July 1, 2017 21h30. Off to Darwin for a 20 day passage.
July 4, 2017 21h30. Fourth of July. No celebrations on Kandu, however, the day passed cheerfully. Everyone helped themselves to breakfast: cereal, leftover banana bread, or toast and grapefruit. The boys and I played 3-way cribbage for the first time to great success (Bryce won) and after dinner, we played a round of monopoly, which Bryce also won. Stinker! We listened to loud music and the boys showed off their growing arm strength by trading off doing pull-ups hanging off the top of the hatchway. Before dinner, I read out loud three or four chapters of “Carry On, Mr. Bowditch,” a book I assigned the boys to read during this voyage. Turns out I had two identical paperback versions on board. Before we left the states, I guess I really wanted them to read the book. And in fact, they are enjoying the story as it’s about a boy indenture apprenticed to a chandlery on the East Coast of the US in the 1780’s, who improves his lot by intense individual study and ‘Sailing by ash breeze.’ Oars are made of ash. Can you divine the meaning of the turn of phrase? It’s a lesson the boys are slowly learning. Early education isn’t about teachers teaching you, it’s about learning to learn and taking it upon yourself to study the materials presented so that you absorb them and make them a part of you. The ultimate goal is learning how to teach yourself.
I took the first watch tonight as I had a late afternoon nap and was wide-awake. It’s a peaceful night: less wind so less swell. Not as scary as the two previous nights, hence my ability to write. We’re steadily heading northwest toward the Torres Strait. It’s also getting warmer the more north we sail. All the port lights and hatches are closed tight. We had some moments early on during this passage when salt water shot inside due to our laxity. Don’t want that to happen again. Yesterday, Eric fixed the stalling engine problem, a second time. He had replaced the filters before we left, but the new ones were still not filling up with diesel, even after Eric worked to solve the problem in Espirtu Santo. Fortunately, he figured the problem was still the same and it was an easy fix, thank goodness. So far, the engine hasn’t stalled again.
July 10, 2017, Monday 7:15 am. Full moons & illegal fishing trawlers. We’ve been enjoying the fullest of moons during the last three night watches. The days are passing slowly. Still an estimated 8 days to go – Eric thinks it will be a total of 18 days at sea. Sailing downwind, we are rocking a lot side-to-side and moving at a snails pace of 5 knots. Now in the Coral Sea, we’re pulling close to the Torres Strait. We are not yet sailing inside the shipping lane but have already encountered a good share of boats. Two nights ago, little 42 foot Kandu was sandwiched in between two 770-foot cargo ships within 2.5 miles. They were traveling north and south while we were heading west. Everyone’s AIS systems were working that night!
Yesterday morning, Eric and I were enjoying the cool cockpit breeze when a 60-foot fishing trawler surprised us. In the cockpit covered by a towel in order to block the light, I had been intently watching a movie with headphones. It wasn’t until the trawler was 50 yards away to our aft port that Eric heard a strange engine noise, looked up and turned around from sending inReach delorme text messages.
He shouted in surprise. The trawler had approached dangerously close and all their men on deck were staring at us intently. Bryce quickly hailed them on channel 16, but they didn’t speak English or French. He thought perhaps Chinese, Taiwanese, or Korean. After a few minutes, they fell off displaying their name: Crystal 102. There was another twin trawler about 1 mile to our north. We figured they were illegally fishing in Papua New Guinea’s waters. It’s a shame we didn’t have the foresight to jot down our latitude and longitude in order to report them to the international authorities later. It’s possible that we had crossed over their fishing nets. The way they acted, they were definitely aggravated. They didn’t wave, nor did we.
Well received all of your incredible newsy emails. Thank you ever so much. I haven’t written you many emails of late. I’m in the midst of posting some of the blog entries that I’ve been collecting and writing at night. It’s a long process.
We’ve had the most incredible experiences here in Vanuatu. Exploding volcano, Rom dancing, hiking into remote African like villages, Land Diving, eating local yams and local mackerel – what adventure!
Tonight we’re anchored outside The Beachfront Resort (friendly and helpful to cruisers) on the island Espiritu Santo in Luganville and are planning to have dinner at the resort in order to benefit from their great Wi-fi X 4 people/devices. We’re hoping the wind dies down a little so our dinghy ride back in the dark to Kandu is not bumpy and wet as we’ll be transporting computers.
Eric got the engine figured out, which had been causing him angst since yesterday. Happily, the problem was apparent and the solution was simple; he had changed the oil and filters but didn’t stock up the new filters with oil, so the engine was sucking air. When we get our retrofitted pactor modem in Australia, we’ll actually be able to send emails in route over the ocean along with low-resolution photos. It will be great to have that working again along with our wind sensor.
I’ve got to send a message to Teaching Textbooks (Bryce and Trent’s math programs) regarding the discs we’re having problems with probably due to being in a salty environment since early 2015. They said they would send us replacements. We need them badly now that the boys are boat schooling full time. I must find the list of bad CD’s that we painstakingly drew-up! Where could that be? Sigh.
This week, we plan to go on a scuba dive of the USS President Coolidge 600 foot troop carrier wreck that sank in 1942 during WWII.
It is located in relatively shallow water so it will not be a problem for the boys to dive it considering their low degree of experience and skill. We also plan to take an afternoon island tour of the WWII leftovers: Million Dollar Point where the Americans dumped massive amounts of war vehicles and equipment deep into the water after the war, hospital sites, quonset barracks and shelters still in use, an old prison cell built to detain Japanese POWs, etc,
It should be a great education adding to the boys’ understanding of World War II and how it affected even the most remote peoples of the world.
Also, I think we might rent a car to tour the northern part of the island up to Port Olry, fitting in a swim in one of the celebrated Blue Hols along the coastline and a visit to Champagne Beach where the sand is beautifully fine. Friday – we’ll stock up and check out of immigration. Saturday we’ll be leaving.
Gotta go – dinner is ready. I love you, and dittoing your memorable salutation, send you back clouds of love love love, Leslie.
Samoa was a great place to visit. We visited Apia, capital city on the island of Upolu, the smaller of the two islands. The other island is called Savai’i, a bit like Hawai’i. Samoa used to be called Western Samoa to be different from ‘American Samoa.’ ‘American Samoa’ is an American overseas territory. The people of Samoa voted their country name to be simply ‘Samoa’ when it became it’s own country, independent, no longer a protectorate of New Zealand. In Apia, they have great restaurants and really nice people. The food in Samoa is much cheaper than in Tahiti and the people were always smiling. Not much Wi-Fi in Samoa but they have great surf and exciting new things to do.
There are all kinds of special natural wonders on Upolu all owned by different villages. In order to visit these sites, instead of paying a national park fee, you pay the family or village who owns and maintains the site. We got to visit the Papase’ea Sliding Rocks, the To Sua Ocean Trench, and the Piula Cave Pool.
The Papase’ea Sliding Rocks was mind blowing. We asked locals how to get down to the slides just to make sure we wouldn’t get hurt. There were over a hundred well-maintained stairs to walk down. It was a hot day, so there were already a lot of people visiting the falls and slides. Dad asked a local how to slide down the rock. He went first, then I went, Bryce and mom last. It took some time for her to gather her courage. After awhile having slid a lot, Bryce and I went over to the waterfall. I went under and it felt like I was getting a massage. It was the best natural rock slide I’ve ever slid on. We all had a lot of fun.
The To Sua Trench was nothing I’ve ever seen before. When I saw it, it looked like a big blue hole in the ground. The sides were covered in vines and plants. It was located next to the ocean with what looked like pretty good surf swell. To get down into the water hole, we walked down some stairs then climbed down a ladder made out of huge trees. You can jump off the ladder at whatever height you want (no rules) then swim into the connecting cave. It was lightly raining, not cold though. Bryce and I jumped and swam to our hearts content in the refreshing fresh water.
Another day we got to swim again in cold, fresh water at Piula Cave Pool located on the north side of the island, also right next to the ocean. When you go deep in the cave where it’s dark, your body turns blue. It might turn blue because the water was super clean, or because the rock ceiling dripped water minerals in the water. It sparkled in the sun. There were two caves and we heard they were connected by a small opening that you could swim through, but the passage was dark and under the water so you would’ve had to hold your breath all the way to the other side. We didn’t have a light and a mask, so we didn’t go.
We had a great day visiting ‘The Samoan Cultural Center’ to learn about different aspects of Samoan culture. First, a trio of men danced a Samoan paddle dance.
It was much tamer than Marquesian and Tahitian dancing. It wasn’t a war dance as the three men dancing were all smiling. A woman danced too, but all she seemed to move were her arms, hardly any hip and leg movement.
After the dance, the performers treated us to a kava ceremony and explained, back when they were cannibals, if they didn’t give you a kava ceremony they would eat you. Next up, we walked to see real tattooing in progress. Samoan artists like using their old wooden tools, but in an upgraded style. They used to attach shark teeth on a stick, but now they use stainless steel combs. We got to see them tattooing on two Samoan men. It looked very painful. Every Samoan guy has the same tattoo in the same spot. For Samoan men, it’s their dream to get this tattoo, but if you start and then stop because it’s too painful, you disgrace your family. The session goes for an hour a day for six days. Lastly, we went to see how you could make clothing and artwork from bark. You cut off a branch from a specific tree, and carefully remove the bark. Then they separate the outside of the bark from the inside layer. After, you get two shells, one that is a little sharp and one that isn’t. After you’re done scrapping the bark, it’s six times the size. They stretch it out with rock as weights and let it dry. They dry it in shade letting the wind and air dry it because the sun dries it too fast.
Samoa has some great surf, but you have to pay to surf. Families own surf sites, which I don’t think is right. You can’t own a part of an ocean! Samoa is a Christian place so you can’t surf on Sundays. There are some surf resorts in Samoa and they pay to get permission from the families to go surfing, but they can only allow 12 people to surf at a time. We went to a resort and made an arrangement to surf on the following Monday morning. The spot was an hour and ½ away from our boat, and we wanted to catch the first boat out leaving early from shore at 6:30 am. So we woke up at 4:30 to drive over to the other side of the island and the surfer guide said we couldn’t go surfing with them. He said it in a really mean and aggressive way. We left and searched for another way to paddle out to the surf later that same day. When we arrived, that surf guide was frustrated we were there.
It’s said that Samoa and Tonga are where all the Polynesians came from and that the islands form a triangle in the Pacific from New Zealand in the west, to Hawaii to the north and Easter Island at the eastern corner and all the French Polynesia islands are in the triangle. Rapa Nui is the island where the performers wear the least amount of clothing when they dance. Performers in French Polynesia and Hawaii wear similar clothing, using grass and leaves, coconut shells and pareos. In New Zealand, dancers wear warmer outfits sometimes with fake animals skins. It’s cold in New Zealand even in summer.I loved the rockslide and the trench. Bryce and I had a great day surfing the Salani reef. I loved how Samoa, being next to ‘America Samoa,’ had my favorite chips that we’ve not found anywhere else: Spicy Hot Cheetos. We were going to tour Savai’i but immigration would only let us check out from Apia and dad didn’t want to sail back against the wind. After just one week only, we left to Fiji.
We pulled-up anchor to depart Suva, the capital of Fiji, late this afternoon at sunset around 5:30 pm. Eric estimates our arrival at Musket Cove Marina (surf extraordinaire!) around 2:00 pm tomorrow. The sky was gently crying in anticipation of our departure. The guys did a bang-up job getting the topside ready in the wetness. There was much to do: rinse the small outboard with fresh water, hoist ‘Wee Kandu,’ our dinghy, up on deck, tie it down, move our larger 10 horse outboard engine to the aft stanchion fitting (it was straining the mast pulpit where it sat previously), set-up the lines to sail and prep the cockpit. Bryce and Trent’s hands and minds are remembering what to do without having to be directed. It’s terrific that I don’t have to prep both topside and down below too. Always when living aboard, things are pulled-out to use and then not put back in their designated places. The laundry hadn’t yet been stowed; groceries needed to be organized and dishes required washing and stowage. It’s quite the preparation. But if everyone does his or her part, it can be relatively quick.
Due to our latest experiences departing into rolling seas, we all swallowed anti-nausea, seasickness medicine earlier in the day around lunchtime. We are all benefiting immensely from having taken the precaution.
9:30 pm – Ohh – the rain and wind have picked-up. It’s a soggy night, but had we waited, the weather & conditions were only going to worsen. Happily, our hard dodger is providing more than sufficient shelter to hide behind out of the wind and most of the wetness. I’m not wearing a raincoat as it’s not cold, although my bottom is soaked through. On nights like this, along with our doubly equipped lifejacket/harness, we wear a tether line attached to a solidly anchored cockpit ring. After two and ½ years of use, our poor lifejackets have unfortunately developed spots of black mold. I cleaned them well before leaving Raiatea with soap, water, vinegar and anti-mold spray to no avail. Evidently, I wasn’t able to eliminate all the mold spores that insist on living. The jackets look quite nasty and smell worse. I’ll have to try and clean them again. Ugh! At US$250 a pop, they are worth not replacing. Plenty of other things to spend our money on.
With time to reflect, I think back on our recent experience. Suva is a small city bursting with energy. There are taxis galore with friendly drivers. All the people we met, Fijian and East Indian, were cordial and helpful. “Bula-bula.” I felt welcome. Eric had heard that the population was instructed to be friendly and helpful to tourists to encourage tourism. Well, their outward enthusiasm affected all of us positively. Someday, if the opportunity were to arise, I would love to visit again.
The city of Suva is the most attractive city we’ve seen out of all the islands we’ve visited so far, perhaps because its movie theatre was modern and clean….lol. Like in Samoa, we were so starved for a modern film experience that we attended movies every evening since there was nothing else going on and the ticket price was a mere $4.00 USD per person. We enjoyed seeing great Bollywood films along with international box office hits: Wonder Woman, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the very silly Bay Watch. Bollywood theatergoers seemed especially amused by our presence, almost giggling as our family entered the cinema chamber and found our seat assignments, as if they thought we were lost, surprised even more so that we returned after the obligatory Bollywood intermission. We thoroughly enjoyed Suva’s East Indian cultural influence in clothing, work ethic, and on the delicious food flavored with Indian spices, although it’s typically quite salty.
Suva was also one of the most plentiful and resourceful of cities we’ve visited. Eric was even able to replace our shattered cockpit dodger window with Safety E glass, matching what was lost. Just as with the rest of Fiji, the glass cutting was immediate and inexpensive. One USD equals two Fijian.
The outdoor vegetable market offered a large selection of beautiful and proudly displayed seasonal foods: pineapples and mandarin oranges were the most plentiful and succulent. Unfortunately, their grapefruits were dry and terrible: nothing like Polynesia’s succulent ‘pomplemouse.’ Lots of okra, huge yam roots, taro, cucumbers, papaya, eggs, cabbage, bok choi, green beans, carrots, celery, and delicious drinking coconuts were for sale. The fishermen offered a variety of small and large fish, green crabs of all sizes, sea grass, sea grapes, clams and lobsters. It was a cornucopia of plenty. With so many choices of fresh foods to eat, the population looked healthy and fit with bright, naturally straight teeth.
Yesterday, on our last day, Bryce and I stocked up on the many fresh selections at the market plus stopped in a local store to pick-up bread and boxed milk. Thank goodness I had a helper to help carry the many shopping bags. Feeling it would not be convenient to walk our folding aluminum cart into the city center, we instead hired a taxi from and to the Royal Suva Yacht Club where our dinghy was docked. It was a five-minute dinghy ride to Kandu, anchored with other sailboats in the murky bay. Our 10hp outboard having developed a problem with its propeller the night before, we were relegated to use our slower and noisier 3hp. At least it was downwind.
And finally, Suva is where Eric, before leaving Raiatea, found that the US Embassy would be willing to allow a commercial courier to ship our boys’ renewed passports to his brother in Sydney. Samoa would not, and no other location would be as convenient as Fiji or Samoa. Suva’s newly constructed US Embassy was pristine and heavily guarded. The guards at the guard station joked with Trent that they’d play on his DS while he was inside. Leaving, Eric joked, “Even the fountain water tastes American!”
I had a great sleep that night and woke up with excitement. I packed light bringing swim trunks, tank top, glasses, hat, one pair of shorts, and my pillow. Hopping in the bus, I remembered that I had forgot to pack my toiletries, but I was too excited to go on the ferry than whine about missing shampoo. Inside the ferry was nice and cool. Our group chose to make camp upstairs even though the food court was downstairs. I was hungry and the boat ride would be an hour, so I bought myself two small egg rolls. Coming into the bay was amazing the water was so clear and the color was super light baby blue. We left the ferry and took a bus over to the spot where all the pirogues were so we could set them up and try them out before the race. The group attached alma and carried the boat into the water. My group (Team A) hopped in the pirogue and gave it a test ride. In my opinion even though the pirogue weighed 155 kg, it went faster than the ones in Taiohae because it just glided.
The helmsman said it had a small turn to the left but no big deal so we left it as it was and brought it back to the pirogue holder. Then we were escorted over to the classroom where we would be sleeping since we were staying in a school. Each Team had their own classroom with 16 mattresses inside. Getting settled in was a little hard having to move all the desks and chairs over to the side so we could put the mattresses down and pull out our bedding. Some like me went to the market to buy things for the race or for pleasure. Dinner we were told was going to start in one hour. The kids bought snacks and watched volleyball until it was time for tomato sauce on rice and fish. It wasn’t the best meal but they had fresh apples and oranges to chose from. I was so happy when I bit into that apple, I almost screamed; good apples are hard to come by in Taiohae. After dinner we settled down on our matts and had a long conversation about technique that lasted till late at night. But I fell asleep at 10:00 p.m. I had 5 hours of sleep till our wake time at 3:00 in the morning.
Race day . . .
As we woke up early in the morning, we were told to pack everything up and head out with the paddles and water tubes. The teams all walked in the P.E. building so that the refs could give everyone a pep talk before we headed out to the course. The helmsmen had their own group meeting, and once both meetings were over, everyone got together to give a moment of silence to a couple of kids that were shot and murdered two weeks prior. The five minutes passed and each team walked over to their pirogues and placed them in the water. The entire group A hopped into the pirogues and paddled off to the starting line. I was in Team A. Sitting in the pirogue next to the starting line I started to get nervous. My whole body was electrically excited. It took a long time to get all 42 boats in line. Vanene Hoe!! Each and every pirogue was paddling trying to get in front. Then BOOM – our pirogue hit another and another pirogue hit ours. Everything was crazy. On the left of us, one pirogue tried to capsize us by flipping our alma, when one of our motors yelled at him in Marquesan freaking the paddler out making him drop our alma back into the water. Finally, we got out of that mess and continued paddling at a moderate speed. Then at the final bit of that leg, our captain gave the three hip call telling us to go faster. We finished in 5th for our 14-17 year cadet category (The categories are by age: 10-12, 12-14, 14-17), the highest category. Each leg of the race was 5 km; there would be 9 legs. Up next was Group B on the second leg. Since each middle school had one boat and two teams, we need to swap out paddlers. Firstly, the pirogue that just raced would try and find the motorboat that had the other group of paddlers. Secondly, the previous group would hop out of the pirogue for the next group to get in. There was one super strict rule, if anyone hopped into the water without a life jacket on, that team would be disqualified. So finally once the next team was settled in the pirogue, the previous team would board the motorboat that would follow the team that was paddling. Group B finished in 7th then we hopped back in and paddled over to the starting line. The 3rd leg was against the clock. That meant we would have to go faster than normal speed to get a good place. Each pirogue had 30 seconds before the next one would take off. Our group beat the guys in front, giving a lot of effort to do so. For that leg we finished in 6th. Then Group B came in and finished the fourth leg in 7th place. At this point, I was getting tired, but I told myself I was going to pull this off. So I swam over to the pirogue, jumped up in and we paddled over to the starting line for the 5th leg. In a few minutes we were off and all the paddlers lifted their pirogues to plane. At halfway mark, I started to get tired, but we kept going. In the end, I was really tired but we placed 10th. Being really tired, I got out of the pirogue and sat down in the motorboat and munched on a granola bar. For the 6th leg, the boy replacement came in and swapped out for the one that was too tired. For that leg, Group B was looking at a 6.1 km. I was too tired to cheer them off. For 45 minutes to 1 hour I slept on the motorboat trying to recover my strength till our team said “Bryce, time to go.” Group B had finished in 12th place.
Back in the pirogue, we paddled to the starting line and waited for the referees to say go for the 7th leg. I said to myself I was going to give it all. READY, SET, GO!! We darted off lifting our boat out of the water and going at a normal medium to fast speed. Halfway, I was completely wiped out but I kept paddling. I couldn’t move my arms any faster, but I just kept paddling. Then the other pirogues started to pass us. We were coming close to last when, “Hip Hip Hip,” we paddled harder passing one boat. When we crossed the finish line, I almost fainted. I had nothing left, no more inside. We found the motorboat and I crawled aboard. I sat myself down and fell asleep. I had given everything, and we finished in 13th as well. At the 9th leg, our 14 member team took anyone that wasn’t tired to fill a pirogue. They finished hard and placed another 13th. The race was over. The paddlers all took apart their pirogues and placed them on the holders. Before the announcements, we ate some snacks, fruit, bread, and a few cookies.
The dance . . .
During the announcements of what places everyone got, our group practiced our Marquesan Haka dance that we would shortly perform. When the judges called us up everything went quiet then our dance leader started it: “Hoe vaka kae kae kae ha!” Our guys all walked out with necklaces on and got in formation. The chief dance leader started ‘Smack’ talking in Marquesan. He was looking at us trying to get a glimpse to see if we were ready. Then the chief gave us the cue and we all started dancing and chanting. It was fantastic! I was in the back since I didn’t know all the words. Then we stopped, the second chief walked up and started talking ‘Smack’ in Marquesan. No one else in the audience knew what he was saying. He put on a great show. All were afraid of him. The chief stopped and all at once the group started dancing and chanting. It was a great experience for me. As we were walking back all the people made way, one of the chiefs jumped at the crowd scaring them all away.
Our team was of course curious what places we scored in the race, so my dad asked around and told us the scores. Combined we placed 13th in the highest/oldest cadet category and 20th overall out of 42 pirogue teams. I felt we did way better than expected.
That same day we grabbed our bags and headed back to the ferry where we would return to Tahiti. One hour later and we were settled in on the boat, buying snacks, since most of us were still pretty hungry.
The boat was nice and air-conditioned so I fell asleep. I woke up as the team was getting off the boat. I snatched my stuff and headed off the ferry to where the bus would take us back to the dormitories where we had previously stayed. My dad met us at the rooms and told me he would meet us at the airport the next morning. I undressed, took a shower and went to bed. It had been a really long day.
The return home . . .
“Aaaaaaaaahhhh we’re gunna do Paranoid!” I turned off my ipod alarm and woke everyone else up. Prof Cathy Brunel gathered everyone and we waited with our luggage for the bus. In 30 minutes, the bus came and our team loaded in. The bus ride felt sad. The kids were feeling low. They didn’t want to leave as they all had a great experience. At the airport my dad showed up with his camera and shot videos of us waiting, checking in, and boarding the plane. My dad and I both sat together and recounted stories of our time in Tahiti. For the flight back each paddler went to sleep. Looking at Nuku Hiva from above, I felt a comfort, for I knew I had come back home with yet another unforgettable experience. For me it was very challenging, but I had a great time with my Va’a piers and I enjoyed getting to know them better. In sum, I loved it!
At 6:30 a.m. my mom, Trent and I left Kandu and motored the dinghy to shore so that Trent and I could catch the bus to school. We entered the school gates at 7:00 a.m. I was ready and on time. The team paddlers showed up one by one until it was time to load into the airport bus and head to the airport, an hour and a half away. The team coaches rounded up all the paddles and life jackets and loaded them into the bus separately as the paddlers seated themselves. On the way to the airport lumberjacks, cutting down trees, stopped the bus. The roadway was cleared in ten minutes and we moved on. After almost two hours of being in the bus we arrived; I was ready. All the kids checked in, got their tickets, and bought food for the plane ride. We would fly from Nuku-Hiva to lay over in Hiva-Oa before setting off to Tahiti. An hour passed before we were allowed into the plane to pick our seats. I hadn’t been on a plane for a long time. I was so excited and overjoyed. During take off, it was super cool looking out the window seeing the ocean and Nuku-Hiva from above.
Not long after, we deplaned in Hiva-Oa and waited to re-board. All the kids sat down at the airport snack lounge and talked until an announcement said that the plane was ready and we would re-board soon. The passengers again seated themselves and as soon as everyone was settled in the plane, it took off. I sat next to a very nice French lady and practiced my French with her. Eventually I tired, put on my headset and took a nice long nap. I woke up for the landing; flying over the coral reef lagoon was spectacular. I was super pumped to visit a ‘big’ city like Papeete.
When the plane came to a stop, everyone grabbed their carry-on belongings and walked to the airport baggage claim. As the luggage came down the conveyor, we each grabbed our bags and walked outside to the lobby. My dad greeted us and showed us the way to the bus that would drive us to our dorm for the next four nights.
Our team was separated into two rooms of boys and girls. Coach Cathy gave the assistant coach the key to the boys’ room so we could unpack and get ready for dinner. We left on foot at 6:00 p.m. to the high school where we would eat dinner. My Marquesan teammates were a bit intimidated by the local Tahitian students. To make it easier for the Marquesan kids, the school provided a private dinning room that first night. Coach Cathy told everyone we would be waking up at 5:30 in the morning to eat breakfast. We walked the 30 minutes back to the shared dorm rooms, traded off taking showers in the single shower, and went to bed. It was a great first day!
Visiting Tahiti . . .
Wednesday morning we got dressed and headed for breakfast at the same school where we had had dinner the night before. Once finished we boarded a waiting school bus that drove us to a high school for a planned tour. It was a cooking school, so lunch was fantastic. The whole tour took about four hours, and I hardly understood any of it. After the tour we took another bus over to the commercial center of the city where we were given a 1-1/2 hour chance to shop. We were split into groups of girls and guys. My dad soon met up with us and took my group to several different stores. That day, I bought a blue leather Quiksilver wallet and an ice cream. The others bought expensive carbon fiber paddles ($240USD), T-shirts, and shorts. Our time was up and the bus drove us back to the dormitory. Everyone unloaded and we soon took off to eat dinner.
The next morning was much the same. We woke up at 5:30 a.m., headed for breakfast, and waited for the bus that would take us to another school. Instead of going to the school with the others, I went with my dad shopping. I bought swim trunks, sandals, deodorant, and gum. Then we took off to a Tahitian television station where my dad was going to be interviewed on live TV Premier 1. On the TV show, he talked about our stay in the Marquesas, his old job at Sony Pictures and mom’s old job at LA Opera.
It was darned cool to watch him being interviewed on TV. He did a great job. We left the studio and went shopping again. Before hitting the stores, we grabbed a bite to eat at McDonald’s for the heck of it, and then we went back to shopping. In the city, I bought two tank tops and another for my brother, one pair of pants for me and another for my brother. I also got a fanny pack and my dad bought a dive watch for Trent. We had a great time looking around Papeete’s shops and open market. It felt as if I were back in America (except everything was a lot more expensive and all in French). It was nice to experience the luxury of having a wide selection of things to buy.
Being Thursday meant that tomorrow we would be leaving for Moorea, waking up at 4:00 in the morning to do so. We ate dinner at the high school again, came back to the dormitories, and went to bed.
The most respected sport in all of French Polynesia . . . ? The answer is va’a, Tahitian for outrigger canoeing. This is a sport for real athletes. Va’a involves endurance, strength, killer technique, innate talent, and most importantly, teamwork. It is also one of the few ways to earn Marquesan respect. Other ways include becoming a prolific fisherman, enrolling in their local school, or having your body tattooed from head to toe. My name is BRYCE RIGNEY and I can check two of these off my list. I have been attending a public Marquesan secondary school and I’m a part of the school’s paddling team, seated as my team’s faharo. In two months Marquesas will send 14 of their best college (secondary school) students to represent them in Moorea in the prestigious Eimeo Race where we’ll battle it out against 42 other French Polynesian schools and one team from Hawaii.
In the beginning . . .
It all started in mid-October 2015 with the beginning of the school’s new paddling program for kids 14 and older. The first after-school paddling sessions were difficult and crazy. Forty kids showed up on the first day, each wanting to learn how to paddle. But there were only 15 paddles. Fortunately, the instructors brought their own paddles to share. For boats, we paddled double-hulled outrigger canoes, one V-12 and a V-6. The word “V-12” is short for “va’a 12,” which is a pirogue (French for outrigger canoe) built for 12 paddlers. FYI – A mix of French, Tahitian, and Marquesan are spoken in the Marquesas. Anyway, so instead of one long canoe for 12 people, with two long wooden arms called aito, they attach two V-6’s together to make one double-hulled canoe. A double-hulled canoe is much more stable than a single-hulled canoe with a small outrigger, an important feature when just starting to learn how to paddle an outrigger canoe. So, a V-3 holds three people, and a V-1 is for a single paddler. To create a double-hulled V6, they tied two V-3’s together. Together, the two double-hulled canoes carried 18 students at a time. It was obvious to the instructors that none of us were in shape for paddling and that va’a was a new sport for all of us. Being it was the first time for most, including me; we tired easily those first weeks.
After 3 weeks, the number of kids showing up for practice dwindled to 20. That’s when the real training began. We started with 3km tours without rest, which progressed to 4km tours, then doubled to two 4km tours with a stop between tours, and then a 6km tour without a break. After two months of paddling, 18 kids remained. That’s when the college sports instructor, Cathy, informed all paddlers that there would be a 42km, 9-stage race around the island of Moorea, to be held in two months, and that from the 18 remaining kids, only 14 would be chosen to represent the entire Marquesas archipelago. All the kids were shocked when she told us. Training stepped up yet again. No longer just Mondays and Wednesdays, we were told to come on Tuesdays and Saturdays as well. At that time, I started to doubt whether I liked the sport enough to endure the training. Each day was 4km tour day (YAY!! . . . NOT!!) with a 1km “cherry” sprint on top. At the end of each practice we were exhausted, having worked practically every muscle in our bodies. Another month passed and the 4km tours were getting easier. That was when coach Cathy and the trainers said that in a week they would decide who would represent the Marquesas in this year’s Eimeo race.
Being that we were getting close to the day of the race, I decided to buy myself a custom wooden outrigger canoe paddle, made by hand by of one of the other paddler’s dad. There were many reasons why I wanted my own paddle. Everyday at paddle practice, we would get whatever paddle the trainers handed us. I had to get acquainted with each paddle, adapting to a different weight, texture, and length. Second, when my mom wasn’t using her custom paddle, I’d try to borrow it. But sometimes she’d be paddling at the same time, so I couldn’t use it. I no longer wanted the stress of wondering if I could or couldn’t use her paddle. I just wanted my own. Thirdly I thought it would be a great souvenir to take with me from our around the world sailing trip. For just $80 US, I could have my own handmade paddle. After just one week of waiting, the masterpiece was in my hands. I was excited to test it out and show it off. Being a non-practice day, the day I took possession of it, I took out a friend’s V-1 and tested the new instrument. It was incredibly light and the length was perfect. At the end of the 4km paddle test-drive, I was satisfied with my investment: those 80 dollars were definitely worth it. To really make it mine, I decided to add a little something special to set it apart from other paddles; I carefully placed a Hinanao vahine beer sticker on the blade. The first time my teammates saw my new paddle, they admired it.Team selection . . .
Monday, three weeks before the Eimeo Race, training was intense. There were three teams. I was part of team 1 and sat in the first seat (Fahoro). Seated behind me were the two best girl paddlers. In seat four was the paddle shaper’s son, Jordi. Then sat the biggest paddler in our paddle group, Keoni, followed by the school’s best helmsman, Raphael, a French kid. Our pirogue was to verse two other canoes in a 4km practice race around Taiohae Bay. One of the opposing canoes consisted of four of the counselors and two strong teen boys. They would be our greatest threat. Frankly the third boat isn’t worth mentioning. Vanena hoe!!! And with that Tahitian shout, the teams were off and paddling. Each member of the three pirogues were paddling at once, trying with each stroke of their paddles to lift their pirogues out of the water, working ferociously to get their boat to plane or glide in order to take the lead. The counselors’ boat quickly took the lead with us right behind. One and half kilometers into the race, little had changed. When the counselors’ pirogue made the first turn around the anchored sailboats and toward the big wharf/fuel dock, our boat gunned it: everyone pushing, rowing, and breathing in perfect unison. Soon we were side by side, us versus them. After five minutes of intense paddling our pirogue took the lead. Once we were one V6 length ahead, I slowed the pace down, maintaining our glide without tiring us out before the finish line. Over the next 2 km, we maintained our boat-length lead. With only a half kilometer to go, our pirogue decided to step it up and finish hard. The captain ordered a three “hip” tempo. By the end of the 4km race, our boat finished first with the distance of two V6’s between us. I don’t even remember what happened to the third boat.
That finish signaled the end of that day’s practice too. After carrying the pirogues out of the surf and onto the turf for overnight storage, the professor called everyone over. She announced, “These are the students who will race in Moorea. Pirogue team set A – Bryce, Keoni (the girl), Jordi, Keoni (the guy), Esperance, and Raphael.” I was super excited. We would remain the same group as we had just raced. She then announced the members for Pirogue team set B. She explained that these were the two teams that would switch off paddling the one canoe around Moorea over the 9 stages. The only bad thing was that with only three weeks left before the big race, rowing practice would only get harder, and it did.
The next week, practice started as normal, with two 4 km tour, but with an added capsize drill at the end of the second tour. The following week, training ramped up more. It transformed into a single 8 km non-stop tour. At the end of training, we were all beat. I questioned whether I would have the stamina for the Moorea race. On the final week before we were to be air-bound, Cathy told us that in addition to racing around Moorea, the guys had to practice the traditional Marquesan warrior dance called haka putu, to be performed in front of all the other Eimeo racers. The other guys and I took each opportunity that week to practice our dance: before paddling, after paddling, and in-between lunches at school. For all the other male teammates, it was easy to dance and chant since they grew up with the dance and spoke Marquesian. But for me, it was a challenge. Memorizing the chant was the hardest, but I knew I could do it. On Wednesday, Cathy huddled all the kids over to remind us of what to bring for the trip: limited to two bags, lots of protein bars for the intervals between stages when we’d be on the team’s support motorboat, and money for the things we would surely want to buy in Tahiti. Everyone prepared for Tuesday’s departure, the start of our small adventure to Tahiti and Moorea.
For Monday’s practice, the day before we were to fly out, only a handful of the kids came to paddle. The two V6 pirogues were required to paddle 8 km. The first half we paddled at a moderate pace; the second, at a faster pace. Even though it was 8km our teams were ready for more, well worked but not exhausted.
That night I packed six t-shirts, six shorts, seven pairs of underwear, four pairs of socks, sandals, pillow, blanket, rain jacket, sun glasses, hat, iPod (for music), and toiletries. I was so excited to travel by airplane and to explore a completely different island from the one I was use to. In the morning I packed a few more things for the race: my life jacket and my good-luck paddle.