“Message in a bottle” from Aitutaki of the Cook Islands, October 10th-24th, 2018

Aitutaki…that special place of good people and beautiful places, where Vilja wrote sailing history, and where we – her crew – had to challenge our fears and rely on our strengths and abilities – alone and together. Our bravery was put to the test and new ground was won! Our two weeks in Aitutaki contained enough to fill much more than a message in a bottle. But this is hopefully enough to give you a taste of it. We hope you enjoy!

Sometimes you feel you’re about to get lost…
…and you have to climb a bit to get an overview and some perspective.


What?  Have you never heard of Aitutaki?! Well… to be honest, neither had we. And without reading up in beforehand, we put the atoll into our sailing plan just because she is the closest island and Port of Entry into the Cook Islands before our intended sail to the even more remote Palmerston. So to other readers on «our level”, here is a quick read-up on some facts about Aitutaki:

A beloved child has many names

There’s a saying in Norway that goes “Beloved child; many names.” Our experiences of and in Aitutaki will in our voyage memoirs be remembered with many “names”:

  • Our Island of Unbelievable Luck
  • My lost-and-found Island
  • The Including Island
  • The Beautiful Island
  • Our Island of Owning Time
  • Karen Marie’s first Preschool Island
  • Karen Marie’s 4th Birthday Island
  • Our Island of a Once-in-a-Lifetime Extraordinary Reef Passage sail

In other words:

Aitutaki – our island of events, emotions and endeavors.

Here’s why:

Our Island of Unbelievable Luck

Why this name? Well, it began with bad luck: Our port side shroud broke right before we came to Aitutaki. After that our Lucky Star rose up above the horizon: We met a fantastic couple: Louise and Scott & their family from Wellington (NZ) on board Chaos. It turned out that Louise has a black belt in chaos control. She and Scott made “a dozen phone calls – and ABA KA DABRA! Within 36 hours we had two brand new shrouds – custom made (in New Zealand) and a perfect fit – delivered to us in person on board. You can read more about this incredible story in our Everyday blog: http://www.sailingvilja.no/underveis/everyday-blog/ . Scroll down to the headline “October 17th, 2018: Aututaki in the Cook Islands. Day #7 – Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans. (And it sure is a heck of a lot better than any plan I could ever have set up!)”.

So we were “trapped” in Aitutaki’s lagoon by the low tide: We came in at spring high tide two weeks ago. By the time we had fixed our broken shroud and felt ready to go, the moon was no longer new and so the high tide was not high enough for us to dare make an attempt at sailing out again through the pass. The shallowest part of the pass is only 1.6 meters deep at maximum high tide. Our draught is 1.9 meters. The fisherman whom so convincingly assured us before we went in that the passage was 2.0 meters deep proved wrong. So now what we needed was a full moon, a surge inwards to fill up the lagoon that little extra, some skill, nerve and a good portion of LUCK!

Our anchorage for 2 weeks in Aitutaki. We pulled the dinghy along one of the anchor ropes that were attached to a palm tree. Actually very convenient – as long as the group wasn’t split between being on the boat and ashore. Oh well, one can always swim… ;.)

My lost-and-found Island

I tried writing the tale of our two weeks in Aitutaki without mentioning my lost-and-found incident in Aitutaki… It wasn’t only the shroud that nearly broke upon reaching Aitutaki. Something inside me cracked a bit too.

A mind is complex. But hey, I’ve lived with mine for 45 years 24-7. You would think I’d have figured it out by now?! But no. It baffles me that getting to know yourself can be a life-long discovery.

One of the factors that makes long-distance voyaging so unique and ground-breaking in people’s lives is the all-in commitment that it takes and which the voyager MUST behold in order to endure, voyage and venture. True, sailing IS about “enjoying the ocean breeze”, but also – and just as much – about a lot of work and facing challenges beyond the sailing and sailboat, coping with for instance;

  • The constant move.
  • Staying open, welcoming in and processing as much as possible of the flow of impressions and interesting people you meet along the way.
  • Being exposed to new environments and unfamiliar situations, thereby actively challenging and expanding your comfort zone.
  • The limited space and possibilities to “escape” a situation.
  • The “loneliness” of being so far away from most of your loved ones.
  • The intensity of being so close to a few of your loved ones…

I realize that this voyage is just as much a journey of discovery of the islands and continents within ourselves and eachother and the depths and vastness of our own oceans, as it is a journey around and of the World we live in.

I thought I knew my own continents pretty well before we left – and even might’ve been foolish enough to claim that I could trace my partner’s map sufficiently detailed to navigate across his oceans blindfolded too. What did I know…

Now I know: I have discovered that my oceans are sprinkled with unexplored islands –  and a few reefs just below the surface. It was one of these reefs I ran ashore quite unexpectedly upon arrival in Aitutaki.

The story and explanation of what lead to this “running ashore” is complex, and the details of how I & we got my ship back into the water (metaphorically speaking) is a story of uninteresting details and complexity that my English isn’t adequately sophisiticated to describe, nor is this “message in a bottle” from Sailingvilja the right place to tell it. Maybe it will forever be a story confined to my diary? Or maybe, just maybe, will it find its way to the pages of a book one day? For now I choose to mention what the key words and discoveries were:

  • The team feeling wasn’t nurtured as it should and must be between me and my partner. We had neglected for a while ensuring the daily one-on-one talks that are so valuable in ensuring a joint mindset among the two of us.
  • Insecurity of my own role on board, and a frozen focus on all I am not, in stead of all that I am.
  • Losing sight of my own roots and all I can hold high and be proud of; who I am and who and where I come from.
  • All of the above which lead to questioning our voyage; Why are we doing this? Feeling for a moment a doubt in whether it was actually making us grow – individually and together – or the opposite?

My lessons in life, repeated & affirmed are:

  • Remember to focus on, nurture and treasure the good things about yourself and others.
  • Dare to be vulnerable in your relationship; don’t put up an apparent stronghold. Let your partner in, do the walk together, and even let him “carry you a bit of the way” if you need a break.
So I lost myself out of sight there for a little while – and found myself again. We didn’t give up, and we learnt some lessons. The team feels stronger than ever.

And why did this prevent us from sailing on? Because you don’t leave land and sail off into the Pacific knowingly with an unhappy crew. Just ask Captain Bligh who was here before us…


Being “stuck” on one of the most beautiful places on Earth! (so you won’t hear any more complaining from us… )

Well, it was two weeks till full moon now. Which in reality meant we were going nowhere in the next couple of weeks. Once we let go of the plans to sail to other beautiful and unique places, such as Palmerston Island, we managed to turn our heads around into looking at this entrapment as an opportunity. So:

Wow, what a luxury knowing in beforehand that we were definitely staying for 2 weeks in one place! The “knowing in beforehand” is pretty rare for our trip, and quite different than the usual “taking one day at a time” concept, or waiting for parts for the boat that never come, following weather forecasts day by day, etc. And it didn’t hurt to know that Aitutaki is known as one of the most beautiful atolls in the Pacific!

Jon Petter, Audun & Karen Marie on One Foot Island in the lagoon of Aitutaki. Probably feeling that being stuck her ain’t so bad. ?

Karen Marie – our little crew member that makes BIG things happen

“Test setting” of the birthday party table a couple of weeks before the actual Day. Karen Marie insisted on 12 plates. Vilja’s crew counts 4. Action has to be taken…

We passed some important milestones while we were there. The most obvious one being Karen Marie’s 4 year birthday. Try first to imagine having a little girl on board who is so excited about the concept of birthdays that we celebrate an imaginary birthday party EVERY SINGLE DAY for one of her dolls or stuffed animals for weeks in advance. Expectations were sky high for her own celebration. But how do you as parents plan a party when you’re out sailing, and have no idea where you’ll be, not to mention who to invite?!

Karen Marie has proven to be our contact point to locals and sailors alike. A child’s laughter, smile and direct approach touches the heart of others, and she’s a “safe zone” both ways for making that first contact between us and the people we meet.

Well, Aitutaki and our special incentive to make friends fast proved to be a perfect combination. Because there is no island we have been to this far that has been so incredibly hospitable and including.

So back to Karen Marie’s birthday; it worked out. By the time the big day arrived, we had friends that were really fun & made sense to invite. Hurray!

So what happened before we got that far?…


The Including Island        

 “Do you want a ride?”

“Here, have a pumpkin. Or hey, here’s a bag full. You can have them!”

“You’re welcome to join!”

“So what are you doing today? Feel free to borrow my scooter!”

This is the Aitutaki attitude we experienced time and time again, generous and always including. It warmed our hearts. Not only did we feel welcome, but even included. Wow, that IS a voyager’s dream come true.

Karen Marie & Ingrid are invited to a “girls only” 90 years birthday party!

In Aitutaki Karen Maren & I reaped the rewards of being women! We were invited to come to the 90th anniversary of the Cook Island Girl Guides 90th birthday. We had an evening of welcoming women, music and dancing, delicious food and an interesting insight into the traditions of christianity and the Scout movement on Aitutaki, and last but not least; feeling included among fellow women on this lovely island.

Loving the joy of music and dance at the Cook Island Girl Guides 90th birthday celebration.

Getting a ride, here & there and everywhere.

So maybe the rides lead to less physical activity than our bodies would’ve wanted… But all the more interesting encounters and good everyday talks. And the strengthened notion within of feeling incredibly lucky and grateful to be here.

Wherever you’re heading in Aitutaki there’s always someone offering you a ride. Here’s a memory from when we were on our way to Karen Marie’s first day of pre-school at Araura Primary School. 

Norwegian heritage in Aitutaki!?

There are actually people with Norwegian decent here on Aitutaki! We discovered this by chance one evening when we went out for dinner. When it came to be known that we were Norwegians, a man came up to our table and introduced himself as Banaba Jonassen. And then he told us the story of how a Norwegian whaler was shipwrecked in Tahiti in 1897, and ended up marrying a princess of the Cook Islands, settling in Rarotonga and Aitutaki. Banaba is the great grandson of the whaler, and has (not so) distant family in Farsund, Norway. The Norwegian reporter Tore Strømøy brought the familiy together again in his TV show “Tore på sporet”.  Wow, what a fun encounter to meet a Jonassen and discover this story by chance! More about the story here (in Norwegian): www.sydhav.no/artikler/sporet.htm

Banaba Jonassen – An Aitutakian with Norwegian heritage, offered us a ride home to our boat after having told us the fascinating story of how it came to be that his Norwegian great grandfather married an Aitutakian princess. (Read more about the story above)

So where else in the world does your kid’s teacher spontaneously lend you his scooter?!

Here’s another example of the Aitutakians’ generosity:

John, Karen Marie’s teacher in pre-school, dropped the question; “Why don’t you borrow my scooter and explore the island while Karen Marie’s at school?”. So generous and totally unexpected. Thanks to John and his scooter we had ourselves a day of exploring and feeling like teenage sweethearts again. And the following day Audun & Jon Petter had the chance to go snorkeling on the Northern end of the Island thanks to John’s scooter. Wow, what a difference the gift of giving and receiving can make!

Ingrid & Jon Petter roaming around the island on Karen Marie’s teacher John’s scooter. So much fun! And I’ve got to admit that holding on to my boyfriend on the back of a scooter while exploring the gravel roads of a Pacific Island made some butterflies tickle in my tummy, and made me hold on extra tight. ?

The Beautiful Island

Aitutaki is beautiful; green islands and crystal clear water in a sheltered lagoon, clean and well looked after by its welcoming and generous people, lush forests and white beaches, interesting historical sites, no dangerous animals on land or fish in the sea to worry about (except stonefish maybe – but hey, if you wear swim shoes you’re ok); all in all “The Pacific Dream”. Only 2200 people live there. Land is strictly passed on within the Aitutaki families. Foreigners who wish to settle there may only lease land for a limited number of years. The people are rightfully proud of their uniquely beautiful island.

A view of the lagoon seen from the banks of Arutanga, with the sheltering, though treacherous reef in the background.
Viewpoint from nearly the highest point (Maunga Pu) of the main island.
Getting ashore on one of the many beautiful islands in the lagoon of Autitaki. View from The Vaka Cruise.
One of the gigantic and magnificent Banyan trees on the island.
Traditional dancing of the Cook Islands, at the Tamanu Cultural Island Fire & Dance Show.

Our Island of Owning Time

As already mentioned; It was a luxury in its own way to know in beforehand that we had two weeks in one place. Usually we take one day at a time. This time we knew that it was 2 weeks until the full moon and spring high tide would allow us out of the pass. We relaxed and had plenty of time to simply enjoy Pacific Island life.

If you want to learn being in the moment, then let a child be your mentor.

Time to look around

We did quite a lot of sightseeing.

Having the lively & knowledgable Maria drive us around the island showing us the “special spots” on land was the perfect way to get an overview.
Taking the Vaka Cruise was the perfect way to explore the islands of the lagoon, while being excellently entertained every minute of the tour.

Enjoying the display of traditions and culture at the Tamanu Cultural Island Fire & Dance Show

Time with friends, time with family, time to play, time to chill

Is is such a unique experience to share our everyday lives and this adventure with friends. Audun has sailed with us from Tahiti. What a gift it is to experience that the adjective “good” doesn’t cover the description of him neither as a person nor a friend; he’s exceptional! We love this guy!


Audun’s first dive in more than 20 years. All good! After this one we all had some beautiful dives with Dive Aitutaki outside the lagoon. Clear water, some large turtles, and a Giant Trevally and other fish nibbling coconut out of our hands. Pretty awesome! ?
Simply enjoying time together…
…and having fun playing and «chilling».
Karen Marie Vilja & her sailboat Vilja. In Aitutaki we learnt that we are considered “Yachties”, the term used for the long-distance sailors that arrive in the lagoon.

Our big little girl, finding her own way in Aitutaki

Karen Marie turned 4 in Aitutaki. Experiencing through those couple of weeks on the island how much of an impact she makes on our SailingVilja voyage was an inspiration. Our voyage would’ve been so completely different without her, and less of a lot of the good stuff; such as joy, giggles, BIG smiles, unfiltered emotions, play, growth, learning new things, connecting with people, and challenging every one of us into making the most out of every moment!


Karen Marie’s first Preschool Island

One of the best things that happened during our stay was Karen Marie attending pre-school at Araura Primary School for one week. What better way could there possibly be to take part in local life and make new friends!? It also made us proud and happy to experience how well she mastered being “on her own” in a new environment. Her eagerness to go to school every morning, and to show and tell when we picked her up after school, told us more than anything that she is confident and embraces life standing steady on her own two feet.

We are indescribably grateful to teachers Michelle and John and to all at Araura Primary School for giving our little sailing family the positive experience of being treated as friends and locals for the short period we were there.    

In the film: teacher Michelle introducing Karen Marie to her new classmates on the first day of pre-school at Araura Primary School.

Sneak peeks from 1 week at pre-school. Clockwise from upper left corner: 1) Karen Marie brought the globe to school on the second day of school, to show the route she has sailed to get here from the other side of the World. 2) Garden day, when all the children planted corn and beans in the school’s own garden patch. 3) Reading time. One of the moms (Tara) has a reading session for the pre-schoolers twice a week. 4) The classroom. Karen Marie takes a sneak peek at next day’s homework. 5) Teacher John gives an outdoor session, while the class is waiting for its turn to plant corn in the garden patch. 6) Art class.

Making friends – and turning 4(!!!)

Karen Marie’s 4th Birthday Island

When Karen Marie was making a “test setting” of the party table a week before her actual birthday and insisted on setting a table for twelve (12!) we knew there was no way we could have this party at sea. Nor could we live a “being tourists keeping to ourselves” lifestyle. We had to make friends – fast! Fate/ chance couldn’t have chosen a better place than Aitutaki to make this happen! ?

The first person Karen Marie & I met on our first walk on land was the lovely Brooke. Right in the harbor the local diving company has made the genius decision to open up a barista “take-away”. They serve fresh brewed, perfect coffee over the counter to take with you “on the go”, or enjoy in the park nearby. Brooke gave us her first of many smiles, and made us newcoming yachties feel welcome. I think we stopped by and bought coffee every single day during our stay, brewed by either Hayley, Brooke or Meeghan; whichever of the three diving instructors who were watching the shop and not out diving that day. We had so many good talks and laughs with this cool gang, and even some awesome dives! And Karen Marie was immediately adopted as a mini-mermaid into this bunch of awesome mermaids.

Women (and men) from the sea connect! Karen Marie – and all of us – loved hanging out with Hayley, Brooke and Meeghan at Dive Aitutaki. We paid them a visit every single day – for a chat, a cup of coffee, a dive or simply for jumping in puddles. ? Yeah, it was impossible not to love these cool mermaids!

And then it was this guy whom Brooke first introduced us to; Nga. Only his warm smile revealing the playfulness and spark in his eyes gave away that behind his somewhat shy and quiet appearance there is a multi-talented artist and entertainer! Which we discovered as he kept on showing up along our sightseeing path; as a musician (percussionist, plank spanker or handling “any instrument” it would appear) and as the fiercest fire dancer at the Tamanu Cultural Island Fire & Dance Show. The more we saw him in action, the more intrigued we were by his multiple talents “on stage” and his “no-show-off” appearance behind the scenes. When he accepted Karen Marie’s birthday invitation, we were excited to get the chance to know him better on board in our home Vilja!

Nga kept on showing up along our sightseeing path; as a musician (percussionist, plank spanker or handling “any instrument” it would appear) and as the fiercest fire dancer at the Tamanu Cultural Island Fire & Dance Show.

There were also the teachers and kids at pre-school. (Unfortunately both teachers Michelle & John had to stay home and take care of their children who were down with the chicken pox. We would’ve loved for them to be at the party too.) It can feel like a big step in a short time to start inviting kids to a birthday party when you’re the new kid on the very first week at pre-school. But luckily already on the first day of pre-school we connected a bit extra with Tia and her mommy Tara. Tara is from Australia, her husband Walter is from Aitutaki. They’ve lived in Sydney for years, and this year they made the big decision to move and settle in Aitutaki. I really bonded to Tara. The strength and vulnerability, warm heart and sharp intellect and consciousness were all features that I was attracted to, admired and connected with. She is also in a phase that I see myself in; handling change, making a life and choosing a lifestyle that is different from the familiar of our own childhood, but that we deep down believe is the best for them –  and in that process trying to find our own balance and learning how to embrace the new and blending it with the best of what we ourselves possess from our own lives and values. (Wow, just writing about it now, four months later, stirs up emotions and a great enthusiasm on the subject. I wish Tara was here so I could have more of those very interesting discussions, sharing of thoughts and exchange of both understanding and inspiration.) Tara put it this way in a message she texted me, just as we were sailing from Aitutaki: “Travel safe our new friends, we have loved getting to know you all. Sometimes when we talk I feel like we are looking in the mirror ?.”

But at this point – the days before Karen Marie’s birthday – this was a friendship that was just about to be discovered. During the course of the week, Karen Marie played with Tia at pre-school and on a couple of occasions Tara and I had the chance to talk. The interest to get to know each other better was sparked. Then the whole family accepted the invitation to come over to Vilja during the weekend. Oh, what a truly enjoyable encounter! It just so happened that Jon Petter and I had been to the market and bought lots of local dishes we wanted to try out.

Walter, being from Aitutaki, took the time to explain to us the traditions and ingredients behind cooking the dishes. So interesting, and “Yum”!

The conversation went on intensely, engaged and almost with “a relief of recognition” finding such a strong common ground in the base thoughts, values and perspectives in life, even if our lives have been lived on opposite sides of the planet.

So then the birthday invitations went out: Meeghan, Brooke, Hayley, Nga, teacher John and his daughter Takapu, Tia, Tara and Walter. Wow, it was looking like we were gonna have MORE than the 12 we originally “planned” for! Isn’t it amazing how things work out?! Now, it ended up with that four of the invited guests had to pass because of being sick or having to work, but still – we felt we had a family to invite. And the little bunch of wonderful individuals that could come celebrated Karen Marie with all the joy and festivity our little 4-year-old could dream of. ?

Setting the birthday table, with decorations bought in Norway, Galapagos, Marquesas, Tahiti and Aitutaki. And the cherry on top; Audun drawing a very special “pin-the-trunk-on-the-Dumboelephant” game for entertainment and Karen Marie creating her very own birthday girl’s crown.
Breakfast in bed, with cupcakes and presents. Princess Elsa dress from Mamma and Pappa and a new baby doll (named Nina) from Mimmi, Tante Karen & Uncle So in Norway were some of the presents that were an instant success. Not to mention the keyboard that Audun, our musician on board, gave Karen Marie, with the wish to spark an interest in her to become his fellow musician on board.
Karen Marie wished to go to a restaurant for her birthday and chose to revisit The Boat Shed for a sushi and sashimi lunch.
And then there was the party on board Vilja. So much fun! And as we’ve already introduced you to: together with some very special people whom we are so lucky to call our friends. ?

Karen Marie’s birthday was a wish-come-true – for both young and old on Vilja. Even though she REALLY would’ve wished for a celebration with her family and friends back in Norway, she embraced the possibilities of the present. Dressed in her Elsa costume (the ice princess from the Disney film “Frozen”), our birthday princess took in every bit of birthday glory all through the day, her eyes sparkling and smiling with pure joy and excitement.

Our Island of a Once-in-a-Lifetime Extraordinary Reef Passage sail

So the birthday party was a success. Our stay in Aitutaki had roomed so much in so many ways. The crew was happy.

We were starting to feel our roots settle and work their way deeper into the ground. That’s when a sailor knows that it’s time to go!

The moon agreed; she was nearly full. On Wednesday October 24th our boat and crew were ready to set sail. The only thing though was the 1300 meters long, 15 meters wide and oooh so shallow passage to get past the reef and out into open water…

So we made a go for it. I think this video shows what happened next better than words can. Enjoy!

So the answer is; YES, we made it out! Here’s to summarize what just happened:

Maybe one could say that we never should have taken Vilja into the passage of Aitutaki’s surrounding reef? But then again – looking back at it now with all the good that came with it, we never would have had it any other way. It enabled us to have two of the most unforgettable and impression-filled weeks of our entire sail so far. And hopefully finding some forever friendships with people we met in Aitutaki, not to mention the bonds that were strengthened among the four people on board Vilja who shared the experience.

So what happens next?

Wait and see… Next stop: Niue! 5 days sail away. The days at sea will give us the time and serenity we need to process and mature all the impressions and experiences we take with us within.