Every Home is a Grave

A version of this story originally appeared in the magazine Capital #31, May 2016. Click the magazine image below to read the PDF.
Capital-May2016

Doctored green graveIn Funafuti, in front of most homes there are large, long, cement boxes, sometimes neatly tiled, sometimes painted bright reds and greens and blues and pinks, sometimes festooned with garlands of plastic hibiscus, sometimes accompanied by carved crosses. Graves. All are big enough to house a human, the last remains of past family members, kept close to their future generations.

“It ties you to the land,” one man told us when we witnessed the same tradition on Bora Bora, and makes it very hard to sell. Or leave.

What if the land is the first to leave? To be on an atoll in Tuvalu is to be in the midst of the climate changing, an island disappearing.

Continue reading “Every Home is a Grave”

Dock Rock on a Mountain Top

20151023_154756I like hiking. I went to four years of college in a National Park. I’ve done some time on mountains and I always like an opportunity to stretch my legs beyond our 41 feet of boat deck.

Sailing into view of Waya Island made me feel nostalgic for that moment we spotted Nuku Hiva spiking out of the sea back in 2010. We were in Fiji now, but once again I felt that we were arriving in a land new and strange to us. Brian’s sister, Betsy, was aboard for three weeks, cruising with us from Savusavu through the Yasawas. Her Rough Guide to Fiji cheerfully recommended taking a hike up the mountain overlooking Waya’s main village of Yalobi. They actually called it a “walking trail” and suggested getting a guide from the village was the polite thing to do, not a necessity.

Not so.

Continue reading “Dock Rock on a Mountain Top”

This Puts a Damper on Things

20150720_143925small

During my first offshore cruising adventure, I remember standing in a Bahamian pay phone surrounded by Coke cans and conch shells and thinking an international calling card was truly, technologically magnificent.

Different century, different boat, but the same frustration when something goes wrong. It feels like you’ve been robbed. Your freedom has disappeared because the engine damper plate has failed. All of our well-laid plans, our weather checking and provisioning and endless myriad preparations that occur before we set sail are wasted as we figure out what the hell to do now.

But now, we have the Internet to help. Up there was roller furling headsails and GPS navigation, mobile communications must be one of the greatest revolutions for cruising sailors.  Continue reading “This Puts a Damper on Things”

Hove To in North Minerva

IMG_3368

A version of this story appeared in the November 2016 issue of Blue Water Sailing 

Click on the magazine cover image below to read a PDF of the story. BWS-Jan2017

We’re about 800 miles north of New Zealand, six days into our sail to Tonga with more wind, wilder waves, and more violent squalls than the forecasters predicted.

We want to sleep in a bunk that isn’t pitching wildly. We want to eat a hot meal that isn’t flying off the plate or out of our stomachs. We want to stop, but we’re still 250 miles from our ultimate destination. Standing on the bow of our 41-foot sailboat, I’m desperately seeking North Minerva Reef but all I can see is sea. The only suggestion of land is a slight interruption in the eternal seascape, where the whitewashing waves seem to break in a different pattern.

There was a time not long ago when sailors like us would have actively avoided this place. North Minerva Reef isn’t really land. Imagine the rim of a cereal bowl barely submerged in a sink full of water. If we were birds, we could soar above and see the thin circle of coral reef, the barely visible remains of a collapsed volcano, like the letter C penciled onto paper then erased. Its cousin, South Minerva, 15 miles away, looks like an erased figure 8. At low tide, about three feet of coral and rock are exposed; at high tide, there’s nothing but water, though the rim of the reef is just high enough to hold back the full force of the waves, like a bodyguard braced against the melee. If we can get inside the lagoon, we’ll be able to drop our anchor in 50 feet of calm water and take a much-needed break.

We sail cautiously closer, searching for the break in the coral, like a sliver of a slice taken from a pie, where we might dare to enter the lagoon. Continue reading “Hove To in North Minerva”