Chapter 1. Never Be on Two Boats
“Oh, no… I’m gonna sink into the sea along with my backpack containing passports, smartphone, laptop, and more!” The epic adventure with Akela is about to start with me screaming as I have a serious dinghy (small boat connecting Akela and shore) problem, which just lost its balance due to two non-experienced passengers, Heeyoung and Dae Wook, climbing up the Akela.
After a few minutes of struggling and screaming, my whole family (Dae Wook, Heeyoung, Aiden, Daniel, and Jace) are finally happily on the white and cozy boat, Akela. Wow, everything is fine including passports, smartphone, and laptop although my “didn’t-know-it-is-waterproof” backpack was half-way emerged in to the salt water of Fakarava Atoll.
Jim says words of wisdom. “You don’t want to be on two boats at the same time. You move from one to another.” Indeed, my family just moved from our routine city life to a whole new world on a boat. Akela is moving up and down (a.k.a. pitching motion) since there was a strong storm until this morning. We take a photo and begin to unpack our stuff. One may say “It sounds like a very tough start.” As a matter of fact, it is a super-cool unforgettable front-matter of our story! Life is a matter of choice. Here are two boats. Where do I want to be?
Chapter 2. Being Here Together
The wind is getting calm and I just woke up very early in the morning. I check my watch and it is around 5 AM. Fantastic! I am so happy to enjoy this very moment of peace. I have missed this moment since my last sailing with Akela.
Soon after, we are now munching a lovely breakfast meal prepared by our five-star chef, The Burge. This is a French-style toast using a local market baguette dipped into a bunch of fresh crushed eggs. This food is quickly disappearing and will be all gone in no time. Jim quickly senses the challenge of feeding these five land animals, especially the three young boys with fearless stomachs, for the remaining days. For instance, Jim is already suffering from rapidly disappearing fruit juice, which is truly the best on Earth. My boys literally drink up a carton per thirty seconds. French Polynesian juice is at the level of heaven.
The next thing? This is definitely one of my favorite things on Akela. Grinding fresh coffee beans using Jim’s hand-grinder. Every morning, this is a sacred ceremony to begin a happy day on Akela. We quickly motivate and train Jace, the curious-about-everything-3-years-old-boy, to do this labor-intensive job. Of course, he will like the Bob-The-Builder style task until the last day in Fakarava. Jace the Bean Master!
Watching the sweet waves and sunny sky, there is no way to stop jumping in to the cozy warm water. All my family are now having a great time in this crystal clear water using Jim’s inflatable paddle board. After hours of this fun training session in the ocean, all five of us finally became a group of fish ready for the upcoming marine life with random dives and sudden splashes!
Of course, we are always hungry. Five animals need good snacks and meals. Captain Burge says “I know a good place to eat! Do you want to try?” As always, I trust Jim’s judgement and he is correct. This restaurant in a local resort is an amazing place to eat and play simultaneously. We are sitting at a table in the middle of this blue emerald water. While we are waiting for the lunch, Aiden, Daniel, and Jace are swimming around our table like a school of dolphins. Many little cute fish welcome us along with a few small sharks. I am trying not to think too much. I simply want to “be” here at this moment. Jim and I just ordered his favorite dish “Poisson Cru”, which is a French-style coconut-based marinated raw fish with rice. Taste? With a good friend and family in Fakarava, there is no way to describe this taste. You need to be here together.
It is still a middle of the day and Jim arranged a skin scuba dive. As a kind person, Jim sacrifices himself by volunteering to take care of Jace, our little boy, while rest of my family dives in to the north pass water of the Fakarava Atoll. “One, two, three, dive!” What are we seeing now? You need to be here together. This planet Earth is very special. We are now all amazed and desperately want more dives. Of course, we will dive more. Stay tuned!
It is an ironic short and long day. Starting from 5 AM, it has been a busy and lazy, hungry and full, dry and wet day altogether. We are happy to be together.
Time to time, I feel Max here. When Aiden and Daniel say their happy stories with him, Max is definitely here. I painfully miss him. A quiet night comes quickly around 6 pm here in Fakarava. Aiden, Daniel, and Jace went to sleep after the adventurous day. Jim and I are drinking special rum with a meticulous coconut and vanilla hints in it. Jim is an artist of liquor. This very simple fact that you can “be” with someone you love is often unbelievably thankful.
Chapter 3. Full but Not Busy
After the sacred morning coffee with Jace’s pure devotion, the third day morning is starting. Jim and Adien are playing a game called “Jump, Jive, Jumble”. This is a cool game that I didn’t know until now. Basically, one needs to figure out a scrambled word. For instance, “A, F, R, V, A, A, K, A” will be “FAKARAVA”. I quickly join this simple and addictive game. This kind of classic game is a beauty of the life on a boat. You play faces-to-faces instead of IDs-to-IDs. We just switched the topic! Prof. Burge is now giving us a quick lecture on marine maps used for sailing. As always, Jim is a knowledgeable and engaging teacher!
It is time for a shore excursion. The first spot is a church right at the beach near Akela. The corral blue interior of the church is decorated with countless shells and woods. We decide to visit Jim’s another favorite restaurant.
We need to rent bicycles to get there. My bicycle is equipped with a rear kid-seat, so I am able to bike with Jace. Five bicycles are all in a harmonic and random queue. We quickly stop by a reef side of Fakarava Atoll where the corral island meets the Pacific ocean. Big and fast waves are continuously coming and crushing in to white bubbles. We are suddenly in the middle of blue ocean and pure air.
Wait a second! We were on our way to the restaurant. Let us continue. We bike a lonely cozy road all the way to the restaurant. Jace behind me keeps screaming. “Coconut, Coconut, Coca Cola…!” I have no clue about the “Coca Cola” part, but he is surely excited with the green coconut trees and piles of coconuts on the road sides. Five classic bicycles are swiftly streaming through. This is clearly the most scenic and happiest family bicycling in my life.
The Snack Elda, Jim’s choice! I give 5 out of 5 Yelp stars only if I could. Of course, just like many other busy-city concepts, Yelp does not work in Fakarava. Jim and I are ordering Poisson Cru! “Hmmm… yummy, yummy, yummy!” By the way, the most popular Elda staff is a iconic black dog who waits for and plays with a shark in the coral beach. He (or she) is happy and I am happy, too.
After the meal, we are snorkeling near a sand beach. Many colorful coral fish and sea creatures welcome us like the movie, Finding Nemo. Jace just found a fresh coconut and plays with it as it floats very well in the water. For sure, Jace will be a future NCAA coconut ball player.
On our way back to Akela, we meet a group of local kids and Maiarii, Jim’s friend in Fakarava. They are practicing running for a big event in Tahiti island. Daniel, Aiden, and the kids are enjoying a short super fun time together by teaching each other a special kind of “rock-paper-scissors” game. Then, they run together. I am meeting good people here. This island, Fakarava, is full of special things and sweet people. However, nothing and no one is busy.
Chapter 4. Sailing with An Honorable Task
“Let’s sail!” This is what I really wanted to let Heeyoung experience. Sailing without the help of an engine. When Akela glides through the surface of an ocean with the power of wind on her sails (Note: Akela has three nice sails.), there is no engine noise and vibrations. It just sails the blue sea. As always, Dae Wook’s wish doesn’t come true easily. The direction of wind is not favorable in order to sail south heading the Fakarava Atoll South Pass. Why not sailing north? We are already near the north end of the Atoll. Also, we have to sail south since we want to dive in the half-shark-half-water South Pass. OK, let’s motor sail. Although it is not as cool as the true wind sailing the crystal clear blue ocean, surreal shores with green palm trees, and vivid blue sky with white clouds are already so beautiful.
We just made a good trip half way to the South Pass and, now, have to decide what to do for tomorrow. We may happily “wind-sail” back to the original location (since the wind is in the North direction). In this scenario, however, we will make a very very long and potentially rainy speed boat trip to the South Pass dive spot tomorrow. Another option is that we stay here and get a speed boat pick-up from here tomorrow. It will be a shorter speed boat trip for the dive. But, we may never have a chance to wind sail back if wind changes its direction. Jim, as always, kindly asks my preference, and I, as always, make a quick, simple-minded, and optimistic decision. “Tomorrow, I believe we will still have a good wind to sail back. So, let’s anchor here and stay tonight.” After we search for a coral-free area, preventing an entanglement of the anchor chain around the coral from an overnight drift, we begin to anchor Akela. Captain Burge just assigned me an honorable mission, looking at the ocean floor to find a safe spot to anchor. Although I cannot free-dive deep, the water in Fakarava is so clear that I am able to see the bottom from the surface while snorkeling. Mission is successfully completed and Akela is anchored.
Because we decided to stay here today, we still have a good amount of sunny afternoon free time. Heeyoung and I want to snorkel with our little adventurous Jace the 3 years old super hero. Heeyoung is brave enough to swim all the way from the Akela to the nearest shore while I am paddling the paddle board with Jace on it. Just as a side note, Jace is always wearing a life-vest so cannot sink. Three of us are nicely approaching the shore with many corals and fish. Heeyoung, Jace, and I are having a great time to swim and snorkel. All the sudden, something big is touching me! “What is it? Is it a giant shark?” Well, it is Jim who speaks Blimjack (or similar). I don’t know how to spell this language, which is created by Jim and Max. For a record, Jace might be the first Blimjack native speaker. Anyway, Jim just came by with another paddle board. In the middle of water, Jim’s old student, Dae Wook, asks a question about paddling technique preventing an inefficient zigzag path. Prof. Burge, as always, gives a scientific lecture explaining a concept of torque and corrective-stroke motion before the main stroke. The finale of the day is a paddle board match-up! Jim and Daniel are competing. This game is all about two players rocking on a single paddle board until a player looses balance and falls in to the water first. Jim wins the match due to his higher “mass” advantage. Yes, once again, this is a very scientific and logical explanation by Jim that I totally agree.
It is already dark and we are trying to find southern stars. Heeyoung is the experts on this. Two astronomical instrument scientists, Jim and Dae Wook, are nearly useless. Heeyoung guides us through the stars and constellations. This is why I am so happy to be with her. We love the same thing this universe and planet together. Even Heeyoung is now struggling to find the famous Magellanic Cloud. I don’t want to miss this chance to see the most famous southern night sky object. Once I go back to the other side of the Earth, I will not be able to see it again. Jim is surely the man who saves the day (technically, night in this case) when we are in trouble. He points a part of the night sky. There is nothing. “Maybe a small patch of faint clouds? White cloud… Wait… Clouds are black at night… Wow, it is the white Magellanic Cloud.” Jim asks if it is a galaxy. Heeyoung and I don’t know exactly and no Google internet is available. It is nice to let it be a white “cloud” for now just like the old romantic days. (I am now writing this home and just Google searched as a city kid. Jim, for your information, it is a satellite galaxy of Milky Way.)
Finally, we are going to bed for a big adventure tomorrow. Don’t forget that I completed my first honorable task during the anchoring of Akela. I book-mark this achievement! Jim, thank you for letting me learn and grow in a wide spectrum since I met you in 2005. It has been 15 thankful years.
Chapter 5. Beyond the Limits
We just enjoyed the freshly prepared coffee by Jace. The French toast with “Mape” for a day long energy was nicely served as breakfast. If you are curious about what Mape is you should visit Akela and consult Chef Burge. It is an iconic sweet liquor that you can meet on Akela. Vincent the local dive guide and Maiarii on a speed boat are approaching Akela to pick us up. We have to speed-boat to the South Pass. It will be about 30 minutes trip. We are loading all the dive gears on the speed boat. “Let’s go!” Just in about 10 minutes, I feel a rain drop. Just in another 1 minute, I feel a water dump on my face. “Oh my… I cannot open my eyes!” By the way, Jace is sitting in front of me facing the harsh water dumps and winds. This could be way too much for a three years old boy. Even Aiden and Daniel are dunking and sitting still, which is a very unusual behavior for those highly energetic pre-teenager boys of 11 and 12 years old. I cover Jace with a yellow raincoat but cannot check his well-being due to this heavy rain and wind hitting my face and eyes with no mercy. After about 15 minute, I finally have a short chance to check Jace under the raincoat. “Are you OK?” It is still raining harsh and the speed boat engine is making a loud sounds, so I cannot hear his voice. However, I just saw a smiling face of Jace under the raincoat. “Yes, Jace is still happy and smiling! Daddy loves you!” As we approaches the shore near the South Pass, we find two giant fish slowly swimming near the beach. These are Napoleon fish and larger than Jace! Awesome!
I decided to stay at the beach with Jace during the first dive. Maiarii is kindly staying with me and Jace. She introduces me the area with so many fish and small sharks near the beach. She is a kind, thoughtful, and sweet person. Jim, Heeyoung, Aiden, and Daniel quickly go for the first dive. I watch their speed boat heading towards the dive spot. It is still lightly rainy but the weather and water are comfortably warm. Under the sea there is no rain anyway. I look around the shore. This area is very different, lovely, and mysterious. Jace finds a very large Hermit crab and enjoys this place! I am thinking of Max. “Hi, Max. Jace and I are happy to be here.” The dive team came back after the first dive. The rain finally stopped and it is now a sunny weather! We have a good lunch. The special treat is a deep fried coconut bread dish prepared by Maiarii! “Hmmm, this is so delicious!” They are all gone in seconds thanks to the five animals known as Kims! This is the most authentic and special food we had in Fakarava. Maiarii gives us an unforgettable memory.
For the second dive, Heeyoung is ready to take the turn to watch Jace. Well, Daniel says he had some issues with his goggle during the first dive so doesn’t want to dive anymore today. Normal parents might say “Daniel, you want the second dive. This is a rare opportunity of your lifetime.” Heeyoung and I? “Great! One more dive for Heeyoung!” Daniel and Maiarii thankfully takes care of Jace, while Jim, Heeyoung, Aiden, and I dive altogether in to the best diving spot on Earth. We see countless sharks just in front of the “Wall of Sharks” and so many other beautiful fish and interesting sea creatures. There is no way that my English can describe what we see. How about this? Scientist loves “Reference“!
As we are popping out of the ocean surface, we see Daniel, Jace, and Maiarii’s smiling faces waiting us on the speed boat. All of us in this beautiful Atoll of Fakarava are having a great reunion. We are now speed-boating back to Akela, but there is no heavy rain and harsh wind this time. Instead, there is a rainbow just above the horizon. Maiarii brought a pack of Hinano, French Polynesian beer. We cheers with saying “Manuia!” while we look at each other’s eyes, which is the etiquette of “Manuia”. Jim looks happy. Miairii is smiling. My family are 100% filled with joy. What a day with these good friends. I begin to see the familiar white object. Our Akela is getting close! She looks calm-and-stylish on the mirror-like emerald water of Fakarava Atoll. We hop on to Akela. “So good to be home! We are back.”
We want to sail back! I mean wind “sail” not a “motor sail”. My optimistic wish of yesterday? It worked. The wind is in a favorable direction. Jim commands his reliable and verified crew member, Dae Wook, the second honorable order. “Please, check the anchor.” I jump in to the water and swim to the anchor following the chains. “Uh, oh…. It is… entangled around a coral.” I report back to Captain Burge. It is time to co-op. I let Jim know the direction that Akela needs to move towards in order to untangle the chain. Jim drives Akela while I monitors the chain under the water. After about 5 minutes of nice co-op, we were able to untangle the chains. Mission completed, and Dae Wook just leveled up again! Finally, Captain Burge put the the front sail a.k.a. jib up! We wind sail north through the Fakarava Atoll. This is a relaxing sail. Heeyoung enjoys the smooth sensation sailing by the wind. All of us enjoy this happy moment in own ways. This is sailing. You do your thing of your choice at your pace. If there is wind, you sail. If not, you wait. We finally came back to the original location of Akela near the church.
Speed boating through a down pouring rain with fast-and-furious wind with a three years old Jace? Diving with hundreds of sharks with no barrier between them and us? Monitoring the anchor chain for a co-op with captain while floating around the moving Akela? My family and I went beyond many limits during this trip. These moments have changed all of us forever. My family is one step more brave and adventurous. It is time to go to bed. Tomorrow is our departure day. Unbelievable…
Chapter 6. Sailing to The Airport
Very early in the morning like 4 AM, I wake up. It is still black dark outside. I don’t want to recognize that we are leaving Jim and Akela today. I think less, breath more, and feel the moment longer. A few hours later, we are packing up all the bags. All the swim suites and gears were dried up on the deck of Akela under the good sun with a nice breeze. What a peaceful morning to be dried up. All the sudden, Aiden and Daniel dive in to the ocean. Of course, our little Jace wants to follow his big brothers in no time. Heeyoung and I are looking at each other hoping that “You go in to the water with Jace.” Of curse, I end up diving in to the water with Jace. The very final water play! Jim says he will motor sail Akela to the Fakarava airport. Yes, literally, we are sailing to the airport parking lot (or, in this case, mooring lot) for our flight. This is a super rare experience. Maiarii called Jim and said that she will meet us at the airport to say good bye. Also, she promises to bring another authentic bread, grilled coconut bread.
Akela is now making her last trip (at least in 2019) for my family to the airport. Heeyoung goes to the very front of Akela. Aiden and Daniel are sitting and hanging on the dinghy behind the Akela. What a view! We already know that we will miss this moments for a long long time. The small and unique airport building, which might be the size of my house in Tucson, is slowly getting closer and closer. We asks Jim a family photo. Jim’s phone rings and it is Maiarii. I can see Maiarii waving her hands in front of the airport. Jim moors (i.e., parks) Akela and prepares a dinghy trip with us. We remember the lesson from the first day very well. ” Never be on two boats at the same time!” Heeyoung makes a swift, professional, and near-perfect move from Akela to the dinghy. “10 out of 10!”
As we are approaching Maiarii, her boyfriend and daughter welcome us. She brought a super delicious grilled coconut bread, shell necklaces, and flower necklaces made for all five of us. Even a small versions for three boys. Our flight is about to depart. Not enough time to say thank you… Each of us hugs Jim and Maiarii deeply. It is really the time to say bye. On the way to the airplane door I see Heeyoung cries. Boys are smiling and happy. I also cry. This is a good life. Good bye, Jim. Good bye, Max. Good bye, Maiarii. Good bye, Akela. Good bye, Fakarava. Only until we see you again.