The trip has changed dramatically since leaving Bora-Bora. The larger boat jobs completed in February and March, planned and parts ordered months prior, are behind me. No longer do I shoulder an over-shadowing burden of endless preparatory tasks. So many were completed: haul-out and new bottom paint, re-plumbed some items in the head and galley, revamped electrical system (batteries, solar, monitoring), new standing rigging (hardware, cables and fittings to support the sails and mast), installed an AIS transponder, set up our new dinghy, and more. Kandu feels whole, ready for frequent ocean passages, ready for whatever awaits us.
My captaining tools have improved: additional electronic navigation, weather forecasting, and communication with ports. As a result, after days out at sea, we successfully sailed into two foreign ports at night using tools recommended by a more experienced cruising sailor. My skills have improved as well. The boys are stepping up, particularly Bryce. Getting from point A-to-B, and repairing/maintaining Kandu come easier. Stress levels don’t immediately jump to DEFCON 5 when problems arise: automatic bilge pump counter shows 263 cycles of pumping water out of the boat in 8 hours, starboard side window falls off dodger a second time and shatters, wind vane steering line frays and locks-up the helm toward an accidental jibe in 25 mph winds and 8-foot seas, Custom officers can’t reach us over VHF radio, after changing the oil and replacing all its fuel filters (5) the 44hp diesel engine dies and won’t start, modem fails thus preventing us from emailing via HF and SSB radio. It turns out that stressing over a problem doesn’t resolve it faster. It just ages me. I do the best I can with what I have, “sail the wind I have,” I like to say. With support and assistance from family and friends, I resolve problems and order parts. Our pace, frequent crossings and shorter stays, is possible because our boat is working and with the help of my “team,” problems that arise are typically solved within the available timeframes.
We are seeing places in concentrated fashion, diving in deeply and getting out quickly. We’re seeing cultures new to me and more traditional than French Polynesia. Images from childhood wildlife and adventure television programs come to life, people and culture made real and tangible. This phase of our travel is very rewarding. It’s the trip I envisioned years prior. The two-year stay in French Polynesia was not planned, but proved helpful in terms of ‘finishing’ Kandu and making the boys bilingual. Better still, we deepened existing friendships and established new ones. We also delved deeply into the reviving Marquesan culture. Taking it slow has its rewards. But so does a faster pace. This quickened phase is driving our small family even closer together. We do most everything together, but make efforts to provide the boys “alone” activities ashore.
Our itinerary from this standpoint is:
Leave Vanuatu this Saturday for Darwin, sailing 20 days through the Torres Straight.
From there, sail to Singapore, along Malaysia, to Thailand.
After Christmas, sail to Sri Lanka and the Maldives before arriving at the Red Sea in late February.
From March-September 2018, sail the Med.
Make our way to northern South America and Southern Caribbean, and through the Panama Canal.
Then home by either coming up the Central American and Mexican coasts, or sailing to Hawaii and then over to North America, arriving in CA the summer of 2019.
When other sailors remark that our pace is too fast, I smile and reply, “Well, then maybe we should just go home and not bother sailing around the world.” It’s not perfect, not even close. But as another sailor noted, “You can’t kiss all the girls.” And with that, I’m happy with what we’ve done, and with what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. Sure, at this speed, we are not able to experience all that we would want. Still I would argue that the bits and pieces we are able to see provide a greater appreciation for the global vastness of culture and natural wonder that exists on our amazing planet, an experience more satisfying than the inspirational one I received watching it as a child at home on TV. Whether we sail one year eastward back across the Pacific or two years westward around the world, we wind up home either way. So why not sail west and kiss a few more girls? Sounds good to me.
Months since I last posted, having just past our anniversary, a recap of the past 2 years seems fitting. The start of the trip’s impact was great and still resonates strongly within my recollection. Much like recalling the bear in the woods at the cost of the forest’s wonder. Although much wonder is to be told of our experiences in the Marquesas, Tuamotus and Society Islands, of New Zealand and Sydney, and of Easter Island, looking back I seem drawn to reflect on the stress of the journey’s start, perhaps in an effort to derive some benefit against the ledger of anguish expended, perhaps as a cautionary tale to those eager to push themselves in a likewise fashion, or maybe like a survivor of any struggle may do. But this, as with most American movies, is developing into a happy circumstance. I had faith that the experience would eventually pay off, but my faith was and is often tested, just as it is for entrepreneurs, parents, and anyone else with a goal to make something worthy happen.
Apologies for those who feel I repeat too often a “woe-is-me” theme. Leslie worries so. I don’t do so to provoke a response, to get readers to encourage me. I’m just inviting readers into my head as I look back on the past two years. This is, I know, a repeat of what I’ve written before, but see it as a summary, a reduction of my thoughts. Know this: I am at this time pleased and more self-aware than I can recall in recent memory. “Much to learn have I,” as Yoda might phrase it. “Learn I have. Learn I will. But never so much as is to learn.”
Two years ago, on Leslie’s birthday, we left Ventura, California aboard Kandu, our 42-foot expedition type single mast sailboat, now almost 30 years old herself. Motor-sailing out from the marina and into the Pacific Ocean, light haze over an otherwise clear winter sky, friends waved us on from ashore. We slipped eagerly toward the calm harbor entrance, a gentle swell heightened as we neared the breakwaters’ opening, flanked by boulders of rock on either side, then passed the detached breakwater covered in a thick overcoat of seabird guano.
The crew were excited. Bryce was standing on the forward pulpit pulling off his best Leonardo DiCaprio imitation of “I’m on top of the world!” Trent was below deck, scrambling to find and play the theme song to Titanic crackling over the loudspeaker. Did they not recall how the movie ended? Leslie was glad to be finally moving, having struggled for eighteen months prior to this day, buttoning up our lives as they had been, still frustrated from having walked away from beloved careers, family/friends, and a cozy home. But she was glad to be following through with the dream. After 25 years of talking about it, planning for it, saving for it, we were gliding out of the starting gate. No more having to hear, “You haven’t left yet?” from marina neighbors, yacht club members, and friends: a welcome relief for Leslie. I was more anxious than excited. Having worked full time on the boat for nearly a year and half, I didn’t think Kandu was yet ready for the demands of the first two, possibly four, long distance crossings that would comprise our first and longest passages. We hadn’t yet put Kandu through a significant shakedown; between extended preparations and a closing weather window (May 1st is the first official day of hurricane season for the northern hemisphere), we hadn’t had the time.
Rather than head directly to Mexico from Ventura, we slipped in and out of Southern California marinas, stopping at reciprocal yacht clubs where we could stay free for 3-5 days at a time. West Marine, the nation’s largest purveyor of marine hardware, mans a store in nearly every Southern California port. I was through their doors like church and everyday was Sunday. Haunted by the knowledge that once we left California, cost and time would be added to each and every project, handicapped by the lack of convenience generously supported by US’s well-oiled consumer culture. The mental stress was heavy. With the safety and comfort of family on the line, “failure was not an option.”
Mexico’s would be our first international border to cross. It’s a day sail from San Diego to Ensenada. Having worked frenetically in marinas between Ventura and San Diego, with no more “free-slip” days left having spent our allotted time in 6 different yacht clubs, and that ever present favorable seasonal weather window closing, my hand was forced again. March 21, the spring equinox, would be our last day in the USA.
Ensenada was a mini-vacation with no major known boat projects left to tackle. Uncle Bill and our mutual friend, Joe Houska, joined us for the border crossing. They returned to California after a few days of helping us out with tasks. As a family treat, we attended what would be for the next two years our last feature film screening in a movie theater. The coves and bays between Ensenada and Banderas Bay ranged from beautiful and remote, to dirty and corrupt. The crew handled well their watches. I was impressed by their desire to hold up their end. Bryce and Trent found ways to have fun at every place we stopped. I could find no desire within myself to have fun; knowing important tasks needed all my available energy. My humbug attitude frustrated me and the crew.
Coming into Banderas Bay, port La Cruz, two significant problems arose: the newly factory rebuilt hydraulic cylinder that allows the automatic pilot to steer the boat failed due to my improper installation, and the masthead VHF antenna connection failed, severely limiting our radio’s reception and transmission performance to just a mile instead of 8-12. After many stressful days of research and measurements, a replacement hydraulic system was identified, expensive, purchased, delivered, and installed. The delay meant that Easter Island would likely have to come off the list. It was maybe 10 days since San Diego and I was missing West Marine like a crack addict. Time prevented repairing the VHF masthead antenna connection properly so we installed a new one behind the cockpit until I had time and a steady place where I could tackle the masthead solution. We picked up Uncle Bill at the Puerto Vallarta airport with all the parts I’d ordered, an action in which all future visitors to Kandu would engage. “Hardware mules” is what cruising sailors refer to friends and family who visit, laden with ordered parts and supplies, cheaply freighted and easily passed by customs. With the ticking weather window to sail to the Galapagos rapidly closing (“You should have left 4-6 weeks ago.”), we buttoned up Kandu, and on May 1, left Puerto Nuevo bound for Isla Isabela in the Galapagos with Uncle Bill aboard. Kandu was as ready as I could make her and I was satisfied enough, all things considered.The eighteen-day passage was extremely hot and muggy, seas from several directions, confused and varied winds, and nightly attacks by incessant squalls. Rain forced us to close all hatches and portlights, converting our living space into a tropical sauna.
Sea temperature and air temperature were the same: 89 degrees F. Sweat and grime were immediate. Tempers shortened and mechanical problems continued to develop. This time, the engine’s charging system wasn’t functioning properly and I couldn’t figure out why. The off-again/on-again shifting winds exhausted my patience.The awkward motion of the boat in the three-way swell was annoying. I wondered if we could make it to landfall before running out of diesel fuel. But this wasn’t a weekend trip in some campground. I was in the middle of a remote part of the Pacific with my precious family. Like a scene out of Apollo 13, I must work from the parts and pieces I have on the boat.
Digging deep within my soul, I get hit by the life lesson I’ve discussed before: I can only sail the wind I have, not the wind I want. Somehow the sentiment comforts me. Do with what I’ve got, as best I can, adapting with demands of the moment. Throw shoulda, woulda, coulda out the door; and open myself to what’s possible, and then do that. That’s all I can do, that’s all anyone can do, so do it and move on to the next thing. Leave perfection to the saints.
My experience at Isla Isabela, the largest island in the Columbus Archipelago aka the Galapagos, questioned for me what was becoming the theme of our trip. Should it be about spending time together as a family exploring new lands and cultures, or would it be about me getting the boat ready for the next crossing while the family begged me to join to them on one of their snorkels, bike rides, or other excursions?
Turns out, of the fifteen days spent in Puerto Villamil, five were rain-drenched workdays, eight were sunny workdays, and three were amazing excursions. Twenty-percent fun, eighty-percent stress and work. I did not like this version of the 80-20 rule. But what could I do?
The conditions of the Mexico to Galapagos crossing proved too much for Uncle Bill, who celebrated his 84th birthday on our Galapagos arrival. He did not join us for the crossing to the Marquesas. Unlike the Galapagos crossing, the 24-day crossing to the Marquesas was swift and dryer. The seas were larger and still a bit confused. In brief, the conditions were not comfortable, but the ride was a bit more pleasant, not as hot and less rain, no squalls. We arrived in Nuku Hiva with a couple more boat issues for me to resolve before heading on.
A late June arrival in the Marquesas meant we were about three months off from the ideal seasonal weather window based on our planned itinerary. In order to catch up and be in New Zealand by November, we would have to cut our French Polynesia stay by several months. Considering that we had pre-established deep relations with many Marquesans friends, leaving so soon would have robbed us from an opportunity too valuable to lose. Our Marquesan friends said we had arrived during a grand Matava’a year, an inter-island cultural event staged in December once every four years. A French sailor familiar with the area and all of French Polynesia advised that an El Nino year was expected and that the Marquesas Islands were the safest place in French Polynesia to avoid hurricanes, also the least expensive and most authentic in terms of Polynesian culture. Another Marquesan friend advised us that they could enroll our boys in the French public school. And two different American cruisers, both with at least one circumnavigation under their belts advised that the elements of French Polynesia combine to create a superior cruising experience: tropical beauty, warm and friendly people, access to French food, and all essential services. Add to the mix that Leslie and I speak French and this all made for a compelling argument set aside the original itinerary and, instead, rest.
Staying in the Marquesas until next season would reset the weather window clock, allow me to catch up with most of the boat projects while having some fun, give us a cultural immersion experience few families can experience in the Marquesas, save some money, and the boys would learn French. On the other hand, to try and catch up with the planned itinerary would have entailed nearly non-stop boat maintenance, missing many of the cultural gifts of each port, just a quick dash through the South Pacific. Sure, sticking to the five-year plan we’d be able to chalk up more countries visited, spreading the time and cultural exchanges over multiple countries around the world instead of concentrating on French Polynesia. But if I’m working all the time, what I’m getting out of it? The scale tipped heavily in favor of staying, so stay we did . . . not just for one year, but two.
The Marquesas long-stay experience proved so wonderful that we decided to extend our stay in French Polynesia a second year, this time in the Society Islands, in Raiatea and in a marina.
It is from here that I write. To help make things even easier and more fun, we bought a very used car.
From here, we calculate we can get a jump on the weather window in our bid to finish a circumnavigation, but now within a much quicker two years. We hope to leave this May. To shorten the distance and save time, we plan to sail up the Red Sea instead of around Africa. Pirate circumstances have dramatically changed around the horn of Africa in favor of passing through this previously perilous region. From Raiatea, I can calmly finish the last big boat projects, having Kandu ready for the two-year push while the boys complete a second year in French public school and play in a beautiful part of the world in a familiar culture. Through it all, Leslie keeps the family fed, tidy, healthy, and the bills paid, along with other boat projects. We have a nice routine. The municipal marina provides electricity, water, and easy access to land, while fending off swells generated from seasonal storms. From Raiatea, we can affordably fly to bucket-list locations missed due to our delayed start or to be missed by our new itinerary.
First in line, we flew to New Zealand for a two-week drive-about.
This important region was removed from our new sailing itinerary as was most of Australia. So from NZ we flew to nearby Sydney for another two weeks.
After a week in Tahiti, we returned to Raiatea for 10 days, then back to Tahiti for a flight to Easter Island, removed from our itinerary due to boat preparation delays and additional repairs in Mexico. We stayed two weeks and experienced most of the Tapati Festival.
As such, overall, we had an extraordinary (and much needed) 7-week family vacation exploring New Zealand’s north island, visiting friends old and new; Sydney with my brother Curtis and his partner, Joel; Easter Island and the Tapati Festival with Marquesan and American friends; and more excitement in Tahiti with great Tahitian and American friends. The result: a full decompression from the grueling post-departure months, living on the boat, and the upcoming pre-departure boat preparations. I couldn’t recall when I had last felt so unburdened.
So, the experience up to the Marquesas was unpleasant. The effect: the shadow of the difficult start permeated my being. I didn’t realize how much of it I still shouldered even after we decided to hit the pause button, how the weight of the burden had left an impression and thus continued to shape my perspective and my day-to-day attitude towards the future. After the recent “vacation,” for the first time in too many years, I felt I was in the right place, at the right time, with the right people, and doing it all for the right reasons at the right pace.
In summary, we left our homeport twenty-four months ago. The first four months were frustrating and pressure-filled. The following 20 months have been rewarding, very much so, yet tainted by an overshadowing stress established by the first four months, and the year and half leading up to the departure. Still, that was closer to the 80/20 equation for which I was looking when I originally planned this trip. Unfortunately I allowed the 20 percent pain to blur the 80 percent pleasure. After the vacation, I knew more than ever that this habit needed to end. Better to take a page from Bryce and Trent’s playbook and find ways to have fun wherever we are, whenever we can, not looking for the closest hardware store. What would be the point of all this if I were to allow the emotional turmoil of the past to continue to spoil our adventure any futher?
Okay, so the focus now, for me, is to schedule time off from boat projects to have guilt-free fun, especially during the week, even just an hour. This is not easy for me to do. Another goal is to source an air of joy from within myself, draw out the “vacation” me, especially when I’m working with Leslie and the boys. I want to be less critical, less gruff. This too does not come naturally to me. To help me with this goal, I picture in my mind the on camera, off stage demeanor of Chris Martin, lead singer of the rock band Coldplay. I want to be more like that, confident, quick to smile, ready for something fun. This will not be easy for me, not by a long shot, but it’s important . . . to me and my family. I want develop joy and happiness more so than even my elusive washboard abs. In other words, wake up and smell the moai. In a strange way, I feel like the trip I envisioned 40+ years ago is just beginning, and I’m exited about it, and about doing it with Leslie, Bryce, and Trent aboard Kandu. In short, two years after leaving California, I find myself loving to sail the wind I have, . . . although missing a wee bit the convenience of a West Marine.
Life is short. How short? If you started it off like it was a race and packed in as much as you could in the early years, how short was it? The year of a child is experienced slowly – so much is new: a three month summer vacation seems endless, Christmas is so far away, turning 16 takes forever, and until then it’s important to account for the months or half years. But to older people starting say in their late 40’s or middle age, time starts to fly. The Christmas decorations were just put away in the attic when it’s time to pull them out again. “Didn’t we just celebrate New Year’s?” The concept of time in a person changes over time. The more time spent on this earthly linear timeline, the more one appreciates time passing. Perhaps a person’s capacity to recall a life is finite, and the events of a lifetime are contained within that common container. For example, if we were to take a football field as a measure of the totality of one’s learning and recollection, and to assign years as fence posts aligned along that 100-yard measure, a person of eight would have to walk a bit between posts. A person of 50 would nearly touch consecutively placed posts, thus the feeling of “Didn’t I just do that?” I know this idea has already been written or recorded by someone. It’s not a new idea. Nothing is new, right? However, I haven’t read it written, it’s simply been mulling around in my head and been part of my conversations for some time.
On a related subject, Eric watched a TV program about the brain and sleep. Each day most people’s brains start afresh like RAM in a computer, empty and ready to load the day’s programs and write the files of our experiences, each and every minute event is recorded to our RAM like a sample plot of audio sound, the soundtrack of our day. The background “noise” of everyday existence . . . driving down a street, listening to the radio, opening a door, putting your keys down, etc., creates an average informational recording level, with the more important experiences peaking above the din as louder “samples.” By 3 p.m., our RAM is nearly full, straining our capacity to “record” more…why it’s good to nap and why it’s harder to learn new things in the evening hours. When we sleep, the brain dials down the “sample plot,” in effect muting the noise level to an inaudible flat line, while leaving compressed peaks of the more substantive memories—the taller the peak, the longer lasting the memory. Especially if reinforced by further study or experience, the peaks get “recorded” to our brain’s “hard drive” as information that is accessible to us always (unless the hard drive starts to fail), not flushed away when we awake with our recently emptied RAM memory, which is again ready to record the new day, starting with “Where did I leave my keys?”
Life is physical. We live on this earth in physical form to help us remember what we’ve learned. It is supposed to be physical, sensory…to feel pain, to feel the body and brain work and to be reminded via headaches, aches or bruises the next day, to feel sexual pleasure, the animal . . . in my case, to learn to sing, to feel the sensation of singing, singing onstage, singing and at once hearing around me Verdi’s Requiem sung by true opera singers; to “smell the roses,” savor chocolate, wine, coffee, madeleines, to play instruments in an orchestra, to learn languages, to communicate avidly and widely; to see sunsets from many angles and latitudes, to fly, to sail, to travel around the world—physically. What is the old adage?: “no teacher like experience, “no learning like doing,” or “learning the hard way.”
This trip of ours is sometimes more uncomfortable than I would have imagined during the years leading up to our departure. But Eric and I are of like mind when it comes to the value of experience. Hardship elevates experience into the “louder” realms of our soundtrack. Comfort and habit often compress to silence such that those ‘calm’ times become arduous to recall where the memories and learning blend together. Instead of specific days or weeks remembered, it’s the year or perhaps the decade in general that marks the time. We hope through this experience, through our daily challenges dealing with electricity, water, communications, provisions, boat maintenance and repairs, small living and storage spaces, foreign cultures, languages, exchanges of money, etc., to create a mountain range of memories for our family, creating bonds to last well into our sons’ elderly years, beyond the time of their parents. I hope to remember this period in our lives not as if it were a dream, but an easily recallable memory…always close, present and influential in my future decision making.
When hiking or camping, there’s an expression, “Leave nothing behind but footprints, take nothing but pictures and memories.” For global cruising sailors, there’s a similar expression, “Let their culture change you, don’t let your culture change them.” In essence . . . listen more than you talk. The emphasis is to not interject foreign perspectives or values for fear such may fundamentally alter their unique culture, thus eroding what is special and wonderful about another community of people, the experience of which is an essential reason why many of us travel to other, often remote, regions. It falls in line with the Star Trek, Next Generation television series’s stated “prime directive,” which “prohibits Starfleet personnel from interfering with the internal development of alien civilizations [Wikipedia],” to not alter another society’s culture by introducing technologies or philosophies. For example, today we may unintentionally introduce soft drinks to a community that only knows fruit juices, or ice cubes to a culture that only knows room temperature beverages. Or we may describe forms of marketing and commercialism that could alter currently commercial-free awnings and canopies. So the leave-no-trace recommendation would be to listen, understand, but don’t suggest Southern Californian solutions to Polynesian problems, a very reasonable stance, especially for the casual visitor.
There are many examples of the opposite perspective as well, where cruisers bring gifts of school supplies, fresh water, materials and skill sets to help solve problems. Often cruisers participate in community service days, picking up trash, running 5k’s for causes, etc. Sometimes cruisers group together to provide an organized effort to assist a community, especially in areas where they reside for several months.
Take our example: we currently live aboard our Tayana 42, Kandu, in Taiohae Bay on Nuku Hiva Island in the Marquesas archipelago. We have “Certificates of Residence” for Taiohae, which allows our sons to attend the public secondary school here. As with most any society, with kids in school, we are internalized within the community, interacting the many friends and acquaintances time and time again. After I get to know, trust and admire a person, I find I don’t see this person as his or her culture, but as a friend with whom I share the planet. The leave-no-trace position perhaps supposes that people from another culture need protection from ideas that may be unnecessarily complicated, perverse, and/or possibly irreversible corruptive, which may be true. But once I get to know someone, I approach cultural immersion from a different paradigm: treat others as I wish to be treated. If someone from another culture who knew and cared about me were made aware of a particular challenge of mine, and had a solution to offer, I’d want him or her to share it. Let me and the regulations of my community decide its merits. I don’t want to be “protected” from foreign ideas. Under these circumstances, sheltering a community from outside influences, by not sharing with them, could be considered patronizing; that a more technologically and commercially exposed culture needs to guard its solution from simpler cultures. I am attracted to entrepreneurial, community service type people. They are extraordinary, intelligent, kind, multi-talented, creative people who crave options. I am less attracted to the economically or politically ambitious. I do not suggest that a Southern California alternative is preferable. I only suggest that, if applicable, it be placed on the table. It may be a bad idea, but let the receiver decide. Let’s trust their sensibilities, their life experience to decide the fate of a given proposal, indigenous or foreign. I often work with them, helping them calculate the pros and cons of various options to determine what may be the most appropriate response for them. I avoid “selling” them an idea as I have an incomplete understanding of the complexities of their society.
Here’s an example. For decades, Marie Antoinette and her husband, Jean Baptiste, harvested coconuts for copra, a common labor-intensive way to earn a living in French Polynesia. Into their 50’s, Jean Baptiste wanted to find another, less back-breaking way for his wife to earn a living. Being that she’s an excellent cook, they decided to open a restaurant together, something neither had any experience doing. As with any business, there are challenges. Locals frequent her restaurant foreigners do not. Without foreign customers, she’s barely breaking even. Her competitor next door, Henri, has a thriving clientele of foreigners. He speaks English, Spanish, and German as well as the local French and Marquesan. And he offers free Wi-Fi. All the visiting sailors frequent his establishment. When cruise ships pull into port, many of their passengers come to take advantage of his Wi-Fi. When Henri’s “Snack Café” is bursting with people trying to find a place to sit, Marie Antoinette’s has only a table or two of locals, wishing to avoid the hubbub of foreigners. If she is not able to increase business, Marie will have to close the café and return to harvesting coconuts. Marie is a friend of a close friend of ours. She asked Leslie to stand outside her restaurant and help pull cruise ship passengers, mostly English-speaking, into her place. So Leslie did. In the process, we learned how Marie might be able to attract more foreign business, simple things like offering on her printed menu an English translation of her dishes, taking and posting pictures of her plates so foreigners could point to what they wanted, holding and placing flatware and napkins on the table to show that it is a café, and making a deal with her beverage provider to paint her café’s name on a canopy with the beverage logo, so visitors could recognize immediately that her establishment is a restaurant, and not just a bunch of tables outside a communal fishermen’s shack. These simple practices are commonplace in Los Angeles, but not so in the Marquesas. Had she more funds, she could hire an English-speaking server and install a WiFi service as well. Will Marie’s café lose some of its local charm by adopting proven urban practices? Yes, but practices acceptable to locals may prove detrimental for her. Having a successful business, keeping Marie out of the coconut groves, is more important to me than guarding a more “local” experience that bankrupts.
In addition to offering local businesses ideas on attracting more American/Euro business, we find other way to “interfere” with the local culture. We support the community through community acts. Here’s a list to help me remember as well:
Conduct free English language classes to locals, three times a week.
Offer choral instruction, direction, and chorography for the secondary school’s bid to perform in the island’s annual music festival
Assist in weekly dining room instruction and support in the community’s restaurant vocational training center.
Connected the secondary school’s English class with a class of similar age group in Southern California, a cultural exchange opportunity
Assisted in demonstrating and teaching young school kids how to make their own yogurt in an electric rice cooker, a common household appliance here
Assisted in repairing outrigger canoes for use by the secondary school as part of an after-school paddling program.
Participated in Career Day, presenting options in cinema and television
Provide free Friday movie nights with popcorn at the secondary school for the boarding students who don’t leave school for the weekend
Produced 3 radio spots and provided presentation support for the island’s two community breast cancer awareness seminars.
Produced 12 individual video spots and a consolidate spot of, and for, the adult graduating class of state-supported entrepreneurs
Supported the local documentary film festival, offering gratis labor and use of our projection equipment.
Photographed and videotaped communal festivals, offering the images and videos free of charge to the community via the City Hall and city library
Shared the photos and videos of the community’s largest festival to draw locals to participate in a charitable affair. The proceeds aided a family with an 18 yr.-old son being treated in Paris for a rare form of cancer.
Recovered a 36’ Marquesan fishing boat, adrift 120 nautical miles in open-ocean, helping four families earn a living.
When it comes to leaving Nuku Hiva untouched, we’ve failed miserably. The mayor even has our cell phone number in his mobile phone’s contact list. But I’m proud of the service we’ve provided “our” community. Although we offered more, not all offers were accepted. Ideas tend to be met with greater enthusiasm than follow-through. We’ve lived in Taiohae, Nuku Hiva for eight months now, with our kids attending school, and plenty of time to get to know people and help them, and to follow through the obstacles. It’s a different set of circumstances when a sailboat and its crew are here for a few days or weeks, especially if no one speaks the local language. Leaving a community to its own devices to solve its problems, especially when one doesn’t have the time or communication capacities to make a difference, is a reasonable approach. That said, cruisers often come together to support a myriad of local causes, especially those sailors enjoying a prolonged stay for whichever seasonal reason. So if one has time, ability, and fortitude, helping a community is often well received and very rewarding.
Sailing between Galapagos and the Marquesas, an uncomfortable 24-day crossing for us, I reflect on features missed of my life recently left behind. Departing California for Mexico and the South Pacific on a 42-foot sailboat, life significantly changes as one would expect, but exactly what changes and how these changes affect a person one cannot know until engulfed in the new circumstance. In the cost-benefit analysis, we would only leave if, by leaving, we calculate a better overall outcome for ourselves, ultimately gaining more than we forfeit. But I find one particular adjustment difficult to make: “Convenience,” specifically the lack thereof.
Convenience is seductive. I miss her. She gets me what I want, when I want. All I have to do is figure out what I want, something I’m exceedingly good at, and she comes through for me. Dressed in Amazon Prime, 24hr grocery stores, next day parts from West Marine, Jack’n the Box drive thru, the big box stores, Costco, Walmart, Target, or the mall; she gives me what I want, when I want . . . and I am capable of wanting so much.
Car is great too; a cozy cocoon, it entertains, it comforts, and it takes me where I want. It asks little of me. Entertainment, I miss too: movies, television, theater, art galleries, music, opera, dining out, etc. It, too, asks little. I merely have to decide what it is I wish to see . . . Car takes me there.
Convenience has a bathroom near your bedroom, a large shower, washing machine, dryer and dishwasher. She’s water, power, gas, phone, sanitation, and Internet. She’s so there, so ready to serve. I miss Convenience.
I left Convenience for a more challenging relationship with Self-reliance. This new one taps me for everything I’ve got: brain, heart, body, and soul. I don’t demand of her . . . she demands of me. Convenience never asked for anything. Each day with Self-reliance, I’m spent. I bed and rise early. I’m uncomfortable, and yet somehow I no longer seem to need to work out or visit medical specialists. I no longer ache. I’m thinner. I’m fit. With Self-reliance, I don’t get to buy things. I must watch what I spend, and try not to. She requires that I wait to get the things I want, and/or do without. Entertainment under Self-reliance is simple too; cards and board games with wife and sons, watching together a video on a 9” screen, meeting new and fascinating people from around the world of all walks of life, walking or swimming by exotic animals and plants, hiking active volcanoes, picking unusual produce from a local farmer’s field, but mostly, just solving problems. I chose this new relationship because she’s supposed to offer my family and me more substantive rewards, but who knows? It’s too soon to tell. Still, the other relationship was pretty good. Learning to live with less is not as much fun as learning to live with more. I miss Convenience. Fortunately for me, she harbors another easy-going quality: Convenience never gets jealous. No matter how long I’m away from her, she’s always willing to take me back.
Leslie and I dreamed of Bryce and Trent learning to some day speak fluent French. Although it was not our original intention when setting off to sail around the world, the new emphasis toward cultural immersion in lieu of sailing around the world affords us this opportunity. It is one of the main reasons for our extended stay in French Polynesia, allowing us to enroll Bryce and Trent in a French public school; first in Nuku Hiva, Marquesas, then maybe in Raiatea, Society.
At first, we were all excited to start school, all of us except Trent. He was, and remains, less convinced of the benefits surrounding the acquisition of a new language. For Leslie and I, learning to speak French has become a requirement of them. In August of this year, Bryce and Trent made Nuku Hiva history, perhaps even Marquesas history, becoming the first Americans ever to attend school here. At first, Bryce welcomed the attention his unique circumstances offered. Everyone watched his every move. Girls flocked to him, requesting instant girlfriend status (being a small island of limited population, many kids are related, making it difficult to date, so new blood represents new possibilities). He was instantly popular. Trent on the other hand did not welcome the global attention. No matter where he went, on campus or off, he felt the inquisitive gaze of locals. When at the store, what products would he buy, what items interested him? At school, kids stared to see what clothes he wore, what technology he brought, what skills and attitudes he might introduce. He did not welcome the unsolicited attention that being a blond-haired, blue-eyed, white-skinned American brought him in a school 98% brown-haired, brown-eyed, brown-skinned Polynesian. Conspicuous simply for his differences was an uncomfortable circumstance for Trent. I tell the boys to remember how it feels to be different in appearance from the general population and to be treated like a freak, so that when they find themselves in a circumstance where they see someone different being introduced into their cultural, that they reach out to them to help them feel at ease, to welcome them in a more constructive and caring manner than their current classmates are.
Another challenge for the boys is entering a scholastic social structure unable to communicate. Not understanding what kids are saying to you or each other, not understanding what the teachers are saying when they are teaching, describing the assignments, the homework, and handing out the tests is akin to living a nightmare for an honor roll student like Bryce, or a student like Trent who likes to please others, especially his teachers. “They think because we don’t speak French that we’re idiots. They can’t believe we’re so dumb, coming from America. It’s not fair. We know more about most of these subjects then they do. Just because we don’t speak their language, doesn’t mean we’re dumb. Even little kids think they’re smarter than us just because we can’t answer even simple questions,” they protest. Again, I ask that they always remember this injustice so that when they meet someone learning English, or even a new skill, that they accord them the same allowances that they feel the Marquesan students, and even some of the French teachers, should extend them. For the first 6 weeks, most all the teachers were sympathetic to their circumstance. After the first school break, a one-week vacation, patience ran out. Nearly all of their teachers began treating them as if the grace period for learning to speak French were over. Apparently for many, six weeks is all it should take to be able to speak French.
The boys were learning. And as in when learning any language, they were beginning to understand what was being said, more than they could speak, especially when others made the effort to speak very slowly and deliberately. When a debutant linguist asks a native speaker to speak slowly, he or she slows down from 70 mph to 55 mph, but still freeway speed. What a very beginning student of a language wants is for a person to speak at 5-10 mph, crowded parking lot speed. You want each word clearly spoken and separated from each other with a fair pause in between. Only someone in the process of learning a new language seems to appreciate this requirement. Others soon tire of the effort and slowly ramp back up to freeway speeds. As parents introducing non-speaking students to their class, it’s not fair to ask teachers to teach their class in a manner necessary for Bryce and Trent to understand, either by translating in English or by slowing speech to a snail’s pace. So, to assist their learning, we hired a professional French-as-a-second-language teacher, experienced in teaching French to Americans. Bryce and Trent meet with him outside of school, 3 times a week. In a constructive environment, he instructs them in basic French, addresses their language questions related to any recent experiences, and helps them with their homework.
Language is not the only challenge confronting Bryce and Trent’s introduction to school in the Marquesas. Cultural differences make for difficult and unpleasant social lessons. Petty theft, lying, vulgar acts and language, and threats of violence are commonplace behaviors in Taiohae’s secondary school. The boys’ backpacks are pilfered through when they’re not looking, during recess, lunch, or physical ed. Bryce and Trent’s stationary supplies are taken from their desk when the walk away to approach the teacher with a question. Locker locks are picked open and items removed. Those whom Bryce thought were his frie
Moving from one school to the next is hard. Every school is different. You have new kids to deal with; new teachers and you have to start the friend making business all over again. All that is a pain in the butt, yet eventually it all turns out fine. Starting up at the school in Taiohae was a little different for my brother and me. It’s all French and we don’t speak French.
Our parents brought us to this island out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and threw us in school. We had no clue about the Marquesan culture, what the kids would be like, and the hardest part was we had no idea how to communicate. In a nutshell our parents enrolled us in a school, on a remote island, without us knowing the culture, the language or other kids, then told us how long we were going to attend – one year! That’s what I call a little bit of a challenge.
On our first day of school we woke up at 6 in the morning since school starts at 7 a.m. We quickly got dressed and ate breakfast, drove our 8’ inflatable dinghy to shore then started our 20-minute walk to school. We walked up to meet the principal and to check out the school: where the restrooms were, lunch would be, basketball courts were, etc. The bell rang so it was time to find my first class. The vice principal told this random girl to lead me to my class. We arrived in a classroom. The teacher looked at my schedule book and pointed to the class I had to go to. It was math class with Monsieur Evain. He spoke to me in English, telling me to sit next to a boy across the room whose English was okay. His name, I learned, was Phillip. He was really nice.
We were the first Americans to ever attend this school. Everything you did or said they thought was what all American kids did or said. In a way, we represented all American kids. It was like we were celebrities and everything we did they thought was cool. The reaction I would normally get arriving at a new school in America would have been much different: no one would have noticed me or cared to know my name or try to make me feel comfortable. But in the Marquesas, it seemed to be the opposite. It was, “Oh, you need help? Let me help you.” Practically on our first day of school everyone knew our names. After math was Physics and then History/Geography and following that was Physical Ed. We played basketball. The kids here are terrible at basketball. I am probably the best player in 7-9th grade! At home, I was just passable.
After P.E. we had lunch. Phillip led me over to the lunch line. For lunch there is a different protocol than the schools attended in Southern California. You grab a metal tray; slide it on the rails in front of the kitchen while servers place fresh food on your tray. That first day we had rice, lentils, grapefruit and a piece of French baguette. When I saw the spread I thought, “Geeze, this is so good, and it didn’t come out of a bag!” When I was done there was not a crumb left on my plate. It was so delicious – like rich kids’ food. After lunch, surprisingly, I was finished with school. That’s when I started thinking, “Man, this is the best school ever. Fantastic lunch, school finishes at twelve most days, and I’m treated like a celebrity.” This school was really turning out to be a great experience for the both of us.
By the time this week was finished, my brother, Trent, and I were top news for most of the island. Everyone was giving us greetings when we biked down the street. Random people saying, “Bonjour,” “Salut,” “Hi!” In sum it was looking really good for us. People we had never seen before knew us.
The next week was even better. During our morning breaks, we had pretty girls asking if they could be our girlfriends. But after awhile it got a little annoying having people pulling you over into their group and examining you, asking the same silly questions. At the same time, I liked the attention. For the first month, this was the normal day. Then the attention started cooling off. People were getting used to us, which was a bad thing.
Now during school I have to watch my back because everyone wants to fight us, putting up their arm saying, “I’m gonna fight you!” I never know if someone is going to pounce on me, and every time I turn around there’s at least one person giving me the finger or shouting, “F-you, Bryce!” On top of that, everything got harder. Now I’m expected to understand everything being said in class and I have to do homework in French. Fortunately, after school I go to a tutor for help with my French.
A few times now I have had trouble with a couple kids. One day before my English class, this kid named London all of a sudden came at me and said, “Shut up, be quiet!” then put his chest against mine and peered down at me like he was going to hit me. Then I said, “Go, go, come on. Allez, allez, viens!” In my head I was thinking if this guy hits me, he would have more pain than me once it’s all over. Since the village of Taiohae has a small population of 2,000, everyone would know he’s the one who struck the American who doesn’t even speak French, for no good reason. Plus his parents and the school would be very mad. As this was going on, a teacher came out and the kid cooled down. It was over and he apologized after class. Anyway, it’s happened a few times after that before it totally ended. It is now resolved without any physical confrontation.
After that first month, the college turned into a bit of a wild school and hard to handle. You can’t even leave your backpack alone without fear of some kid rummaging through your stuff and picking out what he wants. The way I look at, it’s just a few more months before it will all be over. So, in the meantime, just toughen up and deal with the problems straight up. Attending this school has been a crazy new experience. At the moment it seems worth my while. Although I do have to say, I can’t wait until it’s all over and things go back to normal: homeschooling with mom and dad.
Years of preparation for a five-year circumnavigation were expected. The labor and cost to update systems on an older boat were expected. The amount of time it would take and the “discoveries” of unintended repairs/upgrades/costs were unexpected. We planned to start our circumnavigation leaving within a community of 125 cruising boats, a fun way to force our departure date while meeting other like-minded families and forging new lifelong friendships. The Baja Ha-ha Rally departs San Diego for Baja California, Mexico in late October.
Appreciating that the further away from Southern California we got, the more time-consuming and expensive working on the boat would become: thus our plans changed. With the five-year picture in mind, we forewent departing with the Baja Ha-ha Rally, preferring to have a more comfortable, less stressful departure and subsequent ocean crossings. The five-month delay would also mean not stopping in Central or South America–bummer. After missing the Ha-ha departure, we delayed still further our departure into Mexico in San Diego. Sailing down the Southern California coast revealed more “discoveries.” Delaying our San Diego departure was a calculated gamble.
In exchange for more stable boat systems (diesel flow to engine, wind generation of electricity, etc.), we would cut short our stay in Mexico, sailing directly to the Galapagos from Puerto Vallarta.
Unfortunately, problems cropped up on our way to La Cruz, Mexico (autopilot, VHF radio, etc.) and we were held up longer in Mexico than intended. Repairing a boat in Mexico is more time and cost effective than in the Galapagos or the Marquesas. The additional delay caused Easter Island, one of Leslie’s bucket list destinations, to be removed from our itinerary. All of a sudden, the additional costs, combined with an unexpected substantial tax bill, threatened to reduce our trip from five years to three, perhaps only two, years. It was a depressing set of circumstances for me.
Additionally, along the way we kept missing events and weather windows, sometimes by a week, sometimes by a few days. It was more than frustrating to learn we’d missed petting the grey whales, “There were so many last week, but they all left four days ago.” We missed a very animated Mexican village’s St. Patrick’s patron saint’s celebration by two weeks. We missed the favorable weather window between Mexico and Galapagos, and when we arrived in the Galapagos, the customary sunny and calm weather of Puerto Villamil turned unusually rainy with a large sea surge. The family was growing somewhat discouraged by the prospect of our future travels, especially Leslie. I was not spending the promised time of adventure and exploration with the boys.
These weighty circumstances were not the expected outcome of so much thoughtful effort and planning. By the time we reached the Galapagos, the combination of rough passages, missed opportunities, and troubling breakdowns caused me to reflect and re-evaluate my goals. An optimist (generally), I often find opportunity within crises. I was digging deep to find the good, sifting through the weeks to recognize events worthy of the sacrifice. It is under these conditions, after 24 days of uncomfortable sailing, that we arrived in the Marquesas (cue revelation music cue, the kind you hear with sun rays bursting around a cloud).
Sailing around the rugged castle-like southeastern corner of Nuku Hiva, the island was greener than I’d ever seen it. I’ve been to the Marquesas twice before, in 1976-77 and in 1990, both times aboard a sailboat.
As a result, the Marquesas were a familiar and welcoming place. We have Marquesan friends on the main administrative island of Nuku Hiva. The Marquesas consist of six inhabited islands with a population of 9000. Nuku Hiva is the most northerly. Most sailboats, taking advantage of the southerly winds and seas, clear into the southern Marquesas and work their way north. But considering our Marquesan friends are part of our extended family and were eagerly awaiting our arrival, we headed directly to Nuku Hiva. Via satellite text, they knew exactly when we were to arrive. What a grand and warm welcome they provided. Sebastien and a French friend of his, Guy, came to help us drop anchor. At the wharf, Denis and Chantale waited the 90 minutes it took for us to pull out the inflatable dingy that was packed below deck for the long crossing. Once we motored up to the wharf, scaled ourselves up the stainless steel ladder and tied off the dinghy, we were greeted with kisses and fragrant flower leis. There were boxes and bags of fresh fruit and a grand stalk of bananas offered to take back to Kandu. At the table of an open air “snack” restaurant situated on the wharf waited a plate of poisson cru, a favorite French Polynesian dish of lime marinated raw fish served in coconut milk over rice, and glasses of fresh squeezed pamplemousse juice made from a large thick-skinned, yellow-green citrus fruit similar to grapefruit, but sweeter with a hint of lime. That night, we were driven (automobile travel is a luxury for us these days) to a lovely villa high above the beach, overlooking the bay.
We feasted with two-dozen family members over a potluck of various Marquesan, French, and Chinese dishes, lovingly prepared. We were told that we had arrived in time to enjoy the month long period of “festival,” and that we were invited to participate in a rare visit to the uninhabited island of Eaio in a way most Marquesans only dream, let alone a non-Marquesan family.
Over the next couple weeks, we learned that Bryce and Trent could be admitted into their public “college” (6th-11th grade), where they could learn French, a dream of Leslie’s and mine. We could become “Certified Residents” of Taiohae, Nuku Hiva with benefits coming to the residents of the town.
There would be beautiful hikes, hunting of boar and wild sheep, horseback riding on secluded beaches, dance and song soirees, and more local food. In short, we would be immersed in the Marquesan culture in a way rare for most sailing families. And it would all be at little expense. Our friends are farmers and fishermen, so they told us to not buy these fruits and fish, that they would provide them to us. Anchoring in the bay is free. We made arrangements to purchase diesel duty-free. One of our “family members” offered the use of their house, with our own room and access to laundry machines. With much buzz about the likelihood of an El Nino weather year, I asked Guy, Sebastien’s French friend who has lived throughout much of French Polynesia over 8 years aboard his sailboat, where he would stay if he had only one year to live in French Polynesia. Without missing a beat, he said, right here in Taiohae, Nuku Hiva. As the next few weeks passed, and through the generosity of our Marquesan family members we experienced many wonderful things it became apparent that my desire to see as much of the world in five years as possible needed revision. Rather than touch down in as many countries as possible, more appealing had become the pace and benefits of staying in a wonderful place for months at a time. Rather than spend my days repairing Kandu, I would be able to take frequent breaks and enjoy the places, the people, and their cultures. After so many years of having been taxed physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially, the Marquesas is serving as a turning point, an opportunity to experience a fascinating lifestyle in a way few get a chance, especially for our sons. Bryce, seeing first-hand the strength and versatility of our Marquesan friends, expressed disappointment in that his friends would not know all that a “real man” can do.
This change in focus is probably an obvious adjustment for most to expect. “Of course, it’s about having cultural immersion and great experiences with your family and not about sailing around the world,” you think. But for forty years I’ve wanted to sail around the world. It is not easy to have to re-evaluate my reasons for wanting it so. Ultimately, the main emphasis came down to wanting to recreate the revelatory experiences of my adolescence, of having the world opened up within my kids’ minds, to alternative ways of seeing the world and our place in it. In my pre-departure calculation I figured the more cultures, the more mind openings, right? It’s like the captain’s oath from Star Trek: to seek out new places and cultures, to boldly go where few have gone before. That notion greatly attracts. What was not attracting was getting the boat ready for the next long passage while not visiting the current location. Are you kidding me??? Yet, that was where I was headed. With finances dwindling, it looked like I had to make a choice, sail around the world within three years, or maybe take three years to get to Australia before selling the boat, or something in-between. But, if I could live cheaply for two years, we could still travel for 5 years, just not around the world. I had to get creative with having experiences without spending money.
The Marquesas was showing me how. If you like fresh fruit and fish more than French fries and beef, and juice more than alcohol, you can live quite modestly in this remote island group. So what if we stayed one year in the Marquesas and a second year in Raiatea (Guy’s next best place to stay in French Polynesia), or which ever Societal Island opportunity grabs our imagination. Then maybe the third year we go through the South Pacific to Fiji before cutting down to New Zealand for 5 months during the hurricane season. NZ is expensive, but maybe something will work out to offset costs. It’s only 5 months. From there, pushing into the fourth year, we could pick up from which ever South Pacific islands we left off, but this time for hurricane season we could head north to the more rustic locations like Solomon and Marshal Islands, going really native, before dropping down to Australia just before the beginning of the fifth year. If we have to sell the boat, then so be it. We could then drive a camping car around Australia, and/or rent a house in Indonesia or Thailand, a base from which to travel to other parts of SE Asia and beyond. Who knows?
Our Marquesan friends offer wonderful examples of what men can really do if they push themselves. Perhaps in exercising flexibility, I teach my sons strength of reformation, doing my best to sail the wind I have . . .
The 18-day crossing from Paradise Village, Nuevo Vallarta (near Puerto Vallarta) Mexico to Puerto Villamil, Isla Isabela in the Galapagos was difficult. The weak and variable winds, thunderstorms/squalls, and mixed seas wore us down and consumed nearly all our diesel. Mid-May marked the beginning of the northern hemisphere hurricane season. For us, that translated into high sea temperatures that saturated the humid horizon with afternoon and evening thunderheads. At one latitude, sea and ocean shared the same temperature: 89oF, making refrigeration a full time job. Rain forced us to close nearly all Kandu’s hatches and portlights. Under such aquatic lockdown, internal cabin humidity became oppressive.
The RADAR scanned for squalls and showers, which formed mostly at night in the beginning, but then bled into the day, such that every hour felt like we were dodging something. Rain appears in red on our chart-plotter, giving squalls a vampiresque appearance. Near the end, we gave up running away and took our wet licks hoping we’d avoid lightening. Southern depressions and east-southeast winds made mixed seas the whole way. We later learned the unusually heavy swell from these southern depressions caused much damage in the Galapagos and in parts of southern Mexico after we left. For us, that southern swell made for an uncomfortable ride. It was difficult to get anything done. Even sleeping was difficult.
Satellite texting was our greatest entertainment, reaching out and communicating with family and friends (and manufacturers). Every time the device chirped, each of us wondered for who the message would be. My long time friend, Deren, did a lot of legwork for me from his Puget Sound home, as we tried to resolve problems while underway. I’d give him the background, he’d do the research and reach out to the manufacturer for support. Our system worked well.
As the winds switched back and forth in velocity and direction, we made such little progress. Normally, over a long distance, Kandu seemed to average about 5.25 knots/hour, or 125 nautical miles a day: our performance when we sailed down the Baja coast from San Diego, and so that’s the basis I used to calculate how long it would take us to arrive in the Galapagos. With little wind and higher than normal seas, we motor-sailed so we could average closer to 90 nautical miles (1 nm=1.167 miles) a day under the keel. As we got closer to our targeted port, the wind and swell shifted toward our nose causing us to have to tack back and forth, so while we passed 90 nm of water across our water line, our distance over land shrunk to 40 nm/day.
As we got closer, we also developed a charging problem: the engine’s alternator was no longer charging the batteries. We were using the ship’s batteries to power our autopilot, chart-plotter, RADAR, and refrigeration. When wind conditions allowed, we’d use our windvane to steer the boat, but that was not as often as we would have liked. The 2kw gas-powered Honda generator didn’t charge the batteries very quickly, so at times we had both Kandu’s diesel engine running while we ran the generator: a veritable cacophony of combustibles.
The slow performance, rough motion, high humidity, and power issues brought me to a point of significant doubt, questioning the whole plan to sail around the world. Having spent more than three years of great effort and financial commitment to get to this point, with no end of effort and expense in sight, with great discomfort to all on board, it wasn’t making sense to continue. My goal was to bring us closer as a family as we explored together the wonders of the world, working as a crew aboard our proud vessel. Why not sell the boat, take the money and rent places in beautiful, remote places around the world instead. At the rate we were going, we could only support ourselves two, maybe three years. And so far, I was having very little fun, and the boys and Leslie were upset that my attention remained focused on the needs of the boat, no time for play and exploration. In Mexico, we missed all the good stuff. We missed seeing and petting the grey whales in Baja by four days. We missed an exceptional festival in Banderas Bay by a couple weeks. We were late in the season to leave Mexico for Galapagos. We were always just shy of experiencing some wonderful event or ideal weather circumstance. I was exhausted and feeling deflated and defeated. How could I have so misjudged what the experience would entail? With my previous experience and years of research, how could I be so off the mark? I don’t recall ever being so wrong. My normal optimistic demeanor seemed more a sophomorically naive character flaw. As the rising sun struggled to light the morning sky, standing at the mast, still days away from a Galapagos arrival with fuel running out, batteries not charging, thunderheads still pouring rain on us, I wondered who I was and if I could do this . . . if I should do this.
Captaining a small sailboat across a couple thousand miles of eastern Pacific ocean with your wife, two young sons, and octogenarian uncle with a few more hundred miles to go before you reach the nearest point of land, . . . one has few options. There is no quitting. There is no room for self-pity. So, I ask, what then is the lesson? What is the reason for all this misery? Why am I at this low point? With such self-inflicted stress and burden, what can be learned? What can I take from this that will make all this loathing worthy? I’m not getting it, the lesson that must be slapping me in the face, the one that shouts at my soul. What is it? What am I supposed to learn from this??? Standing at the mast, I quiet my soul, my brain, my heart, and listen. I just wait and listen for the answer. It doesn’t take long, less than a minute, before it comes. Eric, you must sail the wind you have, not the wind you want, and you must sail it to the best of your ability with what you have, without burden, sans self-pity: realize the terms and adjust accordingly, with resolve and without angst–sail the wind you have, not the wind you want. It became my motto. If I have to tack back and forth for the next week, so be it. If I can do better, I will. If I can’t, I’ll accept that I’m doing my best and receive the outcome without judgment. It is what it is, and I’m doing the best with what I’ve got. What comes of it is good enough, and I will seek to be satisfied with what comes.
About four days later, we reached the Galapagos with less than 15 gal of diesel remaining from our tanks’ original 115. The benign weather normally associated with the bay we entered vanished on our approach, roughing up the bay and flooding the streets. It took two days to get cleared in and approved for landing, a story in itself, and another 6 days before our charging problem was resolved. After that, I enjoyed several days of Galapagos exploration together with the family. For the first time in three years, I was working on being a dad again. I recognize I have a lot of catching up to do, and that I’ll only get there by . . . sailing the wind I have.
Change. It is often argued that change in life is a good thing: painful but good. When companies merge, the change brings lay-offs, but ultimately, the merged company has streamlined, gained assets and productivity, hopefully. The crazy thing about living on a boat is that everything is subject to change daily/hourly. Docked in a port or anchored, work is typically being accomplished somewhere on the boat, beds are torn up, tools are pulled out, and the 240 square feet of living space inside is made ever tighter. On a regular day, when someone pulls out a tool, computer or item, even if it’s put away into it’s assigned place, it could be relocated the next time you go to look for it.
When sailing on the open ocean, the weather dictates the changes. The norm might last 2 hours or 25 days depending on the wind, the current, and the direction of the swell. During our sail from Puerta Vallarta to the Galapagos, change was the norm…probably due to the time of year we embarked and/or possibly due to the changes in weather dictated by El Nino. The longest norm we enjoyed lasted about 24 hours. We tacked often from starboard to port where everything balancing well on one tack then balances differently on the other tack. Port light windows are open and closed along with the hatches to ensure the ocean doesn’t come splashing in. Inside it’s sweltering, so sometimes we risk opening up the hatches or port lights, only to close them shortly thereafter because now rain is threatening.
The sea colors are enormously changeable too. On a cloudy day, the sea looks steely grey with flecks of silver with large rippling swells. It looks impenetrable, holding tightly to its secrets. On a sunny day, the sea looks blue: not a light blue, but a deep blue. If the seas are doldrum calm, it is clear, almost like a mirror, and you can see deeply into the water, the rays of light penetrating the leagues. It feels like the mysteries below are close, attainable.
These changes are indicative of life aboard, inside and out. Sometimes hot inside, the crew sits outside to enjoy the breeze. When it rains, the cockpit becomes very wet and inhospitable. Most stay below. If things are not stowed properly in their place, they fall down, whether its books, cups, food, sail wrenches, water bottles or computers.
Mostly, the constant change in sea motion is what confounds and exhausts the mind. Serious studying is very difficult because much of the mind is dedicated to concentrating on staying upright, especially when over 10° healed over. The crew moves side to side, forward and back, constantly. Nothing is still. I find reading and some thought possible, but serious contemplation and learning new concepts, nearly impossible. The ability to accomplish much beyond the most mundane or most necessary (cooking, changing sails, washing dishes, taking showers) is dramatically minimized.
Change is the constant in life. Everyday we spend at sea reminds me of this. Headed to the Galapagos, which exhibits this idea to the utmost, the birthplace of the idea of evolution, change from one species into another distinct species, makes for an incredible learning opportunity. To quote writer Jeff Greenwald from his article “A Natural Selection” in AAA’s Jan/Feb 2015 Westways magazine issue: “Nearly 2 centuries after the 24 year old Charles Darwin stepped onto the Galapagos Islands, they’re still a global laboratory for the study of adaptation. In fact, everything about our planet, even its position in space is in constant flux, moving toward an unknown destiny.” We humans are the same. We change, evolve, grow and learn new ideas and ways to live, make a living, survive.
I don’t know what all of this change around me is teaching exactly: to be open to new possibilities, patience, resilience, to be adaptive to my environment, ‘to be prepared’ like a Girl Scout. I chose this new lifestyle knowing the changes in my life would be great. Now I simply have to adapt to the vastness of change and accept the inconstant as my constant without being disgruntled. Richard Henry Dana wrote in his book Two Years Before the Mast that you can’t get mad at the sea when it causes you to spill your lunch. You have to laugh at what the ocean throws at you, otherwise you’d maintain an angry state of mind. If you laugh, the uncomfortable makes for a much better story in the end.