French Polynesia: Better and Better

The crew explores a private paradise in the Makemo atoll where the girls take an interest in the tropical wildlife.

I’m torn. I love to snorkel with my daughters, I hate to snorkel with my daughters. Let me explain the latter.

I’m kind of a slow-moving, thoughtful snorkeler. I enjoy watching and studying. If I see a pretty fish or eel or octopus disappear into a crevice, I delight in hovering above, still, for as long as it takes, so I can watch the creature emerge again. I like to bring the camera and dive down to take pictures. I can’t snorkel like this with my girls nearby.

They grab me and poke me and motion for me to raise my head so we can talk. This means I have to ditch my focus, straighten out my prone body, get my legs beneath me, and spit out my snorkel.


“Yeah, what is it?”

“DID YOU SEE THAT…” Here you can fill in the blank—nudibranch, fish, sea slug, they like them all. This happens about every three seconds, despite the fact that all of these sighting are familiar to them, despite Windy and I trying to discourage them.

It hasn’t made a difference. Their eagerness to share hasn’t waned. And they’re both the same.


It began in Mexico, when they learned to snorkel. It continued in the Marquesas. Now, we’re in the Tuamotus where the water is warm and crazy-clear. (It’s so clear that at night, under a bright moon, from Del Viento‘s deck I can see the bottom 30 feet below!) This means they can see me from a distance. I try not to see them, swimming towards me, urgently, shouting for me underwater through their snorkel, “MRAAA, ARAA GAABA EEEDER, OOOG!” How they manage to observe anything remains a mystery.

It wasn’t always like this.

Two years ago in Alaska, we were often parked in front of some glacier, bergy bits surrounding our hull. Occasionally a loud CRACK! and deep BOOM! would echo off the walls of a fjord and a chunk of ice the size of a minivan—or house—would fall from the 250-foot-tall glacier face and make a tremendous splash and wave. I’d be amazed, eager to share my amazement with them, but find myself sometimes having to beg their attention. “Guys! Wasn’t that incredible?!”


They’d shrug.

“Guys, that was the birth of an iceberg!”

They were younger. They didn’t have the knowledge to give context to allow them to fully appreciate this and other experiences near the start of our voyage. Yet, I took solace in the belief that they got something out of it. They’ll happily and clearly describe these long-ago experiences today, they’re a part of their forming identities.


But now it’s different. Their maturity has seemed to grow by leaps and bounds, and along with it, their interest in the world around them. The last few nights we’ve sat out in the cockpit with the Starwalk app on the iPad and each girl has been responsible for identifying a constellation (or planet) and learning about it and then sharing their knowledge with us. And they love it. They’re genuinely interested.

Of course, knowledge adds context and begets even more knowledge. I know this.

And that’s why I love to snorkel with them. They’ll come up after an hour, chilled, covered with jellyfish stings, and smiling. They’re eager to rinse off, dry off, and grab the tropical fish and tropical creature identification books so they can find and name and learn about the new things they saw.

A couple days ago, anchored off our private paradise inside the Makemo atoll, snorkeling with Eleanor, she spotted her second shark in as many days. It was a black tipped reef shark, about as long as she is tall. She poked me and pointed, “MRAA, AARRG, EEEE?!” I nodded and she swam after him.

It was another of those moments when I’m so glad we’re out here, doing this. She’s eleven years old and swimming comfortably with reef sharks, in the wild, in this uninhabited, beautiful place. And she—with her sister—will do so for weeks and months to come, making it not just a novel, singular experience, but a part of her childhood, of who she is becoming.

In our twenties, we traded our boat for a house and our freedom for careers. In our thirties, we lived the American dream. In our forties, we woke and traded our house for a boat and our careers for freedom. And here we are. Follow along with the Roberston’s onboard Del Viento on their blog at

Frances and Eleanor next to the lone, weather beaten tree that stands near the quay where we land our dinghy in front of the Mekemo atoll village of Pouheva. Michael Robertson
Birth of a coconut palm. The nut is still in the husk. It fell from the tree and the top of the husk rotted. Now, you know those three “eyes” at one end of a coconut? Interestingly, a shoot emerges from one and heads up while a large starter root emerges from each of the other two and heads down, into the sand. Michael Robertson
Okay, for perspective, this is the little motu we loved for a few days. See the moon rising? Michael Robertson
Windy and the girls exploring the shallows and old coral heads. Michael Robertson
Exploration. Michael Robertson
Windy brought her hammock. Michael Robertson