Tag Archives: sailing adventure

Drama on the way to Tonga…

Is posting a blog like sending a thank you card>>> you have a year to do it and it’s still acceptable? We’ll just say it is and better late than never!

After we left French Polynesia we did a quick stop at one of the northern Cook Islands called Suwarrow. Read about it here.  The quick stop was due to weather planning.  We could either go then and now or possibly end up waiting 3 weeks on a very deserted island before our next weather window.  As inviting as that was, A: we didn’t have enough fresh produce for that and B: we wanted to get to Tonga just in case Christian’s staph infected foot wound took a turn for the worst. I would post a picture, but afraid the content would be too graphic for most.

The passage from Suwarrow to Tonga was quite lovely, but not without a hitch. Christian was not able to put any weight on his wounded foot, so we left with all the sail and galley work up to me.  The passage from Suwarrow to Tonga would take about 5 days, roughly 600 miles, the time was right, the date was August 23rd, 2018. Mid-day we weighed anchor and motored down the channel. Upon leaving the pass out of Suwarrow the main sail was already hoisted and the 120 head-sail was out. The wind was perfect, the motor was no longer needed. As we exited the pass the wind was solid. Yes! It was going to be a great sail out, but first I needing to furl in the jib a bit with the wind direction and speed picking up.  We were all very excited to be heading to Tonga. Along with the excitement came a bit of overzealous manoeuvring…. I went to the furling line to pull in a bit of sail. I questioned whether or not I should let out the sheets  (letting the lines on the jib slack)  in order for me to make it easier on myself, but felt my need to use muscles take over… as I pulled on the furling line with what I thought was good form, that’s when it happened, I felt the “pop” in my back.

Although I didn’t feel pain immediately, I could tell I was done for. I finished what I needed to very carefully and pretty much was immobile for the next 3 days as the pain set in minutes after the initial event and held on without relief.  Thankfully the sails didn’t need much in the way of changing. There was one or two times that I had to go up and raise and lower the whisker pole (the pole that holds the jib out for shape with a down-wind direction).  I’ve now experienced those moments where the pain seems to subside when there is something that must be done, and then the pain returns as soon as your done. What a strange phenomenon.  As I was laid up in the cockpit for 3 days, I tried to move as little as possible with the one time below per day to cook dinner. Nina helped with breakfast and lunches, thankfully. And she continued her 8pm-11pm watches. The only difference was that on her watch, I was the one out helping instead of Christian, who normally helps her during her watches. Again, not much needed to be done on this passage, so that was good.  During those days, I realised how much core muscle you actually use when you’re sailing. Every jerk and jolt of the boat, my core would activate and my back would spasm. It took everything possible to relax through the normal movements of the boat.

On the bright side… we did catch two Yellowfin Tuna! Christian has his moment of putting the pain aside, keeping his foot elevated while hand reeling in the fish… I wasn’t about to.

There was lots of reading going on.

Chatting with Ellamae on the Satellite phone. And S/V La Cigale on the radio.

Making a flag for Tonga.

Playing with toys.

 

By the time the weather got a little bit rougher, around middle day 4, I was able to move more and do all the things needed. We had a great 3.5 days downwind and another 2 that were upwind, but not too bad. On day 6 (5 and 3/4) , August 24th, 2018, arriving into Tonga’s, Neiafu came with so much relief. Christian was still pretty immobile… but he could help us dock to the, worst yet, port captains/immigration dock, hobble to the port captain’s office and back, and help us get onto the mooring ball later on. I was moving like an old lady, but much better.  During the check in process, I grabbed some Tongan money (called Pa’anga) from an ATM and loaded us up with fresh produce from the farmers market. A good way to start our time in Tonga.

Tonga, we’re sort of ready for you, and please without drama.

~A Family Afloat

 

Next up: 6 weeks in Tonga: part 1

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How we make it work… as a long term sailing family.

I know its been a while since we’ve put out an actual sailing post. I think I’m almost a year behind!!!  Our last sailing post was  about Suwarrow.  Hopefully soon, a post about  sailing in Tonga (Sept-Oct, 2018) will explode from my brain and onto the blog.  It will come. For now, however, I do want to share a write up that I did for another blog/podcast.  Sometimes having someone give a prompt helps the writers block and motivation.  It is sailing related, but not limited to any particular location within our sailing journey.  Hope you enjoy.

That’s a great question, HOW DO WE WANT TO LIVE EVERY DAY?! And how do we make that possible?!

HOW DO WE STRATEGIZE? This question was brought up by a dear friend, Whitney Archibald, writer and podcast extraordinaire of  How She Moms  regarding how we strategize with parenting on the boat. (Click the link above to see our response and listen to the podcast with a few on my answers along with a few other Mum inputs). But this question wasn’t just about parenting style, when a fellow boat parent on S/V Mahi approached me with the question of how we manage to do this long term cruising thing from a financial standpoint for the Kids4sail June 2019 Newsletter, I realised that this “parenting strategizing”  extended beyond parenting on a day to day basis. The bigger picture was how do we strategize to live the life we want to offer our kids. How do we go cruising in order to raise our kids the way we would like them to be raised?  For most people, including us, the biggest challenge of cruising was figuring out how we would manage it financially.

 

When we first were thinking about sailing the world with our children, not necessarily around, we were faced with a few big questions. The biggest,  “HOW DO WE MAKE CRUISING WORK LONG TERM?” Many factors play into that, but the primary one people get caught up in when thinking about leaving their “current life” is figuring out how they can afford to do it financially.  There are some blogs that write about cruising budgets, but its hard to grasp the idea that cruising really is affordable when not many people are willing to share their financial information and the people that do might not have the same budget you would have.  Their are a few other topics are worthy of their own post, such as questions centred around education/boat-schooling, and how do you cruise and co-parent, with a blended his, hers, and ours like we have on our boat. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll leave those aspects out of this write-up and stick to finances. 

Along our journey, we have met many others who have shared their very different ways of making cruising work from a financial standpoint.  Like myself, there are a few nurses, but only a few.  There are some teachers, computer tech related fields and other various professions.  Most families out there cruising long term are still working in some way or form. Not many have been able to free themselves from the full work load completely. With an open mind to various possibilities, we, A FAMILY AFLOAT, have found ways to make it work up to this point and plan to continuing doing so.  I could not imagine our life any other way than as a cruising family.

Lets first start by defining what a “cruiser” is. Someone who has left their “home” to sail around afar (this could be in the same country or foreign) for an extended period of time. There are all sorts of different sub-species of cruisers. Those who sail seasonally, meaning they do a few months of sailing away from home, and the other months back at home. There are those who just take a year (or just a season) or two off and squeeze in what they can and then go back to “home”. Those who leave for longer periods, and those who leave with an open ended plan. We left with an open ended plan of “we’ll make it work along the way and keep going as long as it’s working”.  We left San Francisco in August, 2015 and slowly  (over 3.5 years) made our way to New Zealand so far.

When Christian and I got married in 2010, we had already agreed that we would one day go cruising with the kids. Originally we were thinking of leaving around 2019, but in 2014, when we  assessed our lives and our finances, we came to the conclusion that the opportunity to leave would open up for us for mid 2015.  I was the primary income source with my nursing career in San Francisco.  We were very fortunate to have a good steady income while Christian prepped the boat, raised the children and helped with schooling.  He is trained and skilled in carpentry (ground to finish work),  but when we blended our family and had another kid, it made the most sense for him to leave that job to take care of the “boatstead”.  I worked three 12 hour shifts a week and focused any extra money toward the cruising kitty.   We had already been living on our current boat  (S/V Shawnigan) since 2012 and paid it off by 2014, so it was just a matter of  putting enough savings into our “cruising kitty” account for at least one year’s worth of sailing.

Our costs were already relatively low, but there were a few changes we new we had to make in order to save enough in that next year. Six months prior to leaving, we pulled the kids out of private school to acclimate them to home-school life and in turn saved $$$. If you have the means to do this before you leave, we highly recommend it.  4 months prior to leaving, we moved Shawnigan out of the harbor we had been living in for the past 4.5 years and “anchored out” in the free anchorage.  This options isn’t for everybody, but worth it if you can.  Not only did we save quite a bit  of $ by being anchored out, it allowed us to get use to what life was like not being able to just step off onto the dock or dry land whenever one wanted to. It was hard work. I would wake up at 4:45 am, kayak to shore in clothes that could get wet, then ride my bike 13 miles to work to do a 12 hour shift at the hospital. I wouldn’t get home until 9:30pm at the earliest on those days.  But the hard work paid off.  Don’t forget, the extra little things add up. We ate out less and started getting rid of our extra stuff, including cars and bikes. By August, 2015 we had $20,000 in our cruising kitty and the same amount in an “emergency found”.  It allowed us to leave to go cruising with our kids and experience the world!

We kept a budget in mind while out cruising. Its easy to get into “vacation mode” and spend spend spend. Based on experience and hearing about it from others, we knew we wouldn’t be going out to dinner much and spending $ on extra sightseeing activities like some cruisers do.  A sacrifice worth making and was a challenge at time. We seemed to start out great, especially in Mexico. But as we met more people with an extended budget and as we sailed through more expensive countries it proved to be more of a challenge.  There were many times where we opted out of the group dinner out or the group sight seeing tour simply because we couldn’t afford to be spending money like that.  Trips like the Galapagos, I intentionally worked a few extra shifts on the previous travel nurse assignment in order for us to go there and enjoy a few dinners out and a tour or two their.

Assessing funds and making them along the way:  As our first year neared its marker, we knew it was time to refill the kitty.  As a nurse, I’ve always kept it a possibility to pick up travel nursing assignments throughout our sailing journey.  These are usually 13 week contracts that you agree upon with a travel nurse company. We figured hurricane season would be a good time for me to hop off the boat and work back in the U.S.. The family stayed on the boat a bit longer, but also took this time to come back to the States. As life tends to always change, just like the wind and the seas, that work stent ended up being 6 months, 4 of which we were all together in the States. Our boat was safe and secure during that time, in San Carlos, Mexico. The next year, was similar. We cruised for 9 months and then I  returned back up to the States for another Travel Nurse assignment. This one lasted 4 months, in which during that time the family stayed on the boat, explored the Sea of Cortez, and visited the States for 1 month. The next year, we made it 10 1/2 months before returning to work. The Shawnigan crew sailed from Mexico to Panama, to the Galapagos, and crossed the Pacific Ocean, explored French Polynesia, a blip in the Cook Islands, and 6 weeks in Tonga. From Tonga I flew out for my last Travel Nurse assignment… for now.

Upon arriving to Tonga, we assessed our kitty and decided that even though the plan was to work in New Zealand, I should fly back to the States for one more assignment. This was by far the hardest choice to make and to actually do. I would be away from the family to work for 13 weeks, but the payoff was great.  Sometime, mid Tonga, I had a phone interview with the hospital in Wellington. I was offered the job, given the info I needed for a work visa, and given permission to delay my start date until mid January while I waited for my work visa to go through and completed my travel assignment in the U.S.  In the meantime Christian and the kids sailed, with the help of our friend Nick, from Tonga down to New Zealand.  He then took the next few months, sailing solo with the kids,  down to Wellington, where we are all at now…on the boat, in a marina…schooling… working… refilling the kitty…. for the next leg of our sailing journey.

At this point we are uncertain how long we will stay in New Zealand… we just want to keep everyone on their toes.

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Group shot (minus Ellamae, who was already back in the US with her biological father) of the family taking me to airport in Tonga to fly out for a travel nursing assignment in California.

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Fun Facebook Video calls with the kids made it tolerable.

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And a few photos revisited from along the journey.

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Suwarrow – Cook Islands

From Maupiti we set sail for Suwarrow, not certain that we would actually stop there. 5 days and 700 miles later, we made landfall  August 22nd, 2018.

Suwarrow is one of the most northern of the 15 Cook Islands, which are self governing, but in free association with New Zealand. Its a bit out of the way, but on the way to Tonga. We had the option of going the rhumb (straight) line from Maupiti to Tonga, take the more southern route to Palmerston, or take the more northern route to Suwarrow. Most of our cruising friends that left before us went to Suwarrow and raved about it. A few went to Palmerston, but history has it as a fair weather only stop, and the weather was not predicted to be so fair.  And rather than doing a straight shot 1,200 miles to Tonga, we opted to aim toward Suwarrow, keep and eye on the weather and as long as it was looking good to stop, we would.

Sail by the wind Jellies that we caught
and released. Their real name is Velella Velella . Also known as sea raft, by-the-wind sailor, purple sail, little sail, or simply Velella .

Our departure from Maupiti was seamless. We made it out the pass and turned west. The wind was great, perfect for the asymmetrical. We had her flying for a while, it was smooth sailing.  Then the wind started to pick up and as I was saying to Christian that we should probably take down the A-sail, we heard a tearing sound. The sail completely tore down the center and across the top. We quickly got it down and unfurled the jib.  The unfortunate part of this, besides loosing our A-sail, was that we had already took down our 150 genoa sail and exchanged it for the 120. The shape of our 120 is great and it made for a more comfortable sail, but our speed wasn’t what it could be if we had the 150 out. No matter though, the next day the wind picked up more and the 120 was more than enough. We made it to Suwarrow. The wind was strong as we came in. Bajka was already there, as well as La Cigale.

Good night sun and good bye asymmetrical 😦

The Island was beautiful! We had heard that it was watched over by two Rangers (caretakers), Harry and John. We got a very warm welcome from these two men, when they motored their skiff out to our boat to check us in to the country. After talking with them we learned that they get brought in on a supply ship with supplies from one of the southern islands called Rarotonga, the largest Cook Island, and stay for 6-7 months at a time without re-supply.  These two rangers were so awesome. They had the best attitudes, and were so kind to share “their space” with us cruisers. Many nights they allowed us to have potlucks and bonfires on the beach and would join us for the fun. Most nights included musical jam sessions as well, so we heard…

We ended up staying for only one night. We arrived in the morning, checked in, stayed the night and then left the next afternoon. The weather window looked good to leave and we didn’t want to risk getting stuck there for 3 weeks with the limited provisions we had left, plus another 700 mile sail. As soon as we arrived, Bajka and LA Cigale came to pick up the kids to do the Geocaching activity that was started a month or so earlier by another sailing family on S/Y Moya.

So after a evening potluck with music, and a morning of checking out the island, learning a bit from the rangers about the local medicinal plants, checking out the local feeding frenzy of sharks, then checking out of the country, we set sail for Tonga.

Maupiti – Society Islands – French Polynesia

Maupiti: August 12th, 2018. Our last French Polynesian island… after Bora Bora .

We sailed off the mooring ball in Bora Bora, out the pass on the west side of the island, hoisted the asymmetrical, and aimed for Maupiti. Shortly afterwards, we had to douse the asymmetrical and go with the 120 due to wind direction.  We weren’t entirely sure that we would make it into Maupiti. The passage is narrow, and with any sizeable south swell the entrance would not be passable. On that same note, we might be able to get in, but if the swell picks up while we are in there, we would be stuck.  The weather forecast looked promising, so we were going for it. S/V Bajka was already on their way, as well as S/V La Cigale.

The sail over was a just a day sail, but again as with all of the passes and atolls in the South Pacific, you always want to have good day light to be able to see any under water obstetrical.  S/V La Cigale made it in well before we did, so Xavier got out the drone and filmed us sailing in through the pass. The entry, even without a large south swell was exciting.  There was not much room for error, and we were under sail power only. I stayed at the helm and Christian made sail adjustments and verbal instructions.  We enjoy being able to sail on and off the hook (anchor or mooring in this instance) for the challenge and for the pleasure of not having to use fuel. We made it through the pass and up into the southern anchorage, and found a spot between our friends La Cigale and Bajka.

If you look at the screenshot of Maupiti, above, you will notice the narrow pass in which we sailed through.IMG_3134IMG_3142IMG_3140

We spent the next few days there in the southern anchorage and in the anchorage just east of the inner island. Our friends on S/V Bellini, who we met over in Raiatea, were also already here as well. The population of Maupiti is extremely small. Provisions are limited, but there are a few fresh fruit stands and a bakery.  Since we weren’t sure we were going to stop here or not, we spent the last of our French Polynesian money in Bora Bora, so no fresh food for us.

While Christian went for a long  SUP paddle, myself and other families went diving with the huge Manta Rays!

Josie with the Manta.

Nina

Taj

Christian had already SUP circumnavigated the whole inner island, but the mountian that stood so grand above was calling our name.  We first attempted to do it with our friends on S/V Bellini, but it was a little too late in the afternoon. We made it about half-way by the time the sunset, so we turned around with plans to do it with the other kid boats another day.img_1403img_1394-1

Our next go at it, S/V Bajka and La Cigale went as well. What an amazing adventure!

Watch our quick video below:

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After a few days in Maupiti, our weather window to sail the five days (700 miles) to Suwarrow, Cook Islands,  was up.  Again, we weren’t entirely sure that we would stop in Suwarrow.  If the weather window was closing to head to Tonga, we were going to bypass Suwarrow, but if the weather was going to give us even just a few days there, we would take it. It would have been a bummer to sail right past the Cook Islands, but weather dictates.

Screenshot (332)Screenshot (333)Screenshot (336)Screenshot (363)Lucy off of La Cigale on her SUP for our last sunset in French Polynesia.

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Church with an anchor cross 🙂

img_1423Picking up some fresh produce at a roadside stand with fellow cruisers on S/Y Bajka.

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House of shells and coral.

img_1422The  S/V Bajka Boys are good boat buddies for Taj. img_1419-1img_1410Many houses have their deceased family members buried out in their front yard.

Bora Bora – Society Group – French Polynesia

Raiatea  was hard to leave. We were not super thrilled about going to Bora Bora. As I write this I realize how funny that sounds. Most people would be extremely excited to visit Bora Bora. For us, however, it was a stop we need to do in order to check out of French Polynesia by the end of our 90 day visa. And we knew it was a stop that was going to be heavier on the pocket book. We arrived August 5th, 2018 just in time to check out.Screenshot (338)

Checking out of Bora Bora has been reported as a easy process. The location of the offices relative to where you moor the boat is fairly close. That being said, there are very limited options to anchor, leaving $$$ mooring only options.  We moored up at the Maikai Marina Yacht Club in Vaitape. It sounds fancier than it is and the included wifi is very slow. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our stay and the kids enjoyed the pool, when they were allowed (not always an occurrence). We ended up paying for 5 days there because it was cheaper than paying for 3 days.  Not all 5 days were spent there though. We were able to sail over to the east side of the island for a few days to check that out. I think our timing must not have been optimal. We heared wonderful things about the eastern side, but for us, it was windy and not the best conditions for exploring. The view, however was spectacular. And to top it off, we were anchored, FOR FREE, right in front of the high paying customers in the Four Seasons and St. Regis Resort.IMG_5099S/V La Cigale anchored near us.IMG_5100Screenshot (352)We had these two men join us for a bit of fun… they were using our wake for a lift. It was great fun, but what we didn’t realise was that they scuffed up our “new” paint job on the hull. Hmmm, a bummer indeed, but left lasting memories of the fun it was and the smiles they gave us.Screenshot (353)Screenshot (350)Screenshot (348)Screenshot (345)Screenshot (344)Screenshot (341)Screenshot (339)

The Bajka Boys, Catherine from La Cigale and Taj enjoying the ambiance at the MaiKai.

Aiden from Sv Tranquilo sharing his toys with Taj .

All over the Society Islands, huge graffiti murals have been placed. Bora Bora hosts many of them.

Fellow sailing family from S/Y C’est Si Bon

From Bora Bora (our last official French Polynesian island) , we sailed off the mooring ball at Maikai Marina, out to Maupiti, through the narrow pass and onto the hook next to our friends on La Cigale and Bajka.

The last picture of our asymmetrical before she completely blew apart (off of Suwarrow, 700 miles later).