Daily Archives: May 17, 2019

A CHAT WITH… KELLY WATTS

She is a strong woman. She is a wife. She is a loving mother of two beautiful children. She’s also a sailor, a writer, and a source of inspiration for so many people. Kelly Watts, the author of ‘Sailing to Jessica’, took the time and answered a few questions about her book and, of course, Pasifika.

KELLY WATTS

Pasifika Tales: What made you decide to write ‘Sailing to Jessica’? Did you want to immortalize the memories of your journey?

Kelly Watts: I think most of us have dreamed of doing something radically different in our lives, whether it is sailing around the world, living in a foreign country or switching careers. And yet something holds us back. I wrote our story, in part, to encourage others to take a chance, to follow their dream. And I wanted to share our incredible journey that took Paul and I not only halfway around the world, but also on a personal journey from landlubbers to sailors, and from infertility to being parents.

PT: Did you expect so much interest in your book?

KW: I really didn’t know what to expect. I think the biggest joy is receiving emails from my readers. Some have set sail because of our story, others have quit their corporate job to start new careers and others are considering adoption. What a thrill!

PT: Your voyage must have been an extraordinary experience for you and your husband. Knowing what you know now – the good, the bad and the ugly – would you do it over again?

KW: One look at my beautiful children and the answer is ‘Absolutely!’ Even if we hadn’t miraculously adopted our daughter (and subsequently our son), I would still do it over again.  Paul and I learned so much about each other and ourselves on our trip that our priorities – and our view on life – have changed. As C.S. Lewis once said, ‘A man who has been in another world does not come back unchanged. One can’t put the difference in words.’

PT: I do believe Pacific Islands hold a special place in your heart. What are your impressions of the region?

KW: We loved the Pacific. While we marveled at the beautiful palm-studded islands, the crystal turquoise water and abundant fish, we liked the Pacific Islanders even more. We were welcomed by friendly, smiling people everywhere we went. And they made the biggest impression on us.

PT: And if you were to choose the most amazing place in the Blue Continent, what would it be and why?

KW: I can’t pick one. We loved watching the girls dance in Hiva Oa (Marquesas), playing with the kids and visiting the black pearl farms in Katiu (Tuamotus), riding our bikes around Bora Bora (Society Islands), learning how to make fishing lures with John in Suwarrow (Cook Islands), participating in the Independence Day celebrations in Nukufetau (Tuvalu), meeting our daughter in Tarawa (Kiribati) and our son in Majuro (Marshall Islands).

PT: May I ask about your daughter’s adoption? Was it something you had planned?

KW: We had already decided to adopt when we finished sailing around the world and we had already made some inquiries into the process before we left New Zealand. But Jessica was unexpected – as miracles are.

PT: Was the adoption process difficult? How do you recall that time?

KW: At the time, Tarawa followed an older version of the British adoption laws and their legal system was well-organized and well run.  That part of the process was smooth. Getting a visa for Jessica from the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services proved to be more difficult but we finally(!!) succeeded.

PT: Why did you decide to adopt a second child from the Pacific Islands?

KW: When we decided to adopt our second child, we just thought that it made sense to have two Pacific Islanders. But as the children are growing, and now asking questions about their adoption and their birth families, I am glad that they are Pacific Islanders. The Pacific Islanders have a beautiful view of adoption: adoption is like marriage: a lifetime bond that links the birth family to the adoptive family though the child. Knowing that this is their concept of adoption, and respecting it, we had taken the time to get to know Jess’ birth family in Tarawa. Then we had gotten to know Nick’s birth family in Majuro when we had adopted him. Thanks to their cultural view on adoption, we are now better able to answer our children’s questions and to help them understand themselves.

PT: Do you embrace Pacific cultures at home? 

KW: We try… But just last week the kids told me they didn’t want to play ukulele anymore; they’d rather play soccer!

PT: Do you often go back to Pasifika?

KW: We have been back a couple of times to see the kids’ birth families and for vacation… sigh, sigh… I’ m ready to go again…

PT: Let’s get back to your book. Any plans to write a sequel? I’m sure your readers, myself included, would be absolutely delighted.

KW: I am excited about an article I wrote for Cruising World magazine; it is slated to appear in their June or July 2014 issue. The article discusses our sailing trip around the Whitsunday Islands in Australia. This was the first time we’ve been sailing with the children and our first time on a catamaran – a magical week! And I am nearly done with my first children’s book, aimed for 2 – 5th graders, about two children who set sail with a Magic Map and the help of their dolphin friend, Chuff, while being chased by a wicked pirate. The book, the first in a series, aims to offer children an exciting fictitious story accompanied by educational ‘chart kits’ which explore the wonders in our world, from the places mentioned in the story to the biographies of famous explorers to related historical and geological events. In short, as a mom, it’s something I’d like my kids to read.

‘SAILING TO JESSICA’ BY KELLY WATTS

‘Sailing to Jessica’ is a modern-day adventure book as well as a memoir written by Kelly Watts. It tells the story of an amazing voyage Kelly and her husband set out on in December 2001.

SAILING TO JESSICA

Summary

At 35 years old, Kelly and Paul feel they need a change in their lives. A breeze of fresh air, something new and exciting. Something that would help them forget about their ongoing fertility struggles. Inspired by Tania Aebi’s book, they decide to sail across the Pacific Ocean. So they sell their house in Philadelphia, quit their jobs, and buy Cherokee Rose – a boat destined to become their new home. But, as they soon discover, sailing with no experience is not always an easy task. Nevertheless, Kelly and Paul are determined to succeed. And even the forty-knot gale they get caught in just two days after purchasing their sloop is not a discouragement.

Along the way, they visit quite a few interesting places. They encounter sea lions in Galapagos, buy black pearls in French Polynesia, and meet the sole inhabitant of the remote Suwarrow atoll in the Cook Islands. They drink kava in Fiji and enjoy the raw beat of drums in Tuvalu. Sailing up north, they stop in Kiribati. A short visit to this equatorial country turns into a lifelong adventure when Kelly and Paul meet their daughter Jessica. The miracle of adoption brings new meaning not only to their voyage but most of all to their lives.

Review

This book is exceptional for many reasons. To begin with, it is the most beautiful tale of love, family, and hope – it shows that everyone should chase their dreams and fight for their happiness despite any obstacles that may arise. Because ‘impossible’ does not exist. If you really want something, you will – sooner or later – find a way to achieve it. You just have to believe and dare to take the risk. I don’t think anyone would expect such wonderful words of inspiration from an adventure book. But I guess once in a while we all can be pleasantly surprised.

In addition to being a powerful ‘motivator’, it is also a fantastic read for all those people who dream of or are interested in sailing. Packed with technical terms as well as detailed and accurate descriptions of a nautical life, the story can be a great source of information for cruisers in all stages. There are some useful tips, there are some guidelines, there are some tricks that can make somebody else’s journey a worry-free (at least to some degree) and pleasant adventure.

Of course, the Blue Continent is also a prominent subject. Paul and Kelly’s route took them to places like Tonga, Fiji, Tuvalu, French Polynesia, Kiribati, and the Cook Islands, and I must say that all these beautiful locations are vividly described. Some of the countries are portrayed more cursorily than the others, nevertheless all of them do appear in the book. And there is one, absolutely fantastic piece on the sole inhabitant of the Suwarrow atoll that simply tugs at your heartstrings.

The memoir is, without a doubt, worth reading. It’s hard to find an attention-grabbing, action-packed adventure story that inspires and makes people think about their own lives. But this is exactly what Kelly Watts did. She wrote a lovely tale about sailing. And that’s not an easy thing to do because ‘lovely’ and ‘sailing’ simply don’t go together. Yet, she managed. She shared her experiences, thoughts, and emotions. The result? A well-written, funny, absorbing, informative, and thoroughly enjoyable book. Read it, and you will feel like a member of the crew.

‘IN THE SOUTH SEAS’ BY ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

‘In the South Seas’ is an account of a journey undertaken by Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife Fanny in June 1888. The book, which was published posthumously, describes their experiences in the Marquesas, the Paumotus, and the Gilbert Islands.

IN THE SOUTH SEAS

Summary

Due to his declining health, Robert Louis Stevenson decides to take his family on a voyage to the Pacific Islands. In the Marquesas, their first destination, the group becomes acquainted with local customs and traditions. They quickly discover that white people and the natives share as many differences as similarities. They also notice that the islands, however beautiful they are, hide some very dark secrets of the past…

After their stay in the Marquesas, the Stevenson party sets sail for the Paumotu Archipelago. They rent a magnificent villa on Fakarava atoll and spend their time exploring the surroundings and socializing with family-oriented and hard-working Paumotuan people. On one occasion, they attend a traditional funeral of an old man. This sad occurrence leads Mr Stevenson to trace the history of religious beliefs in the South Seas.

From the Paumotus, the group travels to Hawaii and then to the Gilbert Islands. They visit Butaritari atoll, where they witness a wild and boozy celebrations of the 4th of July, and attend a five-day long festival full of music and dancing. Afterwards, the family heads to Apemama to meet King Tembinok’ – a tyrant ruler surrounded by female wardens. Although the monarch does not accept the presence of foreigners, he makes an exception and grants the Stevensons a permission to live on the island, in their very own Equator City.

Review

I should be honest here, this book is not an easy read. Despite being very informative and interesting, it may not suit everyone’s tastes.

Stevenson’s travelogue is first and foremost an accurate and in-depth description of certain Pacific islands and their native inhabitants. As a keen observer of nature and people, the author paints a very real picture of what we often call ‘a tropical paradise’. And, let me tell you, this picture is not a rosy one but always full of respect for the Islanders. Because in Stevenson’s eyes the natives weren’t cruel cannibals, though he knew exactly that some of them had enjoyed human flesh. He didn’t treat them as savages either, even when their behaviour was far from the commonly accepted norms. Such attitude makes his South Sea tales very believable and convincing. As a reader, you simply trust everything the author says.

The book is exceptionally well written. Depictions, even if long in some parts, are second to none. They capture attention, they appeal to the senses, they make you want to be in that particular place – on the beach in Kiribati or in the warm waters of French Polynesia. Stevenson’s words leave you longing for an adventure. With every page your desire to experience the island life grows stronger. And then, suddenly, when you put the book down, you are forced to get back to reality while Pasifika slowly fades away.

The author’s style definitely delights, however some readers may struggle with the language. You are probably aware of the fact that it is quite archaic, so understanding Stevenson’s thoughts can be a challenge. But if you are prepared for the 19th century prose and not afraid of a few uncommon words, give it a try. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed, especially when you bury yourself in that magnificent atmosphere of the Pacific region.

I must say I enjoyed this book very much. It is a true classic and can be regarded as one of the most valuable pieces of literature that addresses the Blue Continent. It’s a must-read for those who are truly interested in the South Seas.