Monday, August 31, 2015

Where Do We Go From Here?
By Michael

Windy flying in the chair while under
sail, approaching Moorea.
Before we left Mexico to cross the Pacific, we wondered where we were headed. After French Polynesia, the possibilities are varied. There is a cyclone season starting down here in November, so that is a big driver in our decision-making process (as it is for the entire fleet).

An overwhelming majority of the few hundred boats that crossed the Pacific this year are headed for New Zealand or Australia. These destinations indicate a route and timeline that are so well-traveled there is a name: the Coconut Milk Run. A few boats divert north from French Polynesia to Hawaii, a stepping stone on a path back to North American shores. Totally adventurous contrarians head further south and east from here, to Patagonia.

For a while now, we planned to do what a few others do, which is to aim northwest from French Polynesia, back up across the equator to Micronesia and beyond. Just two weeks ago, we were on our way to Japan—we planned to arrive April 2016 and we’d already begun making contacts in-country.

But we’ve changed our minds—rather, we’ve studied the information available and decided that the part of the world between here and Japan is not where we want to be during an El Niño event. El Niño conditions exacerbate the ferocity and unpredictability of storms in this already unpredictable area and so…no.

Instead, we’ve decided it’s safer to stay where we are, in the South Pacific islands. Do you see the paradox? We’ve decided it’s safer to weather the South Pacific cyclone season in the South Pacific than to venture into that part of the North Pacific. Of course, that means we may wind up in the path of a hurricane-force storm. Accordingly, we plan to spend a six-month stretch hunkered down in a sheltered spot where our boat has a reasonable chance of surviving a very big storm (and with a plan for us to be safely sheltered ashore in that event).

Frances painting our French courtesy
So why not New Zealand or Australia? In short—and as much as we hope to visit both of those countries in the future—they are too familiar. We are enjoying being where the people are not so much like us and where things happen differently than we’re used to.

So, there are quite a few less-familiar places around here where people on boats do hunker down over the cyclone season. French Polynesia is one option that many French sailors choose, but it’s not an option for us, as the French will not allow us to stay here without the extended visa that was too difficult to get from Mexico and impossible to get from here. American Samoa is another option—and it was in the running for a while, especially because I thought I might have a job opportunity there—but we’ve scratched it off our list. Fiji and Tonga are other options because they’re both comprised of intricate archipelagos that feature numerous protected anchorages. Fiji is especially popular. (They even haul sailboats out of the water there and stick the keels in holes dug in the ground for fly-home-and-leave-your-boat-for-the-season-protection.) That said, we’ve chosen the Kingdom of Tonga.

We will likely show up (it’s still a couple months’ cruising and more than a thousand miles away), sus things out, maybe see about renting a “cyclone-rated” mooring, and stay if we’re pleased. If not, we can make a four-day passage to Fiji and settle there. But I suspect Tonga is where you’ll find us. It’s different (hopefully in a good way), the cost of living is low (we need this), and since they just ran a fiber optic cable from neighboring Fiji, the internet is supposed to be decent—which means I’ll be able to let you all know what it’s like.


At anchor in Moorea, Windy's feet and a spotted
ray flying along the sea floor.

Eleanor swinging in the chair.

I shot this, my POV swinging in the chair.

Grouper, roughly a foot long.




  1. You know I was counting on you for a vicarious sail around Japan. Ah well, I can't blame you. Have fun in Tonga.

  2. Swinging in the chair looks like a blast! Thanks for the idea.

  3. Sounds like Family Circus is loving it there! I'm sure you will too. May it be a safe haven for you this fall.


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