Wednesday, September 22, 2010


That means “hello” in Samoan.

We weren’t planning on stopping in Samoa, but Stray Kitty, our friends on a catamaran like to connect the dots and see nearly every island, convinced us. “Upolu is supposed to be a traditional South Pacific Island and some say you haven’t visited the South Pacific until you see Samoa,” urged Captain Chris when we were together plotting our itinerary from the Cook Islands.

Many sailors en route from the Cook Islands to Tonga also stop in American Samoa to get parts mailed in and stock their galley with American junk food. We heard they didn’t have cliff bars or organic peanut butter and our friends on Pickles had graciously volunteered to pick us up a Shop Vac that runs on 110 volts (all the other islands down here use 220 volts) , so we decided to skip American Samoa with its $175 entry fee, go directly to Upolu and catch a 75 pound tuna en route. Maybe we'll go to American Samoa on our next journey across the Pacific.

When we entered Apia, the capital city, we made the obligatory call to the harbor master, who sent a boat out to escort us directly into the marina. Yachts are not allowed to anchor in the bay, a controversial rule that has deterred a number of boats. For us, a chance to hook to shore power, have access to plenty of fresh water and be on a dock where we can come and go as we please is a benefit. So on the early morning of September 2nd we secured Kamaya into the slip at the government marina and raised our yellow quarantine flag.

First seven officials wearing the lava lava skirt visited us having us fill out various forms. The health official allowed us to keep the foreign fruit and vegetables but made sure that we took it to the red building who supposedly took care of it.

When I asked the immigration man in charge of stamping our passports what the most important thing we needed to know about Samoa, he told us firmly, “Respect. Our lives are all about respect. We respect our elders and we respect each other.”

We learned about the center of respect, the large extended families with the matai (or chiefs) making important clan decisions. All seems much different from our individualized American culture.

We carefully crossed the busy city streets, learning to look right and then left or is it left and then right? since the Samoans now drive on the wrong side of the road. They switched just one year ago on September 7, 2009 and apparently there was chaos on the streets that day. For those of us who drive on the correct side of the road this, of course, is confusing.

Coming from costly French Polynesia, we were overjoyed by the low price of food and even indulged in numerous restaurants. The local market gave us a taste of Samoan food, my favorite being the palusami, baked taro leaves mixed with coconut cream. We also sampled Samoan food at the infamous Aggie Grey Hotel, famous for being a refuge for the American GIs in the 1930s.

Robert Louis Stevenson, the Scottish author of Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, moved to Samoa because he hoped the tropical climate would be good for his tuberculosis. In 1890, he built a large estate up in the hills.

Unfortunately, he died four years later on December 3, 1894, but made a positive impact on the Samoans, who revered him and appreciated his strong voice against colonialism.

We did the “pilgrimage” to Stevenson’s grave at the top of Mt. Vaea. Here's his tombstone which in case you can't read it states:

Under the wide and starry sky dig the grave and let me lie. Glad did I live and gladly die and I laid me down with a will. This be the verse you gave for me here he lies where he longed to be. Home is the sailor home from the sea and the hunter home from the hill.

In the water, we swam at the reef and laughed at the territorial Picasso fish who attacked our legs and even the camera. Notice their yellow lips and bright colors.

Talking about bright colors, even the starfish were bright blue.

The Teuila (a type of maroon flower) Festival coincidentally was happening the same week of our visit with plenty of dancing, singing, longboat races and even wood carving competitions.

Before we left, we toured the traditional outrigger canoe and learned about their successes with celestial navigation. The Galufala will sail to New Zealand and then to Hawaii and perhaps even San Francisco, but they don’t sail well upwind so the journey will take almost one year. Unlike the outrigger we saw in French Polynesia, this one doesn’t take animals on board.

All-in-all our visit to Samoa was well worth the stop and showed us a glimpse of Samoa's traditional culture. Thank you Captain Chris for convincing us to connect one of the dots. Next stop Tonga.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

How is Your Vacation?

“How is your vacation?” Lisa, my sister-in-law asks me when we talk on skype. In our next conversation about one month later, she changes the question slightly, “How is your adventure?” We tell her stories about swimming with dolphins, manta and sting rays,

swinging on halyards,

catching enormous tuna and all the exciting things in our life.

She sometimes reads our blog, like you, but I know she doesn’t understand our life on the Pacific Ocean and imagines that we’re living a life of luxury, just like the folks on a Carnival Cruise ship. I think she might think we’re bums, escaping the world that many of our friends are living, the arduous world of working and juggling jobs while simultaneously raising kids.

I admit, our blog often shows the rosy picture, so I thought I’d address our life on board Kamaya, and share some of the daily grind of living on the ocean. I should tell Lisa about how I spent the morning cleaning the rust off of our stainless and doing laundry by hand and how Tim looks like a mechanic with black grease smudged all over his body from changing the oil on our engine and fixing our generator. Indeed, we spend lots of time working and maintaining Kamaya, as she, like most boats, is pretty demanding.

Of course passages can be intense and demanding, especially when the wind blows. Maybe I should tell Lisa how Tim and I wake up every three hours during the night to sail the boat. I’m not complaining, actually Kamaya sails super well and seems to know where she’s going, but we always need to trim the sails and keep an eagle eye for other boats and various obstacles at sea.

I should tell Lisa also about boat schooling. Maya and Kai don’t get to indulge in summer vacation because school on Kamaya is year round to make up for the days that we don’t have school, like when we’re on passage, when we have visitors or when we go coconut crab hunting or study tortoises and sea lions.

Tim teaches science, math and music. Maya plays the recorder and Kai plays the guitar.

I’m in charge of English, history, art and foreign language (Spanish, French and now Chinese). School takes anywhere from three to six hours depending on the motivation of the students.

Hunting and gathering also known as “provisioning” takes up some time. It feels like as soon as we arrive somewhere, I scout out the markets and fill our cupboards with food. When we’re at sea, we can’t jump off the boat and run to the grocery store so we need to continue to stock up. I really enjoy eating the local fare, like breadfruit and taro here in Western Samoa.

Our life is somewhat similar to those of you living on land – just like you, we sleep in the same bed at night. However, our bed moves and we can’t ignore the house chores as we need to keep our home in tip top shape. Indeed, it’s a privilege to be able live on the ocean and to be together as a family. I should tell Lisa that she should come visit us on her vacation.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Club Med at Suwarrow, Cook Islands

It feels like we're moving quickly, comparatively. Last week we were anchored in Suwarrow, in the Cook Islands and this week we're in Apia, a small town in Western Samoa. But first, let me tell you about Suwarrow.

“Thank you for choosing Suwarrow as your holiday destination,” James says in jest as we prepare for our coconut crab feast.

James, a 200-plus pound Cook Islander with numerous tattoos scattered throughout his body, is one of two wardens living in this National Reserve. He and his assistant, Apii, are the only ones living on the island. Apii blesses our food and gives thanks to the powers above and then, in Cook Island tradition, first the kids eat, then the women and last, the men.

On the table is a mound of 17 cooked coconut crabs that we found in the forest at the other side of the Suwarrow atoll.

mmmm so delicious and sweet. "Leave some for us men," James comments as Kai, our not so adventurous eater, only takes a nibble of the crab leg.

Catching the crabs was not easy. Earlier in the day we ventured via dinghies about two miles to the other side of the atoll, where the terns, frigates and red-tailed tropic birds nest.

notice the long magnificent red tail on this tropic bird.

Here's one of the babies sitting in a not so fancy nest right on the ground.

Armed with sticks in hand, we searched under the coconut and pandanus trees, looking for visible signs of the coconut crab. The scenery was lush and the smell of the forest sweet and tangy, like citrus.

Look up and you can see the white terns courting on the branches.

Here's one of the smaller crabs climbing a coconut tree.

This one is too small for eating. We need to look under the tree and if we see a blue claw, we gently push the stick into the hole and ideally the crab would grasp the stick and then we’d pull it out and throw him into the large plastic Ikea bag. Maya and I teamed up with Frank and his family from the boat, Silver Lining. Frank, used to work as a fisherman in French Polynesia, so I knew he could catch crabs. We, well he, caught three big ones, but he also got stung by a wasp. As the saying goes, No pain no gain.

The only way to come to Suwarrow is via a sailing vessel. Tom Neale, a New Zealander lived here on and off for 25 years from 1952 until 1977 which seems like a long time to be alone on an island. He lived in the abandoned New Zealand military barracks, caught fish, grew vegetables and wrote a book detailing his time here, titled, An Island to Myself.

James, on the other hand, claims his book will be called, An Island to Share. And share he does. It feels like we’ve arrived at the Club Med for cruisers, with activities like sharkfeeding,

spear fishing, coconut crabbing, bonfires and potluck dinners. Healthy coral “bombers” and a small turtle live under Kamaya. The coral has purple, blue and yellow colors. Black tip reef sharks patrol the reef and moray eels lurk under the coral.

Humpback whales are beginning to enter the lagoon with their calves. You get the could be the Galapagos of the Pacific Islands.

During our week here, Maya and Kai had 10 other kids with them sharing the Robinson Crusoe island ...

playing capture the flag, flip the kayak, eating s’mores and even geocaching. Thanks to Whirlwind, a California couple, Suwarrow now has a hidden geocache, or treasure box that can be found with eagle eyes and a hand-held GPS. The cache is an appropriate addition to the activities on Suwarrow since rumor has it that in 1855, a treasure chest with $15,000 was found on the island. If you are ever in this part of the Pacific, a stop at Suwarrow is a definite must.

Here's a last photo of Maya showing James a bone from a bird she found on the island.

Here's another photo of Tim kiting catching some air in the crystal clear water. He's flying super high.

Swimming with Manta Rays

Before we sailed to Suwarrow and before we left French Polynesia, we sailed half a day from Bora Bora to a smaller and less touristy island called Maupiti. Here, it’s possible to swim with manta rays, and there’s even a manta ray fish cleaning station, which I really wanted to see.

Fish cleaning, think going to the dentist, only it’s a pleasant experience, one that the manta rays go to almost daily. Our friends on Tyee were in Maupiti and they told us it was amazing. So I wanted to see for myself.

We jumped in the water early in the morning and I saw one huge ray swim under me. It was pretty cool to see a manta so close, and here’s how it looked.

Notice the rays huge mouth. Here's a close up.

Mantas are filter feeders, which means they sift seawater through their mouth and anything larger than the water molecule is caught. The manta ray mostly catches plankton. There are many species of mantas, and this one has well defined, white stripes going several directions. But the size of the ray itself must have been 8 to 10 feet, two meters!

The ray gradually passed under me, and disappeared.

When we talked about it with the other swimmers who were there, we heard that a few of them saw many more rays than we did. One swimmer said he saw five mantas. We only saw one. We had to have another go.

The next morning, the winds were light and we saw a ray off the bow of our boat, a good sign. We jumped in. Bendon, Mommy and I, all swam to the green buoy where the rays usually hang out. They were there for their dental work and there were lots of them.

We stopped at a coral head as we watched another ray glide in, then it stopped right above the coral and let little fish swim into it’s mouth. The fish clean the manta ray and get breakfast! I wonder how this friendship started.

Two more large rays swooped in and circled. Bendon, Steve and Ben from the catamaran Dignity were both good free divers, and can hold their breaths for a long time. I watched them sit at the bottom of the sea and look up as the rays swam over them.

What an amazing experience. I wish you were there.

The end.

Tilly's Perspective

My Aunt Tilly who lives in Paris recently joined us on Kamaya. She met us in Tahiti and we sailed to Huahine, also in French Polynesia. She just sent me her impressions of life on Kamaya and I wanted to share it with you.

In 1960, I was completely responsible for myself as I ventured in Saigon.

In 2010, I was completely, obliviously relaxed on board Kamaya and in the hands of Captain Tim and his crew.

Filter: guess who? This is Ruth's aunt/ Oma's sister, Tilly Gaillard, giving you a snapshot of my visit.

Pancakes with peanut butter (heard)

“go to bed” (not heard)

The Amazing Maya:

From mature, responsible judgement getting to and looking out from mast top for treacherous coral heads...

to kayaking in the current at twilight to her friends on Victoria, another boat, carefully teaching other kids to unicycle then, together with brother Kai, to playing games, building a fortress, knitting and enjoying her stuffed animals.

The Kai-fly:

He's an acrobat and a precociously sharp game and bridge player, of whom the Oma must beware. He even knits!

The Yacht, Kamaya:

On deck: ship shape

Underneath: une joyeuse pagaille


An excellent lesson on reducing waste, a high priority for everyone on every board.

Edible refuse is fed to fish et al., and everything else travels to bins on land in little bags Myra (the Oma) proudly acclaimed as “Garbage”, with an accentuated “Gar...” a sign of productive life! (Can’t find a song but Brazil produced a film called “the aesthetics of garbage”!)

Kitchen (called "the Galley" for the seafaring folk):

Intimidating stacking, impressive array

Ruth’s magic wand and dishes

The Kindle:

Although not a book book, what a fantastic tool!

Filled with literally thousands of wonderful books than the boat’s eight eyes can consume.

“My turn ...” “Want to finish my page ...”

The barbecue:

What a surprise! Kamaya and her endless resources.


Knowing how long to hold the “flush” button for the aft head (that's ship lingo for toilette.)


Two heavenly hot fresh water showers (one from the sun heat and the other “system heat”) ... i now treasure my hot water showers at home.

Vocabulary (besides all this boat terminology):

A gimbaled stove

“a contrivance, typically consisting of rings pivoted at right angles, for keeping an instrument such as a compass or chronometer (or stove) horizontal in a moving vessel.” Without such an invention, it would be extremely difficult to cook at sea. Your crepes would flying with every wave.


Yes, we have no buttons (for Al, Maya's precious stuffed bear’s vest,) neither on board, nor on the shore (a beach). Gee! I'll have to improvise, something which seems to happen all the time on board.


Propeller leg movement, especially Kai (looks like he’s whipping cream) and Maya’s push offs make for a boat-flank acrobatic show, and hours (yes, hours) of delight for the tireless two.

A boat community, a new world:

Unrivalled and unexpected. Amazing 2 to 5 years and more fulfilling dreams, whole families with “boat schooling”. What an accumulation of wealth, health and learning I never had dreamed could exist.

Fish and coral:

Thank you for being au rendez-vous, in full attire. Your colors and beauty are stamped in my mind.

Odd French connection:

Discovered a possible husband for someone, a four-toothed beach custodian living in Huahine with 2000 euros pension (in French-UN peace-keeping parachute squad in Iraq 1985-1997), 1400 euro monthly salary on an island with nothing to buy, in search of a wife. He claims he has three houses and will stop accumulating when he has five (he says). Fortunately, Oma and I are taken. He likes older women.

French Polynesia (118 islands, 48 populated? pop 300,000):

with French roads, traffic signals, education and medicine, even a Carrefour (grocery store) in Papeete and how easy it was for me to enter the country on a French ID card. Don’t mind some of my tax money going there, ... if I can go there again too ...


Vive le poisson cru mariné au citron et noix de coco

To be on Kamaya with its resident quartet and the Oma-mom-sister was bliss composed of pleasure, warmth, all varieties of people, tropical landscape, multi-hued water and boundless good humor and affection.

Much love,


Looking Back

It took me more than seven years to turn our blog into a hard covered bound book. At first, I was leery of wrapping up our adventure because...