November 28, 2011

How Will She Cope in the Mall?


 People used to ask us if we thought cruising would make Maia weird.
Well, they didn’t ask in those exact words. But I could tell by the careful, “how will you educate her?” and “how will she manage to make friends?” and “will she fit in when she gets back?” that the real question was, “how can a child grow-up to be normal without regular visits to the mall?”

This never used to worry me.
Until we went to the mall.
 The mall visit actually had nothing to do with Maia other than we brought her along on the adventure. Yes, when you are visiting a strange town and going to the mall consists of dinghy driving down waterways in the hopes of travelling through a lock to a canal beside the mall where you will attach your boat to a ?? —it counts as an adventure. Especially because this was no ordinary trip to the mall. This was the ‘reintegrating back into society’ trip, which we were doing in company.
the lock seemed like a great idea until we realized we needed a pass card...
 When you cross the Pacific in some ways it is a solo effort but in other ways it is like summer camp. Almost every activity is done en masse. We troop to the shops together, eat in a crowd, climb mountains in groups and repair things in company. So when it’s time for a haircut, shoes, and (God forbid) a tie—it’s a party. Everyone takes part.
Micheal skipped the new duds but got an Aussie haircut in solidarity--thus the hat
 I’m not sure what the shopkeepers thought as we assembled (wives, kids, supportive friends, curious strangers) by the change rooms and helped Evan and Steve choose clothes—from knickers on out. The men themselves seemed a little bleak at their purchases and more than a little shocked that two-years in flip flops could have such a shocking affect on their shoe size.

The kids though were truly odd.
 They’ve learned to interact in the world differently and the mall was a curiosity more than anything—like archaeological ruins, or an unfamiliar village. It wasn’t a place to covet things they didn’t need but a place to sit on Santa’s knee (and not worry if they’d out grown it), and see how all the kiddie rides work, and admire the books in the book store and make note of ones they hope to find in an exchange somewhere... It was fun, Maia says, but not the sort of place you can go to over and over.
Not like a beach.
 It will take some time—this being back in society thing. It’ll take time for Evan to recover from his Aussie hair cut and time for his new shoes to stop pinching. It’ll take time for Maia to learn what ‘normal’ looks like and find a way to fit in. It’ll take time for our friends to stop waking to check the anchor and realize houses can’t drag. It’ll take time for the magic to fade to a memory and become again a siren song so alluring we can’t help but sail away.

Across the Bar and Back to Reality

heading toward a squall in the Sandy Strait
We woke at 5:30 am to pull out of the Great Sandy Strait.
Actually we wake by 5:30 am most mornings —the sun comes up about 4:45 am… But today we were up so we could cross the bar at Wide Bay Harbour. We wanted to time it right. The Coast Guard suggested going out at two hours before slack water on an flood tide—and we knew that both Discovery and WGD were damaged on their less-perfectly timed crossing, so we wanted to get it right.
C4 aground in the aptly named Sandy Strait
 Cruising through the Sandy Strait was a gentle re-entry into real life. The meandering, mangrove-lined waterway reminded me of the Florida Keys (although Bundaberg is not Key West and Mooloolaba is thankfully not Miami). Or maybe it’s that sense of sailing through a gateway between cruising and being settled. The Florida Keys played the same role for us 14-years ago as we wrapped up a 3.5-year trip.
C4 passing Double Island lighthouse
 Our crossing was easy. The water shallowed and the waves steepened, but then we were out and the sandy cliffs of the Australian Coast unfolded on our starboard side. With 65 miles to cover we unfurled the spinnaker and started to fly. We were sailing in company with six other big cats, but gradually, one by one we overtook each of them. Colourful sails dotted the water behind us and our voyage became deeply symbolic—alone and heading toward our future.
the high rises of Mooloolaba just visible on the horizon
 If you read blogs and books about sailors who go cruising you will read all sorts of things about planning, building, readying and the joy-angst of leaving. You’ll read about setting into the life and adjusting to the changes wrought by simplifying everything. You’ll read about the wonders seen, the profound knowledge gained and the friends made. And if you read long enough, and carefully enough, you’ll start to catch the whiffs of fear as we close with land and prepare to stumble back to shore. But often that’s where the stories end.

What is interesting about reality?

Mooloolaba has high rises. The first seen in eight months. With its posh homes, and winding canals lined with expensive boats it looks like Newport Beach CA, or, more accurately, parts of Florida. We wound our way past the tree lined-walkways filled with Sunday afternoon fun, expensive docks, and chock-o-block marinas to the back, where the free anchorage is and found a snug spot. Then, once settled, we headed along with C4 to dinner on WGD.
Four families--2-3 years of cruising each and it's time for $$

Warm and well-fed in the cockpit (and free of the gargantuan sand flies we discovered in the Sandy Strait) the laughter was the same as it has been all the way across the Pacific--but the conversation had changed. We didn’t talk about wonders seen, or dreams we still have. We talked of plans—but not exotic ones. We talked about dwindling savings, and taxes, and school for our kids. We talked about jobs that need to be started and boats that need to sell.

We talked of haircuts and shoes.


November 26, 2011

Pacific Passage Weather Thoughts


Evan here. I thought I'd pass on some thoughts about weather across the Pacific. Hopefully these hints and ideas will prove useful to future sailors crossing in the following years.

Getting a good grasp of South Pacific weather was really important to us having a successful time. Most weather texts do a poor job of S. Hemisphere weather. Read (& re-read until you are sick of it) Jim Corenman's “South Pacific Weather” 1994 letter – found at the Latitude 38 site.

s/v Soggy Paws website has a good listing of a number of these weather documents.

Read and understand how the cycles of highs and lows that track W to E affect the weather in the tropics. For example it wasn't until F. Polynesia that I realized how a big High will reinforce (strengthen) the SE trades. Read anything else you can get on the S Pacific weather systems. I think our understanding of weather systems was probably better than most cruisers and we never saw more than 25 knots of sustained wind on a passage (more in short lived squalls, but you can't predict them and they really don't affect your comfort).

Have a strategy for crossing the ITCZ at right angles to the equator – not at an angle which extends your time in this area of confused seas and thunderstorms. It is important to recognize the further west you go before crossing the equator, the closer to the wind you will have to sail to get to the Marquesas in typical SE trades. Even crossing at around 128 deg. as we did, we still had BIG beam seas that were uncomfortable for several days. Those crossing around 132-4 had winds well forward of the beam when they headed south.

Concentrate on the big picture as well as local conditions. Every few days it's a good idea to get a large area, coarse GRIB at say 2x2 deg resolution and covers a week or so.

Weather Resources underway 

GRIB files are used by everybody – but they have lots of limitations. Understand the limitations and you will use them better. They are prepared by computers with NO human intervention. Unless you are looking at multiple models, you might miss something that a particular model is not showing. They don't show fronts, and the associated strong winds though they usually get the frontal wind shift. If you see a strong wind shift with nearby low winds beware – that is probably a front with strong winds!

Before you leave cheap and good internet coverage – check out the various fax options from NOAA and find the correct ones for your area. Their schedule covers a lot of areas so I printed it out and used a highlighter on the few ones that I liked. Bookmark the NOAA fax, Fiji weather maps etc. so when you are using expensive internet in F. Polynesia you can go straight to the correct page.

So also use weatherfaxes and online weather maps when you have internet access. The ones I found most useful were the E and Central Pacific 24,48,72 hr surface faxes from NOAA Honolulu, and close to Australia, the 1,2,3,4 day MSLP forecasts from Australia. NOAA GOES IR satellite pics showed the ITCZ pretty well, but you can't really pick a good area to cross; it changes so fast and moves so much daily The NZ Metservice color fax series is useful for those passaging to NZ.

I didn't ever get good reception from NZ faxes but for those passaging to NZ would probably do best to pick these up, even though they only go to 72 hrs prognosis. The Aus met office online also has a 10 day pressure series that is good to see how fast H and L's are travelling across the continent. The systems to watch (mainly) seem to be S of Australia because they hit the Tasman sea and then turn northward a bit.

I really like the NADI fleet code (send “fleet.nadi”) issued by the Fiji met office. It's only a current surface analysis but you can usually pick out the SPCZ on it. It is usually shown as a trough though. You will need an auxiliary program like Physplot to turn this text file into a weather chart. If you are online you can get the Fiji current chart in better detail from the Fiji met office website. Pick the “new chart”s - it's in colour and is clearer than the B&W versions. NADI also offers text email forecasts for Fiji, Tonga, Cooks and Samoa – but we only got the Fiji versions so I can't comment on the accuracy for other areas. The Fiji forecasts were OK but they only cover one area (Fiji) which is ~300 x 300 miles; too big for a single forecast.

Do get faxes for multiple days in a row before and on a passage. You will see how the systems are moving, and how they are likely to affect you. And don't forget, winds circulate CCW around a H in the S. Hemisphere!

Religiously get Bob McDavitt's weekly weathergram (online via his blog or email via saildocs “nz.wgrm”) every Sunday night NZ time. He can spot big picture stuff for the week ahead very accurately.

The F.Polynesia email forecast (send “fr.poly”) is a bit repetitive (showers and squalls every day), and it is in French so you will need a French – English weather terms dictionary to translate it, but if it says 25+ knots pay attention because conditions are usually ugly when the winds get that strong. Hide in a decent anchorage if you can. You need to have the F. Poly sea areas JPEG chart to understand what area “A25” means.

Australia also has a number of marine forecast documents available through saildocs.

Web sites I use for weather:

http://weather.noaa.gov/fax/hawaii.shtml Honolulu weather faxes – forget the wind/wave charts; they are too general and have weather arrows for only 5 degree squares. Pick the surface charts and 24, 48, and 72 hour forecasts. The colour ones are easier to understand

http://www.bom.gov.au/australia/charts/viewer/index.shtml Australia surface analysis – and forecast maps for the future (click the “Play” buttoms at top)

http://www.bom.gov.au/australia/charts/4day_col.shtml The 4 day map for low bandwidth connections

http://www.met.gov.fj/ Fiji met office

http://www.met.gov.fj/sat-map.html Fiji weather maps – you want the “new” surface maps in colour



http://www.meteo.pf/ French Polynesia met office - in French

NZ weather charts for a few days prognosis

Trade Wind Sailing - and thoughts about routes

The trade winds are generally SE, but they can be S or E or beyond, depending on what the recent H or L that has passed is doing to them. So if you are crossing the Pacific from E to W, you want trades that have more E than S in them for the most comfortable rides. For monohull owners, that also means you should think of biasing your boats cargo, fuel and water loads to the port side of the boat to reduce heeling (as much as you can anyway) in the southern hemisphere. For cat owners, we all seemed to agree beam seas are the most uncomfortable (and noisy as the waves slap the stbd inboard hull). It's important to understand on which passage you might want really E biased trades. The Marquesas to the Tuamotoas or Bora Bora to Raratonga for instance are more SW courses, so anything you can get in an ESE or E trade wind is more comfortable.

Cold Fronts

Generally warm fronts don't seem to appear on weather charts, and only cold fronts or occluded fronts are shown. Cold fronts will usually bring a dramatic wind shift to the NE, N, then NW, and finally SW before shifting back into the normal SE quadrant. If it's a vigorous cold front expect nasty conditions in it's vicinity. Naturally W quadrant winds are headwinds, and are to be avoided so avoid cold fronts when you can. If one is going to hit you for certain, head N in advance of the front. Cold fronts get weaker closer to the equator. As the wind clocks into the W you can then bear off back to your rhumb line and not have to beat.

Warm fronts are not as nasty, and generally turn into occluded (mixed warm and cold air masses) in the tropics. Don't ignore them but you probably won't see them as much more than some rain.

Sailing to Australia route choices

The obvious route is Vanuatu – New Caledonia (Noumea) – Brisbane. The less obvious one that I would suggest and recommend is Vanuatu – Chesterfield Reef – Bundaberg. Here's why
  • Vanuatu to Noumea is very strongly SSW course so in typical SE trades you might end up beating. Ugh.
  • Noumea to Brisbane is about 700 n.m. and you are more likely to have a cold front hit you on the way because the cold fronts are coming along every 7 days and you are sailing into their direction of movement, increasing the closing rate. It's also a longer passage to try to get a decent window
  • Vanuatu to Chesterfield is about 500 and Chesterfield to Bundie is about 450 miles; much easier to get a decent window. The sailing angles with the trades are easier too
  • Chesterfield is absolutely lovely
  • Chesterfield to Bundie is further north, so cold fronts are weaker if you do hit one. Get to Bundie and then coastal hop to Brisbane, through the beautiful Fraser Island and Great Sandy Strait.
Class dismissed – oh are there any questions?

November 25, 2011

Dingoes! Didn't eat my baby.

I dug my toes into the fluffy white sand, pushing them below the sun-hot surface and thought about which direction to go. Turning left would take us along the beach to one end of Fraser Island, while turning right would take us inland through forests of Satinay, Kauri Pine, Brush Box, Tallowood, Blackbutt and Cypress and away from the Great Sandy Strait and its ever-changing sand bars.
 Typically ocean views win for us—but we’ve already sailed through these waters, which seem murky after the open ocean. And anyway, I wanted to see a dingo.
 Cheryl was gentle with me when she explained that dingoes are shy, wild, and likely asleep during midday heat. But I’m hard to dissuade when I’m on a mission. And I felt quite vindicated when three minutes into our walk we spotted a dingo.
Typical Fraser Island beach
 The dingo is Australia’s infamous wild dog. It’s thought to have arrived on the island-continent from Asia thousands of years ago. A close relative of the Asian gray wolf, Canis lupus, the dingo is a more primitive version of the domestic dog. Cross-breeding and extermination efforts have gradually threatened the dingo though, and the wild dogs that live on Fraser Island are considered some of the purest examples of the breed in Australia.

The dingo watched us quietly, and flustered and excited I tried to take its picture (which is not nearly as sharp as I’d like…). Then we plunged deeper into the forest. Strolling along both Cheryl and Steve pointed out trees and bushes to us. A few times Steve inhaled deeply and remarked on how all the mingled scents—eucalyptus, sunshine, and sand were finally making it clear he was home.
 Seeing a place with people who love it is always an honour—and as we walked and talked, and Steve breathed in and smiled I couldn’t help but think that this adventure--which started so shaky just last week--might turn out okay after all. And then the kids called (sort of yelled, really), they’d sighted (we're being stalked by) a young dingo and flustered with enthusiasm (eager to protect my young) I took another bad picture.
filthy feet--the sign of a happy walk

November 21, 2011

Ceilydh in Oz

“What are your impressions?”
“How's it going? (or in Auzzie speak, 'how're ya going?)”
“Are you settling in?”
“Have you seen kangaroos?”

Of all the questions that landed in my in box this week the kangaroo one is the easiest. Each evening a group of roos converge in the field across from where we're anchored and nibble their way across. I should have pictures—especially of one mama roo and her ridiculously giant joey. With his great head and long ears poking from her distended pouch she looks beyond uncomfortable.

But I've been remiss in taking the camera out. Which means I haven't taken pictures of the roos, or all the amazing bird life, or the sugar cane fields, or the toothless men wearing too-tight t-shirts and 'stubbie' shorts, or the heaps of signs that litter ever surface, and warn you against doing anything and everything, in lengthy, grammatically creative form.

“What are our impressions?” We're told Queensland isn't representative of Oz. That we're in a rural setting (one person said wasteland, but I thought that was harsh) and that it's normal that we can't understand the locals. But because it's remote and unsophisticated—fun here seems to consist of loading large people in small boats and fishing on the river, or heading to the local sports club for raffle night, where if you are lucky you may win meat—it's not as culturally interesting as we might hope. And the restaurants lack ambiance. And good food.

But we're going okay. We're not rushing through re-entry. Our biggest outings are to the grocery store, or the ice cream shop, or the laundry (it seems someone invented this crazy machine that actually washes clothes for you!). Most of our time is spent on chores, or work, or on each other's boats. We're socializing. A lot. Especially because we're acutely aware we'll all be going our own ways soon, and because we have nice food to cook with again. Affordable nice food.

Yes, we were told that Oz is god-awful expensive and maybe once we leave the hinterlands it will be, but so far it's only marginally more dear than Canada, and some things are cheaper. Kangaroo meat for example. And Australian wine. The things we've noticed costing more are books and marinas. But honestly we haven't shopped much. We still feel far too broke to do anything as frivolous as shop for something non-essential.

Our current plan—as much as we have one... is to head out of here with C4 in a day or two and hopefully catch up with WGD and Discovery. Along the way to Brisbane it looks like we'll have a few nice things to keep us busy, but soon enough we'll settle into Brisbane and start the next phase of life in Oz: rebuilding the kitty.

November 15, 2011

Checking in to Oz


As luck would have it we checked into Bundaberg on the busiest day they’ve had this season (nine boats arrived) on the day after the biggest drug bust they’ve ever made (Bundi is now famous for rum and coke...). The result was the check-in system, which we’ve heard is normally super efficient, wasn’t. And as the sun was setting and we still hadn’t been checked in, and hadn’t slept much since 1 am—I was definitely getting grumpy.

Technically we should have been one of the first boats checked-in, considering that we were first into the harbour… But it didn’t work that way. The boat we were meant to follow was somehow missed in the check-in line-up and as the day went on and everyone else was processed we stayed put in the crowded and insecure quarantine anchorage.

As we sat the wind rose, the current shifted and our anchor dragged. And of course we bumped a brand-new, very posh boat--leaving a small dent on them, a scratch on us and creating an irate skipper (who eventually calmed down and apologized when he realized we really didn’t do much damage).

When we finally got into the dock the process did go smoothly. Customs and immigration had clearly researched us before they spoke to us (which is weird, we forget that some parts of the world are wired in) and they carefully checked our answers against what they knew of us—noting that one of our forms had some incorrect info on it.

Aquis is thorough but not nearly as ruthless as we were led to believe. Considering we worked hard eating everything (and traded a bunch of stuff away) we didn’t lose as much as we expected. Gone though is our lovely French Poly vanilla, my sprouting seeds (which I expected), all our beans and lentils, my oatmeal (which was pretty dodgy anyway). I was surprised that our flour, rice and powdered milk all got to stay. And our handicrafts were also left with us—though we had to swear that a gourd rattle we have has pebbles in it, not seeds. And we also had to pledge that it would never, ever leave our boat.

I did laugh at a few things the Aquis guys graciously overlooked. Shortly after asking us if we have seen any ants, bees or termites aboard an ant walked across the counter. We all pretended not to see it. They also didn’t look too hard at any of our woven baskets—after a brief shake test (where the results were kind of ignored—those tiny beige bugs do sort of look like dirt) they were all handed back to me.

The irony is Barb on WGD told us she’s seen more bugs on the produce here than we saw in the South Pacific—so there you go.

Our check-in was finally over at 7:30 pm--much too late to head out shopping for replacement food. Thankfully we have friends. Barb made us a great dinner and we spent the evening laughing too hard and perhaps over-imbibing. Connect 4 came round for drinks and commiseration and we all celebrated.

We’re in Australia man!


November 14, 2011

Landfall Australia

We woke Maia at midnight to see the lights of Australia twinkling on the horizon. Three hours later our anchor was down and we we're snuggling into bed. Now we're waiting for customs clearance.
Check out the pics of Chesterfield that we added further down.

November 13, 2011

Closing with Australia

Connect 4 in 20 knots
We should be able to shout 'land ho' sometime later this evening or early tomorrow. Although, as the wind dies (and we throw every sail we have at the problem), our eta has shifted from 8 pm, to 10 pm, to midnight, to 3 am... No matter--once we are in we still have to wait our turn for clearance and with some eight boats due to arrive tomorrow, who knows when we'll officially be in Oz.
We're still in visual range of three of the four boats we left Chesterfield with--a fact that has made Evan gleeful, given they are all monohulls in the 50+' range. Connect 4 has dropped to about 60 miles behind us and turned on their motor in the wee hours. We're still making over 5 knots so won't be adding our motor for a while.
We're in a strange limbo today. When the sailing was hard and fast, and we needed to concentrate on staying upright and not getting hurtled across the cabin, Australia still seemed far away. But today, as we ghost along in flat seas, and we can calculate that we have less than 100 miles to go of our 7500 mile, seven month, six country journey it feels like we're ready to be done.

Discovery and Karynia I in the home stretch
 Maia is struggling to concentrate on school and is dancing around, while Evan is doing a final cleaning and sorting for quarantine. I'm trying to decide what final dishes to cook, and what food we should simply sacrifice. None of us really wants to nap. Kirk from Discovery calls over every hour or so to find out what sail tweaking we are doing to keep our speed up--so I think the last-day jitters are going around.
I've tried to figure out why this landfall is so different than the others. For our friends, who are returning home or ending their cruises, the significance is clear. But for us it's simply another stop over. But I guess it's also the point where we can say we've sailed across the Pacific Ocean. It's like we've graduated or something. Similar to the way arriving in Mexico marked the voyage south.
Today our Ipod is set to a playlist of sailing songs. And despite the beauty of the sail our eyes are glued to the horizon.
"Land ho, I need some wind to make this dream complete."
S 23 50
E 153 38
86 to Bundie
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November 12, 2011

Australia Bound--Day two

That last email should have read 430 miles to Bundie. This morning it is 250. We've tied our fastest day ever--which isn't too surprising seems how we've lightened the boat by about 1000 lbs by eating everything.

It's fast, but loud and lumpy out here. The seas remind me of the potato patch off of San Francisco--lumps and bumps from every which way with no rhyme or reason. Everyone is in giddy good spirits though. This morning we took fantasy breakfast orders--Ev wanted eggs Florentine, I wanted a dungeness crab omelet with farm cheese, Maia wanted so many different things she decided that the only solution was to head to a Fairmont hotel for the breakfast buffet. She figured that while we were there for breaky that maybe we could take a suite so she could sleep between crisp sheets and then have a long bubble bath.

We all made due with stale cereal.

We're all compiling our lists of 'things to do when we get to Australia'. Ev needs new shoes. Maia needs a haircut. I want a frothy latte and an hour or two of fast internet. And phone time. I want to talk on a phone. Maia wants to wander through a library or a bookstore and Ev wants to hit a hardware store--not necessarily to buy stuff yet, but just to reassure himself that he can. I want berries--juicy fresh berries. And spinach. And sparkling wine-maybe a sparkling pinot noir. Maia wants flaky croissants and baked goods that taste as good as they look.

We can see Karynia, Lorabeck and Discovery and saw one or the other all night long. Behind us are Connect 4 and a few other boats. Waiting in Bundie are WGD, Catachaos and more. Our thoughts are fully switched to going forward now.

S 22 00
E 155 56
253 to Bundie

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November 11, 2011

Sailing to Australia this Weekend

We're underway to Australia.
Last night we convinced Connect 4 to stay for a final dinner. Somehow all of us are pierced with this poignant feeling that this time, this dream is fleeting. And another mid ocean sunset, another good fish dinner, another night of talking too long, laughing too hard, drinking too much and staying up too late seemed to be what this adventure called for.

I'm not sure if it's simply because Chesterfield is so special in and of itself, or because it's our last stop with these good friends before this all changes, but it seemed the right place to leave Travis the Cat's ashes behind too. I feel faintly silly about carrying my cat around for so long. We thought we'd leave him somewhere in Mexico--perhaps on an island near where we adopted him on our first trip. But nothing ever felt right, or maybe I wasn't ready.

But yesterday Ev and I brought him to the beach--on an island that is as close as it gets to heaven for cats. We wept a bit and laughed at ourselves and marvelled at how quickly all that is good can pass. I know though that I love as deeply as I can, and live as richly as I know how and the memories I've made are sustaining ones.

This morning we woke early. Before the sun. Ev and I chatted about the trip--eager for this last voyage--the one we've heard so many frightening stories about to be behind us. When we listened to the net I almost wished we were beside WGD--safely pulling into the customs dock, finished with our journey too.

We three are quite today. The boat is smoking fast--we've been averaging 8 knots under reefed down sails. We're part of a group of six boats all speeding toward our futures.

But behind us, oh behind us are some magical times.

Position
S 20 40
E 147 29
30 to Bundie

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November 10, 2011

Stalking the Turtle

There are nine boats in the anchorage now. Over the course of yesterday boat after boat pulled in. If they had kept sailing they would have been hard pressed to reach Australia before the time customs closes on Friday. It sounds like WGD is going to just squeak in under the deadline tomorrow.


We've decided we actually need to leave here and are planning for a Monday arrival. Connect 4 will leave tonight (they're a bit slower than us) and we'll leave tomorrow am. So last night we had our final evening here as a group. All the boats brought something for a potluck on shore and we caught up with old friends (Sudden Stops pulled in) and met a few people we'd only heard on the radio up until now. Mainly though our little core group of three boats soaked in our last moments together.
Around 10pm four of us headed off on turtle patrol--growing silent each time we sighted a shadow in the water or a lump on the beach. At one point we took up station on the sandbar between two islands--giving us a clear few of two spans of beach. A while later we walked further, past fresh nests and meandering turtle tracks. Turtle paths look most like tractor tracts. The flipper marks appear as tire treads and the body (which for all intents is dragged through the sand) leaves a hollow trail in between.

Even though the sand is bright white in the moonlight it's hard to tell the difference between rocks and turtles. At one point the four of us stood silently, watching a dark shape for movement, taking a stealthy step now and again, until it was clear we had snuck up on a rock.
Then when we were ready to turn back Cheryl spotted what we thought was another rock. She snuck up slowly, taking step after step, trying to decide if she was looking at a rock-shaped turtle, or a turtle shaped rock. A few metres from the shape she saw movement and began to back toward us--signalling 'turtle!' with subtle arm movements.
The four of us (Cheryl, Steve, Eric from Discovery and me) found a spot up on the top of the beach and began to watch.
"I think it moved!"
"No, that was a shadow."
Are you sure it's a turtle?"
Time passed and we imagined movement and then decided nothing had changed.
Then we all saw her move her head.
"Should someone go back to the fire and get Evan and the kids?"
Cheryl started the trek back and Steve, Eric and I huddled together and waited for more movement. Nothing happened.
"Are we sure she's alive? It would be terrible to bring the kids to see a dead turtle."
Finally she moved her back fins and seemed to shuffle forward. Then she stopped. We'd heard they find the effort of getting up the beach exhausting and tended to nap a bit as they progressed, but our turtle seemed to be narcoleptic. Evan and the kids arrived and joined out huddle and we watched. One by one the kids fell asleep. Now and again the turtle would move a fin or look around, but as it passed midnight and grew cooler we decided to leave her in peace and call it a night.
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November 9, 2011

Desert Island Days--Chesterfield Reef

We've been diving on a reef structure near the anchorage. It's not big, the walls only go to 60' or so and the windward side has some coral damage from a storm. But it's only a 5 minute dinghy ride and there are no currents--so it's perfect for all the novice divers in our group. It's also the most diverse bit of ocean I've ever seen. It has more types of sponges, coral (with colours that run through the rainbow), more species of fish (including four types of anenome 'clown' fish, eels, sharks, puffers, parrots) and more types of giant clams than I've ever seen in one place. And this is just one bommie of hundreds. It's not even the main reef.

As you can guess we haven't left. WGD felt like they needed to get to Oz. But Connect 4, Discovery and us didn't feel ready to leave our uncharted island for a known destination. The kids wanted to camp on shore again, we wanted to dive and we all want to try again to see nesting turtles.
But because we are all at the end of our provisions we've needed to pool our resources and share out what we have. We've been swapping and trading--sugar for flour, butter for popcorn, potatoes for onions, rice for beans, milk for wine, toilet paper for... Well if someone needs toilet paper you just hand it over. Beachside potlucks keep meals from getting too monotonous. And while we've all tucked away just enough food to last for the passage. We've begun to raid our ditch bag for powerbars and eased up on our definition of vegetable.

While it is isolated and ideal here, sadly it's not pristine. The hermit crab that we found housed in a plastic bottle cap wasn't the most dramatic example, that was probably the bird nesting on a Styrofoam container, but it was poignant. We've filled two black garbage bags with washed up plastic bottles, shoes, fishing gear, plastic grates and lawn chair bits and more appears at high tide.
Everyday.

We're almost 500 miles from the nearest inhabited land. We're experiencing the teeming vitality that once was found throughout the Pacific.
But what makes Chesterfield wondrous--also makes it heartbreaking. Even here we've managed to pollute.
I have never felt so enthralled or helpless.
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November 7, 2011

Uncharted Desert Isle--at Chesterfield Reef

Walking the beach in the moonlight waiting for the turtles to come ashore and nest (we saw a couple swimming in the shallows) we pondered, "How many people total do you think have ever walked on these islands?"
1000? 3000? Certainly not more than that.
The charts don't even really show islands here--just a reef. And while the French have laid claim to this little strip of mid-ocean real estate since 1877 the only people who come here are the occasional navy patrol, people servicing the weather station and sailors.

baby boobies
 We walked the beach till 11 pm or so--but on our islet (on this part of the reef there are five joined by narrow sandbars) the turtles never came ashore. So we headed back to the bonfire and continued to talk, "How have you been changed by your journey? What are you going to take home from this trip?"
Of the four boats here we are the only family who is continuing on. Connect 4 bought their boat in Turkey and their two-year voyage is coming to a close. WGD and Discovery are also selling their boats and heading home. Only Connect 4 is heading back to much the same life they left--but all of us feel profoundly changed.
The changes though are subtle things. Emotions and beliefs that you share quietly, close to midnight, under a blanket of stars and on an island you may never again find on a map: "I'm stronger." "More confident." "Will always see the opportunities and options, not the limitations." "I like myself more." "I'm meant to be on shore." "I'm not yet sure."
We piled into our dinghies soon after. Leaving the kids to camp on shore. In a wonderland of baby birds and sea turtles. Under a moon so bright the white fluff on the smallest chicks glowed through the dark of the trees.
Today we pondered the weather--balancing the pressure of needing to be in Australia against overcast and wind, and against the magic of spending a few more unplanned days on an unchartered island. We've agreed to pass the rainy afternoon playing games. The kids are still onshore--cooking their own meals, building a raft, unbothered by the rain. We don't know when we'll leave. Except it won't be today.
Not long ago the kids called on the radio--we thought they wanted to come home, but they just needed a tip for cooking their damper. When we asked about needing a pick-up we were told, "We're happy here. We think we'll stay."
Last night I couldn't answer my own question, "What will I take from this journey?"
But this morning it became more clear--my whole adult life has been about planning. I've always lived in five year increments, checking off each goal (education, job, marriage, boat, child, career #2, boat #2), holding so tight to control that the unplanned, uncharted moments have always been uncomfortable. But this morning, looking out at an island which is so improbably remote it seems magical, I realize I've learned to embrace the uncharted.
And accept uncertainty.
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November 6, 2011

Chesterfield Reef--a stop in the middle of nowhere

If you were to draw a line on a map from Port Villa, Vanuatu (assuming you can find it) to Bundaberg, AU and then zoom in at the halfway point (well, slightly beyond halfway) you might find Chesterfield Reef--an uninhabited atoll that is 500 miles from the nearest land.
Chesterfield has been an UNESCO World Heritage site since July 2008. It's a nesting site for dozens of different types of birds--including red footed boobies, frigates, and a variety of terns as well as for sea turtles. It's also remarkable because as sailors the last thing you expect to find during a 1000 mile passage is a comfortable mid-ocean anchorage.


We pulled in yesterday at noon--after a smoking hot spinnaker run. Discovery and WGD arrived a few hours before us and we all spent the afternoon walking the beaches--being enthralled by birds that had no fear (can't wait to share these pics!) A favourite moment came while watching a juvenile boobie learning to fly. It flapped its wings with an uncoordinated rhythm that nearly knocked it over. We also found massive turtle tracks leading up the beach to deep holes where they had laid their eggs.

As the sun set we all gathered on Ceilydh for sundowners and snacks. Connect 4 pulled in a hour or so past sunset and joined us for the end of the evening. Today we plan to explore some more, dive in the afternoon then potluck on the beach. We hope to stay ashore late enough to sea the turtles arrive to lay eggs--a long-held dream of mine.
For those wishing to follow in our wake you need to request permission to stop at Chesterfield Reef (the atoll is patrolled by the French Navy). Contact affmar@gouv.nc.
The area is poorly charted but we have all had good success with these waypoints and directions that have been passed along:
Entrance to Chesterfield reef: 19 46.7594 S 158 25.3997 E
This was well clear of any reef. The water dropped to 28m at one point but thereafter stayed between 30-40m. If you were a little more to the south you should also be okay as we did not even see any reef from here let alone any islands. We sailed to our next waypoints well clear of any reef: 19 47.9446S 158 24.3276 E Then to 19 50.6577 S 158 25.2825 E. The anchorage is at WPT: 19 52.9980 S 158 27.7850 E The water here is about 10 metres with a sandy bottom. There are some bommies and shoal patches on either side but they are easy to see on a clear day.
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November 4, 2011

Slow Boat to Oz--Day 5

"What day is it? Wednesday? Saturday?" Maia asked.
I had to think about it, "We left Monday afternoon so it's Thursday. No, Friday."
This is one of our slowest passages to date. We've been averaging 4.6 knots. Almost 2 knots an hour lower than our typical passage speed. We're not even at the half-way mark yet--and we were worried about getting to Australia on the weekend and having to pay overtime fees...
Right now we're hoping to maintain 5.1 knots so we can get to Chesterfield reef before dusk tomorrow night. We're making 4.3 under spinnaker (6 in the gusts). Despite the slow passage it's wonderful out here. We're really in no hurry to see it end (other than the fact that at some point something nasty is going to blow up in the Coral Sea and we really want to be in Australia before that happens.)
I've commented before about how much I enjoy (some) passages. There is the sailing--which I love until the point that the seas grow monstrous and the wind howls in pain (which tends to leave me shaky and nauseated). There is the endless view of the ocean and sky--which never becomes monotonous or dull. I never knew a sunset could come in so many variations or that the sea could be so many shades of blue. Then there is the best part--our time together.
There is something wonderful (and occasionally awful) about being in a small boat with nowhere else to go. We spend hours curled up together reading, chatting or watching movies together. It's like day after day of Sunday afternoon. Maia does do school (Ev and I divide up the topics we work on her with--he's currently covering Algebra and Science (weather, marine biology), while I'm tackling writing, geography and music. She's also learning to sail right now. This may seem like something she should know (she has taken basic dingy sailing classes) but for the most part the gear on our boat is a bit big for her and we've really not asked her to help with much. Recently she started to ask what she could do and today she learned about how to fly the spinnaker--learning to sail in eight knots of wind is really ideal.
Despite all the hours we are out here there never seems to be enough time--Maia and I have been planning to bake bread and cinnamon buns for days (and hopefully will get to it today) and our ukuleles are terribly neglected. I have stories to finish and emails waiting for answers. Evan has projects to complete.
But somehow despite our good intentions Sunday afternoon laziness takes hold and instead of projects getting finished books get read, and the night time stars are pondered.
The only true constant to our day come with gathering the weather reports and checking in with the nets (and our friends who are also enjoying this slow, slow passage).
Perhaps it's easy to savour this time because it's the last passage for a while. Soon enough we'll be back in real life. But for now the long gentle swell rolls under us like a country road. The wind is soft, and warm, and musical. The sky is light blue with cotton-candy clouds. Our sails are full and are slowly pulling us toward the next part of this adventure.

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November 3, 2011

Be Calmed -the way to Oz day 4

Last night we saw the stars reflected in the ocean. Pinpoints of light shimmering like phosphorescence in a glassy sea. The three of us stood and marvelled--we've never seen the open ocean so still.
We expected a light wind passage--but not a no wind one. But for 10-14 hours yesterday there wasn't even a whisper. We motored at low throttle--trying to make progress against the current (and to keep the boat cool) but we haven't enough fuel to motor all the way to Australia. Even motoring all the way to Chesterfield would push things.

But this morning after exiting the Grand Passage at the northern end of New Caledonia we found the breeze again. It's not strong and it's too far forward for us to use our spinnaker--but if we jump from squall to squall we can average 5 knots. The sky up ahead is blue though--so we may lose the little bit extra that comes from the unsettled patches.
Beyond the fact this is a slow passage it's still nice to be out hear. We're chatting twice a day with WGD, Connect 4 and Discovery and everyone is in good spirits as they urge their boats along.
S 18 39
E 163 06
728 to Bundaberg
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November 2, 2011

Green Flash on the way to Oz-Day 3

So last week sometime--maybe while we were sighting dugong, or perhaps just before we headed out to dive the Coolidge--Evan commented that when we got to Australia it was time to end-for-end the halyards and sheets. They've been in use for years and are starting to show signs of wear. Swapping them end-for-end would increase their longevity. It was a great idea. And when the genoa halyard broke during Evan's night watch on our first night out I couldn't help but admire how accurate his observation was...

We got the sail under control and lowered into the cockpit and stuffed into a locker--ending what had been a brilliant sail. Then I hooked up the running backstays and we unfurled our little staysail. The little sail didn't do badly in the light winds--and while we weren't making 7+ knots anymore--we were still sailing.

Maia and I hoisted Evan up the mast with the spinnaker halyard in the relatively calm seas the next morning. Calling himself a human pinata he gave Maia a home schooling lesson on motion as the top of the mast swung through a big arc. From the top of the mast he dropped a weighted messenger line down. He listened to it clang its way down and when the noise stopped we assumed it was down. So we lowered Evan--only to discovered the messenger was stuck somewhere in the mast and we were back to square one.

But we were still making 5-6 knots in gorgeous flat conditions. We had a relaxing day--had a nice BBQ for dinner and watched the sun set in a green flash. At around 4am though the wind dropped even further and we fired up the motor.

The weather report is promising more of the same for the next 3-4 days. So we decided that we need to get the genoa back up. So after changing the spinnaker halyard (can't fool us twice) we'll hoist the genoa on it. This means we can't furl and if we need to shorten sail we'll need to drop it. Very old school. But it should give us an extra knot or so of boat speed. Something we dearly want for this passage.

Position
17 46 S
164 26 E
800 miles to Bundaberg

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November 1, 2011

Australia Bound-day one

Our 2.5 days in Luganville sped past. Our main goal was to prepare the boat for Oz (giving away our contraband excess food, cleaning, scrubbing the bottom, getting fuel and fresh provisions, catching up on email and checking out of the country but we did manage to squeeze in a fantastic dive on the USS President Coolidge.

We had hoped to get in another dive or two, as well as visit the famed Millenium Cave and maybe try to find the Lysepsep people (folks who are only a metre or so tall and who screen themselves with very long hair). But despite the fact that Santos looks like an island that can keep you busy for weeks--we never got the chance to linger and get bored.

Late last week it looked like we had an excellent weather window kicking in. And by last night it was clear that it was time to go. Considering a less than excellent one is currently pummeling friends on the way to New Zealand with 35 knots, and the promise of more to come, we decided not to risk squandering our window by delaying our departure for even an extra day.
This means we've set sail on Halloween--Maia's deepest fear. It's only a minor consolation to her that four other kid boats (three in Port Vila and one in Noumea) are also starting their passages today. We made up for things a bit--last night we made pull taffy, carved a pumpkin, dressed in costumes then watched a scary movie 'Betelgeuse' and followed it all with a torch light candy hunt.

Our version of Halloween turned out to be a hit--it wasn't quite the same as getting dressed with friends and going door to door--but Maia seemed happy enough with our efforts.

Now we just need to wait for the wind to fill in. We're motoring out the channel and away from the islands in flat calm. Australia is 1000 miles away. Between here and there we hope for smooth seas and just enough wind. If the weather looks like it'll hold (or changes to bad) we plan to stop at Chesterfield Reef and rendevouz with Whatcha Gonna Do (yes, seven months after leaving Mexico on the same day we expect to make landfall in Australia on the same day), Connect Four and Discovery.

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