Sunday, July 26, 2009

Artist Aground- last post

There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort. ~Jane Austen

I can’t say I wish I’d stayed home these last ten months, but it is good to be back. Back among friends and back in my neighbourhood, the cozy, gossipy, crazy, infuriating, wonderful Protection Island. And great to find nothing much has changed: winter has come and gone, leaving a few casualties in my garden (my jasmine and my variegated fuchsia) and a new granddaughter to my good friend Frances. Oh, there have been the usual community feuds over various issues, which in the summer seem to mysteriously evaporate. And there have been the usual capers: the project to replace many island toilets with low flush models, which were barged over en masse and transported around the island with great ceremony in a poo-rade. Or the day one islander set a piano on Satellite Reef (while it was exposed briefly by one of the summer's lowest tides) in the middle of the harbour, for a performance and party.

I have been home for 10 days, enjoying day after day of classic Strait of Georgia summer, clean winds and clear skies. The wild grass in front of my house, which begins the summer brilliant green and lush, is golden and everything smells of dry fir needles and hot sap.

In my house, I wander from room to room, marvelling at all the space. I open and shut the refrigerator, amazed by the fresh food: three types of cheese, bags of arugula, bottles of chilling wine. I take long baths and help myself to clean towels. I sit in a chair on the porch watching the sunrise, or explore the corners of my garden, the overgrown forest at the back, the pond, the rhododendron dell. I putter in my studio, pulling out supplies and thumbing through art books. My home feels like a kingdom. And I feel rich.

Last night at 3am. Circadia completed her Pacific circle. Kim had promised to call me before he arrived at the dock here on the island, so I could be there to meet him. I slept through the phone ringing and didn’t wake until I heard someone having a long shower.

Circadia at the dock, Protection Island

He has captained the boat for over 10,000 nautical miles and will spend the next days having a well-deserved rest before he unpacks all his office boxes in the attic, brushes off his skull, and begins the process of re-opening his practice.

..the tired mariner.

I am already back in my studio most days, painting and preparing for the classes I will give in the next few months. And I am back at my desk, working on writing projects.

my studio

I will miss writing blog posts. Yes, this is my last one. As I have said before on this blog, your presence has meant a lot to me this year. You were my community and I often felt your interest and support on the slender thread of this journey over a wide ocean. I have learned a great deal from this year, some of which I already knew, but have been reminded of once again--that the fear which keeps us from doing the things we dream of is worth wrestling with (or at least ignoring). I wasn’t always as strong as I would have wished, as funny, or as brave, but I did it anyway, and it was a hell of a ride.

And thanks again for coming along with me!! Consider this an invitation to stop by my studio on Protection Island (23 Hispanola Place), check my website, or email me, if you have any questions or would like to be on my email list for shows and classes.

And so, Jane, I would say, perhaps there is nothing like staying home for comfort, but there is nothing like coming back after a long absence for appreciating it profoundly.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

s/v Circadia

Currently at 48 degrees, 06 minutes north, 132 degrees, 37 minutes west.

In retrospect our travel in the last several days has been concerned with the North Pacific High. A high pressure area has been developing in the area of 45 degrees north and 135 degrees west. On July 19 (at 44.33 N 141 W), after a few days of picking up the leavings of a weak low pressure system we were able to hoist the spinnaker heading due north in a southeast wind (starboard tack). During the next three days until 0430 this morning the wind gradually veered*, becoming southerly, then increasingly southwesterly. As a consequence we turned more east and by early this morning were actually having to sail a bit southeast to keep the sails full. What was happening is that we were sailing around the developing high and the winds we experienced were spinning out of it.

The high is developing into a ridge that extends from here to northern Vancouver Island and it is fusing with the main high to the south. At 0430 we jibed and are now heading a bit east of north, magnetic 15 degrees is our course. We hope that the wind continues to veer and will fuse with the northwesterlies that come down the BC coast. If so, we should find our course gradually coming more easterly so that we line up with the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

At 0430 it was broad daylight and I realized we were a bit late with our time zone changing.

The GRIB files suggest that this developing high will snuff those nice westerlies you are having on Friday/Saturday, and perhaps the last part of our voyage will be diesel powered.

*Veer, a verb, according to the OED means to let off a sheet, turn downwind, or for the wind to blow from more behind. It comes from an old french root. However it is used by modern sailors to describe when wind changes in a clockwise direction (looking at the planet) as opposed to "backing" when the wind is changing anti-clockwise, and somehow the OED people haven't picked this up tsk, tsk.

From a natural history point of view we were visited by a large herd of dolphins in the night, giving a great phosphorescent show. It appears they were staging under the hull and then springing forward in synchronized groups of 8 to 12 swimming abreast. This went on for at least half and hour and then I think they triggered the shallow depth alarm by sitting under the depth sounder, alarming the sleepers. By the time the kerfluffle was settled they were gone.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

s/v Circadia

... we have been sailing due east along 47 degrees and 10 minutes north with 10 to 13 knot southwesterly winds and the red spinnaker. We can't make a more northerly course because of the wind angle. It was sunny this morning, now a kind of bright overcast. You get the idea--it just thick enough to obscure the sun, no thicker. It is a bit sleepy but we are steadily counting down meridians every 45 miles, currently the 136th one. We are interested to see what happens when we encounter this so called high pressure ridge at about 134 West - naively hoping very little, we'll just keep sailing.

We just saw the first freighter on the AIS that is heading for Vancouver. I was dozing in the forepeak a few hours ago and Michael saw an animal that probably was a fur seal based on his description. It had prominent flippers, a whiskery face and relatively light colour. The field guide says that this is breeding season but not all animals breed; so perhaps this animal was unlucky in love and just decided to stay at sea with the mackerel and anchovies and squid, nursing its woes.

Another sign that we are finally getting to the Pacific Northwest is that the closest Sailmail Station is Friday Harbour; I've said good bye to the incredibly efficient Honolulu station.

I don't know about the John Banville book - it could be characterized as that of a complaining Irishman or alternately as a book by a man whose wife has just died, neither really light reads, however I am trying to think of it as a coming of age type of story to keep my spirits up. And it is beautifully written. It occurs to my that the travel book by the dutch fellow must be somewhere aboard; I will be reviewing the bookshelves again.

Hinge fell off head door. A Joycean phrase. Fortunately that is the only boat related problem that developed today; everything seems fine otherwise.

Well, that is all the news from Circadia.

Au revoir, love Kim

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

s/v Circadia

We have 644 miles to Cape Flattery, that is about 750 to Nanaimo. Things are going pretty well. There is a high centred at 45 N and 135 W. Though the GRIBs do not show this there has been southeast wind flowing from the high to our position west of it. My theory is that the high is emptying into a low pressure system that was supposed to have arrived today but never did. These things do not show up on the Gribs. Practically we have been moving well north and bit east with these southeasters, using the red spinnaker. Just now at noon the wind is easing some but we plan to continue northeast from our current position at 46.34 N / 140.30 W and turn towards Juan de Fuca at about 47.5. There is a chance that the wind will just carry us around the high and we won't have to do much. There is then a low pressure system which should arrive sometime Tuesday with southwesterlies that should push us along. Capiche?

It does feel like there are more birds now than there were. We passed a zone with several albatross sitting on the sea, a fishy smell and then caught a tuna whose stomach was full of squid. We passed another similar scene this morning but didn't have a hook down. The water temperature is 13.5, about what you get off Willows Beach. Lots of petrels, some shearwaters. I have to say that I have given up trying to speciate them.


Monday, July 20, 2009

s/v Circadia

Things are pretty much how you would imagine out here. There is disappointing news about the wind. A high pressure ridge is developing between us and the coast. (we are at 44 north, 141 west). This is a zone of no wind and it also has the effect of filling and deflating the low pressure that was supposed to overwhelm us today with southwesterlies. So, we're droning along headed due north at 1300 rpm going between 2.5 and 4.5 knots depending on what zephyrs we can use for extra speed. We're down to about 15 gallons of fuel and there is a very real possibility that we will spend some days rocking back and forth with slatting sails waiting for the high pressure to disappear. Alternately we may be able to get around the top of the high which is at 48 or 50 degrees, if we ever run into actual wind so we can sail up there. One would say that I am being spanked by Aeolius for daring to calculate our arrival date when still 800 miles offshore.

It is Sunday morning. I have had my coffee and some cold pancakes spruced up with some honey from bees that frequented only madadamia nut flowers. It is overcast and I am sitting in the cockpit on green cushions wearing a toque, my reading glasses, a Loreto t shirt, my variegated blue merino shirt, my grey sturgeon sweater, my snazzy oregon research wind jacket, long underwear, shorts and my Musto Offshore pants, wool socks and deck shoes. I've moved to non-fiction in the form of the Blank Slate by Stephen Pinker. Only bird today = Laysan Albatross.

St Matthews Passion last Sunday, I think it will Mozart's Grand Mass today.

My life in a nutshell

A bientot, Love Kim

Addendum: Now sailing with red spinnaker, feeling good. I have realized that when I smile my canine tooth jabs my lip right into the wound. The Mass was excellent. Only Mozart would have a sexy soprano singing the Credo. Saw another flock of jaegers, several Laysan sitting on the sea. Michael caught a little tuna, sprucing up dinner.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

s/v Circadia

41 degrees N, 142.5 degrees north and 142 degrees west.46 W
July 17
Last evening we had 13 jaegers milling about the vessel. They were likely Pomarine jaegers, though as I read about them I realized identification can be difficult. We seem to be visited by birds at sunrise and sunset. This morning when I awoke we were sailing, then we had pancakes. One of my favorite times on the boat is when the other two crew members are asleep and I am alone in the cockpit. Such was the case this morning and I was reading your book. Then the wind lessened and I had to hand steer to nurse her along; now the wind is 5 to 6 knots and the motor and autopilot aredoing the work. We are pointed at Juan de Fuca 894 miles away but there is a little high pressure between here and there that should be swept away by a little low pressure system on Sunday. So, I think we will have fluky winds till then, and hopefully will really crack on after that. There is a current of half a knot at least pushing us, so our daily runs seem good even on a wimpy day like today.

July 18:
We had another flock of birds around the boat last p.m. but they were ruddy turnstones (15) rather than jaegers. I think the jaegers were parastic not pomarine. We are seeing Blackfooted Albatross several times a day and today saw our first Laysan. Lots of vallela (is that how you spell the sailing jellies?)
It is getting cold here - the water is 16 degrees C.

We are at 800 miles to Flattery. Yesterday's run 88 miles. Ugh. There have been light north easterlies !%&!### for the last 24 hours and we have spent much of that time tacking towards home motorsailing at 3 to 4 knots. Ugh. Hopefully a southwester associated with a low tonite or tomorrow, but still no reliable sign of it in the sky and the barometer remains high. Solar panels both shorted out at the deck, haven't fixed them yet as we are motoring so much we have lots of power. Fridge is off.
Tonite the crew will get their first hash experience and there's been a lot of talk about it already.

Love Kim

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

from s/v Circadia

Morning: We are at 37 degrees, 49 minutes north and 151 degrees 53 minutes west at 11 a.m. The wind has come around to westerly but is as yet only 7 knots so we continue to motor sail. Within the next 100 miles we should come into sailable wind. I got a reassuring email from Kevin (*our navigator friend, who is expert at Pacific weather) that they may not have to bury our desiccated bones after we expire floating gently around in the North Pacific High. The sea temperature is now 21 degrees and it is fairly cold at night so a person wears long underwear, trousers and rainpants just to stay warm on watch. Last fresh food is disappearing - it was Pork Chops, mashed potatoes and caramelized carrots last night.

Afternoon: Now broad reaching at 7 knots with engine off in 12 to 14 knots of wind. Wind will likely come ahead of the beam within the next 24 hours. The hydrovane doesn't keep up with this situation like it did upwind so we are using the electric pilot. Neither crew is interested in steering and there is no sun. I think the fridge is going to have to go. It is 1400 miles to Victoria.

Monday, July 13, 2009

from s/v Circadia

Today we're at 32 degrees 52 minutes north and 155 degrees 7 minutes west at 2 p.m. What a difference a day makes. We had a beautiful sail gradually becoming a broad reach until the wind expired at 2:30 a.m. and we began to motor sail. We still have 2 to 6 knots of wind aft of the beam. We have run into a lobe of the high that looks like it may be several hundred miles wide. The sky is blue - it is hot - the water is rippled with some swell- we have seen one sooty shearwater tody - I have seen some flotsam including what looked like a soggy loaf of bread. I have chosen to cross this patch mainly to the north at a heading of 005 magnetic rather than head to Flattery at magnetic 044 because it looks like there is no wind for most of the way in that direction which still is over 1600 miles away. The passage looked fast up until now.

I just now have finished Lolita a dynamite novel. Beautiful writing leaps out intertwined with plot, and other references, so that it is hard to make a simple quote to illustrate.

You would recognize the dietary things that are going on. We've got leftovers of the previously frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts but otherwise they are gone. We are looking forward to the lean rib eye steaks and the potential of tuna in the next few days. Various items do not seem to be present in the stores; I am sure I didn't purchase some of them but others may be lurking under something at the bottom of a locker that I haven't quite emptied.

Usual boat maintenance issues: had to replace the furling line again, solar panel electric connections are intermittent, a sail slide needs replacing. I'm really enjoying my weekend and hope you are too.

Really miss you

Love Kim

Friday, July 10, 2009

Further Travels of Circadia

I am in Vancouver now and Kim is sailing the boat back from Hilo. He and his crew, Michael and Line left Hawaii five days ago. Here's what Kim wrote today:
Today we passed 31 degrees. We are going more than 150 miles a day, approaching the high--the pressure was up to 1023 this morning. The winds have lessened and the seas are quite pleasant now. We took out the last reef and are beam reaching slightly east of north in 12 to 14 knots, predicted to lessen in strength gradually over the next few days on the grib files. We'll see. It is still hot in the cabin during the day and we can't yet open any windows.
I have managed to snare the evening to 2 a.m. watch for myself so far. I usually make dinner and then Line washes the dishes in an attempt to allow my hands to heal up. She has this product called NuSkin which is kind of a liquid crazy glue that forms a membrane over the wound. Then I send the emails and get the gribs. As it gets dusky, (last night at 8 p.m.) I put on my cute red suit with rainboots and collapse into the supine position on the downhill side of the cockpit with a glass of whiskey. Last night I had chocolate too. I put the AIS and Sea Me on and frankly often drowse intermittently through the whole watch. Some nights I am alerted by squalls or horrors, the need to reduce sail, but last night the wind was steady all night, the moon was just past full and it was very enjoyable. Scorpio is the prominent constellation to the south; Sagittarius right behind. I haven't seen the Southern Cross since Hawaii but then last night was the first night I might have seen it. Cassiopeia is high in the sky at sunset. I haven't seen Orion's Girdle yet. We charge at about 6 when I wake up from my real sleep and then the whole cycle of coffee, granola, grazing, reading, little boat jobs begins again.
I did see one masked booby yesterday. Today the big sighting was a large whale, heading north, repeatedly surfacing to blow and then moving underwater as if it were travelling. It had a fairly blunt head and a small dorsal fin. I didn't see any of those granulations one sees on the head of a humpback and I like to think it was a solo male Sperm Whale heading back up to the Bering sea to feed after performing his mating duties in the tropics. However it was too windy to see the direction of the spume and I really couldn't call it for sure.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Back in the Flow

Since we left San Diego in December we have been leading more or less a news free life. In Mexico the news just didn't seem to matter. And in French Polynesia, the void was widened by the language barrier. When we found an internet connection I would sometimes remember to check in on a Canadian or world news site--sometimes. I usually find that you think a lot is happening while you are away, and in fact nothing much changes.
But the first thing we heard on arriving in Hawaii was that Michael Jackson had died. And so we were ushered back not only into the news but the celebrity obsession of our culture.
Hawaii does it's best though, to put things in geological perspective. Unlike the islands we have been sailing through, heavily eroded (the Marquesas and Society Islands) and completely ground down (Tuamotus) volcanic islands, the Hawaiian chain is still being created and the big Island is the newest. In the last two years Kilauea peak has been especially active, a new crater appearing in the larger crater. As you approach it there are signs warning of unusually high sulphur dioxide emissions and stating that part of the circle road and all of the trails inside the caldera are closed. At night the visitor centre is crowded with people, shivering in the misty rain that always seems to be falling on this wet side of the island. They strain to see the red glow of the lava which rises and falls on its own mysterious tides within this new caldera. (In the day all you can see is an industrial plume of sulphuric steam). Meanwhile fresh lava pours into the sea to the east, enough every day to pave a double lane highway all the way around the island.

the new caldera

Yesterday we walked along one of the trails which goes through the high wet forest, under giant ferns and strange flowering trees, trying to find some of the surviving endemic birds. They tend to be brightly coloured, red or yellow, with curved beaks, adapted to feed on the tubular flowers of some of the plants which evolved here. Many birds once here are extinct and many are hard to find. But we did see some beautiful red male Apapanes.

Apapane (from

When people here get tired of the rain they drive to the other side, the dry, Kona coast. Which is what we did last week, for a few days to get off the boat and check into a hotel (clean linen, stacks of towels, a king-sized bed, those white bathrobes...!). And a few last days of tropical sun and water.

Koi pond, Kona hotel

young Black-crowned Night Heron, fishing in the koi pond

The resorts of Kona are startling, almost unbelievable feats of overly-green grass and fluorescent gardens, surrounded by miles and miles of barren black lava fields, the heat rising off them in oppressive waves. And yet, even here there is a kind of cultivation. People throw chunks of white coral collected from the beach into the trunks of their cars and drive them to the lava fields, carefully line up the wave smoothed coral on the ancient re-forged stone in brief devotions of the human heart: "I love you Matt" or "Happy Birthday Grandpa Dave".

Other than these excursions our time in Hawaii has been busy with catching up on emails and taking care of the details of the lives at home, which we'll be resuming soon. My computer crashed. Apparently it didn't enjoy it's year of sailing. So I have been pre-occupied with restoring files. And of course, there are the boat jobs. In general Circadia has proved to be a tough little boat. We had a sail tear, but no other major repairs, just the usual maintenance. And at the moment she is almost ready to set sail again, for the last leg of this journey. And now it's time to fess up. I will not be onboard for the sail home. I am flying to Vancouver tomorrow, to attend a writing course at UBC. Two new crew members are flying in to help Kim on the passage, one of whom is Michael, who kindly posted my offshore blog entries. I plan to continue postings on the progress of Circadia across the North Pacific, via sailmails from Kim.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

On the Same Ocean

I want to share a comment Maureen Gordon left after one of my recent posts. Maureen and her husband Kevin own Maple Leaf Adventures, an ecotour company which runs trips in BC and Alaska, under sail, on the historic schooner Maple Leaf. I have worked as a resource person onboard each summer for many years and as a result have had the chance to see some of the most beautiful spots on the Pacific Northwest Coast.
My recent travels have been spectacular but I can say (with authority now) that our own coast and islands are equally dazzling.  


Around about the time you were writing this, heading north on Circadia, Kevin, Paul, Lila and I were heading north on Maple Leaf.

And at some point, I thought of you two briefly, about where you were and whether you would come home at all!

    It was 5 a.m. Alaska time when you wrote this post, and I was trying to ignore our alarm clock. Unlike you and Kim in your ocean-going boat, free of land in the blue, blue sea, we were creatures of the coast, dropping anchor at night, travelling by daylight.

We were on a crew-only transit from Sandspit to Sitka.
     While you were bucking those tremendous squalls in the south Pacific and thinking of the Queen Charlotte Islands, we were in the North Pacific, moving away from the Charlottes, bucking waves and a building wind in Hecate Strait. Sunshine, though, no clouds. 

At one point, the day we headed northeast toward the mainland, you could have shot a straight line from your boat to ours and not hit a single island in between.

 Since you know the area, I'll tell you what we were doing. 
We'd dropped anchor 7 hours before you wrote. We'd tucked into a bay filled with rocks, just out of the huge copper mirror that Clarence Strait had become in the Alaskan sunset. That sunset seemed to fade not to black but ever pinker, while we stood and watched a humpback whale, no doubt incoming from Hawaii, slowly breathe and sound, swimming the path up the channel we'd abandoned for the night. The whale was more like you than us, travelling on without the need to put out a chain and rest. 

The sunset stayed through hanging the anchor light, opening a bottle of shiraz and sharing 2/3 of it. It was hard to stop looking at the sea. I realized that since we'd rounded Cape St. James on June 2, we'd been heading northwest into a brilliant sunset every night. I noted this because we were always out on deck taking pictures of the bow in the sunset.

We slept and had to wake early.

Within three-quarters of an hour of you writing, the anchor light was away, the coffee, tea and GreensPlus Energy drink were brewed (three people, three different stimulants!). We were following that humpback north for another long, long June day, crawling ever farther up the chart of southeast Alaska, still two days away from our own turning point (Sitka).

It's frightening and comforting to think about us both on the same ocean, so very far from one another but doing a similar thing ... so far away that if this technology didn't exist we'd never have an inkling of the others' existence right now.

That day was epic, a calm run and chores in the morning. Then a brief opening to the Pacific, that allowed some sea otters and us to share a brief inspection of each other. Then into Rocky Pass between Kupreanof and Kuiu Islands, where Kevin and Paul turned Maple Leaf about 120 times in 90 minutes. We traversed The Devil's Elbow at exactly high slack. The pass was so shallow it felt like we should be kayaking. 

(A moose and her calf on shore, another sea otter in the water and a great big black bear ... and no ability to stop and watch.) 

Then onward, out past Kake into Frederick Sound. I was at the helm and looking for humpback whales as the wind increased to 15 or 20 knots over an ebbing tide. 

After five minutes of constantly having to re-find a whale's splash in the growing whitecaps, punctuated by closing hatches and staring into the sun for logs and debris, I decided I was trying way too hard to whale watch. 
    We spent 90 minutes in the exciting sea hanging out in the wheelhouse as waves hit the hull from the port side and sprayed over a deck ... foredeck, well deck, aft deck, wherever the wave happened to hit. 

Great mats of rockweed, the size of a livingroom floor, were sloshing around Frederick Sound and once when a wave sprayed against the bow it broke not only into water drops but also flying bits of rockweed.

Then we were across and surfing downwind, up Chatham Strait, into Warm Springs Bay for the night.
Love, Maureen 

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Emerald City


We arrived in Hilo a couple of nights ago, after 18 days of sailing, from Papeete, Tahiti.  The wind and rough seas we had so much of on this crossing continued for those last 500 miles. We were very excited to glimpse the Big Island and scanned the sea all our last day. We figured we couldn't miss it, since it is topped by a 4200 m. peak. It is an amazing feeling to sight an oceanic island, after days and days of seeing nothing but sea and sky. It seems like a miracle that it's there at all and equally unlikely that we could find it. I can't imagine how the Marquesans, who are believed to have first colonized Hawaii (only about 13oo years ago) did it.  It seemed sufficiently epic in a strong sailboat, with high tech sails, electronic navigation, a tank of fuel, holds full of water and food. 
Anyway, we never did see the island, there was so much cloud, but as night fell we could see the bright white light off the east cape and eventually the orange glitter of the lights of Hilo.  As we turned into the harbour a land wind blew into our faces. Suddenly I had a dog's sense of smell. There were cloves and compost and gardenias and the inside of cigar boxes. We finally dropped our anchor after midnight. Since then we have been in that enhanced state of enjoyment you only get after tough expeditions, when simple things are exquisite: a hot shower, clean clothes and bedding, a meal that is cooked, delivered, and cleaned up by pleasant strangers.  It has rained mostly since our arrival (not surprising, since Hilo is on the rainy side of the island) but we don't care.  The city is lush and feels more real than many Hawaiian towns; there are lots of bookstores and indie film theatres, and dim shops full of second hand Hawaiian shirts and retro knick knacks. Now, off to find a Kona latte, no maybe a chocolate macadamia nut ice cream cone, or a pair of new flip flops...

Our most excellent crew:



Friday, June 19, 2009

from s/v Circadia

Thursday June 18, 2009
12 degrees, 51 minutes N, 148 degrees, 16 minutes W

Three days of sailing to windward in 17-20 knots. Waves come up over the bow, rush back over the side decks, or appear like invisible critics on the sidelines tossing buckets of water at you, drenching you while you are innocently standing at the wheel. It's as if the utopia of our little boat has been taken over gradually by a tyrant. At first you object strongly but gradually you come to accept the situation and try to eke what joy you can out of life, a little reading, a little star gazing, the odd piece of chocolate.
But meanwhile it takes a lot of energy to do simple things, having to hold on to avoid being thrown across the boat. Fortunately the galley is downwind so things don't come flying off the counters and out of the cupboards when you're cooking, but the head is upwind, which requires agility.
It is not easy to accept that nature is above all indifferent to the beauty and the obstacles it throws at us. It just doesn't care that there are earnest environmentalists here, trying hard not to lose any plastic overboard, or burn too much fuel, simply wanting to make their way, without bothering anyone, to safe port.
The good thing is that we have been sailing steadily at an average of about 150 miles a day and at the moment are just over 500 miles from Hawaii, a few more days of sailing away. We are already noticing the change in ocean regime; the water temperature is 2 degrees colder than Tahiti. Last night we wore sweaters for the first time since leaving Mexico. Soon we will see the first signs of land: contrails, fishing floats, maybe a big 'ol American warship.
Meanwhile, today the winds are lighter and coming from behind the beam. The boat flattens out and we can finally clean up and cook a good meal. Our thoughts turn to the end of the journey, the restaurants, the laundromats, the hot shower and internet again. There are always a lot of unanswered questions on these trips. This time I will be curious to see what I can find out when I get in about the dorado, who always seem to travel in pairs, each taking a lure, port and starboard, as if in some mutual suicide pact; also, the meteor shower which seems to be falling from the northern sky the last few nights.
I hope you are all able to find a find a dark field to walk through in your bare feet, to watch a few falling stars on the solstice.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

from s/v Circadia

Monday, June 15, 2009
5 degrees 50 minutes N., 144 degrees, 59 minutes W.

For the first time since I began this blog I find myself at a loss for words. There is a monotony to this environment that is difficult to describe. I can’t even imagine a comparable experience, except maybe travelling slowly through a great desert. It tranquilizes the mind, until you find yourself spending more and more time thinking about less and less. Which doesn’t make for great copy. I could say we’ve successfully crossed the equator and are gradually sailing up through the northern latitudes one by one. I guess I could tell you what we ate for dinner last night (a fresh Dorado, or mahi mahi, which Farlyn caught on one of her new lures) and that dorado are beautiful—golden yellow, with a bright blue fin like a sail; that we poached it in coconut milk, lime and ginger, and it was delicious. I could report that yesterday was Kim and my 23rd anniversary, but that brings me to that how-did-the-time-pass-so-quickly thing, which is clichÈ, but maybe, after all useful to contemplate in the light of what feels like an endless crossing—in retrospect it will feel so very short. Which reminds me to savour the experience, which is, most of all, one of time and placeless-ness.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

from s/v Circadia

There’s an Oz like quality to this experience. You set off on a journey with your odd companions (and what you hope is enough brains, heart, and courage). There’s no telling what exactly the dream will throw at you next: flying monkeys, poppy fields, headwinds, squalls, doldrums...All you know is you have to get to the Emerald City—Hilo.
We are slowly approaching the equator, counting down the degrees of latitude from the south. I am used to the phenomenon of being a tiny speck in an empty ocean. But once in awhile I have a vertiginous feeling—as you might if you hike all day, looking at the trail, then stop and look up and realize you have climbed to the edge of a 3000 foot drop off.

Many things about this crossing are similar to our crossing from Mexico to the Marquesas:
-The watches which deconstruct day and night, and the forced idleness in-between which gives simple things like flossing executive importance.
-The big screen sky. The other night we saw a lunar rainbow, silvery grey, like suspended graphite powder. In the morning, just before the full moon sets, its shadows are pale blue and it looks transparent, a very thin cross section of the moon pinned against the sky.
-The visitations from other living things: flying fish (this morning we found one which had flown in the galley window) seabirds, and last night, a pod of dolphins. I like to crouch at the bow and try to hear them come up for their greedy gulps of air; it is comforting to hear something else breathing way out here.

But this crossing is different in many ways. We are sailing into the wind and towards the sun, pointing at the Big Dipper rather than the Southern Cross. Any day now we will see the pole star and slowly the familiar northern constellations will appear. Our mind set is different, because we are sailing home.
And you know what Dorothy said.

Monday, June 8, 2009

from s/v Circadia

Sunday, June 7, 2009, 1:15 am
12degrees 4 minutes S; 147 degrees, 45 minutes W

The Gimbaled Life
We left Moorea three days ago, sailing into light winds. We are expecting to sail to windward on this leg, especially towards the equator, which we must cross to the east so that we can have the right sail angle in the NE trades to Hawaii.
The winds and seas built quickly and for the last two days we have been sailing upwind in 15-20 knots, a tough start to this long crossing: sea sickness, heeling boat, the effort required to do ordinary things like prepare food, brush your teeth, change into dry clothes.
Living on the boat becomes like living in the intertidal: water comes in any open hatches, or down into the cabin with us, dripping from our rain gear. Everything is slippery. Skin becomes clammy with salt and hair feels like the wall-to-wall carpet in an apartment I had once in the 80’s.
Last night and all morning we passed through a vast area of vicious squalls, one lined up after another, some with winds of 30 knots, all with driving rain. At one point the sea and sky was so grey and stormy in every direction it felt like sailing off the coast of the Queen Charlotte Islands. The last squall was a huge dark mass, like a black hole, that seemed to suck everything in towards itself: light, water, wind. We shot out the other side, as if out the last gate of hell, into the blue.
Now we are sailing gently on easy waters, under a full moon. And, as if the gods noticed we deserved a break, the wind is westerly, so that we can make some precious easting.
Once again I think of our gimbaled stove, that simple but essential concept of swinging level no matter how thrown off balance, and how difficult it is to achieve. It’s important to remember the third law of sailingdynamics (see post, April 11): THINGS CHANGE.
On these night watches I think of what people I love are doing. My computer is still set on west coast time, where it is early morning. Maybe my friends on Protection Island are already up, having a cup of coffee, wandering through their gardens to see what’s in bloom and what the deer have eaten.
In Victoria, my son will be waking, planning his Sunday. My daughter will have just arrived on Baffin Island for her summer job. It will be, I think, around 9 in the morning. She will not have seen darkness at all tonight.

It has been strange to spend a year in perpetual summer. ClichÈ perhaps but the northern summers are so much sweeter, being hard won—like this perfect night of moonlit sailing.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Na Na French Polynesia

Common Myna

Our time here is coming to an end. We are watching the weather now, waiting for the right winds to set sail north to Hawaii, another three week crossing.

On the island of Moorea, beyond the dark smudges of coral heads, the deeper water is the kind of blue that travels down the optic nerve and goes straight to some centre of longing; the kind of blue you dream of in the middle of winter.

 Sitting on the beach the other day I leaned against a palm, trying to memorize that blue, enjoying a medley of bird song above me, until I realized that, in fact I was hearing only one bird—the Common Myna.

The Common Myna belongs to a group of birds that are among the most accomplished mimics in the world. The Indian hill mynas are virtuosos at imitating the human voice.  Human and myna sonograms of a phrase like hi there Charlie, look almost exactly the same, though the bird’s vocal tract is nothing like ours.

 I read once in a book on human speech that bird song has more in common with human language than any sounds made by our ape relatives.* Birds are born with the ability to make calls, which keep the flock in touch or signal danger. Human babies are also born with innate calls, two in fact, distinguishable world-wide, one a cry of pain, the other of hunger. Later, like birds, humans learn other sounds: meaningless as single units, but eloquent in sequence.  Rich in variation and dialects we layer them, like bird song, over our innate sounds. We share this “double articulation’ with birds, as well as the fact that the entire unlikely enterprise is controlled by the left side of the brain. 

I brought  one bird book from home: A Field Guide to the Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific—an especially good reference on the seabirds, like petrels, shearwaters, and terns…But like all oceanic islands, the islands we have been sailing through have a small but specialized collection of land birds.

The only guide I could find for the land birds was Oiseaux du Fenua – Tahiti et Ses Iles. I can usually figure it out, Aire de Repartition, might sound like a new perfume by Givenchy, but it actually means distribution.  Regime Alimentaire is not a program at a health spa, but diet, and nidification, not a painful aesthetic procedure, but nesting.  Unfortunately it is too easy to translate most of the Statut entries, species after species disappearing—because of introduced birds, rats, dogs, cats, development—holding out on uninhabited islands. 

I would rather have seen the Tahiti reed-warbler in the coconut I was leaning on at the beach, but why not admire the myna?  It is what birder friends of mine might call a trash bird, an introduced species, which (like most introduced species) out competes the native birds, tossing them out of house and home and just generally ruining the neighbourhood. But the myna can’t help it that he’s here. Or that he is so much better at everything, including singing, than the natives. And after all I’d like to be a better mimic. I’ve been working on Spanish for twenty years and still talk pretty much like I’m in fourth grade.  When I try to speak French I usually come up with a Spanish word or some incomprehensible hybrid.

And then there’s Tahitian. Tahitian belongs to a group of Polynesian languages that includes Maori and Hawaiian.  Spoken, it is a soft stream of short syllables, rich with vowels. In fact the vowels are pronounced just like Spanish, but the similarity ends there. Hello is or ana.  Goodbye is na na.

*The Seeds 0f Speech, Jean Achison 

It's Farlyn and Tavish's  20th birthday today!  A happy and sad day, as we say na na to Tavish, who's hitching a ride further west (on a South African boat)--he should arrive in Australia in early August.  We'll miss him! 

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sunday Market Papeete

We are in Papeete, Tahiti's main city, actually the biggest city in French Polynesia, and the first one we've been in since leaving Cabo over two months ago. We had a beautiful sail from Apataki in the Tuamotus, leaving at night, as we had been invited to local's home for dinner, and arriving about 36 hours later. This is more or less the farthest point south we will travel --we are 4230 nautical miles from Nanaimo. 
Papeete is a very busy port and we are tied up at the quay in the middle of the action, rocking with every ferry and freighter wake. But there are advantages, for instance we are ten minutes away from the market, which is especially busy on Sundays.                    

I'm always eager to find the fish stands--it's a great chance to see what the local species are; the Sunday market gets fish in from all the islands. Not surprisingly many of them we'd seen snorkelling and diving.  This display reminded me of a poem by the American poet Mark Doty

 A Display of Mackeral

They lie in parallel rows,

on ice, head to tail,

each a foot of luminosity

barred with black bands,

which divide the scales'

radiant sections


like seams of lead

in a Tiffany window.

Iridescent, watery


prismatics: think abalone,

the wildly rainbowed

mirror of a soap-bubble sphere,


think sun on gasoline.

Splendor, and splendor,

and not a one in any way


distinguished from the other

--nothing about them

of individuality. Instead


they're all exact expressions

of the one soul,

each a perfect fulfillment


of heaven's template,

mackerel essence. As if,

after a lifetime arriving


at this enameling, the jeweler's

made uncountable examples

each as intricate


in its oily fabulation

as the one before;

a cosmos of champleve.


Suppose we could iridesce,

like these, and lose ourselves

entirely in the universe


of shimmer--would you want

to be yourself only,

unduplicatable, doomed


to be lost? They'd prefer,

plainly, to be flashing participants,

multitudinous. Even on ice


they seem to be bolting

forward, heedless of stasis.

They don't care they're dead


and nearly frozen,

just as, presumably,

they didn't care that they were living:


all, all for all,

the rainbowed school

and its acres of brilliant classrooms,


in which no verb is singular,

or every one is. How happy they seem,

even on ice, to be together, selfless,


which is the price of gleaming.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Images from the Tuamotu Islands

Great Crested Tern

Diving, Manihi Atoll


Apataki Atoll


Pearl Farm dock, Apataki


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

From s/v Circadia

If God was a slacker, or believed in working smart not hard, the world would be like the Tuamotu Archipelago.
A coral atoll is an ecology starter set: slide a tectonic plate over a tropical oceanic hot spot, throw rain at the resulting island for a few hundred million years until there's nothing left but the surrounding coral reef. Let the coral build on itself, creating a protected inland sea, where life flourishes and washes up on the shore, making land on which a few species of plants can get a toehold; watch the plants drop pieces of themselves, grow and die, making more soil. Throw in a couple of species of land crabs that scuttle around in the undergrowth, digging burrows. Wing over some birds, which evolve into few species of fruit dove, a blue lorikeet, and a Darwin's finch-like collection of drab but eloquent reed-warblers and you have the perfect world:
gentle beaches, shallows filled with brilliant fish, and a forest where you can harvest heart of palm and coconuts. If you grow tired of fish you can eat the crabs, which taste like coconut fed lobster. (We haven't had crab yet, but Tavish and Farlyn collected heart of palm and hand extracted coconut cream from fresh coconuts the other day).

We are on the island of Apataki. We shot through the northern pass three days ago and have been sailing its inland shore-kind of unnerving, as great heads of coral turn up randomly, in twenty feet of water, in fifty feet of water, a mile out
They are like reefs back home except with knife edged serrations which, sailing along slowly at 5 or 6 knots, can open a hull. Tavish climbs up onto the first set of spreaders on these passages, scanning the water ahead of us constantly.
Apataki is eight miles wide and fifteen miles long. At times the ring of land dwindles to open reef and white sand bars which barely hold back the outer ocean, a line of white surf suspended above the radiant blue of the inner shallows. At other times the far shore disappears and it seems we are sailing to the edge of an infinity pool.

Most of the island is uninhabited. But last night we went out to dinner. We anchored in a bay where boaters can go to shore and have dinner (not coconut crabs or heart of palm, but steak frites) prepared by a local family. The main livelihood of the family is cultivating pearls, an industry which sustains much of the Tuomotus though it is has its ups and downs. A handful of black pearls is irresistible-they are cool and dense and have the dark iridescence of gasoline: purple, green, blue, copper. Most get shipped to Tahiti then on to the international pearl market in China. Two tiny ones will be coming home with me.
Tomorrow we will stop to provision in the local village before leaving the atoll for the open passage to Tahiti. Should be a couple of days sail to Papeete. Talk to you then

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Inner LIfe

Town on Nuku Hiva

Patuatu, Anaho Bay, Nuku Hiva

Once, years ago at a dinner party I asked a friend of ours, an international racing sail navigator, what he thought about during all those hours at sea. I don’t know what I expected, maybe not ;the meaning of life” exactly, but at least something slightly lyrical.
“How to make the boat go faster,” he answered without hesitation or elaboration.

If you read this blog, you already know some of the things I think about. I spend very little time thinking about how to make the boat go faster; I spend some time thinking shockingly shallow thoughts. For instance—after almost a year of no shopping—what I’ll buy when I get home. If you only have a few clothes you wear day in and day out, they wear out fast. I know for sure that I’ll throw away all my underwear and buy a whole new set. And I’ll treat myself to a new pair of running shoes to coax me to begin running again.

I thought it would be interesting to canvas the crew to find out what they find themselves thinking about on watch.
How to make the boat go faster; boat systems (this week, the electrical system preoccupies), our byzantine financial affairs, our next boat (this week it’s a large fast trimaran—NB. this last theme is more like a lottery fantasy, because of the sobering previous topic).
Farlyn: thinks often of summer back home, the weather here lulls you into the sense that it is summer everywhere. She thinks about the vegetable garden in full production, what’s been planted, what’s being harvested. The bonus is that it will all just be starting when she gets home in June.
Tavish: often thinks of the boat, as if in a movie shot, an aerial—kind of the visual expression of the Sailing Ideal—the sails filled, the hull racing along through an exotic sea, life reduced to the simplicity of wind and ingenuity. Oh, and he thinks of food—what there is to eat or how he can use our odd and spare supplies to prepare something novel (ie. fried bananas with lime, on fish).

We all spend a lot of time reading. Here’s our recent book lists:

Alison: Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
The Turning, Tim Winton
The Bounty, Caroline Alexander
At Night in Chile, Roberto Balaño
Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
Still Life With a Bridle, Essays and Apocryphas, Zbigniew Herbert
Late Nights on Air, Elizabeth Hay
All Our Wonder Unavenged—poems, Don Domanski

Kim: Mind in the Cave, David Lewis Williams
Ulysses (or so he claims…), James Joyce
The Happy Isles of Oceania, Paul Theroux
Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy
King, Queen, Knave, Vladimir Nabakov,
Mariner’s Weather
The Adapted Mind – Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture, J. Barkow

Tavish: The Alchemist, Paul Coelho
A Soldier of the Great War, Mark Helprin
No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy
The Turning
Oryx and Crake
Probably More Than Everything you Wanted to Know About the Fishes of the Pacific Coast, Milton Love.

Farlyn: While I Was Gone, Sue Miller
Walden, H D Thoreau
The First and Last Freedom, J. Krishnamurti
Late Nights on Air
Persuasion, Jane Austen

We have just finished a four day passage from the Marquesas to the Tuamotus, the islands that lie between the Marquesas and Tahiti (the Society Islands). Had a nice couple of days of down wind sailing with the spinnaker up, then the winds shifted dramatically and we ended up sailing upwind for two days.
I confess, I hate sailing upwind in high winds—the boat is constantly heeled so that you fight gravity every minute of the day, plus the seas were rough, so going below is as if you’ve just stepped into a boxing ring, constantly being flung against some hard thing. Eating, taking a pee, bathing, even sleeping is exhausting.

After about 36 hours of this we arrived near Manihi Island just after midnight. We shortened sail to slow our approach as we couldn’t get in until the pass was at slack, and finally motored through at around 8:30 in the morning.

The Tuamotus are dramatically different from the steep lush mountain landscape of the Marquesas. Thin membranes of land seem to float on the ocean—you don’t see a Tuomotu until you are a few miles away. These islands are coral atolls, the endpoint of a volcanic tropical island, what’s left after it erodes away—a necklace of coral reef, sand and coconut forest, enclosing a lagoon. Water percolates in through the porous walls of the atoll and rushes in and out the odd pass.


As soon as we dropped an anchor, a local, Fernando, came by in a speedboat with a bag of fresh baguettes. (I’m so glad the French got this place). Fernando owns the bakery and is the head of the Mormon church here. Turns out he can show you how to cook a fish in a pit, open a coconut, harvest heart of palm, take you to see a pearl farm (sell you pearls), guide you into the anchorage, and dive on your anchor to free it from coral heads. He will also drop you outside the pass and escort you by boat, as you drift on the current, watching the great show “go by” as you zip along at 2-3 knots: thousands of brilliant reef fish: angel and butterflyfish, unicorn fish, surgeonfish, damselfish, trumpetfish, scorpionfish…. My favourite things today were the giant clams, each with bright mantles, like lips, in different shades of brilliant blue and green.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

from s/v Circadia

We have been "idylling" on the island of Nuku Hiva, waiting to leave for the Tuamotus,the winds at sea having dropped off to almost nothing for days. We remember the doldrums, the sails flapping and the boom banging, and content ourselves with the Marquesas. Which isn't so bad.  At the moment we are in Anaho Bay, a sweet anchorage, protected from the swell and rimmed with a few homes, communal gardens, and a path which takes you to a long sand beach in one direction, and in the other, over a steep trail to the village in the next bay, Hatiheu, a town of exuberant gardens, nestled in a perfect semi-circle of blue bay at the foot of long fingered mountains.

But lest you think life is perfect in paradise I have prepared a list, a REALITY CHECKLIST I guess you could say:

1. bug bites
For the last five days or so Farlyn and I have become covered with dozens of bites. You see, every beach is home to legions of tiny black flies, called no-no's. You can't feel them bite. In the next few days the little red spots become unbearably itchy. This lasts for about three days or until you are unwise enough to be seduced by another perfect white sand beach. We smear calamine lotion, we sit on our hands, we give in and scratch fiercely

2. miscellaneous injuries

foot and hand mostly, from the various ways you can injure yourself here: scrapes with the rigging, shoe blisters, stubbing toes on the deck hardware; and mystery lesions like the little red spots all over Kim's chest, or the jellyfish sting on Tavish's leg, which he didn't notice for a couple of days, or the sore on one of my ears which turned into a hive of angry blisters.

3. sharks
So far, snorkeling, we have only encountered harmless reef sharks. The other day, hanging out at one of the towns here, Tavish spotted a very big shark gliding past the pier. Turns out it was a bull shark, about 10 feet long. Our book says "considered dangerous." At the next anchorage we chatted with a local boy who told us that a bull shark had killed his cousin in January on nearby Ua Pou island. (We're sure he was killed, despite the fact that our French is so bad, by the way the boy drew his finger across his neck and rolled his eyes back in his head).

4. heat
see previous posts.

5. lack of privacy
Not to complain about my shipmates, but how much time can you expect the average person to enjoy living with three other people in 200 square feet, twenty-four hours a day?

Understand, this is not whining. I just thought, before you sold everything, quit your job, and bought a sailboat, you should know

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ua Pou

We are now in the northern Marquesas. Our best laid plans for a visit to Fatu Hiva (to the south) were re-arranged by 23 knot headwinds. We turned around and rode the winds north, to rugged Ua Pou Island.  

While I was drawing on the beach in the little town there, some bored children wandered by. 


Soon they had raided my art supplies and were drawing and painting.  Though we could barely communicate with their fragments of English and my slender French, we had a good time together and they presented me with their paintings “pour le souvenir.” 


The boat in the painting is the Aranui, a cargo boat which visits the island every two weeks or so. It has been supplying the Tuamotus and Marquesas from Tahiti for over twenty years. The new ship is 104 meters long.  The front is a cargo ship with cranes and open decks. The back is a passenger ship with cruise ship accommodation: several decks, a mini-swim pool, sundeck, dining room, bar, library, and the odd expert on French Polynesian culture. Check out my friend Elain’s illustrated blog for a fascinating description of her travels on the Aranui3 last year.

The people here seemed at first to be a little aloof, but I've come to understand that they are not unfriendly, they are simply dignified.  Once you stop and talk to them, you will soon find yourself being driven up a valley to find fresh pamplemousse, or to meet a carver who is the brother of a friend…

And, of course, they are more connected to the world than they seem at first glance. My young friends laughed hysterically over a recounted episode of  the TV show Hannah Montana. And the guy who drove us to the carvers wore dreads and popped what sounded like Polynesian reggae into the CD player.

Later that day we walked past a quiet garden scented with plumeria and shaded with breadfruit. On the house wall, a hand-painted sign Carpe Diem.

We are now in Nuku Hiva to re-supply, then off to the more remote Tuomotus to the south.

Bread Fruit


Sunday, April 26, 2009

From s/v Circadia

Saturday, April 25
We managed to get our visas extended and have finally left Atuona, and what civilization has a foothold here, including the internet, and so are communicating once again via single side band (and the helpful Michael!)
A three-hour sail took us to Tahuata Island and an almost comically perfect tropical beach-azure water, a white sand beach trimmed with coconut palms and lime trees. A memorable place to spend my birthday, which was an indolent day, finished off with an elaborate dinner and mango upside down cake prepared by the wonderful Tavish and Farlyn.
One of the first things we did when we arrived here was to get out the snorkeling gear. (We had all been longing to swim, as the harbour at Atuona was murky and rumoured to be full of sharks.)
Under the seamless blue surface of this bay-a brilliant confusion of fish that look like they have been doodled into existence, coloured in by children: striped, cross-hatched, polka dotted, iridescent, transparent, metallic, rainbow
Schools of tiny neon damselfish flicker like electricity. In the shallows over the sand, sleek little silvery fish dart back and forth in the surf. Once in awhile an octopus materializes then melts back into stone; a couple of black-tipped reef shark cruise slowly by. And all of it shimmers with the constant play of light through the clear water.
You can just hang there and watch it go by like movie, or dive down and let everything flow obliviously around you. I stare and stare, trying to memorize the shapes and colours until I can get back to the boat to look them up in the Reef Fish Guide, a surprisingly difficult thing to do.
Meanwhile life out of water is like being in an endless hot yoga class. But I am getting used to it. This morning, before the sun was too high, we climbed a steep slope to a summit above the anchorage, where we could look up the coast at a series of deep cut anchorages, some studded with boats. The land is volcanic, heavily eroded, densely vegetated, riddled with wild goat and horse trails. Coconut palm forests flow up the valley bottoms. Fairy terns whirl like scraps of white linen in the wind, up the ridges to their nests.
Tomorrow we weigh anchor and sail to Fatu Hiva, the southernmost of the Marquesas, considered one of the most beautiful and unspoiled islands (the only island without an airstrip).

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hiva Oa

They say that temperate people lose most of their sweat glands as children from lack of use. I don’t see it myself. As soon as the sun is up, the tiniest exertion and sweat is dripping off the tip of my nose and running down my back. In the heat of the day I find that if I lie very still under the faint breeze of the forepeak hatch I can stop sweating.
We have been in Atuona, the main town on the island of Hiva Oa, for over a week. It is a tiny tidy town most famous as Gaugin’s Polynesian paradise. There is a museum full of reproductions of his paintings set in his garden. Best of all are three studios, where artists from anywhere in the world can come for a three month residency. I didn’t see any sign of artists at work but my inquiries took me to the office of the mayor, a friendly guy in a cotton shirt and shorts, to whom (along with an office in France) one must apply. I think I’ve got it in the bag.
Rooster in Gaugin's Garden, by Farlyn

I love the strange hybrid culture here. There is an almost total lack of fresh vegetables and meat. Fruit seems to be the main staple: enormous grapefruits with sweet yellow flesh, bananas bunches which you can hang off the rigging. Farlyn and Tavish have foraged coconuts and dozens of mangos from wild trees along the roadsides. Yet every morning huge plastic bins of fresh baguettes arrive at the stores. Unlike all other foods, baguettes, cheese, and red wine are cheap—the essentials of French life are guaranteed on its colony. Pourquoi pas? Sounds like a balanced diet to me. And if you need to you can buy a can of minced duck breast or foie gras.
Through the church window, Puamau

And the French of course brought Catholicism. A local family offered to bring us to church on Sunday for an opportunity to hear Marquesan singing, which was indeed very different from the plodding hymns I remember from church as a girl. Children were passed from lap to lap or stood in the aisles swaying to the music. The women wore bright dresses and flowers in their hair. A woman seems rarely to go out, even if she’s in a T-shirt and shorts, without a flower tucked in behind her ear. For that matter men often wear flowers as well, even some of the manly paddlers that train in the outriggers every night in the harbour.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

images from the crossing

leaving Cabo

Tavish and the yellowfin tuna

swimming to the Marquesas

Farlyn at the wheel


Bottle-nosed dolpins

flying fish