Monday, 15 September 2014

Friday Feast and Sunday Church

Greetings from Penrhyn!

Now that you have been waiting two days to hear about the Feast that we attended on Friday, I hope I can do it justice! I will also tell you a bit about attending church this morning (Sunday).

We will not soon forget the feast, and neither will the guest of honour, who was feted, blessed, and showered with good wishes from friends and family (from both villages and as far away as NZ). The hall (long and narrow) was nearly ready when we came ashore an hour early; we were able to help set out some chairs, but otherwise everything was done (Max had come earlier with two 9V batteries for the cordless mikes: it was nice to be able to contribute). Louvered windows on three sides let in what breeze there was, but those in the know came with a fan. The food was arrayed on a buffet table along the fourth wall. The U-shaped head table was heaped with food and decorated with garlands and flowers.

With half an hour to go, the last of the ladies went home to change (the benefit of living close by), and Benjamin held court with the local children. No one spoke very much, but there was lots of laughter (although they learn English at school, I wasn't sure how much they spoke). A baby is a lot of work on passage, but he sure earns his keep as an icebreaker! At 3pm exactly, the band began (three singers, keyboard, and drum machine). The guest of honour, decked out in a colourful shirt and a garland of flowers, was led to the center of the head table. There followed nearly an hour of speeches, singing (a capella in many parts), and presentations of gifts and telegrams. All of the proceedings were in Maori, with the exception of the odd "Happy 21st Birthday" and the singing of "Happy Birthday" followed by "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow". There were even some rousing "Hip Hip Hoorays" to raise the roof. Sam was presented with two extraordinarily detailed carved wall plaques, hand made with love on the island. One had a pair of dolphins and the other seemed to have an inset carved bust of Sam. In what we are finding to be a typical juxtaposition of the traditional with the modern in Penrhyn, since we were sitting towards the back of the room, at times the easiest way see the proceedings was to look at the screen of one of the many iPads and tablets being held up to record the event!

Once the formalities were completed, the buffet was uncovered and the feasting began. This being a birthday party, cake was first; one official cake had been decorated, and it was augmented by about a dozen round cakes pre-sliced into generous wedges. We had hardly finished our pieces when Max and I were ushered to the head table, where two additional chairs had been pulled up. Victoria and Johnathan found a piece of ground to sit on, but there was no shying away to the back corner for the Fluenta grownups (or Benjamin - we sat him with us in his new booster chair). I am sure that we didn't even try all the dishes on the table in front of us, there were so many, but we ate rice, raw fish, roasted pork, coconut dumplings, and sausages, and I also saw whole lobsters, pork stew, bread, and donuts. When asked later what their favourite part of the meal was, both children commented on the donuts!

Following the meal, the mike was handed around again, this time for more informal speeches; most of the men took the opportunity to wish Sam well as he officially enters the adult phase of his life (I understand that now he is allowed / encouraged to find a wife and get married). Finally, everyone who had been eating outside was invited back to the hall and the minister closed with a prayer and a blessing. The band continued to play while the food was shared (to take home) with most of the guests, the chairs were stacked, and the hall was swept. When we went back to the dinghy some time later, all the ladies were sitting on the ground in front of Rio's house washing the dishes, and we were invited to take food back to our boat.

This gives you a description of the proceedings, but it is hard to capture the experience of the senses - the heat of the room, the warmth of the welcome, the coolness of our neighbour's fan (the nurse, with whom I had grated coconut), the colourful shirts, dresses, and hats (family groups would have clothing of the same pattern so they could be identified), the flowers (garlanded on heads, fastened to hair and hats, in vases, growing outside), the sound of the music (from traditional call-and-response in many parts to modern synthesizer cover songs), the taste of the different foods, the smell of the frangipani - in this celebration of the life and future of one young man, we also experienced the celebration of a community and a way of being.

That same welcoming spirit was in evidence after church this morning when we were invited to the minister's house for lunch. Backing up a little bit, we had a quiet day yesterday during which we got some boat jobs done (Max went up the mast for a rig inspection,fixed the cockpit mike and dove on the rudder for a bolt inspection, and re-set the ball bearings on the traveller [we have a really nice Harken 4-to-1 traveller but one of the bolts on the end block sheared and let loose many of its ball bearings. I had to use the screw extractor to pull out the old bolt still stuck in the block and use the tap to clean up the threads. I do not have enough ball bearings to rebuild it all so it is now a 2-to-1 purchase on the stbd side and 4-to-1 on the port side] in the meantime). We were just about to start BBQ'ing the Tuna from Rio when he came with a Trevally that he had just caught (filleted by Johnathan; it was our dinner tonight).

When we arrived at the church this morning, there were maybe a dozen people in the church (whitewashed stone outside with varnished wood, inlaid with intricate patterns, inside) and they were already singing. It turns out that this is just what people do when they have time to pass: they sing. At 1000, the church filled up completely with the arrival of the Sunday School and the choir.

In advance of the service, we had been given strict instructions on the dress code for the adults (ladies wear hats & skirts, and cover their shoulders; men wear collared shirts and long pants), and the timings (church starts at 10:00, but we should be there around 9:30). Check, check. What we didn't know was that there was a dress code for babies too (they have to be dressed ...) and we had brought our little heat-rash-covered baby in just a diaper. When he began to howl in protest at being hidden under the wrap, he and I stepped out for a moment so we wouldn't disturb the service. I soon found out that, unlike the church in Bora Bora (where there were women and children coming and going throughout the service), the door at this church is one-way; once they leave, parishioners stay out. A gentleman followed me to the front steps, and suggested that I take Benjamin home. Max and the children stayed in the sanctuary, and I found a palm tree that offered some shade, as well as a view of the church. It felt a bit like eating humble pie, to be someone who has attended church all her life now on the outside looking in; however, on the bright side, I was able to enjoy the sound of the singing, the feel of the breeze (alternating warm from the island and cool from the ocean), and the roar of the surf while I waited. Thankfully, the service was only an hour long. Of course, noisy Benjamin was sound asleep five minutes after I went outside, and slept through the rest of the service... better luck next time! It seemed that no harm was done, but we will endeavour to be more aware in the future.

As I mentioned, we were invited to the minister's home for lunch (he told us that he has hosted all the cruisers who have come to Penrhyn for Sunday lunch). Once again, we were shown gracious hospitality, and ate fried fish, rice, sausages, noodles, and bread. The adults and our family ate first, then the children were served second. In yet another juxtaposition of tradition and modernity, it turns out that several of our new friends are on Facebook, and a picture of the kids with them is already gathering lots of comments! After coffee and a chat (during which it was arranged that Max would come back on Monday to see if he could fix part of the sound system) we headed back to the boat.

Sunday is strictly observed as a day of rest, and most people were lying down as we walked through the village to the dinghy. We kept the same thoughtful, quiet feeling on Fluenta throughout the rest of the day, and we all finished the afternoon grateful for a Sabbath pause. I would like this to become a regular part of our week! Dinner was BBQ'd trevally with rice and carrots (we still have a bag in the fridge, but we are getting to the end of our fresh produce) and then we watched an episode of BBC South Pacific together (I mention this because screen evenings of any kind were so rare at home!)

Benjamin is now standing for +/-20 seconds at a time, and then carrying on to the floor as if nothing extraordinary had just happened. He figured out how to climb up to the first step of the companionway stairs a few days ago, and now he has started to experiment with climbing higher. Needless to say, mounting the baby gates is a top priority for tomorrow (Victoria and I prototyped on Saturday, and now we are ready to drill) and we are considering the options for blocking the stairs (the question is, is it more dangerous for Benjamin to fall because he climbed too high, or for one of the rest of us to fall because we forgot that the steps were blocked ...) I am sure we will keep you posted.

Well, as ever, our emails are "feast of famine" ... I hope you enjoyed this little note about the feast!

We will stay here for another week or so, and then start heading across the lagoon to wait for weather to go to Suwarrow. We are glad we came north from Bora Bora (ie out of our way) as Penrhyn is certainly worth the visit :) It is also fun being somewhere where hardly any cruisers visit.

Much love to all,
Elizabeth
-----
At 9/10/2014 3:07 AM (utc) Fluenta's position was 08°57.50'S 157°55.72'W
-----
At 9/10/2014 3:07 AM (utc) Fluenta's position was 08°57.50'S 157°55.72'W

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

Saturday, 13 September 2014

A little about the Birthday Feast and a lot about the Lobsters

Greetings from Fluenta!

Today was the big day - we attended the Birthday Feast for Sam in honour of his 21st birthday. It is late, the boat is quiet, so more on that tomorrow. In the meantime, Max has written a bit about the lobstering he did with the men the other night (in preparation for this afternoon). We enjoyed the last of the lobster meat today at lunch time, and it was very tasty :)

Over to Max ...

***

A few nights ago Rio, one of the two council members for Te Tautua and a fisherman, invited me to go out with some of the men to go lobster fishing. They came by in their aluminum outboard fishing boat just after sunset and headed for one of the further motus at great speed. Once there we dropped two of the men at the west end of the motu while we took the boat further to the east. From there Rio, Sam and I crossed the motu to go the reef outside the atoll facing the surf.

At that point Sam and I walked along the reef in water ranging from waist to ankle deep sweeping back and forth with our lights looking for the light on the lobster's eyes to reflect back. Rio snorkellled in the intertidal zone pool between the reef and the motu and then joined us hiking on the reef. It was a challenge to keep a good eye out for lobster while watching one's footing as the reef water depth varied quickly from above water to neck deep and the reef would crumble in some places. Added to that the surf, although subdued, was still rolling in and the ebb current was flowing. And, of course, one had to dodge the numerous sea urchins and not slip on the sea cucumbers.

Turns out I would need more practice if I were to sustain my family based on my lobster fishing. While the three of us must have caught 35 lbs or so of lobster, I caught a grand total of two lobsters ! One that I caught ran under the coral so I had to stick my hand blindly under the reef to pull him out despite the fact he would much rather stay put. Lesson learnt: better gloves next time as several days later my thumb still hurts ...

Although I was too busy to notice while looking for lobsters and trying to keep up, when we paused I noticed that the moon has risen so the view along the outer reef was outstanding.

After about 2.5 hours we paused and went back onto the motu. At this point I still thought we would have to back track along the reef to return to the boat. I was feeling okay but was thinking that I would be pretty knackered after another 2.5 hours on the reef ! Turns out Rio had a much better plan. The other two fishermen collected lobsters until they reached the point where they could cross the motu and find where we left the boat. They then took the boat to across the motu from where we were so all that we needed to do was hike across the motu with our loot and take the boat back to Fluenta and the village. Whew...

It was a great experience and I was honoured to be invited by Rio to get a better insight into their lives. Looking forward to the next adventure !

***

There you have it. I was certainly glad to see them back safely on the boat, (just before the generator ashore went off, as promised :) ) I hope you are well, and we will give you a description of the feast tomorrow.

Love to all,
Elizabeth
-----
At 9/10/2014 3:07 AM (utc) Fluenta's position was 08°57.50'S 157°55.72'W
-----
At 9/10/2014 3:07 AM (utc) Fluenta's position was 08°57.50'S 157°55.72'W

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

Friday, 12 September 2014

Preparations for a Feast

Greetings!

Today was an interesting, behind-the-scenes day. We have been invited to the 21st birthday feast tomorrow for Sam, and when Max & the kids went ashore in a Trickle/dinghy convoy, this afternoon they found preparations in full swing. There wasn't enough wind for sailing Trickle, so they joined in for a bit. Benjamin and I hung out on Fluenta (for once he slept), and I endeavoured to put up life-line netting in the corridors of the boat to keep him contained in the saloon. (It looks like it should be easy, but my prototypes are thus far falling short). In the late afternoon, the kids stayed on the boat while Max and I went ashore. In contrast to yesterday, when I contented myself with sitting and chatting (and forcing myself to become comfortable with long non-North American silences), while work went on around me, today as soon as I arrived ashore, I asked if I could help, and was ushered over to some picnic tables where various things were happening. I saw a woman shredding the soft coconut "balls" that we had tried yesterday, and suggested that I do this for her, in the hope that I could free her up for some other chore. She was sitting with a 3-ft wide metal mixing bowl in her lap grating the coconuts with a large stand-up grater, and she happily passed me the whole business, and then proceeded to offer to hold Benjamin ("Hang on, I thought ... this is not making your life easier!"). I clearly was not freeing her up for anything else, but she did patiently allow me to try my hand at grating job. We were shredding a substance with has a bit of a spongy texture so that flour and sugar could be added and it could be turned into a bread that will be eaten tomorrow. (This seems to be what happens to coconut water after the coconut matures a little more, but I don't think we've seen it anywhere else). Before long, another woman had come to collect Benjamin, and that was the last I saw of him for quite a while. They all clearly have a spirit that babies love, because he hasn't complained yet :) Nearby, I could hear a grinding noise, and when I asked what it was, I was told that coconuts (the hard outer meat) were being shredded to make coconut milk: this is a much faster way than the manual approach that I have seen before! A grinder with a spinning end protruding from what looked like a metal bucket on its side was being used; the coconuts were simply held against the grinder and all the shredded meat fell away into a bowl at their feet (imagine an orange juicer only faster ...).

Some time later, after a glorious sunset, and shortly after it was fully dark (and we were starting to think that maybe we should head home to the kids), there was a gesture for silence, and a hush fell over the gathering. It was time for the evening prayers. Everyone but the man who had just been telling me about his recording career in Auz/NZ, took a seat, and this man began to speak in Maori. After a few minutes, he switched to English, and what followed was beautiful: he wanted us to know how welcome we were to their island, that they were glad that we were here for the birthday feast, that they wanted us to tell our friends and relations that Penrhyn, while maintaining its traditions and historical charm is a welcoming and modern island, and that they wished us continued blessings on our onward journey, whenever that might be. Wow. We felt really touched, blessed, and included. Every now and then, I wonder what would happen if a boat load of folks from one of these islands showed up at home in Halifax or Victoria ... would we share what we have, make them feel welcome, and ask them to invite their friends to also come and visit? Immigration realities aside, I find it to be food for thought. Most of the people we have met have spent some significant part of their adult life away from Penrhyn (Australia or NZ), and have come back to the island for the connection to family and friends that they enjoy here. In other words, they know what it is like to live in the rat race that we cruisers have left, and they know what a blessing it is to be in this place. It is not always easy (I heard several stories of families with children far from home; everyone has to go away to school after their elementary years), but it seems that life here is rich and well-lived. After his kind words to us, our friend switched back to Maori for the blessing of the food, and then Max and I were invited to be first in line to enjoy a buffet that I hadn't even noticed being laid out. Soon we were seated again, enjoying rice, boiled bread, pork (I think part of the pig which was killed today for the feast) and a stew-like delicacy made of flour, pig's blood, and meat (I think it is good that I tasted it before I knew what was in it!) Tomorrow we will come back for the feast in the afternoon.

In my excitement to tell you about our adventures ashore, I almost forgot to mention what happened when we (yet again) didn't "do school" this morning. Victoria and Max tested out a variety of switches to determine how they worked (or if they worked), then once they had settled on the one they wanted, they wired it to one of the fans that had stopped working. Hooray - a working fan again! Meanwhile, Johnathan read for most of the morning, then he took our Benjamin hammock and used line to lash it to the frame of the bimini so that I could lay a sleeping Benjamin in it for a nap (constraint - it had to be hung in such a way that one end was easy to unfasten so that the hammock could be swept to the side when not in use. A loop of line and a series of half-hitches did the trick). When it was lunchtime, we took out the bright red lobsters that I had cooked last night. It wasn't long before I was elbowed (ever so gently) away from the kitchen counter while Victoria & Johnathan took over both de-shelling and dissection. Soon they were gleefully breaking shells and identifying parts (ie filling a bowl with meat). It is such fun for me to see them living a life where theory and practice are so closely inter-related.

As for Benjamin, besides making friends with all the ladies (and the men) ashore, he continues to become sturdier on his feet, and is even standing unassisted for brief seconds at a time. We are also enjoying communicating with him with a combination of baby signs (he will do "more" and he seems to recognize "all done" and "eat") and baby sounds (da-da-da-da-da means I see it and I like it; DA-DA-DA-DA-DA-DA means I see it, I like it, I want it, why can't I have it!!!!!)

Anyway, we feel blessed tonight - not just to be living a life that allows time for exploring these ideas in general, but also that we have come safely to this particularly special place. On the map it looks like any other atoll (smallish, reef-fringed, far from everywhere) but in person it is so much more.

Love to all,
Elizabeth
-----
At 9/10/2014 3:07 AM (utc) Fluenta's position was 08°57.50'S 157°55.72'W
-----
At 9/10/2014 3:07 AM (utc) Fluenta's position was 08°57.50'S 157°55.72'W

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

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Lobsters and Sharks, oh my!

Greetings!

Today was such an interesting day that I had to take a minute to write to you, but it is late, so I will keep this short...

The morning was typical of many mornings on Fluenta: Victoria was reading, Benjamin was exploring, I was in the galley (yogurt, granola, biscuit, laundry day), and Max & Johnathan were trying to catch some of the fish on a hand line that are hanging out under our boat (aside - proud mama loves to listen to her 8-year-old talk knowledgeably to his dad about the various bits of fishing tackle, lines, knots, etc). In the midst of this effort, a local family (Rio) came by after their fishing trip to the reef/pass. Amidst more welcoming comments and an invitation to a young man's 21st birthday (Sam) feast on Friday, they left us with a good-sized tuna from the heap of fish in their boat. We have been wishing for tuna for the last few passages, and now we have one! This was just the first delight of the day.

The second was watching what happened after Max had filleted the tuna. He tied the carcass onto a line and dangled it over the side of the boat. Moments later, half a dozen (black tipped reef) sharks were circling, and then they started lunging for the fish. One took the head, and Max cast the body out from the boat again. This frenzy was repeated several times until finally the last shark bit the tail (and the knot) off our line. Victoria, our resident videographer, captured the whole event, and she caught an extraordinary photo of one of the sharks in the air with the end of the fish in its mouth.

Once everyone had calmed down from this close encounter of the shark kind, we had a quick bite of lunch and headed ashore. We were wildly beckoned towards one family's dock, so we sat with them for a while (we met Rio's wife and the "Reverend" again, as well as a number of friends and family). Benjamin was handed off to Rio's wife as soon as we stepped ashore, and he was happily entertained by her and her daughter for most of our visit. The big kids were soon off to see a turtle tied up at the edge of the pier (effectively on a leash into the water). Victoria, who had sworn she was not going swimming here because of the sharks, changed her mind when a couple of the local girls invited her to join them. Johnathan and Max went for a little hike around the village and the motu.

Although only a few boats come to visit here each year, it seems like each makes its mark on the village (eg the pantry shed we sat beside today was built by a cruiser a few years ago). I am curious to know how we will interact over the next couple of weeks. Max was invited to go fishing for lobster tonight, so shortly after sunset, Rio and a few others picked Max up in their boat, and for the next 2 1/2 hours, he scrambled with them over the reef on the outside of the atoll to collect spiny blue lobsters. I will leave it to him to tell you a bit more about his adventures. He came back just before 10pm, then it was my turn to figure out how to cook these creatures in our spaghetti pot. (One at a time, it turns out). Mom & Dad made it look so much easier in Grammie's kitchen in PEI! These lobsters don't have the same big claws as their NS/PEI counterparts, but they sure weren't enthusiastic about going in the pot. Five minutes later, however, they were bright red, much subdued, and reasonably easy to lift out with tongs. Johnathan tried some of the leg meat as a snack, but the rest is in the fridge, and we will see about eating them at noon tomorrow. The third delight ...

Anyway, I will wish you good night or good morning, and send this on its way :)

Love to you all,
Elizabeth
-----
At 9/10/2014 3:07 AM (utc) Fluenta's position was 08°57.50'S 157°55.72'W

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

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Calm Anchorage in Penrhyn

Hello!

I am writing to you from a calm, flat anchorage on the east side of Penrhyn atoll. The moon is full, the sky is clear, the wind is calm, and the surf is pounding on the reef outside: we are in yet another beautiful spot, this time in front of a village where 50 people live.

We weighed anchor (after banana pancakes for breakfast ... our "regime" is passing ripe all at once) in the late morning, and used the high sun to watch for coral on a fairly straightforward passage across the reef. Many (but not all) of the shallow areas were marked on the chart, and most had some kind of local marker indicating one edge (typically a piece of rebar stuck into the coral with a coconut pierced on top). I drove and Max spent the 2 hrs on the foredeck.

For once, we are anchored in fairly shallow water (<20 ft), and the bottom is reasonably clear of coral heads. The village is pretty & colourful, and we are looking forward to going ashore tomorrow. If the winds stay light (currently <10 kts from the East) it will be a perfect Trickle spot. We have already been welcomed by the pastor, his brother & wife, and daughter, who stopped on their way back to the village after snorkeling for oysters all day (and told us the many sharks we had seen wouldn't bother us...). They invited the children to go to the local school tomorrow, but we will wait a day or so on that one. It is nice to be here long enough that we don't need to do everything the first day!

We are starting to get into the cruising routine! We had another family movie night tonight - this time it was E.T., which we watched in our cockpit (did I mention that it is lovely and flat, calm, gentle breeze, and the moon is full? It is on nights like these that my heart is full as well.) The kids loved it, and since we were not much more than their age when we first watched it, we loved it as well.

I am continuing to read a lot on home schooling, un-schooling, how children learn, etc. The more I read, watch my kids, and think back on my own education (what I remember and what I don't) the more convinced I am that letting them take the lead on what they are going to learn (while engaging with them in what they are actually doing, rather than disconnecting and just doing my own boat chores) is going to be the most productive (and richest) approach. As I have absorbed this concept, the boat has become more peaceful, and the kids have begun to ask more questions. Case in point: I have little (read "no") interest in video games, but since I have been taking this advice and actually asking V&J to show me what they have been building in Minecraft, not only am I amazed at the creativity, imagination, persistence, resourcefulness, etc that I am seeing, but I am also starting to hear more about the books they are reading, their thoughts on the world around them, their questions, etc, etc. Now that they have both read the Ranger's Apprentice series (J has read it twice), their Minecraft worlds are full of medieval castles of every description. We have a school schedule posted on the wall, but I am still not sure what following it is going to look like for us... perhaps we spent too much time in Mexico, but it always feels like we will start following that schedule "manana"! In the meantime, we are learning about world geography, Greek mythology, fish biology, engineering, electricity, art, sewing, metal work, etc, etc. Having a baby who just learns every day, regardless of what I might be doing to "teach" him drives this point home and keeps me humble. Kids are born to learn, and they absorb their environment; my job seems to be to make that environment as peaceful and rich with possibility as possible. I must say that I was unprepared when we left two years ago for my own journey around education (read "I thought it would be easier than this"...) but I am convinced that it will be worth it in the end (and that they will have learned what they needed to know along the way - this is the part that needs the convincing).

I will end with a quote from a source that I can't remember ...

~~ "Listen earnestly to anything [your children] want to tell you, no matter what. If you don't listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won't tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them it has always been big stuff."

As ever, thanks for listening to our stuff!
Much love,
Elizabeth
-----
At 2014/09/10 3:07 AM (utc) Fluenta's position was 08°57.50'S 157°55.72'W
-----
At 2014/09/10 3:07 AM (utc) Fluenta's position was 08°57.50'S 157°55.72'W

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

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

At Anchor inside the Lagoon at Penrhyn - 11th Boat to Visit this Year

Hello!

The howling wind has finally died down, a load of diapers has finally dried on the lifelines, and the sun is finally shining ... what a difference a day makes!

Today was in-clearance day, which meant that we were visited on the boat by reps from three different agencies (a far cry from other countries, where folks traipse all over town to bring their paperwork to the office). Customs came to the outer anchorage, but the others wanted us to come to the village (Omoka). Since we wanted to get away from the coral bottom where there was a risk of the chain wrapping, we were happy to comply:) We were told that we are only the 11th boat to arrive this year.

With the mid-day sun high overhead, the water was all shades of blue & turquoise (and tan, where the reefs come to the surface - those are the areas to be avoided) when we entered the lagoon. We went through the pass just before low-water slack. It is clearly marked on the charts, as is a dredged channel from the pass to the village (used by the big cargo ships when they make their sporadic visits), but it was still exciting. There were no big waves, but the water churned and swirled around us (it reminded me of some of the maneuvering we had done in the Gulf Islands), and the pass was narrow with breaking waves hitting the reef on either side. This was one of those times I was glad that our engine has lots of horsepower :) We are now anchored in front of the village, on a sandy bottom (with surface-level reefs a few hundred feet away in three directions ... there is always something to keep us on our toes). The holding seems good, so hopefully everyone will sleep well tonight.

Given that it was time to take down our yellow quarantine flag today, we finished the Cook Islands courtesy flag that my mom & Victoria had started in Mexico. They made hemmed rectangles for each of thee places we might go, and we finish them on a "just in time" basis. This flag is blue, with a Union Jack in the corner and a circle of 15 white stars on the field. Victoria drew the stars with a fabric pencil, then we both painted them in acrylic paint. I used mom's 1976 sewing machine to zig zag around a mini UK flag on each side (one front-side out, the other back-side out), and I sewed loops on the corners. We still need to paint the stars on the other side, but the effect was quite good. Painting together was the kind of thing I *never* took time to do at home; it was lovely :)

Our plan is to head across to the other village tomorrow while the sun is high, so we can see the (uncharted) coral reefs that dot the lagoon. They were very clear today, so I hope we have similar weather tomorrow, then we will be there for most of our visit.

Love to all,
Elizabeth
-----
At 2014/09/08 5:59 PM (utc) Fluenta's position was 08°57.92'S 158°03.18'W
-----
At 2014/09/08 5:59 PM (utc) Fluenta's position was 08°57.92'S 158°03.18'W

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

Monday, 8 September 2014

Bora Bora ... passage to Penrhyn (finally!) ... now at anchor off Penrhyn

Greetings!

It seems like a long time since I sat at our chart table to write a little note, and even longer since I did it on passage, but it is becoming pretty natural to type while reaching around Benjamin. Tonight he is in his carrier, so at least I have all my digits ... much quicker than with only one finger when he is just in my arms. {Aside ... this little note has been two days in the making, as I started it on passage and we are now at anchor. I hope you will bear with me :)}

I thought you might like some highlights of our visit to Bora Bora, now that we are beginning our visit to the Cook Islands.

-- Last Friday, Victoria and I went to town (Vaitape) and followed the advice of our friends on SV Vales, Valeo to get her pearls from Fakarava made into earrings. (For any cruisers headed to Bora Bora - We went to the little T-shirt shop across from the town dock that had "see no evil / hear no evil / say no evil" monkeys on its sign. The owner has a little workshop at the back where he makes jewelry on the spot. He spoke French to me and English with Victoria). Mounting the pearls was 1000 Francs (CPF) well spent, and Victoria was thrilled :) It occurs to me that to put 1000 CPF into perspective for the earrings, at the cafe across the street, most lunches were 1500-2500 CPF and the least expensive meal was a panini for 1300 CPF. It was *bucketing* rain all that day (and the next) so we elected to eat at the cafe anyway, rather than standing outside with a (cheaper and bigger) lunch from one of the trucks. Victoria glowed in her new danglies :)

-- Speaking of rain - holy smokes, did it rain during our last couple of days in Bora Bora. We didn't mind this from a "holiday" perspective, but it sure made drying laundry and packing the upper deck a challenge. Some clothing was already starting to show signs of mould even after two days. We will have lots of airing out to do when we get to Penrhyn. {The passage also was very wet, and we have had our first no-squall day in a week today (Sunday). Diapers are drying on the lifelines, and I will replace them with the rest of our laundry when we move to our new anchorage. Hopefully there is no lasting damage from the mould/damp.}

-- On Saturday morning, we brought a little cross-stitched gift that Victoria had made (her own idea) to Deanna, the woman who had given us the pearl jewelry. She wanted to make something for us, so she invited us to meet her at church the following day. The kids and I went to the service, but unfortunately, she was sick. We enjoyed the nearly two-hour service none the less. Both the church and most of the people were decked out in red & white. As far as I could tell, the choir was in the middle of the sanctuary, although rich a capella singing rang from every corner of the building. A nice touch was that the lesson and a short message were offered in English, French, and Tahitian. At least I understood 2/3 of that segment ... after this, several people spoke, including the pastor, but by this time, I had no idea what was going on! It seemed like there were three sermons, in addition to the discussion of the lesson. The sanctuary was also a hive of activity with kids coming and going, and playing outside on the grass. Their Sunday school (taken quite seriously; we met the Directrice after the service, and it turns out that our friend Deanna is her deputy) takes place at 8:00, before the service. Thankfully, we were seated near a door, so after about 1 1/2 hours, I took Benjamin outside where Victoria played with him for a while. We were all getting a bit stir-crazy by the end, but I was glad that we had been invited. On our way back, we bought a "regime" of bananas (11kg of green bananas that are now all ripening at once ... Victoria and Johnathan each took an end to carry them back (with much grumbling) to the dinghy, and they are suspended where they won't bash into anything on the aft deck.)

-- We entertained ourselves one evening looking up the published rates for the hotels we anchored beside (St Regis, etc). At first I thought the rate of 150,000 CPF wasn't too bad ... then I realized it was not for the week, it was for one night! Once a room has been booked, guests need to buy all their meals ($200 for dinner isn't a stretch), and flights. The surprising thing was how many regular folk we saw in town -- people must really save up for this trip of a lifetime. As for us, we ate out a few times (when else will we be in Bora Bora?!) and we also walked to town several time to eat at the trucks that park in front of the town dock. Our favourites were pizza, poisson cru "Chinois", chow mein, chicken & fries, and steak & fries ... I guess we had a lot of favourites! Max and I even escaped across the Lagoon on Saturday (when we "should" have been prepping the boat) to have a delightful lunch together at Bloody Mary's, which opened in 1979 as a 5-table restaurant on the beach, and it still keeps that charm despite its growth into a tourist destination (complete with T-Shirts).

--- We are now the proud owners of a French Polynesian butane tank with the fittings to connect it to our system. We *think* we will be OK with the gas we have on board after filling in Papeete, but we decided to err on the side of caution... it would be no fun to be stuck with cold rations if we have miscalculated! (In general two bottles will last us for 3 months). We borrowed the French end of the transfer setup from a fellow cruiser late on Saturday, but the gas didn't transfer well (we think it will transfer better once our tank is emptier), so Max went to town on Monday to find the fittings to connect this tank to ours. We (ie Max) kind of figured it out as we went with the help of other cruisers and various blogs; in general terms, we hung the French tank upside down in the air, set our tank below it, connected them with hoses and threaded fittings, and waited for gravity to do its thing to the liquid fuel. It turns out that there is a good description of what we did in "the Calder book" which surprised us, because it doesn't seem like the kind of thing that anyone would publish officially. Regardless, we now have the right bits and good advice from our friends in Estrallita, and should be able to enjoy hot/baked food throughout the season, including banana goodies this week :) Victoria, especially would feel the pain of gas rationing!

On Monday afternoon, after gratefully accepting some yellow bananas and two papayas from our friends on SV Nautilas (picked that morning and given to them by a farmer they had met on their hike to the top of the mountain), we bade farewell to Bora Bora, and took advantage of a weather window to begin the 588 nm journey to Penrhyn (Northern Cook Islands). Max has already given you a pretty good sense of the first few days of this passage, but I will add from my perspective that it was an endurance event for the first 48 hrs: winds / seas bigger than forecast and against the current, sails reefed down, boat rolling from side to side, and crazy swell that was steep and came from two different directions (which meant the stern lifted, the boat rolled left, right, left, right, and down again every couple of minutes). The most impressive aspect of the first few days was that so few things flew around the cabin: it would seem that we are getting reasonably consistent at "securing for sea".

Thankfully, conditions improved as the week wore on, trending towards nice days with slightly less wind, and even some sunshine. There was a high south of us (turning counterclockwise because we are in the southern hemisphere...) that reinforced the predominantly easterly trade winds, so we scooted along ... it turned out that we started with a reefed main, didn't shake it out until we got here, and our average speed was 6.3 kts (avg 5 kts is our planning figure).

Just after Max had sent a note to say that we were on passage, we had lures out, but we hadn't caught anything, we hooked a fish - a Marlin. It turned out to be his lucky day, and he swam off as we were hoisting him aboard, but it wasn't long before we had another pull on our bungee, and we landed a Wahoo. Our new lure (garish orange/yellow and much bigger than it seemed in the shop) and 300lb test line proved themselves admirably! Our new favourite trick is to quiet the fish with a shot of vodka to the gills (a used pancake syrup bottle does the job of giving him his "shooter") and then we kill it with an incision to the brain. This fish gave us enough for 10 meals, so we put some in the fridge and some in the freezer, then put the fishing lines on deck until we were nearer to Penrhyn. A couple of hours from our destination, we landed another Wahoo, slightly smaller, who provided a similar number of bags of fish for the fridge (no room in the freezer anymore!) Needless to say, we have been eating fish for dinner and leftovers for lunch for the last few days!! Hopefully, we will be able to share some with some people here.

As Benjamin is now (very) mobile, I decided to read up a bit on what other families have done with babies in the cockpit while we still had wifi in Bora Bora. I was looking for a recommendation for a good/comfortable harness. Other than chuckling as I read that most people recommended having someone dedicated to the baby (ie not expected to do anything else on the passage) I didn't see much that we weren't already doing. We were given two harnesses (blue/yellow from West Marine) by another family back in Cabo San Lucas, that V&J have been using, which left the orange Jim Buoy harnesses in the cupboard. Let's just say that they might be safe, but they were *not* designed by a parent! They are tricky to adjust and the straps are quite stiff (and therefore not gentle on delicate baby skin); however, given the alternative (hope and hanging on tightly) we (ok, Victoria) adjusted an orange harness down to Benjamin's size, and he wore it for most of the trip. Rather than simply putting him in my carrier and clipping my tether to the carrier, which I did on previous (and more benign) passages, this time, I wore my climbing harness, tethered myself to the boat and Benjamin to me, then put him in the carrier or let him play on the floor of the cockpit, depending on his mood and prevailing conditions. This worked reasonably well, and there were only a few occasions when I had the kids take Benjamin down below, I donned my "proper" life vest/harness, and went out of the cockpit. Benjamin is *fascinated* with the VHF handset and wires, so it was handy to have a "handle" on his back to keep him just out of reach of the delicate bits! We will be ordering another blue/yellow West Marine Safety Harness, and probably getting an adult version for me before our passage to NZ.

It is funny when you get a new piece of equipment; sometimes you just use the simple features and don't experiment with it very much. Such was the case with our new autopilot until part way through this passage. We had often used it in either "wind hold" (set a wind angle, then the boat follows it), ``àutomatic`` (set a heading and the boat follows that heading) or "navigate" (set the destination, the boat drives itself there, and the crew (ie us) adjusts the sails as necessary). This week, we experimented with a setting that we hadn't used at all before: Wind Navigate. What a find! In this mode, the autopilot remembers that it is driving a sailboat rather than a motorboat, so it makes its best course given the wind towards a waypoint (it will even tell us when to tack/gybe if we like if the course is directly up or down wind). In this case, we didn't have to touch any of the controls for the better part of 24 hours, while the boat sailed itself towards Penrhyn. It may not seem like much, but it was lovely to let the autopilot do the tweaking that we had been doing for the last several days and with less worry about an accidental gybe ! Our sails were quite forgiving of a few degrees difference in wind angle, so we only had to change the way they were set if there was a significant change in the wind, otherwise we could sit back and watch :) (Have I mentioned recently how grateful I am for our new chartplotter and autopilot??)

Squalls are becoming much more commonplace, both as an occurrence, and as something we know how to respond to. With the main well reefed, we could watch for the significant wind shift (generally it backed about 30 deg) and the step change in velocity and then reef the genoa without too much drama. One squall caught Johnathan, Benjamin and me a little off-guard: several squalls had been going around us, but we only had 10 kts of wind, so I was reluctant to reef any sooner than I needed to. Once the wind shifted, we sprang into action, but we had over 25 kts within a couple of minutes. We didn't even need to call Max; he heard the sudden noise of the wind and came up to rescue three drowned rats, one holding a blanket over his brother, one trying to ease the sheet and furl the sail at the same time ... with two adults in the cockpit, we quickly reefed the sail, and Max got the boat under control hand steering. Fluenta was rounding up in the higher wind so we put the boat back on wind-hold (120 deg apparent) for the rest of the squall. Such is life with a short-handed crew and a baby in the cockpit :)

Back to Bora Bora for a moment ... one of the waitresses at the Mai Kai was from Canada. When she found out that we were too, she asked one evening, "don't you miss home???" What a hard question! We miss home every day *and* we do our best to enjoy the ups and downs family life in new and beautiful places. We also miss friends that we meet along the way; whether we have spent a year together or a few days in one anchorage, it is always hard to point our boats in different directions. Part of my connection to home is to write (long!) emails to let you know what we have been doing (and to read the wonderful updates that we get in response). Thankfully another part of our connection to home is to actually *go* home .. and we are doing so for Christmas!!! We fly from Auckland to Halifax on 15 Dec, Halifax to Victoria on 8 Jan, and Victoria to Auckland on 26 Jan. Booking these tickets with the limited wifi in Bora Bora was an exercise in patience and optimism, as each page took an age to update, every combination of dates/flights seemed to be more convoluted or expensive than the last, and there was always a fear until the trip was actually booked that any lower rate we found would be gone on the next page refresh. We just needed to stay hopeful that we could make it work, and after two hours one evening, four hours the next afternoon, and an hour on the phone (Skype) we did it. We won't get everywhere or see everyone, but it will be so good to be in Canada again for a few weeks. The kids are over the moon, and can't wait to see snow :)

This kind of catches us up to this weekend. We arrived at the pass to Penryhn (west side of the atoll) mid-afternoon on Friday. There is an anchorage off the atoll (ie in the ocean but in 30-60 ft of water in the lee of the island) that is known for eating anchors; there is an anchorage in sand just inside the lagoon off the western village (in front of a lee shore and subject to fetch from the entire lagoon); and there is an anchorage on the east side of the atoll (perfect in East winds, but we can't go there until we clear in with customs, etc). Given all this, and the time of day when we arrived, we took one look at the white caps in the lagoon and elected to try our luck with anchoring in the lee of the atoll. Are we ever glad we did! We have had constant winds ever since we arrived, (mostly +/- 20 kts with sustained periods much higher than this (up to 29 kts)) and the inner anchorage near the village would have been untenable and dangerous.

Max and the kids ventured ashore yesterday (Saturday) for a very bumpy and wet RHIB ride and arranged for the local Customs, Immigration, and Agriculture reps to come see us on Monday morning. Church is supposed to be a highlight of a visit here, but we will have to wait until next week to find out. As Max puts it, we are kind of "stranded in paradise" while we wait, which has actually felt like a lovely family holiday - time to rest, read, watch movies ("Rio" was tonight's delight), and connect after the passage. The nice thing in this anchorage is that if our anchor drags, we will not hit land for 800 nm or so (until Samoa) so we would have lots of time to sort ourselves out! Now that is our kind of lee shore :)

There are no other cruisers here. The last one left over a week ago. It is fair to say that we are rather off the beaten path now :)

We will likely be checked in at the big village (nearby, population approx 200) tomorrow (Monday) and we will head across the lagoon to the small village (pop approx 50) either Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning. Our plan is to stay here for a couple of weeks, and then look for a weather window to head SW to Suwarrow, Nuie, and Tonga.

Love to all,
Liz (and Max)
-----
At 9/6/2014 3:51 AM (utc) Fluenta's position was 08°57.92'S 158°03.18'W
-----
At 9/8/2014 5:59 PM (utc) Fluenta's position was 08°57.92'S 158°03.18'W

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