Friday, August 26, 2011


A couple of days ago, the four of us went on a cultural bike tour the took us, among other places, to a school called Ha’akoka.  It was a public primary school that served three villages.  We had bought supplies for Tonga when we were in Mexico and presented them to the fourth grade students.  We’d heard that Tonga didn’t have  IMG_0359enough money to supply for the schools, so we’d decided to help.

The school contained three well-kept two-room buildings on well-manicured grounds.  We went into the fourth grade classroom, a room with a couple tables surrounded by benches with a backboard up front.  The kids were sitting at the tables.  We walked in introduced ourselves, and emptied our bags.  We unloaded about 30 notebooks, 75 pencils, 50 pencil sharpeners,and a ton of colored gel pens.  We also had a full math curriculum and some reading books. IMG_0350 You could see the kids’ faces light up with excitement as they saw al the supplies.  It made us feel like we were changing their lives.

Since the kids were just stating to learn English, we helped them with their letters and talked to them.  In math they were learning number sequences, so we taught them the Fibonacci Sequence.  We also helped them practice multiplication and subtraction.

I really enjoyed going to the school.  I liked helping the kids and making their schooling easier.     It was a really nice experience and I’m glad we got the chance to help the Tongans out.

-Danielle in Neiafu, Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Dangerous Middle and the International Date Line

We recently finished the passage between Rarotonga in the Cook Islands and Vava’u in Tonga.  They call this stretch The Dangerous Middle.  The weather is unpredictable and you could go to sleep in flat calm seas and wake up to a wave that rolls you to the other side of the bed and tilts the boat onto a 45 degree angle.  Seven days of this.  The Pacific crossing was bliss compared to this one.  Horrible, with a capital ‘H’.

Along with the sea state came the complete restlessness.  I don’t know why, but unlike the other passages, we were all going out of our minds.  We played all the card games we knew, countless games of Mexican Train, and read so much that the words got blurry (literally).  We even cracked open our card game book for the first time and learned that the English is completely unreadable.

The one interesting part of the journey was crossing the International Date Line.  Our weekend got condensed down to one day because Sunday started at 6:00.  Because Harrison and I split our dish-washing chores between breakfast/lunch and dinner, Harrison was on dishes all day!

Now that we’ve arrived safely in Tonga, the passage was all worth it.  The dark waters and cloudy skies may sound depressing, but against the bright green landscape, it all looks gorgeous.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

We've Arrived in Tonga!

We got to Tonga Monday morning (which is actually most peoples' Sunday). We are safely and comfortably anchored in Vava'u. More on this country later.

At 8/23/2011 09:03 (utc) our position was 18°39.53'S 173°58.87'W

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Monday, August 22, 2011

The Beginning of Time

We crossed the international dateline this afternoon at 172.5 degrees West and in an instant, today became tomorrow, from Saturday August 20 to Sunday August 21. Quite an interesting concept. And notwithstanding our loving threats, Danielle is relieved that it didn't occur on her birthday which is now only a day away.

We are expecting to make landfall on Vava'u in Tonga in the morning. It will be just over 7 days (or 8 if you count the day we left behind today) and except for an 18 hour period early in the passage of rough seas and high winds, it's been a relatively nice sail - and nothing has broken (unless you count my computer which completely died beyond Michael's patient saving on the first day). Several other boats have not been so lucky: a lost rudder, an engine that won't start, a lost shroud. Things breaking on a boat are inevitable, and we've been quite lucky with only needing minor repairs. This boat has been taking care of us for nearly two years now and I am grateful. She's been more than our home. Whatcha Gonna Do protects us as we go. It will be bittersweet when she's sold.

I've always loved passages, but for the first time I have been feeling a bit bored. Okay, really I've been feeling stir crazy. I finished 3 and a half books and can't read another thing. We've played all the games we have (I'm still the reigning champion of Mexican Train). I've done so many sudokus and logic games that my mind is mush. Our art projects have been depleted. We don't have enough battery power to watch movies or work on the photo albums (electronic photos) which are on Michael's computer, and now that we've lost my computer to computer heaven, we don't want to overwork Michael's as it contains all the electronic charts that we need for navigation. In the meantime, my watch schedule has me sleeping for most of the morning daylight, so I have only from about 11 a.m. until after dinner with M and the kids. I'm still taking the midnight to 5 or 6 a.m. shift.

-Barb in tomorrow
At 8/21/2011 13:24 (utc) our position was 18°24.20'S 173°11.81'W

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Raro Friends

They say that people and not places make good memories, and our time in Rarotonga, Cook Islands is no exception.

First we met Ron McKenzie, who did some mechanical work on our engine and generously opened his home to us and introduced us to his family. Ron is from Australia but has lived in Rarotonga for nearly 25 years now. Michael spent a day at his home catching up on the internet and they generously gifted us dozens of passion fruit and paw-paw.

We rented scooters one day to tour the island, the highlight of which was stopping into the Maire Nui Gardens, an oasis of 7 acres of spectacular tropical gardens in Titikaveka on the south east corner of the island. There we met Hinano and John, who run the gardens and the cafe (where we had dinner one night - incredible food with the world's greatest cheesecake - lemon meringue - and not to be missed!). Hinano and John became our hosts for the remainder of our stay, loaning us their truck, and allowing us use of their home for beachfront access for a day of relaxing by the sea (the most spectacular beach on the island with amazing coral to snorkel - they rent out a home/haven right next door: check out

The two of them are fascinating people. John breeds race horses and owns a winery back in his native Australia. He met Hinano 30 years ago on a visit to the island, and then came back 8 years ago when he married her (I'm always a sucker for great love stories!). Hinano is the 16th generation descendant of the original Cook Islands natives, the coming together of Samoan and Marquesan royal families who decided to rule the island together to maintain peace. Today, the 'ariki' or chiefs of the ruling families still maintain power and act as advisors to the elected government. The chiefdoms continue to be handed down to the first-born, whether male or female. Hinano's grandmother was the Big Chief, so to speak, and lived in the palace, which Hinano allowed us to tour. The palace is an unpretentious large two story home with a wraparound porch surrounded by acres of gorgeous land, a marae (ancient ceremonial grounds) in the back, and a cemetery where we visited her grandparents' graves. The palace is private property but while the house is locked up now, we visited the grounds, got to peak in the windows and see all the furniture as well which looks like it was closed up many years ago. There is currently a dispute as to who will take over from Hinano's grandmother: The grandmother's eldest daughter has been living in NZ since she was 12 when she went there for high school, while the people prefer the next daughter (Hinano's mother) since she has lived in Rarotonga her whole life and is more in touch with the people. If Hinano's mother does indeed legally get the authority, then Hinano could become Big Chief after her mom (Hinano's older sister has been in NZ since she was 12 as well). We were fascinated to learn first hand about the culture and politics of the Cook Islands from Hinano and John - and marvelled at the fact that we have become friends with real live royalty! Besides, they are great people and we spent some great times with them. And they surprised Michael and me for our birthdays when they brought their famous cheesecake as the birthday cake for our potluck dinner to share with Britannia, Piko,and Ron/Gina.

Two additional interesting facts about Raro: Landholding is handed down by families, which may account for the fact that there is no real poverty on the island. And families bury their loved ones right on their property - a comforting thought to have your loved ones, even dead loved ones, close by.

At 8/19/2011 13:22 (utc) our position was 19°34.75'S 168°09.05'W

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cook Islands to Tonga - Random News on Day 4

Our paw-paws are going mushy. Paw-paws, otherwise known as papayas in the Cook Islands, were gifted to us back in Rarotonga, 400 miles ago, by our local friends Ron and Gina who grow them in their yard. So far, I've made two large pickle-sized jars of paw-paw chutney, and I'll make some paw-paw jam. I've cut up nearly 8 of them to freeze for smoothies, and yet I still have more. The back of the boat is covering with paw-paw slop as they went soft - we've had them hanging in a fruit hammock but have had to bring them all in. We are open to suggestions for paw-paw recipes.

These 400 miles started out relatively pleasantly until about 18 hours ago. The winds picked up a great deal, clocking around from SW to NW with 25-28 knots of sustained winds right on our nose with confused seas and waves up to about 15 feet. A squall came through about 6 a.m., 18 miles wide, when we saw sustained winds of 35 knots for a period, and gusts up to 45 knots. Needless to say, it's been quite uncomfortable and the kids and I are feeling the effects of seasickness (Michael never gets seasick, but given that he hasn't slept much, he's not feeling too energetic either). We have been sailing with a triple reefed main sail and our jib was nearly completely furled in, and still it's been a bumpy ride. We just pulled out our jib and shaken out a reef now that the winds are down again to 12-15 knots and the seas have calmed down somewhat, but it looks like we may have lost our window to stop at Beveridge Reef. Beveridge Reef, officially part of Niue (pronounced New-ee) but really in the middle of nowhere, is completely submerged and surrounded by depths of about 13,000 feet. However, with our smaller sails we slowed right down and now may not have the time to experience it. Such is the itinerary of a sailor. We are doing our best to have made landfall in Tonga by August 23, Danielle's birthday, as she is very averse to being underway for her birthday. Plus we loose a day by crossing the international date line.

We received news yesterday from our daily Single Sideband radio net check-in that s/v Riri was lost in the Cook Islands at Palmerston Atoll the day before when the mooring ball they were tied to broke loose and landed the boat on a reef with four large gaping holes in its hull. The crew are all fine and they have managed to salvage much of their equipment but the boat itself is lost. This type of incident sends shock waves through the South Pacific cruising community, as one can imagine. It reminds us that anything can happen at any time, and that we must always be vigilant - even when relying on mechanisms like a mooring ball that are supposed to be permanent fixtures. Who knows if Riri had backed down on the mooring ball once tied to it as one is supposed to do to ensure it will hold in high winds; and who knows if they kept an anchor alarm on at all times to detect abnormal boat movement. These two actions are always recommended for moorings as well as anchorages, but even if Riri had checked them off, it's possible the episode occurred while they were off the boat and wouldn't have heard the alarm. We're waiting to get more information.

Be sure to download the August 2011 edition of Latitude 38 magazine (the monthly magazine and not the weekly electronic version 'Lectronic Latitude). It contains pictures of the Tahiti-Moorea Rendez-Vous, Danielle on our boat, Michael and his outrigger canoe team, and details of the canoe race upset. In addition there is a beautiful shot of s/v Piko (our good friends) and a great article about our friends Amanda and Krister on s/v Britannia. We'd love it if someone in the Bay Area could pick up a hard copy or two from West Marine for us too.

Finally, it's official. Our boat is up for sale. We had For Sale signs printed up in Rarotonga and affixed them to our boat just as we pulled out of the harbor. Too bad there's not much traffic out here in the middle of the ocean! Our plan is to sell the boat, hopefully before even reaching Australia, do some land touring of Oz and fly home at the end of December to have the kids begin school after the holidays.

Next blog post: Our Raro friends.

At 8/18/2011 11:47 (utc) our position was 20°24.48'S 166°25.34'W

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

On Our Way to Tonga

Well, we left Rarotonga in the Cook Islands early yesterday (Monday) morning, just after the sun rose and are enroute to Tonga with a possible stop at Beverage Reef. We waived farewell to our great friends on Brittania and Piko (who we have buddy boated with since Mexico) and motored out of the harbor. Because of light winds, we ended up motoring for the first 24 hours, something that we have not had to do since leaving fact, lunch was rice and beans so with the motor running we felt (briefly) like we were back in Mexico!

We had an awesome time in Rarotonga. We met some great locals ... Ron (a mechanic), his wife Gina and their daughter Rongina. They shared a ton of fresh fruit with us including some of the most delicious passion fruit we have ever eaten. They also went with us on the awesome cross island hike which takes one across the island and to the "needle", a peak with spectacular views of the island. We also met John and Hinano who own the Hidden Spirit Cafe & Grill located in Maire Nui Tropical Gardens (which Hinano has grown for the last 15 or so years). They too were awesome people who lent us their pickup truck for about 4-5 days so that we could get around the island. Barb will write more about both in a later blog. Needless to say, if you need a great mechanic Ron is your guy. If you are looking for an awesome meal, Hidden Spirit is the place to go.

Barb and I also celebrated our birthdays in Raro. We had a great potluck party on the wharf Sunday night with Brittania and Piko and our new local friends. They brought some great local dishes as well as the best meringue cheese cake we've ever had! It was a fun night and was great sharing it with these friends.

And also, thank you for all the facebook and email best wishes from everyone. Unfortunatley, with no internet access and limited email it is very difficult to respond to those wishes directly, but know we loved getting them!


At 8/17/2011 05:07 (utc) our position was 20°24.20'S 163°50.57'W

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Cook Islands stopover

We arrived safe and sound in Rarotonga (or 'Raro' as the locals call it - something like Scooby Doo saying hullo) yesterday morning to a crowd of on-lookers observing our first attempt at med-mooring (when you back into a wall, dropping your anchor 3 boat lengths from where you want to end up, and then using two stern lines tied to the wall to keep you from moving). Danielle and Harrison were in the dinghy working the stern lines, a couple of people were on the wall tying them on, I was working the anchor and Michael was maneuvering the boat. Quite a production.

The current cruisers' information has been encouraging cruisers to skip Raro altogether given the steep exit fees ($50 per person) and mooring costs (about $3 per meter per night for a multihull) plus the fact that produce and meat is confiscated and they fumigate your boat. While the exit and tie-up fees still hold true, the rest does not. We were boarded only by the immigration official who likely would have preferred to conduct his business on land (but he had no choice as Harrison picked him up in the dinghy). The health inspector only asked if we had bugs on board and if anyone had been sick, while the customs guy simply asked us not to bring any fruits or veggies off the boat. I've carried an aloe plant and a basil plant all the way from Mexico and so far both are doing fine. Because there are so many cruisers avoiding the place, we are only one of 3 boats here on the island of 15,000 people.

On the other hand, there is a major harbor construction project going on, so it does get noisy during the day, and there is a lot of dust. While we haven't done any grocery shopping yet, we did stroll through a grocery store and found the prices to be slightly less than French Polynesia. I was pleased to find, however, that the restaurants are much more reasonable - we had a great Thai meal yesterday evening at Bamboo Jack's and I was grateful not to have to cook another meal after the 5 day passage.

So far, it's been well worth the stop. The beauty is similar to that of the Society Islands with gorgeous steep volcanic mountains covered in lush green vegetation. The culture is similar - laid back Polynesian hospitality and roots in the Marquesas Islands. It is interesting that Cook Islanders are the ancestors of New Zealand Maori, and their native language is similar to Maori. On the other hand, everything here seems that much more familiar as all is conducted in English - the Cook Islands are loosely associated with New Zealand although have an independent government for their internal affairs. That's not to say we understand it all: some of the heavy New Zealand accents seem like they have a Cockney edge to them.

We haven't found internet yet, so photos will have to wait - and we're not sure we'll find internet before we leave. We plan to be here about 4 days before our 8 day passage to Tonga.

Avatiu Harbor in Avarua, Rarotonga, Cook Islands
At 8/9/2011 06:36 (utc) our position was 21°12.28'S 159°47.10'W

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Sunday, August 7, 2011

In the Passage Groove

They say to be careful what you wish for. The winds have picked up and with them, the seas. Today in particular the wind was 'wonky' (to use the word our friend Lauren-boy of s/v Piko uses). It's been coming from the east for most of the time and today clocked around to the NE then ENE then NE then NNE then NW then N ... you get the picture. And now it's coming from the southeast. Go figure. We have been seeing steady 20 knots of true wind, although there have been periods of 25-30 knots. We're sailing with a double reefed main and only about a quarter of our jib out to try to make it a bit more comfortable, and we're still making speeds of about 6 to 7 knots. Only we're way off course too.

This part of the South Pacific is called the Dangerous Middle because the trade winds converge here - but I'm not so sure it's any more or less dangerous here than anywhere. It should be called instead the Uncomfortable Middle or the UnPredictable Middle or the Wonky Middle. The kids and I have been feeling a little seasick so dishes are left unwashed, table uncleared, still in our pj's and stuff all over the place. Showering has also become an impossibility. Leave the rest to your imagination. I think by the time we get to Rarotonga, it'll really look like a war zone.

Nonetheless, I still love passages. There's not a whole lot to do. Our meals become a much greater focal point - I loved the kids faces when they awoke to crepes for breakfast! Danielle cooked a mean minestrone with cornbread for tonight's dinner. We read a lot, sleep a lot (although not for any great stretches) and the kids have started homeschooling again. By Day 4 we're back in the groove.

19 degrees 24.422 minutes South
157 degrees 41.038 minutes West
At 8/7/2011 10:29 (utc) our position was 19°24.38'S 157°41.26'W

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Friday, August 5, 2011

Moving at the Speed of Slow

We are now into Day 2 of what should be a 4 day passage from Bora Bora in French Polynesia to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands over about 550 miles. We are experiencing very light winds of about 10 knots and we are traveling at about 3.5 to 5 knots per hour. Yes, that's right, we could probably walk there faster. At this rate, it could take up to a week.

We knew when we set out that the winds would be light but we made the decision to set out anyway. The weather grib files (which we download daily to tell us wind direction and speed over our course going out a few days) showed that the wind would clock around to the north, albeit fairly light at 15 to 20 knots, instead of its usual southeast trade wind patterns. This is relevant for us as the port in Avatiu, Rarotonga, gets quite uncomfortable in north winds and on occasion when it blows strongly, private yachts are asked to leave. Our plan is to be out at sea while this norther blows in and arrive in Avatiu once it's passed. True to predictions, as of this evening, the wind is now coming from the NE.

The other reason we decided to leave was that this weather pattern is not expected to let up for another week, and we just don't have the time to loiter in French Polynesia any longer. Not that we wanted to leave. Our visas expired on July 27 and while the Gendarmes assured us that overstaying for several days was not a problem, we must be in Fiji by September 6 to receive our next set of guests (my mother and stepdad - can't wait!) and the Cook Islands, Tonga and several hundreds of miles of passages stand between now and then.

We are still digesting our time in French Polynesia. It was truly magical. In fact, I would love to return one day and spend the entire cruising season there as we feel like we missed so much - in particular I would have loved to see more of the Tuamotus. The other night with friends we took a poll as to which set of islands (Marquesas, Tuamotus or Societies) was the favorite and everyone came up with different answers for different reasons. The Marquesas were special because it was where we made landfall, it was beautiful and lush, there was great hiking, and we loved renting the car on Nuku Hiva to learn about the culture. The Tuamotus were magical for the drift snorkels through the passes, feeling as though we were floating in the universe, bonfires on the beach and swimming with manta rays. The south pass in Fakarava was the best snorkeling of anywhere - dense and diverse fish populations in shallow water that then drops off to a wall with loads of sharks. And then there were the Society Islands: Papeete and pearl shopping, perhaps the most beautiful island of Moorea where we swam with stingrays, snorkeling coral 'gardens' off of Taha'a, and doing the most strenuous hike/climb/scramble in Bora Bora. The scenery everywhere is breathtaking - the volcanic and striking mountains of the Marquesas and the Societies, and the blue-green water of the Tuamotu and Society lagoons. All spectacular.

When we were deciding whether to continue for a second year to allow us to head to the South Pacific, we were advised that one needs the entire cruising season (from April to October) and even then we'll be rushing it. Because of this, we are staying out for the second year together with another half school year. In hindsight, however, we would not have suffered the least to come across the Pacific, spend the entire time in French Polynesia, and sail home via Hawaii to be back for school in September. We know a couple of families who opted for this plan and I'd encourage any others who only have the limited time to consider this. It's a lot of time at sea getting there and getting home, but you can cover a lot of ground while here and each of the sets of islands are so different, intriguing and enriching.

On the other hand, we've been told that the best is yet to come: Tonga and Fiji. If it's better than French Poly, it'll be absolutely dreamy.

Somewhere in between French Polynesia and the Cook Islands in the middle of the great big Pacific Ocean with nothing else in sight and moving v.e.r.y...s.l.o.w.l.y...
18 degrees 12.456 minutes south
153 degrees 56.940 minutes west

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Enroute to the Cook Islands

Well, after three months in French Polynesia, we left Bora Bora today for the 4-5 day passage to Raratonga in the Cook Islands. We had an awesome time in FP and now look forward to new places as we continue our trek west towards Australia.

We will try to be more active with our blog as we share more about our time in Bora Bora and Raiatea, but for now, just the quick update to let you know where we are at. You can follow our progress in the upper right hand area of our blog.


Michael, enroute to the Raratonga in the Cook Islands