrarian economy. We were told that the banana industry of Central America migrated to Ecuador in response to rising labor costs and the Panama banana disease in Central America. In recent history, Ecuador has averaged one governmental overthrow every two or three years. A certain inferiority complex would be understandable. It says something that the current constitution dates from 1998. It says something that the citizens show much pride in their country. The most common bumper-sticker, overlaid upon the colors of the Ecuadorian flag, reads “Sí, se puede” (“Yes, it’s possible”). While I was there, Ecuador was doing rather well in the World Cup, and the fan-frenzy was impressive. Given the low per-capita income, the amount of high-rise construction, and the quality of the roads, are quite impressive, especially when compared with, say, Costa Rica, with twice the per-capita income, but lousy infrastructure. Go figure.
General strikes are almost a form of recreation here. There was a local two-day version of such a strike while I was here, the casus belli for which seemed to be that the Peninsula of Santa Elena (the cities of La Libertad, where the marina is, Salinas, and Santa Elena) wanted to secede from the province governed from Guayaquil, for reasons that I’m sure were obvious to those involved. There were roadblocks in to and out of the area formed of piles of burning tires, the smoke from which was visible all across the horizon. Everything was closed for two days, and no gringos with any sense left the walled compound of the marina. On the third day, everything was back to normal, and we all went grocery-shopping.
The people are primarily mestizo (mixed American Indian/Spanish), with the rare Negro. They are short in stature, maybe 5 to 5½ feet, universally black-haired (except for the aged, the tercer edad, who get a 50% discount on the long-distance buses), and people are relatively fit in appearance. To the cruiser, the most impacting characteristic is that English is not a natural second language for most of the population. Get Spanish, or live with the consequences.
As Susan has remarked, the climate of coastal Ecuador is quite comfortable, in spite of its position on the equator. While I was there the weather was humid (mildew was a constant problem) but cool (in the 70’s F) day after day. Days were dry; the sun would seldom burn through the thin, bright overcast; I would often work shirtless during the day. Because of the humidity, even modest effort would raise a sweat. I would sleep under a sheet at night. The cold Humboldt current that sweeps up the west coast of South America from Antarctica brings cool weather and overcast skies to the coast, just as the cold California current that comes down the west coast of North America from Alaska brings cool weather and fog. In August we had several consecutive days of sunshine, and our solar panels went into rolling orgasm.
Ecuador has a number of active volcanoes, some of them violent, and the earthquakes that go with them. In 1948 there was an earthquake 100 miles south of Quito that triggered landslides which killed 6,000 people. While I was there the Volcán Tungurahua, about 250 miles away, blew its top, causing local evacuations, and I had to wash a thin film of volcanic ash off the deck.
International Living magazine, whoever they are, published one of those “best places to live” surveys in early 2006, considering such elements as economy, politics, freedoms, and so on. All such surveys have their shortcomings, this one especially in that they assign a single rating to a whole country, which may be fine for politics, but economy and climate can vary substantially from place to place in a country. Ecuador did OK (44th) overall in the survey, but the magazine rated Ecuador #1 in the world for climate.
I have written about the technical side of the wind generator project on the projects page. If you think that maybe a “wind generator” is something that generates wind, you might have a look at that discussion. Here, I’ll mention some of the social environment.
We purchased the generator itself (the “turbine”) during our trip to the States documented in our Central America Log, and brought it back to Moira in a big suitcase (the suitcase was a gift from my sister-in-law, Maureen Shick) while Moira was in Nicaragua. The generator languished in the suitcase in the quarterberth until we found the right venue for the hard part of the project—the tower. In Ecuador its time had come. The suitcase has since been passed on to an Ecuadorian family.
There were several influences on the project:
To those of you who have yet to set off, be of good cheer—On the Job Training works!
I remember being in the marina in Brisbane, near San Francisco, before we set off. Our longest passage up to then had been from Long Beach, California to Catalina Island, about 26 miles. We had done one overnight passage, successfully but incompetently, in our previous boat. Across from us on the dock was a guy (thanks, Bill M. of Voyager!) who casually mentioned, “Yes, well, when we were sailing in Mexico…” and I remember thinking, “God, to think of sailing as far as Mexico! Such a superhuman effort, such monumental seamanship to get to (what seemed to me then to be) the other side of the planet!”
In our respective working careers, Susan was always a manager, a “big picture” person, while I was always a close-focus “worker bee.” Before we set out from Costa Rica on our projected seven-day passage to Ecuador, she was much stressed because the upcoming enterprise seemed too vast to comprehend. She couldn’t “deal with” the “big picture.” Her words were, “How do you get your head around a seven-day passage?” I told her to focus more narrowly, on one watch at a time, or even more narrowly still, on what needed to be done at any instant to keep Moira moving as safely, comfortably, and swiftly as possible. It’s the mantra of time management: “What’s the best use of my time, right now?”
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book III: “Work at the task which is before you, expecting nothing, fearing nothing, and satisfied with being active to the purpose, and you will be happy.”
To be Oriental, “Live in the moment.”
Now we’re in Ecuador, some 6,000 nautical miles later. And we made it here one three-hour watch at a time.
“The general Properties belonging to the common Mariner is to hand, reef, steer, knot, and splice, with which qualifications he may safely value himself upon the calling of a Good Seaman.” –A Naval Repository, 1762
…to which it is commonplace to add that The Captain must be navigator, weatherman, mechanic, electrician, plumber, industrial psychologist, and so on.
In the following paragraphs, I use the masculine pronoun to refer to The Captain, which is both linguistically and statistically correct without being prejudicial. My feminine counterparts have my most sincere admiration, and I would not presume to speak for them.
One of the impressions that oppresses the new voyaging Captain is the complexity of the system in his care. However much he has lived with and loved the vessel and crew under his command, once he has left WestMarineLand and begun to subject self, ship, and crew to the stresses of full-time cruising, there is a growing awareness that his ship and crew are an ecosystem, or even an organism.
“Splicing—is fastening two Ends of a Rope together, with uncommon Slight—to execute which requires no ordinary Skill; as I can venture to say not one Seaman in twenty can perform it.” –A Naval Repository, 1762
The marina at the Puerto Lucia Yacht Club in La Libertad, Ecuador was Moira’s home, and mine, for six months. It’s a pleasant facility, where one’s boat can be kept “on the hard” in dry storage, or in a slip, or (as I chose) afloat in a kind of Med-moor. One characteristic of the mooring basin, whether in a slip or Med-moored, is an occasional, substantial surge, which makes the boats dance and tug hard at their mooring lines, and over time, causes the mooring lines to chafe. I was horrified to be informed one afternoon by one of the marina personnel that one of my mooring lines had chafed nearly through—horrified, because I should have caught it myself.
What to do about the chafed line? One can’t just nip over to West Marine for a replacement. If you have braided line, you chop it apart and have two shorter lines, end of story. I prefer three-strand for anchor and mooring lines because of the extra elasticity, which also gives me the option of splicing. So I cut out the bad patch and spliced the remaining pieces back together. There is something very contentment-making about splicing a line, as an activity. The physical activity of transmuting one long but damaged and useless line into one line, nearly as long, but sound, is quite satisfying.
“The girl who fain would choose a mate
Who’d ne’er in fondness fail her
May thank her lucky stars if fate
Should splice her to a sailor.”
--Charles Dibden, 1754-1814
Since leaving the States, we have met any number of situations that could foster bureaucratic angst:
…and on and on. I find it useful to remind myself that I have a choice here. Not whether the situation exists: that’s a given. My choice is whether I let the situation upset me. As we used to say in the Army about pain and suffering: pain is mandatory, suffering is optional. Get over it.
Or listen to Eileen Quinn’s “Always a choice.”
Whether it will be encroaching boredom, debilitating injury, advancing feebleness, storm-driven terror, or the death of one of us that finishes the cruise, something will eventually require us or the survivor to move back ashore and be a “dirt dweller.” Susan and I have from time to time had conversations about where we might ultimately want to settle. The leading contender for a post-cruise venue, the incumbent office-holder as it were, is Long Beach, California.
I have from time to time suggested acquiring some real estate outside the US: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; Bahía de Coco, Costa Rica, wherever. Such a suggestion triggers a discussion among those we are with about being an ex-patriate. In some cases, it seems that folks view the purchase of real estate outside the US to be a kind of partial renunciation of citizenship, or at least a slap in the face of the mother country. Almost as though the term were “ex-patriot.”
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. I’ve tried wristbands (electronic and acupressure), Stugeron, ginger, 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 rare, seldom debilitating, and often self-curing.
It is a commonplace among retirees that, being retired, one cannot claim a “day off.” Having no job, there can be no vacations. TGIF loses its punch, and the principal symptom of “Cruiseheimer’s disease” is that the afflicted cannot remember which day of the week it is. “Retired” translates to Spanish as jubilado, which really just means that your contribution to the enterprise was so wretched that your boss will pay you every month not to come in to the office, please? ever again?
One of the Guy Things about living on a cruising sailboat at the middle level of complexity, neither Luddite nor starship, is that I spend my days doing things I’ve never done before, fixing things I’ve never fixed before, and—because there are so many pieces, and because each individual piece is so reliable, overall, mostly—will probably never fix again. The next time something breaks or smells funny, it will be some odd part I’ve never seen, something I’ve never really had to look at before. It’s the experience of being the first day on the job, every day. As one of our undergraduate professors, John Crosset, said, “In learning there is suffering.”
A few non-boating books that have recently influenced my thinking. These are all related to the observation (whose?) that, “In order to succeed, it is useful to know the most popular ways to fail.”
The Logic of Failure by Dietrich Dörner, subtitled “Recognizing and avoiding error in complex situations.” A German psychologist who constructed a number of experiments in which the subjects were given tasks like “You are the mayor of a small town, with essentially unlimited powers and a term of office of 10 years. Your task is to improve the lot of your citizens.” The subjects made decisions that were fed into a computer model of the town and its economy, and the model returned the effects of the decisions in terms of economics, crime, housing, health, and so on. The subjects received this information and made further decisions, and so on. The book points out a number of predictable lapses that many of us make on the way to failure. For example, what exactly is meant by “improve the lot of your citizens”? And if you improve the roads into and out of town, will downtown merchants lose business to the mall on the outskirts? His analysis of Chernobyl is frightening precisely because the mistakes that were made are easily recognizable as coming from common thought-patterns we all have. Unlike the other two books, this is not primarily a technology book.
Why Things Bite Back by Edward Tenner, subtitled “Technology and the revenge of unintended consequences.” Plows some of the same ground as The Logic of Failure. The paperless office use more paper than ever. Antibiotics create fiercer bugs. “Low tar” cigarettes increase the number of cigarettes smoked. Bug zappers that use UV light to attract their prey are a Darwinian mechanism that selects for bugs that are not attracted to UV light. His remarks on the sinking of the Titanic are worth reading for small-ship sailors.
Systemantics by John Gall. The granddaddy of this group, and the funniest. Murphy’s Law as applied to systems thinking.
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