Fish and Bananas

Most people, if asked to describe South Pacific cuisine, would probably imagine fresh fish and tropical fruits. The potential enjoyment of such victuals was certainly high on our list of reasons to go on our big trip in the first place. Happily, this culinary vision is fairly accurate; both items are among the most abundant resources of the region, although a distant second compared to seawater. This is the epic tale of how some of those highlights became too much of a good thing in the end.

Mahi Mahi
Mahi Mahi

Our initial fishing efforts were auspiciously productive. On the first leg of the journey, from California to the Big Island, we caught one Yellowfin Tuna, two Mahi Mahi and a smaller fish that we only rated a single Mahi. These were followed by a Skipjack Tuna later on that was so fiesty he busted one of our aging reels. Our crew rendered various aid in consuming the aforementioned pelagic acquisitions. But after that, we set off on our own. From that point forward, a tug on the line meant over a week of fish at every possible meal. With the exception of one Wahoo at the end, all the other fish we caught under way in the South Pacific were Yellowfin Tuna. While the cat was highly enthusiastic about this new treat, a fridge full of big fillets was rather daunting to us.

Crew and Sushi
Tough cruising life.

Zara’s tastes were simple: she devoured lightly boiled trimmings with much gusto as long as they were relatively fresh. Our palates, on the other hand, required additional variety. To that end, we developed a timeline of favorite preparations that became our standard for each new catch. The order of recipes went thusly: sushi and related forms of raw fish were the obvious first steps. The occasional seared tuna steak also began to trend during these early stages. Next was ceviche. Fish tacos usually made a showing around this point. Then the steaks and the ceviche batch peaked and quickly waned together. The final phase was always tuna salad, either on sandwiches or as pasta salad. Other creations were inserted to keep things interesting, but the aforementioned regime was our go-to for many months.

So Much Fruit!
Spondias dulcis, etc

But what about the bananas, you may be asking? Fear not, gentle reader; they are far from forgotten. Their first appearance in this story was in unremarkable quantities, when we landed in the Marquesas and took advantage of new access to produce vendors. But when we left the island group, we stocked up on produce via trade with a nearby local. He requested 30 feet of rope, some AAA batteries, and a half a liter of Jack Daniel’s Whiskey, among other sundry items. In exchange we received a generous supply: a pile of limes; several coconuts, papayas, and pamplemousse; a large hard squash; 30+ weird fruits that we had never seen before; and our first entire stalk of bananas. It was hard enough to stow one bunch so that it wouldn’t bruise while on the rocking, roller coaster ride of a sailboat, much less a whole stalk.No sailing lessons had specifically prepared us for that moment, but we applied a collection of bungees and paracord with some reputable knots to suspend it over the cockpit seat like some large, tropical mistletoe. Thus adorned, we set sail for the Tuamotus.

En Route to the Tuamotus
En Route to the Tuamotus

The five day, downwind passage was the most perfect sailing we saw the whole trip. The wind was moderate and steady, the Perseids were near peak, and of the few clouds we saw, the most notable was the green, ripening one swaying gently over the wheel. There was little to do in regards to the 74 yellowing fruits for the first two days. On the third night we started to change watch as usual at 2am, with almost nothing to report. *Thud* Our senses perked up at the soft sound, and we set to searching the cockpit for the source. *Thud* One fallen banana at our feet quickly became two, and then three, as our sleepy brains began to wrap around the concept of their arrival. In a flash, we were rushing about with activity, as the bananas rained down on our heads! Amid the deluge, we struggled in the dark to disassemble the ad-hoc rigging while gently holding the heavy, swinging stormcloud. Our team effort prevailed, and before long the cut bunches were secured below, cheerfully decorating several storage hammocks.

And so began the era of banana rations. Previous smaller stocks necessitated a two banana/day maximum for each person. The new hoard required a six banana/day minimum per person. Naturally, that rate was unsustainable in the long term, and after a few days we resorted to several cooking methods to dispatch the reminder. Once gone, we enjoyed a good long break from all things banana over the next month. Zara needed no such break, as she disdained any part in the fruit consumption from the very beginning.

The cycles started all over again when our friend Nick joined us on Tahiti. As we were duly rested from the previous banana engorgement, we bought a new but smaller stalk at the market before our departure. Nick was true to his word of providing support in the new banana battle. No rationing minimums or maximums were imposed, but frequent consumption was highly encouraged. Like all bunches of banana since the beginning of time, there was always a day when every single one seemed to ripen at once. One afternoon I picked out a set of tiny ones, no bigger than two or three bites each, and proceeded to eat nine of them in one sitting. Though I didn’t suffer too much because of it, I wouldn’t do it again. Kids, don’t try this at home.

Departing Mo'orea.
Departing Mo’orea.

Anyone missing the fish yet? We had started to, so as we departed an anchorage one evening, we set up the lines in the fading light of the beautiful day. Before long, the reel sang out its cry, warning us of the line pulling away fast. Its serenade was the prelude to an hour long fight to bring in what seemed like a fish the size of an island. The three of us barely managed to boat the beast, which was nearly twice the size of our usual tuna. Though we lacked a scale, it could have easily weighed over 50 pounds.

The following two weeks were the most tuna-intense of the entire trip. We pulled out all the stops during meals to keep the repetitive ingredient interesting. Thankfully, Nick liked fish, and proved a most invaluable asset in conquering the huge amount of meat. Even with the added reinforcements, we had more than enough and were all quite tired of it in the end. We were also still on break from bananas when Nick departed for the real world.

First Wahoo, last fish.

The only other fishing event of note was the wahoo, the last fish of the trip. It was probably as big as the monster tuna, but fortunately it was well timed too. We caught it just offshore of Palmerston Island, where each boat is adopted by a host family. Only half of the fillets were processed and secured down below before we had to pick up our mooring. As we secured our lines, the family gladly received the other half of the fish, which started the week off on a good note. We ate some of it with them during joint meals ashore, and plenty back on Serenity. Although it was a nice change from the tuna, we were also somewhat happy to see it gone.

Typical house on Tabuaeran.

While that was the last we saw of fish, the banana zenith was yet to come. Our last stop was Tabuaeran, known as Fanning Island, which lies about 900 nautical miles south of Honolulu. Their supply ship had been significantly delayed, and we were happy to share some of our stores with the people we befriended. They still wanted to repay us in some way, so we accepted piles and piles of coconuts, along with the offer of a stalk of bananas. The first stalk they procured was huge; even half would have been far more than we could possibly use. I struggled to assure them of our appreciation while at the same time requesting a more manageable quantity. An expedition was mounted to repair the situation, while I continued visiting with people. Then word came that the second, allegedly smaller stalk had been directly placed, sight unseen, in our dinghy. I was filled with apprehension as I approached for a look – perhaps it would be nearly the same size as the previous behemoth. Instead I sighed with relief; it was absolutely perfect.

Back on the boat, we happily suspended the gift in the usual location, where they could see from shore that it been well received. Two days later, we were bustling about, making our final preparations to leave later that morning. Suddenly, we spotted a kayak pulling up near us, paddled by a complete stranger. Puzzled, we greeted him, whereupon he gave us another stalk of bananas, the same size at the one hanging prominently over the cockpit. We thanked him as best we could, but it was hard to appreciate the white elephant. Somehow we managed to rig it in a second, nearby location that wouldn’t crash into the first stalk or our heads, and got underway.

It was a good thing that we hadn’t seen much fresh fruit in a while, because otherwise the impossible task would have been even more foreboding. I couldn’t bring myself to count them; it would only have made things worse. Still determined to do our best, we got to work as soon as the first ones ripened. This time, no mere six banana minimum would do; our daily allotment was TWELVE bananas each. We ate them in threes and fours, lasting only a few days at those rates before our efforts flagged. A few half-hearted cooking creations also went mostly untouched, especially as we approached Oahu. When the agricultural inspector came to remove any remaining foreign produce, we were rather grateful to send away the last browning bananas.

Another beautiful day at Waikiki.

We’ve often remarked on how similar the Hawaiian islands are to many of those in the South Pacific. Their resources are one of the best commonalities; landing in Honolulu meant seeing a lot of our favorite foods from the trip. But, unsurprisingly, it was quite a while before we wanted any fish or bananas at all.

Going Back

Over the last 18 months, we’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be going back. As we prepared to depart Seattle, we wondered when we’d be going back there again. Our possessions were divvied accordingly. We faced a similar uncertainty when we left California as to when we’d return for those things we couldn’t fit in Serenity. Throughout the trip, we made decisions on where to visit based on the knowledge that it might be many years before we could go back, if we ever made it back at all.

Before we knew it, our voyage was over and we were going back. But can you really go back to somewhere you’ve never been? Sure, we spent a short weekend in Honolulu ten years ago, but for all intents and purposes, we arrived at a new city. For the last few months, we’ve been going back to ‘normal’ life, or at least out of cruiser mode. We go back to visit friends and family on the mainland as much as we can. We’ve gone back to paychecks and electric bills and this strange thing called getting mail. Back to ubiquitous internet and communication, to beds that hold still at night, and to city life full of fluent English speakers.

The biggest question still remains: When will we go back to cruising? The answer is: we don’t know, but not anytime soon. Even if we rushed to save up and prepare, it would be many years before it could become a reality. So in the meanwhile, we will go back to the land. We will search Hawaii for a place to call home, a place we will cherish going back to. Maybe we’ll only go back for a little, or maybe we’ll return to being landlubbers forever. Whoever we are and become in the future will get to make that decision.

What that means is that we are selling Serenity. The listing can be found on YachtWorld. Keeping a boat on any Hawaiian island is expensive and inconvenient at best. The higher cost of living in general adds to the difficulty. It wasn’t an easy decision to come to, and the parting will be thoroughly bittersweet. Besides all the upgrades we made to turn her into a reliable, blue water cruising vessel, she will be forever imbued with the happy memories of every adventurous moment we’ve had on board.

But in the end, it is going back to those memories that will be the salve to carry us forward and inspire future journeys. As with a first love, our first boat will always be anchored in our hearts by many fond recollections. And although our horizon has changed shape and holds as much uncertainty as ever, we find familiarity at every turn. We’ve gone back to tropical islands full of coconut palms, coral reefs in clear turquoise water, and the endless summer weather that we grew to love during our travels. In addition, the spirit of Aloha that first drew us to Hawaii long ago is already making the islands start to feel like home. So maybe, in a way, we are not so much going back. Perhaps we just never left.

Sea Madness

This and the next few posts are being added significantly delayed because Paul forgot the email address he set up to post to this blog by email.

May 26th, 2016

In addition to health precautions such as showering at least once a month, sailing the open ocean requires constant vigilance against Sea Madness. At least, that’s what the Voices say. So to put you all at ease about our mental health, here is a rundown of how we’ve remained masters of our sanity, and of a few other people’s as well.

Captain Red Beard (a.k.a. Ahab) has focused on the sailing aspect, especially using our new spinnaker. His love for it goes beyond flying the sail during the day; he’s started sleeping with it in his lee cloth. We only barely talked him out of flying it inside the cabin. To counter his disappointment, he has taken to fishing. Not only does he keep lines out all day, but he started hallucinating fish chasing behind the lures that no one else could see. In between watching them he scrubs imaginary scales from the cockpit, which seems to be prep for lighting a large bonfire made solely of beer bottles. We tried to tell him there were no scales or swimming fish, but we haven’t had the heart to break it to him that the cockpit seat is not an imu pit.

Noge the Sandwich also plays fishmonger by checking on the lines constantly and trying to change out the lures every 5 minutes. With the lack of fish to eat he’s resorted to calling all food sandwiches. Alternately he suggests that we put all dinner leftovers in omelets the next morning. The taco meat tasted great, but we had to draw the line at spaghetti. This led to more use of his favorite phrase, “I can throw myself on that grenade,” to indicate that he wants eat up excess food after meals. However, after too many repetitions he seems to be convinced that the boat is actually covered in grenades. Needless to say, he’s become a bit twitchy, and also insists on being called Lord Sandwich. We’ve tried to placate him with plenty of reading material, but he may just be eating the books. That would explain why no one’s seen Scrotty Jon’s Kindle since he shared it..

Machete Jen is doing well by referring to herself in the third person. Since she stowed every single last food item in the entire boat, she is the only one who knows where all the ingredients are come mealtimes. It became clear that the sheer volume of information was overwhelming the first time someone asked where some food was. She suddenly went bug-eyed and wisps of smoke began drifting out of her ears. As a result we’ve been eating whatever random things she pulls out, such as last night’s meal of salami, five dried apricots and a can of corn. While that may seem like an odd grouping, it was far better than the canned clams, peanut butter crackers, and mayonnaise combination we had last week. Don’t even ask about the thing with the non-dairy creamer.

Scrotty Jon stays mentally fit by conversing with his newest friend Frank, who is a large purple conch. At least, that’s our best guess based on his nightly serenading. In their many adventures, he sings of sailing to the Pacific garbage patch and conquering it for his own. We think this may be a reference to the salon table, or possibly the drawer of serving spoons. The cat has been avoiding him since he called her Sir Furry Pants and tried to put origami hats on her head. He still thinks of Zara as his minion and snacks on her kibbles when he thinks we’re not watching. Frank apparently insists that he play music most of the day as a tribute to King Triton. We don’t mind him acting as DJ, but refuse to let him strap the pole spear trident on his left fist. Instead he taped on a mound of gummy cherries which he ritually washes in salt water every morning.

As you can see, we’re all in great shape mentally. Now that we’ve assuaged your fears about that, it’s time to await the arrival of the swallow/seabird that brings the coconut deliveries. Allons-y!

Halfway Party

This and the next few posts are being added significantly delayed because Paul forgot the email address he set up to post to this blog by email.

May 24th, 2016

This morning our distance from Hilo and main land US were the same, so that makes it Halfway Party Day! We are officially more than a thousand miles from anywhere, which is about as lonely as you can get sailing on the oceans of this planet. The past few days have emphasized this solitude; after catching our first fish we saw no other signs of life for several days. Recently a white seabird circled us on a few occasions. But there have still been no radar contacts besides the rain showers that sometimes pass through.

Coming up with something notable to post about has been a challenge. Our journey has been an exercise in averages. Sometimes there’s a little more wind, sometimes less. Sometimes the swell is mellow, sometimes more rocky. We eat, nap, play cards, and listen to music. Our supply of fresh produce is slowly diminishing, and we’re making similar headway on our reading materials. Amidst that routine sameness, simply spotting some flotsam in the water can be the highlight of a day.

This mundane state is still much better than the alternative of things going wrong. So far we’ve never hit true extended doldrums or storm conditions. Our list of broken gear is limited to a rip in an outdoor cushion and a shackle that simply needed to be bent back into shape. And despite the spotty rain showers of the last few days, the weather is trending warmer and clearer. Night watches now come with nearly uninterrupted moonlight and the daytime skies have turned mostly sunny and as blue as the sea.

Fresh pizza in the middle of the pacific. It's a rough life.
Fresh pizza in the middle of the pacific. It’s a rough life.

Tonight we’re planning a victory feast of pizza and other treats to celebrate our progress. The forecast ahead looks like more of the same good weather as we slowly traverse the remaining miles. Stay tuned for exciting reports of the sea madness we definitely don’t have, and continued SPOT tracker posts from whatever time zone we decide to be in. Seriously, we have no idea what longitudes officially mark the zone borders, and we mostly don’t care 🙂