Re-Entry to the Midwest

Author:  Pete
Location: Midwest, USA

Somehow I again find myself writing in the dark hours of the night, mid-ocean, aboard a turbulent vessel. It’s come sooner than expected, too. This time the command of the craft is not mine, but with two hundred airline passengers aboard, I’m happy that someone else is at the helm. We’re flying to Switzerland. The summer has come and gone fleetingly as usual, and now here I am, ruminating through the silence of a night watch once more, looking out across black seas.


Our dizzying return to civilization felt like an astronaut’s re-entry to the atmosphere.  After rocketing back towards the gravity of the Midwest and debriefing with mission control, we wobbled about a bit on unsteady legs, adjusting to the world’s forgotten fundamental laws.  Like any good produce-impaired cosmonaut, we gorged ourselves on fresh fruits and veggies upon returning to Earth, but retained a strange inclination towards freeze-dried foods.

It was revitalizing to be home, to see family and friends, and to not worry so much about the boat.  I tried to keep a cool demeanor about the whole nautical escapade.  It felt like gloating to hint at our feeling of accomplishment about the Tayrona years and our excitement about moving to Switzerland.  I’d sometimes brush off the upcoming move as a tiresome necessity of our occupation or omit entire portions of my life in casual conversation to avoid sounding like a madman.

Summer was like a good kielbasa though: hot, zesty, and fully packed.  Miranda and I had a whirlwind tour of California to see my gramma and uncle Chuck, my cousin’s wedding, and Miranda’s buddies.  Looking west across the Pacific I swear I could see myself standing on Australia’s shores looking back over the water.  I felt like waving to myself.  







After So-Cal we zipped back to the midwest for another wedding in Wisconsin and well deserved R&R with friends and family on the lakes.  What we didn’t do much of this summer was document anything.  Throughout the boat trip I had an insatiable urge to chronicle everything new that went on.  At home it was refreshing to fall back into the well-known summertime rhythm of sunshine-filled days, friend-filled evenings, and over-filled stomachs.  We’ve eaten pretty much constantly since we’ve been home.  In acquiescence to my palate’s protests though, I’ve been shunning fish, rice, and coconut like a Mennonite cold-shouldering rumspringant youth.

Gordie and Diana Ski

Sleeping in a motionless bed and ignoring little noises has been an adjustment. More than once I’ve found myself on my feet in the middle of the night perplexed about how to get on deck to check the anchor.  However, I’m enjoying water that comes cold and hot from the tap any time you want it, and weeks on end free of mechanical troubleshooting!

There are still some lingering boat-related compulsions of which I’m trying to wean myself off.  Sometimes I’ll break down and revert to old weather-monitoring habits, looking for prime kite and windsurfing conditions in Lake Michigan.  Kitesurfing is my methadone and there were several blowout days this summer to wind-binge.  I even got out for a sailboat regatta with some family friends who needed extra crew.  I’m sure they heard about our nautical exploits and were anticipating their new deckhand to be some kind of sailing savant. Jokes on them!  I tacked and gybed more in those three hours of Wednesday night beer-can racing than in an entire month cruising to the Marquesas.  It was palliative to be on deck again though, working the sheets and halyards even if the lines wasted my now un-calloused palms.  It certainly helped my withdrawls.  Who knew that one could be a sailing junkie?  Pirates are often described as having a monkey on their back, but I just thought that was a figure of speech.



So that’s the ball game!  Back to reality, as much so as moving to Switzerland provides. Too bad our good Tayrona hasn’t sold yet.  Australia’s elections slowed the buying market down in the past two months so things have cooled off there a touch.  Aside from that, I can’t fathom any better outcome of our odyssey.  Now, on to other adventures in Europe!  We’ll keep posting from the other side of the pond.  Tschüss!




Okay, fine!  So I made up rumspringant!  Big deal!  Rumspringa is a period of time in an adolescent Mennonite’s life where recalcitrant behavior is accepted.  I chose to throw caution to the wind on my own literary rumspringa and adjective-ize the ever-loving snot outta that noun!  Take that!  Grammatical correctness be-damned and long live italics!

Blue Lagoon, Yasawas, Fiji

Author:  Pete
Location:  Blue Lagoon, Yasawas, Fiji


We set sail in the morning from Somosomo Bay heading north along the west side of Yanggeta and Matathawa Levu islands keeping a wary eye on all those poorly charted reefs.  The charts are so contradictory that at one point the chart plotter showed us sailing over a reef that was supposed to be ‘awash’ (think ankle deep), but really we were in 150 feet of water with the reef clearly visible 300 meters to our port.  We were exceedingly happy to be sailing in so much sunshine.  Cutting into the island chain, we anchored Tayrona in the excellent protection of the Blue Lagoon.


Blue Lagoon Nav Pic




We were again invited to Sunday church service in the village on Matathawa Levu.  Seems to be a good way to meet locals and buy fresh fruit.  Also, we haven’t hit any reefs yet, so I guess its worth getting up early for the 10:30 service.  The church was similar.  Following the congregation, we took off our shoes, brushed most of the sand from our feet and padded in to the pews.  Little kids looked at us like we were aliens.  Heck, so did the adults.  The service was again in Fijian.  We sat behind the choir and one of the guys passed us a hymn book.  The melodies are easy enough to pick up and it was fun to try and guess the pronunciation of words.  How does one sing, “Ke’u sa tag tikoga” without sounding like a tenor in Jabba the Hutt: The Musical?  With their stunning voices and intricate harmonies, the Fijians pull it off with impressive fluidity and grace.







Their doctrine varies slightly from most versions of Christianity in that Jesus’ place on the cross is taken by a crucified lizard.  I attributed this to the distortion of the message of God in the decades it would’ve taken missionaries to cross the Pacific, much like a theological game of telephone.  I had to watch this guy for a while before he resumed catching bugs.




The next few days passed exploring the island’s coral reefs and mangrove swamps.  In our wanderings we were invited to dinner with Sami and Lie who lived on Nanuya island in front of our anchorage.  They made a traditional feast with cassava, fish, and chicken wrapped in palm-leaf bundles and baked on coals buried in the earth.  The spread was ample and delicious, smoky from the coals.  There was coconut sauce for the fish and papaya for dessert.  We brought a couple bottles of wine to round out the meal.  After dinner, Sami busted out the kava, chanted the traditional prayer and brewed the pulverized root in a sawed up fishing buoy.  The cup, much like Patagonian mate, is passed to one person who drinks all of it and gives it back to the brewer.  Upon accepting the cup of kava on is supposed to clap, say “Bula!” loudly, drink all the kava in one go, then clap three more times.  Kava is a plant root which is ripped from the ground, questionably washed, pulverized with a big stick, then brewed in a cloth sack in tepid water.  As you’d expect, it tasted like exactly like standing water from a hay field.  A few bowlfuls does give one a placid, thoughtful demeanor.  Maybe everyone is just thinking, “Hmmm… why am I drinking this again?”






Sami and Lie asked us about life on the sea and in listing the boat systems that keep us safe and happy aboard, we revealed that we have a sewing machine and operate it with some dexterity.  We ended up mending a kava pouch, a scarf, and a shredded pair of shorts for them and also gave them needles and thread for when my seams rip open in the near future.  They gave us fruit and a gorgeous cowry shell for the help.  Why can’t all transactions came down to fruit, shells, and practical goods?


Poor dinghy had been prop-less for a week.  Miranda and I eventually tracked down a chandlery in Nandi on the big island of Fiji.  The new prop was shipped in from Melbourne then sent out to us on the Yellow Flier, which hauls passengers though the Yasawas to various little resorts out here.  We had to tell them which bay we were anchored in and our friend Paul zoomed Miranda over to pick up the part.  Despite the annoyance of the down time in ordering a part from Australia, I was impressed that the whole thing could be orchestrated from a cell phone in the middle of nowhere.  I love technology.



Miranda picked up the new prop because I was busy up the mast replacing our tricolor navigation light, which has been doubling as an anchor light, with a new stacked housing that has both tricolor and anchor lights built in.  Many a salty sailor has given me a hard time about using a tricolor at night because it implies that you’re sailing along or a navigational buoy.  Now with a real anchor light up there I can’t find the boat in the anchorage because it’s usually red or green!  The first night driving back to the boat in the dinghy felt like trying to find a parked rental car.  Now what color was that thing?  I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t necessary to run new wire to install the light.  Things are looking up.  Miranda eventually let me down from the mast too, which is a plus.




It had been almost a month since our last provisioning run to the Lautoka market.  Half of a sad carrot and a couple soft potatoes haunted our pantry, but we had been running on cans for most of a week.  We did ward off scurvy with fresh local fruit, but the situation turns dire when you’re hankering for the last of the cabbage.  We heard rumors whispered on the airwaves about a local farm on a nearby island.  The Yasawas aren’t often able to grow real crops because there are precious few springs on the rocky islands and there isn’t enough tanked rain water to use as irrigation.  Miranda and I took off in the dinghy with instructions to find a certain bay only at high tide and follow a murky inlet through a mangrove maze to it’s termination.  With bags on our backs and hope in our hearts, we set off to the supermarket.



We found the parking lot in a muddy pool and parallel parked next to a little boat.  A dirt trail ended at a wooden house where we were greeted warmly by Toki and his wife Miri.  As we walked down a trail to the clearing cut into the jungle, Toki explained that the farm had been in his family for generations.  When we indicated that we’d buy anything and everything they had, Toki and Miri led us up and down the aisles picking veggies and dropping them into our bags.  We were thrilled.







Toki also showed us the natural spring that made it possible to irrigate the land.  When we could carry no more, we hiked back up the trail to their house and paid them for the produce.  I brought an extra machete that I had aboard and gave it to them and they threw in a dozen eggs and a bunch of oranges.  Back at the ranch, Miranda and I washed all our new goodies and made a salad that would make a vegan swoon.  Not bad for twenty bucks.






There’s a tropical low forming and the weather has been deteriorating for a few days.  We’d really like to keep moving north but the wind was forecasted to kick up to thirty knots and rain.  So for the last couple of days we’ve been aboard doing odd jobs, cooking, and reading, punctuated by blustery hikes around the island and kiteboarding sessions in horrid, squally conditions just for the hell of it.  On the other side of Nanuya we found two standing shacks, one of which was a tea house.  A lady came down from an even smaller shack on the hill to open it up and make us lemon leaf tea and cakes.  Pretty darn cute.







After a couple days of wind and rain we’re ready to move on from the protection of the Blue Lagoon and keep venturing north!

Fakarava, Tuamotus

Author: Pete
Location: Fakarava, Tuamotus
Date: May 23 – June 2


Leaving in the early afternoon on the 22rd we ran a quick overnight passage to Fakarava from Makemo, about 70 miles to the south pass. We had low wind at first, but the wind picked up over the night and we were running 6 knots under the spinnaker by the morning of the 23rd. The pass in Fakarava was wide, deep, well marked, and low current. We plowed our way through exactly when the tide was supposed to be low, but still encountered 1 knot of outgoing current from the heavy swells breaking over the outer reef and filling the atoll with water. We followed the beacons in and skirted the long reef that runs far into the lagoon, something best done in the daylight as that part isn’t marked.




A good deal of boats were anchored in the protected bay, no doubt drawn by the idyllic beauty of the palm-laced atoll, the clear, good-holding sandy anchorage, and the great protection from the strong southeast winds predicted to hit the area in the following days. We nosed into the three meter shallows, exploiting one of the merits of sailing a catamaran, dropped anchor and floated our chain. We took an hour to make sure our anchor was dug in then took the dinghy for a drift snorkel in the pass.



In the evening as we were opening a coconut for drinks a dinghy came zipping up after seeing that we were from Charlevoix the Beautiful. Chris and Jess aboard the sailboat Namaste are Michiganders who grew up and now have a summer place in my home town. We chatted about home and they invited us to join them on a dive in the pass which we heartily agreed to.



The 23rd was our day to wind our kite skills back up. The wind was up, so we pulled out the kite gear, locked in the fins on the board, and motored over to a tiny islet surrounded by shallow sandbar to go kite boarding. We have aboard three kites, a 12, 9, and 7 meter, but only two lines and harnesses. We brought one board and Felix’s surfboard. We took turns dusting off our kite-handling skills in pairs, one riding, the spotters supporting in the dinghy. The sun was out in force and the wind was making a good show at 15 knots.






Zipping over gorgeous, iridescent waters was tenuous at times because the sandbars surround the islet were dotted with mailbox-sized coral bommies that would surely shred flesh from bone should a kite rider take a digger just upwind of one. Most were just under the surface and clearly visible, but shallow enough to ding your board on and spaced in clumps such that when one was avoided, it could be surmised with some certainty that several others would be waiting nearby. Fortunately the death cookies were clustered in certain predictable and avoidable areas. Sometimes the wind was just too good over there though, and you found yourself over in the coral patch despite common sense, goaded on by the boardshorts-wearing devil on one shoulder while the sunscreen-smeared angel dozed in a hammock on the other one.




The morning of the 24th Liza and I got up early to dive with Chris and Jess from Namaste. We only have two sets of gear and the dive sounded technical, so we planned to check it out first before dragging Miranda and Felix into the mess. The heavy swell, uncommon for the season, was wreaking havoc with the current apparently. Chris, acting as driver for the day, motored us out in the dinghy to a marker buoy out of the channel and we dove to 100 feet with Jess. We finned along for about fifteen minutes until we realized the current was not only weak, but about to switch and flow OUT into the open ocean. That’s bad. So we aborted the dive and Chris picked us up in the dinghy. It wasn’t a total waste of a day. We took the kites to the skies again, albeit with a few bladders being mended. We were down to the 7.5m Best Kahuna at some point.




The morning of the 25th we took another crack at the diving. Chris picked Liza and I up in the wee hours of the morning and zigzagged through he coral heads and sand shoals out to the pass. We anchored the dinghy, and checked our gear before rolling into the water. The visibility was good, and you could see the anchor at 30 feet as if it were at the nose of the boat. We made sure it was set then drifted with the light current back towards the lagoon. We slid down the gentle slopes until we ran into what is called the Wall of Sharks. In the distance hanging in almost motionless in the current were hundred, I shit you no, hundreds of sharks. Mainly Gray Sharks and Black Tipped Reef Sharks cruised up and down the pass, flying like sleek, dangerous fighter jets in the swift water. Greg, pictures coming soon should make up for not diving with the Hammerheads in Galapagos.






So naturally after unintentionally peeing in our wetsuits we settled down and made it though the first wave of the ghastly gliders. We thought we were out of the fun until we ran into another wall of them. They cruised by close at times if you held your breath enough. The bubbles scare them apparently. They scare me, so we’re even. Most were between 5 and 8 feet long, so not too big. At one point in the dive we did see a BIG white shadow slithering over the bottom. Turned out to be a Sickle Fin Lemon Shark huge. HUGE. Everything looks bigger underwater, granted, but this thing must have been 14 feet. It was walking through a forest filled with foxes, and coming across of Grizzly bear. All predators, but some more predatory than others. We gaped like we’d seen Brad Pitt, or maybe a really terrible car accident with seat belt shunning occupants. It was awesome.



We collected our jaws and Chris dropped us off at Tayrona. We made plans to take Miranda and Felix the following day, and made a little lunch. We spent some time after lunch going over theory and doing an easy checkout dive off the back of the boat to bring Miranda and Felix back into diving shape for the following day.





On the 26th we woke bright eyed and bushy tailed for another round of sharks. There were more sharks than before. Swarms of them. Walls of them. At some point there were flights of sharks behind me, between me and the rest of the group, and behind the group. We were truly and utterly surrounded, and the slinky beasts didn’t seem to even notice. They cruised by us, eyeing the bubbling monsters with their vertically slit, cold eyes. Foxes, I kept telling myself they were just foxes. It only helped somewhat.






Miranda and Felix, being somewhat new to diving, did a fantastic job in a fairly technical dive. We bottomed out at 85 feet and were under for about 45 minutes as the current whisked us through the pass and deposited us at a sandy beach in the lagoon.


Since then it’s been a couple of days at the same anchorage. Did another dive, more kiting, and a lot of hanging out. Life is good aboard Tayrona. Heading to Tahiti sometime in the next couple of days.