Tuesday, June 28, 2011


After we'd been socializing on Fatu Hiva and Hiva Oa for a while, we decided that it was time to go to an anchorage with neither town nor village to regroup a bit.  Some Kiwis we met told us about the anchorage at Hananoemoa, on the northern end of Tahuata.  Broad sandy beach, they said.  Clear water. No swell.  We went the next day.  And the reports turned out to be accurate:

(It looks like we had the place to ourselves, but there were actually between four and fifteen other boats there throughout our stay.)

We ended up staying for a week while I worked on edits to the book.

Elias went swimming every day we were there, usually two or three times a day.  He swam off the jupe, he went skin diving with his goggles and flippers, and he played in the surf.

 Throwing a coconut up in the air in the surf is a lot of fun until, inevitably, it lands on your head.

We saw manta rays nearly every day.  If you get in the middle of the patch of plankton that they are feeding on, they will circle back to you over and over, giving you great looks.

If you have to do boat jobs, you might as well do them in your budgie smuggler!

One day we finally got our act together to get all four of us to the beach at once - and Eric slept for the whole time.  Alisa selflessly held him so that Elias and I could play in the surf.

The leeward coast of Tahuata.  We anchored off a village under these cliffs, hoping to get water.  But the trades were billowing over the island in such a way that they were gusting strongly onshore in the anchorage.  We didn't like it, and the book was ready to send back to the editor in Australia anyway.  So we bid a fond farewell to Tahuata and returned to the crowded anchorage of Atuona, on Hiva Oa, in search of water and internet.

The end.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Four Years

Well, today, June 23rd, is the fourth anniversary of the day we sailed away from our home in Kodiak.

On one hand, Alisa and I agree that these four years of travelling have been a complete blur. On the other hand, we also agree that we have a lot to show for that time - friends we never would have met if we'd stayed at home, and a very rich collection of experiences that are the everyday stuff of this life afloat.

We're anchored off the village of Hanaiapa, on the north shore of Hiva Oa. After the crowded anchorages of Atuona and Tahuata, this place is blessedly without another yacht. Getting off the beaten path isn't always hard!

It's a very bucolic little village - brightly-painted outrigger canoes on the cobble beach, well-tended gardens along the single-lane concrete road, fruit growing everywhere. And above the narrow valley, impossibly steep lava cliffs that hem everything in.

Exceptionally friendly people, though without a mutual language we find ourselves incapable of any nuance in our interactions, and it is all too easy to get 'captured' by the first or second person you meet, and to end up with obligations to see that person every visit ashore...

Alisa rose to the occasion for our celebration, as always - pizza for dinner, followed by chocolate cake.

Elias wondered what the fuss was about, though he was happy enough for the cake. What's so special about living on a boat for four years, he wanted to know.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

As Good As It Ever Was

So this was our view from the decks of Galactic in Baie Hanavave, Fatu Hiva, where the mothership came to rest after our twenty days at sea.  This was only the third time that we had every anchored this boat - once in Sausalito, once in Half Moon Bay, and then here.

Elias and I taking our trusty dinghy Smooches for a spin at the end of the day.

I love the Marquesas in an unreserved way.   I love the way that the islands are so remote, so that you reach them after weeks at sea, your senses completely deprived of the reassuring sights and sounds of land for all that time, so that when you reach these islands you are so ready to enjoy everyday things like the sound of the surf on the beach, or the taste of fresh fruit.  I love how clear the light is here, and how forbidding the rain clouds that hang over the mountainous islands, and I love the tradewinds that are always blowing, ready to carry you away when it's time to leave.

I love how friendly the people are, in spite of the fact that there are so many of us yachties anchoring in their bays and walking through their villages.

We spent 42 days in the Marquesas on our last trip across, and Alisa and I were very happy to find ourselves immediately back in the groove once we arrived at Fatu Hiva.  Of course there were pressing jobs to address on the boat, and the killing daily round of child care, and a mountain of passage laundry to wash.  But we ignored these things as best we could (except the child care!) and enjoyed the feeling of being back on land, but in such a foreign place.

The first coconut of the trip!

Hiking to the waterfall - cruising the Marquesas largely seems to boil down to trading for fruit and hiking to various waterfalls - so much so that when locals see yachties wandering around in the bush they immediately ask 'Cascade?' and point you in the right direction.

Jacques is a carver and we traded him for the tiki carving he's holding in his left hand.

Jacques' son gave Elias another carving as a gift - it's wrapped in paper here.  Generosity is a big part of the Marquesan mystique - a woman gives you some fruit just because you are walking by her house with your two boys, and then you come back the next day with a toy for her grandson.  Or you trade a carver for a tiki carving and his son gives your son another carving as a gift.
We began to explore the recreational possibilities of Galactic - here Elias prepares to take the plunge off the jupe.

Elias and I ventured in to the village one night (Alisa drew the short straw and stayed on board with Eric) and we found that holy grail of travel experiences - people practicing some ritual aspect of their culture, not as a performance for visitors, but for themselves.  These eleven drummers were providing the music for a meticulously-choreograhed dance by about thirty villagers.  What a joy that was, to stumble upon Polynesian dance in our first anchorage of the whole trip.  And it was LOUD - I was wondering if it was really responsible for me to expose Elias's ears to so many decibels.

I've always considered travel videos to be the bailiwick of those time-rich souls who are sailing without small children.  But who knows, I may be able to post some footage of the dancing.  For now, though, time to go - we're currently in the 'big city' of Atuona, and, having obtained water and internet, it's time for us to be somewhere else!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Big Blue

It's a long effing way, I said.

I'm glad it's behind us, Alisa said.


I'm not going to try to write about the passage to the Marquesas - I think I nailed it pretty well last time, thank you very much, and it isn't an easy thing to write about.  So this is just a quick rundown...

The first thing to understand about the passage is the planetary scale of it... check out the relative positions of San Diego and the Marquesas here:

That's a trip that's long enough, and remote enough, for the people undertaking it to get to the other side of something in themselves.  My favorite indication of what a momentous trip it really is, and how close to some sort of Mystery the vastness of the sea can still bring people, even in our over-tech age, was the looks on the faces of other sailors who were finishing their passages while we were anchored at Fatu Hiva.  A bigger collection of stupid, rapturous grins you never saw.

Anyway, here are a few tidbits from our 20 days at sea:

Alisa and Elias washing nappies early on - note the warm clothes for 30-something degrees North.  Washing nappies was an every-other-day chore for Alisa.

We got a big surprise with how different four-year-old (nearly five!) Elias was on passage from his three-year-old self.  Keeping him busy was a major part of our routine.  Here he's making damper (Australians will understand) while Alisa makes bread.  This was her other every-other-day chore.

Eric suffered mightily from the heat of the tropics.  He was bathed in sweat every day and every night, and he broke out in an alarming heat rash - this picture fails to convey how uncomfortable it looked.

Our solution to the heat rash was to keep him in the breeze of the cockpit as much as possible - here he's soaking in some precious fresh water in his kiddie pool.

Alisa and the boys.

Sewing the jib in the doldrums.  God, was I sick when this picture was taken - the swell was very confused and my stomach didn't like it at all.  Eric, Alisa and I were all also sick to varying degrees the first couple of days out of San Diego.  Looks like Elias is the only one of us to be impervious.

King Neptune at the equator, bearing gifts of rum and chocolate for the second-time crossers among us.  Eric got nothing but a little saltwater wiped on his brow.  The boat is heeled over because we're already into the southeast trades, and in the midst of our 900+ miles of windward sailing to make Fatu Hiva.

We got into some reassuring routines - I read to Elias every evening, Alisa called into the Pacific Seafarers' net every night, that sort of thing.  But a lot of the time we were also just trying to make it through to the end of the day - it can be tough to sail long distances with two little ones.

We caught all the fish we wanted - but no mahi mahi!

Calling in to the net.

Our landfall at Fatu Hiva - looking lush and inviting and just a bit mysterious, as a tropical island should!

The end, for now - we still have more than 4,000 miles to go to reach Oz!

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Yankee Cringe

Antipodean readers will be familiar with the Aussie cringe - that (surely by now defunct) feeling that anything culturally Australian isn't quite up to world standards.

In Atuona, we got to experience the Yankee Cringe.

When we pulled in, we quickly met Yves Marie (?) a nice dad who was sharing a dinghy ride with his seven- and five-year-old girls. He welcomed us, gave us the rundown on Atuona, and invited Elias to the five-year-old's birthday party the next day.

"All the other kids speak French", Yves Marie said. "But that's OK, he'll learn quickly."

When we explained to Elias that there would be a party, with games, he started showing worrying signs of being stereotypically American.

"I'm gonna WIN!" he kept on saying. "What prize do you think they'll give me when I win?"

The next day arrived, and at three thirty I dropped Elias off at Yves Marie and Natasha's cat.

A couple hours later we saw Yves Marie ferrying a dinghy full of kids ashore for the promised games.

Galactic was anchored near the shore, so of course we looked out of the portlights now and then to see how things were going.

What we saw was Yves Marie giving the kids a ball to play with. They played with it until Elias got it - then he kicked it off the breakwater and into the harbor.

Yves Marie climbed down the slimy wet stones of the breakwater to retrieve the ball. He threw it back to the kids - and Elias kicked it back into the water.

"It's hard to think the second time was an accident," I said to Alisa.

This time Natasha, in her chic black dress, climbed down the breakwater to fetch the ball. When she brought it back, Elias was right there, waiting for it. We saw her give Elias a firm Gallic gesture that meant, adult to wayward child, BEGONE!

This is when Alisa rowed in to shore to see if Elias needed to leave the party.

Natasha and Yves Marie were very nice about it, and insisted he stay. But the next day all the little French kids gathered on another boat, right next to us, and Elias wasn't invited. He threw a tantrum that night, and went to bed early, and after his howls died down we listened to the little French 4- and 5- and 6-year-olds playing nicely, far into the night.

Alisa and I had a drink in the cockpit, listening to the little French giggles of delight in the soft tropical night, and shared a Yankee Cringe.
At 6/06/2011 7:11 AM (utc) our position was 10°27.87'S 138°40.16'W

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The Yachtie Olympics

In Atuona, the 'big city' and administrative center on Hiva Oa, we checked in with the gendarmes, making our official entry into France's Pacific colonies.

Once there, we found ourselves in the demanding round of events that I think of as the 'yachtie olympics' . We hitchhiked into town with our two small children - we did our duty by the gendarme (hoping that we were lying convincingly about the amount of alcohol that we have on board) - we paid our ridiculous bond at the bank, insurance that we wouldn't suddenly morph into 1970s-era hippies who decided spend the rest of their lives in the Marquesas - we sought out baguettes and exhaust repair compound at the local stores - we hauled drinking water from the wharf - we caught up on all the laundry that we didn't get to during the passage - we went up the mast to investigate the out-of-order forestay - and well, you get the picture. Is it any wonder we didn't get around to posting our stunning photos onto the blog?

The harbor at Atuona has a terrible reputation, but we were initially quite pleased with the setup. It was very crowded, but once we got our Fortress stern anchor put together correctly so that we weren't dragging down on the nice cat next to us in the middle of the night, it was OK. There were three other boats with small children in the anchorage, the town was small enough not to be overwhelming but big enough to give us a measure of anonymity, and it seemed like we had found a nice base where we could live comfortably while I took care of some of my work commitments.

But after two days the southern swell kicked up big, the legacy of some nautical misery thousands of miles away in the Southern Ocean. The anchorage went from rolly to ridiculous. I slept incredibly poorly that night, mindful of the reputation of this place for breakers that appear among the anchored yachts, and our position at the shallow end of the bay.

The next morning we made tracks. Pulling our two anchors from the still-crowded anchorage was a bit of a cluster, and we went to sea without being nearly prepared. The inflated dinghy was still hanging from the topping lift, the starboard side of the boat was still festooned with fenders, the stern anchor and all its rode were still piled on deck, and all the dorades were still in.

So imagine our consternation at getting out of the harbor and finding ourselves in the midst of nature's own drink mixer. The waves were much much bigger out there - funny, but we had thought only about escaping the lousy harbor, and not about what deteriorating conditions on the inside might say about the state of things on the outside. So we got to idle into the steep waves at 1500 RPM (LOVE the new autopilot) while we put everything away, ocean water rolling around our ankles all the while and Elias jumping up and down in the cockpit like the larrikin he is.

That's one thing about the life afloat - you never know when poor foresight or bad luck might see you in a Moment of Interest like this. Luckily, Alisa and I have always worked very well together in these sorts of situations. Under the strain of the moment I was sarcastic when she asked whether the stern painter on the dinghy should get untied, and inconsistent and then overly domineering with Elias about what behavior was and was not allowed while we got the boat sorted - two things that I regretted afterwards. But we got it all together without too much drama, though Alisa insisted that the three waves that swept under us just as I was up the granny bars to attach the main halyard were 24-footers ('Big as houses', she said, her tone inviting no contrary opinion).

Then we got to wonder if the channel between Hiva Oa and Tahuata would hold conditions that were dramatically worse, as its reputation suggested.

But we had a nice sail through the channel, running under double-reefed main and full jib.

We were anchored at Baie Hanamoenoa, Tahuata, in time for a late lunch. The water was clear blue. Little waves chewed at the broad sandy beach at the head of the bay. Palm trees leaned over in the tradewinds.

We were glad we moved.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Mothership Has Landed

Well, that's one way to get to know your boat...

and your spouse...

and yourself.

(The kids we already pretty much had figured out.)

We made landfall just before sunset today, dropping the hook from this still new-to-us boat in Baie Hanavavae, Fatu Hiva, the southernmost of the Marqeusas Islands. We're anchored in 30 meters of water since the shallow area is already chockers with boats - here we go again with the over-subscribed tropical anchorages!

It is very beautiful here.

Very, very beautiful.

Elias wants to go ashore tomorrow and put up a sign advertising the fact that we are interested in obtaining drinking coconuts.

My only wish for tomorrow is to find him some kids to play with - a four-year-old gets a little stale after three weeks with just a baby and his parents for company.

Much more about the passage once we're in a spot with real internet access. For now, just the numbers - San Diego to the Marquesas in 21 days, in spite of a few poor routing decisions that extended the passage. During that time we laid down a GPS track 3,039 miles long, which included nearly a thousand miles of going to windward at the end. We're very happy with how the barky sailed.

We also re-discovered just how hard it can be to sail passages with a one-year-old. Some days were very tough, though there was only one day so tough that I heard Alisa say that she wanted off the boat.

But the rough patches are already fading, the magical bits are taking on their true size in our memory, and we're both very glad to be back in the Marquesas.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

At-Sea Fix

Alisa would like everyone to know that she has tightened up the diaper shells ("a little thread here, a little velcro there...") and we haven't had another blowout. Touch wood.

Sunset out here on the big blue Pacific and we're about 150 miles from the fabled island of Fatu Hiva, maybe 160 miles from our intended anchorage.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Gear Failure

We've had a few things break on the trip - the staysail is out of commission until we can get to port and figure out what's going on with the top end of the roller furler, both the main and jib have been re-stiched or patched, and jam cleats on the main traveler and wind vane are both looking pretty arthritic.

But the really critical gear failure has been the diapers. Turns out that Elias' old cloth diapers don't fit Eric so well. He overflowed another one today, about the third time that's happened. So we got to clean up baby poo that had been smeared the length of the saloon.

Friends, on top of everything else that we're dealing with, I've got to admit that I found that situation a little hard to take.

On the brighter side, we crossed the equator this morning. King Neptune made his appearance and gave treats to the three shellbacks on board: Elias (chocolate), Alisa (rum) and myself (rum, too). For the pollywog on board, that poor uneducated soul who hadn't even gotten around to sailing across the equator yet, King Neptune decreed the traditional dunking in salt water. In consideration of his tender age, this was administered as a swipe of an ocean-dipped finger across his brow.

If King Neptune had known what the little rascal had in store for the day, I'm sure he would have dumped a whole bucket of equatorial water on him.
At 2/06/2011 5:14 AM (utc) our position was 00°51.99'S 132°32.03'W

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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Southern Trades

We're still at 2° North, but we've already picked up the southeast trades. They're gentle and the sailing is like velvet. I woke before dawn this morning and enjoyed the sweet quiet of the cockpit, the cool before the sun established its tyranny on the day, the beauty of the vast plain of clouds that stretched all around us, colored lilac and amber, beheld by absolutely no one in the world but me.

We motored for two days and two nights to pass the doldrums - the first a day of unbelievable rain and threatening squalls, the second blue and still and ungodly hot.

Sailing ships used to spend weeks to get through this windless band that we passed so easily. But the doldrums are still a place that Gabriel Garcia Marquez would recognize - a place of regret, and nostalgia, and second thoughts. Our dreams were uneasy, our waking moments were spent baking in the cabin or shivering in the cold rain on deck. We began to doubt the wisdom of everything we did, the big picture of our life afloat suddenly made no sense to any of us, from Eric on up.

The trades are made of more optimistic stuff.