Tonga Times

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From French Polynesia, we sailed over a thousand choppy miles (in 7 days and 7 nights) and were magically launched into the future 24 hours as we crossed the international dateline. When we arrived in the Kingdom of Tonga, the place “where time begins”, we were thankful to be ahead of the rest of the world to catch up on our sleep deprivation. In addition, it was a Sunday and the local tradition imposed complete repose on this holy day of the week. So, with all due respect for our new host country, Kazaio’s scrub down would have to be postponed. As for our cravings for fresh foods, we would have to settle for sprouting onions and brown bananas. Impossible to venture out in dinghy either because even the rumbling of the engine would be frowned upon.

The next morning we woke up in the sheltered bay of Neiafu, where about 60 boats were moored. Similarly to us, most of these boats were in transit, waiting for the perfect weather window to sail off to Fiji, Australia or New Zealand before the start of cyclone season. As we approached the dinghy dock, we made our way through the web of dinghies and joyous kids jumping from the docks into the crystalline water. The town was unquestionably back to life and shockingly different from French Polynesia. Having been a British protectorate, the English influence could be felt in the spoken language, the food (fish & chips, nachos and burgers were back on the menu!), the school children uniforms and the way the businesses were run. The town was geared towards cruisers and all was made practical in a good old American/English way.

With immense pleasure and just a few pa’angas we filled our baskets with a huge variety of locally grown scrumptious fruits and vegetables at the laid back daily market. Some women played cards while patiently waiting to sell taro, sweet potatoes, yams, watermelons and bouquets of herbs. Others weaved elaborate baskets and mats out of pandanus leaves. Women and men wore them around the waist over their clothes as a sign of social status. Several women sold tapas cloths made from the bark of mulberry trees and decorated with intricate patterns. A man skilfully carved whale bones into pendants in the shapes of gracious sea creatures and fishing hooks. By the side of the road, people walked in the shade of colourful umbrellas side to side to domestic pigs that roamed freely everywhere. Having satisfied our thirst for civilization, we were once again hungry for nature, and more raw beauty.

Through a labyrinth of uninhabited luxuriant islands and shimmering sapphire lagoons, we discovered Vava’u. We swam into extraordinary caves of firry-orange walls and cathedral ceilings with dangling limestone stalactites. The sun-rays penetrating into the mouth of the cave gave to the water a neon blue color and an incredible clarity down to the depths. We chased clouds of schooling fish into different shapes and sometimes succeeded in being part of the “whole”. Other caves were accessible only underwater and offered a surreal atmosphere with fog forming and vanishing on every swell.

Over beach BBQs, candle-night dinners and jam sessions we got to exchange tales of circumnavigations and unknown lands with a bunch of fascinating cruisers. Brice and Martha aboard Silver Fern completely inspired us with their inexhaustible energy and joy of living. In their seventies and after an 11 years voyage through the oceans of the world, they still had the dream and fire to set up a kiwi farm in the New Zealand countryside! After sailing to Tonga some 20 years ago from Spain, Maria and Eduardo, choose a simple life on one of the many virgin islands. They bring a bit of Spain to the Pacific by cooking for guests and putting up a show: Kenza and Rocio were honored to help Maria with the tapas and paella while Tristan admired Eduardo’s fervent singing while playing the guitare and harmonica! Ben sailed over ten years ago and set up an ecological tree house resort, mainly for retreats. Kjell and Adriana also came with their sail boat and ended up staying to establish a hotel. There is no doubt that there is something special about Tonga that makes people stay….

Our newfound playground was great fun but we had to jump back on our intransigent cyclone schedule. The cyclone season was approaching and the next step promised to be challenging. For the first time since we started sailing, I felt too tired mentally and physically to confront the big blue. Our dear friend Rolf and his team of avid sailor buddies from Victoria,BC came to the rescue! And just like that, for the first time I skipped an episode and flew to Auckland with the kids. There was no doubt that the 3 musketeers (Gonzalo, Rolf, Richard and Rich) were up for some serious rock and rollin’on board…

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The Tuamotus

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A speedy two night sail from the Marquesas brought us to a whole new world. Escorted by hundreds of dolphins and a whale from afar, The Tuamotu Archipelago appeared like a blue desert. As high as the tallest coconut tree on them, the islands bathed in crystal clear waters ranging from turquoise to deep blue.

Approaching these paradise atolls, surrounded by coral reefs, was always quite tricky. Hearing reports of so many boats stranded and lost on reefs made us extra cautious.
The majority of the atolls have at least one break in the reef, acting as the front door to these mini-paradises. But the passes are often narrow and the tidal streams are very strong. Before approaching any pass, we relied heavily on tables estimating slack time, that is the moment when the current is nor entering nor exiting. We also had to take into consideration the swell and wind. Once in the calm lagoon, the next challenge was to bypass the coral heads (visible and awash) scattered throughout. A good lookout in the bow or higher up on the mast was essential. When we finally anchored and released our guards, we could finally soak up the beauty of the place.

Fakarava particularly charmed us with its motus of fine white and pink sand . The visibility in the water was so spectacular we could see exactly where the anchor dug in the sand. Within minutes Kazaio was surrounded by five black-tip reef sharks. At first we were slightly intimidated to join them for a swim but rapidly they became just another element from this postcard-perfect scenery. Fakarava was our playground. Gonzalo, Barbara and I did a few splendid drift dives in the famous north pass where a colony of 600 grey sharks were cruising around us. It was a very special experience to be amongst so many sharks and be able to observe them for a good 45 minutes. To add to the show, there were hundreds of groupers already settling in the pass for the mating season. Gonzalo and Olivier (from Zorba) went spearfishing a few times and had to give up their catches to voracious predators. They bounced back in the dingy at the sight of an agitated lemon shark and called it a day. Tito snorkeled and was stunned by the quantity of sharks and big Napolean fish. I began kite-surf classes with a fellow cruiser as a teacher. Kenza and Rocio built coconut forts and crab farms with their friends on the beach. Tristan, obsessed with hermit and coconut crabs, miraculously still has his ten fingers. The Tuamotus are the home of the famous Polynesian black pearl and we all enjoyed a visit to a cultured-pearl farm. We watched in awe as meticulous Chinese workers (or surgeons better said) made incisions in giant oysters to remove the pearl and implant a new nucleus.

We regreted our speedy passage through these picturesque islands of Polynesia but there is so much to see in this vast territory before cyclone season arrives! Next destination: Tahiti and the Society Islands (French Polynesia).

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Tahiti and the Society islands

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The word “Tahiti” is usually associated to white sandy beaches and coconut trees but it takes just one stroll through it’s capital, Papeete, to draw a different picture. Papeete is just like any other city with traffic jams, a McDonald, and all that comes with “civilization”. It is perhaps the old ladies confectioning crowns and necklaces of fresh flowers on the side of the road, the kindness of the cashier at “Carrefour” or the men playing ukulele on street corners that give a twist to this city. At 6 o’clock sharp every evening, a plain square is turned into a lively open restaurant with the arrival of about twenty “roulottes” (vans equiped with a kitchen) and their tables. For entertainment: children running around, an old lady passionately singing and playing a coconut-carved mandolin, a spray paint artist making landscapes come to life. In July every year, all is about “Heiva”- an important competition of Polynesian tradition. Through pirogue racing between the islands of the archipelago, dance, music, and even story telling competitions, the Polynesian traditions are passed on from generation to generation. In Tahiti, we definitely feel the passion of the youth for riding waves and especially pirogue racing. Quite often, Kazaio was tailed by a couple of young men in pirogues, riding the surf of our boat to try to obtain maximum speeds. In Papeete, we wore our crowns of fragrant flowers to honour the hundreds of dancers and musicians on stage. The orchestra on its own was a show, with string and percussion instruments never seen and heard before. Dancers of all shapes and sizes in costumes of leaves, coconuts, straw, flowers, and shells moved in and out of groups forming tantalizing patterns on the stage. In harmony with the graceful arm and hand movements, the long black hair of the women swayed gently while their straw skirts vibrated energetically. The performance of the men was less impressive and not nearly as powerful and fierce as the Marquesans. In the market place, we discovered the many gifts from mother nature: jewelry made from seads, shells, bones, teeth, and black pearl. We smelled the scents of sandalwood, vanilla, gardenia, ylang-ylang, coconut, curcuma, frangipani and tamanu in all kinds of oils with various properties. The displays of exotic flowers were magnificent with the sweet smell of tiare (gardenia) overtaking all others. We admired the cut of the fish, mainly white and red tuna, and savored the traditional Tahitian raw fish salad.

In Tahiti we fell for a beautiful volcanic beach of fine black sand but it is the landscapes and hues in the other islands of the Society Archipelago that made a strong impression. In Moorea, the imposing Mount Rotui drops in cascades of green to the cristaline shores. Neetly seperated rows of pineapple plantations contrast with the scaterred folliage of the flamboyant trees hoovering over the dense forest canopy. In the valley, cows graze in open prairies next to some locals playing “petanque”. There is no real nice beach in Moorea as there is an unfortunate road that circles the entire island. In the shade of coconut trees, we still created an ideal painting workshop and playground for all the boat kids (16 kids at once!). With these boat families we have been traveling with, we raised our glasses loudly to “being here and now” and to “meeting again somehow, somewhere”. In the waters of Moorea, we got literally “kissed” by large sting rays who have become used to being fed by people. Tristan screamed in ecstasy each time these graceful and friendly dancers popped up at the surface to rub themselves to us. To add to the show, there were a handful of black-tip reef sharks roaming around at the same time. But the big finale in Moorea was a lucky encounter with whales while we were in the dinghy. We swam with 3 humpback whales and listened in complete amazement to their chanting. Gonzalo shaked a little more when he looked straight into one of the giant’s eyes. To top it off, one of the whales breached several times, showing us her pink stomach, bumpy skin, and finally her majestic tail. What a privilege to live this moment!

In Bora Bora, we found lovely anchorages in very shallow depths (between 1.8 and 4 meters) and with stunning views of the green mountain sprouting from the turquoise lagoon. The children loved diving to the bottom to grab handfuls of sand and swimming to reefs with thousands of “Nemos”. Apart from a huge barracuda, we did not encounter any big fish but once in a while that makes for a more relaxing swim. We sailed to Huahine, Raiatea, and Tahaa but were not taken by these places- perhaps because we did not spend enough time to really explore them. Instead we lingered in Maupiti and savored our last moments with our friends on Zorba before our routes diverge. The passage through the pass had our adrenaline pumping because of rollers breaking at just a few meters from the boat (and to say those were favorable conditions!). A hike through the lush forest and a climb up a rocky spire brought us to a breathtaking panorama of the lagoon with waters so clear we could follow the eagle rays fly between the hues of blues. From our boat we followed a huge manta ray to a spot where five others were twirling around a coral head. With our scuba gear on, we sat at the bottom of the water, and watched the most spectacular ballet of manta rays, sometimes having to duck down to avoid a blow from the gigantic wings. In Mopelia, I would have brought back the entire beach in my bag but contended myself with a collection of peculiar pink and purple cowry shells.

As the strong current rushed us out of French Polynesia in the hair-rising passage through the pass of Mopelia, we waved goodbye to this beautiful territory that did not cease to impress us. Undoubtedly, these moments were so memorable thanks to the visits of our family and friends that came from so far: Tito, Barbara, Jo, Flo, Lily, Jasmine, Julie-Marie, Richard, Gaston and Marie. After 6 months between Marquesas, Tuamotus and the Society islands, our little family closes a chapter and embarks for another adventure 1100 nautical miles away in the Kingdom of Tonga.


Les Marquises

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Nineteen days of monotonous blue made our senses particularly sensitive. Or had we truly arrived in some sort of paradise, somewhere between Avatar’s surreal landscape and Gauguin’s tamed wilderness? Nature made itself feel all mighty with breathtaking vertical spires giving way to rolling hills, countless waterfalls, and an explosion of vegetation. Yet there was also an incredibly controlled and orderly aspect to this raw beauty. Was there a god with a green thumb keeping all this green so neat and the flowers blooming everywhere? An enormous stone tiki (Polynesian figure of a god) with voluptuous curves guarded the Bay of Virgins and extended an irresistible invitation to the village of Hanavave. In this idyllic place, we began to open our hearts to the fiercely proud and welcoming Marquesians.

The Marquesas call from deep inside: it is not the beaches (full of nonos- nasty sand flies) or waters (murky and full of dangerous sharks) that are appealing but the core of the islands, with each level sucking you further in. Whether it be a higher peak, or a hidden waterfall, there always seems to be something behind the clouds or the dense vegetation attracting you further in. The ancient villages used to be settled inland and the remains surge like lost treasures in the overgrown bush. Stumbling on petroglyphs, paepaes (stone platforms that used to be house foundations), tikis, and ancient burial sites in Hatiheu (Nuku Hiva) had our imagination running wild. At the base of a colossal banyan tree, tribes used to perform rituals before sacrificing people and throwing their remains in a trench dug up at the roots. Our guide explained that just a century ago, human eyes were considered to be an exquisite delicatessen . Just as I bent forward to look inside the hole where the “chosen one” was held captive, my attention switched to some gobbling sound in the trees- it was just a bunch of wild roosters but this mysterious island definitely kept me on my toes. Later I was startled by two wild horses peaking behind thick trunks. On another occasion, in Fatu Hiva, a simple hike turned into a mountain climb, and evolved into a goat hunt. Guided by our newfound Marquesian friend Sopi and his dogs, we followed the road out of the village of Hanavave to a path in the woods and across a river. All was easy and straightforward until a barefoot eight year old, took the lead and showed us the way up the steep slope of a mountain through a dense tropical forest. Luckily our kids were not with us and we held on tight to roots, foliage, and rocks to ascend the peak. It made me dizzy to witness the steepness of the slope and the height of the trees and vertical spires around us. Majestic banyan, mango, breadfruit, banana, papaya, cashew, pandanus and guava trees, to name just a few, offered their shade. At the top, the view was beyond belief: even higher mountain spires completely covered in virgin forests with waterfalls accentuating the vertical aspect of the landscape. Cutting through the thick ferns, Sopi caught a glimpse of a wild goat. He was determined to come down the mountain with the goat around his shoulders so his wife would prepare a savory coconut stew. Gonzalo was completely enthusiastic about the mission. Unfortunately for the poor animal, the blow in the head from a rock did not end her suffering, and they pursued her for a long time at the edge of an overhanging cliff where she kept escaping to unreachable peaks. Instead of a goat, Sopi carried down a trunk of banyan tree. The next day, he carefully striped the bark, pounded it flat, and turned it into a tapa cloth to be later adorned with native motifs and used for traditional costumes.

Marquesians live a rich life indulged in nature and tradition. They are proud to be from this beautiful land, hold on dearly to their past, and do not miss a chance to remind us that Marquesian men are the strongest. Women wear the emblematic gardenia flower (tiare) elegantly behind their ear or crowns of exotic flowers. Men follow the path of their ancestors by telling their story through tattoos all over their bodies (by the way, Gonzalo got tattooed-a band around his arm telling his story!). Both celebrate being Marquesian by rehearsing traditional dances every evening around sunset. Contrasting dramatically with the grace in “La Danse de l’oiseau”, danced solely by women, “La Danse du cochon”, danced by half-naked tattooed men, is a tribute to the strength of the tribal warriors. In the powerful “Danse de la fertilite” they stomp and roar their sexual superiority. In Taipivai (Nuku Hiva) at a “Danse du cochon”rehearsal, an elder commented that the blows and grunts performed by the younger men were weak and disappointing. They should come deep from the stomach and be so terrifying as to provoke the village dogs to growl back in fear. At one of these dances in Hakahau (Ua Pou), I was surprised to recognize behind this tribal warrior mask, the gentle artisan who had created a beautiful necklace out of seeds and shark vertebrates for me the day before. A stroll in Hanavave (Fatu Hiva) had us meet a dozen stone, wood, and bone carvers creating tikis, javelins, axes, and “casses-tetes” ( a weapon literally made to break the skull of the enemy) to the image of the ones used by their ancestors. In Taihoae (Nuku Hiva), we were lucky to see the beginning of a wedding ceremony. The couple, native from the village but living in France, had insisted in coming back home to be married the traditional way. To the sound of banging drums, the couple trotted down the road each on their own horse, accompanied by tattooed shirtless men screaming and riding Marquesian-style. The horses seemed wild and the men rode them without a saddle in a rough and extremely proud manner. Once again, the men asserted their physical strength and Marquesan identity.

Equally striking, was the friendliness and generosity of the Marquesans. From the smile on their faces to the never-forgotten “hello”, to the easy dialogue ending in a gift or an invitation, the Marquesans were open to connect. In the same way we were curious to know more about their culture, they had dozens of questions for us. There seemed to be a real interest from both sides. Many stepped out of their house to offer pomelos, lemons, papayas, guavas or bananas. Never did we end a conversation with a Marquesian without being offered something, whether it be a bread fruit, a bouquet of ylang ylang, or a twig of basil. Giving is deeply entrenched in their culture and we had to learn how to “receive” without reaching into our pockets instantaneously. In fact, in Fatu Hiva we were obliged to forget about our dollars, because nobody was interested in them. Instead, they were thrilled to receive earings, glasses, make-up or perfume in exchange for some fruit. We traded rope and walky talkies for a beautiful ebony sculpture of a tiki. Time and time again we were offered lifts when walking alongside a road or coming out of a store with heavy bags. I was profoundly moved by the service at Sunday Mass in Hanavave (Fatu Hiva). Although I could not understand what was said in Marquesian, the notes of the ukuleles, guitars and voices conveyed a message of peace and joy. The priest in shorts and flip-flops under his imposing long white robe was also a memorable detail!

We met a couple, Teiki and Hua, in Nuku Hiva that embodied perfectly the image we kept of the Marquesians. They live in a remote bay, full of manta rays, at the foot of a colossal cliff, where an impressive waterfall pours into a river that runs through a dense forest to the bay of Hakatea. Their humble house lays in the middle of a garden of Eden where fruits, hibiscus and bougainvillea grow like weeds. They have a good level of education, could have lived in a big town but choose to be farmers in this fertile land they cherish so. When we stumbled on them the first time, she was making Pani Pushi (coconut oil scented with sandalwood) and spontaneously shared with us her family recipe. He pounced out from nowhere half-naked and approached us in a determined stride. With half his face and body tattooed, a bone through his ear, his piercing black eyes, his severe facial expressions, and exaggerated gestural, we could have imagined he was a tribal warrior about to sacrifice one of us. But he put his arm around his wife and his words were kind. He invited us to check his “pig trap” on our way up the mountain to see if one had fallen in and promised a good roast if he had been lucky. He later picked guavas, lemons, pomelos, and bananas for us.

We have been blessed to share most of these unforgettable moments with our friends aboard “Zorba”. We met along the way, wonderful sailors with extraordinary stories inspiring us to keep on traveling. Coincidently many of them are Belgium! “Zorba” started their journey in the Seychelles at the same time as us and have documented their travels beautifully (http://be.nomads.be). Also, check out the website of “Sept a Vivre”, another Belgium family with five children who traveled in a converted army truck from Brussels to Cape Town before embarking on their catamaran (www.septavivre.be). Finally, our latest Belgium influence in the Pacific is Brel, who spent the last years of his life here and captured so vividly the spirit of the Marquesas: “…gemir n’est pas de mise, aux Marquises”…

Crossing the Great Pacific Ocean

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The South Pacific….. In a sailors mind, these words ring like paradise on earth: wild virgin islands where nature still rules and where the people, still true to their traditions, welcome you with necklaces of exotic flowers. Myth or reality? We shall see for ourselves. The voyage to this enchanting place is called the milk-run because it is supposed to be smooth and pleasant.

Like any vessel ready to embark for such a long journey (about 3 weeks), we checked and double checked our equipment, planned for the worst, studied a good weather window and crossed our fingers that all would go for the best. The sole equipment not functioning before departure was the washing machine but we figured we could survive a temporary “laissez aller”. Amongst my biggest fears was that the auto pilot would fail, tying us to the helm, day and night, for 3 weeks. This is actually how I managed to convince Gonzalo that we needed some extra crew for this crossing. Food and water wise, the fridge, freezer and all compartments on the boat were loaded. With fruits and vegetables picked directly from the tree, we hoped they would withstand better the long journey in their newly engineered storage space- the girl’s bathroom. All methods of food preservation were worth trying at this point: wrapping carrots individually in paper towels, turning eggs around everyday, or singing to bananas if it did the trick! On the afternoon of April 2nd, a few hours after our friends aboard Zorba, we waved goodbye to the American continent and put up our sails. Heading: Marquesas or Gambiers depending on where the winds would take us.

As expected, the first two days were tortuous as our bodies tried to readapt to the rocky conditions and the disrupted sleep. To add to the horrible feeling of sea sickness, the kids were down with a cold and Tristan had four new teeth piercing through. Feeling like a zombie from the motion sickness pills, I was trying to distract the kids with games when, all of a sudden, a huge “BOINNNNNG” shock the boat. The hail-yard from the main sail had just given in causing the sail to collapse. Despite the uncomfortable conditions, Gonzalo climbed up the mast twice, successfully identifying the problem, but was unable to fix it. This was definitely going to affect our speed but it was in no way a show stopper since we could still sail using the genaker, spinnaker, or genoa. To add to our discouragement, the girls pointed our attention to a puddle under the freezer. Most of the contents of the freezer were soaking in water! While Gonzalo put on his electrician hat, I cooked up a storm in an attempt to save our precious reserves. This was “day 2” after all and we still had a long way to go. Later that day, we received our big blow- my worst fear was happening! The auto pilot failed! What was going on on Kazaio! Had we embarked one of those bad spirit voodoo dolls from Kuna Yala?! Everyone jumped up to the plate and came up with their best “system” to correlate the boat’s movement to the four cardinal points on the compass and the steering. We established an hourly rotation schedule during the day and maintained our regular shifts at night. Luckily, we were five and could divide the stress and fatigue amongst us. Any change to the sails though required the assistance of several so our resources were quickly used up. By “day 4” we uncovered a horrible stink in our fresh produce supply: the fruits and vegetables were going bad at an astronomical rate! With the pulp of the extra ripe fruit, I made concentrates to be used later in juices. I chopped up, blanched, and vacuum packed vegetables to freeze. And once again, I cooked up a storm to avoid anything going to waste. Unfortunately, we discovered that 150 eggs sold to us in Galapagos were not fresh at all and dumped them all. We could not afford anyone getting sick. We were having a rough start to say the least…

Over the next days Gonzalo took residence in the engine compartment trying to educate himself about auto pilots and find the failure. Gonzalo’s “to do” list was not getting any shorter and he was juggling three major problems on top of adjusting sails, handling his shift at the helm, downloading weather forecasts, maintaining communication with mainland, and being a dad. He quickly fixed the freezer and came up with a solution for the main sail in the next few days. Our speed improved dramatically with the fix. Just when we started to believe that we had hit bottom and that things could only get better, the generator failed. Within hours Gonzalo had changed the impeller and fixed the external raw water pump. We still had the auto pilot down but everyone was improving at the helm to the extent that we were steering with our feet to relax our backs. My trick for not being hypnotized by the compass was to listen to music through headphones or do static gymnastics when those eyelids became just too heavy. Apart from one squally night when we were drenched to the bone tied to the helm, the weather cooperated. One week into the trip, a drastic change happened in the kids (especially Kenza). From a vegetable state, they turned into firecrackers, completely overcoming any kind of sea sickness. Rocio and Kenza bounced from one cabin to another role-playing and inventing hundreds of stories. With a new toothy grin, Tristan chased his sisters everywhere in a desperate attempt to be part of the clan. As if the rocking boat was not a challenge enough, he tested his balance by placing a box upside down on the couch and trying to stand up on it. We might need to unleash the surfer in him rather sooner than planned!

After countless hours crouched up in a tiny space attempting to fix the autopilot, on “day 10” Gonzalo finally succeeded! Needless to say how everyone was ecstatic to recover a bit of freedom during the day and relaxation during night watches. Now that we could raise our eyes from the instruments and sails, we discovered a splendid sea of stars and plunged ourselves back into reading, writing, or watching movies. After about ten days at sea (and with a working auto pilot), something absolutely astonishing happened to our bodies and minds. With our sea legs fully functional, there was no more longing for yesterday or tomorrow. We lived in the moment and that was it. The girls stopped comparing their days to those on land and did not question when we would arrive. Quite surprisingly enough, it seemed there were not enough hours between sunrise and sunset for all their activities. Mornings were mainly dedicated to school time. We created a delicious eggless recipe for “chocolate chip banana oatmeal cookies” and baked 50 cookies every other day. We learnt how to make homemade yogurt. Crafts, legos, puzzles, reading, scrapbooking, imaginary play, and movies occupied their afternoons. Occasionally the spinning of the fishing rod triggered a riot aboard Kazaio- followed by the shrieking “POISSON” of the girls, everyone dropped their doings, rushed to the scene, and awaited anxiously that Gonzalo or Tito retrieve the “beast”. Fishing techniques were a hot debate between Gonzalo, who just wanted to “pull out” the most big fish out of the sea and Tito, who exercised an art. In any case, we were all thrilled to catch a beautiful (and delicious) meter and a half sail fish that generously filled our freezer, followed by a 12 kgs yellow-fin tuna. The sight of dolphins playing around the hulls remained an all-time favorite. When the ocean was calm enough, we filled an inflatable pool with sea water for the kids to cool off. We reverted back to our cherished ritual of watching the sun come down to our favorite melodies, with “Milky Chance ” becoming the official Kazaio hymn. With the descent of the sun the three kids released their last burst of energy by transforming the cockpit into a dance floor. By the time we reached the waters of French Polynesia, spirits were up and fully open to absorb something new.

It was impossible to be prepared for what would appear before our eyes in the morning of April 21st. After an exhausting night of squalls and heavy rain, the curtain of fog lifted to present before us the most breathtaking scenery we had ever seen: the Bay of Virgins in Fatu Hiva (Marquesas). Mountain spires covered in volcanic rock and all nuances of green soared from the ocean into a valley creating an impression of never-ending depth. Behind every spire, towered another one even taller amongst the clouds. My eyes could not focus on anything for too long because there was always something even more fascinating to look at five meters away. A total optical overdose that makes us understand why Gauguin choose to paint here. At the summit of a spire where you would expect nothing, there were wild goats miraculously climbing. From the branches of every tree hanged a different exotic fruit or flower. The wind carried the perfume of wet soil, grapefruit, and ylang-ylang. To make this moment even more unforgettable, our friends aboard Zorba were here and welcomed us in this new-found paradise. We could not have dreamt of a better preface to our new story.

Galapagos

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We left Panama City on March 6th and 5 days later we reached the Galapagos. The first indication we were getting close was the huge yellow-fin tuna we fished and all the sharks that appeared to savor the bloody leftovers. As we made our approach, more and more turtles popped their heads to the surface. When we anchored, sea lions circled the boat. We rapidly understood that it would be impossible to leave the dingy out without having to go through the hassle of chasing sea lions out every time we wanted to go in. Sea lions bathing on our aft steps was acceptable but stumbling on one comfortably settled on our cockpit lounge was too much. Since then, the kids developed a tremendous roar to hooch them away and we blocked the steps with fenders. In the town of San Cristobal, sea lions rule: they take over the benches on the boardwalk or simply block the way. On one beach right in town, hundreds of them cuddle up on the warm sand and go about their business without minding the people around. A pup fed from his mother while two big males quarreled. The young ones were particularly curious and were great fun to swim with. 

Having been created at different times from underwater volcanoes, each island of the Galapagos is unique. The older ones have tropical forests and fields of grass while the younger ones are predominantly barren, covered by a blanket of black lava rock. With the kids mounted on horses and the adults walking beside, we followed a trail until we reached the mesmerizing sight of the caldera of Sierra Negra in the island of Isabela. The 10 kms diameter of the caldera stood like a lake of black lava surrounded by a perfect ring of deep green. On one side, the green ring was broken by a patch of even darker black from the last eruption ten years ago. A spooky haze hovered on top reminding us that the volcano was still very much alive. As we continued our route to another volcano, we stumbled upon a giant land turtle. This turtle had reached the frontier of where she would venture- beyond this point laid a hostile field of lava rock with deep canyons, lava tubes, “frozen” lava waves, and gas escape holes. There are ten different species of tortoises in the Galapagos and each one is adapted to a specific volcano area. In a similar way, the famous Darwin finches have evolved slightly differently from one island to the next depending on the resources available. 

Anchored in Isabela, we woke up every morning to a chase between penguin and sea-lion around the boat. Both are masterful swimmers and are quite playful. To add to the spectacle, blue-footed boobies dive-bombed into the water at incredible speeds. Black-tip reef sharks cruised around. When we went to shore, the pontoon was monopolized by lazy sea lions and sun-bathing iguanas. Tristan was absolutely fascinated with the marine iguanas hurdling on top of each other and squirting sea water from their nostrils as he got closer. He could not point fast enough to the hundreds of bright red crabs skipping across the lava rocks. We were lucky to fall upon a patch of green coast where several male frigates were puffing up their red pouches under their beaks to court the females. In a scuba dive, Gonzalo and I missed the hammer heads that were around, but we swam closely to humongous devil manta rays , giant turtles, and a 3 meter Galapagos shark. The blend of freezing Antarctic currents and warm equator currents, that makes all this biodiversity possible, made for a rather invigorating dive! 

The town of Isabela was rather quaint with dirt roads, restaurants, mom-and-pop shops, wandering dogs and “Iguana X-ing” signs. After school, the local kids head out for the waves and surfed until sunset. I crossed off one item from my bucket list by taking my first surf lesson. I managed to stand up on my board but would probably be better off getting a few tips from the marine iguanas that tackle any size wave with absolute ease. As another first time experience, I got stung by a small sting ray that I stepped upon! Ouch! It was terribly painful at first but without any consequence at the end. Kenza and Rocio had their daily rendez vous with friends on the beach to boogy board and create passages between the pools amongst the lava rocks. Between one item and another of his never-ending “to do or fix list”, Gonzalo cranked up “Milky Chance” and savored his last sips of Caribbean rum.
In our last days in the Galapagos, we focussed on provisioning. The stores were poorly stocked and the market displayed just 2 stalls of half-rotten produce. Luckily we had stocked up in Panama on dry goods and just had to replenish the fresh food. We found a “finca” where we picked everything 100% organic right from the rich soil: tomatoes, green peppers, pumpkin, onions, eggplant, cabbage, banana, pineapple, lemon, orange, papaya, passion fruit, watermelon and mango. To our complete astonishment, the best way to buy meat was to ask a local to go hunting in one of their reserves: “a fresh cow please for in a weeks time”! 

Despite the exaggerated entry fees for arriving by boat to Galapagos, we will not regret our passage to these unique islands of fascinating creatures. We replenished our souls with many unforgettable land experiences, giving us the strength to confront the big blue in our next challenge.

The door to the Pacific

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We arrived in Panama through the land of the Kuna indians. The Kunas autonomously control a part of Panama called Kuna Yala (aka San Blas), an archipelago of hundreds of postcard perfect islands with white sand and tall coconut trees. As soon as we anchored in these turquoise waters, a small man came rowing in a traditional dugout canoe (aka ulu) to sell coconuts and yuka. In a broken spanish he invited us to visit his village and the cemetery. We agreed for the next day but he stayed, as if expecting something. After a few diplomatic tricks, i finally understood that he had paddled from far away and was expecting some lunch and a place to rest from the sun for an hour or so. The next day, we went directly to the “congreso” of the village to introduce ourselves to the chief. Kenza and Rocio could not help but comment about the tiny frame of the people: “why are all the adults the size of children?”. They were also surprised to see the women in bright traditional outfits while the men wore regular clothes. Indeed, the women wore gorgeous bands of wini beads around their forearms and calves along with colorful applique blouses (aka mola) representing scenes from nature. Through the bridge of their nose they bore a gold piercing. As a skirt and head scarf, they wore a colorful fabric similar to the african “pagne”, with patterns inspired by nature. A novelty as well for the girls was the large number of albinos due to the fact that intermarriage with non-kunas is prohibited. When we visited the cemetery, it was interesting to see the open huts below which rested, in hammocks buried underground, the bodies of entire families along with their most cherished belongings. A renowned hunter did not have relatives to maintain a hut over his tomb but had it decorated with the skulls of his fiercest catches, jaguars.

The villages themselves have no electricity or running water. They are comprised of sanded streets with huts made out of palm leaves, bamboo and sugar cane. Most huts have solar panels and some have generators. The communal toilet is literally a cabin with a hole to the sea and Rocio was stunned to discover fish living in the toilet bowl! The water supply is collected from rain and rivers on the mainland. Fresh water for washing is often taken from dug up wells from which salt water is filtered through the sand and the roots of trees. For provisioning, all islands and cruisers rely on very few basic convenience stores that receive fruits and veggies once a week. Due to the scarce supplies, we quickly turned to fishing, baking our own bread, and very creative cooking! Our most exotic catches were a one and a half meter nurse shark and an eel (that we let go). In many parts of Kuna Yala, even in those remote from the mainland rivers and mangroves, crocodiles and caymans are common. Divers reported seeing bull sharks, tiger sharks and lemon heads too. This always made for a very imaginative swim (for me at least). Gonzalo had a blast spear fishing and providing for all our hungry mouths. What made our passage in Kuna Yala most memorable though were our new encounters. We became close to a handful of other cruising families with kids. We found a social life again after months of being lonely sailors and the kids became part of a new pack of “mini globe trotters”. Every morning was spent home schooling (or spear fishing and fixing something on board for the dads) and every afternoon a new island was transformed in a playground by a dozen hyper creative boat kids.

On our way to Colon to cross the Panama Canal, we navigated up the brown waters of the Chagres river and spent a magical night hearing the screams of monkeys and birds in the surrounding jungle. In Colon, a ride around town, had us stunned by the level of poverty and lack of security (especially compared to relatively wealthy Panama City just a few kilometers away). Crossing the Panama Canal was quite an experience. Through the 50 kilometers of canal that join the Atlantic to the Pacific, we rafted up to two other boats. Being the center boat, and first timers, we had a few scares when the two other boats rafted up to us in a totally discontrolled manner. Our participation became even more crucial when the cleat of the starboard boat gave in to the upward stress of the lines. By default, we became active line handlers to get through the six locks and avoid any collision against the sidewalls. Watching the gates shut or open as the water levels rose or lowered under us was mind-boggling – and to think of all the great minds behind this engineering and all those who lost their lives building this connection between two great oceans! We felt like ants compared to the gigantic cargo ships that were transiting along us in the opposite direction. Our first sight of the great Pacific ocean was the skyscrapers of Panama City. Apart from the truly charming old town (very similar to Cartagena in Colombia) and the very chaotic but authentic markets (fish and fruit/veggy), we were eager to leave the traffic jams, dust, and shopping malls of the city behind. We escaped for a few weeks to the untouched Perlas islands, offshore about 8 hours away from Panama City with our dear friends Julie Marie, Richard, Gaston and Marie (visiting from France). With pristine beaches revealed at every tide (5 meters tidal range), uninhabited lush forests, and waters incredibly “alive”, we finally got the feel we were living our first real Pacific ocean experience. We fished like never before. In just one dive, Gonzalo spear fished 9 fish (snappers, trigger fish, groupers), enough to through a fantastic barbecue on the beach with friends and replenish our freezer. Another night, we rafted up with our good friends from the catamaran Zorba and has a candlelight sushi dinner. That same spectacular night, the water was filled with plankton leaving streaks of fluorescent bubbles over all that was moving- absolutely extraordinary!

With this first delicious taste of Pacific wilderness, we rushed back to Panama City to accelerate the preparations for the big crossing, just on time to depart with our boat friends: Amelie IV (Canadians) , Zorba (Belgians), Perry (Americans), and Mandala (Canadians). As for all our big crossings, Tito (Gonzalo’s dad) will be with us. This time we opted to get some extra help to ease the navigation pains, and to try to stay as sane as possible. Marion and Yoan (a young French couple we just met) will give us a hand on board in exchange for a ride to the other side of the ocean. So, on March 6th, Kazaio begins the long journey across the Pacific. The first and only stop will be to the Galapagos.

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Rewind to the ABC islands and Colombia

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After falling for the rough charm of Los Roques we were rather disappointed by the banality of the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao: part of the Netherlands Antilles). We had forgotten for a while the rumbling of engines, traffic lights, and the stink of exhaust. And what a shame to wear shoes again! We were horrified by the complications to clear into Curaçao and the rigidness of the people we dealt with. Nevertheless we ended up spending quite some time in Bonaire to enjoy daily scuba dives right from the boat when the kids were snoozing with abuelo. Kazaio was moored to a buoy just 5 meters away from a reef and all other diving sites were clearly marked and accessible within a brief dingy ride. An excursion to the Washington National Park in Bonaire transported us to a wild wild west version of the Caribbean where cacti grow tall and iguanas pop out from aloe plants. In some places the dusty red soil was replaced by stretches of white powder with splashes of pink from the flocks of flamingos in the salinas.

Two sailing moons away, and escorted by playful dolphins we reached the arid desert of the La Guajira Peninsula of Colombia. Unfortunately the winds were too strong and the sea too rocky to comfortably disembark from Kazaio and explore the land of the indigenous Wayuu Indians. We sailed overnight and woke up to the astonishing sight of the Sierra Nevada. With peaks sweeping 5,700m, the Sierra Nevada is the world’s highest coastal range. We anchored in the Tayrona National park surrounded by virgin rainforest and palm-fringed beaches. We were alone but not really. A concert of birds, monkeys and frogs made this postcard scene come alive. It felt a bit spooky to think that just a few years back, this very same bay would have hosted loads of boats smuggling tons of drugs from the lush hills. This was the cradle of marijuana where drug lords and guerilla groups ruled. When we arrived in Santa Marta and Cartagena, we were positively surprised to find relatively secure cities with very welcoming people- far from the image of violence associated with Colombia. Although a bit over done and too touristic, the old town of Cartagena remains a jewel with its colonial facades, wooden balconies, and enchanting squares. We enjoyed the vibe of Santa Marta and its strong connection with the indigenous people and cultures. After admiring the craftsmanship of the Wayuu indians, I have officially become a mochila bag aficionada! I was amused by all the businesses that can be born out of a shopping cart. Street vendors on 4 wheels were preparing pizzas, fresh juices, fancy cocktails, oysters, burgers, coffee, and fritters, anywhere at anytime. In Minca, we wandered through the dense rainforest, and visited a traditional coffee plantation. To our disappointment, the best coffee is exported and could not be tasted. At night we stayed in a hut perched high up in the trees open to the rainforest and the bay of Santa Marta down below. Under our duvet (yes it was that cold!), we listened to all the sounds of the forest and imagined all that we could not see.

Our only regret from this part of our journey is that we could not visit more of Colombia. But given our target to cross the Pacific this season, we had to move on and start to get ready. Next destination: Panama.

Los Roques: rocks!

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You know you are officially back in “boat mode” when you give in to that inner voice that says it’s time to go, time to move on to new horizons. As we watch one last rainbow hug the hills of Grenada, we hail our powerful red butterfly (a parasailor spinnaker) and give in to the tradewinds. Heading: Los Roques archipelago,Venezuela. We maintain a slightly more northern route because of the unfortunate reality of piracy in this part of the world. Moreover, we choose not to stop in gorgeous islands on the way nor to approach the mainland. The sailing conditions are optimal- Kazaio is in harmony with the elements. In fact, so much so, that Gonzalo is awaken by a heroic fish that finds refuge on his pillow. It truly did jump through the overhead hatch into the bed! We arrive so quickly that the sun has not yet risen over Gran Roques, the main island of Los Roques. This complicates anchoring a bit but at least the kids will not notice the navigation and wake up to a new world.

A new world indeed! As we dive in for our customary morning wake-up , we are greeted by a school of snapper. Crystal clear waters reflecting a fluorescent white sand sea bed arise our sight. It seems like it is raining birds. All around pelicans plunge into the buzzing water with loud “SPLASHHHS” and gulp down entire fishes in their pouchy throats. Salsa rhythms from boats around send a positive vibration. On the beach, curvy figures in tiny bikinis confirm the Venezuelan stereotype. As we dinghy into “town”, we realize that flip flops are superfluous. The village is literally an extension of the beach reaching out to the airport which is the only stretch of asphalt on the island. In just 15 minutes, we pick up Barbara from the airport and walk through the sandy streets back to the dinghy. Life simplified. There are no vehicles at all, just people living. The laughs of children playing unattended instantly comforts us. Gangs of dogs cool off in the shade of trees. Behind colorful walls, people’s living rooms are open to the street and the sky. Conversations echo from one house to another. The smell of grilled fish, “arepas”(corn meal patties) , and “tequenos”( fried cheese sticks) escape from the kitchens. The living conditions are rudimentary, to say the least, but still, people are content and make their homes alluring. In fact, many of these homes on the main island are “posadas” (bed and breakfast) and welcome visitors for meals and/lodging at extremely affordable prices, provided you buy your bolivares on the street. The homes we visited off the main island are typically shacks built from recycled materials and have the beach as flooring. A portable generator provides the electrical needs, and nature handles the rest. There is no running water. The furniture is ingeniously crafted out of crates and drift wood. Beautiful art created from pieces of nature hang proudly from the structure of the shelter. This is a good lesson of “art de vivre” to all of us who complicate our existence with possessions to make ourselves feel comfortable and happy.

Besides the idyllic beauty of Los Roques, what truly made our experience unique was the authenticity of the place and the people. Unlike most of the other places we visited in the Caribbean, people seemed to genuinely want to connect and help out. For once we did not feel we had a “tourist tag” stuck to our forehead. We could not believe how so many perfect strangers bent over backwards to assist us in finding a part for our generator. Eating out was extremely cheap and a dramatic diversion from the typical “burger / fish & chips” menu. Whether it was eating at a posada or at a beach shack, it always felt we were having true home-made cooking in someones kitchen. Finally free from the preoccupation of catching ciguatera, we indulged in grilled fish, lobster, botuto (conch) ceviche, and tatakis. The abundance and diversity of life in these waters was astonishing. We scuba dived passionately and filled our eyes with magical spectacles. I still fall asleep to that trippy sensation of being part of a spiral of a thousand glimmery fish swerving in synch to the threat of the predators around.

Taking out the mosquitos and the horrible “piqua piqua” (sand flies), our passage in Los Roques ranks amongst our favorite. Our only regret is that we cannot discover more of this country due to the current unrest. It has raised the bar high for our next destinations. ABC (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) islands here we come..

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To sail or not to sail?

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After nine comfortable months in peaceful Provence and with one extra little man to care for, I was doubtful I could lapse back sanely to a boat environment. The challenge of raising three kids, the sailing, the home schooling, the cooking, the cleaning, the fixing, together with the “no break/no escape” reality seemed overwhelming. Apart from Gonzalo’s frantic eagerness to bounce back to boat life, there was a part of me that felt that Kazaio still had extraordinary adventures in store for us that just could not be passed over- or at least attempted.

We agreed to give Kazaio another go by settling slowly into “cruise control” in Grenada. During the first week, the taste of mouldy toast bread and over processed rubbery cheese at exorbitant prices  made me long for my morning warm “pain au chocolat”  and creamy “Saint Félicien”. The violence of a squall with gusts of fifty knots at three in the morning nearly had me packing my bags. By the end of the second week, Gonzalo and I were down on our knees with the inexhaustible list of things to do and the inconsumable energy of the kids. The common dengue fever and chickengunya epidemic on the island reminded me daily of the dangers that come with traveling. Why were we doing this? Why where we choosing this path?

As we followed the winding roads up the green lush hills of the “spice isle” the exhilarating taste of discovery and travel came rushing back to me. I could not point fast enough to all that was beautiful or novel to our eyes. Exotic trees were just pouring their fruits onto the road for the roaming goats, and dogs to savour. Yes! In contrast with other Caribbean islands, that meant abundance and new flavours to tickle our pallets: callaloo, water lemon, breadfruit, christophene,  soursop, golden apple, tropical cherries, sapodilla, star fruit. Tucked amid flowers, modest  but totally charming stilt shacks spotted the rainforest with vibrant colours. It was obvious that the people here were proud and cherished their homes regardless of economical level.  I wish I could have drawn the shadows of a hundred friendly faces, tortuous dread locks and finely sculpted bodies!

Undoubtedly, part of the children’s heart is still in Europe somewhere between Provence, Spain and Switzerland but they are biting eagerly into new experiences. Whether it be learning a few soca moves at the carnaval, sharing good laughs along with a bag of skin-ups with newfound friends, or sliding down waterfalls in the rainforest, the girls love the novelty of it all. Above all, they are growing to be curious about the world and accepting of differences. As for little Tristan, he has undoubtedly grown sea legs and will surely soon be joining his sisters for an open water dive!

Sure enough the sailing itself makes for rougher days (and nights!) for all of us and the homeschooling may have me turning grey prematurely but the richness of the entire experience is well worth it. Instead of following the path of least resistance, we choose the path we cannot resist. At least for now… Our next destination: Los Roques, Venezuela.

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Annandale Falls

Annandale Falls

As north as it gets

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From a distance we watched the thick fog creeping on Kazaio and within a few minutes we were riding the clouds. A chill invaded our bodies and suddenly everything was damp. It was six in the morning but the visibility was as good as an obscure moonless night. We were guided by our radar and our charts. The bells from the navigation buoys, and the deep blow from a lighthouse cut through the dense fog and reminded us that land was near. A few sunbeams pierced their way through and we got a first glimpse of our whereabouts: a curious seal poked his head out of the water and vanished into the smokey water. As the curtain lifted we discovered lush forests of ever-greens and cottages perched on rocky cliffs. A huge rainbow broke out and hugged the horizon. Good morning Maine!



It suddenly hit us that we had come a long way everything looked very “north”! On our first descent to shore, we realized we had much to learn about this new place. The girls watched in awe a group of men digging clams from the beach and marveled at finding a bizarre creature as old as the dinosaurs: a horseshoe crab. We got distracted for a while on this long stretch of beach by the dozens of sand dollars and the flocks of sandpipers. When we headed back to our dinghy, we realized that the beach had completely changed and that the rising tide had “swallowed” our dinghy. We were forced to get “electrocuted” by the freezing water to recover the dinghy and learnt not to underestimate the substantial tides. Sailing and anchoring in these waters, we had to pay great attention to tide tables, typically averaging 4-5 meters. It is was never reassuring to see boats stranded on the beach or entire islands suddenly pop out at low tide. From morning to afternoon we saw murky waters turn into wide sand, pebble, rocky, and even bolder beaches. Another challenge was eluding the hundreds of lobster traps. Despite our efforts to go through the maze of buoys, we got them caught in the propellers and rudder half a dozen times, obliging Gonzalo to dive in the bone-chilling water to free us.




Maine is graced with a myriad of unspoiled islands and almost all of our anchorages were idyllic: still water, undisturbed silence, cool evening temperatures, abundant wildlife and breathtaking forests. During the day we attempted to penetrate these forests, usually climbing over slippery seaweed at the water’s edge and frightening a few seals along the way. Under the shade of majestic trees, breathing in the delightful fragrance of wood and moist soil, we collected “treasures” with the girls and hiked for hours on. The only disturbance to these otherwise perfect moments was the pestering from the obnoxious mosquitos and ferocious black flies. Far from city lights, nights were splendid under the starry sky. Filled with plankton, even the water glowed at night.





In Portland, we returned to “civilization” rushing in the morning to prepare lunch boxes and get the girls on time for summer camp. We spent unforgettable moments with our marvelous friend Cristina and her family who welcomed us so generously in their home and gave us a glimpse into local living. We succumbed to the ease of fast food and became officially addicted to “Five Guys” and a local ice cream shop “Gelato Fiasco”. Back in libraries, playgrounds, museums, and supermarkets, the girls felt like kids from land again. Portland, and shortly after Bar Harbor were our last taste of “city life” before our next “call of the wild”.

As we headed further north, to New Brunswick Canada, the fog became thicker and the cold more piercing. We spent 36 hours sailing in the fog not seeing more than two meters in front of us. We were drenched from head to toe and were incapable of keeping anything dry for weeks. One night we fell asleep surrounded by the noise of whales forcefully expelling air and water from their blowholes. One lucky day, we spotted a pod of whales at less than 30 meters from the boat. We observed them with exhilaration for a good 5 minutes until they showed their tails and disappeared in the depths. The mega tides of the Bay of Fundy (between 6 and 9 meters) made anchoring impossible. In Nova Scotia we docked at villages that seemed stuck in time. With half-run down “mom and pop shops” displaying merchandise from two decades ago and hardly a soul on the streets, these villages had a spooky feel to them. In contrast, we really enjoyed the youthful city of Halifax. On the Atlantic side of the province, we discovered gorgeous anchorages with spectacular forests and beaches of fine white sand. The eve of our departure from Canada a lovely family we met on the beach invited us to their cottage to savor a typical fish chowder and other local specialities. We left this special place with a good after taste…



On our way down south, we soaked in the charm of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard- quaint little places. Coincidently we met our dear friends Kerstin and Robert from S/V Trinity Berlin who started their adventure at the same time as us on the other side of the Atlantic. As we toasted for Gonzalo’s birthday aboard their sailboat Trinity, we closed a marvelous chapter in our adventure. Our short-term plans have changed yet again. Instead of settling in Georgia, we are leaving the boat in Virginia at the end of the month and flying to Provence, France. We will have our little boy there and the girls will go to school in the village. We are thrilled at the idea of taking a break from boat life, recharging batteries, and being close to family and friends. Our plan is to return to Kazaio in June 2014 with positive vibrations and a new crew member.

Spring Fever

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Call it Spring fever or spending too much time in the wild, but the birds and the bees have, most definitely, had their influence on us- we come out of this beautiful season with a bun in the oven! Our little boy is due on the New Year and in the meantime has shaken our plans around.

our little man

our little man

After our promised Disney World stop, we had initially thought of cruising through Cuba, Belize, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama and Columbia before crossing the Pacific ocean towards French Polynesia in Spring of 2014. But once the pregnancy confirmed, we opted to slow our pace and play it safe by going up the East coast of the US instead and hopefully find a “nest” in a warm place along the way to have our baby.


Heading North

Heading North

Sailing over 1000 nautical miles from Florida to Massachusetts has not been the most relaxing first trimester to say the least. Morning sickness has had a tendency to extend throughout the day and berserk mood swings turned me into an unreliable and lethargic first mate. Apart from violent thunderstorms, various “attacks” by clouds of bugs, strong currents in certain rivers, the blazing heat, and the transmission on one of the engines failing occasionally on us, the navigation was rather uneventful. We had a few doubtful moments when passing just barely under bridges with our tall mast, or finding ways to raise our two anchor chains tightly tangled up together. In the middle of the night, Gonzalo sped off with the dinghy to wake up the captain whose boat had dragged to the middle of the Hudson river and the incessant traffic! Even the river in NYC is stressful!

Invaded by love bugs while sailing up Florida. They were everywhere!

Invaded by love bugs while sailing up Florida. They were everywhere!

 

Kenza slightly worried we will not make it under the bridge

Kenza slightly worried we will not make it under the bridge

 

A new way to get to Manhattan

A new way to get to Manhattan

 

Our anchorage in NYC

Our anchorage in NYC

We adored the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple though! What a sight to arrive in NYC by the water and have the Manhattan skyline as our living room view. How fortunate we felt to become “neighbors” of friends for a few days and invite them “home” for a candle light dinner. We found out that NYC is brilliant with kids: the girls had a blast at the museums, the playgrounds, the parks, the libraries, and simply taking the subway, admiring the skyscrapers, the gigantic screens in the streets, etc… Aside from our 2 weeks of over-stimulation in New York, we have discovered a very tranquil East coast surprisingly full of nature reserves and well kept little towns with charming houses and blooming gardens. We are currently soaking up the beauty of Ipswich, Massachusetts with its long white beaches, bird reserves and winding shadowed rivers. The island of Cumberland in Georgia particularly seduced us with its enchanting forests, marshes, endless beaches, and wild horses. We felt a special something for Georgia actually and have decided to “make our nest” next to Savannah for a few months as of September. We will live aboard Kazaio in a neighborhood called The Isle Of Hope. Along the banks of a river and shaded by majestic oak trees draped by Spanish moss, the Isle of Hope is a stunning community of typical southern houses with wrap around porches and rocking chairs. The girls will walk to the school around the corner and will probably adopt the common “howdy y’all” within a few weeks….

Walking through the enchanted forest of Cumberland Island, GA

Walking through the enchanted forest of Cumberland Island, GA

 

Artists at work

Artists at work

 

Loving NYC playgrounds

Loving NYC playgrounds

We are now on our way to Maine where the girls will attend Summer Camp and where we will have our long-awaited break. We will probably head to Nova Scotia, Canada at the beginning of August and then start our descent towards our new temporary home in Georgia. We will spend some time in Marta’s Vineyard and Nantucket on our way down. By September, we will “settle” next to Savannah and keep the exploring for the weekends. A new season will begin…

Ipswich, MA

Ipswich, MA

A toddler’s perspective

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This afternoon, as the girls were paddling in the crystalline water right by the shore of a deserted beach, I spotted a dark shadow at about 2 meters from them. I approached unconcerned thinking it was yet another sting ray until I realized this “thing” was too large and quick. “Shark!” I shouted and rushed into the water. It was an elegant dark grey nurse shark (about a meter and a half in length) just passing by and reminding me of what a curious upbringing our girls are receiving.

Black moving spots! This one is just an eagle ray..

Black moving spots! This one is just an eagle ray..

Rocio is completely confused with farm animals – she still cannot match the “oink” to the pig, the “moooo” to the cow and the “baaaaa” to the sheep but she will tell you with confidence that she has seen pigs swim in the sea and fish fly in the sky. And she is right in saying so. Here in the Bahamas, next to Staniel Cay, there is an island where humungous pigs will swim out to you in the hope of receiving a few leftovers. While crossing the Atlantic we constantly crossed groups of flying fish and those unlucky ones, landing on the deck, became jerkies for Awa. The girls might also tell you that sting rays don’t sting and that they go for carrousel rides in the middle of the sea. In Stocking island, they were able to touch and feed sting rays while learning to avoid their tails. Today again, they saw their first spotted eagle ray, “flying” in the clear water- a spectacular sight! Almost every day, we take them for a “carrousel ride” by spinning around the boat in the dinghy while screaming “Kazaio Carrousel”! No wonder their imagination runs wild!

Pigs do swim!

Pigs do swim!

Carroussel ride!

Carroussel ride!

After hearing the story of our friends on “Intrepid Bear” discovering a beluga whale under their catamaran just when taking a dip in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, it comes with no surprise that Kenza has invented an imaginary whale friend of her own. The sparkly pink, green, and purple whale is Caramiel and she comes accompanied by her pet dog, Kefa. Together they travel the world and regularly knock at Kenza’s cabin window to share their favorite lentil stuffed crepes with the sisters while everyone else is sleeping. Rocio has a tendency to “mother”our catch! Yes, she admires the dead fish in the bucket, caresses its scales, and picks up carefully the head with no sign of disgust. She is a much tougher cookie than her mommy I must say. Both girls adore exploring new beaches and their surroundings. They follow iguana tracks or pretend searching for lions and polar bears. They collect stones, shells, sea fans (dead coral), sticks and create all kinds of games or crafts with their treasures. I must say that princess movies have lost their top ranking- Kenza is obsessed with the diets of velociraptors and their friends from the Cretaceous period!

"Look at my baby"

“Look at my baby”

Treasures found!

Treasures found!

But I am sure princesses will be back soon enough! At the end of the month we are visiting Disney World and I am positive that will bring a bit of “normality” back to these wild heads!

Dress up time!

Dress up time!

Discovering another world

Discovering another world


Our art studio!

Our art studio!

Cruising lifestyle 101

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Speeding on the highway of “land life”, I had yearned for a slower pace and had imagined that cruising around the world on a boat would bring me just that. Oh how I was mistaken! Little did I know that taking care of basic needs could turn into a full time job!

Rumor had it that Mayaguana (Bahamas) had a good grocery store, so my “mission” for the day was to restock on foods and reorganize the fridge and cupboards to fit everything. After securing the dinghy at the sole dock in town, i walked down the only beaten road with my 10 recyclable shopping bags to arrive 15 minutes later at a worn-out sign reading “Grocery Store”. It was pointing to a run down house with a closed door. Could this be it? I knocked at the door and a friendly man greeted me in. The conversation was very pleasant but my shopping that day (and for the next 10 days) was limited to 4 semi rotten tomatoes, a wilted cabbage head, a bag of flour and a loaf of stale bread. Bon appetit! About once every month, we do find a decent store and fill our dinghy to its full capacity. We spend hours finding ways to best preserve our fresh produce out of the fridge- carrots wrapped in aluminum, onions and citrus away from the rest, cucumbers in sealed plastic, turning eggs daily, etc.. We bake our own bread, make our own pizzas and cook as much as our freezer can take. Thanks god to vacuum packing! We then hope that the next catch will not be too big..

We are very fortunate to have a water maker on-board! Everyday we desalinate water for washing and mineralize it for drinking. After several water-tasting sessions we have finally figured out the way we like it. For doing dishes and washing the deck, we pump up salt water and rinse with the minimum amount of fresh water. When anchored in less than 7 meters, we do dishes “Gonzalo style”: throw the dishes overboard, let the fish do the scrubbing, and dive to get them back a few hours later. Showers are quick but hot if we remember to run the generator and switch on the water heater. Gonzalo installed 950 watts of solar panels with Rolf which partially recharge the batteries and make up for about half to two thirds of our energy consumption. Fantastic! When water and energy production permits, we do our laundry on-board and transform Kazaio into a gypsy trailer with clothes hanging everywhere. We are encouraging innovative dining etiquette to our kids to help with this matter: wash your hands and get naked before sitting at the table! No matter how much we are careful, it seems we always bring the beach back on the boat. Kenza and Rocio have become the “clean feet and no sand enforcers” and they take their role seriously- do not dare to come on-board without them inspecting your feet and spraying you down!

Laundry day

Laundry day

Our little helpers keep the deck clean

Our little helpers keep the deck clean

Doing the dishes "Gonzalo style"

Doing the dishes “Gonzalo style”

Over the last year, Gonzalo has reinvented himself numerous times to repair and maintain the boat. In addition to being the captain, he is also the electrician, plumber, and mechanic! When he is not busy servicing the engine or generator, he is fixing the shower or bilge pump, polishing the stainless steel, repairing the water heater, splicing ropes, scrubbing the algae growth from the propellers or sewing new window shades (to list just a few things). Any day you will find him lost in manuals (or calling Rolf!) and learning how to do something new. My daily challenge is homeschooling, keeping the girls entertained and making them trilingual. I combine what i prefer from the French, British, and American schooling systems and try to find creative ways to captivate their attention (and not be frustrated when it does not work!). When we are “in civilization”, the girls “pounce” on other children and I try to squeeze in as many play-dates as possible.

Gonzalo gets a little help for servicing the engine

Gonzalo gets a little help for servicing the engine

So who said that cruising was about living effortlessly? We have promised ourselves to slow down the pace and enjoy every place a bit longer. For the last two weeks we have been doing just that. We are “comfortably stuck” in Georgetown (Exuma, Bahamas), amongst a fascinating bunch of dream seekers, doing a little less boat chores and much “Chat and Chillin*'”.

* “Chat and Chill” is the name of a charming beach shack with a great atmosphere and loads of cruisers on Stocking Island (Exuma, Bahamas)

My fellow mama sailors who managed to make us slow down and stay in Georgetown 2 more weeks. Thanks for that "rain dance"!

My fellow mama sailors who managed to make us slow down and stay in Georgetown 2 more weeks. Thanks for that “rain dance”!

Kids gone wild

Kids gone wild

The "Chat & Chill" vibe...

The “Chat & Chill” vibe…

Cocktail anyone?

Featured

There is no better way to squeeze out a cocktail of emotions than to live on a boat. Mix a bit of exhilaration, fear, frenzy, felicity, awe, exasperation or bliss, shake it well and you have one of us in a glass. I must admit i have felt on the brink of insanity more than once.

On my first passage from Mallorca to Sardinia, my heart skipped a beat every time a wave would crash between the hulls in a blasting thud making the entire cabin tremble. I fell in a strange silent terror as I held my girls firmly against me waiting for the moment the hulls would split apart. When the sea finally calmed down, i asked Gonzalo and Sylvain how critical the situation had been. They smiled at me and replied that everything had been NORMAL! I just had to get used to the “music” of my new home.

Needless to describe how hysterical Gonzalo and I were at first watching the girl’s every move. Luckily they have adapted amazingly and have become real “sea monkeys”, bouncing about as if the ground under them was still. And we have relaxed as well to the degree that we are no longer gobsmacked to find our 2 year old holding firmly to the top of a 2 meter pole (yes, she climbs up that well!). Nor are we surprised when our 4 year old panics at the sight of water being wasted in automatic faucets in public bathrooms (we are very careful about water usage on board).

But just when you start to get the hang of things and get comfortable, you are sure to be shaken by hundred other emotions. Imagine the terror as a sailboat gets overpowered by a gust of wind and nearly collides into us (this happened in the midst of the excitement at the start of the ARC). Or how to react when you discover a naked elderly lady hanging from the stern of your boat on a stormy night in a sea full of gigantic jellyfish (this did actually happen to our friends NextLife but the story was so bizarre, I just had to include it)? I am sure you can imagine my expression of disarray as I try to understand a single word from the rasta-patois-english spoken by the official processing our entry. What hysteria watching our dog being hunted down by a one-meter long barracuda! What thrill swimming in the middle of the Atlantic or catching a 50kgs tuna (although we had to let it go because it could not fit in our freezer)! And what a horrendous feeling being seasick and in charge!

I have thought of giving up many times but each time I get swept away by the magic of a moment or a place. What rush every time dolphins accompany us for miles on, or when we spot a whale! How wonderful to see Kenza and Rocio’s imagination running wild and witness them inventing a thousand games. How comforting and inspiring to meet people following the same path and turning dreams into reality! And what an explosion of happiness when greeted by NextLife and our fellow sailors/friends in St Lucia after days out at sea crossing the Atlantic ocean! Time and time again, I am struck by the “specialness” of different places: whether it be the authentic Greek villages, the hills of the Peloponnese, the bustling medinat of Fes, the endless beaches of Barbuda, the boulder maze of The Baths, the colorful streets of San Juan, they make me feel alive and wanting more.

So at the end of the day, when I feel I am getting an overdose of “aliveness”, I climb up to the flybridge and look out to the stars in the splendid dark sky … and relax.

Check-in/OK message from SPOT kazaio

kazaio
Latitude:-35.31134
Longitude:174.11995
GPS location Date/Time:11/05/2015 19:15:42 VET

Message:Hola. This is our new location. We are all fine. Besos from Kazaio

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