Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Suddenly Sailing - Meanwhile, in Seattle...

It's been a slow few months for boating, and an incredibly busy few months for life. This entry will touch on a few things I've been meaning to write about:

- The Boat Hunt
- Reading 
- Costs

The Boat Hunt

The last time I wrote about what we were looking for was after the boat show, I believe. At that point, we weren't terribly impressed with the run-of-the-mill Hunters and Beneteaus and so on. It turns out that we're both pretty darn eccentric when it comes to what we like in a boat - The Sir a little more so than myself.

At one point, we found an absolutely beautiful steel schooner, which someone purchased while we were determining whether or not we'd be'd be getting in way over our heads with such a unique boat. It turned out that it actually would have been an excellent boat for us to pursue, but we were too late by the time we even contacted the seller. It was a huge setback, as The Sir could barely look at other boats after missing out on it. 

With The Sir more or less out of commission, I was left leading the hunt fora boat that would suit us both. The steel-hulled schooner was quite traditional, with a gaff rig and full keel. We spent a fair amount of time reading up about alternative rigs and steel construction vs. fiberglass. And while each element has its trade-offs, it turned out there was no reason for us not to keep looking for similar ships - except for how comparatively rare they are. 

For those who aren't terribly into boats, a few notes on rigs and keels:

The rig refers to how the mast(s) and sails are arranged. A sloop has a single mast, and a schooner has a taller rear mast and a shorter front mast (sometimes the masts are the same height). A gaff rig has a quadrilateral sail - the top, or head, of the sail is smaller and the rear edge is the highest point. A bermuda or marconi rig is what you see on a normal sloop boat. These are the boats with a large, triangular mainsail. So, you'll usually hear things like "bermuda rigged sloop" (single mast, triangular sails) or "gaff rigged schooner" (two masts, at least one quadrangular sail). Fun, silly, sailor-speak trivia - mainsail is actually pronounced without the "ai" in sail.That's right, it's mains'l. And no one who actually sails will look at you like a jackass if you say it that way, no matter how dumb you feel saying it. 

As for keels, the keel keeps the boat from tipping over when you're sailing. It acts as a counterbalance to the forces of wind on the sails and also allows the boat to cut through the water in a way that generates lift. Most modern boats have a fin keel. These usually extend far below the water and are located near the center of the ship - it looks like a fin sticking out the bottom of the boat. Meanwhile, a full keel does not extend as deep into the water, but runs nearly the full length of the boat. It's more like a long, narrow strip of of the hull without any sort of point.

Now, back to the boat hunt!

At some point, I stumbled across the Bruce Roberts Spray design while looking for something that appealed to me. The Sprays are typically built of steel and have a fairly traditional look to them, despite the Bermuda rig. They also have a full keel and were about the right size for us. I started learning more about Bruce Roberts designs. It turned out, most people weren't very happy with them. The overall impression was that the designs were outdated, and typically, people building steel ships (not just Bruce Roberts designs) would not build to specification. The resulting boat would be too heavy and perform poorly. We weren't looking for a boat to race, but we didn't want a floating tub, either. While I liked the look quite a bit, The Sir was very "meh" about it. 

For a while, we got to looking into junk rigs. If an image isn't coming to mind, think of the traditional Chinese vessels with the butterfly-wing sails. But, really, we weren't looking for quirky just for the sake of itself. And while there are some very beautiful junk rigs, none that we've run across met our needs. 

Most times I'd show a boat to The Sir, he'd either be non-plused or allude to the fact that it was neither a schooner nor gaff rigged. And, most of the schooners I found were either constructed of wood ( a huge maintenance time sink), located in obscure locations, or insanely expensive. Or, they were gargantuan, wood, and expensive. Turns out, there's actually a decent number of 70+ foot wooden schooners in the area at any given time.

I joined a sailing forum and started a thread asking about small, steel gaff rigged boats. I nearly started a few debates, and got a number of incredibly helpful responses. And I googled, and googled, and googled. I looked through hundreds of designs on http://sailboatdata.com/, trying to find a designer who had made a boat that matched what we were looking for. 

Then, one day, I googled something stupidly simple and actually found a boat that was exactly what we were looking for. It seemed too good to be true, and in fact, it was. The boat existed, but only a handful had been made and most were located far, far from us. So now, the trick is figuring out how to get one. If it all pans out, or eventually doesn't, I'll write all about that. But, for the time being, our hopes are hinging on a lot of maybes coming to fruition. For that reason, I'm leaving the details out - but, we have a very exciting prospect that I hope I'll be able to share in the not too distant future. 


Aside from the ASA course material, I've been through a few books, have added titles to my to-read list, and am currently working my way through some as well. Shortly after our decision, I also bought a kindle, which has been a surprisingly good investment - I was expecting to hate it, as I really enjoy paper books, but it's been a pretty easy transition. For most of these books, both The Sir and I have read them.

This is what I've been reading the last few months:

The Essentials of Living Aboard a Boat by Mark Nicholas - This was the first book we dug into, and opened our eyes to a lot of the logistical issues of living aboard. It was incredibly helpful and easy to get through, even with our limited knowledge when we first read through it.

Don Casey's Complete Illustrated Sailboat Maintenance Manual - This is actually 6 books! So far, I've only read through the book about evaluating the condition of a boat, which has been very insightful. It identifies many of the common problem areas of boats and how to pre-inspect a boat before paying to have it surveyed professionally. While it focuses on fiberglass boats, it still has a wealth of information just in the first book. The guides for electrical systems and diesel engines are next on my reading list.

Leap of Faith: Quit your Job and Live on a Boat by Ed Robinson - While not entirely educational, I had a lot of fun reading this tale of a man and his wife leaving it all behind to go pursue living aboard a powerboat in Florida. 

Buy, Outfit, and Sail by Cap'n Fatty Goodlander - This was also an incredibly entertaining read, which also squeezes in countless valuable tips, tricks and just generally good information and food for thought. Not all of it applies to our situation, but regardless, we learned a lot.


To-date, this is what we've invested in our transition to living aboard:

$2,390 - Sailing Lessons/ ASA 101,103, and 104 Sailing Certification for 2 - Aside from all the rigmarole of actually buying the boat, this will probably be our single largest cost until we get into the nitty gritty of boat maintenance. I've no doubt that there are cheaper ways to learn to sail, but for our purposes, this has actually been an incredibly good investment. 

$240 - Kindle Paperwhite with 3G and case - I splurged a bit on this, but since I'm only going to have a handful of physical books and could end up sailing anywhere, I wanted a quality reader that I could download to anywhere with reception.

$52 - Sailing Books 

$36 - Boat Show Tickets - While not life-changing, this was actually a very useful experience for us. More than anything, it gave us a quality dose of what to expect from boat shows. There will be a much larger boat show in Seattle at the end of this month, which we'll be checking out. This time, though, the focus will be on hitting up all of the seminars that we can. 

$20 - Boater Education Cards - Washington State requires boater education cards for operating most vessels. We were able to take a free online course through http://www.boatus.org/ and mail in our fees ($10 each) to acquire our cards.

That's all I've got for now, but I'm sure there will be more to share once we go to the boat show at the end of the month.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Internet Culture Crackdown: The Voices We Aren't Hearing

So, let's step away from sailing a moment. I've got an entry I plan to write soon about the progress of our boat hunt, but this is something that's been back-burnered for far too long.

To provide a brief introduction, I'm a 28 year old who has worked in the game industry for the past 6 years, and this is an opinion piece on some of the things about "gamer culture" and social media that have been bothering me lately.

Far from being a social media fiend, I rarely use twitter or tumblr, and while games are a huge passion of mine, I never seem to have as much time as I'd like to play them. I use my Facebook to occasionally share things that amuse or interest me, and more often than that, to see what my friends and colleagues have been up to. I have a number of friends that also work in the industry, and on any given day, there are usually a few stories (buried between Facebook's shameless spamming of ad posts) about what's happening in game industry news.

For the last year or so, my feed has been bustling with stories about the harassment of women in game development. 

My initial reaction was, "Oh, this is good, people are raising awareness on a legitimate issue." When I was attending university and when I went to industry events (both professionally (GDC) and casually (PAX), I had been subjected to a variety of things that would qualify in some regard as harassment on the basis of my gender. In the workplace, I rarely felt that I was being subjected to harassment, sexual or otherwise, due to my gender and choice of profession. 

I read a number of articles, and most of them painted a very bleak image of a world where women in games weren't taken seriously, or taking a job in the industry would be a hard path of being treated unfairly and harassed. Also, numerous articles about women in the industry receiving death threats or having their personal data hacked and made public for speaking out. I also noticed that whenever someone commented contrary to one of these linked articles (often with valid criticisms of the facts and arguments in the article), it would start a heated debate with enormous wall-of-text responses. Some people would even respond in ways that made it clear that they hadn't actually read the criticism and were just stating their opinion on how justified and correct the original post was.

To establish something fairly straightforward, women and men are treated differently in probably every culture on this planet. Media especially promotes certain traits as being positive or negative in each gender. Personally, I don't agree with this, and I think that each person should be evaluated on their own merit as a human being, rather than how they fit into our cultural gender-framings, but that's my personal opinion and an entirely different article. Also, both men and women are sexist and many people of each gender actively reinforce the gender norms prescribed to them by the media. Many men will criticize men who are not 'masculine' enough, women will criticize women who aren't 'feminine' enough, and each group will harass the other: Sexism is a real thing and it goes in all directions.

So, how does this all fit together? What does my facebook feed bloated with articles about women in games and volatile comment threads and the existence of sexism have to do with anything?

First of all, much of the media is still painting the community of "gamers" as a crowd of misogynistic men trying to keep women down. There are a lot of really awful people on the Internet, and they can be very loud, but on the whole, the gaming community is just like any other group. There is a huge diversity in gender, age, and the types of games that people play. While some people are more into it than others, games are a hobby, just like music, reading, or sports: some people like jazz, while others like metal. Some people read every day, while others only do so on weekends. I have no doubt that there are sexist gamers of both genders, and I can also say from personal experience that the average person who plays games is a pretty decent human being.

Now, let's take a look at game developers - the people who build games. It is certainly a male dominated industry. I work for a fairly large and corporate company. And still, if you look at the roster of game developers, I would hazard a guess that you'd run across an abundance of male names. Is that a problem? Yes, but maybe not the one that you'd think. Are there people at the company that are actively "keeping women down"? No, I don't think so. I would hazard that there are as many people biased towards one gender as the other, and that the bulk of the applicants are male. (Why the bulk of applicants are male is yet again, an enormous topic that warrants numerous studies, books, and so on.) Is there subconscious sexism at play? Absolutely. It cannot be helped until our culture changes. Until the average person looks at another person as just that - a person - without immediately jumping to their gender as a means of analyzing and attempting to evaluate them, sexism will be at play. 

So, I'm supposing that the people who play games are a diverse group, and that the majority of game developers are male. Does that sound fair?

So, back to the "Women in Games" crisis.

Let's say we have an article detailing the experiences of a woman at a company who was harassed or felt uncomfortable while working in games. Or, on Youtube, we have a video discussing gender stereotypes in games. And then we go to the comments. Almost invariably, someone will feel compelled to dispute the points that the article makes - whether they do this tactfully or not is up for grabs, as is whether or not their criticism is actually related to gender equality. But, I can nearly guarantee that this person, however valid or invalid their criticisms are, will be shut down, hard, on any number of grounds, valid or not. Basically, in the eyes of many people, anything related to this hot topic becomes a critical juncture in the "battle for equality," and it absolutely must be defended for the sake of furthering a larger cause. 

So, there's an argument on the internet. Big deal, so what? Well, it is a big deal. 

What precedent does that set for all of the mild-mannered, reasonable people out there? It sets one that they need to choose a side and stick to its tenets, or remain silent. And this is an absolutely horrible thing. It is alienating and discourages conversations that need to happen. The average person is non-confrontational and willing to listen, though they'll also want to share their opinion on a topic if they have one. But, when you magnify everything related to a topic into a volatile battlefield, the very people we need to reach the most - the reasonable majority - withdraw. Of special note are the men involved. Male gamers and developers especially are often unfairly painted as "the enemy" by many articles. Are the 'perpetrators' most often men? Yes, but they also make up the bulk of the population for this group. And, for the depiction and inclusion of female characters in games, it is often publicity and marketing that drives regressive decisions, not some lone misogynist.

There's no easy way to de-escalate. Horrible things have been done to people on both sides of the conversation and others have been caught in the crossfire. People's lives have been forever changed, and their personal peace of mind shattered. Bearing witness to all of these proceedings has changed the way the industry is viewed. The absolute vitriol surrounding the subject is stunting progress. The silver lining is that there is now more attention on this topic than ever before. The discussion about gender and minorities in games and the industry isn't going anywhere. It's no longer on the fringes of conversation. 

But, what can each of us do to improve things and keep them moving forward? I've no doubt there are countless things, but the reason I wrote this is for the sake of re-engagement. If you've been a silent onlooker, I encourage you to keep on watching, and to not be afraid to speak your mind and discuss the topic at hand. This isn't a "women's issue," this is a people issue for an industry full of passionate people who believe in what they do. There are so many people quietly watching from the sidelines. And, for those of you who are still talking and tackling the topics at hand - do you have friends who have fallen silent? Is your spouse, child, or significant other hesitant to talk about these issues? There are countless voices that are waiting to be heard.