Friday, December 3, 2010

From Brisbane to Bamfield in 5 days


Like they say, nothing goes to windward like a jet airplane! Sidney to Calgary in 13 hours, incredible! I don’t think anyone living in modern society appreciates what an airplane can do until you have taken 10 months to sail what a plane can do in 13 hours. Of course on the boat your body has allot more time to acclimate to the weather en-route. 19 hours after leaving sunny, warm 25oC Brisbane, the weather in snowy Calgary was -21oC. OUCH! I was there for 2.5 days and the weather dropped to -41 with wind-chill. There was a reason we moved out of that place and headed for the tropics! I thought I was going to be prepared by bringing my big red float coat for a warmth, but at those temps the foam inside the jacket froze solid and became like steel plates, certainly not retaining any warmth.

Now I am above 48o North back out on the West coast teaching at the Bamfield Marine Station, taking students out onto the cold grey waters of the North Pacific. While it is still beautiful and interesting to have the contrast, those warm aquamarine lagoons we had begun to take for granted sure seem far away.

m

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We sailed across the Pacific Ocean.

We have sailed IO from the Northern BC coast, down North America, across to the South Pacific and all the way to Australia.

I counted how many miles we have come. I counted how many days we traveled pushing our tiny vessel to the opposite side of our planet. I have written about how many perfect anchorages we found, how many countries we visited. I have photographed how many fish we caught, how many markets we shopped at, how many perfect white sand beaches we walked. I have remembered how many days we feared for our lives, how many waves tried to break IO and terrified our minds. I have experienced what it means to fulfill a dream, to think it into being, to plan, to build, to begin, to endure and enjoy and finally, now, to end.

But friends, fret not. We will continue to post our Australian adventures over the next few months and know that I believe that a person is only as good as their next great adventure. So stay tuned, as the next great journey has already formed in my mind. I am planning on leaving the Ocean far behind and returning to my Cowboy roots. I hope you will come with us along for the ride as we Reinfree.


mike

Approaching the Australian coast




We approached the Australian coast just as the sun was setting over the Glass House Mountains North of Brisbane.

The last of the spearfishing in New Caladoinia




Af few last shots of spearfishing Trevally and Walu.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

november 15, 2010 The Approach

November 15, 2010 The Approach
My head told me making landfall in the evening was not ideal and so all my senses became more alert. But my heart simply melted at the sight of a beautiful sunset decorating the landscape of Australia. Those peaks are Australia! This is my first time on this continent! The city lights appeared and drowned out the entrance marker lights. Numerous giant freighters started to light up. We decided to follow one ship into the NW channel, and for hours, dodged them one by one coming and going. Even inside the channel, we were still exposed to the wind and waves and got tossed around. I sucked on a piece of dark chocolate to numb the intimidation. Marker after marker, we concentrated on flashing green, flashing red, and strong currents that almost got us crashing into a cardinal marker. During the 360 scan every two minutes, I caught a glimpse of the moonlight on the water. It was only one of the many stimulations and things to process in my brain. Wow, what a contrast to the previous night when it was the main focus. Then it hit me, my goodness, that was it. That was the end of our trip.
Arriving in Australia had another kind of exhilaration to it, just as significant as arriving in the Marquesas. We went up the Brisbane river at dawn and realized, we did it. We made it across the Pacific Ocean. We made it to Australia. Of course, now that it's done, I think it would have felt unfinished to leave the boat in New Caledonia. That could have easily happened. Oh, how thankful I was to arrive!

I think it will require some time for all this to sink in. I had complained, cursed, cried, sobbed, and shouted out of frustration on some passages. The sucky part about cruising seem to never make it into spoken or written tales about sailing. It is a double-edged sword, a cruel mistress, a love-hate relationship. Yet all of that seems to quickly fade away as each hour goes by, almost as quickly as the saltwater on deck got rinsed away. It's strange how things work that way. Now, I am going look for a Magnum bar. Arh, sweet as!

hyo-jung

Sunday, November 14, 2010

November 11, 2010 The Moon and Stars

We started this passage on new moon. Nights were spooky dark. The seas had calmed down and so have my nerves. Usually, the night sky would be stunning and I could observe the stars to my heart's content. However, it was overcast for night after night and we were getting water sprayed from the beam incessantly that I stopped looking up at the sky. Then last night, the slit crescent moon shined its light on the jet black water, like an old friend saying hello, and laid before me my favorite scene in the whole world. Just like staring at a campfire, watching the moonlight is mesmerizing. It comforts me very much at night. She briefly said her hello, then hid behind the clouds.

On passages, Mike and I have passed time daydreaming and talking about many things. If it's not about a big bowl of ice cream or endless long hot showers, it's about the kind of land activities that sound enticing. What lies ahead? What are our next goals? What do we need to do to get there? Although I'm looking forward to many of the conveniences offered back home, I cannot help but think at some of the significant things our friends have said upon their return home. The common theme of the culture shock is contained in this quote:

"It's shocking how fast we were pulled back into the crazy rat race, despite our determination to keep a good balance."

This sentiment also seems to be there whether they were cruising or not. Our friend who spent a year traveling and climbing shared with us how crazy it was to return to the consumerism frenzy and how she missed the simple lifestyle she had lived. Is it all a fleeting dream? There are many thoughts on my mind, but for now, it is to soak in the moon and the stars.

Hyo-jung

Aboard IO in Vanuatu

November 13, 2010

G'day, mate!

Mike & Hyo-jung

Thursday, November 11, 2010

November 11, 2010 Remember, Remember, November, November

Position S26 21 E155 20

The last night far out to sea. Beautiful day of rolling waves and trailing winds. Today has been the most calm and pleasant day of sailing since I can remember. Far out to sea, today slid by in the endless wake, with the gurgle of water sweeping past the hull and a gentle lull of the waves lapping as we are swept on by. We dislike passages so much, but one could dream, if we had experienced the elusive "trade wind sailing" on the trip, today would be what it should have been like.
I watched a movie today. actually several movies. Pleasant, lazy and enjoyable. I promise that even in this lifestyle, those days are few and far between. Watching a movie or being enthralled in a book far out to sea is like nowhere else. When you stop to take your mandatory 360 look around, you are transported out of your dream in to another reality that is so vastly different than your mind is ready for. You step outside of your faraway place, back into a tiny boat. When you look around, you are in the middle of an ocean. Water, windswept water as far as you can see, farther than you can even imagine. The vastness here is so grand, it extends farther than your book or movie can take you. This endless water is our reality. It is the oddest sensation that one could try to describe.
Today is the last day out to sea. Tomorrow we will have to think about all the things required when approaching a new continent on a small sailboat. Big freighters, shipping channels, shallow water and other hazards to navigation must be minded tomorrow. But today, just worry free off-shore gliding. Don't get me wrong, sailing across an ocean is so very stressful. I have often said my PhD work was far less stressful than this trip has been. Just three days ago, I worried all day about being over-canvassed in rough and building seas with the possibility of breaking the rig. But that was then, not now, not today, that was then some 200 miles away.

m

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Morning day 5: The crux

November 10 2010
Position S25 53 E158 55

Early last night we passed the halfway mark and the height of the winds we should see for the rest of this passage. It did get windy, 25 gusting 30 knots with a large breaking sea developing. We have been getting slapped with breaking seas on the beam (side of the boat) which for the most part are loud and scare you but are not dangerous unless they get to big. Sometime last night at O'dark-30, we got hit with a wave so large that it completely engulfed IO such that water spurted in the butterfly hatch on the roof. This hatch is covered by our dingy so there must have been a tremendous amount of force to spurt through those window seams. We cleaned up the water, checked the bilge to make sure we were not taking on any more and then went back to bed.
The wind finally began to back (move counter clockwise) and ease up so we spent the rest of the night running down wind which sounds better but in fact is worse. The motion of the boat as it rolls down each wave gets old fast. My chest is tight this morning from trying to sleep in such a way that holds my body immobile while trying to rest. That is simply not restful!
I guess I'm a bit cranky this morning. In about 35 miles (5 hours) we will be turning right (east) and that should bring the wind back on the starboard quarter making for more comfortable sailing. 310 miles to go!

m

Monday, November 8, 2010

The last passage; Morning day 4

November 9 2010
position S24 54 E161 02

We are currently riding the North end of a high pressure system located in the Tasman sea which is keeping the wind fresh and the boat speed up. Yesterday we ticked off 143 nautical miles, not our best day ever, but good for IO. If we keep that speed up we will shave 2 days off this passage. Race IO, please race. It's always a balance of trying to fly enough sail to keep her moving fast but not break things. We are still almost 700 kilometers from land, and to break anything out here, especially the rig would suck is so many ways.
We have been lucky in this respect; we have not broken anything major at all on the trip (knock-on-wood). I actually don't believe in luck, luck is simply opportunity seized and in this case the opportunity to prepare IO to be strong and have lots of new oversized gear has certainly paid off.
We have seen many boats with snapped masts, heard of man-over-boards and even heard about two lost vessels (one with all hands) this year, which remind us that things could go wrong out here fast. I having been climbing and mountaineering for over 15 years, I thought that I had been in remote places. The Pacific brine is simply so vast and movement here is so slow that despite our little radios and beacons which likely offer only a false sense of security, we are simply out here remote and alone. Truly more remote and more alone than anywhere else I have been.

m

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The last passage: Morning day 3

November 8 2010
Position S23 52.2 E163 15.4

We are under way to Australia. It's just another gross passage, but it does feel a bit different. 550ish miles to go, but it's the last 550. The piped up to 25 gusting to 30 last night so I dropped the jib and raised the staysail with a double reefed main. Now the wind is on the beam at 20 knots, waves are down to 2 meters since last night's 3m. Still getting the occasional big wave slap against the hull. I might drop the staysail and put the working jib back up after the morning's radio net. All is well aboard.

m

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Walu not Wahoo

November 5, 2010
New Cal

Early morning light flitters and dances and fades into the deep blue depths. One at a time Jaime and I dawn the gear and slip in to the water. It's a bit colder here, we need shorties to stay in for a couple of hours. After the initial splash and chill and when all the bubbles from the entry rise clear from view, I always do a quick 360 to both orient to the surroundings and look for the brethren, the dudes in the grey suits, sharks. We have repeatedly returned to the southern point of a small nearby atoll where we can anchor in 10 meters of water and then swim out to where the bottom drops from view as the depth drops to 30 meters. We have found a spot where the pelagic fish seem to frequently pass by looking for near shore baitfish. It is a game. The game has rules and players. We are learning the rules and have learned that we are not the biggest players. 4 times now sharks much bigger than me have approached.
For me, the most satisfaction has come from how much we have learned from our now countless hours in the water. We watch the baitfish, they usually tell the story. We swim past the edge of the reef, where the depth drops beyond sight and try to find a school of Blue Streaked Fusiliers, (Pterocaesio tile) which are about the size of a trout. In the hundreds they abound, schooling and meandering this way and that, feeding on plankton, never venturing to far away from the reef or each other. They don't mind our presence, we are of no threat and they seem to know that. So we sit and wait in the blue depths, hovering, watching, usually within sight of the other swimmer. Abruptly the school tightens and spins 180 degrees heading for the reef. I dive. Out of the blue a predator will appear. Often we have seen various species of meter long Trevally and Dog Tooth Tuna larger than my spear gun (1.7 mteres). Mostly we are after Walu, (king Mackerel, Scomberomorus commerson) a 1-2-meter silvery fusiform predator that has teeth like a wood saw and blazes through the schools of Fusiliers selecting out any that are weak or unaware. We have learned the trick to getting the Walu to approach closely. When at depth (5-15 meters) a pack of Walu will usually approach to check you out, but usually never close enough for a good shot. However if one blows out a few bubbles, they come in closer to investigate, then WHAMM! My 160 cm spear hits the sweet spot behind the gill and the real work begins. These are ultra fast, powerful fish that have pulled me through the water for longer than I have wanted before I could get to the surface and breath. Once at the surface, I struggle to lift them out of the water as much as possible because the thrashing fish and the blood in the water often bring in the brethren. We swim towards the dingy and the other swimmer escorts you back always looking for the dudes in the gray suits. Pure fun!

Now when I speak of the baitfish turning 180 and tightening up the school for a retreat, when a predator is near. It turns out that they also do this in response to the brethren. We have gotten used to the behavior of the three species of reef sharks and know when to draw the line (usually) but here in New Caledonia we have run into bigger and (supposedly) more aggressive sharks. Yesterday I saw the school tighten and I dove, only to find that no larger fish came in, that is until I turned around and looked directly into the jaws of a bulky gray shark that was much larger than me. It was so large that it had its own entourage of smaller fish schooling with it. I looked directly into its small eyes and saw both the first and second rows of recurved teeth. When I startled and raised my gun, it turned from me and slowly swam away. While this was the closest view I have had so far, I have had three other similar experiences where I have turned around to find this same species of shark approaching me from behind. Each time that I have faced it, the shark has retreated, but it is a bit unnerving of the repetitiveness of this rear approach behaviour. I have narrowed down the species to either the sandbar or bull shark, both of which a bit of a reputation for aggressiveness. I am convinced that they are of no real threat, especially considering that I speared a Trevally and was fighting it to the surface when out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of these large sharks in the distance. I immediately let the fish drop to the end of the spear and line, putting at least 3-meters distance between the bleeding thrashing fish and me, but the shark did not take interest. Regardless we left the area.
We did hear that there is also a Great White Shark that reportedly ate a surfer last year in the reef pass 10 km from here. So there is certainly cause to stay on our toes.

While we are stuck in New Caledonia waiting for a decent weather window for the last passage across to Oz we have taken advantage of this time to get lots of water time and spearfishing, which has turned out to better than anywhere else on this trip save Suwarrow.

m

Saturday, October 30, 2010

October 31, 2010 Weather Poem - Unknown

Whether the weather be fine,
Or whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold,
Or whether the weather be hot,
We'll weather the weather
Whatever the weather
Whether we like it or not.

Thank you Totem, for finding this.

Hyo-jung

Thursday, October 28, 2010

October 29, 2010 Weather waffling

Life is trying to teach me something. Yet I resist once again. As the Korean saying goes, I am trying to break a rock with an egg.

We are stuck. I know we must be extra cautious in planning this next and last passage as the Australian coast can generate some narly weather. Sure, fine. But that weather window constantly changes. One day we prepare to leave the following day and then the next thing you know, we're stuck again.... for who knows how long. Yes, the worst part is the uncertain nature of all this. In my hand is a one-way ticket with my name on it, but every time I look at it, the departure date changes. And the fine print says, "the date may change depending on weather conditions..... indefinitely".

Mentally, we're ready. But mental preparation has nothing to do with what weather has to say. The truth is, this has been a part of cruising all along. Arrivals and departures at each port were done with such planning for a good weather window. But now with the end of the trip in sight, patience level is low. This is very hard. I'm raised in a generation and a society in which a few hours' delay in a flight schedule causes an uproar. There's a sense of entitlement that life should pan out the way you plan it. It is absolutely ludicrous. This is the time for those to shine, those who know to let go when the issue is outside of their control. Mostly, I am stressed out over how much work needs to be done on the boat upon arrival in Australia and Mike having a fixed flight schedule leaving Australia. I take a deep breath in and feel how tight my chest is. I ponder over something I recently read:

Why be unhappy about something if it can be remedied?

And what is the use of being unhappy about something if it cannot be remedied?

Well, I don't know. Like I said, life is trying to teach me something and yet I struggle. This is not the first time I've been in such a place. Whether it is immigration or work or whatever, I've had to frantically hurry up and patiently wait numerous times. I cannot think of a more useless thing than being angry at weather. Look at what the heck we're trying to do..... hop on a plastic boat and cross an ocean. So here we are, we hear of another boat's arrival in Australia, and I think to myself, we will be there, too.

Monday, October 25, 2010

October 24, 2010 Noumea, New Caledonia

We arrived last night in New Caledonia, our last stop before heading to Australia. As we munch on delicious baguettes and croissants, we are feeling the time pressure and monitoring weather patterns. It seems as though we're always in a rush..... hurry up and wait. But there's a different kind of energy here at the visitor's dock in Noumea, similar to what we felt in La Cruz, Mexico before "jumping". Stories of arrivals and departures include a range of good and bad - blown sails, dismasting, and my worst nightmares, MOB (man overboard). It's no joke. It may appear that we take it for granted, but passage-making is a humbling experience. Another 800nm left.

Hyo-jung

October 16, 2010 Port Havannah

We are on the west side of Efate island due to weather. It's been cooler and I put on a pair of socks for the first time in six months. It does not seem as though we'll make it to Epi island to see dugongs (manatees). However, we've encountered some fabulous snorkeling sites on Paul's rock and the south end of Moso island. Mike and Jamie are happy about swimming with big fish again. With Totemites, we took a dinghy ride upstream a river. We said hello to villagers tending to their gardens, washing laundry, and naked kids playing in the local freshwater swimming hole. Then we found a giant tree perfect for an adult-size jungle gym just begging to be climbed. It was super fun to feel like a little kid again.

On Moso island, we visited the local school and learned of a conservation program protecting the turtle nesting sites. Managed by locals, one being the village chief's son, it sounded like a success story when it comes to conservation projects. With permission, we joined the three Aussie volunteers and the beach manager on their nightly beach hikes. Although we did not get to witness turtles nesting, we did see tracks and one nesting site. Interestingly, Mike and Jamie have seen more turtles snorkeling in three days than the volunteers have in three weeks.

I could not leave Vanuatu without having the famous kava. We tried making some on the boat with store-bought kava powder, but it only resulted in kavamucil (kava + Metamucil). So at 5PM, we visited the local nakamal (traditionally, men's meeting place). Despite the small bowls, one smooth gulp resulted in instant numbing of the mouth and burning of the back of the throat. Mike called it, "kavacaine". Vanuatu people must be early birds, these nakamals run out of kava by 7PM. We each had three bowls and Jamie and Mike reported no difference. None of us felt any heaviness in the legs as some others report. However, when I returned to the boat, I felt a sense of mellowness that did not affect the brain. I'm sold. I like kavacaine.

Hyo-jung

October 13, 2010 Bislama

One of the great things about our travels has been the opportunity to tickle that part of the brain that makes you communicate in different languages. Spanish is certainly fun and I must go back to learning it soon. Three months in French Polynesia and the only sentence I can put together is, "Est-ce que vous avez quelque chose pour diarrhée?" ("Do you have something for diarrhea?"). We find ourselves saying greetings and using expressions of gratitude from the previous country we visited. Vanuatu's first language is called Bislama although English is spoken as well. Bislama is an interesting one. You can get a taste of Bislama by looking at public signs: "Pablik Laebri Blong Port Vila" (Port Vila Public Library) or "Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta" (Vanuatu Cultural Center).

Here's another example in a children's story:

Storian blong Mun mo San
Long long taem bifo i bin gat tufala fren
We oli singaotem San mo Mun
Tufala i bin pleiplei tugeta altaem
Wan dei nao

Translation:
The Legend of Moon and Sun
Long ago there were two friends called Sun and Moon
They always played together
One day....

That's the written form. In spoken form, one would ask, what's the communication like? It happened to be in a public bathroom that I engaged in a conversation with a local woman. After a couple of minutes into it, I realized she was speaking in Bislama and I in English. I believe the look on our faces changed as we both understood and accepted that we were speaking different languages. But interestingly, we smiled and continued on. It is true that a significant percentage of our communication is nonverbal. I appreciate the importance of a smile when interacting with people. Although languages may differ, when it comes to communicating about which fish is safe to eat in a certain bay or how to cook an unfamiliar root vegetable, it just all seems to work!

Hyo-jung

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A month aboard IO in Fiji

Fiji. Images of paradise come to mind and rightfully so. We spent one glorious month on the Northern and Western islands of Fiji and could have spent another year without hesitation.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

october 11th, 2010 a small fish in a big pond

I am a small fish in a big pond.

Vanuatu. Anchored position: S17 34 E168 12

I do realize that we are floating in the South Pacific Ocean which is the biggest pond of all, but during most of this trip, with the exception of Suwarrow atoll, I have been one of the largest predators on the reef looking for a meal. Of course, there are always reef sharks and, without fail, the more sharks the better the fishing. However, here in Vanuatu, the game has changed slightly. We are anchored in another pristine bay with the usual assortment of palm tree lined white sand beaches and 28 oC turquoise water. Our morning routine consists of waking early and heading out with the boys for our morning swim/spearfishing in hopes of procuring supper. Tonga was heavily overfished and was hard to find a fish big enough to eat. Fiji was better but still, large fish were few and far between. Vanuatu abounds with monsters. When I say I am a small fish, yesterday I got in the water and within thirty seconds I was six meters away from a fish the size of a fridge! I was face to mouth with a Goliath Grouper (Epinephelus lanceolatus) measuring well over two meters long and in excess of two hundred kilograms! The reef shark's mouth is not that big and supposing one bit you (so unlikely) it would just do that - bite you. This grouper, however, could have easily engulfed my entire torso in one gulp. I was so amazed at its girth that I just floated there and stared at it. Oddly, it moved away from me despite the fact that I was in no way a threat to it.

Today Jamie and I were on the reef for a total over five hours and were within meters of a 1.5 meter, 40 kg Buffalo Head Parrot fish (Bolbometopon muricatum), a 2 meter, 180 kg Napoleon Wrasse (Cheilinus undulates), five white-tip reef sharks, a 2.5 meter Gray reef shark, and three Spotted eagle rays. The highlight was a half hour before sunset. The light was angled in the water in such a way that it made the beautiful streaked wavy "god" light. I had just begun a 12 meter dive over the edge of the reef when I was startled by a spotted eagle ray approaching fast over my right shoulder. My startle caused it to startle and fly directly into a 2.5 meter white tip reef shark, which in turn startled and bolted off into the distance. I surfaced to find Jamie laughing because he had witnessed the whole scene. He then pointed out a one-meter-long Coral grouper and we both followed it from a distance to see where it would stop. I lagged behind a bit and when I had swum the last 30 meters to Jaime, I found him jabbering and gesturing like mad. I finally got out of him that a two meter, 200 + kg Yellowfin Tuna had just swam within meters of him. To top it off, while motoring back to Totem and IO in the dinghy, three dolphins approached the dinghy, so we jumped in and briefly swam with them before they took off. What a day!

I have felt guilty for not blogging in months. I think it is because that "sailing the South Pacific" has become a bit routine. Believe me that I do realize how awesome this experience is. Soon enough I will be back in office-traffic land lamenting our return, but for here and for now, our daily routine has become normal and therefore does not seem spectacular enough to share on a daily basis. Our repetition consists of a long boring sail for days and days ended by a stressful approach to land. When you are most weary at the end of the sail, you get to immediately deal with the Immigration and Customs to check in a new country. "No, I don't have Cholera", "No, there are no rats aboard with Cholera", "And No, nobody died on the passage from Cholera" etc. We go to the ATM to get out a new set of funny money, and try to remember the conversion "was that a thousand dollars or a thousand Tong for that hamburger?", "No wait, we are in Vanuatu now, so that was a thousand Vatu!" I used to get excited about using new currencies in different countries; admittedly it's getting to be a bit of a blur. We see new shaped faces and hear new languages while spending the new "pesos" to get provisions. Then it's off to find the best anchorage based on where I think the most pristine reefs (i.e. farthest from people) and spearfishing might be. We then explore every coral-head in the area, hike, explore and investigate. Then re-provision for the next passage and check out of the country. Begin the long, boring/terrifying sail to next island group, and repeat!
This will all end soon. Way too soon.

m

Monday, October 4, 2010

October 4th, 2010 Venus

We are on our way towards Vanuatu. I've been able to read and cook with the usual amount of discomfort and minimal swearing. I looked at the night sky and Venus, my friend, is as bright as I've ever seen her. The moon is hidden tonight so Venus' light takes over and reflects on the water surface. It is absolutely beautiful. It occurs to me that passage making is one of the few times when we experience no light pollution. The night sky.... the milky way.... it is so special. It would be perfect if it wasn't moving around so much. I would like to see the night sky like this on land. Where do I need to go, the north pole? Or the south pole? Then, with a big SLAP, a spray of saltwater touches me and I immediately turn grumpy. Sigh.....

Hyo-jung

October 2nd, 2010 Leaving Fiji

The following is a poem written by Totem:

Oso & IO, our comrades divine,
We know that our happiness is also thine,
Those who call parting sweet sorrow don't know
The circles of life in which we cruisers flow.

We know there's a time and a place - a boat
We just have to wait and we'll all be afloat
At an atoll, islet or a bay
Sharing a sunset and rehashing the day
So when you hear GayJo or Rummy or Hoy
You'll know fellow travelers are coming to play.

September 30, 2010

Our time in Fiji is coming to an end. This was a month full of unexpected events, many sayings of bula (hello), moce (good-bye), and vinaka (thank you). We did not expect to meet a Korean cruising couple heading to Korea. Blue Chip was the boat name and we were happy to meet each other. Nor did we expect to have a feast with Oso Blanco and Totem at a Korean restaurant in Namaka. Yummy!

In Yalobi village on Waya island, we met with the chief and presented kava for sevusevu. He clapped his hands in a sideway cupping motion and chanted something in Fijian which included the words "Canada" and "Vinaka (thank you)". We went for a hike one day with Totem and Syzygy. After the hike we learned that it would cost us ten Fijian dollars per person fee for our guide. As much as we felt that it put a damper on the experience, I had to think about this for a while. In many of the places that we have visited so far, many people have told us, straight up, "We are poor". Although we don't consider ourselves rich by any means and as much as I hate to be associated with the term "yachties", we are perceived as such. As stated in a guidebook I was reading, it is true that charging fees for tourist attractions such as traditional dances or walking to a cave or waterfall is common in every country. I also agree that it is one of the few ways that villagers can earn money and it is ecologically better than selling their forest or marine resources. But maybe it's the dirtbag in me.... ten dollars seemed a bit steep for a fee.

Hyo-jung

September 27, 2010 "A Big Bula!"

In one of our encounters with a Fijian, I have been thinking of a man named Marika. Marika has been working as a pest-control person for the last 11 years in the islands of the Yasawa group and the Mamanucas. In our conversation about Fijian culture and people, Marika talked about the fact that it takes a while to break the ice with Fijians. Despite the fact that English is the official language, they are very shy about speaking English to foreigners. This is because some Fijians don't want to make mistakes in front of their fellow Fijians and be ridiculed later. In a one-to-one conversation, it is easy to talk in English, but in a group, some people become shy about speaking English. (This is similar to Mike's experience in Korea. One-on-one, the effort to converse in English was greater; but in a group setting, no one would speak to him and he thought they were ignoring him.) Marika said that "a big bula" is just the way to break the ice. Bula is "Hello" in Fijian and it means 'health'.

As he became comfortable with us, Marika shared his observation of tourists. As he made hand gestures of a busily moving thumb, he said, "They're all so addicted to their ipods or blackberries no matter what they're doing. I took some people to see the land in my car, and I can see them all working on their little blackberries or whatever. They seem to live in a small world." So he thinks we live in a small world because we are engaged in our electronic gadgets. When I inquired about the conservative dress code in Fiji, he said, "The white people came and said we need to cover down to our ankles. We were all naked before that. A few years later, they come back wearing bikinis. What the heck." Then he proceeded to comment that foreigners like to "work out" but ask for a safety harness when an opportunity is given to climb up a coconut tree. "We use our arms and legs. What safety harness?" All right, I'm not a big fan of tourons (tourist + moron) who sit by a pool when the soft coral capital of the world is ten meters away. However, I thought his observation of tourists was perhaps unfair and that it was unfortunate that his encounters with foreigners only consisted of the selected population of tourists.
Since we don't have fancy iphones or ipads, we pulled out our monster Macbook and showed him pictures of ourselves climbing mountains. Limestone, sandstone, granite, glaciers; helmets, harnesses, ropes, gear, puffy jackets; big boots. Mike said, "Before we came here, we used to spend lots of time in the mountains. Now we are spending time in the ocean to learn about being in the big world." Marika seemed to acquire a new sense of respect for this and nodded his head.

When I asked Marika where he recommends we go in Fiji, he said, "To see real Fiji, you have to go to the Lau group. To recharge myself, that's where I go. Here, you go to the islands, they are interested in your money. In the Lau group, they put Fiji in your heart. They want to put Fiji in your hearts. You know what moce (pronounced "mo-thay") means? It means, 'we will meet again' and it also means 'we will never see each other again'." He placed both of his hands on top of his chest as he said this. I felt that he was very genuine in his love for Fiji. The Lau group is a group of islands on the easternmost Fiji and considered to be less touched by tourism. For cruisers, boats have to check into Savusavu, obtain a cruising permit, then retrace back and beating into the wind to visit these islands. Most boats with certain time schedules, like us, are not thrilled about turning back. I know we are missing out. However, this year, perhaps I can justify not going there as there is a dengue feaver outbreak and that would not be good anyway.
Hyo-jung

Thursday, September 9, 2010

September 9, 2010 Sevusevu

September 9, 2010 Sevusevu

Something we anticipate in our upcoming travels to a village on an island is a ceremony called Sevusevu. The following is blatantly stolen from the handout given by Waitui Marina:

"Upon arrival to a village or inhabited island, a gift of yaqona, also known as kava, is normally presented to the village mayor, the Turaga ni Koro, or to the village chief, Turaga ni Vanua, if he is present.
The preferred presentation is ½ kg of unpounded Kava root for yachts. The Sevusevu is a solemn ceremony where a village man acts as a spokesman for the villagers. If the Sevusevu is accepted, the chief will welcome the visitors to his village offering protection and all reasonable assistance within the village boundaries. If you plan on fishing for dinner, please ask for permission as well. You may be invited to join in around the kava or grog tanoa (bowl). It is customary to drink the bilo (cup) of grog in one long swallow. When you are presented with the bilo, you clap once. When you finish the contents, return the bilo and clap three times."

Since Tonga, the outfit I can wear to town has been reduced to one. The dress code is very conservative and women in general have their shoulders and knees covered. Here in Savusavu, most women are in skirts and they are quite pretty. Like a school uniform, I wear my purple skirt and long-sleeve white shirt every day and it's quite simple. Men also wear a long skirt called Sulu as it is probably disrespectful to show up in surf shorts or speedos. Mike and Jamie each bought a Sulu and we can't wait until we see them in action.

We just had our last curry dinner in town and returned. Indulging in some New Zealand ice cream, we sat by the docks and listened to Pate's band playing music. Pate is a multi-talented man who works at Waitui marina who took Mike and Jamie out spear fishing to his village. We learned many things about his family and culture. He has a teddy bear kind of face that displays pure kindness. What gives him that special mellow character? Could I possibly learn such qualities? After we said good-bye and rowed away in the dark, I felt sad about leaving. Savusavu has been a special one.

Hyo-jung

September 3, 2010 Savusavu continued

September 3, 2010

Mike and Jamie are out spearfishing for wahoo with a local dude. So far, we are loving it in Fiji. As the days go by, we are finding out more about this island, Vanua Levu, and this place has a lot to offer. Yesterday, we went on an all day inland road trip with Totem. We hired a very reliable driver and drove through the lush rain forest in the morning, had lunch at a beautiful eco-agritourism lodge (Palmlea Lodge), and spent the evening at the sugarcane festival in Labasa (pronounced "Lambasa").

We stopped at a Hindu temple and found Ganesh (a popular Hindu God) in pink. With some difficulty, thanks to Behan, we visited the Wasavulu ceremonial site. This is a spot in the Lonely Planet guidebook, but not many locals seemed to know where it was. After giving a gift of kava to the chief, a young woman gave us a tour of the site, right in their backyard next to a family cemetery. Pointing to a flat stone, the woman spoke, in a matter-of-fact manner, "And here, we used to sacrifice people on this." Next, pointing to a stone with a divet in the middle, she said, "And here, the head was put to drain the blood to drink." In the meantime, the village women have fallen in love with the blond kids on Totem and can't seem to get enough of hugging them. Watching their interactions, I had a hard time picturing the stabbing a "cannibal fork (available in handicraft stores)" into another human being.

At the Sugarcane Festival, I ate cotton candy and got on sketchy rides together with six-year-olds. We were invited to sit with the locals under a tent to drink kava and hang out. We were told that Fijians consider Tongan kava to be "a lady's grog" and people in Vanuatu apparently consider Fijian kava the same weak sauce. We had enough time to watch one performance of music and dance which was super awesome before returning home at 11:30pm. The people we've met were genuinely friendly and easy to make friends with.

Good food at a cheap price is a welcome change from French Polynesia. It's interesting that whether you go to a Chinese or an Indian restaurant, the menu is identical: chicken/mutton curry, chicken/mutton fried rice, chicken/mutton chop suey & chow mein. And the curries are delicious!

Hyo-jung

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

August 30, 2010 Savusavu, Fiji

16? 46.6'S 179?19.7' E
Welcome to the eastern hemisphere! Yay! When at sea, the passages turn into a big blur. But on the charts, it is a significant event to be crossing a certain mark such as the Tropic of Cancer, the equator (to the southern hemisphere), the international date line, and now to the eastern hemisphere. During the last five months, whenever I make a phone call to Korea, I realize the time difference between my location and Korea is decreased. I think the last time my parents and I were on the same date was 14 years ago.
We had a relatively benign four day passage from Vava'u, Tonga to Savusavu, Fiji. The first three days were rolly polly going dead downwind. Mike had a birthday en route. Good thing we had an early celebration with friends. After we passed the easternmost Lau group, the seas were calm for the last 120nm. I said "benign" passage, but to be honest, I'm much relieved to be done with this passage as it was loaded with uncharted hazards.
(Mike:) I'll expand on Hyo's description of uncharted hazards. Before we entered Tonga, we passed over the Tongan trench. This feature in the earth's crust is a subduction zone where one tectonic plate is being pushed under the other and results in a very active geological area. The trench we crossed over reached a depth of over 9,000 meters (29,000 feet)! We passed over the deepest place at night and while it was not technically different than any other of our crossings, it was kind of eerie to know there was over 9 km of water under the keel! Also, given its remoteness, it remains one of the least explored regions of the sea depths. I spent the night wondering what beasts must be watching us pass above aboard tiny IO. Tonga is then on the other side of the interaction, the part where the opposing tectonic plate is being pushed up above the ocean's surface. West of the Tongan islands lies many "hotspots" where volcanic activity is widespread. You may recall a while ago an email was passed around where a sailboat was sailing past a new island that was being pushed up out of the sea right before the sailor's eyes. Magma was being spurted out to form new rock and in a very short time, an entire new island was formed. After we left Tonga, we sailed passed this and 50 other such sites of "new land" that no one has had a chance to chart properly. We had a sketchy list of "uncharted dangers" that was compiled from other sailors that had either seen one of these anomalies or had been wrecked on one in the dark and had survived to tell the location! I must admit I was nervous on that 3 day passage and kept getting up in the night and looking out expecting to see a volcanic eruption dead in our path. At times the sailing business is bloody stressful!
We are now in the northern island of Fiji called Vanua Levu which apparently has a very large East Indian population from way back when they moved here to work on the sugarcane plantations. Upon arrival, as usual, we went through the check-in process with the Health inspector, Customs & Immigration, and Quarantine/Agriculture. While completing the paperwork, one of the customs officers sitting in the cockpit asked, "What is that contraption?", pointing to our propane heater inside the cabin. We explained that we once had three inches of snow on deck in Victoria two winters ago. We received blank stares of disbelief. Once the "ship's master" (me) has signed the form detailing that we did not have plague, cholera, dysentery or any deaths aboard during our passage caused from these illnesses, we were permitted to go ashore and had very authentic curry for dinner.

Hyo-jung & M

August 29, 2010 Tonga

Hmm.our Tonga experience. What can I say? Eric on Oso Blanco told me that he had a bit of a writer's block for putting an entry in his blog because he felt that he did not want to sound like a "grouchy American tourist". I'm afraid I share this sentiment. We had not written much this time, not because we were having a blast like in Suwarrow, but because there was nothing significantly positive and only a few negative things to write about. It is true that, were it not for our friends Totem and Oso Blanco, we probably would have left much earlier. But it is what it is, so here goes..

Of the four major island groups in Tonga, we visited the northernmost one called Vava'u. The numerous limestone-cliff islands provided a different kind of stimulation for the eyes compared to the atolls. We had come quite further south and the cooler temperature was a welcome change. Breathing in crisp cold air in the morning was very refreshing! As we took an evening walk through the residential part of town with Totem, the frequent sightings of pigs and adorable piglets, which apparently exceed the human population, had us all giggling.
Over the course of the following two weeks, our experience was a bit tarnished due to the ex-patriot business owners who dominate the local businesses. The morning radio net on channel 26 gave us a glimpse of the vibe of the cruiser community and ongoing issues. There's always one vocal person who likes his stage personality a bit too much and there is always at least one of those in every cruising community. One issue that seemed to be the subject of debate was regarding safe whale watching practices. While similar industry in the Pacific NW went through growing pains perhaps 20 years ago, both Canada and US currently have well-established guidelines. What we observed was that a guideline existed but it was set by the Whale Watching Association of Tonga which is not an actual authority and is composed of the eco-tour business owners -say, conflict of interest?
(Insert Mike:) This is apparently the last place on earth where you can swim with the whales. Even one of the companies is named "Endangered Encounters". While every other country with an eco-tourism industry has deemed it unwise to put tourists in the water with whales, Tongan businesses have exploited this lack of insight by the Tongan Kingdom and base their businesses on a "swim with the whales" theme. There was some tension between some cruisers and ex-pat business owners who then try to claim that is not safe for cruisers with their own boats to go and swim with the whales and that it is only safe if you pay for the service with a local operator. One would then expect, based on this argument, that the local operators have specific training or knowledge that allows safe whale viewing. Our friends on Oso Blanco who paid to go on one of these whale excursion trips reported that when the whales were found, the boat went full throttle towards the whales and these were the exact words from the boat captain: "Get in and swim as fast as you can at the whales!" Evidently, there is a double standard in practice: The whale watching company was not following their own guidelines to 1) keep the distance of 300 meters between whales and humans, 2) have a dive flag up, or 3) have no more than 4 people in the water at a time. Yet when it came to cruisers, in the name of protecting the whales, our friends in their dinghy were harassed by a whale watching boat even though they were complying with the so-called regulations.
It became obvious that these business owners view Tonga as basically the wild west where anything goes, and you grab what you can when you can. It was a very disappointing experience to see how the foreigners exploit the local Tongan resources without regard for established first-world eco-tourism practices and treat the place as a money grab without regard to the true locals or wildlife.
Another interesting but disappointing observation was regarding a capsized catamaran. A few weeks ago, a 57-foot catamaran named Ana had capsized en route to Tonga. The owners were rescued off by a freighter and their boat drifted towards Tonga. You see, there is something called salvage rights - whoever comes upon an abandoned boat may claim a finder's fee up to the full value of the boat. Although I did not hear the details, just having the radio on revealed a glimpse of the tension between the vultures out there looking for the capsized boat. Imagine being the owners of the boat, having gone through a traumatic event of having your boat capsized, having to abandon it, and be rescued. Your boat is badly damaged and it must be stressful enough moving on from there without other vultures to deal with. And for such activities to come from other cruisers!
On the contrary, none of the above were noticed when we visited various anchorages and villages away from town. Natural beauty does not hide itself and it was lovely to walk through the iron-rich red soiled islands, seeing a tapioca tree for the first time. Together with Totem and Oso Blanco, we were invited to visit the local government public schools to meet the kids and teachers and exchange gifts. The kids sang us traditional songs (and what voices they carried!!) and we left school supplies and toys. Thanks again to the Mulhollands who brought many donated items for children. We found them very useful and much appreciated by the locals we met. The children go to school in the villages until age 12. Starting age 13, they must stay find a way to live in town for the remaining school years, either by living with relatives or by having the family split during weekdays and reuniting for weekends. We learned from a man who gave us a tour that the population in these islands is decreasing as young people move to New Zealand or elsewhere for employment and take their parents with them.
Christianity is huge in Tonga. Nowhere else had we felt such presence. It was in the school uniforms, cross necklaces, and in the Sunday morning songs carried from about six different churches. We learned that the Mormon church spends more money on infrastructure than the King. We asked the local villager about Tonga's traditional religious beliefs and he answered that it is similar to the Methodist church. I did not know what to make of that.
In town, visiting the local market was probably my favorite part. I felt it was easy to make friends with the ladies at the market. It was a learning experience on how to trade our items for their handi-crafts, tapa cloths, and coconut shell bowls (for kava). On the day of departure, we were blessed to have a rare shipment of apples from New Zealand. I had not had an apple in about four weeks, since Bora Bora, and was never so happy to take a satisfactory bite into a crunchy apple. Also, thanks to Behan on Totem, in a place where yogurt was not available, we started making yogurt ourselves and enjoyed it every day. Pure joy in the simplest things!
So overall, it was a strange mix of different vibes we felt in Tonga. In our observations, we have not forgotten that there are exceptions: like the lady in town who is apparently interested in the education of the local youth and supports the library. Overwhelmingly, it was our friends that made the experience enjoyable.

Hyo-jung & M

Friday, August 20, 2010

I have to take the time to write about this one.

August 19, 2010

After spending five marginally fun or downright miserable days in Neiafu, we are now back with our comrades Oso Blanco and Totem where every day is truly a new adventure. We are back to the usual routine of snorkeling, spearfishing and exploring each new reef. The reefs here harbor tremendous biodiversity with many new faces and numerous color changes on old faces compared to the reef life at Suwarrow or the Society islands. Also the Southern ocean Humpback population is here for calving season and many whales can be seen spouting in close to shore.

Yesterday we heard from a local Tongan man that snorkeling on the reef at night is often very productive for catching lobsters. Until now we have not done much night snorkeling on the outer reef because that's when the Tiger sharks come in to forage. Of all the close shark encounters we have had so far, that's not one I'm willing to risk. However, we were assured by this local that there are no big sharks at this location at night, so off we went, lobster spears and flashlights in hand. The reef we were perched on was on the outer side of all the Tongan islands and abruptly drops off to over 1000 meters (3000 feet) deep. Eric, Jamie and I entered the dark water and snorkeled around a bit enjoying the night reef life. An abundance of nocturnal squirrelfish, pufferfish, seafeathers (crinoids) and shrimp were about, but clearly no lobsters were to be seen. While at the surface of the water you can hear both the water splashing on your head and your breathing through the snorkel, while at depth during a dive, there is only the sound of the reef, that being mostly the snap-crackling of the snapping shrimp. However, on this night while holding your breath underwater, you could clearly hear the billowing song of the Humpback whales that were not so far off in the distance.
As we ended our snorkel and approached the dinghy, the three of us turned off our lights and just floated above the moonlight reef. There, on the edge of that abyss, we hung weightless, while basking in a personal concert of whale-song as it was carried off into the ocean deep.

m

Monday, August 16, 2010

Nejafu, Tonga

August 16, 2010

We are currently in the town of Nejafu, which is the main harbor in the Vava'u group of Tonga. Getting here was not much fun as the seas were rough and uncomfortable to the point that I got seasick, not something that has happened in a long time. The town is interesting and obviously poor. Oddly there are a large percentage of Canadian, American and British business owners here, which has added a very first world flavor to the otherwise rundown and poor community. While shopping for fresh vegetables at the local market we were presented with ample opportunity to dispense many of the toys and school supply's that we have been carrying with us. I had often grumbled about having to store this stuff in our limited hold but the smiles of the children more than compensated for that burden.

We have not yet explored the local islands as we have been trying to reprovision and get some email done. I have already spent over $25 on internet fees and countless hours to try to upload our new shark filled Suwarrow Atoll video and still have not been able to get it loaded. I also got a bad case of food poisoning and have been down for a couple of days. So far we have not thoroughly enjoyed Tonga but we hope to get out of the main harbor and begin to do so.

 

m

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Suwarrow Atoll, truly remote, truly pristine

Our time at Suwarrow Atoll. An oasis in the middle of the vast Pacific, 1300 km from the nearest populated island, lies this tropical paradise.


Monday, August 9, 2010

Hell, Heaven, Hell, repeat!

August 8 2010.

Soon it will be august 7th! We are about to cross the date line and loose a day. We are currently about 170 nautical miles out of Tonga. I have not written in a while because we have been having a horrible set of passages broken up by a week in true paradise where I was too exhausted from having fun to write!

We left Bora Bora and had a hellacious 8-day passage to Suwarrow Atoll. The only cool thing I remember from those 8 days of wind driven hell, was being outside at 3 am and watching a large moonlit ghostly shape slide up next to IO. This creature was about the same size as IO as it paralleled our starboard side. It did not break the surface, it only hung illuminated under the full moon, then submerged under IO. A moment later a 2-meter (6 foot) dorsal fin pierced the water and rose to the height of our deck only meters from IOs port side. It was the unmistakable dorsal fin of a large bull Killer Whale silhouetted against the moonlit water. Briefly, a second and then a third shape moved past IO, then disappeared into the darkness. I never heard even so much as a breath.

Suwarrow turned out to be my absolute favorite place on this voyage so far, a true paradise. My only regret is that I did not write about our adventures there every day. I was too exhausted from those adventures. The reef was pristine; the animal life was how I imagined a pristine coral reef to be. There were so many sharks and our tolerance of them grew daily. What on day one seemed like stupidity, on day 3 became the norm. We spearfished with the ranger every day. We gutted the daily catch standing in knee deep water surrounded by blacktip reef sharks waiting for scraps. Every day spearfishing along side three species of reef sharks brought new adrenalin, new experience and thankfully no new scars. Along with the crew of Oso Blanco and Totem and Apii our ranger host, we explored every corner of the tiny atoll. We lobster fished at night on the outer reef, and had sharks chew freshly speared fish off the end of my spear. We feasted on massive coconut crabs that were abundant on the tiny islands. We shared our catch every night ashore with friendly potlucks and the carcasses went to the sharks. Apii shared his knowledge of the reef life and sincere smile while James (picture a Polynesian Hagred from harry potter) demonstrated his Bar-BQ skills as these kindly hosts shared this tiny island with us. We found pure fun in that heaven, a thousand kilometers from nowhere. Don't worry, I have footage!

It is day 5 and we are now 160 miles from Vava'u Tonga, the weather forecast is deteriorating and by tomorrow we will be beating into 25 knots of wind strait on the nose. These passages got old thousands of miles ago. The islands we visit are paradise, the passages between are hell.

m

Monday, July 19, 2010

The itch


July 19, 2010

We have enjoyed our time here. But now the itch grows and grows. So far on this South Pacific trip we have been to island groups that although remote, were accessible to others. Both the Marquesas and Tuamotoes had regular flights to at least the major islands and many of the outlying islands were not out of reach for those who are willing. And of course the Society islands (Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora etc.) are very popular. However, where we are going now is truly remote. There are no flights, or transport freighters that go here. You cannot access these islands unless you own your own yacht. I have been told they are pristine and represent an oasis of biological diversity that can only persist when humans are a rare occurrence. Our next intended stop is Suwarrow Atoll which lies nearly 700 NM (1300 Km) West-North-West of Bora Bora, about a week at sea for us. We are currently provisioning, making last minute repairs and constantly checking the weather looking for a good window.

French Polynesia has been fun. We have enjoyed the French influence of morning baguettes, Nutella and cheese. The Chinese influence has filled our bellies with Chow Main, which is a Polynesian favorite and can be purchased at any of the evening rouletts - a van parked on the side of the road that is the local restaurant.

We have been in the South Pacific for almost three months now and looking at the chart reveals that we have barely covered 1/3 of the distance to Australia, a distance that we have to cover before the South Pacific hurricane season begins in November. Given that there are thousands of islands that one could visit between here and there, and we have barely 4 months to get through here (with over a month of that as sea time), we have to choose our destinations carefully and not lament about the countless places “we could have gone”. However, our experiences so far has been that we have enjoyed each place we have stopped to the fullest and we were always sad to leave, which I guess is the best way to go.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Diving Bora Bora





I have been diving with Ken on s/v Trim and Eric on m/v Oso Blanco with all the incredible sea life here which include some of the largest specimens of sea cucumbers I have seen.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pure fun in Moorea

Here is some footage of playing with the stingrays in Moorea.

Bora Bora Lemons



July 15, 2010

Play time! We have been diving and snorkeling every day, all day. Yesterday I dove the outer reef with four Lemon sharks (Negaprion brevirostris) that were 3-4 meters (9-12 feet) in length. It was not so much the overall length that was impressive but the girth of these animals. They were just so large that I was completely dwarfed by them. They were not whale-shark large, but they are just such a cool big bad ass "shark" looking shark, with large protruding rows of teeth and an awe inspiring grace about them, that to be in their presence was humbling. I was diving with my partner Ken off sv Trim, at about 90 feet when I saw movement of something large behind a corral head. I thought it was a large fish heading our way, which of course it was, but when the whole of this animal came into view, I to take a deep breath and focus on identifying which species its was. We descended right to the bottom and grabbed onto a rock for stability while this exceedingly large animal moved directly for us. The shark gracefully swam unswervingly toward Ken until it was less than a body length from him, face to face, before it veered off. It was then I noticed three more animals circling the coral-heads that we were holding onto. We just sat there, hanging on to the rock, amongst these massive animals swimming all around us, slowly, gracefully.

m

Monday, July 12, 2010

Bora Bora

We have just pulled into Bora Bora after a quick trip through the rest of the society islands. They have been picture perfect and beautiful, but very populated. The weather has been a bit unpredictable and we broke our main sail traveler so we had to get that fixed in Raitaea. Other than that all is well but I am looking forward to getting back to places remote.

m

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

IO's 28 day Pacific Crossing


Here is a video of our 28 day voyage from North America to French Polynesia in the South Pacific.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

From Kevin & Tash


Kevin and I wanted to thank you both for an unbelievable vacation. Both the highs and the lows are an experience we will soon not forget, although it's only the highs I can think of right now. The amazing ocean life, both on land and in the water. The different people and their boats we met and will remember forever. The infinite stars, beautiful moon and sun rises. The sunrises on Moorea were amazing. The indescribable blue of the water. It's really interesting when I mention to people the demographic that we met sailing. "how can they afford to live like that"? or " they must be rich". I just laugh and tell them anything is possible when you are determined, aren't focused on material wealth and chose to live your dream. I am also getting a lot of comments on" what a glamorous way to live" or "how romantic". Again I just laugh, if they only knew how glamorous and romantic sea sickness is or staying awake all night to the rocking of the boat and the sound of chain rubbing on coral! Wondering how big the swells will get.


Hyo, I am still in awe when I think of the wonderful meals you produced in a three foot square space and with limited resources. Fresh hot coffee every morning regardless of "conditions" I know I would not have been able to do the same. Mike, thank you for your fishing skills, I know I will never eat fish so fresh ever again. It was also a very special treat to be in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with someone so vast with knowledge about the area. I know I not only appreciate the education about every little life form, but I also felt much safer knowing that you would warn us of potential dangers. I had know idea needle fish have killed people! Thanks to you both for taking care of us, giving us the trip of a lifetime, and keeping us safe.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

June 26, 2010 Arrival in Tahiti

June 26, 2010
Point Venus, Arue, Tahiti
S17 31.4 W149 32.1

We raised Tahiti out of the horizon at about 1 AM yesterday. Under a near full moon, the grand outline of the island came into focus as we sailed in light winds carrying all the sail that IO could manage. I spent my shift (midnight till morning) silently working the winds from three squalls to get us near shore. As the sun rose, we could make out Point Venus, the historical landing point of both Captians Cook and Bligh and the sight where the mutineers of the sailing ship Bounty returned to after they took control. We were guided into a local marina overlooking this place by our friends aboard Totem and Capaz.

While approaching Tahiti, at about 2 AM, I heard a French voice come on the VHF and give some coordinates that sounded close to us. A minute later the same voice, only speaking good English spoke again: "This is the French War-ship P802 calling the vessel off our port side at coordinates xxxxx, traveling on a course of 241 degrees at 4 knots, do you read me?" Crap, that's us! Seriously, does the navy of every country that we visit have to bother me? I mean really, we are the smallest boat on the bloody ocean, how much threat could we be? It turned out to be no big deal as usual, they just wanted to confirm our status and get our country of registration. It was most likely some bored radio operator with nothing better to do. But after I was hailed by the nuclear submarine in the strait of Juan de Fuca aboard my last boat (buy me a drink and I'll tell you that story some time), I find being hailed by the military of any country, simply annoying! And just for interest sake, since IO is a Canadian-registered vessel, we are bound by some archaic law that says IO is, in part, owed by the Queen of England and if any navy other than the Canadian navy tries to board her, it is considered an act of war! Cool, huh? If a foreign country wants to board us, they have to send their coast guard; it can't be the navy (as was done in the US several times and in the Marquesas).

As it turns out, we arrived here at the same time as Escapade, the other 30-foot sailboat that we met in La Cruz. We all went ashore to do the usual, find laundry, a grocery store and generally explore. While we were ashore, we saw a poster with a beautiful Tahitian woman on it saying that the 50th anniversary Miss Tahiti was being held tonight. The general consensus between Jim, Brendon, myself and surprisingly Hyo was that we definitely needed to experience some Tahitian culture. I will say that after being at sea for so long, all that drumming, dancing, hip shaking and exposed skin.WOW. And remember that I was with a beautiful woman the whole time at sea! (I think young Brendon was well and truly enthralled by that particular experience.) I admit that I may have been counted as one of the mutineers if that was what I was to return to!

Three days at sea is still a long passage, especially when the winds are light and the slatting of the main sail was enough to blow out three webbing sail slide attachments! More repairs, more sewing, but I cannot sew until I fix our "new" broken inverter. The Autopilot is busted, the sink fresh water pump is leaking and the list goes on and on. Like I have said before, the highs are so high and lows so low. Despite my whining about the little ongoing repairs, I am actually very grateful. There are two boats beside us that lost their masts somewhere between here and the Marquesas and we have heard many other stories of seriously broken boats including one that was abandoned during the major crossing. IO has been strong and not failed us in any way.

Sailing to Tahiti

June 23, 2010
Position: S 16 34.4 W146 57.1

We are sailing to Tahiti. That has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? The winds are light but fair and we have said good-bye to the Tuamotus. They have lived up to my expectations. While planning this trip to the South Pacific, there were a couple of places that captured my imagination more than the rest. The deep blue lagoons of the Tuamotus offered me all the remoteness of location and pristine wildlife I had expected. We also ate our fair share of that pristine wildlife, specifically the lobster and the parrot fish! While hanging out with the locals and fellow cruising spear-fisherman, I think I captured parrot fish in every way possible, from throwing 9' long Tahitian spears, using beach seine nets, spearfishing while on snorkel, and of course, the machete fishing.


You may wonder why I picked on the parrot fish when there are so many tasty reef fish to choose from. Ciguatera poisoning is a toxin that affects reef fish in the tropics and is not unlike paralytic shell fish poisoning (red tide) which we have in Canada and Northwest US. This toxin is accumulated in the food chain when grazing fish eat coral that contains a toxic single-celled protozoan (dinoflagellate). This toxin can then be magnified up through the food chain as small and large predators in turn consume the toxic grazing fish. The toxin does not affect the fish but is very toxic to mammals and a dose can cause everything from stomach pain and diarrhea to paralysis and death in humans. We actually met one boat family that had spearfished on the wrong reef and got very sick to the point of needing IV morphine to deal with the pain.
We were fortunate to be able to share this place with many new and old friends and are looking forward to the Society Islands, which have been described by some of the cruisers ahead of us as being "the most beautiful place they have ever seen".

m

Monday, June 21, 2010

June 18, 2010 fire signal

June 18, 2010


Nothing lasts forever. I could have stayed near Wallis for at least another week, but we had to move anchorages due to weather. It was a touching scene of good-byes. Although we miss him, we are within sight of Wallis' motu and this evening, we saw his fire signal. All is well with Wallis tonight.

Friday, June 18, 2010

June 17, 2010 - Wallis on Toau


June 17, 2010 - Toau
Anchored in position 16 00.67'S 145 54.80'W

Just when I was starting to think that the postcard picture of turquoise blue lagoons and palm trees seem all the same in the atolls, we moved further south near a beautiful motu (atoll island) and found our paradise. It is absolutely spectacular here. As we approached the shore, noting some houses but no boats, we comment to each other that we are not really craving to be alone right now. And that is when Wallis emerged out of the trees and welcomed us.

Both yesterday and today, Wallis, Mike, and I went spear fishing on the nearby reefs. It is so nice that Mike has a spear fishing partner. Communicating with "C'est bon!" and "No good", hunting seems like an activity that does not require much common language. Besides, you don't speak underwater anyway. It is great that we have local knowledge about which fish are safe from ciguatera poisoning. Getting into our dinghy, Wallis was not shy about expressing his apprehension about the stability of our "petit bato" equipped with oars and a two-horse power engine. (We acquired this engine from another boat back in Nuku Hiva and the little cute engine has extended our playground much farther now.)

Anyway, my job was to take underwater pictures and look out for sharks. After the last couple of "get out of the water!" episodes, I have to admit I'm a bit apprehensive about seeing a grey reef shark appear any time now. I can easily hear the two spear guns firing underwater, so I swim towards the latest catch, and the fish is quickly placed inside the dinghy. The rest of the time, I can leisurely observe parrot fish, unicorn fish, squirrel fish, surgeon fish, groupers, needle fish, etc. and enjoy the corals. I'm enamoured with the giant clams. They display a palate full of beautiful green, purple, and blue colors and pulse, as if to say, "Kiss me!".
Although I don't engage in the activity, it is quite fun to observe the boys spear fishing. In Fakarava, I watched a very skilled local dude dive swiftly, hold himself on a part of a rock and level himself with the fish, and shoot his spear gun with amazing accuracy. It was very graceful. Wallis, maneuvering a spear gun that is longer than his own height, dove so deep for so long, that it was easy to forget that he's underwater. Every time he came up, he laughed, "Very GOOD! Very GOOD!" super giddy, we could not help but laugh with him. Mike dives deep and for a long time, easily on par with the locals. He looks quite beautiful, too. (Especially with the badass tattoo.)
Yesterday evening, we enjoyed our catch roasted over the fire, sitting by a table on the beachfront, watching the sunset. Wallis' dog (Diablo) and cat (Lolita) joined us. Today, Wallis quenched our thirst with coconut milk, made poisson cru with fresh coconut cream, and taught us how to make coconut bread (pain coco) using an oil drum and a metal roofing as an oven - Voila and fantastic! Maybe we're supposed to have certain servings of each recommended food group every day, but I am sure happy with fish and coconuts alone. It's certainly better than the ultra-processed pasta dish I made using canned meat, bendy carrots, and mystery spice in a package.
Wallis owns no shoes. He asked if we had any, so I gave him my Holey Soles. I had nothing else that would fit his wide but small feet. Despite this, when we go for a walk, he still wears no shoes. I can't imagine how he does it because I can feel the sharp coral bits on the beach through my Chaco sandals! Crazy!
Wallis and Mike are both apologetic about not speaking each other's language. We feel more embarrassed because we're the visitors. Nonetheless, we have fun learning words in both French and Tahitian. We learned that he has seven siblings and one 7-year-old daughter. We learned that every night at 6PM, he makes a fire to signal to the other living beings in this atoll, about 4 miles away, a signal that all is well. When one of the three fires are not lit, they are aware that something is wrong. We learned that he chooses to be in Toau and is happy to be here. It is inspiring to meet such a genuinely happy person. Each time after spear fishing, he says "Merci" repeatedly, when we are the ones thankful that he's hanging out with us. We learn to be happy and thankful.
Hyo-jung


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

GET OUT OF THE WATER!

June 15, 2010
Toau (Tuamotus)
Position 15 57.8S / 145 52.1W

Here in the Tuamotus, the local people do not measure a shark by the overall length but rather describe the girth of the shark's chest as an indicator of size. I knew the girth of this particularly large Grey Reef shark intimately as I stared directly at it advancing toward me in an aggressive and menacing manor. Just before it reached me, it veered off flashing an arched back (indicating aggression) as it swam around for another pass where it again approached me head on. "GET OUT OF THE WATER!" I yelled to Hyo as I swam rapidly towards the dinghy! That was the second time in less than 24 hours that a large Grey Reef shark (the notably more aggressive of the common local species) has forced me out of the water. The previous night I had been spear fishing near the boat where we were anchored near the Toau Pass. I had speared a large Bumphead parrot fish (Scarus perrico) and unfortunately it had gotten off my spear, and had bled profusely as it swam to a small coral head. I reloaded my spear and my lungs and had just submerged to descend the 25 feet and finish the job when the 6-foot long barrel-chested (large girth) Gray shark arrived on the scene. I aborted and called "GET OUT OF THE WATER" to Hyo and by the time I had gotten back to IO, a mere 40 feet away I saw several Black Tips and the large Grey circling the coral head.

Now this second scenario was fine and justified in my mind and fit my rationale as a biologist and fisherman. Remember that I had swam and SCUBA dove with over 200 hundred of Gray Reef sharks in the Fakarava pass. This time, I speared a fish near the pass (where most Gray Reef sharks hang out during the day) where the possibility of bringing in sharks that are conditioned to the sound of the spear gun is high. It was a large Parrot fish and the unfortunate gut-shot had incurred a lot of blood loss, so justifiably I was not surprised at the sharks arriving so quickly. Nor was I surprised at their searching behavior and disinterest of me. But, still best to get out of the water in a calm and controlled manner.
What bothers me about the first account is that we were not spear fishing or otherwise doing anything that we have not done before. We had taken the dinghy out to snorkel the pass during the incoming flood tide. We had seen another boat do the same on the previous day. In fact, they had floated it twice and told us that it was good and noted how many sharks there were. So when we got in the water and within a mere 30 seconds I was being confronted by this aggressive Gray Reef shark, I was admittedly surprised! For the record, I would NOT describe my reaction to be near or in the order of true panic, but I was fast, reactive and perhaps a bit hasty! I was back in the dinghy faster than I have ever been and my heart was racing! Upon reflection I should have stayed in the water near the dinghy and watched the sharks' behavior in a calm and perhaps more aggressive manner on my part.
This incident has made me feel a bit sheepish as I have now said to many many cruisers (now being well known as the local marine biologist!) that "the local sharks are harmless as long as you pay attention to their behavior and are not spear fishing or doing other things that might provoke them". We did move further south into the atoll and I have been spear fishing since then with no sharks being drawn in.
We had the incredible experience of meeting two local teenagers that love fishing. After working hard at their copra (dried coconut meat) farms all day, they still set out at night to go fishing and lobster hunting. Dressed for the kill in a one-piece wetsuit and with open rain barrels strapped on their backs, they carried ultra bright white-kerosene lanterns. These skilled boys taught us how to collect lobsters on the outer reef at night and introduced me to "machete fishing" which is ridiculously fun and productive. Basically, while you are looking for lobsters, many of the reef fish are sleeping in small tide pools and you get to whack them in the head with your machete as you plod along the reef in the dark. Pure fun!
Finally, I have also fulfilled another one of my life long goals in that we have hunted and now eaten (only one) a Coconut Crab (Birgus latro). It is related to a hermit crab but does not use a gastropod shell. This large (can be over 9 lbs) land crab makes its living by eating coconuts which it can open and crush with its huge and remarkably tasty claws. It also has been touted as being the fattiest of all crustaceans (hence super tasty) which is no doubt due to eating the fatty coconuts. Admittedly, the velvety ant-like abdomen is not its best feature - actually quite gross in appearance. This abdomen is supposed to contain the bulk of the oil/fat that when done properly, supplies the dipping sauce for the meat and is reported to be heavenly in taste. Unfortunately we have not learned the proper way of cooking them over a fire and our attempt at boiling the sucker resulted in beige goo-juice exploding out of its abdomen which immediately abolished our appetites.

So currently we are the only boat within sight, our life is great, even if it's a bit sharky and a little carnal.

m

Sunday, June 13, 2010

guests


June 10, 2010
Despite her smaller size compared to the rest of the cruising community, Io seems to earn praises from many sailors. She is strong and performs well and I happen to be quite proud of her. Compared to other 30-footers, she provides standing head room for Mike. She is designed smartly for sailing conditions. When it comes to lounging and entertaining guests, however, she has her limits. It seems like the equivalent of owning a two-seater hatchback sports car and suggesting a car camping road trip for four people. Well, that's pretty much what we did. Yes, it would be nice to offer a separate state room for guests, but what can you do? Forego seeing friends due to space? No.
Our friends have come and gone already. During their 13 days aboard, I believe our friends sampled the highs and lows of cruising.
For example, one day in mill pond calm seas, the day was packed with snorkeling activities and watching underwater life unfold before our eyes. It was so hot that we wished for a bit of a breeze. But the next day, winds increased and kicked up choppy seas, and we bucked wildly and uncomfortably. The wind shift put us on the windward side of the shore, so the task of the day was to move to a safer anchorage.
Starry night, starry night, we listened to Neil Young and chatted in the cockpit. It was the perfect night breeze. The same night, rain squalls came every two hours. Kevin had to move from sleeping outside to the hottest bunk inside the cabin - with windows closed. The sound of chain grinding on the coral head below kept me awake at night and made my toe nails curl up.
Snorkeling in the south pass of Fakarava was the most memorable experience. Our friends saw no such corals like that in Hawaii. I heard of the corals in Rangiroa dying. Are all corals destined for the same ending? I sincerely hope not. We hung out with our cruising friends, Totem, Mulan, Oso Blanco, Capaz, and met some new families. One night we all gathered aboard Oso and had "Oso-Bio 102", a talk on biological diversity put together by Mike. The audience: age 6 to 60. We also had an inaugural ceremony for the Strawberry Monkey Yacht Club. Good friends, good laughs, and good memories.

One memorable experience was taking our friends to the airport in Fakarava. About 1.8nm to NW from the town, we tied our lines at the small dock, right in front of the airport, walked 50m to the airport and said good-bye to our friends. In a way, we envied them for being able to hop on a plane, and within hours, be in a place with unlimited showers and fruits. It will take us several days to reach Tahiti. Oh well, that's how it goes!