Tag Archives: Tuvalu

A CHAT WITH… GWENDA CORNELL

Gwenda Cornell is an extraordinary woman. 35 years ago she packed her family and set out on a journey across the Pacific Ocean. She shares her adventures in an engaging memoir called ‘Pacific Odyssey’. If you want to know more not only about her book but also about her time spent in the Blue Continent, just read the interview.

GWENDA CORNELL

Pasifika Truthfully: Let’s start with the ending. You’d spent three years on a boat cruising the Pacific Ocean. Then you decided it was time to go back to England. Did you have a hard time getting used to leading a ‘normal life’?

Gwenda Cornell: In fact we had spent a total of six years roaming the oceans before we returned to England. Personally I had no problems getting back to shore life and enjoyed meeting up with family, old friends and luxuriating in a bath. Our children however had a much more difficult time, although they had looked forward to going to ‘proper’ school. They were regarded by other children as being a bit strange as they did not know the characters of popular TV programmes or which football team (soccer) to support. After many years my daughter Doina has written about all this in her memoir of growing up at sea called ‘Child of the Sea’. Her book also includes quite a lot about her experiences in the Pacific.

PT: Now let’s get back to the beginning. Why did you decide to set sail in the first place?

GC: My husband Jimmy had always wanted to go to sea since he was a child and he persuaded me that this was the best way to see the world. We had both always enjoyed travelling, but did not have much money, so he fitted out the boat himself and that way we could get to see a lot of extraordinary places that were not easy to reach in those days, when air travel was much more expensive than nowadays. Many of the places we visited did not even have airports.

PT: Didn’t you hesitate to take your children out of school for such a long period of time?

GC: At the time, I thought that the experiences they could have would be so much more than anything they could learn in the classroom. Also they were at a good age 5 & 7 when we left. I prepared for the voyage quite carefully, qualifying as a teacher and had the full support of the school in London that the children were attending. When we first set sail we only thought of staying away for 2 or 3 years, spending one year in the Pacific, but our life was so entrancing we ended up spending much longer. Also the children did enjoy going to school in a lot of places, six months in New Zealand, one month in the Gambier, a week in Aitutaki and one day in Pitcairn.

PT: Would you say that your adventure taught Ivan and Doina more than they’d have ever learnt while sitting in the classroom?

GC: Absolutely, there is no question of that. For a start we had no TV, so they read voraciously. We always made sure we had topical books, so they read Thor Heyerdahl on the way to Easter Island, ‘The Mutiny of the Bounty’ on the way to Pitcairn and so on. They learnt so much about other cultures by making friends with local children and also a lot about nature, from tropical islands to free diving on coral reefs.

PT: And what did you learn?

GC: I learnt a tremendous amount about geography, nature and Pacific culture, plus an abiding respect for the Pacific peoples who have so much to teach us about how to live life fully and care for the less able members of our society.

PT: You described some of your experiences in ‘Pacific Odyssey’, which is an amazing book. How did that happen?

GC: I started while still in the Pacific by writing small pieces for the magazine Pacific Islands Monthly (I believe it no longer exists). When I returned to England, someone suggested that I expand these articles and turn them into a book. Fortunately, I had kept a detailed journal about our voyage so it was not difficult.

PT: I’m sure there are stories you didn’t include in your memoir. Would you care to share one of them?

GC: I have been trying to think of some instance, but could not come up with anything. The voyage I describe took place 35 years ago, so some of the memories are unfortunately fading a little.

PT: I understand. Let me ask you about the people you met. Do you keep in touch with any of the Islanders?

GC: Again 35 years ago communications were much different. There was no e-mail, Internet, Facebook, etc. We even made the first phone calls out of some places. Pacific Islanders were not very good at writing letters, especially where there was no post office on their island. But when we did meet up with some of them again, such as at the Pacific Festival of Arts, friendships were easily renewed. In the epilogue I wrote to the book after 30 years I do describe some of the people we encountered again.

However we have kept in touch with many of the people from different nationalities that we met on other sailing boats and the French Bouteleux family described in the book are still among our closest friends today.

PT: Would you say the voyage changed your life?

GC: Yes, it certainly did. We became much more involved with sailing and the cruising life. It also changed my view of the world and its various peoples and cultures.

PT: What advice would you give people who’d like to follow in your footsteps and set out on a journey?

GC: Just get out there and do it while you can. Some of these places may change or even disappear as a result of climate change. Make a plan and stick to it, be prepared to live a simpler life, less dependent on all that stuff you can have these days, that way it becomes more affordable.

Advertisements

‘PACIFIC ODYSSEY’ BY GWENDA CORNELL

‘Pacific Odyssey’ is an adventure memoir penned by Gwenda Cornell. It recounts her family’s amazing voyage through the islands of the Blue Continent.

PACIFIC ODYSSEY

Summary

Persuaded by her sea-loving husband, Gwenda agrees to set out on a sailing adventure across the Pacific Ocean. Together with Jimmy and their two children, Ivan and Doina, she leaves England and begins the great journey of discovery.

Visiting famous tourist destinations as well as little-known corners of the South Seas, the family explores the wonders of the region. Their yacht takes them to Samoa – the land of Robert Louis Stevenson; to the monumental statues of Easter Island; to French Polynesia, where Jimmy gets a chance to star in a movie. They meet the great-grandson of Tem Binoka in Kiribati and the descendants of the Bounty mutineers on Pitcairn. They discover the fascinating history of the Solomon Archipelago, attend the art festival in Papua New Guinea, and – together with the local inhabitants – celebrate the independence of Tuvalu. But most of all, they learn to seize the day, see the good in life, and enjoy each and every moment as much as one possibly can.

Review

This book can make you feel jealous. Sailing the Pacific for more than three years, touring all the lovely spots most people only dream of, getting immersed in indigenous cultures… Who wouldn’t want that? Fortunately, Gwenda Cornell’s memoir gives you the opportunity to satisfy your wanderlust cravings. It’s a wonderful ‘armchair escape’ to the tropics that lets you ‘see’ the islands of Oceania without ever having to leave your house.

Now, the book’s title is ‘Pacific Odyssey’. Quite honestly, it is less about the odyssey, more about the Pacific. By no means is this a manual for cruising enthusiasts. There is virtually no information regarding the technical aspects of sailing, so if this is something you hope to find, you may feel disappointed. Instead, the author devotes her attention to the places she and her family had the privilege to visit during their adventure. Her comprehensive, detailed descriptions of not only the islands but also certain customs and traditions are simply outstanding. Every sentence is filled with genuine passion and deep insight. Gwenda’s first-hand knowledge of the South Seas makes the travelogue an extremely interesting read as well as an invaluable guide for those who think about unleashing their inner explorer and embarking on a journey of their own.

The memoir might not be exceptional in terms of language and style, but it is certainly well written. Composed in a light-hearted manner and seasoned with gentle humour, it enraptures so much you don’t want to put it down. Just as Gwenda sailed from island to island, you want to sail from chapter to chapter. And the absolute icing on the cake is the book’s ending – extremely moving and thought-provoking; definitely worth contemplating.

‘Pacific Odyssey’ is the promise of an unforgettable voyage that you wished was reality. Charming, educational, funny and poignant at the same time, this memoir is a pure delight from start to finish. Just remember that after reaching ‘The End’ you may feel a burning desire to check your back account, buy a boat, and sail away.

BEST LAUGH-OUT-LOUD BOOKS (PART 2)

‘Where the hell is Tuvalu?’ by Philip Ells

When a young lawyer from the City of London suddenly ends up in one of the smallest countries on the planet Earth, where literally everything is new and different, you can be sure that’s a promise of great fun. Philip Ells’s memoir certainly doesn’t disappoint. His unforgettable experiences are depicted in a candid, casual, and very jovial manner, which is both engaging and extremely pleasurable to read. What can I say… No one does humour quite like the Brits!

‘Gallivanting on Guam’ by Dave Slagle

Although somewhat controversial among Chamorro communities, this is an interesting book. It’s not only very insightful in terms of providing valuable information regarding Guam, its history, culture, and traditions but also highly amusing and – this may come as a surprise to many – really well paced and plotted. And even the fact that the travelogue has some flaws cannot ruin your reading enjoyment.

‘Micronesian Blues’ by Bryan Vila, Cynthia Morris

Bryan Vila’s memoir is the most hilarious account of a cross-cultural adventure you can find. It has absolutely everything a good travel book should have: entertaining story (it’s a page-turner that reads like a novel), vivid descriptions (yes, you can almost feel the tropical breeze), fascinating insights (it teaches, informs, enlightens), fantastic sense of humour (oh, see for yourself). This chronicle of one cop’s experiences in a foreign land captures attention, making readers roar with laughter.

‘Solomon Time: Adventures in the South Pacific’ by Will Randall

Will Randall’s book is an odyssey well worth your time. This rather improbable yet true story of an English teacher who travels to the Solomon Islands with the object of fulfilling a dying man’s wish could not be any more delightful. A wonderfully constructed narrative is embellished with humorous anecdotes and amusing scenes that are simply too funny not to be read.

‘Up Pohnpei: Leading the ultimate football underdogs to glory’ by Paul Watson

This is a book with so many layers to it. It takes readers to the magical island of Pohnpei to show them how passion, determination, and belief can make the impossible possible. It embodies the true spirit of sport, letting people discover the sheer joy it brings. But most of all, it makes everyone laugh. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable, inspirational (beyond words), heart-warming, richly comic travelogue written for love of the game. Beautiful and entertaining!

‘WHERE THE HELL IS TUVALU?’ BY PHILIP ELLS

‘Where The Hell Is Tuvalu?’ tells the story of Philip Ells, who spent three years (1993 – 1996) working as the People’s Lawyer in one of the smallest countries in the world. The book is an honest account of his experiences in the South Pacific region.

WHERE THE HELL IS TUVALU

Summary

Philip, a young English lawyer, decides to leave everything behind and seek a new purpose in life. So he quits his job and applies to VOS, the UK-based charity that places volunteers in developing countries so they can share their skills and knowledge with local people. What sounds like a great adventure, turns out to be an even greater challenge.

Soon upon his arrival in Tuvalu, Philip discovers a completely different world. A tiny island with an even tinier population plus hot and humid weather can be quite a shock for someone who has just come from densely populated, foggy Britain. But with a little help from his newly met friends, Philip learns how to cope with the demands of everyday life. He starts to understand people’s attitudes and behaviours, gets used to the largely unvaried diet with lots of canned food, and adjusts to sharing one room with dozen of ants. As the only law man in the country, he deals with a wide variety of criminal offenses, ranging from a pig theft to incest and murders. Every single day brings him something new: a new beginning, a new chance, a new joy, or a new sorrow.

Review

The book is hilarious and will make you laugh out loud from the very first page. The thoroughly compelling story is embellished with the author’s fine, sophisticated sense of humour that reveals his intelligence and sparkling wit. Being British, Philip Ells is not afraid of poking fun at himself. Whether it’s his cultural incompetence or yet another faux pas that he makes, he doesn’t mind writing about it with a healthy dose of self-deprecation.

Of course, not every chapter of this memoir will bring a smile to your face. The book gets a little more serious in its second half, as it broaches the subjects of domestic violence and women’s rights. These parts give readers fascinating insights into Tuvaluan lifestyle and traditions. What’s admirable about Ells is that he doesn’t judge – he describes, he shares his opinions, but he does not criticize. Even though some cases leave him filled with anger, he tries to accept the fact that different cultures have different moral codes, and sometimes a change for the better can take a long time.

The book is written in a casual and mostly light-hearted manner that is engaging and very appealing. Ells, as a narrator, is completely honest and quite straightforward – he shows everything and hides practically nothing. Just read the description of his first date with a lovely Tuvaluan girl and you will know what I mean.

The only thing you should not expect from this account is action. Yes, the pace is rather slow. However, this is a travelogue-cum-memoir, so such ‘laziness’ is perfectly acceptable. Besides, it’s the island time! You should just sit, relax, and enjoy your life.

‘Where The Hell Is Tuvalu?’ is a great read. It is actually the only non-fiction book (apart from travel guides) about this South Pacific country. Certain Tuvaluan customs and practices have obviously changed since the 1990s, but still, you can get the picture.

‘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.