The Gift of the Blue Jack

There is a notion from Native American philosophy that the hunter should not force the kill, but rather allow the prey to present themselves. Once I embraced this philosophy, spearfishing became a lot more fun.

Shooting a fish poorly can result in a wounded fish that gets away. That’s not a great feeling. Our only obligation is to spend time underwater, at depth, observing; and see if our dinner wants to join us, or not.

On this day at Motu Runa, the eastern edge of Faaite, we were really motivated to make a BBQ bonfire on the beach, ideally with some delicious fish. However I was skeptical we’d find anything for dinner. This area is a vast sand field, without the usual coral bommies that we rely on to hunt our fish. Locals have many other techniques for catching fish — like using nets in the reef shallows, line fishing with specific bait, and other approaches that I haven’t practiced much. So we resorted to our usual technique, spearfishing.

We drove the Lambordinghy 3/4 mile until we found a small coral bommie. It was actually quite lovely, with some uncommonly seen (in Tuamotus) anemones. But the fish were all tiny as expected. There were several red soldier fish hiding in the rock crevices, which despite their small size (6-8inches) the locals love to eat. Paul and Kelly donned the Hawaiian Slings which are good for catching those fish: tight quarters amidst the rocks.

Then I saw the Blue Jack. They are extremely active fish, and although their curiosity can be their Achilles Heel (they will sometimes swim right up to you) it’s usually just a quick visit and they’re gone. This Blue Jack was good size (16 inches) and was hiding deep in the coral bommie. What unusual behavior, I thought.

I had the speargun, which isn’t ideal for shooting fish against the rocks, as the spear needs space to “set”. But I held onto the rock just 7 feet below the surface, staring deep into this rocky crevice, and waited to see if an ideal opportunity presented itself.

After several ups & downs, trying my body as still and calm as possible, the Blue Jack finally came out of its hiding hole. I took a good shot, which went right to the head stunning the fish. But my spear was way inside the rock cave, along with half my body, which was quite unnerving. In the tight quarters, I struggled to push the spear deeper into the fish to ensure he couldn’t escape, somewhere deep in the cave, but the silty sand ballooned into the water from the struggle and blocked visibility. The Blue Jack got away!

I hollered at Paul and told him what happened, who was swimming on the other side of the coral bommie. A few moments later I saw Paul struggling with something. “I had him pinned to the rock wall!” He said. But the Blue Jack had got away again…

We persevered and kept diving down, searching. There he was. Stunned and injured, he had finally given up. With an easy shot I had him secure and back at the surface, out of the water so the black tip reef sharks that began circling wouldn’t bother us.

The great irony was when I gutted the Blue Jack, I discovered why he was exhibiting such odd behavior. He had swallowed a really long needle fish, which didn’t fit in his stomach, and was partly visible next to the Blue Jack’s gills. This must have caused some discomfort, so perhaps the Blue Jack was trying to hide under that coral bommie for several days to digest the needle fish. His energy was sapped; that’s why he was ready to go.

We thanked the Blue Jack, and the needlefish that came before it, by using the words that our friend Four Arrows taught us from the Lakota tradition: “Temakuyasin”. This means, “we are all related”. By thanking the fish and acknowledging how we are all related in this cycle of life, we have a deeper connection to our food source. It wasn’t just dinner that night; the Blue Jack was truly a Gift. Thank you!

Returning to Center in Wild Places

Being in a stunningly beautiful place like Motu Runa inspires connection with… well, everything. It’s easy to just sit and watch the coconut trees and turquoise water. With such an “undemanding” activity, it is only natural that stress lowers, breathing evens out, the brain relaxes. As we watch quietly we relax into just being “here”, as opposed to thinking about “there”. We can’t help but feel connected: with ourselves, and with our surroundings.

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Coral Shallows

A fortunate fluke of nature is that corals love to grow within 1-2 feet of the water surface, to cultivate as much of the sun’s UV as possible. In the Tuamotu lagoons there are many such “shallows” where we can float just above the coral reef, with schools of fish darting below, and the details of the coral ecosystem at arm’s length.

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Surgeonfish Spawning

Paul & Kelly & I were just finshing up our drift dive in Fakarava, and were almost at the restaurant pier when I noticed a remarkably active school of yellow Convict Surgeon fish at the entrance of the channel. I took a deep breath and free dove down to film them. They were much more frenetic that usual… something was happening. The school moved around erratically and clouds of “dust” seemed to emanate around them, with gray sharks diving in suddenly with wild energy. The fish were spawning their eggs, and the sharks were trying to feast!

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Welcome Paul & Kelly!

One of the best parts of running an adventure cooperative is meeting the awesome people that join our community. An experiential sailing trip, after all, doesn’t attract people just looking to relax in a vacation; everyone is expected to cook, clean, and fully participate. The folks coming aboard Aldebaran are those who want to immerse themselves in a lifestyle, enrich their spirits, and learn new skills.

Paul & Kelly are a great example of this positive attitude— they arrived STOKED for whatever happened. Continue reading

The Supreme Food Sherpa

The winter storm that hit us enroute to Fakarava was so heavy duty that the local cargo ship had to change course and return to Tahiti, cancelling their weekly delivery to the atoll. Aboard Aldebaran, we were already short of food, having experienced some difficulties provisioning in the previous atoll. Even our onions were running out. So I advised Sabrina that we had a “Code Aluminum” on our hands: only canned food left! And worse, during her mom’s upcoming visit! Oh man, was I in trouble.

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The Kamoka Pearl Farm

While we were moored behind “Sasha’s Chateau” in Ahe, we’d see Kamoka’s aluminum powerboat filled with black cages approaching twice a day.

Aboard the boat was Josh and his crew from the Pearl Farm, freediving 20ft to pull up cultivated oysters from their farm’s submerged network of lines. The precious oysters live underwater, filter feeding in the lagoon, and are protected by cages from the sharp teeth of Trigger Fish and other oyster-munching critters like turtles and rays.

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Boatyard in the Water

Sailors joke that cruising is just another word for “working on your boat in exotic locations”. If so, working on the boat here in Tuamotus is the 5 star version of cruising. If you’re hot, jump overboard into the turquoise water. If you’re tired, swim 20 yards through a shallow reef into the pass, where hundreds of fish congregate day and night. If you’re fed up of tedious labor, look up at the pleasing sight of coconut trees swaying in the wind. I couldn’t pick a better place to work on a boat. Continue reading

Aussie Team

I am so fortunate to have aboard Kimbo & Sasha for a month to help with the boat repairs!! They are from West Australia, where I went to high school in Margaret River, and we share common friends. They flew out to Tuamotus to do work-trade on the boat; that is, to put in many hours of sweat equity in exchange for exploring a few atolls. They arrived with the most incredible keenness to help. Never have I seen people jump into boatwork so passionately from the get-go!

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Topside Repairs begin… and Breadfruit!

I had asked a friend from the village, François, to come help me with the boatyard for the first few days, before my new crewmates arrive. Since the boat is still in the water (!) we made the most of it and repaired the wooden rails that hold the nets. These are under extreme amounts of pressure when waves crash over the bow of Aldebaran. The teak was getting dried and cracked, so we fully refurbished them with penetrating epoxy and replaced some broken bits. An essential repair and feels really good to tackle it!

François also brought a half-dozen breadfruits from his tree at home in the village. At sunset, after working through the day, we’d take Lambordinghy to shore and build a fire, throw two breadfruits ontop and let them cook for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, he threw a hand-line in the water with fish bait on a hook, and soon enough fish (Taia) would get pulled in. He grabbed about 3 of these, and gutted and cooked them over the fire, peeling the skin & scales off easily once baked. Just like that we had dinner! Great to see the local knowledge in action.

Photos:
– Just one little section of the wooden net rail that was repaired.
– François with a bucket of parrot fish he caught one morning with a net in the shallows, on the outside part of the reef.
– Breadfruit cut up on the boat — this is a different approach than cooking over the fire (which is best if the breadfruit is still hard & green) and turns it into a cross between damper-style bread and baked potatoes. Here we cut soft & ripe breadfruit into cubes and fry ‘em up, which turns them into supremely delicious, sweet french fries.

Topside Repairs begin… and Breadfruit!

I had asked a friend from the village, François, to come help me with the boatyard for the first few days, before my new crewmates arrive. Since the boat is still in the water (!) we made the most of it and repaired the wooden rails that hold the nets. These are under extreme amounts of pressure when waves crash over the bow of Aldebaran. The teak was getting dried and cracked, so we fully refurbished them with penetrating epoxy and replaced some broken bits. An essential repair and feels really good to tackle it!

François also brought a half-dozen breadfruits from his tree at home in the village. At sunset, after working through the day, we’d take Lambordinghy to shore and build a fire, throw two breadfruits ontop and let them cook for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, he threw a hand-line in the water with fish bait on a hook, and soon enough fish (Taia) would get pulled in. He grabbed about 3 of these, and gutted and cooked them over the fire, peeling the skin & scales off easily once baked. Just like that we had dinner! Great to see the local knowledge in action.

Photos:
– Just one little section of the wooden net rail that was repaired.
– François with a bucket of parrot fish he caught one morning with a net in the shallows, on the outside part of the reef.
– Breadfruit cut up on the boat — this is a different approach than cooking over the fire (which is best if the breadfruit is still hard & green) and turns it into a cross between damper-style bread and baked potatoes. Here we cut soft & ripe breadfruit into cubes and fry ‘em up, which turns them into supremely delicious, sweet french fries.

Boatyard… in Paradise?

(News! We posted more photos of Sabby’s Manta dive at http://www.patreon.com/posts/diving-with-more-25837813 . Enjoy!)

The faint outlines of coconut trees around the village of Apataki are 8 miles behind me. That is the distance coconut trees are no longer longer visible from the sailboat’s deck. The expansive lagoon water is all around; it feels like I’m heading to the edge of the Earth… not to a boatyard.

Ahead of us is a motu (ie. an island on the barrier reef or atoll edge) about 2 miles wide, separated by a few channels of turquoise blue water. White sand crests the shore, coconut trees sway in the wind. It is a postcard-picture of paradise. This could easily be the site of a eco-resort; but instead of bungalows and sunburnt tourists, there are 20+ white masts poking out above the trees, and occasionally a weathered sailors takes a dip in the water to refresh from the nasty work of orbital sanders, paint, and epoxy.

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The Big Picture Why

“What is all of this for?” I ask myself in a pensive moment. I need to reconnect with my purpose, or I fear apathy. Going to the boatyard with Aldebaran is like willingly walking into quicksand. It is physically and mentally exhausting. I must turn into a machine, an endlessly energetic worker-bee, and tap into deep sources of motivation, lest I don’t conclude the job.

Our motto throughout Green Coconut Run has been “harvesting stoke”. Going out there and finding Joy in the form of nature. The boat gets us to impossibly beautiful iterations of Mother Ocean, which recharge our Stoke, and keeps us going. It is a LOT of work, and it is stressful being in tight quarters, so you want lots of positive juice fueling your internal engine.

“The stronger the Why, the easier the How.” I heard this at a motivational workshop. If one has a clear, compelling purpose (the why) then the means and motivation follow (the how). Have you experienced this? Parents say they feel it when they have kids. A powerful driving force comes through them!

During our trip, the motivation was always to improve the boat so she could go further, take us more places. Go harvest more stoke. We were shooting for the horizon, spinning our flywheel on adrenalin, making it happen, to sail into the sunset.

We achieved our goals. Now we are settling into this place. It is time to maintain what we have, and build our foundations. It is the bread and potatoes of depth, compared to the nectar of novelty. The purpose is now to go deeper into something we love.

What does that look like? Sharing the magic with more crewmates. Empowering new captains. Building our inspirations onto land. Making family. Helping more people harvest the stoke. There’s plenty to go around.

The Supply Issue: Haul Out

“No onions? For real?” I asked the shopkeeper at the only grocery store in Apataki. “Next week!” she smiled, alluding to the cargo ship Cobia. “I thought the ship was coming last night,” I muttered. I had been waiting for it. On the bright side: “At least there’s lots of potatoes and garlic.”

I’m getting a little anxious about the biggest issue with this boatyard: getting supplies. Will I get the paint and resin I need? What if I don’t have the correct bolts and screws? What about food??

We’re in the middle of the Tuamotus archipelago, a remote group of atolls 200+nm (nautical miles) from Tahiti. The boatyard itself is 10 nm east of the village, which hosts about 250 inhabitants, and whose one store runs out of onions. I can’t imagine a more isolated facility.

So why haul out here? For one, I am really curious, how does this place even exist? My romantic penchant for remoteness is intrigued. On a practical level, we love diving in the Tuamotus so much that it seems beneficial to use this yard when possible — and avoid the taxing upwind sail from Tahiti back here.

Also, it’s much sunnier & drier in Tuamotus than Society Islands, which makes working on the boat easier. At this particular moment, it seems like a bad feature, because it’s deathly hot. The calm conditions makes for great diving, but I’m unsure about being in protective suits & respirators covered with sanding dust. Sigh. I’m hoping the trade winds return and freshen things up.

Who needs sailboats… when there’s vans and drones?

Here is an IMPORTANT announcement from a dear friend of Aldebaran: he’s launching a revolutionary for-profit company that will make a happy rent-free lifestyle available to more people!

Yes, it’s true… Ed has long been committed to the non-profit cause but he’s gone over to capitalism. Who can blame him?

In a way, I’m proud of his greedy passion. As some of you know, van-living paved my own path to sailboat-living. Thanks for getting people down this slippery slope, Go Ed!

Here is the link, don’t miss this :
https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=99MHZ2cqmWw&feature=youtu.be

The costs of motoring (and benefits to batteries)

The locals call it “mer d’huile” , which means Sea of Oil. When it’s so calm and glassy, the surface of the ocean is silky smooth like oil. That’s how it was all the way from Tikehau to Apataki, 23hrs under motor, heading east 125nm total distance covered.

Picking a calm day is one of two approaches when going east against the prevailing easterly trade winds. The other approach is picking a day with north winds. In that case, you must watch out for squally weather, as northerlies are indicative of frontal systems; but you can save lots of money on fuel! Just how much savings? See below.

Diesel Consumption of motoring 23hrs: 1.1 gallons/hr = 25 gallons used (total 100 gallon tank).
Cost per gallon: $5.80/gallon (purchased in Tuamotus as a 200 liter drum from the ship for $300, and syphoned into tank)
Cost of motoring to Apataki: $145, plus emission of CO2 into atmosphere, and wear and tear on engine.

There is a big advantage of motoring overnight: this charges the batteries FULLY. It is our surrogate for going to a dock with shore power (which we haven’t done in 3 years). Most boats have generators + wind turbines to charge batteries, but we only have a 9 solar panels (~900watts).

You ask, “why doesn’t the solar array charge the batteries?” Yes, but usually only to 90%. The last 10% takes a looong time because the charge controller restricts the amount of amperage. The equivalent is like trying to fill a water bucket with a hose— as it fills up, you must turn down the water pressure, to prevent water from spilling over. So the batteries can’t accept the full production of the solar array for the last 10% of their capacity. The result is that the chemical plates start to get hardened, without equalizing fully, the batteries can have premature death. That’s what happened to our last battery bank, which only lasted 3 years due to us never going to a dock and charging with shore power all the way.

That’s a long way of saying that the diesel costs a bit, but we don’t have the cost of a generator onboard… so if this is saving our batteries a little bit (which cost $1500 to replace) it seems to balance the equation out.

The mechanics of 20 minutes sleeping

24 hours of solo sailing, heading east along the Tuamotus archipelago, dodging 4 atolls. The boat is running at 6 knots, and if I fell asleep, we could crash catastrophically onto land or boats. Staying up all night seems torturous, though.

People wonder how solo sailors keep a watch when offshore overnight. Personally, I don’t trust my radar to warn me, as some sailors do. The only thing I trust is for my phone alarm to ring, every 20 minutes, telling me, “Wake up dummy, look around, and make sure you’re not about to hit something!”

So I get stirred from my slumber, every 20 minutes, and try to open my eyes and scan the horizon for hazards… and once satisfied, within 15 seconds I fall back asleep. It is almost instant.

While underway, I sleep on my therma-rest in the cockpit bench. When the alarm rings I can simply open my eyes in a stupor, and hazily survey the instruments… wind speed, GPS location, course. Check. Then I’ll look at the horizon for lights & ships, while admiring the stars…the Scorpio constellation rising over the dawn hours… the Southern Cross twirling around Alpha Centauri… and the Milky Way bright as snow in the moonlight. “Oh-oh I see a ship’s light, coming my way!” Ah… common error. It’s just Venus rising on the east, at 3:40am.

Today I feel remarkably refreshed. Certainly much better than spending all night fighting to stay awake.

Is 20 minute interrupted sleep something anyone can do, or only lunatic sailors? My unsupported theory is that if you allow your body to sleep for more than 45 minutes, then you enter REM sleep and it’s really hard to awaken. Perhaps that’s why 20 minute power naps feel so good.

I wonder, however, how the 20 minute sleeping regime would affect a solo sailor (or astronaut?) over several weeks time; whether their bodies would end up fatigued and run-down, and mental functions become impaired… I’d be curious about the studies on interrupted sleeping. If you’re intrigued and have internet, let us know 🙂

Photo: Approximately what I see at 1am with blurry eyes.

Birthday Reflections

I’m alone now on the boat — Sabrina, Jonathan, and Gary left last week. We had lots of fun… but now it’s time to buckle up and get to work. I just received a call from Toni at the Apataki boatyard last night that we are “Go” for hauling out next week. Well, the wind is blowing from the opposite direction as normal, light NW, so there’s no time to lose. I raise anchor to begin a 24hr passage. I suppose it’s appropriate — I’ll be sailing east on my birthday.

I’m turning 38 years old today. Going east on a solo overnight trip for 115nm isn’t really a birthday party, and probably not relaxing. On one hand I’d prefer to stay in Tikehau a few more days, and enjoy time with a remarkable group of young sailors who have collected there. But on the other hand, it is the right thing; since what I want to do most, is to give back to this boat Aldebaran, which has given us so much.

So many boats were disabled on the crossing from Panama to French Polynesia: I just heard another story of a broken rudder, disabling the boat for two weeks at sea while the crew jury-rigged a rudder. That’s the 4th broken rudder story I heard. Then there’s the broken mast stories: 6 of them, including 2 big catamarans. A broken mast is pretty much the worse thing that can happen at sea, other than a big hole in your hull. None of the boats were even close to the age of Aldebaran. She just turned 50 years old this year. Happy birthday, Aldebaran!

Aldebaran has been taking care of us. She’s been this amazing platform of exploration for over 120 friends, so far, who have experienced the wild freedom and heart-lifting beauty of sailing to remote islands. Still, her crew from the past 6 months can testify: she’s looking tired, in fact, battered, like she’s been in a long battle, and needs to lick her wounds. It’s time to give her some loving and bring her back to a state of respectability.

It’s time to give back. We’ve received so much from this boat, that the Cup is no longer Half Full. The Cup is Overflowing and it’s been spilling for quite some time. There’s not much to do except offer deep appreciation for all the blessings that have unfolded. I’ll start by thanking the anonymous people in 1968 who built Aldebaran; cutting and nailing and screwing the wood, fiberglassing, and making this vessel a seaworthy work of art.

I must also send thanks to the previous owners of Aldebaran: Bob & Jackie, whose care for 20 years while raising their twin sons and sailing the Channel Islands kept the boat in the soundest condition, which we as a result inherited. They’re in their 80s, and they’re awesome. They continue to support the dream from afar as Patrons (www.patreon.com/greencoconutrun)

It’s hard not to thank my parents Bob & Susie for giving me unconditional love to pursue my dreams. I had the great fortune of being able to share the joy of this experience with them this last December, as we sailed 5 islands and arrived in Bora-Bora in perfect blue skies for New Year’s Eve; which basically captured the pride of being a son into one iconic moment.

I thank my brother Dylan, sister-in-law Christine, and sister Samara, who were also there, for their life-long fraternal proddings, which have made me slightly less soft than I would otherwise have become. Our family friend Hans was aboard, and I credit him with joining me in Papeete one week later to voluntarily repair our engine pump and transmission; demonstrating such a fervor and irrepressible drive in his quest to get the boat back to a sailing state, one could have been mistaken for thinking it was his first born child on the line.

Also aboard our momentous Bora-Bora arrival (yes, there were a lot of people!) were Bear & Kati, who, between promoting Burning Man internationally and starting a socially responsible bank, are amazing people; but here I praise them for their role in the Green Coconut Run as Early Seabird investors. They were one of 30 different people who believed in us, saying “Heck, we’ll each give you about $1000 for the boat improvements, and hopefully we’ll see you in a few years in Tahiti.” And here we were. I thank all of you for your faith — you know who you are.

There was one other person aboard Aldebaran that day, arriving in Bora-Bora with us. His name is Zuck. He’s a friend of Bear & Kati’s, an ex-Yahoo employee who after being disillusioned with tech, and through all kinds of irrational followings of the heart, has become a force in the world of refugee camps. I thank him not only for his unceasing enthusiasm for every moment of every day, but also for his fearless drive to do good in the world, amidst extremely challenging environments.

So that arrival in Bora-Bora symbolically captured most of my world in a nutshell: family, old friends, and new friends that we’ve made through this expedition; arriving together in a place of beauty.

Well, I say “most” of my world, because, for one…. my sweetheart Sabrina wasn’t there. She was back in Sacramento, California working in a hospital’s intensive care unit for a 6 month contract taking care of patients in extremely ill health. Yep, that’s the kind of stoic woman she is… willingly taking care of the sickest of people, while her husband is sailing in freakin’ paradise. I appreciate her on every level imaginable, but most recently, when I was having a meltdown-day of stress (yep, happens to me too, even in Tikehau), she stopped me and gently asked, “Kristian, what are you grateful for?” And all my rationale about the day’s intractable problems evaporated under the enormity of this question. Sabrina is an incredible woman.

Ohh…. I lied about something. On New Year’s Eve, Sabrina wasn’t actually working in the hospital — she was in a weeklong vacation in Puerto Vallarta with our friend Heidy sipping on wine in a marina. Thanks for getting her out there, Heidy, and saving my skin!!! I would have felt really bad otherwise, if I was sailing into tropical heaven while Sabrina was working on the 5th floor of the Cardiac ICU. That just wouldn’t do.

Finally… thanks to YOU for reading all the way to the end of this rambling sailor’s soliloquy. Consider that your birthday present to me. If you insist on giving a real present, give it to boat. It’s time to give back. Yes! She’s gonna be sparkling again soon! Boatyard here we come.

Love you all.
– Captain K, out

Send any gifts to the boat to: “Aldebaran’s 50th Birthday Make-over” Fund, in any form of currency via Venmo, PayPal, or courier Pidgeon, to greencoconutrun@gmail.com.

Sabby’s Mantas

Snorkeling is our version of going for a walk around the block — doing a little exercise, a little sightseeing. But this morning was extraordinary… not only for what we saw, but for the unusual journey that led us here. Allow me to explain.

Let’s say there’s something you LOVE to do, but are unable to due to injury. You weaved your entire life around this activity, and for three years, people come visit you, because you live in one of the world’s best places for it; but you can only participate a little bit.

Then one day you say “Screw it, my injury is feeling pretty good, and I’ve got a doctor’s appointment next week anyway.” What follows is a few hours of liberated ecstasy — where all the past pain and frustration subsides into a cathartic joy, and half the day disappears in a daze of wonder and awe.

That is how our morning with the Manta Rays went.

Due to her ongoing ear injury, Sabrina hasn’t been underwater in over three years. She LOVES being underwater. She’s a SCUBA dive master and would amaze me by sitting still next to a rock, 40 feet deep, and finding the most intricate creatures, which she would excitedly share with me. She’d freedive down to find shells on the ocean floor, looking graceful and calm as a ballerina. She is a natural athlete surfing, and learned her best squiggles at Scorpion Bay, which made her giddy with delight. Then all that was halted from a bad ear infection that become a blown ear drum infection, followed by two timpanoplasty surgeries over three years and suffering from an ongoing pinhole which to this day has refused to fully heal.

Many people live with ear drum issues — but how many of those people are divers living on a cruising sailboat?? Sabrina has had to cultivate an incredible fortitude and acceptance of her situation. She’s been able to snorkel on the surface with earplugs, but has to watch everyone else play freely in the water, while we cruise through some of the world’s most remarkable underwater playgrounds: Galapagos, Tuamotus, Isla Cocos.

At least here in French Polynesia, the water is so crystal clear, and the reefs are so shallow and amazing, that we often snorkel in just 3-5 feet of water; and even in 100 feet of water, outside the lagoons, you can see the bottom. Like many people who snorkel exclusively at the surface, Sabrina has been enjoying herself lots… but still. She yearns to dive underwater, so badly.

With Jonathan and Gary, we took Aldebaran to a Motu and went looking for the Manta Rays. This is a place where the Mantas gather to get “cleaned” by little fish. Still, we’re lucky if we find one or two; we’re lucky if the water isn’t too silty (it is notoriously turbid in this part of Tikehau’s lagoon); and we’re lucky if the Mantas hang around for long.

On this day, not only did we dive with 6 (!) Mantas, the water was the clearest I’ve seen it here, and they swam around us for hours, calmly getting cleaned by the tiny fish that live on these coral heads.

Sabrina dove down for the first time in over 3 years… and kept diving for the next few hours… The majestic Mantas gave us the greatest gift we could receive.