Yogurt on Estrellita

After much interest on our part but not a lot of follow through, we finally got off our tails and learned how to make yogurt. I think what finally motivated us to do so was a friend (thanks SV Black Pearl!) saying that they made creamy, Greek style yogurt, on their boat, with powdered milk and water.

The thought of tangy, thick, creamy plain yogurt coming out of the fridge when we have been anchored in an isolated area without a store for 4 weeks and are out of everything fresh, was too mouth watering to pass up.

It is ridiculously simple although it goes through a lot of powdered milk. We aren’t experts on yogurt and we certainly aren’t food safety experts so use your own judgment on that front. The following is what has worked a half dozen times for us. It reads a tad complicated the first time but it actually very easy to keep in your head after you’ve done it once.
  1. Take your starter out of the fridge. If you don’t have someone to grab starter from, you can buy starter packets in many grocery stores including Carrefour in French Polynesia.
  2. Take out your pressure cooker and arrange your various glass jars (with lids) until you can tell you have enough jars that will fit inside the pressure cooker with the lid shut, and will hold 2L of yogurt. Once you have a set of jars to use, you won’t have to do this again.
  3. P1020777Heat 500ml of water. I actually heat an entire kettle of water so that I have some to put in the pressure cooker at the end but you can use salt water for the second to last step. If so, heat salt water also.
  4. Mix 4 cups of powdered milk (we use whole) with 1.5 liters of cold water until all of the lumps are gone. We do this with a fork and it works just fine.
  5. Mix in the 500 ml of hot water.
  6. Test the mixture. It should be nicely warm but not hot for your finger. If it is too hot, let it rest until its right.
  7. Mix in the starter until there aren’t lumps.
  8. P1020778Ladle the mix into the jars. Ladle from the bottom of the mixing bowl and put one scoop in each jar until you’ve done every jar. Continue making passes across the jars until they each become full. The starter might settle to the bottom and this way you’ve spread the starter out into all of the jars.
  9. Put the jars in the pressure cooker. Test the extra hot water and make sure it is the same warm-but-not-hot temperature as before. If not, mix with cold until right, then add the water to the pressure cooker. I haven’t found it important to cover the jars – you are just trying to keep the temperature up.
  10. Put the lid on the pressure cooker. Wrap it in a towel. Put it somewhere out of the draft, sun, heat. I set it on the floor or seat in the extra cabin.
  11. Let rest 12 or so hours. Put in the fridge. When you eat it, you may need to drain a small amount of water out.
We put it into small bowls and add a spoonful of jam and a handful of muesli. It is excellent with homemade lemon syrup as well. And it’s great savory style -- we have been adding garlic and onions (and cucumbers when we have them) and using it as a dip/spread when we make flat bread and lentils or something similar.

Don't forget to reserve a jar (a cup or more) for the starter for your next batch!

Balloon Animal Smiles


P1020799I’m not sure why I decided this would be a good idea, but on our last trip to the USofA I picked up some balloon animal balloons, and went to the internet to learn a few starters. P1020827I inflate the balloons with a small hand pump with a basketball needle we already had onboard which is easy to tuck in a backpack. A larger tip than the basketball needle would be better but the pump has to have good pressure.

I can only make a few basic shapes: dog, giraffe (a long necked dog), a sword, a flower, and a flower bracelet. Next I want to conquer hats of some sort.

I enjoy making them for smaller children, and I also really enjoy showing older children how to make them. It’s a good icebreaker for me and it is a nice way to give back to a family when you don’t want to make a big show of giving them a gift.

Now, if someone knows a type of balloon for balloon animals that is kind to the environment – please share. I would love to swap out.

South Pacific Reading List


A reader asked me if I had any suggestions on contemporary books to read about cruisers voyages in the South Pacific and there must be a bunch out there but I drew a blank – anyone want to promote one here? Authors you know? Local authors? Please do – leave a comment with the book title.

A few weeks after the question, I checked out Headhunters on my Doorstep by Troost and low and behold more than half of the book is in French Polynesia. Troost is *not* a cruiser although he mentioned cruisers several times and has more than a passing acquaintance with the cruising community. He spends time in the Marquesas, Fakarava and Tahiti. I enjoy his writing although his style is not for everyone and this particular book delves into his recovery as well. I thought his remarks about the interaction between the French and Tahitian cultures were spot on and cracked up with his quips about the Frenchies. If you are headed this way, or just interested in this region, give it a spin.

Troost’s comments reminded me of a quote from my favorite comedian, Eddie Izzard:

“I love the French, but they are so very French.”

Hike: Auorotini (Mont Duff)



P1020724Aurorotini (a.k.a. Mont Duff or Mount Duff) is the tallest peak on the island of Rikitea (in Mangareva, Gambiers, French Polynesia).

Trailhead details: From the village you take the road toward the big church, before getting to the church turn right - West uphill, and just after the crest, you see a well marked trailhead on your left. The trail is kept clear, can be very slippery when it has rained (not advised by locals) and we were warned to “fait IMG_7761attencion” during hornet season of which we were, apparently, in the peak when we did the hike in February 2014.

After seeing only occasional, non aggressive hornets, we thought this was another example of people overestimating dangers* but in the week after we did the hike we met 4 different cruisers who were stung multiple times by hornets that they had surprised on the trail – with the large swollen bumps to prove it. So, it does happen. If you want to inquire about the status of the hornet situation when you visit, the word for hornet in French is pronounced approximately the same as the word “gape” (rhymes with tape).

P1020725The trail begins with a meander through evergreens, on a bed of pine needles, pine cones and ferns, making us NE Pacific people feel right at home. The trail splits (again well marked) to the left and as you gain altitude you are treated to occasional glimpses of the long skinny islP1020731and of Rikitea and the many outlying islands – each islet a lush green drop in a sea of crazy blues.

As you near the summit you leave the trees behind and begin following a fin of rock which drops steeply to either side. Your footing and the stunning views compete for your attention until you reach a series of flat rocks perfect for a summit picnic.

The summit view is 360 degrees and with sunlight, spectacular.



P1020758We did the hike at the very end of raspberry season but suffered through the scratches of collecting the last of the hidden, far from the trail berries while on the descent – collecting enough for Carol to make a fresh raspberry pie.

With a leisurely pace, a stop for a summit picnic and a fair amount of time raspberry collecting, the entire hike took 3 adults and a teenager 4 hours. Most of the hike is in at least dappled shade but also on the non-windy side of the mountain. It was hot even though we started early in the morning and we drank a lot of water.


*Ahhhh, hubris. Carol was stung the week after writing this post, prior to uploading it.

Gear Review: Estrellita’s Watermaker Saga

In sum: Powersurvivor 40E – thumbs down. West Marine – thumbs up. SeaMaker 20 – provisional thumbs up.

P1010727At the end of our first year of cruising, we installed a new Powersurvivor 40E which we had purchased at West Marine. We chose the smallest electric desalinator on the market because we wanted a “supplemental watermaker” that could be run from our batteries, off of our solar production, to extend the time between taking on water from shore sources. The 40E is rated at 1.5 gallons per hour and we figured that we could run it overnight every other night and keep up with our usage. The unit is also very small and fit in the cupboard underneath the Pretorien sink on the outboard side.

What we forgot to take into consideration is the production as a function of the voltage of the batteries. The rating given for the 40E at 1.5 gallons per hour is at something over 13 volts. Overnight, with our batteries no longer being charged by solar, the volts are lower than 13 and our watermaker output was very low. This meant that we had to run the watermaker during the day – all day, every other day – in order to keep up with our usage. A big miscalculation on our part because although we could sleep with it running, it was annoying during the day.

That alone would not have ruined the watermaker for us. The real reason we were unhappy with the 40E is that it kept breaking and it kept leaking, always in a new spot. All kinds of plastic parts on the watermaker broke in the first year of usage. Our pressure relief valve housing broke twice and leaked in the meantime. Our spool valve cracked. We kept replacing o-rings trying to get the thing to stop leaking. The seal replacement kit isn’t cheap and we spent too many hours working on the watermaker, trying to keep it functional. Fail.

The good news is that the company was willing to ship parts to us for free and responded quickly to our emails. The bad news is that those parts had to be shipped inside the US. The good news is that the company was willing to trouble shoot it in house for us. The bad news is that they wanted us to ship it to them (at our cost) – this would have meant shipping from Mexico or from French Polynesia. Essentially, when looking for a product, because we will be far from repair centers, we want reliability over parts replacement offers and our Powersurvivor 40E was not reliable.

Finally, after a few years of attempting to repair it, to make it work, to trouble shoot it, to pretend it was going to eventually be functional, as the company warrantee was coming to a close and our watermaker was still not functioning reliably, we contacted West Marine who agreed to refund our purchase cost in gift card form upon receipt of the watermaker. We paid the shipping, they gave us a gift card. People like to talk smack about big businesses, but I want to say how very, very happy we are that we shopped for this purchase at West Marine. Thank you West Marine for standing behind this product (which, as I understand, they have stopped selling).

P1010820We replaced our 40E with a SeaMaker 20. We don’t like to review major gear purchases until we have had them for at least a year. So, I’ll just say that so far we are delighted with it. We already had a Honda 2000EU aboard and the combination is working like a charm. We are able to flush the watermaker with just our inverter and can probably run the watermaker from batteries with the inverter while the engine is running (keeping the volts up) if we ever need to. Plus, of course, it is nice to make a crapload of water in an hour. This is the watermaker we would have originally bought if knew about it at the time.

Liquid Motivation: The Last Round


P1010834Two handfuls of frosty deliciousness. One more 3B!

Thank you, thank you John G for the last of the microbrew-esque beers that we enjoyed before leaving Tahiti.

We knew that the next time that we would experience full flavor beer was likely to be in 6 months later, in late May when we slide through Tahiti again (with family guests!) and so we savored these.

We have been recently overwhelmed by the awesomeness of our readers who have been heavily subsidizing our cold frosty ones and are working hard on our catch up thank yous. Thank you!

Youtube Videos: The Boob Effect


Are you more interested in looking at this post because it has the word ‘boob’ in it? On average, I bet you are – I know I am.

We were at a friends house with fast internet in Tahiti (a rarity) and we were streaming youtube videos which we rarely get to do. Being a compulsive list creator and data collector, I was keeping track of the videos of South Pacific ocean passages which we enjoyed watching.

the boob effect delosWhile perusing SV Delos great videos we noticed an amusing fact. They had split their Pacific crossing video into parts, labeled 1,2, & 3, all uploaded on the same date, but the parts had vastly different numbers of views. Actually, the parts had similar views except one video which had  almost 10 times the number of views – the one with a thumbnail picture that included a woman in a bikini.

Having been a scientist in a former life, I set out to make a  terribly controlled test of the theory that it was boobs in the thumbnail that increased the views. Only having one South Pacific passage video to work with of our own, I used a within subject, longitudinal case study.

We had 15 months of view data on our video with a thumbnail that did not include boobs. In early December, I changed the thumbnail to include me in a bikini. Now, note, I was already in the video in a bikini (um, its HOT out there at the equator – believe me, sometimes the bikini was only put on because the camera was coming out). I took a screen shot that was already in the original video and changed the thumbnail (the still image you see on a search, or in a suggested video screen) to include boobs. In the graphs below the pink/red line is the boob data and the blue line is the pre-boob data – axis units held constant.

the boob effect estrellita

In the 3 months since we have made that change, we have had as many minutes watched as we had in the preceding 15 months and we have had 2/3 as many views which, with only 1/5 as much time, with no natural or artificial changes, you would expect 1/5 as many views. Did I mention that our youtube viewers are 90% male?


Of course, to finish the test, to show that this is not the normal curve of a videos gain in popularity, or the effect of some other non-boob factor, I should now remove the thumbnail and replace it with a third option, something without boobs but appetizing nonetheless… but I think I’ll stop while the results fit my theory ;)

Water consumption data


Time for another NUMBERS post. I’m preparing to review our old watermaker (which we returned) and our new watermaker but first I thought I should start with our water use.

Over the past 3.5 years we have kept rough track of our water consumption while cruising.  We average a little under 5 gallons per day of fresh water for two people.

We expected that we would use more water when we reached the tropics because we would be swimming more, sweating more and drinking more, but for whatever reason we don’t use more water. Similarly when we upgraded our watermaker from a wee one to a larger one, we didn’t seem to start using any more water.

What kind of water users are we? We have pressure water only on Estrellita -- no foot pumps. We do not have a salt water tap aboard and rarely use saltwater for cooking. We do all of our dishes with fresh water. We shower every day (unless we were REALLY lazy) and sometimes rinse off another time during the day as well. We occasionally shampoo while swimming in the saltwater, but don’t make a regular habit of it. We do pay for our laundry ashore whenever possible. When we do a load on the boat, our water consumption is more than 5 gallons that day. We don’t collect water although we think we’re stupid for not doing so and have plans to build a catchment system.

Could we conserve more? Um, obviously yes. Everything I listed above that we don’t do or don’t have we could start doing or having.

Why don’t we? Well, as a rule, we try not to solve any problems that we don’t have. There are four problems that would make us conserve: 1) if we couldn’t afford a watermaker, 2) if we couldn’t afford to pay for or find room to store the gas for the watermaker (we currently have an AC watermaker that runs off a portable Honda gen – more on that later), 3) if the watermaker broke or 4) if installing, servicing and running the watermaker was more of a pain than a pleasure.

So far, we can afford one, gas hasn’t been a big problem, our new watermaker works, and for us having the water is worth the time spent running and servicing a watermaker.

How much water do you use?

Logbook: Motu Totegegie


Everywhere we go in Mangareva is beautiful. Motu Totegie is no exception. Motu Totegegie is the name of the motu where the airport is and is not fantastic holding (a lot of large rocks and rock ledges mixed with sand) or great protection from fetch coming from the wrong direction. Still, both the holding and protection are adequate and we weathered a few squalls with southerly wind (and the associated fetch) before the winds went calm.

Like almost everywhere in Mangareva, the water at Motu Totegegie is clear and beautiful, the reef/ocean side if fun to walk, and the shores are inviting (and often lined with real sand, not coral bits).
P1020608What is quite unique about Motu Totegegie is that it is right by a false pass. False passes are cuts in the reef that are not deep enough for a deep draft boat to transit. In some cases, they aren’t deep enough for any boat to transit or perhaps are deep enough at some but not all tides. We found the false pass just barely navigable for our dinghy at lower tides (with serious risk for your dinghy prop) and relatively straightforward at high tide.

P1020654While were there, the seas were calm enough for a few days for us to go outside the pass with friends, in a couple of dinghies and snorkel and fish in the deep blue.
Great water clarity and a lot of big fish. The coral was OK. The canyons splitting the reef were really interesting.
We spent a lot of time hunting and gathering and hanging out at the beach for potlucks, sundowners, afternoon BBQs, and game playing with various boats. It turned into social central and reminded us of our time in S Fakarava at Sud Bar. The Frenchies seem more likely to prepare their food at the beach, perhaps over the fire, than to show up with perfectly made stove/oven creations which has been fun (and a learning experience) for us.


We went with a gang to visit a pearl farm which I will write about later.

Mangareva (the Gambiers): A Primer



In French Polynesia are 5 archipelagos. One archipelago, the Easternmost, is called the Gambier Islands. The only island of the Gambiers with a pass to enter for cruising boats is Mangareva. Thus, Mangareva is the name of a single atoll in the Gambiers but is synonymous in cruisers’ talk with the Gambiers.

Like many atolls, there are small islets called motus on Mangareva’s encircling reef. Mangarevas reef is mostly open to the ocean on the entire Southern side of the atoll with another large pass on the West making for little current inside of the atoll or in the main pass. Depending on the direction of the swell you may get incoming or outgoing currents in the false passes but not in the large navigable passes.

mangareva gunkholingWhat makes Mangareva unique is that inside of Mangareva encircling reef are a number of small islands – not one large island in the middle like you might find in the Society Islands (another archipelago) in French Polynesia. This means that within an 8-10 mile sail (often much shorter) you can be in a different anchorage on a different island or motu. Gunkholing paradise!

While book writers disagree on the subject, most Frenchies and Mangarevans consider Mangareva to be outside of the hurricane zone and along with the Marquesas are a common spot for European boats to cruise through the hurricane season. We are the only N American boat here this austral summer and most of the European boats are either staying here for the entire hurricane season or splitting their time between here and the Marquesas.

Most N American boats visit during the austral winter, arriving usually from the Galapagos, which is also the time of the worst weather in the Gambiers. It’s storm season here then, and the low pressure systems from the Southern Ocean whip up the seas and the winds when they pass through. Reportedly, the weather is often squally and less sunny and pleasant than the summer average. The good news is that when it is squally here, as mentioned above, there are a lot of anchorages, in close proximity, to switch between to gain protection from various wind/fetch directions.

IMG_7768The main island with “the village” is Rikitea. In Mangareva, like many remote spots in French Polynesia, there is only one village and it quickly becomes THE village to those living in, or hanging out in the atoll. We have visited many of the outer islands and many of the motus and are planning on working our way through the rest.

The only downside to Mangareva so far for us is that most of the anchorages are deep – 40 to 60 feet. While we have anchored in shallower water here, we are usually cranking like crazy people on our manual windlass to raise an enormous amount of 5/16” HT chain and our hefty Manson Supreme. We have started using a single pearl farm buoy at 2-to-1 before dropping the rest of the scope to help with the weight of the chain.

P1020698While there are pearl farm buoys to avoid when navigating, I think that this danger has been overemphasized in some of the passed-around-information. The pearl farmers aren’t interested in losing their expensive equipment (and pearls!) anymore than you are in having a line around your prop and we have found large thoroughfares left throughout the atoll for local boats (and subsequently for cruising boats).

Supply ships come regularly but not on any particular schedule and there are at least 5 small grocery stores that we know of that each offer their own selection and each have different arrangements with the supply ships. The offering is similar to the Tuamotus with perhaps even fewer vegetables on offer. Thankfully there are a lot of opportunities to exchange or be gifted fruit and vegetables.

P1020679LEAVE A CLEAN WAKE: Even more so than other areas in French Polynesia, it is important to ask permission here and tread lightly. The locals have seen a dramatic increase in boat traffic in the last 10 years and while they would like to be welcoming, the pressures we put on the local community when people arrive en masse with their bags and bags of trash from passage (for example) can be heavy. Also, while the law dictates that below the high tide line is public land in French Polynesia, there are people here who prefer if you ask permission before you anchor in front of their family motu/island/piece of land. This is not true in the village but ask around with some local cruisers before you explore the outer islands. And, as always, if you see people ashore, go and introduce yourselves – even if you have to use sign language or a phrase book.

Beautiful, Dangerous, Beautiful


There are “false passes” in some atolls in which there is a spot in the encircling coral reef just low enough for snorkelers, or surfers, or even small boats to exit to the open ocean.

P1020667Last week we were anchored near a false pass (Motu Totegegie in Mangareva Atoll) and we spent some time outside the pass snorkeling and fishing in the open ocean.

Well, in the middle of a BBQ on the beach in the afternoon a group of us had the great idea to head out the pass for some fishing (trolling style) even though the tide was a little low and even though the light was already fading.

On the way back, surrounded by the light of a stunning sunset, we worked our way back, through crystal clear water that the sunlight was glancing off of, allowing occasional peeks at the what lay beneath:


Sometimes the sunset obscured everything except what poked out of the surface:


In each dinghy it was a team effort to spot the coral heads just below the surface before they ripped into the pontoons or broke the prop:


Is it possible to be stressed when you are looking at this scenery? Yes…but then no…but then yes…


2014 – The Year of the Mad Dash


estrellitaIn 2012, we made the puddle jump from Mexico to French Polynesia. When we left French Polynesia for the first time in 2012 we made it as far West as Suwarrow before turning back to windward. Although we didn’t sail quite as many miles as the boats heading to NZ, it was close by the time we got back to the Tuamotus.

In 2013, we remained in a single country. However, French Polynesia is huge.  I could sail 1000nm from where I am right now and still make landfall in French Polynesia.  We sailed back and forth but ended up moving to windward until we reached the Easternmost inhabited point in French Polynesia – Mangareva Atoll.

Now, as we turn West, we are faced with the classic South Pacific dilemma – where to spend our time during a mad dash across the Pacific to the next hurricane hole.

Instead of sailing from Mexico, generally Southwest to New Zealand as our hurricane refuge, we will be sailing Northwest from French Polynesia to the Marshall Islands. This means ~3600nm of travel if we sailed directly to the capital of the Marshall Islands. If you add a pit stop in Tonga, this figure rises to close to 4000nm as drawn with straight lines. And, of course, we are planning on stopping in more places in between.

polynesia AND marshallsWe’ve been using the second half of the S Pacific hurricane season to look through the materials we have on hand and to do online research on various countries between here (the Gambier Islands) and our end-of-year goal (the Marshall Islands) to determine which routing to take.

High class FUN problems:

  • We do not have to check out of French Polynesia until late July. Do we use up all of our time here or leave early so we have more time in other places on our way to the Marshall Islands?
  • Do we stop in the Cooks again?
  • We’ve pretty much decided on the middle-to-Southern route after French Polynesia because we want to head to the Vava’u Group in Tonga for a month to kiteboard and to see whether we want to return to it the following year (a bit against the wind from the Marshalls) or not. Do we stop at Niue along the way?
  • Will we stop at Wallis & Futuna, Tuvalu and Kiribati on our way North or try to hit some of those stops on our way back down South the next year?

Stay tuned…

By the way, if you want to see why we are so stoked about the Marshalls, check out this blog post from friends of friends. In particular, scroll through the kiting and diving pictures. Wowzers.


Click on the dollar and buy Livia and Carol a cold frosty one:


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