Winter is coming

The day I left Austria it was snowing, during the day in Tahiti I was sweating and suffering in the humid and hot climate, but arriving in the Gambier I already felt the change in the seasons. The days are still warm and out of the wind in the sun it’s even hot, but at night it gets chilly and the water temperature is also noticeably cooling down. Leeloo is growing a thicker fur and insists on sleeping under the blanket (instead of on top of it) and we are slowly preparing to head further north towards the Tuamotus.


Boatgarden Article in Ocean7 Magazine

Birgit Hackl: Mein kleiner Garten an Bord, OCEAN7 03 (Mai/Juni) 2017, p. 28–31. download PDF (in German only)


Back home!

The flight back was fortunately quite eventless, apart from minor nuisances like a bunch of schoolkids who chatted relentlessly all night, a polynesian woman who fell asleep over her own seat, the empty one next to her and half of mine and a french woman who refused to pull down the blinds next to her and had shouting arguments over it with the flight personnel. The whole procedure of flying with waiting times, followed by sprints across the airport to catch connections and security rituals in between is annoying and thinking of the fuel a plane consumes and on top of all the crazy amount of rubbish only one flight produces (food trays, a new plastic cup for a sip of water…) is simply depressing.

Anyway, now I’m back home on Pitufa and deliriously happy :-)
Yesterday we anchored off the gorgeous little bird-motu Tauna and planned on having a lazy day. As Christian was out of bread (he claims his attempts all ended rock-hard) my lazy day started at 6 with making dough ;-) After breakfast with warm, crispy bread we took the dinghy out to the motu and walked around marveling at the nesting terns and noddies and right afterwards we snorkeled around the bommies off the island (and as we were already in the water scraped algae off the bottom of Pitufa). Then we had a lazy afternoon (except that the watermaker made funny noises, so we disconnected the broken booster pump and as the bilge was already open we decided to clean it ;-) )

Home sweet home :-)


Location Report WordPress Plugin

Several fellow cruisers asked me whether I can recommend a WordPress plugin for position reporting, that is, a plugin to show the latest position of your vessel on a map and normally also to show the route traveled so far. The truth is I cannot really recommend one. But what do you use on Pitufa.at? On Pitufa.at I use Geo Mashup, or rather a highly customized, old version of it. Why highly customized? Because it couldn’t do all the things I wanted. And now I can no longer update it…

Geo Mashup is a powerful and extensive plugin. It has one feature very important for sailors: you can report a position using a shortcode. Why is that important? Because in this way you can report your position by e-mail! We often post blog entries from underway or remote anchorages by e-mail via our SSB radio and when we include such a shortcode in the post, our position gets updated automatically. There are many other map and travel-route plugins available for WordPress, but I haven’t seen one that provides such a shortcode. Instead, those plugins extend the WordPress post editor or add administrative pages to your Dashboard, but that all is of no use when you don’t have Internet out there…

Some good plugins became orphans, that is, nobody maintains and updates the source code anymore. Sometimes the reason for that is simply because the plugin got too complex and had too many dependencies. For example, Google frequently changes its Google Maps JavaScript API, and each time the plugin needs a major rewrite…

To summarize, I cannot really recommend a position-reporting plugin because they either lack a position-update shortcode, are too complex and prone to run into updating difficulties or are orphaned already. For that reason I wrote a simple and modular plugin myself, called Location Report.

Location Report is purely and simply a position-reporting module, not a map plugin. It is used to record the location of only a single object, normally you (or your vehicle/vessel), so it’s tailor-made for travel blogs. It provides the shortcode that lets you update your current location. It generates two kml files (Google Earth files). The first has a placemark of your current location and the second one shows the route along all your location reports. Those kml files can be displayed by one of the many available map plugins (e.g., OpenStreetMap or Flexible Map) in your WordPress blog.

I expect Location Report to be robust and long-living because of its small code with minimal dependencies. It does not have any administrative pages or GUIs and does not store anything in your WordPress database. The locations are only recorded in kml files, so your data is easily available and portable. Kml files are human-readable text files, so it’s even easy to manually edit them.

The Location Report plugin is and remains free and can be downloaded/installed from the official WordPress plugin repository.


The yoghurt miracle

As cruisers we are used to make our own bread (without a bread-making machine), grow sprouts and make yoghurt (without a yoghurt-maker). Landlubbers are of course used to having a supermarket nearby, so I fully understand that they mostly don’t feel the need to put time and effort into such things. Making yoghurt from an existing culture on the other hand is so simple that I had to show my mom how it’s done. At first she didn’t believe me and then she thought it must be a miracle:
Buy a cup of yoghurt, eat most of it and when there are only a few spoonfuls left, fill the cup up with milk, put it on top of the radiator for a day and behold: the cup’s full of yoghurt again. This way you don’t just save money, but also plastic packaging. We’ve repeated the process now 3 times and my Mom’s still fascinated ;-)



In the Gambier the nights are getting colder and summer is coming to its end while here in Austria the first flowers are blooming and tender new leaves are growing on trees and shrubs.
After so many years in the tropics I marvel at the miracle of spring even though I’m shivering in temperatures that seem freezing cold to me, while the rest of Austria is talking about the warmest March in 250 years…


Dangerous times?

Living in peaceful, happy French Polynesia we sometimes manage to forget about the political and economical crises that buffet the planet, but whenever we open news pages and often when we receive e-mails the vibes are decidedly negative. More crimes, more wars, more terrorist attacks, more refugees, more scandals, more unemployed people, more fear and a general feeling that things are getting worse.

The mass media are usually known to fuel the public fears with sensationalist reports, but today I saw a documentary with a refreshingly different approach (ORF 1, made by Hanno Settele, a seasoned foreign correspondent) that showed the effects of vague fears (cocooning, locking yourself in with alarm systems, building bunkers, buying weapons, attending self-defense classes, etc.) and those who profit from them. All this is happening in Austria, which was ranked 3rd most peaceful country in the Global Peace Index 2016 (just in comparison, France is No 46 and just beat the UK that come on 47 while the US are far behind as 103…) and where the statistics show slightly sinking crime rates since 2000…

“Fear is strange soil. Mainly it grows obedience like corn, which grows in rows and makes weeding easy. But sometimes it grows the potatoes of defiance, which flourish underground.” (Terry Pratchett, Small Gods)



Getting from the Gambier via Tahiti, Los Angeles, Paris and Vienna to my Mom’s home in Upper Austria is a tiring journey even when all connections work out perfectly, but with the friendly help of the US government it turned into a 6 day odyssey.
In Tahiti the Air France personnel didn’t let me check in due to a problem with my ESTA visa (necessary for the stopover in L.A.) so on Sunday morning I had to watch the plane leave without me, knowing that my mom was waiting for me in Austria. The next morning the ladies at the Air france office in Papeete were apologetic and helpful, but there was no seat available before Wednesday–and that one only to Paris. Steve and Lili were great and supportive and let me stay on Liward for 4 nights instead of one and tried to cheer me up–I wasn’t a happy smurf…

On Wednesday I took the plane to Paris, spent a night there and finally arrived in Austria on Friday… Now I’m acting as a second and third hand for my temporarily single-handed Mom who is still black and blue from the fall and has her left arm immobilised in a sling to give the operated shoulder time to heal.

In the meantime Christian’s a single-hander (supported by 4 paws) in the Gambier Islands…


Busy times

We’ve been crazy busy during the past week. We finished the watertank project: cut the aluminium plates for the cover, drilled 140 holes, cut threads for the 140 screws, put it in place, adjusted the height on the wooden board under the sofa and got the saloon back into living-room shape, etc. Other cruisers were willing to take over the house-sitting, so we got garden and house ready, moved out of the house (incredible how much stuff we accumulated during only 2 months) and back on Pitufa.

My mom broke her shoulder, so I’ll fly to Austria for 3 weeks. Arranging the flight from a location without internet or phone connection would have been impossible without the help of my brother and cruiser friends over here in Rikitea. Steve and Lili (SY Liward) are back in Tahiti and will let me spend the night on their boat again (I have one night between the inter-island flight and the international connection). Thanks to everybody who helped out, offered active and moral support!!

Christian and Leeloo stay here in Rikitea. Some boats have already left for the Tuamotus, but new ones will start arriving from Panama soon, so hopefully Christian won’t get too bored ;-)


Windlass repair

When we wanted to head back to Taravai after the festival the windlass quit on us. We’d been carrying around new brushes for it for a month already, but had never got round to installing them between the work on the watertank, the house, the garden and everything around.
Christian had to manually lift the anchor (no fun with 60 metres of chain down in 18 metres depth…) and on Monday we tackled the job.

After opening the windlass twice already in the past year the formerly dreaded job seemed like (almost) routine: emptying the forecabin and forepeak to reach the windlass from underneath, opening the windlass, installing the new brushes (they needed some adjusting and makeshifting) and everything back into place–the job took a whole day, but now the windlass is working again!


Cultural festival in the Gambier

Last weekend the first cultural festival of the Gambier took place, it was a surprisingly big event (given that only about 1400 people live in the Gambier) with exhibitions and info about plants, traditional food, etc. and of course handicraft stalls during the day on Friday and Saturday. In the evenings two phantastic dance events took place, with the groups dancing complicated legends and the story of the first king of Mangareva.
Additionally there were four huge free buffets (lunch and dinner on both days) with traditional food: various dishes with the muscle flesh of the Black-Lip Pearl Oyster (with all the pearl farms here there’s certainly no lack of those), crab meat, fish, meat from the earth oven, various dishes with breadfruit, maniok and bananas, etc.

It was a great festival, the whole town of Rikitea and all cruisers that are around in the Gambier went there (about 15 boats now) and only a handful of tourists from the pensions. Everybody agreed that the ‘mana’ (spirit) was strong, so maybe events like this boost the half-forgotten Mangarevan culture and language!


Article about the Austrian Fleet in the South Pacific

Birgit Hackl, Christian Feldbauer: Die Österreicherflotte in der Südsee, OCEAN7 02 (März/April) 2017, p. 34–37. download PDF (in German only)


Pics of our house-sitting experience

Interlude as landlubbers

During the cyclone season 16/17 in the Gambier Islands we stayed as house-sitters on Taravai. The Polynesian owners Edouard and Denise live in Tahiti and are happy to have somebody looking after house and garden.

(60 photos)



This morning we took out our coffee to the little dock in front of our garden. It was already sunny, but the air was still fresh with dew sparkling on the grass and the flowering shrubs around the house. Behind the house the coconut trees, acacias further up on the slope and pinetrees high up on the steep mountains were gleaming in different shades of green.

The next neighbours live a few kilometres away, there’s no road on Taravai, no boat traffic and the only sounds are the wind in the palm trees, the gentle lapping of waves on the white beach left and right of the house, the occasional crowing of a wild rooster (there aren’t many left, the previous occupants of the house caught and ate most of them…), the raucous calls of some herons (maybe a neighbourly dispute) and of course the purring of our cat who loves to roll around on the dock holding her belly into the morning sun.

Sometimes a little black tip shark swims by, occasionally greater crested terns splash with plunge dives into the sea — otherwise it’s all quiet here in this little paradise. Perfect? Almost, just don’t forget to put on a thick layer of mosquito spray and try not to stand on a road of fire ants ;-) In this place without mobile phone connection, internet or television it’s easy to forget about the crises and problems that go on in the world out there (or at least dispel them for a while)…


Growing like weed

We are still enjoying house-sitting on the southern side of Taravai. Yesterday it was sunny with blue skies and as we’re just in between projects we used the beautiful day to go hiking up the ridge behind our house. The view over Taravai, the other islands, the turquoise gleaming lagoon, the reefs inside the lagoon and the breakers on the outer reef was just breathtaking.

Last night we’ve had quite some rain, because a low is moving by west of us. It brought strong winds to the Tuamotus, but here we only get some squally weather and it should soon settle down again.

With all the rain the veggies in the garden are growing like crazy and we’re daily harvesting Bok Choy and lettuce along with avocados and papayas. Unfortunately the grass and the weed (real weed, not the one for smoking) is growing even faster than the other plants, so we’ll soon have to get out the lawnmower again.

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