Thursday, October 31, 2013


(Thanks to our buddy Franz for posting these pics of a long-ago cross-country ski trip to the Arctic...)

Check out these two people, completely in love with Alaska.

Do you ever wonder why, six years after they gave up their wonderful lives in the Great Land to head to sea on a boat of their own, they haven't come home already?

I guess one reason we're still at it is places like this:

This is the anchorage we've been in for the last four days, between little Vanua Levu and Navadra islands - that's Galactic, nestled in the center there.  I took this pic when I hiked up to the top of Navadra to get enough internet reception to fire off a few work emails.

It's hard to believe that we've been gone from New Zealand for less than four months.  So much has happened in that time, so many little adventures and new faces and endless little moments of quiet joy with the family on the boat.  Buggering off to go sailing in the heart of your peak earning years might condemn you to an eventual fate of septuagenarian retail employment, but it does have the compensation of stretching time right now, of giving you the illusion of slowing things down right in the sweet center of your lifespan.

Navadra gave us one more spell of tropical bliss for the season.

Man, machete, and coconut

One of the highlights of our stay here was that it coincided with a break in my work.  I've just submitted a paper, and proposal-writing season is not yet in full swing.  So during the four days we were here, I had time to come along on all four of our beach swim-picnic sessions.  Alisa kept commenting on how unusual it was to have me along every day.

We had the place largely to ourselves.  A couple of tour boats came one day and dropped their passengers on the beach for a few hours.  And then two like-minded boats, also carrying young children, dropped by for a couple nights and provided us with convivial company.

And we learned the perils of trusting a seven-year-old to look after his own sunscreen.  Check out poor Elias' face after a session in the waves without a hat.  You can see the big stripes on his cheek where sunscreen was applied, and the burn everywhere where it wasn't.

We take sun protection pretty seriously, and felt pretty bad about this outcome - this is about the worst burn either of the kids have ever had.


And this morning we just up and sailed away, the way we sail away from all these great places...

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


What you might call our schedule, our use of time on Galactic, is taking on two different characters here at the Navadra anchorage.

On one hand, we're feeling the pull of the season. Other boats we know are still enjoying Fiji, happy to put off the passage to New Zealand until late November or even December. Without thinking it through very much, we've decided that this season has been great, and it's time to think about the next one. I like to flatter myself by thinking that we are feeling the same ineluctable urge to travel that motivates migrating birds - it's just getting to be time to go, and we're getting restless.

We're now checking the weather between Fiji and New Zealand twice a day.

Our day-to-day routine, though quite full, is somehow less pressing than this seasonal concern. I haven't worn a watch since I returned from the marine science conference in Canada. I get up when I get up - sometimes when the boys wake me just after sunrise, sometimes on my own, before dawn, to work on a pressing science task.

Our days pass by: breakfast, three hours of school for Alisa and Elias while I work and Eric plays, then lunch and a swim and perhaps some coconut picking on the beach, back to the boat for Eric's nap and Elias' quiet time while I take a swim or clean off the bottom of the boat, then back to work for me until dinner, a session of reading The Sword in the Stone to Elias after dinner, then more work for me after the boys are asleep while Alisa finishes her long day of cooking and caring for the boys with a round of dinner dishes, and then perhaps we have a drink under the stars.

It's a delight, of course. And as much as anything, I'm revelling in the absence of any outside deadlines in our daily life, the way we decide ourselves how to go about getting the work, and the joy, of each day done.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Local Etiquette

After fouling the main halyard while attempting to raise the sail, our rusty crew got away from the anchorage at Malolo Lailai without further drama. Four hours of motor-sailing into a northeast breeze brought us to our target destination - the twin uninhabited islands of Vanua Levu (a smaller Vanua Levu, and not the second-largest island of Fiji that goes by the same name) and Navadra.

The anchorage formed by these two islands - little more than islets, really - was everything we could want. White beaches, lava cliffs and forbidding headlands, coconut palms down low and thick forest up high, an expanse of coral reef to be explored, and, according to the book, a clean sand bottom, good holding, in 20 meters.

Alas, though, the anchorage is open to the north, and with the northeasterly that had been blowing all day the swell inside the anchorage looked too much for comfort. So after feeling our way in through reefs that we could barely see in the poor mid-afternoon light of a drizzly day, we turned around and felt our way right back out, towards our backup plan of Yalobi Bay on Waya Island, at the southern end of the Yasawa Group.

We made it just at the end of usable light, and dropped the pick a few hundred meters off the village of Namara.

And therein began our tangle with local etiquette. It was soon dark, I had stayed up past midnight the night before to get a science paper submitted to a journal, and had just spent eight hours sailing Galactic from hither to yon, standing watch at the mast most of the time, straining to see reefs in the poor visibility. I was knackered, and frankly not game for the visit to a strange village in the dark that would be required to present sevusevu right then.

But the next day, we were well aware, would be Sunday. Generations of missionaries have done, and continue to do, their job well in Fiji, and we had been warned not present sevusevu on a Sunday by a sailor who has years of experience here. So we couldn't present sevusevu in the morning, either. But we didn't want to hang around for the whole day to wait to present sevusevu on Monday...

So we did what is probably quite an ignoble thing, and simply picked the anchor in the morning and slinked away without having presented sevusevu and being granted permission to stay in the precincts of the village. I suppose in retrospect that I should have just sucked it up and gone in right away, in the dark.

On the bright side, we had a beautiful sail back to Vanua Levu/Navadra and found the anchorage in a more settled state. We were on one of the blinding-white beaches in time for a picnic lunch, came back to Galactic with two coconuts, and Elias and I had an afternoon snorkel besides. And we've the place to ourselves, with neither locals nor other yachties in sight. We've managed to eke one more tropical delight out of the season.


Sent via our ham radio...
..we have no internet access...
..and glad for it, too!

Saturday, October 26, 2013


Well, I've come full circle in the five days since I've been back on board Galactic.

I arrived jet-lagged and groggy.  And today I find myself groggy after staying up to 0100 last night to get a paper submitted to the journal where it will hopefully find a home.

In between these two sleepy bookends I've had a week of too much work for too little pay.  I've found myself reunited with a partner/first mate/reason for living whose morale was somewhat shaken by eight days of unrelieved kid duty.  And through it all we've been living under the lowering skies and stifling air of the season's slowest low-pressure system.

So now it's time.  The paper is submitted, the visibility for navigating is ok, if not great, and we're going sailing.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Home Again

The view of my homecoming, from my perspective - Elias and Eric closing their eyes and holding out their hands for gifts from Canada.  Eric got three examples of the Dr. Seuss oeuvre, and Elias got The Hobbit and The Sword in the Stone,  both of which we will read to him.  Nanaimo had a great used book store.
So I'm back.  Alisa managed to hold down the fort for the eight days that I was away from the boat with nothing worse than a funny story to share.  (That's at the end of the post.)

I had a good time seeing colleagues at the marine science conference, and am full of ideas for new research.

I was also sick the whole time I was there, and after the 24 hours of travel that it took to get from the hotel in Nanaimo back to Galactic, I am very glad indeed to be home.

The migration of yachts from Fiji down to New Zealand for the upcoming cyclone season has begun, and Galactic will soon be heading that way.  We'll start watching the weather patterns in earnest, and hope to sample just a few more delightful tropical anchorages before we turn south.

Alisa and I haven't yet had the chance to catch up without the boys around, but it seems we've both been thinking about the long-range plan, and independently coming to the same opinion about where Galactic should be heading after New Zealand.

More about that some other time.

OK, so here's the story.

Alisa had a good routine going with the boys while I was gone.  Three hours of school in the morning for Elias while Eric played in the saloon.  Then into the resort for a swim in the pool, picnic lunch on the beach and back to the boat for Eric to nap, then an early dinner at the bring-your-own-food barbecue that the resort hosts for yachties every night.

So, coming back from the pool one day, the outboard quit - Alisa had neglected to fill the tank that morning.

Undaunted, she started rowing back to Galactic.  And then one of our aluminum oars, which had been secretly corroding from the inside, snapped in half.

So now she was without means of propulsion, and being blown down on the reef behind the mooring field.  Yells and waves at neighboring yachts brought no response.  So she stripped down to her skivvies, jumped into the water, and began swimming for the mothership, dinghy and children following along at the end of the painter.

It was only after they made it back to Galactic, and Alisa was standing on the jupe, that someone showed up to see if she needed any help.

The funny part comes when Alisa is telling the story, and she's trying to thank this yachtie bloke she's never met before for coming by to offer help, while simultaneously trying to ask him to just leave right away so she doesn't have to stand there and talk to him in her not-ready-for-company outfit of soaked sports bra and underpants.

Mango smoothies in the pool.  Alisa admits to the regular employment of bribery to get her way with the crew while I was gone.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Leaving Home

This was the view from our lower spreaders yesterday afternoon.  Galactic is in the mooring field at the Musket Cove Resort, along with about 40 other boats.

This isn't the sort of place that we would normally bother with.  But it gives us everything we need during my upcoming trip to Canada for a marine biology conference - a secure place for the boat, and, importantly, the resort pool, which our boys will surely not tire of during the week I'm away.  It also turns out that the boat needed to be at a marina (or on a marina's mooring, in this case) in order to secure a letter from Immigration that will allow me to re-enter Fiji without an onward ticket.  

Anchoring off resorts is a very popular thing for yachts to do in Fiji.  I think that part of the reason is that people are scared off of the idea of presenting sevusevu and interacting with a village at every new anchorage they visit, and the resorts, which are outside the sphere of traditional protocol, give them a way to skip that experience.

I'm sitting in the departure lounge of the Nadi airport as I write this.

Alisa and I have been getting ready for this period of separation for a week or so - mostly just me bringing her up to speed on various engineering details.  I'm sure that everything that will be fine while I'm gone, though it will be full duty for her to be the only adult on board all week.

But while I'm sure everything will be fine, it was a jarring experience to wave goodbye to my wife and two little boys - them on the decks of Galactic, me on the ferry that would take me to the main island of Viti Levu.

We live a physically very close existence, of course, and share nearly every experience on board as a family, which made it a bit surreal to be leaving them on the boat without me...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Who Brought a Three Year Old On this Trip?

The question may occur to you: are they really having as much fun as it seems on the blog?

The answer is: yes, absolutely.  We're having all that fun and more.

But we're having some other moments, too.

Our youngest, Eric, has lately been as unreasonable as only a three-year-old can be.

Sometimes he's just cute enough to get away with it.  He often gets livid when we address him by what used to be called his Christian name.  "I'm not ERIC!" he tells us.  "I'm Scuppers!"  (Or Tashban Knight, or Stuart Little.)

Twenty minutes later when he has to use the head and we get him undressed and in position and say, "ok, Scuppers, call us when you're done", he gets equally livid.  "I'm not Scuppers when my pants are off!" He yells at us.  "I'm Eric!"

It's ridiculous enough to make me laugh, in spite of the getting yelled at part.

Other times, it's not so cute.  There's been lots of potty talk lately, lots of hitting his brother and throwing tantrums and snatching at toys and screaming any time he wants something from us.

Living in a confined space with that behavior, day after day, is not a soothing experience.  Even even-keeled Alisa has been blowing her top lately.  And so my mantra has become, "who brought a three-year-old?"

I comfort myself with the knowledge that the age of reason is only four years away.

Of course, by then we'll probably be living in a house.

Funny Weather

The east side of Viti Levu.
We've been making tracks to get the boat in place for my upcoming trip to Canada for a marine biology conference.

With a rare deadline in hand and not wanting to get caught short, we watched a forecast low approaching for days.  It was meant to bring heavy rain - not the sort of weather for navigating by eyeball among the uncharted reefs that appear here and there in Fiji.  So we've kept the pace up, putting in longish days and denying the boys the pleasures of shore.

Finally we arrived in Vitongo Bay just before the three days of rain were meant to start.  It wasn't the most exciting anchorage (read: no beach for the kids), but it was secure.

Soon after we had the anchor down the clouds to the west of us became properly threatening.

And then...nothing happened.

The rain didn't appear the next day.  Or the next.

I worked on some science.  The boys bounced around the boat.

Finally, at lunch on the second day, Elias asked if we couldn't just get a move on.  Which we promptly did.

We made it about ten miles down the track that day, and the action and movement raised everyone's spirits.

And the next day, as the forecasts were still calling for heavy rain and thunderstorms, and the low was stubbornly remaining to the north of us, we had a sail that looked this good:

The end.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Amongst It

Fiji has given us our first family snorkel outings since Tonga, which seems so long ago.  The pics below were taken at the Namena Reef reserve, our first stop out of Savusavu.  Divers and boat owners visiting the reef pay a small fee that goes to the village with traditional ownership of the area, and compensates the villagers for not fishing on the reef.  After all of the over-fished reef ecosystems that we've seen, this seems like a promising approach for conservation, though I can imagine a social downside through the loss of traditional fishing activities. 

Two-marine-biologist crew that we are, we went out of our way to find someone who could take our fee.

These are damselfish - blue-green damsels / Chromis viridis, if I'm not mistaken.  The damsels are the Pomacentridae - a ubiquitous, often beautiful, and diverse family of reef fish - our ID book lists 199 species.  I've been paying more and more attention to damsels lately.  They're always there, so that you tend to take them for granted, but when you start paying attention you see how hard they can be to ID, and how many different types are about.

These aren't damsels - they're anthias, and members of a completely different family (though I can see three damsels in the photo as well).   We've seen almost no anthias, so I was very excited to see this group, though I wasn't able to identify them.
Eric is a champ on our family snorkel outings, paddling along in goggles and life jacket, breathing through a snorkel even though he never puts his head in the water.  

The trouble comes afterwards, when we're showering off back on the mothership.  Eric hates having his face or hair washed - to the point where doing either involves a complete full-volume screaming/crying tantrum.  Who brought a three-year-old on this trip? I say every time.

The solution, we've found, is to shower him while he's wearing his goggles and has his snorkel in his mouth.  Alisa thinks he's still crying a bit, but that the snorkel mutes it...

Namena Island was a fun stop, but there is no village on the island, so we weren't really engaging with Fiji while we were there.  All that began at our next stop, Makongai Island.

These village kids are fast, Elias says. 

That's me above in my village-formal kit - a sulu to be exact - on the day we made sevusevu at Makongai.  As I noted in an earlier post, this spot isn't a village - it's a fisheries station dedicated to the rearing of giant clams and green sea turtles that occupies the site of an old leper colony.  But visiting yachts still do the proper thing with sevusevu - the traditional request for permission to be in the precincts of a village, with a ritual gift of yaqona.

Dressed up for a visit to shore.
Makongai gets heaps of yachts passing through, but the people living there give very little indication of being burned out with the endless visitors.

On our second night there was an "entertainment" for the yachties in the anchorage.  Normally we stay away from canned demonstrations of traditional culture.  But this was a fundraiser, with contributions requested to help pay for a trip to the main island of Viti Levu by the island schoolchildren, which is an obviously good cause.  And the locals were so gracious about the whole thing - the invitation so sincerely made, the entertainment attended by everyone living at the site and presented with such obvious good will, that we were very pleased to attend.

Eric isn't sucking his thumb - he's imitating Lisa's performance of a whale call.

The yaqona bowl.  Yaqona is more familiarly known to us by the Polynesian name of kava.  It's the traditional grog of Melanesia.  The triangular emblem on the front of the bowl traditionally points at the chief, and the guys doling out the yaqona made a big joke of making sure it was pointing at one of the yachties - who happened to be me.

A couple of Hungarian sailors who have spent the entire season in Fiji taught me to say "high tide!" to request a full ration when my yaqona cup was being filled.  They also egged me on to say "taki".  It's how the chief calls for another round to be served out, they explained.  Say it, say it, they told me.  Everyone will love it.

So I called out taki, twice.  There was a muttering of taki in the crowd on the pandanus mats, but no further round of yaqona was produced.  Then two men excused themselves and the sound of pounding started up nearby.  Instead of explaining that the yaqona bowl was empty, our hosts were graciously pounding the root to prepare more.

We knew that the entertainment had nearly finished off the local supply of yaqona, and I felt crestfallen at having been unwittingly rude enough to demand more.  My only consolation was that I had brought in a second bundle beyond my sevusevu contribution when the word went out that the local yaqona supply was low. 

The local kids have been practicing for an upcoming dance competition, and provided the entertainment.

After the dancing and singing was through, the second bowl of yaqona saw the yachtie-local fraternization deep into the night.  The Galactics, though, excused themselves early and got the younger crew to bed...

The end.