Monday, July 13, 2015

Better and Better
By Michael

Frances and Eleanor next to the lone, weather
beaten tree that stands near the quay where
we land our dinghy in front of the Mekemo
atoll village of Pouheva.
I’m torn. I love to snorkel with my daughters, I hate to snorkel with my daughters. Let me explain the latter.

I’m kind of a slow-moving, thoughtful snorkeler. I enjoy watching and studying. If I see a pretty fish or eel or octopus disappear into a crevice, I delight in hovering above, still, for as long as it takes, so I can watch the creature emerge again. I like to bring the camera and dive down to take pictures. I can’t snorkel like this with my girls nearby.

They grab me and poke me and motion for me to raise my head so we can talk. This means I have to ditch my focus, straighten out my prone body, get my legs beneath me, and spit out my snorkel.

“Yeah, what is it?”

“DID YOU SEE THAT…” Here you can fill in the blank—nudibranch, fish, sea slug, they like them all. This happens about every three seconds, despite the fact that all of these sighting are familiar to them, despite Windy and I trying to discourage them.
It hasn't made a difference. Their eagerness to share hasn't waned. And they’re both the same.

It began in Mexico, when they learned to snorkel. It continued in the Marquesas. Now, we’re in the Tuamotus where the water is warm and crazy-clear. (It’s so clear that at night, under a bright moon, from Del Viento’s deck I can see the bottom 30 feet below!) This means they can see me from a distance. I try not to see them, swimming towards me, urgently, shouting for me underwater through their snorkel, “MRAAA, ARAA GAABA EEEDER, OOOG!” How they manage to observe anything remains a mystery.

Birth of a coconut palm. The nut is
still in the husk. It fell from the tree and
the top of the husk rotted. Now, you know
those three "eyes" at one end of a
coconut? Interestingly, a shoot emerges
from one and heads up while a large
starter root emerges from each of the
other two and heads down, into the sand.

It wasn’t always like this.

Two years ago in Alaska, we were often parked in front of some glacier, bergy bits surrounding our hull. Occasionally a loud CRACK! and deep BOOM! would echo off the walls of a fjord and a chunk of ice the size of a minivan—or house—would fall from the 250-foot-tall glacier face and make a tremendous splash and wave. I’d be amazed, eager to share my amazement with them, but find myself sometimes having to beg their attention. “Guys! Wasn’t that incredible?!”

They’d shrug.
“Guys, that was the birth of an iceberg!”

They were younger. They didn’t have the knowledge to give context to allow them to fully appreciate this and other experiences near the start of our voyage. Yet, I took solace in the belief that they got something out of it. They'll happily and clearly describe these long-ago experiences today, they're a part of their forming identities.

But now it’s different. Their maturity has seemed to grow by leaps and bounds, and along with it, their interest in the world around them. The last few nights we’ve sat out in the cockpit with the Starwalk app on the iPad and each girl has been responsible for identifying a constellation (or planet) and learning about it and then sharing their knowledge with us. And they love it. They’re genuinely interested.

Me on the beach, on a tiny, isolated,
unpopulated motu at one end of the
atoll. We spent a few days here and
all the other pics in this post are from
this motu. We're often outdoors and without
another person visible for as far as
we can see.
Of course, knowledge adds context and begets even more knowledge. I know this.

And that’s why I love to snorkel with them. They’ll come up after an hour, chilled, covered with jellyfish stings, and smiling. They're eager to rinse off, dry off, and grab the tropical fish and tropical creature identification books so they can find and name and learn about the new things they saw.

A couple days ago, anchored off our private paradise inside the Makemo atoll, snorkeling with Eleanor, she spotted her second shark in as many days. It was a black tipped reef shark, about as long as she is tall. She poked me and pointed, “MRAA, AARRG, EEEE?!” I nodded and she swam after him.

It was another of those moments when I’m so glad we’re out here, doing this. She’s eleven years old and swimming comfortably with reef sharks, in the wild, in this uninhabited, beautiful place. And she—with her sister—will do so for weeks and months to come, making it not just a novel, singular experience, but a part of her childhood, of who she is becoming.


Okay, for perspective, this is the little motu we loved for a few days.
See the moon rising?

Windy and the girls exploring the shallows and old coral heads.

This giant gecko jumped onto Eleanor's back. This was right
after a smaller one jumped onto Frances's face. Also, walking on the beach,
five feet in front of us, the sand seemed animated because of all the
hermit crabs. But they'd all freeze as we approached.


Windy brought her hammock.

We stayed late into the night and
had dinner ashore.


  1. A fantastic way for you to snorkel somewhat but not really with your daughters is to spearfish. They snorkel while you spearfish. While you're all in the water at the same time, they need to keep their distance. At least that's how Phil's figured it out. Can't complain...he does bring home dinner.

  2. Great pics, and story, as always, Mike! Enjoy, from "coldest summer" in Berkeley, Bliss crew.

  3. We absolutely loved Makemo! Reading about it brings it all back and makes me wish it was still down wind!

    We saw a lot of sharks there, especially when we floated the far pass at the other end of the lagoon from the village. At outlet of the stream at the gap between the town motu and the next one there were tons of little blacktips.

    I can't tell from your entry if you've tried floating the passes yet on any of the atolls, but I highly recommend it. On the flooding tide dinghy out to the outside, you can either have one volunteer drop you and pick you up, of you can tie a long lead to your dinghy and tie it to one of you. A moving panorama (with lots of sharks!) awaits you. Do NOT miss doing this at the South pass of Fakarava!


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