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Pacific Odyssey 2010/2011
Follow the Larsens from Seattle to Australia and back.
Approaching Fiji
Christine
09/05/2010

Fiji in less than 24 hours! We are just about to make a crucial turn around Wailangilala Light on the NE edge of the Fiji Islands, Lau Group, a long awaited waypoint on this passage. First we had to slip through two reefs and soon will round another larger reef called, Duff reef, before we can make that turn. We are doing this all the while facing weather that has given us our new personal records of 36 kts, 15 foot plus seas, and an all-time surf down a wave record of 13.2 knots GPS speed.

Theoretically our 33ft boat can travel 8.0 kts (this is calculated using the length at the waterline); realistically, we can travel at 6.5 knots comfortably if the sails are balanced and the seas are at the right angle. So 13.2 is rockin! Our other surfing moments were more like 10 and 11 kts and we had that happen maybe 10 times. At one point in the night we were slammed by a side wave that flipped open our hatch cover and dumped a bunch of water in the cabin. Ooops, we forgot to put the extra clip on the hatch lock. Otherwise, we're surviving the passage thanks again to Eric who is eternally optimistic and incredibly capable. He may even rightly claim single-handing some of this trip to Australia as I shut down when the wave action is too much. Give the kids snack and a book on tape and they can handle anything.

We will be in Fiji instead of back in Vavau awaiting a chart plotter replacement because we simply abandoned that problem and worked out another solution to our overall issue. We've blogged about that before (Eric downloaded software for a very old chartplotter we had in storage and our Fiji chip fired up just fine, albeit ¼ of the screen size we paid so dearly for.) We've also had problems holding our course on this passage because we had to travel 150 miles dead-down wind. Our boat sails best down wind when the wind angle is 120 to 140. We've had to keep it around 180 without gibing the boom just so we can keep our course. We've had to be precise because of the numerous reefs and shoals that dot the area between Tonga and Fiji. Yesterday we realized that we weren't going to be able to keep our course. We toyed with the idea of gibing to track North for a few miles and restart our position on the original course line, but in the end we decided to abandon that problem and plot a new course (not ideal but manageable) and try to keep to that instead. While solving other problems on this trip I find that we've employed a similar strategy to great result: If the problem you are trying to solve becomes to cumbersome, stop trying to solve it and focus on the result you want instead. Reinvent the issue in a way that you can solve it. We've had to cast off so many original plans and create new ones in order to move along. I am thankful for the opportunity to reflect on that in a conscious way.

At Sea Again
Eric
09/04/2010

After a very nice stay in Vavau we are heading to Fiji. We expect this to be a 3.5 day trip.

On our last night, we went back to Port Maurelle, our favorite little bay in Vavau, and had a late afternoon soiree on the beach with Na Maka and the crew of Let It Be, a Belgium boat with three young kids. It was a nice farewell to Vavua and our friends. Let It Be will likely stay in Vavua while we are in Fiji, but we may see Na Maka in Fiji. I will email Jerome once we settle in. Fiji is more restrictive for movement than Vavua, so we will likely try to find a nice anchorage for the boat and stay put. We have made contact with Totem, anther family boat out of Bainbridge Island, and will try to rendezvous with them in Fiji. It has been great for the our kids to spend time with other kids. While Sophie misses her friends, she is fully enjoying the adventure of seeing new places and cultures and is working hard on her French to better mingle with other cruising kids. Finn and Freya are having fun but are getting homesick for their friends.

We have actually had calm sailing today, 15-20 kt of wind on the stern. Some forecasts call for 25-30 plus kt of wind tomorrow afternoon and evening, we are hoping to have less than that, but we can deal if that comes. The wind level doesn't bother me, but the seas that will likely come with it may be uncomfortable.

Going to sea is tiring. There is a lot to put away: the dinghy, kayak, sunshade, snorkel gear, etc, and more to get out, and every thing must be secured. Right now I am being reminded every few seconds that I forgot to stuff a towel in with the cooking oils - I'll take care of that before I lay down. In addition to the preparation, adjusting to the motion of the sea makes us all drowsy. I don't get seasick in the nauseous sense, but I do get a light headache and feel more tired. Christine and I both took naps this afternoon to recover and get ready for our night watches. It is bed time for the kids, and it is a typical first night at sea, the kids are wound up and not sleeping. Tomorrow everyone will be tired, but it will be a better day.

My Seventh Birthday
Finn
09/02/2010, Neiafu, Tonga

On my birthday, we saw a giant Trevally on "Kamino." Actually, we saw it near the reef at the Tongan Beach Resort, but I called it the planet "Kamino" like in Star Wars where it rained all the time. It rained and thunder stormed on my birthday. I wasn't upset about that. It was fun. We played legos. Then we got back in our dingy, in the rain, and went to the Giggling Whale for dinner. We met our friends from the boat, Na Maka, there. I had spaghetti and meatballs. The band played Happy Birthday and sang to me in Tongan. Then we had a chocolate birthday cake which we shared with our friends and some other boaters. It rained the whole night, just like on "Kamino."

MakingFriends
Eric
08/31/2010, Vavua Anchorages

We found some wonderful anchorages here where the easiest access to shore is to swim, even for the kids. Freya prefers to swim next to me and sometimes take a break by climbing on my back. She has gotten braver though and will swim 30 feet from the boat to check out a coral head on her own. She has become an avid snorkeler, but did not like the 4 foot sea worm we saw yesterday. When she she saw it she left the safety of my back and swam away from me quickly. When I caught up to her she asked me if we had just seen a dragon.

Our initial impression that Wifi was everywhere here was incorrect. The last couple of anchorages have been radio silent. I have not posted blogs via the SSB radio because it is a hassle and I keep expecting to be back in full coverage soon. Tomorrow we will head into Nieafu to start re-provisioning for the trip to Fiji. If we get done by Thursday morning we will head back out to a remote anchorage for our last night and some swimming. I think this is unlikely as it is easy to get addicted to the towns, with restaurants, cold drinks, and Internet.

We have finally started meeting more families. Just before we left Nieafu last week, we met a French family on a catamaran called "Na Maka." Our kids were paddling around the harbor in their inflatable kayak in search of other kids on boats and found Na Maka. They quickly made friends with Leo, a ten year old. He had a sit on top kayak and was soon paddling with them. Na Maka is on their second boat already; they are on a multi-year cruise through the South Pacific.

A couple of days ago while we were anchored in Vaka'eitu, Christine and I watched Na Maka pull in. After they were anchored and settled we got the kids in the dinghy to "explore". I thought we might tip over when they realized who we were going see. The parents, Natalie and Gerome, invited us over for dinner. (kids: keep making friends!) We had a wonderful dinner -- complete with adult conversation -- while the kids played. Leo has two younger brothers Freya's age, so it is a good mix. The next day we hiked together to a pristine beach on the opposite side of the island. Later, Leo, Gerome, Sophie and I went snorkeling in the Coral Garden - a renowned spot here in Vavua. It did not disappoint. The entry and exit were a bit tricky. There was a coral ledge awash then a drop off. The ledge went from 0 to 2 feet deep with the waves, so we had to time entry and exit with the surge. Our timing was off on the exit and Sophie and I got a few coral cuts (which clean up best with lime or lemon juice) while our more experienced partners came out fine.

Yesterday Tristan, a ten year old Danish boy swam up as our kids were swimming around the boat. Soon he Finn, and Sophie were a hundred yards off working their way to the beach. After they tired themselves out they came back here for some snack and games.

Last night Na Maka pulled in (somewhat planned). The kids were excited to reunite on the beach this morning after "school". Just after lunch Tristan joined them and it looked like a regular neighborhood crew.

Flippers and a mask take the place of bikes out here. The kids swim between the boats, climbing aboard to play, eat and watch movies (when allowed), then hop in for a swim to the next boat once they are ready to move on. While the water is 30 feet deep or so, it is clear and there is nothing dangerous to prevent them swimming around. The 100 yards between Na Maka and the Jenny P is not an issue for Finn and Sophie, though Mom and Dad like to see them make the crossings with a partner, although this rule seems hard to remember.

Jerome played guide again and took the kids and I over to Swallow's cave. You can swim in on the surface for easy access. The pictures I took don't do justice to the beauty of the afternoon light streaming through the west facing openings in the rock.

Tomorrow we will head to Neiafu to re-provision and take care of some Internet planning work. Gerome and I are planning to go scuba diving together at some point this week. Once we leave Vavau we will miss these new friends.

Final Days in Vavau
Christine
08/30/2010

We've been enjoying Vavau. We arrived in the country Monday August 9th and it is already the 30th. Yesterday we studied our charts and Eric put our speed and distance into one of his excel models to determine what time/day we should leave for Fiji; at 440 miles we estimate a 3 ½ day passage. Looks like we'll leave sometime end of this week. Tuesday is too soon, Wed and Thurs would mean we arrive on the weekend (customs is closed or may exact a hefty fee for after-hours entry) and Friday is not an auspicious departure day if you are a superstitious sailor. We have left on Fridays before. We'll next consult the weather charts and wind predictions before making our final decision.
Finn's 7th birthday is September 1st - it will be nice to be ashore for his celebration. He's wanted to have a special item on the breakfast menu at the Giggling Whale & Thirsty Turtle in Neiafu: chocolate covered French toast! Maybe we'll head to the Poolside Café later on that day for his favorite spaghetti Bolognese and a swim in the pool (the only one in town, about the size of 8 hot tubs.)

The Giggling Whale is owned by a couple who live 6 months here and 6 months in Banff for ski season. Turns out the proprietor is the President of the Ski Canada Association and was an official host at last year's winter Olympics. This we learned after asking him if he'd heard of Whistler/Blackcomb (duh.) The Poolside Café is owned by a nice Italian man. The Aquarium Café was built 7 years ago by a young couple from California who recently sold it to Mike who had lived in Gig Harbor, WA for years. The young kids now run the Kart Safari tour we took earlier this week as well as a couple of other endeavors. Word is they bought a small island and are building a house on it. The Coconut Café (for laundry, breakfast and cold beer) is run by Canadians (judging by the accent) and the Café Tropicana is run by a couple from New Zealand. There is a Moorings and Sunsail charter here too, apparently now under the same holding company in Germany. A few businesses are owned by locals, but the thriving places seem to be foreign- owned and managed. I've been wondering about this situation since we got here. Why is this the case? Is it good or bad for the Tongans?

Island life is largely subsistence living. There are no heating bills, plenty of fruit and vegetables; fish, pork and eggs can be had for free. The missionaries made certain that clothing was not optional so there is some expense there, but generally speaking, one could live without an income. Thus the incentive for working quite hard and making money is just not that strong. However, Vavau has highly desirable natural resources (beaches, coconuts, blue green seas, and migrating whales) that call out to sun-starved vacationers. Enter the foreigners who see an opportunity to serve their sun-starved cousins and live in the islands! Foreigners don't have the same access to the free food - every fruit bearing tree or taro plant is owned by someone local, even that papaya tree you might notice in the village square - so they have to provide a service and charge a fee, or show up with a trust or retirement fund.

I've concluded that the foreign-owned businesses most likely benefit the locals who are hired to fill out the workforce. The Tongans are getting some training and bringing home some money to help with what expenses they do have such as new shoes, clothes, school fees, potato chips, canned meats, soft drinks and unfortunately....liquor. (Alcohol abuse is an epidemic throughout the Pacific Islands.) But just as we notice at home when job security is high and consequences for not working hard are low, performance is weak. Most of the foreign shop owners work very hard to please, but often the local waitress forgets to tell us that they don't have what we ordered (20 minutes ago) for lunch, or the cashier counts out the wrong change (often in our favor to which we always alert them), or they just go AWOL in the middle of their shift like the guy who was supposed to be in charge of cleaning silverware the night one of the restaurants had a big feast. Suddenly they ran out of clean table settings and people couldn't dig in to their fish cakes. The worker was tracked down hanging out with his friends, the dancers, who'd come over from another island to provide the evening's entertainment.

We've heard people say that a couple of years ago Neiafu was a thriving town and that today it is much diminished. We've noticed in the outer lying islands that where the guide book says there is a resort or a restaurant; there is often just a deserted building or random people who look confused when you ask where to find it. We assume that the global recession has hit these islands as it has elsewhere. Compared to passage-making when our community is just the 5 of us, Neiafu seems like a bustling kind of place despite the alleged down turn.

We've had a beautiful week in the outer-lying islands, relaxing and filling the days with a summer like routine. Tonight I write this as we are back in Neiafu, planning Finn's 7th birthday. We'll have dinner together with our friends from Na Maka and maybe even get to surprise Finn with a birthday cake. We've had some gifts stored away in the Jenny P's hidey-holes since early May. It'll be fun to watch him enjoy his special day.

PS - the King of Spain's boat is now anchored in the harbor. We haven't heard any rumors about the King himself actually being aboard, but we did wonder if that wasn't one of those dream jobs for young, single people: sail the King's boat around the South Pacific and keep it nice for him just in case he wants a little "down time."






Making Friends
Eric
08/29/2010, Vavau

We found some wonderful anchorages here where the easiest access to shore is to swim, even for the kids. Freya prefers to swim next to me and sometimes take a break by climbing on my back. She has gotten braver though and will swim 30 feet from the boat to check out a coral head on her own. She has become an avid snorkeler, but did not like the 4 foot sea worm we saw yesterday. When she she saw it she left the safety of my back and swam away from me quickly. When I caught up to her she asked me if we had just seen a dragon.

Our initial impression that Wifi was everywhere here was incorrect. The last couple of anchorages have been radio silent. I have not posted blogs via the SSB radio because it is a hassle and I keep expecting to be back in full coverage soon. Tomorrow we will head into Nieafu to start re-provisioning for the trip to Fiji. If we get done by Thursday morning we will head back out to a remote anchorage for our last night and some swimming. I think this is unlikely as it is easy to get addicted to the towns, with restaurants, cold drinks, and Internet.

We have finally started meeting more families. Just before we left Nieafu last week, we met a French family on a catamaran called "Na Maka." Our kids were paddling around the harbor in their inflatable kayak in search of other kids on boats and found Na Maka. They quickly made friends with Leo, a ten year old. He had a sit on top kayak and was soon paddling with them. Na Maka is on their second boat already; they are on a multi-year cruise through the South Pacific.

A couple of days ago while we were anchored in Vaka'eitu, Christine and I watched Na Maka pull in. After they were anchored and settled we got the kids in the dinghy to "explore". I thought we might tip over when they realized who we were going see. The parents, Natalie and Gerome, invited us over for dinner. (kids: keep making friends!) We had a wonderful dinner -- complete with adult conversation -- while the kids played. Leo has two younger brothers Freya's age, so it is a good mix. The next day we hiked together to a pristine beach on the opposite side of the island. Later, Leo, Gerome, Sophie and I went snorkeling in the Coral Garden - a renowned spot here in Vavua. It did not disappoint. The entry and exit were a bit tricky. There was a coral ledge awash then a drop off. The ledge went from 0 to 2 feet deep with the waves, so we had to time entry and exit with the surge. Our timing was off on the exit and Sophie and I got a few coral cuts (which clean up best with lime or lemon juice) while our more experienced partners came out fine.

Yesterday Tristan, a ten year old Danish boy swam up as our kids were swimming around the boat. Soon he Finn, and Sophie were a hundred yards off working their way to the beach. After they tired themselves out they came back here for some snack and games.

Last night Na Maka pulled in (somewhat planned). The kids were excited to reunite on the beach this morning after "school". Just after lunch Tristan joined them and it looked like a regular neighborhood crew.

Flippers and a mask take the place of bikes out here. The kids swim between the boats, climbing aboard to play, eat and watch movies (when allowed), then hop in for a swim to the next boat once they are ready to move on. While the water is 30 feet deep or so, it is clear and there is nothing dangerous to prevent them swimming around. The 100 yards between Na Maka and the Jenny P is not an issue for Finn and Sophie, though Mom and Dad like to see them make the crossings with a partner, although this rule seems hard to remember.

Jerome played guide again and took the kids and I over to Swallow's cave. You can swim in on the surface for easy access. The pictures I took don't do justice to the beauty of the afternoon light streaming through the west facing openings in the rock.

Tomorrow we will head to Neiafu to re-provision and take care of some Internet planning work. Gerome and I are planning to go scuba diving together at some point this week. Once we leave Vavau we will miss these new friends.

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