Just a Bunch of Yahoos

Friends of ours are about to cut their docklines and start cruising, after years of preparation, and their excitement made me think back to our departure from the dock in June 2010 and the ensuing summer we had gunkholing around Vancouver Island. Good times.

It also made me think back to when we were preparing to leave. We would occasional met "doners" -- people who had gone cruising and returned. When it came up in conversation that the person I was talking to had been to the South Pacific, I would feel butterflies in my own stomach and start bubbling over with questions about the trip, the area, and their experiences. These people had crossed an ocean, visited South Pacific islands, on relatively small sailing yachts and I respected that (and still do).

Now that we are doing it, I look around and I think (with a sense of love and self-inclusion), we're just a bunch of yahoos out here. We learn as we go, sometimes fumble along, and we're having the time of our lives. Most of us sailing the South Pacific this year are not super salty, born sailors, but rather people who came late to the idea, have done our due diligence in preparation and are now out here winging it.

To me this is a very freeing thought. If cruising were a sport, the South Pacific would be one of the "just for fun" marathons. You have to prepare and take it seriously. You have to put in the time and put in the miles, but if you do, it is a trip that is accessible to the average person. You don't have to have superhuman powers like Lance Armstrong*, you just have to have the determination and commitment to make your way through a long series of to do lists.

Now, when I meet sailors who have done something that I feel is extra salty, for example the couple we met on the French flagged boat Eclipse who sailed to Antarctica, instead of letting the butterflies fly, I need to apply this same realization to the next level**. Baby steps...

*Perhaps the wrong time to make that comparison, n'est-ce pas?
**No, we aren't sailing to Antarctica...brrr!

Judgment, Skills & Equipment

There is a saying among pilots that "a superior pilot uses his superior judgment so he does not have to use his superior skills". The idea is that if you are regularly displaying super flying skills to pull yourself out of dangerous situations, you need to ask yourself why you keep getting into those situations. During a long conversation during our Marquesas passage, we changed the saying to fit sailors:

"A superior sailor uses her superior judgment so she does not have to use her superior skills and she uses uses her superior skills so she does not have to rely on her superior equipment."

The idea is that the first line of defense for keeping yourself and your boat safe should be good judgment. For example, in choosing the time of year to sail a particular ocean, or choosing a weather forecast for departure.

Often, even using good judgment, you will need to use your skills to keep yourself and your boat safe. For example, big squalls hit during a good weather forecast and you have enough observational weather skills to assess the weather on the horizon and reef down the boat.

When you get hit by something despite your judgment, and despite your skills (or in the case of failure at both, particularly while learning), you lean on your equipment. You start muttering to yourself "she's a strong boat, she's a strong boat" or "I'm glad I changed the rigging". For example, you are on a longer passage and a bad weather system overtakes you. You use your storm tactic skills but at the same time start praising Henri Wauquiez for building strong boats.

There is no such thing as risk free ocean voyaging. Actually, there is no such thing as risk free living. Even when we were commuting to work and living in a house we accepted the risk of driving on a freeway, the risk of forest fires, the risk of crazy violent people in our neighborhood. We all try to minimize our risk but we all choose a level of risk that we are comfortable with.

We have seen a lot of lightly built boats in the South Pacific. Every boat owner has to decide how much they want to have the strength of the boat backing their judgment and skills. It is quite a personal decision, cultural too in our experience, which depends on a lot of things including your own level of comfort with risk. We believe that with enough good judgment and skills, you can sail most boats across oceans by sailing them within their level of strength, as long as you are comfortable with the presumed risk. This combination is, we believe, how good captains can deliver lightly built boats across oceans. Of course, we feel more comfortable in a strong boat, but we chose a fin keel over a full keel despite the opinions propagated by desk cruisers on sailing forums. People say that you should have a full keel boat in case you hit a reef or hit a submerged container. We decided to work on our not-hitting-reef skills, to accept the risk of submerged containers (and carry a life raft), in order to have the fun of a boat that sails well in light air and points high.

Sometimes acceptance of risk means increased fun – that is the logic behind leaving our couches to go cruising, right?

If you look at this saying another way, it might be more important to prepare to go cruising by working on your judgment (learning about weather, learning what conditions your boat feels comfortable in so you know which to choose), and by working on your skills (what is your procedure for reefing your main downwind in big swells) than working on your boat.

Disengaging after connection

We have never stayed in one place long enough to become a part of the local community until this portion of the trip. Through kiting we've made some strong connections with other kiters who have included us in their kiting lives and over time into their home lives. By being a regular presence, meandering about on foot, we have made friends with the shop keepers, the vegetable stand owners, and even found ourselves having beers with the local police. It is difficult to say goodbye to these people.

Everyone seems related to each other on an island and once we know a few people, we start to meet their cousins, brothers and sisters and those people, once the connection to their family member is revealed, welcome us even more than they already did when we were just a random stranger. When we move on to a new island, the people we met on the last island tell us to say hello to their friend/cousin/father and we arrive with a new set of connections already in place.

There comes a time, however, when we start to wonder if we've overstayed our welcome. The shop keepers, friendly as ever, say "you are still here?". We reach the point where we wonder if we have transitioned in their eyes from visitor to "possible new inhabitant" and now they must start to evaluate whether we will be good to live with, whether we will pose a problem for limited resources, etc. We always try to tread lightly but in a small island community every visitor has an impact for good or for bad no matter how lightly they tread.

At that point, we look around at the paradise we are inhabiting, the world class kiting we are enjoying and the friends we have made and think "why would we ever leave?". We leave in part because we have a fear of getting stuck somewhere, as cruisers sometimes happily do, and are inherently wary of becoming too comfortable in a spot. Oh, and we leave to avoid hurricanes. Beyond fear, we leave because part of the reason we voyage is adventure and settling down in one spot too long is not part of that for us right now. We also start to miss sailing itself. Despite our comfort, we start to feel strong urges to pull the anchor, raise the sails, set a course and make new landfalls.

For me, cruising is a delicate balance between comfort and novelty seeking. For me, comfort = reduced anxiety, reduced excitement and novelty = increased excitement, increased anxiety. Because we voyage with our home, I have more creature comforts than I would if I traveled with a backpack. I can take a day to relax inside my comfortable, no-longer-novel home instead of exploring. I can use that chill day to reset my internal gyros and gather energy to enjoy my new backyard. When we are in a place for a long time, I have the additional comfort of knowing the town, seeing the same people, having a handle on the resources and options for play. But, too much comfort, too much settling into the community eliminates the reasons that we personally chose this lifestyle: the excitement of travel. We want new experiences, to see new sights and cultures. So we set aside the comfort we have established, and sail on to a novel place.

Undercover American

As all of my family and friends reading this know, but many others may not, I’m American. I’m also Canadian by birth through my mother, but I didn’t live in Canada until I met my sexy Frenchie-Canadian husband Carol. So, I’m kind of Canadian on a technicality.

One fun thing about traveling on a Canadian flagged vessel, with a Frenchie-Canadian husband is that everyone assumes I am Canadian-and-not-American. So they tell jokes about Americans in front of me. An example that only sailors will get is “What is American whipping? Electrical tape. What is an American splice? A knot.” Or they complain about Americans in front of me, politics or whatever.

I get a bit of a window into how the world views Americans because I’m not flagged as one. I also find myself defending Americans and America a lot.

Still, I have a bit of a gripe that has built up over the last 3 months towards some percentage of the American boats in the S Pacific. As an undercover American reporting back to the USA, can I just say:

Will the American boats in French Polynesia stop holding conversations on Channel 16? Distress and hailing channel, folks, not a chat net. This happens often, in lots of places in the world but funny enough, I have only heard American boats doing it in French Polynesia. No German/French/Australian boats yammering away on 16.

More embarrassing is when the French marine emergency officials (MRC Papeete) have to break in, speaking in English, in order to remind the Channel 16 hoggers to switch to a working channel.

Logbook: Maupiti

Team Giddyup hiking MaupitiMaupiti, how we love thee, let us count the ways.

It is with regret that we tore ourselves away from Maupiti. We climbed the peaks, snorkeled and dived the depths, kited across the water, met up with old friends and made new friends we will remember. I felt like we had stepped out of time, to a place where not only was no one else in a hurry, but we weren’t in a hurry either.

Fairly quickly into our stay I felt immersed in the everyday routine of the island. Gradually as people started to recognize us, their already warm greetings grew into smiles, assistance and invitations. We became part of the local kiteboarding gang, roving around the small island by boat or by car, searching out the corner with the best wind, barbequing fish on the beach.

GOPR2236 (1280x960) I was so relaxed in Maupiti. Even everyday chores became part of an amusing “island time” game. It’s hard to be stressed about getting chores done when you are on a dinghy ride, in water like this, with views like these, in the sunshine. Very difficult to be grumpy when everyone is smiling and saying hello to you on the street.

We would walk to all 4 stores to see which one had milk, which had pasta sauce, and then return to the stores again to buy what we wanted. Hinanos in Maupiti People helped us find ways to exchange money (no ATMs here), gravity fill our propane tank, and repair a kite. We wrote “eggs” on our calendar on Monday because that is when the store would have them. We woke up early for a morning walk (ok, Carol did) so we could buy fresh baguettes, croissants and pain chocolat. An entire day might pass with a baguette run, a dinghy ride to a swimming spot, a bit of cleaning the boat, showers, and then happy hour on another boat.

Just writing about Maupiti makes me want to go back. So many places in the world to enjoy…

Beach Fire Stick Bread


Cooking stick bread in ToauDuring our time in the Tuamotus we learned how to cook a number of things in the fire that we hadn’t cooked in a fire before like breadfruit and bread. Although by no means an expert, we have successfully made “stick bread” once and as promised, here is the process. Let us know how it goes if you try it.

Make any bread recipe that has some oil in it and add some herbs. Let it rise once. Make a fire. Cut some sticks. Take a bit of dough and roll it out into a long snake. Wrap the snake around a stick. Arrange the sticks over the fire, close enough that the bread rises and starts cooking but not close enough to brown. When the bread has risen, move it closer to the fire so it cooks and browns. Try not to burn it or cook it too fast or the outside will be done but the inside will be doughy. The bread is done when it feels hollow when tapped, just as in a bread pan.

EXTRA: A tasty way to use the bread is to cut the stick bread in half to remove it from the stick. Then, brush the stick with New Zealand canned butter and top it with a couple forkfuls of hot, freshly caught fish, that you cooked in foil in the fire. A full meal from the fire.

Here is a bread recipe that we used:

  • Proof 5 tsp of yeast and 1 tsp of sugar in 2 cups of warm (not hot) water.
  • Mix 5.5 cups of flour, 1 tbsp salt.
  • Add 1/3 cup of oil to the water/yeast mixture and then add it to the flour mixture.
  • Rise to double and then add 2 tbsp of Herbs de Provence (asiago cheese is also tasty – I add more thant 2tbsp if using asiago).
  • You can also cook this bread in the oven at 450F for about 12min.

Summiting the kiteboard


Livia on Blade Trigger in Toau On the ocean in four separate countries, over the course of 21 months, I have spent many days, shed not a few tears and swallowed my fair share of salt water in order to learn to ride back and forth on a kiteboard.

Kiting was not easy for me to learn and I have never struggled so hard and persevered for so long just to master the most basic of skills in a sport. I have learned and enjoyed sports that I initially feared (climbing and heights) and even though kiting was a bit frightening at first I didn’t expect to struggle with my fear for so long. I have learned physical activities that I had absolutely no background in (swing dancing) and so I didn’t expect my lack of board sports background to pose such a challenge.

In short, I didn’t expect to spend so long sucking. Just being able to ride back and forth, stay upwind, and make 50% of my turns is a sweet, long sought after thrill.

Kiting is one of those sports where you can spend a long time in the learning process without actually “doing it”. First you learn to fly the kite on the beach. Then you take the kite in the water and let it drag your body around. Then you take the board and the kite into the water and use the power of the kite to come out of the water and ride across the top of it. Until I was able to ride back and forth, I didn’t feel like I was actually kiteboarding or that I was a real kiteboarder.

A friend was joking that Carol and I were “rad” kiteboarders and I explained that although you might call me “brave” or “persistent”, I certainly hadn’t reached “rad” yet.

Livia on Blade Trigger in Toau

In other sports, you may suck, but at least you are actually engaging in the sport from the start. When I learned to climb, I could climb easy routes on the first day. The first day that I tried snowboarding, although I sucked, I was at least standing on top of the board (mostly) and sliding down a mountain. Even though I was not good, I was doing it. I first flew a kiteboarding kite in Bahrain in 2010. I didn’t kite again until July 2011 when I took lessons in San Francisco. I didn’t learn to stand up on the kiteboard until my third country, Mexico, where I spent several days a week for three weeks trying to do so. I wasn’t able to ride back and forth consistently until Bora Bora despite a week on the water in the Tuamotus and I just learned to stay upwind in Maupiti.

Why did I push through and stick with it? Even early on when I was afraid, I had glimpses of  the thrill of it and I knew how much I would enjoy it after it clicked. Particularly now when we are gliding across clear water, startling sting rays underneath our boards, and I have enough extra brain cells to ride, fly the kite AND watch the stunning scenery pass by. Plus, I need a sport I can do with the boat, with my husband who has been my activity partner since we met, and which gives me that wonderful exhausted, soaked in the outdoors feeling.

I need another week on the water and then I plan to start eating salt water on a daily basis again…but this time because I’m learning how to jump. ((Our kite beach, near our boat, below))

Kiting in Maupiti

A big kudos to my fantastic husband who has spent this entire learning process as my “support and gear” team, doing whatever he could possibly do to make it possible for me to focus on learning to ride. He took over gear prep, gear put away, rescued me numerous times in the dinghy when I drifted too far away, and generally is the reason I was able to keep at it for long enough to get it.


Click on the dollar and buy Livia and Carol a cold frosty one:


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