15. When Your Boats in the Land of Spam

April 25th, 2020 – February 15th, 2021

In this blog we will take you way back to April 2020 when we had just completed our 14-day quarantine after 23 days at sea and catch you up to the present February 2021.  It’s been a rollercoaster of a year with so many twists and turns that we never could have expected. Overall, we feel pretty lucky that we were in a position to be adaptable and make the best of the COVID-19 situation. We may not ever like spam but we are thankful that Hawaii has been a safe island home for Atica during these crazy times.  

After a few short weeks of exploring Oahu and completing a few boat projects, Austin flew off to Alaska for the fishing season. Flying from Honolulu, HI to Cordova, AK was quite a shock to the system. He had been in some form of isolation for several months and now he was thrust into the yearly migration to Alaska, for the harvest of Salmon. Even though this migration was deemed by the state of Alaska to be an essential service, traveling long distances during a pandemic was at times hard to swallow. The man who sat next to Austin on the airplane from Seattle to Anchorage was heading to Dutch Harbor, from Morocco! Providing the relationship between the sea and the consumer is very important to our friend Michael and that was one of the many reasons Austin agreed to travel so far to work on his purse seiner the F/V Bounty. Wanting to observe the rules put in place to protect the rural fishing community, Austin went straight to the boat to stay isolated until he got his negative covid test results. He then got to meet his crew mates Phillis and Colin and they set to work getting the boat ready for the fishing season. In between boat jobs he explored Cordova and met some of the local fishermen. Highlights were hikes around the area and bonfires under the midnight sun. The long days were great for getting the boat ready for fishing but it sure makes it hard to go to sleep when the sun never sets.

Once the fishing season was open the decision was made to stay out, put our heads down and fish. Purse seining is a way of fishing that involves a half a mile long by sixty ft deep net. The net is loaded on the back deck of the boat in such a way that when “pulled” by the skiff it neatly falls off. In reality the skiff is “set” in a specific position and the big boat drives away from it trying to make a quarter mile U shape in the current. As a deckhand, Austin’s job was to watch the net as it went overboard and make sure nothing got snagged (including himself), then wash the seaweed and jellyfish off the deck. Once the net is out there is about 15-20 min to get a snack and “plunge” the water to keep the fish from swimming out of the net. When the captain makes the call to close the net, the skiff and the big boat start heading towards each other. When the two boats get close enough, Phillis in the skiff gives one of the deckhands the line that is attached to the end of the net. She is handed the towing bridle so the skiff can keep the seiner out of trouble while its engines are in neutral. As the net comes back onboard the deckhands stack the net while the captain is controlling the speed the net comes in and pulls the “purse line” to sinch up the bottom of the net so the fish can’t swim out. Of course, there are many more details and nuances to the job but repetition is the name of the game and the more sets you make the more fish you catch… hopefully.

It was really hard for Austin to be away from Elise and the boat but we were able to communicate regularly and he felt good knowing she had friends there to help if she needed them. He was also super lucky to be on such a great crew. The whole crew had good attitudes, work ethic, shared the crew duties and ate great food. On off days when there was the opportunity to go ashore, they hiked and pick wild blueberries. They had a few chances to sport fish and caught plenty of rockfish and halibut. They even set prawn pots and Austin amazed the crew with prawn ceviche, a recipe he learned while in Mexico. Austin’s favorite though was the octopus that was pulled up in the prawn pot. On a few occasions they would raft up with other fishermen including Michaels wife Nelly who runs her own gillnetter and her brother Nate who has another purse seiner. It was always a feast of seafood or wild game. On one occasion Austin prepared wild sockeye and halibut sushi, and on another the group grilled octopus and venison backstraps. Overall, it was a below average year for the fishery but it was still a good time and Austin was glad that he was a part of it.

While Austin was in Alaska, Elise stayed on the boat to keep an eye on things. Being alone on a boat in a new place could have been very isolating but luckily, we had become good friends with Chris & Julie from SV Lorien and Harvey from SV Sophie. We spent lots of time together and quickly formed a boat family. First thing each morning Elise and Harvey would swim laps in the lagoon in front of the marina. Elise began studying for the captain’s license exams, and otherwise filled her days with boat projects and lots of sewing. Elise sewed her first set of “chaps” for a neighbor’s dinghy and lots of other projects that have been on our sewing list.  She explored the North Shore of Oahu and took advantage of the summer calm weather and warm water for snorkeling and spear fishing with the boat fam. At around 6PM each evening it was time to grab the beach chairs and head to the lagoon to watch the sunset with the other cruisers. The lagoons public parking lot was closed due to Covid-19 so the lagoon was almost always empty other than the occasional monk seal. One of the benefits of our boat family was the food! We all love to cook, or in Elise’s case bake, so almost every night we would eat together. Whether it was lamb burgers on homemade pretzel buns or local caught fish from Niko’s fish market, it was amazing!

For 4th of July weekend Elise took the boat out to Makua, an anchorage on the west side of Oahu, with new island friends Becca and Tate. Tate grew up in the San Juan’s and we have a mutual friend Gavin. It was the first time she had taken the boat out without Austin and everything went smoothly. The water was so clear you could see the anchor on the bottom, in 30 feet of water. After scrubbing clean the bottom of the boat, a pod of dolphins came over to inspect the work. The dolphins were very playful and zoomed in circles around us. Another weekend Tate and Becca took Elise on a tour in their panga of Kaneohe Bay on the east side of the island. It was fun to check out the caves, sandbars and we even saw a hammerhead shark. The bay is well known as a nursery for sharks but a hammerhead is a special sighting.

Towards the end of July, we got a hard reminder that Hawaii is not out of the hurricane zone when Hurricane Douglas was projected to hit Oahu. The dock was buzzing with energy as everyone prepped their boats for a possible direct hit. In Atica’s case this involved: removing the sails, solar panels and canvas, adding chafe gear to the 19 lines attaching Atica to the dock, inspecting pumps and checking to make sure the abandoned boat next to us wouldn’t put Atica at risk. On the day of the hurricane the liveaboards on the dock set up a radio group so we could all check in with each other and help out if anyone was in danger. At one point everyone put in bets for the top wind speed we would see in the marina. As the day went on Douglas’s projected path moved from directly over us to a more northerly path that just missed all of the Hawaiian Islands. In the end the top wind speed was in the low 30s and Harvey with the lowest predicted windspeed won the bet.  We were all so very relieved that Douglas turned out to be nothing but after so much preparations and excitement it was a bit of a letdown.  

As Austin’s salmon season wrapped up, the decision was made to both fly back to Washington so we could see family. Then when it was time to head back to Hawaii, we could do our quarantine together. It was nice to see family and friends that we had missed over the past year of sailing. Elise took her captains exams and completed all the paperwork for her 50-ton Masters License! We got to sail the San Juan’s on Pangaea with Mac and Wendy and meet baby Hazel who was born while we were away. We even got to see friends that we met while sailing. Remember Chili the skinny street dog that our friends Tree and Morgan adopted in La Cruz? Well now he has been fattened up and has some very impressive new tricks. Tree and Morgan left their boat in Mexico and bought a house while they were back in Washington. It was fun to spend Halloween with them at their place in the foothills of the cascade mountains.  We helped Don and Melissa finish their bunk house and sauna at the beach and took many hikes up Guemes Mountain. 

We intended to only be in Washington a few weeks but when we were offered a job doing a remodel with Don for the fall it sounded like another good way to fill the cruising kitty back up. The remodel was a big success and played on our skills of project management and construction. It was good to have some steady work and get our hands dirty; laying hardwood floors, painting, installing cabinets and all the other things that go into a remodel. We even got our cardio in as we chased the customers dog two miles down Oaks Ave during rush hour, “Gadijo!!!!” The story is too long for this blog but if you ever need a good laugh ask us about it! As the summer days faded into rain showers our lack of winter wardrobes reminded us that a huge part of us was an ocean away. It was hard to be away from our boat and the dream was so much less tangible. COVID-19 had us questioning everything and contemplating what cruising could look like in the future. We wrapped up our time in the Northwest with a trip to Lincoln City, OR with Elise’s family for Christmas. We spent hours walking the beach, collecting agates, decorating Christmas cookies and watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean.

Once New Years had passed; it was time to say our goodbyes, pack up all the boat parts we had been collecting on the mainland, take our COVID-19 tests and fly back to Oahu. The first thing we noticed when we got off the airplane was the heat! Sailing to Hawaii was a slow transition but flying from blustery cold Washington to sunny Hawaii was abrupt. The heat combined with the stress of trying to figure out what to do next was visibly evident as Elise broke out in hives for days. Things got easier as we settled into the boat and back into our boat family. Elise got busy sewing up a full boat shade cover for S/V Sophie a Hallberg/Rassy 42. There was so much fabric to maneuver in the tight space on Atica that Austin had to help push and pull fabric as Elise sewed. Austin helped a neighbor with a fiberglass repair and we installed our new AIS transponder. We “remodeled” the quarter berth into a nav seat to fit a new freezer which may be one of the best additions to the boat yet! We quickly realized a new solar panel would be needed to run the freezer off grid so we added 210W to the dodger. Things were starting to feel “normal”, living in Hawaii and we settled into the idea that we would probably be in Hawaii for at least another year, but as with everything this year it seems as soon as we make a decision, everything gets flipped upside down.

French Polynesia, where we intended to sail from Mexico, has had its maritime boarders officially closed since March 2020. Since then, the French Polynesian government has been granting sailing vessels special permission to enter on a case-by-case basis. When SV Sophie and SV Lorien were granted permission, it didn’t take much convincing for us to get onboard with the idea of a visit to the country that has been the pinnacle of our sailing dreams all along. We applied for permission and we got our official entrance letter. We are completing the final preparations to set sail for Tahiti in the next few days. Our plan as of now is to sail from Hawaii to Tahiti where we will check-in at Pape’ete. This should be between 2-3 weeks at sea. We will then spend the next three months sailing “backwards” through the Tuamotu Archipelago and check out of French Polynesia in the Marquesas Islands. From the Marquesas we plan to sail back to Hawaii. There is risk that procedures and policies could change while we are at sea and we could be denied the visas to stay in French Polynesia but these are the risks we are willing to take. Since almost all of the countries west of French Polynesia are closed completely, we will either be back to Hawaii in four weeks or four months. Fingers crossed for the latter! We will be updating our predict wind page with daily updates while we are at sea so follow along on our tracking page to see what we are up to.

5 thoughts on “15. When Your Boats in the Land of Spam”

  1. Hey Guys – long time no hear! We’re glad you’re ok and off on another adventure. Good luck and may fair winds fill your sails. Congrats Elise on getting your rating – it might come in handy sometime. Bon voyage!

    Lothar & Cindy

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  2. Love the update. Boat looks Bristol! Nice fish Austin! Stay safe and enjoy the blue water.

    Cheers,
    Cay and Peter del Valle.

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  3. Fair winds and following seas, Austin and Elise! I’ll be sure to let Gadjo know he made the big time in your blog. Thanks for using your shore time on our remodel project!

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