Sunday, October 19, 2014

Pirates of the Pacific - By Elizabeth (and Michael helped, too!)

Today, on a deserted island in the Haapai Islands of Tonga, we are pirates.  Dad snuck ashore and hid some 'booty' on the beach, and then he came back and drew a scary pirate map for us.  

We’ll have to use a GPS to find the treasures, so Dad shows us how to use it.  On the GPS he labeled two spots – one called “Hunger” and the other called “Gold”.  An arrow on the screen will point us to where we need to go.

On the map, we see clues for each treasure.  For “Hunger” the clues are:  ‘My mouth is the biggest part of my body’ and ‘Some people eat me when hungry.’  The clues for “Gold” are: ‘I’m on the leeward side of the island’ and ‘You can drink me anytime, but I’m better ice cold’.  Dad drew a sign on the map that said, “Death and murder to all who enter.”  Then he drew a skull and swords just to make it extra scary!

We put the GPS and the map in a plastic bag, because it looks like it’s going to rain.  I pull up the dinghy, and we hop in to go to shore.

From the dinghy, we see the island where the treasure is hidden.  I point to where I think it is.  The rain only threatens to fall, and we are thankful not to be wet pirates!

 On shore, Dad gives me the map and Michael holds the GPS to navigate us to the treasure.  

‘Hunger’ will be the first treasure we try to find.  We look at the clues again, just to make sure we are heading in the right direction.  

We run off in the direction the arrow on the GPS points to find the surprise that awaits us.

Michael pulls a bag of treasure from the opening in a clam shell that had been washed ashore.  It is CANDY!  We all have a piece to celebrate our find.  “Now I know why the clue tells us that the mouth is the biggest part of my body!” I exclaim, "Because of the clam!  Ha!  Good one, Dad!"  

Now it was time for me to hold the GPS, and Michael has the map.  “Gold” is our next quest.  

We run to the leeward side of the island, where we aren’t getting blown by wind, and follow the arrow again.  We run forward and back again.  I call out to Dad, “Dad, where is it?  The arrow isn’t working right.”  “Then you’ll have to depend on the clues, sweetie pie!” Dad answers.  We read the clues again.  “What can we drink that tastes better ice cold??” Michael wonders aloud.  “I know – a coconut!”  But when we look at the coconut near where the GPS points, there is nothing there.  Dad reminds us that some treasure is buried, and that’s when I spot the treasure sticking out from under the sand beneath a coconut! 

A bag of Tongan money that we can use to buy whatever we want in the next town!  Michael and I start imagining what we'll buy with our new treasure.  I hope to find a Tonga keychain and Michael says he just wants MORE CANDY!  On our way back to Field Trip, we both ask Dad when the next treasure hunt will be!  We like this whole pirate game!  

(A quick update - We got to Nuka Alofa, the main town in Haapai and the capital of Tonga, but instead of finding things to buy in the small stores there, we bought some carved bone pendants from the nice man who drove the taxi to the immigration office!  I picked out a sea turtle, and Michael chose a shark!)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Morning At Anchor

It’s about 6:30 a.m. in Tonga, and since we've crossed the date line, it is actually your tomorrow here.  Fruit bats are screeching in the trees on shore, the sun is rising, and a new day is beginning on Field Trip.  If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to get a cup of hot coffee made, so I can sit out in the quiet of this anchorage and breathe in our surroundings before the bustle of the day comes.  But coffee doesn’t come in an automated machine, like my Keurig back home.  Coffee is a process. 

First, I go to the control panel and switch on the LP gas (propane).   This panel is the mission control of the boat.  Here, we can switch electricity on for lights, water pumps, outlets, electric heads, cabin fans, etc.  In the first year we had the boat, it would take me minutes of standing in front of this panel of switches to find the one for which I was hunting.  Finally, after 3 years, I know which switch operates which light... I think.  The top half of switches control items that can run on 12-volt, and the bottom half are for the things that require the inverter and/or generator.   Wonder why most cruising ladies don't blow-dry their hair??  Yep, it requires high voltage, which means starting the generator or taking charge from the inverter.  

Then, I make sure the kettle is full enough on the stove, and I push the button on the wall behind it, allowing the propane to flow to the burners.  A click, click, click, and the burner ignites beneath the kettle.

While waiting for the water to boil, I pull a melamine mug from one cabinet (porcelain just doesn’t make sense on board a moving vessel).  I find the sugar and instant coffee in another cabinet stored in airtight containers to reduce moisture.  I can’t drive through Starbucks for a latte, but I’ve found that their VIA packets make a great cup of joe.  

Consequently, each time guests or crew fly down to visit us, I place an Amazon order to restock my coffee supply and ensure that my addiction is sustained.  Some things are just too good to do without.

The kettle begins to whistle, and I rush to turn the knob on the stove off, so as not to wake my little ones.  Then I push the button to stop the flow of propane to the stove, go back over to the control panel in the other hull, and switch off the LP gas.  I hurry quietly, still hoping for a few moments of peace out on the deck before the crew starts to stir.

I pour the steaming water into my mug, then reach into the fridge and grab the boxed UHT milk.  I know, boxed milk?  But this is the only milk that is found in these remote places, and it can be stored unopened for up to 6 months or more.  For baking, we use powdered milk.  We’ve all gotten used to the slight difference in taste, and don’t think anything of it anymore.  I pour a dash into the mug, return it to the fridge, and sneak out the door and outside. 

The water is like glass around the boat, and I can’t help but peer down to see what creatures are swimming beneath me.  A parrot fish swims slowly under the hull.  A school of mullet break the calm surface of the water.  From shore I hear roosters crowing and those fruit bats screeching together as they settle into the tree tops that line the water.  I relish the sounds and sights that awaken with me, sip my coffee, and whisper a prayer of thanks.

Eventually, a little blonde head full of ruffled hair peeks out to find me.  He nuzzles close and enjoys a snuggle.  Then it’s time to get going.  Mark is up and at the stove.  This morning we’ll toast the rest of a loaf of bread he’d baked yesterday, some eggs (unrefrigerated, of course, and just bought from the local market for 7 Tongan pa’anga, or US $3.50, per dozen), and a special treat of bacon that we found in the meat freezer of the Chinese supermarket in town.

To toast the bread, we have to turn on the generator or use the inverter, which provides power to the outlets onboard.  Whenever the generator is running, it’s best to put a lot of load on it, so we make sure to switch on the water heaters and get a load of laundry going simultaneously in our miniature Splendid RV-sized washer/dryer combo machine.  Laptops, iPads and other gadgets are plugged in to get charged up.

During breakfast, we often listen to the morning net to find out where friends are and get information about the places we will be heading.  Then we check in, letting others know where we are anchored or our position if underway. 

The breakfast dishes get washed by hand and set in the drying rack, until they are completely dry and can be stored without causing mildew in the cabinets.  Elizabeth and Michael get ready for the day and put their school boxes on the salon table.  At his desk, Mark pulls his headphones over his ears, cracks open his computer, and sets to work on video editing, route planning, weather reading, and more.

I relish one last swig of my coffee, take the laundry out to hang on the lines, and get the kids started on their studies.  The tranquility of my early morning is now just a whisper beneath the demands of an ordinary day in our extraordinary life aboard.   

Friday, September 26, 2014

"Niue" Places to Explore

Shallow lagoon waters of Beveridge Reef
Lobster anyone?
After bouncing around in the fetch of Beveridge Reef where Mark speared a massive lobster, getting to Niue and its calm mooring field was just what the doctor ordered.  We radioed to Niue Radio on VHF channel 16, and talked to Ira at the Niue Yacht Club to ask about the check-in procedures. 

To get up onto shore was quite a feat!  Unlike anyplace we’d docked the dinghy before, the high concrete wharf required us to lift our dinghy out of the water each time we went ashore!  A line from the front and back of the dinghy would serve as a bridle to haul the dinghy up, using a huge remote controlled crane.  Then, we had to swing the dinghy in mid air over a steel cart and wheel the cart over to one of the designated dinghy parking spots!  It was quite the process but quickly became old hat.

Dinghy Lift
Commodore Keith came and picked us all up in his van and drove us to the offices where we needed to check in.  While we waited for the guys to do the paperwork, Keith took us for a quick tour of the Niue prison, a rugged cement building with iron bar doors without locks.  Keith told us that Niue doesn’t really have any crime, but when there is the odd inmate imprisoned, the night guards don’t want to have to be bothered.  So, the cells are left unlocked, and if nature calls, the prisoner can reach his hand through the bars, open the door, take care of business, then shut himself back into his cell.  This was an intriguing place, indeed!  Over the next seven days, we’d discover more of what makes Niue unique. 

Enjoying pools where royalty were brought to swim long ago
The island is an uplifted coral atoll, creating beautiful caverns, lagoons and landscapes.  In 2004, it was hit by a storm that produced 22-meter waves!  Can you imagine?  The cliffs that tower over the harbor were flooded with water, and many of the properties lining the cliffs were demolished – including the former yacht club.  After that, many people moved away.  In fact, there are currently 22,000 Niuens who live in New Zealand, and only 1,500 living on the island.  It is highly subsidized by NZ, although it is officially an independent country.  Niue is actually the smallest democracy in the world, with a parliamentary party consisting of 22 elected members.

Geronimo!  Michael found the best Niue leaping spots!
Local woman showed us how to find and harvest snails in the exposed reef
Niue seems to have everything people would need.  Hydro-farming is allowing them to grow more produce, and the island sits atop a caldera that acts as an aquifer.  It holds more than enough rainwater to supply everyone with surplus.  Commodore Keith also told us of a honey farm, one of the few in the world whose hives have not been infested with the devastating mites that are capable of wiping out entire colonies.  He chuckled as he said, “Who knows, Niuean honey might just save the world someday!”

On Friday, we rented a van with friends from SV Moxie in order to tour the many natural beauties found on the island of Niue. 

The Limu Pools were our favorite stop.  Clear, shallow pools were set between coral walls.  We could swim though underwater tunnels to visit connected pools.  The water was a mix of salt and fresh, causing areas of blurriness underwater.  I found myself blinking repeatedly to try to get my eyes to focus.  Michael took a brave leap off of one of the coral cliffs down into the crystal waters below, and relished the applause as he popped up to the surface.

Practicing to be a cliff diver at Casa Bonita!

The Avaiki Caves are seaside caves that we entered by walking over the reef at low tide.  The view was stunning – crystal waters peppered with bright tropical fish and fossils of seashells in the cave walls that curved above. 
Beautiful contrast of serene blue water and rugged coral walls above

Fascinating creatures found in the reefs below
The Talava Arches had more seaside caves, but with taller ceilings and arches that opened to the sea.  Within the caves, we found various mineral formations – stalagtites, stalagmites, columns, ribbon, and popcorn.

Learning all about caves!
Fossilized shell imprint

Just 'a swinging!
The Vaikona Chasm was the most challenging of the expeditions, but it was also the most interesting.  The 45-minute hike to the cave took us over a floor of sharp, uneven coral.  Vines and roots provided necessary handholds over the harsh terrain.  It looked like we had entered the set of Star Wars, and Yoda would be popping his head out from behind a rock any time.  To distract Elizabeth and push her forward, I wove a tale of a time Mark and I were commissioned to explore life on a planet that looked very similar to this.  She was so enthralled by my imagined creatures and experiences that she didn’t remember how exhausted and miserable she was!  Once at the mouth of the cave, I peered down into a black hole and decided I’d had enough adventure for the day.  Mark and Michael scampered down the opening with headlamps on, but wide crevices and treacherous climbing kept them from reaching the pools that were far below.  Friends who made it all the way said it was amazing, but I’ll just have to take their word for it!

My spelunkers!
Transversing the sharp, coral terrain
On the way home, we found the Israel Mart that had advertised homemade ice cream.  So everyone piled out of the van to enjoy a cool treat.  The kids got Gooey Gumdrop, a favorite flavor, we learned, for kids in NZ.  Something else to look forward to finding in NZ!

The next morning, we heard someone announce a whale sighting on the VHF.  Mark, the kids, and I scrambled out onto the back steps to watch humpback whales breeching and playing in the distance.  The first of many humpback sightings in the South Pacific!

Fluke and Fin!
The winds began to look promising for our next passage, so we said goodbye to the Biggest Little Yacht Club in the world, untied our mooring lines, and set off for The Kingdom of Tonga.