Sharks Have Feelings Too…


The common Puamotu fish trap...

Imagine being able to walk out your front door and select the fish you feel like eating right out of a trap. That’s life people here in the atolls. Families commonly build ‘fish traps’ in areas with shallow reef and current close to their homes. The traps are built from iron rebar or local wood stakes and some kind of plastic or metal fencing, and then fixed securely with nylon cord. The fish swim in with the current, then can’t find their way back out. For those without refrigeration, fish come right out of the trap before each meal. Many families here also make a living exporting fresh fish to Tahiti and Bora Bora, where demand is high due to more people, and overfishing and coral damage–which have caused severely decreased fish populations.

Unfortunately, the traps often catch species that the Puamotu people don’t eat—like sharks. They don’t like the taste of shark meat, but that doesn’t keep smaller reef sharks from accidentally swimming into the traps.

A friend came by one afternoon after an outing across the lagoon. “Look what we found in a fish trap!” Tevai said, holding up a sea turtle about the size of a turkey platter. “I don’t think she has eaten in a long time. She’s really weak. There were about 10 sharks in the trap with her and no fish left…soon enough she would have been lunch. We’re going to nurse her back to health before we let her go…”

I was thrilled, as many locals still don’t think twice about eating sea turtles, even though they are now illegal to hunt and extremely endangered. Before there were ships bringing beef up from New Zealand, sea turtle was the local ‘filet mignon’.

“And the sharks…” I asked. “Did you free them too?”

“No, we left the sharks. The owners of the fish trap recently moved to live in the village on the other side of the atoll, so they don’t often pass to check the trap. We reached in and grabbed the turtle, but we didn’t want to break their trap to let the sharks out.”

“Oh, I see.” I said. “Where is it anyway?”

“It’s far.” He said, pointing north. “About 7 miles up. Just past where that point sticks out…”

They sped off and I dove back into my whirlwind week of ‘spring cleaning’…

…but even up to my elbows in mildew and musty gear, I couldn’t stop thinking  about those sharks…


There were 15 or more sharks trapped by the time I arrived...

Simply South Pacific Living…

“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.” –Rachel Carson

…After three short upwind hops over the last month, I’ve just arrived to the second biggest of the  atolls (population~800)…vegetables, a health clinic, internet, and even a post office! Ahh the luxuries of civilization!  So after too long without a good internet connection, here’s a peek at what I’ve been up to…

Sunrise from the mast.

Captain’s duties, daily anchor check…

Shark behavioral studies…

A fire to warm the soul…

…and cook the lobster! Hand plucked with ultimate respect from the reef at midnight the night before.

Laundry day…don’t worry, I’ve got eco-detergent!

The laundry can wait…!

Getting to know my neighbors…

Beach day! No waves, but finding parking wasn’t a problem…

A change of venue from my usual practice in the cockpit..We must make time to give back to our bodies, minds, spirit…

Peace. Freedom. A home that flies over water…Daily love and gratitude from a sheltered corner of the South Pacific.

‘Raaou Tahiti’: Respecting Our ‘Roots’


The Mami 'taote' (doctor) and her pet shark, Tamaro.


When the Lau family caught wind of my ciguateric state, they quickly reported the news to ‘Mami’, their Tahitian grandmother who was rich with knowledge of traditional Tahitian medicine or ‘raaou Tahiti’.


Twice the first day, and once for the following three days, ‘Mami’ prepared the local remedy for me to drink. Despite its unappealing pea-green color and potent taste, I sucked down each glass, willing to try anything that would take away that terrible muscular pain. She explained that I would be able to eat fish in a few weeks rather than a few months like those who don’t drink the ‘raaou’.


…When finally I felt well enough to make my way over to thank the Mami, and find out what exactly I had been drinking…


The ciguatera 'raaou' ingredients...


She explained that the remedy called for three ‘free-standing’, above-ground pandanus roots and the bottom half of a large, mature coconut. As the pandanus plant grows taller, it pushes new roots out from its trunk, which grow down in the direction of the ground. These roots, before they reach the ground, are those that are cut from the trunk to prepare the ‘raaou’, at about a forearm’s length each. She then took one large mature coconut, and after shucking the husk and splitting it in two, using only the bottom half (the part without the three holes) to grate and press into coconut milk. Next she skinned the roots and pounded them flat with a hammer, and finally twisted each one until its brownish-green sap dripped down into the coconut milk.


I was fascinated by the process. I’d spoken with a French doctor in Tahiti who told me to take calcium tablets, but if I had none, I should eat a lot of cheese. But he’d obviously never had ciguatera, because the Mami was horrified when she found out I had been eating lots of cheese, as the animal protein in cheese exacerbated ciguatera symptoms. The Lau’s couldn’t understand why I wasn’t getting better quicker…alas, it could have been the cheese!


It’s part of coming from western civilization to naturally think that we have all the answers; that modern science always knows better. This situation was a good reminder to respect local knowledge, especially that of the elders who lived here before there were planes and French hospitals. It seemed both tragic and scary, that in maybe just one more generation, traditional Tahitian medicine might virtually disappear. There seemed to be a scarce few locals interested in learning from the elders. And unfortunately, modern science doesn’t seem to help–often turning up its nose to local knowledge, when with respectful collaboration of information everyone would win…

But change is inevitable, the world is getting smaller and smaller, and more and more homogenized. But with a little attention and respect for the past, hopefully we can carry some of the best of the old ways forward.


Plastic-to-Oil & The Clean Oceans Project…

“Nothing but intense love for what you want will enable you to surmount the obstacles in your path…” –Joe Vitale

Jim Holm (far left), founder of The Clean Oceans Project, at the Plastic-to-Oil demonstration in San Diego.



My few weeks in California went by faster than ever…The memorial was fantastic and I left Santa Barbara feeling even more inspired than ever by the man who had helped me with the tools I needed to fulfill my dreams…


With the help of Patrick at North Sails in San Diego, and the generosity of Steve Waterloo and others of the Cal 40 fleet, I’d managed to track down a few used headsails. I would be heading back to Swell with plenty of Dacron to keep her gliding over the high seas a while longer…


The day before my flight, I was graced by the serendipity that, Jim Holm, founder of The Clean Oceans Project, would be in San Diego to demonstrate the Blest Plastic to Oil machine! This was a Japanese technology I had seen on YouTube earlier in the year. I8 had instantly sent out a fleet of emails, hoping to arrange to carry the ‘desktop unit’ of the machine aboard Swell. I envisioned sailing around collecting plastic all over the pacific and turning it into usable diesel or gasoline for my voyage and for the locals. After ample research, it was clear that the desktop unit was not super practical for Swell due to its weight and efficiency. With another solar panel or two and some muscular crew, I could probably do it…but space is so limited! Not discouraged, I had kept in touch with Jim Holm over the last few months, in hopes of finding an alternative way of introducing this technology to the Pacific islands, where limited if any recycling facilities exist, and plastic litters every shoreline from the most populated to the most remote.


What could be better than making turning plastic into a resource, and at the same time cleaning up shorelines and our oceans!?


…So I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to meet Jim and see this technology in person…In a back corner of the Driscoll Boatyard on Shelter Island, Jim and his fellow demonstrators stuffed the machine full of random plastic trash while explaining the incineration process, the products, by-products, and limitations of this incredible machine.

Jim’s positivity and determination was almost palpable. He exuded motivation to clean up the sea with this technology and explained his eventual dream to get a large machine put aboard a ship that was capable of extracting the plastic from the ‘North Pacific Garbage Patch’. He was doing all the touring and raising awareness of the technology out of his own pocket, but I was certain that his unyielding enthusiasm with such powerful science behind it, would eventually lead him to the right people, and the necessary funding to make his dream of cleaning up our oceans come true.


The Clean Oceans Project t-shirt makes it rather clear why we must do something about all the plasitc in our oceans!

Love is the secret ingredient to alchemy, even if in this case, it’s turning plastic into combustibles! …Be encouraged, Jim! Thank you for having the passion, courage, creativity, and energy to affront our plastic mess!




Another Way to Haul-Out

A bit different than my last haul-out...


The wind was 15-20 knots hard on the nose as I beat my way 10 miles across the atoll. Sure enough, at a few miles out, I spotted masts sticking up through the coconut trees!?!


“It’s true! There really is a haul-out yard out here in the middle of nowhere!?!” I cheered into the wind. A smiling young man met me in a dinghy to guide Swell between the numerous coral heads to one of four mooring balls.


“Welcome,” he said. “Come ashore and check it out when you feel like it.”


Later that day, I went ashore to find the loveliest place imaginable to haul a boat. The ground was covered with round coral stones, the lagoon was sparkling turquoise, the coconut trees rustled in the breeze, and 5 or 6 boats were propped up across the wide expanse of land they’d cleared for storing boats.


Alfred Lau and his family ran this outback enterprise, a courageous endeavor I had to admit. But for the wandering sailor like me, the downside of lacking an easy place to purchase parts and materials, seemed to be well outweighed by the upsides of having a lovely working environment, virtually zero possibility of theft, and a casual, family-run operation. Plus, they carried the necessities–antifouling paint, brushes and rollers, tape and the likes. It was a three-generational family effort: Grandpa, father and wife, and son and daughter, Assam, Alfred and Pauline, Tony and Nancy, respectively, although grandpa stuck mostly to his own affairs—tending to his 200 egg-laying hens or splitting coconuts with his enormous hatchet to dry and sell as ‘copra’ to the large coconut oil refinery in Papeete. Despite knowing little about sailboats, I was largely impressed with their operation…


Alfred invited me for dinner that evening, and every evening up to my departure, for that matter, and it was clear that this haul-out experience would be bit different than my last…


“For Tahitians and Poumotu,” Alfred spoke seriously over dinner one night, “Our family land is the ‘pito’ (the Tahitian word for ‘belly-button’). Without your land and you are lost. The land is you and you are the land.” He picked up some of the rocks underfoot, and raised them to his lips as he spoke. He told that he had left the island, to work in the city in Papeete as a young man. Some years later, his grandmother had threatened to give the island to someone who would use it, rather than see the land go unused. So he had decided to come back and start a pearl farm. But now, with the flooded pearl market, and the current state of the economy, they’d drawn on the advice of a French sailor and bought a hydraulic trailer to haul-out boats…


They haul boats and know how to eat well, too!

As I let the night breeze push the dinghy back towards Swell after dinner, I looked up at the wide Tuamotu sky and pondered that my ‘pito’ must be made of saltwater and wind and stars and fiberglass…?



Over the next few days, I prepared Swell for my departure and then the three Lau generations hauled her out few days later, propping her up amongst the palms. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing I would have peace of mind to leave Swell alone when I hopped the next plane back to California for Barry’s memorial…





When a Little Means a Lot

Sweet Tumata with his raffle prize.


…I decided I’d hang out with the kids from then on. Although they still looked at me googly-eyed from time to time, they usually just wanted candy. As school was out for ‘winter break’, we held geography and eco-talks aboard Swell, rewarding good answers with “bonbon Californie”  (Californian candy) as they liked to call it.





After nearly a week at the quay, the surf was fading, and I readied Swell to make the crossing to the check out the rumored haul-out yard.


“But you can’t go today,” Tumata pleaded. He was one of my favorites. Bright, polite, and soft-spoken. “There’s a party at school tonight.” Later when his mom came by to round up he and his cousins, she explained that, yes, there was a fundraiser for the school.


So when I heard the singing commence, I wandered the 100 yards down to the school and peered in the gates. Some of the kids recognized me, pulling me inside, where I sat on a bench among them, watching the families and friends all take their turn on the stage. I didn’t quite understand the format–it seemed a bit like karaoke night–as different groups and even a few solos went up and took their turn singing or playing ukulele for the crowd. No need for a screen with the words floating by, everyone knew the words to the local songs. I imagined it to be a bit like their version of ‘American idol’…a chance to show-off their talents for the other townspeople. It was all in fine humor, too, and the microphone refused to work from time to time. Laughter and cheers filled the still night air.


Then an official-looking woman took the microphone, and speaking in Tahitian, pulled a prize off of the raffle table, shuffled her hand into the ticket stubs, and called out a few numbers.


“Huit, quatre, zero!”


A young woman raced up to claim her prize. So it was a raffle! Of course!


Check the ripper sweatshirt and the amazing pandanus leaf hair piece!!


Once the singing got going again, I wandered toward the back, finding a woman at table with loads of home-baked cakes and a sign saying: Gateau (cake) 300F, Coco Glace (cold coconuts) 200F, Ticket Tombola (raffle ticket) 500F.


“Bonne soir, madame. Cinq tickets tombola et un coco glace, sil vous plait.” I said. (Good evening, madame, five raffle tickets and a cold coconut, please.)


She looked at me apologetically. There were no more raffle tickets. “C’est bonne (it’s ok),” I said, passing her the equivalent of the raffle tickets anyway. “Pour l’ecole (for the school).”


At first she didn’t understand. She turned to her friend uncertain of what to do. It was the equivalent of about 30 dollars. She was shocked. She handed me the ice-cold coconut and insisted I take a piece of cake, too, thanking me profusely.


It was the least I could do, really. I’d wished I could give more, but with no ATM machine for a few hundred miles around, my cash was limited.


I stayed to watch a few more singing numbers, and then snuck out the back, waving goodbye to Tumata and the little group of scholars. The next morning, I woke up to find a stock of bananas and papayas on my deck, as precious as gold in a place with hardly any arable soil!



Island Suitors Part 2: An Official Change of Heart


The gregarious customs boat.

I evaded the second lunch with Jacques the following day when a customs boat circled outside the quay around midday…


They launched their tender, and a group of uniformed men came speeding toward the quay.  The captain scrambled out of the dinghy, then stormed over to Swell.


“What are you doing here?” he asked in a fuss in French. “This dock is for cargo ships and official French vessels ONLY!”


“I’m so sorry, sir.” I replied. “The villagers told me that the next ship wouldn’t be in until Thursday. And in fact, I think we can both fit here…”


“Where is your husband?” he demanded. “You’ll have to move this boat right now!”


“I don’t have one.” I replied.


“You’re alone?!”


“Yes, sir.”


He went quiet for a moment, his face morphing from anger to surprise. His brow then softened entirely.


“Yes, I believe you’re right.” He chirped accommodatingly. “We can both fit if we move you forward…” He and the other officials handled the lines while I drove Swell up against the outgoing current, and shortly after, the battleship-looking customs boat came alongside the quay behind Swell.


The captain shook my hand before walking back to his ship. “You’re welcome to join us for dinner tonight,” he said, squeezing my hand for an uncomfortably long pause while looking me deeply in the eyes…


I smiled bleakly, and thanked him for the invitation…What was it this week? Where was Marine Man when I needed him!?


Island Suitors Part 1: Age Matters!


Instead of learning about Chinese medicine, I learned that 74 year-old Jacques was looking for a girlfriend, not a pupil! Gettin a little friendly there, doc!


When the door to the propeller plane closed, Crystal was on her way and I was alone again…but not for long! I sat under the shaded airport waiting area for less than a minute before an old man teetered over to greet me. I was used to being approached by the locals here; it was just part of being a new face in a town of less 200 inhabitants.


The old man hardly breached four feet. In fact, some of the nine year-old girls that were dotting on me to my right were about his size. He looked to be in his mid-seventies or so and of Asian rather than Tahitian descent. Wisps of his long gray hair fluttered at his shoulders while he took my hand in his.


“I Jacques, whas you name?” He asked.

“Leeeez,” I replied, (the easiest French pronunciation).

“Oh, Leeees! Is very prity name. I Chinese doctor. I live here 14 years. You like here?” He almost trembled with excitement as he spoke.

“Oui, c’est fantastique.”

“Oh, tu parle Frances! (Oh you speak French!)”


“Ok, tu vien a ma maison, mangeeeeer? (You come to my house to eeeeeeeeeat?)”

“Ummmm, ok?” …I replied, despite knowing that what I really needed was a nap It appeared as though I would crush his very soul if I refused, though, and Chinese medicine had always interested me. And I didn’t feel much like cooking…so why not?

“Ok, you come 12 o’clock…Okaaaaaaaay?” And proceeded to describe where to find his house. There were only three roads, and everybody knew everybody…so I knew it wouldn’t be tough…


A few hours later, I located his house, across from the Protestant church, and lifted the cord off the nail that held his gate closed.

“Jacques?” I called, pushing my way inside.

“Ouuuuuuuuuiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii! Vien. Vien! (Yeesssssssss, Come. Come!)”

He led me through the barren sideyard and pushed past a red curtain and into his home. He led me into the living room where there was a bed and a chair and one of those cats with one paw in the air sitting on a shelf, along with an enormous sea turtle shell and a red-tasseled Chinese calendar. I couldn’t put my finger on the smell that tinged the air—something between iodine and oyster sauce. I tried to take small breaths as he led me past the bare plywood division into the dark kitchen area, where he pulled out a small plastic chair for me and then promptly kissed me on both cheeks, with more saliva than I appreciated. I figured he was just overly excited to have company. His words leapt like musical notes as he served me some powdered juice in an empty yogurt container. Scanning the clutter that he’d pushed to the other end of the table, I noticed various packs of pills, liquid viles, and a revolting morsel of used cotton–brown and twisted—jutting out from the teeth of those medical scissors with the little grippy teeth at the end. My already wavering appetite promptly hit the deck.


The 'appetite-supressing' used cottonball.

I tried to shrug it off, and asked him to tell me how he wound up out here in the outer islands. He had left China with his parents to live in France at only 4 years old and was now 74. He’d come to French Polynesia during the era of nuclear bomb testing, where he’d been a doctor on the one of the main atoll testing sites. I didn’t quite catch what had happened between then and now, but I decided not to pry, and changed the subject to medicine. It soon became clear that he was not a doctor of Chinese medicine; he was schooled as a doctor in France, but was of Chinese descent. Ok, I guess in another sense he was still a ‘Chinese doctor’…but his other responses to my questions didn’t seem to be adding up either…He talked of his houses in both Papeete and France, “big land, biiiiiiiiiiig house!” He said. Looking around I wondered why he chose to stay there, but that wasn’t my business…


I managed to stomach a polite majority of my plate of rice and steamed, despite the horrid spout of used cotton lingering in my peripherals all the while. I told him my need of a safe place to leave Swell while I went back to California for Barry’s memorial, and his eyes lit up.

“Ma cherieeeeeeeeee go to Californieeeeeeeeeeeeee?”

“Yes, I must leave in less than two weeks,” I explained.

“Oh, don’t worry. I help ma cheriiiiiiiiiiiiieeeeeee!”


Following a helping of cake that he’d baked himself, he kissed my cheeks again and insisted that we go talk to his friends about a safe place to leave Swell. The truth was that I had already made a thorough scan of the village area. There was no secure spot. With the fetch of 10 miles across the atoll, the wind waves made anchoring near town inarguably too dangerous, and Swell drew too much water to fit inside the tiny marina. The quay to which Swell was currently tied had to be vacated at the arrival of the weekly cargo ships. I mentioned the new boatyard across the way, but he insisted it was much too expensive…


“I pay, ma cherieeeeeeeeee.” Him pay? What? This was getting weird…?


Following lunch, Jacques led me proudly around the village, introducing me as his ‘cherie’ (darling or ‘sweetheart’) in a long drawl of excitement. “Voila ma cheriiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeeeee!” He’d say to those we passed. Oh dear, this was getting a bit uncomfortable. I realized that he thought I was now his girlfriend!! I did find it remarkable that in the last year or so, it seemed that men of any age found it appropriate to pick up on me, but Jacques could have been my grandfather!


Finally, I made my escapesuffering through two more wet cheek kisses, as long as I agreed to come for lunch the following day!


“Ok, I see you 12 o’clock toooomorrow, cheeerriiiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeee?!!”




Finding Sea Rhythm… … … …

Crystal rippin the rewards of a successful Swell passage on her single fin!

After rising to our great challenge, the sea rewarded us with smooth sailing through the afternoon until the wind dropped off entirely and we motored on into the calmest, starriest night I could ever remember in this wind-worn belt of the Pacific.

Rotating on 3-hour watches, I relieved Crystal just after 3 am. Swell plowed on into the moonless galaxy of twinkling starlight and bubbling phosphorescence. I felt Barry there with me…He surely wouldn’t have missed out on a night so spectacular…Oh the shooting stars!

At 5:02 am, Venus, the morning star, rose out of the sea. Light followed her. I woke Crystal, but couldn’t resist watching the sunrise before I laid down to rest. We turned off the motor and let Swell drift in the succulent silence. We curled up against the wad of broken sail, tucked under our blankets, and dissolved into the Peace…the ubiquitous, all-encompassing Peace…that was floating on that miraculously calm, open sea…

As we entered the deep, easy entrance to the next atoll destination a few hours later, our timing appeared flawless. The sea surface began to wrinkle as the trades gusted from the east, and the swell was most certainly filling in! We watched it move north along the atoll’s coral rim where it peeled off along the shallows of a long, flat lay of reef…thus, Crystal’s last 36 hours became a salty blur.

Just enough for after surf sushi!! Thanks for your life lil buddy...

We wondered where and when we’d meet again as she stepped up into the tiny prop plane, leaving me with more waves than I knew what to do with! Thanks to Patagonia again and GoPro Cameras for providing the gear to document our adventures!!

Bye Crystal!!! Swell and I miss you!! xoxoxo

A Higher Elevation

Just after the sail fell...Photo thanks to Go Pro Cameras!


We’d both hardly taken a breath upon setting the sails, when…POP!!!!  The headsail let go at the mast head and tumbled down into the sea?!!




I scrambled to the bow, followed by Crystal, and we heaved the wet mess aboard. Swell proceeded to drift quietly in the light wind, while Crystal and I stood there holding the sail, rather dazed…


Upon inspection, it was clear that the threads of the strapping that held up the top of the sail had simply given out, probably thanks to a year and a half in the tropical sun…The sail itself was on its last leg anyway—the non-Dacron material delaminating in all the high-wear areas. I had a few smaller sails we could put up, but the problem was that when the sail fell, it left the halyard swivel for the roller furler at the top of the mast. This meant one thing: someone had to go up and get it.



Being so close to the pass, and thus the calm interior of the lagoon, I didn’t think twice. “We have to turn back,” I told Crystal sadly. “I have to go up the mast and we’re be better off to go back and get resituated and then restart again tomorrow…but we’ll have to wait until the tide changes to get back in.”


I turned Swell around and we drifted slowly back in the direction of the pass. I sat down on the deck to think…”This weather won’t last long. If we wait another day, we might not be able to go at all. I know Crystal is looking forward to seeing another island, and the swell that is on the way will touch there, but not here…”


As the minutes passed, I realized how relatively calm it was with the main up and shadowed from swell in our proximity to the atoll. Confidence spouted up from my intuition.


“I think I can do it.”  I said.


“Do what?” Crystal replied.


“Go up the mast.” I affirmed. “I’ve never done it at sea, but these are about the calmest conditions I can imagine. That way we can put up another sail, and continue on our way…”


After some re-assuring, Crystal liked the plan, so we dug the bosun’s chair out of the lazerette and set it up for my trip to higher elevations.

“Crick. Criiiiiiiiiiiick. Criiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiick.” Screeched the ratchet of the block and tackle, my feet suddenly lifted off the deck and I scrambled to clutch the stays as the boat swung to port. “Crick, criiiiiiiiick, criiiiiiick…” We worked together, Crystal pulling on the falls line and me easing the weight with my arms and legs as I monkeyed up the mast. Suddenly I looked around at my bird’s eye view, the sea was a sheet of royal satin and the palm-lined coral stretched both east and west as far as I could see. Lovely, but I didn’t spend much time pontificating as my hands trembled and body clung to the mast. The roll of the swell that was felt down on deck had to be quadrupled up there. I worked quickly and with adrenaline-enhanced precision as nausea crept up my core. One last glance at what my feathered friends see, and I was on my way down with the halyard swivel…


The view from the top, while at sea...I'll never forget that color blue...

Crystal steadied me the last few feet and soon I was back on deck—sea-sick, sweaty, but thrilled that it was successfully over. I dug out the sail that my brother had brought down a year earlier, and we pointed Swell into the wind, and hauled it up the furler track.


Two solid hours later, we were spent, thirsty, and sun-burned, but the simple joy of forward motion towards our destination was enough to get us smiling again…