Friday, November 21, 2014

Australia - France

The French national team beat Australia at rugby this week.

France (l) chases Australia (r)
You might have missed that result.  We would have, except that we found ourselves in the company of two rugby fans - one French, one Kiwi - on the day the match was broadcast here in the Gambier.

A couple days later, the enormity of this outcome finally sank in.

"How could France be any good at rugby?" I asked Alisa.  We were in the comfortable confines of the Marital Seabunk, enjoying the sleepy 15 minutes of independence that we enjoy every day, between the time the boys go to sleep and the time when we nod off.

"I mean," I continued, warming to my theme, "it seems to suggest that there's something lacking in my understanding of France.  Or of rugby."

Alisa didn't have much to contribute on the theme, so I went on.

"Think about it.  France is good at so many things.  And Australia is good at so few.  And then France went and beat Australia at one of the few things Australia is good at.  Hardly seems fair."

This picture, and below - the boys discovering their rugby roots with a Kiwi
enthusiast and a French enthusiast on Taravai Island, the Gambier.  I was
safely on board Galactic, doing some science thing or another

The boys couldn't have enjoyed it more

Thursday, November 20, 2014

How Many Sailing Days Until Xmas?

So, what could be more fun than Christmas with kids who are still young enough to believe in Santa Claus?

Nothing, I warrant.  I just totally love it.

This year, though, there's a kicker.  We find ourselves sitting in the Gambier, looking ahead at the 3,900 nautical mile passage (by the great circle route, which is the shortest route, of course) that will take us on to Chile.

We'll be ready to leave…soon.  The boat is in quite good nick (touch wood!).  I just have to...finish…up…a…few…more…science…tasks…before…we…can…leave.  It is always thus, lately.

The weather is looking great, with a big stable high sitting between us and South America, all set to give us westerly winds once we get south of it.

The trouble might be that the high is so stable that we might find ourselves waiting around for a change in the weather that will allow us to sail to the other side.  December 25th could be suddenly looking close at hand.  And Santa hasn't done his shopping yet.

Our first reaction was to do what parents in our culture are meant to do - worry.  We have always told the boys that Santa can find us no matter where our boat is.  So it wouldn't do to have Santa short on gifts.

But on reflection, we think that things will work out.  We have a couple of gifts that were meant for birthdays but were held back because the pile of loot was too big for a kid living on a boat (in Elias' case) or because the birthday boy had been having behavioral problems that we weren't going to compound with over-giving (in Eric's).  And we've got a few chocolates and bouncy-balls from the magasin in Ra'ivavae, and Alisa is going to print up a collage of all of the pictures of Elias catching fish that we took this last year, and she will make Eric a dream-catcher (he's been prone to getting up in the middle of the night lately), and…what more could you want?

The boys will be totally happy, wherever Christmas might find us - especially since Alisa has a knack for baking treats to make any holiday special.

I have heard enough heart-warming tales of the benefits of raising kids afloat to be a little cynical about the whole thing, and I realize that it's impossible, and unwise, to try to raise your kids cut off from the larger world.  But it is true that raising the boys on the boat has in some ways given them an extremely traditional upbringing, at least in terms of how close they are to us, and how insulated from materialism.

But, more than anything about child rearing, I think that this episode of planning for Santa-at-sea has underscored the real lesson of the life afloat.  Which is that so many things are a problem only if you decide they are.

Friday, November 14, 2014


Back row, l-r: Arnold, Michel Jr., Johnny.  Middle row: Lucie, Alisa,
Jackye, Jane, Michel Sr.  Front row: Elias, Arnold Jr. (Manu!), Eric, Hanavae (sp!)
This is our third trip across the Pacific, and we have been lucky enough to visit many islands in Polynesia.

Rapa made us feel like we were seeing Polynesia for the first time.  Or like we were finally seeing the real thing.

I have a lot more to say about Rapa.  But a blog is a document that lives in the present, and now that we are happily in the Gambier, events will soon overtake Rapa memories in this space.
The va'a paddle.  Is regret a particularly Polynesian emotion?
Before that happens, though, I've got a few more good Rapa posts in me – starting at the end, with our goodbye.

A cross-cultural disconnect in the middle of it all.  Alisa to Jackye (having
scrubbed out our takeaway food containers from the day before so they
could be re-used, just as American yachties do: "Here, can you use these?"
Jackye: "Why are you giving these to me?"

Elias getting in one last session on the fish book with Johnny.
The boys in their hats, getting down
with some Rapan nectarines

We have left hundreds of places behind over the last seven years, and it's enough of a circus to organize crew and boat to go to sea without some landlubbers staring down from the dock, waiting to wave goodbye.  Or worse yet, trying to help.  So our normal routine is to say our brief farewells ashore the day before we leave, and then to slink away whenever we finally get ready.

That is not an option in Rapa.  That is clearly a place where good manners demand that friends be offered the chance to say bon voyage as you depart.  And so, I now realize, it's probably good manners to do the same everywhere in Polynesia.

So we spread the word that we were leaving at 0600 the next day.

Here, and below: previous scenes.  Arnold Jr. (Manu!), Eric
and Lucie after an impromptu fishing session on the quai

And Arnold showing me some chops on the kamaka
Johnny Faraire was the first to show up – and he handed me the va'a paddle I had been using on the island as a farewell gift.  Which floored me, although he had given me warning a couple days earlier that he would do that.

I had some tuna hooks for him.  But just now, as I am writing this, I wish I had thought, in that electric moment of leaving, to go back to the stern rail where our trolling rod was lashed in place for going to sea, and handed that to him. 

That would have been the Polynesian thing to do.

But, alas, we live in the moment, and have to live with the decisions we make on the fly.

Jackye, Jane and Alisa on our last full day in Rapa, in the community hall
where we had previously attended crowded, happy scenes of celebration.
Just us this last time, and we were there because...
Jane and Michel were shouting us lunch.  Us and the kids and Jane, Michel,
Jackye and Johnny sat down at this private table, laid with food that women
were making for takeaway sale in the village.  Poisson cru, taro, a delicious dish
of raw tuna and fermented coconut that I never learned the name for,
chow mein, fried chicken, bread.  Etc., etc.!
Elias, getting down with the local Fanta
Jackye and Jane brought down Rurutu-style hats for the boys, and necklaces for all of us.  Everyone had a cup of coffee on Galactic.

I had been concerned that we had not managed to tell Arnold and Lucie that we were leaving.  Johnny managed to come up with their phone number and, faster than you might believe possible, Arnold and Lucie and Arnold Junior (Manu!) were at the boat, still looking very sleepy.

Arnold gave me a necklace and leaned in for a whiskery buss.  Which gave me the key for how to comport myself with Johnny and Michel Senior. 

It was the peak Gallic moment of my life.

After kisses and nanas all around, it was time for us to shove off.  We got the main up, then made a pass by the dock for a final wave, and saw that two of Elias' mates from many afternoon plays on the quai had come out with their mom to wave.

And then we sailed away from Rapa, most likely forever.

Final waves

And, all means what, exactly?

Well, I can only think that Rapa resonated so strongly with us because the people there showed us the living embodiment of an approach to life that so many Westerners aspire to.

Things that Westerners pay lip service to - like living in the moment, and being generous, and not being shackled to a life that serves material possession - are everywhere in evidence in Rapa.

As always with my travel interactions, I'm keen not to see these people as abstract utopian beings.  They're complex people, with their faults and their talents, just like us.  Shortly before we arrived in Rapa, there was the most horrible tragedy you could imagine, involving sudden death and some of the more hopeless themes of human existence.  Rapa is very much a place of the real world.

But people on Rapa treated us - strangers who could not speak with most of them - with an incredible grace.  And that welcome made it hard for us, the always-a-little-confused visitors, not to see Rapa as this incredible remote bit of the world where people have learned to lead life in a way that's just a little bit more beautiful than what people have struck on in other places.

I suppose that's what's kept us coming back to Polynesia over and over again.

For some reason Alisa and I found this picture so funny.  Me, sailing away
from Rapa, wondering what the hell just happened