Sophie’s First Party, With the Swedish Navy


Back in Seattle, Sophie was a great platform for hosting parties. On Thursday nights in the summer, she’d regularly carry 30-40 people for the Downtown Sailing Series races (see the photo on this blog’s homepage for an example). On our August cruises she’d be the mothership for 4 other families who would raft their boats to Sophie every night, using her as the main gathering place for communal meals followed by showings of “The Thin Red Line” where EVERYONE would fall asleep before it ended. Again and again. Kids love bouncing on Sophie’s trampolines, grownups love hanging out in the aft cockpit with a cocktail, and Jenna and I love sharing our floating home with everyone.

But Sophie hasn’t hosted a real party since we left Seattle last September. For most of the time it has just been me, Jenna and the kids and our occasional guest crew. In anchorages in the South Pacific, we haven’t gotten our act together or connected with a large enough group of people all at the same time in order to organize a proper party,

Until last night.

We’ve been in Niue for a week now and have been getting pounded with swells and squalls from the west since Saturday. It’s been pretty bouncy for Sophie and REALLY bouncy for the 6 other boats in the anchorage: Will and Sarah on Hydroquest (Canada), Umberto on El Hollandes Errante (Catalonia), Ola and Nina on Ninita (Sweden), Kid and Rosalie on Lady Lustrous (Sweden), Ludde, Tobbe and Simon on Warskavi (Sweden), and Johannes and Carolne on Orkestern (Sweden).

Yes, 4 of the 7 boats in the anchorage are from Sweden. We call them the Swedish Navy. Ludde, Tobbe and Simon are covered in ink. We call them the Swedish pirates. Hazel believes they really are. And we invited ALL of them along with the Canadians to come over to Sophie last night from 5:00 PM to 12:30 AM for a party that would do her Seattle friends proud.


For starters, there was a 5 foot swell all day yesterday, so our neighbors were all either exhausted or a little seasick. The average size for boats in our local Swedish navy is 28 feet. The sea was so rough, the only way to get onshore was to swim from your boat to the quay and then time your lunge for the ladder for the top of a swell. Jenna and I tried to go to shore in our dinghy with the kids, but when we saw the size of the surf breaking over the steps on the quay, we turned right around and headed back to Sophie where we played Settlers of Catan all day. At 4:00 in the afternoon I looked to the wharf to see how the surf was doing and saw Swedes in bikinis and tatoos throwing their waterproof bags into the surf and then jumping in after them and swimming into their dinghies. I had to go to shore in the dinghy again to tell John and Bev from New Zealand that I would NOT be giving them a ride to Sophie for the party and wound up fishing Caroline out of the water and catching her waterproof bag from an excellent 25 foot toss from John.


All of this just created a great backdrop for a successful party, and man did we succeed! We told the guests that we would provide the fish, wine and booze and that they should bring everything else, which wound up including rum, juice, coke, vegetables, cous cous. Everyone showed up at 5:00 and settled around Sophie’s aft cockpit for a cocktail when I pointed out to them that we had an ice machine with a bucket of ice right there at the bar. They suddenly turned into zombies, jumping from their seats with their jaws agape, crowding around the buckets all softly mumbling the Swedish word for”ice”. This happened throughout the night every time I refilled the ice bucket. They told me afterwards about the irony of how they all fled the Nordic cold for warm water cruising only to miss ice more than anything else.


Anyway, it was a great party. We ate the Ono that sliced my foor 2 weeks ago. We sang Swedish sailing songs. We watched Swedish pirates do handstands onto the trampolines. We sang along to Macklemore, because everyone on the boat knew the words to “Thrift Shop”.


Caroline and Nina wound up sleeping in the “yellow room” (forward starboard cabin), marveling at the size of the bed and the softness of the clean cotton sheets. They had both been awake for 48 hours and apparently had not slept in a proper bed for 2 years. Johannes slept on the salon sofa.

For breakfast, they had tea, eggs, dries fruit, and a full dose of Leo and Hazel playing Rat-a-Tat Cat.


I cannot imagine how uncomfortable it must be on a 25 foot sailboat moored in this swell, but Jenna and I are happy to hare our home with new friends. We plan to take a tour of the Swedish Navy later today to show the kids what its like to live on a boat smaller than their bedrooms.

It was a great party, and we are very happy with our new friends.

Rarotonga to Niue


Another passage, another round of happiness on Sophie upon making the next landfall.

We left Rarotonga last Sunday at noon with the plan of heading 450 miles to Beveridge Reef, hang out there for a day or two, then sail another 130 miles to Niue. It would be a nice easy passage for a Sophie crewed by just me and Jenna, with Leo and Hazel as our usual backup crew. We started out with an absolutely lovely 24 hours of gentle tradewind sailing, making 164 miles in pleasant sunshine and 2 meter seas coming from the stern. But the Monday afternoon weather forecast indicated we were heading into 25 knot winds and 4+ meter seas, and we had read in the Soggy Paws Compendium that Beveridge can be an unpleasant anchorage at high tide when there is a big swell (meaning the waves don’t completely break on the reef … some break on your boat). So Jenna and I decided to skip Beveridge, step on the gas and try to make Niue by Wednesday evening. It would require going about 400 miles in 53 hours, which is pushing the boat pretty hard with just 2 of us on watch.


We still had light air on Monday afternoon when we made the decision, but knew that the front would pass by us that night and bring with it a strong southeasterly wind. In the meantime we decided to motorsail to cover more ground. About 2 hours after we turned on an engine, Leo and I were in the salon when we heard a loud CRASH Thump thump. We couldn’t figure out what made the noise. Leo thought it may have been a cardboard tube falling over, but when I looked out the window I realized that it was caused by the radar reflector (above) falling off the mast and landing on the deck. The radar reflector is a sculpture of metal, glass and plastic that is bolted to the boat and strengthens the signal we present to other boat’s radar. In other words, it helps other boats see us at night or in the fog. Apparently the bounciness of the anchorage in Rarotonga (which is a great island but incredibly bouncy harbor) had caused the nut holding the reflector to its mount on the mast to work loose, enabling the whole thing to come off while underway. It must have landed on a cushion or the trampoline when it made the crashing noise, because there is no visible dent on the deck.

That night, the front came through, the wind shifted around counterclockwise from the northeast to the southwest, and we turned off the motor and settled in for a 36 hour romp with 2 reefs in the mainsail and the jib. Dealing with the windshift was interesting but it was relatively quick and nothing broke. While we were in Rarotonga, Margaret had done an excellent job repairing the tear in our mainsail, and we were thankful that Jenna and I had rerigged it with care, making sure everything was greased, secure and tight. Sophie sailed really well with this rig up until we came up to our mooring on Wednesday afternoon.

And she needed to. It turned out that we had 30+ knots of wind and 4-5 meter seas all day Tuesday and Wednesday. The waves were coming a little more from the stern than on our trip from Bora Bora to the Cooks, but it was still pretty bouncy and we had one fewer adult crew. At one point on Tuesday, we were in a trough between waves, when two different swells combined and crashed over Sophie’s port quarter at the same time. The salon door was closed but the sliding window was open. About 6 inches of water made it into the aft cockpit, water came through the open window, and the whole boat jerked sideways from the force. It was our first “rogue wave” on Sophie, but fortunately nothing broke except my Nespresso machine, which fell to the galley floor. Even though we did a good job securing the cabin before departure, we plan to stow away a bit more going forward. We had a couple of other bounces along the trip, and we broke one wine glass. But all in all Sophie proved once again that she is a solid offshore boat. We were sailing 8-10 knots in rough weather and 20-25 knots of apparent wind on a broad reach, but with our reefs in the boat didn’t feel strained at all.

I also want to point out at this point that our usual backup crew, Leo and Hazel, have turned into pretty solid offshore sailing kids. They think it’s totally normal to fall asleep at night in their beds to the sound of waves crashing against the hull as Sophie surfs along at high speed. They never get scared, they never complain, and they love to watch movies. Jenna and I are extremely lucky to have them.   From noon Tuesday to noon Wednesday we sailed 208 miles, which is Sophie’s first ever 200+ mile day. We made Niue by 4:00 PM (Rarotonga time) and were relieved to safely pick up a mooring at Niue’s anchorage off the town of Alofi.

Just to give you a sense of the weather we sailed through, take another look at the photo at the top of the blog. That’s the swell we went through crashing against the southern cliffs of Niue, sending surf up to 100 feet into the air.


Here is a map of Niue taken from our chartplotter. As you can see, it doesn’t really have a harbor, simply an anchorage on its west coast that provides excellent shelter from wind and waves coming from the north, east and south.


Here is a photo of the surf crashing on Niue’s southwest coast, with swells coming around the southern tip of the island. It’s another indication of the power of the system we sailed through.


Here is a shot of Sophie on a mooring in the anchorage. That’s Mahina Tiare III right next to her, in addition to the 5 other boats in the mooring field. Another front is predicted to come through this weekend, and we have elected to stay here even through 20+ knot winds are expected from the west for one day. Hopefully it won’t get too rough.


So we are going to hang out here for a week. We are looking forward to exploring the island. Since it gets too bouncy here to tie dinghies to the wharf when you go into town, they have a system where you use an electric crane to lift your dinghy out of the water and park it on the wharf. I’ve heard about this for years, and it it was pretty cool to put it into action. This picture was taken Thursday morning. We were too tired after arriving on Wednesday to clear customs, so we missed a potluck barbecue at the Niue Yacht Club, “The Smallest Big yacht Club in the World”. They maintain the mooring field here and provide a social gathering spot for the yachties that come through. As a consolation for missing the barbecue, Jenna prepared steak au poivre and garlic shrimp as our arrival dinner, and we promptly passed out and slept 12 hours that night.


It was nice to finally get on land and explore the town of Alofi. We completed our paperwork, visited (and joined) the NYC, and ate lunch at a local cafe. Hazel enjoyed her milkshake, with all memories of the passage long gone.


Only 1,000 people live on this Island, and they all speak Kiwi. We plan to rent a car for a couple of days, explore the local caves, go swimming, and keep an eye out for the humpback whales that are apparently sleeping in the anchorage at night. We haven’t seen any yet, but there are a ton of fish here and I caught two last night that looked like small tunas (chunks of mahi mahi as bait on a 1 inch hook).

dancing girls

Some final thoughts on Rarotonga. As I implied earlier, we absolutely loved the island and the people but hated the anchorage. The local economy seems to be based on tourism from New Zealand, and after spending a week with the Kiwis here we CAN’T WAIT until we arrive in Opua in November and begin our 6 months in New Zealand. Unlike Bora Bora, where the tourism is centered around a model where people fly in to and remain within their resort for a week, the tourism in Rarotonga assumes people get out and see everything on the island. It reminded me of middle class tourism spots in the US like Cape Cod or the Oregon Coast. We had fried seafood from roadside shacks, saw the film “Monsters University” at a local fundraiser for a school trip, enjoyed the local dancing girls in their coconut bras (above) at the Saturday market, and even played 18 holes of minigolf. It was a great experience, and I would love to come back here again some day, preferably by plane.

And as I’ve said before, we are so lucky to be doing this trip. It’s an experience of a lifetime.




There is absolutely no better sight in the world these days than seeing land after a rough offshore passage. Here is a shot of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands right before our landfall on Monday afternoon after a bouncy 535 mile trip that Sophie covered in 3 days.

I am not sure what was more eventful, the runup to the passage or the passage itself. We’ll let you decide.

When we last updated you, I was in diplomatic limbo in Seattle while awaiting word from the French government on whether or not they would issue a visa that would allow me to rejoin Jenna and the kids in French Polynesia. I flew down to the French Consulate in San Francisco a week ago Monday and was told I had to return there on Tuesday morning to see the Visa office, which was in another department across the hall. So I hung out with my college friends Phil and Peter Monday night in Oakland and then returned to the French visa office on Tuesday. I didn’t have an appointment so had to wait an hour, but finally had the opportunity to speak with the local head of the visa department, who got annoyed with me and basically said (from behind a glass security wall) “You’ve called me three times, I can’t give you an emergency visa, I wouldn’t even know how to enter it into my computer, you just need to get on a plane to Tahiti and see what happens …. Besides, that involves Customs, which is a different department than Visas, and I have no idea what they will do.”

Well, THAT made me feel good. I then flew down to Los Angeles with a ticket on the evening Air Tahiti Nui flight to Papeete out of LAX. When I got to the ticket counter, the lady asked me if I had a visa or a return ticket. I had neither, but I showed her my departure bond (which we got as participants in the Pacific Puddle Jump rally) while asking if it would be possible for me to buy an upgrade to Business Class. That seemed to change everything. I got my ticket, got on the plane, and flew to Tahiti. In Papeete, I was the first one in line at Customs, they barely looked at my passport, gave me a new stamp, and let me into the country. The next day I flew up to Bora Bora, and we were all together again.

What a relief.


Meanwhile, Jenna was holding down the fort on Sophie with the kids and the Riebelings in Bora Bora. She was worried (Leo thinks “worried” is an understatement) about me but at least was in the company of friends in one of the most beautiful spots in the world while I was in the States. This is a photo of the kids celebrating Canada Day at a potluck party at the Mai Kai with the local Canadian cruisers. Hazel and Leo don’t realize that they are 25% Canadian, but can’t you just tell by looking at the photo?

So on the Friday after I returned to Bora Bora, we left for Rarotonga with Karl and Hans Riebeling as guest crew. Tanya Riebeling had to return to the States the day before.

The trip got off to a great start. Twenty miles out of Bora Bora, we sailed through a couple of hunting birds, and I turned around and watched an electric turquoise blue Mahi Mahi arc through the air as it swam to hit the “Bad Boy” lure (which has been subsequently renamed “the German Flag”) which was trolling from our fishing pole. As the fish ran with the line, Jenna and Karl expertly stopped the boat but we (I) lost the fish. But the sight of that Mahi Mahi arcing through the air – specifically its intense blue color – is a sight I will carry with me for the rest of my life.


As a consolation, 30 minutes later we landed a 10 pound Yellowfin on one of the meat lines. It made us all pretty happy.

The weather, unfortunately, did not make us very happy. The wind picked up to 20+ knots that evening and remained in the 25-35 knot range through Monday morning. We were sailing southwest, and the wind and 4-5 meter swell was coming from the southeast, so we were getting hit hard by waves and wind from our port beam for three days. Friday evening we decided to play it safe and put a third reef into Sophie’s mainsail, which was a first for us. At some point later that night a tear developed in the mainsail right above the reefpoint at the mast. We got pounded and bounced around. It was pretty uncomfortable for all of us.

On Saturday morning, things became interesting.

While in Bora Bora, I had bought a new large squid lure called “The Hawaiian Breakfast”. When I was at the counter of the fishing store, I asked the counter dude why the lure had two small holes drilled into its face. He looked around, leaned forward, and whispered “because they create a stream of bubbles, and the bubbles drive the fish wild.” I was totally hooked. Anyway, we had The Hawaiian Breakfast on a new 200 lb. meat line on the outer port side, and it caught a 10 kilo Wahoo, also known as an “Ono”.


I was able to pull this in by myself. It was way cool, the biggest fish caught on Sophie to date. An hour later we had a double Mahi Mahi takedown on the two inner meatlines! (One of these was using a new silver and gray lure Hans had labeled “The Cougar”. For the life of us Jenna and I could not figure out how that lure had anything to do with being a cougar until Hans pointed out that it had the colors of Washington State).


So to celebrate the double takedown, Jenna took this photo of me holding the two newest fish. We were stoked! Over a 14 hour period we had caught 4 fish totaling 60 pounds. Our freezer was going to be full. But then as I set the 2 fish down, I accidentally stepped on this …

ono mouth

… the mouth of the dead Wahoo which was still on the deck. Its teeth were like razor blades, and they cut an uncomfortably deep distance into the bottom of my left big toe. In the civilized world it would have required immediate stitches, however we were in 30 knot seas 150 miles from the nearest rural clinic. So Jenna consulted on the phone with her sister Julie and my dad (both doctors), and she did a great job dressing the wound.

So there we were. Storm conditions, torn mainsail, lacerated captain (under treatment for epilepsy), seasick kids, and good friends. Living the dream.

It calmed down a little on Monday, and we turned on the engines to make Rarotonga before nightfall. I didn’t want to risk spreading the tear in the mainsail by shaking out the reefs, and none of us wanted to enter the harbor at dark.


We made the harbor by three in the afternoon. It’s very small and exposed to the wind and swell from the north. But we were tired and SO GLAD to be in port. Especially in such a friendly island where EVERYONE SPEAKS ENGLISH.

We had radioed ahead, and the harbormaster drove me in his truck up the mountain to the local hospital. A doctor looked at the wound and said Jenna had done a great job keeping it clean.  He then had a grandmother nurse clean the wound and change the dressing. She reminded me of my mother (also a nurse) up to the point when she was done with the shift and proceeded to wrap herself in a wool blanket and then hopped onto a motorcycle to drive home.


We love the Cook Islands so far. People are incredible friendly. We got the mainsail down and a local seamstress named Margaret is repairing it. The children made 6 new friends at the playground yesterday. Jenna bought drinks for the kids from a drink shack, and it didn’t have change, so someone grabbed her money then returned 5 minutes later with change, happy to have helped.


And the food is great. (That’s marlin sashimi right next to the smoked marlin.)


The only sad thing about the Cooks is that Karl and Hans had to leave us Monday night. We are blessed to have such good friends join us for almost 3 weeks. The Riebelings are a wonderful family, and we miss them very much.

We’ll spend a few more days here in Rarotonga, and then we are off to the island of Niue via a stopover in Beveridge Reef. The journey continues.