Wednesday, April 9, 2014

On the balance of risk, freedom and choice: a response to the Rebel Heart controversy

Such a fascinating media flurry around the Rebel Heart story -- a  family rescued some 900 miles offshore from Mexico. In the last 36 hours we've read hundreds of blog comments attacking the Kaufmans for being irresponsible sailors and parents. I don't know how well prepared they were for this voyage -- I do not know this family, and I have not followed their journey. But I do know they've been sailing for a year to prepare for the first offshore leg of their circumnavigation, and I give them credit for at least leaving the dock in the first place.  
I keep wondering why people feel the need to judge this family for doing something they believe is the right path for them, for creating a life that is exceptional and full of love and life, for teaching their children about the world in a hands-on way. All the things I value. 
All I can come up with is that there is something else going on here. This is not about the rights and wrongs of sailing with small children or the decisions we make as parents -- it's about larger fears that permeate our society.
So when I was approached to write about this storm, I felt a strong urge to respond. I am not dogmatic or particularly preachy about 'our' way of life. But it rankles that others are about their own set of values, and this issue seems about much more than sailors or offshore adventuring. I think it's important to look at the way we balance our lives between risk and perceived notions of safety. 
This link will take you to a blog post I wrote for the parenting journal, What To Expect
-Michelle Elvy, in Bali, Indonesia

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Vanuatu (September / October 2013)

Our time in Vanuatu was far too brief. For us, it was largely a stopping point along the way to Indonesia. By the time we left Fiji, it was already late in the season and we needed to cover a lot of mileage to get out of the tropical cyclone zone. Hence, we were psychologically already gone -- heading west. Our stops in Tanna Island and Port Vila allowed for just enough of a glimpse to tell us we'll have to head back for a longer stay. Some day... For now, here are a few photos from our few weeks there, late September to mid-October.

Arrival from Fiji – 1 October 2013. Momo at anchor in Port Resolution -- named thus by Captain James Cook (after his ship), the first European to come to Tanna (the volcano beckoned) in 1774.

Port Resolution Yacht Club, Tanna Island. You can see the various yacht and country flags hanging in the club. The locals are very welcoming, and make it easy to stop here.

Jana looking out over the anchorage in Port Resolution.

Tiara and coconut palms – signs of the South Pacific.

The signs and smells of the South Pacific.

Dinghy ride around the entrance to the Port Resolution anchorage – cliffs and caves.

Carvings along the road, Tanna Island. Lola and Michelle drove one day with Johnson, Rossi, and Andrew to the village with a bank (we needed Vatu for our trip up the volcano – 5000 per person, equal to about $50; exchanged our remaining Fijian dollars). Along the way, like a taxi service, they stopped to pick up various people – some paid, some did not. Everyone knows everyone, and a car is a valuable commodity. We listened to some Vanuatu music along the way, with a reggae beat, and became acquainted with Johnson’s cousin, who writes his music from prison in Port Vila. Johnson tells us that he’s there because of stealing: the very poor must resort to stealing and it’s not even viewed as a bad thing, just sad that he got caught by the government -- but even that is not so bad, because he got a special cultural grant to support his music in prison, so he sits there with his recording equipment and produces CDs. We liked the music and even looked for some in Port Vila. We also went by the prison in Port Vila but didn’t hear any music that day.

Tanna (like many islands in Vanuatu, we gather) has a very strong sense of its own identity. The islanders are fiercely independent and proud of being their own people. They have resisted the effects of 'Europeanization' fairly well and even led a separatist movement in the 1970s. Maintaining their own customs and cultures, they are proud that many of their people remain in Tanna, not succumbing to the lure of the big city of Port Vila. Even in the early days of colonization, they resisted Christianity more successfully than other places. Their identity, interestingly, includes a staunch commitment to the John Frum Cargo Cult -- a faith that from a certain perspective is more firmly rooted in reality than the traditional religions of West.

Kids in Tanna. We spent an afternoon strolling through the village at Port Resolution and talking to people. Among other things, they are building some new public buildings and a school. I spoke with the Australian woman in charge of the school project (nearly complete) who was there just then to oversee the final steps. Sue, Andrew and Phil had all participated in this project on their own free time, with Sue spearheading it and raising Aus $200,000 over the last few years. She had first sailed here with her husband on their boat some years back, and she fell in love with Tanna Island, found some magic here and set about finding a way to give something of her time and energy to this village.

Our host Johnson rings the village bell. We were told to look for Stanley, but we never found Stanley. Johnson is Stanley’s brother, we discovered – and apparently the current “go-to guy” in Tanna Village. On our trip across the island, Johnson stopped along the way back, and he and his friend went inside a house and returned with bowls of cassava and coconut milk with bread for Lola and me. They sat on the side of the road and ate their lunch then, which included, for dessert, white buns drizzled with sweetened condensed milk. Lola and I enjoyed the cassava and coconut milk – delicious, as always.

The village makes good money off the volcano. They have figured out how to make the most of their natural resource and have it very well organized for the visiting yachts and other tourists. They drive you there (30 min) and escort you up to the top. We left around 5pm so we could get there in time to see it in the light and then at dark, too.

Another of the volcano.

Leaving Tanna – sailing to Port Villa and waving goodbye to the volcano, which we found just as impressive from this view as from the close-up range. It spews constantly, and you can see it for miles. No wonder Cook stopped here.

Our introduction to the urban language of Port Vila (called Bislama) came mostly from signs around town. Always fun to decipher. Here, a private home with a warning sign against trespassing. TABU: Yu no kam insaed = You no come inside.

Calcium for strong teeth and bones + iron for making you strong. You get the idea. Vanuatu Ministry of Health is watching out for its people.

Number one water.

Some views strolling around Port Vila and its environs.

Even in town the papaya grows in almost every garden.

Beautiful gardens in Port Vila. 

Lola and the iguana. One of the things we grew tired of in Port Vila was how everyone wants to sell you something. Even this nice fellow walking by wanted to share more than just his cool pet. He stopped and let the kids hold it, showed them a few tricks with him, and smiled as we snapped photos. Then he asked for money for the photos we took. That is: he asked for money since he and his pet were the subject of our photos. We tipped him and smiled but grumbled, just a little. 

One of the best things in Port Vila was the French baked goods.Quiche, pastries, pain au chocolat, glace…  all delicious. We also purchased bread and croissants, but they did not last long enough to count as provisioning for the next leg of our journey.

Port Vila’s market was fun. Vegetables, fruits, flowers, fish. A big space with a lot of variety. We enjoyed shopping here but did not find it especially cheap. Still, we stocked up on certain supplies for our trip to Indonesia, purchasing as much large grapefruit as we could carry (each of us had a heavy bag or two), and other staples. In the shopping centers, we bought coffee, beer, bread, butter and pate. 

Walking back down to the harbor after a stroll up around town and through the suburbs. The main street of Port Vila runs along the waterfront, and then various roads lead up and away to the government buildings, the museum, and other commercial sites – car rentals, grocery stores, laundry, etc.

Port Vila harbor view -- Momo among anchored boats.

Cooling off.  Some days in Vila were hot – and we anchored outside the main mooring field so the kids could jump off the boat and cool down. 

Lola up the mast. Lola and Jana have been swinging on the bosun’s chair for as long as we can remember. Now that they are getting bigger, they are venturing further up the mast. You can’t really swing from the top, but it offers a great view of the harbor.  Next time we’ll send her with a bag of tools and have her fix something up there.

Our checklist in Vila included sorting our Internet so we could do a few last things online before disappearing for a month, fixing our nav station light, getting a new back-up handheld GPS (one of our backups had died), printing Indonesia paperwork so we’d be prepared upon arrival, locating some of the weather and sailing nets for the next crossing, checking the rig, shackles, reefing lines, chain plate bolts (stern) and Jerome’s bearings (self-steering gear), and of course stocking up on water.

Saying goodbye to the family on Pacific Bliss. We met in them Port Vila only briefly but we expect we’ll see them again, as they’re now settled in Nelson, NZ. One of our last stops in Port Vila was to have a beautiful steak luncheon at a restaurant outside of town, recommended by Colin and Liz. Lovely view, nice French waiter, good food and wine. And, at $10 a plate, it was a bargain in this town.

Pulling up anchor and putting Vanuatu behind us… but first, we must dislodge a large hunk of rock stuck on our anchor. Bernie had to climb on top and stomp quite a bit, but even that did not help. He finally secured a line around it so we could ‘tip’ it and change the balance. It had settled into a perfectly balanced state on our anchor and was not going anywhere without a lot of encouragement. I worried that Bernie might go with it, but he managed to stay dry.

Goodbye Port Vila....Next top, Torres Strait.

Friday, November 22, 2013

New Zealand to Fiji (May to September, 2013)

It’s certainly been a while since we posted anything. Now we’re more or less on the move again. We left New Zealand for Fiji in mid-May (2013), a passage to windward that featured, among other things, plenty of vomiting on my (Bernie’s) part. The offset companion way on the Mason 43 is nicely situated so that those afflicted by mal de mer can make their offering to Neptune directly on the side deck, which he washes away immediately (which admittedly works best when on a port tack). Other highlights included a mollusk-encrusted dinghy that wafted the smell of death through the dorades into our enclosed and humid cabin, and a pre-cooked chicken that fell behind the stove during rough weather and putrefied for days before being discovered.
In late June, our friends from Canada visited us in the Yasawas. We made them work. Yvette hurt her shoulder climbing into the dinghy; James buggered his knee climbing onto the boat. We think they're still friends, but we haven't heard from them in a long time.

In the category of boat repairs: our nine-year-old anchor light/tricolor gave up the ghost immediately after we left NZ. The damn things are expensive. So this time we cobbled together an assembly of much cheaper and more ubiquitous LED running lights for less than the half the price, which has the additional advantage (in my eyes) of being repairable. Admittedly, it's not very pretty, but it lives at the top of the mast, so who cares.
Momo anchored off the village of Somo Somo, Naviti Island in the Yasawas.

Somo Somo landing party.

Somo Somo kids.

Somo Somo
Somo Somo -- outdoor cooking

Jana's pic of a large spider.

James leads from behind on our trek to the other side of Naviti island to snorkel the WWII wreck of a P-39 aircraft. According to the elderly woman who lives near the site and remembers the event, the plane clipped the trees and crashed into the lagoon; the pilot, armed with a handgun, emerged shortly thereafter and enjoyed tea with her aunt before being rescued. 


Momo spins at anchor.

In the "reinventing the wheel" category, Yvette and Jana destroy my mallet trying to figure out how to get into a coconut.

This fellow was destined for the smoker.

Exploring a sandy reef at low tide, Musket Cove, Mamanucas.
We actually spent an inordinate amount of time working while anchored at Musket Cove. But we had a nice view from the office.

A windy day at anchor.
More from the boat repair categories: the dissected corpse of our inverter/ charger. We replaced it with two 60-amp Sterling Power ProChargeUltra chargers (they can be hooked up in parallel) and a separate TruePower 1000 watt inverter. We figured it was a good idea to have to have two separate chargers for redundancy. The chargers also work on both 110 and 220 volts. The complexity of an integrated inverter/charger isn't necessary and such units also have a notoriously high failure rate. At this point, all of our AC comes from the batteries; the Honda generator only powers the chargers. We bought the units from Bay Marine Supply in the US, who shipped them priority mail to Fiji.

A last look at Lautoka ...
Jana and Michelle get in the way of a photo of Lola reading her Kindle while leaving Fiji.

Goodbye Fiji.