Sea Blog

This is a static blog following my travels sailing from England to Australia in a small boat with my family when I was 12 years old, over the course of a year and a half.
The published articles were written by my sister Alix Pearce.

Cruising England to Australia: Fiji to Australia [Part 7]

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Cruising England to Australia: Tahiti to Fiji [Part 6]

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Cruising England to Australia: The French Marquesas to Tahiti [Part 5]

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Text: MULTIHULLS Magazine November/December 2003

I t was wonderful sitting in the beautiful anchorage of Hiva Oa after 19 days of only sea and skies to look at; my eyes hungrily drank in the green valleys, palm trees and the sweet sight of land. For the next two months we would be travelling in French Polynesia. These island groups may be classed under the same name, but they couldn’t be more different. Take the landscapes for example; Ua Po has dramatic cliffs and sweeping hills that plunge down into deep ravines, whereas Hiva Oa has rolling hills and lush green valleys that make a more gentle skyline. Then there are the Tuamotus, that rise a mere 12 feet from the water and have only sand and coconut palms. Yet these atolls are still beautiful despite their size. The Society Islands are somewhere in between with soft hills that merge into steep cliffs surrounded by reefs.

The one thing that is the same throughout French Polynesia is the warmth and kindness of the natives. In Hiva Oa it was over a one-mile walk uphill into town but any car driving past would stop and offer us a lift. The village of Hanavave in Fatu Hiva is only a small collection of houses with no restaurants but a local woman called Rosa prepared a small feast in her house at only $10 a head while her family ate outside in the dark. The locals also invited us to see their dancing rehearsal. They were preparing for the Heiva Nui in Tahiti and had been practicing for 9 months and all that hard work certainly showed. We wanted to visit the tattoo museum in Ua Po and a man called Pascal invited us into the museum and gave an amazingtalk about tattooing, singing and dancing along the way and telling us local stories. He then showed us a few nice things in town such as the local wood carver and arranged a walk through the mountains to another anchorage. All this information, including the museum, was free of charge and came with a smile. In Nuku Hiva Mum and Dad went to buy anchor chain from the local chandlers. Everyone there was friendly and when the shop owner heard that they had to carry the chain all the way back to the boat he immediately offered them a lift back in one of his customer’s cars!

One of the best Monday’s I have ever had was in Raroia, Tuamotus where we went pearl gathering with the locals. This involved taking the oysters from their lines in the sea, prizing open the shells and taking out the beautiful pearl. You would then divide the bad meat from the good and pile the oyster shells up ready for shipping to Tahiti. The locals were patient and friendly as they showed us the ropes. After a hardmorning’s work, all the yachties gathered on Zazen to trade pearls for rum. The locals traded fairly and gave us each a pearl and a small bag of silver ones for free. While in Raroia, we found out that a large and exciting event for the natives is when the supply ship comes in. Raroia has only two supply ships a month, one ship starts in the north Tuamotus and comes down south, therefore Raroia is its last port of call. This means that the ship is nearly empty and Raroia gets only the dregs and left-overs. The other ship starts down south making Raroia its second port of call, so everyone gathered on the dock eager to receive their supplies to last them through the month. We, on seeing the commotion, went ashore and watched as the huge ship sent two dinghies ashore full of food and other supplies. The sleeping children were unloadedfrom the wheelbarrows, the supplies were put in and the happy families went home. We watched as the men started to nail two dinghies together with planks of wood to make a catamaran. They then, to our amazement, lowered a VW transporter from the supply ship onto the dinghies. The dinghiesslowly drove ashore and delivered the big white van onto the dock. But what are they going to use it for? A twenty-minute tour of the island? A 300m airport transfer? The funny thing is there aren’t any roads on Raroia! The whole community of Raroia (there were just over 50) were so happy to see us and hear of our travels that it was hard to leave. Raroia was a very beautiful place but sadly the wind changed, making Raroia a lee shore forcing us to leave for Tahiti and the other boats to seek shelter on the other side of the atoll. But maybe it was good that happened, otherwise we would never have left.

Tahiti, was the first civilised place in many months but we were pleased to find the locals were still friendly, despite the size of the island. When we arrived in Tahiti we had no beer so Dad decided to ask a local fishing boat if the shops were open on Sunday, in doing this he hoped to save a fruitless trip ashore. Mum and Dad went over to the fishing boat and asked. The man’s face fell when he heard the question, “Sorry, no it is closed today,” he said in French. Then his face brightened , “But here you go” and he handed Mum and Dad an ice cold beer each. Our main reason for coming to Tahiti was to see the large festival called the Heiva Nui. This festival takes place every three years and people om all over French Polynesia come to take part, including our friends from Fatu Hiva. Not only does the festival include dancing but also food, flowers and crafts. The food and flowers make up the Agricultural Fair (Te Vahine), which is very impressive and had yamsup to 200 kg in weight! The arts and craft were very beautiful and were in the artisan fair (Heiva Nui Rima’i). They had wooden tikis, nose flutes, drums, quilts (Tifaifai), Fatu Hiva Rosa’s House paintings, shell jewelry, pearls, straw hats and local dresses all hand made.

All these things were wonderful but they did not beat the dancing which was incredible, with many people from different islands participating. This meant different costumes, different music, and different dancing styles. They were all fun to watch but the best group would have to have been Fatu HIva. After having seen all the effort the villagers of Hanavave had put in while rehearsing and in making costumes out of traditional tapa cloth (cloth fibre from tree bark)it made their performance just that bit more special to us. So with one half of our Pacific Island cruise completed we draw closer and closer to our new life in Australia but it is best not to think about that yet and simply enjoy the rest of our adventure while it lasts! —–

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Cruising England to Australia: Panama to The French Marquesas [Part 4]

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Text:

MULTIHULLS Magazine • May/June 2003

Panama, Galapagos, Pacific. After a great time in the BVI, we were cruising along in the Caribbean Sea. The seas were wonderfully calm and we could fly our spinnaker even at night. The trip was a bit longer than expected, 8 days, as the winds came from all points of the compass. It was as we drew closer to land that the size of Colon dawned on us. Container ships raced past, towering over Zazen. The skyline boasted huge cranes, containers, oil rigs and ships. Colon reared its ugly head in greeting us and coughed out fumes. After a tricky entrance, Roy, who was catching on fast, steered, we dropped the hook and settled down. I could not help thinking about the birthday that was around the corner. Colon – what a place to spend it! On no account were we allowed to step outside the yacht club walls – it was too dangerous. So everywhere we went it had to be in a taxi and that grew very annoying. However, every cloud has a silver lining and our Flemish friends from a Beneteau called Mercator were in Colon. With Luna (8 going on 15) to play with, Colon did not seem too bad. When Thomas, the skipper of Mercator, heard about our bleak birthday he suggested we go to a hotel! My parents thought this was a great idea – any excuse to get rid of us and–soon we found ourselves pulling away in a taxi to Isla Grande. Four days of bliss away from school, boats, washing up… it was the best birthday present I ever got. We returned to Colon and then had a party with some other kids who were about to transit the Canal. Mercator went through ahead of us and Dad went through with them to help as line handler. He returned full of exciting tales of what the Canal looked like and the incredible scale of it. Even these descriptions could not have prepared me for the true size and beauty of it.

It was 4 a.m. Dad had collected all of the people who would be line handlers, including Rudi, a local who was a taxi driver, customs clearer, line handler, and goodness knows what else! Then an adviser called Alex pulled up in atug. Alex’s job would be to show us through the locks, how to raft and get across the lake. We took up the anchor and left heading for the dazzling lights of the Canal. The plan was that we were to go through the locks as a nest of three. While heading for the first one, we were to raft up against the two other yachts – Joyeste and Smack. I am glad to say that Smack did not live up to its name! Things went surprisingly well and dawn was creeping into the sky as we entered the first lock. The sheer walls rose past Zazen’s mast and higher, but in a matter of minutes we had risen 9 meters and Zazen sat happily level with the gates. Now the big steel ship in front started the engine. I held my breath – the horror stories I had heard of yachts being tossed into walls and smashing their hulls… never came to pass. The ship seemed aware of our presence and politely moved forward before turning up its speed. As we started forward the adviser on Joyeste commented, “We are going to use you as a very expensive fender!” Still laughing we headed to the next lock.

At 7 a.m. I watched in awe as the huge lock gates swung open to Gatun Lake. The lake stretched out in front of us, green fertile islands sending wafts of forest smells on the breeze. The boats threw back each other’s lines and headed across the lake –Zazen in the lead. We were settling down, everyone sprawled about he decks relaxing, including our adviser who enjoyed our front nets a lot. Mum had started frying bacon and soon we were all tucking into a full English breakfast. This consisted of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, baked beans and buttered bread. Delicious! Half an hour later Alex turned to Dad and asked, “Want something to tell your grandchildren?” “All right,” Dad said, so Alex directed us to a shortcut.We passed between two green islands and Alex told us to slow down. He then whistled and monkeys came swinging through the trees. After crossing Gatun Lake we came to the Culebra Cut. It was a narrow passage that led to the Pedro Miguel Locks. It was there that we sighted the Andes and the Cayman crocodile slipping silently into the water. We were joined by the other two boats and rafted together while heading for the locks – an interesting experience – and we soon shot through the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks. At this point all of the Zazen family started waving at poles and all tall buildings. No, this stress and early start had not got to us – we were looking for the web cam after having instructed our grandparents to log on. We finally spotted the camera and jumped up and down waving like fury until we had to move on. It was the last lock.We sank steadily down and the huge metal doors swung open.

The Pacific waters swept up to greet us. Yes, Zazen’s hulls were now motoring smoothly in the Pacific. Excitement filled me, and then the Bridge of the Americas came into view. It came closer and closer, until we were underneath and at that point we all threw in coins for luck. So, our transit went smoothly and we made great time dropping the anchorin Balbao at 1 p.m. We hung around in Balbao, still absorbing our amazing transit. We were also awaiting Roy’s return. Before our Canal transit Roy had gone to Costa Rica to spend some time with his brothers. I felt that there was an air of nervousness among my family at the thought of leaving Balbao. It would be another week’s passage before reachingthe Galapagos and then the very long Pacific crossing to the Marquesas. I, for one, was not thrilled with the thought of ocean crossings but the waiting was almost unbearable. Roy returned and after 10 days in Balbao we set off for the Galapagos. The journey was quite pleasant and we had some fun crossing the equator. Apparently when you cross the equator you have to make a sacrifice to Neptune. Dad had already suggested Lorin and me! I made a cardboard sea dragon, Lorin sacrificed some soap (he never used it anyway!), Mum threw in a Werther’s original toffee, Dad a collection of jellybeans, and Roy sacrificed a storm match. This done we cheerfully looked forward to the Galapagos Islands.

The Galapagos were teeming with wildlife and breathtakingly beautiful. We were allowed to go to four anchorages, the first was Wreck Bay, San Cristobal. As we came inthe first thing I noticed was the smell – the smell of sea lions hung in the air and their barking filled the morning quiet, as these lazy creatures sunbathed on nearby fishing boats. We anchored with our trusted Spade anchor sinking in deep and Mum, Dad and Lorin went to clear customs. Later, we all wentashore stepping over sea lions and we checked out the town. The next morning I awoke early, courtesy of the sea lions, and after preparing our rucksacks we set off. Our mission wasto swim with the sea lions. We tied up the dinghy and walked to the town, we were still walking an hour later along a dusty track. Eventually we came upon a beach and, there, I was confronted by a very large iguana. It sat completely still, its long body stretched across the rock hoping it was camouflaged. I then realized that all the rocks had iguanas on them. A little unnerved by their watchful eyes we picked our way through the rocks and onto the beach. Easily 30 or more sea lions lay stretched out on the sand, but did not seem playful. The bull sea lion, recognized by his enormous size and loud bark, glared at us. We attempted to enter the water but an angry sea lion barked us away. Then the baby sea lion came to play – he swam around us and blew bubbles, he tumbled, turned, splashed and curiously stuck out his tongue. It was very funny and incredible to see how these clumsy land animals became so graceful in the water. After our fill of sea lions we returned to Zazen to discover a surprise visitor in the cockpit. Stretched out, dozing in the sun, lay a very big and very smelly sea lion. He was not too happy having to leave. Skipper tried to shoo him away but at this the sea lion reared up and bared his teeth. So Dad did the same and seeing as he was no match the sea lion grunted and slid off leaving us in fits of laughter.

Moving on we went to Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz. This was by far the most tourist-ridden but that could not be helped as all the tour boats were there. We got a cold welcome from the officials, as the regulations seem to change from island to island. He got very snappy and yet there was a whole anchorage of boats not bothering to check in. The locals seemed pretty cheery and we went to see two things: The first was the Darwin research center that was a bit of a letdown. Giant tortoises gave us the odd glance, then disappeared into bushes and others just slept. But that is tobe expected – those lazy creatures were hardly going to be thrilling to watch and at least we can say we have seen giant tortoises. Also the visitor center was still being built so don’t be put off – I am sure it will be pleasant when finished. The second excursion was to see lava tubes, which was a lot more interesting – in fact it was incredible. An old man hurried out of his house and gave us a quick speech in Spanish. He then gave us torches (flash lights), took us through his garden and showed us the entrance. Inside the lava tubes were 3 m tall and 2 km long. Intricate carvings made by the lava flows covered the walls and at times we had to pick our way through rocks where the ceiling had caved in. At one point we all turned off the torches and experienced pitch-blackness. It was very dark with no streetlights or moonto shine in. After walking through the lava tubes, the highest in the world, we met our taxi driver who brought us back to the man’s house. The man seemed very happy and gaveus a bunch of red bananas and showed us on our way.

The final stop was Puerto Vilammil, Isabella and this was my favorite island and it was also the biggest and the least populated. It was there that we saw white-tipped sharks, penguins, blue-footed boobies, sea lions and the biggest sea turtles I have ever seen, tortoises, flamingos and iguanas. We also rode up a volcano called Sierra Negra on horses! The horses seemed a bit underfed but were keen to ride through the mist and up to the top. Though due to lack of horses I had to share one with Mum. When we reached the top, the mist cleared and revealed the 10-kmwide crater. It is the second biggest in the world and amazingly beautiful. It was also a very fertile volcano and the best 70$ we ever spent. On the way down, everyone got enough horses to be able to ride on their own. We saw much in Isabella and it was sad to leave – but we had to. After hoisting the sails and setting the correct course, the Galapagos were a mere speck on the horizon.

The Pacific stretch is 3055 miles from the Galapagos to the Marquesas. An average passage time is about 30 days. The trade winds should have aided us, a speedy catamaran, for a fast crossing or not! The trade winds were a complete myth – probably invented to keep the sanity of the crew in the vague hope that the promised trade winds would get them moving. To cruising kids and adults alike I can hardly expect you to be thrilled by the – thought of a long ocean passage and I do not blame you. Day after day of only sea, sky and squalls dragged by. At one point I flipped my lid begging for us to stop and fly the rest of the way, which of course was impossible. Being cooped up with the same people for so long gave everyone a short fuse, except Roy. He seemed his usual calm self – happily cooking – his plantain breakfasts and doing his share of night watches. In fact it could be possible that Roy was enjoying himself! You may think that I was making a mountain out of a molehill and that it can’t have been that bad but here is a normal day for me: Wake up. Stumble into clothes and nearly pass out due to lack of oxygen in cabin as all hatches must be closed in the bows in case we take a wave. Go outside. Look at waves and feel ill. Go back down and look at the chart. Feel depressed at the huge amount of miles left to go. Do morning watch. Say good night to a tired Roy who would not emergeagain until after midday. Finish watch. Have breakfast and do school. Adults come on deck while others sleep. Mum who has less night watch, works hard in the galley greeting early and late risers with food. Finish schoolwork and have lunch. Doze. Eat dinner. Do evening watch. Sleep. This routine continued for 10 days until we reached halfway.

During the crossing we kept in contact with other boats. Together we came up with the idea of having a halfway party over the SSB. This meant we all had to say a poem, limerick or story over the radio so we all participated, and for a very special treat we had some crisps and a can of coke. Then we faced another nine days of long stretches of ocean until we saw it – yes, sweet beautiful, wonderful land! The fantastic smell of land and trees filled our noses and I thought I would cry. Unlike our arrival in St. Lucia, the land had no lights, electricity was scarce but with the help of some friends who had arrived a few hours earlier they guided us into the anchorage of Hiva Oa, where we sat exhausted and shell shocked after an overall passage time of 19 1/2 days. We had done it! —–

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Cruising England to Australia: The Caribbean to Panama [Part 3]

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Text:

MULTIHULLS Magazine • July/August 2003

I t was Christmas Eve, the palms of Rodney Bay, St. Lucia swayed gently in the morning breeze. It felt nothing like Christmas. There was no Christmas tree… well, that is if you don’t count the small seven-inch fiber-optic one – it had no snow, no decorations. Apart from some local St. Lucians who went crazy decorating their front yards with a million lights… and the Christmas lunch on the beach. I was totally confused. There were six boats in the harbor with kids aboard. They were referred to as the “kid boats.” All the kids’ mums got together and planned a Christmas scheme. Christmas Eve was to be on the beach, at sunset, to sing carols. Christmas morning was to be spent with family only – no VHF, and the afternoon BBQ on the beach with games for kids. Christmas Eve drew to a close and everyone gathered on the beach and sang. Followed by two locals with steel drums who cameand played “Jingle Bells” on their drums for us. Finally, six sandy and sore-throated, but very cheerful families returned to their boats and waited for Christmas to come. Christmas was weird – but fun. The BBQ was delicious and with the combined burned and sandy taste… it was very crunchy! Spending time with all the kids was an added bonus to a fantastic day. After everyone had eaten and cooled off in the Caribbean waters, we decided that enough sand and salt water had been absorbed. So, the Christmas party dispersed to their boats after a large number of “Merry Christmases” and ”sleep wells” had been shouted. My family still followed the good-old English tradition of Christmas pudding and custard – given to us by our grandparents in Las Palmas. It was a few hours later when I fell into a happy and contented sleep.

All the ‘kid boats’ drifted off in different directions for New Year. We stayed with two monohulls called Canina and Amati for New Year and had an excellent time. Then Canina, a Van De Stadt 29, left and it was the last time we ever saw them on this trip. I had a sad feeling as I watched their white mainsail set and they disappeared around the corner – ensign bobbing in the wind. There was no time to feel empty because the next day our Italian friends Fabio and Giovanna came to stay. We decided to take them to Martinique, but as we sailed out of Marigot Bay, we took a look at the weather and pulled back into Rodney Bay. Our friends stayed for a week and we got a chance to sample some excellent home-made Italian food. But when they left, we really were on our own.

Without further ado we set off for the Caribbean cruising life and this is where we went: St. Lucia – where we saw our first cinema movie in six months: Harry Potter II, Chamber of Secrets. Martinique– where we visited St. Pierre and the cell of the prisoner who was the only survivor of the volcanic eruption of 1902. We also looked at some local sailing boats. Isles de Saintes – a beautiful place with great snorkeling. Deshaies, Guadeloupe – which was home to a lovely restaurant decked out like something from Peter Pan, where I was served a kabob on a sword. Jolly Harbour, Antigua – was where our grandparents came to visit for two weeks. It was wonderful to see them again and we had loads of fun. Mum also celebrated her birthday. She still thinks she’s 21 – ha! Our next stop was Nevis, and with that place comes a story… We were trying to anchor, and after three fruitless attempts we noticed some people signalling on the shore from their restaurant, The Galley Pot, for us to pick up a mooring buoy. This seemed to be the best option, so we did. Later, we went ashore expecting to pay a high mooring fee. We planned to see some of the island and come back for an early dinner. We returned to the boat seven hours later and discovered there was no fee. After having dinner and the exciting experience of meeting what seemed like the entire community of Nevis, my brother and I watched TV with two other kids in a local house. After visiting Nevis, we went to Basse Terre, St. Kitts, where we saw the Brimstone Fort and Picadilly Circus… which looks nothing like the one in London! Time seemed to be ticking past so quickly and we soon found ourselves in St. Maarten. When we arrived there, we had to anchor outside the lagoon and wait for the bridge to open. We dropped the anchor and Dad went ashore to clear customs. A few minutes later, the anchor dragged in a strong gust. Mum, who was on deck reading, was alerted to this when she looked up and saw the bow of a SunSail boat a hair’s breadth away. Instantly, Mum turned on the engine, yelled for Lorin and me, and started steering clear of the boat. We had to make sure that the anchor rode did not get caught in the engine prop. This was difficult while trying to avoid boats. Then a man from another yacht, seeing our dilemma, racedover in his dinghy to help. The next thing we knew, the very nice guy had pulled up our anchor and offered us a free mooring for a short time. We had a very shocked-looking skipper when he came back in the dinghy to where Zazen used to be. After we had re-anchored, a man came up in a dinghy and said, “Nice Shuttleworth.” His name was Mel, and he had owned a 63-foot Shuttleworth himself. After hearing that we had dragged and knowing there were strong winds forecast, he offered us his hurricane mooring in the lagoon.

After coming back to Zazen across the lagoon, absolutely drenched for the twentieth time, we decided it was time to get rid of our floppy 25-year-old, third-hand Avon and get a new dinghy! It was in an awful state and no matter where we went in it we suffered from S.B.S (Soggy Bottom Syndrome). We were relieved to sell the thing and replace it with a new hard-bottomed boat. We were amazed at what we had done. While in the lagoon we met up with a Beneteau First 38 named Onskan. We had lots of fun with them and I had a great time playing with the girls on board. We had a bunch of sleepovers. I really enjoyed the Caribbean. It did have its downside, but it was nearly time to say good-bye. First there were a few more things to do. We went to Trellis Bayand the British Virgin Islandsand, much to our excitement, Lorin and I took a PADIscuba course. It was fantastic. Our instructor named Greg from Sail Caribbean was brilliant. We got to dive down to an airplane wreck, go into underwater caverns, and diveto a shipwreck called “The Wreck of the Rhone.” To top it all we are now PADI certified divers. Now there was only one thing left to do, meet our new crew member.

Yes, it was time to welcome a new person aboard Zazen:Roy. He is 23 years old, so it is like having an older kid to hang out with. He will be with us as far as the Marquesas (as long as he does not get too sick of us!). What has he let himself in for? Anyway, ‘good-bye’ to the Caribbean and off to Colon, Panama. The Caribbean was an interesting experience. It was a mixture of extremes. There were some extremely poor people and some very unkind people. Then, in contrast, you had some wealthy people, and some very hospitable people. The weather was great, though the tropical rains can last for some time. Some people had their boats boarded and were held at knife point. Then again… there were people who were very helpful and would never dream of boarding your boat. Some places were ugly, but most of them beautiful. Overall we had more of the nice experiences than the bad ones and our time in the Caribbean will never be forgotten.

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