Sunday, December 11, 2016

Installation Complete

IRDs (the Kiwi SSN), bank accounts, driver's license, bus/ferry pass (because we're scared to death to use a driver's license), health check, (one of us has) paycheck, an address that actually receives mail, and some loose change to boot: after almost a month, our installation is complete. The acquisition of each has been a process, some more pleasant than others. The banking system is easy and user friendly. Kinda like the postal system and the government backed banking systems in France are commingled, Kiwibank and the Post here are collocated. You can open a business account and send a package from the same line, I mean, queue. Unlike France, the folks at Kiwibank are nice and at least try to be helpful.

When checking out of the grocery, restaurant, or whatever, you just wave the bank card around in the air, say "levieosa", and voila you've paid for something. I'm not sure the "levieosa" is required, but it adds a certain flair. Unlike in the US, you don't need a physical address, security clearance, and a hair from your first born (anyone who's read Name of the Wind understands how precious a hair is to a loan shark) to open an account. A "smart" card that you have to insert into the machine still works here, but are sooooo yesterday.

The driver's license was more challenging, especially for Cath. For me, it was the eye test. "William, they are all letters, no numbers, or names of water fowl. Give it a go again." Eventually, I made it through. Cath's French passport again caused problems. A few silly countries in the world always use someone's maiden name, rather than married name, as the primary name on the passport. Since married names can be rather, well, ephemeral, this convention has a certain logic. Still, it tends to throw most bureaucratic system into a tizzy. Included among these are Australian visa (don't ask) and the Kiwi AA (not what you're thinking) who issue driver's licenses. After some stern over-the-phone consultation with "superiors", "We need a paper trail of your name change. If it's in French, it must be translation by an approved translator." Oh God, not the "approved translator" thing again. What a racket. In this case, the approvee was a uni-directional translator of questionable origin working out of her home, with an obviously disgruntled husband scowling down all that would pass the threshold of his dominion to participate in this racket that is probably the only thing paying for the beer he's drinking: in the morning. As with all such things, persistence and patience trumps all and things worked out in the end.

View from the trail
We've also been working the socializing end of things. That's right you dolts, Cath & Bill are actually socializing. Theron gave us the advice to always say "yes" and we've taken it to heart. Last weekend we signed up for a trip with an Auckland tramping (hiking) club. The group is representative of the Auckland international melting pot: Germany, Australia, Indonesia, China, Russia, Zimbabwe, Somalia, France, Auckland, South Africa, and one lonely 'merican (me). We were cautious because we heard through others that Kiwis are no whimps and don't sugar coat it for you. If they say it's hard, there's no sand bagging; it really is hard. This particular hike was a 3.5/5 from Pakiri Beach to Matakana and the invitation was full of cautionary clauses, which gave us, me in particular, pause. (We later learned that the only 5/5 hike this year left them stranded on a cliff after dark above a high tide.) I looked at the route. The wicked climb was an out-and-back, so I figured if I couldn't hack it I could just take a nap and meet folks on the way down. Only when it came to it, we ended taking a different route. After the first climb, the leader suggested that anyone currently in need of medical care, which was half of us, should just stroll back down to the cars and chill for the afternoon. Pressed on we did, pride intact and body failing. I heard "shit" and "what the f**k" more than once. I might even had said it myself. Talk about writing a check you can't cash. We hacked through bush and slogged through mud, up inclines so steep they benefited from 4 limb drive. I wondered why many of the hikers wore gloves. In retrospect, we had a great time with some stunning scenery, but a price was paid. I even had my first sand fly bites. "These aren't so bad." Yeah well, I didn't sleep much that night. Scratch, scratch, scratch ...

Waiting on the lawn for
the movie, projected on
the silo, to start.
Friday evening we walked back to a wharf area called Silo Park, for the silos left over when this was a working commercial harbor. It's a fun place in the evening with kids running around, parks, vendor stalls, and food trucks. Each Friday they show a movie on one of the silos at the head of a grassy area. We took a spot out of the chilly wind to watch at least the beginning of "When Harry Met Sally", our favorite New Years movie. It was fun, but they left out the best scene in the whole friggin movie! Something's up with that. Clearly there's something we don't yet know about the culture here.

Auckland Sky Tower for
Our landlords, Chris and Jason, upstairs have more-or-less adopted us, probably out of pity having seen our social ineptitude first hand. They had the pool all warmed up for us after our hike last weekend and collected us from down the hill to bring us home. Saturday they even invited us to a party with all their old friends. We met folks from all over, even one from Texas! Everyone was so friendly and welcoming, which is a little different from the norm. We can't quite put our finger on it, but, with a few appreciated exceptions aside, kiwis have been very friendly and helpful without being terribly welcoming. We're not quite sure that's the right word, but something like that. It could be that we're migrants and to be kept at a distance until we've proven ourselves over time. Everyone we ask seems keen on the idea of migrants, provided they bring in skills of value. Most countries would have much more push back or even resent migrants. Dunno, just kind of curious and it might just be us.

Hiking through Albert Park
Our hike this weekend with the group was canceled, so we did the urban hiking thing exploring Auckland. The city is very walkable with many interesting areas and no danger of wandering into a rough neighborhood or some such. Auckland also has heaps of beautiful parks with lovely walking paths. (In Kiwi, it's never "many" or "a lot of". It's "heaps" or "shit loads", though I never knew "shit" to be a unit of measurement: must be metric.) Given that Auckland sits on a bunch of hopefully extinct volcanoes, walking around town is even plausible exercise: up and down and up again. I can't imagine anywhere else in the world with happier trees! These guys are old, huge, complicated, and gnarly.

The ultimate destination today was the Auckland War Memorial museum. It was free for us since we're, ahem, Aucklanders. (We brought proof of address since we figured, correctly, they wouldn't believe us.) Wonderful exhibits, less about the wars than the history of Aotearoa (New Zealand). So much to see that we lost both ourselves and each other. I finally had to page "Catherine Connor" to reel her in.

This week was also time to sign up for the medical system here. First I blew my appointment by forgetting that it's day/month here, not month/day. "That's alright dear. It happens all the time. Shall I reschedule you for Monday.?" I'll bet it doesn't happen all the time, but thank you for being so nice. After the nurse gave me a going over and frowning at my habitual glass of wine at dinner, she said I should schedule to come to the surgery next week. The surgery next week! I had no idea it was that bad! The "surgery" is just the doctor's office, as it turns out.

Here's a another introduction to Kiwi vocabulary. Chris was explaining with great exuberance how, when faced with the potential crisis of warm beer while touring an island, they found a cardboard box, lined it with plastic, filled it with ice, and no problem for the rest of the day. This short story says sooooo much about Kiwis that it could be the basis for a blog in and of itself, but for the present purpose, Chris had improvised a "chilly bin": an ice cooler. Everyone needs a chilly bin going to the beach, which we hope to do shortly!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Biking in Auckland

Lots of fresh and cheap veggies
Saturday we checked out the French Market organized every weekend by a French bistro on the other side of town. While public transportation is not extensive, we find buses clean and convenient to get us to most places in and around town. The market was impressive in its variety of ethnic food and low prices from local businesses. We saw oysters, Montreal bagels, paella, crêpes, turmeric juice, patisseries, and many many fresh veggies. We'll be back next week to fill our groceries bags for the week.

Even French desserts. Yummy!

Bike usage counter
The Auckland Transport organization was at the market too, collecting feedback from Aucklanders interested in biking in and around the city. Ironically Bill was wearing one of his Google Bike to Work Week t-shirts, which caught their attention as their leader is from... well, uh… Boulder :)  
They are actively recruiting citizens to design the right paths and think it should take them about two years to get Auckland bikeable. For now, some of the current bike lanes are a bit funny: Bike Lane Starts Here sign promptly followed by a Bike Lane Ends Here sign 200 meters further with a counter in between to measure how many people actually use the lane! Way to collect feedback on the ground. After meeting with the bike folks at the market, we decided to rent bikes to check out the options, and seriously considered going back and forth, and forth and back all afternoon to increase the count as the lane was sadly very empty.

Practicing a real commute
Rangitoto volcano from the
bike path
Mostly we wanted to see how possible it would be to get around by bike, and testing a commute route for Bill from a beautiful bluff where we could never, ever live. Apparently, you absolutely must have a Maserati in the driveway. We opted for one of their existing bike paths that follows the harbor to some of the beaches. The bike path at times merged with the footpath (sidewalk) which did not seem to create big issues. Pedestrians while unaware of bikes were friendly. The views are absolutely splendid, with emerald water, boats, paddle boarders, and even the volcano we hiked last weekend.

Somebody wonders why he is
not sailing
Without a car and the lack of public transportation to get out of town, we are starting to itch to discover NZ on the weekend. Working in Auckland just does not feel like we are on this gorgeous island(s) in the middle of the Pacific ocean. We're going to fix that! More on the fix later!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Forward We Go

Week 2 has been going through the skilled migrants arrival list; find longer term housing, find a job, register for a doctor (so you get the subsidized cost), get a NZ drivers license (so you have a card with your picture on it), etc...

Warning sign: our Airbnb is at 9C !
Housing: we booked two weeks in an Airbnb to give us time to explore various neighborhoods before picking where we would live the coming months. We are now ready to move out of the Airbnb as the mildew caused by the humid winter is getting to Bill's lungs. The sign by our entry door was a clue to our discomfort. Luckily, the heavy rain has stopped so the place is more livable now. NZ houses are notoriously poorly built and we experienced that first hand. Many apartments we looked at have no AC and no heat. We read about the housing crisis in Auckland but we were not prepared for how quickly apartments are snagged. Once we figured out the neighborhoods we would consider living in (took several days of walking and busing around), securing a place was a bit of a shock. Even when you secure a visit and fill out an application, most often you are told someone beat you to it.  
Nice commute view to work
Fortuitously, the owners of the house next door just put up their newly renovated downstairs for rent. We detected their posting early enough to get ahead of the crowd and secured the place. Phew. We are told we are staying in the most-prized neighborhood of Auckland, some say posh. Downstairs of a two level house owned by a gay couple and their dog Bobby. It even has a small pool for the summer and a hot tub for the winter which are all very rare in rentals. Even better, because they can’t separate their utilities from ours, they include them in the rent! We signed the contract and are moving in next week. This morning, they invited us to watch the All Blacks - France rugby game at their place! How serendipitous! As JimH said, sometimes you look too far for things that are right there.

Jobs: while Bill is getting comfy at Vesper Marine, I accepted an offer to join Nomad8, an international family of agile consultants. I’ll get to work with an Olympian who played for the Austrian handball team in 1992, as well as consultants from NZ, UK, and Nepal. Recently, the NZ immigration reduced the number of migrant applications due to concerns about the load valuable skilled migrants place on the social system, especially later when, perhaps, their skills are not so rare. I am taking this concern to heart, launching into the consulting world to transfer my agile expertise to the NZ market. I will be going to Hamilton (2 hours South of Auckland) for my first business trip next week but I won't get busy quickly as New Zealand is hitting its summer and businesses are taking a major break until January: akin to Paris in August.

Hiking on volcano
Fun: despite trudging through the list of to-do list to establish ourselves here, we are remembering to enjoy life. That's why we came here after all! It is fun to see everyone get excited about the summer (the winter has been quite rainy so kiwis are very ready for sun this year). The New Zealand Christmas trees are turning colors (blooming red). Today, we did our first hike on Rangitoto Island, the youngest of the 48 volcanoes surrounding Auckland. While the South island has earthquakes, the North island has volcanoes (mostly extinct). Rangitoto is a 20 min ferry ride and the only thing to do there is hike!
NZ Christmas tree

Imagine this, you're a Maori living in the what-will-be-Auckland some 600 years go. The ocean starts boiling, steaming, and finally spewing ash and lava. And it does this for some 200 years - generations pass within spitting distance while this beast is belching fire. Finally, the thing settles down and, presto, you have a new island in the bay. No wonder that they never built any villages there. I wouldn't trust it either, except for a short trek.

We are typically not concert-goers but there was so much excitement for Adele's first and only concert in NZ that we decided to give it a try. While dire-hard fans were devastated with their online booking experience, Bill managed to snag tickets and boy was it traumatic to get those boogers. I guess we will be here through March :)

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Auckland First Impressions

We made it to our first weekend! It has been a week of discoveries and enjoyments. Upon landing and the disinfection of our camping and hiking gear by the border authorities (they do it to everyone, we’re not particularly infected), we took a UberXL (which barely fit our 6 bags) to an Airbnb, only to find out that our host thought we were arriving the next day. Oops... Poor soul felt so bad, but we were happy to go walk around for a couple of hours while she tidied up the place. 

Uber seems, uh, uber popular in New Zealand. Apparently the mandatory background checks that forced Uber and Lyft out of Austin did not phase the kiwis.

Bill reported to work the day after we landed, right on time to attend Vesper’s Christmas party. Why wait for December when you can have a party in November! The party involved taking a ferry to Waiheke Island, drinking beer at a winery, and competing in archery and team building contests. While Bill was frolicking, yours truly walked and walked and walked around town apartment hunting for longer term lodging. 

The housing market is crazy: so hot, sellers auction their houses to the highest bidder. Everyone relies on the NZ eBay equivalent and apartments rent like hot cakes. Apartments are small and we question whether kiwis actually cook in them given the diminutive size of the kitchens and the conspicuous absence of dining tables. Maybe because the local food scene, while expensive, is outstanding?

Auckland feels like a city bursting at the seams with construction everywhere and snarly traffic. We had no intention of buying a vehicle, but it has been made clear to us that a car will be a necessity as Auckland is spread out and public transportation is not keeping up with the growing population. Cars have right of way over pedestrians. Jaywalking is not legal and not common, no wonder why! Crossing the road is a bit scary, especially as we get used to looking right first, then left, then right again. To add to the confusion, at first take it looks like no one is driving around here since the driver is in the right seat where we expect the passenger to be. Having to actually think about this makes us a little uneasy and we do silly things like walking into each other when one looks left while the other looks right. Geesh.

It has been raining quite a bit, and raining funny with sheets of water coming down out of nowhere but folks seem to just deal with it, momentarily dunking under an arcade for the short duration. It always blows over in short order and on we go. Similar to Boulder, Auckland’s sun is strong but the kiwi sunscreen label makes it abundantly clear that this is serious business down here under the ozone hole.

We are learning kiwi vocabulary along the way. Here you:
  • Flick an email (send)
  • Use a footpath (sidewalk)
  • Press the hash key (#)
  • Reply to “thank you” with “no worries
  • Order a short black (espresso) or a long black (americano)
  • List whiteware (kitchen appliances) on apartment rentals
  • Park your car at the carpark (parking)
  • Get paid fortnightly (every 2 weeks)
Although there is a strong Asian flair to Auckland (39% are native kiwis, with a large majority of immigrants from China, and the Philippines), I have been surprised by the French presence, from bakeries to restaurants to the way women dress in the CBD (City Business District, aka downtown). It has made the transition so unexpectedly enjoyable.  Food-wise, we are finding pretty much the same items as in the US, some reasonably priced and others less so. We’ll pass on pancakes as maple syrup costs NZ$20 a small bottle, and we’ll do without grapes at NZ$9 a bag. We ventured to bake lemon fish, which is really lemon shark. It was yummy.

We are getting up early tomorrow to watch the All Blacks- Ireland rugby game so Bill does not look too ignorant at work Monday :) Neither of us can get excited about cricket, although it is fun to see the parks filled with players.

While Bill is at work, I spend my days walking around visiting apartments and meeting prospective employers. By next weekend, we should have selected our longer term housing arrangement, my new employer, and maybe be lucky enough to secure tickets to Adele’s first ever and only NZ concert

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! No holiday for us here!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Time to Skedaddle...

Time has come to leave the US. Talk about timing, huh? The election results make it both easier and harder. Easier as we feel lucky to be able to escape the aftermath of this historic election, and avoid drowning in the surge of US applications to NZ. Harder because we leave behind friends and family who will deal with the aftermath.  When we visited New Zealand last year, right after the Paris massacre, we got so much sympathy from kiwis. This time, I am not sure if we’ll get sympathy or plain WTF looks.

Bill and I were prepared to travel separately, should the US citizenship process keep me in Denver longer than expected but I received notice to show up for fingerprints the day before Bill’s flight so we are getting outta here together on Armistice Day. Everything fits in two checked bags and two carryons, including camping and hiking gear, which have been properly cleaned to pass the “sediment” inspection upon landing in Auckland. 

We’ll spend the weekend in California to hug our daughter Shelby and son-in-law David goodbye, and pet their newly adopted dog Lucy.  

We’ll be staying in an Airbnb for the first 2 weeks with a mission to locate a more permanent apartment by Dec 1 so we can settle rather earlier than later. 

Bill migrated his phone to Google Fi, the new wireless service from Google, to keep his current number, while I’ll do the usual SIM card swapping, picking up a NZ phone number along the way. 

Let the kiwi blogging start!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Drawing Doors

As life progresses, we might feel like swirling down a funnel with less-and-less room to move about, fewer-and-fewer choices left, freedom lost forever: hard on free spirited souls. Some of the narrowing tumble comes from bodies no longer willing, some from choices previously made, some from minds set in their habits. Yet, the progression of life continues to have points of inflection. Divide by zero. Trajectory undefined. Our rigid, fearful wills usually skip over these discontinuities and continue on more-or-less as before, but if we pay attention we have a chance, at these times, to take a completely different path. Even better, with some effort and a little luck we can create these chances for ourselves by drawing doors.

Imagine sitting in a room. A nice room. Life’s good. Excellent companionship. Great food (especially the free lunches at Google) and drink. No worries. You notice a marker on the table and begin to wonder. Not knowing exactly what the door will look like, you start to draw one upon the wall, improvising. You have no idea how to make it real. No idea what’s on the other side. No idea if you will walk through. You just want the freedom to choose. A choice. An option in life. You keep at it patiently, adding hinges. One morning, as you are sketching some molding detail, you hear a voice on the other side, “Hey mate, if you’d just put a door knob opposite the hinges maybe we can get this thing open.” Accented English. Not really British. Not quite Australian. Oh bloody hell, it’s a Kiwi! What luck!

This post is our story of drawing a door to take us to New Zealand. I think of our friends Theron and Sarah who spent two years drawing their door to Romania, and then two years living there with the Peace Corp. Perhaps our story is comparatively small potatoes, but it’s the big pumpkin to us, particularly because we’ll be continents away from our children and our love child Alizée. As I did with Theron and Sarah, I take the liberty of using real people and real names in our story. They all read (if they so choose) these posts, so they can bloody well speak up and defend themselves if needed.

When we were out sailing talking with tired circumnavigators, New Zealand always stood out as a special place. By-and-large most would just as soon drop the anchor there for the last time and call it good. Like many people, particularly sailors, we began to have a budding fascination with a land we had never seen.

Kiwis understand boats and understand sailing (sheep too, apparently). A goodly part of Alizée came from New Zealand. In particular, a neat piece of kit (I’m working on my kiwi here. ‘kit’ means ‘gear’.), the XB-8000 from Auckland based Vesper Marine sits behind Alizée’s instrument panel. In a nutshell, and at its most basic, this little blue box sends and receives signals from everyone else’s little blue boxes so we don’t bump into each other out there on the high seas or, more likely, play bumper cars in a foggy harbor. Bump sounds a little too symmetrical. Being run over by a freighter is hardly a symmetrical experience. At any rate, these little blue boxes are great things and save lives. Anyone who knows me knows I root for the little guy. Vesper Marine is the little guy taking on the marine electronics giants and winning because Vesper makes a superior product, plain and simple.

Carl. All right ladies, move away.
He's married with a little boy, Cooper.
Problem was the optional companion app for the XB-8000 ran only on the iPhone. At the time I was working for Google in the Android division. iPhone? Really? I figured I could quickly write an Android app to do what I needed if I just had access to the XB-8000 API. I wrote an email to Vesper with an offer; share the API with me and I’ll give you the Android app when I’m done. Perhaps they didn’t believe me or perhaps they doubted my sincerity. Either way, it was crickets. I did something I do well when so moved; I was annoying. Finally, Jeff passed me over to Carl for babysitting and a non-disclosure followed shortly thereafter. I don’t know (yet, I owe Carl some beer over which I hope he will divulge all history on the other side of the door) whether Carl was pumped or annoyed at having yet another project dumped on his already full plate. I, however, was definitely pumped because I could telnet and http to this thing over Wifi. Not only that, I could connect to their test unit and watch the traffic in Auckland harbor while freezing my cheeks off in Boulder. I mean how cool (cold) is that? My inner geek slipped its leash and I felt ten years younger. I mean ‘HELO’! (Everyone that gets that one can have a free beer next time I am in their presence. In a bar. After noon. Jim H., I know you know and I already owe you one, so back off.)

As these things tend to do, the simple project ballooned completely out of proportion to the original intent and the little Android app became a real app, in many ways exceeding the capabilities of the Vesper iPhone app. Vesper sent me hardware. I sent Carl a sweet Nexus phone to wean him off that evil iPhone. Mostly I worked Sunday nights, Vesper time. Cath grumbled, "When are you coming to bed?" In addition to my day job at Google, I was building Alizée, so moonlight coding hours were hard to come by. That was OK though because I wasn’t getting paid for it anyway, though I did received some nice NZ wine and single malt at Christmas. Still, this was getting a wee too close to real.

During a catchup hangout with Carl, I said, offhandedly, “Hey Carl. You should hire me. Like in New Zealand.” I really do need to get more cognition in prior to vocalization. At that time I knew, and Google knew, I wouldn’t be coming back after our summer with Alizée. NZ was just a passing thought. Not really sure where it came from. “Yeah, alright mate.” Typical Carl understatement. Really? Hmmm. Some things, given nudge, develop a momentum all their own from forces yet undiscovered. I started looking at immigration information. Wow, too old to ever be a citizen, but one year left for permanent residency. Last chance. Now or never. Time to start drawing doors post haste.

Of course, I wasn’t alone here. I told Cath these going ons, but not with a great deal of intent because there wasn’t a great deal of intent at the time, largely because it was impossible to imagine that something like this could actually come to pass. I was just innocently (really) sketching doors on a wall without knowing where one might lead. I couldn’t imagine one might turn into a real door. Still, I kept at it and started to fill in form, after form, after form and my browsing history became dominated by all things ‘’.

The French may have invented bureaucracy, but NZ immigration perfected it. Somewhere along the line I learned to handle bureaucracy. It’s all about patience, persistence, and staying emotionally detached. Don’t get mad. Focus on what you need to achieve and just do it, whether or not it makes any sense at all. For NZ you must apply to be invited to apply for residency. The first application (for an invitation to apply) is point based. You get points for things like advanced degrees and youth. At my age, I got 0 points in the youth column. Cath got 1. Still, we’re well educated cookies in high demand fields and scored well if you look at just the bottom line. But, you have to wait for the fortnight lottery drawing and then the actual invitation to apply. After months of work, I received a cordial invitation to apply for residency under the skilled migrant category because we’re so, well, so skilled.

You would think we were halfway there, but, truly, not even close. The first part of the second application was amassing mounds of documentation to prove all the assertions we made in the first application for those precious points. This proved tricky. We said we had graduate degrees, but by NZ rules you don’t have a degree if you don’t have the paper thing: a diploma. Kinda like you don’t exist if you don’t have a birth certificate despite the fact that you’re standing right there. Case Western, where we went to grad school, saves trees and doesn’t issue paper diplomas. And then there’s the issue of Cath’s Frenchiness, which tripled her documentation. Take for example, police records, needed to prove ourselves of ‘good character’. (NZ seems sensitive about good character. I think it’s a historical NZ vs. the Aussie penal colony thing. I might be wrong.) We needed records from the FBI and the French equivalent. AND we need a translation of the French.

Definitely of good character.
I did the first translations of birth certificate, police records, ... I thought they were pretty good myself. Rejected. The translations must be on letterhead from an official translator recognized by NZ. Translations are a racket it turns out. Then we had the whopper. NZ is also big on ‘of good health’ as well. They insisted on a full medical, with chest x-rays, all by a NZ approved medical facility. You can imagine the price gouging going on there. I can’t even bear to write the number. This was, however, a turning point in the process. The door became real. “Hey honey, we have back-to-back appointments for chest x-rays tomorrow.” “Ah, what?” “You remember, for the New Zealand thing.” “Oh yeah, OK.” “Wait, what?” It was becoming tangible and unsettling. We avoided talking about whether we would open the door, much less walk through it. I focused on making the door real and let it go at that, too uncomfortable to go further.

Hey, now we're demi-kiwis!
We launched Alizée in June and were in the throws of the Wooden Boat Festival when the news arrived: we had been granted residency in New Zealand. Wahoo! Kiwi on the other side of the door, “Hey guys, when are you coming?” Still, we vowed to stay away from the topic and keep our minds on the summer cruising up to and around Maine. Pondering the future, particularly out loud, was too risky and a betrayal of our time with Alizée. We needed our passports to traverse Canada, but would send them to NZ immigration for the residency stamps when we returned to Colorado in September. Just one more step along the path, scary thoughts held safely at bay.

Back in Colorado, what are we doing? Are we walking through this door or not. Perhaps more than Cath, who had already moved continents once, I find the prospect equally exciting and scary. It’s always a bit of a reentry to come home after months out sailing. So many people (and this is just Boulder), so many cars moving about, such a hurry. This time it is different, or perhaps it only seems different because we needed it to be so, but it feels less like home. The entitled kids, the wealth, the first world politics. Is this Colorado or California? It’s becoming hard to tell the difference. For us, trying to live an increasingly modest existence seems hard to do here. Besides, we owe it to all those who would die for the chance. We take a ‘no fear’ vow and start preparing for the plunge.

This door is real. This door is open. We will walk through it. At least we will once we have our lives down to two suitcases each. Aside from my tools, which aren’t going right away, we don’t own that much and we hope to own even less. Living on a boat will teach you how little you need. Each possession we sell, give away, or otherwise dispossess gains us an increment in freedom, an increment in modesty. The end result is like a cleansing deep breath. It feels good. We feel freer. We don’t know how this journey will turn out. Somehow it doesn’t appear important. We’ve heard both good and bad stories. Don’t ask what we’ll do next summer with Alizée or whether we’ll sail her to NZ. Don’t ask when and how we’ll next see our families. We have no idea. Those questions are matters of future doors not yet drawn upon the wall.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Reentry Update: What Now?

We have been slowly readjusting to Colorado, savoring the gorgeous fall weather, reconnecting with friends and deliberately not rushing back into the work life. The planner in the family (yours truly) has been plan-less for once. A bit unnerving yet totally liberating.

We posted all the photos we took over the summer, then we asked ourselves the question many have asked us: what now?

When you live on a boat for months, you realize how little you actually need. So every time we come back from a sailing adventure, we have the urge to clean and declutter. After our 2007 sailing trip, we even had a case of Tom Hanks's wife in Apollo 13 "I can't deal with cleaning, let's sell the house", and went as far as selling the darn thing. Not this time! While on Alizée, I read The Happiness Project, a fun read, highly recommended for women (for its great tips on relationships). The author enjoys decluttering her life and even the lives of others. I was looking forward putting her decluttering techniques to the test: first what you want to get rid of, then what you are keeping but really don't need, like 4 pairs of black pants, and that pretty sweatshirt I never wore - maybe it was not pretty after all. We have done more cleaning the past 2 weeks than in the past 9 years we lived in the house. As a working mother, I read once "the kids won't remember how clean the house was. They'll remember how unavailable you were because you were always cleaning". That was the day I stopped cleaning the house.

As we drove back from Maine, as the fog lifted, something became very clear: our kids are fully emancipated with their own job, place, bank account, credit card, cell phone plan, and even their own sweetheart. Our responsibility to raise responsible young adults has come to an end and we are now entering the third chapter of our lives: post-kids and pre-grandkids. With that realization, we vowed to make the best of that time. A recent event is helping pick a direction....

Over the summer, we received notification that we had been granted New Zealand residency. Bill had made it a goal to get NZ residency before turning 56, the age after which we could never be more than tourists in New Zealand, restricted to 3 month stays. Every circumnavigating sailor we met picked NZ as the place they wished they could have stayed longer, and that was enough for him to set that challenge for himself. I have to say it was a bit amusing to see him go through the application process, until I had to go along with him for a medical appointment. Ugh. I got lumped into the process when the NZ government saw the mate had a long-standing wife and they rightfully assumed I would be unlikely to stay behind. "Don't mess with the wrath of Cath" as Bill would say!

Who in their wildest dream could turn down the opportunity to go experience the land of hobbits and kiwis? We kept looking for a reason why we should not do this, then we stopped looking and started planning. We have learned a ton the past two weeks about requirements to rent a house in Boulder, US naturalization for the frog in the house (yours truly is still a French citizen), NZ housing options and quirkiness (rent looks cheap until you learn they are quoted by the week!), and how to dispose of all kinds of stuff. Anyone in need to recycle old lightbulbs and batteries? contact me!

We are marching through the steps to get outta here in November. I never liked history in school so having to learn about the US constitution was a deterrent all those years. But, after 30 years on a permanent resident green card, I finally applied for the US citizenship so I don't run the risk of having US entry denied would we find ourselves staying abroad longer than 6 months. We decluttered, cleaned (the whole 9 years worth of cleaning) and put our house for rent. Probably the hardest part is finding a nurturing home for our aging cat. The Humane Society says that Boulder residents favor adopting senior cats but so far no luck. Know of anyone who could fall for our 17 yr old sweetie? My agilist friends will appreciate that we are using a Trello board to track our relocation progress and not get overwhelmed by the litany of details - medical insurance, cells plans, cars, housing, medical checkups, etc... Oh and I gotta find a job when I get there so we have enough MULA to travel in the dream land.

After living a quarter of a century in France, then a quarter of a century in America, it seems fitting to move to a third continent. I just hope I don't bring bad karma to NZ. France was great when I was there and it went to pot over the years. The US was great 30 years ago when I got here. This year's presidential election would be enough to make me relocate anywhere, so timing feels about right to leave. Auckland, here we come!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Reflections on Maine

After Alizée was hauled out, we went to visit the Brooklin Boat Yard (BBY), the mecca for wooden boat building, for a private tour of their operations. Amazing work, specializing in modern wood construction, a specific kind of cold molded construction combined with key carbon fiber components. Bill never passes a chance to inventory the tools the pros use. One worker was using a router and plywood template to cut a partial bulkhead, just like we did for Alizée. Of course we weren't cutting 3/4" solid carbon fiber plate! Nonetheless he (ab)used our favorite ole bare bones Porter Cable Router - the router that never dies. Across the shop I picked up the familiar whine of the 3 1/3" Makita power plane, another tool found in virtually every boat shop. We discussed the hit-or-miss quality of the Chinese importer Grizzly: great thickness planer, not so much the joiner.
Lifting keel box on the
91 footer

They have two very classy projects in process, a 90' and a 60'. BBY was started by Joel White, E.B. White's son: the E.B. White, an avid sailor, who wrote Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, and the Elements of Style. When Joel passed, his son Steve took over the yard and also co-owns the Belfast Front Street Shipyard where Alizée is spending the winter. Bob Stephens, who went sailing with us to evaluate Alizée's temperament, took over the lead designer role at BBY until branching out on his own in Belfast. His wife works at the Wooden Boat School just down the street from the BBY. The Brooklin Boat Yard, Rockport Marine, and the Front Street Shipyard have overlapping ownership and cooperative projects: all with the undercurrent of wooden boats, whether traditional or contemporary. For example, the Spirit of Bermuda was built by Rockport Marine and was hauled by Front Street Shipyard (shortly before Alizée) for maintenance and inspection work. Wooden boats are a small world within a small world up here.

Like many places we visited on the way, from Lie Nielsen Tools to Shawn & Tenney oars, the BBY looks like a small operation yet employs 60 people. They prefer Maine natives over graduates from renown nautical schools like the Webb Institute on Long Island, NY, because the graduates don't fare well in the Maine winter :) I believe the phrase "cold and lonely" was used. Talking with locals at the airbnbs where we stayed, we learned that Maine winter is actually a special time for them. While we think of harsh Maine winters, locals cherish that time as their social time. They even have an annual Winterfest in Stonington to celebrate the season in January. Brrrr.....

Stonington harbor
We spent three land days visiting Deer Isle, the peninsula connected to the mainland via the impressive Eggemoggin suspension bridge, spanning the Eggemoggin Reach. Always a thrill, we have sailed under her several times while enjoying The Reach. Around the corner from the Eggemoggin Reach is Stonington: lobster capital of the lobster region.

Barred Island Trail (low tide only)
From our reading, lobstermen are not exactly welcoming of cruisers, such as us, in the area, so we stayed away while aboard Alizée. Now cleverly disguised in our truck (ALL lobstermen drive trucks, though I suppose the Colorado plates were a give away), we wanted to visit Stonington and see just who has those lime green buoys with the white tops: we like him because we always see the bloody things. Stonington also happens to be a kayaker's dream land with many small and interesting islands close by. We did not get to kayak this time around but definitely adding it to next year's todo list.

Old Settlement granite quarry
Deer Isle also has several preserves maintained by the Maine Heritage Trust, which works with owners and businesses to create nice hiking trails. One of those trails, in the Barred Island Preserve, lets you to walk on water, so to speak, traversing to the island at low tide. Another one in the Old Settlement Quarry Preserve, goes through an old granite quarry. Granite quarrying, along with lobstering, was a big part of the Deer Isle revenue stream. John F. Kennedy's grave at the Arlington National Cemetery was made from Deer Isle granite, as are many US monuments.

We could see the season ending, making it a bit more palatable to return home. Several places had already closed for the season and we got stuck eating at the one-and-only restaurant that stays open year around. We would not recommend it and will keep its name hidden to not cause more damage. Many businesses close after Labor Day, often because their seasonal employees return to school. While there are few places to eat left open, we saw several of them closing for good after this season.

The Bow House
With one of our airbnb hosts, we caught the last big schooner event of the season: the Schooner Sail In at the Wooden Boat School. Quite something to see all these beautiful schooners, many of whom we've sailed or anchor next to, gathered together in the harbor for live music and steamed mussels. Especially touching was the recitation of E.B. White's prose about sailing and the sea, while his last boat sat visible on her mooring in the harbor. (If you read that piece, you'll recognize many of the places we have talked about in our blog.)

Our last night on Deer Isle was at a home-built cabin with a nautical flair - the Bow House airbnb, recommended by our friend Barry. It was cool to see another dreamer build something so quaint and sharing it with others.

Thick morning fog
As we started our trek back to Boulder, we had absolutely no cell service the entire way from Deer Isle to the Canadian border (maybe ATT does not recognize Northern Maine, or DownEast as they call it?) and the morning fog on land was a nice wink to the few foggy days we had on Alizée.

After 37 hours of driving, stopping in Montreal, Lansing, and Omaha, we are back in Colorado, where everything feels bigger, noisier and busier. If there is one word that sums up Maine for us, it is "peaceful" and "quiet", ok that's 2 words. People don't speak loudly, restaurants don't have loud music, the only loud thing is lobster boats! Take a listen. We have cherished our time in Maine and can't wait to be back next summer when Alizée wakes up from her hibernation. Our heads are spinning from the re-entry right now. More later on what comes next for the valiant crew of the good sailing vessel Alizée :)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Bonne Nuit Alizée

Alizée in her winter home
Do sailboats dream when they sleep for the winter? Do they remember the patter of feet on their decks, the feel of a breeze, the damp of the fog? I hope so. It would only be fair that we have given Alizée something for the summer she has given us. She is all nestled into her spot next to a Valiant 40 for company during the long winter ahead. We are continuing for a few days more in Maine to a place or two that we missed, for one reason or another, by boat.

Cath insists on a step-by-step run down of Alizée's haul out, for those interested in the process. I will say, the yard (Front Street Shipyard) has been absolutely top notch and professional. They handle everything from picnic boats to sea going tugs, including some of the massive schooners sailing these parts and beyond. I will oblige my darling wife, but if you know the drill, you can skip to the next post :)

and the mast
Off loading the boom ...
Before hauling out, we strip the rig (sails, boom, mast) from the boat. There's a special dock, the rigging pen, with a well padded crane. Our lead rigger is Kyle. Together Kyle, Cath, and I strip and fold sail on the dock. As Cath heads off for that one last load of laundry, a few more riggers show up and we off load the boom in short order.

After rigging a sling to the mast and some tag lines, we pull six pins and lift up the mast. The tide was ebbing fast while we were working, so the crane had to lower the mast every few minutes as the boat went lower with the tide, to keep the boat from hanging from the mast and crane!

The spar shed
Though we can store the boom and mast on the trailer, the yard prefers to keep them in the spar shed next to the rigging pen. Since it was for their convenience, they comped the charge. Yea! We like these guys. Other professional "features" we have not seen at other yards include padded bags they slip over the turnbuckles and furler hardware to avoid scratches. The equipment itself was top notch, quite a few grades above the yard in Mystic where we launched. It was also fun to talk to Kyle about the strategies for pulling those huge raked schooner masts weighing thousands of pounds (hint, you can't pull them straight up).

Hauling out
Power washing off the slime
Once freed of her rig, Alizée had to be moved to the travel lift bay for hauling. No owner driving allowed, so I went along more for the ride. Turns out the appointed captain has a sister at Naropa in Boulder. Go figure.

With no way off the boat, we just ride up on Alizée and chat about the very expensive Gunboat catamaran in the yard. Seems these boats have a real problem with waterlogged hulls (balsa cored) and being one of the few boat yards with a travel lift wide enough to lift them out of the water Front Street has a side business repairing Gunboats.

Once out of the water, there are a few quick items to take care of, primarily flushing the engine with antifreeze and washing off a season of slime from the bottom. I walk around with the service manager looking for items in need of a fix, such as a hairline crack in the keel to hull fairing and the notch in the keel fairing from a lobster pot warp sawing across the keel. The latter led to a horror story of a lobster pot warp cutting into a steel keel like ours, flooding it. Nightmare repair.

Alizée spent the night on display for everyone walking down the Belfast harbor walk, which runs right through the ship yard next to the travel lift bays. In this era of hyper safety, it is amazing to see these huge travel lifts sometimes carrying boats weighing hundreds of tons roll across a public walkway. Only the watchfulness of the operator and the common sense of the walkers not to put toes under an eight foot tire carrying an ocean tug, ensure the safety of the proceedings. In return the shipyard is tightly integrated, in a good way, with the community and the public can view the hauling of some of the worlds most incredible boats, like Alizée :) Good for all and great fun.

Hitching up, or trying to ...
Bright and early (7:30AM) we have an appointment with the service manager for a few last minute things before moving Alizée into her offsite storage. They have a Freightliner to move her the few miles to storage, but there's a hitch, literally, in the giddy-up. Alizée's trailer is low slung, I mean just inches above the road way, to get her low enough for bridge clearance. The Freightliner can't get low enough to hitch up. Hmmm. Fortunately, the Freightliner and our RAM pickup (which we used to haul Alizée) have the same receiver size so we use the hitch from our pickup. Could be lower, but good enough for a short distance.

Alizée on parade!
A little worried about ground clearance for the hill climb out the north exit of the yard, they take Alizée around south and up Main Street in Belfast, followed by a chase truck to watch for power cables, branches, and such. I suspect the boom crutch snatched at a few because there were some twigs and leaves in the cockpit when we went to say goodbye in her shed! Alizée has the street to herself with a sidewalk of onlookers. A parade all to herself! I think she may have blushed, modest girl that she is.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Last sail

Wispy morning fog in the
Isle Au Haut thorofare
We left IAH (Isle Au Haut, not Dullus airport) Wednesday to begin our journey back to Belfast for the weekend. No sooner had we made it into Penobscot Bay when the fog rolled back in. Again. It has been foggier than we have seen so far even though the fog should be thinning out in September.

Excitement in the fog: porpoises!
We are getting used to fog, fact of life sailing up here like the lobster pots, but enjoyed arriving at Winter Harbor where it opened up to sun and warmth enough to jump in one last time (67F water temperature) - well I chickened out but the captain enjoyed scrubbing Alizée's waterline in the balmy water. We were the only boat in this beautiful harbor with just the seals for company - crazy sauce.

Our next leg to Pulpit Harbor, a favorite, on North Haven was the foggiest yet. We entered the Fox Islands Thorofare with 1/10 mile visibility. By the time we reached the village of North Haven, it looked like a wall of fog. Fog thicker than fog. The fog within the fog. Since there was no scenery to enjoy beyond the chartplotter, we eaves dropped on the working VHF (radio) channel schooners use. Their captains were a riot to listen to. "We are sooo fog sick around here" and "The fog is so thick we have the guests wearing bells so we don't loose them".  Nothing for it but to drop the hook and have lunch! By the time the dishes were done, it lifted just enough to continue on; luckily with only few lobster pots to dodge and even some porpoises waving cheering us on. Porpoises are not as playful as dolphins, so they don't come close to our bow to swim along but we like them, and the puppy-face harbor seals just as much.

In the right light, fog can be pretty
Only lobster boats were working in that pea soup, bless their hearts. We made it to Pulpit Harbor where we must have been the only boat anchored, all others were on private moorings: clearly indicating the pleasure boats season is coming to an end. Friday morning the sun finally came back after the morning fog gave us some awesome harbor scenes.

Sun and wind for our last sail
Friday was special as it was our last day sailing for the season. To kick off, we met Alison Langley, a local marine photographer (no Shelby not Alison Langley your classmate!) in the morning at Pulpit. Alison did a photoshoot for an upcoming (we hope) Wooden Boat Magazine article featuring our girl Alizée. This was the third and last step of the process involving us. First we were interviewed several weeks back by Bob Stephens, a well respected boat designer from Stephens Waring Boat Design. Then Bob sailed Alizée we us to check her temperament.  Last the photoshoot which benefited from both sunny weather (no fog!) and enough wind to show her off barreling upwind at seven knots.

For a keepsake and to share the experience with landlubber friends, we took a short video of her last sail, in west Penobscot bay just off Camden, of the season, along with schooner Victory Chimes.

Now in Belfast, we are getting Alizée ready for her haulout Monday. Remove sails, shuttle clothes and stuff to the car, finish food, laundry mania, clean, clean and clean more.... Sadly we still have yet to find my July birthday gift that Bill hid so well!

While lately most nights have been as warm as when we arrived in July, tomorrow night should be 47F, brrrr, so we are coming to terms with taking Alizée out of the water for her winter storage (at the Front Street shipyard in Belfast) and to the idea of heading back to Colorado. We are definitely not keen on the idea of driving a rough riding truck 37 hours back home. Double ugh.