And Now, I’ll Show You Climate Change!

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Rising sea level has made this village unreachable and forced the Catholic Church, at back, to relocate to a new site inland.

The kids are always the first to spot what’s coming. They have safety in numbers, proceeding in a pack out of the palm shadows to the edge of the beach to eventually wave abundantly at us I-Matang in our funny hats riding ashore in a rubber boat with wheels.

Mao was the eldest, tall and teethy, with a dramatic swath of black hair. She didn’t know what we wanted, but we didn’t know what we wanted either. We rowed ashore because it’s what you do when you anchor off a village; this one just happened to be far off the well-sailed paths and they seemed baffled by our sudden appearance. We were at the very northern tip of Abaiang, an atoll just 30 miles from Tarawa, the main island of western Kiribati.

Continue reading “And Now, I’ll Show You Climate Change!”

Green Thumbs Up in Tuvalu

20151124_074556People who hate eating their vegetables would love traveling in equatorial Micronesia. Dry, sandy atolls where nothing edible thrives but coconut palms and pandanus are but idyllic paradises on which one can easily waste away of nutritional deficiency. The perennial heat and drought-like lack of rain mean you’ll be guaranteed plenty of sunny beach time, without having to put up with any of those obnoxious fruity umbrella drinks, due to the general lack of fruit.

Tuvalu wasn’t quite that bad (Kiribati is.) Most shops had mushy imported oranges and apples. Breadfruit was happening. There was a guy with a papaya grove who was willing to sell 2 for $5, pick your own or select from the ripe and ready ones stored inside an unused washing machine on his patio.

But the unexpected surprise was the raised bed gardens and flats full of seedlings, operated by Taiwan Technical Mission in a tin-roofed structure on the northeast side of the airport runway. Continue reading “Green Thumbs Up in Tuvalu”

This Puts a Damper on Things

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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

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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”

Living the Dream

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“I would kill a man for a box of Cheez-its right now,” I said, my stomach writhing with competing cries for junk food and vomit.

“I would kill a man for you, baby.”

That’s my guy, rising to the occasion when I needed him the most.

We were off our game. Sitting around marinas for five years had made us soft. Departing from New Zealand, the weather predictions had called for favorable southeast winds. That didn’t happen. We had strong northeast winds in the 25-35 knot range instead, with a short, steep sea state in the 10-12 foot range. As many of you know, close-hauled is not the Clara Katherine’s preferred point of sail, due to her general obesity and utter lack of keel. We were not making great way. And we were not feeling great.

The number of times I’ve been seasick is so few I can count them on one hand. It’s not that I’m particularly hearty – I’ve long believed that there are two things you can do to stave off The Vom:  Continue reading “Living the Dream”