Vanuatu to Australia

Through the Gates of the Outback

Date:June 30, 2016, 4 a.m.
Position:11 49.50 S, 136 31.16 E

I did 12 hours of hand-steering in ocean swells today and the blisters on my hands to prove it. We pried the anchor out of the clay at Gove at first light, and set sail for Cape Wilberforce. Capes, like freighters, have many very interesting and powerful names. I'd been warned about Cape Wilberforce and the sharp seas that can stack up around it. We gave it a wide berth today and thank god we did. The day started out with light winds but quickly established itself into a brisk 25-knot trade-wind. We stood off the cape by 2 miles and the seas did stack right up. Wilberforce itself looked like a massive wall of crumbling Lego bricks, with waves slamming into piles of square boulders at its base. At the cape is a narrow constriction, our first of three passes for the day. Each pass must be timed correctly for the tides, as great currents up to 12 knots sweep through these lands. The first two passes need to be done on the flood and the third pass, the infamous Gugari Rip a.k.a."the hole-in-the-wall" must be timed to arrive at exactly during the first hour of the ebb tide. To do so at any other time of day, the guides warn, would "require a change of underpants once you got spit out of the other end". The Rip is only three boat-lengths wide and one mile long. It cuts right through the long chain of Wessel Islands and its seaward side is exposed to the full fury of the trade winds.

All of this nonsense needs very sober planning and I had spent hours making pages and pages of notes and calculations, and I'd scoured the internet for personal accounts of the passes. Alarmingly, much of the info conflicted, with differing advice on timing the tides. It was a process of sifting the good advice from the bad. I was comforted in the morning when two other sailboats left the anchorage shortly after us, so at least I came to the same conclusions as two other captains.

We shot past Cape Wilberforce with great success and once through the pass, the seas flattened out a bit and we had fantastic sailing. I've always wondered what the Wessel Islands looked like=85 The islands are windswept with a few trees here and there clinging on for dear life, with great rusty-red bluffs alternating with lime-green savannah grasses. Like the Torres Islands, they are set in a shallow emerald-color sea. The land and seascape were so surreal, and kind of repeated itself mile after mile, that I felt strangely that we were in a Nintendo game, with Privateer as the player timing the passes. "We're on level 5" I told Kelse and Taz in the afternoon. Cloud shadows played across the jade waves giving the swells an emerald tiger-stripe appearance.

We sailed through the second pass "a polite miniature of Cape Wilberforce" as our friends on S/V "Tuuletar" called it, with no problem. Soon we were sailing the final 15 miles to the infamous Rip. The other two sailboats tacked to the north to take a wider pass through the Wessels while we pressed on ahead. By my calculations we were about an hour early for the ebb tide, so we hove-to about 4 miles off in front of the Rip. The trades really started cranking again, and we could see that the cliffs in front of the Rip entrance were being throttled by huge breakers exploding upward into mushroom-like clouds. It's amazing the island is still there at all, given the force of those waves.

We'd been in radio contact all day with the other two sailboats, and as we were hove-to we heard them chatting to each other as they went through their pass to the north--our canaries in the coal mine... It was not good. "So much for the tide...Getting really big!...Massive over-falls=85must be still at full flood but I can't tell-currents are full against us." Basically, it was exactly the wrong conversation we wanted to hear as we were hove-to off a lee shore about to enter the Rip. The last thing we wanted was to get pinned in a field of violent over-falls at the base of those cliffs, caught between 12 knots of adverse currents and against a full trade wind. And we wouldn't know what it would be like until we got right up there into it. If we waited too long, the risk is getting sucked into the channel with such force that it pulls the boat sideways and you have to use forward and reverse gear to keep off the cliffs as they rush by at 12 knots. We had already done that one before in British Columbia, and yes it did require a change of underpants afterward, and also two shots of whiskey at 7am=85 Decisions, decisions=85 I kept us hove-to for another half-hour and sort of split the difference with all the differing tidal calculation prediction advice, with an erring on being slightly into the ebb. Rather get sucked into flat water than chopped up at the entrance. I turned to Kelsey and said "I have faith in my calculations". We started the engine as an extra precaution, let go the sheets, and made sail for the entrance. We aced the Rip! We sailed past the mushroom-spray breakers and into smooth water at exactly the moment of high-water slack tide. Our timing was perfect, to the minute. Throughout the whole channel we didn't have a knot of current one way or the other. This was excellent, as the scenery was unreal and we appreciated having the time to enjoy it, rather than shitting our pants. Jagged cliffs of thin layered stone stacked hundreds of layers high. Remarkably the upper layers of stone project outwards in 15-foot overhangs, where the ledges themselves are only about a foot thick. In the lee of the islands we had a flat sea and a perfect sailing breeze. We looked back on broad sandy beaches and saw crocodile tracks crisscrossing the dunes. The croc tracks were unmistakable with the trench where the heavy tail dragged, flanked by massive footprints. It reminded us of the Grizzly bear tracks we see on the beaches of Alaska, but outback style. Crazy country out here! We've got a relatively clear sea in front of us now and are back under self-steering with the Monitor. We've got a few hundred miles to sail to Port Essington, and if all goes well we should have about two nights at sea before arrival. The trades are supposed to remain fresh and intensify to potentially 30 knots day-after-tomorrow, so we are reefed down and using our trusty "Coral Sea" sail plan. The windy ride continues=85


Vicky Frost: I'm always happy to read AFTER the tense decisions have been made and you have time to reflect! xoxo July 3, 2016, 3:13 p.m.

Catherine Watts: Brilliant. Well done guys. The Hole in the Wall is well worth it! Hopefully you are enjoying a Top End Sunset in Darwin by now. XO Cat & Mark SV Tuuletar July 5, 2016, 8:49 p.m.

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June 24

Date:June 24, 2016, 4 a.m.
Position:11 9.62 S, 139 20.35 E

June 24

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June 23

Date:June 23, 2016, 4 a.m.
Position:10 35.84 S, 142 14.43 E

June 23


Mary Beth: Sounds like you're having one 'experience of a lifetime' after another, Pete! Impressively successful research behind those critical decisions. Fun for us to experience vicariously through your blog. July 3, 2016, 2:36 p.m.

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Anchor down by Thursday Island

Date:June 20, 2016, 4 a.m.
Position:10 35.84 S, 142 14.43 E

The sun rose as we threaded our way through the Torres Island archipelago and we got our first real glimpse of Australia. The islands a sunburnt rusty red and lime-green vegetation set in a turquoise ocean. The whole ocean here is very shallow at only about 30-40 feet deep, making for spooky navigation. Finally, we dropped the hook at the protected Horn Island anchorage, across the channel from Thursday Island. Another great voyage come to an end.

We radioed the Australia "Border Force" and soon Privateer was swarmed by big brother, a presence not felt since leaving the USA. Luckily, we cleared in at a small port here, and the procedure was relatively painless. We have to report to customs again at each Australian city we visit, so I will withhold my judgment until we leave Australia.

We are surrounded by mangroves and eucalyptus trees and strange bird-song that sounds like something out of the Amazon. More importantly, there is a GIGANTIC SALTWATER CROCODILE sunning himself on the nearby beach, easily 20-feet long. It's a bit unbelievable. There will be absolutely no swimming for us in this part of the world. The saltwater crocodile population is prolific here. A quick scan with the binocs reveals another croc even closer, about 100 feet away, staring directly at the boat with his jaws open.

We quickly learned as much as we could about how to behave around crocodiles. Never get behind a crocodile, look for "croc slides" on the beach and never go near them, don't lean over the water or the side of the boat, always take a different route to shore in the dinghy (they recognize a pattern and set up an ambush), do not swim anywhere at any time, and get out of the dinghy quickly when going to shore. Kelsey and I have felt vulnerable in our dinghy in Alaska around the Grizzly bears. We've had a Grizzly swim by an oar-length from the dinghy and had them come charging toward us in the shallows. But the saltwater crocodiles will take some getting used to. Unlike the Grizzlies which almost always flee when our presence is discovered, the wily crocs are totally undisturbed and act more like a cat stalking its prey. Even more disturbing is that when we passed by the one on shore in the dinghy, the 20-foot long crocodile slid backward unto the water in one smooth motion, until only his nostrils were above water, and then he disappeared. We opened the motor up to full throttle.

Kelsey, Taz, and I spent the evening stretching our legs on land at the small community on Horn Island. At first glance, we notice that many houses have a scant under-story with open garage or are completely elevated 15 feet off the ground. We guess that this is for bugs but are not sure--in Vanuatu the thatch huts were elevated several feet off the ground to keep the wild pigs from running through. Also, almost every house and building has bars and grates over every window. Again, we don't know if this is to keep out people or animals. There is also a proliferation of chain-link fencing and barbed wire. People's houses look like some sort of casual prison yard. The heat, even in the late evening, was stifling, and we lingered in the little air-conditioned grocery store inspecting the astronomical prices. A case of Coke? $40. Wow. It came as quite a shock to see the little shelf of expensive plastic-wrapped pre-cut and wilting fruit, after our experience at the abundant and vibrant Vanuatu market. 1,500 miles and a world away. True, Australia has a harsh growing climate. It's like that movie "the Martian".

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Change of Oceans

Date:June 19, 2016, 4 a.m.
Position:11 38.00 S, 143 52.00 E

A day of major significance and milestones for Privateer and Crew. We made it across the Coral Sea and crossed over the Great Barrier Reef. We threaded our way through the Torres Strait, and now have just passed Cape York, Australia's northernmost land. Cape York divides the Coral and Arafura Seas, and in the greater picture, divides the Pacific Ocean from the Indian Ocean. Privateer has now entered a new ocean, and will shortly anchor down at her second continent!

We approached the Great Barrier Reef at sunrise, gliding along wing & wing at 5-6 knots. We knew we were getting close as there was a sudden proliferation of bird life at sea. Skipjack tuna leapt out of the waves as massive schools of flying fish went airborne to escape their predators. Then we could hear a faint roar, almost like a rumbling waterfall, of the waves breaking over the reef. Finally, we saw the line of breakers on the horizon about a mile away. The weather cooperated and we had a textbook entry through the pass, where our depth suddenly shallowed from 8,000 feet deep to less than 100 feet. It was a fine day.

Inside the reef, the seas and swells flattened right out and we blissfully glided along at 6 knots on flat water. It felt like we weren't even moving, except for the gurgle of the bow wave swooshing past the hull. We spent the afternoon putting the boat in order. She looks better now than when we left Port Vila, and really she looks better than she ever has. We have come a long way.

We plan to make landfall on Thursday Island early tomorrow morning, and clear through customs & quarantine. Thank you Coral Sea for the exciting ride! We surfed every single wave all the way across. Offshore passages tend to have either good angels, or demons. We've had our good angels on this passage and we are coming into port more refreshed than when we set out.

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1,500 NM Wing-on-Wing

Date:June 18, 2016, 4 a.m.
Position:12 27.00 S, 145 45.00 E

Well, it looks like this is going down in Privateer's record book as her longest tack, and the longest duration spent wing-on-wing. 1,500 nautical miles! We surfed every wave across the whole Coral Sea. Last night Kelsey took it to 13.3 knots. We are now on the home stretch to the Great Barrier Reef, with timing lining up perfectly for a mid-morning arrival so we can spy the entrance through the reef in daylight. The winds have mellowed down to 20 knots, with partly cloudy skies and an almost-full moon. Textbook.

Our long surf did come at a cost, however. Last night was a rough one for me. Constant squalls in gale-force winds and ceaseless course adjustments and sail changes kept me awake until I was borderline hallucinating. I took to swearing at the F---ing Coral Sea--isn't it enough wind and squalls already?? Kelsey, as always, stepped right into the thick of it and helmed the boat from midnight all the way through 6am. I thought something was wrong with the clock when I woke up, refreshed. Kelsey always pulls through in the wild times. We do what needs to be done as a team, watching out for the other. As our friend Dan from South Africa says, "There's no off-button at sea. When it's on, it's on."

Wing-on-wing is described as a difficult point of sail to maintain, requiring great concentration. This is true, but the Monitor really takes the concentration aspect away and allows you to relax. You do need to be very careful as you set the vane gear, to take care not to back-wind the boom into an accidental jibe. But once it's set, it's magic. I'll never forget the first time I set the gear wing-on-wing, I didn't trust it. But after an hour of keeping the boat pegged at the exact desired wind angle, and realizing it did a much better job than I, (no human error) I came around. With 25 knots of wind behind her and her wings stretched out, Privateer the magic carpet ride takes off over the waves and surfs the troughs. We've had solid 25-30 knot conditions for the entire crossing with a few 35s and 40s--a bit boisterous, but a great ride. No complaints here--glad we weren't going the other way!

Taz is really starting to understand a lot of the world and communicate more deeply with us now. The little sponge has been taking it all in and pointing out things that we didn't remember introducing to him. He's also getting "a bit cheeky" as they say in NZ, testing our reactions to things he knows he shouldn't be doing. Mommy the tickle-monster comes to get him, though, and his little stand-offs usually end in gut-busting laughter. He seems, oddly, to get around the pitching cabin better than Mom and Dad. He really does have great balance, and a natural grace to his movements. He takes it all in stride--just another normal day on the high seas.


Vicky Frost: Love your description of sailing wing-on-wing. I also love hearing about what a good team you and Kelsey have become. Taz is the icing on the cake!! xo June 23, 2016, 8:02 p.m.

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Title of log entry

Date:June 17, 2016, 4 a.m.
Position:12 46.00 S, 148 20.00 E

The seas are a raging inferno of sloppy swells and steep wind waves. Squall after squall after squall snuck up on us, looming above the horizon before unleashing torrential downpours and 35-plus knot winds. Fortunately, we are are going with the wind! Like a demented metronome we tick-tock into the troughs and launch off the swell faces. We are making fast progress however, another 150-plus miler. At least we're getting somewhere fast.

The Beguine came over the horizon today and we passed within a mile of each other. They're headed toward the same waypoint as we are, and it's nice to share a bit of rough sea with fellow mariners. Taz took a bath today in his inflatable tub, down below on the cabin sole (floor). He loved the sloshing water. But he stayed in for one wave too long. The boat took a pitch in a sudden squall and all of the bathwater sloshed right out of the tub and into the bilge! It was a very definitive end to the bath-time. "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater" is the phrase that came to mind.

Tomorrow the winds should lighten up just a touch and we will jibe the boat over on starboard tack, and come up on the Great Barrier Reef slightly from the south. Just one more day on the bouncy ocean and then we'll have flat (& shallow!) water from the Raine Island reef entrance to Thursday Island, for another 131 nautical miles onward from the reef entrance.


Eulalie: Hi Pete, Kelsey, and Taz, I greatly enjoy reading your posts and traveling with you in cyber-space. The SV ELIZABETH JEAN is presently in the Chesapeake after crossing the Panama canal a year ago. We're coastal passage-making with many stops for visits and weather. Spent this year traveling up the western Caribbean from the San Blas Islands to Key West, including stops in San Andres and Providentia (Columbia), Grand Cayman, the Yucatan, and Cuba. Might make it to Maine this summer. Keep writing! I'm following you. Cheers, Eulalie June 17, 2016, 9:14 p.m.

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Straight shooting

Date:June 16, 2016, 4 a.m.
Position:13 23.00 S, 150 51.00 E

The winds went light this morning and we stretched Privateer's wings fully out, and sailed along beautifully at 6-7 knots in the sunrise. Soon after the sun came up the winds filled in again. We took in a reef in the main and went single-reef in 20-22 knots. We've been running wing-on-wing for the last 1,100 NM now, certainly a record for Privateer! We reeled back another 148 miles from noon-to-noon since yesterday. Kelsey did a 12-knot surf on her watch. Arrow Privateer flies straight across the Coral Sea.

Taz didn't go down for his afternoon nap today, so Kelsey had to do a heroic 12-hr "watch" with him, while I handled the boat. In the evening she gave him a bath in his inflatable tub. She couldn't fill it too full, though, with the boat rocking the water sloshed up and over the sides. Taz really loves his baths and learned how to pour water over his head and scrub himself today.

We had a breakage on the boat today when a blue-beaked booby flew into our wind generator. It was a gruesome scene--blood spattered all over the cockpit and the poor bird landed on the tiller, which was engaged by the Monitor. For a few seconds it looked as if the bird would be decapitated by the control lines. Finally he managed to get free, and eventually flew away after recovering for a few hours. One of the blades on the wind generator is shattered now, effectively cutting off our wind power. The bird was a bad omen that made me very nervous, and I learned later in the day that my Mom had broken her foot at the same time as our bird incident!

We rely on solar panels, wind generator (windmill, a/k/a "the bird-grinder"), and engine alternator/charge controller to replenish our ship's battery bank. Lately, the charge controller has been acting up. So with our wind down and questionable charge controller, we are now relying only on our solar panels. These work well for 6 hours in the morning, giving us about 60 amp-hours each day through the two panels that are in full sun. But in the afternoon the sun goes behind the as we sail West, and cuts off all solar input. The refrigerator alone uses about 60 amp hours of power per day, so we will have to shut it down for about 50% of the day until we can get the wind and charge controller back on-line. Electronics and Sailing are two words that are never meant to be used in the same sentence. Microchip circuitry and Chinese wiring jobs are no match for the powerful, corrosive sea-spray that permeates every aspect of our lives at sea.

The good winds are forecast to hold (incredibly) for another few days and settle down to a gentle breeze (hopefully) as we pick our way through the Great Barrier Reef and the Torres Strait. We are on our final 500 miles of greater Pacific Ocean sailing. Once past Cape York, Australia's Northernmost extremity, we enter into the Arafura Sea and into the Indian Ocean...

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Date:June 15, 2016, 4 a.m.
Position:13 59.00 S, 153 20.00 E

We smashed out a whopping 165 miles under sail today. Even better, the 25-knot winds held so steady that we didn't have to touch the sail trim or the Monitor for the entire 24-hour period. We stayed pegged right on course. It almost felt like we were cheating. I took full advantage and caught up on my rest as the boat surfed over the seas. It's getting warmer now as we sail into the low-teen latitudes, and this afternoon when the cabin was closed up the heat down below was stifling. Cracking the forward hatch even an inch open in these conditions would lead to an inevitable 20-30 gallons of saltwater pouring in. The nights are cool and pleasant, and we spend the hot days under the protection of the shade awning. We don't wear a scrap of clothes.

We're sailing over the Coral Sea basin now, a flat area of sea-bed about 15-16,000 feet deep. The only way I can describe the color of the water is Electric Purple, like that flavor of Gatorade that you want to try but know you probably shouldn't. When the sun hits behind the cresting wave tops, it turns the tips of the purple waves a deep emerald blue, like the ice in the glaciers of Alaska. It's a stunning combo. To round out the picture, several dozen dolphins cruised just under the electric purple crystal swells and torpedoed their way around the boat for an hour or so. Looking back in our wake, one dolphin was leaping and making back-flips and cartwheels as the sun went low on the horizon.

I'm always amazed by the variety of oceanscapes, and how one area of the ocean feels completely different than the other. It's like walking through a forest: you're always in the trees, but you can walk 1/2 hour down the trail and the entire aspect of the forest will change from friendly to gloomy, from scary to familiar. The oceanscape changes constantly in a similar manner, and it is for this reason that I will never got tired of sailing across the endless, shifting horizons.

Each night we pull the moon back a little further in the sky and have it for an extra hour or so on the night watch. Taz is so proud of himself every time he spies the moon. He's always the first one on board to spot it rising each day. "MOOOEY!" he shouts with a stiffened arm and pointing little finger quivering to touch the moon. As I write, the moon is setting, beaming shafts and patches of eerie light down on the ocean. It's like a UFO searchlight, quietly scanning the surface of some distant unknown place.


Eric Stern: I am enjoying your commentary and envy you all-- adventuring around the world in your beautiful boat. Keep up the postings. You are all in my thoughts. Eric June 16, 2016, 4:56 a.m.

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162-mile day

Date:June 14, 2016, 4 a.m.
Position:14 28.00 S, 156 7.00 E

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Squallday. All day long we were dogged by squalls. There wasn't much more than about 30 knots in them, but it was enough that we had to roll in the Yankee each time one passed through. The roller-furler got a good workout today! I would have just kept it rolled in between squalls, but our speed has been so good through the night last night that I could see we were about to break 160 miles from noon-to-noon on the GPS--great speeds for a small cruising boat. We surfed down wave after wave, catching 4 & 5 waves in a row. WHoosh!! We accelerate of the wave faces at 12 knots. Privateer has an exceptional surfing hull--her heavy displacement assures that she never gets going too fast and out of control. Finally at noon we did the calculation: 162 miles in 24 hours, for an average speed of 6.75 knots. Not bad for a downwind run, the slowest point of sail! If we'd had the winds at 120 degrees I'm sure we would have shattered the record on Privateer. Also right at noon, we passed the 1/2 way mark across the Coral Sea.

Aside from the squalls it was fine sailing until about 3 pm, and then the winds and seas picked up to a sustained 30 knots. Again, since we are running downwind, it's no sweat. But we still had to reef down & hold on for the ride, and keep all the hatches buttoned up tight. Taz likes to see how long he can stand up for without holding on to anything on the boat. When he does fall he squeals with laughter and immediately gets back up again. We tried coloring with the crayons again today but he had "the demon" look in his eye and stuffed all the crayons into the bilge. When he sleeps in these conditions, he kicks one leg out at 90 degrees to keep from rolling around in his bunk. He's a natural!

I found today that if we run just a scrap of Yankee sail out on the pole to windward (15-20 square feet) it really helps in keeping the bow pointing downwind, balances out the rig, and eases the load on the Monitor vane. It also lets us keep course but present the boat at more of a 140 degree wind angle which just keeps the staysail out of the wind-shadow of the main. So I'm dubbing this peculiar sail plan of double-reef main, storm trysail, and Yankee scrap our "Coral Sea rig".

There's a very strong area of high pressure building over Australia right now. We're on the upper edge of the high. The higher the pressure at the center of the high, the more wind we'll see at the edge. Generally, one knot per millibar. This high is about 1040 millibars, so somewhere south of us in the Tasman Sea is probably getting about 40 knots. We're far enough north that we're just feeling the peripheral effects of the so-called "squash-zone" and using the wind pattern to our fullest advantage.

We are fully into passage mode now. 1,500 miles is a nice length passage. It's long enough to fully transition to the sea, but not too long. We're hoping our SE winds blow for a few more days for the downhill remainder of the passage. So far so good!

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Middle of the Coral Sea

Date:June 13, 2016, 4 a.m.
Position:15 1.00 S, 158 51.00 E

Conditions got windier and wavier as forecast. Once we came out from the relative lee of New Caledonia and its associated reefs, a nasty 4-meter cross-swell from the Southern Ocean found us. Every 50th wave or so peaked with our regular swells at right angles and would explode into the cockpit or smack the side of the boat. It wasn't anything dangerous, but just annoying. We had to keep all hatches battened down. Otherwise, it was another fantastic day of fast downwind sailing. We poled out the jib in the morning again and ran wing-on-wing for an hour or two, but were a little too optimistic. Our speeds quickly jumped into the 9s with the Yankee out, but the winds built right up and hovered around 30-35 knots all day. So we went back to our trusty standby and have been running a comfortable 6-7 knots under the storm staysail and double-reef main. We hardly touched the Monitor today and incredibly have stayed within 2 miles of the rhumb line (direct course) of our destination.

Taz had a busy morning with his "activities" as he calls them. He learned how to use crayons today and quickly figured out that it is way more fun to color on his chair and all over his body than on paper. He looked like he was putting war paints on as he smeared the wax across his chest.

Our visiting bird sadly left us this afternoon after doing his night-watch all night and into the morning. Oddly, I felt like he really was watching for ships, and I felt comfortable leaving him on watch for a spell while I did chores below-decks. He flew away when one of those big swells smacked us and soaked his perch. This evening we got on the radio with the Beguine who are just 21 NM behind us. "We have a visitor" they said. They were very surprised when I responded "does he have a furry white unibrow?" There was an awkward pause on the radio and then Beguine answered "...why, yes!"

It feels really good to be pointing the bow toward Australia and Africa after our "checkmark" down to NZ. We're playing leapfrog with the sun now--she rises astern and sets right off the bow. It's as if we are on a giant celestial gerbil exercise wheel, sailing around and around. As we near the equator the familiar constellations like the Big Dipper appear low on the horizon, and upside-down.

Kelsey pointed out the obvious this evening "We're out here on the middle of the Coral Sea, the whole family. Is there any place you'd rather be?"

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Belowdecks with a Babe

Date:June 13, 2016, 4 a.m.
Position:15 1.00 S, 158 51.00 E


Despite coping with the imminent breakthrough of his upper canine, Taz was in high spirits today. Lively sea conditions kept us cooped up down below, nesting together in our berth. While I provided Taz with motherly comfort and company, he supplied daylong entertainment and had me in stitches. Meanwhile, Pete dodged many a soaking wave from our companionway perch.

At sea, Taz is generally confined to the main salon where he is safest. We are so pleased with our primary baby modification to the boat-a new and improved lee cloth built high (to keep Taz from throwing himself over the top edge) and long, extending from bulkhead to bulkhead (so that he cannot slither out of the sides). The space doubles as a sea berth and playpen and has the necessary effect of keeping child and/or crew well contained at sea.

Pete has joked that we might very well be arrested for keeping our child in a cage all day long! While it gets a bit claustrophobic for me at times when we are inside (along with a gaggle of books, blankets, toys and stuffed animals strewn about), for Taz there is ample room to run around if he can manage, plenty of air flow and no barriers to communicate his wishes. He is clearly happy in his berth. I may sound like a zookeeper making a case for humane cage conditions-but as a zookeeper who spends as much time inside the cage as our waddling little penguin, I have a vested interest in making sure the space is suitable. The main differences in accommodation from his fellow zoo inhabitants should be made clear-Taz has not been removed from his native habitat, he is caged purely in the name of safety, and the majority of his life is spent elsewhere, as time spent sailing is minimal compared to time spent at anchor.

From his perch this morning, Taz was pleased to spot our sweet "birdie" companion in the cockpit. Blasted off and on by the blinding early morning sun as the boat rocked to and fro, however, he was often thwarted in his efforts at hailing the bird.

Ever since Taz settled into life aboard Privateer, he has claimed a certain spot as his very own, quite naturally suited as it is to his little body and curious inclinations as well as his desire to be in close proximity to mom at all times. His "perch", as we've come to call it, is along the curvy keyhole cutout on the portside bulkhead (a boat's wall) that serves as an aesthetically pleasing demarcation separating the aft space from the main salon and which also acts as a structural piece. Taz has claimed his territory by way of tiny tooth marks dug into the varnish and a perpetual veneer of baby saliva slime smeared across the wood. From his rightful spot he can pluck at bits of allocated food on the countertop, stuff raw and prohibited morsels of food stealthily into his mouth, open wide to be spoon fed, watch all manners of food prep in the galley, stretch himself impossibly far in hopes of snatching a knife, and pitch my painstakingly washed and chopped produce onto the floor with devilish laughter. The dregs of many meals and the dribbles from his chin rot away in the slot below the perch devoted to the ship's calculator, protractor and parallel rulers. Taz is wild for citrus fruit and the juices from pamplemousse, grapefruit, and mandarin run down the bulkhead, in the gutters between the tongue and grove. Rotating in either direction, our astute observer is able to survey nearly everything on the boat. While an advantageous, convenient and safe location for Taz, his positioning at the perch is often slightly irritating for me. Such is life in a space of 36 feet!

After making quick work of his adult sized portion of oatmeal, I left Taz in his portable baby chair, firmly seated on the floor of the salon, and handed him his beeswax crayons for the first time since he's blossomed into a full-blown walking and talking toddler. I felt jaunty that I'd thought of a good strategy to bide myself a little time to grind coffee and maybe eat some breakfast. Gingerly fingering his novelty items, Taz quickly became infatuated with the chubby little blocks nearly as much as the small tin they came in. In and out of the tin the crayons went, and he discovered that they had multiple uses as he formed a solid Jenga pile. I drew the moon, stars and fruits that he enthusiastically identified. Than I wrote his name and drew a kangaroo in lieu of our upcoming landfall in Australia. Taz was excited about the "T for Taz!" as he is starting to identify letters. He then proceeded to smudge his body and mark up his chair, which bought me a little more free time, so I was quite happy.

Baby occupied and conditions seeming pleasant enough to permit me to grind coffee beans with little hassle, I set to the task knowing full well that Taz considers himself an integral part of the morning coffee hand-grinding process. Once upon a time, Taz was simply content to fondle one greasy morsel of a bean between his fingers like it was the greatest of treasures. As he grew, we granted him a small pile of beans and he began to insistently add them to the hopper one at a time. Soon he was demanding to take charge of the handle. While this was once charming, the process has become increasingly longer as the handle makes fewer and fewer rotations as Taz dips his fingers into the hopper, interrupting the flow to extract another bean or two. Our patience wanes a bit as we crave the morning cuppa (as they say in New Zealand).

The first day out to sea continually proves to be a bit rough for Taz. Fortunately, he is able to overcome his ill and equalize his inner ear in rather short order. Today he proved that he is one with the sea, so completely aware of the gravitational forces affecting his movements. This boy knows how to lean with the sea, how to instinctually maintain balance while heeling over. In a situation of extreme heel, this means that one knee is bent into the high side of the boat while the other leg is extended straight toward the low side, legs parallel with one another. This strategic movement seems altogether specific to the sport of sailing.

While making a rolly-polly downwind run, the wind splitting the stern and causing the boat the rock from side to side, Taz was giddy as he worked with and against gravity. The adults aboard felt a bit annoyed at the motion but agreed that it granted us freedom of movement as compared to our previous upwind passage that left us plastered to the port side of the boat. Jungle gym antics commenced in Taz's berth and he managed one or two gleeful steps forward before collapsing with a dramatic "Ah boom!" He performed a sort of calculated catapulting, knowing well that he was doomed to cover any significant ground before spilling again into a puddle of laughter and across the berth cushion. The lurching looked awkward but was all part of the game. Taz was indefatigable, tumbling and jumping up and down in his berth and previous concerns about lack of activity aboard were all but erased. Taz will not atrophy at sea; quite the contrary, the constant motion is forcibly building muscle.

It's funny how he adjusts so easily and readily to this new environment without the promise or reward of standing on solid ground ever again; meanwhile I struggle to perform basic functions. For the first few days out to sea he would say "dinghy" and point towards the cockpit but I think he's abandoned hope by now that we will disembark for a dinghy ride in the middle of the ocean.

Awake from his nap, Taz springs immediately upwards like a jack-in-the-box (sometimes actually giving me a scare) as if to implore "What did I miss, guys?" His tiny fingers curl over the wooden rail before his head pops up, back into its usual notch. Still rubbing away sleepiness, he struggles to appear as eager as possible and begins to instantly point at things and name them in his gravelly munchkin voice. While he once experienced a slow and gentle post nap awakening, cooing sweetly and twiddling his toes in his bunk, those days seem behind us. The motion of the sea sends Taz into motion.

He has me in a constant state of awe, delight and amusement as his vocabulary explodes and he mimics nearly every word that I utter. He likes to say "shovel, bucket, turtle, pocket, penguin, beetle, purple" and look to me for excited affirmation. Laying in bed tonight, Taz cycled through all of his token phrases that make both of us laugh-"boom boom", "up sie" (whoopsie daisy), "oh nooooo", and "honey" (apparently my most frequently used term of endearment for him). At night, his body is wedged comfortably in his bunk, the curve of his spine molded into the forgiving lee cloth material. In rough conditions that make it difficult to sleep, his body fits snugly alongside mine as we spoon.

In many ways, the routines that fill our day vary little from that of most 18-month-olds-there are books, music, meals, exercise, naps, nappy changes and sleep. The way in which we manage to accomplish these activities often differs a bit-Taz might eat standing up, in his bed or on the floor. Considered apart from these everyday details, however, he is a serious minority among babies. The soundtrack to his dynamic existence is the whistling of the wind and the lapping of the waves. The backdrop is the endless blue ocean, the near constancy of the sun, the faces of the moon, a million twinkling stars and marine life that surprises us along the way. In his sub-marine bedroom, the water makes a dramatic "whoosh" as it rushes past the hull while we surf down the waves, a thick piece of fiberglass all that separates him from our surrounding ocean habitat. If any kid has a name appropriate to the life it is Atlas, titan of endurance, navigation, and the celestial bodies.


Travis: I just went back to the photos from the Alaska trip to have a good 'minds eye' of the boat and Taz's daily environment, good luck as those arms of his get longer!!! July 18, 2016, 2:27 a.m.

Vicky : Lovely description Kelsey. Of course I'm biased...but I love reading about the day to day routine on the boat and the clever, juice dripping stowaway! July 19, 2016, 10:20 p.m.

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Date:June 12, 2016, 4 a.m.
Position:16 25.00 S, 163 47.00 E

Another day flying along wing-on-wing... at 3 am we got pegged by a series of squalls, one behind the other, until 7 am. Finally the skies cleared up and the winds became regular, making for a pleasant day. I slept through most of it, until the wind freshened up in the afternoon and got right up to 40 knots for a time. For awhile, it was great sailing--Privateer was carving down the waves with lots of 9s, 10s, and 11s on the GPS as she surfed. There came a point, however, when we decided the Monitor and downwind pole were becoming a bit loaded up and working too hard. We rolled in the Yankee for our instant storm sail combo and are now comfortably running down at 7.5 knots under storm staysail and double-reefed main. The pole will remain set for now, if and when the winds settle down we can resume our wing-on-wing. For now, we've got a solid 25-30 knot breeze with more of the same for the next 3-4 days. We are charging full-speed through the blocky seas. This is exciting sailing!

Taz continues to grow his fangs out here on the Coral Sea. He was a pretty happy guy most of the day today, with his usual morning "smiling fit" where he squints and wrinkles up his nose at us for about 1/2 hour--it's a great way to start the day! He's really adapting well to the motion of the boat. He's learned how to always use one hand for holding on and how to position himself in the bunk for sleep so he won't get tossed around. His grip is so strong that he's like a coconut crab--almost impossible to extricate him off of whatever he has a mind to cling to.

We've had a visiting bird for the past day or two and this evening we've all become comfortable friends of sorts. He landed in the cockpit beside me and sat right next to me on the seat cushion for a few hours--he's totally tame and not the least bit suspicious. Now he's taken up a perch beside the solar panels where he can peer into the boat and watch our every move.

The other boat, S/V "Beguine" is only about 9 miles away from us. She's a Valiant 40 and I've always been curious as to how they stack up to the Cape Georges. So far we are almost exactly matched for speed, though we've been carrying a bit less sail than she has. We check into a "cruisers net" each morning to report our positions to the wider network of sailors, which adds a degree of safety to a passage. We're also close enough to our "neighbors" that we can chat on VHF radio. It's nice knowing there are other people out here experiencing the same wind shifts, squalls etc. The "Beguine" is headed to Thursday Island and on toward South Africa as well. It's exciting to tie back into the circumnavigator route and meet other people & boats on the same trajectory.

We're within a thousand miles of our entrance waypoint to the Great Barrier Reef, and already over 1/3 the way across the Coral Sea as I write this. Thank you Trade Winds!


Keni Johnson: Kelsey, Pete and Taz. So happy to have you guys up and running. Warren and I feel like we are sailing with you. Both of you are beautiful writers and Kelsey, your trip to the volcano found us hanging on every word. Happy for the updates on Taz also! Thanks for taking us on this journey with you. We look forward to every entry. Much love. Keni and Warren June 12, 2016, 5:20 p.m.

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Singing seas

Date:June 11, 2016, 4 a.m.
Position:16 25.00 S, 163 47.00 E

All sails are set and drawing today as we whoosh down the waves, wing-on-wing. There's a perfect 20-knot breeze on our tail, and we are surfing along at 7 knots, with occasional 10-11 knots showing on the GPS. Privateer is singing her offshore symphony. Everything she's built to do, she's out here doing it! We've got the Yankee sail poled out to windward, Mainsail on port tack, and Storm Staysail sheeted in tight to act as a stabilizer. We like flying the Storm Staysail all the time because when we sail through a squall, all we have to do is roll in the Yankee and we're instantly ready for 40 knots of wind. The Monitor is keeping us pegged on a 150-180 degree wind angle, doing her incredible job of steering the boat day and night while allowing us to focus on the passage and rest up.

Taz had a pretty happy day today too, despite the fact that his fang-teeth are just starting to poke through his gums! He's been chomping down on fingers and toys to relieve the pressure. He's also getting pretty good with his throwing arm. Today while doing the usual hurl-every-single-toy-out-of-the-berth routine he flung one of his blocks across the cabin and nailed me right in the groin--ouch!! His vocabulary is expanding, to the point that we're a bit creeped out at how much he understands. Beyond the usual "dinghy" and "boat" and "moon", he's pointing across the sea and saying "horizon". Each day we understand a bit more of what he's trying to tell us, and when we make a connection he clucks his tongue, which is his method of expressing satisfaction.

We're falling into the routine here and the days and nights fly past in a blur. Each day seems so short at sea (when the weather is good) and we are happily bounding across the Coral Sea. The boat has a bit of a roll due to the down-wind angle, but Kelsey and I agree that while it's annoying, it's far better than heeling while smashing to windward. At sunrise today about a dozen dolphins swam with the boat for about an hour. I found a large flying fish on deck, and about 1/3 the way up the main it looks like we may have been inked by a squid. I'm not sure if they can leap out of the water that high, but we do have a nasty ink stain there. Our hull got inked in Vanuatu as well. Kelsey baked the perfect pizzas for dinner tonight. All in all, a great day to be out here on the sea.

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Murphy strikes & smooth seas

Date:June 10, 2016, 4 a.m.
Position:16 59.00 S, 165 54.00 E

Our friends Mark & Cat on S/V "Tuuletar" have a funny saying about how Murphy's Law strikes all sailboats at precisely 2am, and how the motion of the boat through the swells and the infinite problems that can arise on a boat can combine in some very interesting ways. Murphy struck Privateer at 2am last night when I suddenly heard the whoosh of our galley fire extinguisher go off about one second before finding myself enveloped in a thick cloud of irritant dry chemical powder. Earlier in the month, Taz had taught himself how to break the plastic seal and pull the pin out of the fire extinguisher. Re-locating the unit to an above-Taz location was on the long list of minor boat chores that got overlooked by engine work, rigging, etc. Anyway, at some unknown time Taz had again pulled the pin and stashed it god only knows where--I'll probably find it in the bilge--leaving the fire extinguisher in the "armed" mode. All it took was for a heavy object to shift from the quarter-berth to the floor as the boat leaned into a swell--and down it came right on top of the trigger. And of course this happened at 2am. I thought about Mark and Cat then, and how they would probably tell me that while this was an unexpected event, I should expect this to happen at some point on the voyage.

Kelsey & Taz slept right through the ordeal, fortunately, as I swept the thick layer of irritating powder from the floor. The boat looked like a night club with the fog powder swirling around in the red lights below-decks. The galley took a direct hit, of course, and all of our dishes and Kelsey's herbs and many sensitive electronics needed immediate attention. Later on, Kelsey worked all day cleaning up the mess. Taz adds a degree of power to Murphy's Law. One time he stuffed about 15 oranges into a little slot above the radio locker. When you go to use the SSB you don't expect oranges to spill out of the doors! One of his greatest passions (other than shouting "OHH--NOH!" before throwing any object within his reach to the floor) is stuffing small objects into the finger holes in our floorboards. Ultimately, anything that goes in there ends up getting soaked in the bilge, covered in a thin layer of oily debris, and poses a hazard to our automatic bilge pump as they accumulate around the float switch and intakes. Baby-proofing a house is quite different than baby-proofing a boat...

We had a fine sail today in low seas, beam-reaching along at 6 knots! Made 145 miles good from noon-to-noon since yesterday--pretty great for light-wind sailing. The boat is staying cool below with all the hatches open and we are moving along nicely. Our distance to cover on this leg is about the distance between Seattle and Chicago. The trades are forecast to intensify throughout this week and should give us a pretty lively sail in a few day's time. For now we're enjoying the lighter winds, although we've reefed down the main at sunset in anticipation for the wind increase to come.


Lee: Thanks for the updates! Good to hear from you guys! June 10, 2016, 5:31 p.m.

Talia: Lol. Sounds like between Privateer and Taz, those two keep you on ur toes. Great to read ur entries. XOXO June 11, 2016, 11:35 p.m.

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Setting out across the Coral Sea

Date:June 9, 2016, 4 a.m.
Position:17 44.47 S, 168 17.75 E

Hello all! We have set sail from Port Vila, Vanuatu, today for the 1,585 NM crossing of the Coral Sea. We are gliding along on a beam reach in 10 knots of light breeze...very nice. We've got a great forecast with lots of tail winds, and we're hoping for a fast 11-13 day passage. Privateer is in top form and all buckled down for offshore. Our destination is Thursday Island, Australia, so it's fitting that we leave on a Thursday for this voyage.

Many of you have wondered where our journals are & if we'd set out from NZ yet... I've fixed a few things on-line so the journals should start coming in regularly to your e-mails now. In the meantime, we've posted the log from NZ to Vanuatu which you can see on the svlogbook site. We've had an incredible & busy month in Vanuatu and will post those logs soon. We visited the amazing island of Tanna & have posted a few pics, with more stories to come...

We are in the process now of settling into the offshore routine. It always takes a few days to establish a day/night pattern of sleep, sailing, and play. Taz had one puke today as we rounded the Devil's Point under engine power, but now that we've got the sails set & drawing he's back to his regular self. He sucked down about 1/2 a pineapple and some coconut water and promptly began "pee-peeing" all over the cockpit. He's really proud of his new ability to pee on command and really strains into it.

We met another boat leaving with us today, sailing to South Africa on our route! They're just a few miles away from us now & we've set up a "sked" in which we communicate with them at a set time & frequency each day on the SSB radio. It's always nice to know we're not the only ones out here, and have a chat about the weather & sail trim.

The island of Efate quickly disappeared as we sailed away and we have a waxing moon overhead tonight. As we approach the Great Barrier reef, we should have an almost-full moon, which makes for a friendly companion on the night watch. For now, we are silently clicking away the miles on our magic carpet, taking us to a new horizon, across the Coral Sea, and onward toward the Indian Ocean!

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Preparing for sea!

Date:June 7, 2016, 4:14 a.m.

Hi all!
We are in Port Vila, Vanuatu, preparing for our Coral Sea crossing to Australia. It's been a very busy 2 weeks here, organizing boat projects, fixing the engine, re-building the ship's head, and tackling many small boat chores we'd been putting off while working in NZ. I've loaded most of our journals from the sail to Vanuatu, and we will post the landfall and Tanna journals from sea, when we have time! All this frenzy on land leaves a sailor little time to relax...

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