Wednesday 29 April 2015

Land Ho ! Fatu Hiva The First Day

Wednesday April 29th 2015

La Baie des Vierges, Fatu Hiva, Marquesas

Well we did it ! On Day 20 of a blissfully uneventful crossing, we anchored in Baies des Vierges in Fatu Hiva, the most remote of the Marquesas islands! 

As I write this, it is 4:00 am and I should really be sleeping sleep but I can’t, it seems my body is now used to sleeping in fragments of 3-4 hours, so I decide to write down some thoughts after our -nearly- first 24 hours here. 

It's an emotional thing coming in to an anchorage you have been dreaming about for a long time, after a long voyage. The biggest thing I fell is gratitude at having made it, we are all well, we did not suffer any major trials, everyone is healthy, the boat is great, and, well, here we are, slowly sailing as the sun comes up. The first sight of Fatu Hiva was simply darkness on the horizon at 4:00am, like a low cloud, but with a dome shape, There was no moon, but plenty of stars, with a last visit from dolphins, (I could just see their "lights" as they swam by.) 

Our first view of land after 20 days at sea.  Fatu Hiva at dawn.

By the time we came into the Bay, at 7:00 am, local time, we can see that we are NOT alone ! There are something like 14 boats here already ! Even if it is early morning, cruisers who have made the crossing ahead of us, wave us a warm welcome as we go around. Our friend Gonzalo is on up on deck of SV Kazaio waving and taking pictures as we sail by, we are mesmerized by the scenery, it is gorgeous, idyllic, seemingly untouched, an anchorage like no other we have ever seen, it is difficult to describe the beauty, but when you arrive it feels like you've arrive in Heaven. The imposing cliffs, topped by incredible rock formations. with various shades of green (which change in the different light of the day), a fresh water river falls into the Bay, there are flowers and fruit trees everywhere, combined with being welcomed by friendly faces, it could not of felt better after a long crossing ! 

Baie des Vierges, Fatu Hiva, Marquesas

We have to put out all of our chain because we are anchored in deep water, (due to the unusual amount of visiting sailboats here this week), almost 100 feet of water! Gonzalo shows up in his dinghy before we even have the ‘snubber' * on. He gives us a welcome gift, fresh fruit !!! (A delightful, thoughtful gesture which is much appreciated.) These include two enormous Marquesan PAMPLEMOUSSE ( they are almost the size of a bowling ball ! and SO DELICIOUSLY sweet and juicy) some limes, and bananas. 

Mark holding the fresh pamplemousse that Gonzalo welcomed us with

*This is a 15' heavy rope with a chain hook on the end that is attached to the chain to provide some 'stretch' in the anchor chain to take the shock off the boat cleat and is the last step in anchoring. 

Even if the water is deep, it is is pristine, clear, and WARM ! (Like the Caribbean) Matthew politely asks if he can swim.I was so happy to oblige as he has been so patient and good during the crossing,so after I tied up a boogie board to the back of the boat, Matthew had a brief moment of hesitation before going in, happily ! 

We notice that Amelie has been busy, hosting a forrest of gooseneck barnacles, which grew during the crossing, Mark gets to work scrubbing these off and Meg jumps in for a swim while I take a nap. 

Amelie in need of a wash,  arriving at Baie des Vierges. Photo by Gonzalo on SV Kazaio

The people of Fatu Hiva seem not to be bothered by the cruisers ( there are at least 15 boats here!), in fact it is part of their life, and they welcome us with a friendly ‘Bonjour!”, they offer us fruit and hand made crafts to trade. We do not have any of their currency which is Polynesian francs, but that's okay because they are really more interested in what we can trade. (Being the remotest of the islands, they only get a supply boat come once a week or so). So we gathered a backpack full of “stuff”, clothes, shoes, soaps and lotions, extra coffee mugs, a volleyball, and other trinkets, and head into town, as soon as we reach the dock, we meet Marie-?. Somehow, I've forgotten the last part of her name, but every lady in town I've met was also called " Marie-Something". It's a sign of the influence of the Catholic missionaries who came here, as is the cross at the top of the mountain. From all indications, the missionaries were successful here, the little white church is the main building in the small town of Hanavave, population 300. 

The magnificent Baie des Vierges, Fatu Hiva

We walk through the village with Marie- , she takes us to her house, we meet her family., On the way, she points out a bulletin board that had 2 notes for cruisers. The first asking not to bring garbage here to dispose. The second asking cruisers not to let children from the village go onto their boats. She explains they just don't have the capacity to handle the extra waste (but Hiva Oa can) and that they are trying to have the children understand that the boats are homes, not playthings.

 Her 6 month old son is sitting in a baby walker similar to the ones our kids had when we lived in Jakarta. Her yard is full of fruit trees and flowers.There are chairs set up outside and we are invited to sit down, I open my backpack and pull out what I have packed as trading goods,3 coffee mugs, a volley ball, kids clothing, a pair of crocs, flip flops, some soap and hand lotion. She pulls out some tapas (art made on thin tree bark -they also make clothing and frames with these), she asks me what I want for it. I tell her we would like a couple (2-3) pamplemousse and, maybe a tapa. We end up getting 7 marquesan pamplemousses, some pomelos (smaller grapefruits), and some other known fruit "pomme de - i forget-" ( which, when peeled, tastes a bit like cucumber, not much flavour. but an ok snack), and two tapas, all for the price of: a volley ball, one pair of crocs, and three coffee mugs. Both sides seemed very satisfied with the trade. 

Matthew enjoying a fresh water swim on Fatu Hiva

Loaded up with our purchases, we then walked down to where the river meets the ocean and hung out with our friends, old and new. We are almost all here: SV Perry ( who arrived a little bit later in the day), Kazaio, Zorba (who have been here almost a week) Being able to speak to other people besides each other is a treat and the kids are happy to see each other again, and to play with all the local kids...Karina (from Kazaio) introduces us to some of the people she has met on the island, they are lovely, easy going, and as we sit and chat a bunch of men and women are getting ready to play a soccer (football) match, and then we hear the church bells calling everyone for the 5:30 pm service. Even though we had not felt overly tired in the last twenty days as our bodies had adjusted to the sleep patterns imposed by our 24 hour watch, by the end of this first day everything started to feel a little fuzzy by sunset. We all suddenly felt very tired, we couldn't wait to get back to the comfort of the boat, grab a very quick dinner and fall asleep !

Mark found this horse walking down the road, dragging the tree it had been tied to

Wednesday 22 April 2015

20 Days at Sea Part 2: 2/3 Of the Way There

Wednesday April 22nd 2015

Setting up the head sail as it's downwind all the way !

This sea gull is far from land ! 

School underway

Making pizza in the middle of the Pacific

Our 3000 nautical trek took us a little less than 20 days

Mark fixing the washing machine while we are underway

MC and the kids doing school while underway

Day 14 : Galápagos to the Marquesas 

Latest Position: 

Latitude: 08 deg 49'.000 S (read as 8 degrees, 49 minutes South) 

Longitude: 125 deg 00'.95 W (read as 125 degrees, 0.95 minutes West) 

The hours are slowly changing as we move further west, and we have gone through two time zones (15 degrees of Longitude per time zone), although we decide when to change our clocks back mainly by looking at what time the sun sets and rises. 

We are a bit more than 2/3 of the way there, less than 900 nm to go before we get to Hiva Oa in the Marquesas (whoo hoo!) Everything is going very well, not much is new, the days all seem to blend into one these days.The big excitement comes when we catch a fish, usually they get away it seems on this passage unfortunately, although when we get a big marlin or sailfish, I am secretly happy when it snaps the lines and goes because I am not sure how we would bring on such a large beast on deck !!! We are more into catching Tuna and Mahi Mahi (My fav.) of course, nevertheless any bite and a call of: "FISH ON!" is a thrill on board Amelie these days ! 

Since the days are all are starting to resemble one another and there's not much more to tell you about the crossing, I thought I'd answer a few questions instead. We love when people ask us questions and here are a few that have cropped up recently, so keep those questions coming ! 

Frequently asked questions 

Regarding Otto : 

"When you are letting Otto do the steering, isn't there a danger that you and other boats who are also relying on their auto pilot collide ?" I just LOVE this question, because I had not realized how it may be perceived that we were just sitting down below deck and no one was watching, no, "Otto" is great (as is his brother "Frotto"- in case Otto bites the dust). He makes our lives so comfortable because we don't need to stand and hand steer the entire time (like some of our friends had to do for most of this crossing!). But there is someone in the cockpit 99.9% of the time (in fact that is where almost everything takes place: games, guitar, school, meals, movies, (heck even showers!), all take place in the cockpit and we are always taking a look around us, plus, remember this is a slow way to travel (6-7 n.miles an hour average!), and its a big BIG ocean with so much horizon aroundf us , tons of time to readjust course if we see anything in the distance with a good scan every 15 minutes or so, and finally, we have a ship monitoring system (called AIS) which picks up any registered vessels on our monitor and sounds an alarm if they are going to get to close to us, but mostly, there just aren't many other boats out here ! We go for DAYS and DAYS without seeing a single boat, in fact seeing another boat becomes THE EXCITING EVENT of the day (after almost catching a fish!)! Our cruising friends who are doing the crossing with us are all between 50 and 1000 + nmiles away from us, we haven't even been able to reach them with the VHF radio (only by daily emails). Today though, we were contacted by another boat who was barely visible on the horizon (about 5 nmiles away) and were able to speak on the VHF (They are SV NOE from Europe). 


"How much fresh water do you have to carry on board?" We have 1000 liters of fresh water in our tanks but also we have a desalinator (watermaker) so that we can make fresh water from sea water, handy n'est-ce pas ? We also carry emergency fresh water rations. 

Fresh food : 

"Is it hard to keep lots of fresh food onboard or are you eating canned only?" 

I think Mark spoke of this a little bit on FB when we were getting ready to leave the Galápagos. Before leaving we had to carefully plan the purchase of fresh fruit, eggs and veggies. We went to a market to buy as much unrefrigerated produce as we could. I also took care to buy some at different stages of ripeness (so many green tomatoes, and pineapples for example) Everyday I have to babysit these fresh foods. It’s like taking care of children: "How are you doing today my littles ones ? Are you all staying good ? Oh look, one of you has turned bad overnight, well, its going to be farewell for you, overboard you go ! We would not want you to corrupt all the other fruits and veggies around you now would we?" On day 14 we still have a few fresh things (apples, carrots, cabbage, onions, lots of eggs, green peppers and we had our last fresh tomato today! The bananas and pineapples did not last as long as we had hoped, but , on the plus side, we managed to make LOTS of banana bread and some banana ice cream! 

Garbage : 

"How do you manage garbage ? Do you have to keep all smelly bags inside with you ?" 

Today, April 22 is Earth Day, or we think it is, we can't verify our sources right now, anyways, that lead us to talk about how we use energy and how we try to reduce waste while on board. When you think about it, on board Amelie : "Everyday becomes Earth Day!" The little electricity we use largely comes from our solar panels or wind generators. We very rarely need to turn on the generator (diesel), we only do if it's been overcast or we want to use the washing machine (to wash a small load of clothes), but since it sprang a leak a few days ago (and gave our bilges a nice wash !), we aren't using it at all now ! 

We try to have as little garbage as possible because garbage disposal is not easy while out at sea. One of my favourite pieces of advice which I received from a fellow cruiser before the crossing was to get ourselves a 5 gallon plastic jug of water and use it as a plastic disposal site. Any plastic that we have on board gets rinsed and cut up into pieces and then stuffed into this empty jug, A dowel (or any stick) is used to push the items down. This has greatly reduced the space (and odour!) of plastic waste on board, and when we get to our destination , all we'll have to do is carry the jug to the garbage disposal/recycling place. Organic trash, paper , glass as well as tin and aluminium cans can all be disposed of in the deep sea out here. The glass breaks, the metal cans corrode and rust away to nothing and the organics get recycled into nutrients for the sea. 

Well, it is almost time for me to start preparing dinner for the rest of the crew, tonight we will be using the last of our chicken, as I attempt to make a stir fry using canned vegetables I found in the BVI's almost a year ago ! I'll let you know if it becomes a new favourite ! We hope that you are all well where ever you are, and for our Canadian friends and family: that Spring has finally Sprung! Loads of love, 4Ms at Sea


Meghan on Amelie (Written in June 2015)


Before I start my blog, I would like to say that yes, I am going to post my blog about our great  Pacific crossing but at the moment, I apologize, I am not able to. To make a long story short, a water glass spilled onto my laptop during rough seas and it doesn't seem to be working. Luckily, I have everything backed up but I can't open my blog on my parents' computer. Again, I really apologize for the mixup and I'm hoping to get that blog posted as soon as possible but I promise you it will come eventually.

Well, it’s finally posted! Now, let’s just pretend that this was posted at the beginning of May, right after we arrived in the Marquesas so everybody take your time machines and read this as if we had just finished the crossing!

!!!WE DID IT!!! We did our longest crossing yet (and probably the longest crossing we will ever do): 19 and a half days from the Galapagos to the Marquesas! This blog will not be about land but about life when you are literally floating amid the waves of the biggest ocean on Earth for weeks! Before you do a long crossing, there is quite a bit of preparation to do ahead of time. I really take “Prepare for the worst, hope for the best” seriously. I pictured in my head that the worst that could happen to us is we flip completely over (but, if we did, we would come right back up after) so I prepared my room for that! We never actually got even remotely close to the sail touching the water but I’m glad to see that I can prepare my room for that kind of condition. During the preparation stage, it can be stressful but once we get out on the open ocean, we become like rasta men say: “Hey mon, what were we fighting about mon?”!

I was actually very surprised. I thought that being out of sight of land for a long time would freak me out a lot because I would worry about storms, high winds and something happening to the boat like a fire or a leak but actually it did the opposite; it relieved me of my worries. After I realized that the way things were going on the crossing, there was about a 5% chance those things would happen.

Now, if somebody asked whether I like it better at anchor or out on the ocean, I would honestly say I like it better at anchor but if I was measuring this on a seesaw, the difference would be almost not noticeable. When your’e out at sea, you can do anything and I mean anything. You can scream as loudly as you want (which my dad is not a big fan of) and not a single soul either than your family will hear you! You can blast the music on your speakers as loudly as you can and no neighbours can come to complain. Even if the entire continent of Asia blew up, you would have absolutely no clue! You may wonder how we hand steer the boat for 3 weeks without stopping and the answer is: we don’t. Thanks to our friend "Otto” the autopilot, we just enter our course into “Otto” and the boat will just keep going on that course until we change it. It’s very efficient because that way, we can just relax and do our normal things while “Otto” drives us all the way there (but at anytime, we can always hand steer ourselves). As my dad phrases it, “I find that Otto has more patience than me”! Still, at least one person always has to stay in the cockpit though to make sure “Otto” doesn’t go off course and the autopilot still can fail if it is stressed too much in heavy winds or storms. That is why we have “Ottto #2” just as a backup because if it fails, we would have to steer the whole way there which would not be fun. Of course, some boats do do that because either they don’t have an autopilot or their autopilot breaks (which is what happened to one of our friend’s on the same crossing). About school underway, that went actually pretty normally. I was surprised that I was able to do all my subjects without ever feeling seasick at all! Of course, it was sometimes extremely frustrating in the swell and wind because my textbooks wouldn’t stay on the pages I needed them on. I did lose one handout in the wind! 

Despite all of that, I still managed to do school everyday except one which now that I look back at, I actually feel pretty accomplished. My dad did an exceptional job at getting us there safely, my mom did an amazing job at cooking three meals a day despite the challenges with the rocking, Matthew did an excellent job at finding new hobbies either than swimming and I feel I did a pretty good job at school everyday including weekends. School only took up about half to two-thirds of the day so I definitely did other things to keep me busy during the day because you can’t just say, “I’m a bit bored, I think I’ll just go for a walk around town,”! I always like the quote “Music saves my soul” but on this crossing I truly believe that movies saved my soul! Thank goodness for a hundred thousand movies out there because almost every night is movie night on long crossings! I also enjoyed practicing guitar (I am working on my first song: “Heart of Gold” by Neil Young), making dozens of elastic bracelets to give to the local kids around the South Pacific, playing so many games of I-Pad Monopoly until I was able to beat my dad and lots of other stuff I can’t remember right now!

We obviously put out our fishing lines to see what there really was out there in as far as we could tell, the vast nothingness. Sadly, we only landed one small dorado fish (mahi mahi). We had actually hooked about 10 fish but all of them got away or we threw them back because they were too small (when they were still alive). The most impressive ones we hooked were about 6 and half foot sailfish and about a 5 foot marlin! The way we had arranged our lines is we attached a bungee cord with an empty pop can to the line and when a fish would grab on, the line would stress the bungee cord which would make the pop can bang against the deck alerting us there was a fish so we could go pull in the line. When we caught the sailfish, it went a bit differently than that though! The pop can went insane for about half a second and then we heard the fishing line being unwounded extremely fast and then WHAM! snap went about a quarter of the line, including our lucky lure which we had caught all our other fish with! We were looking frantically everywhere and then in the distance, we saw it “tail walking” (jumping out of the water but keeping it’s fin on the water making it look like it was walking on water), probably trying to get the lure out of its mouth!

Either than the fish, we also saw some other, not-good-to-eat animals such as dolphins, whales and birds. I had thought that 10 days from the nearest land, birds wouldn’t be around but that was obviously wrong because I saw birds every single day on our crossing. They weren’t even big birds, they were little blackbird sized birds coming for some offshore fishing!

One day, the same day we caught our mahi mahi, we got a spectacular dolphin show! There were about 20 5ft long dolphins splashing at the bow with a surprise pilot whale friend with them. It was very, very odd that one pilot whale was, first of all swimming amid all of these dolphins and, second of all, was also swimming right next to the boat. 

You might think that all the good stuff happens during the day which is partly true because you can definitely see things better during the day but when you see things at night, now that is special. One time, my dad saw dolphins when it was a full moon (which sounded really cool) but when we had our dolphin show it was a new moon. It’s true that we didn’t actually see the dolphins themselves but the phosphorescence (plankton that glow green in the water at night) outlined them so we could see where they were moving and the spray that came out when they breathed!

Also, on the first few nights, we saw some Galapagos night seagulls. The Galapagos night seagulls look exactly like normal seagulls except they have red eyes which let them see at night so they can fish! That time, there was a moon so we could kind of see them flying but the coolest part is that there were many of them so they were communicating back and forth making ticking noises.

I don’t think the animals are the most breath taking things on night watch though. I think the stars are. The only light pollution within hundreds of miles was our navigation instruments (which is very minimal light) so no stars are hiding. You look up and everything you see looks like a diamond. There is no way I could count all of them but I would guess there are probably 100 million or more! You can even see the milky way which you know is countless miles away because the stars are extremely hard to see. You see them for a second but then you don’t a second later but you know from that one second that there are more stars in that milky way than people on Earth!

I know that I am saying, “beautiful this, beautiful that” a lot in this blog but it’s not beautiful sunsets and stars and dolphins all day everyday on a 19 and a half day crossing. Everything takes longer when your’e moving. It takes two minutes to put on pants instead of 10 seconds. It takes five minutes instead of one to get up, go downstairs, get your notebook and come back up. 

Life in the kitchen on a moving boat, well... that needs a whole paragraph just to itself. I know I didn’t cook so I’m definitely not taking credit for that but I did do dishes sometimes so I have some experience in a moving kitchen. First of all, I can’t stack the dishes on the side of the sink like I always do because in the waves, they will just crash clang and it will end in disaster. I have to put them on one of our countless life saving anti-skid pads. In science this year, I learned that a stable structure is wider at the base than at the top and I think that washing dishes was the situation I thought I would least need that tip. Turns out, it was very useful because spreading my legs wide like the yoga warrior pose was the only way to stay standing. 

I hope you did not mistake my words as complaints because that is certainly not what they were meant to be. In fact, I think we were extremely lucky at how well the passage went. Some of our friends were not so lucky and had some bigger issues but if I start telling the stories, none of you will ever want to cross an ocean and I don’t want to eliminate that option for you. Yes, the continual swell we had was hair-ripping-frustrating at times and we didn’t have much luck with fishing but we had no serious injuries or illnesses, no storms, no boat problems (either than a minor laundry machine issue), we made pretty good time and let’s face it: we had A LOT of fun! 

For those of you who are wondering, when we stepped foot on land, oh yes, did it ever feel like the ground was moving! 

Thursday 16 April 2015

20 Days at Sea, Part1: The First 1000 NM

Thursday April 16th 2015

Flying fish are found on deck every morning

Our fresh eggs, unrefrigerated, are vaselined and rotated every 24 hours

Our fresh provisions, found at the local farm on Santa Cruz

Meg pulls her weight

One of the 19 beautiful sunsets we sailed into

This is a BIG deal mom !”, she tells me. “I know, I know!” Although we sure aren't acting like it, leaving for a 21 day (more or less) crossing from Galapagos to French Polynesia (3000 nm with an average boat speed of 6 nm/hour), IS a BIG deal, so why are we so casual about it as we pull anchor at sunset from Santa Cruz ?? Well, I guess we are just feeling ready ! After one year living onboard, hard work and compromises, we are ready as we will ever be, and the boat is ready, thanks mostly to Mark for all of his hard work and dedication to get her there. 

The Galapagos were a big deal too of course, and for me, a dream come true: They did not disappoint! I could write for days and talk to you for hours about all the things I loved (we ALL loved) about these Enchanted Islands, but we are moving on, on to our next Chapter, French Polynesia and a much different world. 

We have been sailing for 7 days ( 8 nights) and its been going very well. The seas have been a bit disorganized at times, (swell hitting us from different directions) but nothing major, the winds have varied from low to great. As I type this we are currently in the GREAT phase, with winds around 20 knots coming from behind us. We have a 24 hour watch system, so there is always someone on watch even though 'Otto" (our auto pilot) does most of the steering. The night watches are : MC from 19:00-21:30 then Mark from 21:30-03:00 ( he is a night owl!) and MC from 03:00-07:00. I am surprised by how much I am enjoying this watch. ( I get to see the sunrise everyday and feel a true sense of renewal at each one!) I have sustained uninterrupted "alone time" to let my thoughts wander and follow along to see where they take me. I have the time to appreciate all the beauty around me, with just the sound of the waves and wind, pushing Amelie along, to keep me company. 

Here are a few thoughts that have been with me on the first part of this journey. 

Fear : I think of the people back home who might be worried about us and I wish they could be here to experience this. I feel no fear here, In fact, strange as it may be, I feel safer here, in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean than I have in most places in my life. I think without realising it, I carried an anxiety with me , a low grade , undetectable fear of bad things happening, such as someone breaking into our home, or hurting us, or of the kids being exposed to violence, car accidents, stress from being in the rat race all the time, out here there is not much to be afraid of. It feels SO good to be away from everything, " being away from all the things of man” * . Here all I really have to think about is keeping an eye on weather, and keeping the boat floating. I hope that no one is overly worried about us, because we are truly safe and happy. Also sea sickness has vanished! Perhaps a reward after one year afloat, I can now read, watch movies and spend time below without feeling queezy ! What a relief this has been ! 

*This is a quote from Meg Ryan’s character in the movie: "Joe Vs the Volcano" 

The days slip by quickly as we stay busy, while still enjoying the slow pace. After my early morning watch, I set the fishing lines out at first light, prepare a simple breakfast for the rest of the crew and head back to bed. Once I am up (again) it is 10:00 am and Meg and Mark (and sometimes Matthew if he is up before me) have been up and usually are having a great time together (either playing chess, Monopoly or some other game), I make the beds, clean up a little bit , prepare a snack (or 2nd breakfast), and break up the fun by starting school by 11:00. We are usually all in the cockpit at this point, and its been going great, even with the swell and healing of the boat. I am really happy with the way that is going. 

The day goes by quickly, with occasional exciting interruptions such as a fish on the line ( We've caught a few Mahi Mahi's, even though the big one got away-and we've let a few small ones go-but the huge SAILFISH who snapped our line and then jumped out of the water behind us gave us a real thrill ! ) , the dolphins are always welcome and everything stops when they pop by to say hello. Yesterday we had a pod of 6-8 LARGE dolphins and as a bonus, amongst them was a pilot whale (we think it was a pilot whale)! At first when I saw it underwater I was saying " wow, that's a BIG dolphin, what do you think Mark 7-8 feet ?" and Mark says " Yeah, At least that..." and just as he was saying this the "dolphin" rolls out and we see his black and long back and dorsal fin, ”whoa, thats a WHALE, swimming right along side the boat with the dolphins !" SO Cool! One night during his watch Mark called me up : "Come and see this”, and he and I were given the most spectacular show ! There was no moon, it was completely dark and a pod of dolphins were swimming on either side of us (maybe 8-12 dolphins) but we could not see them, all we could see was the resulting phosphorescence in the water, this time it was white (usually is a green) and looked like a million shooting stars , following the path the dolphins were making in the water like electric white light, swerving and spinning around us. Mr. Walt Disney could not have done better, it was breathtaking ! 

More fun with the wildlife: The wide eyed night gulls followed us on our journey the first three nights. These are endemic to the Galapagos and are unique birds. They hunt at night, and they look eerie fluttering beside us making their cool sound (they sound like a roulette or "Wheel of fortune") It was like the Galapagos were giving us a chance to to say goodbye,and to gently let them slip away behind us. One night as I came on for my watch Mark told me jubilantly told me that he had been hit by a flying squid ! I am not sure who was more surprised, him or the quid, but I'll bet that the cephalopod was not as happy about it as Mark seemed to be. 

One another night, I was sitting alone in a small corner of the cockpit, the only dry place as it was raining hard, trying to make myself comfortable. It was completely dark with no moon when all of a sudden one of the bananas (hanging in the "banana hammock" :) above me) fell at my feet. I bent down to grab it in my hand but the "banana" felt cold and slimy and it began to wriggle violently in my hand ...I let out a loud "UGHHH" as I let go and turned on my head lamp.....a flying fish was desperately bouncing on the cockpit floor, until I was able to grab hold again and send him back home. 

So far: 

We are 1/3 done, having covered about 1100 nm) and we have daily updates (by email and SSB radio) from our friends who are also on their way to the Marquesas. There are two monohulls and two cats (catamarans) and we are in the middle of the pack, keeping track of everyone's position on the charts. Getting updates from everyone makes this all the more fun. These are all kid boats (ie families traveling) and there are more on their way soon. We met another two families in Galapagos, from Australia this time, who will be doing the crossing too ! 

The challenges: 

Sure it s not a picnic all the time, here is an example. A couple of days ago I had a bad day in the galley. The swell was worse than usual, and the simple act of getting a meal ready became a frustrating exercise in futility. It went something like this : 

First I needed to make a fresh batch of bread, so I got all my ingredients ready: 

I sifted the flour to make sure there weren't any weevils, (and the sugar too, because I am that paranoid about the little buggers), then I mopped up my tea which had spilled all the way down into the cupboards and into the floor compartments, then I got back up to realize that my mixing bowl, which I had wedged into place, was no longer where I had left it, once I located it at the other end of the kitchen, I swept up the flour from the counter and remeasured the flour, then I had to locate the yeast packet which had ALSO gone missing, as I hung on to the mixing bowl with one hand,and help on to the counter with my other hand, (keeping the same wide "Yoga" stance as I always do in the galley) I grabbed on to the elusive yeast packet with my teeth and that's when Matthew showed up (his timing is always stellar), and asked me for a drink, I drop the yeast packet and call out (with as much love and patience as I can muster) to the crew above, to see if "Someone can please help Matthew find his cup....", then I go bak to my bread making, after I gather the rest of the ingredients from the floor and mix them together as fast as possible before the next wave hits (or before I hear a warning call from above "BIG ONE coming hang on!") . I have learned to always crack the eggs in a separate bowl, in case it is rotten, finding out the egg is rotten AFTER you've dropped it in to the rest of the ingredients is NOT fun! 

Once the bread was made, I had three or four more major spills....including three juice cups that went flying across into the saloon (and again into the floor compartments) and a rice cooker which spilled it contents TWICE, picking out the rice grains from our pens and pencil holders and our junk drawer,and one by one off the floor, I entertained the crew once again with a new combinations of swear words.By the end of it all, I could fully appreciate and understand why the British navy gave its men a daily ration of rum! 

This day was rough sure, but its teaching me all kinds of tricks and the spills are getting more rare, although I still have days when I envy my friends on their more stable catamarans, but that only lasts a few hours, being on a monohull is just so much darn fun otherwise ! 

So, you want to experience this too ? Besides the galley, another challenge is 'getting dressed'. For those of you who want to experience just a sample of the reality on board Amelie, try this : 

Get up at 3:00 am, pull yourself out of bed using two hands (you have to climb over the lee board which is keeping you in your bunk after all), steady yourself and hold on to the wall as you slowly walk to the bathroom. Now, (and this is going to sound bad but) spread your legs wide apart and wedge them between the toilet and the door and hold on to the sink with one hand or else face the real possibility of flying head first into your closet ,ok, now you are ready to attempt to get dressed : While still hanging on to the sink with your one hand, and with legs wide apart, take off your Pajamas bottoms, lift one leg at a time, carefully, anticipate the motion of the swell as you bounce up and down, use your toes to pick up the PJ's and throw them on your bed. Now grab your sweat pants (it's cool outside at 3:00 am!) and repeat the steps in reverse (never let go of the sink!)once those are on, repeat for your top. Don't bother looking in the mirror, your hair is beyond help, get your head lamp and safety harness on, you are ready for your watch ! 

Mark's answer to people who say they would like experience life on a boat is " Just throw a glass of salty water in their face and then hand them a warm coke." 

A friend of ours spent most of his time trying (and finally succeeding) in fixing his broken down autopilot for most of the 3000 nm crossing says that anyone who is looking a buying a boat should take a good look in the engine room, to decide if there is enough room to set up a bed in there, because you might end up needing one in there ! 

I am still having a great time and loving life on board. I am grateful that we are able to do this with just the four of us together, it feels comfortable and relaxed. Sure there are some inconveniences and it is hard work, but watching Megs eye's light up when she sees a whale or when we catch a fish or hearing her say things like, " You know mom, after this trip is over , I have a feeling that I could do anything!" , makes it all worth while. And Matthew? Well, it quiets my mind to see him so content and comfortable. After all those years of therapy and demands put on him from a very young age, I think that he is at peace here, the way he looks out at the sea and his smile, I think, says it all. As for Mark, the same could be said: he is also clearly very happy out here, there are more smiles and joking around, and he is clearly enjoying the time with the kids! 

That's all for now, we will try to send another update in a week or so, for now, just know that we are safe and having the time of our lives out here, its been great so far ! Much love, 4Ms at Sea 

Wednesday 8 April 2015

Meghan On Amelie-March 2015

For those of you reading this from the northern hemisphere, you are now on the opposite side of the world that I am now! We are actually basically in the middle of the globe now since we are a little bit south of the equator in the famous, wild Galapagos Islands!

Being “Inside” Evolution
For those of you who don’t know, it was by visiting the Galapagos that famous geologist Charles Darwin came up with the theory of evolution. The ship he was on, called the Beagle, made a quick 5 week stop in these islands on his way around the world. Before the Beagle, the other ships that came claimed the Galapagos a desolate, wasteland so we are quite lucky that Charles Darwin saw something different because we may still have thought today it was a waste of our time to bother discovering further into these incredible magical islands. 

I have been to places before where they have fascinating animals but that they are really hard to find and the moment you yell, “Found one!,” they dart away into the bush. I was expecting the same here in Galapagos but I was in for a whole different experience. I have never actually had an animal approach me without any hesitation once or ever like I have here. 

First of all, there are the sea lions. Again, I was really expecting to have to look for many days and take a couple of hikes or something to find these guys but one walk into the town in San Cristobal flew that out of my brain. When, we first got to the dinghy dock, I saw some around and on the dock which wasn’t too surprising but still kind of cool. Then we walked up the ramp and we saw some on the rocks next to the sidewalk which was a bit shocking considering how close the sidewalk was to the rocks. But then, as we walked further, we saw some on the benches, walking on the sidewalk, under tables, all over the beaches, in the dried up fountain and even on the outdoor stage! When they would waddle on the sidewalk, we would actually scream a little bit and move out of their way while they were just acting as if it were completely normal and just waddled past us. 

At night, they all come up onto the beaches to sleep. After watching them for a long time on the beaches, I realized that they act very much like humans when they go to sleep. The way they spread themselves out and lay down looked just like me except I’m not brown with 4 flippers. Also, some of them snuggle together to sleep and they even have a designated nursery for the babies who are one and older (until they are adults). 

They will also sleep on benches, rocks, sidewalks and a flight of stairs that lead down to the water. One night, when there were many sea lions on the stairs, two got into an argument. It was a baby and a male and it actually got so carried away that we heard them barking, barking, barking until all of a sudden…. splash! The male had nudged the baby all the way off the edge into the water! Then, the baby started barking for his mom to come help him but she was at the top of the stairs so she had to roll down all the sea lions (who were not very happy about that) to get to the bottom to help her baby up. It was just so fascinating to watch them trouble shoot because it was so human.

They are also super smart. When we were swimming with one, it would splash a little bit because it knew that splashing was a form of playing. Also, when we were at a beach, we saw one body surfing on it’s belly by pulling its fins back! 

Sea lions are just one of the thousands of creatures in Galapagos. We haven’t seen them all but I think my favourite have to be the giant land tortoises. They may be slow but the way they have evolved is mind blowing. Each type of land tortoise on each island has evolved differently. I think though the most amazing thing about them is that they can last a year without any food or water at all! 

As well as being giant (adults can be about 5-5 1/2 feet long), the tortoises also have a very long lifespan. They can live up to 150 years old! At the tortoise sanctuary on Isabela island, we saw some miniature, newborn babies and it was amazing to think that we would all be long dead before they are! They are going to have to hire new employees at the sanctuary before the babies are adults! What I can’t seem to figure out though is how their shells grow with them (because they do). 

We were actually lucky enough at the tortoise sanctuary on San Cristobal island to see two fight! It was really interesting (and slow as you can imagine!) because at first, the angry one pulled it’s neck up high and hissed at the other one making the victim hide his head in his shell. Then, once the victim took his head out again, the angry one tucked his own head in and shoved the other one away far enough until he was satisfied! What I found quite funny is that the victim just pretty much went along with it and went completely back to normal after the fight. 

My second favourites would have to be the marine iguanas. They look pretty much like regular iguanas but they can swim comfortably down to 20 ft for 10 minutes to get their food until they have to go back up on the rocks to get warm again since they are cold blooded. The swimming part is actually the simple part of the process to get their food. They first jump off their high rocks into the breaking waves (which would either seriously injure or kill us humans if we did that) and then once they have their food, they have to swim past the sea lions who like to tease them playfully which ends up slowing them down. Shockingly, when the marine iguanas were first swept here from South and Central America, they were actually land iguanas but over time, they have evolved to swim! They don’t actually use their feet when they swim, they just tuck them to the side and move only their tail. When they eat though, they swallow too much salt so they snort it out after which is pretty cool to see (I can’t imagine it’s very cool to feel on your skin though). The land iguanas were pretty funky themselves since they were all yellow and red!

The other land animals we saw were all birds. To start off with, there are Darwin’s famous finches! For those of you who don’t know, when Darwin came to the Galapagos, he was particularly fascinated by the finches since every island’s finch had a different beak depending on what they ate and their habitat. It was by studying these finches that Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution. Now, today the 13 different kinds of finches are named after him. 

Another common type of bird in the Galapagos is the booby (yes, that is actually a type of bird). There are three types of boobies in the Galapagos; the blue footed boobies, the red footed boobies and the nazca boobies but the most common are blue footed and the nazca boobies. All three of these types are endemic to Galapagos!

Blue footed boobies’ name basically tells you how to identify it. I am not just talking about a faded blue which you can kind of see if you look close enough, I am talking about bright blue bubblegum feet that you can see from 30 ft away!

Red footed boobies were my favourite and we were very lucky to see them because only 10% of the tourists who come to Galapagos are able to! We took a tour up to the north end of San Cristobal island to this completely untouched desert like land where the red footed boobies lived. Sure enough, we were able to see many of them and even got to see some sitting on their eggs or feeding their young in the nests only about 3 feet off the path!

Most of you probably won’t believe it but there are penguins here in Galapagos! When someone first told me that (before we came here), I didn’t believe them at all but turns out they were right because we saw them with our own eyes. The cool water near the equator attracts them from the South. They are very small (about 30-40 cm tall) and incredibly adorable especially when they shook their little feathers off after swimming. We didn’t have a chance to swim with them but we heard from our friends that they are very playful and they swim all around your legs but it is impossible to film them because they move so fast!

The marine animals also were astounding. Since we are not allowed to fish in Galapagos, the reefs are so rich, I could swim in the water forever and I don’t think I would get bored of looking at the life!

If anything, the one type of animal in Galapagos I was expecting was going to be scared of us was fish. I was right about most of them but there were a few types of fish that weren’t really. They would swim near the surface and when I would put my camera near them, they wouldn’t really dart away like all the other fish do. I was really excited when a whole school of hundreds of small fish made a circle around me because I’ve seen them do that for a sea turtle in a movie and I was hoping some could do that for me. One fish even swam up to my camera to look at it more closely!

I also got to swim with big fish called sharks! I was very excited about that because were hammerhead sharks that I was surprised got only as big as about 4.5 ft so I wasn’t scared at all but trust me, if it had been a tiger shark or a great white shark, I would have had a different story. As well as hammerheads, we also saw several black and white tip reef sharks (also only about 2-4 ft big). 

I saw some new types of rays here in Galapagos too like the eagle ray. Eagle rays are black with white spots and have a big head that looks kind of like an eagle’s head. We also think we may have seen a couple of manta rays when off the boat on our way to different islands but we are not 100% sure if they were and we will never be but just the chance that we may have seen a manta ray amazes me!

Lastly, of course, there are the sea turtles. I learned on my dive course in St. Maarten that you always have to stay at least 2 metres away from a sea turtle or else they will get scared and they may forget to go to the surface (which would kill them) and I always followed that rule whenever I saw turtles but in the Galapagos, I was swept almost right into one by accident and it could not care less! The sea turtles in Galapagos are so trusting with humans and they are also not very agile, mostly just relaxed and peaceful. Now I see why in Nemo, they took that stereotype to make their turtles because Crush is one easy-going dude! At Loberia beach on San Cristobal island, we actually witnessed what we called a “sea turtle cleaning station” where all the fish seemed to be eating parasites off the turtles while the turtles just moved back and forth with the waves. 

The different landscapes in Galapagos are equally as astonishing as the creatures. They vary from sandy white beaches to rich, green forests or from rocky, volcano craters to wetlands and lagoons. There are few towns in all of the Galapagos which is special because there are not many places left in the world which over 90% of the land is untouched by humans! Here are some pictures of the different perfect terrains we saw. 

I hope I gave you all a little idea of the Galapagos and maybe now you can plan this as your next vacation destination! The next time I write a blog entry, I will be halfway across the pacific ocean because our next stop is French Polynesia! 

From in the middle of nowhere,
Your sailing friend,

My first attempt at surfing at Playa Grande on Isabela island!