Special Delivery: 400 lbs of fruit for Puka Puka

Swell’s forepeak converted into the cargo hold for delivering all the fruit!

Note** This story, from last year’s circle of French Polynesia, was too good not to share, despite happening nearly 9 months ago. My neck is healed and I’m back in Tahiti, catching up on some writing before heading to the boatyard…:)

March 2012: And so the time had arrived. Cyclone season over, it was safe to head southwest say a final goodbye to the Marquesas. I poured over the chart, locating the tiny, isolated atoll of Puka Puka, 250 miles straight south. Raiarii’s grandfather was the first to colonize this desolate atoll in the late 1930s. Tehani Henere Papa and his wife, Elizabeth, had 22 children there!! Two sets of twins!?! Tehani delivered each one of the babies in a tub behind their little house. They raised the kids on fish and coconuts and the fresh Pacific air. Tehani worked copra from dawn to dusk year round, and when the copra boats came to collect the dried coconut meat that he split, dried, and collected in the large burlap sacs, he could purchase sacs of flour, sugar, and rice with his earnings. Raiarii’s father, Victor, was number 15 of the 22, and left the atoll at age 17 to find work in Tahiti and had never gone back. Interisland travel is expensive and difficult for locals, with few spots on the cargo ships and high prices for airfare. So Raiarii had never visited Puka Puka, nor met many of the cousins, aunts, and uncles from his father’s side who are still living there. Upon learning this story, I decided we must try to sail to Puka Puka!

A load of bananas for Raiarii’s family on Puka Puka…

The wind was forecasted to turn north, giving us a good angle to sail there directly sailing, so we prepped Swell and collected fruit from our generous friends to bring to Raiarii’s family in Puka Puka, where the sandy, salty soil lacked the nutrients to plant food. We gathered limes, pamplemousse, oranges, bananas, breadfruit, papayas, starfruit, taro, and pomegranates! By the time we left, Swell’s forepeak was our cargo hold, carrying nearly 400lbs of fruit!

When the wind began to shift northeast, we raised anchor, and slipped around the breathtaking 2,000-foot cliffs, and pointed the bow south. I would miss the plentiful fruit, rugged mountain peaks, wild goats and horses, shaded valleys, cool rivers, and good people of the Marquesas…

Goodbye beautiful Enata Fenua!

At sea again, with both the autopilot and the monitor broken, one of us was relegated to the helm at all times. I spent hours watching the sea and imagining our rendezvous at Puka Puka. The atoll has no pass by which to enter a lagoon. The reef extends, unbroken all the way around the island, so I hoped that we could find a safe place to anchor Swell. I’d already decided that either way, I would stand off aboard Swell, while Raiarii went ashore to meet his family and tour the atoll.

On the second day out, the winds lightened and steering grew awfully monotonous, but we plowed through the hot, long day, making mile after slow mile toward our special destination.

Busting some early morning moves at the helm to stay awake, while Raiarii gets some rest…

We hoped to arrive the morning of the third day, but the light winds slowed our progress. His family had been notified of our pending arrival, so we trimmed the sails and eeked every bit of speed possible out of the hull in order to arrive before dark. Finally we spotted Puka Puka’s flat-top of coconut palms on the horizon ahead, and simultaneously, the fishing reel buzzed with a strike. Raiarii pulled in a beautiful tuna. I thanked it for its life with a prayer and quickly put it out of suffering, grateful to be able to arrive with another gift for the family…

Our excitement rose as the island grew clearer. Taking turns at the wheel, we cleaned up Swell and ourselves a bit to be presentable upon arrival. No sooner, Raiarii spotted an aluminum tinny plying the seas in our direction.

Greeted at sea by Uncle Richard, Cousin Teva, and the local policeman.

Raiarii’s uncle, cousin, and the local police officer greeted us on the sea and motioned for us to follow them around to the backside of the island. The men assured us there was a spot up ahead that would be safe for anchoring. A pod of large bottlenose dolphins led the way, crisscrossing at the bow. Soon we were precariously close to the breaking waves on the reef, but still the seafloor did not rise beneath us. “Over here,” they called in Tahitian.

I nosed Swell in carefully, and we watched the colors of reef begin to show under her hull. It was a tiny ledge of reef that stuck out 30 yards more than the rest in about 30 feet of depth, before dropping off into the deep abyss.

Raiarii took the helm, and I jumped overboard to assess the reef for the best spot to place the anchor. With our concerted effort, I directed the anchor underwater to a barren ledge, where it was sure to stay hooked and not hurt much. We also slid a stern anchor over the deep ledge in case the wind switched.

It could hardly be called an anchorage, but the combo of light northeast winds and calm south swell would let us get away with it for this special occasion. Anchors down, we began to offload the cargo. Eyes bulged as the endless train of fruit streamed out of Swell. Filled with fruit, the little tinny rode low in the water. I scurried around Swell, securing a few things and flipping on the anchor light, as they insisted we come to shore immediately to meet the rest of the family and have dinner together. As we pulled away from Swell, I sent up a little prayer for her safety near the reef…

Swell and I were rather nervous about the open ocean anchoring!

Off we went in the tinny, the dolphins again at the bow as we buzzed back toward a small crack in the reef with a dock for offloading supplies. We followed a wave into the tiny pass as the whitewater crumbled along the reef on both sides.  Uncle Richard neared the dock carefully in the surge, and a splay of arms reached down to help us out. A moment later we stood on land, cloaked in flowered welcome ‘heis’, meeting a lineup of family and friends who’d come to greet us. The kids dove for the bananas and star fruit and we wandered to the house of Uncle Taro, Aunt Patricia, and their four lovely daughters.

Upon arrival.

Raiarii, being shown a photo of his grandfather, Tehani, whose father was Dutch, hence the European features…

Honored by our visit, our gracious hosts fed us until we couldn’t eat anymore as we learned more about the history of the Papa family on the island. Almost a third of the population of 250 were Raiarii’s relations! While eating platefuls of sashimi, poisson cru, and fruit, we listened to stories and looked at old photos of Tehani and the children. It grew late. Weary from our long nights at sea, we asked to be taken back to Swell to rest up for the following day’s island tour and picnic.

Despite my fatigue, I slept little that night. The breaking waves sounded so close I kept sitting straight up and thinking we were on the reef! But by morning I felt assured that Swell was firmly stuck and safe as long as the conditions remained the same.

That morning Uncle Richard came to pick us up and the dolphins again escorted us to the dock. He told us that they loved to swim with people and were always playful and curious when the islanders were spearfishing. I hoped we’d get to swim with them later!

After an extravagant breakfast, we visited Raiarii’s grandparents’ burial site and went to the house where all 22 children were born. Everyone was so delighted by our visit, and the whole day I felt so glad that we’d made the effort to come. After helping prepare for the picnic, we set out across the island in the back of the truckbed, stopping at sites of interest and meeting other relatives along the way. The island had three separate, shallow lagoons on the east side, and we picnicked near the third and swam in the hot, extra-salty water with the kids.

On our return that afternoon, Uncle Taro asked the local mayor if they could launch the community boat so that everyone could come out and take a tour of Swell. He was agreeable, so family and friends piled in and we headed out to Swell. They told us only one other sailboat had ever stopped there as far as they knew, and certainly none of them had ever seen the inside of one. So they were delighted and awed to visit Swell and see that we had beds, sink, oven, stove, water, and all the essentials…

As we all sat aboard Swell, I noticed the waves were picking up. The sets were breaking a little farther out and I’d seen the forecast for south swell on the way. Sadly, I knew we’d have to leave before dark. It was a bittersweet goodbye, having been taken in so graciously and having to part so quickly, but we wouldn’t be safe there again overnight. Many tears were shed as all the family members crowned us with parting shell ‘heis’. Silent drops rolled down Raiarii’s cheeks as he hugged and kissed them goodbye and promised to visit again one day. We waved to their boat until it rounded the corner out of sight…

Just then a big swell lifted the hull and the boat jerked to starboard on the anchor line, reminding us of the reality we faced. The sun was setting, the swell was picking up, and we were getting dangerously close to being tossed onto the reef! We had to get both anchors up before darkness arrived and prepare the cabin for making passage again. As I dove and cleared the anchors, Raiarii pulled them up. I looked around in hopes of saying goodbye to the dolphins, but no sign of them appeared.

Anchors clear, we drifted away from the reef with the wind, readying the mainsail halyard and jib sheets. Just then, one of the dolphins launched into the air beside the cockpit, hovering horizontally for a moment and looking right at us as if to say, “What? Leaving already?!?”

Raiarii and I looked at each other, breathtaken. I jumped in and we took turns swimming with them until it was too dark to see…a magical finish to a magical stopover…

Dusk swim with the welcoming crew at Puka Puka.

We finally dried off and rounded the corner to wave a final goodbye. In the soft dusk, we could see all the family lined up ashore. They flashed their headlights and honked their horns, jumped up and down and waved madly, and we did the same. Slowly we drifted farther and farther away with the wind. We were both sad to have to leave so soon, but grateful that the weather had afforded us those precious 24 hours spent there. After half an hour had passed, we saw the lights of the cars heading home and turned to take on the passage ahead.

As the excitement dwindled, our exhaustion surfaced, and with no self-steering we decided to heave to and sleep for a few hours while Swell drifted away from the atoll on the open sea. I lie there for a while in the cockpit under the stars, spilling over with gratitude and joy. I would never forget our ‘fruitful’ visit to Puka Puka…Time with family is a precious gift! Regardless of our lineage, I hope we will learn to treat each other like the One Great Human Family that we are!! One Love!

Goodbyes are never easy.

Giddyup! ‘Back to Nature’ adventure revisited…

Long-awaited arrival at the legendary bay of Hanavave.

Lost in the stars, I lay huddled on the port side of the cockpit in my sleeping bag. The eastern horizon hinted the coming twilight, but my gaze was fixed skyward. Swell’s soft rhythmic lurch through the small upwind chop, told me I could relax. I didn’t want to jinx myself, but intuitively I anticipated a successful arrival. On two other occasions, I’d been forced to alter course and sail elsewhere. This time the wind was strong enough to be single-reefed, but Swell wasn’t fighting. The wind would pick up later, I knew, but I was optimistic with 17 miles to go at 4:40am. Intuitive notions aside, experience had trained me that no landfall should be celebrated until the anchor was firmly set!

As dawn haloed the island’s striking silhouette, I couldn’t help but mentally wander through the tales of Thor and Liv Heyerdahl’s romantic ‘back-to-nature’ adventure that took place on this very island in the 1930s…ancient carved petroglyphs, toppling waterfalls, brisk mountaintops, hidden caves, action-packed tidepools, abundant fruits, and resourceful locals swirled through my imagination…

A few hours later, the sails luffed indecisively as we moved into the swirling wind shadow of the island’s 3,500ft peaks. Despite little sleep, I was abuzz with excitement as we furled the sails and started the engine. Gusts swooped in at us from north, then south as we neared…adding to the mystique of the legendary bay where ominous stone cliffs, gravity-defying spires, swaying palms, and turning seabirds awaited!!

Change in altitude thanks to my courageous equine friend.

Mountain picnicking!!

A petroglyph carved in stone–one of many in this valley steeped in myth and tabu.

Ol cheveaux watching over the hard stone where rocks were once sharpened into weapons and tools.

Locals heading out with their hounds to hunt wild pigs a few bays to the south.

Proud Marquesan hunter’s home.

Today Marquesan lives meet somewhere between modern convenience and ancient tradition.

Twin Tikis watching over Swell and the wedging lefts.

Post-surf, barefoot architecture project…relaxing on my stone throne…

  Leaving it to the dolphins for a while…view from the beach shack.

Breadfruit lunch…giving new meaning to eating ‘whole foods’! Now it’s off to find Thor and Liv’s cave dwelling…

Healthy bees are the Earth’s (and our) best friends.

Beauty overload, I can’t hold my camera still! Goosebumps as the full moon rises over Omoa valley…Boundless gratitude!!

Lubed gears and New frontiers

I’m healing up and almost like new…so I figured I’d go back before neck breaks or speaking tours…to fill in where we left off after hat-making!


New friends to lead the way…

I sat scooping papaya into my mouth in the cockpit, wondering if the package would arrive today. A moment later my phone rang. It was Isrin calling to tell us the windlass part had arrived and they’d drop it by later!

Several teeth on my Maxwell windlass had made their final anchor pull at the bay on the other side of the island. As I had pushed the button to raise the chain, a dreadful grinding sound screeched out and echoed off the surrounding stone cliffs .

“That can’t be good…” I surmised with a furrowed brow, but a wind shift had brought onshore conditions, and we had to get out of there before the wind chop got worse, so I  finished lifting the anchor despite wincing through every second of the awful noise.

Upon arriving in the next port, Raiarii and I disassembled the unit to reveal broken teeth on one of the main gears. Several Skype calls and two weeks of black sand beach breaks, murky water shark sightings, meals with the O’Connor’s, night fishing, abandoned puppy rescuing, and downhill skating later…the cardboard box arrived!! Freedom to sail on!

With the new part installed and the Windlass gears lubed like never before…we said final goodbyes and pointed the bow toward the island to the south…

Getting greasy as we take apart the broken windlass…it took a hammer, Kroil, some interesting leverage techniques, and a few bad words…but we freed all moving parts and waited for the new gear piece to arrive!


The worn out teeth on the windlass gear…


First stop…a mysto 3 foot a-frame that broke for over shallow reef for 3 hours and then never reappeared?!…followed by a mango binge 🙂

The glory of Nature is always near if we’re willing to pay attention…it yanks us out of our mind chatter and joins us to the Greatness that IS.

We are the creators of our reality…Swelly in Paradise!

With love all things RISE UP!!

She-pirate on commute…

With this back drop, I had to nose Swelly in for a closer look…what beauty!!

Ask and you shall receive!! Swell found some swell! Went over the falls on the way in to the beach wearing my Stormproof Patagonia backpack with all my camera gear inside…dry as could be! This exposed anchorage wasn’t safe to stay overnight, so we put in a quick surf after a long day of sailing…and an evening of beachcombing while wild horses grazed on the hillside. At 10:30pm, despite blazing fatigue, we could take no more of the sharps rolls and jarring yanks of the chain…so out to sea we sailed under starlit heavens…

What makes freedom so beautiful?

A pamplemousse giving me a morning reminder never to judge people or things by their outward appearance!

Regardless of superficial differences, we are so much more the same–sharing our Earthly ride in sorrow or joy, in glory or humility, in gain or in loss, in wonder or in doubt…so show Love to your fellow human–each of us a tiny spark in a great Fire!! Burn brighter and those around you will too…

P.S. I updated the ‘Reading Page’ to give book descriptions and I’m slowly adding short videos from this trip on my YouTube page. To view them, the YouTube button on the top right corner of this webpage will take you directly there…Enjoy 🙂

A Pain in the Neck!

What the heck, I broke my neck!?

As some of you know, I recently suffered a cervical spine fracture of my C3 vertebrae. In other words, I broke my neck! Don’t worry, I’m ok! I was extremely lucky that my fracture did not effect the spinal column, so there was no nerve damage and I will recover fully and relatively quickly… So that’s this month’s excuse for blog delays! 🙂

I’ve been lying prone and mostly immobile for more than two weeks now. Luckily, the sea has rendered me thick with patience, as this is not unlike a tough passage. The first few days were the the roughest–unable to lift my head and stuck in the warbled cross-chop of pain meds. It felt like I’d lost control of the ship! My friends and family were shocked by the news. Impossible!? How could this have happened?! But what at first seemed like disaster, has been laden with learning.  The only thing I could do was surrender, get silent, go inward, Listen…

Voyaging aboard Swell has taught me that everything that happens in life can be used to grow. In each adversity there is opportunity, if you choose to see it that way. ‘Maintaining a joyful mind’ is possible only if you are willing to stay present through the hard stuff, too. By raising the sails of surrender, I’ve discovered a new quality of stillness. Rather than self-pity and sorrow, blessings and insights abound. Surrendering to an unchangeable situation makes it possible to hear the wisdom that resides deep within all of us–the stuff we know we know, but store away in some remote inner lock-box. What if we listened more?

Yea, this has been a real ‘pain in the neck’, but in order to live wide open, every circumstance (chosen or not) must be embraced with equal fervor, ridden with equal grace, and accepted with Trust and Love. This means everything we encounter is part of the game; our teachers are disguised in our most perturbing situations and people. How we react to them allows us to choose who we are again and again and again. The option to choose Love or Gratitude or Humility or Kindness or Generosity or Joy never goes away! Lived this way, life becomes an extraordinary adventure of unlimited potential and boundless growth as you challenge yourself to evolve into the best You!! So don’t fret, soon I’ll be back on my feet and better than ever! Thank you to all my wonderful friends and family for showering me with so much love, care, and good healing vibes!

My big day at Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego.

“Maintain a joyful mind. Nothing wasted, nothing lost. All part of the perfection…” Flying via the birds and butterflies in Coronado–Thank you Dixon family!

And in case you’re wondering, here’s how it happened…

On October 8th at 8:29am I sat in my faded green station wagon in one of the sea-side parking spots at Torrey Pines State beach. I’d been getting anxious to get back to my travels, but numerous things seemed to be keeping me in California. I’d been nursing a swollen ankle for a whole month, for which I couldn’t pinpoint any significant injury? I’d been staying off it, ice, massage, acupuncture, but whatever was wrong had been oddly persistent. As the clock struck 8:30am, I reached for my phone to call a family friend’s orthopedic office about scheduling an MRI for my ankle. The doctor had offered to help, as i don’t have medical insurance in the US. I dialed the number…

“This is the T-mobile refill center. Your account has expired. Our refill center is experiencing technical difficulties. Please call back in half an hour to an hour to refill your account for continued service.”

“No!” I thought. Cursing myself for forgetting to refill my ‘On the Go’ service before it had run out.

I looked out to sea. I’d spent much of the last month away from it, knowing I couldn’t get in. But on this particular morning, the feeling to be near it had overcome me. Small waves tripped on the shallows and spilled upon the shore. The horizon was steady, comforting. I felt a sensation of being ‘home’.

The tide was dropping; one particular sandbar beckoned as the second consecutive right peeled and spat. With half an hour to kill and a bladder full of tea, a swim seemed in order. So without another thought, I was zipping up my Patagonia R1 spring suit and hopping down the rocks, one fin in hand. I limped across the short strip of sand and collapsed into my beloved ocean at knee deep. Ahhhh!!

My second wave looked like a beauty. It approached from the north, standing up as I kicked into it. But as I plunged down the 2 ft face, an odd warble cropped up, tossing me head over heels. Totally unexpectedly, my head hit the sand. My body was angled such that all its weight and momentum fell upon the forward part of my head, snapping it backwards in the process. “No way,” I thought…

I came to the surface. “Ok. I’m conscious.” Check. “I can move my arms and legs.” Check. “I’m ok. I’m ok.”

I let the water push me in and stood up at the shoreline. Pain gripped my neck. I knew I was hurt. “I’m alright,” I tried to convince myself, heading carefully for the car. “Ok, what do I do…? My phone doesn’t work. I guess I could ask one of these joggers to call for help? …But then again, I have no medical insurance…Surely I can make it up to my sister’s house where I can use her Skype to call someone…”

I strained to hold my head up each time I accelerated the car on the 3-mile drive to my sister’s house. My neck felt loose, unstable, weak…I made it to her apartment and laid down, but the pain seemed to be getting worse. I called my friend Chrissy, an ER nurse at Sharp Memorial Hospital. Surely she would know what to do! Lucky for me she’d surfed early and had the day off.

“I’m on my way.” She said immediately.

She whizzed me off to the hospital and we walked in the back door, where she said she asked her doc co-worker to come have a look before deciding to check me into the ER.

Dr. Healy firmly recommended a CT scan, so Chrissy and the on-duty nurses—real live angels if you ask me– checked me into a room and stabilized my neck. As they tucked me under the blanket, I thought again and again how grateful I felt to be in such caring, capable hands. Shortly after, I was wheeled off and placed inside the CT tube. The metal machine whirled; my mind did too. Warm tears rolled down my cheeks. I was scared. Back in my room, the pain intensified and I finally succumbed to the offer for pain medication. Chrissy inserted the IV and I floated off on a morphine cloud awaiting the results…

Chrissy saves the day!! Thanks for being my ambulance, nurse, and heroic friend! You made me laugh all day!

Meanwhile Chrissy waited for the results to show up on the computer, “Radiology found no fracture!” We both sighed and smiled. She removed the brace. Just then, Dr Watt, director of the ER and a fan of my adventures stopped in to say hello. “I’m happy to meet you, but so sorry it’s here!” He said. The feeling was mutual! I’d been using his Surfline password that Chrissy had given me about a year prior…I never thought I’d get to thank him in person! We were laughing about it as Dr Healy came rushing through the door. “Secure the collar!” He said. “There is a fracture at C3.” He’d reviewed the CT results himself and found the fracture of my spinous process at C3. Good work, Dr Healy!

After all the non-stop adventures, remote places, and constant risky business I’ve gotten up to in my short lifetime…it didn’t seem possible that I could break my neck bodysurfing benign beach break in sunny California!? But as unlucky as it seems, I was very lucky. Had the bone been crushed farther, enough to even lightly press on the nerves running through my spinal column, I could have been paralyzed to the extent that I could not even use my chest muscles to breathe. I’m still grasping this…so for now I’m grateful. Grateful to be alive!?! Grateful for the fabulous medical care I received (that includes you, Mom!) Grateful to be a tiny, (but living!!!) fleck in all the Grandness!

My hair especially seems to miss the ocean!?–Shorebreak hair, Whitewater hair, Double Over Head hair, Offshore Closeout hair!

Sister Kathleen fearlessly takes on the dreadlocks on Day 6! Right after finding my soulmate (see below).

Dawwwwgg and Capt Lizzy?

The more you know the less you need: Palm frond hats!

By teaching Haurainui’s mom to weave these hats, maybe he will be able to teach his children one day…Keep culture alive, it makes the world rich and beautiful!

“The more you know, the less you need.” –Aboriginal Proverb

On one of our last evenings together, Blight pulled a long palm frond from the back of his car, split it down the middle., and counted off 13 leaves. He fit it around Raiarii’s head and said, “Need a new hat?”

We’d both been itching to learn how to make palm frond hats in real Polynesian tradition. On the island where Raiarii lives, the youth seem to spend much more time in front of the TV than learning about their culture. So many traditional practices have slipped away, especially in the last 30 years…We’d been loving learning as much as possible from the more culturally in tact peoples of the Marquesas, as a part of our own effort at cultural revival…

So Blight taught us to make hats! In the days that followed, Raiarii and I spent long hours working to perfect and solidify our new hat-making skills. And at each of our following island stops, we found numerous opportunities to pass on the sustainable headwear stoke!! Some of the easiest ways to create a sustainable future are to learn from those who live/lived in harmony with Mother Earth for thousands of years…


Thanks to coach Blight patiently walking us through the steps, we gots palm frond hat-making skills!! Raiarii’s was perfect…must be in the genes.

Practice makes perfect!!

A Hundred Feet Too Many

Full moon rising…never know what might happen!?!

Lost in a deep sleep, I woke suddenly to a sharp sting on my back. I sat up quickly, wondering what the heck would be in my bed? The day prior I’d been stung by a bee hiding in a hand towel. Could it have been a bee? I’d noticed there were an odd amount of bees finding their way out to Swell…

“Must have been a bee,” I concluded. I rolled over on my side and drifted back to sleep.

I hadn’t found rest long when I felt another odd sting on my stomach. Despite my sleepy delirium, I realized something was not right. I leapt out of bed shaking that pillow that I’d been clutching in my arms, and out fell a 6-inch centipede!!

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” I must have screamed loud enough to wake the entire island at the horror of discovering what I’d just been cuddling.

Raiarii nearly fell down the companionway stairs, thinking I was being murdered! He’d been sleeping outside after our meal ashore over the fire…

“Centipede!!” I cried, pointing to where it had crawled among the onions and grapefruits in the netting below my bunk.

He grabbed a piece of wood, lifted the net and there he was. But the centipede was clearly more alert than the two of us. He faked left, then scurried right and disappeared behind the fuel tank below my bunk. My jaw agape, I struggled to piece together what had just happened.

“What? But how? Oh NO!” I knew the hundred-footer was safe and sound within the impossible-to-access crevices of Swell.

I hauled my blanket out side, and curled up in the farthest corner of the cockpit, rubbing my stung belly now quite awake…

“He must have crawled into the backpack while we were ashore…” I determined.

The next day Raiarii went off to hunt for a few days with some friends, leaving me with my unsolicited new company. Centipedes are extraordinary creatures and important for regulating insect populations tropical island ecosystems, but a centipede as a crewmate? Suffice to say, I think were equally unhappy about the situation. I refused to sleep on my bunk, and knowing they seek warm places in the night, I decided the only safe bet was to pitch my tent…

I pitched the tent in the cockpit, maniacally shaking each pillows and blanket before it entered the zippered-in world of quietude.

On the fourth night in the tent, I heard a rustling from below. Raiarii, having returned from the hunt, had decided to sleep on my berth and see what would happen. I unzipped the tent to witness a battle between the two. He’d been stung on the leg! He was chasing the culprit around the underside of the galley step amongst an assortment of scrap wood and random parts. He crawled into a piece of stainless tubing where Raiarii trapped him and flung him overboard…

In the morning, I put away my tent, smberly hoping he had made it ashore to carry on his centipede life…

Projects, Prospects, and Conscious eating…

this galley girl has learned to love eating with awareness…

I deeply apologize for my lack of blog love lately! In the wake of the speaking tour it has been busy busy busy, another sprained ankle, a marathon of couch surfing, some shuffling through my storage unit, and sorting out my next adventure– book writing! It’s finally that time. I feel like I have a message and story to share beyond blogging and want to process and produce out of the seven years I’ve spent voyaging before setting off again! So I’m trying to figure out the Where and How associated with this kind of process….If anyone can offer up simple, inexpensive lodging for a few months to help me get started–allowing for solitude, surf, and proximity to nature–please get in touch!

In the meantime, I’ve been sorting through GoPro footage and cleaning up the website. I will be adding a few pages under the new ‘Inspiration’ tab on the home page, too…Check out the page about ‘Conscious Eating‘ that I just finished…it’s full of recipes and tips about eating with awareness. Please feel free to add to this page via ‘Comments’!

Thank you for your patience…more island stories to come as well. I still haven’t blogged about the centipede in the night, the broken windlass, weaving palm frond hats, horseback-riding in Thor and Liv Heyerdahl’s footsteps, nor hauling 500 lbs of Marquesan fruit to the fruitless atoll of Puka Puka…hang tight! xoxo

Bait for Breakfast


Bait for breakky! What does it mean when the fish jump right on deck!?

Back in the islands, the cyclone season dwindled to a thankfully uneventful close. Swell had sprouted sea ‘roots’ after nearly 2 months in the same rolly bay. Algae swayed on Swell’s waterline, while resident bait fish circled below. Mornings would begin with the sound of thrashing water near the hull–a tuna or the likes–chasing the baitball into a frenzy such that a dozen or so would leap upon Swell’s deck! First to rise would chase down our flapping-flopping little bait buddies, thank them for their lives, gut them and toss them into the pan with a spoonful of butter. Breakfast!! YUM! Lower food chain delicacy!

But the time had come to cast our thoughts toward the next horizon. It took three days of algae scrubbing to free Swell, Miti Miti, and her anchor gear from the extraneous greenery.  The crabs and mini shrimp crawled in our ears and pinched when they got stuck under my swimsuit. Our bait friends and the teenage jacks scored an easy meal, darting amongst the newly freed algae clouds. I dove down the anchor line…down, down, down to 50 feet and hovered there in the sand…the sounds of the seabed crackled and hummed in my equalized eardrums. I was gonna miss this place.

We made rounds of goodbyes through the valley over a few days–always proportionally more difficult the longer the stay. We loaded up the mountain of fruit and parting gifts, but no treasure was greater than the friendships and love we’d been given there. I would miss the kids too much…their purity was my daily refuge.

On the morning of departure, they waved madly from the rocks on the shoreline. I paraded Swell a few times round the bay, blared the fog horn, then pointed the bow to sea behind watery eyes…

Not too far away–and yet a world apart–we pulled Swell into a narrow, silty bay. A rivermouth cut through the west end of a blacksand beach and rocky cliffs climbed skyward on both sides. Astonished, we watched waves peel down both sides of  the cliffs! The roaring NE trades were making waves…A leap from Swell and a short paddle found us looking over the ledges of a ledgy little right hander…

I’d harvested enough watercress for a few more precious salads–a bonus on top of the unexpected surf. The valley was wild and empty, except for a few wild goats and horses we spotted wandering around the rugged rocky slopes. Raiarii learned to splice 3-strand rope and fixed our chaffed stern anchor rode. Subtly, the voyage transformed into its next phase, and the newness of getting underway again felt as good as it had two months prior, to toss the anchor and get settled…A time for everything I suppose.

Simply Possible–Naomi Crum and her voyage aboard Medusa

Every year when I return, my mom gives me a stack of carefully clipped articles from various sources that she’s collected for me since my last departure. This year, at the top of the pile was an excerpt from Latitude 38 by Naomi Crum. I learned that Naomi was a young female sailor/surfer who had recently sailed a trailer-able 23’ Columbia from San Felipe in the northern Sea of Cortez to El Salvador with very basic equipment. I was charmed by her courageous spirit and simplified cruising style and thought how much I’d love to meet her…

I didn’t have much time to think about again amidst my speaking tour and busy drive up the California coast. I arrived in Santa Barbara in desperate need of a good yoga class. So I met my friend Nicole at Yoga Soup and approached the counter to check in for the next class.

“Have you been here before?” The young woman asked.

“Yes, but it’s been a long time.” I replied.

“What’s your name?”

“Liz Clark.”

“The sailor-surfer?” She asked.

“Yes.” I replied. And right then, I matched her bright eyes and neat brown dreads to the photo in Latitude 38. “Are you the girl who just sailed her boat to El Salvador?” I asked.

“Yes.” She smiled.

Both of us seemed rather astonished that we’d so serendipitously crossed paths, so we planned to chat after the class…


Adventure must be good for the soul…Naomi’s smile says it all.

Naomi Crum exuded a silent strength. Being on the clock, she didn’t have ample time to explain the full details of her adventure, but with a quiet confidence and humble non-chalance, she explained the basics of her journey. I could hardly get my questions out fast enough, but that didn’t change the calm, collected tone of her replies. I find her story inspiring for several reasons: That she is 24 years old and female obviously strike a cord, but the fact that she did the trip on a very feasible budget, with modest gear, on a small boat impressed me all the more. Her story is important because she is proof that a voyage doesn’t have to mean endless wads of cash, sponsors, and excessive gear. I have nothing but respect for the Naomi’s approach, attitude, and success…minimal spending and maximum fun! She’s back in California for a few months to save up some money and then head back down to Medusa and continue her voyage south.

Naomi was nice enough to take the time to write up a few interview questions, as I was eager to pass her inspiring story along!

Can you tell me a bit about how you got your boat, what she’s like, and the basic equipment aboard?

“Medusa is a Columbia T-23 that I bought on a trailer from a guy in Alameda, San Francisco. Ever since I really started working and saving towards doing this trip in early 2010, my dad, my uncle and I would email each other links to boats we’d find on craigslist. We were looking in the under $5,000, under 27′ range. The decision was basically between a tiny, trailerable boat that I could take down the Sea of Cortez, or a slightly larger full keel boat which I would have to sail down the Pacific side of the Baja peninsula, but in relative luxury.

Eventually I found what became Medusa–a 36 year-old boat with no name! After many emails from both my dad and I to the poor guy trying to sell the thing, my uncle drove me up and we checked her out. Actually we ‘skyped’ my dad on video so he could check it out too. Pretty exciting! She came with a main and a 100% jib, which were both in pretty good condition, some lifejackets, and a thirty year old 6hp Johnson.

Needless to say I had a bit of shopping to do. My dad was adamant that I got a dinghy just like the one he’d had during his trip in 1981 – a plastic Sport Yak (made by Bic, of all companies.) It’s only 40 pounds, so it’s easy for me to throw around, plus it rows really well important when you don’t have a dinghy outboard! I managed to find an antique one for cheap in Santa Cruz which my auntie picked up on a business trip.

Mum and Dad finally came for their annual 6 week summer holiday, and I quit most of my three or four jobs so that we could concentrate on getting everything ship-shape. My uncle even flew out my mum’s best friend from North Carolina for an intensive long weekend of boat surgery. Pip’s a boat builder so we took full advantage of her! She provided invaluable advice as well as doing the most complicated bits like reinforcing the bulkheads and making various holes. Well you know how it is getting everything ready, for three or four months I kept a tape measure in my purse so I could measure everything I found to see if everything would fit. I was constantly covered in 5200, dust from sanding, and paint.

By the time I was ready to go in late September, Medusa was looking good and I felt more or less ready: I had a handheld GPS, a handheld VHF, a shortwave radio to tune into the weather, my dad’s paper charts from his trip in 1981 (he’d marked on them where he was and when so I could match my progress with his), a chilly bin (‘cooler’ in your language), a two burner camping stove with a large propane tank, extra sails (a storm sail and a gennaker), my dinghy Munter with two pairs of oars, 12 gallons of gas for my newly tuned-up outboard, about eight or ten gallons of storage for water, a three foot speargun, snorkeling gear, a fishing rod with lures, a small portable solar panel which hooked up to my 12V battery to charge my VHF batteries, camera batteries and, music … My uncle had given me two small speakers for my iPod which put out really good sound so that stopped me from going crazy when i was by myself! My mum had liberated old UV cloth from the sailmaker’s dumpster and sewed a tiny mainsail cover and a bimini for when I was at anchor. My parents had also donated me bits from our old boat, Gumboot–Charlies Charts, a sewing kit with a palm, and various simple tools–a hand drill, screwdrivers etc. Most important of all in my mum’s mind was the SPOT (personal GPS) that her friend had given her for me to use.”


The Munter!

“So kind of to recap…In terms of navigating I used the handheld GPS, paper charts and dividers. I had no instruments for wind speed, wind direction, ocean depth, or anything; I had no chartplotter nor radar or HAM radio. For sailing I had no roller furling but I did have two bungee cords to attach to the tiller for “self steering” (good for 30 seconds max), for cooking I had my camping stove, to wash the dishes (and myself) I had buckets and the ocean, for entertainment the portable speakers and a deck of cards, and for feeding myself I had the speargun and fishing rod. My changing crew and I found that without a fridge, and thus without fresh food, we were pretty keen on finding fish so we’d take the speargun out as much as we could- it was also something fun to do after anchoring.

Of course, it would have been nice to find at least a windvane or some kind of semi-reliable self-steering, but whenever I had passages longer than 30 or 40 miles I always had one or two crew to help me out, so I didn’t miss it that much. The two things I DID wish I had were shade for when I was under sail and a portable fan.”

You sailed from San Felipe in the Sea of Cortez to El Salvador, right? A couple highlights? Any not so fun moments?

“I did sail from San Felipe to El Salvador… I think the highlight of the trip was probably the Sea of Cortez, it is really such a magical and isolated place, all of the anchorages were so protected and so pristinely beautiful and the diving was fantastic… I spent two months sailing south along the west coast of the Sea and could have spent twice that! I also loved waking up every morning stoked about whatever might happen that day!

I had two or three experiences when I was really feeling like not being on the boat, at all. One time was when I was by myself in Puerto Escondido, and the swell rose a lot, very quickly. Suddenly the anchorage became very unsafe- the huge swell was creating insanely strong eddies and boils sucking their way across the bay. Within about a minute I was swinging around, bashing up against a panga, with my anchor rode wrapped around the panga’s mooring line. At one point my outboard was being scraped up and down the hull of the little fishing boat which was slightly terrifying. Being by myself made this situation super stressful, as I had to do three or four things at once- start the engine, keep the boats from destroying each other, and figure out where the anchor rode was going. Eventually I ditched the anchor and motored out to a slightly safer spot, re-anchoring temporarily with my stern anchor while some local fishermen helped me recover my bow anchor.

I anchored out away from the currents with both anchors deployed but in a fairly unprotected spot, lay in bed checking the anchor every ten minutes till about 4am when I gave up. I was so glad to pull up the anchors and sail out of there to Puerto Angel, where I was sure I could get a good rest. Unfortunately, Puerto Angel was almost worse than Escondido! The swell was rolling straight into the tiny, normally

well-protected anchorage and reverberating off the steep shores. Using a stern anchor to try and stay pointed into the swell didn’t work as the swells were coming at me from all angles and by now I was feeling pretty worn down by the sea conditions. I couldn’t cook or hardly move around the boat, so  doing pretty much anything was out of the question. I wedged myself in on the floor using sails, blankets and pillows and tried to cease to exist for a while. The huge swells lasted three or four days and I couldn’t even take advantage of them for a surf as I was too afraid to leave the boat! Times like that I really thought hard about a warm safe bed in a nice, sturdy house on solid land…But they were few and far between and that experience made me super grateful for the calm and protected anchorages I found down the coast!”


Naomi and Mike flying the genaker. Naomi picked up crew now and then to join her along her journey south.

What would you say was the most profound thing you learned/saw/felt that you weren’t expecting?

“I think something that I wasn’t expecting… When I was still in the making money and planning stages of the trip, my uncle kept trying to convince me that if I really wanted a surf trip, it would be much easier to buy a Toyota pick up and drive down the coast – surfing from a sailboat can be kind of difficult, he said. Even though the guy knows what he’s talking about, I was pretty sure that I would be able to pull it off.

Yeah, it’s not that easy, I found out. The problem is you have to get to a protected anchorage by nightfall, or spend the night out on the ocean. Without a chartplotter or radar or anything, I didn’t want to enter unknown anchorages in the dark. There are a couple of places where it is relatively easy to get to surf spots from the boat, but often times the surf spots are too far away from an anchorage to be able to do more than a one or two hour drive-by surf. There were times on my trip when I was having multiple sessions a day for weeks on end, but there were also times when we had to sail past peeling barrels to get to the next anchorage before dark.”


Naomi discovered that sailing to surf isn’t as easy as she’d hoped. I know the feeling!

What would you say to other people thinking about doing a similar trip?

“As to advice for someone interested in doing a similar trip, what can I say. I thought it was pretty much the best thing I’ve ever done in my life, however, it’s not for everyone. It was pretty much like nine months of very salty, very basic freedom camping. Plus, living on a boat comes with its own specific quirks. You can’t get anywhere very fast. You’re constantly rocking around. Everything is salty, all the time. If something goes wrong, you have to deal with it yourself (i.e., if your motor breaks in the middle of the ocean, it’s up to you to sail to safety. Similarly, if your rudder snaps off in the middle of the ocean, good luck.) So for some people this is not their idea of a fantastic time. But for someone who is keen enough, I would definitely recommend going as simple and as small as possible—less money, less maintenance, more fun!! Other cruisers may think you are crazy but DO NOT LISTEN TO THEM.”

THANK YOU NAOMI! For having the courage to go out and see for yourself! Wishing you the best on your adventures ahead…

Fight to Flight: Ryan Levinson

We choose our perspective.

When Ryan Levinson contacted me a while back, I was taken aback by his situation. A diversely proficient athlete of his caliber, living with with MD for the last 16 years–a diseasethat eats away muscle tissue slowing over time–has been a series of hard slaps in the face, as his muscle mass decreases and he loses the ability to do the physical things that he loves. As an indulgent athlete myself, his situation struck a heart chord. In 2008, a woman named Melanie, on a bus ride in Kiribati to find provisions, gave me a piece of ancient wisdom that instantly changed the way I perceive adversity. She said, “Difficult people and situations should be considered our most precious jewels. They give us a chance to practice our virtues, and become a better person. Each of us are born into uniquely challenging circumstances, but if we choose to use them positively, they can become our vehicle to transformation.”

My life has never been the same since. I have since passed this powerful wisdom along, where it seemed appropriate. Ryan’s situation was one of them, a few years back. He has since gone from ‘fight’ to ‘flight’… and I wanted to share his recent blog entry from http://ryanlevinson.com/.

There is nothing unique about the pain I feel.  Given the nature of my disease it’s not even particularly difficult to understand- a mix of shattered ego and lost dreams swirling amongst glorified fantasies of what was and dark anticipation what’s to come.  I’ve been here before, many times, it almost feels “normal” now, like my memories of carefree happiness are lost in the mist of epic struggle. I’m taking blows, yelling, fighting, clawing, growling, fire in my eyes, an injured warrior surging forward amongst a barrage of fire and hurt. I’ve never shared these thoughts before because I was too afraid of letting down people that look to me for inspiration and hope, that sponsors would leave, that it would hurt my “brand”, that I would loose opportunity, connection, and purpose.  I was afraid of loss because loss is constant in my life. Not just loss of muscle but the resulting loss of ability, connection with friends, peers, activities, identity, and ego. For most of my life I’ve been defined largely through my physical actions- as a surfer, athlete, first responder, lover, maybe a bit extreme at times but capable and strong.  Now I sometimes struggle to hold up a toothbrush.

Don't ask where that fish landed...

Don’t ask where that fish landed…

Over the last few weeks my arms were hit especially hard.  My wetsuit sleeves now hang loose around my biceps.  I started noticing white stains on my t-shirts and realized they were from deodorant because I’m too weak to wing my arms out when I pull the shirts over my head.  It’s getting difficult to hold my left arm over shoulder high (I lost that ability in my right arm long ago).  I don’t know what’s next.  The only certainty is that the loss will continue.  But so will I…I once wrote that I’m screaming within, like a captured animal slamming itself against the walls of its cage.  I did not yet understand that the pain I feel is a thread of common experience that connects every person in the world, past, present, and future.  Pain is universal, and that understanding is the foundation of compassion. Now I realize that my loneliness, self-pity, feelings of injustice, and resulting pain comes from contrasting what I think I am with what I think I should be.  It’s my ego begging for attention, trying to convince me that I’m somehow special, uniquely deserving, that things I cannot have matter above all else, and that without them I am somehow a lesser man, a failure. But then there are fleeting moments when I feel almost translucent, like I’m stepping back and experiencing each moment as they unfold, letting my ego chatter away in the distance.  During these times I feel like an integral part of something much larger, an infinite timeless dance, an incredible universe and everything in it.  The best way I can explain the feeling is pure love. So I’m sitting here, sweating in the summer heat, eyes watering with tears of gratitude, feeling swept away, relishing the adventure.  Remembering that this largely began with an email from someone I had never met. A woman named Liz Clark. There is no easy way to explain Liz.  She graduated college, purchased an old but strong 40’ sailboat, fixed it up, and spent the last six years exploring remote areas in the Americas and South Pacific, often alone, while sharing her experiences and insights in her incredible blog.

Captain Liz Clark

Captain Liz Clark

Liz’s writings were the main inspiration behind my first post for Outside Online when I wrote, “surfing is not about your ability to maneuver a board, but rather it is about how completely you can experience a moment.”  I sent Liz an email with a link to that article, thanking her for the inspiration.  Her reply stunned me.  The level of understanding and compassion in her message changed my life.  From reading one short article Liz knew me better than I knew myself.  Or rather, she knew my suffering.  In her email Liz wrote about impermanence, ego, challenge, perspective, and choice.  She suggested books to read and things to practice.  Her light was blinding. Liz closed the email with a quote from Albert Einstein: “A human being is part of a whole called by us ‘the universe,’ a part limited in time and space.  He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest- a kind of optical delusion of consciousness.  This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest to us.  Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening the circle of understanding and compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” Liz’s message was the catalyst that crystalized many thoughts swirling through my mind.  I now realize I built my own cage and I hold the key!  I’m back on a path that was interrupted when I was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy 16 years ago. I now have an opportunity to sail offshore, to explore the last true wilderness, a place where I will succeed or fail on my own merits, where there are no preconceived notions of what I can or cannot do. Naoma, a beautiful 38′ Ericson Sloop is resting in her slip at Harbor Island West marina waiting for me to come aboard and set her free.  I’ve spent the past four months learning her systems and preparing her for offshore use.

S/Y Naoma

S/Y Naoma

At sea I am a part of the surging waves or mirror glass water, the strong wind or stifling stillness, the blazing sun or inky darkness, the incomprehensible depth of the water and soaring height of the sky, the infinite horizon, the salty air, and the endless motion.  At sea I am a warrior, a monk, a student, and a saint, simultaneously reminded of my connection to the universe and of my impermanence as a human.Being offshore humbles me.  If I fall overboard, a simple slip on the endlessly moving deck, I will likely die slowly, alone, cold, floating in the water as I watch my boat sail away.  I wonder what would go through my mind?  I am now too weak to do a pullup or even hold up my arms, what will I do if I need to climb the mast or reach overhead to make a repair?  As my legs and core continue to loose strength will I be able to balance against the constant rocking and rolling?  Will I be able to pull the lines to control the sails?  What will I do when I get injured?  What will happen as I fatigue?  At sea loneliness is the ambient condition.  But it’s a good kind of lonely, a healthy kind of fear. Solo sailing is hard. I will often be tired, cold, and hungry with no rest in sight.  But I relish the times when it simply feels good, sensuous, exhilarating, rewarding, or even just relaxing and fun.  It’s a potent reminder that pain and pleasure are often inversely proportional, that one can not exist without the other.  The challenges I face give purpose to pain, opportunities to grow. In a few weeks I will be sailing Naoma to Catalina Island alone, backpacking across the island, then sailing back.  The first in a series of adventures I’m embracing with an open mind and eager heart. Muscular Dystrophy is robbing me of physical strength but I’m adjusting, learning, expanding, exploring, and sharing openly, maybe too openly, but here I am, uncensored, naked, in pain and triumph, surface and deep. Catalina Island is just the start.  I’m casting off, and I’m welcoming you along for the ride.

One second later I was soaking wet laughing like a loon!

One second later I was soaking wet laughing like a loon!