Once again we are out to sea, making a longer passage. A few days ago we left Palmerston Island of the Cook Islands, which was one of our favorite places of the whole trip. Our destination is Fanning Island of the Line Islands/Kiribati, which means about two weeks of travel time. This extended period at sea reminds me of the long passage from Hawaii to Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas. Under way it is often too rocky to do much besides read and sleep. We frequently feel tired because of the night watch schedule, so the days can seem dream-like or surreal. Between those things and the limited contact with the outside world, it’s easy to imagine that my life or even time itself is put on hold. Fortunately my muse was functioning well on that longer leg and a bit of poetry sloshed into my brain in between waves. I worked out the missing parts recently, so I can now present the finished product. Enjoy!

The Passage

I fell asleep a month and a day
And dreamt I went to sea.
We sailed for islands far away –
A boy, a cat, and me.

And though we passed through star-filled nights
And soaked in the rays of noon,
The sea was an unchanging sight
By sunlight or by moon.

Then we awoke to islands fair
By magic, so it seemed.
Could we have been awake out there
Or was it just a dream?

9°45’45” S – 160°28’47” W

Keeping Busy

‘Busy’ is a relative term. On this trip it tends to mean swimming, exploring, or opening coconuts, with the occasional bit of travel between anchorages. Here are a few of the things that have been keeping us busy since our last blog post.

The first two weeks after arriving on Nuku Hiva were spent exploring its various anchorages. After that we sailed south to the island of Ua Pou, but found that the small anchorage there was too crowded. Instead, we got to see the valley where Herman Melville’s Typee took place. We then sailed down to Tahuata and stayed at one of the most beautiful anchorages of the Marquesas. In exchange for some fruit and local honey, we helped the bay’s inhabitant deliver bags of dried coconut, known as copra, to the town where large ships would pick it up. The next bay we stayed in had great snorkeling very close to the boat, where we got to swim with manta rays. We again traded some various supplies with a local for a huge pile of fruit, including a ten-pound hard squash and a stalk of 74 bananas.

With the stalk hanging off our backstay, we set sail for the Tuamotus. Two days in, there was light rain of bananas in the middle of the night. The change of watch was made exciting by a hurried effort to bring down the looming banana cloud and re-secure its contents indoors. After several days at sea we had an easy arrival at Fakarava, and were quickly ashore in the town of Rotoava to resupply some non-banana items such as fresh baguettes.

After a few days enjoying Internet access and ice cream, we crossed to the south of the lagoon and stayed at a very calm anchorage called Hirifa. We made friends with some cruisers there and snorkeled at a channel marker nearby. Further south, we picked up a mooring near the pass, which was promptly attended by five black tip reef sharks and several tropical fish that started eating algae off our hull. The pass was our first drift dive, where we drove the dinghy out towards the ocean and then snorkeled back on the incoming tide. It was great fun; like riding a conveyor belt through a teeming tropical aquarium.

Back north in Rotoava we splurged and treated ourselves to a two night stay in a local “pension” where we were served breakfast and dinner and got to take hot showers daily! Refreshed by our stay on land, we restocked again before sailing up to Anse Amyot on Toau. Just before leaving we met up with a professional captain/sailor who was looking for a ride to Tahiti. We clicked immediately and welcomed her aboard. Our days now are spent playing games together, snorkeling, visiting the friendly people on shore, and generally lounging. So much more has happened in between, but now we have to go grill some fish that Paul speared for lunch. Au revoir!

15°48’12” S – 146°09’05” W

Welcome to Paradise

Ah, sailing…

For many people our plan of sailing to the tropics seemed like a lovely dream. They envied the idea of relaxing in pristine anchorages and enjoying exciting destinations. But we had oceans to cross beforehand, and during those types of long passages there is often little to be jealous of. No one envies their friends while they’re standing in line for airport security or squished in little seats on a plane. Thus it has been a little ironic when friends have told us that they wished they were with us. That is, until now. After nearly two months at sea and over 5,000 nautical miles, we are finally relishing the exotic vacation that we have all yearned for. And in every aspect of it we have found that idyllic vision of paradise.

The start of our stay in the beautiful South Pacific was every bit as inspiring as the parts that followed. The approach to Nuku Hiva by sea was dramatic, revealing an impressive landmass with towering spires among the steep emerald hills. From there it only got better, with the fragrant scent of rain on the verdant jungle adding to the relief of being at anchor. Even as we worked on re-provisioning and reconnecting with loved ones back home, new island experiences appeared around every corner.

The anchorages here are by default picture perfect. Pale sand stretches beneath coconut palms and banana fronds, and cerulean blue water shades through teal and turquoise to the shore. Nearby, a commanding cliff might rise straight to the heavens, bedecked with a spring green draping of wild flora. Or a distant waterfall will rush down the side of a tree-lined slope amid curling mists above. All of a sudden the sun will shine a golden ray on the swirling clouds and a pair of white birds will soar up toward the top of the cascade, completing the scene. Even a simple sunset on the sea casts a lovely glow on the ship, resting in the sheen of the placid bay.

Our days and nights in this sublime setting have been filled with all sorts of diversions. We have swum in crystal clear water by the boat, and snorkeled with brilliant tropical fish flashing every color of the rainbow. One big hiking expedition was full of adventures, from trekking through fruit groves below massive bluffs, to fording rivers and climbing trees. The end result was a narrow river valley beneath imposingly high cliffs from which descended the third tallest waterfall in the world. In addition to all the natural beauty, we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of traditional culture one evening at an intense performance by a Marquesan dance group. The heart pounding drumming invoked an irresistible trance that transported everyone to a time when the island’s tribes first raised their powerful chants into the dark night.

Much of our enjoyment comes from simply not being out in the middle of the ocean. The steadiness of boat means open hatches for sunlight and refreshing land breezes below deck. Since cooking is far easier we’ve taken advantage of the abundance of fresh produce in every recipe. We’ve readily adopted many local options such as pamplemousse, snake beans, and of course, coconuts. Locally baked baguettes are a cheap and delicious addition to any meal. The comfort of good food goes well with a favorite cocktail, or a new one we might invent on a whim (see below). Going ashore provides chances to sample exotic regional cuisine. Hanging out with other cruisers is great for updated info on the islands, hilarious sailing stories, and just making new friends.

Although these paragraphs have covered many features of our first dozen days here, there are countless details missing that would take far too long to relate. The best part is, this is just the beginning! Many more islands await us, with their own aspects to explore and stories yet to unfold. Our exciting journey cruising through French Polynesia is finally real and progressing every day. It is definitely worthy of envy, starting right about… now. 🙂

CocoMousse Cocktail

1/2 cup pamplemousse juice
3/4 cup coconut water
1/2 cup rum
3 tsps sugar

Stir together all ingredients and chill or pour over ice. Serves 3-4.

Notes: Use fresh juice if possible. You can substitute grapefruit if you can’t find a pamplemousse.

Presumptuous Advice

The Insufferable Insolence of Presumptuous Advice

This post is dedicated to the people who said we shouldn’t go.

There are a lot of forms of advice, many of them positive. There is asked for advice, which whether sound or not was asked for, and is therefore naturally appropriate. There is good and useful advice proffered in a constructive way, which is beneficial even when unasked for. And then there is what I call presumptuous advice, which is advice that is universally unhelpful because the giver presumes to know what is best for the receiver, despite his or her own ignorance.

The presumption may be that the receiving party doesn’t already know whatever the giver is suggesting; this just comes off as condescending. The presumption may be that the giver actually knows what the heck they are talking about even though they don’t; this is awkwardly embarrassing for the giver, who would have been better off to hold their tongue. The presumption may be that what is right for the giver is right for the receiver; imagine if I, a consummate omnivore wasted my breath on a dedicated vegetarian on the best dishes at a restaurant; not particularly helpful.

So, to all the people who told us not to go because it was the wrong time of year, or because the up wind sailing in our route to difficult, do us all a favor and don’t assume that the rest of us share your lack of will and fortitude. To the people who told us not to go because we lacked experience, I say to you that there are only two kinds of sailors, novices and the dead. Hiding behind your fear and calling it prudence won’t get you very far in life. To those who told us not to go because we lacked the financial assets necessary, keep your priggish snobbery to yourself and accept the fact that some of us are capable of adapting our wants to our means instead of growing old trying to do it the other way around. To those who told us so many things we already knew, thanks, but you could have saved us both a lot of time by listening more and blabbing less. I don’t even have time for those handing out advice that is just ignorant and wrong.

Lastly to those who shared their genuine experiences with us, in a way that acknowledged that it worked for them but may not be right for everyone, and did so in the spirit of mutual benefit through the exchange of ideas, I thank you heartily.

You know what they say about free advice… it’s worth every penny.

P.S. This essay was authored in the midst of a journey from San Francisco to Hawaii to the Marquesas by a first time blue water sailor with six years of on and off experience. The passage certainly wasn’t the easiest of undertakings, but it was a singular adventure and well worth any pains it took. If I had to do it again I wouldn’t do it any differently.