Saturday, 16 May 2020

So much for a clean wake

Clean Wake: A concept amongst cruising sailors that stresses the impact that individual behaviour has on the group.  Bad actions will reflect upon those who follow and potentially poison perceptions for generations.

Photo Credit: Damien Privé, SV Manwë
Maple at Anchor - Bocas Del Toro

20 years ago, being an unemployed recent graduate searching for a purpose, I read a book that changed my life.  Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air” is the story of a man’s battle with Mount Everest during the deadliest year the mountain has seen.  It is a story of adventure, loss, and overcoming challenges.  After reading it, it inspired me to find an epic adventure of my own, something that challenged me and opened me up to a life lived to its fullest.  And so, I read other adventure memoirs landing solidly amongst the published works of circumnavigating sailors like Lyn & Larry Pardey and Liza Copeland.  Their books opened up a world of far off South Pacific Islands where visitors were rare and local customs still prevailed.  Their ethos was to embrace the differences between us all and adapt to their surroundings.  Their sensitivity was such that they never failed to remind their reader that sailors, as visitors, must respect local customs and law even when it seems strange and always leave a clean wake.
Fast forward 20 years.  By the time we embarked upon Maple and our world cruise, the number of sailboats traversing the globe had grown into the tens of thousands.  What had been a small community of voyagers seeking a simple life different from that which they could find at home had become an annual migration of sailors transplanting their western lifestyle to their floating homes. 

A growing community of sailors has also led to an increase in the numbers of those who apparently feel that rules do not apply to them.  Across the globe we have met sailors who think nothing of failing to clear into a country, anchoring where there are restrictions, picking fruit from trees that don’t appear to belong to anyone, going ashore on private land or leaving recycling/garbage in the wrong areas.

In the time of Covid-19 and increased restrictions on activities and movement, the flaunting of rules has become even more clear.  As we sit in French Polynesia, waiting for borders to open I see daily Facebook posts from misinformed, entitled, or deliberately obtuse sailors that offend the concept of leaving a clean wake.  Comments like “we’re the only tourists they have, they should be grateful…” and “it is the law of the sea, they need to provide safe anchorage for sailors…”  and “we know the borders are closed, but we heard that a boat was checked in so we’re leaving today bound for French Polynesia…”  It seems as though the levels of entitlement and lack of respect for local laws are reaching an all-time high and its little wonder that locals in nations along the traditional cruising route are tired of hosting us and unwelcoming.
But then I am reminded that for every self-absorbed soul who sets sail - even though 95% of national borders are closed and the island nations they are bound for are the least well equipped to deal with a pandemic – there are dozens of kind souls who remember the concept of leaving a clean wake and implore the selfish among us to stay put, wait for borders to open and respect local restrictions.

As a world traveler, there are some things that have become increasingly clear to me in the last 5 years.  Technology is making the world smaller, people are more alike than they are different, most of us are good, considerate and decent, but above all, those of us who travel are visitors in the lands we venture to, and as visitors are tolerated and even welcomed, but we simply must respect the local customs and rules or those who follow will bear the consequences.  Covid-19 has shown that borders can be closed easily.  If we want them to be open to us as travelers, we need to demonstrate we are worthy of their hospitality.

Friday, 15 May 2020

An Uncertain Future

Sun sets on locked down French Polynesia.

On March 16 the government of French Polynesia first announced they were stopping travel between islands.  When the news broke, we had been bouncing about between the nearly 100 islands of the various island groups for nearly 10 months.  Anchored in the beautiful lagoon surrounding Raiatea and Tahaa, we were making our plans to head further west to Tonga, Fiji, and Vanuatu once the cyclone season wound down in April.  All those plans ended as nations around the globe rapidly began closing both internal and external borders, canceling flights, and implementing various levels of domestic confinement or "social distancing" to avoid being overwhelmed by the rapidly spreading COVID-19 virus.

By March 21, French Polynesia ordered all citizens and visiting nationals into full confinement.  All non-essential stores were shuttered, schools closed, gatherings of people forbidden and individuals required to carry ID and special “Attestation” forms declaring which of 5 approved reasons they had for being out in public.  In addition, cruisers were told they must remain in their anchorages for the period of the confinement, and all marine activity, including swimming, was forbidden.

On March 27 the government announced a curfew between 8:00PM and 5:00AM which was expected to remain in place for the duration of confinement.

All of this has been repeated ad nauseam in nations around the globe, and cruisers in every port from the Mediterranean to Panama, New Zealand to Malaysia and the Maldives to South Africa face the same general restrictions and daunting future.

Cruising sailors are no strangers to danger or uncertainty.  Those of us who travel with our homes and most of our worldly possessions must navigate weather, long ocean passages, and language barriers at the best of times.  What now face us are very few open borders, distrust and fear of foreigners and limited prospects for further travel and discovery.  Just 6 weeks ago, most nations of the globe were accessible and welcoming to sailors.  Now, stories of cruisers refused entry at ports, forced to continue sailing or leave their home and fly back to any country which they have passports for are abundant.

For many of us on the ocean, home is an impossible distance away.  Faced with waiting for borders to open again (a decidedly uncertain prospect) or a passage that could span 1/2 the globe in a single leap the future for many of us is murky at best.

For our family on Maple, the situation is similarly uncertain.  Our choices right now seem deceptively simple, but on further consideration become much more complicated.

  1. We can remain in French Polynesia and wait to see if borders re-open.  We are in French Polynesia on a long-stay visa.  Our visas expire May 20 and we had planned to be underway for Tonga long before they ran out.  We have applied for an extension to our visas which were granted and we could conceivably continue to extend for another 2 years, giving us lots of time to see if/when the Pacific will open up,
  2. We can set sail west using a route that takes advantage of countries that still have borders open to voyaging sailors.  This was the plan up until late March. Unfortunately, as of today only American Samoa and Papua New Guinea are allowing entry for sailboats.  American Samoa is a great option but is only 700 miles further west, still within the cyclone zone, and only offers a 3-month visa meaning we'd have to be looking for the next welcoming nation to continue our march West by July or so and I just don't know if anywhere else will be open by then.
  3. We can leave Maple in French Polynesia and try to get a flight home.  This is not an option.  Maple is our home, we have no other and I cannot imagine leaving her in French Polynesia for an undetermined amount of time.  It could be 12-18 months before borders re-open, possibly longer, and by the time we can return to Maple we may not have a bank account that will support further sailing.
  4. We can sail back to the west coast of Canada.  This option is intriguing.  We can manage the trip one of two ways.  The first would see us head North to Hawaii, then onward to Vancouver.  This passage is certainly do-able, depending on seasons and is only 5000 miles total.  Many cruising sailors follow this route to return to the USA or visit Alaska.  Typically yachts will sail to Hawaii in April/May and on to Vancouver in July.  The second option is to work our way West, possibly via American Samoa, and then North to Japan.  This could involve a stop in the Marshall Islands and/or Micronesia (if they open their borders) and may include a stop in Guam (currently open to boaters).  This is a more challenging route, covering nearly 7000 miles to Japan and then another 4300 to Vancouver, a total of over 11000 miles.  It will also mean avoiding typhoon season in Japan and Cyclone season in the South Pacific while bouncing between countries that don't want or need visitors.  Typically yachts will sail North to the equator before November and plan to head to Japan after March.  Sailing to Vancouver is best accomplished in June/July.

As Janet posted the other day, we are leaning heavily towards option 4.  Sailing back to Canada seems the best choice in these uncertain times.  There is simply no way of knowing how long travel restrictions will last, and even if commercial travel starts again soon yacht travel may be far behind.  In a future where vaccines are required, quarantines likely and foreigners suspect we can't help but feel that the comfortable embrace of our home and native land will be a welcome change.  It will also allow us to refresh our bank accounts and reconnect with old friends.  Bringing Maple along gives the added bonus of a floating home and escape pod for when the travel itch hits us again.

Sunday, 26 April 2020

Is this the end or simply a new beginning?

Croatia, 2015, giving Maple her name.

Last night when kissing Iris goodnight, I noticed she was cuddling her alpaca stuffy.  I couldn’t stop myself from grinning. To think that a year and a half ago we were traipsing around the beauty of Peru. What an amazing life you have led, baby girl. You have lived full time on a sailboat for half of your life, in that time exploring 32 different countries in 6 continents.  What a gift these 5 years have been for our family.  My heart brims with so much happiness with being able to pull off this lifestyle for as long as we have. 

We had some exciting plans this year.  We were going to add 5 more countries to our tally. But the world as we know it has stopped. Our good fortune has left us spending this time of great uncertainty here in the stunning jewel of the South Pacific. We have our health, we have financial security for the time being and we have a roof over our heads.  We have nothing but gratitude for what opportunities we have had in our lives. If we need to stop this lifestyle today, we have no regrets with the choices that have brought us here. 

We have been doing much talking and planning, as challenging as that is at a time like this.  We knew that we could not maintain this lifestyle forever, the bank account balance is dwindling. Our plan had always been when that time came, we would sell Maple and use the proceeds from the boat to settle ourselves somewhere to be determined to replenish the bank account. The reality is that time is approaching. 

We are not ready to end this journey.  We really wanted to explore Asia with the girls.  Unfortunately in this current climate, this is highly improbable. So what now?  Sell the boat?  Wait another year in French Polynesia to see if borders reopen?  With our current finances we will only pull off two more years if we are lucky. 


....after 30 days of confinement we had a mind-blowing revelation...

....after years of saying we would NEVER sail to Canada, perhaps we could introduce Maple to her home port after all?!

Sure it is costly to import Maple and we need to reacquaint ourselves with winters (sob!). But by keeping Maple, we have a home that is already paid for so it means we could actually afford to live on the south coast again, enabling us to be close to family.  It also would allow us to feel we can easily adopt this nomadic lifestyle again as we understand the pull of the ocean is strong.

Even though the saying is “plans are written in the sand at low tide”, we are fairly certain this is the direction we are going to head. Sail to Canada, return to the only province the four of us have ever called home. What is unknown is the route we will take to sail there.  We hope as the months pass we will be able to form a plan on how many miles, countries and time it will take to sail Maple to her home port.  We have more questions than answers at this stage, but we have a goal that excites all of us!  

I hope this finds everyone safe and healthy during this time and we will post more as plans firm up.  

Sunday, 2 February 2020


So we just had to wait until night #5 for the perfect sail. Last night was a fabulous sail with more wind than was forecasted at a perfect angle for Maple to just fly. We turned more south to come past Ahe and Rangiroa in the Tuamotus and we thought it would be a slow sail but instead we were able to bomb along at an average of 6 knots, it was fabulous. Today the wind has slowed and we managed to finally break out the spinnaker. I don't believe we have used the spinnaker once since entering the Pacific or if we have it was once for a very brief spell. Needless to say we were very rusty in getting it hauled up. Many false starts with wrapped lines, lines on the wrong side of the stanchions and even managed to initially haul the spinnaker up on the wrong side of the head sail. Let's just say there were some tense moments between captain and first mate. Here's hoping bringing it back down is less exciting. We have already accumulated enough stories of how-not-to-douse-a-spinnaker, I am not interested in adding to that library.

It has been a very chill day with the sun still shining. I believe we have managed around 36 hours of no rain. On the SSB radio net last night, someone who is currently anchored in Tahiti managed to collect 600L of water with all the squalls that hit them there. So now I feel vindicated that I can in fact substantiate my sailing story of all the squalls rivaling our tropical storm in Grenada as we only collected a mere 500L of water during that storm. It was not so easy for us to collect the rain this time around while underway so we only managed to add 100L of water during the squalls on this passage, but not too shabby I say.

We are on track for a morning arrival on the 4th. Unfortunately tonight is forecasted to be very calm so likely we will be motoring as we are opting to not fly the spinnaker at night given some recent history with squalls and a torn sail. We don't much feel like adding more sail repair to our to-do list.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

The sun is shining

What a difference a day makes!! The ocean wasn't trying to kill us, the boat didn't break and the bugs were not invading. Darryl's shift until midnight was unbelievably wet, but the squalls have left us alone since then. It was blessedly calm and beautiful all day today. We had a wonderful day of sailing in glorious sunshine and decent winds all day. We are trying to be cautiously optimistic that night #5 will be gentle and dry.

Tonight we will start wending our way through some of the atolls of the Tuamotus so will need to be more vigilant with our watches as up until now we have been out here all alone with no obstacles. Goal is to arrive in Tahiti by February 4th so just 3 more sleeps hopefully.

Friday, 31 January 2020

Creatures of the deep & unwelcome company

Okay, so night #3 was unpleasant but no additional broken boat bits to report so will call that a win. Apparently I should not have boasted about a dry helm and silent engines in my last post. I actually had to pull out my foul weather jacket which I haven't used on the boat since possibly the Atlantic crossing?!?! The volume of rain we saw through one squall after another I am convinced rivaled how much rain we experienced during a tropical storm in Grenada. But like all good sailing stories, it can't be substantiated.

In addition to the rain, there were two highlights to my evening. As I sat at a now very wet helm seat surrounded by complete darkness with the only light on offer from distant lightning that surrounded us and the annoying hum of an engine, suddenly this supernatural glow caught my eye off our starboard (right) side. Once my eyes had a chance to adjust, I witnessed the most spectacular bioluminescence drifting past us. I can't adequately describe the large, greenish orbs that swirled and intersected with each other. I aimed my flashlight on the water to see what was causing the dancing lights but this offered no answers. Jellyfish?? A school of fish?? I have no other suggestions but it was a beautiful sight and a welcome distraction to my drenched self-pity.

On this high, I turned back towards the front of the boat when something else appeared in my periphery to the left. I quickly realized I was sharing the helm seat with a most unwelcome guest. Slowly darting towards my leg was a HUGE cockroach. Yup. A big, ugly cockroach with antennas that rivaled the size of its body. Feeling trapped in my seat and paralyzed with fear, I managed to flick it away with my jacket sleeve. With this momentary reprieve I was able to scramble down the helm station into the cockpit. I quickly caught sight of it again, where it was now exploring the seat back cushion of the helm seat. Of course I did what was only logical....I started screaming. I felt like I screamed for a long time before Ella came up to investigate. She aided me by preparing me with bug spray and a shoe. I stood there glaring menacingly at the beast hoping it would recognize it needed to find a new ride but it remained undeterred. I was left with only with one possible option, I had Ella wake up her dad. Despite Darryl's equal dislike for these nasty bugs, he is more of a problem solver than me and managed to bravely go into battle with the beast and conquer. With the roach now crushed and drifting away at sea, other than a bruised ego, all was well on board again.

On a side note, this morning I told Iris about the battle with the bug and she calmly says to me..."oh, that is what you were screaming about"?! Seriously kid??? No investigating to see whether your dear mother needs assistance, she clearly just managed to get herself back to sleep.

Now that I have demonstrated to all my lack of resilience I will end this post here. All is well on board. The engine did eventually get turned off and we are enjoying an easy sail at the moment with only one squall hitting us so far today. We will see what night #4 has on offer...

Thursday, 30 January 2020

Rain, rain and more rain

So our second night was much better than our first with only one squall paying us a visit which where we were trimmed well for so it passed without incident. However, Day 3 has been one squall after another. Needless to say the cockpit is soaking wet. The only saving grace is the angle of the wind and rain is on the opposite side to our helm so we are able to stay relatively dry at the helm when the squalls hit. Squalls always seem so much easier to contend with during the day when we can see them coming from miles off and are more than prepared for them when they hit.

Despite the torn sail and wet weather, we really can't complain. We have been sailing beautifully along, haven't needed to turn on the engine once since leaving. Even when the sun is needing to fight its way through clouds the solar panels are doing a great job of keeping our batteries charged during the day. The seas were a bit confused yesterday which generally does not leave the crew in a great mood, but today the seas are cooperating better. The girls only mildly grumbled about having to do a bit of school today after taking yesterday off. Otherwise, the girls spend their days laughing while binge watching the series, Big Bang Theory, so really they shouldn't complain about putting in an hour of school a day.

As usual, the Maple crew prove to be incompetent fishermen and despite having two lines in the water, we have yet to get a nibble. Meanwhile when we were in the Marquesas we had friends who took pity on us and generously shared portions of marlin, wahoo and yellow fin tuna with us. It is not like the fish are not out there they just seem to do a terrific job of evading our lures. So instead we enthusiastically enjoyed fish tacos last night using wahoo courtesy of Sugar Shack, thank you guys!!! We still have 500 miles to go before reaching Tahiti so perhaps I can try to be cautiously optimistic on replenishing our now depleted fish stocks.

I will sign off for now as another squall looms behind us.