July 24, 2010

Cruising families answer common questions

Check it out- we're featured on the "Women and Cruising" Blog!

The site supports and inspires women cruisers, and they've recently started a feature on cruising families. We're one of twelve different families are answering a set of questions about our experiences cruising with children: what are our biggest challenges in going cruising? What's a typical day? How do we handle education?

They're adding a different family every week, and the Totem crew is introduced today.

You can link to our story, and that of others, from here:

Kathy Parsons is the force behind the site that I've been in touch with to contribute from our point of view. I think she's done a splendid job putting this feature together. It gave me goosebumps to see! I hope you enjoy it too.

How could we possibly worry about education?
time to snorkelize!

July 23, 2010

Passagemaking again

24 hour run: about 150 nautical miles
distance to go: about 550
15 kt SE winds, 3 m SW swell with a NE cross swell
position linked from Winlink or YOTREPS (links at right)

Since making our first landfall in South Pacific islands in April, our passages between island groups have taken place at roughly one month intervals: in May, from the Marquesas to the Tuamotus; in June, from the Tuamotus to the Society Islands.

Now, in July, we've taken leave of French Polynesia altogether. The last two months, our crossings were uneventful journeys of two or three nights each. This time, it should only be four nights, but going to a new country and at the same time getting progressively remote from makes it feel like a more significant transition.

Our destination, Suwarrow island, is one of the atolls making up the northern Cook Islands. It's the only one of the northern Cooks which can be visited by a sailing boat, the other atolls lacking entry passes. The country is culturally and linguistically Polynesian. We won't have much exposure to it as this is our only stop in the Cooks, and it has a part-time population of 1. A national park, the sole resident is a caretaker who lives there during the 8 months of non-cyclone season. New caretakers take over every year or so: last year, it included a young family- a delight we'd welcome but don't expect.

A few other boats are headed this way- to Tonga via the northern islands instead of the southern group- after reports of strict NZ customs inspections (the Cooks are a New Zealand protectorate) at the official ports of entry in the south. All produce and meat not marked as originating in New Zealand was confiscated. We don't have deep enough stores, but this is meaningful for the boats with freezers who provisioned to get to New Zealand!

Our interest in this route is a combination of opportunity, reputation, and practicality. Suwarrow gained notoriety after a man who wrote about his experiences living there, a semi-hermit, in "An Island to Oneself." There's really no other way to reach it besides the way we are, by a small private boat. We've also been looking forward to visiting this remote island after the raves from friends of ours who stopped here previously. Following the busy month spent between Tahiti and Bora Bora, we're looking forward to a slower pace too. From a practical standpoint, with an end destination of Australia this year, we wanted to hasten through this portion of our path to ensure we have time later: it's not wise to be pressed for distance when cyclone season looms. The weather also looked more appealing along the northern route, although conditions are fickle.

The sun is up on our second day out: children eating a hearty breakfast, fishing lines out, books to be read or listened to... we happily slide into our passagemaking routine.

No internet access, posting via HF radio

July 22, 2010

Last days in French Polynesia

It all goes too quickly- somehow, we have spent three months in French Polynesia, although it feels like we've barely arrived and only scratched the surface of what this diverse, beautiful island nation has to offer.

Our arrival in Bora Bora was charmed. We'd heard the moorings were full, but one opened up *right* in front of the clubhouse, just in time for our arrival. Than, as we were in the process of picking up the mooring ball, Claire & Elliot - my cousin and her boyfriend - arrived at the dock. We were so excited to have them joining us on board!

What proceeded can best be called Christmas in July. C&E brought many pounds of goodies for us- things we had ordered, and gifts from friends and family.

The first out were new shoes for everyone. Totem is now an all-Chaco, all the time vessel, and we LOVE them! Thank you, Chuck & Peggy... these are a huge hit.

Chacos in Paradise

There were also boat parts (this included radio communication gear, so I was at least as excited as Jamie), books for the children, books for us, clothes, food (just try to find quinoa at a price less than the gold standard here), crafts and games for the kids... heaven!! We lost Niall for almost two days as he seemed to try and commit our new Pacific reef fish guide to memory.

We got to borrow Claire & Elliot for 10 days- it FLEW, and it was densely packed. We celebrated Bastille Day by... well, dressing up as pirates, of course! Cruisers rallied for a float in the parade, attended by French Polynesia's president no less. He was one of only a few dozen people actually watching the parade, since I'm pretty sure everyone else on the island was actually IN it.

Siobhan loves Claire

The fish here are beyond friendly... Claire and I went snorkeling with the underwater camera, and there were so many we almost couldn't get decent photos of each other.

so many fish!

Niall's deep love of the ocean was plain to C&E, who decided to give him a Discovery dive. Elliot and I rode the boat out to the dive site, and he was as high up on cloud 9 as I think I've ever seen him.

Elliot coaches Niall

One of the really special memories of Bora Bora will be the friends we made at the BBYC. Kahulani is the daughter of one of the partners in the club, and she became fast friends with the girls.

Kahulani & Mairen

We also had to hold a card tournament. It was a family imperative! Every summer in late July, my family has a rummy tournament that is as much a reunion as anything else... but there are some serious card sharks, too. Claire & Elliot were missing the tournament to be with us, so we created it on Bora Bora! With the crews of other boats trained and participating, and even gen-u-ine POCRT (that's Pan Oceanic Chicago Rummy Tournament, for the uninitiated) award medals for the winners, thanks to my aunt Glenna.

It would be hard to beat the setting...
POCRT South Pacific

...and the winner was Annie, from Oso Blanco! I'm not even going to suggest that it was beginners luck with this sharp lady.
POCRT South Pacific

This morning, we're heading west toward the Cook Islands. Our plan is to sail ~700 miles to Suwarrow (a 4 to 5 day passage for Totem), then continue on to Tonga for the month of August.

Meanwhile, click through any of the pictures to see more in our Flickr stream, for a visual romp through our days on Bora Bora...

July 20, 2010

Language Lessons

I wish I didn't know so much French. The truth is, I know very little, but it's just enough to get in the way of learning local languages here.

Among the core reasons we choose this lifestyle is not a desire to separate, but to connect: to continuously learn and expand our experience in the world through our interactions. To communicate with people we meet, in their language instead of ours, is an important part of that... showing interest, effort, and friendliness in one fell swoop.

When we reached the Marquesas, after seeing faces crack into broad grins at the feeblest attempt at learning the truly local language, I was committed to picking up more.

Hoe... piti... toru... maha... pae. I count to myself, willing the numbers to memory. Flash cards are dog eared and a little grubby from rolling around in my bag with other day trip essentials.

It complicated things only slightly that we have no meaningful phrase books for Marquesan and Tahitian, only the sometimes odd collection of words inour guidebooks. I know enough French to ask how to say something- coupled with occasional miming, it's enough.

Ono... hitu... vau... iva... ahuru. Six... seven... eight... nine... ten. My teachers have been numerous. They began with the service station attendant at our landfall of Hiva Oa; a polyglot who spoke multiple Polynesian languages in addition to French and some English. Among those to follow were a beachfront resident in Anaho, the children we met on Makemo, the drivers of rides I hitched in Raiatea, and women at various produce stands and shops.

Ahuru ma hoe.. ahuru ma piti. The smile and response in kind are gifts. More than enough to sustain me through card flipping, even for just a few weeks of functional use.

What other way can I easily bring warmth and friendship to people who have so repeatedly shown it to us? From the fishermen who hand us some of their catch, refusing anything in return, to random encounters with people who send us along our way with fruit or flowers?

It's the least I can do.

flower headdress

July 14, 2010

small delights and surprising things about French Polynesia

* Voila is a common and useful word
* Baguettes, warm from the boulangerie, are a bit of heaven
* Island time absolutely exists
* French brie is cheaper than "cheeze product"
* Hitchhiking is so safe and common, if you're walking on the road (and there's usually only one, anyway)- cars may pull over just to ask if you want a ride
* Hakka Chinese population ensures wide availability of excellent chau mian
* It's completely normal to have a flower- usually gardenia (tiare)- behind your ear- men, women, kids, everyone.

Sailing into Opunohu Bay, Moorea

July 12, 2010

Huahine Idyll

In general, Huahine has less tourism than French Polynesia's other Society Islands- it's nice to walk through a town not oriented toward the tourist trade, slide into the rhythm of life, and find ourselves wishing we had weeks, even months, to linger.

The day after we arrived, we heard about performances being held on the far side of town as part of a festival. But first- sustenance! We went with two other boats to have dinner at a roulotte near the wharf. These mobile restaurants- literally vans converted into kitchens, which set up folding tables adjacent- pop up in designated spots each evening and are common in French Polynesia, especially in the more populated Society Islands. They are usually the best bargains in town (average cost around $10/plate) and often have good local food- poisson cru from the Tahitians, chao mein from the Hakka Chinese, steak frites from the French.

Rulotte dining

We set off after dinner with directions from the roulotte proprietors for the dance arena. It turned out to be farther than we expected... with the added complication of a squall arriving, and rain dumping in buckets. A resident en route to the festivities took pity on us, and made two runs to shuttle our party of 12 from the roadside to the performance site.

What followed was three hours full of eerily beautiful changing, frenetic drumming and with dancing, then the wildest fastest hip shaking you've ever seen. How do they do it? And keep blissfully smiling the whole time, too?

Heiva dancing

Heiva dancing

The water is once again turquoise and clearer than any pool we've seen. The coral is different- we're not informed enough to really know, but it doesn't seem as healthy. We've learned that the rockier heads and duller colors don't necessarily mean dead coral. Still, there are lots of broken and clearly dead pieces scattered on the bottom, and dramatically fewer fish- we found here is generally smaller.

On the other hand, what we did find was pretty cool. Like... NEMO! OK, not Nemo, but what a thrill to find a pair of clownfish in a large pinkish anemone. We saw one near the pass off Fare, and many more at the south end of the island.

We Found Nemo!

Other critters were less cool, like this beautiful- but nasty- Crown of Thorns starfish. In the picture it looks more like one of those squishy balls, because I had just knocked it off the coral head it was busy eating. A single one starfish of these can destroy over 100 square feet of coral in a year. Their only natural predator is the conch, which is overfished as both a food source and a pretty shell for tourists. Natural balance is thrown off, and it's devastating reefs!

We were tempted to whack this guy, but didn't for some reason. We asked our friend Mike- a professor of marine biology- about the starfish the next day, curign our morning radio check-in with a few other boats. I'm glad we waited: Mike said that if we'd cut it up as we were tempted to do, we'd probably just be making 2 starfish out of one. Apparently, we get to crush the gonads (literally) on the next one. I'll be looking.

Evil, evil, evil

July 7, 2010

Waiting out weather on Moorea

Thanks to the weather, we spent quite a few more days longer on Moorea than we had planned. We were initially disappointed- our Visa for French Polynesia expires in just a few weeks, so our remaining days here are rapidly dwindling. We had hoped to spend less time in Moorea so that we could allocate more days in the less touristed, less populated, more traditional island of Huahine before moving on to Bora Bora for Bastille Day among other festivities.
Of course, being flexible with our schedule- especially when the weather dictates a change in plans- is just part of cruising. The added time on Moorea just meant more great memories.
We were able to hang out a few more days with our friends on Capaz. After talking about cruising with the Bakers for the better part of the prior two decades, we were able to live our dream together the last 8 months as they joined us in Mexico and across the Pacific. They're heading back to Puget sound soon, by way of Hawaii, and we're really going to miss them! We love playing cards together, and spent some fun evenings getting in a few more rounds.
cards again!
We had already been to the magnificent lookout point at Belvedere (huzzah to the kids, for a 6 mile hike with minimal complaint!)...

Belvedere lookout

...and found the friendly stingrays on the north side of the island, and had a one-in-a-million first hand wildlife encounter. I think one full body hug by a stingray is enough for me, though.
they're like PUPPIES! who knew?!
But without the extra few days, we would have missed the magic of snorkeling among ancient tikis. Rumor holds that these awesome tikis were secretly moved into the shallow depths of the lagoon when their ceremonial site became the location for a missionary church in 1822. Hidden in plain sight near the reef, they would not be destroyed. Or... they were put there by a hotel for tourists. Believe what you want, they are really cool.In only about 10' of water, they are an awe inspiring snorkel.
Underwater tikis

July 5, 2010

A few other boats we know about...

After posting their last entry, I started thinking about the other people we knew selling boats, and realized there are actually a few people!

Our friends, the Boren family, got a classic case of four-foot-itis (except their new boat is a TAD BIT MORE than four more feet!) are selling their trusty Pearson 365, Third Day. It's in Mexico, they've been cruising on it for a couple of years already. We all tend to malign the "PO" (Prior Owner.. cough cough) but these are exactly the kind of people you *want* to buy a boat from. Rich...I didn't see a listing on your blog, got a link for me?

Another boating family on the hunt for a bigger boat listed their Ingrid 38. If you had five kids to sleep aboard, you would too! Their vessel is up in Oregon, and Tim has all the details on his blog. This is a great bluewater boat, even before the awesome modifications Tim made for his family. Check it out!

I leave this one at the end because at the moment, it's off the market, but aren't boats always for sale? (Toast don't hate me for this!) Our friends the Congers cruised Don Quixote in Mexico for the better part of two years. They've since taken work in in New Zealand, and the boat is back in La Paz. Bug Toast at her blog if you're looking for a Lagoon 38.

Hopefully I haven't missed anyone! If I did, add yourself in the comments. OH, and somehow I neglected to mention it, but Escapade (below) is a Rawson 30.

It's impossible to have words to describe how wonderful it is to go cruising as a family... maybe one of these boats can share the joy with some prospective cruisers. Get out of the armchair, and get out here- it's amazing!

July 3, 2010

Want to start cruising? in Tahiti? Now?

We met a lovely family in Mexico; dad Jim and son Brendan sailed the boat from Mexico to the Marquesas this season. They're getting ready to head home, and selling the boat. It's always been a short term cruise for them, but it sounds like the boat could keep going!

These are the guys who literally threw us a tuna when we were a couple hundred miles off the coast of Mexico in April (http://sv-totem.blogspot.com/2010/04/rendezvous-in-big-blue.html). I have a few pics of their boat, from the tuna event- and from their departure to cross- on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/giffordclan/tags/escapade/.

Here are the specs:

External chainplates
Hi-mod fittings
Edson Wheel steering with Raymarine Wheel Pilot autopilot
Navik windvane
Spinnaker, 110, 150, storm jib and storm trisail
Gimballed two burner stove
Garmin GPS chartplotter
VHF radio
35lb CQR anchor, 33 lb Bruce anchor, Fortess and Danforth anchors
200 feet 5/16 chain
3 anchor rodes
Dinghy and 2 hp Honda outboard, dingy anchor
Yanmar YSE 12 motor
Interior fans
Hard dodger with canvas, sun shade
Engel refrigeration
Gorgeous wood inside, very dry boat.

It been in San Carlos for the last five seasons, with lots of good TLC from Jim. They're asking $21,000. If anyone is interested, drop a line to lenard at imt dot net.

July 1, 2010

Tahiti whirlwind

There is a certain magic in being able to say "we've sailed our boat to Tahiti!"

Fun with Panoramas!

It doesn't take too long for the charm to wear off, though, when the reality of the setting sets in. The largest urban area for over a thousand miles, it has services and resources to help many cruisers. It's also a sprawling, expensive suburb. After the pristine beauty we've been immersed in, it's hard to make that transition. The best advice we had was to get in- get stuff done- and get out.

Our chief order of business was to get our SSB radio fixed. This is our lifeline: our link for weather, safety, and communication. We were greatly relieved to find skilled repairs available in Papeete. It turns out that the power amplifiers inside the box had blown, and needed to be replaced. The fix was costly, but still just a fraction of replacement. We are immensely grateful for the remote help we received from friends back at home- Chuck and Peggy, from s/v Alert, who really let us know how much we were supported! The messages from other friends in the SYC and Bainbridge Island radio clubs, and even from folks who had just heard us on the Pacific Seaferer’s Net… we experienced firsthand the selfless aid shared by members of the ham radio community.

The second priority was to do some provisioning. For the first time in three months, we had access to grocery stores that were bigger than a walk-in closet and stocked more than a few onions and some aging carrots in their produce bins! It was a little overwhelming to be inside a glossy, brighly lit supermarket. I got misty in front of the cured meat selection, but nearly lost it at the cheese display. The rule of thumb is still that everything costs about double what you would expeect- or more!- but notable deals exist. We still can't get enough of the delicious fresh baguettes ($.50!), and wedges of delicious brie are only $5-6. How much more do we really need?

awed by the awesome salami

heavenly salami

The other delight of Papeete, strange as it may sound, was laundry. Access to an actual *laundry machine* that was not human powered was heavenly!

We moored Totem at the Tahiti Yacht Club, which gave us a kinder/gentler re-introduction to the bustle of a city. Anchorage is very difficult to come by, so we were happy to be snug on a mooring in the lagoon at this sweet little club instead of tied to the quai next to 6 lanes of traffic in downtown Papeete. Transiting in was a bus or dinghy ride, both of which were little adventures in themselves.

The boating rendezvous cosponsored by Latitude 38 and Tahiti Tourisme was a nice distraction. The multi-day event for cruisers promotes the islands as a destination (they need it?). We were treated to a reception at the colonial city hall, with a beautiful spread of food and fantastic dancing from a professional troupe. I managed to get sucked into the dance a little as well...

shakin' it!

dance performance at City Hall

We cruised with the fleet to a continuation of the rendezvous on Moorea. Breezes in the 30s made it an exciting trip- line honors went to SeaLevel, who managed to exceed 19 knots on the way over! Nearly as exciting was when too many boats tried to fit into too small of an anchorage... but no harm, no foul. Just very interesting, especially once the wind stopped and boats floated randomly through the anchoring circles of their neighbors!

Merlin and Delos show the fleet how it's done...

Breezy rally sail to Moorea

Most of the weekend was a downpour, which put a little damper on things... or culled the group to really interested participants, depending on your point of view! Jamie raced in an outrigger with a cruiser/Polynesian crew to second place, and we all had fun- even if we had to break out our foulies for the first time since the North Pacific.

good times with good friends...

Strawberry Monkey Strikes Again!

We ended the weekend with a truly unpleasant bash back to Tahiti, but that’s a story for next time…