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.