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Cruising to Calm
" I've learned that making a 'living' is not the same as 'making a life'." Maya Angelou. This is the story of the Brown family adventure. We have pulled roots in NY and are taking our two kids ages 4 & 1 on a five year cruise. This is our story
Father Time Knocking On My Hull
04/01/2010, Tonga

The last time I wrote we were gearing up for my fortieth birthday bash. I guess it is wrong to say "we" since O really handled the entire thing. In the past he has been known to slip a little in the birthday department so he was determined to prove himself this time. (No beer coolies for me this year!).
O organized a pig roast on a beautiful shaded beach which was loads of fun. The day before the party we went to the anchorage with some friends and all the guys cleared a spot on the beach, raked up the usual beach debris and burned it. There was chainsaw and fire involved so it was an extra special treat for the guys! Anyway, they hung sails for extra shade and gathered loads of wood for the fire. We had several Tongan friends with us too, one of which is the nephew of the "chief" of the island, so he knew which trees were OK to cull and which woods would burn the longest and make good coals. Tristan even made a table from bamboo to set the salads on! Meanwhile, the kids were running amok kayaking, swimming, spear fishing and building forts. The set up part was pretty fun as well!
The actual day of my birthday (we are a day ahead of US time zone); it rained all day, so O had to call everyone and postpone until the following day. We decided that hanging on the beach in the pouring rain is not all that much fun. So, we hung out on the boat, watched movies and read books. Otis told me this was the ultimate birthday gift because I would actually get to enjoy 366 days as a 39 year old instead of only 365, because in the US it would still only be March 20th!
I was feeling a little maudlin that day to be honest. I missed my family and friends. Also, recently an older gentleman in the harbor asked me how old I was. I told him I was 39.5 he laughed and asked me "how long are you going to hold onto that one?" Well, I laughed but almost fell off my chair. Thankfully, I was able to take heart in the fact that I am pretty sure he has glaucoma, or at least O was trying to convince me of that, which I very readily accepted.

I quickly bounced out of my mood, when my kids came bounding into my room with cards and birthday hugs! However, later in the day Sammy did take a big bite out of the card Ben made for me when I wouldn't let him have more cake! Yet, I was still not to be deterred. He takes food very seriously.

The next day was fantastic. It was a little overcast in the morning, but cleared up by the afternoon. O had two pigs on ice for the festivities. Initially the first one we bought was not going to be big enough, so he bought another HUGE pig. Since we had to postpone until Monday we lost a few people who had to work, so really we only needed the one big pig. (We still have the small one frozen solid in our freezer!) However, it must be said that our friends Claudia, Brent, Luca(Ben's school mate), Bianca(Sam's off again bf) and Andrea their 11 year old took their boat after work and joined us!

The day was a huge success. We had live music (Sione played his guitar..ok at the end of the night I jammed Redemption Song 100 times and then when I randomly strummed pretending I was Clapton...well..yeah), volleyball, an unlimited supply of ice cold beer and rum, snorkeling, spear fishing, animated conversations and lots of laughter along with a great big pig and, most importantly, our friends. I must be getting older because I only offended one person the entire day (just was really two).
I have to laugh because toward the end of the evening the guys started wrestling. Basically, Otis and Nolo, who is fourteen years younger than Otis and 100lbs heavier, started wrestling. Otis was reminiscing about his high school wrestling days (which I think O took a great many creative liberties with...junior Olympic team from Maine?? hmmm...after eighteen years together that one was even new to me....and I am sure all of his family..Stevo, are you aware of this?? he said you drove him to the finals??), BUT what the hell, as O and I like to say "never let the truth get in the way of a good story!"
Anyway, he and Nolo decided to show each other wrestling moves or something and started beach wrestling. Then Nolo and Kevin got into it as a finale...I think O was in traction by then. I was talking to someone when Nolo ran up behind me, put me on his shoulder and ran me into the water. Melee ensued and everyone was in the water. As I was trying to sneak out of the water, Nolo swung his arm back hard and fast to fend off Otis and Kevin who were shamelessly trying to bring him down and I got hit by his elbow in my I didn't want to make a big deal about it but it hurt. Brandie kindly offered to reset my jaw, but with age comes much needed and a long time coming, wisdom. I decided I would wait until the light of day and the effects of the festivities to wear off before I took advantage of her kind offer!
The following morning I felt much older than my years. I had a swollen ankle and could not use or align my jaw. Otis hurt his shoulder, had coral cuts all over his legs and could not walk on his ankle. Kevin could not move his head. Nolo, on the other hand, felt fine and was bounding around. Otis and Kevin explained that it was all part of the 'master plan' to beat their bodies up in order to build them up again. Yeah, not sure I am buying into it but a truly wonderful time was had by all.

The kids had a BLAST! They were again, kayaking all over the harbor, spear fishing (they ate everything they speared cooked over an open fire), and playing in their forts. Sam took on the host role and was handing out beers..obviously did not get that on tape. Our friends Kevin, Brandi and the kids then slept onboard which our kids LOVE.
It truly was a fabulous birthday! FYI for those that know me well, I only made ONE toast/speech..but O said it was still too long!

We brought the kids back to school on Wed. only to find it was a half day Thursday and no school on Friday...still no idea why school was out but I am just the parent, so apparently it's not important for me to know!! Last weekend we visited another Island we had not visited before. (There are 30 or so). It was nice to be away from all the other boats and just have only the family again. We snorkeled; beach combed, built a sunset bonfire with the kids and hung out. I Love it when it's like that!!!!

This weekend we are going out to Eiwiki, where our friends Brandi and Kevin live with their 2 children AJ(11) and Kennedy(6), they are the family we visit often who are taking care of an eco resort on a beautiful, otherwise deserted island. We are going to roast the other pig for Easter and have an egg hunt planned on the island. I look forward to it. I also look forward to getting that pig out of my freezer! He has been taking up a lot of room for over a week now and every time I open the freezer his snout is poking up through the frosty contents at me! We have become pretty well versed at roasting pigs lately and find them to be a great excuse to have a beach gathering and enjoy time with friends. It is very similar to a backyard BBQ you might say. Some other friends will be joining in on the Easter festivities as well. It's like a family because we have been here long enough that our group of friends has grown, both in size and closeness.

After Easter the thought is that Brandi, Kevin and the kids will come cruising on Indy for a few days to some of the more remote islands. Ben has all week off from school next week, so we will pull Sam out too. The kids as well as the adults, love to hang out so we are all looking forward to the upcoming week..and, of course, if Indy is there..there will be stories!

Otis is eagerly awaiting the arrival of our Genoa, which should be here today......this means we will be lucky to see it by Tuesday, but at least we have confirmation it has arrived in Nuku'alofa a 50 minute plane ride away.

So that is all for now...trying to be better about writing more frequently.

. FYI: Does anyone know how I can link this to facebook? It was also recommended that I do twitter.....someone help..when I left we had blackberries and Oprah was forever....

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04/02/2010 | Stevo
For the record...I do not recall driving Ms. Daisy to the Maine Junior Olympic Wrestling finals. Happy belated 40th Jenny...wish we could have been there to ring it in with you.
04/04/2010 | Lara
Welcome to the 40 club Jenny! I was thinking of you a lot on your birthday. On that day My mom wanted to go see the new Alice in Wonderland Movie with Johnny Depp in 3-D and IMAX. She loves Johnny Depp! Love hearing about your daily life. Still holding on to the dream of visiting with you guys some day! Happy Easter!
04/06/2010 | Marilyn Gallo
I'm glad, Jenny, that your birthday celebration was such a happy one. There seems to be little doubt that a "good time was had by all."
Easter was a lovely time for Griffie and me. We spent it at Mary's . (She and Laura picked us up on Saturday afternoon.) On Saturday evening, Rick, Mary, Laura and I went to Mass which was a beautiful occasion.
The next day, John and Sheri, Lucie and Scott, Nick and Jeremy , and Gayle and Jay joined us. It was a lovely day indeed, and naturally, we all thought of you with love,
I am having a little work done in my garden this year. A very nice man will help me with some tasks that exceed my capability. He's a retired farmer and seems to enjoy this sort of thing. I will keep you posted.
Lo, the voice of the turtle is heard in our land!
Love to all of you. Gram
Cooling out in the heat
03/19/2010, Tonga

Not much to report. Sometimes I let so much time pass between blogs that I become overwhelmed which makes it harder to sit down and write.

The kids are still in school and enjoying it. Ben had a sports day the other day which was interesting. I should begin by saying that the communication between parents and the administration is essentially non existent. Information is relayed via the children which leaves a lot of room for error. I find it frustrating because I really NEVER know what is happening. For instance, sports day. Apparently sports day is something that the entire family attends which we did not know because we had only heard that it even existed the day before. When I dropped Ben off on the field, (which he argued with me about the location of ), I was surprised to see families with picnics sitting under one of the four tents set up in the field.. There were a few vendors there selling disgusting junk food (no water for sale even though it was about 105 degrees outside! The only refreshment for sale was Strawberry soda which just about made my teeth fall out). I called Otis, who had plannedto tay on Indy and varnish. I filled him in so he came to join me. We sat there for four hours not knowing WHAT THE HELL WAS GOING ON! Ben had no idea what he was racing in or even if he was racing. There was no schedule of any sort. Kids were running around the field but nobody had any idea who they were, what grade, how far they were running etc. Did I mention the heat??? Ben did finally run but he did not know what or how far he was running. Sports Day seemed to be a big event for the school yet, there was not one thing sent home about it. It might also have been helpful to post a little schedule of the events in the tent to give everyone an idea of what we were watching.
Another example is the Friday dismissal. The kids are let out early on Friday but nobody can ever tell me what time that will be! The other day the kids were let out at 11:00 to go cheer for the high school sports day (again no note or communication). It varies when they are let out which I find strange. I consider myself pretty laid back but the lack of communication is starting to make me crazy.

Sam loves his school. The other day he got a special award for listening. In contrast to Ben's school, the preschool communicates very well. Each Monday I get a piece of paper telling me what they will be working on that week. As a matter of fact, I got a note on Monday telling me of a field trip this Friday. Seems the theme of the week is missionary work (not sure how much Sam grasps that), but I applaud their effort. Anyway, in keeping with the theme, the preschool was going on a field trip to the prison. I have to admit I was slightly taken aback about a preschool trip to the local prison. We were asked to bring a care package for the prisoners of two bars of soap and some washing detergent. Not quite sure how I feel about the preschool/prison field trip. Apparently they are not hardened criminals but it is still slightly odd. I do appreciate and understand the message behind it but think maybe the local hospital would have been a better choice. I do know one thing; I sure as hell am not in NY anymore! I am pretty positive there are no preschool field trips to Sing Sing.

O and I have been plugging along revarnishing the interior. Have I mentioned how hot and windless it has been lately?? O says I have about 52 ways to convey my feelings about the heat without actually saying I am hot.
We have left the main harbor a few times on the weekends and anchored off of our friends Kevin and Brandies eco island resort. They are taking care of the island during the off season. They also have two kids who get along famously with ours. The kids are always begging us to go out there. One weekend we had a huge bonfire on Saturday and then the local guys had an UMU on Sunday An umu is when they wrap chicken/corned beef in taro leaves and then dig a pit in the sand, build a fire to heat stones, put the fire out and cook the taro packets on stones. It was great fun.
I am still very much enjoying myself here. We have made some wonderful friends and had some great times. There is a fun mix of people. A couple times a week O, the kids and I will go to the Aquarium which is a cool restaurant run by our friends Mike and Lori. The kids usually run around, play legos or watch a movie and have dinner while O and I have beers and chat. The restaurant is set up on a deck overlooking the harbor with wonderful shade and always a cool breeze. They do a fantastic job, the staff is wonderful and Mike and Lori always make everyone feel welcome and at ease. It has to be the best run business I have seen since cruising.

So that is pretty much it. The kids have been sick quite a bit of lately. I have done numerous trips to the hospital, which reminds me of some of the clinics we saw in Africa. In my opinion, the hospital is pretty much useless. I walk out without them really doing any type of examination on the kids, a script for penicillin and no answers. I have been there about four times with Ben and they still do not have a file for him (which I did recommend they start and which they still have not). Suggestions from Palangis are just that. Can't wait for our friends on Uliad to arrive!!! Thankfully Steve has been great answering all of my medical emails. Thanks Steve!

I will leave you with a funny quote from Ben:
The other day O was talking to the kids about getting a little piglet(which we are NOT) but he asked Sammy what he would name it. Sam said "Wilbur" Ben rolled his eyes and said, "Well, we'd have some real copyright issues with that one!" What seven year old says that!!! Hilarious.

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03/21/2010 | mary eckerman
I get a kick out of your school news. Your school is so very different from our Iowa schools. Not necessarily in a bad way, but just very different! But glad the boys are enjoying themselves. Take care and keep the blogs coming, and oh by the way Happy 40th Jenny!!
03/22/2010 | Justine
Hey Jen, sorry we are a day late but Happy Birthday!! I am sure those men in your life made it a perfect day! Big loves from us all!! xxxx
ps I have missed the blogs!!
03/22/2010 | Marilyn Gallo
How nice to hear news of your continuing adventure!
As far as school is concerned, have you thought of volunteering? It would, I think, be fun, a veritable education, so to speak.
(You might even offer your services as a communications director--just kidding!)
Seriously, every time I volunteer at Wings Park School, I am glad I am glad I did so. It is extremely rewarding.
Speaking of the extrme heat reminds me of a book, "The Help", I am reading. The book makes frequent mention of similar heat, although it is set in Mississippi. Anyway, I can't put it down.
I HIGHLY recommend it.
I enjoy your blogs tremendously and look forward to your resumption of them on a more frequent basis.
Griffie and I played host to one of John's dogs, Roxie, for several days. During that week, it became apparent that we have become quite stick-in-the muddish" in our lifestyle, it was quite an experience (but fun.)
What precocious children you have! But then why wouldn't
03/25/2010 | Susan Hahn
Happy belated birthday Jenny! I enjoyed your story about the boys and school - especially the field trip to prison - hilarious! As long as everyone is having fun, right?

Say hello to Otis for us and stay safe.

Susan Kelley Hahn (and Jon Hahn :) )
A Direct Hit..of course!
02/23/2010, Neiafu, Tonga

Thank you for the well wishes and words of encouragement during what was a short but stressful time. I am relieved to report that the family (Indy included) are all fine.
As most of you know Neiafu, Tonga received a direct hit from hurricane Rene. We reportedly had 90kts of sustained winds with gusts up to 120kts. The energy of this storm was incredible. I still cannot believe that we had a direct hit, but then considering our luck, it should not surprise me.

It is hard to accurately predict where a hurricane is going to land and how hard it will hit. Yes, you can get a ballpark figure but the speeds of a storm vary a great deal depending on where you are in relation to the eye and these storms turn and move away, or come at you very quickly. We had started to prepare for the storm a few days before it hit. It was not meant to pass directly over us but we were being cautious, as it was forecast to pass close enough to be of concern. We had already taken the sails down in an effort to repair/ replace them. Additionally we took the stack pack off, dismantled the bimini, and pulled the halyards up to the masthead, found new homes for jerry cans and other gear on deck. O started drawing out and thinking of the best way to secure Indy on her mooring lines.
One of the big problems during a storm is lines chafing. This is caused by the boat yawing back and forth on her lines and wearing them away at load points. In preparation for the cyclone, we moved the boat from our existing mooring to a heavier one with four 1 ton blocks on the bottom and new lead lines from the pennant. The top tackle was 1 inch polypro spliced into 2 eyes. Otis took our anchor off the chain and had a local diver attach the bitter end of the chain to the forward block's anchor point (we are in 130 ft of water so he was not comfortable doing it himself). He also had the diver inspect the chain, shackles and line all the way up from the block to the buoy for chafe or weak spots; anything questionable was replaced with new tackle. Once we were secured to the mooring blocks with chain, the focus was on back up lines and snubbers. We already had the main eye splices from the mooring (1 inch polypro) which O shackled off to two pad eyes on the bow with huge backing plates because he was concerned with potentially overloading the aluminum crossbeam.. He then ran 2 other lines with prussic knots going to the polypro lines (below the eye splices); in case the splices failed or the shackle snapped these would hopefully hold. Additionally, he ran our 1 inch 3 strand nylon bridle to the chain and let out enough chain to keep pressure off the windlass if this became our primary holding point. Both the bridle and the prussic knot lines were attached to cleats on the cross beam and then run to mid ship cleats on either side, in case the crossbeam failed in this scenario. Finally he shackled two thick braided nylon dock lines onto the chain just above the bridle and left them slack but made off to the cross beam and the side cleats in case our bridle snapped this would continue to keep the load off the windlass.

O really thought it out very carefully and for hours went over worst case scenarios, reworking the lines. Essentially we had three back ups for every line. He also duct taped the lines where they were tied onto the boat. After the lines were figured out we did all the last minute stuff like stow the life raft, grill, cushions etc. inside.

The other big question was whether we were going to stay onboard the boat during the storm. If we did not have the kids this would not have been an issue, but there was no way we could do it with the kids. O wanted to stay on board Indy to keep an eye on lines and I was looking into the church or some other strong cement building in town to stay with the kids. There was a restaurant that was having a cyclone party and a lot of people were going to sleep there. I didn't want to bring the kids there for several reasons but mainly because I knew people would be telling storm stories and I didn't want the kids to be frightened. Thankfully, our friends Tristan and Mindy are house-sitting and they invited us over to their place. So, that was solved, for me at least.

O was still undecided. He knew that there was a boat behind us that had not been taken care of in the least. Essentially, the owner (who lives onshore and ha no problem 'advising'everyone on how to secure their boats) did not come out to secure his boat ONCE. He left all the crap still on deck and did not care enough to even replace the mooring lines or add an additional line to the sorry ones that were there. Everyone was worried about the boat. When anyone asked him his reply was a nonchalant "Oh she's weathered blows before". Otis was concerned that she was going to break free and hit Indy. In 100 kts plus winds there is nothing you can do BUT if the winds were only going to be 60kts he may be able to move Indy out of the way, fend off somehow or quite frankly cut the derelict boats lines. The rationale was essentially that if something did happen Otis would be able to react.

It was difficult for me to leave Indy. I have a strong attachment to her. I feel/know that she is part of the family. I talk to her all the time when I am on watch or just by myself. She has brought us safely through a lot. For some reason as I was putting our valuables in a bag I kept thinking about when we first bought her. When we had her on the dock in Annapolis a man came to the boat, introduced himself and told us that he lived very near to the yard where Indy had been kept. He said that most evenings he and his wife would walk to the yard and climb on Indy, lay on her trampoline and pretend/dream that she was theirs. I don't know why this kept running through my head but it did... Maybe it was the guilt I had about leaving her. Trust me, I know that we had to leave, there was no doubt in my mind obviously my family is hands down more important, but it was still hard, I felt like I was abandoning her. So when the kids and I packed up it was emotional leaving. I took a little time to wish her well and then stepped off, not knowing what condition I would find her in the following day.

By 4:00pm the winds were starting to blow a consistent thirty gusting to forty and the storm was still 12-15 hours away. O had to drop us at the town dock because the other docks had been removed in preparation for the ensuing storm surge. Mindy and Tristan were waiting for us. O helped load us in and then said good bye. I had to keep it together because the kids were already scared about O staying on Indy. Saying good bye to O that afternoon was, for me, the hardest part. He still had not decided whether he was going to stay for the duration but he wanted to stay until the 7:00pm weather update and if we were taking a direct hit he was going to join us.

Mindy & Tristan drove us up to the house. The house is beautiful. It is perched on a cliff on the windward side of the island with an entire wall of glass overlooking the ocean. (Which was also the direction the cyclone would be approaching from!) The builder had called that day to let them know that although it is glass, it is special glass designed and manufactured specifically to withstand hurricanes and earthquakes. And true to his word it did. The house also had a back up generator, big screen tv with Wii and lots of space for the kids to roam. It was a perfect setting to hunker down for a hurricane.

Meanwhile on the boat, Otis was waiting for the next weather update to see what the path of the storm would be. He was hoping it would miss us by 50 miles or more, which he figured would only bring 65-80 kts of wind. At 8:00pm the winds were already gusting up to 50kts where we were and the weather forecast was for the cyclone to pass almost directly over us in the early morning hours with sustained winds of 120kts. Upon hearing this Otis decided he would not be much use on board in these winds. He had lifted the dinghy and lashed it to the stern so he had no way of getting ashore other than swimming. He grabbed a mask, fins and Sam's boogey board and headed for shore. I was so relieved when he called me and told me he would be joining us at the house, but did not like the idea of him swimming ashore!! Thankfully he was ok. Tristan and Noah went down to get him and bring him back. What a relief it was seeing him walk into the house!

The power went out about two hours after that which, because they had a back up generator did not affect us much. At this point it was blowing consistently 50-60kts. Mindy and Tristan had put a mattress in the storage room for the kids to sleep on. This was great because it was our safe room where, if anything happened we were going to go. They figured that it would be good to have the kids already in there so we would not have to wake them. The kids were really oblivious to the storm or stress around them. They loved being at the house and hanging out with Mindy, Tristan, Vicki and Noah. They watched movies, played Wii and kept the dogs entertained. Funny how oblivious they can be sometimes. Anyway, I laid with them for a few hours and then at 3:00am the storm intensified so much that it woke me up. This is when the full brunt of the storm hit. We had 90kt winds sustained for at least three hours. It was crazy that the storm could sustain those winds, plus there were gust of easily 100/120 plus. This is when I started to flip out a little bit. I was the only one up and just paced, wondering how in the world Indy could make it through these winds. At one point I knew I had to calm down so I took a magazine and sat in the bathroom. I decided upon the bathroom because for one, I knew where the light was and two because the glass in the living room was doing some serious flexing. I tried to focus on the articles but did not retain much. No matter what I did I could not focus on anything other than the violent howling of the wind and the vibrating of the walls, floors and glass of the house. For a few good hours I was convinced something on the house was going to give. Again, I could not stop thinking about Indy all alone getting hammered.
Around 6:30 or 7:00am it just abruptly stopped....boom. Nothing. One minute major 120kt gusts and them DEAD CALM. It was eerie. By then the house was up and we were all anxious to venture outside. When we opened the front door we were hit by a wall of hot, humid air, the smell of tropical vegetation and dead silence. You could hear the locals coming out, people started driving around, and some cruisers reported that kids were swimming in the harbor! People were telling them that the storm was not over....just kind of half time.

The VHF radio started coming to life and I called a boat in the harbor that I knew had stayed onboard to ask about Indy. He said she was fine but had had quite a night. Waves were crashing over her coach house and she was apparently swinging wildly on her mooring. I was so relieved. However, the boat we had all been concerned about did break his mooring and hit the boat I surprises there!
The eye of the storm took about two hours to pass over. It was a false sense of security and because it took so long to pass I did start to wonder if maybe the storm was over. However, as quickly as it stopped it started, with the same ferocity only from the other direction. It didn't seem quite a scary probably because the wind was coming from the other direction so we were no loner taking the brunt, probably because we were used to the sounds and I think the daylight helped too. However, I think it was because we were being blocked from the majority of the wind in the new direction. People in the harbor said the second half was pretty bad.

All up the storm lasted about twenty four long, tiring hours. We stayed with Mindy and Tristan the next night as well because it was still blowing pretty hard in the harbor.

The following day we returned to Indy. The sun was out, there was no wind and it was HOT. Indy was stripped bare but just as we had left her. O had done such a great job securing her; she did not even chafe one line!!!

Overall, the damage was minimal especially considering the magnitude of the storm. Power was lost and lots of trees were down (mango, papaya and banana), but nobody was hurt. The guy here that does the weather and did nothing to prep his boat, found it at the other end of the harbor where it was towed off the rocks He has now refused to pay the guy whose boat he hit!! What an irresponsible ass...but that is another story. A few people dragged their mooring but no major damage. The Tongans were out right away clearing away trees and cleaning. To look at the town now you would never know anything happened...amazing.
The wind speeds were incredible, and if I hadn't been so worried about Indy I would have even been impressed, but I can safely say, one hurricane in a lifetime is enough for me.

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02/25/2010 | Marilyn Gallo
Oh, Jenny, what a story! I thank God that you and everyone else are safe!
I find it difficult to conjure the difficulties you have encountered, and I am amazed at Otis's ingeniousness.
Here, today, the temperatures are frigid, but cardinals are flocking and spring is on the way.
I remember you in my daily prayers. I hope that you pray too (at least, in thanksgiving!)
Griffie and I are on our way outside where she will roll joyously in the huge drifts of snow. How different are our lives! Love to all, Gram
02/25/2010 | Tommy O
Otis and family: Wow! Congratulations on getting through this ordeal! Unbelievable. Glad to see it worked out.

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