Mike & Kirstin Brown

Our June speakers were Mike & Kirstin Brown, and they attracted a huge crowd of people to Naval Point to hear all about their adventures sailing across the Pacific in 2010. To make life that little bit more difficult, they also had their baby, 9 month old Ocean in tow as well.

I first met Mike about 10 years ago. He crewed with me on Wildwood for a couple of seasons. He met Kirstin and brought her along sailing too. Kirstin spoke of her first day out sailing on Wildwood, as the boat heeled over in the wind, Kirstin worried that we would tip over, little did she know but just a couple of years later she would be sailing their own boat back to NZ across a massive ocean.

They told us about how they bought a boat and Mike taught Kirstin to sail, and then they managed to get a spot crewing on a yacht from NZ to Vanuatu where they were caught in a huge storm. This failed to dampen their enthusiasm, so they worked hard to save up as much money as they could, they sold everything and headed over to the USA where they bought a boat.

They named her Kia Kaha.

She had been neglected by her previous owners, but they fell in love with her immediately and spent lots of time and money getting her all set up for some adventure. Being keen surfers, their intention was to head South to find the perfect wave. After a few false starts, saying goodbye but being quickly stymied with engine issues, they eventually got underway and headed to Mexico.

They had some wonderful adventures cruising around this amazing coast, but eventually funds ran out, so they hauled the boat out, left her in Mexico and headed to Canada to find some work to build the cruising kitty. During that time they added another crew member to the family – Ocean was born.

When Ocean was about six months old they headed back to the 40 degree boat yard, living in a camper van and the work on the boat began. They spent months working hard out to get Kia Kaha ready to sail back across the Pacific.

Thankfully I have managed to find some of the emails that Mike and Kirstin sent to their mailing list during that time, and I will copy them and their photos below.

10 Feb 2010

Hi all, 

We’re still floating, and since our last email, after launching the boat post refit in Guaymas, we have been sailing, fishing and having a great time with our friends Ali and Sean who came aboard for a three week trip. 

The weather in Guaymas at the start of the trip was shitty while we waited out a storm, so we provisioned, had a look around and waited for a favourable forecast to cross over to the Baja side of the Sea of Cortez. (See attached map)

After a few days waiting a window arrived, but it was brief and not ideal. We all agreed to go anyway and had a lumpy and very uncomfortable 24 hour sail, both girls  were sick and the winds were at times in the 30 knot range. Full credit to Sean and Ali, for whom this was the first overnight passage. They both did great.  

This was also our first passage with Ocean and it highlighted the difficulty we will face on the long passages home! Sailing with a very very active baby is not to be recommended. More on this later.

Once safely at anchor in San Juanico (just north of Loreto) the following day, we began to unwind, explore inland and spear fish. After a year and a half away from the boat it was time to rediscover what all the hard work was for. We couldn’t help but feel scarred by the tremendous effort to get this far and hoped the damage was only superficial. Distributing our energy in the correct ratio to boat, baby and relationship is something we are still working on. 

We hung out in San Juanico for about five days, thoroughly enjoying the company, the fishing, a fire on the beach, and walks in the desert.

From there we headed south to Coronados Island for a quick stop before heading into Loreto for more provisions.

Then on to Balandra Cove on an offshore Island. Then onto Isla Monserat, a little visited Island where the fishing was superb and the crayfish(lobsters) were abundant and big! We feasted! We also had a visit from the Navy, who boarded us and wanted to see all our paper work. We were missing some papers, which we were told were not required by everyone but them and luckily Mike’s spanish and the girls good looks got us off the hook. It was unnerving!

The fishing here was so good we wanted to stay for days on end, but unfortunately, we were forced to move at midnight from the open anchorage as the wind changed and blew dangerously onshore. We motored into the wind for a couple of hours to a more protected spot on the mainland. Sleep deprived yet again, but then Kirst and I were used to this with Ocean!!

From Agua Verde, we headed south again to Isla San Francisco, and we treated to a huge pod of dolphins, breaching sperm whales, tuna, and a great afternoon sail. This was what we dreamed of!

A short stop here, some great spear fishing yet again ( fresh fish just about every day so far) and off to Isla Espiratu Santo just north of La Paz, where we would try and swim with some Sea Lions.

The night was rolly as the wind swung around again, but it wasn’t strong enough to be dangerous so we stayed put and motored to an offshore pinnacle parked the boat and swam over to play with the seals. It was truly amazing! They were super inquisitive and at times too much so as Sean found out when one of them bit his arm. Lucky for the wetsuit!  They are so graceful underwater and looked to enjoy toying with us as we floundered about. We have some great underwater video footage that we may try and put on utube sometime.

From there to La Paz, where we are now, and farewell to Ali and Sean who were fantastic quests and friends. They were easy to live with and helped out with all the chores and provided humour all the way.  Cheers guys, we miss you and hope you can join us again soon.

So, where to now? Well, we are trying to sell the boat and return to shore like normal people. ha ha only joking, but this has certainly crossed our minds.

We have a month left on our visas for Mexico and it may take us that long to get everything in order for the next leg of the journey, our month long passage to the Line Islands. The toughest challenge we face is looking after Ocean while underway. When he is awake he demands attention from one person full time and gets bored very easily. It would make our trip considerably easier if we had one other person for the crossing so Kirst could look after him while Mike and the other person could sail the boat. Anyone interested?

So. we’ll sign off here. Love and miss you all. Hope you enjoy the pics.

Kirst, Ocean, Mike

11 April 2010

Hi all,

After a week at anchor here in Christmas Island we are starting to catch our breath.

For those who are daunted by long emails, here’s the gist:

It was a difficult trip for us, with fresh, unrelenting winds and motion for 24 days straight. Looking after a 10 month old, while on an amusement park like ride was very tough indeed. It’s nice to be here.

For those who want more details please read on:

After loading up with goods in La Paz, we motored (no wind; typical Sea of Cortez!) to our departure point of Cabo San Lucas. It would have been nice to be well rested at this point, but we had several uncomfortable nights on the way south due to unfavourable swells coming into the anchorages. This didn’t let up once at resort crazy Cabo either, with jet skis and powerboats buzzing round all day, loud music at night, and swells coming into the anchorage.

However, we checked out of Mexico, after a day of the usual runaround, stocked up on last minute fresh produce, and got the boat ready for the 3000 NM passage ahead.

When we finally set sail, tensions were high as the winds were much stronger than we had hoped (25- 35 knots), we were tired, and the thought of the long passage ahead, and particularly the care of our 10 month old was daunting.

Once under way, the seasickness took its usual hold and for the first week things were pretty rough and we didn’t eat a lot. All we wanted to do was lie down in the fresh air and rest. But Ocean needed us, so it was miserable. Once adjusted to the motion things were a little better, but we had what seemed like an endless passage ahead. Day and night we sailed and sailed and sailed.

Winds were mostly 20-25 knots from the quarter ( almost from dead behind us), but occasionally they got stronger, and less frequently weaker. This was ok, but for the most part we had a 10-12 foot swell coming at our beam which made the boat roll uncomfortably.

From a sailors point of view it was a dream passage, enhanced NE trade winds from behind us and we didn’t have to motor at all. But… looking after Ocean proved a nightmare !! The crux of the trip without a doubt. He was constantly crying from boredom, we think, and who can blame him. We had so much else to do with the running of the boat and the chores of daily life that we couldn’t give him the attention he deserved. We simply ran out of things for him to chew, read and do on our small boat. The screaming was worse than Chinese water torture.

Mike would be on watch from midnight to 6am, then sleep for a couple of hours while Kirstin fed Ocean and kept an eye on things. Then Mike would be up mid morning while Kirstin tried to stop Ocean from screaming, all the while cooking for us all. Then, Kirstin would have a rest and hopefully Ocean too, before cooking again for dinner and then cleaning up after Ocean. All this while on a gravitron style amusement park ride that never stopped! Oh, and dirty nappies, sometimes prone to be ripped off by Ocean and contents spread all through his bunk! Then, thankfully Ocean would usually go to sleep at 7pm  and Kirst could do a watch while Mike tried to get a couple of hours sleep, all while rolling violently from side to side in a coffin like bunk, earplugs included, before his watch began again at midnight. This was the routine for 24 days straight. Torture is not
far from the truth.

We caught a couple of fish, but generally had a bad time of it. We caught two birds, and lost 7 lures; some taken by reel smoking size fish that our gear just couldn’t handle, and some by sharp teeth before we changed to wire leader. About $100 worth of lures all up!! We are making our own now, and making friends with fisherman.

For the last week of the passage we were in the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone(ITCZ) or better know as the doldrums.  We didn’t have much in the way of calms, but we had lots and lots of rains and strong squalls, and we are still in the southern edge of it here at Christmas Island.  It has been a very unusual year for weather the locals say, perhaps El Nino, or perhaps just another symptom of the global weather changes we are seeing everywhere. Either way, we are getting lots of rain, which is good for laundry but not great for drying things, leaving windows open, or peace of mind while sleeping. It is warm though; 30C in the cabin and very hot in the direct sun.

We only saw three other boats the whole time. All of them large ships. One avoided us without prompting, one we had to call up and ask them to alter course, and one should have given way to us, but ignored our radio calls, so we stopped and waited for him to pass.

We had just enough fresh food to last the passage, and Kirst did a wonderful job cooking. We had pizza, spag. bol, vege. curry, fresh fish and potatoes, gnocci, lentil soup, lentil stew, guinness stew, steak on the bbq, fried rice, lime pie, banana cake,chocolate pudding, tapioca pudding, bread , sushi, eggs on toast, porridge…….etc…etc…

At one point 3/4 of the way across we were so tired that we hove-to for 12 hours and just slept, then carried on. And we hove-to again while waiting for daylight to make landfall here.

Our Monitor wind vane self steering was amazing. It steered us day and night, and as long as the boat’s sails were set correctly it didn’t complain. Couldn’t imagine doing a trip like that without it.

We had very few gear breakages, no doubt due to the extensive refit we did before we left, but we still had some. Early on we blew out a headsail, and so got out the sewing machine and stitched it back up, only for it to happen again shortly thereafter in a different spot; we put it away and used our spare. The stitching is getting tired, so we’ll have a job to do while here.

We had some chafing on the boom, and the self steering lines will need replacing, and a few others are looking ragged; all to be expected after constant use. The spinnaker pole end fitting needed re-riveting, some shackles tightened, a few leaks were discovered and that was about it.

The only other mechanical issue was the engine. We only ran the engine once a day to charge our batteries as our wind generator just couldn’t handle the motion of the boat and kept spinning all over the place.

One morning after just waking up Mike went to turn the engine on and it was seized! Heart failure! After making some enquiries, all while rocking back and forth in the stifling heat of the engine bay, it was deduced that the engine had water in one or more of it’s cylinders!

It seemed strange, the anti syphon valve was clear, the oil was clear, no oil in the radiator tank. Anyway, after hand cranking the engine slowly to force the water out followed by two messy and labour intensive oil and filter changes, and a rebuild of a leaking raw water pump the engine fired up and we breathed a sigh of relief. 6 hours in a cramped engine bay while rolling furiously every which way in 40C heat is again, torture. Needless to say we are sick and tired of fixing the boat.

We are still not certain how the water got in, perhaps forced in by a wave, but it hasn’t happened again and we think it was a fluke. Anyone with any ideas please get back to us.

That about brings us to Christmas Island, which was a welcome sight, although it was storming pretty bad when we arrived. We are anchored on the leeward side of the island in 40 feet of open water, on the edge of the coral atoll. We are on a shelf that drops away to very deep water very close to the shore. If the wind stays in the predominant direction(NE-SE) the anchorage will be fine, but if the wind comes from the north, west or south west we are on a dangerous lee shore and will have to leave. This, according to the port captain, is rare at this time of year, but possible at any time. We just have to keep our eye on it.

Apart from some big tuna fishing boats we are the only other boat here. No other cruising boats in sight and the people have not lost their charm as a result of too many boats visiting. Very refreshing.

In the evenings we have seen schools of flying fish around the boat being chased by 100 plus pound yellow fin tuna which torpedo out of the water in chase. So cool. 
Mike’s too scared to spear one in case he gets dragged out to sea, but he’s not sure how long he can resist.

The visibility is 50 feet plus, and the water is as warm as the air. There are schools of giant manta rays, turtles, and huge flocks of sea birds who take refuge in this place which is so alive.

The potential here for surfing is amazing. We just missed the main swell season(Dec-Mar) but there’s still some hope of some swell that will make this place come alive. Otherwise we met some local surfers who said the next Island we plan to visit is all time, so we may have to wait till then. If there was better access this place would be very popular with surfers.

Because this is an atoll with poor soil and usually little rain, there isn’t much that grows here without considerable effort.  There is a supply ship that arrives every three months or so, and as  a result food is very very expensive! We bought 8 onions and 10 potatoes and it cost us $21. A bag of rice costs $38 dollars!

The other day we traded a pack of cigarettes for two sacks full of coconuts and have befriended Taaree, a local fisherman, who goes a mile from shore everyday in his dugout canoe and hand lines in huge yellow fin tuna to sell in the market and to feed his family, which now includes us. YUM. We have fresh tuna coming out of our ears! Mike is going out with him to learn how he does it.

When Taaree comes in from tuna fishing he puts out a net for flying fish, then comes over to the boat for a cup of tea and some of Kirstin’s yummy baking. He loves it. His English is very basic but we understand each other well and are learning a few of the local words.

Christmas Island has the largest land mass of any atoll in the world, but a comparatively small lagoon. It is famous for it’s world class bone and milk fishing which rich fisherman pay to catch with their fly rods.

There are 6000 people here, many who have been relocated from the crowded Island of Tarawa, the capital of Kiribati. As far as we can tell they live very basic lives, fishing for their families, running small shops, driving mini van buses, copra cutting, and other service jobs. They lease the land from the government, although the numerous churches own the land here. There are mormons, Jehovah’s witness, catholic, baptist,etc…It’s the usual story, poor people, rich churches!

So, what now?

We plan to hang here for a couple of weeks, repair the boat, refuel, fish, look after ocean, hang out, sleep, eat fish and coconuts, swim, hope for surf, collect rain for laundry, read, go for walks, wash nappies, paddle surf boards, snorkel, contemplate life.

It all sounds very nice and simple, but it somehow seems hectic and full on. I think a large part of that is being a parent to a very active young boy who is confined to a small boat. It’s thrown us for six. A nice house with a yard would be a blessing right now, although we still have a long way to go before that could become a reality. However much we try to remain positive, it isn’t always so easy to do.

One thing’s for sure, in the eyes of these people we are rich beyond their dreams. We wonder who has the better life. They smile all the time, are gentle and generous, and they don’t spend hours fixing boats while covered in oil! We could all learn to be more like them, and live simpler.

We’ll sign off here with much love and best wishes. The internet is slow and expensive here so please don’t be offended if
we don’t reply. We would love to hear from you though, so please send us your news.

Ok, Sapawmoa  ( goodbye) ( not sure about spelling but that’s how it sounds)

Kirstin (goddess) Mike (Mr fixit) Ocean ( Constant fidget)

27 Apr 2010

Hi all, after three weeks we are leaving Kiritimati (Christmas Island) and will head to Tabuaeran (Fanning) Atoll in two days time.

Our time here has been a mixed bag of emotions, prompting an epic email which we started but decided to hold until after our time at Fanning. There are political and environmental concerns here that greatly sadden us, we have been struggling with parenthood and the time constraints it creates, the people here are not what we expected, the fishing has been good, and we’ve had some pretty good surf. While it would be nice to say that we are having the time of our lives, the reality is otherwise. We struggle on, just like the rest, with moments of laughter and moments of anger and stress. Does paradise exist?

Here’s a few pics of the good times.

We’ll be out of contact for the next 2-3 months, unless we find someone on a boat with email. Check out the website for Pacific
Seafarers Net to see our progress. We will be leaving Fanning sometime the end of June beginning of July heading for Suwarrow atoll in the Cook Islands before American Samoa to refuel and supply.

We will check our email one last time tomorrow if there is anything you need to relay.

Otherwise peace and love to all
See you soon
Kirstin, Mike and Ocean (aka cockroach)

26 September 2010

Hi all, it seems like much has happened since our last update. Most notable of which was the earthquake in Christchurch from which Kirstin’s parent’s house was irreparably damaged, and will need to be pulled down and rebuilt. We hope the rest of our friends and family in Christchurch are faring better. It looks like Mike’s Electrical will have to be reborn to help rewire the city!

Also of note was the arrival of Kirstin’s brothers first child Alexander who was born a day or so after the earth quake after an epic emergency c section. Yikes.

Following Kirstin’s parents visit we sailed back up to Vava’u from Ha’apai and awaited Troy and Sharon. They struck the weather just perfect and we had a week of fishing snorkelling, foraging in the bush for coconuts, lemons, papaya and limes, having cold drinks as the sun went down, sailing to new islands, watching Humpback whales, and generally living the good life while catching up with great friends.

After their departure we had a week of exploring before Deb and Rob arrived for their two week mission. We spent a week in Vava’u getting up to all sorts of mischief before sailing down to the Ha’apai group in less than ideal conditions. Both the boys were sick, brought on by the blood and guts of a freshly caught Dorado and the big seas and strong winds. A nice calm anchorage never felt so good at the end of the long day.

From the anchorage at Hanno we explored the village and went on fishing and surf missions and swam and walked with Ocean who was loving the added company.

We missioned to a few other anchorages and deserted islands in the Ha’apai before watching Deb and Rob fly out on an old DC3 to Tongatapu and then NZ.

The highlight of their visit was the laughter and crazy banter, the acupuncture treatments, great food, rekindling old friendships while making new ones and gaining a different perspective on life. (Too much to write about here!) Cheers guys, see you soon.

When Deb and Rob left we made our way south to await a big south swell, generated in NZ by the big storms there.A rumoured surf spot and a few others revealed themselves when Mike went searching. Loading up the dinghy and setting out early for high tide Mike surfed some pretty crazy “Kelly Slater” waves as he called them. He was rewarded with some epic waves, a few good pics, a snapped board and of course reef cuts. Surfing these waves which broke on knee deep coral reef, alone, and a couple of days from a hospital was intense.

We saw whales constantly, but only occasionally got close enough to contemplate swimming with them. Kirst had the chance and leapt off the boat and swam with a mother whale and her calf, albeit briefly. The Jaws sound track running through her head!

One of the most amazing things we have encountered since leaving New Zealand in 2007 is the people in every new place that have tucked us under their protective wings and looked after us. Those of you reading this now, thank you very much. Tonga was no different having met Issac and his wife Mele and a few of their 10 kids! They made sure we were never without bananas, papaya and coconuts and gave us several guided tours of the Vava’u area. Thankyou!

Ocean is growing so fast and his character deepens with each passing day. He has outgrown the boat and everything is within his reach!  The counters are too low, or can be reached by him and he climbs like a monkey.  His parents, in particular his father, has no patience left and look forward to some well earned land and grandparent time! He is a pooing, weeing, food spreading, noise making, book ripping, adorable, cheeky, playful, giggling monkey. Look out world.

Kirst and Ocean fly back to NZ on October 2nd while Mike’s father and uncle will join him to take the boat back to NZ. They will try and head directly to Tauranga if the weather permits.

After almost four years of full on adventure, we are excited, albeit a little nervous, about our return. We have decided to sell the boat and focus our energy on raising our family, being part of a community, pursuing some business ideas, growing and gathering food, and having land based adventures. We will most likely base ourselves out of Christchurch for a while, but longer term who knows.

We have an offer on the boat already and time will tell if it goes through. It will be a sad day when Kia Kaha is sold, but also a day when a sigh of relief is breathed.

Cheers for following our journey, we look forward to sharing many more in the future.

Love Kirst, Mike and Ocean

Since their sailing trip Kirstin has started up her own business, and Mike has had some other pretty big adventures as well which you can read about on his blog.

Thanks so much Mike & Kirstin for putting together such a wonderful presentation. Everyone who attended was inspired by what you achieved. You guys rock!

They na

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3 thoughts on “Mike & Kirstin Brown

  1. Pingback: Trophy Time! | Astrolabe Sailing

  2. Pingback: Presidents Report 2015 | Little Ship Club Canterbury

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