Monday, October 31, 2011

Home Stretch

Well, we made it around the south end of New Caledonia last night, and then we were able to finally point the bow just south of west, straight at Bundaberg, our chosen port of entry for Oz. There is a certain amount of excitement on board - what a long way we've come since our first anchorage in Sausalito - and the 800 miles between New Cal and Bundy seem like almost an afterthought. Alisa canvassed the crew as to what sort of foods we were craving after our months of eating boat grub. She is looking forward to that first lamb burger. Elias wants a piece of ham. And I'm just craving some mahi mahi.

We had been hoping to reach Bundaberg in time to clear in on this coming Friday. But the sea, as always, is being free with the lesson of patience, and the winds have died to nearly nothing. Even if we were tempted to just motor through the calms, a coolant leak on the donk has announced itself as the latest entry on our endless list of things to fix, so we'll be traveling at whatever speeds the elements dictate.

And that's not so bad. Eric can run around in the saloon without us having to worry about him falling or puking, and he's much happier for the freedom. Alisa and I have a little more time to digest everything that's happened over the last six months, before we engage with the next phase of being back in Australia, and this whole crossing recedes into memory. And the Pacific is (at least for now) giving us a curtain call of how wonderful everything can be on a small-ish boat far out to sea, with the long swell from some storm far far away lulling us through the day, and the almost-tropical sun dappling the waves, and Eric picking the gibbous moon out of the daytime sky and exclaiming, just as his brother did, a few years ago from the cockpit of another boat on the other side of the Pacific, "muhhh!"

Friday, October 28, 2011

Pit Stop

Well, this has been the break we were dreaming of. Or would have been dreaming of, if we had been sleeping enough on passage to get a chance to dream! Ouvea is an uplifted atoll where we found a wide expanse of turquoise water, perfectly protected, to recover from the vicissitudes of sailing a thousand miles in six days with our two little kids.

After a round of naps we rigged up a buoy swing from the end of the boom and Elias and Alisa and I took turns launching ourselves into the water from the side deck. We remarked on how much cooler the water is here, at 20° S, than it was at 14° at Futuna. We tackled a few boat jobs, Alisa made pizza, and we showed Elias the baby sea snakes that were attracted to our deck lights at night. And then, in spite of our best intentions to get an early night, Alisa and I found ourselves going to bed at midnight.

This gave us six hours of uninterrupted sleep. I don't think I've felt so completely rested since I was a government employee...

The catch in all this is that stopping in Ouvea has left us with 150 mile of sailing to the SSE to get around New Caledonia - right into the prevailing winds. But, better than we could have hoped for, the weather forecast is promising light winds, from the east and even northeast, to get us around that obstacle.

When we were looking through our charts last night we found another chart of the Chesterfield Reefs, this one identifying them as a French possession. So we're not quite sure whose they are. Because a travelling yacht is one of the few places in the world that is still somewhat safe from the hazards of unlimited information on demand, we'll indulge ourselves in ignorance.

And, whether they're Australian or French, it doesn't really matter - it's now too late in the trip for us to enjoy any relaxing interludes in out-of-the-way places. The long-imagined end of the crossing is just over the horizon - we can smell the burning cane fields of Queensland, we can taste the meat pies from here. Today, some time before lunch, we'll pick the hook by hand and set off for Australia.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Change of Destination

The Australian sailor I spoke with about Chesterfield Reef while we were in the Marquesas seemed so knowledgeable about the place. A French patrol boat comes along every now and then and makes yachts that haven't cleared into New Cal leave, he said, but aside from that it's a pretty easy place to stop into.

With that info, and the rapturous reports we'd gotten from some friends who visited last year, the place had made it onto our short list of possible stops on this crossing.

But yesterday, when we were actually on the way there, I finally opened up our small-scale chart of the western South Pacific and saw Chesterfield Reefs identified as an Australian possession. We had already been talking about cancelling our stop there, as we are anticipating our landfall in Australia quite strongly at this point. But seeing the reefs identified as Australian made the decision final - the Australians patrol their outlying possessions energetically, and are very unforgiving about stops at any Australian territory before formal clearance has been granted at a port of entry.

So Chesterfield was out. But by yesterday our reserves were also running quite low. During long passages on Pelagic we used to both sleep at night while we trusted our radar alarm to warn us of nearby vessels. But a nagging sense that this isn't quite the thing to do, coupled with a very un-trustworthy radar unit on Galactic, has seen us taking turns standing watch through the night on most of this crossing. And now, on our sixth day out from Futuna, the four and a half hours of nightly slumber and long days of keeping up with the boys has us knackered. So we're planning on pulling into the atoll of Ouvea tomorrow for a good night's sleep.

Meanwhile, our rallying cry of "It's a delivery, not a cruise!" rang particularly true last night as we sailed right through the delightful archipelago of Vanuatu without stopping. We did the same thing last time around - we really do owe ourselves a stop there if we ever get to our third Pacific crossing.

And finally, the specter of a mahi mahi-less crossing is beginning to threaten. We caught a fish two days ago - yet another skipjack tuna, the only thing we've caught on the entire trip. Our fishing ethos doesn't extend to throwing less desirable fish back, so we ate it, and forewent fishing until it was consumed. And then at dinner tonight we suddenly heard the reel singing out and looked back to see a marlin leaping into the air over and over as it stripped off our line and got farther and farther away. It broke the leader, of course. So tomorrow, at least for the time we're not sleeping at anchor, the search for the elusive mahi mahi continues...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Enhanced Trades

Into the Western tropical Pacific, and things are as they ever were.

Apparently the Pacific has shifted back into La Niña conditions. What do I know, I had thought we were entering a neutral ENSO state. We had La Niña conditions the last time we crossed, and among other things La Niña produces enhanced trade winds in the Pacific. So after our day of waiting for "better" weather at Alofi, we sailed out into a front and have been booming along with a double-reefed main for two days - 185 miles, noon to noon, the first day, and 180 the second. The steep cresting seas look just like our memories of the western Pacific from the decks of Pelagic. Eric has been confined to the cockpit by the rough weather, but has only been sick once. I have been laid out a bit as well, but without the interference of the seasickness medicine have rebounded quickly.

Spurred on by Elias' enthusiasm, we cooked up the flying fish that we found on deck this morning and had it for breakfast. Not bad.

The new fishing reel that we bought in American Samoa has sat idle on the stern rail. Alisa and I have our hands more than full and have little interest in dealing with a flopping tuna just now.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Passage to Alofi

Last night, after the kids were asleep, we finally had Galactic ready to go. Half of the main anchor chain had been pulled by hand, the stern anchor had been pulled and put away, the sail cover was off, the awning was down, Smooches the inflatable was deflated and lashed into place, Little Dipper the hard dinghy was secured forward of the mast, water had been hauled from shore, the coconuts and bananas and diaper buckets and water jugs and solar shower were lashed on deck, the jib had been patched, rust spots on the hull given a little attention, the prop cleaned of barnacles, the zincs scrubbed off, ditto the rudder and waterline, the batteries checked, the rudder had been connected to the grounding system, the cracked bulkhead where the windvane lines attach had been strengthened, and a new lee cloth / sleeping cage had been installed for Eric.

Once the kids were asleep, and all this was ready, we agreed that we had no energy whatsoever left for sailing, and settled instead for a glass of white wine in the cockpit and an early night. I checked the weather before turning in and was interested to see a big zone of disturbance appearing in the 72 hour forecast, right in our path.

In the morning I checked the weather again. The front that has been propagating across the South Pacific was about 24 hours away from us. It would bring good sailing winds, but the updated forecast now showed disturbances behind the front both 48 and 72 hours out. So, in spite of the excitement that has been building over the idea of actually setting off on our last leg to Australia, we decided to just make the six-mile passage to Alofi, the other Island in the Iles de Horne group, where we could drop the pick in a more secure anchorage and give the weather a day or two to develop.

So that's what we did.

Alisa and I had each taken a quarter of a sturgeron, that wonder seasickness drug much favored by the in-the-know yachtie, before we checked the weather and decided to delay the start of our long trip. And that ended up providing me with a very informative unplanned experiment. The sturgeron made me feel awful. My eyeballs ached, my heart fluttered, and after we had moved to the new anchorage I spent most of the day napping. If we had been at sea I would have thought I was seasick, but in fact it was the seasickness medication that was causing it all. So no more of that stuff for me.

Aside from napping, we passed the day by swimming off the jupe with Elias, who executes a mean cannonball from the top of the swim ladder, and by filling the kiddie pool in the cockpit for Eric. (Futuna and Alofi have been desperately hot - I all too literally leave little pools of sweat everywhere that I go down below.) And we've watched the clouds building in the west as the front approaches. And now I'm going to check the weather again to see when we might get going.

If we're here another day the dinghy will have to go into the water - there is a sandy beach by the anchorage and a little village just inshore of the reef where nobody lives anymore, but that is visited daily by people from Futuna who keep gardens here. It all looks wonderful.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Futuna Delights

Futuna is the kind of place where:

You go spearfishing with the gendarme two days before you complete entry formalities...with the same gendarme.

Drivers on the single road around the coast screech to a halt the moment you stick out your thumb. If you even look at a driver quizzically, they are likely to stop a hundred meters down the road and turn around to find out if you need anything. If you aren't at all sure where you are going, they offer to drive until you recognize your destination.

Everyone wears elaborate flower necklaces. The first day that you see everyone wearing flowers, you ask someone if a special event of some sort is going on. They answer "no", explain that the flowers are an everyday thing, and then take the flowers from around their neck and put them on you.

Futuna, in other words, is unique in all the world.

At first, given the reputation of this place for being innocent of the yachtie crowds, we were a bit surprised to find ourselves sharing little Sigave Harbor with three other yachts. But even that was a pleasant experience, as with "only" four yachts here people didn't segregate into national groups the way they tend to in the more popular ports.

As always, we've spent a big chunk of our five days here taking care of the boat and shepherding the boys through the minute-to-minute of their routine, so our time for Getting Down With the People has been limited. But the experiences we have had have been uniformly great. This is a place where Polynesian generosity has not been overwhelmed by a deluge of visitors from the outside world.

And now, Futuna is being added to the list of wonderful places where we haven't had enough time. We have our outward clearance from Customs, and it lists Bundaberg, Australia as our next port.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Remembering Childbirth

We're in Futuna, this French bit of Samoa in the hinterlands of the central South Pacific.

The sail from American Samoa was only four hundred and thirty miles long or so, which we expected to do in three days, and nearly did, in spite of light wind. Beforehand we had looked at the trip as a gimme, a little doddle to go between the two one-week passages behind us and the two-weeker that we have coming up.


First of all, Eric got sick sick sick the day after we left Pago Pago - vomit all over the starboard settee, then a repeat performance in the cockpit, and a seriously unhappy one-year-old throughout. We dosed him with benadryl and Alisa's milk and let him sleep it off in his carseat under the dodger. He was fine after that, but we were loath to take him below for fear of setting off another bout of seasickness, and there's nowhere in the cockpit that's safe for a little person as agile and devoid of rational thought as he is. So we were stuck holding a squirmy toddler on our laps for much of the rest of the trip.

Or, Alisa was stuck holding him, as the second thing that happened was that I got sick sick sick.

Really sick.

It wasn't seasickness, or wasn't ALL seasickness.

It was a little lumpy on our first night out, and I felt fine. But then somehow I just spiraled down and down the next day, so that I spent the afternoon catatonic in the cockpit, stirring only to be violently sick over the rail. (And I do mean violently. We had eaten gouda and crackers and papaya for lunch. Vomiting that through your nose involves sensations not easily forgotten.) After being useless for a few hours I made one final stab to contribute to the group effort when the main needed a reef. I got halfway through the job and then had to sprint to the rail to bring up, painfully, the very last luminous green liquid from my stomach. Alisa finished the reef on her own.

From that point on Alisa or Elias woke me up every five minutes to have a sip of water, and otherwise I was oblivious to anything that was happening around me.

I managed to stand two watches that night, although I'm not sure how. And the next day I was slowly better. The whole thing is mysterious to me, though I wonder if it was somehow triggered by being overtired and dehydrated through the push to get ready and get to sea. (And we started so well - we got 250 feet of chain and the 40 kilo anchor back from the dread depths of Pago Pago harbor in just an hour, even though we were pulling it by hand. No dragging anchor in our week there, and no junk on the anchor when we got it back. I'd rather be lucky than good.)

After I got better, there was still a day and a half left in the trip for Eric to officially, at the age of one year and five months, hit the Terrible Twos. It seems he no longer wanted to be in the childproofed area of the cabin where he has spent the last five months or so. And because he didn't want to be there, he just stood behind the baby gate and screamed and screamed. When that got boring, he switched gears and screamed while crying hysterically. I won't bore you with the details of how unpleasant it can be to share a small space with an overheated, cross one year old. I will tell you that it was bad enough that I got to the point of emphatically telling Alisa, several times, that I was going to have my eardrums prophylactically punctured once we got to Oz. Just so the screaming wouldn't hurt any more. Poor Elias didn't see me at my best for a day or two there.

All in all, it didn't stack up as our all-time greatest trip. And I haven't even gotten to the part where Eric climbed out of his crib and fell to the sole.

I measured - it's a four and a half foot fall.


So that's a sound that Alisa and I will each remember for quite a while - the thud/splat that can only be your youngest child, who you thought was safely tucked in for his night's sleep, hitting the floor. Followed by a long long silence that blessedly turned out to be him drawing breath for an almighty scream.

He's fine.

But that's the second time he has gotten loose on the boat at the wrong time, the first being when he went walkabout in the cockpit while the other three of us were on the bow, picking up a mooring in Tahaa. Alisa and I are horrified that that sort of thing has happened twice, and determined not to push our luck for number three. As I write, she is constructing a new, maximum-security sleeping cage for his bunk...

So there have been any number of wonderful things that have come out of this year of travelling outrageously with our two young 'uns in tow. But lately it's been a little tough. The 'funny' part of course is that we've done it all before. I was struck, reading through the proofs for the book, at just how plain BAD were a lot of moments from our last Pacific crossing, when Elias was the toddler involved. I honestly had forgotten most of them until I re-read the book. For better or worse, we seem to treat sailing with little kids as I hear a person is meant to treat childbirth - by forgetting all about how bad it really was.

So on this last trip, we got to remember childbirth, in all its glory.

And I'm happy to report that after a couple days in the ridiculous little harbor at Futuna, we've pretty much forgotten again, and everyone is more-or-less happy.

<<The End>>

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Pago Pago

It's funny - we spent a week in Penrhyn, and it seemed like a really timeless (though too short) part of our trip.  And now we've spent a week in American Samoa, and it's just seemed like an ordinary week.

Pago Pago Harbor is notorious among yachties for being filthy and a very difficult place to find a secure anchorage.  As often happens when our expectations are very low, we found things not to be all that bad.  The harbor is certainly dirty, but we were able to set our anchor on the first try, and the stay hasn't been bad from that perspective.  We've got our fingers crossed for the experience of pulling the anchor this afternoon.  Our biggest reason for coming here was to get the new windlass motor that the manufacturer in New Zealand swore would be here by October 4th.  When we arrived, all that was waiting for us was an email saying that the motor would take another two weeks to ship.  So we'll be pulling the hook by hand for the rest of the Pacific crossing.

We did get a couple of other parts sent to us, and we ran various errands to keep the boat going.

We heard a lot of horror stories about the water quality here, so we bought 150 gallons of purified water to fill our tanks.  It was the first time we've ever bought water.

We made a bus/taxi expedition to the local US-style warehouse store for a big resupply.

And we visited the local market almost every day.

Alisa and the boys ventured to church yesterday.  The first Sunday of every month is "White Sunday".

The one-time commercial fisherman in me loved checking out the tuna purse seiners in the harbor.  That's a helicopter on the wheelhouse of the closer one.

If you're used to Alaskan salmon seiners, the scale of these boats was pretty mindblowing.  Check out the size of the net on the back deck in this shot.

And well, that's all we have to report from American Samoa.  As always, getting things done for the boat while also caring for the kids has taken much longer than expected -  but we expect that now!  Assuming we can get the boat packed up today and the anchor retrieved, we're setting out for the French colony of Futuna this afternoon.  More from there!

Monday, October 10, 2011


Tetautua Village, on the windward side of Penrhyn.  Elias and Eric are standing so far from the local kids because we had just landed in the village for the first time, and immediately someone wanted to pose all the kids for a picture, before they had interacted at all.  Poor Elias, we throw him into some pretty trying situations: 'Here's a village full of kids who have known each other their whole lives and speak a language that you don't know.  Go have a play, we'll be leaving in a couple hours.'  He acquits himself pretty well.

Galactic at anchor in Penrhyn.

The first thing that people in Tetautua wanted to do was trade.  They were restrained about it, and we had to ask what they might be interested in trading for.  After we had been around for a few days, the scale of what they needed began to dawn on us.  They needed tools, and line for catching tuna, and small hooks for fishing the reef, and sunglasses, and t-shirts, and wetsuits, and baking powder, and flour, and rice, and petrol, and thongs/flip-flops, and cotter pins, and ibuprofen, and neosporin and lord knows what else.  As near as we could figure out, the last ship visit had been five months earlier.

We've been the beneficiaries of a lot of gifts in other places in Polynesia, so we figured this was our chance to just give people a few gifts without worrying about any quid pro quo of trading.  And there was clearly no point in taking any flour or petrol to the relative Land of Plenty that is American Samoa when those things were needed so badly on Penrhyn.

Of course, people reciprocated.

Matasa with a fan that she made for Alisa.  (If anyone from Tetautua reads this, I hope you'll forgive my spelling and other errors!)

 Seitu Marsters, the patriarch of one of the Tetautua families, took me lobstering with his nephew Boss Wallen and grandson Taatai Marsters.  We only got one lobster, and of course they insisted that I take it - the generosity of the people there was really astounding.  We were also given plenty of fish and chicken and coconuts and papaya during our stay.

Elias with a breakfast of lobster tail and coconut.  "We're living large," he said.

Taina and her husband Penui gave Eric this shell necklace.

So the exchange of goods was one part of the visit.  But what I really loved was the chance to just spend time with people.  Penrhyn is real deal Polynesia - the 160 people on the island speak a unique language (Mangarongaro), they live a semi-subsistence lifestyle, and the ten or so yachties that have visited Tetautua this year are the full extent of local tourism.

 The main street of Tetautua village.  Migration to New Zealand and Australia has shrunk the population dramatically, and there are as many empty houses as full.

A couple of thatch-roofed houses are still in use.

Tamu Tapaltau (and Eric).

Seitu is on the far right.

There were a couple times when it was just me with Penryhn Islanders - lobstering at night, or skiffing over the village of Omoka for the day so that I could check us out with Customs and Immigration before we left.  There was a lot of sitting around and listening to people talk Mangarongaro during those times.  The language has a querolous, argumentative sound to it.  I loved following the emotional flow of the conversations by just watching the play of expressions across everyone's face.

And when I tired of listening to a conversation that I couldn't follow, I looked out to the coconut palms blowing in the trades under the blue blue sky, and felt the slow river of time flowing over the atoll, this place where people are rich in time.

We went to church on Sunday (well, we went to one of the three services that day), which is a very yachtie thing to do.

 The singing was powerful - keening women, stentorian men, harmonies that were strident enough to sit just this side of beautiful, and intricate timing.  Good stuff.  Matasa lent Alisa the hat.

And we went to the celebration for the dedication of the refurbished school.  This was a big deal, with visiting dignitaries from Omoka giving speeches, letters from the government in Rarotonga being read, more beautiful singing, dancing by the kids, and a feast.

People gave us flowers to wear for the event and treated us as VIPs, insisting that we eat before them.

Alisa and Roriki Marsters at the ceremony.

I had been distracted by some headscratcher of a boat job that morning, and to my chagrin had forgotten to wear a collar to the event.  Dressing to the locals' standard for happenings like this is very much a part of my traveller's ethos!

Well, it's late here, and I'm not sure I'm summarizing our stay very well.  Suffice it to say that we were in Penrhyn for only a week, but that in that time we got to know some people living lives very different from ours.  Those people were remarkably welcoming to strangers, and we got glimpses of their lives as being as complicated and nuanced as those of any of our peers, albeit in a setting that appears deceptively simple to a visitor.  I hope we go back some day!


Hmmm, I didn't even mention the sharks.

The lagoon is alive with sharks - Elias is feeding them some galley scraps here.

The end.

Friday, October 7, 2011


Alisa trying to nap on our recent passage from Penrhyn to Pago Pago.  You can tell how quiet the kids are being!  Alisa and I were splitting the night into four watches and each getting five hours of sleep.  The days dragged as we adult sleepy-heads tried to shepherd the boys through the everday business of life without too many dramas.  The nightwatches, in comparison, were a piece of cake.

After the first two rowdy days it turned into a quiet, quiet passage.  Look at how calm things are here at breakfast - a full cup of coffee sitting placidly on the table, the banana fritters that Alisa has made behaving themselves and staying on the plate.

It was stinking hot, and bucket showers were very popular as a result.  Elias loved having bucket after bucket of cool ocean water dumped over him.

Alisa baked every other day.

Elias with an old halibut jig that we souped up to catch tuna.  It lasted about four hours in the water, and then disappeared with the first hit.

Dawn on the last day of the passage.  The wind was well below ten knots for four days straight.  We were quite pleased with how Galactic sailed in such light air, but on the last day we fired up the engine to reach Pago Pago before nightfall - the allure of a sound sleep at anchor was too much to resist.

Sailing into Pago Pago Harbor.  We've been very businesslike here, just concentrating on getting errands and boat jobs done so that we can get back to sea.

One of the errands on my list was running out to DHL to pick up advance copies of South From Alaska.  It was great fun to surprise Alisa with a copy (she didn't know they'd be here) and to show her the dedication page, which has her name on it.  She hadn't known that the book was dedicated to her.  Giving her the first copy, and telling her that the book was, in the larger sense, for her, was a moment that lived up to everything I had expected it would be.

The end.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Handline Fishing - I Give Up

Since our only working fishing reel was stolen in Moorea, I have been making valiant attempts to catch fish with a handline. The line on our reel was 60 lb. test, and always seemed to do ok. But on a handline that's much too light - without the drag of a reel to ease the strain, the line broke time after time, even with a bungie cord rigged up to take the load.

Yesterday I rigged a handline with nothing but our 100 lb. monofilament leader material. We're getting short on lures and associated hardware, so Elias and I cobbled something together from an old halibut jig, a silver salmon lure, and some ribbon and frayed cord. For want of a snap, I crimped the new lure directly to a wire leader permanently fixed to the handline. And, you guessed it, the whole setup lasted for one bite, and then was gone.

I am now completely sick and tired of wasting our gear and putting monofilament into the ocean. So all thoughts of eating mahi mahi are on hold until we can get some better gear, hopefully in Pago Pago.

Meanwhile, the sailing is beautiful. I love how gentle the sea can be, so far from land. I started reading Stuart Little to Elias yesterday. Eric spent the day screaming. Galactic continues to sail well in light wind, and we are about half way to Pago Pago. The moon is new, so our view of the stars is undiluted. We haven't seen another vessel since we left Raiatea, eight sailing days ago.