Adrien Flies (and rides his board upside down)

More superstar moves from Adrien, the head instructor from Tuamotus Kiteschool. It is amazing to watch and inspiring for our renewed kite motivation!

These photos were taken by  the super gifted photog John Guillote. Remarkably, this was his first time ever shooting kitesurfing; the angles he managed to catch without any previous experience are mind-blowing.  Check out his eclectic portfolio here.  John is sailing with his wife Becca around the Pacific on Sv Halcyon, a 40 ft monohull Halcyon. She is a travel writer and provides captivating insights into sailboat life on their blog:  Halcyon Wanderings.

We’re bringing Kitesurfing back into our Green Coco life, after many years of hiatus. Next year we’ll be able to host people wanting to learn with the phenomenal kite instructor Adrien;  and we’ll do special kite trips to remote atolls like Tahanea.

Can’t wait. Kitesurfing is bringing me an entirely new appreciation of the wind and discovering new connections with that incredible force!

New Crew, first stop: Kiteboarding

Got a message from Frank this morning: “Got into Tahiti! Exhaustion levels around a 7.5 out of 10 (all three of us worked through the night 😳), but stoke levels at a solid 13 out of 10!!!!” They are soon grabbing the air tahiti flight to Tuamotus to meet us aboard Aldebaran.

What an honor it is to be hosting our dear friends after so many years of dreaming together. It’s finally happening! We’re heading straight to Hirifa to launch the kites and splash straight into the tropics. Our friends at Tuamotu Kite School will be there to show us the ropes.

This photo was taken at the peak of a strong back-to-back Maraamu winter storm that smashed French Polynesia for two weeks non-stop in June (the rider doing a huge air is Adrian, the head instructor from @kitetuamotu). Everyone was complaining about the weather… except for the kiters. The weather was grey and “cold” (low 70s) with constant drizzle, which brought down the spirits of soggy sailors. But the kiters were loving the steady 20-30 knots from the south-east. All the more reason for us to get back into this amazing sport!

This kite spot is called Hirifa, in the remote south-east corner of Fakarava atoll, about 6 hours by sailboat from the village… it’s a really big atoll! It’s a fantastic setup as the wind blows across sand spits and makes the water on the lee side smooth as a mirror, even when gusts are strong.

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.

Haul Out Failure!

Back on Aldebaran at anchor, I saw with binoculars that the monohull was getting moved. Well, that looks like a sign that things are happening, I thought. I hoisted the outboard engine and dinghy on deck, which takes a good 25 minutes alone. Then at 4:30pm, I got the call from Apataki Carenage; I lifted anchor and motored towards the boatramp.

The conditions were calm and perfect. In an idyllic beach setting, Aldebaran settled between the trailer’s pads. Visibility in the water was clear, with sand below. This was markedly nicer than in the Marquesas, where a rainstorm had dumped piles of wood onto the boatramp. To align the boat with the trailer straps, I had to dive in murky water through the wood debris.

Tony and crew tried a few different techniques to align the boat with the trailer. There is a “catamaran setting”, with the hydraulic pads horizontal — which was just a tad too narrow and pinched our main hull. The same thing happened in Marquesas with their hydraulic trailer, so they decided to haul us up with the “monohull setting”— with the hydraulic pads in diagonal position.

Unfortunately, the trailer in Apataki was a few inches wider that the one in Marquesas, so there was too much clearance to hold the boat, without damaging both Aldebaran and potentially the yard’s trailer. After 45 minutes of swimming and adjusting the pads, Tony gave up. “I’m not sure the solution,” he said. “And now it’s already 5:30pm, getting too dark to keep trying.”

I had the weekend to figure out a backup plan. It’s time to shift gears.

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 Rebirth of a Mermaid

Written by Sabrina Littee

Sabby Manta-03878.jpg

Living on a cruising sailboat with an irreparable eardrum has been challenging learning to accept my limitations. 3 years back I got an infection that disintegrated my ear drum and kept me on multiple antibiotics then steroids for over a month. It wrecked havoc on me physically and emotionally. I’ve had 2 operations on my eardrum, both unsuccessful, in attempts to repair what the bacteria had disintegrated. My broken eardrum has made it physically impossible to swim at depth. For years, I’ve suspended myself, floating at the surface, staring into the depths of what once was my life.

The eardrum is a small very important piece of tissue that separates our middle ear from the outside world. The problem with ear stuff, is it’s completely limiting when your life revolves around the ocean. I was imprisoned on my own boat while friends who visited surfed and dove to their hearts content.

After the initial infection and rupture, I had to keep my ear completely dry, I’m talking head out of the water dry, as the bacteria left a gaping hole where my eardrum once was. While most ruptured eardrums will heal on their own in about a month, mine was a rather extreme case, 70% was missing, plus the edges of the hole were jagged and not smooth due to the mechanism of how my drum got destroyed. After 6 months my recovery stalled out and I was left with a 40-50% opening that was never going to fully close on its own without surgical intervention. 

The surgical repair of a broken eardrum, called a Tympanoplasty, is a 2.5-3 hour operation under general anesthesia. The surgeon works meticulously to cut off the ear, peeling it back from the skull to expose the canal and drum. They harvest tissue from the scalp to create a new grafted ear drum. They then scratch up the surrounding healthy tissue, irritating it to cause it to bleed so it can adhere to the new tissue graft as it heals. It’s all pretty intense. Recovery process is about a month. It’s a challenge to heal due to the little amount of blood flow that feeds the area. Yet, surprisingly, the success rate for tympanoplasty is 90%. 

Despite the impressive statistics, I’ve undergone two of these operations about a year apart. Sadly, neither have been hugely successful. My first graft didn’t adhere on one edge leaving a wide slit. The second attempt had a better outcome, but still wasn’t perfect. The graft adhered, but the tissue itself was too thin in one section (only 1 of 3 layers of skin grew back). I diligently wore ear plugs to keep water out, otherwise the ocean stung – like salt in a wound (literally). Years have passed and my ear remains about the same, mostly fixed, but not perfect. Any sort of pressure would force water into my ear giving me an intense headache and a feeling of a head full of water. By the evening I would be congested and miserable. I was saddened from my inability to fully participate in the activities that now dictated my life. I avoided waves at all cost and surface snorkeling was all I could do. 

It was a hard truth to swallow – the reality that I live on a boat and I may never be able to dive again. My body just didn’t want to heal itself. I felt totally dependent on Kristian for so much. If our anchor ever got stuck, I couldn’t do anything about it, Kristian had to be the one to dive down and help untangle the anchor chain. If we wanted to go snorkel from the dinghy, the same anchoring issues arose. Often, the best way to anchor the dinghy was to swim the front line that attaches to the dinghy down to a rock and secure it through or around; yet another job I was reliant on Kristian for. This feeling of dependence ate away at my fierce independence. I swallowed what little pride I had left and remained grateful Kristian did so much for us. 

Every year I try and take some time off the boat to work and visit family. This year I did a 6 month nurse contract, which is probably the longest time I’ve spent away from the boat. The dry climate and lack of water exposure seemed to have positive effects. “My ear feels different, more solid” I remember expressing to Kristian. It still wasn’t perfect as every so often when I would equalize my ears, air would leak out and whistle continuously indicative of a tiny pinhole. I remember discussing my issues with my friend Toby who also happens to be an ear specialist. “Have you tried diving with it?” He asked curious if my ear still functioned. My eyes wide with disbelief, he seemed to be suggesting that my ear might actually work in this not so ideal state. He planted a tiny seed of wonder and hope. Maybe air leaks out, but does water come in? 

I was building the courage to evaluate the current function of my not so perfect ear while on my most recent trip to visit Kristian in Tikehau. I had scheduled an ear doctor appointment with my surgeon for my return. I was setting up the pawn pieces for the biggest move I was yet to make. The fear of pain and worsening damage crippled me from testing the limits until the end of my trip. Three days before flying home, I decided to summon the courage and give it a try. Surprisingly, I made it to 2 feet and it seemed to work, ears equalized, no pain, no water getting in. (I use special vented ear plugs to allow me to dive while keeping salt water out of my highly sensitive ears). I didn’t have weights with me to go deeper without struggling, so I waited till the following day to make sure I didn’t have rebound sinus symptoms that evening.

Feeling great the following morning, I collected my dive gear I hadn’t worn in years. Strapping that rubber waist belt on felt so strange. I was taking it one baby step at a time. We were heading to a special coral island that is known for swimming with Manta Rays. It’s hit or miss if you see them, but I was feeling hopeful and I remember saying, “if the mantas are there, I’m diving down!” 

We tied the dinghy up to a rope mooring in the water. I rolled off the dinghy and will never forget lifting my head back out of the water excitedly yelling “They’re RIGHT HERE!” The mantas, 3 of them, were literally beneath us! You’re lucky if you see one. But my golly, there were 3! 

Without more than a second to think, I took a deep breath and started my descent towards these majestic giants. I equalized every foot of the way down. I could feel air bubble out of my ear with each equalization, but water wasn’t getting in. IT WORKED!! I was eye to eye with the manta, transfixed by its grace and beauty. I could see the opal sheen of its horn shaped cephalic fins that twist and unfold helping it feed on tiny plankton. It flapped it’s way around coral rocks getting cleaned by little cleaner fish, not phased by my presence. It was mesmerizing and I continued going up and diving back down for hours. 

I felt like I was lucid dreaming, weightlessly moving thru the crystal clear water column, as if floating in space. All my favorite fishy characters that I’ve been so accustomed to seeing from the top down, were now inches from my face, starring back at me with equally wide eyes. It was astonishing, flexing my gills and feeling my mermaid tail come back to life.

 

 

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