Friday, November 20, 2015

It's Who You Know
By Michael

Our Torqeedo outboard is displaying
an error message I can't resolve. Until it's
fixed, we row or sail everywhere.
Windy is unfurling for the trip to Del Viento,
in the upper left corner of the photo, a
half-mile away.
And fortunately, I know Sara Johnson.

Quickly, for those of you who don’t follow the Wondertime blog, Sara and Michael and their two daughters are weaving an interesting life. They sailed from the PNW to Mexico in 2011, crossed the Pacific in 2012, cruised and settled for a spell in New Zealand, got residency, moved back to the PNW to try the house life for the second time in their married lives (they’ve lived aboard and cruised three different boats), abandoned said house life this year, and moved back to New Zealand to travel and explore the country in an RV.

All of which put them in the perfect position to be ready and available when an old cruising friend asked them to oversee the lux resort they own on a small private island in the Kingdom of Tonga…for almost three months.

All of which put the Del Viento crew, hanging in Tonga for most of this cyclone season, in a perfect position to hang out with the Wondertime crew late into the evening for their daughter’s birthday party a few nights ago.

We’ll be back in time for Thanksgiving dinner, cooking in a large, open kitchen in paradise.

In the meantime, we are preparing Del Viento to ride out a major storm (or storms) on a mooring in the relatively protected waters of the Vava’u group of islands. It’s unnerving. There is no discrete, perfect list of things we can do to guarantee a good outcome if Mother Nature unleashes on Tonga and Del Viento. It’s a matter of doing your absolute best with all the knowledge you have and can get from others, and then hoping for luck.

We’re prepping to attach two independent mooring lines to the boat via the anchor rollers, attaching both our anchors to the leads where they attach to the mooring blocks, and running last-resort, back-up lines through the bow chocks, around the mast, and down to the mooring.

And now for the rest of the story: We’re all headed back to the States in a few weeks to stay Christmas through Easter with our families. We’re leaving Del Viento unattended for a chunk of the season. Unattended for the first time since we began cruising.

Before we depart we need to remove the sails, the dodger, the solar panels, some running rigging, the kayaks, the dinghy, and everything normally attached to the rails. The spinnaker pole deck chock could chafe some of the lines we plan to run, so that’s coming off too.

We’ve got to prep our water tanks—If they’re filled with rainwater, how much chlorine bleach do we add to stave off yuck and yet not damage the stainless?—and make sure every locker is ventilated. We’ve got to eat all our food and open the fridge up. That's just a taste; Windy's making lists.

Then we can start being anxious about our uninsured home floating alone, thousands of miles from us.


Holly turning 7 at the Mandala Resort on Fetoko Island.
It could be worse.
A splendid place to hang with old friends.
And it's pleasant enough at night to enjoy a fire--though
it's supposed to get warmer as the summer months come.

This was our approach to the Vava'u group. The geographic
comparisons to the San Juan and Gulf Islands came immediately.
This little speck of a each is on the end of a small island that
I snorkel circumnavigated. I saw some things I've ever seen
and unfortunately didn't have the wet camera with me. We've got months
here though and I think we'll spend a lot more time exactly here.
These clothes are for sale. Someone hangs them here daily, in
Neiafu. Haven't seen the salesperson, but I think these are her kids.

Walking past a couple high school girls. That's the big Catholic
church in the background.

School kids catching a ride back out of Neiafu to home.

One of the highlights of my week was receiving a copy of
the book I wrote, brought to me by one of my co-authors. This
thing's been selling for a couple months and I've heard nice things
from so many folks who've all seen it before me. Weird.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Timing is Everything
By Michael

Watching American Samoa go by from
a bus window.
Poor Eleanor.

As our stay in American Samoa was extended by Dengue Fever, waiting for a weather window, and our being totally charmed by the place and reluctant to leave, Eleanor grew increasingly anxious.

“Are we going to be at sea for my birthday? What about Halloween?”

Windy, our weather guru and route planning officer, hesitated, “I don’t know, we’re going to have to wait and see—but it’s possible Eleanor.”

Eleanor was scheduled to turn 12 on the 29th, two days before Halloween. It would be a two-and-a-half-day passage from American Samoa to the Kingdom of Tonga. She watched the calendar carefully.

A weather window appeared, we were all healthy, and our business in American Samoa was over. It was Wednesday the 28th. Windy declared it time to go.

“Worst birthday ever.” I joked.

“DAD! Seriously, my birthday’s going to suck.”

Windy leaned in to assure. “We’ll still celebrate.”

“But Tina and Shane won’t be there—and we’re going to be at sea for Halloween…”

I saw an opening, “Being at sea will be better than being in Tonga, they don’t celebrate Halloween there.”

Underway to Tonga, Frances
writing in one of her journals,
wearing Halloween cat ears.
“What? Dad, stop.”

So the first 24 hours, force four on the beam, passage heaven. The next day, we woke Eleanor with a couple gifts and I made a special birthday breakfast with eggs and the veggie sausage we were able to buy in American Samoa. Windy chopped up a fresh Papaya. Then things went downhill.

In the middle of making the lemon tart that Eleanor requested, we ran out of propane. I’d gambled that we’d have enough to get us to Tonga.


“It’s okay, your birthday’s over anyway.”


“We just crossed the International Date Line; it’s now the 30th.”

“Mom, seriously?”

“Uh, yeah. Tomorrow’s Halloween.”

“Uhn…my birthday’s gone…and how are we going to trick-or-treat?”

“We have candy.” Windy said.

“But there are no other boats.”

“Just keep coming back to us,” I suggested, “‘Trick or treat! Trick or treat! Trick or treat!’”

“Oh my god—worst birthday ever, and worst Halloween.”

I’ve got to say that Eleanor’s a trooper, that most of her sentiment is tongue and cheek. In fact, I think she thinks it’s kind of cool that she got to celebrate her birthday under such exotic circumstances.

“Next year can we at least sail the other direction so I can have two birthdays—or two Halloweens?”


Frances walking along a pretty stretch of coastline
near Pago Pago.

Viewing Leone from remnants of an abandoned home.
This will be the last year Windy is taller than her oldest child.

A rugged stretch of coastline.
So far, the only photo of me I public wearing one of my
lava lavas.

The girls discovering a puddle with thousands of pollywogs
on a hike with Britney and Matt of Tipsea.
Underway to Tonga, Frances looking for hidden candy. We
did an onboard Easter-Halloween mash-up in lieu of
The birthday girl underway, enjoying fresh papaya from a

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Big Guys In Skirts
By Michael

Windy and the girls bathing in rainwater
collected in the Pudgy. We've had several
extended deluges that make this possible.
It's heaven for dirty cruisers.
We’ve been hanging out and exploring the island of Tutuila in American Samoa for a month. The capital is Pago Pago (pronounced “pango pango”), but we’ve not spent much of our time there, but in the larger, surrounding communities. It’s rained almost constantly, we’ve hardly seen the sun, the wind has blown relentlessly, and the harbor water is too dirty to swim in. We have been absolutely charmed by American Samoa.

I’m not being facetious. The steep sides of the remnants of a volcano crater that form the protected harbor in which we’re moored and the serendipitous encounters we’ve had with the American Samoans, have made it clear how misinformed we were prior to arriving. Based on all we heard, we anticipated a cesspool of Americana in the South Pacific. This place is beautiful and the people are warm and utterly foreign to us.

“Excuse me…”

I got up from the bus stop bench and approached the car window.

“I just saw you guys sitting here twenty minutes ago, you still haven’t caught a bus. Where are you going?”


“Ahh,” she nodded. “Okay, you’re gonna have trouble catching a bus at this time, get in, all of you.” She waved and motioned to Windy and the girls behind me. “I’ll take you.”

“You sure? We could pay for your gas, thank you very much.”

She opened the back and I began loading some of our bags. It was getting dark and we’d pushed the bus schedule too close and lost. We were gonna do our time here on the bench to be absolutely certain though, before we paid $20 for a 20-minute cab ride back to Pago Pago.

White caps in the anchorage. For most
of our time here, it's been blowing hard and
there's been lots of rain. The nearby peak is
called The Rainmaker.
On the way, she tried repeatedly to get ahold of her sister on the phone, to let her know she’d be home late, going 40 minutes out of her way to help some random palogis (foreigner, pronounced “palongi”). En route she answered all of our questions about Samoan culture, helping us make sense of so much we’d observed and didn’t understand. Despite the name of this place and that everyone speaks American English and the two McDonalds restaurants and U.S. post office, it had become obvious to us that this clearly wasn’t an extension of the U.S., not even close. The men here wear skirts (lava lavas), Samoan music and ‘80s ballads pound from the speakers in the colorful homemade buses, the teenagers are disarmingly friendly, and nearly every home features a grave next to the front door.

When we arrived in Pago where we’d left the dinghy, we thanked our new friend profusely and I insisted she take $5 for gas money and the girls turned over a small bag of homemade cookies we’d packaged up to give someone else who’d been kind to us, but whom we’d not run across.

Then, without missing a beat, she reciprocated—as if she’d not already—by giving Windy the lava lava she’d been wearing that Windy had casually admired. Just another piece of the Pacific Island culture we learned, that people are very quick to gift when they’ve been gifted and there is a tendency to give those things that have been admired by others.

In short, we got a ride from a stranger who went significantly out of her way, and then she drove off leaving us the clothes off her back.

I could share three other such stories from American Samoa, of strangers extending warmth and kindness beyond what I’d ever expect. It’s been a treat—not simply to have been a beneficiary of this kindness, but to travel through places like this with my girls and to have them experience this kindness in a more natural way. For them this is normal, it’s largely what they’ve come to know over the past five years living as a traveling family. Because while I know the American Samoa culture (not distinct from the Samoan culture, from what we’ve learned, or from Pacific Island culture in general) is kind and open in a way we are not used to,* I also know that as travelers, we are often vulnerable to acts of kindness, because we are always the outsider, always on the street and looking out, asking outsider questions. For five years, my kids have been immersed in a world that is perhaps more kind than they could have known in a more conventional context. They expect kindness from strangers and they offer kindness without reservation. It’s shaping who they are. I can see it.


* I also know these cultures have serious problems, I don’t want to idealize them, they’re not all peaches and cream. But as travelers, those are not the aspects we are exposed to.
Windy and the girls walking ahead along the waterfront. Samoans are
big people. Note the high school kids in front of me. Note the guy is
wearing a lava lava--totally normal. I bought one, almost wore it
out and about. My nerve was intact, but I went back to shorts at the last
minute because I panicked that I'd wrapped it around me the
feminine way. Pics to come. Note the regular house-type
pane widows that make up the bus windshield. This is normal too.
No, not the same water--it's a new day. Despite the crowded
harbor and homes and businesses all around, some of us
still bathe au natural.

Our arrival. The port captain had us side-tie to this tug and wait for
these lava lava-clad health inspectors to board. Then it was off to see
the port captain, customs, immigration, and another harbor

Friday, October 23, 2015

Dengue Woman Blues
By Michael

Windy's 45th birthday cake, October 14 in Pago Pago.
About all I could do was hold this camera. Frances made
the cake. 24 hours after this shot, Frances was down.
Any sickness with the word Fever in the name sounds especially ominous to my ear. Scarlet Fever, Cat Scratch Fever, Fever Seizures, and…Dengue Fever.

We got the latter. It was bound to happen. We were warned in Mexico. There were warning signs up everywhere in French Polynesia. We saw them when we arrived in Pago Pago, America Samoa.

I was wiped out for days—prostrate is the medical term. My brain didn’t want to function. The muscles in my legs and around my eyes ached so badly that sleep was difficult.

Then Frances got it. Her case was textbook—all of my symptoms plus a rash over her entire body. She got the fever, had 24 hours of remission, then descended back into it. Windy checked off all the diagnostic boxes in the Merck Manual we keep aboard.

“She’s definitely got Dengue.”

“Do we take her in?”

“There really isn’t anything they can do for her unless it turns into a hemorrhagic fever, then we have to get her in immediately.”

“How will we know?”

“Any bleeding or bruising.”

We watched Frances for a couple anxious days. We put off our departure to Tonga. Today is the day Windy finally gave her a clean bill of health, and Frances is finally ashore hunting frogs (no, not in the killing them sense) like she’s been pining to do.

The good thing about acquiring a tropical, mosquito-borne illness in a place where they are common, is that the local medical infrastructure is totally prepared for dealing with it. Had Frances deteriorated and acquired the hemorrhagic fever version that can present in Dengue patients, we’d have been in a good place to seek care.

So how was your week? Still eager to go cruising in the tropics?

I want to make light of it. We are so lucky health-wise. We’re all well and we rarely get sick. Above all else, our good health is the reason we are able to choose and pursue this cruising life. We do not take it for granted.


Michael at Ditching Suburbia sent this to us when he heard we were under the weather, perfect. This is Stevie Ray's brother, by the way.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Suwarrow, Force 10
By Michael

And no internet.
Suwarrow is a remote atoll in the northern Cook Islands. It’s where Tom Neale, author of the classic An Island to Oneself, lived alone, off and on, for twenty-five years before his death in 1977. Since 1986, Suwarrow’s been a protected area, Suwarrow National Park. About 60 cruising boats stopped at Suwarrow this year; I don’t think anyone else visits. A caretaking couple, Harry and Huahine, lives on the atoll from May-November. During the cyclone season, Suwarrow is deserted. Upon checking in, Harry (officially the warden, and also in charge of customs and immigration) told us we could not land on any island (motu) other than Anchorage Island, we couldn’t fish, we couldn’t burn or dispose of trash ashore, and we mustn’t throw any food scraps overboard.

“So where are the remains of Neale’s home?”

“You were standing on what’s left of his front porch, now the book exchange.” Harry said in his kiwi-accented English.

I turned to look back at where Windy and the girls were still browsing the mostly-French and Dutch titles left by other cruisers. I could see the old clapboard siding that defined the boundaries of the original building.

“Here, I’ll show you.”

Except for the caretakers, we were always
the only ones ashore on Anchorage Island,
measuring about a mile by a few hundred feet.
Harry and I walked from his two-story residence down to the book exchange where he pulled the bolt from the hasp that secured a door signed, DO NOT ENTER.

Inside the tiny room were Tom Neale’s quarters. A small, wood-framed bed occupied the far corner and in the near corner was a shiny, late-model Force 10 marine range. It was just like our ailing stove, but newer. Right away I noticed the grill was not broken like ours was. The burner caps looked new, not like our cast-iron caps that are corroding away at a rapid rate. I forgot all about Tom Neale.

“What’s with the stove?”

“Ah, yes. A cruiser donated that to us, for cooking. We don’t use it much, the wife prefers the half-barrel out back.”

“Hmm. We would sure love to swap some parts off that—ours is just like it.”

“Mmm-hmm. So that’s where Mr. Neale lived. His family maintains the memorial outside.”
             * * * * * *

“We’ve been here a week, I don’t think he’s interested in letting you cannibalize it.”

It says, "1952-1977 Tom Neale lived his
dream on this island"
“Maybe he didn’t understand, wouldn’t hurt to ask.” I paused, “Would you mind calling him?”

“What? We’re leaving, we’ve already checked out. Why me?”

“I just think we’ll regret not asking, and you just did the checkout, I think he’d be more receptive to you asking.”

Windy gave me a look as she picked up the radio mic. She asked Harry directly whether he was interested in allowing us to swap out some stove parts—we were willing to pay.

“We don’t want to sell parts off the stove, we’d like to see the whole thing gone.”

“How much do you want for it?”

“What are you willing to pay?”

“One hundred dollars, US? I know it’s not much, but…”


I waved to Windy, “Tell him I’m going to come ashore real quick to measure it, just to be sure it’s the same—and see if he’ll let us bring it out here in his boat.”

An hour later, we were waving goodbye to Harry, an entire second range now sitting in our cockpit.

I don't care if you're Julia Childs, nobody needs two of
these on a 40-foot boat.
“This is awesome. We just saved a bundle spending this $100.”

“Will it fit through our companionway? Where are we going to stow it for the passage to Samoa?”

“I think so, I’ll lash it underneath the v-berth.”

Now we’re in Pago Pago and I’m trying to find a way to get rid of this thing we sailed with for four days. It’s a newer version of our ailing stove—it’s even got a window on the oven door and the snazzy bowed handle is varnished nicely. But only one single piece could be swapped out (the burner grate—and even that required some hacking). Everything else is unusable, either because it is just completely different, or because it’s riveted. Even the plastic knobs—in much better shape than ours—can’t be swapped because the flat side of the shaft it rides on is positioned 180 degrees opposite. Why in the world?

I would swap the entire thing out, but the oven is configured differently on this newer model. It’s smaller and the burner is less shrouded.

Sometimes fortune mocks the bold.


Windy took this from our deck. He's about 2 feet underwater
and those bommies are at 75 feet.

Cruising kids look for any opportunity to make
This coral-based landing was heavily damaged in a recent hurricane.

Checking into the Cook Islands in Del Viento's cockpit.

An island to themselves.

The two-story building is where the caretakers live. The white-
painted clapboard siding above the bush on the left, is a sliver
of the remnants of Neale's home.

Oh the time I spent lying here to get this shot.

Neale's bed frame. This space is smaller than it appears.

The girls and I cooling off.

Heading ashore with Harry.
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