» Archive for August, 2007

It’s been almost a month since we’ve been able to update this site.

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007 by Jeanna

We lost our entire communications system on the boat – no e-mail, phone or weather.  It’s been mighty lonely out here, with no news from home.  I believe we are just about up and running again – thankfully!  Thanks to all of you who expressed concern over our silence.

After our friend Tom’s fatal diving accident, Bora Bora wasn’t much fun anymore.  We didn’t really feel like snorkeling or getting in the water at all.  We helped get Tom’s boat ready for a delivery crew to take it to New Zealand, and then we left as soon as we could.  We sailed to the very last island in the French Polynesia chain, a little place called Maupiti.  We saw the final award-giving of the Heiva Festival, with some good singing and dancing.  There was a Hobie Cat regatta going on while we were there – it was great to see all those colorful sails moving around the bay.  We were anxious to get to the Cook Islands, so we only stayed there for a couple of days.

Our 4-day sail to Suwarrow in the Northern Cooks was a very arduous trip.  The first night was everything I hate about night watches.  The seas were HUGE and unorganized, the wind was blowing 25-30 knots, there was no moon, and we were going dead down wind.  As Jim said, it was blacker than the inside of a cow.  Our wind speed/wind point had failed, so it was hard to keep the boat on a good course.  And, of course, I was seasick.  The next days were better, although the boat was lurching and rocking in the weird waves.  One day, we all had to write a haiku, and the next day we each had to present an invention, with a drawing and explanation of how it would work.  That helped the time pass quickly.

I was so glad to get to Suwarrow, which is a small, uninhabited atoll.  It is a nature reserve, and a caretaker lives on the island from April to October.  The caretakers, John and Veronica, have 4 boys under the age of 11.  They are a great family, and Molly and Jessie had fun romping among the coconut palms with other kids.  With the other cruisers who were anchored in the bay, there were 10 kids that had the run of the island.  They built a two-story palm hut, caught coconut crabs, and ate coconut pancakes.  Several nights, the 7 boats that were there got together for potlucks and music.  It was nice to get to know the caretaker and the other cruising families.  We had some nice hikes and found a couple of amazing snorkeling spots.  Jim speared a couple of small groupers, which were delicious.  There are a lot of black-tipped sharks in the atoll, and they seem to know the sound of a spear gun going off.  The minute Jim shot the gun, about 6 sharks came darting out of nowhere and started circling around him.  We cleaned the fish off the back of our boat, and there were sharks swimming frantically, eating the carcasses.

The crossing from Suwarrow to American Samoa was much nicer.  The wind continued to blow – up to 35 knots at times – but the seas were flat.  With a double-reefed main and our storm jib, we were still doing 10 knots.  It is an eerie feeling to be careening through the blackness going that fast.  You can’t see a thing, so you just hope and pray that there are no sleeping whales or derelict cargo containers floating in the water.  So far, so good!

Jim and I were in American Samoa twenty years ago, and it hasn’t changed a lot since then.  There is a lot of trash on land, and the water is very polluted.  There are two big tuna-packing plants here, and when the wind switches around, it is hard to breathe.  The smell is staggering.  The people, however, are friendly, helpful and speak English.  It is nice to be dealing in American currency again.  There is a huge Costco-like store here, where we will be able to re-provision.  There are some things we need to fix on the boat, and this is a good place to do it.

The buses here are entertaining.  They are funky, crickety things, but they are all painted with colorful logos and sayings, and inside they are decked out in leopard-skin fake fur, feather boas, and ceramic dogs with nodding heads.  Each bus has a very loud speaker system, and you are at the mercy of each driver who displays his taste in music at full blast, with the bass turned up all the way.  Most people here, men and women, wear skirts, so no one has pockets.  Since they always carry change for the bus ride, they store their quarters in their ears!  We thought they were just plugging their ears to drown out the music!

We got mail while we were here in Samoa.  It is so much fun to receive books and letters from friends.  We also got next year’s school curriculum – much to Molly and Jessie’s chagrin.  There are lots of new historical fiction books to read now, and some of the great literary classics.  What better way to while away a crossing than to read “Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”, or “Great Expectations”?

In a few days, we will leave for Western Samoa, then Tonga, Fiji and New Zealand.  The time seems to be flying by, and I worry that we won’t get to see all the sights before hurricane season arrives in early November.  We’ll keep you posted! ~ Jeanna

When we raised our anchor in American Samoa,

Saturday, August 18th, 2007 by Jeanna

it was decorated with steel cable, fishing line, and about twenty plastic garbage bags.  The first thing Molly said was, “Is there anything we can use, Dad?”  The nut doesn’t fall far from the tree…

We decided against going to Western Samoa, and headed to (everybody ready?)  Niuatoputapu, in northern Tonga.  The cruisers call it New Potato, since we are a lazy bunch, but we have been practicing to let the name roll off our tongues.  I think the villagers appreciate having us properly say the name of their island.  This is one of the more unspoiled islands we have seen.  There is no electricity, running water or refrigeration.  Dogs, pigs, chickens and horses run freely among the locals on the dirt roads.  The people are very friendly and seem to enjoy cruisers.  A supply ship came yesterday – it hadn’t been here for a couple of months, and won’t be back till Christmas.  The entire village (1400 people) showed up at the wharf to help unload lumber, oil, food and a couple of horses.  The villagers were quite upset when they discovered that there was no tobacco or cigarettes on the ship; I guess they were really counting on it.  The first thing the customs officials asked when they boarded our boat was, “Do you have any tobacco?”

There are 3 churches on the island; Methodist, Catholic and Mormon.  Each church has services twice a day, every day.  We heard the bells ring at 5:00 this morning.  One of the churches had a big fund-raiser today.  They are trying to raise money for a larger building.  There were long tables set up with roast pig, chicken, lobster, breadfruit, melons, cakes, and taro.  The pastor was preaching inside the building the whole time, and every once in a while, a bowl was passed through the church door and people would put money in it.  The bowl would come out about every half an hour.  The people must have been rationing their money, because they always had more to put in.  I blew it, and put my entire twenty dollars in right at the beginning; and I got disappointed looks when I wasn’t able to contribute each time.  The pigs they roasted were so tiny – no bigger than a loaf of bread.  I knew I had said “hello” to those very pigs just the day before, and I was a little leery of how long the meat had been sitting out before the party started.  Jim, of course, dug right in, evidently not remembering that he got deathly ill in Mexico, eating roasted pig.  We’ll see how it all turns out.

This was the last day of school for all the students in the village.  Molly and Jessie were invited to come to the elementary school, and walk with the kids about a mile up the road to the high school, where there was a big program planned.  There were skits and dancing and singing and speeches.  Most of it was in English, and it was fun to watch.  The students gave speeches about technology in Tonga, why they loved the Tongan way of life, and other subjects close to their heart.  There is a custom here where people go up to a performer and tuck money into their shirts or belts while they are performing to show their appreciation.  It happened a lot today.  I thought it was interesting when a girl was giving a speech about how money is the root of all evil, and she was admonishing her peers to not become enamored of money and its pleasures.  Someone came up and tucked a dollar bill into her belt, and she didn’t blink an eye – just kept on talking.  I guess I was the only one who saw the irony in it – there were no snickers when it happened.

The other cruisers are discovering Jim’s talents more and more; they call him up to ask about their refrigeration, single side-band radio, or engine problems.  He usually has the answer or the tool they need.  I feel fortunate to have him on our boat – I can’t imagine being out here without a Jim Rard on board!  We have been seeing the same cruisers over and over in each anchorage we go to, and we are all becoming quite close.  There were 10 cruisers from the Seattle area at a gathering last week.  The talk is always about where you are going next, how was the last crossing, and did you catch any fish.  No one ever talks about what their occupation is back home.  Jim is the exception – everyone knows he has a boatyard and knows a lot about boats.

We are waiting for a good weather window to go to the Va’Vau group of islands in Tonga.  We are trying to carefully choose good weather for our crossings, although many times the weather reports are way off base.  The next really long passage will be from Fiji to New Zealand,  about 7 days long. I can do it, I can do it…

Big Seas(to the 3rd power) + Huge Winds x 2 many days/2 little sleep = Grumpy Crew

They hope to have internet on this island by next year, they say.  So, no new pictures in the media gallery until we can get connected again. Talk to you soon!

~ Jeanna

BOOGIE BOARDING

Thursday, August 30th, 2007 by Molly

From the title, you can probably tell that this update is about boogie boards and what we do with them.  If you don’t know what a boogie board is, I’ll explain – a boogie board is about three feet long and made of foam.  It has a blunt nose and a slightly concave back end.  The bottom and top are smooth and flat, and it is about two inches thick.

You can do a lot with boogie boards: lie on them and surf down a wave, drag them behind the dinghy and try to keep your balance on your knees, or just use them for flotation.  We’ve done all of that, and it’s really fun!  At first, when we dragged the boards behind the dinghy, we just laid on our stomachs, but then I figured out how to get onto my knees without falling off.  When Dad turns the dinghy, I always steer to the outside of the turn, which makes the boogie board speed up a lot.  Sometimes, I go so fast that the board starts to catch up to the dinghy!  Once, in Huahine, I was boogie boarding and an outrigger canoe came up beside Ruby Slippers.  Dad made a sharp turn near the boat, and they thought I was going to hit them, but I let go of the rope just in time and skidded to a stop five feet from the canoe!

When we were with our friends on Soul’s Calling, they started to teach us how to use their wakeboard, but we weren’t able to try it for very long, so I wasn’t able to stand up on it.  It’s a lot harder than boogie boarding behind the dinghy, because it’s harder to get up and keep your balance.  I like the boogie boards better, even though I can only get to my knees.

Boogie boarding down waves is a bit different from surfing down them, because you stay on your stomach and, for me, because the board is easier to control.  When I catch a wave, I usually turn and go sideways so that I don’t get into really shallow water.  Once, when we were surfing on our boogie boards, we actually saw a local standing on his board as he was zooming across a wave.  I can hardly imagine how he got up, much less stayed there!

We have a lot of fun boogie boarding, but only if we have the right conditions.  Wish us luck finding a nice calm anchorage or good surfing beach!

Tonga has changed drastically since we were here 15 years ago.

Thursday, August 30th, 2007 by Jeanna

Actually, the Vava’u Group of islands, where we are, reminds me of several places we have cruised.  It reminds me of the San Juan Islands, in that you can be in the middle of a bustling town – restaurants, shops, markets, people everywhere, then you can raise anchor and go about 5 miles away and be in an isolated little cove that looks like no one has ever stepped foot on the white sandy beach at your bow.  It reminds me of La Paz, Mexico, in that many cruisers have sailed this far, fell in love with the country, and have never left.  There are many Americans and Brits who have opened up a restaurant, dive shop, or bakery, and have just made themselves at home.  It reminds me of the Tuamotus in that the people are relaxed, friendly, helpful and seem very glad to have cruisers in their country. 

There is a cave here called Mariner’s Cave.  The only way to get to it is to dive down about 8 feet, swim forward about 12 feet under water, and come back up the other side.  The legend is that a young Tongan chief who, having fallen in love with a beautiful maiden of a family who was due for extermination, spirited her away from danger and hid her for two weeks in the cave.  He brought food and his undying love to sustain the girl until he was able to prepare an expedition to Fiji.  He then picked her up, married her and brought her back to Vava’u only after all the trouble has passed, and of course, lived happily ever after. 

15 years ago, I was too chicken to dive into that cave.  This time, I was more excited to see Molly and Jessie get to experience it.  To ensure success, Jim put on an air tank with two regulators, and anyone who wanted could “buddy-breathe” and get to the underwater cave.  Molly and Jessie did just great; as did the other people we went with.  I have been having a lot of trouble clearing my ears when I go under water even 4 feet, and this was no exception.  I would start to go through the cave, and my ears would scream at me to go up, go up.  So, once again, I missed out.  Had we gone at low tide, I think my ears would have been fine.  Maybe there is time to try again.  Once you are inside the cave, you are surrounded by stalagmites, and a haunting mist sweeps in, covers everything, and sweeps out again, over and over.  I guess it is really something to see. 

There is another cave, named Swallow’s Cave, which you go through by dinghy.  Inside lives about a million swallows, who make their nests on the cave walls.  The trick is to go in at midnight, and motor in very slowly.  The birds hear you and start to make a commotion.  So, you shine a very powerful light around on the walls, and they get very, very quiet, then when you turn off the light, they make an astounding racket. The noise bounces off the cave walls and echoes seemingly forever.  We met Ben and Lisa, some cruisers who have become locals, and they showed us the way.  It was exciting to go in the blackness, jetting across the harbors in our dinghy to the unmarked cave.  We very slowly made our way in, and the swallows performed just as they were supposed to.  It was eerie to be enclosed in the tomb-like cave, but, for me, it made up for not conquering Mariner’s Cave.

Every cruiser who arrives in Tonga procures a chart of the area, provided by the Moorings Charter Company, on which all the anchorages are numbered.  There are about 40 different spots to anchor and explore; some have villages, some larger towns, some are totally uninhabited and virtually untouched.  We spent a few days in anchorages 7, 11, and 12 – sounds exciting, huh?  There was a lovely white sand beach with a great snorkeling spot in #7.  We had to get used to the cold water (86 degrees!), but if we moved quickly, it was fine.  In anchorage #11, we wake-boarded and knee-boarded behind the dinghy, then had a lobster dinner with friends on their boat.  Sunday morning, we hiked for about 30 minutes to go to church.  We made it just in time.  The singing was astounding; so much music that sometimes it felt like your ears were on two different frequencies.  But progress has left its mark.  When we were here before, we sat on the floor in a village church and the singing seemed to start without anyone announcing or initiating it.  In one accord, the people would just start harmonizing.  Now, there is a song leader, pews, and “proper” decorations.  Our goal is to find the very church we stumbled upon fifteen years ago and see if maybe time has stood still. 

There are many pods (totaling over 400) of humpback whales which migrate to this group of islands every year at this time.  They come up from the Antarctic to have babies and to teach their babies the skills they will need to survive in the cold ocean. When we came into the pass, we saw them cavorting and breaching and swimming everywhere.  Tonga is one of only two places in the world where you can legally swim with humpback whales.  They have tour boats that go out and search out the pods, particularly for the mothers and babies.  Then 4 people at a time can get in the water and see the whales up close and personal. You are only in the water for about 10 minutes, but I hear it is a thrill to be so near these huge, gentle animals.  We might do that next week.  It’s kind of expensive, but we may never get this chance again.

We finally have internet, so there are a few new sets of pictures in the media gallery.  We have been to many places since we last posted pictures in Bora Bora.  The world-wide web hasn’t really reached this part of the world, thank goodness!  So, enjoy getting caught up!   ~ Jeanna