January 23, 2017

Facts and Figures from Eight Years Afloat



It’s been a while since we’ve done a tally—but I know some of you love these sorts of nitty gritty details. So the facts:
 
Country 29
We’ve sailed 37,000 nautical miles which equals 68,524 kilometres or 5,710,000 boat lengths.
We departed Puerto Vallarta April 9, 2011 and crossed our outbound track January 11, 2017 (as an aside, Evan and I met at Sailing Instructor School January 11, 1986).
Getting a trim (with the works) in the Seychelles
In that time we’ve visited 31 countries, learned to say hello in 15 different languages and negotiated haircuts in seven of them.
the prehistoric Morton Bay Bug
When it comes to food, there were lots of things we ate that you won’t find in a typical North American grocery store: some of the more memorable items included itty bitty crabs (which were either still alive or just wiggled reflexively when you picked them up), a really not-delicious fermented breadfruit called mahie or poi, iguana, lion fish, zebu and kangaroo.

While there were lots of new foods on our journey—including about ten different versions of a leafy green vegetable that always went by the name spinach, even though none of them actually looked like spinach—eggs, onions, green beans, rice, lentils and chicken were universal.
For reasons known only to giant processed food corporations Magnum ice cream bars, Mentos and Pringles chips are treats you’ll never have to go without. If that’s your thing…
Onboard, among our other stores, we carried (and consumed) 34 litres of maple syrup. We’re Canadian. Don’t judge.
The entertainment at Hacienda San Angel
 On the topic of food our most memorable restaurant meals were at Hacienda San Angel in Puerto Vallarta and an underwater restaurant called Sea at Kihavah Huravalhi in the Maldives. Both had incredible ambience and amazing food. The pizza place in Nuka Hiva gets an honourable mention because who doesn’t love pizza after their first major ocean crossing.
drinking the Vin de Constance was completely okay at Longwood--Napoleon's residence on St Helena
 The most memorable cocktail which we absolutely didn’t imbibe in at Napoleon’s tomb on St Helena in commemoration of his death because the French consul doesn’t allow that sort of thing was definitely not a 2010 Vin de Constance. But had we snuck into the tomb after dark, with friends that won’t be named, on the 195 anniversary of Napoleon’s death, I think it would have been fitting to drink the same wine from the same vineyard which he had shipped to him. But it didn’t happen.


Different friends, different parts of the world but the commonality was great food and lots of love

Most incredible potluck with friends: a tie between one of our goodbye dinners on St Helena, Amanda’s birthday on ‘the best day ever’ in the Tuamotus and the last potluck of our Pacific crossing, on the beach in Chesterfield Reef, with the remnants of all our fridges (because we all wanted one final day).

Favourite Village: Gunu Village in Fiji. For so many reasons.
with a manta ray in the Tuamotus
a turtle in Chagos
Favourite snorkelling, in no order: Motupuapua pass on Tahanea in the Tuamotus (black and white reef sharks, giant manta rays, gorgeous coral and crazy clear water), the reef off of Ile Mapou in Chagos (turtles, sharks, more turtles and so. many. fish.), The Alors in Indonesia (so clear, so much colour), Chesterfield Reef (BIG sharks) and Tanikely in Madagascar (we really love turtles and there were so many turtles).
whale shark in Mexico
On the topic of snorkelling, we swam with: sharks, stingrays, dolphins, manta rays, lion fish, whale sharks, turtles, wobbegone sharks and a whole bunch of other cool stuff.


Our favourite hikes were a combination of gorgeous, historical and interesting: The peaks on Nuka Hiva, Cook’s Look on Lizard Island, Australia, Nosy Komba, Madagascar and Jacob’s Ladder on St Helena.
In boat related stuff we went through three used outboard engines: our old Enduro died in the Marquesas, its replacement was stolen in Australia and that engine’s replacement is still going strong.
For dinghies, our original plywood dinghy was stolen and the replacement was later retubed in South Africa.
As far as theft goes our unlocked dinghy was stolen in Brisbane and we were boarded and inefficiently robbed in the Seychelles.
Our most reliable piece of equipment was our Spectra watermaker.
The least reliable was the bloody Quick windlass. It’s Italian. We should have known better.
We put 3700 hours on our engine—a reasonable number of which were used to provide power on cloudy days in Brisbane. We kept it running by using a total of six fuel filters.
 

Our most common repair at sea was fixing our kick-up rudder (until Evan changed the design so it was no longer able to kick up) or untangling from a floating fishing net.
Rescuing a boat from a reef in Chagos
 We were involved in rescues which ranged from bringing an engineless boat into harbour, searching for a boat which was firing off flares, recovering an elderly man who had fallen in the water and assisting a boat which had gone up on a reef.
In random trivia we experienced 1 flood, 3 tsunamis, 2 earthquakes and discovered uses for palm coir that include being made into bricks for a ‘mattress’ in a Sri Lankan guesthouse and being mixed with epoxy for a rudder repair.

giving sevu-sevu to the oldest female chief in Fiji
and walking donkeys with the first female governor of St Helena
Our lap of the planet gave us the chance to meet a mayor, a governor, dozens of scientists, incredible artisans, philanthropists, activists, plantation workers, fishermen, musicians, teachers, farmers, vintners, cooks, authors, film makers, doctors, nurses, world-class sailors and so many more. Our lives are immeasurably richer—much more than this count can ever show.

January 14, 2017

Thoughts from a Circumnavigation

Maia and I were asked to speak at the Women Who Sail meeting in La Cruz yesterday-which was a fantastic experience. Several of the women asked me if I’d post my speech—so here it is.

Cat asked me to talk a bit about what I’ve learned on this journey—and how my thoughts changed from the time I first set off to cross the Pacific to now. Well, that’s a biggie. And what I’ve learned has a lot to do with what’s happening around me. Right now I’m giddy—we’ve just completed our circumnavigation and not only that, it’s been months and months since anything broke on our boat. So right now I can tell you this life is way easier than you can imagine and everyone should go.

 


 But if you’d asked me the same question mid-passage between the Seychelles and Comoros, just after a wave washed away a portion of our slatted foredeck and Charlie the Cat and I were seasick and taking turns throwing up, I would have told you travelling by sailboat is really stupid and planes were invented for a reason. Sometimes this life is sublime and sometimes you should really get on that plane. 

But I’ll try to cover a few of my biggest lessons in between.

About me: I'm a sailor and mum, obviously—and I came to my love of sailing early: When I was a little girl my dad used to take us down to the docks in Comox harbour to look at boats. My sisters liked the colourful fish boats and my dad liked classic day sailors but one day I found a boat I liked even more: it was dark and sleek and had Hawaii as a hailing port, a place I’d only ever associated with holidays and pineapples. That’s when I learned it was possible for normal people to sail across oceans. 

My intrigue with sailing stuck—despite having no boat in the family, I spent my adolescence dinghy racing and taught sailing to little kids in the summers. My plan was to someday sail around the world. So after high school I went to sailing school to become a Coastal Cruising instructor. While there I met a cute boy who told me he also wanted to sail around the world. A few years later we decided we might as well make the trip together.



Evan and I’s first boat was a Fortune 30’, a heavy displacement cutter which was really 28’. Our budget was $500 a month. That trip lasted 3.5 years and we ended up as live aboards in Annapolis—where Evan worked as a yacht designer and I worked on boats and started forays into being a writer. A couple of years later, Maia joined our crew. Once she began toddling around we realized that between her and Travis the 30lb cat we’d grown out of the little boat. So we headed back to Vancouver—there we purchased our current boat and spent 5 years prepping her for sail.

There was a huge difference between prepping 20 years ago and then again ten years ago. Not only had the boat options and technology changed; but the first time round all the answers to our questions came from books, boat shows, sailing mags and a couple of seminars. Perhaps it was ignorance, or youth, or not being a mother yet—but it seemed like cruising was something that simply sorted itself out as we went. 

Because there was less information to sift through it was easier to trust ourselves—when Charlie’s Chart showed us where to anchor, there was no way to double check the way point against a satellite image and multiple blogs so we looked at the spot ourselves and followed our instincts. When we found another cruising boat—we befriended them. When deciding where to go next--it often came down to how we interpreted a daily weather fax and vague descriptions of places other people had been. 

Usually we didn’t have much of a plan at all.


This time round there were way more resources and at some point in our first year of this journey I was lucky enough to connect with Charlotte Kauffman, founder of WWS. A small group of us who all had kids and were in various stages of our cruising journeys all came together online. What Charlotte observed in our early conversations was were there were aspects of what we wanted to talk about that just didn’t fit on the male-oriented sailing boards. 

The questions we had for each other went beyond the mechanics of sailing (though many of us were interested in those too) but many of them were more subtle; how do we make a boat a home?  What would happen to our relationships when we were isolated from our families and friends? What if we’re afraid? How do we cope with burnout? What happens if one member of the family is unhappy?
For me—this was the first time I’d even articulated the questions. As our group exchanged ideas and experiences there was a sense of relief. 
After all, there’s simply no way can you tell a friend at home that you really need a break from sailing the world’s most beautiful tropical islands on your private yacht without getting a rude response, or worse. 


But when you’ve spent enough uncertain nights at anchor, wondering if you or your neighbour might drag. Or shopped in enough places where the only fresh food that’s familiar are eggs, green beans and withered onions (but oh, my goodness you would kill for spinach and don’t even talk to me about mushrooms…). Or you've once again bypassed a harbour you’ve been dreaming about for weeks because the weather was wrong. 

Sometimes you need an ear that gets it. 

That sounds like such a small thing.


But cruising is a life that’s often lived at the very edge of our comfort zones. And to cope, and to thrive… sometimes we need comfort.

Three days out of the Marquesas on our Pacific crossing we lost a rudder. Initially, after getting over the sense of disbelief and convincing Evan the loss of our rudder was real, and not an optical illusion: we did what was needed to balance the boat and alerted our SSB net and the authorities to the situation. Then, for me, the fear kicked in.

I’m not sure how the dynamic in your relationship goes, but in mine it’s a bit like this: I feel an emotion related to an event—often quite intensely. Evan, who usually experiences the same event a little differently, points out that my reaction might be an overreaction. In the case of our rudder loss he tried to give me information to combat my fear: we’re a cat so we had two rudders; our second rudder most likely wouldn’t break off too;  we were managing to do fine in current conditions; but if it all went to hell we’ll call for help. So I had nothing to worry about. 

Now I was terrified and annoyed.



Emailing friends at home didn’t help either. Even with Evan’s explanation—they were pretty sure the next place they’d be seeing us was on the evening news, after our rescue.

But other sailing women got it: One sent bad jokes and puns about being rudderless; one encouraged me to write out every worry I had, no matter how ridiculous; the sailing mums commiserated about the importance of keeping my fear in check so would Maia stay calm. One friend, who I met on our first voyage, reminded me of her own technique for managing fear.

She reminded me to take stock of our situation and look at exactly what was happening in that very moment that made me afraid. Not what could happen, not what had previously happened just what was occurring now? What was happening is we were fine—the boat was chugging along under reduced sail. The authorities were checking in with us regularly. We had our contingency plans in place.

Her reminder to stay in the moment is always a balm to my fears. And the advice and commiseration other women offered made me laugh and made being rudderless seem okay.



They gave the comfort I needed as we made our way in to Nuka Hiva. Then once we were safely in harbour they even understood the frustrations of being stuck in once place waiting for a new rudder, even though it was a really gorgeous place, when what I wanted to be doing was be out exploring different anchorages with our buddy boats. 

Evan pointed out I needed to get used to this uncertainty of cruising again and being frustrated wouldn’t help. My sister sailing women reminded me that even though the uncertainty would always exist—it would still sometimes suck.

The problem with that kind of comfort is it can be hard to let it go.



Hundreds of boats cross the Pacific each year and it can seem impossible to find a harbour of your own. But my cruising dreams were built on the classics—I read Slocum, and Smeeton, Roth and Pardey. I formed my ideas on their descriptions: I’d ghost into an unknown harbour at dawn, anchor off the beach, as the only boat in sight. Onshore I’d be greeted by children and they’d take me to the village elders.

Not long into our second journey I realized we’d given up this old-style of cruising for something more rally-like. Often 4-6 (or more) boats travelled in company and we’d arrive en mass in a little harbour. As a group we were enough to overwhelm a village. And in many ways we were self-contained. We’d shop together, hike together, snorkel together, have sundowners and potlucks together on the beach.





It was incredibly fun—but the places we were and locals we met had begun to feel a bit more like a backdrop to our journey—rather than the purpose of it.

Leaving the well-trodden path, especially with a child in tow, is more difficult. But we always found it was worth it. The moments when we struck out on our own, or with just one other boat, led us to some of the most compelling encounters of our journey. After a while the sundowners and potlucks blend together. But the time that we spent in places like Gunu village in Fiji is still crystalline.

Along with another kid boat we chose Gunu village in Fiji’s Yasawas because the bay wasn’t particularly pretty and it wasn’t written up in any of the blogs we’d found. Knowing nothing about the village we erred on the side of courtesy and assumed it might be a traditional sevu-sevu village. So we dressed in sulus, skirts and shirts that covered our shoulders and took our bundle of kava to shore.

Once there, we were greeted by children and then brought to the village elders. Sitting in a circle in their hut we spoke the Fijian words and asked permission to visit the village and swim and fish in their waters.

When you do the sevu-sevu ceremony in a traditional Fijian village you become family. And in Gunu we were quickly adopted. If we walked past a home—we were often brought in for a visit. If it was mealtime—the food was stretched to accommodate us. We tried to do our part in turn—bringing supplies for the school and then having what seemed like half the village kids aboard our boats for a breakfast of juice and muffins.

The highlight came when the village invited us to a lovo feast. We were encouraged to come to shore early to see the meal dug up from the earth where it had steamed all day. Then we were draped with flowers and brought into a home, which had been transformed into a feast hall.

As guests, we ate first—tucking into though rourou (taro leaves with coconut milk) pumpkin, chicken and fish. Then the men ate, then the children and finally the women who cooked for us. I felt like I had stepped into the pages of the cruising books I had read so long ago. 

And you know what? It was just as magical as I had imagined.

The dreams we’ve brought to this life are worth pursuing. They’re worth stepping out of our comfort zone and venturing off the well-known cruising path for. But my biggest lesson, the one that comes back over and over, is I can’t be too specific about my dreams. 




On our first journey we learned the value being adaptable. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrases that remind us we’re not in control: “Cruising plans are written in the sand at low tide; You can choose and port or a date, but not both; The most dangerous thing on a boat is a calendar; DHL will always lose the most important boat part”. But the same focus and drive that got us to the point where we’ve shrugged off land life and moved on a boat is often confronted by the requirement we chill out and just let life happen. Among a few other things, this conflict can be frustrating.

All these years in and I still get wistful when weather or scheduling forces us bypass a port I wanted to visit. Or when something breaks and all our friends set off without us. To be a cruiser you need to be a both a focused type-A and an easygoing romantic. And sometimes, especially in the first year—but honestly it never really goes away—that combination of constant uncertainty and desire for control can lead to burnout.

The tricky part is I’ve yet to meet a crew where everyone hits that sense of being frustrated and overwhelmed at exactly the same moment. On our boat we’ve learned to see the signs in each other. Evan—rather than being the eternal optimist who can fix anything begins to catastrophize about all the ways the boat could break. He won’t sleep well and he gets grumpy. Maia withdraws and there’s a lot less singing and far fewer wry comments around the boat. 

Apparently I become short tempered.



These are the moments when we’ve learned we need to look out for each other. It’s easy to make mistakes when you just want to be somewhere else. We’ll speed through a repair, or risk the weather or decide this whole effort just isn’t worth it. We know some people who permanently and prematurely burned out.

The solutions are individual—but they come back to comfort. Sometimes a week in the marina helped us. Other times we took an inland trip where we banned boat talk. Sometimes just immersing in the familiar is enough. 

When we reached Bali we hadn’t been with other cruisers or encountered spoken English for months. When we went out for dinner we had a choice of delicious looking and affordable Indonesian food, or burgers and rootbeer floats at an A&W. The A&W won. It was in a mall—so we wandered through looking at all the glossy shops, slurping our floats.

It only took 5 or 6 visits before we realized our energy and enthusiasm were back and we all wanted to get back underway. We wanted to see what was next. We didn’t mind the uncertainty.


So—I’ll leave you with this. This is a remarkable way to live but it’s not always easy. So take comfort in each other—but also give each other courage. And keep honouring the dreams that brought you this far.

January 3, 2017

Where We're Meant to Be--Puerto Escondido


When I woke—I saw a fishing float right outside the window and realized I’d fallen asleep on watch. Panicking I tried to reach out for the autopilot to turn away from the float, but I was frozen in place. Then I woke up again and realized the float was a buoy and I was about to run up on land. Then things got really weird—the boat wouldn’t turn, it morphed into a kayak, and I paddled up some rapids to where I could see the boat at anchor. When I tried to I call Evan on the radio I realized the radio was broken.
Martin saved us the effort of setting up the dinghy for a surf landing while carting 100 litres of fuel
 
I recall getting exam anxiety dreams. But then the fear of showing up in the wrong room for the wrong test gradually gave way deadline anxiety dreams where I’d wake up realizing that four interviews and 1200 words were due yesterday. Navigation anxiety has been slow to seep into my dreamscape. But these days it seems there to stay. It might be the new seasickness medication I’m taking (my dreams are so crazy—but I’m vomiting less, so hey…) or it may simply be the fact we sailed a whole lot of miles this past year. Whatever the cause, making a safe landfall in both my dreams and in reality has become an even bigger cause for celebration.

gorgeous anchorage--in the right conditions--if it's not crowded
Our current landfall wasn’t on the list. This situation actually isn’t new to us. On our first boat we set out expecting we’d go to the South Pacific but then ended up in the Western Caribbean. On this voyage there’s been about a 50/50 chance we’d land in the port planned on the day planned.


My goodness we've missed 'neighbourhood' Mexican food
Long distance cruising is an ongoing exercise in giving up control. You can plan all you want—but the weather, the currents and random luck are all going to dictate what you'll actually experience.
the best beach life anywhere...

In this case, we set out from Puerto Chiapas with the plan to cross the Tehuantepec and then take on more fuel in Puerto Hautulco. But then the winds were lovely and the current was in our favour and it looked like we could skip the fuel and press on an additional 300 miles for Zihuatanejo.

It was a great plan.

But then we came into choppy seas, headwinds and 1-2.5 knots adverse current and we spent over 10 hours going 2-3 knots—with the odd dip down to 1 knot. The journey started to feel like Groundhog Day. Every time I started watch or ended watch I could see the same landmarks. So we thought maybe we’d stop for fuel in Acapulco. But then Evan did the calculations again and Puerto Escondido started to look good.

Gorgeous Zicatela beach--I think it's one of the prettiest we've ever visited
Puerto Escondido is a great town—with a terrible anchorage. But we knew there was a 40-50 foot patch somewhere in the bay—so we motored in circles until we found it (it’s at 15°51.39'N 097°03.85'W if you're interested). Then we called the awesome Martin Mora (mobile #954 103 2273)—who is actually a sport fishing guide—but he’s also more than happy to help cruisers get fuel, ferry you to shore, take you to his favourite neighbourhood taco stand and show you the sights.
 
our awesome hosts
We had a great day with Martin, his girlfriend Carmina and her son Carlos. We saw just enough of Escondido to make us wish we were staying longer—and enough to decide it will make a great destination for a future Mexican holiday. And we’re off again. This time I’m not going to declare a destination (somewhere north) or predict when we’ll arrive (hopefully before we run out of fuel).

It’s awfully pretty out there though. And when we’re not pounding into it, the miles are as dreamy as ever.