What has been your favorite experience since you’ve been out there?
[Gar]: Honestly, this is a tough one to try to pinpoint experiences, but three “places” have really stood out so far. The first is the Tuamotu Islands of French Polynesia. We had two of our best friends on for a month sailing around these beautiful atolls, snorkeling the passes, and just enjoying the peace and beauty of this part of the world. When you get the opportunity to share such a magical place like this with best friends, it doesn’t get much better.
The second is the Solomon Islands. We really fell in love with the people there. Everybody told us not to go there because of how dangerous it is and how the local villages and the dugout canoes would never leave you alone, but we felt really comfortable there and met some of the most warm and friendly people anywhere in the South Pacific. Some day we would really like to return and see our friends there again.
The last is where we are now. Palau, Micronesia. This has been the “perfect place” for us to be these last 4 months and there isn’t much to not like about it here. We call it the “Palau Vortex” as most cruisers who come here have a really difficult time trying to leave and usually extend their stay weeks or months or don’t leave at all.
[Nicole]: There are so many incredible experiences it is so hard to separate them. As far as places go in addition to Gar’s list I would say smelling the marquesas the rich earth and sweet perfume of flowers before we could see land. Then coming in with the welcome of pan tropical spotted dolphins and glowing verdant green cliffs was absolutely incredible after 22 days at sea.
There are so many moments I have really appreciated. Most of them are the times we have had connecting with the locals who have welcomed us to their villages and homes. Most of whom have asked for nothing in return. Sitting under a tin roofed shelter learning to weave with the ladies from Daku village in Fiji. Trading pencils and notebooks with kids who paddled out in dugout canoes in the Morovo lagoon in the Solomon Islands for hundreds of lemons, eggplants, tomatoes, hot peppers and bouquets of orchids and tropical flowers. Talking story with men and women in the Solomon Islands during the presidential election and discussing their government and ours and how exciting it was for all of us that Barack Obama might be elected. They tuned into BBC in the early hours of the morning on their short wave radios to listen to the latest news. In the morning we would talk about it all. I love sharing our worlds and learning from each other.
What do you find yourselves doing to pass the time?
[Nicole]: Honestly, people who aren’t cruising always ask us what we do. Most cruisers who know us ask us when we are going to chill out. It seems we are always doing something. We have a never-ending list of boat projects. When we are cruising in the islands not doing projects we always try to get exercise and have adventures. Mostly this means swimming, snorkeling, diving, kayaking or hiking. We both try to write regularly and since we take a lot of photos we have to process them often.
We are always planning our next adventures doing research into the regions we will be visiting next and what we want to do there. We try to preplan our book supply and usually have both fiction and non-fiction books about the countries we will be visiting. Also we play cards and scrabble. On passage we stare at the world a lot. We read much more than we ever have especially on passage when the swell is calm and there are few boats. We listen to books on tape during night watches both to pass the time and stay awake as long as the weather isn’t too intense or the night too beautiful.
[Gar]: The cruisers who get bored just don’t try very hard. We tend to keep pretty busy, not only because that’s our nature, but also because we like our life on the boat. As Nic said, we always have boat projects we could do, but also everywhere we go there’s something interesting to explore or new people to meet. We also love the water so most days we are either swimming or snorkeling or diving in our new world. We love it. Right now we are out in the rock islands of Palau snorkeling and diving some beautiful reefs, but we are also photographing, beginning to write an article for a cruising magazine, learning Indonesian, preparing for our upcoming passage to West Papua, Indonesia, and varnishing some teak on the side.
Are there any projects or efforts that you’ve come across that you’d like us to draw attention to? (environmental, etc.)
[Nicole]: The more time we spend out here talking with people in Polynesia and Melanesia and here in Palau and diving and snorkeling their reefs we realize how ecologically diverse and important they are and how vulnerable the islands are. It is so important for communities to maintain their marine and mangrove ecosystems and have options for making money. We have met many very poor people in terms of material wealth but we have always said they are very rich in resources. Most people in the islands live in thatched huts, few have shoes, fewer have cars or scooters, many fish from outrigger canoes daily, most have no refrigeration or lights let alone electricity for anything. But they do have food. Fish, fruit, and vegetables grow very well in most places we’ve been aside from the low-lying atolls in the Tuamotus and Palmerston Island.
Sadly, most of these island communities have a lot of pressure put upon them to cut their mangroves or tropical hardwoods or fish their sharks and large reef fish in order to pay for school supplies or send their kids to school, have a community center or buy chickens, have boats with outboard engines or even buy rice and oil.
In talking with people about the best way to sustainably harvest their fish or keep their forests is to give them something they want in exchange. Seacology, a NPO based in Berkeley does just that. They offer to give the funds to a community to build whatever they need: a community center or school, provide health supplies or a clean water system or even a solar power array. In exchange the community must create a no take zone of a certain size for a minimum of 10-15 years in either their reefs or forests.
Most of the time this approach is successful as the spoken and signed word in the islands is very strong and many communities already understand the practice of taboo fishing zones and feel good about the agreement as they have gotten what they wanted for their communities from Seacology. As Seacology says, it is a “win win” situation for the community as they get something that they have asked for and is really useful and they are protecting their resources. The fish can grow and reproduce, the topsoil remains on land and the forest and reefs are healthier for it. The people continue to get positive returns as more fish grow and spill over from the no take zones, the reefs are not polluted by soil run off and there are still birds in the forest to eat. See seacology.org for more information.
When are you coming home??????
The goal is summer or fall of 2011.
Keep Following Gar & Nicole Duke’s Adventure!
Be sure to follow along on their adventures by reading their own blog and looking at the wonderful photos they post on their site. Here is the link to the S/V Dreamkeeper site with the “where are they” tracker: http://www.svdreamkeeper.com And here is their blog: http://svdreamkeeper.blogspot.com/