Yesterday we did the big shark dive at Makemo Atoll. It was one of the best days of my life. Brian and I had a simply wonderful day overall, plus the dive was exhilarating and empowering. Wow, just wow.

It was a drift dive where we rode the current of the flooding tide into the lagoon. We took our dinghy up to the place where the lagoon empties into the ocean. We tested the current to be sure it wouldn’t push us out to sea and then entered the warm water. Brian clipped our dinghy to his BCD using a floating line. We then descended about 50 feet and rode a gentle current into the lagoon.

Beauty abounded as we drifted past caves full of fish and enjoyed healthy coral blanketing the sea floor. During the dive the current steadily increased due to the rising tide. After 30 minutes the current had become significantly faster and I was starting to run out of air. Then we drifted by the sharks.

It was an intense and agitated scene. First I saw schools of shimmering Big Eye Scads darting around crazily. The fish were fleeing from at least 25 feeding sharks, which began to come into view as the current carried me directly toward them.

Gray Reef Sharks, Blacktip Sharks and Whitetip Sharks were rapidly flowing over the colorful coral bottom, chasing fish and rooting around in crevices. I flew by them on the rapid current, awestruck. They swirled around me, continuing their activities with an attitude of indifference. It was such an overwhelming scene I could barely think. But the thoughts I did have were focused on the fact I was nearly out of air. I kept telling myself not to lose myself in the moment with these sharks.

I felt no fear. The sharks were doing their thing and I was doing mine. We shared space for a brief moment in time, and they graciously accepted us. That’s how I thought of the sharks. Gracious. Sure, they could get right in our faces and scare us, but why? It would be a waste of time. They are more pragmatic than that. Better to be gracious hosts and tolerate the strange black divers until the current quickly sweeps them away.

A couple sharks found a tasty morsel in a crevice and a small feeding frenzy began right at the end of our time with them. You can see a little bit of it at the end of the video. And then that was it. We had drifted past them and they were gone. We began our ascent back to the surface and to our dinghy, glowing from an unforgettable dive.


There are plenty of sharks in the Tuamotus. This morning when I was at 60 feet a gray reef shark swam by and checked me out. I hovered in place and turned on my video camera as the graceful, curious creature slowly became larger and larger in the frame. It continued closing the distance between us until it was only 15 feet away. Then it veered off and went the other direction.

I’ve always had mixed feelings about shark diving. I’ve done it, yes, but always felt a jolt when I saw a shark nearby. I definitely felt plenty of jolts last year at the Revillagigedos when a few Silky Sharks got too interested and started circling us. Brian finally hit one of them with his camera and then they left. Oh yeah, big time jolts.

I love sharks, but they can be frightening, too. They don’t always flee like other fish; they’re more curious and attentive than other animals I’ve met underwater. And sometimes they’re bigger than me.

We’ve been in the Tuamotus for eight days and we see sharks on almost every dive. I am fascinated by them and they haven’t been aggressive at all. We haven’t seen any Silkies either, which I like. We see plenty of Gray Sharks, Blacktip Sharks and Whitetip Sharks.

Each day I have become more comfortable with the sharks. The jolts have nearly gone away. When I surprised a sleeping shark a few days ago I felt a tiny jolt, but not much. I swam around a corner and had a close encounter with a small whitetip shark. It darted right in front of me and quickly swam away.

Today when the reef shark came right up to me and I didn’t feel a jolt, I realized I am ok with this now. I’m ok with these sharks. I’m ok with their curiosity.

The next question is, am I ready for the big shark dive? There’s a pass here where you can ride the current past 50+ sharks and thousands of colorful fish. Brian and our friends Dan and Kristy have been doing amazing drift dives there each day. I’ve snorkeled the pass and seen the sharks. It’s truly an incredible sight and I want to experience it close-up, underwater.

I think I’m ready. I want to drift dive with 50 sharks. Internet, what do you think? Am I ready? Should I do this tomorrow?


“Lagoon” is one of my favorite words now. We just arrived in the Tuamotus yesterday and I still can’t believe this is real. The lagoon water is clear, warm and calm. It’s protected on all sides by coral. It reminds me of a placid Idaho lake, where waves don’t get very large. This lagoon is about 8 miles wide.

After a five day passage we dropped our anchor with great relief. Almost immediately we jumped in with snorkels to see the coral under Magic, and were ecstatic to see 100 foot visibility and one small shark which soon darted off into the darkness. Unicorn Fish, which are light blue with a little horn, greeted us in a large school under the boat.

Now this is what we crossed the Pacific for, and the water here is the nicest I’ve ever seen. The coral is healthy and we found a good spot to snorkel and dive just a one minute dinghy ride from where Magic is anchored. We also have a good internet connection here. This place has it all!

Sharks are everywhere! They have been small, cute and indifferent. They came by at the beginning of our dive today, then acted like we didn’t exist the rest of the time.

UPDATE! Just as I was writing this blog post on the trampoline of the boat a shark swam by just 20 feet in front of us. Brian spotted it cruising along the surface.

Anyway, yeah, sharks are everywhere. I’m glad I like these sharks. They are fascinating and haven’t been aggressive at all. They do their thing, I do mine. Right, sharks?


I’m back on night watch. This time we are sailing 500 miles southwest to the largest group of atolls in the world, the Tuamotus. Brian just went to sleep but tonight I have a companion. A medium sized seabird, a Booby, chose to spend the night on Magic.

The Booby settled onto our solar panel late afternoon yesterday and hasn’t moved since. It wobbled around for awhile, getting its sea legs, and now it’s roosting in a light rain. It’s head is tucked against its wing. I can see it from where I sit and it definitely makes my night watch more fun. I hope it stays with us throughout the five day passage.

The Marquesas were great and we spent much more time there than we planned. It’s not the best destination for diving because the water is often murky. We still ended up exploring Nuku Hiva for three weeks. The friendly attitude of the locals, the fascinating fruit and the manta rays were incredible highlights. The lesson of the Marquesas was to keep an open mind about each new landfall.

Now we’re headed to the Tuamotus, with white sand, palm trees and very clear water for diving. This sounds like paradise. I can’t wait to be anchored in a turquoise lagoon surrounded by fish and coral.

But first night watch, with my Booby companion. Just a couple more nights at sea.


It was a great Pacific crossing, our longest passage ever. We were at sea for 21 days and when we made landfall at Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia we were thirsty for land, food, and other people. We dropped our anchor in the busy bay and felt victorious. We had crossed the largest ocean in the world together.

We relaxed in the cockpit, awestruck by our new surroundings and spent from the passage. About an hour later two really nice men in a dingy slowly motored over to Magic. I was excited to have visitors in this new place.

They offered us a large bag of Marlin they caught and froze solid. We still had plenty of the 35 pound tuna we caught the other day, but we accepted the Marlin gratefully knowing we’d appreciate it once our tuna was gone.

We prepared our dinghy and went to land. We began exploring and soon realized around 10% of the trees around town were fruit bearing. The delicious, grapefruit-like pamplemousse grows everywhere, and the scientific name is citrus maxima for good reason. These gorgeous green globes are huge, and can grow as large as a cantaloupe.

They are sweeter than a grapefruit and a whole lot more work to dissect, too. You must commit to a pamplemousse. It takes around 15 minutes to peel an average sized pamplemousse. I know because I enjoy making Thai pamplemousse salad with peanuts, onions, coconut, lime juice, garlic, chiles, brown sugar, and fish sauce. This salad is a strange combination which will confuse and delight your taste buds. The fruit is also fantastic on its own.

We continued to try other fascinating fruits which became available at the market, and thanks to a recommendation from our friends on a boat named Pino we stumbled on to the Sugar Apple. It is my favorite fruit here.

Sugar apples look like purple pine cones, but I bought four of them anyway because of the way Recka’s eyes glowed when she told me about them. These had to be good.

We went to Daniel’s Bay for a couple days, taking the sugar apples with us. We grabbed the softest one and enjoyed it our first night there, sitting on top of the boat in a beautiful anchorage with green walls and waterfalls around us.

We started on the fruit. We peeled its soft, leathery skin off in little pieces. It put up no fight. This was a task easily accomplished without fingernails. Inside we found a soft, creamy, pink substance. It was similar to an overripe avocado in texture, with a sweet, earthy, and loamy flavor. The creamy substance lines the leathery skin, and at the core of the sugar apple are large brown seeds enveloped in a delicious white pulp. We devoured it.

The sugar apple is a succulent little bomb of enjoyment, and when it gets very ripe it even starts to take on hints of cherry and become more complex. I wish I could have one every day and take them with me everywhere I go. I’ve never seen them anywhere else, though. I will have to enjoy them as often as possible in the South Pacific.

I thought mangoes would be easy to pick here, but it took time to find any that we could harvest. The mango trees around town which are not on private land are harvested heavily. We persisted, though, and one day with the help of a rental car we found all the mangoes we could possibly handle! Picking mangoes is a sticky experience. The stem of the mango begins oozing sticky white liquid as soon as the fruit is removed from the tree. We drove all over the island taking in fantastic vistas and enjoying the mango and banana trees by the side of the road.

We had a great time seeing the entire island and picking fruit. The driving is adventurous, though. At one point the road is extremely steep and curvy, and for about 1/8 of a mile it has only one lane. There are no pullouts. You’re supposed to honk loudly to declare your right of way before driving up or down the one way section.

We’ve also tried different types of bananas here, both at the market and from the wild, and these are the best bananas we’ve ever eaten. They are rich and make American bananas seem airy by comparison. They are sweet and don’t ripen as quickly as the ones back home, either.

In addition, the stores have a good selection of other foods like cheese, bread and Asian foods. There’s a café where we can get a good meal for about $10. We’ve been impressed. Rumor has it the South Pacific is a remote and difficult place to find food, but that is certainly not the case on Nuku Hiva!


Our 39 foot long catamaran looked pretty small floating at the base of the 2300 foot high walls in Daniel’s Bay. The walls were wavy with green and black horizontal bands, dotted with white birds drifting on air currents. We were entering the bay from the ocean, and it kept its secrets hidden. We could see only a green corner straight ahead and big walls all around us. The place where we would anchor our boat wasn’t visible yet in the right lobe of the heart shaped bay. As more of the bay came into view we were delighted to see a small, wild beach full of palm trees and crashing waves. Thousand foot high waterfalls punctuated the dark folds in the cliffs far beyond the beach. They looked like tiny white ribbons. It was a scene out of a tropical fairytale.

The other lobe of the bay was calm and surrounded by rolling green hills and small, pointy peaks. This would be a good place to anchor and there were already two more small boats here. We made sure we had a good view of the waterfalls and then dropped our hook in the most beautiful place we’ve ever taken Magic. We moved to the trampoline to properly appreciate the scene, with wine and sugar apples in hand.

The next day we would hike to the base of Vaipo Falls, a 1300 foot tall waterfall. We got up early and went to the wavy lobe of the bay to begin our hike. Even on the beach we found hints of the abundance of fruit here. A half dozen rotting, yellow pamplemousse were nestled in the tan sand along with coconuts in varying stages of decay.

We wandered through a small village of about a dozen people. Horses, dogs, pigs and chickens darted in and out of the lush forest. It looked like a peaceful life and the people living there were very friendly. They spoke a tiny bit of English and I spoke a tiny bit of French. Their English was better. We chatted for a few minutes.

We continued down the road and found clusters of trees laden with pamplemousse, lime, papaya, banana and mango. We paid our $10 entrance fee to Paul, a friendly man who lives at the end of the road and watches over the trail. He offered to give us fruit when we returned.

We enjoyed a powdery blue sky as we left the village behind. It was a nice break from all the rain in the Marquesas. There’s a reason everything is so green here.

The trail was wide and grassy at first, and it took us through an open valley of palm and fruit trees. The valley became deeper, and then we were in a dark jungle splashing through puddles and mud. The trail was hard to find at times. Luckily we were wearing sturdy sandals which could accommodate this wet jungle hike and we enjoyed the terrain immensely.

The trail was littered with fruit. Sometimes we would find a mango and look all over for the tree it came from, only to find that the mango trees were very tall along the path. I bent down to pick up one mango which was perfectly ripe, soft and bright yellow, but my heart sank as I turned it over and found a gash teeming with tiny ants. I examined it. Wanted it. We hadn’t found a mango in edible condition yet. I carefully peeled away the skin from the ant-free half and quickly snuck a bite before the insects claimed it. The juicy, slimy flesh was sweet and delightful, the most delicious mango I had ever tasted. I regretted having to leave the rest behind but felt highly motivated to find more mangos.

We got our first glimpse of Vaipo Falls after about a mile. Our spirits soared and we started hiking faster.

It was still over an hour to the falls, and when we reached the deep gorge near the waterfall the sky began to darken. A storm was building. We hiked up the river to reach the base of the falls, sometimes crossing it to find the trail on the other side.

“Look, there’s a snake!” I squealed as a fat, brown, serpentine creature squirmed down a small rapid in the swift flow of the river.

I waited at the side of the river and watched it pass a few feet away from me, but this wasn’t a snake. It had gills and looked like an eel. Who knows what it was doing here, or how many other little critters we were hiking with in the murky river.

We reached a pool near the base of the falls but before we could see the waterfall we had some obstacles to overcome. We swam across a brown pool, probably full of eels, and then scrambled past a short jumble of rocks.

After the rocks came the most exhilarating part. A deep plunge pool with rounded walls guarded the base of the falls, and had a strong, pushy downstream current. We swam against the current in the turbulent pool with curtains of mist filling the air. I swam with my face toward the mist at first, but soon a heavy wave of water droplets hit my face and partially filled my mouth. I began gasping, choking, and felt like I couldn’t breathe. I thought back to the times I’ve rappelled waterfalls and turned around so my back was to the mist. Now I could swim against it, no problem. I made my way across the pool and reached the base of the falls.

It seemed to be the base of a lower cascade, where the falls broke up into big curtains of mist instead of a huge, thundering firehose that must be hitting further upstream. I floated, gazed around in wonder for a couple seconds, and then got the heck out of there. Floating at the base of the falls meant lingering under an overhanging, crumbling wall with a risk of rock fall.

Soaked and smiling, we returned to our packs and prepared to hike back. It was right at that moment the rain began suddenly and it felt warm and heavy. We were already wet from the swim so it didn’t matter. We walked through the jungle, dripping, united with all the plants around us, also dripping.

It was sunny on the way in and now this felt like a whole new hike. Instead of sweating and guzzling water in the steamy jungle we enjoyed warm rain which kept us at the perfect temperature. We saw spires shrouded in mist. The waterfalls were gone, hidden behind curtains of white clouds.

We hiked back to the village and did not see Paul or the fruit he offered to leave for us. We didn’t care. We were tired, wet and satisfied. It had been a great day. The best part was enjoying the trail in complete solitude after we left the village. It was just us and the eels out there.

As we left the beach to go back to Magic, Paul ran after us to let us know he’d have a big bunch of bananas for us in a couple hours. We thanked him, and planned to return and enjoy some surfing after the sun dipped down below the tall walls of the gorge.

Later on we surfed small waves in brown water thick with runoff. Paul returned as promised with a beautiful 20 pound bunch of bananas. Brian balanced the bunch on his paddleboard and stoically headed into the surf zone while I watched with bated breath. Our precious bananas made the passage through the breaking waves and were safely deposited in our anchored dinghy. Soon they would be hanging in Magic’s cockpit, a yellow pop of color to remind us of our time at Daniel’s Bay and of Paul’s generosity. We snacked on them for a week and were able to eat or give away almost all of them, no small feat.

This was our first hike in the South Pacific, and we were surprised by the solitude and beauty. We love it here.


I’ve enjoyed the doldrums more than I thought I would. The storms and clouds are breathtaking. Sunsets and sunrises are exciting mixes of colors, textures and dark angry clouds. The boat is clean, which I like. It gets a daily dousing of warm, tropical rain from storms that roll through. The wind has decreased and we aren’t getting tossed around in the northern tradewinds anymore. We’re motoring a lot. The ocean waves lap gently around Magic instead of crashing into us.

It’s been raining a lot. When the skies open up all the hatches have to close, leading to a condition we’ve been calling jungle boat. It’s moist and steamy, hot and humid. The lack of air flow causes the humidity to rise. Jungle boat can drive you mad, especially when you’re trying to sleep. The cure is simple and effective: a complete cold dousing of hair and body with the outside water hose. There is something about dripping with cold water and allowing the tradewinds to whisper gently over you which calms that jungle boat feeling.

We crossed the equator and are in the South Pacific now. We’ve been dancing in and out of the ITCZ (Inter Tropical Convergence Zone) as we make our way south. We heard intimidating accounts of the ITCZ and the violent thunderstorms it can produce, but when we got there we were surprised to find pleasant, calm conditions.

We get a lot of small rainstorms, called squalls. We avoid them if they are large, but mostly they just dump rain and the wind increases a little. We monitor our radar and when we see big green globs moving slowly across the screen we know a squall is coming.

We reef the sails to reduce their size and power. We close the hatches and hide in our delightful jungle boat enclosure as the sky gets dark and rain hammers the boat.

Overall, we enjoy the squalls and haven’t found them to be scary or intense. The top wind speed we’ve seen is about 25 knots, but squalls are capable of producing hurricane force wind. Conditions vary widely in the ITCZ, and I would say we are doing all right.

Except for that jungle boat thing. That is not all right. I relish each degree we gain south of the equator, moving ever closer to cooler and more tolerable temperatures.


When something breaks on a cruising sailboat, it’s usually at night, in the rain, when the boat is sloshing around in frisky swells. At least that’s what happened last night, around 1 AM, when I was on watch.

I am on night watch each night from midnight to 5 AM, checking for boats and storms, and adjusting sails. But mostly I nap or sit in the salon playing Sudoku or watching Gossip Girl. I set a timer and check on the boat every 30 minutes, which is all that is needed.

I was concentrating on a hard game of Sudoku when I heard our free flying headsail suddenly erupt with loud, flapping, unhappy sounds. As I headed outside to take a look, Brian bolted out of bed on his own, his ears attuned to the sail and its sounds of distress. Our warm, sleepy bodies were hit with a wall of rain as we stepped outside into the dark.

It was a warm tropical rain so we didn’t even bother with rain gear. Brian went forward and tried hauling the sail in using the lines attached to it, but it was powered up and hard to control. So he went up to the bow and grabbed the huge white sail with his hands as I illuminated him with a spotlight. He pulled it piece by piece around the forestay, and then piled it into a bundle at his feet, taking its power away. Then I yanked it into the cockpit and secured it with a line. Problem solved.

How did this happen? We had a pole, visible in the first photo, which propped the sail out next to the boat. This aluminum pole snapped in half. Things like this happen when you sail your boat across an ocean. Weak links are revealed. We don’t feel this will impact us too much, since we’re nearing the end of the downwind tradewinds portion of our trip and this pole is for downwind sailing.

I didn’t get much sleep after that and wow am I sleepy today.

Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.


The seas have calmed considerably today. I’m sitting in my favorite spot on the boat, where I spend several hours each day. I sit nestled against four velvet pillows at our U shaped salon table. My view is of my feet stretched out in front of me on dusty blue upholstery, then beyond that my herb garden hovers in the center, unmoving, set against a tilting, frothing ocean.

I love this view. Even when seas built to alarming heights over the last couple days, there was a quiet joy and wonder in watching as they snuck up behind Magic, rose quickly, and then splashed and thudded upon impact.

Watching the waves gave me an illusion of control over them. When a steep wave crashed into Magic with a loud noise, at least I could see it coming. I knew what caused that thunderous sound. Plus these were the biggest seas either of us had ever seen and I just couldn’t look away. They were the brightest, most beautiful shade of blue I’d ever seen. They were positively mesmerizing.

The gift on the other side of uncomfortably large seas is a deep conviction, a knowledge so solid it could never be felt by reading, or by an old salt’s advice, is that this is what your boat can do. This is what you can do. You did it successfully and you can do it again. And honestly, our boat was never anywhere near her limits. She can weather so much more. I know we can, too.

Our boat is even more today a thing of admiration, beauty, and comfort than before. She protected us. She rode the waves and performed beautifully. Our expectations are reset regarding the size of seas we think will present a challenge for our boat. Those 6 foot waves which seemed large and lumpy a few days ago don’t even register now. They are just a part of the ocean. In this way, the trip has become more relaxing. Our comfort limits have had to expand early and now everything else seems easier.

It’s been great reading the conditions reports from other small boats sailing nearby. We get these reports from a great free website called Farkwar. Here are some reports from the last 48 hours:

“It’s always interesting (a nice word for scary) to look off the side of the boat and see a big wall of water next to you.”

“In the afternoon we had some of the biggest waves we have seen at around 12 feet.”

“The big seas remind us of stormy days off the coast of Washington and Oregon.”

“It is a one hand for you, one hand for the boat kind of day.”

Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.


Conditions were mellow during the first few days of our trip, but now we’re in the middle of the Pacific Ocean riding 12 foot waves. They rise up behind Magic with white foam frothing on their surfaces. The blue peaks hit the bottom of the boat with a large thud, and then a short thundering noise travels down both beams of our catamaran. Finally Magic falls into the trough between waves only to begin rising once again.

This began last night when winds built to 25+ knots sustained. We’re sailing downwind and are in the beginning of the trade winds portion of our trip across the Pacific Ocean, where the winds blow gently from behind and take you straight to the Marquesas. It’s referred to as the “Coconut Milk Run”.

This isn’t really so gentle, and this sea state isn’t going away anytime soon. We have seen consistent 25+ knot wind and there is more in the forecast.

How to cope? Take plenty of video and photos, and appreciate the mountainous waves. Marvel at the way our boat rides them so smoothly. Then when it all gets to be too much, close the curtains for a while and watch the Simpsons.



 

About the Author

Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m a tall, blonde superhero and I live in a van and on a sailboat with my superhero husband, Brian. I do it all. I rappel big waterfalls, scuba dive with sharks, dodge encounters with bears and wolves, and work remotely as a full time computer programmer.
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About the Van

Hi, I’m Vanifest. I’m a big, 4x4, off-the-grid van complete with solar panel for power. I'm a 2000 Dodge Ram Van and Lisa has had me since 2009. Read more about me here.

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