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 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

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.

How do we make Coffee onboard?

5:45am. Some of us (!) are awake drinking coffee or tea on deck. It pays to wake up early to enjoy the sunlight dancing softly on the atoll, before the heat of the day. These glassy, windless days begin like a watercolor painting! Soft, pearly tones cover the sky, and the clouds light up like frivolous strokes of the artist’s brush.

Not everyone is bright & bushy-tailed at this hour. So we ended up with 3 forms of making coffee on Aldebaran, to cover the bases. Of course, lots of tea gets made; but in the honor of Jonathan’s daily ritual, let’s explore our 3 options of making decent coffee, expensive, energy intensive machines:

#1 – French Press is the go-to bulk approach if more than 1-2 people are drinking coffee. The preferred approach is to grind the beans fresh, which takes just 20 seconds. The coffee grounds steep in the water for 5 minutes then are gently pressed. I am partial to this approach over drip coffee; I’m not sure why.

#2 – For 1 serving, we sometimes make Aeropress coffee, which has a cleaner robust taste. Thanks to Hamid, back in the Panama days of 2016, for leaving this amazing contraption behind with us. It takes no extra power, just special filters and boiling water. The coffee grounds don’t steep in this case, rather they are immediately pressed at a higher pressure (by hand).

#3 – The closest option to espresso is Percolator coffee, which is a genius Italian stainless steel contraption: it heats up on your stovetop, and pushes steam UP through the coffee grounds, and the liquid condenses on on the top container. This is pretty strong stuff and can make a mean cappuccino. Unless you have iron vessels of a true Italian, you’ll want to add hot water to dilute this.

When my dad Bob came aboard he brought a high quality hand grinder for the beans, along with a manual espresso maker (no power, just add hot water and pump). This made even stronger, richer coffee. Maybe he can remind us the name of this device.

I hear that back home people are paying lots of money for fancy coffees. Jonathan, who is a regular in SB’s French Press coffeeshop, reports that cold-press, nitro, and what is it— artisanal coffee? — are fetching $7-9 a cup. Wow. Is it possible to make all this stuff with just a stove top? Without thousand dollar machines, even let’s say while camping? Share your best coffee making hacks in the comments below 🙂

6 Boats, Reef, and the Blue

Thanks everyone for your comments last week on the posts… I must admit, I feel like a dog getting yummy treats, with every comment I woof woof in pleasure and “go fetch” the photo for the next post 🙂

Check out the attached photo of our anchorage in Tikehau. Seems so idyllic and mellow! Which it can be… but look closely at the number of coral bommies (those little black dots in the sandy blue) that are scattered around the anchorage. Those are all chunks of reef, big and small, hungry to snag a boat’s anchor chain.

For perspective, this anchorage is pretty clear compared to many… This is what we contend with in the Tuamutus, just one of several reasons why this archipelago is such a challenge for anchoring. Sure enough, when we left, I had to freedive 30ft to unwrap our chain, since the wind had swung 360 degrees over 3 days, and the chain had made a “gift wrap” package out of the rock.

Photo courtesy of Honey Bee 2, our faithful Mavic drone that replaced the one I crashed into a coconut tree (yes, it pays to have DJI’s insurance, they gave us a new one for a replacement cost of $80… which is better than spending $1200 on a new Mavic)

Have you heard what they say? “It’s better to have a captain that has the experience of shipwreck than one who doesn’t…” Well, I’ve crashed both our drone and our boat Aldebaran… so I’m highly qualified! But perhaps that’s a story, or shall we shall series of stories, for another day.

BBQ à la Tikehau

The weather is calm with variable winds, alternating sun & rain. I dont think Ill bother bringing a rain jacket next time, says Jonathan. We just go outside in the rain in our bathing suits… for the sailor shower.

We hoist anchor on Aldebaran and leave Teavatia, the northern anchorage, and head to the pass, on the western side of the atoll. Wow there are so many boats here! Sabrina comments when we arrive. Its unusually crowded for this this time of year. But even more unusual is how many boats are captained by young people.

In the US most sailboats are owned by people 50-60+ years old. This seems the case along the entire Pacific Coast of the Americas. Retirees dominate the world of cruising sailboats. During our two years in that coastline, it was rare to see sailors in their 30s or 40s… until we arrived in French Polynesia.

Our friends Ryan & Cami invite us to a BBQ potluck on the beach that afternoon. Good to see you guys! Ryan waves to us. We spent a month together at anchor last year around the holidays. Hes on a 48ft ketch Soul Rebel with his Chilean/French sweetheart, Cami, and their 8 month old baby. They are in their mid 30s and early 40s. The San Francisco couple on the neighboring 46ft ketch Lola has the same age range.

Behind, a 29ft boat bobs at anchor with a bohemian French couple in their late 20s. A nice catamaran is anchored behind us with Tahitian friends in their mid 20s. However, theyre the only non-owners, having borrowed the boat from their parents for a month cruise of Tuamotus.

Only the two other boats, of the 7 at anchor, are run by couples in their 50s and 60s.

We all migrate to shore for a fish BBQ to celebrate a Hawaiian girls birthday whos traveling aboard Lola. The bigger boats all have crew visiting them, who are young too. The beach BBQ is a great time; it feels like a party back home. The few older cruisers, who are normally the vast majority in the Americas, are now the minority. What is it about this place? Or more accurately, what is it about all these cool young people making the sailing dream come alive?

The times they are a-changin….

Photo: Cami, baby Chloe, and Sabrina; Yanik the local motu owner barbecuing the fish; the birthday girl Leticia laughing with friend Taylor and Sabrina.

Post by satellite.

Aquarium in the north

We took the dinghy into a channel between the motus, which is called a “hoa”, until the dinghy ran aground; I dropped our anchor to keep it secure; and we kept walking along the rocks and coral rubble to the ocean side of the hermit’s motu. A pretty bay greeted us.

Inside the atoll, the lagoon can have silty water — which means 15 to 30 foot visibility underwater. Outside the lagoon is another story: the open ocean has no silt or sediment, except what is kicked up by wind or swells. Typically there is between 60 and 150 feet visibility underwater. It can look so clear that fish appear to be floating in air.

Some places have underwater life that is lackluster. Exploration pays off. Despite its small size — only about 400 feet across — we found a big difference between one side of the bay and the other. The right side was a little boring, with only small numbers of fish, and ok rocky formations underwater. The left side, however, was exploding with life.

The coral formations were brightly colorful and pronounced; rocky overhangs and little caves harbored dense masses of red soldier fish; large schools of parrotfish, unicorn fish, surgeon fish, picked at algae as if nibbling on a Las Vegas Buffet, then floating intoxicated in the water column. Occasionally blue jacks and crevalle jacks patrolled the area; as did black tip sharks, cautiously maintaining their distance. Rainbow runners appeared and disappeared in a flash.

There is a nearly constant stream of sea creatures going by, entertaining our attention in any one field of vision; and if that becomes mundane, and curiosity is piqued for a closer look, the coral formations themselves are like surrealist sculptures, their mystique and detailed beauty changing and increasing the closer one gets. An hour or two goes by as we watch this underwater world in its full glory.

The diversity between the right and left side of the bay was astounding, and made me wonder: what is the rest of the perimeter of this atoll like? The 36 mile circumference of Tikehau must hold many secret zones. They are probably like the undiscovered places in a city, which may be hip and cool but invisible except to those who venture into their ungainly corners. We are re-energized to keep exploring the different corners of this wild Aquarium.

Hermit of the North

He was fishing when we paddled up to him. “I use clams as bait,” he explained. I noticed a rusty chunk of metal he used as weight for the fishing line, which evidently worked well because he had five fish on hand. “These two are for the pigs, those two for the dogs, and that one is for me.”

I can’t remember his name, but will call him Tino. He had come from the Austral Islands, which is the colder, stormier archipelago of French Polynesia that we haven’t yet visited. Tino had grown tired of his little island — something about problems with his ex-father-in-law? — so had migrated to Tikehau where he had a cousin.

Six months ago, Tino got a job as the caretaker of this motu, doing the copra harvest for the owner, who came every two weeks. “The owner works in the airport. When he has vacation he comes here for a few days.”

A sailboat from Tahiti had left the yellow kayak for him, but it had holes and he wasn’t able to use it. This seemed a shame since the Broccoli islet and various shallow waterways in this area beckon exploration — and would be good fishing options. I brought back to shore two sticks of underwater epoxy, the type that you cut, mix, and then cures in 15 minutes above or below water. We carry a bunch of those epoxy sticks onboard Aldebaran, they are so handy. I packed the holes with the epoxy, and while it cured, we went harvesting coconuts.

We walked around the motu with a long stick to pull down green coconuts. It’s a Green Coconut Run! Tino also brought a short sharp metal rod, which he used to quickly de-husk the coconuts… without the thick husk, that makes them much lighter & smaller, and easier to open later. De-husking is hard though! The gringos (us) took about 2-3 minutes per coconut, while Tino was de-husking at 20 seconds per coconut.

Tino said the only thing he doesn’t really like about living on the motu are the “no-nos”, aka no-see-ums. They come out between sunset and sunrise and make sleeping miserable. He had a mosquito net in his house but thought it stopped the breeze. I can understand, without a fan pushing air, the cooling effects of a mild breeze are halted.

Tino said he wished he could sleep on the water to avoid the no-nos. We hear this often from the locals — by being a little offshore, the boat has better breeze and no bugs. I suggested that Tino should paddle his repaired kayak and sleep on the Broccoli islet — perhaps there were no bugs there? Or perhaps just sleep on the kayak, anchored inside his protected reef??

We paddled away and left Tino alone with his dogs and pigs, hoping that he’d have better sleeping in the future.. what a life, a hermit on this motu.

Finding new-ness in the old

“Don’t you feel like seeing other places sometimes?” Gary asked me. “I mean you guys could easily sail west to Fiji, Tonga, Micronesia.” Sure, exploration is in our genes..! But now I understand what a guy once told me about good wine: “When you find something you like, stick with it for awhile.”

French Polynesia is the good wine we are enjoying… variety may be the spice of life, but depth is the flavor you don’t forget. So we are going deep into it. (In fairness we are also planning on visiting other islands later this year, on other boats… Aldebaran is sticking around here.)

Back home, we’ve kept things fresh by talking with friends about new things in our hometown: “Ah yes this new restaurant opened up” “Have you gone to this park on the full moon?” I love people who live in a town but act like travelers, always searching for novelty, even if means picking up a Lonely Planet guide of your own hometown 🙂 It’s fun to keep enjoying that feeling of new-ness!

For us here, our feeling of new-ness is about exploring the different corners of these amazing Tuamotu atolls, the different coral bommies, the different people. And thus we headed north with Jonathan and Gary to a corner of Tikehau we’d never been before, called Teavatia.

I had no idea it would be so beautiful. An islet of rock, bushes, and sand protected the anchorage, and we dropped the hook behind it. From the air it looks just like a broccoli ! A little system of reef circles the coast, and a lone house stands on the shore. Who lives here, and what will we find in this interesting nook of coastline? We jump in the dinghy and go explore!

When airports are part of the vacation

I remember an article in Surfers Journal about Tahiti, where the author mentioned, “Tahitians only drive 40mph. Max. Which makes our Western obsession with productivity seem like a silly past time.”

As soon as you walk towards the customs line in Tahiti’s airport, feeling the warm tropical air for the first time, you’ll hear musicians playing Polynesian ukulele with ladies singing in accompaniment; and your concern about getting through the customs line to begin your vacation begins to ebb away. It takes a few minutes… but then you realize your vacation has already begun. The tempo of the people here is different.

The Tikehau airport is one step further into the slow-tempo. Just the view from the airplane (best on the left side to see the lagoon!) is already jaw dropping. On Aldebaran we have the added advantage of never bothering with such things as docks, so we anchor the boat right in front of the airport when weather permits. Our crew is well trained to accept such things as wet dinghy rides upon arrival, and oh isn’t it nice to not even get into a car?

As such, we picked up Gary & Jonathan at the airport, walked across from the terminal to an open lot that led to the lagoon. Through the coconut trees, the cyan-blue water popped like a 3D cartoon, with Aldebaran at anchor and our faithful Lambordinghy tied on the beach.

Pants are swapped for board shorts, eyes squint to understand the colors. “Wait, are those little reef sharks swimming in the shallows??” “Cute, aren’t they?” I wink, loading up the dinghy, firing up the Suzuki outboard engine… to head to our shared home of the next 7 days.

Photo: Beach in front of Tikehau airport.

Sent by satellite.

Gary’s Return

We met Gary while paddling to a little motu in Moorea two years ago, after one of our crew members recognized his girlfriend. “Hey I think we dance together in Santa Barbara!” That brief recognition prompted a sunset meeting for happy hour on Aldebaran.

While we sat in Opunohu Bay watching the sun’s ray sparkle on Moorea’s granite spires, Gary confessed: “One of my dreams has always been to cruise the Tuamotus by sailboat.” I countered: “Well we’re exploring new atolls next year… Would you like to go a little remote… or really remote?” He replied without hesitation: “Really remote.” And thus we began conspiring.

What followed in March 2018 was an unforgettable 18 day journey with Gary and friend Ethan to our deepest jaunt into the Tuamotus archipelago yet (Right now, we are missing you on this trip too, Ethan!!) Search our blog for “Amanu” , “Haraiki” and “Makemo” and you’ll see some of our adventures together with this pair of funny guys who never seem to age. Share links to your favorite ones in the comments below 🙂

Apparently we didn’t traumatize Gary too badly, with our near-shipwrecks and shark infested anchorages, because he returned this year. Granted, we are just chilling in Tikehau this year, which in contrast to last year — if I can use a skiing analogy — is like enjoying a backcountry ski hut in Switzerland, instead of outrunning avalanches in Alaska. But hey, Gary has earned it. He’s a fantastic crew mate, even-keeled and just as happy to make cabbage salad or wash the dishes (two activities that occupy most of our time… haha). In truth though, being a retired professor, he is most stoked reading his Kindle… and of course, the lifetime pursuit of looking at the ocean’s swells… from as close as possible 🙂

Photo: Gary raising anchor in Tikehau.

Sent by satellite email.