Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Dear Grandma,
You know all those pictures you see with the clear, clear water that is a thousand shades of turquoise and blue? They are really real! And we are there! 


We re anchored in Fakarava atoll in the Tuamotus, French Polynesia (16deg  03.526 South  145deg 37.299 West if you want to find it on a map easily) and the water is just so beautiful! When we look out from the boat or row into shore and look back out over the lagoon we have to pinch ourselves to make sure we aren’t dreaming. Hmmm…maybe that’s what the bruises are from…

Part of the reason for the clear water here is that there isn’t much in the way of soil for runoff to cloud the water. The land is basically dead coral and what little organic matter has accumulated on top of that. Soil is definitely a precious commodity here. We have friends who saw a bag of topsoil in a store on an atoll nearby and it was $117! For one normal size bag! Needless to say, our budget isn’t stretching to buying fresh vegetables here. So the locals have some ingenious ways of gardening. From growing tomatoes in an old broken canoe…

…to rain gutters lined up on stands and fenced against animals. 

We seem to have acquired some pets here. I threw a lime peel overboard and Darren saw something dart out from under the boat quick as lightening to check it out. It was about 2’ long, grey and thin and he wondered if it was a baby shark. We tried dunking a lure a few times to lure it back out for a better look but he was onto our games and stayed under the boat.  I was about to go for a swim and do some scraping on the hull so I looked around carefully before slowly climbing down the ladder, dipping my toes and pulling them out quickly a couple of times. Not that it was really an issue as the sharks here are mostly nurse, lemon, blacktip and greys, who couldn’t care less about us. (Darren even saw a guy standing in the water catching sharks with his bare hands the day before!) Nothing took interest so I lowered myself all the way in and peeked under the boat. There were 3 long and 2 small grey thin fish ranging from 1-3 feet long with pointed mouths clinging to our keel. 

Off to scrape the hull!

Later we described them to our friends on Peregrine and Palarran and found out that we are hosting remoras. They are a bit different from the remoras that were on our manta ray friend during the crossing from Costa Rica. Boy, are we kicking ourselves for not stocking up on more wildlife id books! It would be fun to be able to id all of the neat creatures we are seeing.

The view from the front door of one of the local churches shows more of that gorgeous water…

…and around back they have an outdoor chapel, also with shell chandeliers!

Yesterday morning before we called you, we were getting ready to go ashore when Darren spotted a fisherman trying to paddle his big speedboat into shore with what looked like a 2x6 pried from the seat of the boat! Apparently his motor had died and he was trying to get home. Darren jumped in our dinghy, rowed over to him and gave him a tow. It’s kind of funny seeing a little rowboat towing a big speedboat, but it’s not the first time we’ve had it happen!  Darren came back to get me and we went to the Boulangerie (bakery) to get our baguettes for the day. When we came back to the dinghy to go home we found a thank you gift waiting for us. Yum!

Well, we are off to the south pass of the atoll to go snorkeling and see the big full moon Marbled Grouper mating that happens there once a year.  We'll take some more pictures for you and hopefully some video too. We will write/call again when we get to Tahiti as that is the next place we expect to see internet -  probably about 1 ½  – 2 ½ weeks from now.

We love you and wish you could be here with us.

Love and hugs,
Jodi and Darren

Monday, June 15, 2015

Gratitouille finally makes it to the South Pacific!!

We made it to Hiva Oa, the Marquises, French Polynesia late May the 6th!! You've been asking about the crossing and we've been waiting to get internet and enough sun to have electricity for the computer! Here are some of the highlights (and some not so high as well).

Highs – Whales, dolphins, flying fish through the center hatch into the salon (only funny because Darren’s foulie jacket saved me from being pelted in the face by the fish!), rainbows, rain to drink and shower with, sun coronas, our dorado buddies (even though they refused every hook we offered them, they were good company), rainbow squid, the huge manta ray that drafted us for hours (though rather startling when he rammed us – there arose such a clatter, you’d think Santa and all the reindeer had rear ended us!), Sea Angel going out of their way to buzz by us – the first humans we had seen besides each other in 38 days! Thank you, what a treat!

A true Sea Angel!
Lows – Lack of wind, a morale killer and energy sapper when combined with excessive cross seas and short period chop!

Things we didn’t expect  - Washing machine seas with violent bone jarring wave slaps that made the boat sound like it was falling apart.
So much cloud cover – wished we had another way to make power besides solar (especially with one of our flexible panels dying). So much rain in the doldrums – after 52 days at sea we arrived with only 60 gallons less than we started with even though we showered nearly every day and in the final week used water with the abandon of drunken sailors. Such a wide band of doldrums – in the weeks leading up to our crossing it had been miniscule. After we got out it blossomed and seemed to follow us.

Things we expected but didn’t find – Big open ocean rollers without steep cross chop.

Crossing the equator – We had grand plans for this but it came at 02:22am Gratitouille time in the wee hours of Sun. April 5th and we were both tired. The on watch person let the off watch person sleep too close to the big event and the off watch was still out of it enough that they thought they were videoing and so didn’t worry about the quality of the still shots, so we just have this blurry shot of the gps. No names named or fingers pointed, stuff happens when you’re tired. You’ll just have to trust us. We’re shellbacks!

We fed a shot of our hoarded St Martin Vanilla Banana Rum to Poseidon, split one between the two of us and changed shifts.  Apparently he doesn’t appreciate that delicacy as much as we do as he continued with the light winds and crazy cross seas. Instead of the grand plans for a feast and treats that day, we celebrated the triple fete of crossing the equator, Easter and having been out for 3 weeks by resting and catching up on our sleep as the wind came up enough to get the windvane working again! Though Darren did get his Easter Bunny milk!

Making landfall – After 52 and a half days of not motoring, we were sweating it as the wind became very light mid morning and we weren’t sure if we would make it in before dark. We started the motor just outside the breakwall and had just enough light to set the hook before the sun disappeared behind Mount Tevaitiu. Safe in Tahuku Bay on Hiva Oa Island in the Marquises, French Polynesia!!

Land ho! East tip of Hiva Oa.
Advice for future jumpers – Take several days’ worth of your queasy tummy favorites even if you don’t normally get seasick.  Remember that you’ll want ginger ale rather than Pepsi/Coke so you can sleep on your off watches.

Even if you normally make all of your food from scratch, try to find a few things that you can just dump out of a can and heat up - or just eat straight out of the can when even trying to corral a pot on the jerking stove seems too much trouble!

Last fresh green beans salad
Don’t save all your treats for tough days and take more than you would normally eat in the length of twice as long as you think your crossing will take. On the days when nothing seems to be going your way a couple of graham crackers and a marshmallow or packet of Cocanas can make your day. Use lots of treats to make a celebration of any big or little thing to keep spirits up. In our 52 days we celebrated 5 birthdays of loved ones back home, the first day of spring for the northern hemisphere, Easter, April Fool’s, May Day, Cinco de Mayo, one week out, 1, 2 and 3,000 miles, crossing the equator, seeing another boat, the last fresh green beans, not having a new low noon to noon distance…towards the end we celebrated every 10 degrees of progress! Treats that reminded us of good friends were especially cherished, be they the cherry ginger jam Jodi made with our friend Jonathan before we left Hood River or the quinoa and Toblerone from our new friends on Red Thread and Meridian. Yummy and reminders that we aren’t alone on the planet!

Non -food treats also contributed to our sanity levels. Take audio files and a player for light wind nights when you have to hand steer or are too tired to read a book and can’t stand another minute with your own thoughts. Some of our favorites include light non-fiction, French lessons (thank you Paula and Olivier!), and the talks by Tara Brach that our friend Bethany of Lilo shared with us. When we had enough power to run the big computer, ‘good luck’ and ‘news of their lives’ letters that friends had sent and we had downloaded in Costa Rica just before we jumped were especially bright spots for us!

A handful of the books that we devoured

So what did we do all day? The first few days saw us settling in, a process that took longer than it usually does for us. How much of this was the weather and how much had to do with our state of mind as we pondered options of destinations and plans, who knows? I’m sure the sadness at missing birthdays and graduations, babies being born and all of the celebrations of our friends and families that we were missing contributed to our queasy stomachs.

Eventually, we got into the groove and were able to enjoy the passing clouds, sea life and on calm days, the hour or two of each others’ company. Some days passed in a blur, when conditions had us hand steering and stumbling exhausted to bed at the end of each shift to try and sleep among the whacks, bangs and shudders of the chop tossed boat.  Or hiding below from salty splashes that coated the entire boat with a layer of salt that ranged from the ‘misting of sea salt’ on a good bag of peanuts to full on crystal gardens.

Self entertainment
Other days were a wonderful flow of watching the ocean and sky with their respective beautiful creatures, checking the guide to determine which kind of dolphin or whale we had just seen, soaking it all in and treasuring being on Gratitouille time. We also enjoyed experimenting with new pressure cooker recipes and bread baking! When we were awake together we had great talks about our lives, lessons learned and possible plans, along with filling the other in on what they had missed in their off watch.

In the doldrums when we had lots of rain, we washed the cockpit, ourselves and even some laundry in between refilling tanks and shower jugs.

A calm moment
As Thor Heyerdahl says in Kontiki, “…the horizon glided along with us unnoticed as we moved and our own floating world remained always the same – a circle flung up to the vault of the sky with the raft itself as center, while the same stars rolled on over us night after night …The world was simple – stars in the darkness. Whether it was 1947 BC or AD suddenly became of no significance. We lived, and that we felt with alert intensity. We realized that life had been full for men before the technical age also – in fact, fuller and richer in many ways than the life of modern man. Time and evolution were the same today as they had always been and would always be. We were swallowed up in the absolute common measure of history – endless unbroken darkness under a swarm of stars.”

And from one of Jodi’s early morning shifts, “What had been a big dark rain cloud to the west of us has finished raining and is now a laughing pink pig, full of joy, flying on his white feathered wings. As I look closer at his wings, they transform before my eyes like an Escher drawing and what I thought was the back of the pig is the head of a turtle swimming SW to meet us. I am momentarily distracted and glance back at the head of the turtle to find it is actually a dolphin (big melon type) and when my gaze returns to the head of the turtle/dolphin, I discover that it has become a clown with a Pinocchio type nose extension that his red ball nose is perched on. Or is it Dumbo with a clown nose? I’ll never know. By the time I finished adjusting the main sheet they were all gone, replaced (or merely obscured?) by a thick storm cloud.”

Another amazing sunrise with rain ahead!

Some of what we learned – See tips for future jumpers.  Also, from the Great Cornbread Debacle/Flying Wallenda Caper - 'If the pitch and roll is so crazy that I’m afraid to wear the safety strap for fear of being burnt by the hot oven gimballing into my legs, perhaps it is too crazy to cook without the strap!' Actually, that was a twofer as it also came with – 'Better to save the watery batter projects for calmer conditions.' In those sort of conditions, even a gimbaled counter probably wouldn’t have kept the batter from jumping over the sides of the pan!
Which led to us eating pineapple out of a can for Mom R’s birthday instead of the pineapple upside down cake that I had planned to celebrate with!

Darren claims the sweat, bruises and tears were worth it!
Another birthday celebration later that same week saw us enjoying cinnamon rolls for J’s birthday since we didn’t have cinnamon ice cream. From Jodi’s journal that day, ‘ the cinnamon rolls were going to be a treat for the next couple of days but it was too much temptation to have the rolls sitting there hot and crispy and fluffy in front of us and before we knew it the pan went from holding 8 giant puffy cinnamon rolls to only having two. Not sure where they all disappeared to so fast. My bloated stomach seems to be mumbling something about clues that I can’t quite make out.’
We just had popcorn for supper that night.

Broken stuff - Jodi’s tea mug that has survived without a scratch since she bought it in Pike’s Place Market at 16 and has moved around the country with her got chipped in the first few days. As time went on it seemed to have the worst luck of all of us as it dove off the counter again and again. Darren super glued the handle back together 3 times and then we had nearly given up on it when it was rescued by Del Viento showing up at Hiva Oa! Mike lent us some Gorilla glue and saved it from a watery grave. Three weeks later it’s still going strong, thanks Mike!

The repair on an old screw hole over Darren’s bunk opened up while we were in the rainy doldrums and a piece of clear packing tape blocked it so he could sleep till we could get somewhere drier!
A tiny leak around the mast and some line chafe rounded out our small list of ‘issues’.  We are definitely grateful for such inconsequential ‘problems’.

Of course there is more, but for now, we need to get back to work getting ready for our next crossing – to the Tuamotus! Hopefully it will be calm and sunny (for electricity) enough that we can work on a post to let you know what we’ve been up to for the past month!

Jodi and Darren