Adventures

I have created this blog with the hopes that you, my friend, will follow me as I sail around the world (figuratively or literally, not sure yet) with my parents on their Contest 48. Whereas I hope to keep you updated with exciting adventures of exotic ports and epic waves, keep in mind that cruising - that is, traveling by boat in a leisurely fashion - tends to be filled with days of intense boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Please keep this in mind as you read these entries, for this platform will be just as much an attempt for me to maintain my sanity (and connection to the California-based world), as entertainment and reassurance for you. And so, follow me as I sail the world.

P.S. All material on this blog, words and photos alike, are copyrighted by me. Copyright 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018. If you decide that this material is worth re-publishing, please give me credit and lots and lots of money.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Change of Plan pt. II and a Happy New Year!


Happy 2012! Starting the new year off right with a surf sesh at Sandy Bay.

A few days ago I went shopping in preparation of leaving for Fiji. It is the duty of those flying in from "civilized" countries to bring goodies for the crew who have been in the tropics, so I called Sean on Slow Dance to see what everybody wanted/needed from New Zealand. "Nothing - just you," he said, "And 10 pounds of coffee." Hmmm... better buy the bigger suitcase. Funny side note - I have traveled 10,000 miles without a suitcase, and only now do I need one.

"Oh, and one more thing," Sean said before we hung up, "We are thinking about heading over to the Gold Coast next week, so we will be going to Vanuatu and New Caledonia too, not just staying in Fiji."

Huh? You mean, like, with me? I bought a round trip ticket in and out of Fiji, but I guess that is easy enough to fix. And I have been wanting to go to Vanuatu, but I thought I would wait until after cyclone season ends. However I am lowly crew and do not have a say where we go, so... I am down.

In reality I am pretty excited about this change of plan - to do a passage on Slow Dance will certainly be an experience. While it is cyclone season, we will have very good weather forecasting as well as take all precautions necessary. Besides, Sean told me if we do encounter a cyclone, we girls and the owner get to go stay in a hotel while Sean and BJ hold down the fort. Doesn't sound all bad. I have always wanted to go to Australia, too.

To be completely honest I was a little intimidated when Sean told me this. When I told Dad about the change of plans he cracked a big smile and said, "Wow! Lucky! Think I could go too?" He has always supported me in my adventures and it was great to have his encouragement with this as well. Mom was not quite so pleased.

Dad and I have been spending a lot of time together. Last night we had a fun dinner party to bring in the new year with Mark from Merkava and Jared and Christine from Architeuthis. Dad made a delicious dinner and chocolate fondue for dessert. Then we went up to our favorite Irish pub to celebrate at midnight. The bar was packed and there was a live band, good beer and lots of holiday cheer.

Jared and Christine spent the night on Rutea and we got up in the morning, nursed our hangovers with coffee and pancakes, and then headed out to surf at Sandy Bay. The gods must smile on Kiwi holidays because the waves were super fun and the sun even came out for a bit. I surfed until I thought my arms were going to fall off and made sure I got plenty of waves, as who knows where or when the next time I will surf. Plus, surfing is the best way to start a new year.

2011 was an epic year, and I think that 2012 will be even more so. My new year's resolution for this year is to go big. Or go bigger. I want to take advantage of all opportunities, to not hold back because of fear or uncertainty, to seize the day and relish the night.

Regardless of your resolutions or intentions for the coming year, I wish you health, wealth, happiness and success with whatever it is you do.

Next time - from the tropics!

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Kiwi Christmas and Other Short Stories


Rutea at dock in Whangarei on Christmas

Happy Christmas, my friends! I hope yours was filled with the people you love and the activities you enjoy most in life. Although it was a little sad to be so far away from friends and family this Christmas, Dad and I made the best of it.

On Christmas eve we threw a dinner party for a bunch of yachtie friends on Rutea. The eight of us spent the afternoon drinking very alcoholic eggnog (homemade - you can't find eggnog here), eating delicious food, and enjoying each others' company. After all, these friends are the closest people to family we have around here. Dad made an amazing dinner of prime rib with wasabi sauce, creamed spinach and chocolate chip bread pudding with cinnamon-rum sauce for dessert. Our friends brought lots of good eats as well.

I must have consumed 5,000 or so calories on Christmas eve considering all the food and booze I enjoyed, so on Christmas morning I headed out to get a nice long surf session at Sandy Bay. It was the first sunny day in weeks, and Mark and I spent three hours in the water catching waist to chest high waves. It was a great way to spend Christmas morning - my favorite, in fact - although I did get very sunburned. I even put on two different types of sunscreen, but the sun is INTENSE here.

In the afternoon Mark and I headed back to Whangarei and spent the rest of the afternoon drinking eggnog and champagne with Dad, and eating all the bomb left-overs from the night before. All in all I would say it was a very successful Christmas, albeit different.

Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, is a big holiday here and there was a lifeguard patrol out at Ocean Beach so I decided to head out and spend the night out there. Although it was pretty windy and cloudy, the waves were decent and lots of people were hanging out, so it was a good time.

The most fun part of the day was when one of the lifeguards, Lindsay, took me out in the IRB (dinghy) to play - er, I mean "train" - in the surf. The lifeguards use the IRB to do rescues and have to be comfortable taking the boat out in all conditions, so even if the waves are huge the guys will take it out to practice.

The waves were only about head high for us, but I am incredibly sore today from launching off waves and slamming down the back of them, punching through walls of water and hanging on for dear life. It was pretty thrilling to be in the IRB out in the surf, especially since yachties usually avoid surf with their dinghies like the plague. Good experience for me if I ever need to land our dinghy in breaking waves.

The rest of the afternoon was fairly uneventful, although two of the lifeguards rescued a guy who had fallen on the rocks and broken two vertebrae (they used the IRB to pick him up). To show his gratitude for their help, he brought us a case of beer to the surf club as we were shutting down for the afternoon. We spent the rest of the evening drinking beer and cooking a communal dinner of pot roast, gravy and vegetables.

At around 11:00 PM, when the beer was gone and the whiskey was being passed around, Evan (patrol leader) decided we would do more "training" and go swim around the rocks on the south end of the beach. Now I am not opposed to going in the ocean at night - I love a good night surf as much as the next person (or probably more), but I usually try to avoid going near the rocks and usually try to go out when there is at least a bit of a moon.

Last night was pitch black, and there is not exactly any civilization to give off lights. Nevertheless we all ran down to the beach - the braver guards in their speedos or bikinis, and the rest of us in our wetsuits because it was freaking freezing. We started swimming through the pitch black water only to see our strokes illuminated by phosphorescence in the water. Coooool. The only way to know a wave was coming was to listen for it, as it was nearly impossible to see. Quite an adrenaline rush.

We swam over to the horseshoe, a channel through the rocks that the waves wash through. We swam around that for a while, climbed on the rocks, and managed to make it back safely to the surf club where we resumed drinking beers to warm up. The rest of the night was fairly uneventful, as was patrol today. I even left early because the weather was so cold and nasty out at the beach.

BUT, this cold business is about to change very quickly. In less than a week I am headed to Fiji, where right now the average temperature during the day is 95 degrees, with some horribly high humidity. To be completely honest I am a bit intimidated. There is a reason why people sail to far out of the way places (like New Zealand) for the tropical summer, and I guess I am about to find out why first hand. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Change of Plan

Life is a funny thing. Earlier this week I hit a low. I was so depressed that I cried. My sadness was the combination of many things - the fact that I am very far away from most of my family and friends this holiday season; the fact that it has been cold and raining pretty much non-stop for 3 weeks; the fact that the surf has been shit; the fact that it is harder to make close friends in a more urban setting; the fact that the U.S and world politics are horrible and soul crushing; the fact that my job search is not going well... the list goes on and on.

And then, yesterday morning I woke up to a call from Sean - captain of Slow Dance - inviting me to come spend a month with them in Fiji as crew. It was a very nice way to wake up. Surprisingly, I did not accept right away. I told Sean I needed to think about it for an hour and then would call him back.

I got out of bed and told Dad that I had just been invited to go work in Fiji on Slow Dance for a month, but I don't know if I should go... And he said, "Why wouldn't you go?!" My response was: granted, I am not really happy here. I mean, I like it here, but it is not what I expected. But I feel like if I leave without figuring out why I am not super stoked on New Zealand, I will feel defeated. You know? I don't want to feel like I am running away because I don't like it here. I want to face my problems and work through them so that I can look back on my time here as positive. Plus, I want to finish my lifeguarding award and surf Shippies again.

And Dad said, This is true. But an offer like this, to be paid crew on a luxury yacht in Fiji does not come around very often. You have no commitments here and can come back to lifeguarding and surfing, besides you will only be gone a month.

This is true as well. A minute later I called Sean back and told him I was booking my ticket. It did not take much convincing, but having Dad's support is awesome. Besides, now I can scope out all the good places for when we head up to Fiji in April (or thereabouts).

I don't want to give you the impression that I hate it here - I do not. I have made friends and picked out my favorite surf spots, know that there is so much more of New Zealand to be explored and plan to do so. But given my current circumstances - that I need a job and this is bears somewhat of a resemblance to one - it would be silly not for me to accept. I love the tropics and I really, really enjoy spending time with Sean and the whole Slow Dance experience. I am ecstatic to go back, even if only for a month.

I probably won't get to surf. I might not even get to go for a dive. After all, I will be "working". I will also, however, swim in that warm clear water I have been dreaming of since I left it.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Normal Life


My sweet as Strida bike.

I have been bad about updating my blog because I generally try to wait until something exciting has happened before I write, and life has been a bit too... normal... around here for my taste. This whole "living in one spot" thing has kind of thrown me off, but I am getting used to the Kiwi way of life -- although I will admit I have checked on flights to Fiji once or twice.

The most exciting thing that has happened in the past few weeks is that my uncle Paul sent Mom, Dad and me super sweet "Strida" folding bikes. These are not normal bikes. They are rad. They fold up small and are super light weight, but also well made and fun to ride. Mine is neon green and have gotten some looks as I ride down the street, but hopefully this will help cars to see me as well. New Zealand is not exactly super bike friendly, and I cannot wait to ride my new bike around an atoll.

Along with the bikes, a totally unexpected package arrived addressed to Dad. When we opened it we found three boogie boards and one "Flowrider" surf/skate board, all designed for a standing wave like the one at the Wave House in Mission beach. We were totally perplexed. Nobody would send any of us boogie boards - for one none of us are spongers and two, nobody likes us enough to send us a package like that (except Paul).

After asking around and not getting any answers, Dad was sick of having the boards on the deck and told me he was going to give them to the marina office. I told him to wait, that I would email the company the boards came from and see if they knew what was up with them. So I emailed the people - threatening them that if they did not tell me where the boards came from I was going to take them on the sand dunes and ruin them.

I got a prompt reply back that, yes, it was a mistake for the boards to be sent to S/V Rutea (still not sure how they got to us), and please please send them along to the right people in Japan. The email also said something to the effect of, if you are ever in San Diego and need anything, contact us.

Well, funny thing: I am going to be in San Diego in July! I sent a reply telling them this and hinted that I would very much like a few free sessions at the Wave House and they said no problem. After all, the value of all the boards is somewhere near $1000, so I am doing them a pretty big favor. You will find me shredding a huge barrel in San Diego next summer.

That is about the extent of the excitement around here recently. Mom is in San Diego right now so Dad and I are holding down the fort. It seems like all the wives of our cruiser friends are going home for the holidays, so it looks like I will be spending Christmas with a bunch of old guys. It could be worse, but I will definitely be missing my family.

The waves have been coming and going. Waves here on the East coast are all windswell waves until the cyclones start kicking out some groundswell, so it seems like whenever there are waves it is also windy. Can't be too picky around here. It has also been cold and rainy. Summer my ass. Today my friend Tom and I surfed what looked like the shittiest, small, onshore slop, but it was actually a great time. But get this - I chose to go surf those crappy small waves in the rain over going to the pub with Dad and Mark for a hot lamb dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy, complimented by a cold, FREE pint of delicious beer. Now that is dedication.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Kiwi Thanksgiving and Other Short Stories


Lars, me and Yuka celebrating Thanksgiving Kiwi/cruiser style.

Yes, Thanksgiving has come and gone and I hope you had a nice celebration with your family and friends. It is, after all, the best holiday ever and quite unfortunate that the Kiwis do not celebrate. (I think the relations between the Maoris and Europeans were even worse than those between the Native Americans and Europeans.) However, we were able to find a restaurant putting on an "American Style" Thanksgiving dinner buffet (conveniently located at the head of the dock) and recruited our cruiser friends to join us for dinner, even though none of them are American.

My high school English teacher always told us, "Friends are the family you choose for yourself." I could not agree more. Whereas I really missed being with my brother and sister, aunts, uncles and cousins, friends and home this holiday, I felt like I was surrounded by people who have become a sort of surrogate family, or at least my best friends and a strong circle of support. We had a nice pre-party on the boat where I drank many Kiwi beers and a few gin and tonics, and then we headed to the restaurant.

Ever since my family started traveling we have had a motto: expect it to be different. And it always is. The restaurant tried, but the food - albeit standard Thanksgiving food - was pretty bad. Not that it really mattered, but it made me appreciate the bomb-ass meals my family puts together for the occasion. Aside from a weird prayer that the owners of the restaurant tried to do in the middle of dinner (which almost made me lose it) it was a nice time.

Generally, things have been pretty damn nice around here. Except for this flat spell - apparently the worst in history (of this year) - things are going well. The day after Thanksgiving a bunch of us - Merkava people, Sarah Jean people, Lars from Twister who came up from Auckland for the occasion, and us all went out to Ocean Beach. Kiwis call Ocean Beach "Ocean's", and look at me funny when I call it OB, but what else is new. I had seen on the internet that there was supposed to be a 3-4 foot swell at Ocean's but when we got there it was flatter than flat. You can imagine my disappointment.

We walked down to the beach only to find a dolphin beached on the sand. Yuka and I jumped in the water and helped the dolphin into deeper water, and then waded around with it to make sure it wouldn't beach itself again. It was amazing to hold a wild animal like that. It was so big and kind of gnarly with big scars all over its body, but smooth and gentle (at least with us). After a while it swam off and I noticed a little shorebreak wave down the beach, peaking and peeling in a perfect tiny barrel. I ran back to the car to get a boogie board and spent the rest of the afternoon tucking into little close-out barrels. Not a bad day.

Saturday was another good day. I was invited to another Thanksgiving celebration buy an American guy who owns a surf shop up the road. We had a nice BBQ lunch and then decided to go looking for pipis - some sort of shell fish that lives in the shallows and sand bars. We didn't find any but had fun playing around in the water. On Sunday I went back out to Ocean's and did some lifeguard training.

To become a New Zealand State Volunteer Lifeguard you have to swim 400 meters in under 9 minutes (no problem), do a 200 meter run -swim-run in eight minutes (maybe a problem), do a mock rescue, complete a CPR and First Aid test as well as a written test. Everybody out at the beach is laid back about everything, but I feel like I am not taking things seriously enough to pass. We will see.

Other than that, everything is pretty chill. Although, with this flat spell I have taken to doing weird things like climbing mountains and running and swimming in a pool. Yuck. I guess it is good practice. I also applied for a working holiday visa so that I can maybe perhaps kinda get a job. Yuckier. Like I said, lack of surfing makes me do weird things. But someday the waves will return and then we will really see what goes down.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Found it!


The view from the top of Shippies looking out at 90 Mile Beach.

Unlike Bono, who still hasn't found what he is looking for, I have. I found exactly what I have been looking for, and it only took 11 months and thousands of miles of searching the Pacific Ocean... although ironically enough my new favorite place in all of New Zealand is on the notoriously nasty Tasman Sea. But what, you might ask, did I find? I found a perfect left sand point break -- the wave of my dreams -- for the most part, but there is always a catch.

Let's back up a bit. On Friday the 'rents and I drove up to Opua in our newly purchased, super sweet mini van. In Opua (where we and most cruisers make landfall) there is a cruisers rally so we decided to join in and visit friends recently arrived. Of course I brought both my surfboards and an overnight bag just in case an adventure ensued. When we arrived at the marina in Opua we were reunited with our long lost best friends Mark and Yuka on Merkava, who we left with a tearful goodbye in Tonga. It was great to see them. After hearing a talk by Bob McDavitt, the New Zealand weather guru, we began our festivities which included drinking copious amounts of beer and rum and sharing salty sea stories, of which we all have many.

The organizers of the cruisers rally put on a BBQ dinner for all us yachties and as we were enjoying our (free!) hamburgers and beers who showed up but my homies on S/V Architeuthis. They had just arrived and were absolutely ecstatic about making landfall, which made our celebrations all the more sweeter. It was fun to be able to greet them upon their arrival.

After all the festivities I crashed on the boat Sarah Jean because in the morning my friend Bhodie planned to pick me up at the Opua ferry to take me on a surf adventure. A note on Bhodie: he is your somewhat stereotypical SoCal surf bum, but has lived in New Zealand since he was a teenager. He knows all the cool surf spots and is even more stoked on surfing than I am, so he is a good buddy to have.

Bhodie picked me up at 6:00 AM and we headed out to the west coast of the island - to Shipwreck Bay - known fondly to some as "Shippies". A note on Shippies: this is the New Zealand wave that the guys surf in "The Endless Summer" surf flick. Bhodie mentioned something about camping out on the beach if the surf was good, so I brought my sleeping bag just in case, but I was not expecting much in the way of good waves.

When we came around the corner to catch our first glimpse of Shippies we were greeted by perfect knee high peeling lefts. That looked great to me, but Bhodie said, no no, just you wait. We drove down to, and right on to the beach. A note on Bhodie's car: it is an extremely beat up, old 1980's Toyota Corolla station wagon. Normally people only drive on the beach and the rocks with 4WD cars, but Bhodie charged it. We drove over rocks, through the water, and only got caught in the sand three times. Fortunately Kiwis are very kind and towed us out every time.


Bhodie and his surfmobile, waiting for some kind Kiwis to tow us out of the sand for the third time.

The farther our the beach we drove, the bigger and better the waves got. It was not a huge day, the biggest sets were a bit over head, but it was mostly in the chest to head high range. Shippies is also known as a "woman's wave" which means it is a softer and more gentle wave, which I am totally fine with. So were all the people out. Apparently it was also "super crowded" because there were maybe 15 people out at the most crowded peak, but you could easily find your own peak if you wanted.

Bhodie parked the car right on the rocks in front of the waves, we suited up and walked up the beach. We entered the water and surfed our way down the point, surfing different peaks all the way back to the car. It was then that we decided that we would camp there for the night, as the waves were good and it was a beautiful day. We set up a little camp on a nice grassy spot overlooking the waves in front of my favorite little peak. Yes, it is this that I have been dreaming of and searching for for a very long time. But there is a catch: its bloody cold.

Even on the beautiful sunny day it was, the howling offshore wind was freezing and so was the water. Ok, maybe it was not "freezing", but it was cold. In the evening instead of catching one last session before night I decided to climb up the 500 foot sand dune to warm up. A note on the sand dune: it is what makes the wave at Shippies so good. It is a rocky beach but the sand gets blown off the dune to make perfect bars that the waves peel across. After the sun went down I put on ever single piece of clothing I had (which was not much) and huddled by the fire. I managed to survive the night, but only because Bhodie was a gentleman and let me sleep in his car while he slept in his board bag on the grass.

I am glad I survived the night because we awoke to little knee to waist high waves peeling across the peak known as Mukies (my favorite). We surfed it twice all to ourselves before we packed up and headed back to Opua. Yes, this is the side of New Zealand I was hoping to experience. Perfect, friendly waves? Tick (as the Kiwis say). Meeting new, friendly and hospitable people? Tick. Being reunited with old and awesome friends? Tick. Weather warming up as we come into summer? Tick.






Friday, November 11, 2011

Warmer...


Ocean Beach, NZ - Where I am going to be a volunteer lifeguard.


It's taken me a while to warm up to New Zealand, perhaps because it has been so bloody cold, or perhaps because it always takes me a bit to figure out a scene. And the scene here is quite different from any I have been in for a while. We are now at a marina in Whangarei (pronounced "Fangaray) and this is home sweet home for the next 6 months or so.

Whangarei is "the largest city in Northland", which isn't saying much with its population of 40,000. It is not a tourist town which I like, because it makes it easy to meet the locals... this and the fact that Kiwis are ridiculously nice and hospitable (as we know from my previous post).

Allow me another anecdote to get my point across: the other night I did something I have never done before - I went to a bar ALONE. You might not think this is a big deal, but really, what kind of loser goes to a bar alone on a Wednesday night? Don't you have any friends?? Well, I don't have too many friends here-- yet. But I am working on it.

Ok, so I walked downtown - a few minutes walk from the boat - and slowly walked past a few bars where I saw big groups of people laughing and talking and enjoying themselves. Feeling a bit intimidated and lonely I walked past, only to finally muster up the courage to enter the most empty bar I could find. There was a table of 3 guys out on the patio so I got myself a beer and walked outside to say hi. They, being gentlemen, asked me to join them and of course I graciously accepted, thankful for the company. We chatted for a while and before long they insisted I join them for oysters at their favorite restaurant. I politely declined but they were rather insistent, so I found myself being taken to dinner by the guys.

It was kind of a funny situation, mostly because these guys were in their late 30's to early 40's, two of whom have kids, but who is counting? At this point I will take whatever I can get. They were very kind and very generous, buying me dinner and drinks all night after meeting me an hour or two before - and even making it clear that they had no ulterior motives. I think one would be hard pressed to find a similar experience in the States.

I don't know what it is about people around here, but they are willing to go out of their way to make others feel welcome. On Thursday night a surf film was being shown at the arts theater so I went to it with the hopes of meeting surfers. I was not in the foyer three minutes before I met two guys who live here in Whangarei who told me they would take me surfing whenever. Bingo. We exchanged numbers but they also said that they work (what's that?) so they can't surf all the time.

That is the main difference making friends here as opposed to making friends with cruisers. In the cruising community everybody is doing pretty much the same thing. Here in NZ everybody has their own lives - their own shit going on. I am attempting to do the same. I found out that there is a volunteer lifesaving club out at Ocean Beach (not OB, SD but close...) so today after my first surf session since American Samoa I went out to Ocean Beach and met the guys who run the show. They were stoked to get me involved and I am going to start training tomorrow.

A note on my surf session - it was one of the most painful sessions of my life! It was ridiculous. I can't surf anymore. My arms are weak and my balance is off. On my first wave I caught I fell. On the second wave I caught I fell. And so on. I was out for maybe 2 hours and I successfully rode 2 waves. Ouch. Regardless of the pain, it felt great to be in the water and on a board, even if it was a chilly 62 degrees. I know that I will get back into it, I just need a few sessions to get back in the groove.

One thing that I hope will help me get back in shape is the badass aquatic center that is right across the street from the marina. Not only does it have multiple indoor pools, but a gym (kooky, I know), saunas, spas, and a huge waterslide running through it. I am considering joining with the hopes of shedding a few of the pounds I gained sitting on the boat for 10 months. Kiwis are pretty active folks and set up their country accordingly - there are tons of places to camp, hike (tramp, as they call it), and all sorts of fun stuff.

I still miss the tropics. I still have dreams of clear blue water and coconut palms. But I must admit, I am warming up to New Zealand as well.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Kiwis Are Sweet

Kiwis are maybe a little too sweet. The past few days have been a blur of road tripping, meeting and greeting, and celebrating in general. When the people who pulled into the slip next to us arrived, they jumped off the boat and kissed the dock. I guess they had an especially rough passage and felt like they cheated death by arriving here. Every time a new group of boats arrives at the docks there is a new wave of euphoria, which of course is accompanied by celebratory beers. That, mixed with obligatory time spent in the bars meeting the locals has made for some long - albeit fun - evenings.

I have been palling around with (my new best friend for the time being,) Kyle. He crewed for our friends on Sarah Jean from Tonga here and now he and I have been causing a ruckus. There is not much here in Opua where the boat is, so yesterday we hitched a ride from another yachtie kid who took us into Pahia. Pahia has a bit more to offer than Opua... which wouldn't have to be much but it is actually a cute little touristy summer town.

Unfortunately the weather yesterday was cold and rainy, and with limited options Kyle and I found ourselves drinking pints from 3 in the afternoon until well into the evening. It was kind of weird though. We went to the bars by the backpacking hostels hoping to find other travelers to chat with, but everything was totally dead. It wasn't until our fourth pub (and who knows how many pints later) that we found the pub where all the locals were hanging out. Bingo.

Kyle and I headed to the pool table and challenged two locals to a friendly game of pool. Pania and Karlier (girl and guy) turned out to be super cool people, who after many games of pool and many pints, invited us back to Pania's house for beers. It was getting a bit late by this time and Kyle and I had not figured out how we were going to get back to Opua - its about an 8 km walk. We were not looking to walk back too late so we politely declined, saying we need to get started home.

Pania would not accept no for an answer. After a few more beers she herds all of us in a taxi - including a Namibian guy and German girl we befriended - and off we went. After making a quick stop at the market for a few cases of beer that she paid for, we found ourselves at Pania's apartment partying until some awful hour in the morning. She insisted that Kyle and I sleep in her bed while she slept on the couch, and would not hear anything of our protests. She is a super cool girl - friendly and hospitable - but almost too much so.

We had known Pania for less than 12 hours before she is not only inviting us into her home and feeding us beer, but giving us her bed to sleep in. I do not think I have ever met anybody else like that. And (as far as I know) she had no ulterior motives for the evening. She is just a very kind and outgoing person who wanted to party with us and had no expectations except that we have a good time. We did, although the 8km hike back to the boat this morning was a bit treacherous.

This story might sound a little weird, and it most likely would have been under different circumstances. I probably would not accept an offer like that from somebody at a bar in the States. It just feels a bit different here. I don't know what it is, but people are so friendly and open that I do not have too much apprehension or anxiety about meeting and hanging out with new people. But don't worry - I will use good judgment when picking my friends.

Speaking of friends, tons of people we have met across the Pacific are filling into the marinas around here. It is like seeing long lost friends when they arrive. A few days ago we took a road trip with Bob from the sailboat Braveheart. It was cool to drive around the countryside and get my bearings a bit, but I am also beginning to realize how rural and low key New Zealand. The country has a striking resemblance to the Pacific Northwest - Oregon, Washington or British Columbia. This is cool, but I have developed quite an affinity for the tropics and am already pining for some warm blue water. And no - I have not surfed yet.

Ok, I will try not to complain about missing the tropics - especially since we are going into summer down here. I will also try to continue updating my blog regularly, but will only write if I have something to write about, which... well... let's just hope I come up on some epic surf adventures soon.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Few Stats


Who has two thumbs and likes arriving in New Zealand? Thiiiss girrrll.


10 months 13 days, 10,351 miles and 6 countries later, we have arrived in New Zealand. GIGGITY!

There is a general atmosphere of euphoria on the docks here in Opua as sailboats arrive into the calm waters and safe port. Yes, we are all very stoked to be here.

A few stats:

10,351 miles -- well -- 8,995 nautical miles, but 10,351 land miles sounds better.

7 countries: Mexico, French Polynesia (Marquesas, Tuamotus, Society Islands), Cook Islands (Suwarrow), American Samoa, Western Samoa, Tonga (Vava'u, Ha'apai, Tongatapu), and New Zealand.

Top speed: 14 knots

Longest passage: Punta de Mita, Mexico to Hiva Oa, Marquesas -- 18 days, 4 hours and 2,700 nautical miles (approx.).

Nastiest passage: Bora Bora to Suwarrow -- 12-15 foot seas and 25-30 knot winds, 735 nm.

Highest winds: 38 knots -- bashing into from Cabo to Frailes in Baja, Mex.

Warmest water: 85.4 degrees.

Warmest temp recorded in the cabin: 101.5 degrees.

# of books read: 36. A few favorites -- "Shantaram" by Gregory David Roberts, "Pride and Prejudice" by Austen, "Call of the Wild" and "The Sea Wold" by Jack London, "White Tiger" by Aravind Aviga, "Wolf Hall" by Hillary Martel, "Adventures of Tom Sawyer" by Twain, and "Getting Stoned with Savages" by Maarten Troost.

# of parasites contracted: unknown.

# of haircuts: 0, but I am in dire need of one.

# of times real shoes worn: 4.

# of different ports/anchorages visited: hella.

# of life-long friends made: hella.

Monetary value of a trip like this: PRICELESS.


Hahahaha... sorry... cheesy, I know, but I couldn't resist.

: )

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The "Favorites"

With less than 200 miles to go, we should arrive in New Zealand tomorrow! Woo hoo! Not that this passage has been bad, in fact I think it has been one of the easiest on the whole trip. Ironic, no? But it will be freaking sweet to be on land again, to have refrigerated foods again, to be able to walk around again, and, oh yeah, to be in New Zealand. Yes, it really is the little things in life.

Seeing as how I have nothing better to do, I will take this time to reflect on our voyage thus far. Someday I intend to post a map with our route on it, or some snazzy Google Earth interactive map or something, but in the meantime, use your imagination.

People always ask (and I am guilty of this too), "What was your favorite place?" This is an unfair question. Most places we have gone hold some sort of "favorite" for me. There was not one place that was head and shoulders above the rest. Of course there are places we visited that I liked more than others, but for the most part they were all pretty damn awesome. Let me list a few favorites:

Favorite surf: Punta de Mita and Putna Burros, Mexico and Irirru Pass, Raiatea (Society Islands). The beaches in Tahiti were good too.

Favorite food: A bomb-ass meal from Hotel Coral after surfing Punta de Mita all day, i.e. Mexican food. Polynesian food is definitely not my favorite.

Favorite snorkeling: West pass of Makemo, Tuamotus. Ha'ano island in the Ha'apai group of Tonga was pretty epic too. As was Perfect Reef in Suwarrow.

Favorite dive: Split Rock, Vava'u, Tonga.

Favorite stargazing: Out in the middle of the Pacific ocean with no land or lights around for 1,000 miles.

Favorite busses/drivers: American Samoa - particularly one bus driver who, when he pulled over to do a little shopping at a mini-mart along the route, bought Lars and me beers to drink along the way.

Favorite pineapple: Picked fresh from the pineapple farms in Moorea. I swear they were watered with sugar water or something.

Favorite mangoes: picked fresh from the side of the road in the Marquesas.

Favorite hike: the hike to the waterfall in Daniel's Bay, Marquesas. (This is ignoring the fact that I was eaten alive by no-nos and mosquitos.)

Favorite party: hmmmmm... this one is a toughy. I would have to say one of the parties on Slow Dance, although the Pub Crawl in Vava'u during the regatta week was super fun. The St. Patrick day party with the rock band and the giant trampolines in Mexico was sweet too.

Favorite rainbow: the most epic rainbow I have ever seen in the Bay of Virgins, Fatu Hiva, Marquesas.

Favorite coconut experience: with John and James on Suwarrow. Thanks to them I can pick a coconut, husk it, crack it open, and enjoy.

Favorite shark encounter: diving with the lemon sharks in Bora Bora.

Ok, I could go on and on, but I think that is sufficient for now. You get the picture. There are great things about every place we have visited. I feel like I should go on to describe a few of my least favorite experiences, just to balance things out, but maybe I will save that for a later post. I would also like to post a picture corresponding to every "favorite", but we will have to see how good the internet is in NZ (and how ambitious I am).

And so, next time, from Kiwiland!!
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At 10/26/2011 9:49 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 32°22.42'S 176°14.86'E

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Day 4/ 300-and- something

It it hard to believe that we have been "out to sea" for over 300 days, even if "out to sea" is not exactly the right phrase. I think if one added up our total sea time, or days under way, it would be about 10%. The rest of the time has been spent in idyllic ports. Not bad, eh?

At some point in the near future I am going to give a summary of my first season in the tropical Pacific. I say "tropical Pacific" because technically New Zealand is considered both part of Polynesia and the south Pacific - albeit the very south Pacific. But our arrival in NZ marks a new chapter in the story of this adventure. I have no idea what it is going to be like, but can't wait to find out.

The good thing is I should not have to wait very long to find out. We have been making great time with remarkable conditions: 15-20 knots of wind on the beam, making 6-8 knots consistently, fairly calm seas and sunny skies. In all seriousness I could not ask for better conditions. This leads me to believe that I owe you, the reader, an apology for bitching and complaining so much about the "horrible passage ahead." Granted, we are not out of the woods yet, but the forecast through the end of the week looks great. We should arrive in the port of Opua on Friday. I must admit we have been damned lucky with the weather (or lack thereof) this entire trip - even if it means that I do not have many salty tales to tell of savage storms and the like. I am OK with that.

I do, however, have many sweet tales to tell of, and intend to give a Cliff Notes version - if only for my own amusement (and memory) - in the coming day or two. It's not like there is too much else to do out here...
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At 10/24/2011 9:27 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 27°32.83'S 179°30.75'E

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Day 2

Only 856 miles to go to New Zealand! Yes, I suppose that is quite a bit considering we are traveling at a speed of about 6 MPH, but we are on our way! The conditions are great right now - 14 knots of wind from the East, 1-2 meter seas... I couldn't really ask for anything better.

BUT, it is already cold. Yesterday it was 70 degrees and I had on a hoodie, slippers, was wrapped in a blanket and sitting in the sun, and I was freezing all day. The wind felt icy. I almost would have thought I was sick or something, but aside from being a bit seasick, I felt fine. Today it has cooled off even more to 68 degrees, but I am already acclimating and have come out from under wraps of the blanket. It is still going to be gnarly though.

OK, getting a bit queasy. Send us good vibes of fair winds and flat seas.

One correction: the passage from Nuku'alofa, Tonga to Opua, New Zealand is 1050 miles, not 1,300. Hooray!
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At 10/22/2011 7:18 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 22°40.51'S 177°19.81'W

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

I Got Something to Say

I think I have writer's block. Or I don't have anything to say. No - I have a few things on my mind but I am not sure where to begin. So I will just start writing. Sorry if it is incoherent or rambling or boring.

We were supposed to leave for New Zealand yesterday. Perhaps "supposed" is not the right word - we were planning to leave for New Zealand yesterday. The night before the forecast still looked OK, but by the morning the winds had increased to 15-30 knots coming from the direction we are headed (south west) and the seas were 4-5 meters. 15 foot seas are no fun, especially when bashing with high winds. So we decided to wait out the bad weather with the hopes that the next day or two will present us with a better window.

We are buddy boating to NZ with our friends on Sarah Jean, and it was a big decision for all of us to make to stay here. You just never really know how it is going to be out there. However, our decision was confirmed by a Kiwi boat that is just completing their circumnavigation with the final passage to NZ. They stopped by to chat and said that yes, they too are waiting for this weather to pass. In regards to the 30 knot head winds, the woman said, "Better up the ass than on the nose!" In terms of sailing, I couldn't agree more. She also said that this passage from Tonga to New Zealand is one of the most difficult in the world, the other being the passage from Madagascar to South Africa. Having sailed around the world, I believe her, although I am sure there are more I don't want to experience.

You meet all sorts of interesting people out here. A few days ago I met a Hungarian guy who, from 2006-2009, sailed around the world in a 19 foot boat. He was 26 years old when he started. He had all sorts of great stories and showed me pictures of the crazy places he has been, along with a book he wrote afterwards, but it is in Hungarian. He is young (30 is now young), good looking and single, but he turned out to be a little bit creepy. It's all good though... I still have a bit of a heartache for my Slow Dance amigo.

What is not all good is our refrigeration. Last time I wrote that our fridge crapped out but was maybe not broken. It is. This means that we have no refrigerator or freezer (freezer broke back in Vava'u). This means that we can't really prepare meals for the passage, which means that we will have to cook out there. Ugggg. I think we will be eating lots of ramen noodles. And crackers. Nothing cold to eat or drink until NZ. As for beer, we do not drink on passages so that won't be too much of a problem, but it's almost noon and I could go for a cold one now. (Just kidding.)

Speaking of cold ones, apparently it is f-ing freezing in New Zealand right now. Like, 50 degrees. Right now it is 80 degrees in the cabin and it is absolutely perfect. I have decided that 80 is the new 72. Although yesterday it was 90 degrees in the cabin all day, which was borderline sweltering. Fortunately I did not have to do too much... swim, watch a movie, read a book, make sushi... it was bearable. But this cold business? I don't know. We have been in the tropics since January. I have not slept with a blanket on my bed since we left Mexico. Shoes? Don't make me laugh. The only time I wear pants is to keep mosquitos away.

This is all going to change. Even though it is coming on summer in the southern hemisphere I have a feeling NZ is still going to be cold. If you look on a map, you will see that New Zealand is way the hell down there off Australia, damn close to Antarctica. Apparently there can be iceberg warnings in Auckland in the winter. Makes me cold just thinking about it.

And so, I have started digging out the old blankets, hoodies and slippers - all of which smell a bit musty after sitting in the dry bilge for nearly a year. I think I will need to do some serious shopping when we get to NZ. In the meantime, I think I will go for one last swim in this 80 degree, bright blue water that I am going to miss so much.
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At 10/20/2011 9:41 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 21°08.23'S 175°09.80'W

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Tongatapu


Birds eye view of Pangaimotu - arguably the nicest part of Nuku'alofa

Or as I like to call it, Tonga-poo-poo. Granted, a visit to the hospital, an "American" grocery store, customs and a cockroach infested cafe do not warrant a fair judgment of a city, but first impressions are everything. Right?

We arrived in Tongatapu Sunday evening after spending a night in "arguably one of the most idyllic islands in the South Pacific," according to our Tonga guide book. Yes, Kalafesia - the southern most island in the Ha'apai group - is the stereotypical deserted tropical island. It was a bit sketchy getting into the anchorage as the entrance to the lagoon is lined with sharp and shallow reef, and waves breaking on either side. It was no problem for us and we found a nice little spot to drop anchor for the night. Not all boats have been so lucky, as we found a mast on the beach that indicated that a boat sank there recently. Our friends on Sara Jean confirmed that a boat sank there last season. Oops.

We did not sink and had a lovely time beach combing and swimming. The snorkeling was not as good as in other places, but it was cool to be the only people on an island - Robinson Crusoe stylee... kinda. The only other evidence of life we saw was a dog, a few pigs, and chickens. I would like to think I could fare well alone on an island with companions like that, but I decided not to find out.

The other island we stopped at overnight before arriving in Tongatapu was Ha'afeva. I like the cruising style of doing little day sails down an island chain, stopping in places for a night or two. I mean, it's not my favorite way to cruise, but certainly better than doing a bunch of overnight passages. We were only in Ha'afeva for 18 hours, but this gave us time to go for a snorkel and check out an old fishing trawler that sank on the reef years back. It seems like there are a lot of wrecks in this part of the south Pacific. It is a bit disconcerting, but I think most boats are sunk during cyclones, which we are going to New Zealand to avoid.

The wreck was eerie and cool. There is something about swimming over and around a sunken boat that gives me the heebeejeebies (sp?), but also an adrenaline rush. The coolest part of the snorkel was that I found the most awesome shell I have ever found - a bright orange conch shell. I held onto it for about two hours before I managed to give it back to the ocean, one, because there was still a conch living in it, and two, because New Zealand customs will confiscate shells and marine life like that. I thought about smuggling it into the country, but, meh. I think I get a karma boost with the ocean.

Which brings us to Nuku'alofa, Tongapoopoo. The reason we went to the hospital was to visit a friend from a boat who got a serious staph infection in his leg. He and his wife were on their way to New Zealand and he got a fever of 105, so his wife turned the boat around and headed for the nearest hospital. Had she not he would probably not be alive right now.

The visit to the hospital was tough - not only to see Bill and his horrendous leg, but to see the state of health care in Tonga. The hospital was packed with screaming babies and sickly old people. The pharmacy was a shack in the parking lot. There were cockroaches everywhere. Sue, Bill's wife, told us that the families of the patients have to bring everything for the patient - including food, water, sheets... everything you would expect a hospital to provide. Sue told us that Bill is doing much better than he was a few days ago, gracias adios. Going to the hospital and seeing Bill made me so thankful and appreciative that my, my family and friends' health has been so good on this trip.

After the hospital visit we went to the market. I have come to realize that all the markets in the s.Pac are all more or less the same. Fruits and vegetables, baskets and other kitchy trinkets. We bought a few vegetables and then went across the street to an "American" market to buy some supplies. The market was dark and dusty, although they did have a few Kirkland Signature (Costco) products, which is always exciting. We bought a bunch of ramen instant noodles as that is the easiest hot meal on a passage.

After shopping we went to customs where they decided we had to pay a fine of 120 pa'anga because we did not check in the day we arrived - the prior evening. It is ridiculous that they make people check in in each group of Tonga. That would be like having to go to customs when doing interstate travel. What a bunch of BS.

Did I mention that our refrigeration died? Well, I don't know if it died, but it is not currently working. No fridge, no freezer. Warm beer. Shit. A guy is coming today to look at it, but we did not have access to the fridge yesterday. We were all hungry and went to a little cafe for lunch. There were cockroaches in all the corners and a few on the ceiling. The fish and chips were delicious.

As you can tell, Nuku'alofa is not a charming place. Fortunately we are anchored out at Pangaimotu, a little island a mile off the city. This is where the people who live in the city come for a nice afternoon. Big Mama's Yacht Club serves food and beer, has a pool table and free internet. There is also a sunken ship right of the beach which makes for cool snorkeling. This is a nice place, but I don't want to stay here longer than necessary. That being said, I don't really want to leave, because that means heading out on the 1,300 mile passage to New Zealand. Catch-22.

And so we wait. And do laundry, clean, tighten the rigging, and do everything else possible to prepare for what could be a very gnarly passage. But we are waiting for a weather window with the hopes that the passage won't be too gnarly. Vamos a ver. We will see.
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At 10/17/2011 7:15 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 21°07.51'S 175°09.79'W

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Dear Diary

I usually try to avoid the "Dear Diary" crap in this space, but sometimes I can't help it. I have a heartache. I have been trying to stay busy and keep my mind occupied, but when things get quiet in the evening my mind starts to wander. Hence this post describing my attempt to keep busy.

Let's back up a bit. Sunday night Sean dropped me off at Rutea around midnight, and we pulled up the anchor and left Vava'u at 3:00 AM. That was not fun, although the passage from Vava'u to the Ha'apai was an easy 65 miles. We arrived at Ha'ano in the afternoon shortly behind Merkava, and after a celebratory safe passage drink with them, it was time to get in the water.

The snorkeling in Ha'ano was the best I have seen since the Tuamotus. The water was not super clear - only about 50 feet of visibility - but all the cool stuff to see was near the surface anyway. The reefs at Ha'ano are made of huge shelves of pristine coral of all different varieties: table top coral, sea fans, fire coral, soft corals... it goes on and on. The edges of the shelves drop off to about 40 feet, and the sheer walls of coral are home to all sorts of exotic sea creatures. There are also tons of caves and swim-throughs, but I was free diving so I didn't venture into too many. Yuka, of course, was in and out of all the nooks and crannies in the coral.

Perhaps the highlight of the snorkel, aside from the amazing coral, was our close encounter with a 3 foot coral banded sea snake. This snake is one of the most poisonous in the world, although it is unaggressive and its mouth is so small that it can only bite a human in the webbing between its fingers and toes. It was still kind of scary to be so close to.

Sea creatures can be scary - particularly when they are out of the water and do not want to be. We left Ha'ano the following morning, and I decided to put a line in the water and test my luck fishing. After breakfast I was cutting up a pineapple when I heard the line start to zzziing. I have become somewhat of a more adequate fisherwoman since Mexico, and was able to reel in a beautiful little mahi-mahi. I did, however, hide behind the life raft as the fish was flopping around on the deck and while Dad killed it. He was also kind enough to clean the fish... something I have yet to learn how to do. I like choosing a lure, I like reeling in a fish (until it gets too close), and I like eating fish, but I do not like killing or cleaning them. I think that is a blue job, anyway.

Just as the fish was all cleaned up we pulled into Pa'angai, the main city of Ha'apai. I stayed on the boat while Mom and Dad went into town and both checked in and checked out. Ha'apai is still Tonga, but they like to make cruisers jump through their bureaucratic hoops. We were in Pa'angai for less than an hour as it is not the most charming of towns. Then we headed for the anchorage we are in now, which unfortunately I do not know the name of.

When we arrived my friends from the boats Architeuthis and Sara Jean were here so we all spent the afternoon together. Since then we have done a ton of snorkeling, beach combing, music playing, and communal dinners. There is nothing like a nice group of friends to keep the blues away. However, this is where the other half of my heartache comes in. Tonight I said goodbye to Mark and Yuka from the boat Merkava, my best friends here in the South Pacific. Fortunately they are going to New Zealand also, but there is a good chance I will not see them for a month or two.

You see, Mom and Dad are very anxious to get to New Zealand. I do not understand the rush. We are going to be in NZ for plenty of time, and who knows when we will be back in Tonga? Perhaps never. Regardless, we are heading to Tongatapu to wait for a weather window to head down south to New Zealand at the end of the week. Merkava is on the slower track and will be hanging out around here for another few weeks. I shouldn't be complaining because I know I will see them again soon, but if you read back over my posts, most of them are of adventures with Merkava. It is going to be tough not to have them around for a while.

I know, I know, I am sorry to be so whiney recently. But I can't help it. A part of me feels like this trip is coming to an end with our arrival in New Zealand, although I know that it will be another adventure. I think I have just gotten comfortable here in the South Pacific and will be sad to leave it. I guess I had better start swimming or else I will sink like a stone, for times they are a changing.

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At 10/13/2011 1:42 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 19°50.94'S 174°24.95'W

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Sunday, October 9, 2011

S/V Slow Dance (and Friends)


The legit crew of Slow Dance

Last night I rejoined Rutea after spending a week on S/V Slow Dance, and I think it is going to take me another week to recover.

Slow Dance is an 80 foot luxury yacht with an owner, captain, chef and crew that work hard and play harder (although maybe it is the other way around). Being on Slow Dance was not only a ridiculous amount of fun, but it also gave me perspective on situation on Rutea. A win-win situation, really.

Boat/yacht/ship - whatever you want to call it - Slow Dance is one of the nicest I have ever been on. There are 3 generators on board to power all the electronics and toys you could want. There are 2 huge water makers to ensure that everybody can take hot showers every day. The stainless is brightly polished decks are spotless. The tender (dinghy) is fast and comfortable to mob around anchorages in. However, to maintain all these luxuries is a TON of work.

Sean (the captain), Suzy (1st mate), and BJ (2nd mate and Sean's brother) work their asses off every day to keep the boat running smoothly - or at least as smoothly as possible. Inevitably once one project - such as repairing a generator - is finished, the refrigeration goes out. Such is life on a boat, but the smaller and more bare bones the boat, (generally) the less there is to fix. But to cruise around in wealth and style is sexy and fun - especially for guests such as myself. And did I mention there is a live-aboard chef? Victoria is not only a very cool lady, but cooks delicious, fresh and healthy meals every day.

During the week I was on the boat a typical day goes as follows:
Sean gets up early, starts the generator and makes coffee for the crew. I roll out of bed around 8 (depending on the previous night's activities) and hang out in the cockpit playing guitar while everybody else chills out before starting a projects. After a few cups of coffee and some breakfast everybody gets to work, whether it is going up the mast to check the rigging, changing the oil on the engine... whatever. There is never a lack of work on a boat - particularly this one. Not wanting to be a total slacker, nuisance or ungrateful guest, I offer to do some menial, unskilled job such as vacuuming the cabins or cleaning the waterline (an excuse to go swimming). I have to earn my keep, although it is nothing compared to the $3000 per night people have been known to pay to stay on Slow Dance.

Around noon the first beers are cracked. This does not necessarily mean that work stops, but Ron (the gracious owner) and Sean (the slave driving captain) allow the rest of us a few afternoons off to go play and explore a few of the beaches and bays that Vava'u has to offer. We load up the tender's built-in coolers with ice cold beer, bomb-ass sandwiches that Victoria makes, and head out. The tender has a 70 horsepower motor that enables 5 of us to cruise over the bright turquoise water at high speeds without spilling our beers.

When we spot a beach that looks nice we head in and check it out, go for a swim and eat lunch of the beach. There is something about drinking an ice cold beer while floating in 80 degree water that really does it for me. When we feel we have sufficiently enjoyed a place we load up back in the tender, and cruise around until we find another place to hang out or until the beer runs out. It is a tough life, I know.

By this time I am usually pretty wasted - from the sun, of course - so I go in for a shower and a nap, only to wake up to a delicious dinner. Nightlife in Tonga is pretty mellow, and while we have been known to frequent a bar or two, most nights are spent sipping beers and chatting or watching movies.

Saturday night we celebrated Sean's birthday with a bonfire on the beach. Although it rained for most of the afternoon he and BJ managed to get a fire going, and the sky cleared up to give us a nearly full moon and tons of stars. Suzy and I decided to go for a night swim and the water was so clear that the bottom was visible from the moonlight.

Yes, life is good on Slow Dance; life is good in general. But cruising on a luxury yacht is not as glamorous as it might seem - unless you own the boat and pay people to work for you. Yes, my friends are sailing the world in style, and they play hard but work harder. This has given me perspective on my situation on Rutea. In comparison to Slow Dance, Rutea is a humble little cruising boat. However, she is very well maintained by her captain (Dad) and the crew (me) is not expected to do too much, except a little polishing here and a little cleaning there. I can go snorkeling, diving, or surfing (if there were waves) whenever I want. I have absolute freedom and very few obligations - in other words I have it damn good. Not that I did not know this before, but after spending a week on a huge, luxurious yacht my sentiments have only been reinforced.

This does not mean that it was easy to leave Slow Dance. Sean dropped me off on Rutea at midnight with a heavy heart - 3 hours before we left Vava'u for the Ha'apai group in southern Tonga. It was hard to leave my friends. Who knows if I will ever see them again? I am going to New Zealand and they are headed towards Micronesia. But such is the life of a sailor: full of love and heartache, uncertainty and a certain respect for the now.

Speaking of the now, we are currently anchored in a little anchorage off Ha'ano island in the Ha'apai group after a rowdy sail from Vava'u. Ha' ha' ha'. (Does the pun translate?) Anyway, I intended to post a few pictures of the Slow Dance homies and our adventures, but I did not have an opportunity before we left, and there is no internet - let alone many signs of civilization - around here.

In closing, I want to thank Ron, Sean, Victoria, Suzy and BJ for a most excellent week. My favorite part of being out here is meeting and doing fun things with cool people like you. Keep in touch. That goes for you, my land-based friends, as well.

PEACE!
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At 10/9/2011 8:50 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 19°16.97'S 174°15.34'W

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Friday, September 30, 2011

Back to School


Some of the cutest and happiest kids in the world - Nua Papu village, Tonga

I believe we left off with the epic whaling adventure. Since then I have visited a local primary school in a village of 22 families, returned to Neiafu, and to put it bluntly, partied my ass off.


The visit to the school was precious. On Thursday morning Mom, Dad and I went in to shore where we were greeted by a young boy. He led us through the village to the school. We walked under a huge tunnel of mango trees, hopped over fences, avoided pigs roaming through the bush and crossed people's front yards to arrive at the school.


The school is a two room building perched on a wide lawn that overlooks the bay and surrounding islands of Vava'u. The building looks fairly well maintained on the outside, but the floors are peeling up in the classrooms and the benches and desks are.. rustic. However, the classroom we visited was filled with bright posters in both English and Tongan, (well used) school supplies, and a few books.


Upon our entrance into the classroom we were greeted by David, the teacher, who then arranged three chairs for us in the front of the class, while the kids sat at our feet, staring and giggling at us. The school serves as both a preschool through classes for 12 year olds, all more or less in the same classroom. A few of the youngest kids were laying under desks or eating crackers in the corner, while the older kids lined up and introduced themselves. The typical introduction went as follows:


"Hello, my name is Loto. My father is Pino, my mother is Lana, my brother is Dano and my sister is Lana. My teacher is David. And when I grow up I want to be a soldier." Other desired professions were fishermen, nurses, farmers, and an engineer or two.


After the introductions, the kids sang the ABC song, Head Shoulders Knees and Toes, and some beautiful traditional Tongan songs. A few girls did a very graceful dance that involved clapping coconut shells together. I love that they are not shy in the least about singing and dancing. It is a natural part of the culture - even for teenagers traditional singing and dancing are cool things to do.


Needless to say, the visit to the school was great. In all honesty, and I am a bit ashamed to admit, I have not immersed myself or explored the cultures here in the South Pacific as much as I should. It is so easy to just go diving or surfing every day, or hang out in the bars and cafes owned by Palangis (white people), and mess around on the internet. Sometimes it is a bit intimidating to walk into a school or village or through a market where I know I will be gawked at. You would think I would be used to it by now, but it still takes an effort. It is much easier to make friends with fellow cruisers who speak the same languages and have at least one common interest than it is to engage the locals.


Speaking of cruiser friends, my friends on the boat Slow Dance showed up this week. In Samoa I spent many a late night partying on the 90 foot luxury yacht with the very cute South African captain. We more or less picked up right where we left off, and have been hitting the bars with force since they arrived. The only thing that is different now is that the owner is on board, and he is quite a character. Some would describe him as a "dirty old man", which is accurate enough, but he is also very generous and treats his crew and their guests well.


He is so generous that has agreed to extend me an invitation to join them (via Sean, the captain) on their boat for a few days. Mom and Dad are concerned that I might never come back... which, if I were a total flake, would be a legitimate concern. However, I have committed to sailing on Rutea to New Zealand, and will follow through with that. But.... man, Slow Dance is a nice boat! Electric winches? Check. Huge dinghy with a 70 horsepower engine? Check. Live aboard chef? Check. Compressor to fill dive tanks? Check. Hot captain? Check.


Ok, ok. I'll stop. You get the point. I am sure I will have many stories to tell after my stint as crew with them. Assuming that I can leave. Be strong....


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

More Cool Shit

If you are sick of hearing about whales and diving adventures, stop reading now. Come back in a few weeks and you can read about how miserable I am on the nasty passage to New Zealand. However, if you are not sick of reading about cool shit, continue.

Yesterday we (I am back aboard Rutea) headed out to anchorage 13, also known as Hunga Island, with Merkava. Anchorage 13 is actually a volcanic crater that turned into a lagoon, with perfectly flat water and a very narrow and shallow entrance to get in to. We were not daunted by the 9 foot depth at the entrance at high tide, even though we draw 6.5 feet. Mom gunned the engine and we made it through the bright turquoise water into the safe, deep blue in seconds flat. On our way in we saw a mother and calf humpback whale hanging out at the entrance, so we thought we might go out in the morning to do some whale watching.

After celebratory beers aboard Merkava, celebrating another safe passage - never mind that it took under two hours - Mark, Yuka and I went for a snorkel outside the lagoon. It was getting to be late in the day and I must admit I was a bit paranoid about sharks, but my fears were unwarranted because the only 2 meter, black tipped reef shark that I did see was totally uninterested in me. I am okay with that.

Unfortunately last night the wind picked up and I woke up many times to the wind howling through the rigging. We were tied up to a mooring, and it takes a leap of faith to believe that a mooring will hold in 25 knots of wind. To make matters worse, the reef of the lagoon was not 500 feet behind us. I don't think any of us got a good night sleep. By the time 6:00 AM rolled around this morning the wind had generated some pretty choppy seas, even inside the lagoon, so Merkava and I canceled our morning whale watching trip. We heard on the morning net that the winds were supposed to pick up even more, so we decided to leave the lagoon because if the winds get too strong at Hunga Island, boats can be trapped inside if the pass out to the ocean gets too rough. We did not want that to happen.

Rutea and Merkava headed out to sea (once again) and ended up back at Lape Island, home of our favorite dive spot, Mushroom Mountain. This afternoon Mark, Yuka and I went diving out there for the fourth time. You would think a dive on the same reef would get boring after a while, but every dive has been so different it has held my interest. The dive was cool - tons of cool fish, some tuna, an octopus, etc. But the coolest part happened once the dive was over.

As we were pulling up the dinghy anchor to head back to the boats, I noticed a whale spout a hundred meters in front of us. We decided to try to swim with it because it was late enough in the day that all the whale watching boats had returned to Neiafu and would not harass us. Once the anchor was up, we followed slowly and quietly behind the whales, which we realized were a mother, her baby, and a male "escort" (yes - they are actually called escorts). Yuka and I jumped in the water a few times when we thought we were close enough to see them, but no dice.

Finally, Mark drove the dinghy right up to the three whales and they did not swim away. We slid silently into the water, only to see the huge, looming figures of the whales not 20 feet away from us. Amazing. Thrilling. Freaking scary. COOL.

The mom was huge. She was probably 45 feet long, with 15 foot pectoral fins, an 8 foot wide tail, and maybe 20 feet in circumference around her body. She was massive. Her baby, which swam right next to her at her eye level, was tiny in comparison. It must have been a newborn, because it was less than 10 feet, blew very tiny spouts, and looked all wrinkly like a newborn baby does. The male escort, which swam under and a few meters to the side of the mom and baby, was much smaller than the mother, but huge nonetheless.

The whales were very gentle, slow and methodical in their swimming, but they could have easily killed us with one slap of the tail. In all honesty I was pretty scared to be swimming along side these majestic, powerful and awe-inspiring creatures, but the thrill and my adrenaline pumping kept me afloat. After swimming in a wide circle with us, the whales took off. I think they were well aware of us, and it almost seemed to me like the mom was proudly showing off her new baby to us. Who knows, but they certainly could have avoided us if they wanted.

After they left we did not follow them again, too stoked on what we just did to try and replicate it. With big smiles, high fives, and a few, "Oh my god!! That was so.... wowww!!"'s, we headed back to the boats. Unfortunately none of us had cameras so there is no photographic evidence, but I don't think any photo could have done the experience justice anyway.

Sorry, did I get a little mushy there? Don't worry, I am not going to go join Whale Wars or anything, but man, save the whales!

Anyway, we have been invited to visit a kindergarten of the small village we are anchored in front of tomorrow. It should be a good time. After that (and perhaps another dive or a snorkel) we are heading back to Neiafu where some serious partying is in order: Dad's birthday is on the 1st, and my amigos on Slow Dance just arrived. This spells trouble. Should be a good time as well.
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At 9/28/2011 5:29 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 18°42.44'S 174°04.18'W

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Dive, Drink, Sleep, Repeat

On Wednesday we left Neiafu for the outer islands, chock full of fresh food, fresh beer, and 3 full air tanks for diving. It was a pretty windy day, so we got to sail for most of the way across flat calm water with 20 knots of wind. Perfect conditions - until we had to bash up wind for the last mile or so - which was not too big of a deal. However, as we were rounding the point to enter Lape Island, we noticed 2 whale watching boats on either side of the bay, with everybody on board staring at us. What are they looking at? I was thinking, until I saw a huge humpback whale surface not 10 feet from the boat, do a 90 degree turn, and slap its fin on the surface to avoid us. I was at the helm and turned hard to starboard to avoid hitting him, or rather, being hit by him. Fortunately he was able to turn fast enough so we did not collide, but it was close. Too close. Then we got the hell out of there before the whale watching people tried to harass us for almost being hit by a whale (which they have been known to do).

That afternoon my friends on the boats Sara Jean II and Merkava and I went for a dive out at our favorite reef, called "Big Knobs" by some and named "Mushroom Mountain" by me. The reef is about 10 feet under water, so we used latitude and longitude coordinates to find it. The weather was still a bit nasty, and our 2 dinghies full of dive gear and people were bashing into 3 foot wind chop to get out there. I didn't mind too much, but it was a bit tricky getting into our gear out there. The dive was cool - we saw a giant Napoleon wrasse and lots of other neat stuff. The coolest part of the dive looking up at the giant coral mountains that look like mushrooms. After the dive we had cold beers to help us warm up.

That was on Wednesday. On Thursday the compressor for the freezer broke, so Mom and Dad took Rutea back to Neiafu with the hopes of getting it fixed. I opted to move aboard Merkava for a few days because frankly, while Neiafu is nice, the outer islands are way more fun. So is Merkava.

I moved on board Merkava with my dive gear and ukulele, intending to stay for a night. I ended up staying on Merkava for the past 3 nights. Mark and Yuka are the kind of people who do not do things half assed, so when they get into things such as diving, they go all out. Our typical day was wake up, play music, eat breakfast, go for a dive, come back, eat ramen noodles, and then start drinking. We have been diving every day for the past week and Mark is planning to go back into Neiafu to refill all our tanks tomorrow.

I like diving. It does not replace surfing, but it is nice to have another water activity to take away some of the pain of not surfing. It is amazing to be able to breathe under water, to follow fish around, swim through canyons, under arches and closely study coral. But, in all honesty, I find free diving much more of an adrenaline rush (perhaps it is the lack of air...). One of the dives we did was at Mariner's cave. The cave entrance is about 10 feet under water and one has to swim in another 10 feet (or so) into the dark tunnel to come up in the cave. I had done the dive before and it is super cool, but I really wanted to free dive it.

Looking at the black, gaping mouth of the cave was intimidating, as was knowing that I couldn't surface if I wanted to until I was well inside the cave - even though I had been in it before. My first attempt was unsuccessful. I dove down too deep and got about half way in, looked into the darkness, looked back into the light, and headed for the light. I came up gasping for breath, even though I can swim way deeper and farther. It is notion of swimming into a confined space into total darkness that is so scary. However, I overcame my fear and made a dash for it, successful the second time. I was proud of myself for making it free diving, even though we dove it with tanks right after. Scuba diving Mariner's cave is cool too because there is a second exit about 50 feet down, which would be nearly impossible (and hella freaking gnarly) to free dive out of. It is easy but exciting with dive gear on.

And so, the last few days have been full of under water adventures, living on board Merkava with Mark and Yuka, and enjoying much of what Tonga has to offer. I think we have been here close to a month, but 1. it doesn't feel like we have been here that long, and 2. there is so much more to explore. Unfortunately Dad is already talking about preparing to leave... but I don't wanna go to New Zealand.... yet!
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At 9/25/2011 2:18 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 18°42.03'S 174°01.79'W

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Wooooooooo?

Glenda and me (left) feeding the fishies
(this picture may or may not have been taken in Bora Bora)



Woooooooo. Eeeeiiiiiiaahhhhhhhh. You know the whales are close when you can hear them out of the water. You know the whales are even closer when you stick your face in the water and they are RIGHT THERE, just hanging out, swimming around.


We are currently anchored in the outer islands of Vava'u, and yesterday Mark, Yuka and I went illegal whale watching. In Tonga whale watching boats have a "monopoly" on the whale watching business, meaning that (in theory) you have to pay 300 Pa'anga (about $200) to go swim with the whales. You can be fined (I don't know how much) if you are caught swimming with the whales on your own. Not that the tours take any special precautions not to bother the whales or anything, it is simply for economic reasons. We said to "hell with it, nobody can own the whales, man," so early Saturday morning we jumped in the dinghy and set out to find some whales.


We saw a whale right outside the anchorage, but it swam away when we headed in its direction. It was not until we were out in the middle of nowhere - still in sight of land, but far out - that we saw a mom and her calf swimming around. We motored over very slowly and quietly to where they were. They swam away. Things went on like this for an hour or so, until we just sat in the dinghy with the motor off, listening to their songs getting louder and louder. I stuck my head in the water and from their songs it sounded like they were right next to us. Then Yuka hit me on the shoulder, "They are RIGHT THERE!!"


I stuck my head back in the water and sure enough, a mother and her calf were swimming not 20 feet from the boat. I managed to grab my camera and snap a few shots before they dove, but I was too stunned (and a little scared) to actually get in the water with them. Mark and Yuka were also too awestruck by being so close to them to do anything but stare. When I took my head out of the water I was giggling and shaking - it was pretty thrilling just to see the whales under water.


We followed a few more spouts and saw a calf breach a few times, but now it was getting later in the morning and the whale watching boats started to show up. We got out of there pretty fast to avoid being harassed.


I got back to the boat about 10 AM, which was high tide, so I wolfed down some breakfast and then suited up (yes, I wear a wetsuit in 80 degree water) to go snorkel the coral gardens. You have to snorkel the coral gardens at high tide because it requires swimming out past a very shallow reef on which waves break (unsurfable waves, unfortunately). The current was very strong swimming out and we all struggled a bit, but it was pretty exciting. I was roasting in my wetsuit from swimming so hard, but was glad I had it on because I would have many reef cuts if I didn't.


The coral gardens are exquisite. The sea floor is a carpet of brightly colored coral with exotic looking fish swimming in and out of crevasses. I saw a big octopus and had a great time watching the waves heave and tube over the reef (from the back) and listening to the whale songs. We didn't see any more whales but heard them well.


That evening there was a "feast" put on by the local village of Lape Island to raise money to rebuild the pier that was destroyed in the last cyclone. A bunch of us yachties went in and were fed traditional foods, including a roasted pig and canned corn beef - which is not local and not particularly good, but extremely popular here. The meal itself was not... superb, but the atmosphere was friendly and fun. Before the meal the Tongans said a prayer which included something to the effect of, "we thank God for this food and will remember those in the world who do not have enough to eat..." I though this was very interesting because one could consider these people impoverished, and yet they are still concerned with people in the world poorer than themselves. They followed the prayer with a beautiful a cappella hymn which almost made me want to go to church in the morning to hear the singing. Almost.


Instead of going to church we went on another whale watching expedition, this time with Mom and Dad as well. We were ready for the whales this time, and when we saw one close enough to the dinghy we all jumped in the water and swam over them for about a minute, until they dove deep and disappeared. It was pretty amazing and a little eerie to be in the water with such a huge creature. Aside from that one whale, we did not see any others. Maybe they were taking Sunday off, like everybody else around here does - except us extreme folks.


After whale watching Mark and I went on a dive with two guys from another boat. As we were getting in the water a huge whale breached not 100 feet from the boat. That made it a little intimidating to get into the water. Once in the water the whale songs were so loud I could feel the vibrations coursing through my body. We also heard a few crashes that I assume were whales breaching very close by. Pretty thrilling. The dive was amazing, with coral towers in the shape of giant mushrooms towering 60 feet up toward the surface. Tons of fish, big and small, all sorts of cool shit, etc., etc.


Ok, I think this is enough.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

You-a-Focka

Euakafa... or whatever you want to call it.

Or Euakafa. Whatever. These Tongan names are tricky. Regardless of the funny names, some of the places around the Vava'u group of Tonga are freaking amazing. The Vava'u group of Tonga consists of hundreds of volcanic islands, bays and reef systems that make for some great cruising. Imagine flat calm waters surrounding small, palm tree covered islands with white sandy beaches, and a pod of whales breaching in the distance. This is Tonga. It is cool.

We have been here just over a week, and only on Saturday did we venture out of Neiafu Harbor. The town of Neiafu is the biggest town in Vava'u, with lots of bars and restaurants catering to the cruising community. They always have some event going on, whether it be a rugby game, bingo, a lecture on whales, pizza night, etc. All of the cafes have wi-fi so it is not unusual to go in to meet your friends at the bar for a good internet session.

Neiafu is a nice place but it is also a nice place to get out of. On Saturday the Vava'u Regatta (see last blog post) set up a race to Ano beach where a full moon dance party was to take place. Unfortunately there was absolutely no wind for the race, so after 3 hours of going 1-3 knots, I talked Dad into to turning on the motor so we could get to the bay this century.

Although it was raining for most of the afternoon, it cleared up at night and there was an epic dance party on the beach - complete with a DJ, fire dancing and techno light show - until about 2 AM. Some of the local Tongan guys got a bit rowdy, but I do not think there are parties like this too often in Tonga, so they had to make it count.

Ano Bay was nice, but after two days we decided to head back to Neiafu, mostly so that I could finish my (damned) online dive course and get my certification done. On the way back we stopped at Euakafa Island, which my friends on Merkava affectionately renamed Euafaka (You-a-focka). Euakafa reminds me more of the Tuamotus more than any other place we have been since. This means that there was bright blue water surrounded by vibrant reef full of different colored coral, tons of fish, sea turtles, and a shark or two. As we motored over to the reef to snorkel we saw huge splashes in the distance from humpback whales breaching out of the water. But by far the coolest part of the snorkel was hearing the whales sing when I dove under the surface. They were faint but distinct whale songs.

Unfortunately the anchorage at Euakafa is only a day anchorage (not good to stay overnight at) so we had to move on before night. In the afternoon we headed back to Neiafu, mostly so that I could get internet to finish my online dive course. After not studying for a year, sitting in front of a computer processing information and answering questions has been incredibly difficult. Not to mention that I was doing all my studying in a bar/cafe/restaurant with extremely slow internet and friends stopping by to share a beer or whatnot.

Miraculously I was able to finish the course (scored 97% on my final exam! (with the help of Yuka)) and tomorrow I start the fun part - the actual diving. Although I am not certified yet, Mark, Yuka and I decided to celebrate by going on a dive to Swallows Cave this afternoon. I did not have my own tank, but shared a tank of air with Yuka and used her secondary regulator.

The cave was stunning. The entrance is about 15 feet deep and the inside of the cave goes to about 50 feet. The coolest part about the cave was being in the back of it in the dark, and looking out into the neon - blue - koolaid colored water illuminated by the sunlight. I did not have my camera with me (it would have broken from going too deep) but I am sure you could Google "Swallows Cave, Tonga" for some pictures. Not only was the water amazing but when I surfaced I could hear the bats in the cave chirping to each other. When we exited the cave we swam through a little tunnel to get out that was maybe 4 feet in diameter and 20 feet long. It was dark in the tunnel but I headed for the bright blue light and everything was fine. In fact, everything was very, very cool.

Tonight I said goodbye to my friend Lars who is heading to Fiji tomorrow. I am a bit sad to see him leave, but that is how things are out here. Friends come and go... but there are always new friends to be made and old ones to meet up with. I look forward to it all.
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At 9/13/2011 1:13 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 18°39.79'S 173°58.90'W

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