The year, the decade…the fuck?!

I love this retrospective shit, it’s just so… I don’t know, everything! …And indeed the teens were everything! We started the decade off in Baltimore, Maryland, and learned some hard lessons about living aboard in cold climates. We were definitely up for the challenge but a challenge it proved to be. S/V S.N. Nomad was an awesome boat and Baltimore is a pretty cool place but if we were going to be off-the-grid in cold we were going to have to figure out our onboard heating system. Once again, the proof was in the solution. We discovered that living aboard is not about bringing your great big old life down to the water, it’s about the reduction of life’s needs… The smaller your needs, the more manageable the solutions. …So we went sailing! In retrospect, this decade was about the adventure of sailing for us! We logged countless nautical miles underway from the Chesapeake Bay to the wilds of Maine and south (eventually) as far as Hilton Head, and along the way we learned how to reduce our needs to suit our lives. In 2014, we became professional sailors as cruising editors for a publication called the Waterway Guide. The money isn’t enough to actually live on and we’ve had our issues with the publication itself but we love the work and it keeps us underway. We’ve edited the guide from Southport, North Carolina, to Eastport, Maine, and it’s kept us yo-yoing the Eastern Seaboard of the US for five adventurous years now. We went back to India twice in this decade. Once to get me (James) some new teeth back in ’17… …and then again this year to finish a co-written manuscript we started back in ’17. The writing turned out to be an incredible experience for us both.[…]

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A Great Circle

We sailed a great circle over the last week. Not in the traditional sense of navigating along the shortest path, but in the equinoctial Chesapeake sailor’s way. And we looked good doing it. The wind direction and intensity, the direction and speed of the tidal currents, and the long list of neat places to visit combined to allow us a circular path around the upper Chesapeake. In winter, the winds come largely from the north and, in summer, from the south. In the shoulder seasons, though, the wind cycles through the compass as weather patterns form and pass over. This gorgeous anchorage (unofficial, like most of the places we drop the hook) rewarded us well for an unexpectedly hard day. The whole point of the spring circle is to have easy weather for the whole trip, wind on or abaft the beam, and helpful currents that don’t turn choppy running against the wind. On this occasion, we jumped the gun by leaving Annapolis before the tide had well turned. We slogged a little – like walking through a few inches of water, though, nothing drastic – and motorsailed in the morning’s light wind. As we came up next to the Magothy River, a loud clunk preceded the onset of a heavy vibration. A rattling, beating vibration that got everything on the boat moving, even at the top of the mast, where the 3′ VHF whip antenna taught an impromptu lesson on sine waves. We figured out pretty quickly that it was drive-train, not engine, and sailed up the Magothy to a spot I (Dena) decided would be safe and convenient for both anchoring and receiving help. We’re getting pretty good at receiving help, something that surprises and pleases me. We’ve been so independent for so long and it’s nice to[…]

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Home again, home again…

We have definitely arrived! Our crew here in the MRE dressed our boat up like an Easter doll for us! The guys at Coastal and Bacon, and our very own Kate Bishop, took care of the nervous-parent checks and saved the boat from going down while we were gone. The news of several inches of water over the floor boards freaked us out when we were in India, but they make shit right. By the time we showed up, the cleanup was minimal and the to-do list consisted mainly of readying the boat for a sailing trip. After getting the engine running (replacement starter, air filter, and alternator belt), putting the boat back together was an awesome adventure. Like we’ve said so many times before, engine work sucks for us both so it’s always the most nerve-wracking part of our “returning-to-the-boat-after-a-stupid-long-time” duties. Now the engine runs fine and we decided to move forward on the “Twin-Primary House Battery System” (TPHB). Dena says, “I’ll buy an acronym for $400, Pat.” The TPHB is a battery system that we read about a few years ago. Morgan’s Cloud is a boat with rich people’s problems, but this is one area where we can adapt the ideas to our poverty-oriented version of cruising. The system allows you to draw all your 12 volt loads from an isolated 8D AGM battery until that battery is 50% depleted.  While you’re depleting one battery, the system takes all of your 12 volt charging systems (solar/wind) and dedicates them to a second, separate primary house battery that is not being drawn upon by your house loads. When you reach the 50% mark, you manually switch the loads over from the depleted battery to the fully charged battery. The resting battery will attain a higher state of charge than[…]

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Meenakshi Amman Temple

If you’re thinking what I was thinking, yes! Meen as in meen kappa (fish curry with boiled tapioca/coconut/tumeric), but in this case, Meenakshi as in fish eyed, an old-fashioned compliment for women with almond-shaped eyes. You weren’t thinking that? Anyway, once we woke and had a lovely breakfast of idly, vada, sambar, chutneys, and a couple new Tamilian dishes we enjoyed, life looked far more cheerful than it had the night before. (Short story: attempted mugging) Setting off in the old streets around the Meenakshi Amman temple meant winding our way toward the center. This part of town was designed so that the streets are shaped like lotus leaves and the temple is in the middle. Specifically, I think, this: But that is most certainly jumping ahead. We avoided entering right off the bat by going into the market. The bundles of trim and lace and ribbon fascinated me. Any of my witches need a new cauldron? Safety in numbers… This temple complex covers 17 acres and the original temple is over 3000 years old, it was crushed by the Mugals (of course) and then rebuilt by the Hindus (of course) and it obvious what made it through the Mugal sacking (below). And indoor prayer areas: Non-hindus aren’t allowed in the actual shrine, but the galleries surrounding it are beautiful in their own right. Seriously. No, seriously. Even the workshop area has gravitas and incredible lighting. I am amazed by the loving care given these statues…actually, I don’t think it’s insulting to call them idols. I saw a bus called the “Passionate Idolators”. This stone figure has been rubbed with so much ghee that the stone looks hot. She’s standing on a peacock, but it didn’t make it into the picture. Every building is shot with beams of sunlight, and[…]

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Attukal Pongal

I was riding my bike not long after 8 in the morning on the 11th, heading into town for Attukal Pongal. When an event is the record holder for the most women gathered in one place – and the number is up to 4 million at this point – one would expect traffic to be a mess. Like most sporting events, though, people trickle in and pour out, so the ride in was a cake-walk. If by cake, you mean millions of women sticking to the shade but ready for some sacred fire, and by walk, you mean rolling through among a half-dozen other kinds of traffic. Gopikrishna is Maya’s son and took most of the photos in this post. Here’s the photographer at work. That’s Maya in the foreground, Sangeetha in the middle ground, and Gopikrishna in the background. He asked to see the camera, I showed him a couple basics, and he was off! When I say off, I mean I looked around and I couldn’t find him. As you see, though, he was doing great work in the meantime. Pongala is a ceremony wherein I set up a pot of water on three bricks (or would have, but Maya beat me to it), put some coconut palm fronds underneath, and wait for the temple fire to make its way to me. The temple has an eternal flame, and every one of the 4 million fires was lit from that flame. The fronds are folded in half and allowed to stick out, then pushed in a little at a time as they burn down. Maya, middle, and Naishnavi mess around while I get ready to burn! I ended up with sore thighs from doing hundreds of deep knee bends. The fire also creates a decent amount of smoke…times[…]

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More on Traffic

I forgot to mention the elephants. They’re not as common here as in other parts of the country, but they’re in demand for temple rituals. This one was likely part of our neighborhood temple puja and on its way to the next big event. The chains disturbed me, but they don’t seem to be chafing. I guess when it comes to animals that have been used as weapons of war, that really can squash a person, folks are interested in being able to control them.

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Cultural Priorities: Efficiency and Safety Margins

James and I ride up to Ulloor or Medical College or Pattom fairly frequently. One of our favorite thali lunches (Sree Gauri Nivas, pure veg and de-lish-us) is across the street from the Medical College entrance and there are grocers in the area. At the end of the Ulloor-Akkulam Road, we can turn left-then-right (on the left side of the road, remember) to go to Kesavasadapuram. That takes us to the bike shop, a couple banks that’ll give us small bills for the Rs. 2000 bills the ATM spits out, and some other places we don’t need much from. Alternately, we can get in the right turn lane and wait for the light. When the light turns green, it has already turned red for the crossing traffic, as is customary at intersections with lights. I’ve pretty much gotten used to the fact that I can’t stand there at my green light and wait for everyone to stop running the red light. The folks in the crossing traffic continue to come along against their red light until the green-light traffic gets their butts in gear and cross the empty lanes between. Then the red-light traffic stops to allow the green-light traffic their right of way. And you know what? It’s terrifically efficient. So is bunching up at lights in a snarled mass of cars, trucks, bikes, buses, scooters, motorcycles, and auto-rickshaws. Anyone who’s slow off the line doesn’t cause a whole segment of the population to miss the green light, and for the most part, it’s less a snarl than a coil (a messy one, like a DNA molecule), ready to string out to fit the amount of road ahead of it. I keep seeing these kinds of things and I’m struck by both my discomfort (spurts of terror are rare)[…]

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