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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bittersweet Symphony

I know that I am always complaining about how bittersweet everything is, but it is better than complaining about how bitter everything is, right? And I wouldn't want you to get the impression that life is smooth sailing all the time, because it is not. Especially right now. We are en route from Toau (Tuamotus) to Tahiti (Society Islands). It is very rolly with wind chopped seas and was all night - I think collectively the three of us got maybe 5 hours of sleep. Maybe. But that's what we get for only doing day sails and anchoring in flat calm lagoons for the past three weeks.

Another bittersweet aspect of this leg of the journey: leaving the Tuamotus. I love the Tuamotus. They are wild. They are pristine. They are remote. They are uninhabited for the most part, but the places that are inhabited are so by the most friendly people in the world. They are the quintessential "getaway" spot, but are not touristy at all. So it is sad to leave them. Who knows if I will ever return? I would like to think I will, but therein lies the traveler's dilemma: To return to places one knows and loves, or venture somewhere new and unknown with the hopes of finding another special place. For now I have chosen the latter, and thus am on my way to Tahiti.

Don't get me wrong. I am really stoked to get to Tahiti. To me Tahiti means civilization - grocery stores well stocked with vegetables, reliable internet so that maaybe I can post pictures of the past 2 months, laundry facilities so that I can have clean clothes, and (most importantly) surf shops and tours so that somebody can give me some local knowledge about how to score some waves around here! Really, Tahiti is a pretty big milestone for us. Papeete (prounced "Pah-pae-et-tae", not "Pah-peet") is the first major city we will arrive in since Mexico. It feels like we have been in the outback; the rugged wilderness of Polynesia (of course with the civilized air of the French). Now back to real "civilization" with cars and traffic and a huge tourist industry, along with all the aforementioned commodities. (I feel another bittersweet theme coming on here. Ha.)

Back to the last few days in Toau - we were moored in a very cool little cove that was actually on the outside of the lagoon. Hard to explain, but worthwhile to visit if you are ever in the area. The snorkeling was great, especially outside the pass (which wasn't really a pass, but a potential surf spot with the right swell). The coral shelf stretched out past the atoll about 100 meters and then dropped sheer off into the deep blue abyss. Swimming above it right on the edge of the drop off was eerie, especially when a reef shark would emerge out of the blue and swim around us curiously. In the coral shelf there were also huge grottos or pits in the reef, which were cool to dive down into to check out all the little (and not so little) creatures in the nooks of the coral. The visibility was about 80 feet. Will I ever see something like this again? I hope so.

A brief summary of the Tuamotus (all my personal opinion, of course):

Favorite overall place: Tetamanu Village, South Fakarava

Best snorkeling: West pass, Makemo

Best wave: N/A :(

Sharkiest Spot: Tahanea

Best Poisson Cru: Valentin's house, Toau

Ok, enough of that. We now have 113.0 nautical miles to go (out of 225) to get to Tahiti. We should arrive with the sunrise tomorrow.
At 5/31/2011 7:32 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 16°36.27'S 147°39.64'W

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Melancholy Mood

The problem with finding paradise is that ultimately, you have to leave paradise. Although I was invited to live at Tetamanu village and be the resident ukelele rockstar, along with a marriage proposal from Silas - complete with the gift of a black pearl that signified our engagement - I knew that I could not stay in south Fakarava forever, although a part of me would like to. Our three month visa for French Polynesia is coming closer to expiring every day, and there is so much more to see. Yes, I am pretty sure that marrying a French Polynesian would give me citizenship so I could stay here forever, but... well... I am young and am not ready to settle down. Flattering nonetheless.

The day before we left south Fakarava, William taught me how to paddle an outrigger canoe. Whereas I would not want to cross a large body of water in one, they are fast and fun! I am going native. Later that night Silas and William came out to the boat to play music and hang out. They were very impressed with our GPS system - they said we were like the Mafia or the secret police. Dad showed them their homes on Google Earth and they were blown away. It is a pretty cool perspective that as of yet most people in the world have not seen. We drank Hinano beer and played music late into the night and we were all sad to depart.

Making new friends made me realize how acutely I miss my friends. My San Diego homies, my Santa Cruz buddies, my Punta de Mita amigos and the wonderful people I have met on my travels, yes, I miss you all. Not to say that I am not making friends with the people here, obviously I am (when there are friends to me made). But, there are a few small issues with the friends I make here: 1. the locals I make friends with I spend a few days with and then will probably never see again; 2. the cruisers I make friends with all have their own itineraries, speeds, and destinations so it is hard to keep track of each other; and 3. most of the cruisers out here are a solid 30 years older than me. Granted, there are some young people out here, but they are few and far between. Basically, what I am saying is that I do not have a companion with my same interests in activities.

Am I complaining? Maybe a bit. But even in the most beautiful places in the world that many people only dream of visiting, even with the bill footed and every comfort imaginable (on a sailboat), its not all peaches and cream. I think the tropics have kind of a bipolar atmosphere - one minute it will be bright and sunny and calm and the next minute it will be pouring rain, windy, and (almost) cold. Feelings here can be the same way - sometimes I get swallowed up in the beauty and majesty of this place, other times I just want to be away from it. But I guess we all feel that way sometimes, regardless of where we are. C'est la vie.

It's funny. I consider myself to be pretty salty. I have crossed the Pacific Ocean a few times, cruised Mexico quite a bit, am (almost) six months out en route to New Zealand, and have been sailing my whole life. Then we meet these people who have been cruising for ten years with no destination or plan to stop any time soon. They tell stories about sailing up the Gambier river in Africa and having to watch out for hippos and baboons and crocodiles in the anchorages. They tell stories of sailing around the Cape of Good Hope and Tierra del Fuego, Easter Island and Robinson Crusoe Island. Mexico? Ha! The kiddie pool. And of course they have been here before, and were kind enough to take us to their favorite snorkeling places where we saw morey eels and lion fish. I had only seen lion fish in an aquarium before, but they are much cooler in the wild - dangerous and exotic. Look, but don't touch.
At 5/28/2011 9:15 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 15°48.18'S 146°09.13'W

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Paradise Found

I think this might be the coolest place I have ever been. Let me tell you why:

First of all, I have been palling around with Amanda, the daughter of our friends on Sara Jean II, who flew in to visit her parents. What a difference having a friend my age to hang out with makes! Yesterday we made friends with the people who work at the "Guest House" and the dive shop in the village (population 12). Serge- an old Polynesian surfer- told us to be at the restaurant if we wanted to go surf in the morning, which of course I was stoked on.

This morning Amanda and I arrived at the restaurant at 8:00 A.M. where we met Serge who said the waves would be bad because the tradewinds are blowing today. I was a bit disappointed (and a bit relieved, I'll admit) but we decided to hang out and have a cup of coffee. The deck of the restaurant hangs over a coral reef that is covered with sharks, and drops off into the deep blue of the pass where we watched sharks and manta rays swim around.

Not long after, Silas and William, two young guys who we met the previous day, wanted to take us out to look at the waves in their sketchy little Boston Whaler dinghy. After coffee we all jumped in the whaler (nearly sinking it) and headed out. After cruising around in the chop and making sure that the waves were not surfable, we went back inside the lagoon and they took us to a motu (island) on the other side of the pass with light pink, coral sand.

After we beached the dinghy William scrambled up a 25 foot coconut palm and, standing on the fronds, picked coconuts and threw them down to Silas, who smashed them open on a sharp stick and served Amanda and me fresh young coconut water. After eating and drinking our fill of various stages of coconut, we headed out to walk over to a small sand motu- really just a mound of sand in the lagoon (think postcard). Walking from motu to motu is not as easy as it might look. The sand has sharp coral pieces in it and there were sea cucumbers everywhere. The guys insisted on carrying us on their shoulders, and of course Amanda and I were laughing hysterically the whole time. Once we got to the motu we took a bunch of pictures (the guys really wanted the prom-esque poses), went for a swim, and played "football" with a coconut. I have huge scratches where I was tackled in the sand, but it was all in good fun.

After we got tired of the fun and games we returned to the village where we drank a coca-cola and relaxed in the shade for a bit. Then William wanted to take us to the "Bird Motu" (Silas had to work). We cruised northward up the lagoon and came to a motu that had tons of birds in the trees. William ran into his friend Tama, who is camping on the motus and fishing. He invited us to go fishing with him and then have a barbecue, but not before rolling up a cigarette with a palm frond filled with some Tuamotu shwag.

Tama and William set out a net across a little waterway and threw rocks up-current to chase the fish into the net. In no time they had caught 10 little parrot-looking fish. William dug a pit and made a fire, then covered it with coral rocks to make a kind of smoke oven, while Tama cleaned the fish. Tama made his version of poisson cru, which was really just the raw fresh fish mixed with a little water straight from the lagoon. It was a kind of hard to eat. The fish that was cooked/smoked on the coral rocks over the fire was then cleaned in the salt water, and then eaten by us. I am not sure I have ever had more tasty fish in my life. Tre delicious. Tama told us this is how his grandfather cooked his fish, as I am sure hundreds of generations before him did as well. After a great meal and a nice rest in the shade, William dropped Amanda and me off at our respective boats, but not before making plans to play music together at the restaurant tonight.

After a nice dinner on Sara Jean (more fish!) Amanda and I were picked up by William and Silas, this time in one of the big tourist speed boats, and took us back to the restaurant where a few tourists and the Guest House workers were hanging out drinking beers and playing music. I brought my ukulele and had a great time jamming with them. They were very impressed by the fact that a girl can play an instrument, and were blown away by my pathetic lead guitar. We all had a great time singing "La Bamba", "Hotel California", and Bob Marley songs together.

All day Amanda and I had been using broken English, even more broken French, and lots of hand signals to communicate. Orama, the young woman who essentially runs the guest house, speaks English very well and I talked with her a lot. She acted as translator between everybody all night, giving the guys endless shit about how bad their English is. She was very sweet and patient with my French (which has gone from non-existent to very bad, which I think is an improvement). At one point she got very serious and said, "The boys want to give you a gift." I am thinking... uh oh... and then she said, "This is very serious. They found beautiful shells for you, BUT, it is forbidden to take them from the reef. They take them for you anyway." I said, "Oh no! That is awful, they should leave the reef intact!" She frowned and said, "No, no, it is very special. Everybody does it anyway."

That's when I realized that one of the reasons that this place is so amazing is because of how pristine it is; how underdeveloped it is; how remote and off the beaten track it is. The scary thing is that I do not know how much longer it will last. I have heard that the diving in Tahiti and Moorea is terrible now because all the reefs have been killed off due to industrialization and being overrun with tourism. Are the Tuamotus next?

I hoped not, as I looked around quaint little restaurant with its thatched walls, a warm breeze and cheerful music flowing through the room, and the smiling faces of my new friends who, by the end of the night were telling me, "Je t'aime."
At 5/22/2011 7:51 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 16°30.38'S 145°27.33'W

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Kelly Surfs Here

If you don't know who Kelly Slater is... you should. On paper he is the best surfer in the world. In the real world he is one of the best surfers in the history of surfing. I guess that is why the locals here are so proud of the fact that Kelly Slater comes here to surf. I probably shouldn't divulge the location of this secret spot (cough cough- southpassfakarava- cough cough) but anybody who comes this far out of their way to surf better know damn well what they are doing. While I have come this far, I am not so confident in my surfing skills, especially because I have not surfed in ages.

After leaving Tahanea at first light yesterday, we motored to the south pass of Fakarava- about a 50 mile passage- with sheet glass water. No wind. Dad put out a line and a couple hours later we snagged a 25 pound tuna. More sushi!! The fish put up a good fight but eventually succumbed to being my dinner.

We arrived at the south entrance to Fakarava around one in the afternoon and headed right in, figuring that the tide was slack enough to make it. As we entered I watched huge waves peel perfectly (well, not so perfectly, but gnarly) across the reef on the left side of the pass. Looking at the wave from the back they were about four feet, from the front about eight. Eight foot, top to bottom, barreling and crashing on razor sharp reef six inches below the surface, waves. Absolutely beautiful and terrifying at the same time. I wanted to sit and watch the waves come in forever, but there was a good current pushing us through the pass so I only saw a few.

As soon as we anchored I launched the kayak and headed into shore. There is a small resort (if you can even call it that) with thatched, open-air huts that look out onto the crystal blue waters of the lagoon. I am sure this is where Kelly stays when he is here. A perfect place for a honeymoon- especially for surfers (and divers). I tied up my kayak by a little hut and walked down a grassy, palm tree lined road to the pass, smiling and saying "iorana" (hello, in Tahitian) to the few people I saw.

Then I walked out and watched the wave (the left). It was a glassy, 6-8 foot day. A wave would come out of very deep water and stack up on the very shallow reef, pitch a barrel down the line, spit, the next section would suck over a boulder and close out, then another barrel, more spit, and then peel nicely on the shoulder onto dry reef. Can you visualize that? The wave was not make-able. Not to me at least, and nobody else was surfing it either. The right, across the pass, looked a bit more mellow, but I was too far away to tell. While it was refreshing to see a wave again, I have realized what I am in for if I really want to surf, and it is gnarly.
At 5/21/2011 3:35 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 16°30.38'S 145°27.32'W

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Nature Preserves

Sharks. Lots of them. And not just minding their own business, but a little too friendly, a little too curious, a little too... aggressive.

We arrived in Tahanea after leaving Makemo at 5:30 a.m. a few days ago (hard to keep track). We managed to get the anchor up without a hitch, and as the tide was ebbing we figured it wouldn't be a problem to get through the pass. We didn't have any "problem" getting out of the pass at Makemo, but we did hit 13.3 knots, and we did see a couple nasty looking whirlpools. Regardless, we survived.

Upon our arrival in Tahanea we were greeted by a bunch of sharks who seemed to be overly interested in the boat. I thought it could be because we caught a fish on the way over and the shark could still smell the blood on the deck- even though it was washed off. I learned that a shark can detect one part blood in 100 million parts water, so it is possible. I also learned that tiger shark fetuses can bite, but that is irrelevant (for now). In other places there have been lots of sharks that swim by the boat and pay it no attention, but these sharks are well aware of us. I decided not to go swimming.

The next morning (yesterday, I think), Yuka swam over to the boat. She snorkeled around a bit before jumping in the kayak because the sharks were swimming "right at her!" She and I kayaked around the boat and watched about 8 black tipped reef sharks circle the kayak. They came within 2 feet of the kayak but I felt pretty safe, until one of us tipped the kayak too far to one side and we would both scream.

After that shark encounter we decided to go snorkel away from the boat, so Yuka, Mark and I found a nice coral head covered with fish to swim around for an hour. We saw a few sharks but they were totally uninterested in us. I like that. Plus, there are so many other fish around that it would be silly for a shark to try to eat me when they could have a much nicer meal.

Later in the afternoon we decided to do a pass dive (snorkel). The tide was coming in so we went to the outside of the pass in the dinghy to float in with the current. We got in the water and were swimming along nice and easy with a few knot current pushing us. Then I saw a shark- a big (probably 5 feet) grey reef shark. It was swimming RIGHT at me. I faced it and swam away, backing up into Mark, who was towing the dinghy. Just as I grabbed on to the dinghy it turned and swam right under me. Then it turned around and started swimming right at Mark, turning just before it was going to run into him. Soon enough the three of us were hanging on to the dinghy, being circled by 2 sharks who were wayyy too interested in us. A friend had told me that the reef sharks are "generally friendly but will sometimes swim at you, which can be nerve racking until you get used to it."

We were all trying to keep cool with the sharks swimming around us, but finally one got too close and all three of us dove head first into the dinghy. We were all cracking up. Yuka said, "wow, we are such a bunch of losers!" Yeah, letting those 2 dumb sharks get the better of us. I don't think they would have attacked us, but they certainly were intimidating.

We decided to go check out the "village" after that. The village contained a "yacht club" (a rusting tin roof and some plywood), a water cistern, and of course, a church. Nobody lives here, but the church was well maintained and as far as I could tell, ready for mass.

Today was a hot, lazy day. We snorkeled the northern pass, but again the current was so strong we moved too fast to really see anything, and fortunately we didn't run into any aggressive sharks (only nice ones). Earlier in the day Yuka and I found a huge morey eel in the shallows, so in the afternoon we went back with a piece of (cooked) fish and tried to lure it out of its cave. We found it and dangled the fish in front of it, and it was curious, but no bites. We went for another snorkel around a coral head in the evening before sunset to cool off.

Tomorrow, assuming we can get the anchor up, we will leave for Fakarava. I have been told that there is a nice A-frame wave at the south pass, which I am excited to check out, although I have come to the realization that if I surf here I will be sitting on a shark infested reef, waiting for waves or anything else that comes along. Wanna join me?
At 5/19/2011 2:15 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 16°51.02'S 144°41.54'W

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ooooooo, Barracuda!

While the atoll is beautiful with picture perfect settings around every corner, it can really be a pain in the ass to come and go around. Anchoring has been very eventful- entertaining, stressful, and time consuming, here in Makemo and probably will continue to be throughout the Tuamotus.

A few days ago we left the south-east corner of the atoll. Rather, we tried to leave, and then as we were pulling up the anchor it got stuck on a little coral formation (called a "bommie"). We nearly tore the windlass out of the deck trying to get the anchor up. I was at the helm and I could feel the chain jerk taut and the stern start to come out of the water when we tried reverse to free it. This was about 7 a.m., and we were anxious to get going because we had to cross the lagoon with the sun behind us so we could see the coral heads that would probably sink a boat if it hit hard enough.

The anchor was stuck. Dad wanted to deploy another anchor to take the stress off the stuck one to try to un-stuck it, and it was a drag to get it out and rig it up, etc. I decided to try to dive the anchor to see what was wrong with it, but we were in 40 feet of water and I can't free dive that deep. I tried anyway. As soon as I jumped in the water I saw a shark and I decided I would make a terrible breakfast, so I was okay. I went down to inspect the anchor but the damn shark kept swimming around it, so I kept my distance. I realized the problem with the anchor and was able to give directions from the water so that the boat was freed. Hooray!

We made our way across the lagoon keeping a sharp eye out for coral heads. They have aptly been renamed "mofo's" by Mark on Merkava, and the Tuamotus are now the Tuamofos. We pulled into a beautiful anchorage on the opposite side of the lagoon just inside a long reef that sticks out like a finger from the shallows into the deep water. There was more sand and fewer bommies so we anchored easily.

Yuka and I immediately went snorkeling at the reef and saw tons of black tipped reef sharks. I got a few good pictures that I will try to post when we get internet again. Yuka and I decided we would go snorkeling again later in the day. The sun sets here at about 5:15 and is totally dark by 6. We recruited Mom and Mark to go with us on our afternoon snorkel, which ended up being a dusk snorkel because we got in the water around 4:30. Dinner time. We didn't see too many sharks, only 2, but we saw an eel, 2 octopi, and tons of fish. There seemed to be lots more activity in the evening.

Last night Yuka taught me how to make sushi and we had a delicious sushi dinner on Merkava. We did not have any fresh fish because the fish in lagoons can carry ciguatera- a poison that can accumulate in and kill humans, and we didn't think it was worth it to take the risk. Nobody was brave enough to grab an octopus or eel either. The sushi was superb nonetheless. When we got in the dinghy to go back to Rutea the moon was so bright and the water so clear that we could see the bottom- about 25 feet deep.

Today we moved to the entrance of the west pass. There is only one small sandy spot to anchor in, so Merkava and Rutea are about 20 feet apart. It is kind of fun, we can talk to each other from our boats and throw beers back and forth easily. This afternoon we set out to snorkel the pass/entrance. We thought we were going to hit it at slack tide, but our tide information is wrong and there was a few knot current sucking out when we got in the water. Fortunately Dad stayed in the dinghy and floated next to us so we could hop in the dinghy before we got sucked out to sea (or saw something scary that required a quick evacuation).

The coral in the pass is amazing. The shelf, which extends a few meters into the pass is covered with little fish, and then drops off steeply into the pass. Lots of white tipped reef sharks were swimming along the slopes, along with every brilliantly colored reef fish I could imagine. The only problem was that the current was so strong that I floated by everything too fast. Even swimming my hardest against the current I was getting sucked out. It was like an elevator. Or a moving sidewalk. When we got to the end of the reef we got in the dinghy, went back inside the pass, jumped back in the water and floated back out. There is so much cool stuff to see I could have done it all day and not gotten bored. The scariest thing I saw, aside from some pretty big sharks (which is more thrilling than scary) was a big barracuda, just sitting in the pass watching us. Oooooooooo, Barracuda!

Tomorrow we are leaving Makemo and heading for Tahanea. It is a nature preserve... which probably means that the stories will be the same: snorkel, shark, fishes, coral heads, etc., etc.
At 5/16/2011 2:32 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 16°26.70'S 143°57.26'W

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Octopus's Garden

I'd like to be, under the sea... or rather, I've been under the sea. Lots. Today I discovered the best toy on the boat (although the kayak is a close rival). This toy is the hookah. Not the Middle Eastern water pipe that Israelis and high school kids like to smoke out of, but an air compressor with a 60 foot hose with a regulator attached to it. This means that so long as I stay near the boat, I can (essentially) dive, and without all that pesky dive gear. All I need is the hookah, a mask and fins, some weights, and cajones! (It's a bit scary down there.)

Today was my first time breathing under water, and it was one of the most bizarre things I have ever done. Totally counter-intuitive. But freaking awesome. The water here is about 40 feet deep, and the visibility is such that the bottom is easily visible, even from out of the water. My first few attempts I only went down 15 or 20 feet, which I can do free diving, and I kept forgetting to breathe. Then I would remember to breathe and start to hyper-ventilate a bit. I didn't like being under water like that alone.

Fortunately, our friends on Merkava are anchored about 100 feet from us, so I swam over and got Yuka in the water with me. She was stoked on the hookah too. On her first try she went down to the bottom and poked around for a good amount of time. I thought, if this chick who probably weighs 100 pounds and is about 5 feet tall can do it, so can I! My next dive I went down slowly, keeping an eye out for unwanted visitors (i.e. sharks). I passed a gnarly, giant coral head probably 20 feet tall, covered in all sorts of different fishes. When I finally made it down to the bottom, I grabbed a handful of sand triumphantly. Then I looked over, and there was... Yuka! The crazy girl free-dove down 35-40 feet, smiled and waved at me, and shot back toward the surface. Looking up, the bottom of the boat looked far away, but I managed to breathe and rise slowly to the surface, even though I felt like my heart was going to burst with adrenaline. There is something about being that far under water that kind of freaks me out. It sure is exhilarating though.

Yuka and I snorkeled around the boat for a bit and saw a little shark; I am sure glad I didn't see it when I was down under! We took the kayak over to the shallows and snorkeled around some more, but it was not as cool as yesterday. Yesterday we saw an eel in the coral, a bright orange octopus, and all sorts of cool looking fish. Then we got out of the water and walked around a Motu. We saw a baby black-tipped reef shark and a bunch of eels swimming in the shallows. We also saw these nasty looking creatures that kind of looked like a brown snake, but had tentacles at its head, shoveling sand into the hole I assume was its mouth. When we poked it, it scrunched up like an accordion. One of the ugliest creatures I have ever seen. I suppose it is fitting that there are strange creatures in this strange land.

Last night we went to dinner on a 55 foot Catamaran, owned by a very wealthy, semi-loud mouthed dairy farmer from Kansas. He and his Russian girlfriend are interesting... not so much because of what they say, but because of who they are and where they come from. Mark and Yuka also joined us, so there was the three of us from Rutea, a Canadian (Mark), Japanese (Yuka), Russian (Daria), and the farmer from Kansas (Pete). It was an interesting crowd. Fortunately we all have "the boat" (or more accurately, "what has broken recently on the boat" in common) so we had lots to talk about. You would be surprised to know how many dinner conversations revolve around water-makers and refrigeration. Fascinating, really.

And so, life continues to be exciting in spite of the fact that everything is very leisurely and rather sedated around here. Tomorrow we are heading to the west pass of the atoll, which is 30 miles away- a day's sail- all inside the lagoon! Gotta keep an eye on them pesky coral heads that like to pop up outta nowhere, like a mine field, all throughout the lagoon. And allegedly Makemo doesn't even have that many. Right. I can't wait to see other atolls!
At 5/12/2011 11:49 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 16°42.58'S 143°27.87'W

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Atoll

The atoll is one of the most different, most beautiful, and strangest places I have ever been in my life. Upon approach it does not look like much: a clump of palm trees there, some low lying land over there. The pass, or entrance into the lagoon can be treacherous, with waves crashing on the reefs on either side. If the tide is incoming or outgoing and the wind is strong, there can be standing waves of ten feet or higher. After entering the lagoon the water becomes flat calm, although looking across to the other side of the atoll- 5 or 6 miles- the only evidence of land is an occasional spout of white water from waves breaking on the far reef. It is nutty. The scenery, coupled with the fact that this lagoon was once a legitimate, volcanic island like one of the Isle Marquesas, is trippy. Over millions of years the island actually sank under its own weight, and the crown of coral that grew around it is all that remains.

We arrived at the atoll of Makemo, one of the many Tuamotu archipelagoes, early Monday morning. After fretting about the pass for a few days, we entered it without a hitch. (The fretting was legitimate- boats have been known to sink from timing the pass wrong and getting tossed on the reef.) As we entered the pass I saw some waves on the right side that could be rideable, but gnarly. I have yet to go back and scope it out.

The water in the lagoon varies from deep blue in the deeper areas, to a brilliant aqua-marine in the shallows. This particular atoll is 40 miles long and 6 miles across (it was a decent sized island once upon a time), so while it is a lagoon, it is huge. We anchored by the town when we first arrived and met up with our friends from the boat Merkava, who took us in to tour the town.

The town was small, flat, and well maintained. The locals were very friendly and the "super-market" was well stocked- even if a package of romaine lettuce cost $14. I didn't want lettuce anyway. The egg rolls were cheaper so I ate a few of those. There were lots of dogs and cats laying around listlessly, too hot to bother with the newcomers. We tried to buy some baguettes and pain chocolate at the boulangerie, but apparently 9 a.m. is too late. After our tour of the town, we went back to the boat and headed over to the other side of the atoll where the anchoring is better.

The lagoon is generally pretty deep, about 100 feet, but there are giant coral heads that shoot straight up to a few inches under the surface. Thus, one has to be very careful when sailing across it. Other than the coral heads, this place is perfect for sailing- flat water and a nice breeze blowing across. Kite surfing is big here, and judging by the lack of surfing I have been doing, I might have to take it up.

We are anchored in a postcard. Straight up. Crystal clear water, blue fading to aqua fading to turquoise fading to white coral sandy beach. Yesterday we snorkeled around the boat and over to a few coral heads in the shallows. Lots of bright fish and cool looking coral. We checked out a Motu- a little island-like clump of palm trees and plants along the coral reef- you know, like the postcards. We walked over to the other side of the atoll and watched nasty, closed out, powerful, surgey waves break. Definitely not surfable.

Last night I watched "Shallow Seas" Planet Earth. It got me super stoked on taking a closer look at the coral and underwater sea life. Then the shot of the great white shark jumping out of the water and snatching the seal came on... if you don't know what I'm talking about, check it out. So you can imagine my enthusiasm when I went snorkeling today. Granted, there are no great whites here (I hope), but to a certain degree, sharks are sharks.

After scrubbing the hull today we went out in the dinghy about a mile into the lagoon to find a coral head to snorkel around. I was very prepared to see a shark, kinda. After swimming around the coral a few times and not seeing a shark, I was a bit disappointed and a little relieved. The coral was beautiful though. Fluorescent purples, greens and blues, brain coral, fish swimming in and out of the coral, with the deep blue abyss just to the side of it.

Soon enough Mom got out of the water so I asked Dad if he wanted to come in. He was getting read. Just as I put my face back in the water, there it was: SHARK. A beautiful, small (about 4-5 foot) black-tipped reef shark was lurking just below me. It really was a striking creature. Smooth lines, light grey skin and a black fin. It was not interested in me at all, in fact it was following about 3 inches behind some little tropical fish. I almost laughed, and had a degree of sympathy for the fish.

At this point I got out of the water and waited for Dad to get ready because I didn't like being alone with sharky, even if he did not care for me. I (bravely) got back in the water with Dad, who was in about 30 seconds, and after he saw the shark, and then another one, he got out. I'm not saying he's a chicken, but... I'm just saying I'm super brave.

Having had enough sea-life for a day, we went back to the boat where people we met in the Marquesas were pulling up for a visit. What a life. Every time I poke my head out a hatch I am struck by the beauty of this place. Every time I think of where I am in the world I can hardly fathom it. Like I said before, this place is a trip.
At 5/11/2011 4:02 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 16°42.57'S 143°27.87'W

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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Boobies and Other Stowaways

Ah yes, another passage. This 500 mile, 4 day jump from the Marquesas to the Tuamotus has been pretty easy, especially in comparison to the 18 days from Mexico to Hiva Oa. It has been a relatively uneventful passage so far, but we are only a little over half way. There is still time.

There have been a few noteworthy events. As we were leaving Tahioe bay we departed with a farewell from a giant manta ray. Even a few feet under water its wingspan looked to be 10 feet plus.

My favorite thing about passages is that there are no bugs to be bitten by- or at least there shouldn't be. It seems that we had a stowaway, a mosquito, that drove me nuts all the first night. I have big welts where the bastard bit me. You can imagine my delight when I smashed it in my hands after waiting patiently/hunting it, effectively splattering my blood on my hands. I hope your last meal was a good one, you blood-sucking demon. I was thinking writing a script for a TV show: Corie Schneider-- Mosquito Huntress. Catchy, no?

Other stowaways: the Boobie. This morning just as we were finishing a nice breakfast of fresh baked scones, a Boobie (a brown, sea-faring bird) nearly flew into the cockpit. It was scary to have this animal trying to fly into our small little space! It landed on the dodger and Dad starts yelling: SHOO! GET OUTTA HERE YOU DAMNED THING! and Mom is saying, Neal, it needs to rest! NO IT DOES NOT, NOT ON OUR BOAT!

I am not a big fan of birds, but it does make for some entertainment when one lands (or tries to land) on the boat. The bird settled on the dinghy on the back of the boat, not to be discouraged by Dad's yelling at it. Finally Dad gave up and said to it: OK, but if you shit on my dinghy you are going to be in BIG trouble. As Dad came back in the cockpit he said that, "the damned thing didn't even look grateful!"

A few hours later we hooked a nice little tuna, which unfortunately slipped off the gaff as we were trying to get it overboard. Fish tacos sounded mighty tasty...

The seas are calm but so is the wind. We are motoring right now, but if we continue at this pace we will reach Makemo, our first destination, at night. No bueno. Entering the reef passes are sketchy enough during the day, so we will either have to slow down considerably or speed up an unrealistic amount to get there tomorrow. Either way we have to arrive during the daylight.

I have been corresponding with Liz Clark, a badass single-handing, surfer/sailor who has been cruising the South Pacific for years. She said the waves in the Tuamotus are amazing, shallow, reefy slabs. I am having dreams and nightmares about them.

For now, I am just stoked to be on my way!
At 5/8/2011 12:19 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 13°27.78'S 142°07.23'W

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Time to Go

It's about that time to get underway again. The Marquesas have been everything I dreamed they would be and more, but now it is time to move on. This is in part because we only have a 3 month visa for French Polynesia, which expires July 11, and we have a lot more ground (or water, rather) to cover. This is also in part because there is a nasty strain of elephantitus floating around that I would really like to avoid. This is also also in part because the water is murky here and the sharks are mean, and I want to get to the clear water, friendly sharks, and waves!

Don't worry about the elephantitus- I am pretty sure that if I was going to get it I would have already. It is spread by mosquitos and it makes body parts swell up... as I am sure you know. I guess a lot of people here have it, but I thought it was the natural build of the Polynesians to have giant arms and legs. If I get cankles I will blame it on the elephantitus. Yikes.

As for the sharks, I had my first 100% positive "you are a shark" encounter this morning while waiting for Mom and Dad to fill the jerry cans at the fuel dock. It was scary even from the dinghy. And then, this afternoon I had my second 100% positive "you are many sharks" encounter when all the fishermen came to the wharf to clean their daily catch. No sooner did a guy throw a chunk of fish in the water that it was snatched up by a ravenous shark, and then fought for by three ravenous sharks. The water was murky but when the sharks surfaced for food I could see their big fins, their nasty little eyes, their gills, and on a few occasions, their teeth. A friend said that the sharks even bit his paddles as he rowed into shore. Yikes.

You see, sharks are much more dangerous in murky water because they can't see what they are biting. They only perceive that something is there, so they might mistake my foot for a nice little fish. While there are tons of sharks in the Tuamotus, this (hopefully) won't happen because the water is crystal clear. The water is crystal clear because the Tuamotus are coral atolls, and there are no mountains to create runoff and cloud the water.

This also means saying goodbye to the bountiful land. We have stalked up on bananas (pun intended), pamplemousse, oranges, limes, fresh bread and brie. As far as I know the only food that grows naturally in the Tuamotus are coconuts. We provisioned well because there is very little industry and it is not easy (or cheap) to get food and fuel.

The passage is 500 miles and will take 3 or 4 days. Mom and I did a bunch of cooking today so we will not have to do much to eat while underway. Hummus, chili, granola, and hard boiled eggs? I think we will make it. This is cake compared with the crossing from Mexico to the Marquesas!

I tried to post a picture along with this because the internet has been good, but I don't think its going to happen. I was able to get a few on Facebook, so if you want a visual, check 'em out!
At 5/4/2011 11:36 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 08°54.89'S 140°06.32'W

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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Paradise Lost

Apparently I am delicious.

In my last post I told you that I am covered in bites from mosquitos and no-nos. I do not think that is a sufficient description. I have fourteen bites in between my ankle and my knee on my right leg. I also have bites on my ears, neck, arms, hands, other leg, and feet. I could really use some freezing cold Santa Cruz ocean water to numb the itching, as the 83 degree air and water does little to relieve my pain. It is the worst at night when I am trying to fall asleep, with a fan pointed right on me and my sheet wadded up at the foot of my bed. It's pretty hot... although the other day I saw it get down to 72 degrees- and had to put a long sleeve shirt on!

Aside from horribly itchy bug bites, things are going well. We decided to circumnavigate (sail around) Nuku Hiva, so yesterday morning we left Daniel's Bay and were faced with 30 knot winds right out of the East, before 9 A.M.! We ended up bashing into weather for a few hours before we arrived in Hatiheu, on the North side of the island. I was not super amped on the whole thing, but we ended up having a very nice time.

After asking directions from 5 different people, we found the mayor's house and restaurant, Chez Ivonne, right in the center of the village. We made dinner reservations and then set off to find some tikis and ancient ruins up in the valley. After more direction asking we found the sites, which were very nice. The ruins do not look like so much (as most ruins don't) although there were some big rock platforms still standing, and some cool tikis. There was a stone carving of skulls in a basket because the ancient Polynesians used to do human sacrifice at this particular site (and were well known cannibals). I suppose if I were to be killed and eaten I would have wanted FUCK! I JUST KILLED ANOTHER GODDAMNED MOSQUITO! Sorry. If I could eliminate one species from Earth without huge negative repercussions in ecosystems, I would eliminate the mosquito. We have a love/hate relationship: they love me, I hate them.

As I was saying, if I were to be killed and eaten I would have wanted it done at this sacred site because it is surrounded by beautiful fruit trees, huge banyans, tropical plants and a nice green lawn and chickens and horses running around. Chop me up with some of that wild ginger growing over there... we already know I am delicious.

Sorry, I am being silly. Walking back to the village we met Pierre, a French archeologist. He offered to open the museum for us so we could look around, and we accepted. It is a dangerous thing to be shown around a museum by a person who is absolutely passionate about the subject of the museum, in this case Marquesan archeology- especially when hungry- but the museum was small and Pierre told us all sorts of interesting things about rituals, tatooing, and culture.

Dad asked him to join us for dinner, so he and his wife Marie Noelle entertained us with stories of living here in French Polynesia for years. It was interesting to hear their perspective on the politics and socio-economic repercussions of Polynesia being French. Apparently it is very expensive to have colonies. They talked about how all the Polynesians are selling their family land to the banks so they can buy new Ford F-150s and Range Rovers. We talked about the lack of industry here, and how the Polynesians prefer it that way. They do not want to work 5 days a week, they do not want to cater to tourists. They do not have a strong sense of credit and debt. It is a sticky situation, but for the time being, so long as the French keep pumping in money and the land is productive, they are doing alright.

Enough politics. Today we moved to the next bay over, Anaho, and there is tons of live coral here. I found a little wave in the bay and surfed it, but it was small. The water is pretty clear so I felt like I was surfing in 6 inches of water, just barely skimming over the coral heads and urchins, though it was really a few feet deep. Just practicing for the Tuamotus.

So, is this paradise? No. Paradise is a state of mind. One day it can be paradise and the next day it can be hell. Such is life. C'est la vie.
At 5/1/2011 6:14 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 08°49.56'S 140°05.13'W

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