New Zealand Advance Party

Hello one and all. As a family we are very aware that we’ve left anyone reading our blog wondering if we ever made it back home, or whether we’ve been stuck in Tonga for the past two years. Considering the whole COVID-19 situation the world currently finds itself in, we are very happy to report that we did finish our trip and have been safely back in South Africa since the first week of November 2018. We can only imagine what kind of hassles would have befallen us had we still been trying to traverse the world X I.

Although we have indeed been safely back in our South African home for almost two years now, we remember the sailing with fondness, yearning, relief, and joy. We (maybe mostly me) will be continuing the blog mostly for our own reminiscing [and also my Dad wants us to finish it – blogs are part of his birthday and Christmas gifts ; ) ]. Any reader is welcome to reminisce with us : ).

My Dad has made various efforts to try and coax blogs out of us, even suggesting we write any blog, even if it were not in chronological order. I, however, could not bring myself to even consider this option, and will therefore pick up the narrative where we last left off: in the South Pacific.

Throughout our trip through the South Sea we had kept to a very definitive schedule, only staying a prescribed number of days at each island and really trying not to spend more days out at sea than was absolutely necessary; this meant that we motored quite a bit.

The reason was simple: Marike and I had Cambridge exams (the curriculum we used for grades 11 & 12) to write at the end of the year, all the way in New Zealand, the entire Pacific Ocean’s distance … The plot thickens, as up until 1 November there are no good weather windows to sail to New Zealand safely and our exams started in October. This problem was circumvented by booking flight tickets from Fiji (the closest islands to NZ) – but that only meant having to be in Fiji at a very specific date. When sailing, your smallest measure of time is half a day; minutes are non-existent, and hours are used to measure the time it takes to get the water tanks full. Arriving a day later than planned at a location is not something one really notices while sailing – unless the day you missed was the day of your flight.

By God’s grace and to our great relief, we arrived in Fiji a whole 5 days before needing to board the flight. It was a weird five days for me. Throughout the Pacific there had been a growing excitement about our upcoming flight, and I had even made a list about what to pack months before the actual event. But with this specific trip I found out that, unlike Marike, I really do not like change – especially if I’m not at all sure what exactly the change will entail. I don’t like the unexpected. And I don’t actually like being independent either. So even as Marike’s excitement for the trip grew day by day, I began to feel more and more disheartened with every item packed. I was completely surprised by how badly I was taking the change. I mean, I was 17, and had been living a life of constant change for the last 2+ years – I should have been able to take this independent stride away from my family into the unknown with ease and confidence. Yet I found myself very reluctant and unsure.

What added to this overall growing mix of homesickness, was looking at Fiji –  this new and exciting island with rich and diverse bird life – and knowing I would never really have the chance to see any of the birds (Yes, I know, not what people are usually sad at missing out on ; P). Contrary to my expectations, I did see a small handful of new birds, and this made me feel a bit better. I also coaxed Karin and Sophia into promising me to try and birdwatch a bit in my place while I was gone. They never really succeeded, but there was one bird, the Fijian Finch, which they managed to tell me about. Although I didn’t see the bird myself, the fact that they had seen it made me feel better; and the fact that they tried made me feel special.

Our five days in Fiji went too fast for me, and probably not fast enough for Marike. I’ll leave the description of Fiji’s mixed Indian and Native Islander community up to my younger sisters as I did not really see much of it. My Dad, being the awesome dad that he is, very specifically made sure that we at least saw something – we hired a car and went to a park, and my Dad specifically took the two of us for a dive. I had much more confidence that the remaining family members would mark the fish they saw in the fish book (a task I started and made them promise to continue in my absence), but felt better that I had at least been able to do the first number of identifications. The dive was truly beautiful, but again, I’ll leave that for a younger sister to tell as they saw more of it.

The day of our departure finally arrived. Marike and I dressed as warmly as we dared in the Fijian heat (having been warned that airplanes and New Zealand are generally cold places), and we set off.

Marike’s room while packing. We could each take one of those big bags – but these had to include all our study books
Safely on the plane. The flight was quite fun, although it was also quite cold.
At New Zealand!
We were two of the last people off the plane. Seeing our interest in the first class seats, the staff not only let me sit, but also gave props ; D
Going through security always makes me nervous. But this time, funnily enough, filling in the Customs form and getting it checked made me feel better, because it was something familiar.
The NZ airport was quite decorated. There were Moari styled(the native people) carvings like this one, and in one place a huge statue of a Dwarf, like in the Hobbit. It is a measure of how uncertain I felt that I just allowed Marike to take my camera. I’m not used to be the one on all the pictures X P.

Now did our parents send us into the wild unknown without a place to stay or call our own? Of course not. Enter the Whittaker family. They are one of the many families who over the years have immigrated from South Africa to New Zealand. My parents knew them from the Campus Crusade Ministries they ran at my parents’ university, and I personally have a few vague memories of the family before they disappeared into the realm of “People my parents know/knew” and “Don’t you remember them? They came to our house once and they have X many kids…”. (In this case x=3 . Kerrin, Edmund and Stewart, of which only Stewart was really still living at home, finishing school. We saw Kerrin only when she came to visit for a few days, and “Ghost” Edmund only occasionally as he worked most of the time [I think it was a full two weeks before Marike and I actually saw him, hence the “ghost” : )]).

The Whitakkers are a wonderful family and they spared no effort in taking care of these two young nestlings now living in their house. They took us to parks, we rented movies, had ice cream, and they also helped make sure we got to all our exams safely and on time – despite having very full schedules with their normal lives.

Aunty Dale fetching us at the airport
New Zealand has quite uniqe plants, as there were no mammals excepts bats on the islands until man came. Most of the plants are slow growers, especially the Maori Trees. The tall Tree Ferns were very common, though.

The Whitakkers have a little apartment attached to their house which they let out as an Air B&B (they’ve since then turned it into a proper apartment for renting out), which they graciously let us have for the entire 2 months duration of our stay in their home.

When we arrived in New Zealand it was indeed chilly, the sky was reflecting my mood in its bumpy grey gloominess, and the wind tugged at everything. Later it also started raining. Not the sudden, heavy, and quick rainstorms we had grown accustomed to in the tropics; but a steady slightly-heavier-than-a-drizzle rain, just enough to blur the world’s edges. I made the world seem calm. The Whittakers have quite a nice back garden – I just sat there under the porch watching nature be calm, and even risked my camera getting wet to take a few pictures of birds. The resulting photos are truly useless -what with the camera picking up every single raindrop between it and the bird – but the action made the world seem a bit more normal, and I felt comforted.

After that the days just sort of blurred into one. Marike and I studied most of the time, also taking turns to help Aunty Dale in the Kitchen. She’s a very good cook who is always trying out new recipes. Working in a “landlubber” kitchen after the galley on the boat was truly strange. Not immediately, but small things stood out as strange. Like how much water Steward used to wash dishes; or that we couldn’t just throw organic garbage out the window (which I almost did, once); as well as how precariously we could stack glassware in the cupboards. On a boat, anything that shows the slightest signs of centre-of-mass issues needs to be addressed immediately; but in a house…well, unless it falls over immediately it is unlikely to do so in future unless someone goes out of their way to push it over. Leaving a small Leaning Tower of Bowls in the cupboards felt wrong, and in the back of my mind I was just waiting to hear the crash as the slight rocking of the boat toppled over the precarious tower…But truly, every time I happened to open the cupboard, the tower stood exactly as I left it, without a millimetre’s difference. To be honest, this actually still feels strange, even though we have been back on land for so long.

Out exams took place throughout the end of October, and everything went relatively smoothly – except for the one day we were almost late and literally walked in as everyone was receiving their papers; and the two different days on which Marike and I really just hit a bit of a blank during the exam….Yeah, those were not exactly happy days. But mostly the exams went well and we got relatively good marks : ).

It was our first time writing with so many other students, and in such a prestigious school. We wrote some grade 11 exams while still in South Africa, but there were never more than 10 people writing at a time. In this school, however, most of the other students were in their uniforms, and we had to file into the classroom in long straight lines. Outside the classrooms there were always these huge posters warning what objects you were not allowed to take into the exam and that non adherence to the rules would get you DISQUALIFIED – massive red letters that always caught my eye. While waiting for the exams to finally start I had plenty of time to read those posters again and again – while feeling slightly ridiculous at a growing fear that a smart watch would manifest its presence on my arm just as I walked into the exam room. I’m not sure why of all the forbidden objects the Smart Watch was the one haunting me, especially since I had zero exposure to them at that point. Maybe that was exactly the reason: they were objects with exact powers unknown, so who was I to say one couldn’t just appear on my arm?

After all the exams were finally done, the wait for our family to arrive began in earnest. The 1st of November came and went without a proper idea of when the weather would be safe enough for the voyage from Fiji to NZ. We heard filtered news back from our family of some sailors saying the weather was right while others said it was terrible. The week that the Whittakers had set aside and booked off work to spend with us on the boat edged ever nearer in NZ, while the boat stood still in Fiji. Marike and I had tentatively tried to warn that Shang Du might not leave Fiji on exactly the first, and that their voyage might take more than the estimated…um, 14 days?

Meanwhile in Fiji our cousin Ralph, who had flown from South Africa to visit and fill up the missing crew numbers, was also running out of time. They had already paid and booked his return flight from NZ to South Africa. Remember I mentioned that time works differently when travelling on a boat? Well, in the end it was also necessary for Ralph to fly from Fiji to NZ, otherwise he would have missed his pre-booked flight. This negated the whole idea that he would fill in the gaps in the crew, but at least he ended up being able to spend a few days with the two of us in NZ, which he would not otherwise have. It wasn’t a very exciting few days, but we did manage a few sight-seeing trips : ).

Marike and Ralph posing at a typical Maori carving in the museum.
At the museum. This stone was used to sharpen other rock tools.
Saying goodbye at the airport

The desired Weather Window appeared just after Ralph flew over to us, and Shang Du finally set sail. I’ll try my best along with my dad to coax a blog out of my two younger sisters about that trip as it was not uneventful, but from my side let it just be known that they arrived safely. And on the day after they arrived, we, 3 Whitakers, all our stuff, groceries, all the accumulated packages that my dad had ordered over the last few months (including a new electric toilet for my parents),  and a Whitaker colleague who was willing to drive 6 hours, piled into a small van and descended on Shang Du three short hours later. I almost couldn’t get my things into the boat fast enough. With all the new things and three Whitakers the boat was rather cramped, meaning I had to temporarily live in Marike’s room, and that we couldn’t see our floor for a while. But I couldn’t care less. We were home, back with the family, and I was so happy.

The very full car. The Whittakers colleague is on the left, and the Stewart Whittaker on the right.
On the way we stopped at a South African store to get some biltong. It was the first biltong we’d had in months, and it was delicious.
This was our rooms situation for the next week or two. As you can see, not much floor space.
Happily eating our first dinner back on the boat : ) From left to right: Uncle Bob, Aunty Dale, Stewart, Karin Jnr, Franci (myself), my Mom, my Dad, and Sophia. Marike is pushing right up against the wall of the kitchen and stretching high above the sink in order to try get us all in.

Pacific Birds

In the Pacific most of my bird watching skills/compulsions were turned toward fish-watching – for the simple fact that there just weren’t that many birds to watch! (Lots of ocean and not too much terra firma, you see). At least I could count on the usual armada of Frigates, Brown Boobies, Noddies and Terns throughout the Pacific.

The vast stretches of sea separating the islands, while making for less bird life, also meant that the birds of the islands were usually quite unique.

My first encounter of this was the White-Capped Fruit-Dove on Nuku-hiva in the Marquesas. If the guide had not told me it was a Dove, I would forever more have been looking for it among the parrots in my book. Its colouration and flight-pattern is that of a parrot! Have you ever noticed how a Dove flies? Its wing tips are pointy, and they thrust forward and push back their wings as if they’re swimming. These Doves, however, had rounded wing tips, and (perhaps being smarter than the usual dove, knowing it was in the air and not water) flew with steady wingbeats. My surprise was very great when I was told those bright green birds flying over there were Doves. Well, live and learn.

The curious Marquesian Reed-Warbler Acrocephalus mendanae. Possibly the largest warbler I’ve ever , at about 18cm.

Knowing that there were not many birds, my Dad made special efforts to visit places on our way which might have special birds dwelling upon them. This was one of the main reasons why we stopped at Tahanea, an uninhabited atoll in the Tuamotos. Uninhabited, but not devoid of people – close to the two passages leading into the lagoon of the atoll, there were four or five other sailing boats.

We stayed close by the passages for a few days so that we could do some diving and socialising (we knew two of the boats from our stay in Panama), and then we weighed anchor and headed for the middle of the atoll where a small Greater Frigate breeding colony was supposed to be. We actually found the island : D (I think my Dad got coordinates off the internet), but getting onto this bird island was easier said than done. It turned out our anchoring options were limited to one tiny bay of about 30 meters deep. (To anchor in 30 meters you have to put out about 100m of chain).There was a brief debate about whether we should try this, also taking into account that we only wanted to stop briefly. I, for my part, really didn’t like the reef that would be very close to our right, nor the fairly brisk wind. In the end we did anchor, but Karin decided to stay on board (for some reason birds don’t seem to interest her all that much); I don’t remember whether or not we left the engine on for in case the boat started drifting and she needed to do something.

In the end I’m very glad that we did stop, despite my doubts about the anchoring. We made an interesting landing amongst the thinnest-looking brush (as there was no beach) and scrambled ashore. I think we were the first people to come on the island for quite some time –years, maybe. There weren’t that many tricky spots on the island, but we still had to watch our step and push through a bush or two – which was no bother, because we could see the Frigate chicks up close :D.  Some chicks were almost adults, others barely not-eggs.  I know with my head that my sisters’ title of “ugly” probably fits these chicks best – and admittedly they are not the most beautiful creatures in the world –but I just cannot think of them as anything else but cute. I mean, come on, they’re fluffy! : D

(left) A Greater Frigatebirds female Fregata minor
(right) Lesser Frigatebird male Fregata ariel
Brown/Black Noddies also on the island. The almost centre bird is sitting next to a nest

The real gem of Tahanea was not the breeding colony, however, but the rare little Tuamotus Sandpiper. It was in the hopes of seeing this bird that the trek across the lagoon was made. We anchored behind a beautiful forested little island with the outer reef just beyond it. It made me very smug to watch the white foam of oceanic waves breaking over the outer reef and knowing that for this reason they couldn’t reach us.

If you look carefully to the right of the island you can see those big ocanic waves coming in.

True to my Dad’s adventurous nature, he got everyone (minus the two Karins) to go out to the island that very day, even though it was very late afternoon. We could probably have walked around the island in half an hour, but the beach was so utterly uncombed that it took much longer. Too many shells to be inspected – and eventually the challenge of adding yet one more shell without losing two old ones. X D

And true to the Pacific pattern, the Tuamotu Sandpiper was not where I expected to find it, nor did it act quite the way I thought it should. Normally Sandpipers look like miniature Plovers and they walk where the waves lap the beach in order to pick up the titbits the waves leave behind. These little spotted brown birds, however, looked a bit more like quails with long legs and they haunted the top of the beach, looking for insects at the plants’ border. And not only that, these little birds actually flew into the trees! Now you may think: “well of course they did, they’re birds” – but have you ever seen a Kiewiet (Plover) in a tree? I’ll answer that question for you: No; no you haven’t.

These Sandpipers were also surprisingly tame. If you sat still(ish) long enough they would strut closer and affably ignore you l as just a normal scrub. Just before we left the island, and as we were hauling up the dinghy, one even flew over in its none-sandpiperlike-way and sat in our rigging to chirp us a farewell. I was very thankful that it stayed there until the dinghy was on deck. I find myself quite torn when I notice a really cool bird when we’re right in the middle of some task – and it has happened before that I’ve had to let a bird sighting go, for people and (some) tasks are more important than even rare birds.

This bird is a Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus. Unlike the Sandpiper, it is extremely shy. I tried inching my way along towards them, but no matter how slowly I went, the small flock (of about 5), made sure to stay waaaay ahead of me – barely within reach of my camara.

After visiting so many small islands/atolls, the island of Vava’u, Tonga felt absolutely massive. I was reminded of what it felt like to birdwatch on the mainland – to actually see so many birds in one trip that they need to be written down, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to write them down/ identify them later. I’m generally okay with holding up to 5 or 6 bird names and descriptions in my head; between 6-10 I tend forget at least one name/description, and the overall functionality of my brain tends to become focused on birds and thus lose sight of the family’s current goal (like finding shops, looking at the town, buying petrol, getting in and out of the dinghy, et cetera…); at anything more than 10 my brain tends to feel a bit overcooked and I really need to write the list down, otherwise I either forget most of it, or am utterly useless in the reality my family members are in.

In Tonga I also really enjoyed to look for land birds again – like doves, and honeyeaters. In total I only saw 16 kinds of birds on Vava’u, but that still beat all the other islands in the Pacific so far.

There was one particular gem on Vava’u – the Togan Whistler –which my dad and I made special effort to see. Whistlers are secretive birds, tending to stay hidden in thick brush. Yet the males have an amazingly loud, piercing whistle which can be heard from far away. And it was this call we intrepid explorers followed one bright early morning.

I really did feel a bit like an explorer of old. Although we followed a clear car trail, there was a bit of bush-hacking involved and none of the forest around us was even slightly cultivated. Because it was very early morning we didn’t see anyone, either.

After finding the path from the beach, my Dad and I walked a bit aimlessly until we (i.e. I) heard a whistle that sounded a doable distance away. We tracked the source down to a huge, leafless, very snarly and entwined bush – and then we were stumped. We must have been there for at least 15 minutes. You’d truly be surprised at how well a bright yellow bird camouflages amidst all the brown. (I was). No matter from what angle I looked, I just couldn’t spot it . Every time  I thought that the bird couldn’t possibly still be there, he would give another piercing whistle and my search would start all over again. 

In cases such as these it is never best to look for the bird itself, but rather for the movement the bird causes (very few birds ever sit completely still). The rustle of leaves or the bopping of a twig catches the eye a lot faster than any camouflaged bird – no matter how bright it may be.

When I finally spotted the little bird it was as if it had materialized out of its surroundings. As if it had been invisible, but now I was wearing the right kind of glasses to magically see it. It was pretty cool : )

We managed to find one or two more on the way back. This one was so high it threatended to undo my neck, but it was wonderfully in the open.

At our first atoll, Raroia, at the Con Tiki moto we also saw some nesting White Terns Gygis alba. They forgo the need of nests by laying their eggs directly onto the branches of trees. The chicks hatch with extra strong feet, so that they can hang on even amidst strong winds.

A nice hollow for an egg
No, this isn’t the chick from the egg in the previous photo ; P
We waited a long time for this parent to give the fishies to its chick, but it refused to go near its offspring as long as we were in the area. No matter how hard we pretended we weren’t looking, or the fact that we could see the chick clearly.

And there you have it – some of my Pacific birding highlights. I’m sure I would have had a lot more to write about the birds in Fiji, except that Marike and I were only there for a week before we had to fly ahead to New Zealand. But that is another story for a whole new post and with its own entire set of birds.

Whales, Diving and some other random things about Tonga – By Karin Jnr

Tonga instantly set itself apart from the other islands we’ve been to. Not only because it’s an actual island and not an atoll, but because of the unique labyrinth you have to sail through to get to the harbour of the main island itself.
We stopped by the Tongan island named Vava’u. We came round to the harbour, sailing past the sheer cliffs on the one side of the island. An impressive sight indeed.
The mini labyrinth along the one side of Vava’u wasn’t particularly hard to navigate, but the first time I was confronted by it, it was pure confusion. One of the most fascinating things was that the islands weren’t following the usual pattern of beach, leading up to a rather flat, jungle-infested middle, that we were used to in the Tuamotos. They looked rather more like cakes sticking out of the water, with a frosting of jungle on top. Chocolate cakes, obviously, because of the brown rock colour, and mint frosting.

classic, but colourless example of a cake island

us girls standing on deck as we sailed through the cake island laybrinth

Vava’u was also rather chilly on arrival as I remember. Us four girls were sitting on deck wearing jackets on the cool, overcast day. A luxury which is classified as rare in the tropics. Even when it’s raining. But it turned out to be mostly caused only by the overcast weather of the first few days. And it really did rain on the day of our arrival. Just as luck would have it, it started pouring as we were forced on deck to moor the boat to the customs dock, so naturally we all got wet.
We anchored in the main bay for a couple of days and did some sight seeing on land. We bumped into some sailing friends we’d met in Trinidad, which was random.
And did an island tour in some guy’s Taxi. The taxi car looked more like those we get at home, but private… I guess you’d call them a van… But anyway. He took us around to some magnificent viewpoints and along some paths that rarely get used. I was wondering if we’d fit through all the jungle growth that was threatening to close the road.

not the best example, since it wasn’t taken at the right time. But imagine the growth beside the road higher and greener and wilder, and while you’re at it, just put a few wild boars dashing across it being chased by a rather fat Gaul and a rather short Gual, both with ridicoulusly large noses.

We stood at the top of the cliffs that we had looked up to when sailing past and admired the big blue ocean that stretched out for miles. My Mom always thinks it an intimidating view, seeing so much ocean and thinking “What crazy people would go out on that, with a boat!?” while knowing full well, that we are those crazy people.
But to me it’s an intriguing sight. Not necessarily because I love the sailing as such, but just the idea of there being so much world out there that I’ll never see, and I’ve seen a fair deal of it. But the world is just so large, filled with so many wondrous things….

Of course we scuba dived in Tonga as well. I mean, my Dad’s the captain. What do you expect!?
Our first dive was in the bay itself, the vision was poor and the water was cold. I wasn’t too keen on it myself. I particularly dislike not being able to see the bottom before lowering myself into the depths. A vague darker and lighter of rocks is good enough, but nothing but green water..? The worst is when you’re halfway down and you still can’t see the bottom, but you also can’t see the top anymore. And you’re just descending some more!

Despite this, however, I managed to enjoy the dive as long as I didn’t try and look up once we reached the wreck. The vision wasn’t that bad, taking into account some dives we’ve done. Nobody got lost, we could still see each other at a distance of at least five meters and we knew we’d all stick to the wreck, so you couldn’t really get lost. Although my Dad freaked me out by diving into the belly of the wreck…, ok not really, Dad always likes exploring the dark caves, I guess I can’t imagine not being claustrophobic in such a situation. But somehow, he manages not to get a panic attack, and Dad’s got a lot of diving experience, so I guess he’s allowed to do it.

we have no physical proof of my Dad’s wanderings into the deeper depths of the wrecks since he was holding the camera, so here is Marike

But enough talk about diving. The next big and main event of Tonga was the Whales! Tonga is one of the two only places where it is legal to swim with Humpback whales. The other being off the coast of Australia somewhere, but’s it’s only as the whales pass the continent and you have to go far out to sea in a boat, whereas in Tonga they come to the reef protected areas between the cake islands (take note; the ‘cake islands’ are not their official names, I’ve invented it on the spot, so it won’t help in a google search) to give birth to their young. They’re right by the coast, and to boot, you’ve got a chance to see a baby whale!
Now to all you people out there gasping with dismay and sympathy for the poor baby whales and new mothers being bothered by all these pesky clumsy land fish. The rules are really strict when swimming with them, the whales are thoroughly protected by all kinds of laws, and though it may still not be the most comfortable for the whales, their alternate fate could have been much worse.
A few years ago (anything from 40 to 3 years, I can’t remember) they had a decision to make. They could continue hunting whales as they had been doing for a long time, or they could stop and make it commercial to come and swim with them. So see? The whales are safer and when they get tired of the people they just dive again. We know, they did that quite a few times.
We, as you might have guessed by now, decided to do the right thing and go on a Whale watching trip. We got to swim with them! but just so you know, they swim super fast! When the operator sees a whale, the boat goes a little ahead of them and then we all (four people and an operator) jump in the water and swim as hard as we can towards the path the whales are estimated to cross. The viz wasn’t as good as it is on the commercial photos, we didn’t get the best day, but it was still super awesome.

when chasing the whales to get a glimps, it would be like… no whale…. no whale… no whale… and then suddenly BAM! there’s a whale.

Whales, in my experience always disappoint me when I see their size. You hear they’re the biggest creatures on earth and you begin to imagine a Leviathan, but honestly they’re not that big. Then again, as this experience has taught me, When seeing them off the boat you only see their back or their tail. There’s still plenty of whale submerged underneath the water. Having seen the submerged part now as well as the back and the tail my faith in them being huge creatures has grown a little more. They’re still smaller than I always see them in my mind’s eye. But still, they’re big.

the mother whales eye

It’s amazing to see the whale. We even saw a little one. The barnacles on the mother’s back… especially with the bad viz you’d swim and look, then suddenly see this wall of whale. Amazing, to see the whale’s eye… it was magical and again eye opening. It’s mind boggling when you think that we, as humans don’t have enough imagination to invent entirely unique animals and creatures and patterns and things. No matter how original the creature of our imagination is, it’s always based and inspired by something we’ve seen or read about. A collection of known pasted together.

The whale tails. The classic veiw we would get becasue of their speed. And yes, that be a baby whale mate.

The Greeks did it super obviously in examples of their mythological creatures like centaurs and unicorns. I don’t know if they knew about the narwhal, but none the less, they weren’t the first to stick a horn into something’s forehead. but even with other stuff… We don’t have the means to invent something new. We invent a pattern and then you think you’re the first! But then you see a fish, and it has the same pattern. We have a limited scope to look for, limited puzzle pieces. We cannot create more pieces. But God created all the pieces before there were other pieces to base them on. All the uniqueness from a Kangaroo to a Whale. An ant and a lion. It’s awesome when you think about it.

We moved anchorage after that. Out to the more scenic cake islands, and small bays off the main island. We got out to clearer water and did some awesome diveing. We even made some cool friends who had rigged an awesome swing on their boat (they call it their ‘kids atractor’ or something of that sort). And we lived in a state of happiness. Perhaps, for me personally, it was because of the little internet.

Sophia and I went kayaking more than once and found the perfect place on land in which to make a ‘fort’ as we had done in the Caribbean with some other sailing friends. This location would have been ten times better, but sadly, we spotted a sea snake slowly climbing up a rock wall, pushing its head into holes, presumably to find tasty morsels of sea snake food. This ruined the place for us forever, which was sad. It would have made a truly awesome fort.
We have a glass bottom kayak named Panama Piesang (the last word is Afrikaans, if you speak only English you’re guaranteed to pronounce it wrong). It’s really amazing to paddle over the shallow snorkelling reefs and see the fish underneath you. It also, however, makes for a good view of you crushing all the corals hopes and dreams when you sometimes accidently go too shallow and hurt them.

Ok. I do believe I’ve covered everything there is to cover. Whales, diving, land tour, yep. That’s pretty much it. So yeah. Hope you enjoyed it. 🙂

The Coconut Crab Adventure & Other Stories – by Sophia




Today I will take you to the island Suwarro.


Karin J is swinging a rope, that is not an obtusely large and random leafless coconut tree – as some people have mistaken it for. (Karin J)


This was the first and last island where I saw coconut crabs.  Coconut crabs are named so because they have very strong claws that can break open a coconut and they can even climb trees!

This is kind of freaky because they are big. But that is not all you can find on this island.


There is also the perfect swimming water, the only downside about it is the sharks. They weren’t that big but still half my size, and they followed you around too (probably because people spearfish even though it is not allowed. Suwarro is a wild park reserve ).

 So, you sort of jump out of the water when you are done swimming, because you can’t see them when you climb up the step ladder. So, instead of standing on the step ladder half way in the water and taking off your fins and goggles and putting them on the swimming platform, you dive down and then go up as fast as you can, and jump out onto the platform seal style and it turns out that is the funnest way  to do it  ;P . So anyway, back to the Coconut crab adventures and other Stories.

Ever since we were told that we might be able to see coconut crabs I kept on wondering what they look like (I am known for my curiosity). So, when we at last got there and my dad asked the familiar question of who wanted to go with him to shore, I said yes at once. Not just because I wanted to see them but I was a bit tired of being on the boat.

It turns out that they are night crabs so you can’t see them in the day unless you go through the thickets to find them in holes and that is not allowed. (Because it is a wild life reserve) The coconut crabs are not alone. It turns out that, like almost on every atoll (Suwarro is an atoll) there were also land hermit crabs! On Suwarrow there were a LOT!! While my dad talked to the park ranger I looked around for them,

The Hermit Crabs leave their footprints everywhere!!


Now I must give a little bit of a background I think. There are two rangers that make sure that everyone obeys the park rules. They are taken there from their island with a boat that drops them off on the way to some other destination and they stay there for 6 months! With only the occasional cruising yacht that visits, it is literally as if you are at an uninhabited island.

The one ranger liked doing things and making things and kept the place where they live in good order. He would clear the beach of leaves and he made hammocks out of fishing nets that washed up on shore and some wood that was lying around. He would make all sorts of things out of things he finds that washes onto the shore.



So anyway, back to the coconut crabs…no, first the hermit crabs

When you look in between the rocks or in the coconut tree stumps (they actually eat it – it is one of the things that they eat) you can find them in shells as big as your fist and they can never properly retreat into their shells. It is kind of funny that in the day there wouldn’t be one in sight, but when the sun starts to go down and in the night you cannot help but step on them, there are so many!  



I found it funny when we had a potluck on the beach once with other cruisers  and the sun was going down and we were braaing (BBQing) the meat and the next thing we saw there were so many hermit crabs out, slowly and silently making their way to us.


The meat was the centre of attraction for millions of hermit crabs and afterwards we let them have the bones that still had a little meat on them. Then the ranger said that he would take the people that wanted to, to see if they could find some coconut crabs . So our family decided we wanted to see them, but the other cruisers didn’t want to go back to their boats with low tide in the dark.

So we got two flashlights and went to the back of the clearing behind the place the rangers live. This is where we looked for them ….


 It turns out that they look like a lobster and normal crab mixed into one. They also come in the colours : Blue Purple and Red Orange. Like the hermit crabs they come out in the dark.

We would see one and go closer and the ranger said that we could touch them. Naturally Franci and I tried. Just as I was going to, he or she, moved backwards like a lightning bolt and I definitely didn’t expect that (you have to know they have really REALLY  Big claws ) So, I didn’t try again for a long while.


And then we went to a place where the ranger put out some broken coconuts that the crabs come to eat and big ones so off we went to look. While Marike was petting a Big Orange and Red one and I looked on from a distance, Karin J said to me: “Don’t panic, but there is one behind you.” So I stood and turned at the same time and saw that it was literally just behind me and sitting all nice and still, so that I didn’t see it when I first sat down. It was BIG!! I had a VERY big fright! And so my big curiosity was satisfied. Oh, and we even saw one climb a tree. That concludes the Coconut Crab Adventure. It is not very exciting, but I hope you are at least awake enough to read this blog to the end.

We didn’t just play in the sand and cry over school when out of the water for the whole time. We also went diving to look at all the many amazing things God made and to become speechless because of it.

My Dad holding an evil Crown of Thorns that he speared with his knife


We were told that there was a Manta Ray cleaning station close by. Now, we have tried to see some Mantas for a long time now, but never succeeded. We didn’t see them where people said you could find them because those places were feeding places and the water at feeding places are not very clear because …..guess what?.. they are full of food!!! (if you don’t know yet ,Mantas eat plankton and if you don’t know what plankton is then you can look it up. it is very interesting).  




Anyway, we saw the Mantas and the cleaner fish that clean them. But they wouldn’t clean me, no matter how hard I tried to get them to do it.

The cleaner fish that refused to clean Sophia






Diving Bora-Bora by Karin (The Mom)

We all love diving, but Frans is the real force behind our diving adventures. He fights an ongoing battle against his withdrawal symptoms when we don’t dive enough.

He was determined to do as many dives as possible at Bora-Bora. Even so, it took us a while to orient ourselves and find the “right” diving spots. Our first search attempt included a very looooong and uncomfortable dingy ride that covered a vast distance. And where did we end up diving? Within  sight of the anchored Shang Du!

This is a “before diving” photo. Afterwards, the camera lense always has some waterdrops clinging to it.

It was a good dive site and we came back to it a few times. It is here that the Eagle Rays do their regular flying pass. They fly by in a large group with the slow up and down flapping of their “wings”. They make it seem so effortless while they move through the water, but just try to catch up with them! Their speed is deceptive and even their casual ballet leave us far behind. Just as you imagine that you are catching up to one, straining and panting with the effort, it gives an imperceptible flick of the body and disappears.






We never did find the elusive Manta Ray station and until proven otherwise, we are going to believe that someone mixed up their Eagle Rays and Mantas.

On our dives we saw many different types of fish. Angelfish, Butterflyfish, Surgeon fish etc. Also, for the first time in the Pacific, we encountered Anemones and Anemone fish.

We love to hover in single spots and look for little things as well as the big things. In Bora-Bora we were astounded to see how many groups of divers passed us, swimming fast and going places. There are many dive operators using those reefs and we felt very grateful that we could set our own pace and watch the incredible sea life happen around us.

A tiny crab hiding in the coral

We quickly realised that the fish here were used to being fed. As soon as we descended, many of them would swim right up to us to see what we brought. Not the usual fishy behaviour. So, the next time, we made sure that we took some cooked rice. You can see the result in the next photo: It was especially the Clown trigger fish that gobbled and gobbled and gobbled.

The dive spots outside the reef were well marked and it was easy for us to tie up to a buoy. We didn’t quite grasp how many charters actually use these buoys until we were coming up after our dive. Two boats were tied to the buoy next to ours and another boat was already arriving. They brought their passengers to snorkel with the fish. They throw bait to the fish to attract them to the snorkel spots. If you have ever wondered what you look like from below while snorkelling in a sea of fishes from the diver’s point of view, this is it:

 Snorkelling in Bora-Bora was nearly like diving too. On our “round-the-island-with-dingy” trip, we stopped at a fabulous spot with many, many fishes.

It was here that we saw that raw fish as bait is the real deal. A resort diving instructor brought two snorkelers to that same spot and he was armed with a cache of small fish. He was really friendly and didn’t mind that we gate-crashed his feeding frenzy party. He even showed the girls a special starfish It seemed much too round to be one, yet nevertheless had the five tentacle pattern on the underside.

The downside of snorkelling is that the body cools down a lot faster and some of us just had to climb into the dingy for some heat.

She might have lost her head there for a moment…… but no.


If there ever IS a member of our family that might lose his head about diving, it will definitely be Frans – when he doesn’t get to do enough.

Bora-Bora by Karin (The Mom)

Bora-Bora is a Honeymoon destination par excellence.

We, of course, were not on honeymoon.

Approaching Bora-Bora from the sea, on your own little boat, just HAS to be VERY different from coming in to land on a jet-plane, staring starry-eyed at the beautiful island and enclosed lagoon.

The news that friends of ours had run aground on a reef and lost their yacht was still uppermost in our thoughts and it made the surf, crashing onto the shallow reef surrounding the Bora-Bora lagoon, seem extra scary. We slowly plodded along outside the reef for what seemed like hours, before we reached the entrance. Every now and then we could glimpse the bright blue, CALM sea within. Oh, how we longed to be anchored.

At least the passage into this “Volcanic Island slowly evolving into an Atoll” was easy to access.(Not like some of our near disastrous entries in the Tuamotu Atolls). During the war, the Americans enlarged the passage to make sure that their warships would be able to enter. So Shang Du had no problem. (It also had a lot to do with having a working engine as well.)


We anchored fairly close to town – rest and supplies being the immediate priorities. This would be our last port of call in French Polynesia. No clearing in, only clearing out once we were ready to leave. Aaaah……The first night after a crossing is always the best. Glorious, uninterrupted sleep.

Bora-Bora must be a really famous place because even I have heard of it. We made a point of watching the movie “The South Pacific” after our stay there. Interesting. Not accurate, but quite recognisable.

What we found on land was a bit disappointing. Frans and I visited the Tourist office, but even though the lady was really friendly, she gave us no voluntary information. She answered questions, but gave no suggestions and we ended up a bit more confused than before entering. We did manage to get a number for someone who offered Island tours. It was only later that we realised that almost all of the tourists on Bora-Bora fly in with a complete pre-booked package of what they are going to eat, drink, see and experience. And… if they wanted to add on to their experience, their “resort” would provide anything they needed. Very few people were “walk-ins” like us.

The great advantage of having a family of 6, is that any tour or service will probably run for us alone, as we invariably fulfil the minimum requirement.

On our Island tour we were joined by a man and woman. As they introduced themselves to us, the children were tickled pink to AT LAST meet a real honeymooning couple! 

From them we learnt that it was really hard and also expensive to travel to the Island itself from the various resorts if it was not already included in your package deal. Most people are whisked away to their resort as soon as they land and then there is no way to get to the main island except by a ferry trip or special water-taxi – both very expensive!

They also gave us some idea of what it felt like to stay in those idyllic-looking chalets with the glass bottoms and private little swimming pools that we could only glimpse from our dinghy.

They told us that due to the design of the resort it felt as if their chalet was the only one. So, completely private. Big plus. : )

There are meals provided at the resort restaurant which are included in the package. Another plus. It made it very hard, though, for them to impulsively sample the streetfood sold at roadside stalls on the “mainland”.

Apart from the little pool in front of each chalet, there is also private access to the sea. This seemed to be sooo cool, until we realised that there were no fish around the chalets and no reef nearby. This turned the sea into just another salt water swimming pool. The resorts do feed the fish at certain times though, and then it IS possible to see them through the glass bottom and also around the chalets.

So…… why would one choose a chalet at a resort (stationary, not much sea-life, limited moblilty, captive market for expensive tour packages etc.) above your own sailing boat (with your own dingy transport, many changes of scenery, home-cooked meals etc.)??????


OKAY, OKAY, after my slight detour into Lala land, I’ll get back to the Island tour:

Even though the Tour operator was as friendly and his English even better than the other operators on previous islands, we had to come to the conclusion that he just didn’t have as much to work with on Bora-Bora. It really is quite a small island. He took us to 2 look-out points and three touristry attractions.

The first look-out point (or what Canadians call a Look off point) was next to the signal tower with a good view of the entrance canal into the lagoon. It was also next to the tour guide’s home. After a few questions, we learnt that he and his brother were some of the last people to be born on the island. Pregnant mothers are now transported to a hospital on another island, to deliver their babies there.

The Honeymoon Couple posing for a photo


Some of the roads that we travelled by were DEEPLY rutted and we agreed that even if we had rented a car, we would not have reached some of the areas that we did.

Later, on a nature walk, we encountered some more ruts

The other lookout point was a well known rock, slightly elevated from the sea.

There is some story attached to it, I am sure, but our guide didn’t share anything in particular.

We did have a good view of at least two of the “honeymoon” resorts. This is where we had our long discussion on what it was like to stay in those chalets. Our tour guide told us that the most expensive resort does not allow locals to dine in their restaurant. Ever.

But, the tour did not only consist of lookouts. We were taken to three very touristry activities. Touristry does not mean that it was not enjoyable, only that it was a planned activity put on just for visitors. We visited a very well known pub/restaurant called Bloody Mary’s.

In front of the pub there is a huge board filled with the names of all the celebrities that had visited there in the past. It was very amusing that some of the names that my children recognised were Rowan Atkinson and James Mitchener.

Inside the pub, they have really unique restrooms. We would have missed these if it was not for my small bladder. The whole pub floor is covered in raked sand and they allow you to walk around barefooted if you so choose. Of course, Karin Joan so chose.

The theme continues into the rest room with raked sand on those floors as well. There are swinging doors into the cubicles and it felt very beach-like . I could not figure out where to wash my hands. In one corner there is a “rock waterfall” with a little pool, but no water. The pool is at about hand basin height. After staring a little harder, I managed to spot the chain and ring hanging to one side. As soon as you pull the chain, you cause the waterfall to flow and you are able to wash your hands. When I came out and shared my experience the whole Shang Du crew needed the restrooms.

Frans said that the men’s ablutions were even more interesting, but we won’t be posting a picture of that.

The second “activity” that we visited was an introduction to the island fruit. We loooove fruit. The huge “Pampelmoes” (grapefruit) and the coconuts went down very well, but we were a bit wary of the starfruits. They are beautiful when cut up and a great garnish to any dish. Our first taste of starfruit was in Brazil and we decided then that these were an acquired taste and that we had not acquired the taste. But, true to the island people’s nature, they insisted that we try them, and I must admit that this was a very different fruit to the Brazilian one. They looked the same, but tasted much nicer. It was nearly two and a half years ago that we were in Rio, so maybe we have just changed in our expectations, but I think not.

To Frans’ dissapointment, they didn’t allow us to taste these

 Our last stop for the day was a cloth printing shop. They use paint, sunlight and stencils to produce all kinds of beautiful handprinted materials.

Of course, they also want to sell the merchandise that they make. To assist in their sales, we had an extensive “sarong parade” in which they demonstrated the diversity of the sarong by draping it over us in many ways.

The “woman” in charge was actually a man (Behind Marike on the photo).

“She” was definitely trying to look like a woman and it was very funny, but the only ones in our tour group to be taken in, were the two men!

The really neat part of this printing stop, was that they put out bowls of cut-up coconut and mango for the tourists to try. We absolutely adore fresh coconut and the mangoes were really delicious too. You could never tell by our actions that we had just left the fruit tasting station. 😊

We did enjoy the tour, but in retrospect, we think the operator could have done a much better job if he divulged more island stories and explained Bora-Bora’s involvement in the War.

Later, we did some exploring on our own and managed to find some of the war cannons still up on the gun turrets.

It was a lovely walk – even though we had to ask for directions twice, as it was so badly marked. The first time was at the yacht club (where rich yachties go to relax). On the way back, we actually stopped there for some VERY expensive coffee and milkshakes). I have to say, that I don’t know which treat was nicest. The one from the Yacht club, or the one we bought from a little roadside stall after another walk. Probably the second, as it was such a “local” thing to do.

Yacht Club seating for very hot days

Obviously some of us were hotter than others


The lady selling from this roadstall had her child there as well. Bathed and in his pajamas, ready for bed.

What a lovely setting to enjoy our streetfood in.

The other activity we managed to do was to take our dingy right round the main island, on the inside of the reef. It made for a great sight-seeing trip even though we became thoroughly drenched by a sudden Tropical downpour.

Then, there was the real reason for going to Bora-Bora. The diving!

I was going to include the diving into this blog, but it is long enough as it is. You’ll just have to watch this space for the underwater section. Coming soon!

Dives and Currents – by Franci

The thing that is both the beauty and danger of coral atolls is, well the coral. The inside of the coral rings are speckled by countless ‘bommies’ of coral rising up from the bottom to sit just under the water’s surface. If the light hits the water at the wrong angle, such ‘bommies’ are completely hidden and very easy to run into – thus a sharp lookout must always be held, no matter how good or up to date your charts are (or claim to be).

Fourspot Butterflyfish

Actually getting into an atoll can also be quite tricky. Atolls very often have only one or two small passages through the coral into the lagoon, used by boats to enter and leave. This means that the vast amount of water inside the huge coral ring also only has those one or two passages to enter or leave by, resulting in powerful tidal currents up to more than 8 knots strong. The fastest Shang Du‘s engine can take us is 5 knots… So we tried never, ever to be against the current. However, even going along with the current has its do’s and don’ts; it took us a few trials and errors to figure those out and, eh… just don’t go repeating some of these things, okay?

Sophia doing a “check the anchor” dive with my Dad

When we entered the Raroia atoll (our first atoll) everything went smoothly and we anchored safely. We were all excited to do our first drift dive through the passage since these dives are said to be quite spectacular. This is because the coral outside the passage is more abundant and vivid than the coral inside the atoll.

Picturesque coral

We especially got up at 5 a.m. to get ourselves and our gear ready for the next turn of the tide. We choose the turn of the tide because that is when there is no or just weak current. The idea was that we would descend outside the atoll and drift dive slowly through the passage into the lagoon while someone holds onto the dingy rope. Then we would all get back on board our dinghy and go home. It worked a little differently in the end, though.

Nudibranch. The ‘feather duster’ at its tail is actually its gills

First of all, we made the mistake of going down in the middle of the passage mouth and not more to the side where any current would be weaker and also of having only our Dad hold onto the dinghy rope. It was a rather tense 26 minutes under the water, half of which I didn’t quite understand what was happening. As we were descending to the bottom of the passage we were in awe of the many new, bright and enchanting fish and coral that greeted our eyes. We started our usual diving routine of more-or-less sticking with the other divers while basically doing our own thing. However, the water at the surface, where Handy Andy (our dinghy) was, was flowing faster than the current where we were. The result was that my Dad got pulled along a lot faster than the rest of us because he was holding onto Andy‘s rope. By the time we all fully realized this fact, my Dad had already been dragged practically out of sight. Marike managed to join him and I was well on my way, swimming as hard as I could, when I looked back and realized the others were not managing to catch up. I was at a loss as what to do, not wishing to leave the others behind, but not knowing how to help them catch up. Luckily Marike then swam back from Andy to where I was and held onto some dead coral, signalling for me to do the same. My Dad disappeared behind the curtains of water and the other 3 family members slowly joined us and clung to the coral. When we were all together we held hands each other and ascended . At the surface things didn’t seem quite so scary or confusing and we spotted Handy Andy not far away and easily reached it, just as my Dad got on.

Needless to say, that wasn’t an adventure we wished to repeat. The next time we did a passage dive (and every time after that), we dropped at a point to the side of the passage so that we actually needed to swim a nice little while before entering the passage and the current. We also had an extra-long rope attached to the dinghy and we all held onto it; it made going through the passage quite fun, because once you were in the current it was a rocket ride to the other side, with only a split second to admire (bewonder) any coral or fish that might catch your eye.

Correct way to do a drift dive. Divers’ identies from left to right:Franci (me), Sophis, my Mom and then Marike 🙂

Threadfin Butterglyfish (forefront)  + Humbug Dascyllus (the black and white fishes hiding in the coral at the back) 

The next adventure we had that involved corals and the passage currents was when our engine refused to start as we tried leaving Raroia. After my Dad tried everything he could to get the engine going, we had to make a choice: We could either stay at Raroia for the night and try to work on the engine again the next day, or we could try to sail out of the atoll and onto the next one, Makemo. It has a bigger village and therefore hopefully also a mechanic. The problems with the second option were that we would have to pull up our anchor under sail, and since we were anchored all the way at the other side of the atoll from the passage, we would have to cross the whole lagoon with all its hidden bommies. We had a nice dotted line on our GPS Chartplotter showing where we had safely crossed before, so we just stayed on that to avoid the bommies. But with the restriction in manoeuvrability it was still stressful.

Many Raccoon Butterflyfish

It was already latish when we decided to make the decision to sail and as we sailed across the atoll, the wind, which never had much will to begin with, slowly sank lower and lower so that in the end it took us 2+ hours to travel just over 5 miles. As we got closer to the passage the little land there was, managed to systematically cut off more and more of this precious resource. When we had almost entered the current, it started sucking us in and the wind left us completely. Do you know what white water rafting looks like? Well, being spit out of the atoll by the current felt something like that. We had no wind, so we had no way (i.e. forward momentum), and no way equals no steering. Also, when the currents are strongest, quite enormous standing waves can form, like those in a river, and we flowed over these pretty much like any floating object without steering would. First sideways over this standing wave, then a 180 degree turn to go sideways over that wave. . . It couldn’t have been more than 3 minutes, but the white foam all around us and the roaring were quite frightening, so I just ducked down the hatch and hid inside the boat till it was over. Waves are one of the things that actually really scare me.

Camouflage Grouper

Once we had been carried outside the atoll the breeze found us again. There was a scary moment where it looked like an eddy in the current was pulling us back toward the coral island so as to strand us, but the sails were quickly raised and a few moments later we had enough way to completely escape the current’s grasp and sail away. We were very relieved and thankful for God’s protection and provision.

By that time the sun was under with only a few of its rays lingering, so we all settled into our usual night-watch routine for the night.

The next day we reached Makemo at around nine. This time we had a proper battle plan for tackling the passage without our engine. The sea wasn’t rough and it looked like the current wasn’t strong because there were no standing waves. We had Handy Andy tide to the side of Shang Du so that it could provide push and way, but still let Shang Du be in control of the steering. We also had our forward jib up (it’s a sail that we can control from the cockpit). We were coming at the passage entrance from an angle and had to turn to enter. I’m not entirely sure why – maybe it had to do with the land distorting the wind again – but once we had turned to enter the passage the wind came from a different angle than we had expected. The jib, instead of helping us, backed (i.e got blown in the opposite direction it was supposed to) and actually killed all of Shang Du’s ‘way’ and then started pulling us toward the side of the passage where we could see the crystal clear sea breaking over beautiful coral. Not a fun moment.

Then came a problem we hadn’t thought of. As long as Shang Du had enough way she could steer a straight course, even though the dinghy at her side was pushing her sideways. With no ‘way’, the dinghy pushing at her side meant she could only turn sideways until enough momentum had been built up. There were only a few moments between almost being stranded on coral, quickly rolling in the sail, and discovering this problem. While we were still in the passage mouth we tried to turn Shang Du around so that we could get away from the passage to catch our breath before trying to enter again.

However, God, in His sovereignty, determined otherwise. We arrived as the current was flowing into the atoll surprisingly strong. It completely ignored both Handy Andy’s best efforts and the tense commotion on board, and quietly but surely pulled us through the rather long passage – backwards.

My Dad, Mom and Marike were quite tensed up and were trying all sorts of ways to get the boat to start going forward again. We couldn’t turn the boat around, because there wasn’t enough room in the passage for any such manoeuvring. I know we were all praying and also that God kept me peaceful. I was watching the metre+ gap between Shang Du and the reef we were gliding besides with interest; we weren’t being pushed onto the reef, but we might scrape along it for a while. I was also keeping an eye on the last channel marker, trying to think of the best way to shove buoys between us and it. We didn’t need to in the end, but only just.

The water was so pristinely clear. It and the reef seemed calmly unaware of the tense commotion of the boat beside it. Little Black-Tip Reef Sharks were gliding peacefully over the top of the reef, the water so shallow that the tops of their dorsal fins stuck above the water like little flags.

We drifted safely into the lagoon and then my Dad could finally calm down again. Here there was enough manoeuvring space, and we used Handy Andy power to pull us to a safe anchor spot next to the village.

Black-axil Chromis hiding in the coral. If you watch long enough it looks like the coral systematically and smoothly breathes out the fishies, and then breathes them  back in ; D

God was so gracious to us through this whole episode. Not least with providing a mechanic for our engine. Our parents went to shore soon after we anchored and almost immediately came back with a mechanic. They’d gone to shore, met a very friendly French sailing couple who gave them the name of a guy who could help. With the Frenchman interpreting, my Dad asked for help and the guy and his assistant came immediately, despite the fact that it was Friday.

They worked right through the weekend till our engine was fixed. It was quite funny how things worked, because each new piece of information or problem was discussed in four languages: In Polynesian Maori between Abel and Tamatoa (mechanic and helper), then told in French to the other yachty, then he would translate it into English, and then we would discuss it in Afrikaans ; D.

When the engine failed to start in Raroia we had thought we recognised the symptoms of having salt water in our engine (it syphons back through the sea water outlet and then floods the engine). When the mechanic came, our fears were confirmed. In this too, God greatly provided for us. If we had sailed to a larger island where we would be sure to find a mechanic, like Tahiti, it would have taken longer and our engine would have been all rusted up and unusable and unfixable by then.


Atolls – by Karin Jnr

Ok, another blog. I guess I’ll write about some pacific place or other, but for now it’s rather undefined. (See that pun? Huh? Huh? Funny right? I am master of all puns!!!)


Well, ok then, let’s get started on today’s subject; Makemo. But first we need to enlighten you on the very last antics in Raroia. Or actually, we need to inform you on atolls…

Every atoll has one or more passes, as explained in my last blog that was about what an atoll is. But for those of you who are still unenlightened, I will put in a better effort since my previous description wasn’t very good.

An atoll is a island that got pushed up by a volcano long ago. The island however, started sinking slowly, but take into account that the sinking was a slow process. So, although the difference might be visible every year, it’s still not major. While the island stands tall and elegant, coral and likeminded animals grow on its edges, forming a sort of a fringe, you could say. When the island sinks, the little coral fringe doesn’t. It stays behind. So gradually, as the island sinks away through the decades, a coral barrier surrounds it. This forms a sort of lagoon area between the island and the open ocean.

Red fin butterflyfish

The coral fringe isn’t equal all around the island, so in some places it might actually stick out of the water, while some other places might only feel the wind’s kiss at low tide and so on. Over time these higher bits pick up bird poo and coconut husks which form dirt for coconut trees to grow on, which form more of a basis for more dirt to get stuck and so on. I’m not sure about the details, so don’t quote me on this when talking to a person who knows all about it. To someone that knows nothing about it you would sound smart but to an educated student of atolls you’ll sound terribly lost on the road of knowledge.

Pacific double-saddle backed butterflyfish

Anyway, this is what I understood of it and I must have at least a correct idea of the thing, otherwise my siblings, who were paying attention, won’t let me post this. So eventually, when the island is all under the water again, the coral fringe still remains where it was. But now, at some places, the shallower part of the coral fringe has formed little thin islands. Thus the finished product of the atoll is a ring of little thin islands with some breaks in-between them. What happens to the coral fringe that doesn’t stick out of the water and become island? It stays under the water as far as I can tell, but it’s often not very deep, or at least not deep enough, for say, Shang Du to pass through. So, some atolls aren’t populated or ever get visited because the sea is constantly breaking on it from the outside and there’s no pass through which to get inside.

Moray eel

Some atolls however, have had their passes deepened so that larger vessels can travel through to the inside.

Another, and very important, detail of the atolls, are the tides. Now in the middle of the ocean it doesn’t really matter what the tide is doing, right? Well, I never really thought about it, but the tides are still there and that becomes apparent in the atolls. Because when the water level lowers, the water inside the atoll flows out, causing strong tides flowing out of the passes. And then vice versa, when it’s the other way around. So, when going through the passes it’s very important to know which way the current is going and to plan accordingly as it is quite hard to go against the tide.

Having explained all that, I will now proceed to the story.

In Raroia, there was only one pass that was deep enough for us to use. The Kon-Tiki island I told you about in my last blog, was on the opposite side of the atoll. What we did was go into the atoll and sail all the way to the back.

I must also mention that in the middle of these atolls there are lots of coral heads that don’t quite stick out of the water but that are very shallow. Its fascinating to think that maybe they were once the tips of mountains. But who knows? Anyway, they’re called bommies by all the sailors we’ve met and presumably everyone else who knows they exists except maybe some scientists who obviously use the scientific name. These bommies are quite dangerous and stealthy. At certain times of day it’s almost impossible to see them but even when the lighter patches of water is visible you still often need to keep a vigilant watch for them.

Despite these obstacles, we managed to get to the other side safely. But when we wanted to leave again, the engine wouldn’t start, we tried everything. In the end it was starting to get late, the sun was getting closer and closer to the horizon. Time was running out. To my disbelief Dad decided that we needed to leave anyway. The wind was blowing in a favourable direction and we could still make it through the pass before sunset and with an outbound tide. So we were off.

We sailed across the atoll, my Dad filled with stress at not having full control of the boat to better avoid bommies and avoid beaching or something. “At least we have a steel boat.” This is a comforting line we use often when doing something risky like this.

God was with us, and we didn’t beach. We reached the other side in time for it all, but it was wind over waves. Which means that the wind was blowing one way, and the current is going the opposite way. When this happens, the waves tend to get larger than they would in normal circumstances. They also tend to be unpredictable and confusing. The wind lessened as we approached the pass because of the land blocking it. This made us lose the little control we had of the boat. We were now completely in God’s hands. Where we belong.

It was getting harder to see now and everything became more like dark moving silhouettes as the sun moved further beyond the horizon . I wasn’t in the cockpit at the time, but I’ve got a pretty good idea as to what it was like. Almost as if small mountains had a little fun by pushing us around, coming up from below to surprise us as we tried to dodge them. But thanks to God we made it through safe and sound, bound for our next destination and the real subject of the story. The entry into Makemo.

So we had two choices. Sail straight to Tahiti past all the atolls that we wanted to see and had been the real motivator for the trip. The lonely unreachable diving spots. The Paradise on the other side of the world. Or we could sail from atoll to atoll, which would obviously be the more dangerous option but it had the more desirable destinations. After all, didn’t they just sail everywhere in the olden days? They didn’t have engines back then, couldn’t we do it too? Guess which option we went for. Yeah, the atoll one.

We arrived in Makemo, this time anticipating the lessening of wind as we approached the pass. But we had a secret weapon now. Our dingy was already launched and ready to help. The Jib (front sail) was set strategically to help us along when it came to it. The tide was heading in so that would help us along as well.

When we turned into the pass there was slight hesitation and we did so a little too late. We were too close to the reef for comfort. My Dad was on the dingy, my Mom at the helm. The rest of us were just hanging around, ready to obey any order that might come our way.

My Dad wanted to abort right then, but the current was stronger than we had anticipated and the rope connecting the dingy and the boat wasn’t the right one for towing. We managed to turn the boat around to face outward but the sail had backed and the little wind that there was, was pushing us further in. There was a lot of shouting as my Dad tried to get us to roll in the jib and Marike was frantically trying to tie the right dingy towing rope correctly to the boat. Franci and I eventually got the sail rolled in, but it was too late. The current was already taking us in… backwards. It was too late to try and tow the boat, we couldn’t abort anymore, but we could at least try and pull the boat so that it was facing forward again.

Marike and my Dad swapped places so that he was now on the boat and she in the dingy. I was handed a buoy to fend us in case we ran into the channel marker. We could literally see the cut off point of the canal right next to the boat, it wasn’t above the water, just a little too shallow for Shang Du. I was looking down into the water at the reef, watching the fish. I could identify them without a mask and everything. I remember watching the shore and measuring the distance, contemplating what we would do if we beached. I could see the black tip sharks swimming on the reef, their fins sticking out of the water as they were swimming over a very shallow bit of coral. I was relieved that I didn’t have to be afraid of them, I would have been terrified a year or two earlier. I just kept praying for the Lord for His will to be done.

Marike said that if anyone asks what has been the most scary part of your sailing trip so far? She will always, without a doubt, say “Going through the pass in Makemo”. But for me, it was a time of wonder. It’s as if I was sitting in a bubble of peace amongst the sudden storm of stress that seemed to have enveloped the rest of my family. I remember looking into the water with wonder, admiring the wonderful creation of our God. The water was so clear and beautiful, I couldn’t wait to jump in for a snorkel to get a closer look at God’s beautiful creation.

Marike who was in the dingy tried to push and pull, but all she could achieve was spinning the boat.

When we finally arrived Mom and Dad went to shore to just check things out a little. It was a Friday. They had to take a funny route to the dingy dock because of some shallow coral, going past the only other boat there, they were hailed over by the French man living there. He was a really big blessing to us. He told us that he knew of mechanic living on the little island who was building himself a boat. A nice yellow speed boat. He’s the guy that is maintaining the huge generator for the little island. We said we’d wait till Monday, but the French guy insisted that we go ask the gentleman at least. In the end, the mechanic, the French guy and the mechanic’s assistant came on board. Then they started working on the engine. It was some time in the afternoon by then. They worked until late and came back the next day and the next without any hesitation. Every problem would be discussed several times. First between the mechanic and his assistant in their native Polynesian language, then again in French with the French guy who then interpreted it for us into English after which my Dad and Marike would translate the engine talk into Afrikaans as they explained the complicated bits for us who do not speak mechanic. I understand it a lot better now than I used to, but can still not speak it myself.

Marike dirty with engine juice

The island was very small. We never really even explored it, we just swam and dived. We could do this after God blessed us with the wonderful mechanic who fixed the engine. It turned out to be the same problem as it was in Rio when we had to lift our engine out… Sea water had leaked in and made some stuff rust tight so that they couldn’t spin and do their thing, thus breaking the engine. However, other than in Brazil, we caught the problem in time and they could fix it before the engine was gone for. If we had gone on sailing between the atolls, or even just done the longer crossing to Tahiti, the engine would have seized entirely and we’d have had to replace it. But God is gracious and blessed us greatly. It’s amazing how he works in our lives. When going though the passes without the engine the question “Why, God? Why me? Why now?” always comes up. It tends to do that in the hard times, but God was gracious and let us get it fixed in time despite the stressfulness of the situation. If we hadn’t had engine problems we wouldn’t have met the French couple with whom we could share the gospel. So it’s always a question. Why does God put me through this? Our problem is that we’re too centred on self, and not others. God could have put us in that situation for that explicit reason to reach out to those people, but if we’re too centered on self than we won’t see those opportunities as a God send.

So instead of asking Why? We should ask How? How can I glorify the Lord through this situation?

Dad, the mechanic, and the mechanics assitant


Kon-Tiki – by Karin Jnr.

Ok, so this blog has some lessons in history included. Just a warning to all you people out there who’ve already had too much of school, despite the fact that it’s only just started. It’s a pretty cool history story, and I’ll try to keep you interested. If I’ll succeed is another thing, but I need something to keep me interested don’t I?

So a couple of years ago, I’m not sure how many, but it wasn’t in ancient times, and it wasn’t the other day so I guess you could say ‘the olden days’ as in the, ‘they didn’t have internet when I grew up in the olden days’ speech coming from your parents or quite possibly the ‘When I grew up in the olden days we didn’t have toilets inside the house’ speech coming from your grandparents, or maybe just the universally known one ‘The young people today are just not like the kids in the olden days. We were respectable back then!’ I guess it could possibly also have been in the olden days as in, ‘We didn’t have cars when I grew up, We had to hitch up the wagon whenever we wanted to go anywhere.’ And I’m not quite sure who’d be giving that speech as I’ve never received it, but probably some ancient family member that is well beloved.

Anyway, there were cars, so it wasn’t that long ago.

The story starts in Norway where some gentleman decided that the people who populated Polynesia had to have come from South America because of a lot of reasons but the main one being (as far as I could tell) the religion and culture similarities. But everybody else said that the Chinese populated Polynesia… Thor Heyerdahl, our subject of study today, was highly humiliated as people refused to believe him. He thus decided to prove it, gathering together a team of crazy people hungering for adventure.

So what did he need to do to prove everybody else wrong? Well, he had to reach the Polynesian islands equipped only with what South American Indians would have had back when people estimated they had taken the jump.

He and his team proceeded to go to South America and had a mini adventure right there trying to get the right wood to make the rafts out of. The newspapers were all over them by the time they actually stocked up the raft and left, almost leaving a crew member behind and getting a parrot as a departing gift from some random native in the chaos of trying to get away. The Port captain had told them that he didn’t think their boat was very seaworthy and that it would sink within the first week, but they ignored him of course, being the stubborn Norwegian men that they were.

With them they did not just take the coconuts and other supplies that the long gone natives would have had, but also a radio and some other complicated stuff meant for safety.

Now, not one of these five men were experienced sea men or really knew about this sort of thing. Four of them were Norwegian and the other one was Swedish. They didn’t go at a tremendous speed but they were going. An airplane flew out after them to say a last goodbye, and they communicated over the radio, but despite all this, the airplane never saw them as they were too small and flat against the water, which just goes to show that even if they did have the option of being saved at any time in their voyage they wouldn’t have had much of a chance. So the airplane left.

They were now on their own for a two month journey to Polynesia, with no engine or hope for help if they sank or ran out of supplies or something.

The tinned food they brought with, soon rusted open and got contaminated as they continually got washed over with salt water. They were always wet and honestly I have no idea how the radio stayed fine, but it did because later in the journey they actually managed to talk to people in Norway.. They survived by catching fish –mainly Mahi-Mahi, who are quite wild but delicious- they liked swimming but were deathly afraid of sharks, whom they caught and killed for fun for some reason. I think the whole idea was to cleanse the water around them of sharks, but that logic doesn’t make much sense to me since the blood from the dead shark would only attract more sharks and to kill the entire ocean’s population of sharks is pretty impossible for just five men on a random raft in the middle of the ocean.

Their little raft ended up becoming a little ecosystem of its own as seaweed grew along the bottom. This created shelter for little fish, which created a reason for bigger fish like Mahi-Mahi to come closer, which resulted in Thor and his friends never having to fear starvation.

I’m not going to recount the whole story. You can go and read his (Thor Heyerdahl’s) book if you really want to know. But the really important part of this story is that when they finally did reach Polynesia (they almost missed it) it was on a little atoll named Rarioa. Of course, as a boy my Dad having heard of Thor’s adventures had found the idea so romantic and awesome that we had to stop there. My Mom read the book to us on the way there and we went to the exact little island where they landed.

Oh dear! I completely forgot to mention that they named the Raft Kon-Tiki after some important historical member who featured both in the South American stories and in the Polynesian stories but with a slightly different name. So they named their little island Kon-Tiki. And we went over there to explore it too.

Kon Tiki motu

Now I don’t know if you know, but an atoll is a round circle of coral. But not all the coral sticks out of the water, those that do catch coconut husks and stuff which ferment into dirt and sand and thus they become ‘little islands’ that is what I was talking about.

Marike and Mom at the little monument which was erected to remember Kon Tikis’ landing

Karin, Sophia and Marike

Ok. So that was pretty cool. I think I can end my blog off here. It wasn’t really about us. But it was a rather interesting bit of history retold by Karin Jnr. It wasn’t told very well, but it filled another blog so I think it’s good enough. 😊

Mom with the Norwegian flag

Our first atoll: Raroia – by Marike

When Franci and I reached the age where we were reading a lot, my Dad supplied us with many adventure books. Specifically books that he felt had helped further his “sail around the world” dream. Willard Price’s Hal and Rodger series seemed to have played a big part. It was in one of those books, “Pacific” that I first heard of pearl divers. At that time I did not have the foggiest idea where the pacific was, but I knew they had pearls.

“Coral island” by R.M. Ballantyne also gave me a glimpse into the world of beaches, coconut trees and lagoons. (I just imagined the lagoons waaaaaaay too small!)

Nuku Hiva was our very first Pacific island. (Well, South Pacific island. I suppose the Galápagos are islands in the Pacific too.) But though Nuku Hiva was great, it lacked a key feature: clean water. Not that the water around Nuku Hiva is polluted – it’s just not clear.

We were all excited for our very first atoll. =)



Looking back at our stay at Raroia it was jam-packed with excitement! The excitement of meeting Pacific fish life for the first time (other than mahi-mahi), Kon-Tiki island, pearls and celebrating Karin’s 15th birthday all featured in the busy week spent at our first atoll.

While we were in Nuku Hiva, we found out that the month of July is a festive month for the people of French Polynesia. They have inter-island dance competitions and a general festive air is adopted over the weekends.

We arrived at Raroia just before the weekend so on Saturday my Dad and Sophia went ashore to find out if there would be anything interesting happening in the tiny village on the main motu. (The islanders call the tiny sand-bar-like islands “motus”.)

They were not able to find out a whole lot, since everybody speaks either French or Polynesian. They did manage (through Google translate) to find out that there was to be some kind of sports event in the afternoon. After all six of us arrived on land, there didn’t seem to be much going on, so we walked down the village’s one street to the house of a very friendly local who had talked to my Dad and Sophia earlier. She was selling pearls!

On the opposite side of the atoll there is a pearl farm. I’m not at all sure how the logistics work, but the pearls this lady had to sell came from that farm.

Island life was vividly portrayed in that household. The island is tiny – not only does everyone know everyone else, but they probably know everyone on the next atoll over as well. There is very little sense of formality and clothes tend to be on the frayed side. A lot like when living on the boat, actually. It’s not that we don’t own nice clothes or that we don’t like dressing up. It’s just that there is no occasion. That, and the fact that you ARE going to be working with something that stains, so you might as well wear something old. It’s warm as well – a few extra holes help with ventilation. 😉

We were greeted with smiles and as soon as we made our intent clear, all was bustle to set up the tiny camping table on which to display the pearls.

The pearls were mostly dark – the better the quality, the lighter the colour and the rounder and smoother the pearl. There were a few loose pearls, but mostly they were set in earrings and necklaces. It was wonderful to take a smooth, dark pearl and hold it up to the light. There are many colours that shimmer under the surface.

In the end when we had decided on our purchases, all had to be photographed with the permit, in the event of any authorities doubting our claim to the pearls. (They are extremely strict on pearl trade in French Polynesia.)

Shopping done, we wandered around the motu. There is one road running almost the length of the village and ends up at the airport. Actually no, it’s not really an airport. It’s more like a runway with a big, open shed to one side.

When we were there the little office was locked and a few construction cones huddled around a mobile staircase. You could walk all the way down the empty expanse of runway if you so wished, but it was hot.

The sports event, we later found out, was extremely low-key. There were a bunch of people standing around, but mostly waiting for something to happen while the main competitors ran about the island with coconuts, so we didn’t see much of them.

We as yachties were, of course, extremely noticeable. They do get quite a few sailing boats there, so they didn’t make a fuss, but everybody still knows immediately that you are new. The people were very friendly and tried to answer our questions as best they could via Google Translate.

At one stage we tried interacting with the kids some. I asked my Dad for the tablet and all I was doing was having the kids spell out their names so I could have a better go at pronouncing them. There was one little girl that kept on trying to tell me something. A simple sentence that simply went right over my head. She must have been about seven or eight, so in the end I had her spell out on the translator what she was saying. After staring uncomprehendingly at the English for a while, (Google translate is great – it’s just not always very good with converting sentence structure . . . also I have no idea how well she could spell…), I finally understood that she wanted “to show me something”.

Once she had my attention, up she popped and tumbled head over heels into a cartwheel. Although not smooth, it was adorable and she was properly “ooh”ed and “aaah”ed afterward. To return the favour, I showed her how to get into a bridge from a standing position and, since I had just learned how to do this, I kicked my feet over my head. As soon as I was right way up again, she had me help her perform the same daring feat. Trusting me absolutely, she had me hold her going down into a bridge and then support her as she kicked her feet back over her head. Her playmate also had me repeat all the same steps again and and again. I rather overworked the French “voila!”, since my French vocabulary allowed for no other exclamations of affirmation.


At some stage we motored across the lagoon and anchored right off Kon Tiki island. (Another post will have to be made of that worthy destination, as I am focussing on pearls.)

Just a few motus South of Kon Tiki there is a pearl farm. We dinghied over to the pearl farm one afternoon and were delighted to find that we were recognised. That Saturday spent ashore we had spoken…well, communicated with a lady who had told us that she came from the other side of the atoll. And on the other side of the atoll she was indeed! Overseeing things at the pearl farm. ^_^

Most of the oysters cannot be re-seeded and are thrown out. They allowed my Dad to eat as much raw oyster as he wanted ^_^

We really struggled to ask any questions, even with the help of Google translate, but everyone remained super friendly and helpful, willing to show us what they were doing.

Re-seeding oysters

That afternoon they were seeding oysters. Oysters that had been growing in the comfort and safety of their enclosures up until the point where they were rudely pulled from the water and hauled into the big wet shed. In this big, wet shed, they are dumped on a processing table where there are one or two men with big rough tools. The men expertly tear off oysters from the clumps they had been growing in and then use their big, unwieldy looking tools to pry open the oyster’s tightly clamped shell and neatly insert an orange wedge in the slit. They work fast and it’s easy to see they’ve had a lot of practice.

The oysters that are wedged open get packed into crates and are then placed at the seeding stations. Each station had a person sitting before it with a series of very specialised tools which I will NOT endeavour to name, but will have to show you a photo of.

It was fun to stand behind them and watch – even if we couldn’t ask any questions

As each oyster takes its turn, it is placed in the clamp to firmly hold it in place. A new tool is inserted into the mouth of the oyster and the wedge removed, providing a clear view of the internal workings of that oyster. Using their special tools, the seeders will cut a tiny slit in the pearl pouch (as I have come to think of it) of the oyster. Into this comes the “seed” along with a bit of lining to help with the healing. The “seed” is a plastic ball, treated to be especially non-irritant to the oysters. This ball will then over time be coated with the lovely pearl shimmer.

It was very interesting to watch the process. After seeding an oyster, it would be dumped into another crate. Each oyster then gets a tiny little hole drilled through a ‘shell-only’ part of it and eventually gets strung up onto ropes with fishing lines. These ropes, lined with the seeded oysters, are put back into the water.

We were invited back for the following day – we were made to understand that in the morning, around 9o’clock they would be taking out pearls from the oysters.

A “seed” being placed in the very specific pouch

That was a lot of fun! Seeing the way in which the oysters were seeded was very interesting, but seeing a pearl being taken out was enormously satisfying!

My mom baked some cookies to take along, just as a thank you for letting us wander around their shed. I think they went down very well. ^_^

Sophia does the cookie round

The shed didn’t look any different in the morning – still big, full of noise and still wet. The stations were all nice and busy, crates were being hauled around. To see the difference you had to go stand right next to a seeder. Only now they weren’t seeders any more – now they were treasure seekers!

They were very kind to also allow us the chance of taking out some pearls. Here is Franci being helped – it’s much more tricky than it looks!

Most oysters have pearls in them, but not all of them. Some are empty, some only have a little rice-crispy-like fleck hidden inside. It’s fun to stand and watch. The treasure seeker positions his/her oyster, putting in the tongs well to the side of the oyster’s lips to have maximum visual of what’s inside. Then comes the careful prodding of the pearl sack. Is there something inside? A pearl will show up with a big bump. A slit is then made into the sack and carefully the pearl is extracted with the funny cup tool.

Very specialised tools

They even let us have a go! (We took a LOT longer than they did though!)

Ta-da! Sophia found a pearl! 😉