Wednesday, December 31, 2014


I can't resist one more passage picture - how the family sleeps at sea.
Note the white mixing bowl just above Alisa - we often keep that near Eric 
So, here we are!  Chile!  A new country, a new continent (Alisa is the only one of us who has ever been to South America before).  There's so much to experience and learn about this place and these people and this culture.  You'd think we'd be in travelers' ecstasy.

Well, no.  There's this thing about traveling on a boat, especially when you travel to more or less remote places like the Tuamotus/Australs (last season) or Patagonia (this coming season).  Which is that all of the incredible independence that the boat gives us (think of it - spending months in palm-fringed atolls or icy fjords, while you're also sleeping in your own bed every night - are you getting the picture?) comes at a cost.  And that cost, of course, is the very severe toll in time, effort and money that you have to expend to keep the boat in shape so that it can give you that independence.

We've just crossed the Pacific, and put 9,000 miles on the boat, with all the wear and deferred maintenance that entails.  And we're planning to go winter in Tierra del Fuego, where there will be little opportunity for getting parts and little weather suitable for activities like painting.  So now is our chance to get the work done.  Alisa and I are putting our heads down, largely ignoring the delights of Valdivia and the region, and taking care of business.  Our cultural interactions have been structured around visits to the hardware store or forays to buy winter clothes for the kids.

But, we've been through this routine often enough not to be too fazed by it.  And, we recognize that we can't let this spell of boat work get out of hand.  The boat serves us, after all, we don't serve the boat, and it's only too easy to find yourself chained to the dock, working away at an endless list of jobs, instead of being out there, drinking from the fire hose of experience that is sailing the world in your own boat.

So, we figure that since we spent 24 days on passage, 24 days in port working on the boat should be enough.  We didn't count Christmas Eve or Christmas against that total, so that takes us until January 19th.  I've highlighted that date on the "babes of Tahiti" calendar that I got for Christmas (thanks, honey!), and I am hereby publicly pledging that on that date, weather permitting, we will set sail for the blue whales of Chiloé Island and the delights beyond.

We'll see how it goes.

The post-passage ice cream in Valdivia
Drying out the barky on Christmas Eve
New crew uniforms for los canales
On the bus

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Almost Legendary

So these are the triumphant pictures - ending the passage under spinnaker, with our first view of South America coming as the sun was rising on a beautiful day.  Obviously good stuff, but of course to understand what an over-the-top moment it was you have to consider everything that went on during the 24 days of sailing that got us there...

Landfall at dawn
Raising the "Q" flag - the traditional notice that we require pratique to enter a new country...
I guess that I don't want to write too much more about the passage now - I think the stuff I wrote while we were at sea captured it pretty well.  I'll just sum it up by noting that as we were motoring up the Valdivia River, in a great moment of interregnum between the lawless open sea and the moment when we would clear formalities to enter into Chilean jurisdiction, Alisa and I both described the passage as our best ever.

Now that I've thought that over a bit, I would say that's not quite true, just because nothing could compete with our first passage to the Marquesas.  That was our first time crossing the equator, our first time being more than a thousand miles from land, the first time that we were setting out to cross an ocean.  We didn't know how it would go beforehand, of course, and it went great - we didn't want the passage to end.  So that first time is a bit legendary in my memory.

This passage couldn't compete with legendary.  But it was pretty damn good.

So, if you'll forgive a tired writer this indulgence, here is the story of the passage in a few pictures.

Just some of the fruit that was given to us in the Gambier
before we left.  We'll never forget the generosity of Polynesia
After the first few days of fast sailing and vomiting (no
pictures of those days!) things calmed down and we enjoyed
nearly-tropical sailing...
Passing time with the boys - lots of playing "go farm"

Here, and above - how we sleep on passage

The dreaded calms

Here and below - waiting for the green flash at 40 degrees South

Juvenile wandering albatross
Lord knows where the nearest sailmaker might be.  So if you rip the
spinnaker, you gotta fix it yourself and then get it back up in the breeze
The boys think that burrowing under sails is the best thing about
living on a boat
And the chute back up in the sky, where it belongs
Actually, the spinnaker was one of the reasons this was such a good passage.  We've gone long stretches over the past year or two without using that sail - so much so that I started to wonder how "necessary" it really was.  But on this passage it was a game-changer.  We kept it up for days (and nights) at a time, and it kept us moving in the very light winds that we found at 40 degrees South at this time of year.

There's something so aesthetically pleasing about whispering along at five knots of boat speed in about eight knots of wind with just that big candy cane striped sail flying in the middle of the empty empty ocean.

And the corollary to flying the spinnaker so much was that we had no gales on this passage.  In all the weather forecasts we downloaded over the entire 24 day passage, we never saw any winds of 30 knots forecast anywhere near us.  A very welcome change from our much rougher New Zealand-Tahanea passage.

At sea too long

Here and below - what happens when "someone" forgets to make sure
the snatch block on the spinnaker sheet is closed
Amazing how much force those sails generate... 
Alisa Abookire, at-sea baking machine
Eric is still too young to really shine on passage, but Elias is really
coming into his own.  He's good company afloat or ashore…though
he tends to be grumpy some mornings.
I had all that moral advantage from the exploded
snatch block - and then I squandered it all by
blowing up the muffler.  This is the fix
Alisa, in the sunshine, on Christmas Day.  We cleared into Chile quickly,
we shopped, we (mostly she) did what needed to be done to engineer a
good Christmas for the boys…and now the bliss can kick in
So now, we have los canales of Patagonia just over the horizon.  We just need to do some boat work, and I need to write a science proposal, and in a few short weeks we should be heading south...

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Three , or, Bang Into Chile

As our passage was drawing to an end I started to think about a summary blog post.

It would be called "Three" - a precious little something about having completed our third crossing of the Pacific. It would be a restrained post, mind you, but it would also derive too-obvious delight from the merit of its own restraint. We don't think much about milestones on Galactic, but when you find yourself having sailed across the Pacific Ocean for the third time, you're bound to reflect. That sort of thing.

Luckily, the life of those who go to sea for pleasure is too filled with the exigencies of the ridiculous to allow for much navel gazing.

What am I talking about? This.

The scene, last night. We had it in the bag. Ten o'clock on our 23rd day out from the Gambier. The boys safely tucked in their bunks. Forty miles remaining to our landfall in Bahia Corral, the gateway to Valdivia. The wind had fallen to the point where the spinnaker was flapping uselessly. But we had conserved our fuel, and could afford to motor the home stretch.

I turned on the engine. And heard a muted explosion in the engine room beneath me.

When I installed the shutoff valve on our exhaust to keep waves out of our engine, I neglected to design a fail-safe to protect against the inevitable time when I would forget to open the valve before starting the engine.

Last night, I forgot. So I blew up the muffler. Shards of fiberglass and oily water were splattered around the engine room, and a smoking hole sat where the muffler had been.

Instead of cake-walking into town, we found ourselves wondering how we'd get the engine running so that we could motor up the Valdivia River.

Against my every expectation, I managed to patch the muffler back together. Is there any at-sea repair that West System epoxy can't do? But with the repair on top of the usual closing-the-coast vigilance, I got two hours of sleep last night, and Alisa three.

And then, suddenly, the passage was over. We were in Chile. The world of storm petrels and wandering albatross that we had inhabited only the day before was nothing but a dream. I found myself trying to make coherent answers in Spanish to the questions of very friendly officials. I kept saying our boat was 40 meters long instead of 14, or, when I was trying to be precise, 30.7 instead of 13.7. Big laughs every time.

And then, suddenly again, the whole family was in the back of a bus, barreling into town to get to the supermercado in time.

How did we get to Latin America? Alisa and I kept asking each other.

We were making our first visit to a supermarket in seven months exhausted, with few cultural points of reference to rely on, on the day before Christmas and three hours before closing time. The store was beyond crowded. People were queuing deep into the aisles to check out. I didn't have my passport that I needed to pay with a credit card. It was all clearly madness.

And we all loved it all.

We came home with unimaginable bounty. Meat, cheese, potatoes, vegetables, beer, milk, wine. The canned duck will be spared to serve as the main course for some other holiday meal.

And, we all agree - it was one of our best passages ever.

Feliz Navidad.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Most Accessible Adventure

Tomorrow it will be three weeks since we set out on this crossing. Alisa and I have naturally been thinking a bit about stories of our sailing friends' various passages, or the passages of friends of friends, or just passage stories that we've heard. The farther away the stories get from our ability to verify them, the better they are, not surprisingly.

At this point in our sailing career we've made a lot of passages ourselves, of course, and we are well enmeshed in this odd community of people who cross oceans in their own boats, often time after time. And it strikes me that there is no grander adventure that is accessible to the average person than this.

During this past season in French Polynesia, we came up with the outline of a route that would get us back to Alaska. Not too quickly, mind, as that route began with us sailing away from Alaska, and towards Patagonia. But we had an idea of what the end game might look like for closing out this endless tour of the Pacific that has occupied our last seven and a half years.

But yesterday Alisa said something along the lines of how we shouldn't assume we know what route we'll actually take. Who knows - Cuba is suddenly allowed to us, and I have great memories of traveling there with a friend in my pre-sailing days. "Maybe we'll sail to Cuba," I said.

"Yeah," said Alisa. "Or maybe we'll sail to South Africa and Madagascar and on to Oz. "We could."

So I guess the big-picture dreaminess has taken root on this passage. After three weeks out of sight of land we are far enough removed from anything that passes as normal life that we might be allowed a little "what-if" daydreaming. And although we have started to think about working our way back to the Great Land, we are both happy enough in this life to imagine wanting to keep going, life fundamentals and the funding of my science work allowing.

Meanwhile, we crossed paths with a small ship today. They weren't running AIS, which is unusual for a ship of any sort, and I'm not sure that they weren't a Chilean Armada vessel, as far off of the Chilean coast as we still are. A couple of attempts on the VHF in English got no response, so I got my first chance on this trip to try out some radio Spanish, which went as well as I could hope.

And since that moment of excitement, we've been dealing with fairly confounding conditions - light wind, and also quite variable wind, which is very unusual for offshore sailing, plus swell from two bad directions - straight from the beam and also on the bow. So the motion has been awkward, and we find ourselves banging along at 7 knots for a while, and then the sails slamming around in no wind not too long after. We made good traveling out of it for most of the day, but just now I've given up in the face of steadily declining winds. So we're now motoring on the fumes of our keel tank (there are two inches in the port tank to get us into Valdivia) and with any luck the spinnaker will see us through whatever light winds await us tomorrow.

Well less than 500 miles to go now. It's getting pretty cold - I'm still going barefoot on deck, but Eric has taken to putting on his Alaska-ready "goat-roper" hat and fingerless gloves and declaring, "Now I'm ready for Patagonia!"

Unless this light wind sticks around too long, we have a reasonable chance of a Chilean Christmas.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Baby, Can I Open the Duck?

"Who knew the Pacific was this wide?" I say to Alisa. "Who knew that we would want to eat all the way across?"

She lets me kid her that way. It's part of our healthy marriage.

A while back - like, before we left the Gambier on this last leg - Alisa let something slip about her provisioning efforts in New Zealand before this Pacific crossing. It seems that she did the huge provisioning push - trip after trip to various stores - and then just got completely sick of shelling out the big dollars for Kiwi food prices. So when we were delayed in our departure by several weeks, not least because of her attack of the shingles, she never did another shop to replace the food we had been eating while still in New Zealand. All told, we ate into our stores for a month before we left.

That month of food would come in handy just

We won't go hungry, mind. But cuisine might be a little basic between here and Chile.

It's a big ol' can of baked beans for dinner tonight, with rice. That will leave us with one more can of baked beans. After that's gone, we're presumably onto rice with rice.

("I've got a salad idea for tomorrow!" Alisa just said.

"Oh yeah, what's that?" I asked.

"A can of beets," she answered. "And I don't know what else.")

More critically, we seem to be suddenly without enough butter to make Christmas cookies. It goes that way. When you get low on food, you suddenly start going through what you still do have extra-quickly. Alisa has been baking a ton on this trip - every other day, cake and/or cookies and two loaves of bread. So of course the butter went. And don't ask about the ten dozen eggs we left Gambier with.

And I won't even mention the beer situation. A week ago I tried hinting that any secret stash of beer that was set aside for the holiday might best be enjoyed immediately. No joy there.

We are all completely unfussed at the prospect of passing Christmas at sea. Alisa even has a canned duck set aside for Christmas dinner. But she did ask me the other day to let her know if and when I become confident that we'll reach Valdivia before Christmas. She's pretty keen to open the duck now.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

41=?ISO-8859-1?Q?=B0?= S(mooth)

Consider our situation. The three bits of land that are closest to us - Easter Island/Rapa Nui, the Juan Fernandez Islands and mainland Chile - are all more than 1,000 sea miles away. Any designs we may have had on a fast passage have been smothered by the area of high pressure that is slooooowly making its way over our position. The last time we took any diesel fuel aboard was in May, in Opua, New Zealand. Since then we've put 7,950 miles on the log(!), and the tanks are far too empty for us to blithely motor through the calms. Instead we've been living under the spinnaker, which we much prefer to motoring anyway.

Sometimes the chute pulls bravely and we make a fortune (6 knots in the right direction!) out of little breeze. Other times are like what we have now - not quite enough wind to keep the spinnaker full, and we're making less than three knots heading a little north of east, which will tend to carry us deeper into the high.

When we do motor we keep the RPMs very low - just enough to move us at four knots or so - and as a result we sip at the fuel. But even so, we might only have 24 hours of motoring left to us, so making even imperfect progress under spinnaker welcome. But then the wind drops to the point where the chute starts flapping against the rig, and we have to consider the cost in terms of wear to the sail, or, much worse, the risk of a tear if the delicate fabric finds a sharp edge somewhere in all the fittings on the mast.

So that's the game now - we consider the tradeoff between declining fuel and risk to the sail, and Alisa and I have had the chute up and down a score of times since the high caught us three or four days ago.

Early on in the passage we just set the sails and then held on while we ripped along. But this slower, more considered progress that we've been making lately has brought it home to me - this really is an adventure! No matter how many people who have done the trip before, no matter how commodotizied and normalized the activity might seem to us, it really is a big deal, sailing to South America with the family, across the bleedin' Pacific Ocean and all. And then, when we get across this vast ocean, there is all of the unknown wonder that awaits us in Patagonia.

No wonder full-time sailors so famously have a hard time of it when they swallow the anchor and retire to life ashore. Most other ways of living would seem a bit pedestrian after this.

Meanwhile, the conditions during these days of slow sailing have been delightfully tranquil. It's sunny, and after weeks of weather that spanned the gamut from drizzly to rainy, we have been lounging around in shorts. There is a three-meter or so swell rolling under us from the distant Southern Ocean. But the period of the swell is so long that we barely feel the motion. We just sit in the cockpit and watch the hills of water rolling up to us, and consider the strange sight of our stern rising to meet them, again and again. Two sunsets ago we watched one of the best green flashes we have yet seen. The sun looks bigger on this horizon than it does in the tropics, and the flash seemed to last much longer, perhaps because of the oblique angle at which the sun sets down here. A few breathless seconds after the first flash, we rose on the swell and saw a repeat performance.

Three to four weeks - that's a lot of time to spend on just getting to the next place. But right now, there's nowhere we'd rather be.

Monday, December 15, 2014

40=?ISO-8859-1?Q?=B0?= S(pinnaker)

We crossed over the 40° line two days ago. Roaring Forties and all that jazz.

I would never be dismissive about the potential for bad weather in these latitudes. But so far, our biggest concern has been finding enough wind to keep the spinnaker drawing.

That cheery red and white sail has been our deliverance over the last two days, keeping Galactic moving in super-light winds and saving us from resorting to the engine and our low fuel tanks for forward progress. It's dawn as I'm writing this, and we've just flown the chute all night. As a result Alisa and I took the novel step, on this passage at least, of standing watch and watch through the night. The radar alarm and AIS might be good at keeping a lookout for other vessels, but they can't watch the spinnaker for us.

Through the years we've heard reports from other sailors about the delights of dumping the spinnaker into the ocean. We've always been a little curious, so two days ago we decided to see for ourselves what all the buzz was about.

I had left the spinnaker halyard wrapped around the self-tailing winch but neglected to make it fast to the cleat, and a shock load on the sail when Galactic rolled in the swell was enough to pop the halyard free.

The halyard is the line that holds the sail up to the top of the mast.

So the entire sail of super-light nylon dumped into the ocean. The sail that, by the way, cost more than twice as much as the truck that I drove in college.

One bit of luck was that the stopper knot on the end of the halyard got stuck beneath the lower spreaders, so after Alisa and I had wrestled the sail aboard I could just scramble up the mast steps to the spreader to retrieve the end of the halyard, instead of having to go all the way to the masthead for it.

No lasting damage, but there is little enthusiasm on board for a repeat.

Meanwhile, the vastness of this ocean is our constant companion - day after day, the endless expanse of sky and water continue to impress. We have had visits from albatross lately, all of them either tentatively or definitely identified as wandering albatross. The sight of a bird with a 3 meter wingspan, silently soaring around our boat on a sunny day while we glide along under spinnaker - it underscores the solitude of this place, and, after all the albatross that we've seen in recent years, it's still a thrill that is worth the price of admission.

The boys continue doing pretty well on passage. Alisa comments on how completely new South America will be to us after the six years or so that we've spent in Polynesia and the southwest Pacific. And today we'll have pancakes for breakfast, both our Sunday routine and the celebration of our second complete week at sea.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Pleasure Cruise, Or, The Happy Middle

"Wow", said Alisa. "This is a pleasure cruise."

Jinx not, but she's right. Ever since the vomiting of the first two days was over, we've been enjoying great conditions on this longest passage of our lives. The sailing has been fast, the wind has been constant enough, and the swell has been loooow.

For more of the trip than not, Galactic has been moving faster than eight knots. And now that the wind has dropped a bit and we're reduced to seven and a half knots under full sail, the sea seems table-flat.

Of course we're not even half way there and it's far too early to gloat. In particular, some variety of Southern Ocean swell is bound to visit us sooner or later. But our decision to wait until December to make this crossing has certainly been vindicated thus far. This is the first passage in years for which we've used pilot charts to plan, and those graphical representations of average conditions in the world's oceans, month by month, promised a marked decline in the incidence of gales from November to December. So, at the cost of a shorter summer in Patagonia, that's why we chose to be on passage now.

It's not like a tradewind passage, with the wind blowing forever from one direction. Lows and highs swirl by us, shifting the direction of our wind gradually but persistently, day by day.

Instead of choosing a course and doggedly sticking to it, reefing and shaking out and changing the angle of sail to bend the wind to our will, I have mostly just adjusted our course as the wind shifted, keeping us within ten degrees of a beam reach throughout. This keeps the speed up and the traveling comfortable. And as a delightful by-product, the track that we've left across our computer screen's depiction of the southwest Pacific curves and swirls - we're swooping and dipping our way to Chile, we drop down towards the magical line of 40°S, then we back off to the north. It feels very non-Cartesian mind, it has a touch of that Moitessier creature-of-the-sea air about it, this little abnegation of our era's slavish observance of efficiency. We are sailing to Patagonia along the track that an albatross might follow. It probably isn't the fastest route, but it feels the best. And in spite of those meandering twists and turns, we have been logging days of 180 and 190 nautical miles, straight line distance, between our positions at consecutive noons.

So this is us in the happy middle. At noon today we were at 37° 07' S, 118° 19' W, heading south of east. We're at the longitude of L.A., and we'll be finished when we reach the longitude of Connecticut. Alisa is teaching Elias to knit. We're reading our way aloud through the Narnia series yet again. All of us are doing what we can to increase our grasp of Spanish vocabulary and grammar - reflexive verbs! The past tense! Days of the week! I am giving myself the great gift of time and concentration enough to read Faulkner (Absalom, Absalom!) for the first time in years. I've given a science paper a final edit and it is now ready to go to the journal (Progress in Oceanography) once we're in Chile. I also have printed off the manuscript that I've been working on this year to give it a critical read after using my energies elsewhere the last couple of months...though I'm not sure I should do that while reading Faulkner. Alisa promises that we'll be down to eating the cushions by the end of the trip. The boys are having long stretches of playing well together, feeding each other lines in their role playing of knights and fishermen.

This might be that old friend, the ineffable peace of the sea.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Yachts, Like Ships, Pass in the Night

Hello from the big empty.

No marine mammals, only one tiny flying fish on deck since we left the Gambier, no fish on the line (when it has been mellow enough to fish) and the briefest handful of birds about - Kermadec petrels perhaps? I have completely wasted these years when I could have been turning myself into an expert on South Pacific pelagic seabirds.

We did, however, have a nice visit with our friends on Windora, who are also bound for Valdivia.

The AIS notified us of the presence of a vessel at 0100 a couple nights ago, just as we were in the last stages of a long struggle, doomed from the beginning though valuable for the optimism that it stirred in our hearts, to keep ahead of a front heralding the arrival of that much-feared state, no wind.

So it was raining, and blowing. I had just wrapped up the jib completely and shifted our course 20 degrees more northward, under double-reefed main and staysail, playing out the last option open to us before the front would overtake and carry the wind to fuel someone else's dreams of sailing to Patagonia.

And there, after the AIS alarm had been turned off, was a light. A green light, just on our port quarter. An enquiry on the radio brought back Lynda's familiar voice.

We all had a nice chat while our courses crossed, less than a mile apart. When you look at the scale of this bit of ocean that we're crossing, particularly on a globe, you can see what a lucky chance it was that brought us together.

We compared notes. Yes, they too wondered if setting out in that particular weather was really a good idea while the crossed the lagoon of the Gambier, heading for the pass and the open sea. Yep, kind of a rough start those first few days, but nice and fast. And, yes, they know Akimbo too! Great folks. (It's remarkable how many Aussie and Kiwi sailing friends we have in common with these guys.) And, yep, we all were getting more and more excited for Chile. The conversation died off, as radio talks will at that hour of the night, and we never said goodbye. In the morning we heard Phil hailing us ever so faintly, but could not raise a reply. We will presumably see them in a few weeks in Valdivia.

And so now we're in that no-wind, waiting for something different to come along. We managed a fairly heroic job of avoiding the use of the motor, running it for only an hour yesterday right after the front had left us, but this morning I shrugged my shoulders and fired it up, most likely for the whole day by the looks of things. Best to make some progress in the right direction.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Puker Express Out Of Polynesia

We started out from the Gambier sailing at thirty degrees west of south - that is, away from our destination of Chile.

That's what I love about sailing. It's so damn logical.

But, it was time to go if we were going to get our chance to dash across the temporarily not-windless horse latitudes. Even if going just then meant setting out in strong winds from the east-southeast - i.e., from the direction we would have been heading to, in a more user-friendly transport setting.

It was practically a rally start - another boat, the Kiwi-flagged Windora, was setting out bound for the same destination on the same day as us.

I had explained to Phil on Windora that we tried not to sail with the wind before the beam - that is, at all on our nose - as it tends to make Eric puke.

Well, Eric just fell asleep for the first couple days. It was me who was doing the puking.

Then, when I had nearly finished being seasick - two long bouncy days during which Alisa was doing ALL the childcare - Elias got his brother overexcited, and Eric puked as result. Down below. In the saloon. While he was sitting on the bunk that he and Alisa have been sharing.

Alisa, her instincts unblunted by our three weeks of idyll in the Gambier, caught the puke in a mixing bowl.

(Every gal in the world whose husband is trying to dazzle her into giving up a perfectly comfortable life in a perfectly fine house to take the family out sailing the world - here is your ammunition. Use it as you will.)

(I know that's a stereotype about who's likely to be trying to dazzle whom. But there it is.)

Anyway, we're all over the puking, at least until the weather gets poor (touch wood) or until someone gets us overexcited.

Alisa and I can't quite believe that we're actually sailing to Patagonia.

We're away.

And we're being evasive with the boys about exactly how long we expect this to take.


And I think the Pacific Seafarers' Net will be posting our position on Yotreps for the duration. The SPOT tracker turned out to be useless in the South Pacific or a Ponzi scheme, I can't tell which. If you're motivated, find Yotreps on the web and look for Galactic or our call sign, KL2DM.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Pick One

Five and a half months - it's been a very very good run in French Polynesia.

Especially considering that we're here on three month visas.

Yesterday, walking home from the an internet session at the post, I saw one of those flower trees that you see everywhere in Polynesia.  Are they tiare?  I think so, but I dunno.  Botany isn't my strength.

I did something that I've never done before.  I picked one and tucked it behind my ear and strolled on down the street, looking fine, I'm sure.

My shorthand description of Polynesia has always been that it is the place where strangers give you flowers.  But I figured, why wait for someone else to do the giving?  When's the next time that I'm going to be in a place where I can wear a flower behind my ear?

So long to all this
Elias and I have had our last snorkel for the season.  We identified three new-to-us species from the pictures that we took - an ID session afterwards is a part of our routine.

What a pleasure, snorkeling with him.  I suppose there's no one who's so comfortable to do something fun with as your eight-year-old son.  May it ever be thus.
Parrot fish are our bane.  How could we not be able to
identify this fish?  It seems like it should be so obvious
For all the talk of the Gambier as being "special", Alisa and Elias went into the village today in search of local fruit, and were floored by the response they got.  A shop owner buried them in gifts of fruit and veg and fresh eggs, just because.

Polynesia never fails to overwhelm.

They'll be treasures at sea - and there were bananas, too
So, yes, as you have no doubt guessed, the weather is looking very good to leave for Chile in a few days, and we're on our final countdown.  I have a painful ear infection and am a bit swamped with finishing science commitments via the very poor internet here, but I'm sure it will all come together, just as it always does.

And, in the midst of our countdown, Alisa took the time to cook a proper Thanksgiving meal for ourselves and our new mates on Windora, who are also heading for Valdivia.  It's not something that I would do on my own, to have people over for a holiday meal a couple days before a three+ week passage.  But we all had a great time - Alisa is good at making it happen.

Alisa can do a holiday justice
And, that's us.  I've got to get some sleep.

The things we've done in these five and a half months - they'll give us memories for a lifetime.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It'll do for us.

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 21, 2014

Australia - France

The French national team beat Australia at rugby this week.

France (l) chases Australia (r)
You might have missed that result.  We would have, except that we found ourselves in the company of two rugby fans - one French, one Kiwi - on the day the match was broadcast here in the Gambier.

A couple days later, the enormity of this outcome finally sank in.

"How could France be any good at rugby?" I asked Alisa.  We were in the comfortable confines of the Marital Seabunk, enjoying the sleepy 15 minutes of independence that we enjoy every day, between the time the boys go to sleep and the time when we nod off.

"I mean," I continued, warming to my theme, "it seems to suggest that there's something lacking in my understanding of France.  Or of rugby."

Alisa didn't have much to contribute on the theme, so I went on.

"Think about it.  France is good at so many things.  And Australia is good at so few.  And then France went and beat Australia at one of the few things Australia is good at.  Hardly seems fair."

This picture, and below - the boys discovering their rugby roots with a Kiwi
enthusiast and a French enthusiast on Taravai Island, the Gambier.  I was
safely on board Galactic, doing some science thing or another

The boys couldn't have enjoyed it more

Thursday, November 20, 2014

How Many Sailing Days Until Xmas?

So, what could be more fun than Christmas with kids who are still young enough to believe in Santa Claus?

Nothing, I warrant.  I just totally love it.

This year, though, there's a kicker.  We find ourselves sitting in the Gambier, looking ahead at the 3,900 nautical mile passage (by the great circle route, which is the shortest route, of course) that will take us on to Chile.

We'll be ready to leave…soon.  The boat is in quite good nick (touch wood!).  I just have to...finish…up…a…few…more…science…tasks…before…we…can…leave.  It is always thus, lately.

The weather is looking great, with a big stable high sitting between us and South America, all set to give us westerly winds once we get south of it.

The trouble might be that the high is so stable that we might find ourselves waiting around for a change in the weather that will allow us to sail to the other side.  December 25th could be suddenly looking close at hand.  And Santa hasn't done his shopping yet.

Our first reaction was to do what parents in our culture are meant to do - worry.  We have always told the boys that Santa can find us no matter where our boat is.  So it wouldn't do to have Santa short on gifts.

But on reflection, we think that things will work out.  We have a couple of gifts that were meant for birthdays but were held back because the pile of loot was too big for a kid living on a boat (in Elias' case) or because the birthday boy had been having behavioral problems that we weren't going to compound with over-giving (in Eric's).  And we've got a few chocolates and bouncy-balls from the magasin in Ra'ivavae, and Alisa is going to print up a collage of all of the pictures of Elias catching fish that we took this last year, and she will make Eric a dream-catcher (he's been prone to getting up in the middle of the night lately), and…what more could you want?

The boys will be totally happy, wherever Christmas might find us - especially since Alisa has a knack for baking treats to make any holiday special.

I have heard enough heart-warming tales of the benefits of raising kids afloat to be a little cynical about the whole thing, and I realize that it's impossible, and unwise, to try to raise your kids cut off from the larger world.  But it is true that raising the boys on the boat has in some ways given them an extremely traditional upbringing, at least in terms of how close they are to us, and how insulated from materialism.

But, more than anything about child rearing, I think that this episode of planning for Santa-at-sea has underscored the real lesson of the life afloat.  Which is that so many things are a problem only if you decide they are.

Friday, November 14, 2014


Back row, l-r: Arnold, Michel Jr., Johnny.  Middle row: Lucie, Alisa,
Jackye, Jane, Michel Sr.  Front row: Elias, Arnold Jr. (Manu!), Eric, Hanavae (sp!)
This is our third trip across the Pacific, and we have been lucky enough to visit many islands in Polynesia.

Rapa made us feel like we were seeing Polynesia for the first time.  Or like we were finally seeing the real thing.

I have a lot more to say about Rapa.  But a blog is a document that lives in the present, and now that we are happily in the Gambier, events will soon overtake Rapa memories in this space.
The va'a paddle.  Is regret a particularly Polynesian emotion?
Before that happens, though, I've got a few more good Rapa posts in me – starting at the end, with our goodbye.

A cross-cultural disconnect in the middle of it all.  Alisa to Jackye (having
scrubbed out our takeaway food containers from the day before so they
could be re-used, just as American yachties do: "Here, can you use these?"
Jackye: "Why are you giving these to me?"

Elias getting in one last session on the fish book with Johnny.
The boys in their hats, getting down
with some Rapan nectarines

We have left hundreds of places behind over the last seven years, and it's enough of a circus to organize crew and boat to go to sea without some landlubbers staring down from the dock, waiting to wave goodbye.  Or worse yet, trying to help.  So our normal routine is to say our brief farewells ashore the day before we leave, and then to slink away whenever we finally get ready.

That is not an option in Rapa.  That is clearly a place where good manners demand that friends be offered the chance to say bon voyage as you depart.  And so, I now realize, it's probably good manners to do the same everywhere in Polynesia.

So we spread the word that we were leaving at 0600 the next day.

Here, and below: previous scenes.  Arnold Jr. (Manu!), Eric
and Lucie after an impromptu fishing session on the quai

And Arnold showing me some chops on the kamaka
Johnny Faraire was the first to show up – and he handed me the va'a paddle I had been using on the island as a farewell gift.  Which floored me, although he had given me warning a couple days earlier that he would do that.

I had some tuna hooks for him.  But just now, as I am writing this, I wish I had thought, in that electric moment of leaving, to go back to the stern rail where our trolling rod was lashed in place for going to sea, and handed that to him. 

That would have been the Polynesian thing to do.

But, alas, we live in the moment, and have to live with the decisions we make on the fly.

Jackye, Jane and Alisa on our last full day in Rapa, in the community hall
where we had previously attended crowded, happy scenes of celebration.
Just us this last time, and we were there because...
Jane and Michel were shouting us lunch.  Us and the kids and Jane, Michel,
Jackye and Johnny sat down at this private table, laid with food that women
were making for takeaway sale in the village.  Poisson cru, taro, a delicious dish
of raw tuna and fermented coconut that I never learned the name for,
chow mein, fried chicken, bread.  Etc., etc.!
Elias, getting down with the local Fanta
Jackye and Jane brought down Rurutu-style hats for the boys, and necklaces for all of us.  Everyone had a cup of coffee on Galactic.

I had been concerned that we had not managed to tell Arnold and Lucie that we were leaving.  Johnny managed to come up with their phone number and, faster than you might believe possible, Arnold and Lucie and Arnold Junior (Manu!) were at the boat, still looking very sleepy.

Arnold gave me a necklace and leaned in for a whiskery buss.  Which gave me the key for how to comport myself with Johnny and Michel Senior. 

It was the peak Gallic moment of my life.

After kisses and nanas all around, it was time for us to shove off.  We got the main up, then made a pass by the dock for a final wave, and saw that two of Elias' mates from many afternoon plays on the quai had come out with their mom to wave.

And then we sailed away from Rapa, most likely forever.

Final waves

And, all means what, exactly?

Well, I can only think that Rapa resonated so strongly with us because the people there showed us the living embodiment of an approach to life that so many Westerners aspire to.

Things that Westerners pay lip service to - like living in the moment, and being generous, and not being shackled to a life that serves material possession - are everywhere in evidence in Rapa.

As always with my travel interactions, I'm keen not to see these people as abstract utopian beings.  They're complex people, with their faults and their talents, just like us.  Shortly before we arrived in Rapa, there was the most horrible tragedy you could imagine, involving sudden death and some of the more hopeless themes of human existence.  Rapa is very much a place of the real world.

But people on Rapa treated us - strangers who could not speak with most of them - with an incredible grace.  And that welcome made it hard for us, the always-a-little-confused visitors, not to see Rapa as this incredible remote bit of the world where people have learned to lead life in a way that's just a little bit more beautiful than what people have struck on in other places.

I suppose that's what's kept us coming back to Polynesia over and over again.

For some reason Alisa and I found this picture so funny.  Me, sailing away
from Rapa, wondering what the hell just happened