Double Takedown as the Whales Surface

Well, I’ve spent the last week trying to figure out how on earth I was ever going to write a blog post that could follow the words Jenna shared with all of you last week. I am feeling much better, our boat life is back to normal, and Max and Becca have safely returned to their lives in the U.S. I don’t think (and certainly hope) that anything I write or do can ever match the passion and excitement and terror she captured on these pages last week. I will do my best to be much more boring from now on.

But today was kind of cool.


We had our third double takedown of our journey this afternoon. If you recall, a double takedown is when you land two fish at the same time. That’s a photo of me this afternoon with my new yellowfin tuna tattoo on my right arm, my new yellowfin tuna in my right hand, and a bluejack tuna in my left. And this time we caught them with a twist.

Our day started in Moorea at 5:00 AM with the goal of making the 80 mile passage to Huahine, the closest of the Leeward islands in the Society Archipelago. Given last week’s excitement, we wanted to do the passage in daylight so it made sense for us to get an early start.

The weather forecast called for 20 knot winds and 2-3 meter seas, and that’s exactly what we got when we left Cook’s Bay. Fortunately it was all directly behind us, but unfortunately the wind and waves were too squirrelly for us to sail at the speed we needed in order to make Huahine by nightfall. Since we had completely full fuel tanks, we decided to motor, and motoring means trolling with the 2 meat lines along with the tuna pole.

Now other than a 1 pound bonito that Becca caught and whacked last week, we hadn’t caught a fish trolling on Sophie in over a month. I was beginning to experience some serious feelings of (fishing) inadequacy, and they didn’t go away during our first 7 hours of trolling today. We saw tons of birds on the water, and flying fish were a constant companion. But nothing went after our lines.

Please don’t misunderstand me, though, we were having a lovely passage. The seas were a little rough but we are all used to that by now. The kids were downstairs watching movies and weren’t getting sick. At one point they even had a dance party. Jenna and I were up top in the sun reading. There wasn’t much chatter on the radio, and we only saw one other boat. We were making good time. Sophie was working well and seemed to be happy.

Then around 2:00 PM it all changed when a fish hit the lure on the tuna pole. I had just re-lubed the reel yesterday, and it made a nice loud “WIZZZZZZZZZZZ” noise as the fish ran with the lure. I ran down to grab the pole while yelling for Jenna to stop the boat. I could tell it was a smallish tuna, and as I pulled the pole from the rod holder I saw that a yellowfin tuna had grabbed the lure on the port meat line. Two hits at once! Opportunity for a double takedown! I yelled for Jenna to see if she could pull in that meatline fish while I dealt with the fish on the pole.

And then I saw the whale.  It looked like a big yellowish orca less than 100 feet from the port side of the boat. “Jenna, forget the meatline. Get your camera. THERE’S A WHALE!!!!”

So she ran off to do that, and I had two fish to land. Leo ran out to the aft cockpit, put on his lifejacket, and assumed the invaluable role of wingman. Fortunately, the fish on the pole was a small bluejack — in the 5 pound category — and could be reeled up to the boat pretty easily. I didn’t even bother netting him and simply yanked him out of the water onto the deck. Leo handed me the bat and I whacked him, getting blood all over my brand new white shirt. (Becca, you left 2 days too early). This fish was still flopping all over the deck, so I threw him into the net and asked Leo to hold him down.

Meanwhile, while all of this is taking place, we are getting a color commentary from Jenna: “Jamie, there are two …. no three whales, and they are really close to the boat … they are bigger than dolphins…. they are not sharks because they are breathing from blow holes …. there is one 40 feet right behind the boat RIGHT NOW”.

But I had another fish to catch so I really couldn’t look up. And I was a little scared that the whale would try to eat my tuna. So while Leo was holding down the bluejack, I grabbed the gaff and went to the port meat line. I started pulling it in with my hands but then the line got wrapped around my fingers just as the fish went on a run. Not good. So I let go of the line to put on a pair of gloves. I thought I had lost the fish but after a few pulls it was clear he was still on the line. I got him to the boat, saw that he was a small yellowfin, and figured I wouldn’t bother with the gaff and simply pulled him up onto the deck. It worked. Whack. Two fish in the box. Dry spell over. 5 meals in the freezer plus dinner tonight. All while these exotic Tahitian whales were hanging out right next to us.

How cool is all of that?

We have to look up what kind of whales they were because we don’t know. Jenna needs to see if she captured any with her camera. Dan Rogers: my Reverse Albright held beautifully with no snags as I reeled the leader in.

Most importantly, as you can all hopefully tell from today’s narrative, I am feeling great! I seem to have recovered from last week’s unpleasantness. I am on some special meds for the next month, and they have no apparent side effects so far. I will even renew my quest to do 100 pushups tomorrow after a week’s hiatus.

So a double takedown with whales surfacing all around us means back to boring. Thank you, all of you, for your prayers and warm thoughts last week. It meant a lot to me and to my family. I will do my best to make sure nothing lie that ever happens again.

On with the trip.

Hospital Food in Tahiti is Delicious

Jenna here. First, I want to let you know Jamie is ok. Early Wednesday morning he had a seizure. All his test results have come back normal and he has felt fine since then. We went by ambulance to the hospital on Moorea and then ferried to the main hospital in Papeete where he’s been under excellent care in the neurology unit. They have run many tests including CT scans, MRI, EKG, EEG, blood work, etc. and so far everything has come back clean. The doctors are running one more cardio test today, but felt he was doing well enough to let him out last night so he could go out to dinner and stay with us on Sophie.

I was planning a lightweight follow up to Jamie’s tattoo post when this happened. Instead, here is my account of what transpired that I wrote late Wednesday night after we got his first test results.

Around 7:15am Jamie seemed to be having a nightmare. I woke up to him mumbling and then sort of crying out in his sleep.  I shook his arm to wake him and said “Jamie you’re having a nightmare,” but he didn’t rouse and I realized this was actually my worst nightmare. Something was horribly wrong. He grabbed his chest, screamed, and started writhing and convulsing while his eyes rolled back into his head. His jaw clamped shut and I expected him to start foaming at the mouth any second.  I held his hand and heard myself screaming “No! Are you having a heart attack? Can you hear me? Do you hear me? Jamie!” while a thousand thoughts raced through my head. Do I remember CPR? Why didn’t we get that portable defibrillator? What do you do during a seizure?  Could this be a stroke? Could it be all three? How am I going to get you to shore? Don’t you dare! Don’t you dare die on me right now, Jamie! Maybe all of that was out loud too. I’m not sure how long this lasted, probably less than a minute, but it felt like forever. Then he was unconscious. He had a pulse but didn’t respond. At all. This was the most terrifying moment of my life. What now?

We were anchored near Opunohu Bay, off the beach about a kilometer down from a Hilton resort, so after I screamed for Max and Becca to wake up I called the hotel concierge to help get an ambulance dispatched to our beach. They were wonderful. Within minutes I had also consulted with Jamie’s dad and my sister Julie (doctors in the family), put Leo in charge of breakfast and playing Rat-a-Tat Cat with Hazel, and started throwing some things in a bag. Jamie went in and out of consciousness a few times during the 15 minutes we waited for the ambulance. The first time he couldn’t speak and I didn’t think his eyes focused when he looked at me. The next time he recovered a little more. He was confused, not remembering where we were and repeated questions. Thank God! I was thrilled he could say anything at all and able to move his arms and legs. In and out again, but then he began to recall parts of the last few days and became curious about the gaps. Of course, he wanted to get up right away and I wouldn’t let him.

Max and Becca met the pompiers at the beach with the dinghy and soon we had 3 of Moorea’s finest with a stretcher on board. By this time, Jamie was able to sit up and talk, then walk up the steps from our cabin and climb onto the back board. He requested sunglasses before the firemen lowered him into the dinghy. I can’t tell you how thankful we are to have Max and Becca here. While I imagine that I could have handled all of this by myself if I had to, it means the world to me that they are here and could manage everything. I had the luxury of staying with Jamie without worrying at all about the kids or the boat. Thank you two!

Here’s a shot of Jamie going to shore. We had to make a few trips to shuttle everyone on and off Sophie. The pompiers and EMTs were great, but spoke almost no English, like most of the hospital workers, so today really put my French to the test.

Jamie moving from Sophie to the ambulance on shore.

The hospital on Moorea is on the eastern shore, about 15 minutes from the boat. It’s a twisty road, but the EMTs were happy to pose for a photo along the way since Jamie’s vitals looked good.

Moorea EMTs

Jamie saw a terrific French lady doctor who the nurses said is “absolutely the best, trained in Paris.” She confirmed it wasn’t a heart attack, didn’t appear to be a stroke, and most likely was simply une crise convulsive. Otherwise known as a seizure. I heard this phrase a lot today. The protocol here for a first time seizure is basically to do nothing… unless, she said… you ask for scans. And are willing to pay. She recommended going to the main hospital in Papeete on Tahiti since she doesn’t have CT or MRI equipment in Moorea. The next ferry was scheduled to leave in an hour. Ok, sounds great. At this point I figured out we had forgotten a few things. Jamie wasn’t wearing shoes. The staff thought we were a little crazy not to have them but who wears shoes in bed? I also hadn’t eaten anything. Or changed clothes. Or brushed my hair or teeth or even stepped into the bathroom before we left in the ambulance. But I did manage to bring our passports, wallets, phone and a Surface with chargers, and the snappy camera that was in the bag I grabbed. We travelled by ambulance, with nurse Carole and two other patients who were much worse off than Jamie, to the ferry and 30 minutes after that arrived in Tahiti. Another ambulance shuttled us to the emergency room.

Check out Jamie's blue hospital booties.

Check out Jamie’s blue hospital booties.

Jamie and I sat up in the front seat and it was fascinating to speed through town with sirens blaring, tearing through red lights with almost a bird’s eye view of the traffic parting to let us through.

Do you ever have that feeling that someone is calling your name but then you turn around and can’t find them? This kept happening to me while checking in. I thought I was imagining it, until nurse Jenna showed up to take Jamie’s blood pressure. Same spelling. Phew! Those weren’t voices in my head after all.

French Polynesia hospital policy is different than the US. Only Jamie was allowed to go in and I had to stay in the waiting room. It was 1:30pm and I still hadn’t eaten. Jamie of course sent out a nurse almost immediately to dismiss me to the café. Winding my way through a long hospital corridor in search of food brought back memories of 5 years ago. I picked at a bacon and ham quiche (because at a time like this one smoked meat just isn’t enough. Don’t you love the French?) and then made my way back through the hallway and elevator maze to the urgence waiting room. Jamie was admitted overnight for more tests and observation. His biggest complaint was his sore mouth from biting his tongue during la crise. I had just over an hour to catch the last ferry back to Moorea, the boat and the kids, so as Jamie swallowed some anti-seizure medication and they started his IV line, I left for the harbor. I always love being on the water, but the highlight of my return trip was the bus I took from the ferry terminal back to the boat. It was filled with locals heading home from work in the city and it was fascinating to listen to their stories and connect them with their homes as they hopped off.

The kids had a fun day playing at the beach with Max and Becca and I got the biggest, much needed hugs from them. They were so excited to share every detail of the day. Batteries were down a little so I started the genset, which promptly stalled a few seconds later and flashed fault #7 (loss of raw water flow). Thank you Murphy’s law. It looks like we need to replace the impeller again. Jamie usually does this so we’ll see if he gets out in time to fix it. Otherwise I have a new project. Batteries are still at 73% so we’re ok for now. Love that battery bank!

I finally spoke to Jamie around 10pm. He’s been moved to the neurology unit, had a CT scan and chest x-ray, and the doctor says everything looks ok so far. An MRI and blood work are on tap for tomorrow. Feels like old times. Jamie sounds back to normal and I’m sure he’s entertaining the staff. He says not to worry and that the hospital food is way better here than in Seattle.

I’ll move the boat to Papeete first thing in the morning. It feels pretty routine to do this now, like driving a car to the mall.

On a separate note, I have had several requests to write more blog posts and post more photos and had actually begun a follow up to Jamie’s previous post when this all happened. I am starting to get used to my ink. In the waiting room today I noticed the ray’s wings also resemble sails, which makes me smile. My children make me smile. Jamie makes me smile. I love this crazy wild adventure we are on together and how much we are learning about the world and ourselves, maybe even more at the end of a day we’re thrown a curveball.


It was great to have Jamie home for the night. He changed the impeller on the genset and then we had Chinese food at the nearby outdoor food market where food trucks set up each night and musicians play. He’s back at the hospital for the last tests today and although we await those results and what the doctors conclude, we’re very optimistic. Jamie seems fine and ready to resume life on Sophie. We anticipate he’ll be released later today or tomorrow. Will let you know.

Ink Day

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Today in Moorea we hopped into the dinghy at 7:45 this morning, crossed the reef that connects Opunohu Bay with Cook’s Bay, and had a family outing at the local tattoo parlor in Paopao.

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I went first. Mine is a yellowfin tuna on my right shoulder. I am glad I did 97 pushups this morning. Now that I have a large tattoo that is visible under all short sleeve shirts, I have decided to dedicate my life to improving my biceps and triceps.

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Becca went next. Hers is an incredibly small tatoo of a Tahitian gardenia on her hip. No one will ever see this in public.

By the way, getting tattoos turns out to be incredibly painful. I brought a hip flask of scotch with me. I am not sure if it helped ease the pain, but we passed it around. It made for a fun morning.

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Max followed Becca. His tattoo, on his upper right shoulder, is a unique design representing man and woman surrounded by family surrounded by ocean.

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Jenna went last. She has an awesome design of a ray on her inner right ankle that symbolizes our family and our ocean crossing. The two marks at the base of the wing represent our children. It’s beautiful and will look especially great when she wears high heeled sandals!

Leo and Hazel chose to not get tattoos today.


“Becca’s going to medical school, and I have no champagne”


Those are the lyrics to a song Hazel created yesterday 5 minutes after we cracked open a bottle of Argyle to celebrate the news that Becca had been accepted to Cornell Medical School, her first choice.

We’ve been in full-on vacation mode since Max and Becca joined us in Papeete last Saturday, complete with the occasional morning cocktail, wakeboarding on the paddleboards (above), and hours of board games in the aft cockpit. Everything has been perfect.  Except for when the wind kicked up to 20 knots when I took Max and Becca trolling outside the reef yesterday (Becca has never caught a fish on a pole before. We got soaked). And the lamb neck slices I barbecued for dinner last night (Becca has never liked lamb before. They looked like a bag of frozen steaks when I bought  them in the store. They were awful. Worst meat mistake of my life. Why on earth would anyone sell a bag of frozen lamb neck slices? Seriously? She still doesn’t like lamb).

After 10 weeks either at sea and or anchoring in remote locations, we finally arrived in the big city of Papeete a week ago, and I have to say I didn’t like it. It was great to reprovision at Carrefour, and the downtown marche was fun, but the overall stress and noise and traffic of the city really bothered me. We had a dock at Marina Taina 5 miles south of the city. It was a lovely marina, but our stern tie/pasarelle arrangement didn’t work very well when a big swell kicked up. We rented a car for 2 days. We went out to eat a few times. We went snorkeling by the airport and found a plane in 20 feet of water. That was about it.

We are now in Moorea anchored in Cook’s Bay, and that is much nicer.  There is still a fair bit or road noise, along with a rooster that SOMEONE needs to put in a stew pot so it will finally stop crowing 7×24. But we are surrounded by mountains thousands of feet high. The swimming is great. The people are nice. There is a gas dock right next to us so we don’t have to worry about running out of dinghy fuel while wakeboarding.

We went to a traditional Tahitian dance at the Kona Bali Hai the other night and had a wonderful time. The venue was basically a motel, and the troupe was a group of locals who danced together once a week. You could tell they were having so much fun with each other, and that made the experience all the better for us.

We have Max and Becca for another 10 days, and I hope the time doesn’t go by too quickly. (In case you don’t know  by now, Max is my older son. He’s attending law school. Becca is his girlfriend. She is going to attend medical school).

Today we will explore the island. Tomorrow we will head over to Opunohue Bay, the other cruising spot in Moorea. We’ll spend the weekend there and then head back to Cook’s Bay  on Monday morning for tattoos. Yes, we have an appointment with a local ink artiste, and I am hopeful that four of us will be his customers. I have already selected my art. Stay tuned …


Fakarava epilogue

This is the galvanized steel snap shackle that we used to attach our anchor chain to our anchor bridle in Fakarava. The metal is 1/2 ” thick and is bent 5 inches out of shape.

(Nails courtesy of Becca).

Swimming with Sharks in the Coral

2 days ago I jumped into the water, and there were 50 sharks right in front of me. And it didn’t bother me.

We’ve been at the south end of Fakarava for a week now, and the snorkeling in the pass is terrific. The best I’ve ever experienced. There are so many sharks here — all black-tipped reef sharks ranging from 2-5 feet (so far) — that you eventually stop caring that much about them. Unless you are Jenna and you are shooting underwater video, then you swim out to sharks with the camera when they wander by.

When I jumped in and saw the fifty sharks, we were doing our first dive in the pass itself, where the entire sea floor is covered with colored coral down past the 50 feet of underwater visibility you get here when the sun is out. There are thousands of fish, all within sight, and it’s amazing. This particular group of sharks swam away as fast as they could when they saw me jump in, so within a few minutes of our arrival all four of us were drifting with the dinghy on the incoming tide through the pass. We wound up drifting about 2 miles back to Sophie, watching fish and coral pass us 10 feet below. Jenna filmed pretty much the entire trip. It was a blast.

When we first arrived here a week ago, there were 5 boats anchored to the east of the pass and 0 boats anchored to the west (where it is uncharted). Locals in the north of Fakarava who live on a boat and run a dive business urged us to anchor to the west of the pass, saying that there is better anchorage (meaning less coral) and closer proximity to the famous pink sand beaches of this atoll. So we decided to give it a shot. We motored out of the channel at 2 knots with Jenna and Leo on the bows looking for coral heads. There were a LOT of them, and you could see them with spectacular clarity as Sophie’s keels passed over them with what appeared to us as inches to spare. When we wound up in the area where we were told to anchor, all we could see were really big coral heads right under us, along with 5 boats all anchored on the other side of the pass and 0 boats anchored here. So we turned around, retraced our steps and anchored with the herd in the east.

Of course within 2 days there were three big cats anchored over on the west side of the pass. A day later a 200 foot mega yacht anchored there as well. We now assume that if they were there when we arrived, we would have figured out a way to live right above the coral, maybe in the same way we seem to have figured out a way to swim with the harmless reef sharks here. But in my book right now coral is more dangerous than sharks.

The east side of the passage isn’t exactly coral-free, but the coral heads are much smaller (meaning lower) with less chance of wrapping your anchor chain entirely around one. We were quite comfortable our first night here from an anchoring perspective, with half of our chain mostly on sand, then running straight through some small coral heads for 80 feet up to the boat in 35 feet of water of water. Then the wind shifted, and we had some squalls with westerly winds appear. This is opposite the normal easterly trade wind direction, and we spent a night with the wind blowing us in the direction of a beach/reef 150 feet away in 20 feet of water. (The coral heads were much closer). We survived the night, and moved the boat out to a deeper part of the anchorage first thing the next morning. We have a buoy tied to our anchor, so we can tell without putting on a dive mask exactly where it is. We’ve been comfortable (meaning feeling safe) in this spot for the last 4 nights, even last night when squalls blowing up to 40 knots (from the east) came through and our anchor buoy was 15 feet off our port midships. On windy nights we track the boat’s position on a chartplotter, and we weren’t going anywhere, so we were able to sleep. Mostly.

It was cool during last night’s blow to see the little power monitor that displays the amount of electricity being produced by our 2 windmills hit 60 amps at one point.

One problem you can have when the length of your anchor chain is shortened by being hung up on some coral is the reduction of what’s called catenary action, the ability of the sagging length of chain to act as a shock absorber that absorbs pressure from waves and wind during a blow. When I took a little dive this morning to check out our chain, I saw that the snap hook we use to attach our anchor bridle to the chain had bent almost into a straight line. (We have six replacements coming with Max on Sunday). It was previously damaged, but it was still pretty cool to see how a storm can make metal bend. Way cooler and scarier than sharks. Since it was still functioning, I left the snap hook (now a pin?) in place and tied a length of kevlar rope from the bridles to the chain as a backup.

Oh yeah, Max and Becca arrive Sunday morning in Papeete. We are incredibly excited, although I was joking with friends last night that I may hug Max’s dufflebag filled with spare rigging parts and fishing gear before I give him or Becca a hug. We’ll see.

We assume we will leave here tomorrow morning and make the 220 miles to Papeete in a day and a half. The forecast calls for southeasterly winds from 15-20 knots, and Sophie will be sailing to the west. She will be a happy girl, even if we get a squall or 2. I am much more comfortable in 30 knot squalls at sea than I am in a coral anchorage.

Life on Sophie continues to be wonderful. Unless it’s squally, we are spending an hour or 2 in the water each day. We went on a day trip complete with a picnic lunch over to the pink sand beaches and wound up hanging out on our own little island. School is going really well. In true Utzschneider tradition, we are now playing SCRABBLE ™ every day, and Hazel has won the last 2 nights. The kids are memorizing their 2 letter words, and Hazel’s reading has noticeably improved since we broke the board out. There are no stores or Internet here, but there is a dive pension at the pass with a dining area/bar on stilts right over the coral. They welcome people from the boats during happy hour for a beer, and it was during one of these where we saw locals swimming through the sharks. It made us realize that we could do that too. We made new friends from Vancouver who are out here on s/v Hydroquest (, and our old friends from the Lagoon 500 Pacific High ( came by for dinner last night. We served a Leonetti and some Jenna dowry (a ’97 Opus One cab), and Klaus in particular left Sophie a happy man.

We are so fortunate to be out here doing this, and it’s hard to believe that we’ve only been gone for 2 months.