Sunday, December 4, 2016

Lemonade!
By Michael
AJO, ARIZONA


It was a trek just getting from
Del Viento to the Nadi airport.
It was a long road to Ajo, Arizona.

It started with packing up and prepping Del Viento to float on her own for 4 or 5 months, during cyclone season. That ain’t easy, especially when living aboard, especially during a period of come-and-go rain when nothing could be brought below unless it was bone dry. Accordingly, the mainsail and headsail joined us below about 10 days before we left, not very convenient. Hard things like the solar panels dry quickly, so they weren’t such a concern.

We did all this last year, in Tonga. Because things like solar panels and cockpit cushions we stow in the V-berth, and because Windy and I sleep in the V-berth, we didn’t bring those things below last year until the day we left. Our flight left at 1600 hours and it was still a struggle. I vowed to do better this time. But this time our transportation left Savusavu at 0600—not a lot of time between waking and leaving. So we got a hotel room for the night, the best $50 bucks we’ve spent in a while. Still didn’t get there until 2000 hours.

The taxi picked us up as arranged at 0530 on Sunday morning for a 5-block ride to the bus station (thanks Jolene!). The bus took off with us aboard at 0600. We rode for four hours before arriving at the ferry depot. We waited for 2 hours. We took a 4-hour ferry ride. We took a 3-hour bus ride. We hauled our luggage to another bus and rode for another three hours. We took a taxi to our Hotwire-reserved, prepaid hotel in Nadi. It was late at night.

“Hi, we’re the Robertsons, we have a room reserved for tonight.”

“I’m sorry, we don’t have anything reserved under that name, could it be another name?”

“No.”

Eleanor still bright-eyed during the first
bus ride of the first day on the road.
“Hmmm.”

“Here’s our confirmation code and online receipt.”

“Hmmm, I don’t see anything.”

“We paid, see here? We’re really tired.”

This wasn’t a chain hotel, just a little mom-and-pop place. The woman finally conceded something must be wrong on her end and showed us to our room without finding any reservation or record of payment. Pretty cool.

The next morning a taxi picked us up at 1000 hours and brought us to the Nadi airport. We made it to the Virgin Australia counter with all our luggage still with us.

“Michael, Windy, Eleanor, and Frances—yes—you’re on the afternoon flight to Sydney. Do you have your Electronic Travel Authority?”

“Our what?”

I’ve never flown anywhere where I didn’t just jump on the plane and fill out a customs declaration en route and get a visa automatically when I landed. Apparently it’s a whole new world and the Aussies require even American allies to process themselves online and get approved to board before boarding. It costs $20 per person. So we retreated to some nearby seating and used the airport’s free wifi to appeal to the Australians to let us visit. It didn’t take long and by the time we got to the counter, $80 lighter, the ticket agent could see in her system that we were approved.

We landed in Sydney about 1800.

So the reason we flew east to go west is that Air New Zealand refused to allow us to use the Mileage Plus points we’ve been faithfully accumulating with our United Airlines credit card for the past 8 years. They’re supposed to, they’re part of the same network, but the Fiji-to-Auckland route seems to be the only one they’ve exempted. Damn. So we made lemonade from those lemons by finding pretty cheap tickets to Sydney, planning a 4-day layover, and then letting United take us from Sydney to D.C. on their new 787.

But first, an Aussie holiday!

--MR
The ferry cometh.

Frances and Windy still doing well on the ferry.

As a vegetarian, I sure appreciate that Burger King serves
veggie burgers, and they aren't bad. In Fiji, given the huge
Indian population that eats vegetarian regularly, BK there
offers 3 different kinds of veggie burgers. And that's not all,
notice the Fiji Bitter that Windy is opening and the other
waiting for me at my seat. And notice the comfy seating.
what you can't see is the free wifi and the door man.
The Nadi Burger King has to be the best in the world.
This was our late-night dinner after our long, long day.

So, check this out. Notice the jet way at the front of the plane (left).
Notice Windy and the girls boarding the same plane up a ladder
through the rear door (right). I don't mind leaving the terminal,
descending stairs, walking to the back of the plane, and climbing
stairs to board, but I've never had to do so when there was a
jet way in place. Apparently, this jet way is for the first class
passengers and those seated near the front. I'll give Richard
Branson a thumbs up for efficiency, but damn was it ever
a strong reminder we were economy class.

Frances and I walking towards the Sydney Opera House. At
this point, neither girl knows the surprise they're in for.

Now Eleanor knows. While still in Fiji, I learned that
Julie Andrews herself was directing My Fair Lady at
the Sydney Opera House. My girls are big fans of the
movie and soundtrack, so I knew they'd love it. But the cheapest
seats were about $200 a piece. Luckily, I scored standing "seats"
during a matinee for the still-pricey sum of $50. It was hard
to stand for 3 hours, but worth it. The production was outstanding.
The lead sounded exactly like Rex Harrison and the orchestra was
phenomenal. We all loved it.
Intermission.
We spent a full day around Bondi Beach. I was shocked at all the
uncovered sunbathers. I thought Aussies had a big hole in the ozone
layer directly above, soaring rates of skin cancer, and a sun-mentality
that was beyond the 1980s. Note there is not a single umbrella in site.
Bondi Beach is very cool, hipster, artsy-like. Imagine a small Portland
or Victoria with a warm, sunny beach.



While we were there, they happened to be having their
annual sculpture on the beach display. It was pretty cool.




This pool is adjacent to Bondi Beach. This was not a high-surf day, and it
was still pretty dramatic. See the swimmers? Apparently, Bondi Beach
regularly sees 35,000 beachgoers in a day. So it was on Black Sunday
in 1938. Out of nowhere, 3 bigger-than-normal waves rolled in and swept
hundreds of people out to sea. Lifesavers were in force because of a
weekly surf competition going on and rescued 250 people. 30 had to be
resuscitated. 5 died.
The girls could have sat here for hours, cajoling these
white ibis birds.

View from downtown.

The girls dug this artist's work, but had no idea
he was behind them when Windy took the picture.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Over the Edge
By Michael
AJO, ARIZONA


Eleanor and Frances in front of our
new temporary home in Ajo. I took
this yesterday, early in the morning
as they started their walk to their
first day of school--Eleanor's first
day since leaving kindergarten in
D.C., Frances's first day ever. The
prospect of attending school while
in the States was a highlight for
both of them. Note the fleece!
I'm wearing socks for the first
time in years.
Nearly two years ago, we left Mexico and sailed straight into the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

“What’s your plan?”

“How long are you going to be in the South Pacific?”

“Are you circumnavigating?”

People asked these questions and we didn’t have answers. (I certainly didn’t imagine we’d spend multiple seasons in the South Pacific and make two trips home from the South Pacific.) Not only did we not have answers regarding our plans, but we cast off faithfully heeding Hayden’s oft-quoted admonition that our voyage, “must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest.” (I don’t think anyone would credit Sterling Hayden for his financial wisdom, but the dude had a pretty good pulse on what matters in life, and he certainly lived it the way he saw it.)

So there we found ourselves in the Marquesas, five years into our cruising life and running out of money and writing, writing, writing to offset some of the outlay. When I got out and about, I noticed that we were among a new community of cruisers. Yes, there were the familiar Canadians and Americans who’d crossed that year like us. Yes, there were the unfamiliar Europeans who’d been banded together for months, since the funnel of the Panama Canal served to acquaint them all. But then there were the boats that were just there, denizens of the South Pacific who’d arrived many seasons ago. They could answer everyone’s questions and mine was: “Is it possible for an American to find work in the South Pacific?”

Someone pointed out a green steel schooner at the end of the bay. “Go talk to Vagrant, they’re Americans and they’ve worked for years in the South Pacific.”

I couldn’t row over to Vagrant fast enough.

Tina and Shane were pleasant, but their answers weren’t encouraging. They’d lived and worked in the Kingdom of Tonga, Guam, and the Marshall Islands, but in years past. They told us we might get lucky, but they’d found most of their success chartering their own boat and doing work I wasn’t qualified for: managing the construction of a hotel and teaching SCUBA. “You’ve got to have pretty specialized skills that are in demand and be in the right place at the right time.”

But despite the let-down, Windy and the girls and I liked Tina and Shane a lot. And we kept running into them. Months later, in the Tuamotus, we crossed paths again and Tina came by in her dinghy.

“You love garlic?” I said to her.

“Huh?”

“Your hat, it says Ajo on it.”

“Oh, no, it’s a place, in Arizona—Ajo, Arizona—we have a little house there.”

So we talked about Ajo. Later, Windy and I talked about Ajo. In the months that followed, Windy and I read and talked more about Ajo. We asked more questions about Ajo. We were intrigued by Ajo.

The girls walking to school on our
mesquite tree-lined street. I think
ours is the only house for blocks
without a tree in front.
Ajo’s a small, former copper mining town in Southern Arizona, right on highway 85. It’s two hours south of Phoenix, in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, 35 miles north of the Mexican border. It’s surrounded by BLM land and national parks. It’s depressed and charming. It’s desolate and beautiful. It’s a 2-hour drive from dipping my feet in the water of the Sea of Cortez, at Puerto Peñasco. It’s relatively close to our West Coast families. It perfectly fits into a future Windy and I have imagined for ourselves, in which we cruise the Sea of Cortez for a part of each year with a home base we can visit in the States.

Ajo.

The nearest town is Why. Somebody didn’t waste any syllables naming these places.

“What if we bought a little house in Ajo, something that is really decrepit, at a price we can afford? We fly there and fix it up really nice, rent it out, and then return to Del Viento with a tiny income stream to add to the others.”

“No way.” I said to Windy.

Less than a month later, we were in a Suva, Fiji, lawyer’s office getting our signatures notarized on closing docs sent to us by an Arizona title company. Our firm low, low-ball offer on a 3-bedroom, 2-bath house we’d never seen in a place we’d never been, had been accepted. Because I guess that’s the way we roll.

This is a project. The house was foreclosed on years ago and has been vacant since. All the appliances—everything including the kitchen sink (and countertops)—are long gone. There is no heating or air conditioning. Even the gas company disconnected service and removed their meter (good thing because all the gas lines are cut off behind walls. We might be able to save one window.

We expected this, we knew this is what we had gotten ourselves into. We’re ready to tackle it.

The bigger questions loomed: How would we get to Ajo from Fiji? And, what would we think of Ajo when we got there?

---MR

Monday, November 21, 2016

Getting Resourceful
By Michael
AJO, ARIZONA


If you're not so into life
in the USA under the reign
of a P.G. president who
mocks people with disabilities,
Sara's book offers an escape.
(Oh, I'm sorry, the P.G.
 is for Pussy Grabbing)
Cruising is a rich and inexpensive way of living. And while we’re blissfully free of domestic encumbrances like insurance, mortgages, car payments, utility bills, phone bills, and replacing a roof, we aren’t living without costs. We still have to buy groceries and shoes and alcohol. We go out to eat on occasion. We pay for taxis and buses and occasional marina expenses. We pay for internet access wherever we are and given all the regular wear and tear we put on Del Viento, we regularly open our wallet for blocks and pumps and filters and running rigging and haulouts and much, much more.

So our way of living requires some money. Like many folks, we started cruising as newly unemployed people with some savings and no income. We knew this model was not sustainable (we’ve even proven it!) and so began looking for an income source.

It seemed there were two options for us: Either return to the rat race or get resourceful. Not one of the four of us has (yet) expressed an interest in the former.

My resourceful friend Mike (aboard Galactic) does science (and writes stories for the sailing magazines). My friend Meri (aboard Hotspur) has taught school along the way, so far in at least American Samoa and Vietnam (and she writes stories for the sailing magazines). Her husband, Jim, runs a paper airplanes website. Besides co-authoring Voyaging With Kids with me, my friend Behan and her husband, Jamie, (aboard Totem) offer personal coaching for prospective cruising couples and families. Jamie is also a sailmaker. All of these folks have been out cruising (with kids) for more than 8 years; as far as I know, none of these folks are independently wealthy.

I’m not a scientist, teacher, sailmaker, or coach, but I like to write and I love to edit. Before leaving we were building a small audience with this blog and I’d already sold a couple of stories to magazines, so freelance writing was where I put my focus. Since we’ve been out, Cruising World and other sailing magazines have been receptive to my story pitches. Then I co-authored Voyaging With Kids and wrote Selling Your Writing to the Boating Magazines. Then early this year, I was hired on as the managing editor of Good Old Boat magazine (a magazine I love and recommend to anyone with a fiberglass sailboat who does most of the work on it themselves—most cruisers). Today, these income sources provide the means by which we get by.

But getting by doesn’t mean saving for big contingencies (like travel home, off-the-boat excursions, and new engines). We wanted another income source, but we also realize there are only so many hours in the day and the cruising life is a demanding one in terms of time (picking up groceries for the family is always more involved than a trip to Safeway with the minivan).

So, we’re pursuing two ideas.

As an extension of my writing interest and as a means to parlay my love of editing, this year I started a publishing company: Force Four Publications. I used this company successfully to launch Selling Your Writing to the Boating Magazines. Last month, my friend, freelance writer, and Voyaging With Kids co-author, Sara Johnson (formerly aboard Wondertime) launched her new book, How to Move to New Zealand in 31 Easy Steps, under the Force Four Publications imprint. (So my little company has doubled in size!)

As I alluded to in a recent post, we left Del Viento in Fiji and came to the States for a short time for a big reason. That reason is the second idea. It’s a rather pedestrian endeavor, but major in our little world. Details soon—I want to give it the attention of a full post.

--MR
So we were sailing between islands in Southern Fiji when I
spotted this pretty Alajuela 38 under full sail about 5 miles
away headed right at us on an opposing course. We both
maintained our heading and I got the camera out so I could
take and pass on a photo to the unknown sailors. Well, I'm
snapping away but stop because I heard the guy aboard yelling
at me. He was yelling, "WE LOVE YOUR BLOG!"
It was such a cool experience, total strangers from the UK.
A couple weeks later we got to meet Ruth and Duncan of
Impetuous Too in an anchorage south of Latoka. We only
had time to chat from our dinghy, side-tied, for a few minutes. Ruth
was clearly pregnant. They looked rested and healthy and relaxed. We
learned later that only a few hours afterward, she gave birth to Ravi, their
first child! Check out their harrowing post from a few months ago.



Thursday, October 27, 2016

Goodbye Fiji
By Michael
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA


An evening dancer on Taveuni Island.
Did you catch the byline? We left Fiji! We left yesterday, by plane. Del Viento remains, tucked away on a Savusavu mooring, stripped bare as she was in Tonga last year. We’re returning to the States for most of the Southern Hemisphere cyclone season because we’ve got some work to do (more on that in a future post). But when we return to Del Viento in March or April (we don’t yet have return flights booked), we’ll haul the old girl (she’ll be 40 in two short years!), paint her bottom, replace some hard-to-get-to thru-hull valves, relaunch, and head….north-ish.

Unless something comes up (like this project in the States) to thwart our plans, we’ll point our bow towards Japan, arriving around April 2018. Of course, that’s looking way far ahead in cruising time, so we’ll see.

Besides our big State-side adventure, another reason for staying another year in the South Pacific is Fiji. Not since leaving Mexico have we felt more at-home in a country. Fiji is filled with a diverse population that must be among the friendliest on earth. I know that’s quite a superlative, and I’ve not been to that many places in this world, but the warmth and acts of kindness we receive from the Fijians on a daily basis is inspiring and such a pleasure. And yet, it’s the most populous and developed island among the thousands in the South Pacific. It’s also a very big country (relatively), comprised of 332 islands (106 are inhabited), and we look forward to exploring more of them when we return.

Over the next few months, this blog will continue uninterrupted; I’ve got lots to say.

--MR

Sweet Fijian kids waiting for their Vishnu bus to pull
out of the station at Nadi Town.

This woman works for the butcher at the south end of
Taveuni. Not pictured are the discarded parts and pieces
of large animals at the shoreline just outside the frame.

This Paradise Resort employee took Windy and the girls
and the Oniva family on a walk, during which he found this
injured bird and brought it back. 

One of many young Fijians engaged in daring-do
at Colo-I-Suva nature park, near Suva.

Fiji's diversity is in refreshing contrast to other island populations,
familiar to us. In today's political climate (which we feel blissfully removed
from on a day-to-day basis) it's affirming to see this Muslim woman, covered
head-to-toe, giving encouraging advice to the Kiwi woman in Bikini
bottoms and a wet tank top about to swing on the rope.

See my smiling Nadi Town veggie market friend in the middle?
Note the signs above him. Fiji won it's first gold medal ever in
this summer's Olympic games--in rugby. We were in Savusavu
that morning and nobody wasn't watching a television for
the 15-minute event and everyone acted as though everyone
had just won the lottery. It was a joyous time, an amazing vibe.

Windy and Eleanor at a Port Denarau café.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Anchoring Grace
By Michael
SAVUSAVU, FIJI


The runway was between us and that bouncy
contraption off the Plantation Resort on
Malololailai Island. Katherine and my
girls owned this thing after a week, and
spent countless hours in the resort's
pools. This is a family resort, so there
were hundreds of playmates around.
Many years ago, I heard John Otterbacher speak at the Annapolis Sailboat Show. John is the author of Sailing Grace (a riveting memoir about overcoming heart disease to go cruising) and one of the things he said during his slide presentation stuck with me. John mentioned an interesting aspect of his family’s cruising adventures: anchoring off resort properties. What made dropping the hook at these places interesting was the stark contrast between what he and the guests ashore paid per night to enjoy the same stunning view of the sunset.

It’s true. We are privileged to be able to live and travel the way we do and most places (Florida being an exception) haven’t come up with a reason or a means to charge us for being. We literally couldn’t be living and traveling the way we are, where we are, if they did come up with a way to make us pay.

But our good fortune is even magnified. Not only are we free to be wherever we are, but we’re almost always welcomed ashore to enjoy resort amenities alongside paying guests. Ironically, this is even sometimes the case at resorts where shore side access is restricted to guests. Yet, we row ashore in our dink, land in the backyard, and we’re welcomed into the fold of clean-smelling, well-attired shore people. (“Girls, remember to keep a low profile, we’re not paying guests and management was really nice to let us use the pool all day.”) And while the girls swim, we get to chatting with a guest who has barely recovered from arrival jetlag and they’re on a plane headed back home. (“It’s a shame that honeymooning couple we met last week can’t be here this week, now that the rain has stopped.”) These encounters definitely help check perspective in a way that anchoring off a city or in a deserted bay, do not.

Nowhere have we confronted this juxtaposition more than in Fiji—a nation that must have more resorts per capita than any other. And when the girls’ niece, Katherine, flew in for a short stay before school started back home, we focused our time at a few of them near Nadi.

--MR

We were treated like family at the Paradise resort on Taveuni Island.
This employee gave us (and the Swiss family aboard Oniva) impromptu
lessons in basket weaving.
And in case said employee reads this, I want to assure him that
this photo was just for laughs, the baskets are actually in use,
hanging from the grab rails in our cabin and keeping our
fruits and veggies fresh and accessible.

Katherine, Tyrii (from Rehua), and Frances loving
the pizza at the Musket Cove resort bar.

Watching the food prep at the Paradise Resort.

Guests at the Robinson Crusoe Island resort enjoying the sunset;
Del Viento is anchored just outside the frame.

Anchored off Namotu Island resort, Katherine and Frances looking on.

Rehua and Del Viento kids at Musket Cove.
(courtesy Audrie Vueghs)

A very touristy, and very fun, show at the Robinson Crusoe resort.

At the Robinson Crusoe resort.

Still at the Robinson Crusoe resort.

You guessed it

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