Our last attempt at a crossing with Luxsea

On August 19th 2015 we tried to sail west, the day before Luxsea turned 4 months old. We had both mostly recovered from a terrible stomach virus (the whole island was sick) and we made up our minds to get going. Elizabeth prepared food and cleaned and prepped the boat. I checked us out and provisioned and did a hundred small things required for a 500 nm international passage.

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We said goodbye to Teiva and Jessica and sailed off into the sunset. Seas were on the beam and with the 20 knot wind we were doing 7 knots on course. Our spirits and confidence were very high.

4 hours later we were in the aft cabin. In bed with Lux, not sleeping but very tired. I can’t remember being more tired. I’d had a cold the last couple days, runny nose etc but I figured I was alright for a passage. The day had been long and exhausting before we set sail. Elizabeth confided in me that her stomach was still a bit funny. Not a good start to a long crossing.

We had to alter course to go around Maupiti which brought us 60 degrees to the wind. The boat heeled and bucked on the waves for awhile. We looked at each other and started to discuss if this was such a good idea.

Elizabeth was holding Lux down to keep her from sliding off the bed. I was so tired the thought of even checking into the Cooks, Tonga, and Fiji sounded horrible. Not to mention the passages, anchoring, provisioning etc.

I brought up the idea of turning around, the conversation went something like this,

“Maybe we should turn around. Do you want to turn around?”

She replied, “I don’t know, do I have to decide?”

I asked, “Are you doing this for me? You don’t have to”

“No, I want to do this but… I’m so worried about Luxsea.”

“Me too. The stress and worry is exhausting.”

She told me, “I don’t know what we should do. I’m ok either way.”

“well, I’m going to turn the boat around and head back… unless you tell me not to.”

“I’m not going to stop you.”

So I jibed us around, a tough job single handed under full sail at night. I felt instantly better.

All stress was relieved. The constant question of should we be doing this vanished from my mind. I knew immediately I had made the right decision. The 4 hour sail back had a violent motion on the boat, it could have been a depressing, drawn out feeling of failure but to me it felt like success. I was happy to know for certain that I was doing what was best for my family. I had not felt that since we had left our house many months back. We made anchorage just after midnight and slept.

In the morning I realized that I was still pretty sick. Lots of congestion and coughing. Elizabeth too was still ill. We were very glad we turned back when we did.

To Luxsea’s credit she didn’t really complain. She was into it as always, even when it got really rough and she was half out of her crib she slept like it was nothing. In the end, sailing with a baby, the baby could take it but we could not. The stress of worrying about all the things that could go wrong ruined us. It was never like that before we had Lux, but sailing with a baby on a week long passage, in the middle of the pacific is far too risky for us to accept. I will never let Luxsea forget that she could take more than we could.

Our conclusion, it was not worth the risk. I will risk my life for adventure. I will risk my wife’s life too. But not Luxsea. Not for anything. She is irreplaceable and too valuable. Elizabeth and I found our limit. It’s a very high limit but we found it.

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The Worst Experience of Our Lives

It’s been 9 months since these events occurred so this post is out of sequence. These events were so horrible that it’s taken us this long to even be able to write about it. We had hoped to pretend that this didn’t happen but that’s just not possible. This changed our lives.image

The day we arrived in Bora Bora, July 2015 it was quite windy and the water was too rough to try to ferry our baggage out to Journey’s mooring, so we stayed at our good friend Teiva’s house. Elizabeth, Luxsea, and I  along with a mountain of luggage. Luckily I was too tired to go out drinking with Teiva as he had hoped, because at 3am Elizabeth woke me up in extreme pain.
The pain was in her abdomen and it was getting worse very fast. I woke up Teiva and he gave us a ride to the small island clinic. I had Lux in the baby Bjorn carrier and Elizabeth was in tears from pain. After an examination they told me I had 30 minutes to prepare to leave. Elizabeth was going to get airlifted to Raiatea, a nearby island with a hospital.
They shot her up with morphine and I raced back to the house. I still had Lux in the chest carrier as I hurriedly packed a bag for all three of us for an unknown amount of time. Needless to say it was very difficult to pack in a few minutes with a 2 month old baby and a very sick wife awaiting me. In a flurry we were in the helicopter with Elizabeth strapped to a gurney and Luxsea strapped to my chest. Elizabeth was so high on Morphine she almost enjoyed the flight.
We were rushed to the hospital and Elizabeth was examined immediately. The hospital was horrifying. The first room we entered was barren with no windows and only one low hanging, exposed bulb for light. My first thought was of a scene from the movie “hostel” where they tie people up and hack them to pieces. Even the doctor was creepy with a wondering eye and wearing street clothes.
The doctor did have a brand new looking sonogram that he used expertly. The clean, shiny piece of technology looked out of place in that dungeon, but he fired it up and seemed to be able to use all of its many features. He found what he was looking for and snapped some pictures.
Elizabeth was taken to a hospital room with a bed while the doctor and I spoke. His English was better than my French but only slightly. He was very somber when he explained how serious it was. Elizabeth had a massive infection caused by a piece of placenta left over from birth. He had heard that we were sailors and said several times that if we were underway, she would have been dead by now and we were very lucky to have no been underway.
They drew blood samples and prepped Elizabeth for surgery. They didn’t want to start antibiotics until they could determine the specific type of infection, but they were going to try to remove the piece of placenta. I waited with Luxsea while they took her into surgery. The surgery lasted longer than expected and when I spoke with the doctor, he explained that the surgery had not gone well. He removed some tissue but Elizabeth started bleeding so much that he had to stop. He could not get it out.
We spent a couple nights at the hospital, me sleeping in a chair, lux in a plastic crib. Eventually Lux and I moved to a nearby hotel due to the hospital conditions being too rough. The doctor finally figured out the infection and put Elizabeth on the proper anti-biotic. He sent her home with lots of pain killers after a week of being bed-ridden and told us to call his personal cell phone if we had any problems. Basically there was nothing more he could do. The infection was under control but the piece of placenta was still there. Our only option was for her body to expel it naturally which there was no way of telling when that would ever happen. The infection would certainly come back if nothing changed.
That evening at the hotel after the morphine wore off Elizabeth was in serious pain again with contractions worse than giving birth. After trying five different prescription pain pills back to back and nothing working, Elizabeth was exhausted and unable to bear anymore pain. We went back to the hospital and she spent the night on a morphine drip. That night Lux and I had to change hotels to one much further away (the Hieva was happening everything was booked up) and we slept together scared to be without Elizabeth again.
In the morning they began to prep her for surgery again. They made her bathe completely in Iodine. Head to toe with full strength brown iodine. Even wash her hair in it. Their procedures may have been justified when you took into account the sanitary conditions of the place. The sink drained into a bucket that would splash on your feet when you washed your hands. You had to empty the bucket into the shower drain. She had to use her sheet as her towel and they had no pillows.
Elizabeth lied and said she had washed her hair but there was no way she was going to. I think she would have rather died than put iodine in her hair. There was a funny moment when the nurses looked at her all prepped and paused and asked “are you wearing makeup?” Elizabeth tried to protest but they essentially held her down and removed her mascara and lip gloss. They even removed her nail polish. They did not think it was funny.
Though she was prepped it was going to be a while before the surgery so I went out to get breakfast. I was gone about 30 minutes. When I can back Elizabeth was beaming. The small piece of tissue had expelled itself naturally while I was at breakfast.
The doctor confirmed that this was the best possible outcome. Her recovery was expected to be 100%. After a final sonogram and some tests we were sent home with a clean bill of health. Her recovery was miraculous. She went from deaths door to ready to sail in 30 minutes.
I am not a religious man, but I had prayed for her life. I don’t remember the promises I made but they something like being abtter person and helping others. I asked Elizabeth, “what did you promise god?” She promised to start a sailing school for under privileged youth. Guess we gotta do that.
A few days later we returned to Bora Bora to continue our adventure on Journey. Considering the conditions of the hospital; no A/C, broken ceiling fan, our door opened to court yard full of chickens, no mosquito screens or even a mirror in the room, our level of care was very good. We could call our doctor anytime on his personal cell phone.
We have tried very hard to put this experience behind us but this is something that stays with you forever. When faced with the death of your closest companion and a future of raising your baby alone, I couldn’t help but ask myself “all for what?” Some fun in the sun. Looking back on it now I am amazed we decided to keep sailing.

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Luxsea’s First Passage

With the confidence gained from day sails and veteran cruisers encouragement we took off from Bora Bora and sailed to Raiatia, a quick 4 hour sail. We picked the weather just right and were able to sail almost half the way, which is great for going east. Lux did great, we had some seas right on the beam which kept the boat rolling but she never complained. She just laughed, giggled, and slept.

We spent the first night at anchor in a quiet little harbor on the island of Tahaa. Tara shares the same reef as Raiatia so the islands are essentially connected but Tahaa is much less developed. The next morning we cruised to Raiatia and took up a mooring at Raiatia Caranage, a boat yard that we used several times last season. It was here that we obtained our much needed new outboard engine for our new dingy. Yay, no more rowing. That night we made preparations to head to Tahiti but after a closer look at the weather and our fatigue levels we decided to enjoy a quiet night on a calm mooring.

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At anchor in a lovely mountain valley in Tahaa.

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Raiatia Caranage

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Erik rowing in for the last time. We finally got an outboard!

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Tahiti is a mission. 24 hours into the weather, another ass whooping. We have not sailed off the wind since leaving Fanning Island a year ago. The last thing either of us want to do is beat to weather, but we must. If we are going to sail to the Cook Islands with Lux we must have an overnight sea trial for her, for the boat, and for us. So with a weather report of very light winds and small seas we headed out at noon.

Our back up plan, if Lux could not take it, was to stop at the island of Huahine just 4 hours in. The sun sets here at 6pm (winter down here) so its the perfect place to call it all off. Right out of the pass we got 20 knot winds along with a 6’ swell right on the beam. We kept expecting it to be a wind tunnel caused by the island and hoped it would abate once we got away from the pass. For the next 4 hours it grew to 25 knots with beam seas. With the staysail and mizzen we sailed at 7 knots with a significant heel and rolling with every wave.

At 4pm decision time was upon us. We were 30  minutes from a very pleasant anchorage on an island we are both really eager to explore or we could keep pounding 20 hours up wind, through the night to Tahiti. We debated back and forth. Tahiti is a total commitment because if things went bad we would be stuck out at sea at night with no safe harbor to enter (going into a new harbor at night is not a good idea here, the charts are not exact and there are coral heads, unlit boats, and unlit buoys everywhere.)The risk of something going wrong, or the weather turning even worse was weighed against the true meaning of stopping at Huahine.

If we stopped at Huahine we would be stopping our cruising for the year. If we could not make Tahiti new would not even consider the Cooks. We discussed options for what we would do with the boat if we couldn’t sail on, options and risks, options and risks. The boats motion was difficult but the stress of fussing over a baby was overwhelming, we monitored her reaction to every gust and every wave, it was exhausting. It was a moment of stop now, maybe forever or take a risk and keep going. We took a long time deciding and went back and forth several times. Neither of us wanted to be the one to give up though be both kinda wanted to. So we let Luxsea decide.

She was loving it! Happy and giggly the whole way. She was so cute we just had to keep the dream alive a little longer. So we kept on sailing as the sun set on us. Lux does very well underway. In fact, she is the exact opposite of when we are not moving. While she is normally fussy and cries 1/2 her waking life, she is all smiles and quiet interest while we are underway. Elizabeth and I, having not sailed much the last year, were even a bit queasy ourselves but Luxsea ate like a horse and slept like a log the whole passage. I can honestly say she is a pleasure to have on board while we are sailing.

And of course we made it. Here in Tahiti we are going to provision and get a few key items. The sail back to Bora Bora is 1/4 of the distance to Aitutaki Cook Islands and the same direction so the sail back should give us a realistic idea of what the passage will be like. Add to that the up wind passage to Tahiti and we will have sailed 1/2 the distance to the Cooks and up wind half the way! We are so proud of our daughter. She has earned the right to cry all she wants and keep us from sleeping every night without complaint, she is great underway.

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Passing Moorea in the early morning with rainbows in all directions.

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Boat traffic around Tahiti.

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Our baby is a serious “talker.”

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Tahiti as we enter the channel.

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A line of mega yachts and mega mega yachts at Tahina Marina, Tahiti.

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Lux happy as can be after an all nighter into the wind, waves and current.

Confidence Building

After our first sea trial set back we have been easing the baby into ocean sailing with great results. We did two day sails for a few hours each and Lux did great. Now we are doing a full passage to Raitaia and then hopefully too Tahiti. So far so good.

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Confidence is important in sailing as it is in life. Are we crazy for trying the “coconut milk run” with a 3 month old? The other sailors at the yacht club say “No.” One skipper had his teenage daughter with him and told us of his passages with her as an 8 month old. He said it was very doable. One night with veteran passage makers all sailing with thier families gave us lots of confidence. It’s easy for the armchair sailor to give us grief but the real deal cruisers are our best resource.

Special thanks to the captain and crew of the yachts “Serafina” and “Azul” for all their advice and experience. You helped lift our spirits and our confidence. See you in OZ.

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Sea Trial Set Back

So the boat is pretty well set up and shook down and we are eager to get underway, just sail somewhere. We want to see if the baby can take some ocean waves, a baby sea trial, and make sure the boat is ready for the next passage of 600nm to The Cook Islands. So we look at the weather and make plans for heading to Tahiti.

Tahiti is a great place to provision with marine supplies, buy an outboard engine etc. Tahiti is East and hence into the weather. Unfortunately, we are at the exact end of a long archipelago so all the places we can sea trial to are East. We determined that we would not head out on a long passage until we were certain the baby could take it and a day of bashing into the weather is something she will, at some point, need to be able to handle. (Anyone can handle smooth sailing).
So off we set on a lovely evening to go just part of the way. 50nm to Huahine (Yes, we could have gone during day light but there was not another good weather window for the trip for 4 days). Lux was sleeping wonderfully to the rumble of the heavy Diesel engine pushing us out the pass. As we rounded the north end of Bora Bora we entered the ocean swells and raised the mainsail to stabilize the boat, the plan being to motor sail to get there in 9 hours vs the 20 it would take sailing against the wind.
Journey plowed through waves and the bow rose and and sank with each wave. We picked this night for the smallest swell of the week. I don’t know if the edge of the island funneled the swell at the one one spot but the seas did start to get high and choppy. Nothing the boat couldn’t take, we long since realized the boat can take more than her crew. She’ll out live us all. It was at this point that Lux puked.
She did more than just spit up. It was a a full-on evacuation of her stomach. To her credit she was not crying or fussy before she puked and after we cleaned her up she went back to sleep with a smile on her face. We were two hours into the sail and we discussed the idea of heading back.
About 15 minutes later we where marveling at her beauty and generally just starring at her, wondering how she could look so peaceful and happy. We both slowly began to wonder if she was really ok, she was not moving at all and we couldn’t see her breaths. We just gave her a little nudge to see if she was alive and she slowly opened her eyes and puked again.
That was it. We tacked around and headed back. Elizabeth fussed and fretted over Luxsea. Saying “no more no more.” We returned to the dock around midnight, our spirits a bit low. Still, the down wind sail was spectacular. The boats motion was so smooth and gentle. Through the whole 4 hour sail Luxsea didn’t cry at all which, funny enough, worried us the most since she is a known and staunch advocate of expressing herself vocally.
We have another sea trial planned for tomorrow. Just a day sail outside the reef, maybe hook some fish. We discuss options of what to do if Lux can’t handle open ocean sailing, but our plan is currently to ease her into sailing and hope for improvement. Fingers crossed.
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Sailing with an Infant

13Our plan has always been to return to the boat and continue sailing across the South Pacific. With a two month old baby in tow it may be more difficult but for us difficult means very little, there is what’s possible and what’s not.
While doing our research about cruising the South Pacific with a baby we ran into the same articles over and over about the family what had to get rescued because the baby got sick. It’s the first 3 pages of Google. The parents were attacked for being irresponsible, negligent, and putting their child in danger for no good reason. They had to defend their decisions to the world, over and over and over.
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This write up is not a defense of our decisions but a review of our preparations and way to assure ourselves that we are doing everything we can to mitigate the risks of distance sailing with an infant. Babies are always at risk, even at home with a hospital next door. The guilt of harming our child would follow us the rest of our lives and we have agreed that we will accept no unreasonable risk to our child’s health. None.
So what’s “reasonable?” 2 days from a hospital is what we consider reasonable. A child can develop a fever on Friday and be dead by Monday. So we are only sailing to places that have a hospital or an airport so we can fly to an island with a hospital. So no Palmerston or Suwarrow atolls for us, maybe on our next circumnavigation. So a four day passage is the most we will take Luxsea on. If she gets sick one day in then we turn around and go back. She would have to develop the fever at exactly the midpoint of a crossing for us to be even 2 days from medical help.
Our current route is very doable with this plan. Bora Bora to Aitutaki Cook Islands is 572 nautical miles, at the conservative average of 5 knots that’s 4.2 days. Aitutaki to Nuie is 572nm so 4.7 days, Nuie to Neiafu Tonga is 234nm so 1.9 days, Tonga to Fiji is 450nm 3.8 days, Fiji to Vanuatu is 531nm 4.4 days, and the final passage from New Caledonia to Brisbane is 773nm which is 6.4 days.
We consider 6.4 days to be “unreasonable” for our infant so we plan to take on crew and Elizabeth and the baby will fly to Brisbane while I make this crossing. All this is dependent on how Luxsea handles the boat and sailing. We are going to do a lot of sea trials and island hopping in French Polynesia before we commit to the first passage.
Medical concerns are always an issue when cruising and distance sailors must become family doctors complete with books, guides, antibiotics and instructions on how and when to use them. For our selves we carry two types of antibiotics on board one for stomach infections and one for everything else. On our passage to Hawaii I had a burn get infected two weeks out but it was no problem, we were prepared. We have spent much more time preparing for the baby’s medical concerns this time.
Our supplies and preparation for the baby include the following: a car seat we can buckle down for rough seas, infant PFD and tether, infant Tylenol, first aid kit and instruction books, we both became certified in infant CPR, a mosquito netted travel crib, powered pedialite, 5 types of antibiotics and pages of how and when to use them (we will still call our pediatrician on the sat phone before we administer any), a list of the medical facilities at the places we are going and phone numbers of emergency services, a spray bottle to mist her in the heat and electric fan, along with all standard safety gear for sailing.
We feel confident in our preparation but of course all decisions will be weighed and made along the way. If the baby doesn’t like the boat or we don’t feel that she is safe enough on board we will explore other options, of which there are many. We have more to lose this time around and we both take this responsibility very seriously.
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Her new bassinet is a suitcase with pillows and when she cry’s too much we zip it up, just kidding!!
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Right Back at It

The adventure continues!

We have purchased our tickets back to French Polynesia for the 2015 cruising season. This 6 on 6 off cruising lifestyle became a 10 month off for us this year but hey, we had a baby and lots of fun during the off-season.
 The boat has essentially been sitting on a mooring for almost a year and we are not sure what condition she’s in. The marina owner has been looking after her so I know it’s floating and hasn’t been crashed into (too hard) but the systems are my main concern.
 The inside could be covered in mold (fingers crossed) as long as the engine, watermaker, batteries, radar, and through hulls stayed in good shape then we will be styling. My fear is that the cockpit leaked onto the engine, 10 months of water landing right on the engine block and rusting a hole into it. There’s no reason to think this happened, the boat is almost 40 years old and was reliable when we left so odds are she will fire right up, but 10 months in the tropics, during the rainy season…
It has been 9 months since we left Journey in Bora Bora and we are finally heading back to reclaim her. This off season has been a great time to build normal lives while still pursuing our cruising dreams. We are sailing around the world and building a family at the same time.
 The excitement is really building for us now. Almost a year of anticipation and it feels like we are cutting the lines again for first time. But it’s definitely not the first time. We are seasoned cruisers now and we are in the best cruising grounds in the pacific. We are not too worried about the boat, now cruising with a new born is another story.