Wednesday, November 26, 2014


We came to the Gambier expecting nothing transcendent.  For months we had been hearing the same thing from people in the position to know – most notably a couple of public health nurses who work all over French Polynesia – that the people of Mangareva, the main island in the Gambier, are "special".

"Special" sounded pretty good.  Until out informants told us that they meant "special" as in especially difficult.

There are introduced berries on Mangareva.  You can tell
Elias is really an Alaskan kid by how excited he gets
about picking them
Travel, to us, means getting down with the local people to whatever extent our language skills and stamina might allow.  So a place like the Gambier (that's GAM-bee-EHH, all you American and Australian mononglot apes) where the Polynesian magic is supposed to be long since erased – by tourism, by the once-booming culture of black pearls, by too many yachts, by whatever – we naturally look on a place like that as a stepping stone to somewhere else.

One day's haul
And the pie his mom baked
But, it always works out this way.  If we come somewhere expecting little, we find a lot to like.

I want to reach to the hackneyed language that sports enthusiasts use to describe the latest 17-yr old phenom - the Gambier is a incredible physical specimen.  It is a wonderful example of the remote tropical island – a high volcanic island well on its way to becoming an atoll.  High mountains scattered here and there and surrounded by a mostly-submerged reef. 

There are heaps of anchorages to explore, which is a real change after being tied to the quai in Rapa.  There are tracks up the hills.  And the hills are just the right scale – steep and impressive-looking from the deck of your boat, but small enough for an eight-year-old to happily tramp to the top of.

Just the right scale
After all the social interaction in Ra'ivavae and Rapa we're happy to tend our own garden for a bit, and we've made precious little attempt to get down with the locals.  But there is a nice company of like-minded sailors here – our old friends on Hera, a delightful Kiwi couple who are also heading to Valdivia, and with whom we have a ton of friends in common, and a smattering of French boats that are mostly taking a break – for months or for years – from the peripatetic life.

It'll do for us.

Another milestone - the boys' first unaccompanied dinghy
trip together.
One eye on the passage ahead - what's left in those
food lockers, anyway?

And, meanwhile, having another Chile-bound boat for company has brought our excitement at this next grand chapter to a boil.

The weather is looking great for the passage.  The southeast Pacific high looks to be very well set up, which has established a huge area of counter-clockwise winds over this part of the world.  All we have to do is to get a thousand nautical miles – in round numbers – south of here, and then we should have beautiful westerlies to carry us on our way.

The trick, of course, is getting across those thousand miles, many of them with no wind at all…

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.