Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Day in the Tuamotus

It is hard to describe a typical day on Papillon. It very much depends on where we are. In Cartagena, we listened to the cruisers´ net on the VHF, skirted around the painters aboard, and went for long walks into the old city. In the Galapagos, we took the water taxi to various sealion-covered beaches, followed giant sea turtles in the frigid waters, and practiced a lot of German. In the Marquesas, we rode horses through the mountains and ate a lot of baguette and brie.

Right now, we are in the Raroia atoll in the Tuamotus, and we are at the beginning of Birthday Alley aboard. Indy, Erik and Stylish all have birthdays within the next three weeks. While we always try to let the birthday person pretty much have their way on their day, it all depends on circumstances. For example, we aren´t really in a position to host a lavish party right now. For one thing, there are no stores here. For another, there are no people. So we improvise.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Tale of Johnny Town Mouse

I can’t reconstitute dried beans.

I don’t know why.  I soak them.  I boil them.  I follow the directions to the letter, but, every time I try, all I end up with is a pile of hard, moldy beans and no dinner.

This is because I am a Johnny Town Mouse.  I’m sure that even those of you hazy on your Beatrix Potter know the story: country mouse visits the city, is completely lost.  Town mouse visits the country, is completely lost.  Upshot: we all have a situation that works for us, and there is nothing wrong with that.

"And what you do call this bit of greenery, Timothy William?"

I make no judgements about town or country mice.  It’s just how we are built, and I’d like to think we all have our uses.  In my mind, being a certain mouse has less to do with setting, and more with skill set.  This town mouse lives mainly in her own head, and sometimes forgets to pay sufficient attention to the physical task at hand.  If being a town mouse meant living in town and having a glamorous lifestyle, I wouldn’t be out here on the water, wearing worn-out t-shirts and scrubbing pots using the salt water pump.  No, we town mice just need a layer of infrastructure between us and actual skilled work.   To illustrate, the son of a friend was once asked where milk comes from.  He promptly answered, “the store.”  That is a town mouse.  If you need some reading or writing done, or Mom-ing, or, really, anything that I can produce in my own sweet time, I’m your girl.  Just don’t ask me to understand how things work.

Erik, on the other hand, is a Timmy Willie Country Mouse: practical and quick-thinking to the tips of his toes.  Erik is the man you want on your side when things go wrong, because he immediately has six ideas to fix it.  He has a wrench in his hand while I’m still back on, “Oh, something broke?”  I can drive a car; Erik can fix a car.

Unfortunately for me, living on a boat is Country Mouse territory.  This became clear to me again when we had to fuel the boat before leaving Nuku Hiva.  Normally we pull alongside the fuel dock, but this dock was a sheer concrete wall built for container boats, and was too high for us.  There was a risk a wave would tip us right into the wall, even with the fenders out.

“We’ll do a med-style anchor,” said Erik.
I looked blankly at him.
He rolled his eyes and took a breath.  This is a clue that he has explained this to me before, but I did not retain the information.  (I’ll admit the possibility.“We’ll set the anchor, back up on it and go stern-to the dock and set stern lines,” he finished.

So far so good.  Anchoring and stern lines I can do.  We set the anchor and backed up... but there was no one on the dock to take lines.

“Dinghy the lines over,” orders the captain.

I try to drop the dinghy from the davits, but the bow is stuck.  Erik rushes over to set it free.  I get in the dinghy, but can’t open the shackles fast enough to keep water from pouring in from the stern tube.  Then the motor won’t start.

Erik is, by this time, almost incandescent.  I am not nearly speedy enough.  Before I know it, he is in the dinghy with both lines, and is climbing the fuel dock wall like a gecko.

I won’t even get into what we went through when the lines weren’t long enough, and I couldn’t immediately produce a rolling hitch.

So I am a girl who buys tins of beans.

This mystifies Erik.  He does not understand why my beans don’t work.  And I’m sure his beans would turn out plump and soft if he ever went near the kitchen [/cheap shot].  Because Erik is a Timmy Willie.

Not long ago, we made the acquaintance of a few other boats.  One evening, the ladies were sitting around talking, and it emerged that one of our friends has a farm back home.  So, instead of buying flour before setting out, they brought their own grain aboard along with a handmill.  Another woman also did the grain/mill thing, and so they traded tips.

When we returned to Papillon, I related this story to Erik in a can-you-believe-it kind of a way.  He turned to me with a small frown.  “What do you mean?” he said.  “I thought that was a great idea.”  We stared at each other, the town-country gulf yawning between us.

How to explain to my dear spouse?  I wasn’t making fun of our friends – not at all.  But I am impressed with myself when I bake a loaf of bread... in our breadmaker.  And even that fails sometimes.  I am at the outer limit of my country skills.  Trying to mill my own flour would mean ending up with a grassy, grainy mess.  Not flour.  No question.

A few weeks later my mother came to visit.  I told her about the grain and the mill, and she reacted just the way I did: she laughed in disbelief.  Because I inherited my town-mousery honestly.  During her visit, we brought up the mill again and again to tease Erik.  And, every time, he earnestly tried to convince us what a good idea it was.  And my mom and I giggled, because the idea was so outlandishly ridiculous.  Of course it was a good idea – just not for us.  We lack the mindset, we lack the skill set.

Some days I wish I were a country mouse.  They seem so quick and capable.  But then I sit back against the cockpit cushions with my cup of tea and my book, and I know it will never happen.  I’d much rather take a walk with the girls or write these stories to you.

And that is why I have thirty tins of red kidney beans in my locker.  Better safe than sorry.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Good Times on Nuku Hiva

The time slips away so quickly.  We are planning to leave Nuku Hiva on Friday or so, which means no more internet for the Papillon Crew for a while.  This gives me an excuse to post another set of photos of this lovely island.  This is good, because a) this place is very pretty, and b) we are busy with friends and social engagements, so I haven't the time to write much.  One of the delights of the cruising world is that you learn to make friends quickly, both on land and on other boats.

So, what have we done here?  First of all, the girls found a tree to climb.
Small monkeys at work.
This tree is right beside the dinghy dock, so every trip to or from the boat generates the request, "Can we climb the tree?"  It may be the main thing they remember about this island.

We rented a 4x4 one day to take a tour of the island and visit some Tiki sites.  The landscape is rugged, to say the least.  Sometimes the road was beautiful concrete, worthy of any city in Europe.  Other times, it was a rocky path that hardly qualified as a laneway.  The northern side of the island was especially bouncy.  Erik delighted in the driving; I think he gets tired of Auto doing all the work on Papillon.

Stylish with a pae pae.

Hey!  You're as tall as I am!
The ocean looks so benign from up here.

Happy faces on Nuku Hiva.
Fruit break with the Tikis.

Turtle petroglyphs

Papillon at anchor in Taiohae Bay.

Can you see why we're here?
Ho hum.  More beautiful scenery.
We have also done a lot of hiking up and down the mountains.  I'm especially impressed with Indy - asking a three-year-old to hike as far as an adult is tough.  But both girls are doing well, and the whining and requests to be carried diminish daily.

On one of our walks, we met a local family.  They invited us to come over to ride their horses.  Well, the girls naturally were all over that.
Erik and Indy on horseback.

Stylish is an old hand at this from her days at the ranch in Villahermosa.
Of course, the horses had heavy competition from a feline quarter.
Meow!  I love you!  Stay with me forever!
It didn't help that our friends were actively encouraging the girls to take the kitten home with them.  So, once again, Mom had to be the bad guy.  A Mom's life is a mean life.

Somehow, we've even found time to visit the beach.
Splish, splash.
Today is a holiday, and our friends have invited us for dinner.  So it is time for me to bake a cake.  With all of this comfort and beauty around us, we'll see if we actually manage to leave Nuku Hiva as planned.

Friday, August 10, 2012

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Last night we arrived in Nuku Hiva, and the internet has opened half a sleepy eye in my direction.  So here are some photos to show you just what Papillon has been up to for the past month.

While school children back home ate popsicles and endured the chipper counselors at camp, we broke a fool number of things on Papillon during the 3000 NM journey from the Galapagos to Fatu Hiva.

Something isn't right here.  Wait, wait, don't tell me...
We caught a lot of fish for dinner.

I caught this myself!
The kids played hide-and-seek.

Heh heh heh.  They'll never find me here.
Erik ascended the mast almost daily to adjust chafe gear.

Sailing tip: a climbing background is essential to happy cruising.
We lost the wind completely.  While we were becalmed, we went for a swim mid-Pacific.

Happy, happy, happy.
A pod of dolphins came to visit.

 Three weeks after leaving San Cristobal, we made it to Fatu Hiva.

Misty, rocky loveliness.
We swam at the foot of a waterfall.

You can't swim too often.
And we made friends.  I can hereby report that children around the world are forged in the same mold.  When they were together, the kids were constantly covered in water and mud.

Yay!  A hose!
Tomorrow, Erik is off on a mast-search.  We've heard there are spare masts lying about here and there on the island, so he and a friend are going hunting.  Here's hoping they have some luck.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Jingle Bells, Batman Smells

Merry Christmas, everyone! What do you mean, Christmas is four and a half months away? You wouldn't know it around our boat. The girls have been a festive mood for weeks now. They sing Jingle Bells and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (not to digress, but a song with a horrific message about the power of celebrity. I hope Rudolph ignored those reindeer phonies who suddenly loved him until his dying day). Stylish plays Good King Wenceslas on her recorder. And tonight we endured Barbie, A Christmas Carol. Which is a wonderful film if you like totally implausible British accents, bad animation, and you don't actually listen to the plot points. (Scrooge McBarbie only reforms once she discovers that she will become poor if she continues to be mean and work too hard. Enough said.)

And now that I've been all high and mighty, I must come clean and admit we bought ourselves a present today. It isn't easy to buy things on Fatu Hiva. The prices here make Paris look like a bargain basement. A dozen eggs costs $7 US, for example. Since the supply boat from Tahiti only shows up twice a month, supplies are limited and priced accordingly. So we've tried to keep our pennies in our pockets and live off our reserves as much as possible.

However, trading is quite popular. Mostly, we have traded for fruit and fish. I also scored some onions, which is a bigger deal than you might think. Fishing line, hooks and beer are happily accepted in return, although we have also given out aluminum, rope, garlic and antibiotics (not currently available on the island). Today, after long deliberation, we traded for a rosewood-handled stone adze carved by a friend in town (photo forthcoming). The Tiki carvings here are quite beautiful, and it was all we could do not to leave with a boatful. But after our mola blowout in the San Blas, we're trying to hold back a little. The future Papillon Crew homestead is going to be a collection of world art and fond memories, I tell you truly.

So, Merry Christmas to us, as we prepare to leave Fatu Hiva. We've enjoyed the waterfalls, the mountains, the long hikes (except perhaps Indy, who, dropping to the ground while tromping down the mountain today, whined, "I wish we could apparate!"), and the people. We'll move on to Nuku Hiva within a couple of days, where I hope finally to rediscover the internet, and to read the millions of notes from you people waiting in my inbox.

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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Paradise attained

Cruising is a funny business. There are two distinct phases to life aboard: time at sea, and time near land, and the two have precious little in common. Some people are equally comfortable in each, but I think it will come as no surprise that I am firmly on Team Phase II. For some the endless weeks of rolling on the high seas, but I like to go for a walk now and again.

When we first arrived at Fatu Hiva, tired and bedraggled and with more things to fix than I care to list, I´d planned to write about the end of our passage. After an excellent two weeks (and change) at sea, we approached the island asymptotically. We lost our wind about 250 NM from here - and I do mean, lost. Papillon needs about 10 knots of apparent wind to even get going. We had five. So, for three long days, we noodled along at 2 knots, destroyed some more bits of the boat (fun fact: light winds are far more destructive on equipment than heavy winds), and tried not to fight too much. It was frustrating. Eventually, after tearing the mainsail, ripping the track off the boom and bending the outhaul, we had to motor the final 30 NM. To add to the fun, our dinghy motor pooped out when we got here, so we spent 45 minutes just trying to get the final 200 m to land. Ridiculous.

And that can all translate to a hilarious story. But I find, now that we are here, those memories are taking on a flat and distant quality. The secret to cruising - or, at least, cruising successfully - is to have a limited and selective short-term memory. As soon as an annoyance is in the past, it is dead and gone. No grudges held. In the Customs and Immigration area of the brain, bad memories are granted a visitor´s visa. Only good memories may apply for permanent residence status.

This is my long-winded way of getting to what I really want to talk about, which is Fatu Hiva. We arrived, and all of the tiny stresses of the past few weeks melted away.

This island is a series of raw, craggy old volcanoes covered in palm trees, scrub and goats. Mist clings to the peaks, and periodically rain and wind rush down the valley and swirl our boat around. It looks very much like a chunk of Scotland dropped into the tropics. Yesterday we hiked inland and spent the afternoon at the base of a waterfall. We were alone in the forest, laughing and swimming. We discovered that crayfish are partial to orange seeds - who knew? One crayfish, a determined soul about five inches long, was bent on stuffing three seeds in his mouth at once. One kept dropping, leading to a comical routine of picking up the old seed, stuffing it in his mouth, and dropping a new one. Stylish in particular was very entertained.

When we first arrived, we made friends with the Swedish/Ecuadorian family on the boat next door, and they in turn introduced us to their friends in the village. Instead of working on the boat and getting back into sailing shape, we unexpectedly spent our Sunday sitting around the table with our new friends. Sitting on their breezy porch, surrounded by fruit trees and banana plants, we ate, and we ate, and we danced, and we ate, and the girls splashed through the river, and we ate some more. Shark ceviche and garlic bread on real baguette (!) and pamplemousse and oranges and coconut brittle and crepes and ice cream and patacones and my belly is so distended I may start getting questions about when the baby is due. We gave our French a workout, and poor Erik, possessed of the greatest number of relevant languages of the group, was kept busy as a French/Spanish/English translator as the need arose.

After three weeks at sea, we were down to our last sour grapefruit. Now, thanks to a little trading and a lot of generosity, we have so many limes, bananas, plantains, mandarins, oranges and pamplemousse that I wonder how we will finish it all. I´ve never been a fan of grapefruit, but the pamplemosse here has changed my mind. For one thing, it is sweet. For another, it actually tastes good. Our meat reserves are getting low, but we now have some wahoo steaks in the freezer, so I think we can happily live without ground beef for a while.

This is a place you´ll likely never see - Fatu Hiva doesn´t have an airport; it can only be reached either by sailing from thousands of miles away, like we did, or by flying to Tahiti, then to Hiva Oa, then finding someone with a boat to take you the last few hours to the island. Under the circumstances, I undertake to enjoy it on your behalf. And when we eventually move on to Nuku Hiva or Hiva Oa, I´ll post some pictures.

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