October 30, 2012

Idyllic week in Budi Budi atoll

Budi Budi was only going to be a short stopover, but when we finally had good weather to leave, our weeklong stay felt too short. With an excellent anchorage, beautiful reefs, and very friendly people—it should be on more "must-see" stops in Papua New Guinea.

This jewel of an atoll gets few visitors, lying just far enough from the Louisiades that most cruising boats doing a circuit of those islands from Australia may not bother with the overnight trip north. It is on a path back to Australia from the Solomons, or for boats like us, a stopover point heading north and west through Papua New Guinea. From a local perspective, it is the equivalent of the back of beyond- the most distant outpost of Milne Bay Province.

It's small: only about three miles in diameter, two of the seven islands have residents- about 300 total. This must make their unique Budibud language make it one of the smallest living languages spoken. I thought there might be some similarities with the Misima dialect we had learned at islands just south of here, but so far have found only one word with any similarity- "waga," a generic term for boat.

Both our new Navionics and old CMap charts were surprisingly accurate here. The atoll entrance at the north west side was wide, and while we had excellent conditions, would be quite straightforward to enter with poor light by splitting the difference between the sand cay and the northern most island. There are a few large reefs inside, but reasonably charted as well, and anchorage throughout most of the area inside is a matter of finding your depth and then dropping the anchor into sand.

When we first arrived, we went ashore to meet Chief William and bring him a few token gifts: some fabric for his wife. He wasn't shy about asking for more things from us later, but I think we have become somewhat inured by the Louisiades. At the same time, he was very generous with us: he put on a big feed the third day we were there, and wanted to host another on our last night. Besides, we are the freaks showing up in our spaceships loaded with crazy abundance, but he is the one giving openly from the little that he has available. We try to find a balance.

Our feast on shore was complete with a chorus of singing by the village children "for our entertainment" while we ate. The food was simple but good: our first taste of sago (I thought it was a tough coconut bread until corrected), chicken and greens in coconut milk, a fish (brought in by another cruiser), boiled sweet potatoes, bananas, and papaya (yes, boiled papaya).

Most of the population is on the largest island to the south, but one extended family make up twenty odd residents on an eastern islet. Chief William's brother (really, his cousin- they share a grandmother), Tau, and Tau's family occupy the smaller island- they are respectively the senior members of the community, with William taking the title of chief. Tau stood in for the pastor, who was away in Woodlark, and just like Panapompom we were put into a receiving line afterwards. He and his wife Elsie and passed many hours on Totem: teaching to us about the islands and their community, and mastering Fruit Ninja on the iPad. I'm pretty sure that's an unfair cultural exchange, but we had a lot of fun.

Our first clue to a temporary skew toward women and children came at church. The sand-floor open air chapel is a wood frame with open sides and a coconut frond roof. The children stayed with the island kids in "Sunday School", under a tree outside, while the adults sat under the palm thatch: women on the right hand side, and men to the left (dimdims excepted; we were ushered uniformly to a pandanus mat brought for us at the very front). While the women's side held a few dozen attendees, barely a half dozen men sat on the left. It turns out that they were all off at Woodlark Island- about 60 miles away- which is home to a number of Budi Budi families.

We learn that the families on Woodlark Island the community at home by facilitating trading, keeping gardens in the better soil, and housing the handful of children who continue schooling beyond year 6. They help bring fish, mats and pigs from the atoll to the market, and trade for items that can't be sourced in the atoll: betel nut and lime, sago and yams, material to make clothes. Little of this involves cash transactions.

The only person growing copra is Chief William. The pastor tells me everyone else is using all their coconuts to meet their own needs. They are a staple food, a primary water source, and fodder for the pigs, chickens, and probably dogs we see. But copra doesn't earn much: Budi Budi's primary access to cash is from shark finning. It's extremely sad, but who are we to lecture? It is the only meaningful way they have to earn currency. Shark lines are set up just outside the reef, and men were eager to trade with us for larger hooks to bait for it. This catch is brought to Alotau, although I'm not sure exactly how it makes financial sense. A community powerboat was purchased this year, the m/v Kali Katu- a play on kali katu'ai, "thank you" in Budibud, to ferry the fins. But it takes four barrels of fuel just to get to Alotau, and at PNG prices, that needs an awful lot of shark fins to be economical. As in other places, it is unlikely that any part of the shark is kept for use besides the fin, the waste adding to the tragedy.

We snorkeled over reefs in a few different parts of the island, and found stunning formations: trenches and hidden canyons of colorful corals, running with fingers full of brilliant fish. But we didn't see a single shark, and there were only a few larger fish- nothing we could take. It's not healthy. I don't think locals draw the connection between finning and the decline of the reef. And even if it was clear, would the choices be any different? They have chickens and pigs, and don't need fish for protein- but they do need cash to pay for their children to go to school, and to supply other needs.

There are 70 students in the island school. Two teachers were posted there by the government, but one of them never returned from a trip home during the term break so there is the lone headmaster to cover all six years of schooling. He was educated in Misima and Alotau, but doesn't know Budibud, so instruction is in English. As elsewhere, school is from 8 to 12 with a recess halfway through. I cannot imagine how daunting this man's task is.

One of the first people we meet is Dorcas; she and her husband Moses are pastors. Originally from Fergusson, she's one of the handful here who aren't from Budi Budi: her husband was born here and the United Church has posted them here for a few years. Dorcas' good English and warm personality make her an ideal guide . Over two different days, she patiently spends hours teaching us how to weave mats. That lesson almost feels secondary to the unexpected benefit of time with her learning more about the place we find ourselves.

It's Dorcas who unravels the stories of families split between the atoll and the Woodlark settlement, laughs with us about the girls who don't want to learn how to weave, and tells us more about bagi- the shell necklaces used for currency.

Two of our compadres in the anchorage bought small drums from Tau's family. As part of the transaction, the drums would be demonstrated and accompanied by traditional songs and dancing. Sign me up! After we arrived for the performance, I was ushered back where the women were getting ready: painting their faces with black streaks of soot dotted with a white paste from coconut meat, weaving flower garlands for their neck and hair, donning skirts from finely shredded palm fronds. Last of all, the shirts came off. Although topless living is traditional, it doesn't mesh with the standards for modesty that missionaries have imposed. A young woman participating carefully arranges plumeria leis across her breasts, and Elsie has compromised by sewing palms onto her bra, but it's all done with a lot of giggling and playing around. The drumming and singing are done entirely by men, who stand together while the women and girls shuffle step around them in a slow circle. The song is about black magic, an incantation to protect the newly deceased from being taken by evil spirits.

Sitting in the cockpit on our last evening, I talk to the girls- almost women- who have paddled out once more. We eat sweet little bananas from the ridiculously large stem hanging under Totem's solar arch, while they tell me which of Budi Budi's clans they come from. Flying fox, shark, crocodile, sea eagle- all four are represented. Their dugout has fragrant leis and a basket of fruit. We arrange a last trade, and it's hard not to wonder. We idealize the simple life, and theirs is about as simple as it comes, but what would they choose?

Grateful for to have control over my live, to have options, and grateful to be here.

October 21, 2012

Routing beyond the Louisiades

Our path through Papua New Guinea so far has been nothing like we expected, and that's just fine. Yet another lesson that cruising "plans" are made to be changed, and that weather always wins!

Our route through the western end of the Louisiades happened spontaneously. I was disappointed not to start at the eastern end of the islands, but it's easy to shrug off and move on- it isn't worth fighting weather. Bramble Haven was simply the closest protected landfall to our course. Panasia was just a short day sail away, and reputed to be stunning- that was an easy next step. From there we couldn't miss going nearby Brooker Island, to accept the invitation of a feast from the fishermen who had been our PNG welcoming committee back in Bramble Haven. Niall was eager to snorkel over a WWII plane wreck at Panapompom, part of an island group just above Brooker, so that became the next obvious move. It's a comfortable rhythm for Totem: nothing planned too far ahead, one step leading into the next, following the weather.

We left the Louisiades from Panapompom, an overnight sail taking us up to Budi Budi atoll- the northeastern most islands of Milne Bay Province. A trough sitting above us may keep us here for a while, and that's just fine. It feels like we've met most of the residents here in a couple of days, and they have been unfailingly warm and friendly. The motus offer some beautiful snorkeling. The children are thrilled to have compadres- with SIX (!) other cruising kids between Sea Glass and Nalukai, who share the anchorage here. The church ladies are giving me a lesson in pandanus mat weaving tomorrow. Jamie and Jeremy are hatching fishing plans. It will be easy to linger!

At the same time, we now need to do more serious route planning. December seems far away, but we have the exciting prospect of meeting up with a good friend at Indonesia's diving mecca of Raja Ampat. It's at the NW end of Irian Jaya: to make it there before Christmas, we need to start making (and following) concerted plans.

We originally expected to go from Milne Bay up to Buka, then across the top of New Ireland, and from there through the Hermits and Ninigo (with some stops below Manus) en route to Indonesia. Our friends from Endless Summer, Steve & Manjula, shared such great knowledge and experiences from their trip along this stretch last year- we were eager to see these places they raved about. There are no cruising guides for this area, so their first hand knowledge of the bays and waypoints for anchorages is invaluable.

We're now less sure we have time to follow the stepping stones across the top of New Ireland, and will shorcut to Kavieng through Kokopo instead. Our information on Kokopo is a little thin, but once again, my notes from skyping with Endless Summer will help guide our path from Kavieng west, below Manus and to the Hermits.

One stop we are absolutely sure to make is the Ninigo islands. While researching this leg of our journey, I stumbled on the blog of Anui- an Australian family who spent a year and a half cruising from Oz out to Thailand and back via PNG. Sarah wrote vividly about their travels, so I got in touch to learn more from their experiences. The Anui crew made close friends in Ninigo, and we feel so lucky to help them keep and strengthen the bond by delivering gifts from them. Tucked under Nialls bunk are many packages, parceled out with letters and photographs for their adopted PNG families in these islands. In a place without mail service or modern connectivity, it is truly precious cargo and we feel privileged to carry it for them.

Sometime in the next week, we expect to be on our way to Kokopo from Budi Budi. I'm looking forward having to our first internet access in about a month. There are pictures to upload, emails to send, comments to reply to, life to catch up on... and routing plans to research!

Any PNG cruising veterans reading this? We'd love any input, via direct email or comments below.

October 15, 2012

Ask, listen, share, rinse, repeat.

We haven't been in Papua New Guinea for two weeks yet, but I believe we have gotten to know more local people here than the rest of our Pacific island cruising.

It's not spending time in one place. We've only spent a handful of days in each anchorage.  It could be related to being on our own, instead of in company with any other boat(s), although I don't believe that's it either. I think it's just a higher level of mutual interest, on our part and that of the people we meet, feeding a desire to spend time talking and learning about each other.

Here's a typical day to help illustrate.

Jamie and I tend to get up pretty early. I'll peek out of the cockpit as dawn streaks cross the sky and breathe in the quiet moments of sunrise, then pop back below to make tea, fire up Airmail and the radio, think about breakfast and slide into the day. Jamie takes his coffee into the cockpit between 6 and 6:30. Somewhere in the interim, the first dugout has arrived. Almost every time, Jamie finds someone in a canoe waiting *extremely quietly* off the stern for us to be up and open for visitors or trading (no question, that takes a little getting used to!). Sometimes this is a quick hi-how-are-you, the transaction of some papayas and limes for rice. Sometimes it's more involved- Jamie sat in the cockpit from 6 to 8 the other morning, working out a trade with a boat builder for a beautiful scale model of a sailing outrigger.

Filling out the morning, we'll have breakfast when the kids are up. There might be some reading and learning on board, and we'll usually have plans to dinghy in for one reason or another. It could be a school that we will visit to bring supplies and a soccer ball, or an event onshore (like yesterday's church services in the village, or the youth rally on the island this week), or the promise to meet someone from a prior day.

Once on shore, having learned some words and phrases in the Misima dialect fast forwards the interaction. Our conversations are all in English, of course, and as one of the official languages many people speak it well; but there is nothing like basic greetings in the local language to crack a grin and open the door to interaction.

And then, there is the simple fact that we are interested in the people around us, and they are interested in us. Walking past a group of men building a new sailing canoe just behind the beach turns into an extended discussion of 'waga' types, building duration, and hand tools used...along with our own basic story shared in response to their questions- curious about the family traveling on their waga. Ask, listen, share, rinse, repeat.

In the afternoon, we're usually back on board Totem. PNG primary school is a half day affair, so depending on our proximity to a village, this could mean nonstop visitors from the junior set. Our current anchorage is somewhat removed, but we have a steady flow of dugouts and paddlers/passengers of all ages stopping by.

We are happy to have visitors in groups, but there seems to be an unspoken rule that the dugouts arriving later stand off until the earlier boat(s) depart, unless we very actively encourage them over. Some are looking for a favor, such as sending an email on their behalf or copying a photograph. Most are eager to make some sort of trade. Some are there just for the conversation. All are interested in talking and sharing. We run through many liters of cold water or juice and plates of biscuits in the process.

To be sure, people are motivated to meet with us to acquire the things they cannot get without higher cost or difficulty. Subsistence living, little hard cash, and no stores on-island make basic needs for even simple lifestyles challenging to meet. It complicates acquiring the things we take for granted which pad our lives: a metal cooking pot, a bag of rice, some bedding. But it's more than that, too. It's human curiosity to understand each other's similarities and differences.

In the late afternoons and evenings, a few of the "elder statesmen" have been on board to talk story. Over tea and cookies, the conversations stretch out: we share perceptions of current affairs. They have shared fascinating personal histories, from experiences as children here during WWII to juggling the transitions from Australian occupation / administration to independence, to the issues with their fisheries- from decimating beche de mer until it was closed from taking completely, to the current shark finning business. We've learned about the challenges for individuals to improve their situation, when the 'onetok' system obligates family members to give what they have if it is requested. We've learned their home island's stories and history- of steamships overthrown and rogues vanquished.

It's been a treat to find something special to leave behind with our new friends. On Brooker Island, Joseph Sum got a map of the Pacific that traced the route from our home to his. After a couple of nights talking to Joseph Betuel, we knew he'd love to have our copy of A People's History of The United States. It fit perfectly with his interest in history from the point of view of the common person and not the elite. And it seemed he had a similar thought, as he presented us the next day with a beautiful book about Papua New Guinea's marine life.

What surprises me is that most of our visitors tell us they have rarely, or never, been on a visiting cruising boat. I'm surprised, and saddened. Amazing people who have so much to offer, left on the sidelines. Yachties happy to trade at arms length for their lobster but never inviting the fishermen on board. Maybe this is what we missed: did we fail to make that extra effort to bring people into our lives before? Or were mutually busy and less curious lives making it simply less present as an open option?

Ask, listen, share, rinse, repeat. It seems always worthwhile to take the time.

October 12, 2012

Dim-dim TV

When sailed from Panasia to Brooker Island, we gave a ride to Ronnie- one of the local guys who had gone diving for crayfish for us the night before. He wanted to go back for a feast with his soccer team to celebrate the end of their season. We were happy to offer a lift and his local knowledge came in very handy for navigating through the reef into Brooker's lagoon.

As we turned coastwise along the island to the main anchorage, the hoots and calls from the hillside were our first cue that things would be different here. People working in steep gardens facing the water yelled and waved, and those walking along the rocky shoreline back to the village broke into a trot to keep pace.

The anchor as barely down before the first boats arrived in our unofficial greeting committee. Almost all were piloted by children, and few would meet even the loosest definition of a sound vessel. Pieces of foam, half of a barrel, a chunk of wood- anything that offered floatation and might be aided with a paddle. "Dim dim! Dim dim!" they call out, hailing us with the local term for a foreigner.

Once it was clarified that we didn't have candy and balloons to give them (things the rally yachts are strongly encouraged to bring- but candy, really? and balloons- let's kill some turtles, shall we? UGH), they were just plain curious about us and happy to play with our kids. These children were unfailingly polite: and nobody came on board without asking, and they got very strict with each other if one child perceived another was getting out of line. At one point we had about two dozen children age 10 and under (the older primary kids attend school on another island) on Totem, and more in the water.

I was busy down below making lunch for us and for Ronnie, and was headed for the toilet when I realized there were many eyes peering through the ports down below...the head included. Whew- just in time! It seems funny, but what we have here is just wildly different. Pressurized water that comes out of a tap, shelves and shelves of books, various electronics and screens (there's no power, much less a computer, on the island of 600+ residents).

They sit next to me in the cockpit and rub my skin- maybe that white stuff comes off? Are those freckles and spots permanent? We put on sunscreen, and dab a little on them to the eruption of peals of laughter and some very funny lotion smearing (zinc doesn't blend in as well on them).

Walking through the village later, children were our entourage. School is over at midday and based on the throng, we're the biggest entertainment around. They laugh and help with my attempts at Misima dialect, teaching me words for things they can share- flower, canoe, baby. Niall is charmed by the little ones who vie to hold his hand. Our girls are shy to start, but soon doing shadow puppet hand games. The boldest among them become our junior handlers, asking one question after another to try and ascertain what they can offer to us for trade. Do we want tomatoes? papayas? sweet potatoes? bananas? Do we have rice? flour? sugar? soap? laundry powder? The kids always seem to be smiling, and if you catch their eye, break out in blinding grins.

We have become the entertainment, but it's fun for everyone.

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October 10, 2012

Panasia Island: trading 101 in our gateway to the Louisiades

We extended our tiptoe into Papua New Guinea by sailing to Panasia island at the western end of the Louisiades. We were wary of crossing Jomard Entrance after the seas we experienced last week, but had no problem, and picked up three very nice pelagic fish on handlines for our trouble.

Panasia is where the people from neighboring Utian island keep the gardens that feed their families. Sweet potatoes, ibecca (a bitter green), bananas, watermelon and more for themselves; corn and cherry tomatoes are grown to trade with the yachties who stop in.

Here we begin to experience the rich Louisiades trading culture. Islands actively trade together, and visiting boats are of interest for the goods they bring from outside. Where islands specialize based on their available resources- clay pots made on Utian, canoes from the wood on Panaeti, lime for betel on Sabra, shells for bagi (for currency and ritual trade) on Nimoa and Rossel- cruisers offer staples otherwise sourced from distant trade stores for exchange.

Small villages, with a handful of families, live in homes of wood frame and coconut frond thatching. Footpaths connect one village with another. Sailing canoes traverse between islands, and here at Panasia, from one side to the other: the water route is easier to traverse than the paths through very steep limestone slopes. Unlike the rest of the coconut run we have sailed, these islands to not have a cash economy. There is no ubiquity to modern infrastructure or stores; trading goods is the primary method to satisfy needs for anything that cannot be grown or made from what is immediately at hand.

When we arrive, we make a gift of fish to the family on shore. We're guests in their waters, and a "one for us, one for them" standard is used. Even though few families live here on Panasia, we have a stream of dugout canoes stopping by Totem. Seeing our sail as we progressed closer, they come in outriggers not just from the adjacent shore but around from the opposite side of the island, and an adjacent island where gardens are kept. Visitors bring what they have to offer: coconuts, papaya, sweet potatoes, eggs, cherry tomatoes, lobster. We're asked for clothing (especially for children), rice, sugar, or batteries to power the lanterns and radios at home.

We're learning from boats who have spent years here how this trading has changed as the number of visiting boats has increased. There is more of an expectation that cruisers will give without reciprocation from islanders- a break from their mutual trade tradition, "pem penpewa". It's easy to see how this happens. You may already have traded for more bananas than you can eat, but someone is offering more and they clearly seem to need the t-shirt being requested, why not?

Although we might think we're a little shabby, our boat and basic gear represent immense wealth to an islander- from their point of view, why not ask for something you need? Although trading is a way of life, so is "hol hol", the obligation between relatives to give what you have if it's requested of you (not surprisingly, most trade stores are not run by locals, but by Chinese or other non-local ethnicities who do not have to submit to this).

One enterprising man comes with a prepared list of desired items. He seems a little surprised when we ask what he has for us in return, but laughs and jumps into trading mode when we use the Misima dialect terms for his tradition- "u pem, ya pewa" (you give, I give).

We have our trading training wheels on, but are getting into the rhythm. One trade at a time, we are finding out how to balance being fair with being generous, and be respectful guests in this beautiful place.

October 6, 2012

Gentle introduction to Papua New Guinea

Bramble Haven might just be the perfect landfall in Papua New Guinea, and yet it is pure serendipity that we're even here. Our original plan (a word every cruiser hesitates to use!) was to arrive at the far eastern end of the Louisiades. Prevailing winds are southeast, so this would give us a better angle for working west through the archipelago- instead of moving west to east, as most people from Australia seem to do. It would ensure we spent more of our time in an area were fewer boats tend to go. But weather trumps all, and the weather dictated that we'd be farther west.

Our knowledge about Bramble Haven comes entirely from a couple of hand-drawn maps with a few sentences to describe the island adjacent to the anchorage. From this, among the few things we knew about is that it's uninhabited. This was a welcome bit of information, as we've heard that constant streams of local visitors alongside (from the merely curious and to the persistent merchant) are one of the sometimes tiring realities of being in PNG. Exhausted from the passage, with our trade goods well stowed, it was appealing to postpone our introduction to that aspect of cruising here.

As seems to be the theme for us lately, events do not necessarily turn out the way that you expect. Within minutes of setting our anchor, the smaller outrigger paddled out to greet us with fish and lobster.  We learned that three brothers and their father were on shore: they had traveled here from their home island on a fishing expedition, and were stuck until the weather abated.  Reuben, Davidin, Bill and their father Sake had come more than 30 miles in a leaky open sailing canoe, with plastic tarps hand-sewn for sails.

The next morning, they were alongside again with fruit from their garden. The islet turns out to be well set up to accommodate temporary residence by fishermen, with a series of palm-thatch shelters, fish smoking sheds,  fresh (though non-potable) water, and an established garden with papaya, pumpkin, and bananas.

What started as minor trepidation on our part regarding company- we just wanted to rest up peacefully- turned out to be a gift. Over the next two days, Reuben and his family became our coaches and unofficial welcoming committee. Along with Bella and Derek from s/v Pandana, Aussie cruisers who have spent many seasons cruising the Louisiades, passed easy hours talking story in the shade of the thatch shelters off the beach. We learned that Misima (the dominant island in this greater part of Milne Bay) area peoples belong to one or another of four clans, that each clan is represented by a different species of bird.I now have a smattering of the Misima dialect phrases to help us with introductions as we continue on our way. We found out what they fish for commercial sale, and what they fish to feed their families. Jamie tried to understand how they navigate, something we are interested to better understand.

As seems characteristic of those who have the least to give, they were unfailingly generous with the constant stream of offerings from what they had available. I'm not sure I've ever had so many fresh drinking coconuts and bananas. We gave, and they gave. On our third morning at Punawan, the weather moderated enough for them to make the return trip. On the way out of the lagoon, the men first sculled their outrigger to Totem to say goodbye (and pass another hand of delicious bananas). "If you come to our island, we'll kill a chicken for you to have a feast!"

And so, now we know the one other island that we must visit in the Louisiades archipelago. Good thing we're not vegetarians.

October 3, 2012

AU to PNG, Days 4-6: at least we didn't break anything

Landfall at Bramble Haven - Wednesday 3/10, somewhat beat up from the last three days of winds/seas.

This was a passage best characterized by highs and lows. That's a bad pun, because it really was defined by the high and low pressure areas affecting our conditions. It was a good reminder that even with a great looking outlook, weather is not predictable.

We left with a forecast of SE wind at 15-20 kts. This would have made a beautiful, 4.5 day passage on our most comfortable point of sail. What happened was that a high pressure system formed a ridge that caused the wind to drop and back, which meant we were going upwind in little apparent wind.

That was the fun part.

When we were a couple of days out, a weak low formed around the same area that was our destination point - the eastern end of the Louisiades. Because of this low, we knew we'd have a lot of wind- and soon. What we didn't know is how it would play out. We crossed our fingers and hoped that a squash zone wouldn't form between the systems.

Lucky for us, the low stayed weak. It created a trough (trof) in an east-west line just south of Papua New Guinea, producing a band of squalls to cross before our landfall.

As we sailed through the 500-ish miles below the trough, the wind clocked behind us and increased, along with sea state. We had sustained winds up to 45 kts and seas at 4 meters (the occasional gusts over 50 and 5m seas thrown in for fun)- both at levels above the evolving forecast for our area.

This was not so much fun. This characterized our last three days and nights of the passage.

Ultimately, we changed our landfall point several times to allow for a more comfortable or safer angle. Instead of four-ish days, it took over six. And in weather like that, there was not much fishing!

There is a great deal of good woven into the challenges of the passage. First, a shoutout to our friends on Ceilydh (http://maiaaboard.blogspot.com). Evan could see what was happening, and started to send us regular weather updates. Although we have good access to weather information on demand through our HF radio, there is data he can access online has that we aren't able to get (like swell direction, which was good to know!). When we are tired, and literally buried in the conditions, it's really helpful to have another set of eyes to evaluate the reports.

We are so impressed with how Totem came through: the boat handled adverse conditions extremely well. We were comfortable and dry below. Jamie needed to hand steer the swells a few times, but the autopilot usually gave a better course than we could by hand. Meals were prepared ahead, so when the bad weather hit (and boiling a pot of water was out of the question, even on a gimbaled stove) all we had to do was heat up a stew. Not least of all, the kids were amazing. It is a lot to ask for them to spend basically a week reading, but we had very few complaints.

It's really good to be able to look back on the passage from an anchorage. Bramble Haven is just that: a haven, with turquoise water and a wooded motu with just enough cover to shelter us from the wind outside the atoll. A handful of Kiwi boats are here, waiting for weather to sail for Australia. Shortly after the hook was set, fishermen in a dugout canoe came alongside with a gorgeous lobster (painted crayfish) on offer, and we had an invitation for sundowners on the beach.

It is SO good to be here!

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October 2, 2012

Afraid of the dark

Plenty of people worry about plenty of things when they consider the prospect of cruising. Looking in from the outside, the fears we hear voiced from those who wonder about cruising are centered around a few themes. We mostly hear about about pirates and storms.

Steering seas near Cape Mendocino
Jamie driving off Cape Mendocino. Gales never look as bad in the pictures
Shortly those two factors is the questionable security of some countries or regions we visit. What do we think about these risks? What did we plan do to address them?

None of these have ever played significantly in our fears. They are factors that we address, but they're not fears per se. If you accept headlines from sensation-oriented media, then yeah, any one of them seem pretty freaky. But practically speaking, careful planning keeps them from being part of your reality (fingers crossed that never comes back to bite me). The short version is that we avoid regions with pirate activity and make conservative routing choices based on weather. It isn't rocket science, and I don't expect to feel more in danger on the ocean than I do on a highway. Highways...now, that's more rationally scary!

So what am I afraid of? It depends on the timeframe.

Leading up to our departure into cruising, the one thing I worried about the most was the education of our children. I grew up as an academic traditionalist, and breaking out of the mold was scary. How can I make sure that they grow up as empowered individuals: sure of themselves, loving to learn, and willing to tackle whatever path their heart desires? How can I not screw up my kids?

I'm not even going to address that except to say- ha! Why was I worried? Taking our children out of the mainstream and giving them this opportunity has felt like the a great set of stepping stones on the path in fulfilling those goals for future.

My fears today are different.  The biggest one can be summed by this image.

Argue all you want about who is at fault...it happened. Source: Seaworthy

Many of our cruising miles have been through open ocean, far from shipping lanes. Outside of a "tuna-for-cake" trade with friends a couple of hundred miles off Mexico, we saw exactly one other boat on the nearly 3,000 miles to French Polynesia. But much of what we do is coastswise, with abundant local traffic. And shipping lanes can be hard to avoid, because they're following the same clear path you probably want to be on. The rules of the road are nice, but COLREGs are immaterial if the guys on the bridge aren't paying attention.

Just a few months ago, a cruising boat we met in the Marquesas was hit by a bulk carrier off Australia. Riga was aware of the vessel, but unable to make contact with them over the radio. It seems that the bridge not only weren't paying attention, but inexplicably altered course to continue a collision course toward Riga. Unsuccessful in their effort to avoid collision, Riga was dismasted and suffered substantial damage - but thankfully, no serious injuries.

We can't avoid shipping lanes, and we can't fix stupid. So instead, we'll arm ourselves with information, resources, be alert, and then hope for the best. Then, we have to make sure we don't let fear rule us. It is kind of interesting that so often, people who want to talk about our different way of life, focus their questions on these fears and disaster scenarios. It's not our nature to live in gloom and doom. Being optimistic for us is also a function of rational thinking, but ultimately, it's a choice: life is far to short to filter through your worries instead of your dreams.


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