Sunday 27 November 2016

Acclimatizing to Hot Weather at anchor


The theme this week has been all about finding ways to keep ourselves comfortable in the weather as it presented itself. For the most part, it has been HOT and SUNNY, with the exception of today, when we had hoped to return from our anchorage across the lagoon to Funafuti, but we had heavy rain squalls (complete with thunder and lightning) all day instead.

The first step in improving our comfort was to erect our "covered wagon" tarp (aka our commercial "Shade Tree" canopy). We bought it before we even left to go cruising because "everyone needs a canopy". It has shared Victoria's single bed for most of the last four years. It consists of a *huge* rectangle of fabric, long enough to stretch from the mast to the backstay, through which pass several articulated poles (like oversized tent poles) the ends of which rest with special straps on the life lines (thus the "covered wagon" nickname!) The instructions note in highlighted text that the poles *do not* float (and in fact recommend ordering a spare supply with the original tarp!) Until this week, we have never been quite uncomfortable enough to go to the bother of setting it up; with the average daytime temperature reaching into the mid-30's, and the "cool" evenings only dropping to about 30 deg C, it was finally worth the effort! It took some figuring, and a trip onto the boom for each of Victoria and Johnathan, but it will be faster the next time, and we have decided to simply make it part of our "at anchor" routine this season, as it is noticeably cooler inside the boat since we put it up (and it has acted as an extra layer of rain protection during the squalls).

Another aspect of managing the heat has been more swimming than we (I) have done in much of the last season. Our sea-temp indicator mounted on the hull has not worked since Mexico, but we used our hand-held device not just once, but twice (just to be sure). It read 89 deg F and gave us a chance to practice our F/C conversion (which was part of Victoria's math lesson a few days ago). Even I don't need a wetsuit when the water is over 30 deg C!! The kids have been having great fun swinging and diving from Fluenta, and entertaining Benjamin on the inflatable standup board, doing funny little dances and songs that invariably end with one or both of them back in the water. Benjamin has even been brave enough to sit on it or kick his feet at the side. I love watching the games and tricks that the kids think of to entertain each other! Max has also taken his 'proper' board out a few times to tour the nearby motus, giving him a welcome respite from "boat yoga". Combined with swimming laps, he has finally had the opportunity for fresh air and exercise.

Our inflatable stand-up paddle board is theoretically stable enough for yoga, and I managed one "baby crow" without falling in, but I haven't developed much of a practice yet. Now that the water is warm enough that falling off is not a deterrent, I may play around a little more to see what is in the realm of the possible for me. When I am dependent on finding practice space ashore, my discipline tends to fall to the wayside...

Unfortunately, no matter how much swimming we do, or how many showers we take, the fact that the nights are almost as hot as the days has made sleep less than comfortable. We are slowly acclimatizing, but sleep has been fitful. Lack of sleep, heat, and humidity have combined to make us less than energetic (read lethargic) during the days (thus the multi-day gap in sending emails, for instance...). None of this is meant as a complaint; in fact, I keep reminding myself that if I wanted to be cold, I would be in Canada right now, and that we chose to be here in the heat. I find myself thinking, "Oh my, if it is like this here, and we still have a long way to go towards the equator, what will the heat be like as we go North?" We will find out soon enough!

The positive aspect of having so much hot weather has been choosing a different site to snorkel each day. The water that pours over the reef near our anchorage has offered the best combination of shallow coral, fish, and clear visibility - and it is close enough to swim or paddle to, even without the dingy. Most of the fish are quite small, but there is a lovely variety of pretty tropical fish to admire. Some little black ones turned to watch me as I swam by yesterday, and they all wore the same tiny expression of curiosity on their little faces, and they seemed to stare right into my eyes :)

The adage "If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the galley" does not seem to apply to Victoria or Johnathan: we have enjoyed a steady diet from their efforts of bread (several batches) and doughnuts (a combined science experiment, where they tested various hypotheses for which combination of topping ingredients, doughnut shape, and oil depth would yield the tastiest results, and even correctly identified why any water droplets were spattering as soon as they touched the hot oil). We have promises of more to treats to follow. I extricated them from the kitchen long enough to do their second "Friday Freewrite", so we are gaining momentum with this habit. Two weeks down, eight to go :)

As for me, I am starting to work my way through the squash and sweet potatoes I bought in Savusavu, and which are stored in a mesh duffel bag in the forward head, as there is no room for them in the saloon or the galley. I was grateful that Johnathan loves to steal food from the pot a couple of nights ago, as the sweet peppers I thought I was adding to the Mexican Meat & Squash Skillet (that looked identical to the sweet peppers I had bought in Nadi) turned out to be hot and spicy. Thankfully, I hadn't mixed them in, so I was able to scoop them out and put them directly on Max's plate!

With some advice from my cousin Holly, we bought two brightly coloured resin ukuleles when I was home in Halifax. I am glad to say that they seem to have taken up permanent residence on our saloon benches. We aren't necessarily producing a lot of songs with them yet (we know a few), but they are being plucked and picked (and de-tuned by Benjamin who loves the knobs) on a frequent basis. I unearthed the Christmas music from the cupboard today, so there can be even more "messing around with music" this month.

We have been blessed with a wide variety of movies and documentaries over the last few years, so we began to delve into them this week. We especially learned a lot watching the first episode of "Canada: A People's History" (which is actually part of Victoria and Johnathan's school), but we also enjoyed an iMax movie about the Alps and some Heavy Weather (sailing) training videos, and we have plans for several series that we would like to watch in their entirety.

Of course, the need for maintenance doesn't go on holiday just because we are all feeling lethargic due to the heat. Max spent some time troubleshooting our fishfinder, which had already become lazy about sharing the water temp or boat speed, and has recently begun to have trouble even seeing the bottom (its main role). We had a mystery on our hands at first, as three wires disappeared through the combing towards the saloon, but only two wires (signal and power) could be accounted for on the other side. Removing the electrical tape from a tightly wrapped bundle shed some light on the situation: we found orphaned speaker wires for a speaker we removed the summer we bought the boat! We were kind of hoping to find a corroded connection somewhere in the system that would explain the faulty fishfinder signal, but the wiring all looked good, and unfortunately, our troubleshooting reached a dead end at the sensor under the saloon floor: it is jammed (corroded) into place, and we will not try to force it out until our next haul-out. The fish finder is our back-up depth gauge, so we will hope that our main sensor continues to do its job in the meantime!

Most of the time, when you ask Max what he did during the morning, he will have a long list of items to tick off on his fingers. It gave us both a chuckle that the story was a bit different on Saturday: the significant accomplishment was "downloaded one email". This gives you a sense of our connectivity is like, as the email in question was 200KB, and it took several re-connections to the satellite, and most of the morning, to entice it to join us onboard in little in little 50KB segments. It turned out to be totally worth waiting for however, as it was from Lunasea, the makers of our masthead light, letting us know that they would completely stand behind their product and resolve the situation for us once we arrive in a shipping port. I just about wept to receive word of such responsive customer service after other companies have given us push-back, even for basic warranty claims.

The last two days have been blustery and rainy. We managed to get ashore yesterday, after a massive squall in the early afternoon (I even brought my yoga mat to the tiny beach for a 30 min practice) but we ended up staying onboard all day today due to the constant bad weather. We are so thankful for our rain enclosure and our covered wagon tarp! We used the wet weather as an opportunity for Victoria to paint us an "advent wreath" and "advent calendar" as well as a "count down chart" for Benjamin for his birthday (six days until the pirate cake ...). I enjoyed the immediacy of email when I sent a request for Advent information to my Mom and my Aunt, and had an answer back from both within about 15 minutes. That would not have been so easy during the days of HF, when we had to wait for evening/morning just to send/receive, due to the propagation characteristics of the HF signal.

While I did yoga, the kids and Max were working their magic with Benjamin, who until then had been expressing reluctance to swim ("It's too deep," he would tell us when we suggested swimming from the dinghy.) No amount of assuring him that it was deep for everyone, or that he would float with his life jacket, was enough to convince him. Once they got to the beach, Victoria helped him "surf" with the boogie board, giving him confidence in the water at the edge. By the time I returned 30 min later, Max was helping him to float on his back, kicking his feet, and generally acting much comfortable in the water. He wants to swim "like the big kids" so I suspect that he will advance quickly from now on :)

The wet weather seems set to stay through tomorrow and possibly until Tuesday; hopefully, we will see the sun for a longer stretch on Wednesday. A Trade Fair is set to open in Tuvalu tomorrow, and we were hoping to be there for it, but we will need better weather than we got today to venture through the coral bommies and across the lagoon. The Fair is supposed to run for two weeks, so we will hopefully see some it when we eventually make it back to town. It is looking like light winds for the next week or so, and then the winds should fill in for our next leg to Tarawa, Kiribati.

Love to all,
At 2016-11-17 2:06 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°36.19'S 179°05.86'E
At 2016-11-17 8:19 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°36.22'S 179°05.88'E

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Wednesday 23 November 2016

Alone at Anchor


I have yet another "maintenance in exotic locations" story for you today. We left the town anchorage yesterday mid-morning to transit across the lagoon to an uninhabited motu (small island). As I mentioned last time, when we did our nav planning, we marked Exodus' waypoint on the chart, and then hung back our usual distance to mark ours. I found it surreal to see both little symbols on the chart: if we could have wrinkled time, we would have been here together with plenty of room for both boats. Oh well. The next best thing is to have it entirely to ourselves :)

As we set out out, we found it strange that the wind instruments were showing the wind on the nose while the flag and the mechanical Windex were both showing it from behind. We couldn't stop to worry about it then, as we had more important tasks at hand, such as keeping Fluenta well clear of the bommies and mini reefs that dotted the entrance to the anchorage. We sailed the first several miles across the lagoon, following our track from last week's arrival, then we donned our headsets (have I mentioned how much we love them lately??) and took our places on the bow (me) and at the helm (Max).

This last leg of the trip was a good reminder that no matter how much technology we have available to us, it is still necessary to keep a good and vigilant lookout. I found a significant bommie (ie too shallow for us to have driven over safely) right on our path. Because I had spotted it, we could deke around it. When we inspected the satellite imagery later, even knowing where the reef was, it was nearly impossible to see it on the photo. (If I used my imagination, I could convince myself that I saw a smudge on one of the images. There was nothing but sea-scape noise on the other.) It's not as though the area wasn't covered, either - there were other reefs very close by that were perfectly clear. It was also a reminder of the importance of crossing in good light. If we had been any later leaving, the sun would have been more in my eyes, and it would have been harder to see. (Reiteration for our Moms and others who worry - we were not in danger; I saw the reef in plenty of time and was able to direct Max to maneuver around it; this is why we have one of us on the bow and the other at the helm when we are crossing lagoons and time our crossings carefully to ensure good sunlight; this is also why we are grateful for our headsets, because they let us chat normally throughout the transit without having to rely only on hand signals.) Anyway, most of the bommies were indicated on the satellite imagery, and we proceeded to the anchorage without further excitement.

We anchored pretty much exactly where we had chosen ahead of time, and had a quick lunch of cold food (No one wants a hot lunch in this heat!) In the afternoon we set up the spinnaker pole for the kids to jump from (and Dad, and even Mom!). This is the first place ever where the water temperature is warm enough for me to find it comfortable. We did an informal check today, and found that it was over 30 deg C! [Not too surprising considering that even in the middle of the night the air temp is around 30]

Rather than sundowners in the cockpit, at the end of the afternoon, Johnathan and I winched Max up the mast so he could check the wind indicator. We use our big electric winch and the main halyard, but we never use the self-tailer when we are hoisting someone up. This way, if the motor went out of control, we could still keep control of the line. I controlled the button and Johnathan 'tailed' the line for me. When Max got to the steps at the top, we secured the line in the self tailer and tied some half hitches around it as well. This seems to be a funny anchorage for boat motion - we had quite a pitching and rolling movement that was really pronounced 65 feet in the air, even though the sea looked quite calm from the cockpit.

Just in time for sunset, Max completed not only one but two trips up and down the mast. On the first, he removed the wind indicator, and carried it down, gingerly holding it in one hand while he used the other for balance, and on the second he used electrical tape to close off the wiring in case we got one of the numerous squalls before it was replaced. Thankfully, disassembly and a night soaking in Marine 66 seems to have freed up the mechanism enough that it is now turning again.

Victoria made bread dough at the end of the afternoon, and I took ground beef out of the freezer for dinner. The obvious thing to do (in her eyes, at least) was to combine them and make pizza, so after a little bit of persuasion, I agreed. Victoria made Enchilada Sauce, so we christened it "Enchilada Pizza" and I have to admit that it was very good :)

Every so often, we need to apply waterproofing to our fabric bimini. This has been on Max's list ever since we arrived in Tuvalu, but the solution needs strong sunshine, light (no) wind, and several hours without rain in order to cure. We finally got our dry/calm/not squally day today, so that is one more job "checked off the list".

After chores and schoolwork were completed, we snorkeled on some of the nearby reefs. We found the coral to be similar to what we had seen elsewhere (lots of branching, pointy, narrow bits (they looked to me like snaking tree branches), with a few fans and a few flat varieties (platters?)), with the addition of a few new types that we haven't seen before (light blue and mustard yellow varieties). The water inside the lagoon was actually quite 'hazy', but when we moved and snorkelled on the inner side of the outer reef, it was much more clear. There were quite a lot of tiny fish, but not very many big ones (which is not too surprising for the inside of a populated lagoon).

We passed a quiet afternoon on board, and then as the sun was heading for the horizon, it was Victoria's turn to tail, and Johnathan's to mind Benjamin, in order for Max to return our newly functioning (or at least no longer stuck) wind indicator to the top of the mast. What a relief to turn on the network, and with only two kts of wind see the directions reflected accurately! We also found that we had to do a "remote Google search" when he came down (Thanks, Ian!) as our Lunasea Tri-Colour/Anchor/Strobe light (less than five years old) seems to be malfunctioning and we will need to contact the company.

We finished off a lovely day with a reading from the "In the Beginning" story in my Quantum Theology book (Big Bang through to the evolution of humans in two pages) followed by a family viewing of the first episode of "Canada: A People's History" (15,000 BC to 1800). We traced the history of Canada through the migrations of the First Nations through to the early 1800s. The series took two years to broadcast on television at home, and we will be watching them and discussing them through this season as a kind of social studies immersion. It is interesting to be learning about aboriginal people in Canada while we are visiting traditional villages in the South Pacific. Lots of interesting dinnertime conversations ahead, I think!

We will stay in this anchorage for a few more days. Winds next week are looking very light, so we will continue to wait for weather to begin our passage to Kiribati.

Love to all,
At 2016-11-17 1:14 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°36.21'S 179°05.87'E
At 2016-11-17 9:02 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°31.51'S 179°11.35'E

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Monday 21 November 2016

Fuel, Wifi, and Rugby


I will keep this short as Sunday was long ...

While Benjamin and I stayed at Fluenta to play Minecraft (Benjamin) and write Self Design weekly Learning Reflections (me), Max and the kids took the dinghy full of jerry cans to the Customs wharf to replenish our diesel. The fuel facility was a good distance from the wharf and was not a typical gas station - it was the industrial fueling center for all the commercial vessels. This meant that they gave the jerry cans to someone to take to the secure area to fill, paid someone else for the calculated amount, got a receipt from yet another person, and waited about 45 min for the filling to occur. Five 6-gallon jerry cans are heavy, even in Savusavu where the gas station is across from the dinghy dock; returning to the dinghy was a much more daunting prospect here in Funafuti. Thankfully, a truck and a couple of men were dispatched to deliver Max, kids, and fuel back to the dinghy. The heavy load of fuel in the dinghy also confirmed what Max had been suspecting: it looks like water is leaking into the dinghy between the hard bottom and the air tube. So far, it isn't really a problem: we just have lots of water in the dinghy every time we go to leave, but we will try to repair it at the next opportunity.

We spent the afternoon in town using the local wifi service. We started at Filamona hotel bar, where we had gone on Saturday to people-watch beside the airfield, but I had trouble connecting, so I went two blocks away to the Telecom building (leaving Max, Benjamin, Victoria and Johnathan behind). After sitting in the foyer for a few minutes without much better luck, I asked the girl behind the counter where the best signal was. She directed me next door to the space between the government building and the hotel beside it. I stood by the parking area for a few minutes, and then slowly made my way towards the antenna I could see on the hotel wall. Finally, I ended up in the comfy leather seats in the hotel lobby, entering my weekly Learning Reflections and chatting with a man from Venezuela who pilots the little spotting helicopter for one of the fishing boats who was there for the same reason :) I was especially glad to be inside when the heavens opened and the wind came up. None of us were staying at the hotel, but the staff were very friendly none the less. Wifi is much cheaper than 3G at $20/600MB, but it is still more expensive than elsewhere we have been (which makes sense given the sheer remoteness of our physical location, and the tiny size of the local population!)

While I was trying to get the internet to cooperate, Max and the kids were making friends at Filamona's. Johnathan even ended up going out onto the grassy area between the taxiway and the runway (the main thoroughfare for the town) and playing pick-up rugby with some boys. A huge squall hit, and the boys kept playing. I asked him how it was, and he said that even though he couldn't speak the language, didn't really know the rules, and had trouble telling which boy was on which team, he had a lot of fun :) The rain didn't seem to bother anyone - the littler boys were even skimboarding in the wet grass after it flooded. When I returned to the restaurant, I saw that Benjamin had made a friend: he was sitting on Max's lap, and another little boy (also called Ben) was looking over his shoulder as he played Minecraft. Max told me later that he had heard the little guy asking his mom to download it for him too. He already had 'Angry Birds' and 'Little Crane' like we do. I thought that Benjamin's little friend couldn't have been more than four (actually he was six), but already they both speak the common language of iPad apps! As for Victoria, she kept busy continuing to crochet her afghan squares, and she now has the better part of two dozen crocheted and sewn together.

The rain let up in time for us to take the dinghy back to Fluenta. We had one last meal of fresh Sailfish from the fridge (the rest is in the freezer and will compete with frozen chicken and beef for its spot on our table). I tried the same Sesame crust as yesterday, but it turns out that Tuna just can't be beaten!

We are off to the other side of the atoll to anchor in a different spot tomorrow. We did our initial planning this afternoon, using the satellite images and our friends' waypoint as a reference. When Max put our chosen waypoint beside theirs on the chart, we commented that it would be just like anchoring with them, as with our deeper draft, we will be a little further from the shore than they were, and there would be room for us both. The two little marks on the screen looked just like our two boats in real life. Unfortunately, they will with with us in spirit only, as they have carried on with 'land life' in California (we miss you Exodus!).

In the morning we are crossing the lagoon to anchor off a little motu for a few days where there is purported to be good snorkelling and pretty scenery. We will be here in the Funafuti area until the middle of next week (or longer, depending on when our weather window materializes) and then head towards Tarawa, Kiribati.

Love to everyone,
At 2016-11-17 10:22 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°31.52'S 179°11.31'E
At 2016-11-17 1:29 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°36.21'S 179°05.87'E

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Sunday in Funafuti - Music speaks to the heart in any language


After battening down the hatches for a 25+ kt rainy/windy squall (followed by a worry that we might have dragged our anchor [which we hadn't]), and closing the seacock in the aft head because the toilet was leaking and the pumping handle was loose, we managed to dinghy ashore almost exactly on time for a "9:30 for 10:00" church service. You might say that it was just an average Sunday morning at anchor :)

The church was one of the prettiest we have visited. The first thing I noticed was that space was almost empty - other than a few benches for some of the older parishioners, and the raised tables draped in clothes and covered in flowers for the minister, all that was in the room was the woven mats on the floor. The next thing I noticed was how bright and airy this made the space feel - the walls were painted white and accented with the same turquoise of the lagoon we could see through the open doors, while swaths of pink and turquoise fabric were draped around the walls. We were actually amongst the first to arrive, and we were quickly welcomed and ushered inside. At first it sounded like we would be seated according to local custom (men at the back left, women at the back right, boys at the front left and girls at the front right) but then our host decided that we could, in fact, sit as a family somewhere towards the middle. Our seats were ideal as we had the cross-breeze coming from both the side and back doors :)

The room was relatively quiet as we entered, but four people began singing (in parts) almost as soon as we sat down. It seemed at first like a sing-song, with jovial laughter when they made mistakes and had to start over, but soon it became apparent that this was the nucleus of the choir. With each selection, the strength of the music grew, as more people arrived to sit with them or simply sang from their places in the congregation. Finally, a smartly-dressed man in a sulu stood and expertly conducted the last few numbers before the service started. The acoustics of the hard walls, coupled with the choir's harmonies (if my high-school music recollection is in working order, I would say that they were singing lots of 'fifths') caused the music to ring and resonate as if they were a group several times their size. All the singing was acapella. At the start of each piece, the conductor would indicate for one woman to sing the first few notes to set the pitch, then the group would sing, joining in with many layers of harmonies. Once again (as in Penrhyn in 2014) I suspect that the especially moving music near the very beginning was a sung version of the Lord's Prayer; in fact, I again found myself weeping gently as they finished. I even noticed a familiar (three-fold?) "Amen" sung partway through the service. I lost count of the number of times the choir sang; for me, the music was the highlight of the morning.

Even though people arrived not only during the singsong but also right through the service, and rotating electric ceiling fans as well as woven palm fans were in constant motion, there was an unusual sense of quiet in the room before and throughout the service. Even the children, sitting together at the front of the church, were remarkably still (I guess having the watchful eyes of not just their parents but every grownup in the congregation on them had it effect!) We tried to look like we were paying attention to the proceedings (all in Tuvaluan) but sometimes we snuck a look around at our neighbours. Everyone smiled back, especially the children. One little girl, seated behind us, seemed particularly fascinated by Benjamin, and by the end of the service she had scooted closer to him than to her mother :) Given that no one in our family is used to sitting cross-legged on the floor for long stretches of time, the 90 minutes passed surprisingly quickly. I had told Benjamin on the walk over that he would have to be very quiet ("like when Mom was singing in the choir at Berwick Camp") and miraculously he didn't utter a word from when we entered until we were back outside. Yet again, despite how warm he was on my lap, I was grateful that he is 'still nursing' - I'm not sure how I would have managed to keep a squirmy toddler quiet otherwise! Even still, I was relieved when the service was over and we had survived :)

I have been reading two books this week that gave me food for thought as I listened to the service. The first, "Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics" (yes, really - when you have a degree in Engineering Physics, and a life-long interest in theology and spirituality, and you see such a book for sale at your Camp Book Room, you snap it up - or at least if you are me, then you do) was written by priest and social psychologist Diarmuid O'Murchu. In it, he talks about how human history stretches back upwards of 100,000 years, while 'religion' only began about 5,000 years ago. We have been dancing and making music pretty much since the beginning. These were our first sacred acts, and they were our early ancestors' method of connecting with the divine. Scientists are evening beginning to describe the unfolding and expansion of the universe as a 'dance'. The second book, "Resilience from the Heart: the Power to Thrive in Life's Extremes", by Gregg Braden, talks about how we need to connect to our hearts and our hearts' wisdom in order to make the kind of new decisions (personally and globally) that our evolving world needs now. Here I was in a service where I didn't understand a word, but the music was speaking to (literally resonating in ) my heart, and on the dais were written the words "Trust in the Lord with all your Heart" (the only English in the room), giving me something to ponder as I reflected on the experience. Both books came at similar subject matter from a different direction and seemed timely in their own way.

I found it funny that the service seemed to end rather abruptly; there was no obvious benediction, but all of a sudden I realized that there had been a short burst of laughter, the minister had stopped talking, and people were getting up to leave, so we took this as our cue. After the service, we spoke with a couple of friendly women on the front steps. It turned out that one of them worked in the Prime Minister's office (in the same Government building next door as where Max had cleared into Immigration and Quarantine) and that it had been her son who had given Max the ride on the scooter on Friday. She told us that the laughter was because the minister had told the congregation to speak to us, as he unfortunately hadn't been able to speak English during the service. We were touched that they would have considered us in the midst of their worship. True to form, Victoria had pulled out her crochet once we started to chat, and it turned out that the second woman we were speaking with was the mother of the 11-year-old girl watching Victoria so intently. We showed both ladies the name of our friend from the Savusavu market, and they didn't know her, but one said that the niece was the PA to the PM, and that she was in Morocco for meetings this week. We are still curious about if/when we will see our friend. We also learned that the dinghy dock that our friends had referenced had been removed recently, and that the large open park (QEII Park) had just been opened in September. (Deanne - this is the only area that doesn't seem to look like you remember...). This will be the site of a two-week trade show starting next week, so we think we will stay in the atoll until then, and clear mid-week for Kiribati. More to follow ..

We spent a quiet afternoon on the boat. Both big kids jumped into the water as soon as we got back from church. I haven't been swimming yet, but they say that it is warm enough that even I will like it. Without other kids to play with, it is a joy to hear laughter and made-up games from the upper deck :) Given that "bucket and chuck it" is a rather unsatisfactory way to deal with the need for a toilet onboard, we investigated the leak in our toilet right after lunch, and found that it was unrelated to the handle becoming loose: the leak was in the usual place between the porcelain bowl and the pump (the bolts need to be just tight enough to stop leaks, but not so tight that the bowl gets cracked). The handle was loose, not because the shaft was exiting the pump as we had worried, but because the set screw holding the handle to the shaft had come loose. Rather than an afternoon of labour, we were back in business with about five minutes of bolt-tightening. I had added extra bolts to our parts bucket (they were on the table to assist with the job), so when we had a bolt left over, we were worried that we had forgotten the set-screw for the shaft. It seems that we didn't, so all appears well :) When Max works alone, he *never* puts extra parts in the bucket - now I know why! Johnathan and Max (ie Johnathan with Max supervising) spliced a chain-hook into the line for our second anchor snubber. We will continue to use a rolling hitch on our main snubber, and will use the hook for the secondary/backup snubber. Meanwhile, Victoria was reading up on "Heavy Weather Sailing" in the book we were given by Exodus just before Tim went home.

Supper was one of our tastiest meals to date (according to the crew). I tried a new recipe from the Boat Galley Cookbook called "Sesame Crusted Tuna" topped with "Tangy Dipping Sauce" from the same book. I don't think I have heard such raving compliments in four years of cruising, so needless to say, this recipe will become a staple when we have tuna. (If you are curious, it couldn't have been simpler: I seasoned the fish with salt & pepper, smeared it with sesame oil, shook on some sesame seeds, and seared it in a hot pan because it was too windy to use the BBQ. Yum.)

As supper was being cleared away, Johnathan asked if I would read the newest chapters in his book aloud. The last I read it out for the family was back in Feb/March when he had just written Ch 1. Now he has over 15,000 words and he is well into Ch 4. I mentioned heart-wisdom earlier. I think Johnathan has plenty of it, and he was brave enough to subject his creation to feedback. He seemed pretty happy with the honest and enthusiastic compliments he received from everyone in the family. Proud mama moment, for sure!

I hope you also had a lovely, heart-expanding Sunday, and I hope you are well,


At 2016-11-17 1:22 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°31.49'S 179°11.30'E
At 2016-11-17 7:43 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°31.52'S 179°11.31'E

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Sunday 20 November 2016

Family chores and family outing in Funafuti


I woke early this morning to the feeling of Benjamin using one of my feet as a hand-hold to climb down off the bed and to the sound of Victoria singing while she crocheted on the foredeck (turns out that she had been awake since before dawn and had already done her school for the morning). It was 7 am on a Saturday, and ready or not, my day had started :)

We thought we would go ashore in the morning, but it ended up being a really productive day on Fluenta instead. Max's first job after coffee was to re-run the pullcord on the outboard. We were bracing for taking apart the wound spring inside (described in our new Yamaha book as a "tiger in a cage") which we had just done (without a manual and with luck smiling on us) in Makogai, but thankfully, he was able fiche out the end of the pull cord and re-knot it in the handle. Whew! He also took the opportunity to change the spark plugs and we put more reflective tape on the case of the engine in the hope that we will be a bit more visible at night. The boat was a hive of activity for the rest of the morning, with Victoria & Johnathan helping to clear some of the "little jobs" off our list. Johnathan trimmed, whipped, and melted the ends of numerous rough-looking pieces of line in use around the upper decks (the comment I heard from upstairs was, "Wow, Johnathan! Great job! That's better whipping than I would have done!") Meanwhile, Victoria sewed a patch on our canvas water bucket (learning about mitered corners in the process). We finally dried our poor soggy spinnaker which had been rained on for the last two days by laying it out on the foredeck; like a crop of hay, we flaked it and turned it every so often :)

Our wind generator has been making a funny noise/vibration, so since we didn't have a ladder, Max climbed the pole by bracing his foot in a bracket padded with a coil of lines and hung on for dear life to inspect it and adjust some bolts (possibly more to follow on this one - after tightening the struts that support the pole, and tightening the bolts that hold the wind-gen on the pole, we still have more vibrations than we used to have, so we will contact the vendor with our symptoms and see if they have any insights). Somehow a component of our traveller had been bent, so Max and Johnathan straightened it. Our fridge/freezer have been running a bit warm, likely because of the hot air temperatures (generally hovering around 33 deg C every day) and warmer cooling water temperatures (I would love to tell you how warm the sea temperature is here, but the brand-new sensor that we bought as we left home stopped working back in Mexico, so we have been guessing ever since). This has meant that we lost some sausages that I had put in the upper corner of the freezer that ended up completely thawing before we ate them, so we adjusted the thermostat to see if that would help. Unlike a fridge at home, where the adjustment is just inside the door on the wall of the fridge, this tiny adjustment necessitated taking all the tall bottles of oil/vinegar/condiments from the shelf behind the stove, leaning over the stove, and reaching into a dark little space recessed at the back in order to turn two stiff little adjustor screws.

As for me, after months of being spoiled by "ladies who do laundry", or with self-serve machines, it was time to hand-wash the diapers again. As ever, I sent out thoughts of gratitude to Mom/Dad/Marilyn for the gift of the wringer before we left - and to Dad for the mounting bracket right in the galley! I was also grateful for the time I had spent yesterday keeping the dishes caught up, so I could actually see my sink to fill it with laundry today!

By late afternoon, the chores were done, the Lego good guys had won their special forces battle on our saloon floor, the afghan squares were crocheted, we had given up on Benjamin napping, and it was finally time to load the dinghy and go ashore to explore Funafuti. We had heard that the local people loved their scooters, but nothing had prepared me for the sense of being inside a merry go round with scooters going by in every direction. I had learned a few words from a lady at the market in Savusavu, so we managed to call out a few "talofa's" (hello's). People were generally friendly, but I felt a little like an observer from another planet, as everyone just kept carrying on with their day as we walked through the town. We stopped at a little store, ostensibly to buy a packet of "Timtams" (cookies), but really just to have a look around, and then we made our way past the "Funafuti International Air Terminal" (massive construction site) to the runway (where people really were hanging out and playing rugby, just as our friends on Exodus had described) and found a place with no sign out front, but numerous tables, a bar with drinks behind it, and a woman wiping tables. Yes they were open, and yes, we could stop for a drink. The place was called "Filamonas" and it had actually been our destination, thanks to Deanne's cruising notes from last year :) After we settled at the table with cold drinks, I wandered back over to a group of ladies, and asked about Internet and church. They sell wifi for $20/600MB, which is at least a bit less than $800/8GB on 3G. There are several churches, but we settled on the Tuvaluan church at 1000 tomorrow, which is where the ladies I met would be going. They haven't seen many boats this year, and one of the ladies had been away last year when Exodus was here, so they had a lot of questions for me. One woman looked to be younger than I was; I was shocked to find out that she had five children who ranged in age from a daughter who was married on the weekend to a five-month old baby! She makes our kids look very closely spaced:) We met the owner as well (Penny) and she remembered Deanne, Tim, and the boys from last year. Fun! It feels like we have made some connections that are the beginning of friendship. Time will tell.

Some people (like the young niece of one of the ladies I met) have perfect and fluent English. Some people look at us blankly when we say, "Hello!", and it seems that all they speak is Tuvaluan. It will be an interesting visit from a communications perspective!

We were anticipating the arrival of friends from NZ/Opua days to arrive at any moment in the anchorage, but we received an email from them today to say that they have not been able to come to windward enough from Vanuatu to make it to Tuvalu, and that they are in the Reef Islands of East Solomon hoping to make it to the Marshalls eventually. Their catamaran is really comfortable at anchor, but it doesn't point to windward very well. We hope we will see them later in the season. After reading about groups of boats here in Tuvalu, it is odd to be the only boat. On the other hand, it feels to me a bit like a family vacation, as there is no one to talk to or socialize with (when we are not ashore) but each other, and I am loving this emphasis on being a family.

Yet again, the boat is quiet, the news is caught up, and I will wish you well. Thanks for the emails to our sailmail account this week!

At 2016-11-17 11:19 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°31.50'S 179°11.30'E
At 2016-11-17 8:15 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°31.49'S 179°11.29'E

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Saturday 19 November 2016

Inclearances, outboards, and more fish!

A lot of meals for the family


Just when I think we will have a day that doesn't "give us much to write home about" something interesting happens. Such was the case today.

We went to bed under clear but turbulent skies; we woke in the wee hours to shut every hatch and window in what we thought was a squall but turned out to be a big system that dumped rain and blew 25 kts on and off for the rest of the night. The funniest moment for me was leaping up the companionway stairs to untie the wind scoop on the starboard side in order to close the saloon hatch; it had been tied by Johnathan, who loves to climb the rigging, and it was all I could do in the wind and the rain (and the middle of the night needing to pee) to reach the knot to release it from the shroud. The rain was just starting to come down heavily, and it sounded like pellets landing on the water around us. It quickly became the kind of downpour that drenched me by the time my small task was accomplished; on the bright side, in the 30-deg heat, being soaking wet was cooler for sleeping! Since Johnathan had been sleeping in the cockpit, he was awakened as well, so between him, Max, and me, we quickly battened the hatches and got everything closed up. Later in the night, another squall caused the rolling hitch on one of our snubbers to release, so Max had his own gymnastics evolution to reach beyond the bow roller with the anchor hook to replace it, again in 25 kts of wind. I tell you this story just in case you think we lead a glamourous life ...

It was still raining in the morning, so we elected Max as the family representative to go ashore for the last two stops on our Tuvaluan clearance circuit. When he came back, he described meeting people who were friendly, but rather baffled by the whole idea of someone coming to Tuvalu in a yacht and therefore needing to clear in. In his search for the Customs officer, whose office was unmaned, he asked several people and finally found himself being given a ride by a stranger (recruited in rapid-fire Tuvaluan by the kind Marine office lady) from the Customs office nestled into the sea of sea containers to the main Government office building, where he happened upon the harried customs officer, his hands full of files, in the foyer. They arranged for Max to come back to the Customs office later in the afternoon, and in the meantime Max wondered how he would get to the Health office at the hospital to clear in there. When he asked for directions, someone introduced him to the Medical Officer for the entire area, who was just on his way there with a driver in a 4x4, and was more than happy to give him a ride. As he was walking back to the Customs office to retrieve the dinghy and come to Fluenta for lunch, the same scooter that had taken him into town picked him up and took him the rest of the way.

Shortly after Max came home and regaled us with this adventure, a longboat came by full of fish. We think the five men aboard were from the town, but as none of them seemed to speak English, we couldn't be sure. They gave us a Pacific Bonita (a kind of Tuna). I am sure that they would have given us more, but we gestured emphatically that one was plenty:) We gave them one of our bags of meat from the Sailfish, and showed them our Mexican 'Fish of the Pacific' photo card so they would know what it was. It was lovely to be welcomed like this, especially since I haven't even set foot ashore yet! Interestingly, the fish was frozen, so we think all the fish came from one of the big Chinese/Korean fishing boats that are anchored here in the lagoon.

After a quick lunch, Max went to meet the Customs officer, and was ready to head back to Fluenta within 15 minutes, with Fluenta officially cleared into Tuvalu. We had no idea how quick his meeting was, however, as he didn't return until almost an hour later! The pull cord detached when he went to start the engine, so he rowed the 2.5 km back in the RHIB. Let's just say that this boat is not designed for speed under oars. Well-cooked after his exertion, as by this time the the rain had ended and the sun was blazing, he spent the next while with a glass of water and our 1" thick Yamaha manual; this will be the first job on the agenda for tomorrow morning.

The kids and I had a productive day as well. We have been in possession of a "Brave Writer" language arts package for almost a year without much engagement, but today we did the first of our "Friday Freewrites". I can't say that the exercise was met with a lot of enthusiasm, but at least both kids completed it, which was my only goal. Our aim is to do a Freewrite every Friday for eight weeks (ie they will write for a set number of minutes on any topic they like, keeping their pencil moving the whole time). They can read them to me, or not, and then I will I put them away in a folder. At the end of eight weeks, we will look at all their sheets and see if there is one piece that they would like to polish; if so, we will do some revision, if not, we will carry on with some more free writing. We have been doing 'Tuesday Poetry Teatimes' already this term, but they will take a backseat for the next eight weeks and we will focus on the writing side of things.

The rest of the day was very peaceful. By the time I woke up this morning, Victoria had set bread to rise and was finishing her Life of Fred math chapter for the day. In the midst of the post-passage stowing and sweeping that I was did once I got going, Johnathan (and sometimes Benjamin) managed to play with Lego on the saloon floor, mostly games of good guys and bad guys. The soundtrack of this play regularly gives me a chuckle, both for the detailed special forces lessons that Johnathan imparts to Benjamin (I am sure that every two year old is getting lessons in sniper rifles and anti-aircraft guns, yes?), and for the insults that fly when Benjamin acts his age (2) instead of Johnathan's (11) (J: "No you knucklehead, not like that" / B: "I'm not a knucklehead (or what ever insult he has just received) I am Benjamin-George-Shaw-Brown"). Benjamin is learning early to stand up for himself! Insults aside, it gives me joy to watch all three kids spend so much time together, expressing opinions, sharing their belongings, and collaborating on their ideas. Without even knowing it, they are practicing vital skills of negotiation, patience, teamwork, and cooperation. (Of course close quarters also breeds its share of squabbles, insults, and raised voices ... which returns us to the need for negotiation, patience, teamwork, and cooperation!!)

Of course dinner tonight was fish, in this case, seared sesame-soy tuna with rice and Asian slaw (Thanks again, Deanne, for the Boat Galley cookbook!) followed by Banana Cake (Joy of Cooking app) using the last of our well-past-ripe bananas from Savusavu. We will have fresh fish for a few more days, and I put four massive bags of sailfish in the freezer this evening for later in the season. Max is going to turn down the temperatures of the fridge/freezer tomorrow as now that we have moved north, the freezer isn't quite keeping the food at the extremities of the box frozen. This will cost us power, but save our food from spoiling.

We are hoping that the rain will stop and we will all go do some exploring tomorrow.

Love to all,
At 2016-11-17 11:33 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°31.52'S 179°11.32'E
At 2016-11-17 3:22 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°31.49'S 179°11.30'E

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Thursday 17 November 2016

Anchored at Funafuti


We had a beautiful last night on passage. At sunset, it looked like we would have lots of squalls (in fact the not-so-super moon was well into the sky before we could even see it, because the clouds were so thick on the horizon), but then most of the unsettled weather moved off without materializing. On my watch, the sky was clear and the moon was radiant to windward. On Max's watch, he had quite a sound and lights show with lightening that brightened the whole sky, but thankfully it stayed far from Fluenta. Each time we did the calculation for when we would have to motor, the wind had changed so that we could do another three hours of sailing. Finally, just after dawn, as one of the few squalls to hit us gave us strong winds on the bow, we started the engine and motored the last few hours to the pass. As the squall moved away, it took all the wind with it, so we had lovely calm seas and sunshine for the last short leg.

The pass into Funafuti was plenty wide, which was good, because the gentle seas actually produced quite a surging, rolling swell at the pass itself. It felt on the bow as if we were galloping into the pass, but we actually had about 1.5 kts of current against us (which we prefer, because it provides more control at the helm for less speed over the ground) and Max controlled the helm with no sense of turbulence.

Speaking of current, we are hoping that we have a strong current with us on our passage south next year, as we felt like we paid our dues this week: we spent most of the last 48 hrs of the trip with over a knot of current either against us or pushing us laterally. At first I thought it was a tidal current, but when it went on for six, then 12, then 24 hours, it was pretty evident that it was an ocean current! Oh well. We made good time regardless, but it was a bit disheartening to have a boat speed of just over 3 kts and a speed over ground of 2 kts at certain points!

We had hoped to be at the "5 miles offshore" mark mid-morning in order to go through the pass around noon, and cross the lagoon with the high sun behind us, and this is exactly what happened. We couldn't have planned it better, from the winds that helped us track along the rhumb line for most of the passage, to the speed of advance that was just enough to let us sail right until this morning (the winds were forecast to die at least 24 hours earlier than they did). We had one lumpy day, but the rest of the passage was smooth and calm. I have decided that I prefer to be a bit of a fair-weather sailor, so for me, these conditions were ideal :)

After an uneventful crossing of the lagoon (thanks, Deanne for the Cruiser Notes!), we anchored off the capital (Funafuti) at around lunch time. We have friend whom we believe are enroute from Vanuatu and due in the next few days, but at the moment, we are the only cruisers here. There are a number of large fishing vessels in front of the commercial dock, and it is unsettling to think of how big their catches are when they go out. I suspect that sustainability is not at the top of their priority list.

By the time we had eaten and launched the dinghy, it was clear that Benjamin was in no shape to go out in public, so we decided that Max and the big kids would go ashore to clear in and I would settle Benjamin for his over-due nap.

In addition to clearing into Immigration and Quarantine (leaving Customs and Health for tomorrow morning), Max was able to sign us up for 3G Internet. We had heard from our friends that Tuvalu had introduced this service last season. They have, but it turns out to be amongst the most expensive we have seen: $10 AUS / 100 MB. At this rate, it would be $800/8GB, for which we were paying just $25 FJD a week ago. We will take care of necessary business, but we won't be browsing or watching videos!

Dinner tonight was a massive bowl of Sailfish ceviche, with limes from Taveuni (thanks Granny & Grandpa) and the last of my cilantro from the Savusavu market. In Mexico, we used to enjoy smoked Marlin ceviche, and even without being smoked, this was very good :) I also cooked some rice and fish to have as a second course, but we were so full from the ceviche that now we have lunch for tomorrow. I am grateful that I won't need to cook after all, as it was 33 deg C in the saloon and the cockpit when we arrived at noon today!! I said when I left Canada that I wanted to sail in the warmth, and it seems that I have gotten my wish :)

We are not sure how long we will be here, but we are looking forward to exploring a little and relaxing for a few days before we head north again.

Love to all,
At 2016-11-17 9:02 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 08°31.51'S 179°11.35'E

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Wednesday 16 November 2016

Fishing Drought is Over


We don't get many days much better than today.

The winds were predicted to drop off all morning, but the kids and I managed to keep the boat moving right through until after lunch (moving being loosely defined as a boat speed above 2 kts and the sails drawing ..). The water and the sky were both glorious shades of blue: a deep aquamarine for the sea and a rich royal blue for the sky. We used the slow speed as an excuse to do some real-life math: how many hours could we sail at 3 kts before motoring at 6 kts in order to arrive mid-morning tomorrow? Using her own iterative approach, Victoria determined that we could sail for about 10 hours before motoring; as it turned out, the wind kept cooperating, and we kept delaying when we would start the engine.

Max took over the watch in the early afternoon, and I settled in for my nap. Long before I expected to be woken up, I was shaken with one word: "Marlin!" We last caught one of these huge fish in 2014, and here we were again with another on our lure. (Max will have to add the technical details of the lure for the fishing aficionados...) I quickly went upstairs and found that Max and the kids had furled the genoa and Max was bringing in the port line hand over hand onto the yoyo. I tried to see the fish over the side deck, but it turned out that it had swum behind Fluenta. Just as I suggested to the kids that they bring in the other fishing line, we realized that he had hooked one lure and tangled the other! It was extraordinary to see this beautiful fish swimming in the clear blue water and flashing in the sunshine.

Bringing the fish onboard turned into a family affair. (Thankfully, Benjamin's role was to enjoy the last 10 min of his nap downstairs!). Victoria and Johnathan were on camera and knife-fetching duties. Learning from the mahimahi who got away earlier in the passage, and given the massive size of this fish, we used our gaff for the first time in several years (we usually bring fish aboard by hand with the big fishing hooks and heavy line). I normally just watch as Max brings the fish aboard (my job starts when the fish reaches the galley), but since Max couldn't both hold the line and gaff the fish, and there was *no* way that I was going to try out my luck with the huge fish and the gaff, that left Max on the gaff and me holding the fishing line. The fish had done some big dives and diversions as Max was reeling it in, but now at the side of the boat it was surprisingly calm, and Max was able to gaff it without too much difficulty. Still, it was so big that on the first attem
pt to bring it up, the bill got caught in the bimini frame behind him, and Max had to heave a second time to land the fish. In what seemed like ages, but was in fact a matter of seconds, the massive fish was flopping on our deck and Max was calling to Johnathan for the knife. Next it was time for Victoria to bring out our fish chart and identify our catch. We knew it would be either a marlin or a sailfish, and one look at the dorsal area confirmed that we had a massive sailfish on our deck: once measured, it was 83" (2.1m). We tried to weigh it, but we broke our luggage scale; Max guessed it to be around 75 lbs. Benjamin's eyes were bulging out of his head when he came up from his nap to see what was on the deck!

We finished the day with seven large bags of fish in our fridge and one yummy dinner in our tummies :) Ceviche is on the menu (using Granny's limes from Taveuni) tomorrow.

Now, as we approach midnight, the messy squalliness that threatened at sunset has turned into a clear sky and gentle (8-10 kts close reach) sail. We will likely motor eventually to get to Tuvalu, but we are not motoring yet :)

Love to all,

At 2016-11-15 12:02 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 0929.57'S 17918.27'E

Tuesday 15 November 2016

Enroute Tuvalu under the Super Moon


I had a long-overdue "catch up" email started before we left Fiji ... but it will continue to be long overdue, and I will use these few moments between the everyone going to sleep and the (likely) squally period to send a quick update on this passage.

After a lovely visit with Max's parents in Taveuni and a few days of the usual pre-passage maintenance and provisioning, we cleared out of Savusavu late last week and are now making our way towards Tuvalu.

Our first day out of Fiji saw us motoring and then sailing on glassy seas under a brilliant blue sky, which gave us a chance to use the last of our Internet for phone calls and music downloads before we had to hunker down and reestablish our sea legs the following day. Let's just say that no one (especially me) really felt like spending much time down below either at the chart table writing emails or in the galley cooking. Thankfully, I had prepared extra food during the calm period the first day, so we had rice and pasta as well as the usual crackers and cheese. Today was somewhere in between (the sea state has calmed and not only did I manage to cook dinner, but I used some of the ripe-all-at-once bananas we have aboard to make dessert as well).

We are back into squall territory, so I suspect that the lovely 8-11 kts and calm seas will be disrupted after midnight as it was last night, but for now, it is the sailing that I love - calm seas, light winds, and the brilliant moonlight to keep me company. We have started a pattern of Max taking the afternoon watch and going off-watch at around sunset, so I had a nice evening chat with each of the kids before they went on their own time to sleep. Even Benjamin is below, sleeping on the port bench with a lee-cloth (although I went down at one point and his head and one arm had found the only gap between the cloth and the frame of the bunk. Yikes! He is scooted back into a better position now, and there is a fan over his head to keep him cool.)

This is our first long passage since our Niue-Tonga leg in 2014 that we have just the family onboard. As much as I like standing 1:3 watches more than 1:2, it is really nice to be just the five of us. Victoria and Johnathan are really capable, and they regularly give us catnaps during our watches; it won't be long before they have an official "watch" of their own. They watch for traffic and squalls, grind the winch (especially when we need to furl the genoa for squalls), play with Benjamin, and keep themselves occupied. Victoria has been crocheting an afghan, square by square, following instructions in a book that was in my grandmother's cupboard and that Aunt Margaret passed along to her when we were home in the summer. Johnathan has been continuing to research and write his book (a project begun out of the boredom of six weeks in the van when we were camping in NZ last season). Benjamin has divided his time between asking for turns on the iPad so he can build things in Minecraft (yes, really) and asking for turns with Johnathan's Lego. Did I mention that the big kids are really patient?! We bought a little DVD player when we were home in Canada, and I have to admit that I am grateful for the amount of time he will spend watching Octonauts and other little shows that we have put on a memory stick for him. I agree with all the research that says screen time should be limited for little people, but I sure appreciate the quiet time when he is occupied!

We are loving the full moon each night - it was about 99% and still waxing our first night out, and we think we have one more overnight after tonight, so we couldn't have timed it better. We will enjoy the stars at anchor as the moon wanes, but (especially since we haven't been off-shore in a while) it is really nice to have the light of the moon by which to see the squalls this week!

We wound in the fishing lines at dusk tonight because we caught one of the biggest fish we have seen last night and had to throw it back - we caught a barracuda that was well over 50 lbs. We would have eaten it in Mexico, but in the South Pacific, they are risky for ciguaterra, so it had to go. Barracuda seem to be the only fish biting in the dark, so now we will just bring in the lines after sunset. We are still waiting for something tasty to bite the hook. We snagged a beautiful mahimahi on our way out of Savusavu, but it didn't have the hook in its mouth, so it got away when we tried to bring it aboard. We have had them come back for the lure, but this one was obviously a bit smarter than our previous catches and it swam well away from us!

We are all well and looking forward to arriving in another day or so at Funafuti, Tuvalu to start our north-bound cruising season.

Love to all,

At 2016-11-15 1:02 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 11°01.33'S 179°23.48'E
At 2016-11-15 1:02 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 11°01.33'S 179°23.48'E

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Friday 11 November 2016

Using Satellite Imagery to Assist Navigation - SAS Planet

Most of our blog posts are of the "show and tell" variety of our day to day life cruising full time as a family.  This is one aims to be a bit different in its purpose to show how we use satellite imagery to assist with navigation in the South Pacific.


If you start sailing in places like the US/Canada, Australia/NZ or Europe, you can quickly get lulled into believing what is shown on your laptop, handheld GPS or chartplotter.  Looking at a chartplotter that shows which slip you are on in the marina is pretty impressive.  Move beyond those areas, however, and four issues quickly are revealed :

- Not everything shown on the chart is actually there:   We regularly see Aids to Navigation that have long since drifted away
- Not everything that is actually there is charted:  Many of the vector charts of the Tuamotus are based some sort of analysis of satellite imagery but many of the bommies (coral heads) are either not shown or shown as being "safe" depths when they certainly are not.  In other areas, the critical passes are stick-like cartoons without enough data to use for navigation or to decide whether it is safe to try the pass.
- Selective display of information in vector charts: lots about this is written elsewhere and was a leading cause factor of the Team Vestas grounding on the last Volvo Ocean Race (report here).  As you zoom in and out on vector charts you can see atolls appear or disappear.
- Datum error: most of the these excellent cruising grounds were surveyed well before GPS. Therefore, even though the geometry of all the features can be accurate, the position of the charted objects may be shown in the incorrect position on the Earth's surface.  You can use radar to estimate the datum error but you need to be aware that each surveyed area will have a different datum error.  If you want to read more on this here is one starting point:

Here is a 1:625,000 zoom showing the approach to Tahanea in the Tuomotus.  Lots of sea room to the south east ...

Until you zoom only one level in to 1:500,000 and the atoll of Motutunga appears

Motutunga circled in red.  This issue was one of the cause factors in the Vestas crash.

The little grey box gives a hint that an atoll is hidden there.

Of course, once you get there there may not be a lot of data.  This is a close up of Tahanea in CMap

The charts for the passes are actually pretty good at this atoll

Navionics has more detail on this atoll than C-Map but the some of the bommies that are marked are not there and some of the spots shown with 16 feet of depth are actually much shallower.  It is suspicious when every bommie is 16 feet deep on the chart ...

Okay, we are not sailing over Isla Isabela in Mexico at 7.7 kts.    The datum for most of the Pacific coast of Mexico is off by a fair margin.  We used the Garmin handheld for our first two years of cruising before we treated ourselves to a little chartplotter. (Pictures of Isla Isabella here:


The first and foremost way to mitigate these risks is the Mk1 Eyeball and carefully timing when choosing to pass through critical areas.  We try to ensure we go through passes between 1000 and 1400 and, ideally, with the sun behind us so we can see the reefs.  During these times, someone is always on the bow watching (clipped in if the pass looks rough).

That was our main strategy through French Polynesia but last year in Fiji - a cruising ground famous for its yacht-grabbing reefs - we also started to use SAS Planet to download, store and analyze satellite imagery.

It is certainly not the only tool out there.  Many have had great success with OpenCPN (which we also use) and GEKAP but we have not put the time in to getting it running yet.  We also OVITEL Maps on the iPad as it allows us to have a picture in the cockpit but we have not been using it as much, as it can be a bit finicky to use and the iPad is too hard read in the bright sun (and too bright on night watches !)


Download data

Select the area you want to download.  You can do this by scrolling over the area at the desired zoom levels as you would with Google Earth or you can use the polygon function to select an area.

Once the polygon is selected you can open the selection manager (the green "check mark") and pick what zoom levels and which map source you want to use.  In Fiji we usually use Google, Bing and/or Nokia. Sometimes a big cumulus cloud is over the critical part of a pass or anchorage so it is nice to have alternatives.

Once the data has downloaded it is saved in the cache.

Route Planning

The rest of the process is personal preference and based on your assessment of the risk.  I generally plan routes in Coastal Explorer on the laptop and then export the route as a KML file.

In SAS Planet this file can then be imported from the "Placemark Manager" and you can see your route and any marks you imported overlaid on the chart data.  At this point you can then check the route, at a detailed level remembering it is vector data, to see if there are any hazards.

If there are hazards along the route that the regular charts do not pick up, I can then amend the route either directly in Coastal Explorer or by reversing the export/import process from SAS Planet to Coastal Explorer.   If particular hazards are noted, those can be marked on SAS Planet and exported to Coastal Explorer and your chartplotter. I do this especially if there are particular hazards in a pass.  Also, for very tight anchorages, it is nice to pick an anchor-spot ahead of time to ensure adequate swing room.

The island of Yadua ( in Fiji is a good example.  Here is a route drawn with Open CPN into the western anchorage.  Looks good until you export it to SAS Planet and find out that you would drive over the reef.  In Google Earth you can see the entrance but not the the southern anchorage.  With Nokia it is clearer on this occasion.

The western approach drawn in Open CPN

Oh, except when you export it to SAS Planet you see you would have driven over a reef.

By using Nokia instead of Google in this case the southern part of the anchorage is visible as well.

The other side of Yadua provides another example.  It is a beautiful anchorage near to a friendly village and excellent spearfishing ( see  The entrance and anchorage are a bit tighter though.

The entrance to the eastern anchorage in Coastal Explorer.  Note that the two red Aids to Navigation shown on the chart are not actually there.
When you look at the SAS Planet data you see two bommies in the pass that are not marked on the chart.

In this screenshot, you can see two danger marks put on the bommies as well as a possible spot to anchor with sufficient swing room

and then this can be imported back into Coastal Explorer and the chartplotter.


- No tool replaces the Mk1 eyeball and commonsense
- Just because Google Earth shows there is open water, it does not mean there necessarily is just water there.  To save on data, some areas are shown as open water where there are actually reefs.
- This is certainly not the only way to do this - there are lots of other tools.

Always look where you are going !  If this was a pass transit Liz would have her PFD/tether on as well.

Worth it once you get there (Fulaga, Fiji)

Worth it once you get there (Tahanea, French Polynesia)

Tuesday 8 November 2016

Where in the world is Fluenta - How to find Fluenta

This season we have been spoilt with increased comms capability with our Iridium Go.  We are still connecting at about 2.4 kb/s or about 1/20th the speed of old 56 k dialup (or 1/800th the speed of broadband) but it is much more consistent than the HF radio.  With this device there is also a tracking function that you can access at:

We will continue to use the Yachts in Transit site on an occasional basis as we can add comments and weather data as well as because the authors of the site provide weather advice to the cruising fleet.  David and Patricia provide an amazing service to the fleet with their daily weather discussion.

As in previous years, a reminder that if you notice that the tracking is not working to do not revert to "panic stations".  There are all sorts of technical and operator issues that could cause the systems to not work.  If we do have an actual emergency we will activate the EPIRB or PLB(s), use the SOS buttons on the Iridium Go and/or call RCC directly.

A screenshot of the Predictwind tracking site.

A screenshot of the Yachts in Transit site.

Monday 7 November 2016

Visiting Granny and Grandpa - Taveuni, Diwali, Waterslides and Ping Pong

My parents spend part of the year in Taveuni so we met up with them again in Savusavu and sailed over to Taveuni.  First stop was the lovely, and just rebuilt after cyclone Winston, Paradise Resort. The next day we sailed up to the north of Taveuni so my parents could pick up their truck and open up their place on the hill.  The kids lived ashore and helped at the house while Liz, Benjamin and I commuted back and forth daily.

Family Photo at my parent's place.

Granny leads the charge swimming to shore with the kids.

Paradise Resort - Amazing how they have rebuilt after Cyclone Winston

Paradise Resort - Amazing how they have rebuilt after Cyclone Winston

Benjamin enjoying the pool at Paradise.

Poolside parking for Fluenta

Benjamin surveying the grounds

Johnathan sampling Grandpa's crop.

Victoria surveying Grandpa's crop.

Geography field trip - the dateline.

The waterslide.  Less water than last year but still fun.



My turn

Of course, the local kids go down standing up.

We were honoured to be able to share Diwali with my parent's neighbours.

The ladies at Diwali

Some Diwali kava.

The "road" to the house.

Fun at one of the restaurants.

Granny teaching ping pong.