Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Finally, after six days, it was time for us to leave Suwarrow. We’ve been moving steadily for the last year and two months, and it’s starting to feel as if our strange fate is to forever find fantastic places and then leave them before we’re quite ready. I for one am beginning to look forward to finding some place that we like in Australia and just staying there for a few months.

John made quite a show of being downcast when I said we would be leaving, and we had kisses all around with him and Veronica when we made our goodbyes. We really enjoyed their company, and we like to think that they enjoyed ours. Our obvious appreciation for the bird colony that they took us to seemed to go far towards endearing us to John. We got a great feel for the Cook Islands from these three Cook Islanders that we met: Stella from Palmerston, John from Manihiki and Veronica from Puka Puka. A lot of the Cook Islands are very difficult to visit with a yacht, as the anchorages tend to come in two kinds, poor and non-existent. But of course that also makes them all the more alluring, as yacht visits are rare events in those places, and not the constant parade of short-term visits that other islands get.

Suwarrow was our only visit to the Cooks on this time around, but for the first time we began to smell the allure of a loop through the western tropical Pacific during some other Austral winter yet to come. All that remains to be seen, of course. We got quite a strong bittersweet feeling as we pulled the hook, waved goodbye to the fun people we had met on other boats, and motored away from Anchorage Island, as likely as not for the last time in our lives. We put up a reefed main and shot out through the pass, and then we were sailing out north of Suwarrow on perfectly blue twelve foot South Pacific seas, watching the motus going by one by one to port, including Brushwood Island, and the huge breakers on the reef as the waves came upon it unsuspectingly from the profound depths of the open ocean. We made the northern tip of the atoll and gybed, then worked our way past the motus of the western side. The breeze was fresh, and we sailed along perfectly. It was time for Alisa to check in on the Pacific Seafarers’ net, then time to eat dinner, and we gave ourselves up to the consolation of the passage, that time that we steal for ourselves alone with the purity of the open ocean.

The breeze stayed fresh for days. I stood behind the wheel for hours, both night and day, looking out over the endlessly changing plain to the horizon. We wondered if we would hit the South Pacific Convergence Zone, where we might reasonably expect thunderstorms and other rough weather. We did finally hit it, a vast band of clouds that took Pelagic two days and a night to sail past, but we never got anything worse than a downpour, though the radar returns from squalls kept us from using the radar alarm to warn us of ships, so we stayed up through the night, keeping watch. The wind stayed fresh behind us, pushing us along towards Tonga, insistently.

For days we had been explaining to Elias about presents, and cake, and singing, and the other components of a birthday party. Then August 5th rolled around, and we celebrated his second birthday, on passage from Suwarrow to Vava’u. Alisa made a chocolate cake.

Eli had carrot cake for his first birthday, and he found the switch to chocolate to be to his liking. Here he is, watching Alisa cut his slice.

Then he opened presents, and he was very pleased with his books and his airplane. (He already has long passages of Make Way for Ducklings by heart.)

He still answers “birthday cake!” when we ask hin what’s in his belly.

We almost made it to Vava’u, our target island in Tonga, on Saturday, the 9th of August, the day before my birthday. But the twenty knot trades that had made the passage so fast finally died on us, and we spent the night making two long downwind tacks that brought us to the north side of the island just at dawn. I was amazed how much Vava’u looked like Afognak Island, in Alaska, at least from a distance.

No business is conducted on Sunday in Tonga, so we couldn’t check into the country. We were supposed to proceed straight to the customs dock and wait there, without leaving the boat, until we could check in on Monday. But sailing past all the beautiful tropical anchorages of Vava’u to tie up at the rusty, dirty customs dock in the main town, Neiafu, was not how we wanted to end our seven hundred mile passage. So we went on stealth mode and tucked into a beautiful little anchorage, in fifteen feet of turquoise water off of an uninhabited island in the little world of islands and channels that nestles within the arms of Vava’u. We felt honor-bound not to go on shore before checking in, but we did both go snorkeling right from the boat, over a little fringing reef that was home to some fish species that we never saw in French Polynesia. I came out of the water and let the saltwater dry onto my skin in the heat. Birds were singing in the trees on the island, which made me realize how much I had missed birdsong in French Polynesia, where landbird communities are so poor. It was a lush and beautiful spot, completely new to us and particularly sharp to our senses after six days at sea. “Everyone should turn forty in Tonga,” I said to Alisa.

Then it was time for the main event.

I had been up since 0300 bringing the boat in to land, and I was having trouble keeping up with Elias, who was, as always, perfectly rested.

But I rallied to blow out the candles.

Eli couldn’t believe his good fortune when he saw Alisa cutting him yet another piece of cake.

And I got the Speedo that I’ve been wanting ever since we reached the tropics.

It was a great birthday.

The next morning we tried to figure out what time it was, so that we would be sure of presenting ourselves to officialdom during working hours. Tonga is thirteen hours off of GMT, we read in our Lonely Guide.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” I said to Alisa. “How can any place be more than twelve hours away from any other place in the world?”

We consulted a cruising guide that told us that Tonga’s motto is “The place where time begins,” or some such silly thing. And even though we were just shy of 174° W, and thus far from 180°, where you might expect the dateline to be, we had, in fact crossed the dateline when we entered Tongan waters. So we went straight from August 9th to August 11th.

“So we were hiding out on a Monday, and we could have checked in right away,” I said to Alisa.

“So we celebrated your birthday on the wrong day.”

“We missed it completely!”

And so, though I am forty years old, I have only had thirty nine birthdays.

Everyone should turn forty in Tonga.

Brushwood Island

John and Veronica organized the outing to Brushwood Island for all the yachts visiting Suwarrow. They graciously made room for us in the park skiff, along with the crew of Momo, an American boat with two young girls as crew, the first Americans we’ve met who have sailed with such young crew (their younger daughter was born while they were living on the boat in Mexico). Here are John and Veronica and two of their kids and Michelle from Momo on the way out to the island. Everyone else followed in their own dinghies.

Brushwood Island is a typical atoll island, a low motu made of coral. John explained that it is low enough that cyclone-generated waves periodically sweep right over it in the summer, which keeps the rat population down, and allows birds to nest here. The birds nest in and under the vegetation on the island. The first thing that you notice on going ashore is the tons and tons of sooty terns, both on the ground and on the wing.

There’s a school of thought that before humans showed up with rats, almost every scrap of land in Polynesia was this densely packed with seabirds during the nesting season. The South Pacific would have been a very different place, with millions of birds feeding in spots where we now see a hundred. Most of these sooty terns were recently-fledged juveniles. Here’s a picture of a juvenile (on the right) begging from an adult.

The juveniles were pretty clueless, in the way that newly-fledged birds often are, and very curious about the visitors to their island.

The little girls from Momo, meanwhile, couldn’t get enough of Elias.

There were also a lot of red-tailed tropicbirds around, both adults…

…and chicks.
The tropicbirds nested underneath low-hanging vegetation. It was fun to see how the nesting habitat of the different species was seperate, with boobies (brown boobies?) nesting on the ground in the open…

…and lesser frigatebirds nesting in the tops of trees and shrubs.

We’re used to seeing the same sort of niche differentiation at Alaskan seabird colonies, but there it’s the division between birds nesting on top of the cliffs, on the cliffs, and below the cliffs.

We also saw some fairy terns, and I was very keen to see their eggs or chicks, as, if I have it right, they just lay an egg in the crook of a tree branch without building any nest at all, and raise their chicks in that precarious way. But we only saw adults.

We wandered around for a while, then found a spot to just sit and soak it all in. There were always lots of sooty terns around.

And Elias practised his running, as he always does while ashore.

We could have sat there, well, for days, with appropriate rest breaks. But the others were ready to go sooner than that. My flip flops had exploded, so Alisa carried our whole kit back to the boat.
Where we joined everyone else for the ride back to Anchorage Island.

Suwarrow, and Suwarrow, and Suwarrow

I’m not one to quote Shakespeare. It feels forced, since I don’t really know enough of the Bard for him to inform my everyday thinking, except in that background way in which a writer can structure your opinion about important things, even after you’ve forgotten the stories and characters.

But (methinks), this is an exception. You see, the famous atoll of Suvarov, in the northern Cook Islands, was discovered for Europe by the Russians, and so got a Russian name: “SOO-va-roff”, from my English—speaking tongue. But after the Cook Islands took on self-rule, “Suvarov” was changed to “Suwarrow” to achieve consistency with Cook Island Maori. The three Cook Islanders whom I have met all pronounced Suwarrow as “Soo-WAH-roh”, rhyming with “tomorrow.” And that brings me to the only bit of Macbeth that I know, besides “out, out, damn spot”, this soliloquy of Macbeth’s, a copy of which is taped up over the chart table on Pelagic:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Cheerful stuff, you might say, but there it is. “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day” is a big part of the reason that Alisa and Elias and I find ourselves living on a sailboat in the South Pacific, far from kith and kin. I guess that what we’ve been doing for the last year, acting on a dream, is our best collective answer to the question of what we should be doing with this life that we find ourselves in the middle of, after we’ve given up on what Dostoevsky saw as the irrepressible urge to kneel down before something, anything, greater than ourselves.

Dreams have always tended to die young, as the requirements of earning a way in the world are inimical to the more misty-eyed, romantic view of life that dreaming implies. But the paucity of dreams, and their reduced shelf life, are particularly glaring in our own society and generation. Given the complete state of satiation for both necessities and frills that so many of us find ourselves in, it’s ghastly how mercantile our yearnings tend to be. We dream of buying things, we dream of ways to make money. It might be a certain French respect for dreams, and for lives organized around self-evident principles, that informs our recent Francophilia. And it is definitely the example of one man’s dreams realized that makes Suwarrow such a unique place.

Tom Neale was a Kiwi who lived in the Societies and the Cooks for much of his life, and who acted on his dream of living on a deserted island during three long stretches that he spent on Suwarrow during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. His book about his time on the island, An Island to Oneself, is still in print, and is a classic read for anyone with a touch of the starry-eyed romantic about them. The magnitude of recent change in the world is really brought home when you read Tom’s book and see how much lonelier the South Pacific was during his stay on the island. Tom had no communication with the world outside of Suwarrow, and during his first stay he went thirteen months without seeing any ships or boats or airplanes. When he suffered a debilitating back injury he was saved by the very timely arrival of only the second yacht to visit in the his first twenty months on the island. He returned to the capitol of the Cook Islands to recover, but when he was well again he couldn’t return to Suwarrow because the Cook Island government had forbidden inter-island traders from dropping him off, and it took him six years to find a private yacht willing to take him – there were that few yachts traveling the Pacific in the fifties. Nowadays it would take him six days to find a yacht willing to make the trip. Even during his last stay, in the seventies, when the word was out about the friendly hermit of Suwarrow, making the island a sought-after destination for yachts crossing the Pacific, the most yachts every visiting Suwarrow in an entire year was 17.

There were more yachts than that anchored up in Suwarrow on one day in 2008, and Pelagic was one of them.

At first the relatively crowded state was a bit of a let down. We were just finishing an idyllic passage, which always sets us up for a bit of a buzz kill when we finally reach land. And then of course Suwarrow was a symbol of solitude to us. So even though we expected there to be a lot of boats, arriving still made us miss Alaska, where we can count on having some of the more spectacular places of the world all to ourselves. Here is our view of Anchorage Island, where Tom lived:

Also sharing the anchorage was the Søren Larsen, built as a single-masted Baltic trader in 1949, now converted to a brigantine and carrying passengers around the western tropical Pacific. With a length on deck of 105 feet, the Søren Larsen definitely qualifies as a ship in the sailing world, though Alisa and I have been on commercial fishing vessels in Alaska that are much bigger, but still called boats.
By our great good fortune, the Søren Larsen happened to have on board Tom Neale’s daughter Stella. When we first went ashore Stella was cooking for a party that night for the crew and passengers of the Søren Larsen. She was cooking in an umu, an underground oven heated by a fire covered in volcanic rocks. Stella was cooking yellowtail tuna, uto, which is the meat from a sprouted coconut, and pana uto, which is bread made from uto. “I hate pana uto when it’s to hard,” she said, “but then I always go and make it too soft. I’m a bit nervous, this is the first umu I’ve done without my mum around. The island ladies never really tell you how to do it, they just expect you to follow their example.” Stella turned out to be an easy person to get to know, perhaps in contrast to her dad, who though apparently very friendly was, after all, a hermit. “Are you coming tonight?” Stella asked us when we made our goodbyes.

We rallied that evening, despite our short sleep the night before we made landfall, and we rowed back to the island with a bowl of Alisa’s peanut sauce pasta to contribute to the meal. We had expected to be subsumed in the yachtie scrum, but found that only one other yacht crew was in attendance, otherwise it was just people from the Søren Larsen and John and Veronica Samuela, the island caretakers, and their four kids, and a Kiwi who was on the island to count birds. So it was a great chance to meet the owners of the Søren Larsen, Steve and Rosie, and to talk with Stella and John and Veronica. I also chatted up Reese, who had been doing the bird counts for the previous two weeks. He told me that the most numerous birds on the atoll were sooty terns, at sixty to seventy thousand individuals, and that between five and seven percent of the global population of lesser frigate birds and red-tailed tropicbirds also nest on the atoll.

Alisa and I have been waiting for a long time to run into biologists working in one of the fantastic places that we’ve been visiting. Even though Reese protested that he was actually a microbiologist, and only doing these bird counts as an avocation, he fit the bill perfectly, as he and I drank a beer in front of the fire and chatted about this weird evolutionary strategy or that.

We stayed long enough to join in just a little of the traditional Cook Islands dancing that broke out after dinner, led by Stella and John. And then it was time to get Elias to bed. When we had him successfully transferred to his bunk, Alisa and I took stock.

“That was fun,” Alisa said.

“What a difference from last night, when we were hove to and a little queasy and all alone on the big big ocean.”

“Who’d think we’d have fun hanging out with passengers on a glorified cruise ship?”

It was the start of a fun social week. Who would have guessed that Suwarrow, the place that is famous for its former isolation, would turn out to be such a social place? It helped that most of the boats anchored there were new to us, so we got to meet some fresh faces after having been with many of the same boats all the way from Mexico to the Societies. And I think that the it really helped to have the spirit of Tom Neale about the place. His experience continues to make Suwarrow a special place. If it were just another tropical island for us yachties to visit, we’d all process our experience separately, either doing the work of discovering the place for ourselves, or glomming on to the conventional wisdom about the quality of the fishing, or the beauty of the coral relative to the Tuamotus, or whatever. But because of Tom, Suwarrow represents something: the chance that still existed, within the lifetime of almost everyone in the anchorage, to reclaim a bit of the Garden of Eden, to experience the world innocent of the grosser impositions of our fellow humans, a chance that is now either gone or very much more difficult to find. For all of us who have put together enough power of will to get ourselves all the way out here on our little plastic sailboats, the example of a dream realized is a powerful one.

The next few days were too windy for us to venture out to any of the other motus, so we spent our time on Anchorage Island. Alisa and Stella hit it off, and Stella told us how on her mother’s side she was a Marsters from Palmerston Island, a direct descendant of William Marsters, an Englishman who ran a copra operation on Palmerston in the late 19th century, and who proceeded to populate the island with the descendants of himself and his three wives. We also spent time talking with John and Veronica, the caretakers. John looked like a Cook Island version of an American Colonial gentleman, with his curly hair pulled back in a stubby pony tail and tied off with a green silk ribbon, a receding chin, splayed teeth, and a habit of blinking when he talked. He took an obvious concern over the conservation of Suwarrow. He carefully explained his approach to enforcing the national park rules. “The last caretaker showed people how to catch birds, but we don’t do that. No touching the birds, no touching bird eggs, not at all. If someone needs a fish to eat that night, I tell them OK, go fishing. But there was a boat here before, they caught a lot of fish, they knew the method for catching grouper very well, they caught seven or eight big grouper in an hour, and I went out and told them, that’s it, no more fishing. I don’t want Suwarrow to become a sport fishing park.” John also told us about the six big commercial fishing boats (“Korean, we think”) that Google Earth photographed in Suwarrow during the last cyclone season, when there was no caretaker on the island.

Alisa formed a quick friendship with Veronica, and learned a lot from her about Cook Island life. She took the chance to enlarge upon her cross-cultural survey of breast feeding habits, and found that Cook Islanders wean late; Veronica nursed her first son until he was five. We are always a little unsure how breastfeeding in public will be seen in the various places that we visit, and this news made Alisa’s life on Anchorage Island very relaxed, as no one thought twice about a nearly two year old nursing. Veronica also formed a quick bond with Eli.

Here are some of the ways in which we enjoyed ourselves on Anchorage Island.

We also, as always, did some work on the boat, as well as the endless work of washing diapers and fixing meals. We pulled in to Suwarrow with a faulty wind vane (the mechanical autopilot that we rely on for steering during passages). A bushing had worked loose so that a shaft at the very heart of the mechanism was banging back and forth. We sailed the last two hundred miles of the passage with vice grips holding the whole thing together. We didn’t have a spare bushing, but a boat we’d never met before Suwarrow graciously gave us a new one, and we were back in business. I took the chance to replace several other bushings and bearings while I was at it:

The wind had been blowing in the low 20s this whole time, with steep wind waves in the anchorage, enough so that another boat called us up and asked if we’d like a ride ashore in their outboard-powered skiff, as they had assumed that we weren’t able to make it ashore in our row boat. Rowing back and forth to Anchorage Island was actually fine, if slow, but visiting the other islands in the atoll was out of the question. Then the wind finally came down, and John the caretaker, knowing that Alisa and I were very interested in the nesting seabirds of Suwarrow, offered to organize a visit to Brushwood Island. And that’s where I’ll pick up next time.

But before I sign off, I’ll note that the great sailor Bernard Moitissier, who is considered a bit of a hero on board Pelagic, visited Suwarrow several times in the 1970s and formed a close friendship with Tom Neale. It was Bernard who placed the memorial plaque at the top of this entry after Tom had died.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Passage to Suwarrow

Well, here we are in Neiafu, Vava'u, Kingdom of Tonga. Lots has been happening, of course. Elias had his second birthday since our last blog post, and I tried, but failed, to have my 40th. Tonga seems to be very much our kind of place, and we were lucky enough to arrive in time for the celebration of the coronation of the new king, a truly Once In a Lifetime event, as the last coronation was 48 years ago or so. More on all that later. For now I'll pick up the thread as Pelagic is about to set out from the Societies.


Almost every yacht traversing the South Pacific finishes their cruise of French Polynesia in the western Society Islands, either Bora Bora or Raiataea. The next stop on the westward route is the Cook Islands, a self-governing Polynesian nation that is in close association with New Zealand. The Cooks are composed of northern and southern archipelagos that are separated by about five hundred miles of open ocean, and many of the islands are without good anchorages, which makes the nation more of a place to pass through than a real cruising destination. The main cruising route from the Societies goes through Rarotonga, the administrative center in the southern group, and then on to the nations of Niue and Tonga. A smaller number of boats go to the northern group, and thence typically to the Samoan Islands (half a US dependency, half an independent nation).

With the cyclone-free season rapidly waning, we weren’t interested in giving up time in Tonga and Fiji in order to visit Samoa. But there is an island in the northern Cooks that we were very keen to see. So we chose to make the 700 mile passage from Raiataea to the northern Cooks and then another 700 miles onwards to Tonga, an increase of several hundred miles over the standard southern route to Tonga.

The draw for this extra traveling was the island of Suwarrow, an atoll that is now a Cook Islands National Park and inhabited outside the cyclone season by two caretakers and their kids, and during the cyclone season by nobody at all. Suwarrow was uninhabited for most of the twentieth century, and then for a while was the home of a lone Kiwi, Tom Neale, who was keen and savvy enough to actually pull off the classic dream of living on a deserted tropical island during three long stints on Suwarrow during the fifties, sixties and seventies. The world has changed enough that it would now be impossible to experience the same sort of isolation that Tom did in such an enticing setting. He wrote a very good book about his life on the island that both Alisa and I read. After the Tuamotus we are confirmed connoisseurs of atolls, and reading Tom’s book stirred our imaginations enough that we weren’t going to pass through without a visit to Suwarrow.

The western tropical Pacific has a reputation for generally worse weather than the eastern, and the area west of the Society Islands is known for “enhanced” trade winds of up to 25 knots in July and August. The stories we heard on the ham radio from the boats leaving the Societies in the week before our departure weren’t very encouraging. Boats reported knock downs, damaged rigging and generally unpleasant sailing. Luckily for us, I had revisions to make to a scientific paper that (surprise surprise) I somehow hadn’t gotten to earlier in our stay in French Polynesia. So we spent an extra few days hanging around for me to finish that work, Pelagic slinking around between wifi hotspots on Raiataea where I could download files that I needed and more deserted anchorages in Taha’a, where the gendarmes were less likely to come around asking if any yachties were overstaying their visas (we were!). When I was finally finished, the bad weather was gone. We had the pleasure of sailing off our mooring and sailing all the way out of the pass through the fringing reef around Raiataea on a beautiful sunny day, but when we reached the open ocean we found barely any wind at all. So we pulled into Bora Bora for the night rather than just sit out on the ocean and listen to the sails flap.
Here’s the view of Bora Bora over our stern the next day.

The wind was still very light that next day. We set the spinnaker and main and crept along all day and all night at one to three knots. The next morning we took the main down for a while because it was too heavy to fill in those light breezes and just flapped back and forth, slamming the boom and rigging around and making a nuisance of itself.

We made 57 miles during our first 24 hours our of Bora Bora, and only 95 during the next 24. When we’re booming along we make between 130 and 160 miles in 24 hours. The winds stayed light for days, and when they did come up they were headwinds, out of the west.

Our autopilot has been down since the crossing from Mexico to the Marquesas, so we can only self-steer Pelagic with the windvane, which works only under sail. When we motor we steer by hand. This of course makes us reluctant to motor for any length of time, since the dual tyrannies of being chained to the wheel and raising a one (almost two!) year old are too much to bear. So we were happy to sail along at two or three or four knots, let the windvane do the work, and give up all thought of doing the 700 mile trip in five or six days.

Our reluctance to motor is also evidence of a progression that has overtaken us. We’ve become much more sailors than we were when we left home, and we don’t mind sailing slowly. Even if the autopilot was working flawlessly and diesel was only, say, five dollars a gallon, we would rather sail than motor.

Especially on a trip like the one we were having, where the Pacific was flawless day after day. There were always just enough clouds to be interesting to look at during the day without being so many that the stars or the Milky Way were at all obscured at night. Though the sun was far too strong for us to spend time in the cockpit in the middle of the day, the sea was gentle enough for us to leave hatches and portlights open, so we could retreat down below to the shade and the breeze of the saloon.

The sea looked like this:

And Pelagic sailed along like this:

Every day the sea was empty. For the first six days we saw no ships, no birds, no mammals. One yellowtail tuna came aboard, and three other fish got away. All of our interest and attention were on each other and Elias. The world contracted to the size of our boat. We woke up each day and settled into a routine of just being together. Alisa and I talked for hours about the past and the future. We used the time to talk about other places that we might want to sail to, places where we might want to spend a year living on the boat. And that speaks to another transition that has come along since we left Mexico for the Marquesas. This sailing thing is feeling less and less experimental and more and more our normal way of doing things.

Elias is suddenly much easier to handle on passage. His imagination grows and grows. A seat cushion dragged onto the cabin sole becomes the motor boat that he and his stuffed animals take fishing.
With Elias more able to entertain himself, Alisa was able to get in more sailing on this trip than she has on others. She got to play foredeck ape and maneuver the spinnaker pole through a gybe…
…before she went back to the cockpit to pull the jib around and give me the chance to get this picture, which, with the diapers hanging to dry, perfectly encapsulates the dueling themes of “Motherhood” and “Sailor Mad for Adventure”. If I do say so myself:

One of the greatest compensations of this new life of ours is that trips like this one have become routine events. For days our ears were filled with the murmur of water parting at Pelagic’s bows, the slap of waves on the hull, the rustle of sails that have barely enough wind to hold their shape. We got another view of how vast the world is, much vaster than anyone who stays at home and looks outwards through the internet and TV can ever know. Every night I sat in the cockpit as we slowly moved west, west, west and looked upwards at the perfect celestial canopy, a sight that simultaneously smites us with the intimation of the unimaginable scale of creation, and thrills us with the idea that our imagination might after all be the tool adequate for grasping at it. Every morning I awoke to the wonder of nature that is a one (almost two!) year old who has been refreshed with ten hours of continuous rest and is ready for everything to happen now, immediately, the moment he awakes, and simultaneously to the more soothing sound of Alisa whispering to him, “Quiet, Dad’s still sleeping!”

Our eighth sunset since leaving Raiataea found us just twenty five miles short of Suwarrow. A whale circled the boat, Alisa, Elias and I wordlessly watching its immense form swimming past us fast on one side and then the other, just under water. We hove to, a way of parking the boat when you want to stop making good towards your destination. The wind was coming up and wind waves began to run. Heaving to normally guarantees us a smooth ride, but for some reason the swell and jerk of the waves had Pelagic rolling uncomfortably. Immediately, we were ill at ease and ready to be somewhere else. I stayed up to try to balance the boat at a better angle to the wind and control our rate of drift down towards the island. Alisa went to sleep so that we’d have at least one well-rested adult crew to take care of Elias the next day. She had been fighting against the unpleasant motion while going through a toddler’s whole evening litany of dinner, diaper change, books read aloud, nursing, consolation, and finally, sleep. When I made trips below to plot our position, I didn’t envy Alisa her long stint in the cabin. When Elias finally was asleep she came up to the cockpit and said, “I don’t know if I’m cut out to live on a sailboat long term.”

And that’s how it goes, the mostly good and the occasional bad, hand in hand all the way across the Pacific. When it’s good there’s nothing else that you want to do, ever, and when it’s not so good you remind yourself that nothing lasts.