Tuesday, September 29, 2009

No Worries

Hi all.
Thank you for the many outpourings of concern about our safety.  We are not in Samoa where there are sadly, 40 people already reported dead. 
However, there was a tsunami warning for Fijian waters.  It was supposed to arrive at 9am or so local time.  We heard about the warning at about 10am local time by shamelessly eavesdropping on a conversation on the VHF radio.  The warning was cancelled before 9am but we didn't hear about  the cancellation until about 2 this afternoon while waiting for the customs office to open so we could clear in to this port. 
All is well for us.  Pray for the people in Samoa!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Savu Savu to Lautoka

Since getting to Fiji I've spent a very solid amount of time up in the spreaders looking for reefs. Two days we were coming into the very narrow Nasonisoni passage, with bad charts, GPS all off, computer a mile off, and a rain storm hitting. My polarized shades were getting soaked, but even then, if I took them off, I could not see an inch into the water. With them on I was able to navigate Megan into the entrance using VHF radios to communicate. Once through the wind was blasting and we sailed at 7 to 8 knots for the next two hours around Salevu Point on Vanua Levu (Fiji's big north island). It felt like race car driving, avoiding the odd rock mentioned on the charts and flying around corners of islands. It was necessary speed, too. We pulled into the anchorage at Nambouwalu bay around 5pm. An hour later, it was impossible to see the edges of reefs, no matter how high I had been in the spreaders.

Yesterday morning we got up at 5:30am, preparing to leave Nambouwalu and cross the Bligh Water for Veti Levu, the big island. We rowed to shore and asked some fishermen the best passage and they told us where to go. The captain's name was Simili. He was dark with a 2 inch scar starting at the corner of his right eye and down. We ended up giving them two packs of Marlboros from Panama, and they gave us a freezing cold, gutted barracuda and cooked taro root which they pulled steaming from a battered aluminum pan tucked in a hole in the front of the boat. They showed us as well as they could on our chart, something they had never seen before, where their little local passage to leave the fringing reef offshore of Vanua Levu. Should have seen the wonder in their eyes as they looked at the island they are from on paper.
As we pulled the anchor to leave, and Megan yelled to me that there was something wrong with the engine. I ran down, heard scratching, figured a main bearing was out or a belt was going, could not find it, ran back up, dropped 200 feet of chain in 5 seconds, and signaled for Megan to kill the engine. After turning off the ignition, she still heard whirring. The starter, I knew it, it never disengaged after I started it. It was hot as hell. I quickly removed it, with a towel to hold it, put the replacement starter in and figured we were off. Nothing. The new one that I had all ready to go was a no go. Solenoid must be out. So it was out with that one I had just installed, put back on the old one, and away it went. A side note, when I was putting the old one back on I heard the dreaded hacking of a person choking. I lept out of the engine room and made it to the galley where Megan had just cleared two pills that had gone down her trachea. She was doing the full on no air in, no air out with a few gagging noises. I was thinking Heimlick...She cleared it on her own. By that point we were two hours behind schedule to make our next anchorage. I thought if one more thing goes wrong, we are going to wait a day. It seemed like if we were delayed another 5 minutes it was a major message for us to stay put. But all went smoothly after that

Later, I was up in the rig thanking God for my polarized Kaenons looking at Simili's passage. I'm not kidding. This passage was definitely not in any cruising guides, charts, maps, or ever will be. Total local knowledge coupled with me being able to see and us threading the needle. After clearing that, we weaved around three or four more obstacles that led us out into deep water. Crazy place this Fiji. I may not surf too much, but the sailing is fast, powered, and you have to keep on your toes. Megan is an incredible navigator. Two nights ago, after we made anchor, she was worked up into such a navigating frenzy that she was sitting at the table with a chart and instruments at hand. (editor's note: I don't know if it was a "frenzy" but I've been spending a few hours a day watching where we're going, plotting points and reading all the information we have about various routes and anchorages.)

After crossing Bligh Water, at a very high rate of speed in a very comfortable manner, we approached Malake Passage, again with me in the rigging. It was a nice wide open pass with the sun at the perfect angle for conning. In time for sunset we had the hook down in 17 meters of water next to the grass-topped, tree-fringed Malake Island. We could hear small pterodactyl squawks (turned out to be large dark egrets) from the bushes and then buzzing of cicada type bugs after the wind finally eased. This morning we rowed to shore and saw that the buzzers were about 3/4 of an inch long shiny metallic green beetles clustered on certain brown pods in the trees. Beautiful.
Now we're out in Bligh Water again on the north edge of Viti Levu sailing downwind. We'll anchor near Vatia Point tonight and make Lautoka tomorrow.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: http://www.sailmail.com

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Savu Savu Fiji

The pink building is called the "Bargain Box (Fiji) Ltd." and plays Indian music all during working hours.

Pics from Samoa

1. Brian and the bull dorado he caught on the way to Samoa

2. Conch blowers at the dance performance we went to

3. traditional Samoan meeting house

4. Lady demonstrating how to make coconut cream

5. Samoan scenery

Friday, September 25, 2009


Thursday the 24th of September never existed for us. We sailed into the evening of Wed 23rd and sailed out of the night into the morning of Friday, the 25th. The International Dateline is located at 180 degrees of longitude but didn't receive the fanfare we gave the crossing of the equator.

We like Fiji! All official paperwork for this port was finished in two hours instead of the entire day and a half combined for checking in and out in Samoa. We have a cruising permit for all islands in Fiji except the Lau group which has rural communities. We don't have time to visit there this trip anyway.

There are lots of Indians here. At least 50 50 Indians to Samoans in Savu Savu. They add a feeling of energy to the town we're in and it's not even very large. Lautoka (the second largest city in Fiji, our next major destination) must be BUSTLING. Lots of smiley people.

Bula is the word of greeting and we hear it often and in many places. This morning, walking down the street, an older gentleman gave me a "Bula bula" from across the road. I'm happy I'm here.

Savu savu is on the Eastern edge of 12 mile wide bay that has green zigzaggey hills climbing up from the edges. Sailboats on moorings are out in front of the town which appears to be next to river because a small island lies opposite its banks. So we're quite protected and cozy with gentle cool breezes blowing and Indian music floating the short distance from the mainstreet along the shore, to our home.

We'll leave tomorrow (Sunday) and do short day hops between many reefs and tiny islands until we get to Lautoka.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: http://www.sailmail.com

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


I now have a feeling to associate with the word, "Godspeed". About two hours after we left Fiji on Sunday, the wind came up from the East and we have maintained speeds around 7 knots ever since. The seas are gentle and Nomad feels as if she is flying on her own with only a few minor adjustments occasionally to her direction. The skies are blue with fluff scattered across the horizon. It's addictive. I wish every passage was like this one.

We hadn't even planned to leave on Sunday. We departed Apia and arrived on Saturday evening to the south easterly port of Savaii (Second island of Samoa) with the intention of staying a few days and availing Brian of the nearby surf spot. As we entered the crooked pass with it's series of red beacons on the left and green ones on the right, I ran to the bow to look out for shallow spots. The Savaii harbor master hailed Brian on the VHF and insisted we come immediately to the commercial wharf to have our documents inspected. What we wanted to do was find an anchorage before the sun went down but we complied. The Assistant harbor master, Palu, and a few other fellows met us and tied up our lines. Palu came aboard to rifle through our paperwork. We were missing a form, he told us. "it is unfortunate that you are unwilling to go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to receive official permission to visit our island. I cannot welcome you to come ashore." This wording has since become fodder for jokes between Brian and me but at time it was rather irritating. We'd heard only one mention of said form and it was from another cruising couple while we were standing outside of customs, completing our (we thought) final exit paperwork from Apia. Since it was late in the day, we had no opportunity to track down this office in town. Also, we've heard enough "you have to do this" type information from other cruisers to take most things we hear with a grain of salt. So, we agreed we'd done what we knew we needed to do and we left without much concern.

Palu, who based on his odor, had already started drinking for the evening attempted to call his boss and got no answer. He berated us for not hailing him when we arrived at the pass (not something we ever did in Mexico or South Pacific) and reiterated that he could not welcome us ashore until his boss arrived possibly on Sunday and more likely not until Monday. He granted us permission to spend the evening and stay on our boat until the situation could be sorted out. However, he wanted to know if we had any alcohol on board. We said we had a little bit. He insinuated quite boldly that he'd like us to offer him some and sat in our cockpit patiently. I pulled out two partially filled bottles for him to decide between knowing that this was a weird situation. Officials have never requested anything more than a drink of water, juice or coffee, who did this guy think he was? He sniffed my offerings and somehow thought better of his request, left our boat and shooed us off the dock. We pulled off the dock and found a decent anchorage near the inside of the pass. In the morning we began finishing our sail repairs (reinstalling grommets on the main sail for attaching the sail to the sail track and finalizing a rip repair). Around 11 am we finished our work and hadn't gotten a call from the harbor master so we weighed anchor and headed to Fiji. We'd been able to receive a weather file that morning and things looked fine for our trip. They've been more than fine. The first day out 3 more cars broke off the sail track so we had to fix them while under way. But the seas have been rhythmic, the wind steady, and we're happy to be flying to Fiji and excited to meet up with the folks from the Lautoka YWAM base where we will be volunteering for most of October.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: http://www.sailmail.com

Saturday, September 19, 2009


We pulled in to Samoa (formerly known as Western Samoa) on Tuesday, Sept. 15. In the next three hours we received three visits from officials: Quarantine Officer interested in fruits and vegetables aboard, Customs Officers interested in goods aboard, Immigration Officers interested in people aboard. The next morning we were told to wait for a Health inspector. So we waited aboard our spotlessly clean home not wanting to do any chores or pull out any projects because we wanted to leave right away and start exploring.

Solomon, the bored harbor pilot dropped by and asked for a cup of coffee. So we visited. Then the marina clerk, Tuna, came by to give us security passes and tell us the slip fees. No Health Inspectors. Solomon suggested that perhaps the Health Inspectors wouldn't come because their budget doesn't provide fuel or vehicles for travel to the marina. Tuna said that if they hadn't arrived by 2pm we could take down our yellow Quarantine flag from the rigging and forget about it. "only in Samoa," he laughed.

I started packing up our laundry, heard Brian talking to some people on the dock and looked out to see officials. Oh good, we could get it over with! But these officials weren't inquiring after our health. They brought a beautiful black Labrador and sent him to sniffing for drugs. He was quite interested in our garbage bag with old fish parts in a Ziploc bag. Then he "indicated" something in the general area of the salon. Bak, the lab's handler started a line of questioning about marijuana. Perhaps it was some Tahitian surfers he'd had aboard in July, Brian suggested. Regardless, for the next hour and a half, two Samoans with surgical gloves pulled things out of cupboards and bags. Through it all, we had a very informative conversation with Bak about drug traffic in the South Pacific, effects of the recent switch from "right side of the street driving" to "left side driving", politics in Samoa and the U.S. He was an intelligent, humorous man with a beautiful smile. When he and his associate left having found nothing, he said, "well I guess I'll see you around town," shook our hands, and left.

Our boat was in shambles. The salon looked like it had been turned upside down.

We left and visited the Robert Louis Stevenson museum, the mansion he and his wife lived in until he died.

That evening we splurged and paid 65 tala (about 45 U.S. dollars) to attend a traditional dance and feast at the famed hotel, Aggie Grey's. It was well worth it. The drumming, guitars, dancing, fire throwing, taro leaves stuffed with coconut cream, shrimp salad, sweet and sour pork were delightful.

That brings us up today which we spent attempting to repair a rip at the upper batten on the mainsail and visiting official offices for permission to depart to Savai'i ( the neighboring island) and then Fiji. Tomorrow we have a van tour around the island and then we leave.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: http://www.sailmail.com


There was a miracle in Apia Samoa the rainy afternoon we arrived. Some say so, at least. A dark smudge appeared on a north facing 5th story awning across the street from a no-name church. It gathered a crowd of subdued locals craning necks to witness. There was even a small spotlight wandering aimlessly over the side of the building. I thought someone was about to jump.

The vague figure of Jesus' mother in a smudge gave people pause, gave others glimmers of mystery, and gave others further reason to mock.

There were other charcoal grey streaks on other awnings of the same building. But this particular one made the devout stare and point and wonder. I wonder too. What is a miracle? I suppose it is a mystery. I suppose it's also hope and relief - relief that I'm not alone and my tiny existence is noted by One in the cosmos.

How to verify? How to scientifically measure claims of miracles? Or maybe the question isn't How, it's Why? If I think a thing is a miracle and you don't, who is worse off?

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: http://www.sailmail.com

Sunday, September 13, 2009

92 Day Bill

Ninety-two-day Bill. We met him in Uturoa, the largest town in the Marquesas where 90% of cruisers go to check in. The weather was miserable, the anchorage crowded and we just wanted to get the official paperwork over and leave. But, as I said, the anchorage was crowded. There was only one boat pitching violently outside of the breakwater and we decided to anchor next to him rather than risk getting our anchor fouled inside where the boats were packed like sardines in a can.
We got the anchor down and by the time we'd gotten the dinghy in the water, I was feeling green. We took off toward the dock at full speed and were passing our 32-foot neighbor when Bill hailed us. He was talking a mile a minute before we even reached the edge of his boat. He had the same kind of boat as we do (that's what he said, at least) and he was going in to town soon too, and he was trying to work on his engine which was not working too well, and …. We extricated ourselves and zipped to town, found the gendarmerie, and satisfied the officials within a couple of hours. On our walk back to the anchorage, we passed Bill sitting in a café nursing a Hinano beer. We walked the 2 miles together back to our dinghies and we heard many stories of his life.

Bill's single-handed passage from Panama to the Marquesas took him 92 days. One witty cruiser calculated that in that time he could have NEVER put up sail and never turned on the engine, simply drifting the distance with the prevailing currents as his only locomotion. In truth, that was part of the story. In order to sleep, Bill took down his sails and drifted through the nights. Neither of his two self-steering devices were functioning and so, in the mornings, he often found he'd lost a few miles, 10 miles, or 30 miles towards his goal. The doldrums also featured in the 92 day journey. With a non-functioning motor, when the wind stopped, so did Kymika, Bill's boat, unless a beneficial current picked her up.

We heard about his 70th birthday which passed during those 92 days. He had one beer, and one can of soup remaining. He fired up his refrigerator (quite a splurge on a boat with no engine to charge batteries) cooled his beer and heated his soup on his propane stove.
We heard about his life working the aluminum mines in Western Australia; we learned of his 22 year girlfriend who left him and married another man when Bill started planning to sail away in Kymika with her.
We heard about the year during his circumnavigation which he spent in Conway, Wales, his birthplace.

We met Bill again in Raiatea. He'd been there a few weeks hunched for hours in his engine room working on his seized up motor. I brought him some of our 150 bananas. We had him to dinner at our boat. He brought a box of wine,"biscuits," and the same 4 lines of a Fred Astaire song to sing over and over to us. The next day, we assisted when he moved Kymika (uncertain of her half-repaired motor) from anchor to a mooring ball. Though it was a joy for us to have something to do, he insisted on thanking us by taking us out to dinner. He and I rode bikes and Brian skateboarded.
At the restaurant (a Black and white converted van with cash register, fridge, and cookstoves inside and a huge grill outside next to the 3 covered plastic tables) he spoke only a long string of English to the amused waitress who smiled along as if she understood. At the end of our meal, Bill regaled the chef behind the grill with his Fred Astaire song.

A couple more evenings together, and we heard stories of a huge waterspout that swept over Kymika, of hauling anchor in the middle of a gale, of fun times at the pub in Conway. He brought 4 tidy haphazardly arranged photo albums, a newspaper clipping about Kymika's arrival in Conway, and a Conway calendar featuring Kymika tied up at the stone quay with a castle in the background.

Almost at the end of his voyage which began in Fremantle, Australia Bill hopes to replace (for the 2nd time) his motor in New Zealand. If he leaves Raiatea and makes no stops as he's planned, he should be to Whangerei NZ before we get there. He has 60 days to cover the distance we've allotted 25 days to cover. We'll see who gets there first!

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: http://www.sailmail.com

passage poem

Inter Tropical Convergence Zone Blues

Lurching, tossed side to side
Thunked by waves
Sitting, eyes closed, waiting for nausea to diminish
Rain rain rain
Nomad slides starboard
yanks to port
Abrupt Stop.
jerks back
rock rock rock sliiiide lurch

That about sums up the last week of passage. We're hoping to arrive at a quiet marina in Apia Western Samoa in 2 days time.
radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: http://www.sailmail.com

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Laurel and Hardy would have been jealous. If I'd have been watching, I would have been laughing. Instead, I was tripping all over myself, with a net (no pun intended) benefit level of ZERO trying to get our beautiful dinner on board the boat.

It started with a pleasant conversation in the cockpit regarding the desirability of catching a Mahi Mahi for dinner. I'd seen 5 displayed in Bora Bora on the side of the road waiting to be purchased. I described them to Bran and wondered if it meant there was an ample supply of that fish in the local waters. I also asked how the fishing net was attached to the solar arch so that I'd know how to untie it in case it was needed.
We'd left Bora Bora a few hours before and the hand line was already deployed with a pink plastic squid attached. It happened to be attached on the port side of the boat and in a shady spot. Brian sat in the shade and watched the 100 lb test line wiggle through the waters behind us. About 20 minutes after the conversation, Brian said, 'there's one back there.' I hopped up and scrambled to the back deck to watch. Sure enough. I could see the yellow and silvery blue missile darting through the water, just behind the lure. Brian was jiggling the line and giving it sharp tugs to further entice the Mahi Mahi to lunge and bite.
"We got 'im" Brian said moments later. "He's running with us…. Oh my gosh, did you see that? ( I hadn't). He just jumped."
Meanwhile I was operating under full adrenaline. It's my job to net the creatures that Brian pulls out of the water. So I had the net untied and was trying to position myself in a convenient location. After a few more jumps and runs, the fish approached the side of the boat. I put the net down slowly above the water so as not to spook the already agitated victim. My chest was leaning against the aft anchor tied on to the back railing. "OK, get 'im" I shoved the net in front of the head and attempted to pull up. He slipped off of the edge of the net. I tried again, "I got 'im" I said as I saw the fish laying across the top of the net. He was so long he didn't go in, just laid across. I tried to lift the net and tilt it so he'd slide in. No go, his head wasn't going down because it was attached to the line. Not only that, the laws of physics came into play and the heavy weight at the end of my fulcrum (aka net) was too heavy to lift from the handle end. He slid off again. "AAH we're gonna lose 'im" Brian squawked. I went after the fish again with the net and all of a sudden the line was looped around the net handle and down to the fish. Keep in mind that fish don't like to be jerked around by their mouths. This one was flopping and swimming forward and trying to dart sideways. So, the net was now useless but I couldn't put it down because it was twisted in the line. With my right hand I held the net and the left, I grabbed the line underneath leading to the fish. WE had him almost raised to the gunwale when a vigorous lurch pulled the slippery line out of my hand. "AAAAH" Brian lunged for the line with his free hand and started hoisting. Another lurch away and another flash of panic that the meal would slip the hook and get away. Brian grabbed again and in a tangle of line, net and colorful flopping, the fish was aboard and very unhappy about it. I attempted to untangle the net handle and Brian dropped to his knees on top of the tail with his hands holding the head down. I stumbled to the cockpit as fast as I could and grabbed our winch handle. Brian gave some sharp whacks to the head, there was a lot of flopping and the cleanup could begin. I untangled the pile of fishing line and dumped buckets of sea water on the deck. So you see, there were mishaps, mistakes, messes, clumsy moves, and sharp whacks to the head. A perfect Laurel and Hardy skit!
And now….the hot oil is popping in the frypan. Guess what's for lunch.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: http://www.sailmail.com

Sunday, September 6, 2009

departing French Polynesia

English Speaking Samoa, here we come! We've been busy the last week and I haven't written much but we have a 10 day passage ahead of us so I should be able to fill in the blanks about dancing, hikes and boat life. As it is, the flurry of weather talk on the cruiser radio nets has culminated and finally subsided in direct correlation to the wind. Looks like the weather has settled down and our change of plans to go the northerly route to Fiji via Western Samoa appears to be the right choice. The southerly route, we had previously planned to take through Tonga, is still fraught with clashing weather systems. Also, the more we hear about Western Samoa, the happier we are to be going there. Brian even received an email from a surf guide he met who is currently in W. Samoa saying, 'the waves are great'. Another cruiser also told us that the people in Samoa are warm and happy and that the culture is more similar to how it was before the white men came to Polynesia. We shall see.

We just talked to our friends, Dan and Joan, on the sailboat Mainly, moored directly behind us here in Bora Bora. They are leaving to the Cook Islands today as well. So, we should be in close contact during the time our paths overlap. It's nice to be traveling at the same time as friends. It makes the vast waters seem less lonely.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: http://www.sailmail.com