Monday, March 30, 2015

What Awaits Us?
By Michael

To take this picture of Eleanor, I had to set down
my cold beer. For all of you out there cruising with
younger kids, this is how getting ready to sail
to the South Pacific looks when you've got
older kids. She's twisting off the engine oil filter.
We’re going to French Polynesia. It’s a French protectorate comprised of 118 islands that stretch 1,200 miles across the South Pacific Ocean (and if you add up the land area of all the islands, it is roughly equivalent to that of Rhode Island). These 118 islands are divided into five island groups and they are very distinct. 

The first group we’ll stop at are the Marquesas. They are lush and with dramatic relief. I don’t think a lot of traditional commerce happens there. After the Marquesas, we’ll travel through the Tuamotos. Many people have told us this is their favorite group. Islands are a misnomer for this group; they’re sandy, palm-fringed atolls with few people living on them. On Google Earth they look like a patch of ringworm on a child’s leg, most of the rings with a gap just wide enough for Del Viento to pass through and into the big shallow swimming pools they form in the middle of nowhere. The third group we’ll visit are the Society Islands. These islands are lush like the Marquesas, but lower-lying and fringed by coral reefs. Tahiti and Bora Bora are in the Societies, so I suspect there are lots of tourists in this group.

The French are allowing the Robertsons only three months in French Polynesia and we’re not going to be able to explore it all. The Austral and Gambier island groups are off the beaten track and we’ll not visit them (this year).

French Polynesia will be pretty, no doubt. Everyone agrees on this. But what often matters about an inhabited place isn’t the beauty, but the people who call it home. We’ve seen ample beauty in Baja, but five years from now, my positive impressions about this peninsula will come from the mayor who included us in Puerto Magdalena’s New Years’ Eve celebration, from Geronimo and his daughters on one side of Agua Verde and Tio and his dog on the other, from Ana and the rest of the SHLP volunteers in La Paz, from Gerardo and Rodrigo camping with their kayaks on Isla Angel de La Guarda, from Isabela and her friendly staff at the Fonatur marina in Santa Rosalia, and from hundreds of kind strangers all over whose names I’ve forgotten.

Heading to French Polynesia for the first time, I’ve read and heard enough disparate impressions from the people who’ve traveled there before us to be eager to reconcile them with my own.

We'll miss our good friends Norma
and Christian of Mana Kai. We
planned to take off about the same
time, but they're going to spend
another year in Mexico before
heading west next year. Maybe
it's something we said.
My folks were there on a small cruise ship a few years ago and they were thrilled with their visit and can’t wait to learn about ours. I’ve read dozens of cruising blogs from people who eagerly share their own happy experiences in French Polynesia. My friend Kim on Puna gave me photos to share with the people she met in the Marquesas forty years ago, people she still remembers fondly.

Then there are my Bum friends who are famously dispassionate about these islands (even going so far as to say that everyone else feels the same way but are reticent to admit they are anything less than blown away after sailing thousands of miles to be there). In his book, South to Alaska, my friend Mike Litzow writes that after you’ve been a few weeks in this, “tropical paradise that Westerners have been idealizing ever since the days of Captain Cook,” you begin thinking that the, “lush green silhouettes of the islands are mostly comprised of marijuana plants.” He describes one encounter with people who seem to me jaded by visitors and bored by life. That said, Mike and his family have also enjoyed enriching encounters with Pacific Islanders; I hope we have our own.

My vegetarian diet is a concern. How awkward and insulting will I seem if we do something nice for someone and then find ourselves at a pig roast in our honor? None for me, thanks. I’m still full from that pamplemouse I had this morning. Oh, you caught that fish today? Yes it looks very fresh. A gift for us? No, I don’t eat fish either.

No matter what impression we get from French Polynesia, we are awfully lucky to be going there to form impressions. The beauty of the place will not disappoint and to share that with my girls, to see them brave a swim with a reef shark or delight at the sight of a waterfall at the end of a long hike, that will be enough—everything else will be bonus. Our tentative departure date is April 9.


Schoolwork aboard.
Our buddies on Bliss left the other day to head north to
explore the Sea of Cortez. The only downside about
our French Polynesia plans is that they have us heading
south, away from the Sea we love.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Sick Bay
By Michael

This is the post-clinic photo from Sunday that
SHLP posted on their Facebook page. This clinic
was held at a community center in a La Paz
neighborhood (colonia) called Chametla.
Frances had it first: fever, lethargy, yuckness.

Then Eleanor crashed, much worse, I think that was Thursday night. Her fever (this girl doesn't get fevers) ran up to 104 and all the ibuprofen and acetaminophen aboard wasn't bringing it down. Saturday morning I took Eleanor to the hospital where they covered her in cool compresses, drew blood and urine for testing, and spent about 40 minutes looking at every organ in her abdomen with an ultrasound.

La Paz had a run of Dengue Fever following last year's hurricane and the doctor was looking for evidence of this.

"Influenza" was his verdict.

"That's good...wait, so she's contagious?"


That night the fever and aches and pains made sleep for me impossible. The next morning Windy was feeling crappy. Frances was starting to feel better, but still coughing.

Living on a boat in close quarters with your spouse and kids is the greatest thing in the world. Coughing and sneezing and moaning and blowing noses isn't living, and to do that together for a string of days in close quarters just sucks. I went in this morning to get some water because we were out; tomorrow we're all talking about maybe getting ashore to shower and launder bedding.

We've not been sick like this since we started cruising. The real bummer of it though? The timing. We missed two important events on our calendar (and we're cruisers, these were the only two events on our calendar): a wedding aboard a friend's boat and the first spay/neuter clinic held in France's name by the Sociedad Humanitaria de La Paz (SHLP). The big-hearted volunteers who organize these clinics even made a cake for the absent Frances.

But the good news is that the wedding was a success without us and 50 cats and dogs were fixed at the clinic without us. And while there will not be a repeat wedding before we take off for French Polynesia, there will hopefully be another clinic around the end of this month that we can all attend.
Following is a Facebook capture of a video that the SHLP organizers made for Frances. These are all friendly faces we've come to know.



Monday, March 9, 2015

The Weakest Link?
By Michael

New meets old.
Getting ready to (partly) cross an ocean is occasion to look at everything a bit more closely. I'm looking now at the chain joining link I installed only a few months ago.

The first 150 feet of our 3/8-inch anchor chain was a rusted mess--to the extent that in the past couple years our foredeck and starboard gutter came to look like we'd painted them orange. For months I began preparing for the re-galvanizing job I knew was in our future. Then one day, in response to increasing skipping of that chain on our gypsy, I compared a link at the 100-foot mark with a link at the 200-foot mark. I wish now I'd taken a picture of what I saw. It was difficult to believe the links were ever the same size.

So galvanizing was out. We bit the bullet and bought 150 feet of new Acco chain to mate to our good 150 feet. Enter the chain joining link.

I bought four of them, two different brands, a pair from West Marine, another pair from Defender. Installed properly (you've got to flatten the heads of the connecting pins with a ball peen hammer) they're supposed to be stronger than any single link of the same size.

This is the picture of the first one I've installed. It doesn't look like they did a great job with corrosion protection. Where else did they cut corners? Does anyone have experience with these galvanized joining links? Are we on the road to losing our rode?


Saturday, February 28, 2015

Birthday Girl
By Michael

The day before yesterday was Frances's birthday. The campaign to raise money to fund a local spay/neuter clinic in her name was a surprise gift to her. She is away for three weeks visiting family and I just got this picture from her, taken when she was told about the gift. I talked to her on the phone and she couldn't be more excited.

The results have been phenomenal. I wasn't sure we'd be able to raise enough meet our goal to fund one clinic. It looks like we'll be able to maybe fund FOUR clinics in her name. There is still a week left, but thank you to everyone who publicized or donated in support of this cause.

It's a big responsibility to solicit money on behalf of an organization. It’s very assuring in this case to know the individuals who will be using it. Every dime will go towards directly addressing the mission to fix as many cats and dogs as possible, with no overhead (except the small percentage that Indiegogo takes off the top).

The first clinic in Frances's name is scheduled for mid-March and I will document that event here.

Thank you.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Frances and the Dispossessed
By Michael

I've written several times on this blog over the years about my youngest daughter's unyielding compassion for animals. I've watched it shape her as she matures, from a small person taking it in and questioning to a girl on the cusp of nine who now asserts her compassion, and who is hard to say no to.

Her desire to be around dogs here in La Paz isn't a case of a young girl pining for the pet she doesn't have, it's her sincere want to help, however she can. Over months, I've watched her bond with three dogs we've fostered aboard. Both times I wondered how in the world we were going to be able to let someone take her "pet" away. My impulse was to remind Frances daily that this situation was temporary. Windy urged me not to worry. In both cases, when we found permanent homes and said goodbye, nobody was happier than Frances, overjoyed for the animal.

This cruising life, and the longer periods of time we've been able to spend in places like La Paz and Guaymas in Mexico, and Victoria in B.C., has afforded us the time to facilitate and support Frances. Now, four days away from her 9th birthday and completely unknown to her at this point, we are facilitating her compassion in the best way we know how.

Please help, by donating or spreading the word. Any amount raised beyond the minimum goal we set just increases the long-term good that will be done.

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