Cruising in the Pacific offered Jeff and I some pretty amazing encounters with marine life. We had a few in the Caribbean as well, but it was in the Pacific that the really big ones happened. I'm sorry to say that we don't have pictures of ANY of these encounters, but the images are burned into our brains forever.
The first such encounter happened on our way to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. We were sailing along, Jeff had just laid down to try to take a nap. I went down to the galley to make myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch and I heard a weird noise. Something that you may not know is sound travels really well in water. If you listen, you can hear everything from a ships prop spinning (from fairly far away, although not far enough!) to the call of dolphins. I can't really remember exactly what I heard, but it was definitely something different. I ran up on deck and had a look around, no ships. Nothing out of the ordinary. Then I looked off the stern. We had 2 fishing lines out- one of the few times we attempted this on passage- usually its too rough to even think about dealing with a fish. But the weather was super calm so why not have that much more of a chance at catching something? Well, in between our 2 lines I saw something in the water- I think the words that came out of my mouth were "holy shi* JEFF!" poor Jeff had just fallen asleep and he just about fell out of the vee-berth thinking we were about to collide with a huge ship. Well, it wasn't quite that urgent, but it was a whale! Yep. A large humpback (we think, it never came far enough out of the water to identify, but that is the most common sighting in these waters) was swimming right in between our fishing lines following the boat! We weren't sure what to do, strategically, to get ourselves out of the whales path. In fact, I don't think we did anything. The whale continued lolling around behind us for awhile and then disappeared. What a cool experience though, our first whale!
On our way into New Zealand, on our last day of the passage actually, I wrote about it in my journal so I have some details. Around 4PM I was down below making us an afternoon snack of popcorn when Jeff called down "dolphins! Abs, dolphins!"I ran up to the cockpit and had a look around, I saw a few small dolphins around the boat. I went back below and finished up the popcorn prep grabbed my fleece and harness and came up to watch them some more. WOW. What an amazing show we had that day! There must have been over 100 dolphins jumping and playing all around the boat! We got to watch the show for about 30 minutes before they disappeared as quickly as they had appeared. Someone asked me later if I had some good photos and honestly, I didn't even get the camera out! Jeff and I got to share this moment, at the and of a 9 day passage that we had been apprehensive about (it *can* be a pretty nasty stretch of ocean, we got extremely lucky!) We felt like we were watching a movie together in the cockpit (complete with popcorn) and being welcomed into New Zealand waters.
In Niue we could sit on shore and watch the whales spouting through their blow holes and tail slapping. In Vanuatu we ducked into a small anchorage that our guide books said was not inhabited. The weather was not great and the motion was horrible and we still had a long way to go to New Caledonia. We did not want to formally check into the country and figured we'd get away with it if we just stopped and waited a day or so for the seas to lay down without going ashore. The anchorage was amazing, one of the most beautiful we've ever been in. It was a small reef entrance with just a narrow , deep cut in the coral where we could set the anchor. Most of the surrounding coral dried or came close at low tide- it was truly a sight to behold. As I was on the bow getting ready to drop the anchor I looked ashore and saw a line of people (mostly children) waving from shore. Then I looked down and saw the most gorgeous sea turtle I'd ever seen diving down into the deep.
I've saved the best for last...Tonga. Humpback whales visit the Vava'u group of the Kingdom of Tonga every year to mate and give birth in the warm waters. We had been snorkeling with some friends at a cave (OK, Jeff had been snorkeling in the cave. I watched the dingies). We were on our way back to our anchorage and noticed Whalesong, the local whale watching boat, watching a whale. There are strict regulations on how many boats can be within a certain radius of a whale, and also the speed that you can go near them. We were aware of these regulations so we slowed the engine and kept making our way home, while watching to see what we could see of the whale from a distance. Well, Whalesong was apparently done and were heading back in and they waved us over and said we could have a look. There was an enormous female Humpback whale with a calf, lolling on the surface looking very relaxed. We didn't get too close, we were in an 8 foot inflatable boat after all! Pretty soon another dingy joined us and we got the show of our lives... The mother began to slap her fin and splash around a bit, as if she was just waking up from a nap. She pushed her head out of the water a bit further a few times and then she disappeared. I stood up in the dingy to see if I could see her (yeah, right) and all of a sudden that mother whale did a FULL BREECH! Seriously. Less than 100' from our 8' dingy we had a 35-45' whale come cull speed out of the water and slam her body down. I think my choice of words was clever, something like 'HOLY SH*T!!!' remember, I was standing up. We were not close enough to get splashed, but we did feel the wake from her enormous mass hitting the water. After the breech, the mother began doing a series of tail slaps and the calf was doing mini-breeches in her wake. It was as though she was demonstrating how to do a breech to her little baby and we were so fortunate to be there to witness it. This was, hands down, the most amazing animal encounter I have ever had. EVER.
There are a couple really cool projects floating around right now online- both of which we are very interested in. The first: A website/interview about cruising with children! It can be found HERE. SV Kandarik is particularly interesting to me because I used to work with Pam and have always looked up to her and her sweet family as role models for a cruising lifestyle.
The second one is (hopefully) going to be really fun, we are being interviewed for the Interview With a Cruiser Project! It is a website that is interviewing people who have cruised outside their home waters for a minimum of 2 years. This is an attempt to help people who are still dreaming or just starting out get some of the wrinkles out. We were recommended for this project by our friends Brittany and Scott who will be leaving on their own adventure in September, thanks guys!
I have a few posts that I'm working on, so check back soon- I promise there is more to come!
There is a superstition that changing a boat's name is bad luck. We are fairly superstitious sailors, but this is the one thing we don't subscribe to.
Our first boat was named 'HI-C' when we bought her, we were not impressed! So, we christened her 'NoNews' shortly after buying her. We brainstormed many different names before ordering the graphics, but NoNews really seemed to fit. She was a Wauquiez Pretorien 35' performance cruiser. We kept the systems fairly simple aboard, which meant no SSB or Satellite phone- basically no way to communicate with the outside world while we were on passage. Well, No News is Good News right?? (If I hear that joke one more time I might scream). After we had owned NoNews for awhile, we found some interesting facts about her (its was 2002 after all, before google searches were so easy!). The original owner, Peter Brown, had commissioned her new in France and sailed her through the Caribbean and across the Pacific, finally selling her in South Africa (cool fact- he and *our* boat are mentioned in Lin Pardey's book 'The Care and Feeding of the Sailing Crew' Cool huh?). He was a lawyer from San Francisco, and had originally named her Emerald City. That is a cool name! If we had known her original name we would have changed it back- not sure what the superstition on that is though.
Our next boat, also a Wauquiez but an Amphritrite, a 42' center cockpit ketch was named Bon Vivant when we bought her. This was the name from the factory in France, apparently they named each boat upon launching. The direct translation is: 'bon vivant - a person devoted to refined sensuous enjoyment (especially good food and drink)- huh, maybe we should have kept it! But we didn't. We bought her while we were at anchor in Tonga after sailing across the Pacific. Its terrible to say, but after seeing so many beautiful atolls and sandy islands with volcanic peaks, one gets jaded and a bit picky about what constitutes beauty. I know, I know. Everyone should be so lucky! Anyways, after seeing many islands we sailed to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. Rarotonga has the reputation for being a good (cheap) place to re provision mid-ocean. This is old information and is no longer cheap- in fact its quite expensive. The island, although pretty, doesn't hold a candle to many of the other places we had been in the past months. However, we met many expats in Rarotonga- some from the US but most from New Zealand and Australia. We were told this many times over::: 'You might as well swallow your anchor, this is the LAST PARADISE on Earth' Well, when we were brainstorming names for the new boat we kept remembering this advise. The fact of the matter is that each person has an idea of what paradise is, and most likely no two are the same. For us, our 'Last Paradise' is sailing, exploring and being together.
Now on to the 'new' boat. WAKA. As some of you might know we are Residents of New Zealand and plan on living there for some portion of John's school years. The Maroi are the indigenous people in New Zealand and the Maori language is leaned in schools. Translation:: Waka (English pronunciation: /ˈwɒkə/, Maori [ˈwɒka]) are Māori watercraft, usually canoes ranging in size from small, unornamented canoes (waka tīwai) used for fishing and river travel, to large decorated war canoes (waka taua) up to 40 metres (130 ft) long. In recent years, large double-hulled canoes of considerable size have been constructed for oceanic voyaging to other parts of the Pacific Ocean. Seems perfect, right?
We officially sold Last Paradise. She is sitting in a boatyard in North Carolina awaiting her new family to take her to amazing new places.
It won't surprise anyone who knows us to know that the same day we closed on the sale of Last Paradise, we bought a *new* boat up in Michigan!! I know, we can't sit still! We are now the proud owners of an S2 9.2C. This will be a perfect boat for us to play on this summer (in Michigan) its 30' so will fit the 3 of us perfectly for short term cruising.
So far, John loves the boat- at least when we are going 'motor sailing' which is his preferred way of sailing. By far, the favorite part of the boat is the 'dat-woom' (bathroom in JohnSpeak) which has a bathtub! Yes, I know. A tub on a sailboat? It is very small but I can see how it would come in handy for laundry or small children. By the way, the new boat is named WAKA... more on that later.
Where are we and what are we up to? Well, that is a long story that we are still sorting out- and I promise I'll give you all the scoop as soon as we know it! The long and short of it is that we are fairly sure we are done with our attempts at long distance cruising, at least for the short term. John is an amazing little sailor, but it is difficult (at best) for Jeff and I to both be good parents and maintain safety and forward motion on the boat at the same time. We are a little bit heartbroken at our decision, but have come to grips with it all. We (as usual) have a lot of 'balls in the air' and one will land eventually. Until then, we are going to cruise in the Florida Keys and head up to Fort Myers Beach to spend Christmas with Grandma and Grandpa Goff. From there, well, we'll see. Every family has a rhythm, we just need to slow down and figure out what ours is.