Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
We would like to preface the following two year letter of our family's activities by quoting from James Van Praagh: "No one could possibly create a movie or a novel more dramatic or poignant than an average human life. Its twists and turns and the depth of the accompanying emotions would be almost impossible to duplicate." Christmas letters are often viewed with a moderate amount of annoyance by the intended readers but we contend that the reason for this contempt lies with the fact that the real stories with their actual depth of emotion, adventure, and drama are never revealed. We will not endeavor to delve into the depths of the real stories but please be assured that there is more to this summary of activities than what meets the eye.
G'day! Happy Holidays from Mooloolaba Yacht Club, Queensland, Australia! We are almost half way around the world on our sailing adventure. In 2002 we sailed nearly 3,500 miles visiting four countries: Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and Australia after leaving New Zealand in May.
For Christmas 2001, we were with Julie, Chris, Nalu (our "grand-dogger"), and Sammie and Manu (our African Greys) at their apartment in Boulder, Colorado. Our visit soon turned into a planning session for Chris and Julie's wedding. We accomplished a lot within a short period of time picking out an absolutely beautiful dress for Julie, tuxes for all the men, invitations, and flowers. Jason and Eric flew to Maui on January 8 to paint one of our condos at Napili Point. David flew to Florida to see his parents where his father has settled into a home for Alzheimer's patients. Ellen flew to Cincinnati to visit with her father. Ellen and David met in Chicago to fly to Maui on January 14. We extended our time on Maui by a week, but still didn't accomplish everything or see everyone! Jason and Eric finished painting the condo and we placed a deposit to buy an extraordinary four acre parcel in Olowalu, which we closed on in August. We returned to Peace and Aloha, safely berthed and well cared for by the highly competent staff at Tauranga Bridge Marina in Tauranga, New Zealand on February 7.
On February 12 David's heart went into atrial fibrillation as it did three years earlier in Camden, Maine. We immediately went to the Tauranga Hospital where he was cardioverted the following day and returned home that evening. David was seen several weeks later by a private cardiologist who did a complete work-up including a treadmill and echocardiogram with a resulting diagnosis that David was healthy and, with new medication, could safely continue our adventure.
During March and April, we were busy with final boat work which included haul out for bottom painting and cutlass bearing replacement, new batteries, sail repairs, solid floor for the dinghy, purchasing spare parts, provisioning of food and supplies, updates of all our medical/first aid emergency supplies/prescriptions, and numerous other tasks. We had medical appointments for eyes, skin, teeth, and the usual check-ups for preventative maintenance before passages. We were very impressed with the medical care that we received there.
On April 30 we were very sad to leave Tauranga where we had met so many wonderful, sincere, and honest people. We will return to see more of New Zealand especially to visit the South Island, but via airplane next time. The only problem with New Zealand is the weather. It is too COLD for us there! Sadly, we said our last alohas to New Zealand on May 15. We then headed to Fiji from Opua in the Bay of Islands with 27 other yachts after waiting for over two weeks for a "weather window." We spent a week in South Minerva Reef as we traveled the 1200+ miles north to Fiji. The snorkeling was absolutely pristine and we had fresh fish or lobster every night for dinner (thanks to Eric!). It was here that Eric had a very close encounter with a shark while he was spear fishing. We arrived at Savusavu, Fiji on May 30 after a very comfortable three day passage from Minerva Reef. We spent June enjoying Savusavu where we looked seriously into purchasing property since we are always looking for that perfect spot to retire! We cruised the eastern islands, including Taveuni, Gamea, and Matagi, snorkeling among incredibly beautiful soft coral reefs with a myriad of fish in a multitude of colors. We enjoyed swimming, hiking to waterfalls, presenting "sevusevu" (packages of kava root) to the village chiefs, visiting with the villagers, attending church, and drinking kava with local Fijians. The Fijians are a very friendly and happy people but also very poor in material items such as clothes, medical care, school supplies and books.
We sailed to Suva on July 1 to have financial documents notarized at the US Embassy. We were completely shocked by the security at the embassy. We arrived at Vuda Point Marina on July 8 in order for Ellen to fly to Boulder on July 11. She had a nightmare trip due to a local strike but, thankfully, all went well for David, Jason, and Eric when they traveled to Boulder on July 23. Julie and Chris were married in a lovely ceremony on the grounds of Apple Valley Farm at 11am on July 27. We all returned to Peace and Aloha on August 5 after tearfully leaving the new couple. Julie and Chris traveled to Mexico for a short honeymoon on August 9 before starting school again at the University of Colorado. We wish them well and send all our love as they begin their new life together as husband and wife! Ellen was able to visit her father in Cincinnati prior to the wedding. Her brother, Peter, recently moved him to a nice facility near Peter's home in Philadelphia. We are hoping and praying that with family close by to visit, Dad will be happier and healthier.
We had only two weeks to enjoy the Musket Cove Resort in Fiji before checking out, provisioning in Lautoka, and sailing to Vanuatu on August 23. Actually, we left on August 22 but the wind and the seas were miserable, so we turned around, returned to Musket Cove and left again the following morning, even though it was a Friday. That was a first! A definite sign that we are getting older, but wiser and smarter!
We arrived at Port Resolution on Tanna August 26 and spent two weeks on this fascinating island with a very active volcano. We loved hiking through John Fromm villages and interacting with these incredibly beautiful, friendly people, who were cannibals until the 1960's. We sailed to Port Vila on Efate to meet our "boat guests," Ed Blumestock, his wife Belle, and Eric's friend, LeAnn Vargo. We sailed with them to the islands of Epi, Malekula, and Santo. Along the way we visited villages where we were able to see custom dances with the men wearing only "nambas" and the women wearing only grass skirts. We enjoyed snorkeling at Million Dollar Point where the US dumped millions of dollars worth of war equipment into the ocean at the end of WWII. Ed and Belle flew out of Luganville on September 24 to continue their travels to New Zealand, Australia, and Southeast Asia. We then sailed to Maewo, Ansavari, Ambryn, and back to Port Vila for LeAnn's return flight to the US. We visited almost all of the islands in Vanuatu experiencing the varied customs and languages on each island. We saw many different custom dances, ate laplap, drank the famous intoxicating Vanuatu kava, purchased tamtams and baskets, hiked through rain forests to waterfalls, stood on the brink of a very active volcano, dove on SS President Coolidge (Eric and LeAnn), learned WWII history, enjoyed delicious freshly caught fish, and were thrilled by incredible snorkeling in crystal clear water with many brightly colored fish and corals. Vanuatu, with it's very primitive but friendly inhabitants, remains one of the highlights of our travels.
We arrived in Noumea, New Caledonia on October 17 after a three day passage from Port Vila. We visited all the museums and the aquarium and spent almost a week at the Isle of Pines, which was one of the most beautiful islands that we have experienced in the Pacific. We also learned history as we researched WWII sites since Ellen's father was stationed there during the war. We ate too much French bread and pastries since the food in French islands is always the best! We arrived in Scarborough, Queensland, Australia right before a gale after a five day passage from Noumea. We moved to the Mooloolaba Yacht Club on December 2. Jason and Ellen drove the car, while Eric and David sailed the boat up the coast. We are now close to the beaches, sun, surf, and girls for the guys! We have a car and a cell phone and it is great to be back in civilization again. We continue to be busy with never-ending boat projects and seeing Australia. We are interested in opals and sapphires which are mined in Queensland. We might even go fossilicking at Lightning Ridge, the source of gem quality black opal. We have seen galah cockatoos on the grass, yellow-tailed black cockatoos in the trees, and rainbow lorikeets feeding in umbrella trees as we take our afternoon walks through the park and along the beach. We petted koalas and kangaroos at Alma Park Zoo near Brisbane but have not seen any in the wild in spite of the road signs. We can honestly say, at this juncture of being almost half way around, that it has been a most extraordinary experience. The next half will bring new challenges and adventures as we enter Southeast Asia continuing our circumnavigation around the world.
This year we sailed only 2,700 nautical miles between June 5 and October 22, from Mooloolaba to Bundaberg, to Papua New Guinea, within the Louisiade Islands, to Cairns, and returning to Mooloolaba. This is comparable to our first travels in 1999 from Port Stanley, Ontario, Canada to Key West/Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. What a short distance compared with almost 9000 nautical miles in 2001 when we crossed the South Pacific!
In January, David and Ellen spent a week in Kangaroo Valley, near Sydney, attending a church conference. This was an uplifting and enlightening spiritual experience meeting with Australian church members. We were particularly gratified to be able to renew old Australian friendships made at a previous church conference in San Diego, 1997. We also spent a week in Sydney visiting many famous sites including seeing a performance at the Sydney Opera House of "Voices of Light, The Passion of Joan of Arc," a silent black and white film (1917) accompanied by the orchestral music written by an Australian. Sydney is a beautiful exciting city and one week is not nearly enough time to see all the sights. Unfortunately, we were not able to sail by the spectacular Opera House and under the Harbour Bridge on Peace and Aloha. We returned to Mooloolaba via Lightning Ridge in the Australian "out back" which is famous for black opals. David and Eric have been cutting opals at the Buderim Gem and Fossicking Club. They have produced an extensive collection of black opals from rough material purchased from miners at Lightning Ridge. Ellen's birthstone just happens to be opal, so she has many new opals to wear, personally made for her!
We had only been back from Sydney for a few days when Ellen's father made his transition on February 3 in Philadelphia near her brother's home. We all miss him very much especially during the holiday season. Our memories are happy ones, as we recall the many holidays spent with Dad, Mom and Aunt Betty (who passed on November 17, 2002). We wish him well on his journey to higher realms where, we believe, we will all meet again.
On March 6, Ellen had lasik eye surgery on her right eye to provide complete vision using mono vision (far vision with the right eye and near with the left). She has been thrilled with her ability to function without glasses! Our only regret is not doing it sooner!
In April, Ellen and David flew to Florida to visit his parents where his mom had recently been hospitalized with a heart attack. She faces more health challenges while now residing in Rochester, NY with David's sister, Marsha, while his father continues to receive excellent care at an Alzheimer's home in Florida. We then flew to Boulder to attend Julie's graduation from the University of Colorado. It was a very cold, rainy/snowy morning of May 9 in Folsom Stadium that the class of 2003 graduated. Fortunately, Julie received her diploma for her degree from the School of Environmental, Population, and Organismic Biology during graduation ceremonies celebrated the day before with beautiful spring Colorado weather! It was a very joyous occasion since we have now made our last tuition payment. Julie is now a CU college graduate which adds up to seven degrees in our family from the University of Colorado! The total will be eight when Chris graduates in May 2004. Julie and Chris purchased their first home located in Evergreen while we were there. Julie continues to work at the CU Molecular/Cellular Biology Lab in Boulder, now in a full time position. They are truly a beautiful couple and their light and energy knows no bounds!
David had a prostate biopsy, which proved to be negative, immediately after our return to Mooloolaba on May 15. By this time, with all the medical hassles, even with all the boat projects which Eric and Jason had completed while we were away, we were late to be heading north to Thailand. We therefore decided to sail to the Louisiade Islands, the easternmost islands of Papua New Guinea and to return to Australia for another cyclone season. We left Mooloolaba on June 5, and from Bundaberg on June 15, sailing slowly for two days to Federick Reef, where we spent a day snorkeling and shelling. After a five day passage, we arrived at Panasia Island in the Louisiades at first light in a rain squall but with our radar and forward-looking sonar, we had no problems entering the atoll and were safely anchored by late morning. We used hand drawn "mud maps" passed down from other cruisers for all our anchorages to avoid the many reefs hidden by murky waters with no accurate published charts. We did not move the boat except during daylight with full sun overhead. We were very impressed by the incredible beauty of the anchorage at Panasia comparable to Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas with its majestic cliffs! We spent several days exploring the beaches, visiting the village on a nearby island, watching for saltwater crocodiles, and snorkeling on the reef. We sailed to Moturina Island, Kamatal Lagoon, and then checked into Papua New Guinea at Bwagaoia Harbour on Misima Island on July 1. They have a small airport, hospital, quest house, bank, bakery, three "supermarkets," and a produce market, where they sell betel nut to each other. They chew the nut with mustard and lime for its narcotic effect, however, they continually spit out lots of bright red saliva which causes bright red teeth! We were soon able to converse with these friendly people without always staring at their red or black teeth or no teeth! It seems that all cultures of the world have some predominate weird addiction and betel nut chewing is perhaps the most disgusting, however, the friendliness and gentleness of these people soon dominated our impressions.
We continued our travels to the islands of Pana Numara, Gigila, Hessessai, Grass, Hati Lawi, and Nimoa, the easternmost island of the Calvados Chain. We spent almost a week in each anchorage to meet and to interact with the villagers. They delighted us by their friendly, generous, honest, happy and kind natures. They were always curious about us "dim-dims" or white people! We seemed to be quite a novelty, especially with the children touching our white skin and babies crying with fright at the sight of us! We were welcomed into their homes and their schools, and we had many aboard to see our home! We unfortunately did not bring nearly enough books, school supplies, clothes, etc. (for trading and gifts) which are definitely in short supply on all the islands. We were completely enthralled with the beautiful smiles of the little children! We met very few older people with 40 being old here. Their life is hard and health care is nearly nonexistent, which is a problem with the ever present tuberculosis and malaria. They are incredibly poor in material wealth, even more so than Vanuatu or Fiji. They work hard in their gardens which are cleared by the slash-burn method which sometimes blazes out of control charring much of their island. Most gardens are located on the sides of cliffs above the ocean. Their main crops are yams, sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkins, papayas, bananas, and coconuts which they feed to themselves, and to their pigs and dogs. They also catch fish while traveling from island to island on crude dug out canoes fitted with sails made of plastic tarps. We were very impressed with their amazing sailing abilities as they cross miles of open ocean to trade baggi in the Kula Ring! We traded t-shirts, pencils, lollies/candies, pens, exercise books, toys, rice, sugar, fish hooks, magazines, kerosene, needles, and many other items for fresh fruits and vegetables. We traded for local baskets, pottery, and baggi, which are shell necklaces used as money to purchase brides, pigs, and property. We had hoped to purchase wood carvings, but did not have time to sail to Woodlark and Trobiand Islands, famous for their carvings, with only a 60 day visa. Consequently, we purchased our Papua New Guinea wood carvings in Cairns upon our return to Australia!
We were able to experience the local native culture of traditional singing and dancing in their native dress of grass skirts and body paintings performed for the visiting Catholic bishop at the St. Alphonsus Mission on Nimoa during confirmation ceremony festivities. At the mission, they have a hospital with no doctor or drugs, a parish store, school, and a beautifully decorated church. Papua New Guinea has many different languages as did Vanuatu, but we were thankful that most people spoke English to some degree.
We enjoyed a wonderful week of snorkeling and fishing at Kamatal Lagoon. The drift dive in the pass to the lagoon was spectacular and we were completely overwhelmed by the astounding beauty, the diversity (with sightings of many new species) and the multitude of the brightly colored corals, clams, and fish on this pristine reef. We were in total awe of the incredible beauty of this underwater world! Fortunately for us and for the natives, there is no ciguatera poisoning and all the fish are safe to eat. Eric either caught or speared fish or lobster for dinner daily. We celebrated David's big 6-0 birthday here.
Our 60 day visa required that we check out of Misima on August 26. After completing the check out formalities, we sailed to Panasia to depart for Cairns on September 8 with four other boats. We arrived in Australia at the Cairns Port Marina on September 11 after a rather boisterous three day passage. We enjoyed touring North Queensland with their displays of local parrots, butterflies, and aboriginal art. We traveled almost 900 miles between Cairns and Mooloolaba in four weeks between September 22 and October 23 doing a series of day sails. We enjoyed the beauty of the Queensland coast, especially the Whitsundays. Unfortunately, we never seem to have as much time as we would like to spend in these different anchorages. One of our most memorable experiences traveling down the coast was a humpback whale surfacing and blowing about 10 feet off our stern while Eric was steering! The expression on his face was priceless! Of course, it would have been very serious for both of us, if we had hit the whale. In the category of an experience that we would like to forget, we endured a 45 knot gale with torrential rain while at anchor at 9pm in the Percy Islands on a lee shore. When the waves began to build and the danger escalated, we pulled up the anchor and motored through the night with five other yachts to safety behind an island about five miles south. On our last day sailing into Mooloolaba we were escorted for miles by many dolphins playing and jumping on our bow wave. It was just magical as they looked up at us, seeming to say "Come on in and play!"
The most exciting news we have recently received was the announcement of the planned arrival of our first grandson on or about March 6, 2004! Julie and Chris had apparently wasted little time in starting a family. College graduation, new job, new house, and now a new baby. What a year!!
Julie and Chris flew to Australia for ten days on November 5 for a much appreciated visit. We had a great time visiting the local sites including Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo to pet the koalas and kangaroos and to see the Australian snakes, crocodiles, and wombats. Julie and Chris swam in the Southern Pacific Ocean (actually the Coral Sea) and enjoyed a day in the sun at our special beach at Alexandria Bay near Noosa. Ellen and Julie spent many hours discussing the "technical aspects" of childbirth while Chris spent much time with Eric working on computer "stuff." We were very sad to see them leave but it will not be long before we see them and the new baby in Colorado.
Ellen and David will be in Melbourne from January 8-22, 2004 sightseeing for several days and attending another church conference for ten days with dear friends from Montana and Australia. Our church affiliation is our most valued activity, even here in Australia. On February 21, Ellen and David will fly to Maui where we will be staying at one of our condos at Napili Point taking care of business, seeing old friends, and enjoying Maui. We will also begin our plans to build on our Olowalu property when we all return to Maui in about two to three years. We will fly to Colorado on March 6 (Julie's due date) to be with Julie and Chris, for our grandson's grand appearance! We are hoping that he is "on time" so that we will be able to help Julie and Chris as much as possible. David will also visit Rochester to see his mom. Hopefully, she will be completely recuperated and well settled at home living with David's sister.
Eric and Jason will be staying with the boat preparing to leave Mooloolaba as soon as we arrive back on April 1. The plan is: sell the car, haul the boat out, paint the bottom, reprovision, attend to medical appointments/ medical kits and head north to Darwin, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and finally Thailand by Christmas 2004. (Actually the same plan as last year with the same preparations for a long series of passages!) Our plans from there are very much undecided . The route to the Red Sea and the Med continues to be dangerous and we will monitor the progress of fellow cruisers who will be traveling through the Red Sea early in 2004. We have no problem coping with sea conditions and sailing but pirates are a different matter!
Until April 1, 2004 we may be contacted at the following address in Australia. We may always be contacted at our e-mail addresses on board or at our address in Colorado.
S/V Peace and Aloha "Yacht in Transit"
Mooloolaba Yacht Club
33-45 Parkyn Parade P.O. Box 846
Mooloolaba, Queensland 4557
AustraliaPhone on board: 61- 405 761 819
c/o Christopher and Julie Johnson
27138 Sunridge Drive
Evergreen, CO 80439 USA
Ham and Sailmail E-Mail
(E-mail via high frequency radio - no attachments etc.)
Web site: www.peaceandaloha.com (Effective until April 1, 2004) (Very much behind - desperately trying to catch up!)
We wish you a very Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year. We pray for Peace on Earth, Good Will towards Men! May God bless you and keep you safe! We love you and miss you! Please keep in touch and please send us Christmas cards, especially ones with pictures. (We are able to receive pictures on the hotmail address, while we are here at the yacht club with wireless connection to the internet.) With Love, Peace and Aloha, December 25, 2003 Ellen, David, Jason and Eric Julie and Chris, and Grandbaby Boy, Nalu, Sammie and Manu Mooloolaba, Queensland, Australia Evergreen, Colorado, USA