“The Picton TIME Project”

For this blogpost Diana asked for some words about “the reality of time,” which seems rather an ambitious metaphysical topic for a blog about two people goofing off on their sailboat in beautiful places. But here goes. 

Time? What time? As sailors “living the dream” obviously, we don’t ever have a “schedule.” We do whatever we like, whenever we like, for as long as we like. With a few caveats.

First there are a few not insignificant constraints imposed by Nature — forces in the natural world beyond our control (so all forces of nature), stuff like sea state, wind, cyclones, storms, calms, ocean currents, physical laws governing displacement hull speed, gravity (this is a big one), the sun (and the massively destructive force of UV), the evil spirit that inhabits machinery, salt (never to be underestimated), electrolysis, whatever it is exactly that makes rust, and also biological forces like the stuff that grows on Allora’s bottom no matter how much expensive, toxic paint we apply, and Covid 19.

Then there are a few, also not insignificant constraints imposed by Governments — most importantly border formalities, and arbitrary human designations of authority abstractly represented as nationalities.  

Then there is the stuff absolutely everyone contends with, sailor or no, like the second law of thermodynamics and Space and Time, or spacetime, or whatever this stuff we all swim about in is properly called. 

We calculated that we were two months worth of Time behind “schedule” for most of 2021 and well into 2022 when all of the above mentioned irresistible forces collided with the expiration of our New Zealand visitor’s visas (extended at least four times because of Covid) on June 30, 2022. (And also, Winter, that ominous and unpleasant climate event of the mid and high latitudes which seems to come up much more frequently than a reasonable, fun-loving sailor might like). 

We had a mighty to-do list, and spent most of the months of May and June feeling fairly overwhelmed as we tried to play catch up.

As to the metaphysical question of Time, perhaps it is philosophically or scientifically possible to question its objective existence (not that those are arguments I could ever hope to follow), but when all these forces converge, time can definitely feel in short supply, cramped, and very real indeed. We tried to remind ourselves, during rare moments of pause, that time, whatever it is, doesn’t really contract or expand. There’s always just today and what’s happening right now. Right? All of this busy-ness is just so we can sit around and procrastinate later, and find ourselves once again, about two months of time behind. ~MS

Hauling Allora out of the water for the first time since Whangarei (Northern North Island) in 2019. Her ‘bottom’ looked pretty darn good after all that movement in Fiordland’s cold waters. After just 2 months in the tropics, you would have an aquatic biome! One of the perks of being in these latitudes!
Time to hit an actual supermarket!!! Love the translations: grab some ‘te Reo Māori’ with groceries!
Whenever we go to the store together, Marcus will sneak an item into the cart which might seem out of keeping with my typical purchasing pattern. It works best (in his mwahaha scheme) when I don’t see it till checkout and then have to say that I decided against it! This was an especially good one!
Here, I asked Marcus to look like he was inspecting the prop, hence his non-actor expression! The metallic parts of your boat need to be insulated with zinc anodes to prevent their corrosion, so all the silver bits are the zincs and they will need to be replaced after we clean and paint the prop.
A few Outbound owners had some issues with the original Sikaflex batch of caulking around the cabin windows. Ours weren’t as bad as some of our sister boats, but after 7 years, they are needing our attention. We’ll be doing a huge overhaul of their installation in Australia, but meanwhile, I got a lesson from the yard owner on the proper way to execute a solid ‘stop gap’ measure.
Being up on stands with nothing but concrete below, I had to be extra mindful not to ROLL off!
Would be waaaay handier to be a sprite when it comes to boat work. Our evolution hasn’t been to work on boat engines with ease.
Definitely time to buy this replacement set. Yeah, corrosion is REAL!
The high point of the flurry and frenzy of boat work was our cherished time in Blenheim, (just a half hour away), with these two beautiful humans, our eldest, Haley and her partner, Liam.
A bit of New Hampshire or northern Michigan’s seasonal palette!
While we were in Fiordland, my mom moved from Southern to Northern California. Siblings rocked that into reality while I just cheered on with words. It can be really hard to be so far away when big life events happen, as they do.
Shiny new prop, painted with PropSpeed and adorned with new zincs, ready to spin (when we have no wind) its way to Fiji soon!
The Tirohanga hiking track, quite nearby our Airbnb in Picton. Sweet day.
Oops, selfie 101, make room for everybody?!
Hiking joys!

Enough fun, back to work for Allora’s crew … Where’s Waldo?
Fiordland brought us immeasurable joy, but also massive condensation issues. We took apart the entire boat to do a vinegar wash down to offset the inevitable mold. Also, time to ditch some stuff on the boat which wasn’t getting enough use to justify the space it occupied.
Liam and Haley’s Mom’s Day Lilies added the only bit of sweetness on a boat filled with cleaning products and clutter.
We rented a cargo van from the hardware store (unusual, but the only way I could find one) and cruised down to Christchurch from Picton (5 hours south) for a quick set of days to see friends and clear out our small storage space.
We finally met Sasha, the luckiest kiddo, to have lovely Saree as his mama. She fed us well every dreamy Farmer’s Market Saturday in Lyttelton! Truly special connection.
Another set of wonderfuls: Virginia and Brian opened their Lyttelton home to us for our stay and Herbie (on the left) came to dinner, too! We met Herbie and Maria (not pictured, she was in Germany) also at the Farmer’s market – she’s an artist and seamstress extraordinaire and kept me warmly clothed for each of the two winter’s we were in Aotearoa. Later, we did intuitive painting classes with Maria and met Virginia! Friends introducing friends … in this way, we’re reminded that the world is small and we all seek connection.
No use waiting for a sunny day to ‘splash’ Allora back in the water!
Can hardly see them, but sea lions waved flappily as if to say bye as we left the inner breakwater of Waikawa Marina.
We moved just around the corner, from Waikawa Marina to the Picton Marina and took an in water berth for the last projects.
With NZ’s borders open to Aussies, Liam’s folks, Gerard and Jenni, came for the first visit since Covid! We had met them in Dec. of 2019 before all the whole thing had begun.
It was a sunny, yet quite brisk day on the water. Sadly, no wind, but we took them on a 3 hour tour of Queen Charlotte Sound.
Happy Mama! These guys brought a beautiful picnic lunch for us to enjoy in ‘Bay of Many Coves.’
Spinning yarns, Captain?!
It just doesn’t look as chilly as it was?! This Ferry runs between Picton and Wellington, across the Cook Strait.
Family.
Had a total BLAST with Haley as we went all Jackson Pollock and giggled our way through an afternoon of flying paint! HOW did we never do this for a kid’s party?!
You know the boat jobs must be nearing completion when hurling paint becomes a priority! Thank you, Haley, for manifesting this vision! I will always remember these antics and our time in Blenheim.
Jobs done, we knew this was going to be tough. Letting water and distance come between us brought tears. There was no extra wiggle time for Allora to make her way up to the North Island before our visas were set to expire. Ahh, bureaucracy 🙁

 

Caswell/Tai Te Timu Sound – the 45th parallel – Fiordland

Pretty little welcome rainbow as we get set to enter Caswell Sound.
There are a number of rocks studding the entrance to this fiord and caution was definitely on our minds. Often we can see that there’d be gorgeous coves to explore, but not in Allora!
How do you REALLY feel about that entrance, Marcus?!
Shirley Falls, dropping 365 meters from Lake Shirley on Caswell’s southern side. There is supposedly evidence of an old marble works that ran between 1882 and 1887 here, but I suspect it’s quite overgrown!
Ooh, let’s go look at THAT one?!!
And then this sweet, unnamed waterfall, one of a zillion that show up after each deluge. Thank you sun, for lighting her up!
We may have chosen to skip Caswell were it not for the Stillwater River at the head. It’s a gorgeous fiord though, with steep shores and rugged peaks and we spent 3 lovely nights here.
This boat, Ponowhai 3, came by to offer us some fresh fish, and I missed the shot where they were holding up the enormous Grouper (they say Groper here in NZ, same fish), but they passed over a downright SLAB which ended up being 4 meals for us two. Gratitude to the boat folks AND the grand fish.

Big Fish

a big fish lived here
under this rock
in this sound
70 meters of water
down down down
finning the murky fathoms
there must be something it is like to be
a big fish
broad tail to the tide
jaw slowly moving, gills filtering
oxygen and salt from darkness
listening to the strange whirr of a prop churning distantly overhead
scent in the current
vibrations of much younger, much smaller, more foolish fish
everyone makes mistakes
joy to the world!
big fish on!
the breathless mystery of something deep
that unremitting pull of an invisible line
uncompromising bite and stick and metal barb
is there hoping it might break free
what is it like
to be another’s flesh and dinner?
exhausted thrashing on the surface
searing bright light and fierce dryness
the gaseous, ethereal world
where white birds like cherubs flitter and follow
where albatross glide like shadows of another understanding
what is it like, big fish?
now that two men hold you in firm hands
knife wielding hands
careless hands
is this the dance?
waves surge against the rocks
seaweed starfish worms green saltwater alive
o’ fish shaped wave
these men call you big fish
men who came to find things to take
big trees all in a row
is there something it is like
to be a man holding a gray dead fish
for a picture
flesh stripped from her ancient bones ~MS

 
‘Stay put,’ we always say as we zip off to check out the Stillwater River on this grey and soggy day.
Our big adventure: get Namo upstream just far enough to pick up the scenic track along the Stillwater River which leads to Lake Marchant. We had to be tide conscious though, as there were 9′ tides here!
This is the two bunk hut run by the Department of Conservation (DOC), mainly used by hunters, but we were there just past the season, so were able to burn a bit of our paper trash in the fireplace before setting off toward the lake. Caswell sits on the 45th parallel and Wyatt’s NZ friends/roommates, Tanya and Ben had just been there in February raising funds and advocating for women suffering from domestic abuse. They scrambled, ran and traipsed the entire 45th as it crosses the South Island in NZ, from where they were dropped via helicopter at the ocean entrance to the sound to Oamaru on the east coast. We had heard from Wyatt about their effort and knew that they had planned to be exclusively off trail, but ended up coming down off the staggeringly high ridge to seek shelter from a massive storm for 3 days in this hut. The river, just below in this pic, was so high – they were worried that it would flood and the cabin might be washed away. Indeed, we were there just following a big rain, and the flow was anything BUT a still river! It would have been terrifying to be in their situation, truly. You can read about it here: https://runliketanya.com/athlete/challenges/the-45th-parallel-traverse/ I think Ben might be putting together a documentary on their arduous mission? We found their entry in the logbook which all DOC huts have and made our own, too. ~DS
The most humble DOC hut we’d ever seen.

Such a happy place.
Gorgeous hiking!

Perchance some fish thoughts, hmmm?

Nearing the lake, we had to slog through some boggy ground.

Plenty of water to be had and squeezed from our clothes!
Marcus had to be super sneaky and crawl around so as not to be seen by the fish at the glassy lake edge.
Stealthily casting to fussy fish.
Fish on! I had to run from this vantage point all the way slopping through the marsh to get there for a pic!

Several nice fish in the shallow water’s edge, but they were super spooky.

 

Brown Trout from a brown lake – not easy to spot! This one took a small nymph.
Back at it! Tying on a fly in sandfly country means there are sacrifices which must be made and sometimes you just have to hope it’s a male that lands on your face and finger (the females are the biters).
Neat place to be just hanging out. I heard the ‘pffft’ of a startled deer as I was taking some pics in the grasses, but never saw it.
Thistles throw a gorgeous flower to seed.

Going to have to do some research to learn about this fungi?!

Oh, I see your whimsy, Nature!
And your complexity, too.
Sweet spot, captivating to us both.
Another exquisite purple.

Took our face protection down for a pic and see, I’m just about to get bit. Their sensors are spectacular!

Through the droplet glass.
Moody and broody and time to go back!

Allora just waiting for us!
We saw no real wind here but got plenty WET. Waterfalls appeared all around our boat!
Had to bail Namo out and secure her up on the davits with the drain plug open!

Leaving Caswell in sloppy conditions, but arguably easier than Ben and Tanya’s method!

 

 

 

Minerva North, Haven in the Pacific

©s/v Taurus

Of all the places Allora has taken us, North Minerva Reef, is a stand out. The reef literally emerges only 90cm at low tide, and when walking on what feels like the Pacific’s very precipice, we had the surreal sensation that we’d been transported to another world. I urge you to read this article from New Zealand Geographic, which lays out the inherent hazards and contentious history of this fascinating ‘land:’

empire-of-the-sea

We, like many others, made a stop at Minerva North, to break up the often difficult  passage between Tonga and New Zealand. Most boats poise themselves to try to stop, but the weather conditions have to be right to enter the pass and take the time in ‘pause’ mode as opposed to continuing onward, so we felt lucky to manage 3 days in the fold of the protected lagoon. We weren’t alone, though! The 30 boats at anchor around us were dubbed, ‘The Minerva Yacht Club!’

Wyatt and I freedove the pass and found a wonderland of color and life.
Marcus sought some Giant Trevally in the surf, but the surf almost sought him!
Remnants of a less positive interaction with the reef.

The Kingdom of Tonga

Abstract taken at the wreck in Fonoifua.
The Te’ovala is worn by women and men and always by anyone who works a government job. This is the Customs and Immigration gal.

Woven belted mats, ta’ovala
worn over black missionary garb
maze of lifted islands pushed up by the Tongan trench
friendly islands, plotting Cook’s demise
faint volcano in the distance, a perfect cone
further south, the world’s newest island
space alien squid hovering by the swim step

The Bigfin Reef Squid are a short-lived species, with a maximum recorded lifespan of 315 days.

weekly troughs of rain and wind and gray
hard scrabble bottoms for the anchor
numbers for the anchorages keep sailors from learning the hard to pronounce names
everything at the Neiafu market is four dollars

In the Neiafu market/Vava’u. She dropped her corn cobb repeatedly and just kept munching on it – no issues about too little dirt in her diet.

fish and chips on a floating barge
God is Alive bar, blasting music across the still water
Ag festival for the King

©HRS
Ag festival finery

dead zebra sharks on display,
a temporary binge in the off limits fishing zones
people go crazy to show what they have

Mushroom Leather Coral.

soft coral, rocks and canyons, nudibranchs and filefish

Haley and Liam caught in a romantic snorkeling moment.

lobster, lobster, grab one if you dare

Longnose Filefish can alter their color and pattern to match their surroundings and deter predators.

outer islands, Ha’apai, people live simple lives

Fine mats are the most treasured possessions in Tongan households.

weaving, fishing, making babies

it’s a long boat ride to the nearest grocery store
power from a solar project paid for by Japan
kids play on the beach

This was fun till the tide came up to their faces!

leap from the trees into the sand
make toys of VHS tapes, decorating wood fences with shiny ribbon

sailing the flat water behind the lagoon
hove-to for humpbacks
whales sing as we dive

There goes Wyatt’s air!

high pitched songs, deep rumble in your chest
rolly anchorages, whale nursery anchorages, long beach anchorages

©WLS
Kelefesia as seen from Wyatt’s drone view = as sublime from the air as it was to be there!

coconut heart pancakes!

©MPS
Older, sprouting coconuts produce this rich flavored ‘heart.’ Not easy to extricate, but we make the most yummy pancakes using them!

Sleeping mom’s providing whale-sized nourishment using her Antarctic reserves
tail slapping to keep junior in line
rambunctious males, out for a good time
call mmmhhh mmwwwhmmm  whummmmmmh

©MPS

Cetacean society,
any whale who’s any whale is here

©MPS

Tonga’s the place to be, leviathan

©HRS
Well, Hello!

no predators, warm water, but no food either
what if humans vacationed the way humpbacks do

©HRS

on a diet
no Piña coladas, might just put cruise ships out of business
think of the savings in fuel!
~MS

©HRS
Nature’s bit of lovely!
Tidal flat art.
These beetles were around the size of a thumbnail and STUNNING!!!
The Hosea Primary School put on a cultural show as a fundraiser in conjunction with the Blue Water Festival in Vava’u.
©HRS
Astrophotography with an anchored (moving) Allora is a wee bit tricky – nice work, Haley!

We had all 3 kids (and Liam, too) visit over the course of our 3 months cruising around Tonga, so you’ll see some family faces among the locals:

Ghost Crabs are a hoot!

 

Still Going Strong!

(Why the title of this post? Well, that’s what the young guy working at the airport said when I picked up my own duffel bag! Yeah, he figured I was ‘still going strong’ just to be able to DO that! Poor kid, you can imagine the reaction I gave him?!)

We left Allora in Neiafu, Tonga on a mooring (always a bit disconcerting), and dashed to San Francisco for my brother’s wedding! After that three day, joyous whirlwind, we shot over to Bozeman, Montana for a couple weeks of catching up with friends. We had two indulgent stays: at the Lawson’s whimsical loft and Katy Hood’s historic Southside home (giant thank you’s to both of you) and soaked up some much needed love with our dear ones. I wasn’t quite in the photo mode, so there are only a few here and much else is left tucked in a corner of our hearts. Thanks to Lori (and maybe others?) for a few of the family/wedding shots.

 

9° south of the equator

“It’s hot here,” the Pastor’s lovely wife said with a smile, “it’s always hot. Sometimes you can see some flowers blooming and you know it’s Spring, but it’s always hot.” The village of TeTautua does not own enough cars to have much of a road so its houses tend to meander along foot trails, which double as scooter and motorcycle paths, a web centered on the imposing blue and white Cook Island church. Ungirded by streets, houses with deep porches, windows without glass, only tattered cloth curtains, lay scattered at random angles. You might forget to notice that there are no dogs (they have been disallowed by the island council, which makes everything its business). Their absence, as much as the haphazard city planning, creates the feeling of a ghost town, especially if the children are in school and the hot sun is broiling the gray coral gravel underfoot.

Hakono Saitu

The island is losing its population, slowly, people emigrating to bigger more populous islands, or New Zealand. Though there is an abundance of fish, there are few (maybe none) of the occupations that keep idle hands busy in even the smallest midwestern ghost town. In the big village on the other side of the atoll there is a nurse. There is a policeman, somewhere. There are teachers. But there are no stores. There are scant few gardens, a difficult enterprise in the hard limestone pavement that constitutes the earth of an atoll. There are thriving coconut groves, possibly the remnant of a copra operation, the kind that is still subsidized in French Polynesia. For a while there was a booming pearl farm business, which succumbed to cyclones and a disease among the oysters. Perhaps the mental, emotional, spiritual space that in North American suburbia is filled with cars and traffic lights, malls, donut shops, Home Depot and Costco, here is filled by the sea herself and the Cook Island Christian Church.

Takake Akatapuria
Tumukahu Marsters/Pastor

It’s no secret that missionaries did a number on the South Pacific. This is still one of the main places those white shirt and tie young scrubs in the Salt Lake airport are all headed. But it was news to me that God apparently doesn’t want you to fish on Sundays (I thought Jesus was a fisherman). No work, no play, no music, no swimming (sound familiar?). Like a friendly, island version of the Taliban, they take these injunctions seriously in Penrhyn and they made it their business to see that we anchored right by town to ensure that we weren’t off enjoying ourselves on Sundays doing the devil’s worst out of sight of the church’s two story pulpit.

Naturally, we were invited to church. Hats strictly required for women (strictly not allowed in Tonga) but definitely NOT permitted for men. Diana showed up with a beautiful head wreath from Rapa (made for church there) but here she was told she had to have a hat that covered the top part of her head (cuz God is looking down, I guess?). Long pants for men (in the tropics!), luckily Mike had a light pair I could borrow so I didn’t have to wear jeans. The Pastor’s white pants (God only knows how he kept them white) were unhemmed and about eight inches too long for him, so he walked on them, barefoot when he greeted us at his house and then under sandals for the service. He carried a bible, well worn with pieces of folded paper tucked among its pages, King James translated to Māori/Tongarevan, the language of the Cook Islands.

We arrived in the morning to find out that regular church had been cancelled because an elder woman, Mama Takulani, mother of 12, had died in her sleep early that morning. She had lived on Penrhyn her whole life, in this village of about fifty people, with barely one dirt road and about four cars to drive on it, no stores, no post office, nothing but a collection of very simple homes occupied by people who must know each other very, very well.

We gathered at her house, the palangi (foreigners) outside on plastic chairs to witness a three hour funeral, mostly singing, which seemed unscripted and improvised, arising spontaneously from the group of women seated on the patio floor. Men joined in, and the harmonies were unlike anything we’d ever heard, oddly discordant and complex, a fascinating mix of church hymns and Polynesian music, all the more intense as an expression of mourning. Speeches were given by men, long speeches, in the local language, with occasional acknowledgements in English to the visiting Palangi. The woman’s body was carried to the church, in through the left-hand door, briefly spoken over, then exited through the right-hand door. She was buried in a pre-built concrete crypt in a hole dug that morning by a backhoe outside her bedroom. She was covered with a tapestry and laid in the ground. It felt very odd to witness something so profoundly personal and significant for our hosts, though they went out of their way to make us feel welcome, and afterward there was a feast, with an insistence that visitors eat first.

The next Sunday (Father’s day!) respecting their local commandments and traditions, I did not fish. The first time that has happened since I became a father, 27 years ago. Instead, we went again to church to be harangued, mostly in Tongarevan, but also in English, by a series of men who (like the pastors of Rapa), utilized a hierarchically arranged pulpit (literally with stairs) to wield their authority. Maybe you need something organized like this on an island with nothing but turquoise water and sun and fish, to keep people from running amok, though it felt so out of place with the usual island vibe of very friendly, relaxed, open people. Singing provided some relief in the service, though the performance was more structured and a little more hymn-like than what we witnessed at the funeral. There’s a lot of this kind of singing in Penrhyn, all through the week, several times a day on Sunday. They grow up with this music, so they sing with passion and confidence and subtlety. The women often hold a hand to their face as they sing, and I wasn’t sure if it was to help them hear their voices (the way you might imagine Sting in a recording studio), or to hide their faces and wide open mouths. One young woman held a book that blocked most of her face. Afterward, there was another generous feast at the Pastor’s house, with pictures of the gathering of foreign visitors (representing several countries in Europe and North America) to be posted on Facebook.

When it seemed we would be on the island for another Sunday (waiting for a weather window to depart, and fishing) we decided we would skip church, but thought we’d better say something about our decision in advance. The Pastor seemed relieved (the unexpectedly large group of sailors must have been hard on his freezer, which would not be refilled until the next supply ship, months out). He did admonish us not to do anything on our boats, especially not swim, and seemed to joke (not sure here) that the sharks were in league with God and would enforce the no swimming on Sunday rule. Diana spent about five hours in the water cleaning our hull anyway, and lived to tell.

Though we chaffed at being required to observe the religious regulations of the island, presented to us as Law (which almost certainly cannot have been constitutional in a country governed by New Zealand) we were also overwhelmed by the generosity of their reception. Gift giving and hospitality is a pervasive and vibrant cultural practice throughout Polynesia, and they outdid themselves. We did our best to give back, too. And although the dogmatic Christianity was a tad stifling, we still managed to have some good connections. The Pastor was a bit of an odd duck in that way, at least for me, it was very hard to engage him in a regular conversation. His relationship to the visiting foreigners seemed mostly about the opportunity to give speeches and express the piety of his flock and the importance of his position as their spokesman.

We were the fourth boat to visit Penrhyn in 2019, but within two days there were eight more boats. Most of them part of a group of kid boats (that is, boats which have kids on them, who generally drive the social schedule), all loaded with school supplies to give to the children of Penrhyn. Liza, of the boat Liza Lu, is a teacher from New York whose class had started a pen pal relationship with Penryhn before coming. She had more postcards to deliver and spent time at the school helping the kids compose new post cards that she would mail back to her school. Our friends on Alondra, marine biologists with two girls, eleven and twelve, brought in microscopes and spent a day with the students peering at everything from fly eyes to butterfly wings and gecko toes. A huge hit. The boat ‘Panacea’ with Tuomo, Reka and their kids presented a slideshow about how they’d come to be there aboard a sailboat, and shared glimpses of all the countries they’d seen. The families aboard s/v’s Luminesce, Calle II, Itchy Foot and Caramba all participated, too, and Adagio’s crew were elemental helping with the mosaic. It was an unusually bustling ‘point in time’ on the sleepy eastern side of Penrhyn … ~MS