Saturday, December 31, 2011

A (Mostly) Happy End to 2011

It’s taken me a while to start typing this blog as I’m not really sure what to say, even after being home for nearly a week. We’re trying to take re-entry slowly, keeping a pace familiar to boaters in which we don’t schedule too much, we don’t rush too much, and we enjoy our time together just ‘hanging’.

The first thing that struck me was how good it is to be back. We live in perhaps one of the best places in the world. There is no doubt something special about blue skies and sunshine (even if the air feels a bit crispy) that lifts one’s spirit. The scenery is spectacular (I reached my favorite spot on my favorite hike today which showcases the mountains and the bay). And my community here is like none other. I love my friends. Period.

Next, I am trying not to be too overwhelmed by all the activity. Sounds a bit trite to say, but there are a lot of cars on the roads (I’m driving steadily again after 2.5 years). I am connected to internet and cell phones again, and people really expect that you will respond instantaneously to emails and calls. I do not have texting, and at this point don’t anticipate getting it – that would simply send me over the top. Going from technology disconnect to being connected again is perhaps the biggest adjustment. And there is so much to buy. Shopping has a much different perspective when one lives on a small boat; there's not much room for anything more than what you really need, and that is refreshing.

As for my kids, they are forced to take re-entry slowly, since many of their friends are away this break. Danielle, although a bit nervous, is elated to be home and anticipating being with a steady flow of kids with a giddiness I haven’t seen in a long time. Harrison is a bit more anxious, and I’m assuming this is because he was so young when we left that he’s really not sure what to expect. They’ve spent hours watching TV, and have even been okay going shopping for clothes (which they had very few of upon arrival).

In many ways, we are returning; in other ways, we are the new kids and things seem a bit strange.

As for Whatcha Gonna Do, our home for the last 2.5 years, I do miss her and the way she took care of us -something we tend to take for granted when we live in a house. What I do not miss is the waking in the middle of almost every night to close hatches or listen for an odd sound. And I am enjoying my showers and non-marine-type toilets. I am looking forward to some routine, especially once school starts next Tuesday, we move back into our house sometime next week, and Michael rejoins us stateside in a couple of weeks.

But I will sadly miss many friends, the lifestyle and adventure travel we have been so fortunate to have grown so accustomed to.

Happy 2012 to all of our family and our friends, new and old. We thank you for following our adventures with us, but the next chapter is just beginning. I can't wait to see what this year brings.


from Palo Alto, CA

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Things that make me happy

Hiking in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales


What makes me happy has been on my mind lately as I read Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project about a year in the author's life in which she consciously takes on things that she hopes will make her happier.  She spends January focusing on getting to sleep earlier, exercising more, and cleaning out her closets, all in the hopes that they will boost her energy (they do).  In February she focuses on doing things to improve her relationship with her husband, including trying not to expect so much acknowledgment (it doesn't work).  And so on.  The book demonstrates an interesting way of approaching what I call not the search for happiness but rather fulfillment, that state of being in which you are feeling at the top of your game. 

The topic has also had me thinking loads lately as we prepare to re-enter regular life after almost two and a half years of living on the fringe.  It's important that we map it out carefully to make it as smooth as possible for us all. A few weeks back my friend Diane posed the question to several of us:  What do we want to take back to regular life that we've gained while on this journey?  For many who take on an adventure like ours, the trip is a conscious effort to get away from a life in which work reigns, family time is rare, and stress is too great, and so it's clear what they are wanting to last into their life on land after their respective journeys are over.  It made me realize that I really loved my life before we left.  Sure I had my own share of issues day-to-day, but I've worked really hard at creating a life in which I took care of my needs and I worked to my strengths. I would consciously work on anything that wasn't 'working for me' and improve it with single step actions.   

If the truth be told, and while I loved this trip and wouldn't have missed it for the world, the last 9 months have been challenging.  The problem was that I had focused so much on being in the moment and catering to everyone else's needs that I forgot about my own.  Don't get me wrong. It's been incredible.  But I have, in the midst of it, forgotten about so many of the things that I must have in my life in order to feel fulfilled and happy.  


And so when we spent 3 of the last 5 days hiking in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, it was exhilarating to realize that hiking makes me so happy. I'll have to be sure to remember this as we settle back into life on land.

Other areas that will need to be worked to get back to that place of fulfillment:  Alone time with Michael.  Looking after myself with exercise, and taking alone time.  Getting my career back on track. Do Yoga.  Stop complaining. Go to sleep earlier.  Avoid clutter.   

Once home, even little steps toward these goals will surely make me happy. And I'm already happy about the plan.

Still on the road, now in Brisbane, will be back on the boat in Mooloolaba in a couple of days
And booked to be home with the kids on December 25
Michael to follow in January

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


We’ve been in Aussie-land for nearly a month now and are loving it.  Other than all the rules, it feels fairly familiar and civilized.  It’s been so long since we’ve written that I’ll write a quick re-cap of where we’ve been and what we’ve been doing.

The first week in Bundaberg, of course, was spent cleaning up the boat, getting rid of clutter, and lots of washing.  It had been about 8 months since we’ve been on a dock with unlimited dock water to be able to do this.  Plus, we are anticipating our sending things home, so it was time to unload anything that is no longer of any use, or that has just fallen apart a bit too much.  Remember that marine life is hard on everything – any clasps, buckles, or other metal pieces on clothing or shoes will rust or tarnish.  Our toaster oven became an eyesore with all the rust and knobs had fallen off.  It was time to send it to the toaster oven heaven in the sky. Much of our clothes have seen better days or heavily outgrown.  Cutlery has rusted.  Books have gone un-read or in need of letting go. 

By the way, we wouldn’t recommend making landfall in Bundaberg.  While you can save money on entry fees by joining the Port to Port Rally, you spend more than that at the marina.  Anchoring out is not much of an option since dinghy fees are $25 per day (and STRICTLY enforced – our friends who came to our boat for dinner were practically chased down for parking their dinghy at our boat), and the river currents make it uncomfortable anyway.  The marina is in the middle of nowhere, and while there are free shuttles to the town, the return is on limited and inconvenient bus service, and the town is certainly less than exciting. After we left, the marina insisted on getting our credit card number to charge for a stamp (less than a $1) for forwarding a letter to us. Bundaberg is a sad place for an Australian welcome.

Nonetheless, highlights included our rendez-vous with good friends, the Port to Port Rally events which were well done and a-plenty, as well as seeing live kangaroos in the wild – they live across the street from the marina.
Dingo in the surf on Fraser Island

Fraser Island
Next we moved on with the boat down to Mooloolaba, about an hour’s car drive north of Brisbane and on the Sunshine Coast.  Our trip down included an amazing stop at Fraser Island, the longest sand island in the world.  We rented a 4 wheel drive, the only way to get around on the island, and saw wild dingoes, spectacular beaches, and gorgeous rainforests (the only place in the world where rainforest grows on sand).  That one deserves a blog in and of itself, but included driving for miles along the beach, getting stuck a couple of times in the sand, helping others who had gotten stuck, some cool hikes, drifting down the freshest water creek I’ve ever seen (the kids were drinking it the whole way down), seeing a wreck, swimming in pure rainwater lakes, and more.

Michael and his koala friend

Baby croc

Cute roos
Our boat is now docked in Mooloolaba, a beach town through and through.  The weather is perfect, the beaches are gorgeous with huge surf, the boardwalk runs forever and the stores are, well, enticing.  While in Mooloolaba, we visited the famous Steve Irwin’s Australian Zoo (Steve Irwin is the crocodile guy who died a few years ago from a bat ray harpoon to the heart).  We fed kangaroos, petted koalas, jumped with wallabees, touched crocs.  Amazing zoo and highly recommended.  Again, a blog in and of itself – if only there were time…

Kids and David (note licence plate)

Bubby's happy to see the kids!

Then on to Sydney where Michael’s mom was going to be for a few short days on a tour of Australia.  We  got here in about 12 hours of driving and are staying at an apartment so can do most of our own cooking.  Saw Fagel (Michael’s mom) and Annette (her friend and travelling companion) for only a day and a half but got in some good ‘bubby’ time and caught up over dinners, touring and wine. We also have been hanging out with our good friend from home David Arfin who happens to be here at the same time.  What luck!  We also had dinner with our friend Behan of s/v Totem who was our guru on the Pacific crossing as her family did it last year and are now live-aboards in Sydney (soon to be Brisbane). 

Highlights of our trip to Sydney: Walking through the incredible historic buildings that now house shopping arcades, the Town Hall, and other venues. Walking the Sydney Harbour Bridge and then visiting the South Pylon Museum. Opera House Tour – we got to watch a part of a ballet rehearsal for Romeo and Juliette.  Visiting the Fish Market, the world’s second largest only after Tokyo, where we had great fish and chips.  The Maritime Museum was a hit with the four ships and submarine we could board.  The Jewish Museum is extremely well done, with a history of the Jews of Australia, which pretty much parallels Australia’s own history, and where we heard a Holocaust survivor speak.  We visited the Great Synagogue built in the late 1800’s and attended Friday night services, but then after that and the Jewish Museum, its tour was disappointing (although the building itself is worth a visit).  We spent an afternoon at Bondi Beach, famous for its surf and people watching.  The Barracks Museum gave us insight into how early convicts lived.  When visiting the New South Wales Parliament, we got to go into both Houses since they are on recess now.  Perhaps the highlight for the kids was the Harry Potter Exhibit at the Powerhouse Museum - Danielle is happier than I’ve ever seen her.  We’ve tried to get out sailing on the Bay but it’s been cold and raining…
We’ve been busy, and have been walking a ton.  Tomorrow we’ll head to the Blue Mountains for a couple of days and then head north again along the Gold Coast and then the Sunshine Coast back to the boat where boxes await packing up.

Will try to keep up on the blog more regularly…

-Barb from Sydney
With no clue what my latitude and longitude is but not feeling lost!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Australian Quarantine and Customs & The Land of Rules


IMG_1192We were ready just over a week ago for Australian Quarantine agents when we entered the Port of Bundaberg early in the morning hours of November 11 – coincidentally exactly 8 months to the day of having departed Mexico for our Pacific crossing.  Quarantine was ready for us as well, waiting on the quarantine dock for us as we tied up. We were pleased that the goal seemed to be more about allowing us to keep as much as possible, rather than to confiscate any uncertain items.  We had placed all our questionable food items on the cockpit table or in bins on the cockpit benches to make it easier and quicker.  Two hours later, we had reviewed all of our food items.   While we thought we’d be cleaned out of most of our food, this was not the case.  We thought we’d loose so much more than we did.Here is the summary:

*The obvious: all fresh produce was taken. All canned goods are fine.
*Dried beans and lentils were taken, but not anything split (as in split peas and red lentils were okay).  We were allowed to keep our refried beans in vacuum sealed packets still from Mexico.
*Rice and couscous were fine (just examined for any bugs) but barley was taken.  Rice noodles and rice paper wrappers were fine.  Egg noodles were taken but all other noodles (ramen) were fine. We were allowed to keep our pasta too.
*Oatmeal and cereals were fine.
*Flour was taken but not sugar, and not the Bob Red Mill’s flour still in the original packaging (rye, pizza dough mix, etc.). Frozen bread, tortillas and rotis were all okay to keep.
*We were allowed to keep our herbal teas but sachets were opened to examine them.  Quarantine is looking for anything with orange peel in it, which ours had, but because they were pretty pulverized, they were deemed okay.  Coffee was fine.
*Corn kernels for popping popcorn was taken, as was the honey we got in Fiji, but not the honey from NZ. Powdered milk and powdered eggs were taken.
*Dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, cherries, goji berries) were all okay to keep, but all nuts were taken.
*All my spices were fine except mustard seeds and whole cinnamon sticks. Anything ground is fine.
*All mayonnaise was taken (2 and half jars!) simply because it did not list the egg content; anything with more than 9% egg content is not okay.  Because the egg content again was not listed, two unopened bottles of Harrison’s favorite Ceasar’s salad dressing were taken. 
*All other condiments were fine (BBQ sauces, teriyaki sauces, ketchup, mustard, pickles, marinades, vinegars, oils, peanut sauces, jams, peanut butter, apple sauce etc.).
*Cheeses that were made in NZ and Australia were fine.  Cream cheese was fine. My homemade yogurt was taken (I love my yogurt maker!). 
*Tofu was okay; if I had had any meat left over, I’m pretty sure it would have been taken unless packaged in NZ or Australia.  The fish we had in the freezer that we had caught ourselves was all fine.

We were also asked about wooden items like carvings, which were simply examined for termite holes.  We had been told to place any woven baskets or wood items into bags and sprayed with insecticide and left for a few days, but when we showed it to the quarantine agent, he said that it wasn’t necessary.  He even let Harrision keep his wooden self-built catapult, notwithstanding the termite holes in it; Harrison had made it in NZ so clearly the termites were long gone. The agent simply shook baskets to see if any bugs came out.  We were allowed to keep all our sea shells. 

All in all it was a pleasant experience.

Customs and Immigration was the standard questions routine.  More interesting, however, was the fact that Australia’s second largest drug bust took place the day we arrived on the dock over from ours.  Four men (some say British, others Spanish) on a boat called Freedom Friday were caught with about 300 kilos of cocaine with a street value of about $300 million, as well as $20 million in cash on their boat.  The drugs had been picked up in Vanuatu three weeks earlier, and the guys thought they could slip in under the radar screen by signing up for the Port to Port (Port Vila, Vanuatu to Port Bundaberg, Australia) Rally which we were also a part of.  The customs people spent two full days pulling apart the boat down to its bones. The boat became known as Jailed Saturday.

IMG_1194Our experiences here have thankfully not been as dramatic, although what has stood out for us over the week plus that we’ve been here is the number of signs setting out instructions and rules that we’ve seen.   It’s been a long time since we’ve been anywhere with so many rules.  In fact, there are so many rules, that they get lost as background noise. And yet, ironically, with so many rules, Aussies are some of the most laid back people around.
Down Under, with a sparkling clean and much lighter boat – after spending the first week scrubbing and de-cluttering; we haven’t been on a dock in 8 months!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Final Approach

We are now less than 50 miles from making landfall in Australia. The seas are calm - as in flat calm - and there is less than 10 knots of wind with a full moon. We have the massive kite-like spinnaker sail pulling us forward peacefully at a slow 3.5 knots (roughly equivalent to 3.5 miles per hour). We see the lighthouse's signal in the distance, almost whispering "You've just about made it." We've covered thousands of miles, visited numerous countries and cultures, met countless people, and survived small quarters with our family of four.

It's hard to believe. The retrospective begins.

- Barb
40 miles from Bundaburg, Queensland, Australia
24 degrees 19.170 minutes South
152 degrees 55.491 minutes East
At 11/10/2011 11:13 (utc) our position was 24°08.86'S 153°12.71'E

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Chesterfield Reef

We stopped in Chesterfield Reef, officially part of New Caledonia, for a couple of days to break up the 1000 miles passage between Vanuatu and Australia, and the choice was like icing on the adventure cake. The little motus, or islets, that make up this fairly large circular atoll are untouched by humans and completely uninhabited, unless you count the animal life, and particularly the boobies and frigates that lay their eggs and care for their young right there in the middle of the sand. We saw leatherback turtle prints indicating turtles had come ashore almost nightly to lay their eggs and head back out to sea. The water was a bit cold for swimming although that didn't stop the kids. We spent time with friends re-allocating food - some canola oil for flour, rice noodles for garlic, beans for more sugar. We took the stopover opportunity to clean the bottom of the hulls and inside food lockers in order to better prepare for Australia's strict quarantine rules.

Harrison and some friends spent the night ashore in their self-built teepee, and had such a great time that we didn't see him until the following evening after a full day of building rafts, lighting fires and cooking food on them, and creating fishing lures from coral. He was so exhausted when he returned to the boat that he slept 14 hours and then continued a nap the following day.

We are currently about 300 miles from landfall in Australia at Bundeberg. I still can't believe that the adventure is almost over.

21 degrees 15.521 minutes South
158 degrees 54.926 minutes East
At 11/8/2011 09:01 (utc) our position was 20°46.03'S 157°25.86'E

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Food that Floats and a Provisioning Review

We've been unintentionally conducting some science experiments on flotation in salt water as we prepare our boat to enter Australian waters. This all began with some cleaning out of food lockers - the Australian Customs and Quarantine department are quite sticky about what food stuff is allowed into the country. Any dried beans, grains, fresh fruit and veggies, and a whole list of other items will not be permitted. Given that winds have been so light and the sea state so calm, we took the opportunity today to clean out our food lockers and gather up what we've got left. We've learned that the following two items, surprisingly, float:

1. Sticky marshmallows that have melted to the bag: Reason for tossing is self explanatory.

2. Frozen chicken: Don't worry, we didn't throw out good chicken. This stuff, still from Mexico, looked raunchy - freezer burned and just plain yuk. We have done well with provisioning our kosher meat - we had our last package of boneless chicken breasts tonight for Shabbat dinner. The last of the ground beef was used for making bolognese sauce, part for this latest passage, and part for the final passage between Chesterfield Reef and Australia in the coming week. The only items left in our freezer are bread, coffee, bananas (which will have to be tossed before arriving), and fish (caught aboard). Apparently, you can keep the fish (by the way, we caught a skipjack tuna late this afternoon).

As far as other provisioning, we will likely have to hand over about 2 kilos of dried black beans. While we overbought this item in Mexico, the fact that this will be the only dried beans left on our boat after nearly 8 months is quite a feat -- we will be finished our lentils (red, green and black), green peas, garbanzo beans, and pinto beans by the time we arrive (according to our meal plan). We will also have about 5 kilos of sushi rice left -- we were obviously optimistic about our fishing endeavors when we stocked up. We'll have finished up our long grain brown rice, our short grain brown rice, our whole wheat couscous, our quinoa and our barley by the time we arrive. We overbought on our rice noodles and rice paper wrappers although I may find some use for them yet with our two extra boxes of tofu and some carrots and cucumbers and cabbage. We'll likely have to hand over a bit of extra flour, although we've been baking up a storm of pies to use up pecans and apples. Sugar will be all but gone. We'll have the last of our pancake mix next week, and eat up our dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, goji berries, dried cherries) in a snack mixture with nuts. We may have extra pecans and walnuts but we'll see how it goes. We are sick of oatmeal so likely will still have a large amount of that to hand over too.

Other than that, we've done quite well. We don't have a ton of extra canned goods left over, although we were a bit over zealous in bringing back Trader Joe's items on our last visit home in February (barbeque sauce, teriyaki sauce, ceasar salad dressing, etc.). Our food lockers are emptier than they've ever been.

And we're still eating well.

3 miles from anchoring in Chesterfield Reef, New Caledonia
19 degrees 345.847 minutes South
158 degrees 26.979 minutes East
At 11/4/2011 10:19 (utc) our position was 19°40.45'S 158°59.74'E

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Ditch Bag Manifesto

Any well-prepared cruising boat should have an Abandon-Ship bag at the ready, just in case its crew needs to, you guessed it, abandon ship for any reason. We know that leaving our boat is very unlikely. First, it means that our catamaran, which is built so that it doesn't sink, would have to sink. Second, even if it does flip upside down, leaving one's boat for the life raft should always be a last ditch decision as it's much easier to be spotted by a rescue boat or aircraft if you are with your boat due to its relative size.

Notwithstanding all of that, IF we were to ditch our boat and head into the life raft, we are prepared to be out there, as uncomfortable as it may be.

In preparing our Ditch Bags, we realized that with four people, we had to split its contents into two bags. One of them is the 'priority' bag with the more important items. And because the bags don't float, we've wrapped them in life jackets, and enclosed all its contents into waterproof ziplocked bags. The bags are kept at our navigation station inside the cabin whenever we are underway so that they can be easily grabbed on our way out the door, so to speak.

In addition to these bags, we have reviewed other items that we need to take: Two EPIRBs (Emergency Personal Identification Rescue Beacons, which send off a signal to the coast guard), our sheath knife and leatherman tool, water bottles, spear gun, and of course life jackets (which should be worn at that stage).

After much research, here are the contents of our Ditch Bags:

Green dye marker
Satellite Phone (recharged the 1st of every month)
VHF radios (fully charged at the start of every passage)
Extra batteries for all electronics
Waterproof flashlight
Head lamp
Various tupperware containers
Various ziplock bags, plastic bags
Rain ponchos x4
Baseball hats x4
Wool hats x2
Toilet paper
Sanitary napkins, tampons
Plastic wrap (1 roll)
Tin foil
Sponges x2
Pocket Knife
Strong tape (duct tape)
Waterproof matches
Wooden stick
Safety pins
Emergency blankets (foil) x4
Notepads and pens/pencils
Game book
Deck of cards
"Adrift" (book about being lost at see for 76 days)
Passport copies
$100 Cash
Immunization records
Credit Card
Diver DAN emergency numbers

Fishing equipment:
50 lb monofilament line
2 weights, 2 lures, 1 floaty
10 lb test line

12 power bars
4 cans sardines
1 gallon water

First aid:
Sunscreen 45 SPF
Staff infection antibiotic
Triangle slingband
SAM splint
dry skin lotion
tensor bandage
bandage tape
Burn cream
alcohol swabs
blistex lip treatment
zinc oxide
antiseptic wash
artificial tears eye drops
non-stick first aid pads
sting meds: lanacaine, claritin
Pain meds: vicodin, tylenol with codeine
seasickness meds: dramamine, meclizine, scopalomine

Have we missed anything? Other items recommended by the author of Adrift, who was stuck in his liferaft for 76 days before being found thousands of miles later: rudder, closed cell foam cushion, and sail fabric.

It would be difficult to carry enough fresh water onto a life raft as it is heavy and cumbersome. We have practiced creating a solar still to make fresh water from salt water using the tupperware container, plastic wrap, and a weight. Harrison blogged about this last year.

Some might find it curious that we've included things like pad and pencils, deck of cards, and a game book. Apparently the biggest issue in surviving life in a life raft after getting fresh water is one's mental state. We'll take care of that one by having a games tournament. Our friend Sarah of Stepping Stone even added fashion magazines to her bag.

We certainly don't intend to spend very long in a life raft, especially given all the chances we've given ourselves to make sure that help is on the way as soon as possible (two EPIRBs and a satellite phone). Nonetheless, it sure gives us a lot more comfort knowing that we are prepared.

-Barb, comfortably on board Whatcha Gonna Do
Day 3 passage Vanuatu to Chesterfield Reef
18 degrees 59.217 minutes South
162 degrees 00.297 minutes East
At 11/2/2011 10:03 (utc) our position was 18°50.66'S 162°44.11'E

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Purity of Tanna

The crimson red glow of Mount Yasur's boiling volcanic cauldron greeted us from 20 miles away as we approached the island of Tanna at night last week. Tanna is in the south islands of Vanuatu, a perplexing group of 86 islands in the South Pacific and while it preceded our visit to Port Vila as well as this passage from which I write, it continues to hold a tremendous impression on me.

We were there less than 24 hours, yet I can't stop thinking about its way of life. We came ashore at daybreak at Port Resolution, where Captain James Cook landed hundreds year ago, and while the people are now dressed in modern clothing (as dirty, worn and holey as they are), I'm not sure much else has changed since his visit. The ni-Vans, as they are called, are a deeply superstitious people who, though having adopted Christianity, still incorporate much of the mysticism into their beliefs. And who wouldn't, given the grumbling angry mountain so close by. But more on Mount Yasur in a bit.

We were greeted by Simon who spoke little English and was slightly slow. Any 'stranger' who enters a village in Vanuatu is escorted due to the prevalence of 'kastom' and 'tabu' to ensure we walk the straight and arrow. We were looking for Stanley, who was to be our guide to the volcano, and Simon took us to him in the village, a short walk away and past the local school, bubbling with the yells and laughter of all playgrounds worldwide. The village itself is not much different than it's been for years. Houses on stilts are still made of the forest out of wood and leaves - one room with woven leaf mats for beds. Stanley showed us how the roofs are made to ensure no water leakage, but need to be replaced every couple of years. The little groups of huts are divided into family branches, and each couple of houses share a cooking hut, with fires going and food cooking almost all the time. The younger children are running freely, ridiculously dirty, some without any pants on, playing with each other mindlessly, or hacking away with a machete at a piece of wood (!). They toss around a home-made ball made of leaves and wrapped in spider webs. As we watch, Stanley's wife quietly places 3 papayas into my bag and hands me a bunch of green bananas. She then brings over an impressive woven dried-leaf shoulder bag which she holds out to me without looking me in the eye, and then quickly disappears.

Further down into the village, another clan of about a dozen men, women and teenaged boys are sitting in the midst of its group of huts on woven mats wrapping their latest catch of fish in some sort of green leaves, and tying the leaves around with strands of dried leaves of a different kind. One of the women explains in French that they will steam the fish. Water is taken from a central spigot. And then she places 5 ears of corn into my bag. The corn, she explains, is thrown into the ground in special pits and left to ferment for 3 months. We boiled ours later that day.

The pig pen is the pride of the village. After all, pigs here stand a rung above the women as they are the only way for villagers to climb in rank. A pig kill and feast hosted by the owner is a sign of wealth and power and feed the villagers for days. The most coveted are the males who grow tusks that circle around and painfully re-enter their jaw bones. We saw one on its way.

Later that day, we were taken to the volcano, a bumpy forty minute four-wheel drive away, along pot-holed rutted-out paths, often along dried lava flows that naturally created the way. We arrived at the parking lot, a colorless grey rocky expanse that seemed to go on for miles. We could have been on the moon. The climb to the crater's rim took less than 15 minutes straight up, and as we got there, the roar of the mountain made me jump. 'Angry' was all I could think of. And without delay, the fireworks display began. High into the air, red hot lava spewed up, up and up, lighting the area as if it were daylight, and then subsided again until the next rupture. All from about 300 feet away. Apparently, this is the closest one can get to the inside of a volcano anywhere in the world. And it was quite impressive.

Stanley explains that the people in Tanna believe that Mount Yasur is their creation god, and after the people prayed to him for a way to cook, he created the fire of the mountain. The people also use the boiling water that bubbles up through vents closer to the village for steaming their food, including those fresh fish that we saw being prepared. The mountain has not fully erupted in several hundred years, but has killed people who ventured too close as recently as last year. Stanley proudly explains that the people figured out the volcano's active phases far before the official government monitoring stations.

Vanuatu became a state only in 1980 (previously it was known as New Hebrides), after a mild tug-of-war between its French and British settlers. Interestingly, it was never actually colonized. The indigenous people make up over a hundred different unrelated clans, and the fact that over one hundred different local languages (not dialects) are still spoken today continues as proof. At one time, both French and British legal systems existed unofficially side-by-side (yes, people drove on both sides of the road, depending on where you came from). Still today there are remnants of this in school systems - one French and one English. The one uniting language became Bislama, a form of pigeon English - but that's a separate blog post in and of itself.

What struck me most was the purity with which these people live. They grow whatever they need. There are no stores. There is no need for money until the school fees come due every 3 months, at which time the clan harvests whatever they can to sell in the big city. They all work together and share any extras with others or it will spoil. They help each other repair roofs, wrap fish, care for children, and weave a mat. Time seems to stand still in its utmost purity.

-Barb, en route Vanuatu to Chesterfield Reef, New Caledonia
18 degrees 26.409 minutes South
164 degrees 05.324 minutes East
At 11/1/2011 08:56 (utc) our position was 18°12.65'S 165°04.78'E

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Monday, October 31, 2011

Sailing into the Sunset

We're heading west again. While it's a little sooner than we had expected, we left Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, at 3 p.m. today, after getting word that today was the day to go. We've hired a weather router to reinforce our own reading of the weather given that tomorrow, November 1, is the official start of cyclone season in the South Pacific. In addition, this last leg taking us to Australia can be the most challenging in terms of weather and sea conditions. And our weather router indicated last night that the sooner we leave this week (as in today), the better. If we don't leave today, we could be waiting another couple of weeks for the next weather window.

This has cut our time in Vanuatu short. We've barely become accustomed to this new fascinating country - perhaps the most foreign to us of any we've seen so far - and have only managed to see the island of Tanna and the city of Port Vila on Efate. There was so much more to see. Such is the life of the sailor - where weather controls your every move.

We were off the boat at 7:30 a.m. today clearing off garbage, getting our provisions for the next two weeks until we hit Australia, checking out of immigration and customs, filling our propane tank to ensure we can cook, and then finding out that the gas station ran out of fuel until 1:30 this afternoon. While waiting, we cooked up some chili for dinners along the way (I don't often feel like cooking on the first few days of a passage), and were hovering around the fuel dock for when it opened.

While our departure came on short notice, we're ready to get to where we're going. Setting off today sent bittersweet chills up my spine knowing that as we head further west, it's taking us closer to home.

-Barb, en route Port Vila, Efate, Vanuatu to Chesterfield Reef, New Caledonia, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean
17 degrees 52.930 minutes South
167 degrees 21.304 minutes East
At 10/31/2011 05:51 (utc) our position was 17°46.03'S 168°09.18'E

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Bird Recovery Center

In New Zealand, we visited the Bird Recovery Center in Whangarei, in the Bay of Islands about 2 hours north of Auckland.  It was meant to be a quick stop, but we loved it so stayed for about three hours. 

The center is a nonprofit organization that runs off the donations of visitors.  If someone sees an injured bird, they bring it to the Bird Recovery Center.  Most of the birds are let free once they’ve been nursed back to health, but the ones who are permanently hurt will IMG_0896stay.  Sometimes a bird will be let out and fly back and that one will be able to stay too.

The center had a white peacock, giant pigeons, violent hawks, talking tuis, and a one legged kiwi bird.

The tuis will literally have a conversation with you.  One would whistle and repeat what you said and I’m pretty sure that he was talking about the Rugby World Cup.  The old tui, who had recently died, named himself Woof Woof and was supposed to be shown in the IMG_0906opening of the Cup.  Woof Woof apparently was a very big talker and sounded just like Robert, the owner of the center.

To show us the hawks, Robert walked right into the cage, told the hawks that he was going to pick them up, slowly grabbed them by the legs, and picked them up.  He showed us that it wasIMG_1219 really only the legs you had to be scared of because, he said while putting his finger into their beaks, they can, but won’t, bite you.

IMG_0910Robert also has the only live kiwi bird that is open to the public to touch in all of New Zealand.  Named Sparky, the bird had lost her leg and therefore ended up at the Recovery Center.  The stub of the old leg had rotated back and now works as a counterbalance so that Sparky can hop without falling.  To eat, she taps the ground with her beak to wake up the worms, hears where the vibrations are coming from, and grabs the worm.  Also, kiwis are nocturnal, but Robert trained Sparky to sleep at night so that people could meet her during the day.  We also got to see a just-hatched baby kiwi born less than 24 hours before we got there.  They IMG_0899are actually quite big when they are born, but still fuzzy and cute!

We learned a lot from the Bird Recovery Center and are really glad we went there.  It made us appreciate birds and their lives a lot more and made us notice how amazing these creatures are.

-Danielle while in Fiji (now in Vanuatu)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Rugby, Rugby, Rugby and of Course More Rugby

As you probably already know we were in New Zealand this month and toured around the North Island. We were in New Zealand while the RWC (Rugby World Cup) wIMG_0956as going on. It all started in the airport. They redid part of the carpet to make it look like a rugby field and the bleachers were painted on the walls. The good old RWC logo was in the corner of the painted bleachers. It has lines that form the shape of a rugby ball (almost the same as a football) with “iRB” (international Rugby Board (I’m not exactly sure on the last word)) written on it. Then it also says “RWC”.

IMG_0703It further advances. Signs everywhere say “RWC” and “The world’s here to play”. Three different kinds of balls are for sale at almost every store. I bought a Super Midi that is a relatively small ball. You go on tours and everything relates to rugby. Go All Blacks. All Blacks is the New Zealand team.

IMG_0957I like rugby because it uses almost every muscle in the human body, the game is not long, it’s fun and sometimes even funny. Only 80 minutes. It is a little violent because of the tackling fights. Touch rugby is where instead of tackling you touch the other person and you get the ball but it’s more for kids and not as exciting.



Then we come back to Fiji and rugby was on: All Blacks vs. Australia fighting to get into the finals. At the beginning of every game that New Zealand plays, they do the ‘Haka’, a famous Maori War dance(see right). My dad and I went to see the game on television at a restaurant with a lot of other people watching with us.  It was noisy! New Zealand won with 20-6. Now the next game is for the final Cup: New Zealand vs. France. I can’t wait until the final game and for four years when the next RWC game is on.

-Harrison in Fiji

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Breath of Passagemaking

So many sailors cringe at the thought of overnight passages. Anxiety takes over them days before in anticipation of boredom, monotony, loss of freedom, imprisonment. Not me. I look forward to passages - and the longer the better. Sure, lack of sleep (we take turns being on watch 24/7) is a form of torture, but after a few days, one gets used to the routine.

And it's the routine that I embrace. Call me crazy. Back on land, living the 'normal' life, I would often plan for stepping out of routine, knowing that without the effort I'll be way too complacent in my life. Cruising on a boat, however, has me living out of my comfort zone, on the edge, so much so that it overshadows any routine we create. In fact, cruising feels much more like a life of constant challenge than I ever imagined.

Several years ago, I completed an exercise listing my top 'values' (states of being that I must have in my life in order to feel at the top of my game, fulfilled, living my best self) and one of those was "Order/routine with spurts of adventure and newness". Hmmmm. Without the passages, my life looks a lot more like "adventure and newness with spurts of order/routine". With a full house (or shall I say boat), I have little time while cruising to sit back and just breathe. Breathing is necessary to regroup, take stock, recharge. Without it, I'm just plain hyperventilating.

I often liken passagemaking to being stuck at home during a snow storm. It places your life on pause. All appointments are canceled. You eat what you've got in the house. You hang out with your family. You can clean out your closet. You can nap during the day. The whole world slows down. It's peaceful. It gives you time to think. What's next? What's been working and what hasn't?

Plus passagemaking allows me to do what I do well: organize. Sounds rather order-like, no? Are you getting it? (or as our friends Krister and Amanda say: Are you smelling what I'm stepping in?) You see, there's a lot out here that I don't do well: sailing still hasn't become second nature to me (although I'm getting better!), homeschooling is less than stellar (we have only a couple more months to go!), housekeeping is, well, a chore, and I don't have my work that I love and that keeps me fulfilled. But passages, if they are to go smoothly, require lists. And lists I'm good at. I create lists of watch schedules, lists of what the kids need to accomplish in homeschooling before we make the next landfall, and lists of what food we need to get rid of before quarantine at the next country takes it all away. And my meal plans are so beautiful - meaning we eat well and we eat healthy - and I spend a lot of my time checking produce to avoid spoilage, pulling out food that requires prep for the following day's meals, or baking bread to greet the kids when they awaken. Who knew that this would be what keeps me grounded while living on a boat? On land, the monotony of it would make me cringe.

And then I step outside at 2 a.m. on my watch to check that all is running smoothly, and right in front of me as the wind hits my face and I smell the sea air, I see a sliver of an orange moon rising into a clear starry-filled night. And I take a deep recharging peaceful breath.

-Barb, en route Tanna Island to Port Vila, Vanuatu
At 12/30/1899 00:00 (utc) our position was ??°??.??'N ???°??.??'E

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Anchored in Port Resolution

We just completed the approximately 500 mile passage from Fiji to Vanuatu. We had an awesome sail, averaging over 200 miles per day -- our fastest consistent speeds yet -- and as a result, made it to Vanuatu in 2.5 days. Because of that however, we arrived after dark into an unfamiliar anchorage. We were about to enter the anchorage in a very dark night with the way points we were given in a cruising guide we had, as well as using radar -- but the actual charts for this area are often off by 0.5 miles so they can't be relied on.

As we were on final approach to the anchorage, 0.5 miles out, we got an alarm on our navigation system which said "GPS Jump" which basically means the system had a problem with the satellite information it received. Not a good time for bad GPS information!!! Basically, it causes us to wonder if we are really where we think we are on our chart plotter -- or, are we in a different place, say just 0.25 mile off? Since the opening, with reefs on either side (what else is new?), is only about 0.5 mile wide, that's a big error! So, at the last minute, we bailed, and heaved to offshore waiting for daylight to make the entry.

Now, safely anchored we plan to head to shore, check out the village and later this afternoon visit an active volcano. Should be amazing. We saw it glowing hot read when we were offshore last night. There is even steam coming out of the water at shore and in the nearby hills.

All for now,

Port Resolution, Vanuatu
At 10/24/2011 22:35 (utc) our position was 19°31.56'S 169°29.76'E

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Friday, October 21, 2011

So long Fiji. Enroute to Vanuatu

Well, we just left Fiji this morning and are now making our way to Tanna Island in Vanuatu. Its a roughly 475 mile trip and so we hope to be there sometime (on our) Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning. Tanna is home to Mt Yasur, an active volcano, the crater of which is accessible by 4WD vehicles. From other cruisers who have been to the crater, they say it is amazing. We are looking forward to that outing. After spending a couple of days on Tanna we will head up to Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu where we will spend a few days before making our final passage to Australia!

We had an awesome time in Fiji. Barb's mom and step-dad joined us for a week where we toured by land and sea the northern Fijian island of Vanua Levu and where we were invited to the home of an Indian family for a traditional dinner (including Kava drinking), we flew to New Zealand for two weeks (I know that is not Fiji, but is was while our boat was in Fiji) where we toured the north Island and had a great time in the Yasawas with our friends on Imagine. Our time in the Yasawas was a last minute change of plans, because, while we wanted to get going to Vanuatu, we also wanted to spend a few more days with Imagine. We had also heard such amazing things about the Yasawa group of islands. and we were not disappointed! The coral reef there was amazing -- on par with any we have seen in the Tuamotus.

In the Yasawas Barb and I even managed to spend an afternoon kayaking around one of the islands. That was an adventure in itself because the leak that we thought had been repaired on the kayak did not hold. While we were two thirds around the island (and fortunately close to shore) we toppled out due to all the water that had gotten into the hull. We swam the kayak to shore, drained all the water and continued on. It made for an exciting and memorable trip! Now, I just have to try to repair the hole one more time!

Fiji was definitely an island group that has risen to one of the top our our list of favorite places. Now, 25 knots of wind coming from aft of our beam, we are cruising along at roughly 9 knots. Though a little too rolly, its some awesome sailing.

More later,

Michael, enroute to Vanuatu
At 10/22/2011 00:36 (utc) our position was 18°00.52'S 176°48.61'E

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