My Midterm Break

For 74 days I’ve been home; 10 more until I rejoin the boat in Malaysia. Absence makes one more appreciative of the comforts. A well-stocked supermarket a mile away. Hallie has always called the supermarket my “happy place,” and now more than ever. After all, I lost 25 pounds while living aboard. I’ve been trying to gain some of this back.

Television is so seductive! I’ve enjoyed snuggling in on the sofa to watch a favorite show. But then the next show is interesting, too. And the next. Whole days can drift by without actually doing much of anything. I’m looking forward to taking another long break from TV.

The cold has not been difficult. The mild winter has helped. But it is the lack of sunshine that was a dramatic change, and which still bothers me. At noon I feel like the morning must be about to start. And just when it seems like brightness might happen, the sun is on its way back down. I don’t like it.

Other observations: houses here are crazy big and mostly far apart. There are almost no people on the streets. (What did I expect? It’s winter!) We seem to spend a huge amount of time “dealing with things” on the phone or online — reconciling the COBRA payments on our health insurance, researching new health insurance, dealing with fraudulent charges on a credit card, making and changing appointments, unfreezing/refreezing credit reports, stopping service on a lost cell phone, getting a replacement through the insurance we’ve been paying for every month, weighing whether it’s worth paying $48 to reserve a seat in advance for each return flight versus taking what’s available at checkin, discovering that you can’t access info you need online without first updating the app, and the update fails. And the thing that pushes me over the edge — the automated phone systems that give you a limited set of choices, none of which match the reason you have to call in the first place. I’ve been avoiding most of this michegas while on the boat, but of course I should be thanking Hallie for keeping our household operational in the “real” world.

I’ve thought a lot about the non-functioning solar powered desalination system in Komodo. Could I learn enough to fix it? (I read some general articles online, but I don’t know how one learns the practicalities of manufactured systems; I’m not even sure who the manufacturer is.) Could I find someone to fix it? (I posted a notice on a sailor’s site about Indonesia, but have had no replies as yet.) I contacted Nina, who was trying to get an NGO to take on the project. She reports that she is still waiting for their answer… I contacted my cousin whose career is teaching and practicing “appropriate technology.” As expected, she replied that this situation is classic — bringing a high tech solution to a community that doesn’t have the infrastructure to maintain it. Yes, no question about that. And yet, it seems like such a good solution — to use the things the village has in abundance, sea water and sunlight, to produce the fresh water that they desperately need! Maybe this technology could be made more reliable, and be replicated in village after village. Or maybe the desalination (by reverse osmosis, like the watermaker we have on the boat) is too high tech, and a better approach would be an efficient solar still, with no moving parts except a simple pump or two. How big would a solar still have to be to make as much water as the reverse osmosis system powered (when it is working) by sunlight? Would it be unreasonably huge?

Maybe down the road I will continue that line of inquiry, and see if I can help out. If not in Komodo, then at least drawing inspiration from my experience of that village. But in the short term I found a way that I can “act locally.” Community solar farms (CSF). In Maine the electric utilities are required to support “net metering.” If you put a PV solar array on your roof, your electric bill is offset by the electricity you generate into the grid. And when you generate more than you use in a month, you get a credit to use against your bill in future months. So you might have a surplus in the summer, come up short in the winter, but pay zero for electricity for the year.

Maine has additional legislation that allows up to nine utility customers to share a larger solar array, and do net metering even though the installation is separate from the nine homes. This is a CSF. You can have the benefits of a rooftop solar array even if your roof is unsuitable for it. The company that does most of the solar installations in this area will help individuals form a CSF. One just came online in the next town west, and another is forming in the next town east. I could join that one, since the CSF doesn’t have to be located near your home.

But I thought it would be fun to start one in my own town, in partnership with my own neighbors. I spoke to a friend who has some south-facing fields, and he said YES, he would love to have a CSF located on his property! But I’ve learned that it isn’t that simple… The bank holding his mortgage has to sign off on the use of the land; the engineer has to confirm that the limited land will support the size of the array; we may need a variance regarding setbacks from the property lines; and the town planners have to approve the project. I met with one of the planners, and was surprised to find that the CSF concept was still new to them. Maybe one way I could be useful would be to walk this project through the somewhat daunting process, to pave the way for many more (I hope and expect) to follow. But the pace is too slow for my short time home. Still, I hope I have started a ball rolling… I think the CSF idea is fabulous — a way that many of us can take meaningful action in the area of climate change, climate justice. But the utility lobbyists are now trying to change the legislation to support large centralized (commercial) solar installations at the expense of individual and CSF installations. Guys, can’t we do both???

In other developments, I learned two weeks ago that Tim is planning to jump ship in Mauritius, and return to the boat in Brazil. Chris, who is joining us in two weeks, is also going only as far as Mauritius. So currently I have no crew from late August departing Mauritius through mid-December in Brazil. Know any sailors who might be interested? Seriously. Candidates must be willing to pay their own airfare, and share day-to-day expenses such as food and fuel.

Our schedule has us staying in Mauritius for nearly two months, waiting for the seasons to change. So I’m now planning to come home once again, for about 6 weeks in July/August.

And a final news item, Blue Wind has withdrawn from the BPO. They are planning to ship their boat (on a freighter) to the Mediterranean. So the BPO fleet is now but three.