The Beat of a Different Drum

The jagged mountains and deep valleys of the Marquesas Islands collect and funnel the wind and without a dependable engine we struggle to sail into Hanavave Bay*, Fatu Hiva. We spend a long afternoon tacking to and fro in the shifty, gusty conditions at the mouth of the harbor before cautiously approaching the anchorage as our depth sounder, newly installed in Panama City, is again on the fritz. Although the anchorage is busy we find a spot close to the sheer cliff on the port side of the bay and at Steve’s signal I let go the anchor.  To gauge the depth I watch for the slight hesitation as the anchor hits the ocean bottom but this afternoon the chain screams off the gypsy without pause.  At 50 meters I lock off the windlass and wait. I want to see if the boat points into the wind to indicate the anchor has found good holding.  She rides the wind well but feels like an anxious horse pulling at the bit on a tether that is too short. I head back to the cockpit and grab the backup depth sounder, something so simple that it can never break or fail us; a lead weight tied to the end of a marked line.  At the bow I toss the weight over and all 18 meters of line wind off the spool without finding bottom.  I attach the lead line to a hand fishing line and toss it over again. The line finally slackens at 25 meters, a typical South Pacific anchorage.  I pay out all 80 meters of anchor chain and we hang sharply into the wind.  It is steadily gusting 25kts so after we tidy up from the day we sit in the cockpit for a few hours watching the boats sail at anchor until we are confident that we are holding firmly. Even so, I know I will spend half the night awake checking our position.

The next morning breaks clear and bright bringing with it lighter winds and blue skies. As we go about our usual routine a rhythmic pounding starts to emanate from the distant shore.  The village is concealed behind a rip rap jetty so we can’t see what is making the sound but all morning it ricochets off the surrounding hills making it impossible to concentrate on our boat chores.  While down below it vibrates though the hull and buzzes in my ears.  I can feel it thumping in my chest, resonating inside me. It is a primal and unmistakable sound that I can ignore no longer; the drums are calling me. I heave a sigh of relief when at Steve suggestion and I step into the dingy and head to shore to investigate.

As we round the corner of the jetty we are surprised at what we find. There is large concrete pier that is backed by a sheer 50 meter rock wall creating a natural amphitheatre.  The surface if the pier flat and well maintained creating a perfect stage and on it are at least one hundred people arranged into lines of dancers and groups of musicians. We slowly motor between the kids splashing near the shore and pull the dingy up the ramp.  No one turns to greet us or even pays heed to our arrival, they simply continue dancing.

We settle down on a large rock amid children frolicking in the water and watch the performance. Row upon row of men and women weaving in and out of one another, hips twisting, arms flowing, voices raised.  The dancers move back and forth in a well practiced choreography; taunting, teasing and challenging one another as the various guitars strum a melodic song and the drums keep a constant rhythm.  I can’t take my eyes off them, even to dig out a camera and snap a few pictures. It is as elegant as a ballet and as visceral as a war dance. It all seems completely foreign and inherently familiar.  I am mesmerized.

A few days later, while returning from shore on a brief water and provisions run we stop to say hello to our friends on a neighbouring boat.  It is late on a hot afternoon so they invite us aboard for a cool refreshing drink and we pass the rest of the day comparing notes and exchanging stories. As the sun dips low on the horizon the air is again filled with the distant sounds of drums echoing through the anchorage.  Try as we may we cannot ignore them and soon we are all pilling into our dingy and once again heading ashore in search of the sound. 

This evening the dancing is not on the pier but further down the shore at the school soccer field. Unprepared we hobble barefooted down the rocky beach, across a stream and find a field full of people once again practicing their dancing.  We shyly join the on lookers and enjoy round two of the community preparing for the upcoming dance competitions.  In the last of the days dusky light we sit entranced and watch another stunning, and yet totally different, performance.  A little girl on the side lines who looks no more than four mimics the group “on stage”; sashaying, turning and singing at all the right ques. Her parents beam proudly and cheer her on. It seems that everyone here knows how to dance.

But what holds my attention is the band.  It is a rag tag team of musicians, young and old, gathered at the head of the field. The guitars, ukuleles and drums of various heights and descriptions give voice and purpose to the dancers, their rhythms define the movements on the field.  I am hypnotized by the fast staccato beats and get up and start towards the band, leaving my companions in the crowd.  The songs vibrate inside my chest as my feet instinctually carry me towards the ancient sounds. As if approaching a wild animal I slowly move towards the band until I am standing beside a young man beating a four foot high drum.  I cannot help but stare, I am enraptured by him.  He stands almost dwarfed by his instrument yet he is strong and concentrated and handsome.  Suddenly he notices me, turns and smiles without ever falling out of time.  Encouraged, I move a little closer.  Then, with a tilt of his head, a slight raise of his eyebrows, a nod and a flicker of his eyes he motions to me, silently asking “Do you want to try?” I am still spellbound as I step behind the band and in front of his drum.  The man pauses, bobs his head to the beat then sharply starts hitting the drum showing me the rhythm and his technique. He then steps back, pulls out a packet of tobacco from his pocket, rolls a cigarette and waits for me to play. 

Brazenly I bring my hands down on the taut goat skin and try to keep up with the band.  I catch the rhythm for a few bars then drop it, the tempo and cadence quite unlike anything I have played before. With a tight cigarette balanced on his lips the young man step beside me and demonstrates again.  Then he takes a long haul on his smoke and recedes.  I keep the rhythm for another few bars before losing myself in the music.  Somewhat determined I let the band play on and jump in again when I feel the timing is right only to falter shortly after.  I look up into the crowd of dancers. A woman in the front row gives me the hairy eye ball, obviously unhappy that I have been treated to the opportunity.  Regardless, I give it one more try before the man stamps out his cigarette and returns to his drum. I graciously step aside, but barely out of the way, still thrilled that I was able try my hand on his beautiful instrument.   

There is no electric lighting to illuminate the field so shortly after the sun goes down the performance is over.  As the band begins to pack things away I meander back over and try to make conversation in broken French.  The drummer accepts my help in moving his drum into the nearby shed and my exuberant thanks for such a great night.  When I return to Steve and our two friends waiting on the dewy grass beside the now empty field they are as speechless as I am elated. It is not like me to act so spontaneously, to get up in front of a hundred strangers to join the band.  I can’t tell them how I felt possessed by the beat, drawn to the rhythm and relived when I touched that drum. I can’t describe how my heart beat in time to the music and my spirit felt connected to a culture I have never known. All I can do is wear a grin from ear to ear as we walk back into the night.

In the days and weeks that follow while we visiting the many islands of the Marquesas we see more dancing and hear lots of other bands play.  And although many of the performances are fantastic they pale in comparison to the night that I stood barefoot in the wet grass and lent my sound to the symphony that filled the valley in Hanavave Bay.  I am not sure that I dance to the beat of a different drum, but I certain recommend going in search of the sound of one echoing through a distant valley.

* Hanavave Bay , located on the western coast of the island on Fatu Hiva, is also referred in French and English as Bay of Virgins , but not due to its chaste inhabitants.   It is deep wide bay located at the mouth of a long and fertile valley that is surrounded by high lava peaks and turrets that, poetically said, “bring to mind suggestive symbols of virility”. To the regular Joe they just reach, rather phallic-like, towards the sky.  It was nicknamed by early sailors as Baie de Verges or Penis Bay . After the missionaries conquered the island they changed it to something more to there liking; Baie de Vierges or Bay of Virgins . What a difference a little letter can make!!

**Rey Rey is a difficult term to explain; partly because we haven’t completely figured it out our selves, everyone seems to have a different explanation for it.  On the surface a Rey Rey is a man who is very effeminate, although not necessarily petite. They dresses in women’s clothing and most likely has long hair and wear make up.  Sometimes in bigger cities they might have had plastic surgeries. It is said that it was started centuries ago; when families could not produce a girl child they chose one of the older boys and raised them as the girl of the family; dressing them in girls clothing and expecting them to perform the girls chores. (Various sources both confirm and deny this claim.)   However, just because they dress and act like a woman they are not gay, or transsexual or any other kind of “sexual deviant”, as many in Western culture have surmised.  In fact they are often married to women and have children. What we do know from our 8 months in French Polynesia is that they are an everyday and widely excepted part of Polynesian culture, often working up front in the public service sector. And that they, like everyone else here, are warm and friendly and kind, and expect nothing less from you.


Tsunami, Tsunami

The stillness of the night is disturbed by the spurting cough of an out board engine. As the rhythmic puttering grows in intensity I roll over and find Steve missing from our bunk.  My panic is only slightly subdued when I see the blankets on the seatee stir and remember that he got out of bed a few hours earlier, complaining of feeling uneasy.  In our separate bunks with minds racing and ears perked we lay still, listening as the sound begins to slow. We are the only boat on this side of the anchorage and the mystery vessel is not passing by but approaching us. I glance at the clock through the darkness and the sinking feeling in my stomach deepens. It is 4am, are we about to be boarded?

Steve is already pulling on a pair of boardies as I begin concocting escape scenarios; if he heads them off in the cockpit I can slip out the forward hatch and lower the dingy. I clamber out of the vee berth; there is an eight inch chef's knife on the wall in galley, easy to grab and conceal as he climbs out into the cockpit, I hope he remembers.
 I open the cupboard looking for something to put on; I have 100000 FP in my wallet and a bottle of cheap rum in the cupboard, bribes.  I hastily tie a sarong around my nakedness; the aluminium baseball bat we bought to subdue a rowdy fish but never used is in the small hanging closet beside me, I can come out swinging. I shiver against the cold night air and all its possibilities; it is slack tide and shore is less than a mile away, even I could swim that far.

An eternity passes in just a few footsteps of time. Steve is one foot up the stairs and I have worked myself into an eerily calm before the impending storm when the out board is cut and an urgent voice pierces the tension thick in the air, "Kate?
 Kate?  Kate, you guys up?  Kate, its Gitmor". I watch the tension drain from Steve's body as his body heaves in a heavy release of breath and his chin rests momentarily weary on his chest. It is too late for a social call from the mild mannered family man that we only know in passing, our intruder may be friendly but I am still not at ease. I skulk about the galley listening to the voices in the cockpit hushed against the darkness; the friendly exchange of hello's, his explanation of trying to radio but getting no response, our reasons for not sleeping with the VHF on, his apology for waking us, our joke about readying a baseball bat and then finally his reason for coming over.  There is panic in the man's voice as he says the word tsunami and I lean a little closer to the open hatch to listen. There's been an earthquake off the coast of Japan and a tsunami warning had been issued for the whole South Pacific Basin. He quickly starts his engine, explaining he has to get back to his family.  Months ago they decided to put their kids in school for the season on the island, there is so much to do to ready his boat for sea and they have been working for three hours already. Steve thanks him for making the effort to come over and warn us.  We are silent as the sputter of the outboard fades into the distance.

When Steve comes back down into the cabin we collapse together onto the seatee in disbelief. For a few brief moments we sit in silence staring at the ceiling, collecting our thoughts and trying to decide what to do next. Then we turning to one another "Again?!" we say in unison.

"I'll put the kettle on." I announce as I get up and head towards the galley, "As we both know 4am and tsunami warnings are easier to deal with, with a pot of tea." I turn on the gas and light the stove.

 "I'll check the internet; see if I can find any official warnings. That is if we can find a Wi-Fi signal" Steve says sleepily as he reaches for the laptop and heads outside.

We are not being nonchalant, it is just hard to believe that this all happening, again. Just over a year ago in Panama we were greeted by a terrified call on the local VHF morning net: "A TSUNAMI IS COMING, A TSUNAMI IS COMING". It was information garnered from a friend of a friend of a mechanic on shore and sent instant shock waves through the busy anchorage. Within moments 50 boats hastily pulled up anchor and all headed out to sea, in the same direction. The night before we had picked up the injectors for our engine that we'd had service but hadn't had a chance to install them yet, we were disabled. As Steve got to work I watched boat after boat motor by without anyone asking is we needed help, not even the people we knew hailed us to see if we were ok. The VHF was a constant stream of panicked scuttlebutt, there was even irrational reports from boats at sea who could “see the wave coming on the horizon”. It was each man for himself, just as long he could tell the rest of us what to do too.
  A few boats were left at anchor, simply too disabled to move, the crew collecting a few belongings and heading ashore to find shelter.  The only other boat preparing to leave motored past, then doubled back and around us to ask if we needed a tow. Standing on deck with the couple was their three young children; we’d never met them before.  I was touch by their thoughtful offer, but we assured them if we couldn’t motor out soon we’d just hoist the sails and escape the old fashioned way. We found it strange that there was no official warning given by the Port Authority, that the shipping traffic into and out of the Panama canal continued at its haired pace throughout the morning and that the hundred or so ships anchored out awaiting to transit the canal failed to pull up anchor or respond in any way. Finally Steve got the engine running and better safe than sorry we hauled up anchor and headed off in the opposite direction of the crowd. It turned out that there had been an earthquake in Chile, and the potential for a tsunami was genuine, but thankfully not realized.

So this morning we took the call to arms seriously, but with a grain of salt. Unable to find a Wi-Fi signal we turned on the VHF, hopefully Radio Tahiti will issue an announcement if there is indeed a tsunami headed our way. I put away the few stray dishes and books scattered about the cabin, securing Kate for sea then we wait; until twilight, when we'll have a little light to navigate the reefs and the pass out of the harbour, there is nothing to do but wait. Around 5 am the Gendarme starts driving the streets ashore with sirens, a loud speaker and lights flashing and Radio Tahiti starts broadcasting warnings in French and English. We have less than two hours before the effects are to reach the islands, any vessels at sea are to remain so, any vessel in shore are advised to head into deeper waters, all shipping traffic is suspended and all ports are officially closed. This is the real deal.

When it is just light enough to see we pick up anchor and slowly motor out of the pass, the ocean is calm and glassy, there is barely a breathe of wind. It is no trouble finding deeper water as the ocean floor falls rapidly away and shortly after we exit the harbour we are already in 500M.
  Half a mile offshore we pulled out some headsail and hove-to; Kate calmly bobs around with the eight other boats that were anchored across the bay. The mood is solemn as more reports about Japan are broadcast on the local radio. I can pick out words and a few phrases in French, the reports sound serious and grim. We put out a fishing line and make breakfast, strangely going about our day as normal.  Our little fleet of sailboats continues to quietly standoff, milling around in the light breeze as a crowd of local boats that has also abandon their moorings motors in deep waters closer to the pass. The only chatter on the VHF is Tahiti radio; repeats of the advisory and communications with ships in the surrounding waters, there is no panicky calls or frenzied boat to boat gossip.

We anxiously head back into the harbour; the dreaded hour had long come and gone with seemingly no ill effects. But, as we approached the pass I can't help but noticed that the reef seemed more exposed than usual, or did it? We've never approached this island without a swell running and breaking on the reef edge, so did it just look like the reef was awash today because it is calm, had I really paid that close attention before? The rocks at shore were greasy with a light mist that had started to fall, make it difficult to define a waterline. A few smaller local boats heading in too and seeing nothing else amiss we decide to motor back to our favorite anchor spot. Everything seems normal so we throw the pick, set the anchor and duck down below as the light mist builds into a solid rain. After a few minutes inside I stick my head out into the light gusty wind that the rain has brought and notice that the reef across the harbour that was totally submerged when we came in was now dry. Taking a sweeping glance around the anchorage I also see rocks well behind us that appeared as nasty brown smudges in the clear blue water are now breaking the surface and the channel marker close by is showing the coral growing beneath its low tide scum line. Five minutes later when we check again the water has returned to its normal depth covering the rocks, the reef and the scum line on the channel markers.
 There is no perceptible change in the currents or water flow and Kate remains stationary, pointing into a light breeze. The rain stops and the VHF is quiet, a few more boats take up anchor across the bay. Over the next half an hour it happens twice more; water levels drop no more than 30cm for a few minutes before rising again silently. 

It will be weeks before we catch up on all the news and finally realize the shock, the aftermath and the terror in Japan but my fears from this morning suddenly seem trivial.  As I sit in the cockpit and watch dying breathes of such destructive force a whole ocean and half a day away I see the day in a calm new light, full of opportunity.



What Do We Do Now?

During a recent phone call home my Mother asked me what we do to fill our days.  This is a valid question, and one I am surprised that I haven’t encountered before now.  I guess it is hard to imagine how we fill all day every day when there isn’t a “job” to go to or all the other “normal” things about living on land (TV, gym, friends, internet, telephone etc.).  Honestly we had a hard time adjusting to boat life in the beginning, not living on a boat or working on a boat but the lifestyle itself.  We’ve both worked since we were young and for the most part enjoyed it. I am a creature of habit and easily follow routines and patterns so if we weren’t up and working on a project by 0800 it felt a little like we were slacking off.  I collated lists and checked off things when accomplished. I did this not only so we could remember the ever growing pile of projects we wanted to tackle but also so at the end of the day we could really feel like we accomplished something; the amount of red lines on the list were our achievements. I kept a close eye on the finances and worried constantly about all the money going out and none coming in.  I was still trying to live in the structure that a job gives you….but without the safety and gratification you get from the pay cheque at the end of the day.  In short, I drove poor Steve crazy for a long time. 

But somewhere along the line in Costa Rica, after the second round of engine problems left us without propulsion and the choices were; sail for a week to the last port in the country, miss half of the coast line and do engine repairs, again. Or slow down, sail in and out of bays and on and off anchor, explore and enjoy ourselves like we set out to do.  We had recently decided that since we had a delayed departure from San Diego that we were probable too late in the season to do the Pacific crossing and get to a safe location for cyclone season 2010 without blasting through everything from Costa Rica to Fiji (we originally planned to sail to Australia from California in 12-18 months). And so we chose the path less traveled and sailed around Costa Rica for six weeks, literally.  When there was no wind we drifted, if the entrance to an anchorage was a little tricky we put down the sails, tied the dingy at mid ships and “motored” in with our 6hp outboard.  We stayed at anchorages until we were ready to leave or when there was enough wind to make it out and around the next point of land pushing through 3kts or more of current.  A 60 nm passage could take one day or three and we just had to accept it.  My learning curve was steep and it definitely wasn’t a stress free couple weeks (I really didn’t believe that our big heavy boat could be moved and maneuvered by tying the dingy along side and gunning a little engine, but it can. Let alone learning how to SAIL into an unknown anchorage and throw the pick with a depth sounder that seemed to act up when we got close to land!!!) but I figured maybe someone was trying to tell us something; It was time to slow down. That was just over a year ago.

So back to the original question; what DO we do with our time?  Well, there is definitely no shortage of boat things to keep us busy.  After the first couple years we’ve pretty much gotten out all the kinks but we’ve also put her to the test and have started tweaking little things here and there. We’ve sailed nearly 5000nm in the last six months so there is also the general maintainence and repairs from using the boat; lines chafe, stainless steel rusts, canvass tears, sails need to be kept up, just to name a few things.  Not to mention general engine maintenance and service that Steve does on a regular basis. 

 To do all these things you have to carry a full stock of parts, spares and supplies so lots of time in bigger ports is spent sourcing replacements.  This doesn’t sound like it would be too difficult, just walk into this local hardware store and fill a basket full of belts, filters, oil and cleaners right? We’d like that to be true but most of the time it is not.  Most of the time you cannot just walk into a store and browse the isles, you walk up to a counter and ask for what you’re looking for then they go out back and poke around a bit and come back, frown and shake their head and tell you they have everything but the size, shape or colour that you need. That’s how we came up with Rule #1: Bring an old package with as much info on for them to look at and double your chances that they’ll understand what you want. Although, when they don't have it and you ask who might sell such an item people are generally very helpful. They will direct you to the nearest place that they think does carry it, complete with convoluted directions and descriptions when they cannot remember the name of the store, if it even has one.  It is very nice of people to give you street names but ninety percent of the time the name is not posted and half the people you ask don’t know it by that name anyway. SO Rule #2: Bring the map that you picked up at the tourist info desk so they can point it out to you. (I am not kidding about this I recently stopped a lady in Papeete to ask, in French, what street we were standing on. She laughed and said although she lived around here she did not know and following directions was very hard even for her.  She advised me to walk into the nearby pharmacy and ask the shop keeper what street their store was on, and only after looking at the map could they tell me).  And did I forget to mention that this exchange is usually done in a language other then English?  So trying to find, say, a belt for the engine can involve a fair amount of walking, lots of half understood conversations and most of a morning.    And, while you’re looking for this store or that you also must keep your eyes open for the ten other things you have on the list, which brings us to Rule #3: If you find it and you need it/want it BUY IT! (Even if it is an over priced jar of PB!!) This is because chances are you won’t A. Find it at a better price B. You won't find the store again or C. If you do make it back it won’t be on the shelf anymore.  And just to make things a wee bit more interesting most countries in the tropics take a siesta during the midday heat and close for a few hours anywhere between 11am-3pm. But don’t think that there will be any consistency in the closing hours within one country, far from it. So, when you finally do find that store that you’ve been walking all over some foreign city looking for it, your shoulders aching from all the stuff you have to lug around with you just to get the job done plus the other bits and pieces you’ve purchased along the way, it may just be closed….even if the sign says it should be open.  Lucky most corner shops sell cold beer, so waiting isn’t always so bad.

Thankfully provisioning food isn’t usually so trying, although no less time consuming.  Having just spent the last four months sailing around the Galapagos, Marquesas and the Tuamotu atolls Papeete was a bit of a shock.  In the Marquesas and the Tuamotus when you walked to the store looking for something (eight times out of ten it was just a room on the front of someone’s house set up with shelves, identified by a red Coca Cola awning or a blue Hinano Beer Sign) you had two choices; they either had it or they didn’t. Everything is shipped in from Tahiti so there was the possibility that if they ran out more would arrive…eventually.  The basics; flour, sugar, butter and some cheese are subsidized and always available cheap. Not to mention everyone had a good stock of potatoes, onions and garlic with probably some carrots, tomatoes, cabbage, bok choy or cucumbers thrown in and wilting in the fridge.  You could find long life, unfridgerated milk, over processed cheese type products, MSG laden powdered soup mixes and instant noodles, pasta that you hopefully found before the weevils and basic tinned veggies. With any luck there was some frozen, imported meat and a beer fridge with beer in it.  Oh, and of course, pop, chips and candies for the kids. But they all came with a bit of a price tag; they were shipped in of course. If you wanted fish you went to the fish market or bought it on the side of the road and fresh veggies were available at some ports if you got up at 5am, at which time you could also get a baguette and a chocolate croissant.  We have even been known to drive the dingy an hour to the closest town to buy petrol, beer and bread. In Papeete there are big modern grocery stores like you’ve find everywhere in the world; they are the first air conditioned stores we’ve seen since Panama City.  They carry every conceivable food product you can imagine at fairly reasonable prices, comparable to Canada or Australia.  They also have electronics, small appliances, clothing, cosmetics, dishes, paper products, nix nacks and a garden, sports and BBQ section, not to mention a fish market, deli counter, fresh and frozen meats and a bakery.  So, after four months of consumer deprivation we found it a little difficult to go to the grocery with a short list and have it take less than a couple hours.  Not only do we have to walk there and back carrying everything we bought (we usually make a separate beer run and for some reason two foreigners carrying a case of beer bottles between them like they are holding hands get honks and bug thumbs up from passing drivers!) , but we could easily be heard wasting away the morning exclaiming to each other such things as “Oh my GOD, they have a wall of chocolate bars ALL less than three dollars!” and “Co’ mere you gotta see the WHOLE isle with JUST cheese and salami” and “Which of the six brands of ketchup do you think we should buy?”  So you see, the first couple trips just to get groceries were not only time consuming but a little over whelming and required some quiet recovery time, hence the beer.

Once we’ve bought everything and gotten back to the boat (hopefully fairly dry but you never know when the wind is going to pick up) and either put it away (a task unto itself that I won’t go into) or used it for a job (and ticked it off the list) we are free to have “days off”.  These are spent playing tourist, walking around the town, eating at road side stands, drinking beer at cockroach infested dives (how ever do we find these places!) and watching the world go by.  When we are at a nice anchorage we go snorkeling as much as we can (sometimes scrubbing the boat comes into his category), explore the island, go on hikes, beach comb and take long afternoons fishing from the dingy.  When there are other boats around you usually get invited once or twice a week for “sundowners”. You bring your beers and a plate of nibbles and crowd into someone’s cockpit for an evening of chatting and telling stories.  And there is day to day menus to prepare, what is almost gone bad in the fridge or how to use the leftovers. When you make almost everything from scratch preparing a meal can take a bit of time.  Let’s not forget the issue of laundry, which is done by hand (and foot) in a bucket in the cockpit. No, there are not a lot of coin operated laundry mats on islands, and if there are they can cost 3-8 dollars per wash, and more to dry! When most people can throw on a load of laundry, vacuum four rooms and nip over to the neighbours for coffee while the machine does the dirty work, it takes a better part of two hours for us to soak, wash, rinse, wring and hang to dry a couple small loads. And let’s hope it doesn’t rain before you take two weeks of clothes off the line! And laundry takes a lot of water, so you either ferry in jerry jugs from shore when there is potable water available or sit and listen to the engine run and make water for a couple hours to replace what you’ve just used.  Everyone loves house work but when was the last time you had to wipe every surface, walls and ceilings included, down with hot water and vinegar to stop the mold and mildew from taking over? Then there is always the trip planning and preparing and actually sailing the boat.

So, Mom, what do you spend our days doing? The same things as everyone else except they take a little longer to accomplish, usually require more patience and involve a little adventure.



Food…for Thought.

Food is important, we all know that. It is how we feed our bodies and nourish our souls.  Food can form habits, trigger memories, define experiences and effect economies, so it is not a wonder that we have a rather intricate relationship with the stuff.  In the last few weeks I have found that we are spending an unusual amount of time thinking about food (the only thing that we talk more about onboard is the weather). Perhaps it is because it was the holiday season and many of our indulgences of late have been food related (I feel like all we did for two weeks is eat and drink, yep it really felt like Christmas!).  Maybe it is because we are heading back to the Marquesas for cyclone season so I am preparing not only for the 1000NM passage north, cooking and freezing meals for underway, but also provision for the next few months when, although food stuff will be readily available they will also be 50% more expensive.  And, it could just be, that after six weeks of consumer exile in the Cook Islands the trips to the grocery store back in French Polynesia have been both exciting and over whelming. Whatever the reason, the buying, storing, preparing and, of course, consuming of food has been dominating our conversations of late.

Admittedly we probably think a little more about the topic than most for the simple reason that we try to be as self sufficient as possible.  You see, we just never know when we might arrive at a remote atoll for a months stay only to find out that the last supply ship was wrecked on the reef a few months back and there it no foreseeable plan to replace it (haha).  In these situations it is comforting to know that we have enough canned goods and dry stores onboard to feed a small family for a month or so, as long as they don’t mind a little scurvy setting in.  We also realize that we are in the very privileged position of being able to travel to all these beautiful and sometimes remote destinations, in the comfort of our own home, so to speak. It would be extremely irresponsible of us to expect the local community to support us when they themselves rely heavily on the supply ship appearing regularly on the horizon.  For this reason, we stock up in major ports so that when we arrive somewhere small we don’t have to go knocking on doors looking for food.  That said, we also do try and support the local economy, many an afternoon has been spent with a walk to the little corner shop to see what they sell. (I use the term corner shop loosely as it is often just a room with dedicated shelving in the front of someone’s house, marked by an awing with a Coca-Cola or local beer logo on it).   Almost always we come away with a little something; stick of bread, can of beer, some strange product that you never realized existed to be sold in a can. But what we won’t do is empty the shelves. We never buy the last one of anything, no matter how much we need it or want it, especially if it is beer.  Imagine if you wandered down to your local store only to find it had been bought out by the plague of locusts called the “tourist”? Bet you’d be pretty pissed off, wouldn’t you?

For fresh goods I prefer to buy local, who needs an over priced and half rotten bag of lettuce flown in from the good ol’ USA, dripping with pesticides and a carbon foot-print too large to even begin to fathom? If there is roadside stall or community market you’ll find me there, caressing vegetables or buying pastries from the wrinkly, toothless, lovely old ladies, bargaining and trying to strike up a conversation about how I am supposed to prepare some tropical veggie that looks like a soccer ball. This is, in fact, where I prefer to buy all our veggies and eggs, and miscellaneous things like jams and honey, if I can. My motto is “If the locals shop there then so should you”. It is places like these, no matter where you are in the world, that you find your freshest produce, in season. Sometimes this means getting out of bed at five am and taking a ten minute dingy trip ashore in the dark. Sometimes it means that you don’t buy tomatoes, even if you’ve been dreaming about them for weeks, ‘cause sadly, tomato season is over. But you get to come home with a bag full of bright and crunchy vegetables, you put money directly into the hands of the farmer and you got to hangout with the locals.  Anyone that has ever bought fruit from an honor stand, eggs probably laid that morning by chickens that run around the yard, or a jar of pickles out of the back of a half ton truck knows that it is worth the effort every time.

As well, buying at the market most likely means the produce has not yet been refrigerated, and therefore will not need to be refrigerated onboard, unless of course it’s green and leafy.  Even in the tropics tomatoes and peppers, eggplants, zucchini, carrots and even cucumbers will last weeks without being chilled. Potatoes and onions, as long as they are not stored together, will last well over a month. Winter vegetables like squash will last several months (we ate a butternut squash in the Tuamotu, 3500NM and a couple months out from the market in Panama. It was perfect!) . When leaving the Galapagos I even left out a cabbage or two and they fared well until I had room in the fridge for them a few weeks into the passage and even then, in the fridge they stayed almost perfect for several weeks. Of course most tropical fruits don’t need refrigeration, they grow in the tropics! Even a wrinkly browned citrus will still yield usable juice.  Here are a few tricks to the trade: 

1. Don’t store anything at home at a higher temperature than it has been previously stored or transported at. So, hoping that you can put a few green tomatoes in the fridge to ripen them on the countertop in a few weeks won’t work. They will rot, quickly, from the inside.

2. As mentioned, potatoes and onions taste good together but make bad bedmates; they will both rot if stored side by side. 

3. Tomatoes and bananas off gas and will ripen anything in a three meter radius, or at least, stored in the same basket. 

4. Woven baskets or net bags are preferred to bowls, better air flow. But a hanging net rarely works, especially for heavy fruits, they tend bruise and get cut by the netting. 

5. Sort produce regularly and remove anything with a blemish right away, it will promote further spoilage.

6. To extend the life of eggs stored at room temperature turn them a couple times a weeks to prevent settling (we never remember to do this and everything turns out fine…so who knows). A bad egg will float when put in a glass of water, in case you have a weak stomach and don’t want to crack them to see.

7. They say if you brush fresh bread with white vinegar it will not mold for weeks. Ours has never spent long enough on the countertop to verify this one.

8. Store refrigerated produce in clean, dry, zip lock bags, not the bags you get at the store.  I swear by this one, everything gets re-bagged before it hits the fridge on Kate, it makes produce last twice as long.

9. Put bay leaves in all your pasta, flour and other wheat products to deter weevils. Rice and oats as well. And if you find weevils throw it all out…they are mighty hard to get rid of.  We have also heard that if you freeze wheat products for 24 hours it will deter weevils, but our fridge is not big and empty enough to try this one.

10. If you’re going to store things at room temperature be prepared to eat them; this means you might be on a 4 bananas a day diet or you have to find a way to creatively cook cabbage all week long. The thing we hate most onboard is wasting food.

As for everything else we do try and shop responsibly, both for our health and the planet.  For example we actively avoid products with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in them, if you still haven’t heard all about this one do yourself a favor and Google it, you won’t be sorry!!  Thankfully once we left North America it became easier as things like pop (soft drink), ketchup (tomato sauce) and jams are all made with, hold on to your seats, plain old regular sugar.  But, we are still bound by economics so as much as I would kill for maple syrup on my pancakes on Sunday mornings I cannot afford $15US for a 200ml jug of it.  At least those mornings I actually know I am eating corn syrup.  We also try not to buy corn or soya oil, optioning for sunflower oil instead (so far I have heard nothing about the evils of the sunflower industry).  We definitely noticed the difference in meat when we left the USA; it suddenly smelled different when cooking and tasted like meat. Something’s you had to get use to, for instance in Mexico they feed the chickens marigolds, giving the eggs bright orange yolks and the meat a nice yellowy hue, all a little suspicious until we found out why.  We found the breasts of the chickens to be smaller but the bird to be really tasty.  We immediately switched to meat from the country we were in, and whenever possible still do so, and avoid USDA imported meats. This one is not so easy in the South Pacific where not many animals are grown on an industrial level and a local chicken is $20, a little rich for our plate.  Here most meat is imported so you often have only one choice; to buy meat or not. Since it is mostly from New Zealand, and of very high quality, we stock the freezer when things are on sale, just like you do back home. 

Eggs were another change. Since starting on this sailing adventure we have yet to encounter yet eggs sold or stored refrigerated. And really, when was the last time you saw a live chicken kept in an air conditioned coop?  It is common practice on our boat not to refrigerate eggs, saves precious cold storage space, but finally finding the stack of eggs cartons at the end of the grocery isle and not in the cold isle next to the cheese was a little surprising.  What you might find even more surprising is that eggs stored at room temperature will last 3-4 weeks, easily, even swinging from the ceiling in our bountiful, chicken shaped wire egg basket.  I rarely find a bad egg, and when I do it is either suffered a hairline crack or it is just one of a whole bad batch. Even so, we’ve gotten into the habit of breaking all eggs into a small bowl first, not directly into the pan or batter…ever found that one bad egg?

Excessive packaging is another thing we actively try and cut down on. Whenever possible we buy in bulk; 25 lbs of flour here, a giant tub of baking power there.  Back onboard I empty as much as possible into the plastic, air tight containers that fill the dry stores area and vacuum pack the rest so one package fills one container when opened.  (The plastic vacuum bags we reuse, when not filled with meat or fish products). This way we not only cut down on plastic and packaging in general (and spend our money more wisely) but at sea we then have less plastics and garbage to worry about. And no, plastics NEVER go overboard.  This is all well and good to say but with some products extremely hard to live by. Crackers (dry biscuits), for instance, seem to have triple the amount of packaging in the tropics; each sleeve of crackers is plasticized, or even worse all you can find is snack size packages sold in a box. Makes sense; the whole box of crackers doesn’t go soggy the day after you open them. But it also makes for an awful lot of garbage.  Flour is another thing that is packaged in small quantities against moisture; 2kg in a waxed paper bag, in a box, wrapped in plastic. Keeps the flour nice and fresh on the shelf and means that if it gets splashed while getting loaded off the ship or carried home in the dingy it will stay that way. I guess sometimes there is just no avoiding it.  

One thing that we really support anywhere we can, and especially here in French Polynesia, is there returnable bottle program.  Beer, and some soft drink, are sold in glass bottles, available by deposit, individual or by the crate.  Simply pay the deposit on the crate and 20 bottles and then buy the beer.  Return the empty case for a full one or a refund. You can carry the crates from one island to the next, and the deposit is the same. Strangely enough bottles are cheaper than cans of the same quantity. And even better if you can store a crate of full bottles you can store a crate of empty ones. Other than a few dozen bottle caps, which everyone knows make good checkers, back gammon tiles, fishing lures, decorative snakes and I am sure fetching jewellery, there is no garbage!

At sea, and in anchorages where it will go out to sea and not end up ashore on someone’s lawn, all organics go over the side.  We also sink our glass bottles, foil and labels removed when we are out in the deep ocean. Glass is silica; silica is sand. We wash our zip lock bags. We rare use plastic wrap, in fact have had the same roll for the last two years, instead have a variety of plastic containers for storing leftovers.  We only use cloth napkins onboard, saves on storing paper products. Every little bit we do helps reduce our garbage output. In bigger cities we bring all of our trash ashore, sometimes separated, hoping there is recycling (and in Tahiti there was), figuring that with a larger population they’ll have the facilities to deal with it. In places with a large marine community you’ll usually find a dirty oil depot, a way to throw out paint and solvents responsibly. And probably a small pile next to the dumpster of “still good but I don’t want it anymore” items, for your perusal.  In smaller, more remote communities you’ll find us on the beach some afternoon, standing in front of a fire, disposing of the trash, after we’ve cooked up a feast, of course. I guess it is better than throwing it all on the local trash heap waiting for it to magically disappear into the jungle.  Don’t laugh; you didn’t see Boca Chica, Panama.

One thing we don’t do much of is buy souvenirs, no space to keep them and if we did they’d probably be damaged by the time we got a place to unload them. The exception to the rule being something useful and therefore probably food related; a tortilla press and hand carved bowls made out of gourds from Mexico, the perfect hand blender come food processor found in Costa Rica, the pounds of Panamanian coffee that I just finished drinking, a cookbook from the Galapagos, a bag of wild chili’s that we dried on a string in the Marquesas, and a coconut grater/fish scaler/papaya seed remover that we bought in the Cook Islands, made of stainless steel and signed by the local guy that recovered the materials from a washed up fishing beacon.  On our table is a vast array of sauces and seasoning reflecting every country we’ve made landfall in.  If there is a more acute way to relive your travels then by triggering a smell or taste from a country you’ve visited, we have yet to encounter it.

So what is left? The eating part!!!!  Now that we sourced, scrounged, picked, paid for, transported and stored all these tools and food, let’s see what we can do with it.

 I am a firm believer that even though we live on a small sailboat and modest budget, there is definitely no need to eat like a poor college student; instant noodles are reserved for desperate, rough days on passage.  Even then, we probably have a vacuum packed meal in the freezer that we can pop in the pressure cooker (best kitchen tool EVER) over some rice and water and VOILA! You have a hot, nutritious, tasty meal in 10 minutes.  There is rarely a night on passage that we don’t sit down for a hot dinner together. Most nights we have what we have come to affectionately refer to as a “bucket meal”. We have two round Tupperware containers with hearty lids that, once wrapped in a cloth napkin and served with your one utensil, are easy to handle, can be put down without spilling, be put in the fridge filled with leftovers, left in the sink to wash up later and all without worrying about them breaking. You’d be surprised how much a hot meal at the end of a hard day can raise your spirits. 

When we have the luxury of a nice anchorage we spend a little more time preparing meals.  Even with our cranky, old three burner stove and crematorium oven you may be surprised are what you can achieve.  I am not talking four stars here but nice enough to warrant a nice bottle of wine and good company. Steve very often volunteers to BBQ, and not just meat.  The array of grilled fruit and vegetables we eat is impressive; pineapple, potatoes, green beans, zucchini, peppers, onions and garlic, just to name a few.  This also keeps the heat out the cabin; nothing like standing over a propane stove during the tropical summer, or even worse, when it is raining and all the hatches are closed! Recently we have been making fires and cooking on the beach; fresh caught fish cooked over an open flame is hard to beat.  Get yourself a good cast iron pan and a bit of tin foil and you can bake bread on a bed of coals. The options of what can be put in a tinfoil packet and steamed or cooked over a camp fire are endless. The only thing we are missing on the beach is a good way to keep the beer cold!

We like to experiment with what is in season; currently creating recipes for papaya, something I thought I didn’t like to eat, smells alittle like vomit!!.  Stuffed, sautéed and blended into cakes, you can eat quite well with a little imagination. With fruit dripping from the trees and coconuts falling on your head there is never a dull culinary moment on Kate.  I have actually been writing recipes down recently, thanks to the prodding of Steve, so check out the recipes page for what’s cooking in our kitchen these days.

See what I mean about spending an unusual amount of time being concerned with food?  That took most of my morning. Thank goodness its time for lunch! As we say on board BON APPETTIO!!




Tahiti Ink...

“Patience is a wondrous virtue.”

“The best laid plans of mice and men are meant to be mislaid.”

“Good things come to those who wait.”

These are just a few of the inspirational quotations meant to give you a sense of calm and direction in situations that are not quite going exactly according to plan. Our favorite is from a Buddhist text;

“Everything is as it should be.”

Is it a sentence that we grappled with for most of the past summer (winter?! I’ll always be a northern hemisphere gal at heart).  In fact, it became a kind of unofficial mantra onboard; a gentle reminder that if we just looked at the situation from another vantage point we might see that although things were not working out as we planned, they were, actually, working out quite well.  Perhaps we came to a state of enlightenment, how appropriate!, and realized that you cannot dwell on what might have been but simply enjoy what is.

But the path to enlightenment is generally not an easy one and ours was strewn with 1400 bumpy, sleepless, teeth chattering miles to windward before we let go of the idea of sailing back to the Marquesas. Unseasonable strong easterly winds were making it not quite impossible but certainly uncomfortable. We finally decided that since we’d already been there once that the ride back would be unnecessarily stressful for both ourselves and the boat. It was a hard pill to swallow. We were looking forward to returning not only to one the most rugged and beautiful places we’ve seen yet, but to return to get to know the people a little more, to understand their fierce pride and gentle warmth a little better.  So instead, we spent a few months enjoying the serene anchorages of the Leeward Society Islands with very few other boats interrupting our tropical horizons. It wasn’t the plan, but it was lovely. 

In April we decided to return to Tahiti, we had one outstanding project to do on the boat, install a removable inner forestay, and wanted to get there before the onslaught of this year’s Puddle Jumpers arrived, congesting the anchorage and taxing the local marine industry to their max.  We had a pretty successful week considering installing the inner forestay had to be worked around the wind and weather (Steve was up the mast 5 times in 4 days) and “island time”, a phenomenon that happens on any tropical island on the globe, best known for an inexplicable reduction in the speed of time and a carefree attitude towards work, deadlines and posted store hours, especially during the hot hours of the afternoon. Steve not only got the inner forestay installed but did it under budget, no small feat itself in good old French Polynesia.  In between trips up the mast were trips into Pape’ete to restock some boat parts and get some quotes on jobs on our wish list. 

On one tiresome trip into busy Pape’ete we were hot and frustrated as we had just spent the last few hours adding just one more errand to the “To Do” list, but most of our efforts were turning out unrewarded. We were getting hungry and cranky, not a very a good duo especially when combined with midday tropical heat, so we’d stopped at the Market to grab some lunch then decided to call it quits, we’d had enough.  All our running about had delayed our departure from the city and it was now afternoon rush hour. After fighting our way onto the bus we finally found ourselves melting into a hard bus seat and huddling under the small air conditioning vent; we were both weary and spent.  We idly watched the bus fill up, marveling at the colourful crowd, the ladies with flowers in their hair and at the children with such curiosity in their eyes, when a man passed us to sit in the back row.  Steve and I both do a double take.

Now, as I may have mentioned before, everyone here seems to have tattoos, and a man sporting a full sleeve, or even two, is a common sight.  So it is not that we are taken aback by this man’s tattoos (they totally cover his right hand and arm and his whole left leg) but he has a particular motif on his forearm that we recognize; two sets of concentric circles that are joined together in the middle like a link of chain. From what I can gather it means fearlessness and tenacity. It denotes that you are a fighter, not of the literal kind, but strong in spirit, resilient. It is the kind of motif that a tattooist will only give you if they know you; if you embody the “power” that the symbol implies.  We first saw this tattoo last July on the island of Nuku Hiva, in the Marquesas. It was worn by the man who gave me my first tattoo. By a man that looked suspicious like the one who just walked onto our bus in Tahiti.

We ride most of the way home in silence, me periodically nodding off beneath sun glasses, and Steve keeping an eye on our man in the back.  We are getting close to the end of the route and have been craning our necks so much in the last few minutes that we are starting to draw attention.  Finally Steve gets up, turns around and walks towards him, “Brice?”(Pronounced Breese) he asks tentatively. “Oui”, the man replies as the bus comes to the last stop.  As we all file off it is obvious that he doesn’t really know who we are, he’s got that same look on his face as we had on ours half an hour ago.  Once on the sidewalk Steve lifts up his left sleeve, revealing a large tattoo. Brice’s eyes light up, he recognizes his work, he recognizes us.  With my bad French I get the gist of the story; he recently moved to Tahiti, his house is just down the road and, yes, he is still tattooing.  I take out a slip of paper and he writes down his mobile number. We shake hands and go our separate ways.

On the way home Steve and I are in wonder. We discuss all these past months that we’d been beating ourselves up about not being able to get back to the Marquesas; how disappointed we’d been not just because we wanted to see the islands but because we really wanted to find Brice and get another tattoo.  We debated what would have happened if we’d gone all the way to Nuku Hiva and he’d already moved to Tahiti. We considered how strange it was that we kept getting delayed that day and how, only an hour before he walked onto our bus, we’d been to another tattoo studio that a friend recommended in Pape’ete to check out their work (we didn’t like it, like the work of so many other tattoo artists we’d checked out over the last few months). What were the chances of meeting him not only on a different island but some 1200 miles from his home, on a bus!? And not only that, but he is just next door to the marina we were anchored by and we could have never even known he was there. 

We finish up our work and decide to head to Moorea for a little vacation; a week back in the busy city is just that, too busy and too much city for us. This goes a little pear shaped because it is Easter weekend and on Good Friday our anchorage of 2 boats swells to 20. But here is better than there and we’d both like to get in the water again before getting inked when we will have two weeks of staying dry and especially staying out of salt water while our tattoos heal. 

When we return to Tahiti we face the problem of calling Brice; he speaks very little English and I can’t understand much French over the phone.  I duck into another tattoo place close by one afternoon in hopes that he is working there. No luck but I talk to the artist in broken French who is friendly and kind, but does he know Brice? Not really, but maybe he’s heard of him. I explain I have a phone number but can’t call as I find French difficult when not face to face. He assures me my French is fine but offers to make the call anyway.  A few minutes later it is arranged that we are to meet Brice at the bus stop up the road. It all seems too easy but a plan is in motion.  Half an hour of watching traffic and Steve and I are disappointed, no Brice.  Maybe we have the wrong bus stop, did I misunderstand the directions?  We’ve got things to do so we head back to town and decide to try again another day; it’s island time, he’ll understand.  Saturday afternoon we find a friend of friend that speaks both English and French and pled our case. She makes the call and sets up an appointment for Monday morning; we spend the weekend debating our new tattoos.

8:30 Monday morning finds us waiting on the road side again, at another bus stop, hoping this time we got it right. 8:35, no Brice. We agree to give it a half an hour and try to find some shade from the already hot and sweaty day.  Moments later a truck pulls up, the window rolls down and a guy with a smile and sun glasses peers out at us. Brice has arrived.

Now I have to say Brice is a man of few words, French or not. You’d probably classify him as the strong silent type. When we met him Nuku Hiva it was at the bar during the dance festival; Steve inquired with the bartender who is the best tattooist around. The bartender informed Dave the security guard we were looking for someone and Dave brought Brice to our table.  He sat down with his Jack and Coke; spoke to us briefly in French and very broken English. He sat for five minutes more then excused himself, telling us to come by his house the next morning, his tattoo studio was there.  He said if we had trouble finding his house we just had to ask anyone we saw, they’d point us in the right direction, as everyone knows where Brice lives. 

And this morning is no different.  He turns on his computer, brings up photos of his latest work and leaves Steve and me to consider our tattoos. But, like last time, Steve and I already know what we want; or rather already know where we want it and some idea of style. And also like last time, we will leave the rest to Brice.  This may seem like a leap of faith but one look at an artist portfolio will let you know if you want him to draw on you…permanently.  And we are not interested in simply picking a drawing out of a book and having it gunned into our skin; I do not want someone else’s tattoo.  Quite frankly we don’t think Brice really enjoys this either.  Give him some creative freedom and he’ll happily create a piece just for you.

Monday morning I was elected to go first and after establishing general location and idea we watched quietly as Brice methodically laid out his equipment and prepared his set up.  It seems as much ritual as concern for hygiene; everything comes new out of the package, his tattoo guns and foot pedal are wrapped in plastic, work surfaces covered in foil, gloves, ink, needles and creams neatly laid out for future use. He spent a quiet 45 minutes sketching in a rough design, making notes on my skin, cues for his creation. He then took a photo and asked my approval.  After answering a few brief questions he started.  The only things he said were “Ready” when we first began and when I commented that it felt hot he replied “Very hot today, eh?”.  I then spent three and a half hours in painful silence while he worked none stop. Finally he declared “OK, done!”  Like I said, he is a man of few words.

Tuesday morning was Steve’s turn and I tagged along as translator.  This morning he was a little more chatty and out of the blue asked if we had plans for the evening, and, if we didn’t he’d like us to come over for a BBQ.  We were flattered and taken aback, he didn’t seem the type to invite just anyone into his home (even though his studio space is in his home, it’s a different feeling).  Of course we accepted!  That night, after Steve (and Brice) recovered from his four hours of tattooing, we enjoyed a lovely BBQ dinner with Brice, his girlfriend Myra, and his two sisters Isobel and Rose. We shared a few drinks, some tall stories (some in frenglish) and plenty of laughs.  As we headed home Brice gave me a kiss on cheek and when Steve tried to give him a simple hand shake he grabbed him into a big bear hug, “Friends” he said as he smiled.

As we headed down the dock at the marina and climbed into the dingy we marveled at how life just seems to work out sometimes; try as you may you cannot force things to happen and that maybe there are greater powers in control. As we motored home to Kate we both nod our heads in agreement; Everything IS as it should be.


P.S. Here's what we got!



When it Rains it Pours!

Nothing could be truer this morning when at 5am I crawled out of my cozy warm bunk to check the already firmly dogged hatches and the position of the boat. A light pitter patter of drizzle was quickly building into a grand crescendo of rain that sounded more like we were driving Kate through a water fall then just another passing squall. The boat was tightly closed and, since we are on a mooring, in the exact same position we left it last night when we went to bed. However, the cacophony of feral dogs and roosters had already started up onshore so there is no point in crawling back into the bunk; there would be no more sleep for me this morning.  The days are getting noticeably shorter here in the southern hemisphere, this early there is just a sliver of silvery blue light outlining the jagged mountain on the horizon as I open the computer to write.  I love this time of day but it has been a while since I have had the opportunity to enjoy it, our usual quiet routine has had some very fun and social interruptions this past month.  We caught up with some old friends who were “in town” working on a mega yacht, met four fun and young Aussie boys on a boat in Tahiti, and had our good friend Kim come and visit from New York for three weeks. But all good things must come to and end; people return to work, boats sail in different directions and old friends get on planes to return to their lives up north.  We are left back where we started a month ago, just the two of us on a mooring at the Bora Bora Yacht Club trying to figure out our next move and catching up on some sleep.

In the last three weeks with Kim on board we covered seven islands; Tahiti through Bora Bora. We had incredible weather, the winter rains giving way to endless days of sun. For once we had fair winds and calm seas so our passages were flat and dreamy (mostly) and sailing in the lagoons fast and fun, just as you hope when you have guests onboard.  However, not to give the impression that it is all umbrella drinks and sunsets and in true Kate style, we did show her a little of the excitement and drama that is involved in sailing. We planned a day sail from Huahine to Raiatea, it was a little rolly but all in all a nice day. Steve said he had something heavy on his mind all day and was wracking his brains doing sums about fuel consumption and diesel in the tank while we sailed. After navigating the passage in southern Raiatea and thinking we might be getting low on fuel (the fuel gauge is inaccurate) he put 25 litres in the tank, just incase. We were motoring our way through the narrow channel, approaching a tight corner strewn with coral heads when the engine over heat alarm went off.  We made a tight U-turn and drifted with the current while we checked the engine. All seemed ok, plenty of coolant and water flowing in the exhaust, we must had spun an impeller.  With the option of sailing rather impossible, too narrow a channel and the wind directly on the nose, we quickly we launch the dingy, mount the motor and tied it along side at midships. Once again our 10ft inflatable with (this time) a 15hp outboard saved the day. Rafted up we ever so slowly made it the remaining 2 miles through the channel without harm (although Kim and I got rather wet in the dingy) and threw anchor at our intended destination before sunset. It turned out that we only sucked up some seaweed; it clogged the engine cooling saltwater intake causing the engine temperature to rise. Thankfully it didn’t even make it to the strainer; it just got caught in the through hull. Finally an easy solution to a boat problem! But drama aside we did try our best to show Kim a little of the South Pacific; snorkeling, dingy tours, deserted islands, beach barbeques, sparkling blue water, fishing, local foods (picking fruit on the side of the road) and cold beers on hot afternoons, just to mention a few.  We hope were successful in opening her eyes not only to this stunningly beautiful part of the world but to our modest lives onboard as well.

And having Kim onboard was eye opening for us in many respects.  I realized how much knowledge I have gained about sailing in the last year; how far I have come, both literally across the globe and in my abilities onboard, it sounds like I know what I am talking about these days!  I also became aware of the language that Steve and I share, both verbal and non-verbal, that is pivotal to the working of the boat.  Over the last two years we have developed hand signals, working systems and a whole range of commands and responses that enables us to sail the efficiently and safely. In fact, most of the time we have already anticipated the other person’s thoughts and are ready before they even set into action.

Not only was Kim kind enough to volunteer her luggage as a courier service, devoting a whole suitcase to parts and pieces for us, but she thoughtfully brought us some treats and gifts as well; a really neat water bottle/solar powered light that she filled with toiletry goodies like nail files and lip balm, English tea for Steve, peanut butter and nutella for me and a whole stack of magazines that are current AND in English!!! Leafing through our new treasure trove of glossy magazine I realized how completely out of touch we are; global news stories we’ve yet to hear about, fashion trends, television shows and celebrity gossip I could care less about and technological innovations we never even dreamed of.  I can’t count the amount of times we had to ask Kim what some article was referencing or to define some new techno term.  We marveled at her everyday gadgets (I-touch etcc..) and hung on her every word when she explained things like the Nike chip that you put in our shoes that records all the info about your run, downloadable “apps” for your personal whatever you carry, barcodes in magazine you scan with your phone to download information or the proposed e-wallet that will soon enable people to have all their credit cards details digitally on their phone. It seems the world is spinning faster than ever, yet somehow we’ve managed not only to stay in one place but possibly even slow down.

We recently had an anniversary onboard, and such an occasion makes you stop and reflect on what exactly you’re celebrating.  Two years ago we untied the dock lines and sailed out of San Diego harbour; destination, all points south and west. It is hard to believe we’ve made it this far or perhaps I should say hard to believe we’ve made it ONLY this far?  Our recent acquisition of all this techno-babble and global information has confirmed our recent decision to slow down, enjoy our time sailing, exploring and living a simpler life, without all the encumbrance of “modern life”, ie. cell phone, television, car, a closet full of clothes. We are not sure where we are headed to next, we would still like to get back north to the Marquesas, but standing in our way is not traffic jams or phone calls or if we are up with the last trend and therefore “cool” enough.  Our obstacles are the wind, the sea and our own determination. We may have realized that we are completely behind the times but when you slow down long enough to enjoy the view you realize how much you missed by traveling so fast. When we started sailing the question was “How will we cope working, sailing and living on a small boat together, just the two of us for long stretches of time and open ocean?” After two years and several thousand nautical miles I have to answer that it is at times difficult but that, perhaps, we’ve done better then I expected. I mean, something must be going right if we want to continue on sailing together.  Is the question now “If we stay out here too much longer how will we cope with the busy modern world and all the changes in it?”  I don’t know. What I do know is that right now we are in Bora Bora, sleeping soundly on a mooring, enjoying the sunshine and the rain, and to getting back to the routine of the two of us keeping the old girl ship shape.  We are enjoying our private, quiet and slow life too much to even consider asking that question out loud. So, for now, the answer will just have to wait.