2013 – nothing like a summary

Not a single post in 2013? What does that tell you? Well – maybe it was just more of a private year than others. And maybe we were re-creating ourselves……  And maybe our energy was being focused elsewhere. And maybe, well, maybe I just didn’t want to blog. Sometimes you don’t want to share your daily experiences, thoughts, and activities with the world-wide-web. And that’s ok too.

Without a doubt, the year was dominated with my Mum dying. And that’s so personal, and so hard, that I don’t want to say much more about it. But to not mention it would be like the way I meet people on the street – and they know – but they don’t say anything. And all I want them to say is “sorry to hear about your Mum”, so I can say back “thanks”. And then we move on. It doesn’t have to get any heavier than that. But it does need to be acknowledged.

We had highlights as well though, mostly around being in New Zealand and developing our lives here. Here are four:

1. Andy started a business: Aloft Alone – a system for safely climbing – and descending – your mast alone (“won’t let you down until you want it to”). It’s based on techniques used by climbers but with some extra thought put into application to a yacht’s mast. It was launched at the Auckland Boat Show…. the most interesting thing for me was how many women were excited about it: complete independence for them if they want to climb a mast, and no more need to either be winched up, or winch some else up, a mast!

2. I got a job as senior lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington. I have found a partner-in-crime, Rebecca Priestley, and together we have established a new group called Science in Context – research, teaching, and talking about science. It’s fun. We have put together a suite of online undergraduate courses that explore some aspect of science and society, carry out research into science communication and history of science, and are involved in the development of various conferences, workshops, outreach activities, and events.

3. Andy and Baltazar joined the Oil Free Seas Flotilla, at the end of which he celebrated his 40th birthday:


4. And I had an opportunity to give a TEDx talk about Sailing, Tsunamis, and Climate Change:


Finally, we’ve just had a wonderful – and important – holiday with my family (brother, sister-in-law, and dad), and look forward to Andy’s parents visiting later this year. And who knows.. I might just feel like writing again.

Wishing you all a rich and rewarding 2014.


Mary Poppins

I have had a few Mary Poppins moments in my life – I remember them clearly. The wind changes and, as quickly as I arrived, I’m gone. New friends say “you’re leaving? for good? just like that?” like it’s somehow related to them. A rejection. Michael and Jane’s little faces when Mary leaves. But it’s not that at all. Bert – he knows they’ll meet again. And what a good time they’ll have when they do.

Last week I came home and knew. The wind had changed. All my furniture had gone, my kitchen equipment, the dining room table, and chairs, even the fridge. I sat in the middle of the now-large empty living room, on the floor, and knew. “I guess it’s time to Mary Poppins out of here”. And so I did.

The house has treated me well. Really well. The first time we’ve had a land-base for o so long. A place where we can welcome visitors, grow food, store (and accumulate) stuff comfortably, and listen to birdsong in the morning. A place that is in exactly the same state upon return as it was left. A place to call one’s own.

The work was fantastic too – and NZ IceFest a real success. Huge thanks to Antarctica New Zealand and Christchurch City Council Events for bringing me into the fold. It was a blast. Something for everyone: an immersive art installation, an ice rink, two bars, comedy, music, a magical-looking site, a kids programme, posh dinners and cocktail parties, an Air Force open day, and a science programme too. For my part (responsible for the science and outreach components), I’m pleased with what was delivered – over 100 “real Antarcticans” in a wide range of talks and discussions – about 30 in all – spread over a month. Topical debates, chat-show style interviews, timeless Antarctic Yarns, and the southernmost Café Scientifique, three times a week… all with really engaging speakers. And lots of positive feedback. I’ll write more about the festival, and post some pictures, anon. For a taster of events, you can listen to the IceFest podcasts thanks to Veronika Meduna at Radio New Zealand National.

Now, somehow, I’ve found myself in Wellington, on our boat, surrounded by bags. That’s where Mary Poppins pips me – she has that magical bottomless bag. You don’t see her packing and unpacking and agonizing over logistics of how to get boat, car, bike, bags, and people all to the same place, effortlessly, and with sanity in tact. She remains my hero though, and I strive to achieve her dizzy heights of boundless carefreeness, balanced by thrilling efficacy, in appropriate measure.

My next job has already begun, but I’m excited to launch myself into it properly. All sorts of projects around putting science in context, and conversations around science: University courses, public engagement activities, building networks,  tailored events, workshops, research and relevance… there are so many opportunities and ideas when you open that can that it’s both exciting and also a little scary. I thank the Faculty of Science at Victoria University of Wellington for not trying to put me in a box.

First, however, and most importantly, my parents are in the country and it’s time to go and spend some good, quality time together. That, without a doubt, is priority number one.

Conkers grow upside down

Who knew – conkers grow upside down.

It’s been a long time since I was in the garden. At all.
Occasionally I go out back to pick a lettuce leaf or two for my sandwich – and that’s always a joy – but that’s about my only reason to go out there. That, and to empty the compost bin: a weekly event. And it’s now far too cold to hang out washing on the line. This is Christchurch, in winter.

But today I went a-weedin. And what did I find there, amidst the jungle of green? That’s right – lettuces! And purple kale! And poppy plants. And I have no idea where the rhubarb has got to. And sprouted conkers.

Who knew – they grow upside down! I’m sure I was meant to pull them up (I’m reasonably confident that my landlord doesn’t want three fully grown horse chestnuts in his vegetable patch) but I just didn’t have the heart. Conker trees are dying all across the UK and I’m asked to willfully stop these ones from having a chance? I don’t the think we want them here (non-native species), so can I dig them up and post them home? Is New Zealand a repository of healthy conkers, like South Georgia is for healthy [Norwegian] reindeer?

I’m having a homealone day. Check out my teapot. Says it all. Drinking litres of hot lemon in an attempt to convince my body that I’m not gestating anything more than a sound dose of hypochondria.

It’s good to have a homealone day though – seems like an age since I had nothing planned and nowhere to be. Or do. Ever noticed how a head cold makes everything that mattered yesterday entirely unimportant today?

Andy and I have both been busily getting on with whatever we do with our days, and continuing to be in different places most of the time. But the good news is that he’s heading this way. This morning he and a mate set off in S/V Baltazar. They left the Bay of Islands (north of NZ) and are heading south.

As I was weeding I started daydreaming. How delicious it will be, when he’s here, to nonchalantly say, “honey, could you please go out back and pick some lettuce leaves for  dinner?” Like it’s the most normal thing in the world.

Light Me Up!

View Baltazar in a larger map

I had the 3am to 6am watch last night. At about 5.40am this morning, about 30 minutes before sunrise, i was looking up at the stars when something strange caught my eye to the south.
Two lights traveling in tandem, at first i thought it was a plane but quickly decided not, then a satellite but its rare to see them so close-  in fact i don’t think i have ever seen two together. I’m guessing the lights were some 700 meters apart but difficult to tell when judging distance with stars.
As i watched, I realized they were not traveling like satellites arcing high through the sky but were coming towards me from roughly 20 degrees above the horizon. This continued for about 7 to 10 seconds when they became intensely bright like car headlights. Just as i was thinking ‘what the and wow’ they appeared not exactly to stop but to retreat, moving
rapidly towards the west and gaining in altitude. I lost sight of them due west at about 60 degrees above the horizon and finally fading into the background of stars. The whole time remaining perfectly in tandem.The whole event took about twenty seconds.

And i was only saying just that morning amazing how we haven’t seen a
single ship this whole trip!


The sun is rising across the lagoon and the cocks crow, morning has broken on as calm an anchorage as there ever was. We arrived yesterday evening, dropped anchor drank one beer and went ashore. The combination of sea legs and the beer gave the impression that the three of us had been drinking all night swaying and lurching from side to side…We
decided to stop after a couple of hundred meters and lean against a fence…Only for it to be a gate, and to collapse backwards under us,

The three amigos then found ourselves on our backs staring at the sky….laughing…Found a lovely lady to make us Steak and chips and that was all, she wrote.

Mitch’s girl arrives in two days so we are likely to be here for 15 odd days…. (Haaaa Rhian and i said that two years ago and stayed for 7 weeks..) The plan then is one more stop 700nm west the island of Ravavi then direct to NZ..But for now the boat is still..