Monday, July 27, 2015

The Space Cowboy
By Michael
Tahiti, French Polynesia

The girls found a tide pool where the
shrimp would eat the dead skin off
their feet. They loved it. Sorry if
you're eating.
Some people call me the space cowboy…

Those words sounded funny, sung with a thick accent by six French parents huddled around a laptop on the beach, reading from the screen. Three of them strummed guitar. They’d all graciously invited us to join them here, ashore in the Tuamotus for a nighttime bonfire. In the distance, I heard the shrieks and laughter of our girls running wild and happy with their fellow cruising kids on the tiny motu.

Some call me the gangster of love…

I could tell some of the words were unfamiliar to the singers, but they did a fine job of hitting the rhymes. This was about the 10th song they’d sung and played and we’d enjoyed.

Some people call me Maurice…

At this point, Windy and I, red wine in hand, belted out a perfectly timed WOO-HOO, to fill-in for Steve Miller’s cat-call whistle. We nailed it. We were still smiling at our joie de vivre when every member of the French contingent turned their heads at us to wonder what the hell we were doing. They seemed ready to be amused, but when we just sat there, they seemed confused. I don’t think it even occurred to them that we were participating in the sing-along.

Windy doing laundry at a
fish camp. 
Since arriving in French Polynesia, we’ve spent a few days and evenings socializing with French or Belgian or Dutch folks. It seems we’re always the outsider, there are just too few Canadians, Aussies, or fellow Americans around this late in the season for us to ever be in the majority. Every get-together ashore or afloat is a foreign-language-dominant affair. And I’m happy for this. It’s interesting and challenging—though a bit brain taxing—and it pleases me to see the girls running around or drawing or even movie-watching with other kids who struggle with English while my girls struggle with French.

But it also reminds me how sadly mono-linguistic we are. All meaningful communication between us and the French or Belgian or Dutch folks happens because they forsake the easy flow of their own tongues to speak our English. If they all weren’t so nice, I’m sure they’d be thinking, I’ll do this for the poor Americans who haven’t bothered to learn to speak anything but English. Their own English is usually broken and they hunt for words, but it comes out a hundred times better than my French and for many of them, it’s one of three or more languages they’re comfortable speaking. I was feeling inferior over this state of affairs, until recently.

We ran into some Russian cruisers about a week after we arrived on Hiva Oa, back in the Marquesas. Nice folks, but they spoke about as much English as I did Russian.

Eleanor with a crab she found.
Parlez vous Francais?” they asked me.

“No.” I shook my head regrettably. But wait…¿Habla Espanol?” I added.

¡Si!” they smiled.

It was great. After a couple years in Mexico, I can converse in Spanish—si puedo! We proceeded to talk with ease about where they came from and where they were going. I told them where the supermarket is in town and the best way to get there. I answered the other questions they had.

Since then, including last night, I’ve made it a point to ask the French or Belgian or Dutch folks we meet whether they speak Spanish. Surprisingly, having asked more than a dozen folks, I’ve yet to meet one of them who does. It doesn’t make any sense. Especially for the French. Spain is next door, and if you’re gonna learn three or four languages, wouldn’t Spanish be one of them? No matter, they respond that they don’t speak Spanish and I shrug my shoulders like, Damn, if only you spoke my second language, we could chat it up all night. Which is not exactly true, I know, but it helps me keep face.

…cause I speak of the pompatus of love.


Don't forget you can always see where we are by clicking the Farkwar page tab, above, or going directly to the Farkwar site:

Eleanor and I sailing the Pudgy in paradise.

Start of an overnight passage to Fakarava.

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.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Start the Presses!
By Michael

So, besides sailing around and exploring and parenting and writing blog posts and magazine articles, I've been hard at work over the past 18 months on the Voyaging With Kids book (along with my friends and colleagues, Behan Gifford of Totem and Sara Johnson of Wondertime). No longer. I just got an email from the publisher (L&L Pardey Publications) that the book has gone to print--no more reviews, corrections, changes, and additions. It's done!

It turned out...awesome. In the able hands of a book designer, ebook designer, two editors, and an indexer, our manuscript and photos have morphed into an attractive, organized volume of information and perspectives. Besides the pros, our book benefits from contributions from dozens of other cruising parents, cruising kids, former cruising parents, and former cruising kids. (I'm talking to you BumfuzzleEyoni, Hotspur, Knee Deep, Namaste, Osprey, and many, many more.) It's better and more comprehensive than I ever imagined it would be.

Early readers of the manuscript---Beth Leonard, Herb McCormick, Cap'n Fatty, Mike Litzow, and others---have offered generous praise.

The release date is still two months away, but I want to give you a glimpse of the inside of the book. Each of the following is a two-page spread. Note that there are tables and sidebars throughout to compliment the body text.

See, isn't it beautiful? Also, there is an ebook version of the book that will be released at the same time. This format includes all the content of the print book, plus lots of video. You really need both--and so does everyone on your holiday shopping list.

And finally, here is the table of contents:

Now, I'm off to finish the next book, already well underway...


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Marquesas Coda
By Michael

This snail was really big, three times the size of any
snail I've seen in the States. Frances fed him for
twenty minutes.

FARKWAR NOTE: Click here to see where we are now (and click a map marker to see a note from Windy).

We spent over six-weeks in the Marquesas. We explored the islands of Fatu Hiva, Hiva Oa, Tahuata, Nuku Hiva, and Ou Pou, all within a half-day to overnight sail of one another. Now we’re gone, a four-night sail south-southwestward took us to the Tuamotus, a very different place.

While the Marquesas and Marquesans are still fresh in my mind, I want to cover some of what we learned and encountered while there.

Marriage notice displayed outside
a government building on Tahuata.
If we’d left the Marquesas after our first several days in Fatu Hiva, I’d have a very different perspective than I have now. There are fewer than 10,000 Marquesans living in several small communities on a few islands. And yet, I feel we had to visit as many as we did and spend the time we did to get a sense of these people—and all I am left with is my sense, I don’t pretend to believe I have everything figured out.
We met the occasional odd ducks, mostly on Fatu Hiva, but also on Tahuata, both times in comparatively isolated communities. We never felt threatened, but we did feel uncomfortable, in the sense that we knew somebody wanted something from us or to communicate something to us, but we were never able to connect—despite good intentions. But…
We also came to know Marquesans as among the kindest, proudest people we’ve encountered traveling. Walking through Marquesan communities, we almost always had the sense that people were ready to give us the shirts off their backs. I’m wired to be skeptical. Presented with generosity after generosity, I wondered repeatedly what the catch was, only to feel shame again and again when I learned there was none.

This woven decoration was erected outside
this store for Mother's Day.
There is trouble in paradise too. We were cautioned a few times by older Marquesans not to leave shoes or hats or anything else of value in our dinghy, because the younger people would steal them. We heard that teen pregnancy is nearly the norm. We read about more serious problems like incest.
Yet, we almost always got a warm, kind, helpful vibe from people we met. People went out of their way to give us rides in their car. Vendors nearly always slipped us extras as we shopped. People came out of their homes to give us food from their trees as we walked past.
The Marquesans seem idle, people who have free time because they live among abundance. The trees are heavy with more food than the population can consume. The Marquesans don’t seem to take the beauty and richness of their landscape for granted. I don’t know how this can be. I suspect if I grew up here and this was all I knew, the smell of the flowers in the air and the lush greenery would become invisible. I suspect I would come to resent this blue ocean that borders my world and isolates me. Surely I’d grow tired of coconut and pamplemousse. Yet, over and over people expressed to us genuine enthusiasm and appreciation and pride about their home.

A lot of Marquesans smoke. Women often wear tropical flowers behind an ear in their regular lives. Many of the men are fit and many women are obese. Some men, called mahu, are raised as girls, and continue on to live their lives as women.

Carrots in Hiva Oa, right after the supply
ship arrived. These are over US$4 per kilo.
Marquesan food includes a lot of pigs, goats, and the local produce (pamplemousse, bananas, string beans, oranges, limes, breadfruit, coconut, and a few others I don’t know the names for). It also includes a lot of baguettes and Chinese stuff. Egg rolls are popular—pre-made and sold at every grocery counter, cold. Sometimes there is meat inside, sometimes not. A popular sandwich is a section of a baguette sliced open and filled with chow mien noodles. The store shelves include a lot of Chinese products and condiments. There are also a lot of French products, such as frozen and canned snails, duck and other pates, and soft cheeses galore. There is canned butter from New Zealand and boxed UHT milk from France and Germany. The local Hinano beer is from Tahiti, there is wine from Europe. The only breakfast cereal available are a few off-label equivalents of things like Cocoa Puffs and Fruit Loops.

Almost everything is very, very expensive. Those boxes of crappy cereal are 600-700 French Pacific francs (XPF, and the XPF to dollar exchange rate is roughly 100:1). The wine is 1500-2800 XPF per bottle. Windy (read: not me) paid 900 XPF for a head of purple cabbage. But, if you brought a literal boat load of food with you from Mexico, and you like the local produce, and you don’t eat out, the cost of eating in the Marquesas isn’t high. Also, in every store, all the items with red price tags are subsidized. We were able to buy baguettes for 64 XPF. Liters of milk are 114-126 XPF. Canned butter and pasta and some canned vegetables are also subsidized.

Our last anchorage in the Marquesas, on
Ua Pou.
There have been very few restaurants to tempt us. The only time we went out to eat was at a formal pig roast in a private home with about 30 other cruisers.


Off the boat, we’ve spent our time snorkeling (when we’ve been in anchorages away from the big communities on Hiva Oa and Nuku Hiva). The water clarity isn’t like the Tuamotus, but it’s been okay. We go on walks and hikes. We talk to people. We stumble on singing and dancing rehearsals sometimes. We went to the Gaugain museum on Hiva Oa.

Many people we’ve met have rented cars and toured the islands, or gone on private, all-day organized tours. We’ve heard great things from both groups, but we’ve not been able to justify the expense. It costs about US$120 a day to rent a car and the tours are US$40-50 per person.

Sunset from the spreaders, Fatu Hiva.
We dropped the hook in 140 feet of water to anchor at the back of a pack of 20 boats in Fatu Hiva. It’s not since been that deep. But, most of the anchorages are a bit rolly and in Hiva Oa, we had no choice but to use a stern anchor as the anchorage is small and crowded. There were a few boats just outside the anchorage swinging on a single hook, but it looked pretty rolly out there. In Nuku Hiva, many folks used stern anchors to keep their boats pitching instead of rolling, but we did not—it wasn’t so bad.

In general, the anchorages were rolly and not well protected--but also not as bad as we expected, given what we'd heard. Then again, writing as I am from the flat calm of a Tuamotu atoll anchorage, I don't miss the rolling.


We enjoyed the best internet in all of the Marquesas at our first, most remote, anchorage, off Fatu Hiva. There is a wifi tower there and we were able to access it from the boat using our wifi antenna, paying with a credit card online. After that, we never had it as good. Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa both had wifi signals we could reach, but the connection was usually frustratingly slow. The two big vendors seem to be Manaspot and Hotspot. I bought a 100 hours on the former for about US$110. It was all about time connected, not bandwidth—the opposite of what we were used to in Mexico.


Walking the dinghy up river to start
the hike to the fall in Daniel's Bay,
Nuku Hiva.
Before we left Mexico, we stocked up on U.S. dollars, euros, and stuff to trade. We have yet to use (or be able to use) any of the dollars and we used only a few euros on a specific occasion. We are very glad we brought the things we did to trade, especially used rope and shoes and colored markers.

In the Marquesas, the French Pacific franc (XPF) is the accepted currency. In the larger communities on Hiva Oa and Nuku Hiva, we found ATMs from which it was easy to get cash. We didn’t see ATMs on any of the other islands. Also on Hiva Oa and Nuku Hiva, we were able to use a credit card in most of the grocery stores—so long as our purchase was over XPF$2000 or so (again, XPF to dollar is roughly 100:1, so that’s roughly $20). On both islands, I also used a credit card to buy diesel. I suspect we could have used credit cards at one of the few restaurants we saw, but we never ate out. Most of our transactions were in cash.

We met a kind farmer (Steven—he’s a bit intense, but cool) on Tahuata, and after he gifted us some coconuts and gave us a tour of his home and plantings, we were happy we had a shovel to give him (we’d hauled this shovel around for some unknown reason for years). Likewise, we were constantly glad we carried things in a backpack around with us as it was always nice to offer things in return for all the random kindness we were shown. We also used those things to trade for fruit—lots and lots of fruit.


The beach off the anchorage on Hiva Oa.
We were in the Marquesas for the rainiest part of the year. It rained several times per day at times. The good thing about this is the boat hasn’t been as clean in a long time and we were able to keep our tanks filled with rain water. The bad thing about the intermittent rain was shutting and opening the hatches several times per night. It was like waking to tend a crying newborn. But since I’m unemployed, I could just sleep in to make up for it.

Otherwise, water in most Marquesan ports was potable and readily available. The only exception was Nuku Hiva, where the water is contaminated from ag runoff--though a couple free taps are available in town, they are not really walking distance and the water, though potable, is murky. (We also didn't swim in the bay off Taiohae in Nuku Hiva as the water is said to be contaminated and we know first-hand that it’s filled with sharks used to aggressively attacking anything that falls in the water—habituated as they are by the regular fish cleaning we saw).

Our favorite store on Hiva Oa. This is as big as
any supermarket in the Marquesas. Hinano signs
are everywhere, kind of like Tecate or Pacifico or
Coca-Cola signage in Mexico.

Eleanor and Windy
The girls before a very old tiki they came across on a hike.

A glimpse of the waterfall after a 2.5 hour hike from Daniel's Bay, Nuku Hiva.

Eleanor and her just-finished drawing of the just-finished sunset
anchored off Ua Pou. This was only the second time in the Marquesas
we had an anchorage to ourselves.

We saw these backyard beekeeping installations everywhere.

Snorkeling in the Marquesas: The first living cowry shell creature
I've come across.

My bride.

More Marquesan snorkeling, the visibility ain't great, but
better than we expected after hearing how poor it is.

This is what an internet café looks like on Hiva Oa.

I love how this coral grows, like petrified kelp.

That outboard is a Yanmar diesel. I've heard of these, but
this is the first one I've seen in person. It sounds like a diesel,
of course, very strange. Makes so much sense though.

Frances on the dinghy bow headed back to Del Viento, anchored
off Tahuata.

Windy thought this looked like the Bellagio hotel in Vegas. It's the
surf in Nuku Hiva.

This is the scene of our pig roast at a private home in Fatu Hiva.
The cost was
€15 each and half for the girls. It was a
BYOB affair with a huge, diverse spread and dancing
afterward by the matriarch hosts. There was a gaggle of
other cruising kids that the girls fell in with while Windy
and I enjoyed home-brewed libations
passed around by creative European cruisers with
boats filled with fruit and Panamanian rum. It was
quite a night.
Frances in the Paul Gauguin museum on Hiva Oa. 
Eleanor and Frances get picked up by their new friends for
a play date on another boat.

Exiting the church grounds on Nuku Hiva.

Eleanor watching the shark frenzy off the quay in Nuku Hiva.

Eleanor with our favorite fruit seller on Nuku Hiva. Hard to see, but
Eleanor is carrying the stalk of 100 bananas we just bought.

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