Tuesday, November 6, 2012

"I've sailed farther than most have dreamed"

Bonus points if you know where I lifted the line. 

I can't claim to have sailed that far but the recent weeks spent re entering American society have made it clear to me just how far out in my own floating universe I'd been.  Most people are not out crisscrossing the globe treating the world's oceans as their personal playground.  Instead, they are going to work - everyday.  Day after day after day.  Now I am too.  It has only been a few weeks and I already feel like I've transitioned from being a cruiser to one who dreams about going cruising.

One of the many pointless mind games I engage in while poring over charts include trying to divide all ports into either destinations or points of departure.  The destinations are usually easier to identify.  At least in reputation as they promise exotica, the antidote to all those years you spent working day after day.  Like, in the Marquesas, I didn't meet locals living on sailboats saving up their money so they could one day fulfill their dream and sail to a place like Long Beach.  Hawaii is a bit curious in this regard as it isn't so clear which side it sits on.  Hands down it is THE tourist destination for mainland Americans but that doesn't easily carry over into the cruising scene.  The truth is that it has a crap reputation and in some ways deservedly so.  Too much wind on the windward side and in the dreaded channels while the leeward side requires motoring.  Not enough natural harbors and the worst state run marinas anywhere in the country that are unfriendly to visiting yachts.  Hawaii isn't on any of the circumnavigation routes.  The customs official that cleared me in said sixty boats a year, the overwhelming majority from Mexico in May.  These boats are usually west coast boats doing a half hearted go at the South Pacific.  A bit of French Polynesia, a straight shot up to Hawaii and then they head back home at the peak of summer avoiding the nightmare of where to keep their boat as they only spent a few months in Hawaii.  As a visiting yacht you can only stay in one facility for a maximum of ninety days per calendar year provided there is space.  There are locals who have endured the bureaucracy (often compared to the third world) to obtain an annual permit.  I have met many of them while rowing to shore while anchored here in Reed's bay.   The anchor out community is very familiar.   If you have ever attended a nautical flea market in the USA and witnessed the cast of arm chair sailors, mostly older males all looking the imagined version of the wizened salt, then you know well what I am referring to.

This is my current reality.  Trying to get along with the system so I can keep the boat here the entire winter while I try and finance a refit.  On a good day, I can convince myself that this is part of my cruising experience, that it is fun to be in the Hawaii phase of my trip.  On the bad days, the blog could easily turn into the tired rant of what it feels like to see the "new" corporate run America.  We won't go there.  I grew up in this.  It is all too familiar and I have seen it spreading.  What was I expecting?  That it would change while I was out sailing and become better?  I know the drill.  Make the money.  Don't give it back.  Go simple.  Go now. 


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

You can make it back.

Pelican is anchored safely in Radio Bay which is in Hilo harbor off the big island of Hawaii.  I sailed here non stop from Fiji which took over seven weeks.  The rhumb line is 2800 miles but because the entire passage is uphill, the GPS recorded over 4400 miles sailed.  Simply put, it was a grind... 

I didn't make any of my trophy destinations that I blogged about on the eve of my departure from Fiji.  It is ok.  Those places are still out there.  The story isn't over. The stamina for my detour below the equator had run its course and it was time to get back to the original plan which was to sail to Hawaii from Mexico.  Hawaii is now only one passage away from my home port.  So I am back on track, just a season behind.

It is hard to describe why we make the decisions we do.  When I left Mexico in March and sailed to the Pitcairn group, I went with the least conservative option.  I was not even interested in the Marquesas and when I calculated that the Pitcairn group might be possible without tacking, I said, why not go for it?  When in Fiji in August, I pretty much did the same thing again.  Visiting the trophy spots and selling the boat in Australia would have been the most conservative bet.  A part of me wasn't satisfied with that.  Any well found yacht can sail downhill across the Pacific.  The challenge is, what do you do when you get across?  Many west coast boats sit in Mexico delaying the puddle jump not because of the initial 3000 mile passage but because they don't want to deal with the consequences once on the other side. From all the possible things I could think of doing with the boat, the most rewarding and also the most extreme from a sailing point of view turned out to be the simplest idea - sail the boat back.  Conventional wisdom says that if you go west of the Cooks, you have gone too far, but there is one strategy that is not talked about much - the equatorial counter current. A thin band of water that sets to the east between 5 and 8 north.  Being close to the edge of the trades, the winds are lighter.  The plan was that if I did the bulk of upwind work against a light force three with a knot to a knot and a half current boost, how bad could it be?  There was one catch, however.  The location of the current coincides with the doldrums.  Who the heck said there is no ITZC west of 160 west?  Or that you will never see winds over 35 knots in the doldrums?  Other random bits of tribal knowledge accumulated from years of sailing were dispelled as well.  "There is only bad weather on the northern boundary of the doldrums, never on the southern" or "You will never see a wind from due north but you will see a wind from due south".  The weather turned out to be a total mixed bag - good and bad - and the only truth I found after over three weeks in the doldrums is that I never saw the wind come out of the westerly quadrant, ever... 

It was a decisive moment while still within sight of the Yesawas off Fiji.  Part of myself dreaded the passage.  You know very well that a passage of this magnitude is guaranteed to have some brutally low moments.  Gear will break, you will burn out and absolutely regret the decision. You have to accept it and make your peace as you need to be fully committed otherwise you will fail.  You have to remember that this is why you love sailing.  If it was only easy and pleasant, it would be boring and without a sense of accomplishment.   I looked toward the west, downhill, knowing how close I was to my first trophy destination.   Then I turned around and looked behind me.  Those winds and seas had been pushing me for so long... The decisiveness set in and I said to myself, let this be the moment.  I sheeted in the sails, pushed the tiller to the low side, and turned Pelican around right into the trades and the accompanying swell.  The shift was immediate and dramatic.  The pronounced heeling, the first jarring stop, the first bit of spray that makes it all the way back to the cockpit.  Bring it on!

It was a beautiful passage.

Monday, August 20, 2012

I'm off!

I should be out of here tomorrow.  There will be a major swell at my destination so I will go slowly and maybe it will die out by the time I get there.  There are only three places left on the planet that I want to sail to with Pelican.  The first has no anchorage and is barely a mile square.  I have never met a cruiser that has set foot on this island.  Some have.  Not many.  Maybe I will get lucky.  If I can't make the first, I might be forced into trying the second.  The second has a tough pass and all I have is a Google Earth image.  The third is far away and is the least attractive except in the trophy sense so I might let it go.  If I end up going for all three, I will be out here for awhile which isn't that attractive.  I have used up quite a bit of my stamina for this second crossing.

There still isn't email on the boat so it will be awhile for some news.  If I get marooned on one of these spots, I will try not to use the 406 EPIRB as a glorified taxi service.  Gotta have some interesting stories to post.

If you have been following the blog, you know that this passage is a meaningful one.  After this, it will be about passing on the boat and doing something else with my time.  At least for a little while.  There is this place called the "Southern Ocean"...  But that is for another boat.

See you on the other side.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Checking out

So I checked out of Fiji this morning.

I took the bus up to Lautoka instead of taking the boat up there like you are supposed to.  Of course, the second I show up, the first officer sitting indoors behind a desk asks me where my boat is.  Out front I lied.  The main honcho who did all the paperwork also asked me during the course of things, where my boat was.  Anchored out front I lied.  He asked me if all my shopping was done.  "How much time do I have after I clear to remain in Fiji?  Half an hour was the reply which isn't enough time for shopping.  "No problem, I can leave now" I said.  So all the paperwork was done and at the final moment he stood up holding my passport and said that he would accompany me back to the boat for a final inspection and then I could leave.  I guess I am not a very good liar...  At that moment, I could have told him the truth, that the boat was an hour bus ride away but what would have happened next?  Even when someone doesn't believe you, they can never be one hundred percent sure.  Since I started this little game, why not play it to the end?  I pressed on with this advantage knowing that a lie can still work until you are actually caught.  I only felt like I was caught knowing the truth but he did not know that.  Why give it away?  So I stood up as well and said "no problem, come out to the boat" and I stuck my hand out for my passport which he handed over.  Strike one for the officials...  We both walked out the office together in the hot sun.  I smiled and made small talk while my mind raced to figure out how to get out of this one.  There wasn't anything at stake, I followed all the rules up to this point.  I had paid all the check in fees, I even did the weekly boat reports.  How many yachties do that?  The offices we just left were located in the port which was a gated complex.  One idea I had was to run for it. I am in a lot better shape than the paper pusher that was following me.  I would still have to get past the security gate and the consequences of getting caught this way would not be worth it.  We walked towards the dinghy dock and plan two quickly came to mind as I selected another cruiser's dinghy without the boat name written on it.  I made sure it had oars and quickly lied to the official saying the outboard wasn't working and that we would have to row out.  He said it wasn't an issue and that he wouldn't be coming out after all.  I don't think he ever really intended to.  Instead, he asked which boat was mine in the anchorage.  They were all too far away to read the names so I pointed out one that was the same length as Pelican.  He stood there watching me as I climbed into this dinghy, untied it and began rowing away.  I didn't know it, how could I, but the dinghy was also anchored from the stern.  I only rowed about twenty feet before I began rowing in place.  I didn't get it right away, that I was no longer making progress, but a couple of workers lounging around caught it and began motioning at me.  Luckily, they were too far to yell at me and the official didn't get it either.  He was satisfied, waved and turned around to walk back to his office.  I rowed back to the dock, retied the dinghy and quickly headed toward the security gate on foot.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

What is your favorite place visited after all that sailing?

I did a quick visit out to Musket Cove, the main yachtie hub here on the west side of Fiji.  As I already knew, I don't identify with places like this but  I still go and check them out to make sure. Sometimes I am wrong and it is a wonderful surprise. As it turned out,  my suspicions were confirmed and the cynicism quickly set in. There is a good portion of the cruising community that has the most juvenile vision of the good life.  It is about the level of what an adolescent California beach bum would dream of if he had won the lottery.  Buy a fancy yacht, park it at a hip resort, surf all day and drink all night.  Well, that describes Musket cove perfectly as it is a short dinghy ride from one of the most famous surf spots in the south pacific.  The berths, which are part of the resort, are less than a minute walk to the main bar which is on its own island.  How cool is that? 

Sometimes when the funk sets in, I am reminded of an interview I had once seen with a former political prisoner.  He was describing in detail the torture he had endured when held captive.   Part of the torture involved having his testicles spread out on a table top and hammered flat.  When alone in his cell, he scrounged for flakes of rust, bits of concrete, anything to use to try and slit open his wrists so he could commit suicide.  Thinking like this has the effect of a reality check and I am quickly embarrassed, realizing my funk is based on just about nothing.

So I sat at the swank bar talking to some wealthy yachtie who was telling me the reason why he liked the resort so much.  It was because, it didn't matter how much money you had, whether your boat was worth millions or wasn't.  "We were all here hanging out together."  "We are all human beings" he told me. This sort of philosophy is popular with rich people and I have heard it all before...  In a lot of ways, I consider myself to be rich (maybe not in actual dollars) so I let it go and just played along. There is a small voice inside that does ask, "Where is the rage?"  I am sure that if I drank as much as most I was surrounded by, the voice would be even smaller.

As with any funk, you question just about everything including what am I doing out here cruising?  How did I end up, yet again, feeling jaded and cynical in a place I should have had the common sense to avoid in the first place?  (I knew better back in 2007).  Ok.  I made a mistake with Musket Cove.  You gamble sometimes and you lose, but the answer about why go cruising goes back to the interview.  The horrific events described had taken place decades earlier so the interviewee was now an old man.  If the account of his ordeal wasn't enough to make one flinch, the scarred look in the old man's face certainly would...  It is a simple answer, I don't want to end up looking like him.  If I can just get through this without having my face end up being the record of a slow progression towards having my faith in humanity completely shattered, I will have done alright.  Cruising most of the time works wonders.  I have been in anchorages so magnificent, my skin involuntarily ripples with waves of goosebumps. Being on passage completely alone is even better.  Alcoholic yachties behaving like spoiled children in sweatshop resorts?  I will forget all about them.  I won't even remember their faces.  The world and all its ugliness will be reduced to the level of knowledge.  Empty facts without power.  It just takes a bit of time out on the open water for the world to recede and you are back.  You stare at clouds.  You stare at stars.  Maybe they stare back.  You find your way to the miraculous again.  Imagination and optimism take hold without even trying. You don't need ideas.  You don't even really need destinations.   After a week out alone, I think that anything is possible. If you don't feel better, skip the closer destination and go for the one another week away.  I am not out here looking for anything.  There isn't anywhere to go anyway and it is quite alright.  I  just have to protect what I have and make it through without having it being smothered (or flattened) and I will be fine.  And you never know, maybe the next place will be better.  Stay out on passage a little longer and I will even want to give Musket Cove another go. How cool is that?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Fiji time...

Time in Fiji is running short.  Probably a good thing.  I still haven't made up my mind past my first destination out of here.  There is one island, which is on the trophy list, that is only about 600 miles from here.  I will still have options open but it will be the absolute last stop before I am forced to make a decision with which way to go.  I know I won't make up my mind here on land so we will just have to see on that one.

Part of me thinks I enjoy hanging around the tourist scene, especially when I am treated like an exotic animal one has never seen before.  "You sailed all the way from California in that?"  "Well, not exactly, this is my second time here in Fiji in that..."  Sometimes the truth is too much for people and they just draw a blank.  "Do people really do things like this?"  Part of the dues of cruising is putting in your share of educating the masses.  Cruisers do this all over the world.  I remember being tied up to the international jetty in Richard's Bay in South Africa where local whites would come down on the weekend for an afternoon stroll to look at all the pretty boats.  The cruisers would roll their eyes at each other as they came towards the dock.  They would peer down at us and read the various home ports spelled out on the transoms and start to ask all the standard questions.  Some would get so curious that you felt obligated to invite them aboard so they could see what it was like down below.  It has been like this in Fiji.  At moments I understand why the yachties all stick together in Musket Cove.  Hanging out with the locals isn't that different.  Even with the aid of a world map, I have been unsuccessful in communicating what I have been doing for the past six years.  Most locals can't even get over the fact that I own the boat and just repeatedly ask for clarity's sake, "You own the boat?" Sometimes though,  I really break through.  It is as if can share the experience of what it is like to have single handed all those miles to someone who will never venture out on the water more than taking the ferry to the resort on this island.  It is a great feeling with something transcendent about it, like I haven't been doing this all just for myself....

The resort scene is as bad as ever as I have checked out a few more spots.  One resort actually built a fence between  it and the staff quarters and lower end backpacker digs.  Even Lonely Planet is in on the action describing the fence as a "mini Berlin Wall keeping out the ragged poor to the east". 

I will provision up and get ready to fling myself out there again.  I will post once again before heading out.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Everybody knows...

Back in Nadi to buy some fresh produce before heading back out to the islands.  I still haven't made it out to Musket Cove.  I will get to it.  Maybe.  In the meantime I have been hanging out with Fijian islanders.  They are much easier to meet than the mostly Australian tourists up here on holiday.  I am convinced that suburban white people from first world countries have about the worst social skills imaginable.  They pay hundreds of dollars a day to sit on a beach, and as one Fijian laughingly told me, "to sit and read books".  It is like being in a cafe back in California.  Nobody talks to each other.  "Don't bother me, can't you see I am busy reading."  Crap books too.  A lot of pulp thriller type stuff you see waiting in line in those suburban supermarkets. 

Fijians are about the friendliest people I have met out of the nearly forty countries I have visited on this cruise.  If eye contact lasts for more than a glance, the arm moves up for a handshake without skipping a beat.  You learn the basics of each other's stories.  "You on the yacht?"  "You by yourself?"  "You want some cassava to take with you to eat tonight?"  I admit that being a yachtie does have its advantages.  I will crash the grounds of some resort, meet the staff (all Fijians from the nearby village) and once it has been established I am from the yacht and not a guest, I am in.  I have had the cook at a posh resort offer me some food that he cooked for the guests and when I hesitate explaining I didn't pay the expensive meal price, "Don't worry, take it to the staff area and eat there".  Most of the Fijians at these resorts are getting paid a dollar and a half per hour US.  At this price, labor is cheap and there are loads of staff at these resorts.  They look like extras on a movie set.  Friendly and authentic island village faces selected to create a certain ambiance.  The pay starts to sound especially bad when you see the price charged at some of these places.  Cocktails are between ten to fifteen dollars US.  The bures (cabins) range from about 130 US to 400 US per night!  This isn't lost on the local islanders at all.  They all complained to me since once again, I am the on the yacht and not a guest.  To keep things interesting, I will tie the hair back, talk like a serious and rational white man, and mention that "I am on the yacht anchored out front".  Do this and suddenly I am chatting amicably with the older Australian owners at the swank bar.  Just to stir the pot, I will ask in a voice of concern, "Did you know that your staff is openly complaining to the yachts about low pay?  I had one tell me "I am a slave."" They aren't surprised.  One owner mimicked the staff, gesturing with his hand out "We aren't getting paid enough!" implying that they were trying to gain some sympathy and of course, money from me.  "These people were living in grass shacks before we got here!"  "Instead of hiring one barman who actually moves, I have to hire three" "Our labor costs are about the same as anywhere else". "We do have people getting paid a real salary but they have credentials and experience from abroad".  The owners were quick to mention all the extra benefits they provide for the village including paying for every one's education all the way up to university whether they work at the resort or not.  When I asked how many actually take advantage of this the owner did mention that they recently changed the rules on how the resort pays.  Now, the family has to front the money and the student must finish and only after they finish will the resort reimburse the costs.  Clever indeed...  The owners also mentioned that they were buying laptops and getting an Internet signal installed in the village!  Grass shacks to Facebook in less than a generation.... Globalization proceeds faster than ever.  Well, what can you do... 

There were a few other French boats anchored off and they were getting the same perspective as I was.  After the bigger picture had sunk in, we all stared at the tourists.  One French crew person said, "These tourists are in a completely different world, do you think they know what is going on?"  The verdict amongst the cruisers, except for the one who asked, was yes, they know...  How does the Cohen song go again?

 "Everybody knows the deal is rotten,
old black Joe is still picking cotton
for your ribbons and bows
and everybody knows"

Friday, July 20, 2012


I saw a McDonalds restaurant this morning.  I walked right by it on my way into Nadi..  That pretty much sums up where I am.  (How many McDonalds are there in the South Pacific?) 

I know I judge a good portion of the yachtie world pretty harshly for being retired well to do tourists but when I see real tourists I feel like I might have to back track a bit and eat my words. There are real tourists on the west side of the main island in Fiji.  Hordes of them.  There are also loads of yachts as there are a lot of anchorages and many islands.  One island in particular has a reputation for being yachtie paradise.  Musket Cove was skipped the last time I was here.  Maybe I will change my attitude and brave a visit this season.

Non sailors, upon hearing I have single handed nearly fifty thousand miles in the last six years, are impressed and want to know about the challenges.  Did you ever have bad weather or storms?  What they should be asking about is the panic that sets in when you get invited to the cruiser's potluck and all you have on the boat is texturized vegetable protein and unsprouted mung beans.  It is less than three hours of motoring to Musket Cove (there is no wind on this side of the island) but it might be the most challenging passage yet.  I think I would have to change my image to survive it.  No admitting I am a single handler - they are all sleaze cases that you find cruising places like Madagascar or Thailand.  I would have to finally get around to setting up the brand new outboard sitting on the stern pulpit.  I haven't even put oil in the case.  Only guys that went to wooden boat building school in places like Port Townsend are allowed to row and their dinghies don't look beat up like mine.  I don't have a beard anyway so I can't do the Master Mariner wood thing...  If I make fun of polo shirts with boat names and pleated shorts with a belt, I have to keep in mind what they are seeing when they look at me.  The wild hair and seven dollar knock off surfer shorts at my age means "life long marijuana user."  This is no paranoid projection.  It has been plenty of times when the square looking cruiser suddenly comes over all friendly and does his best at being a "dude just like me".  It turns out they are always looking to score some pot.  I don't even drink alcohol so no help there...

Aside from the terror of contemplating a visit to Musket Cove, I have been mulling over how to finish this trip.  Fiji puts me within striking range of the first of the true places I wanted to visit on this second pass.  Pitcairn and the Australs were just the appetizers.  The problem is that I cannot hit enough of them and make it out before the close of this season.  The reality is that to do it thoroughly, it would take another whole season, which means nearly another year out here.  I don't know if I have the stamina for that and I certainly cannot afford it.  Get a job then!  Yes, this has been considered with the Marshalls being part of the U.S. and I am sure I could get something there.  One cruiser who has been there said eight to ten dollars an hour which may sound like nothing to some readers of this blog but that buys a whole lot of texturized vegetable protein. On a side not, my fishing skills have gotten a lot better.  I could just visit one spot and call it quits and get down to Australia by October and give the boat away for cheap there.  What to do...  Maybe my community of fellow yachties in Musket Cove will give me some great insights.  You never know, right?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Eight Bells

One thing I have learned on this second pass of the South Pacific is that even high latitude cruising is becoming part of the main circuit.  My old understanding was that you do the easy trade wind circumnavigation in your plastic boat but after completing it you graduate, become a true sailor and part of an elite minority.  You get a real boat (metal), aluminium if you have money and steel if you don't and you head to destinations like the Chilean Fjords, Antarctic or the west side of Greenland.  My older Cornell guide says that the number of boats that go to places like Antarctic are in the single digits.  That isn't the case anymore.  I think that in the early nineties once GPS became affordable, it triggered a big growth in cruising.  The latest is the accuracy and affordability in being able to receive weather forecasts.  There are GFS weather forecast models that go out to twelve days now. 

Before the availability of GRIBs, yachties used weather fax but also depended a large part on land based guys who knew yachting, local weather and would disseminate crucial info over shortwave radio.  Two big names recently died.  I heard of Don Anderson's (Amigo Net) passing en route to Pitcairn and this morning I heard that Des of Russel Radio passed a couple of days ago.  Guys like Des and Don do a great service to yachts on passage.  I have used both of them many times, checking in as often as twice a day.  I have fond memories of listening to Don completely exasperated when some greenhorn wants a detailed report for a 50 mile hop on the Mexican Gold Coast after he just said it was land and sea breeze for the entire area.  I remember it was Des who was the first to welcome me to New Zealand when I hailed him on VHF to let him know I had made it to the Bay of Islands... 

Short clip of checking in with Des just south of Vanuatu when I did the passage up back to the islands.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Friday Night

Last night, being a Friday night, was one of only two nights during the week when it is worth checking out the nightlife here.  Savu Savu is a pretty slow town.  There are three different venues and I opted for the one I was warned to stay away from by the very polite Fijian staff at the posh Copra Shed marina.  "It is unsafe for yachties."  I think the truth is that is unsafe for anybody as I witnessed at least three fights and two persons who had gone way over their limit passed out in front of the club on the lawn.  Fijians like to party in that rowdy sort of way.

The other two options were the club for Indians and the bar/restaurant for the yachties. I also spent a good portion of the evening with the Fijian staff at the Waitui Marina.  Copra Shed gets all the business so the small bar at Waitui was empty and the workers do a kava circle every evening right on the dock where I tie my dinghy up.   It attracts locals who live nearby so it was a good group.  Kava circles have elements of plain old peer pressure traditionalized into a ceremony.  They pass the bowl full of drink around, there is hand clapping and a few other gestures but mostly it feels like a strange game of trying to out last one another and/or maintaining some composure despite being completely subdued by the drug.  It is a bit lively in the beginning with a guitar, songs, "bullshit" stories.  I even got to hold the floor with that liberal shtick of commiserating with them about how unfair it is to have expats come and slowly buy up beautiful pieces of property that they couldn't afford in their own country which ends up making it unaffordable for the Fijians(no law about foreigners owning land here).  My shtick usually includes the waring to not lust after an opportunity to live in America making big bucks.  Complete trap...  "You think you'll have time to hang out and do a kava circle???",  Most people who have never been to American don't realize just how bad the neighborhoods for the non white working class really are...  After a couple of hours of drinking kava, the drug starts to take effect and there isn't any conversation anymore.  I left and by the time I came back from the club the ones still there looked stoned and incapable of moving.  At some point you have to rouse yourself up and go home.  It is considered bad taste to sneak off and when your turn comes you have to announce your departure.  It is part of the ceremony.  Everyone wakes up momentarily, partially self conscious of the fact they spend every evening drinking themselves into a stupor, but it seemed barely conscious and buried by the ceremonial gesture of saying goodnight.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


I paid the health fee yesterday and expressed some "concern" over the rate increase.  I figured it was a more tactful angle than being a jerk and complaining about it.  Everyone in the office admitted that the increase was a lot and that it wasn't their decision and in so many words, expressed that it wasn't a big deal because all the yachties were "millionaires."  I loved that one...  There is truth in it though.  I just wished the money was going toward something decent instead of the military that took over the country in the last coup.  This sentiment was also shared by the women in the office.

I do have a million dollar view from the entrance of the creek...

Good news is that I purchased a USB hard drive "box" ($20 U.S.) that allows me to plug in the old hard drives from the laptops destroyed by the elements during the course of this trip.  This means a lot of forthcoming flashback posts and I also owe some people some photos and clips from years back.  Great stuff.

Here is a quick scene from a church service I attended in Raivavae.  I have always had an issue with the amount of influence missionaries have had on the indigenous cultures here in the South Pacific.  I have noticed though, that there are many elements of their past traditions that they have incorporated into the modern day version.  The service I attended in Raivavae was quite special as it only happens once a year and involved groups from the other Australs.  A celebration of community, pride in their respective islands and a shared rejoicing in how they understand their relation to the cosmic.  All of this expressed through singing.  Definitely moving stuff...

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Waitui Marina

A quick plug for Waitui Marina, which is a good alternative to Copra Shed if you are going to check in to Fiji through Savu Savu.  They can contact the officials and ferry them out to your boat just like Copra Shed.  Kendra, one of the proprietors, upon seeing me tied up to a Copra Shed Marina mooring remarked that my boat wasn't pretty enough to be associated with them....  (Part of the reason why I made the refit schedule in Mexico was that I only got about halfway with painting the cabin top...I will finish it here).  She is right and I felt it too, so once checked in, I promptly moved out by the entrance to the creek and am the only boat on anchor.  There are three other long term ones on the hook but they are way up the creek where there isn't any more room...   Being on the hook saves a whopping ten Fiji dollars a day.  The folks at Copra Shed made it appear as if there isn't a general anchorage anymore.  I found an all you can eat curry buffet for that same price.  Need I say more...

I hate to beat this issue to death but it feels like I just cannot escape how much money there is in the cruising scene.  I think a lot of it has to do with the simple fact that most cruisers are older.  The average age is in the sixties.  If you have worked all your life and put off cruising to retirement, it is understood a lot differently.  It makes sense.  If I would have continued working the past six years, and was going cruising this year, I probably would opt for a nicer boat than Pelican.  That said, I see now that I could have actually left earlier and settled for a smaller boat and in some ways this would have been the wisest choice of all.  I remember back in California coming up with the idea of a "disposable cruiser" with a friend of mine.  They give plastic boats away for free in California and you can dumpster dive/visit scrap yards for odds and ends.  Ebay and Craigslist for used gear and off you go.  It takes a certain amount of confidence to go this route and I admit, I didn't have it before taking this cruise but I see it clearly now.  Pelican is a solid cruising boat comparatively.  It is like with Robin Lee Graham's "Dove" and "Return of Dove."  The first Dove was a Cal 24 and then the Return is a Luders 33 which is a lot like Pelican.  I remember reading how impressed Robin was with how much more substantial the Luders felt, but note that he didn't switch to this boat until over three quarters of the way around the world.

The face of cruising has changed tremendously in the last thirty years but how much has the ocean changed?   

The check in fees for the health inspector has gone up from $17 when I was here last (2007) to $33 last year to $172 this year!  I will have spent more money on check in fees than anything else upon leaving Mexico.  I have only used 10 gallons of diesel since San Blas, Mexico.  Granted, I only dropped the hook in a total of six anchorages so this has been more about passage making than gunkholing.

Namana Creek seen from the Copra Shed mooring.  

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Savu Savu, Fiji

I could only handle six days in Vava'u.  I try the expat yachtie thing but it isn't really me.  Sometimes it clicks but never for long.  I get another shot here in Savu Savu. (Today being the fourth of July, the American yachts are having a get together later). This is my first time here in Savu Savu and so far it is alright.  The yachts dominate the view from town but it feels ok.  The marina and its associated business are small and just a footnote.  No megayachts in the anchorage today.  Being a California sailor, I see Fiji as the Mexico of the South Pacific.  It is definitely the best value and it is the choice destination for the boats in New Zealand.   Tonga felt expensive this time around.  The market even felt like they were doing two tier pricing.  Internet was higher than in Raivavae which is hard to believe.

One of my cruising guides continually uses the word "unsophisticated" to describe the major towns in Fiji.  I understand why...  The level of education here is low and it feels pretty third worldish in the general sense.  The funny thing, though, is that a lot of people are relaxed and smiling.  I noticed it immediately.  In Tonga, everyone is so dignified and serious.  In Raivavae, they were quiet but pleasant.  I have already met a handful of locals here without even trying.  It feels good.

So the first phase of this second crossing of the Pacific is over.  Fiji was the first goal, not because it is a worthy destination in itself (it is great cruising but is not on my "trophy list") but because I am now in striking range of the places I really want to see.

I am also at a bit of a conundrum with how to play it out.  One of the first lessons of cruising that you learn is that the seasons determine your route, not your "trophy list" or whatever else....  You get a certain number of months in each part of the world and then winds, currents and the odds of hurricanes all start to shift so you have to manage around the facts of this.  I am still working on my plan.  For now, though, it will be break time...

(Two of these creatures stuck with me for half a day a few hundred miles east of the southern Cooks.  I don't know if you can make it out but they aren't exactly dolphin size....)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Vava'u, Tonga

I have rejoined the milk run route and am now (back) in yachtie playland.  Six megayachts in the main anchorage here in Neiafu.  I am used to having other cruising boats worth three or four times what I paid for Pelican but when another boat's tender is worth that what is the mother ship worth???

The Mermaid Bar/Vavau yacht club burned down and the Tongan partner has passed on....  Also the building with the friendly island bookstore, Bounty Bar, etc has also burned down.  The vibe of too many expat owned business catering to a very small yachtie market is strong.  The ones that didn't burn down were the higher end ones and they now dominate so it is almost too easy to say it is sliding towards "it was better back in the day".  Polo shirts with the boat name are standard attire.  You can feel the current batch of business owners (average time spent doing the "cool bar in Tonga bit" is 2 years) impatient for the airport to become international.  They were waiting for this the last time I was here.  Which batch will win the lottery and make real money before pulling out because it will have become too disgusting to be around?!?  To their credit, the Tongans are as low key as ever and the rule most everywhere else applies here as well, walk fifteen minutes away, not five or ten, from those expat hangouts and it starts to become cheaper and a bit more genuine.

I met an early thirties couple here in Vava'u on their second year of cruising on a budget.  They echoed a sentiment I have heard many a time, "We thought there would be more younger people on a budget and not this overwhelmingly posh scene!"  I realize now that when I first did the South Pacific in 2007, because I stayed on the milk run route, I felt the exact same way.  In Raivavae a total of six boats (three more showed up after my post) passed through while I was there and every single one were deliberately avoiding the main fleet.  There was even a report of at least two boats sitting in the Gambier waiting till June before heading to the Marquesas.  The flip side is that it can be fun to do the yachtie thing.  I have a nice polo type shirt I found in a thrift store in the states when I visited last year.  It was an expensive Nike golf shirt where they were a bit more tasteful and made the swoosh symbol a lot smaller and just put one on the short sleeve.  Easily removed with an exacto blade but no, haven't gotten around to sewing PELICAN on the breast...

I had this thought that since it takes so long to sail around the world, you could on subsequent circumnavigations, only visit places you previously stopped to take in all the changes.   Because you would have something to compare it against you would have a deeper understanding.

I paid the check in fee so I guess I will stay for a little.  (With only one polo shirt it is hard to go out on consecutive nights.)  I would have sailed straight to Fiji but they are strict about their 48 hour advance notice by email.  I heard of one boat that arrived in Fiji and realized they had neglected this important step.  They snuck ashore, found an internet cafe, went back to the boat and stayed put for 48 hours anchored right off!  What you have to do to follow the rules...

Friday, June 1, 2012

Headed to the islands

Looks like I am out of here after this low passes.  SE winds forecast for Monday finally...

Rapa will just be a spot on the map.  It is ok.  It feels good to leave something out there that I missed.  You aim high because you must, knowing you cannot call all the shots.

This should be the last long haul passage.  I will skip a bunch of common stops.  I have already been to a bunch of them.  The reality of going for the tough untouched destinations that get only a few boats a year is that I am at a big disadvantage singlehandling.  No one to keep lookout for coral heads and how about places that flat out donot have an anchorage...  You have to have someone onboard trying to hold position while the other braves a landing.  You cannot leave the boat unattended.

I will look for crew in the islands and also maybe start advertising the boat.  I have been making this trip up as I go along.

Here is Raivavae upon arrival;

Monday, May 28, 2012

Trapped in Raivavae

I am starting to understand why this island only gets ten boats a year.  Instead of doing laundry, taking hikes and relaxing after fifty four days at sea with only an 8 hour break at Pitcairn, I have been doing anchor watch for four days straight as winds generated by a tropical depression are accelerated down into the anchorage blasting the boat and throwing spray on everything.  I have not seen the sun in a week.   If you study the weather chart above, you can see that trade wind conditions do exist.  Most boats headed to the Societies from the Marquesas have a nice broad reach in 15 knots...

One of the benefits of visiting places that get fewer boats is that the expat community is starved for company and go out of their way to help you.  I will take advantage of the opportunity to upload a clip or two.

Nothing too interesting in this one.  Vid quality is poor because of the length.

Here is me gloating.

Turns out there were two other boats on the other side of the island.  One left so there is now only one other.  So far that is it for the year - just the three of us.  No one is showing up this week and that is for sure.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Raivavae, Australs

Internet is still too expensive and slow to do much except for quick updates.

This island is described as the most beautiful in the South Pacific according to two popular cruising guides.  It really is quite something.  I was told by the officials checking me in that the island only gets ten boats a year.  Crazy.

The real debate is whether to go for Rapa or not.  I could call it quits and just head north where it is mellower.  I had headwinds for almost half the passage from Pitcairn....

We wil see.  I will be here for a few days.  It is good feeling being in a safe anchorage.  Will post again.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Pitcairn Island

Just a quick mind dump.  Internet here is expensive and slow.

39 days out of Melaque, Mexico.  Did a sail by of Henderson Island on day 36.   Very bad weather experienced on day 37.  Near knockdown size breaking waves, white out wind squall, the last remaining side mount solar panel had the glass shattered so that really sucks...  Good news is that by the time the gale blew itself out, I was less than ten miles from Pitcarin!  This meant that I could come ashore as there is no safe harbor.  It is open roadstead but today it is less than 10 knots of wind so I made it!  Cruise ships visit here but the conditions are usually such that passengers don't get to come on land....

This place is definitely trophy level.  Raw, pristine island with a neat history with a lot of the current inhabitants (60 people) able to trace their ancestry to the mutineers of the Bounty.

I can get fruit here so I will skip Gambier.  That place has an airport so it makes it less interesting.  Will most likey head to Raivavae.   Rapa Iti would be another trophy but you need special permission and it is at 28 South which means work.

All is well, boat is tougher than I am and the ocean is a truly beautiful place with incredible gems like this island.  Lots of love to everyone (not checking my email this time) and we will talk again when I get an affordable internet connection.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Spinning in Circles

After I finish typing this post I am going to walk back to the beach, row to the boat, and sail off the hook heading south.  I have had a tough time trying to understand my motivations for doing another pass through the South Pacific.  I ask myself, "Are you doing it for that metaphorical "book"?" and the answer is no, there already is plenty for the book.  For the non sailor, hearing those words, "sailed around the world" is quite enough.  What is a few more thousand miles after you have done that!  They wouldn´t understand that the point where I am is much tougher.  One of the reasons why it is tougher is that there isn´t much dream left.  I already know what the cruising life is like. Another reason why I am doing this has been suggested by others who accuse me of doing this to meet women.  For all the bachelors out there thinking that the salty single handler sailing the south seas image would enhance their odds of success, forget about it.  Most of the South Pacific is a time capsule for the most fundamentalist religious behavior.  It ain´t like it was for the crew of the Endeavor.  And it is too hard to get to for your average backpacker.  I certainly am not doing it for the lavish lifestyle.  The bank account screams to get back to California now and forget about all this nonsense PLEASE!  Otherwise you will end up like this guy absolutely flat broke "foraging through abandoned native gardens."  (Note that he wrote an actual book - I wonder if he thought about how he was going to write the chapter on foraging as he was actually foraging???).  Basically if I don´t catch fish, it is TVP.  Canned food is a complete luxury.  One trick I learned about budget cruising that I am going to have to exercise more now is from Teddy Seymour and it is to not stop at so many places.  Route planning is a lot more complicated than a lot of people realize.  You want to stop everywhere but single handling is loads more work making landfall than it is on passage.  It is hard on the gear and also hard on the wallet with the associated temptations of land and ever present check in costs.  Am I doing another pass through the South Pacific to delay the eventual return home to California?  Returning and having to explain yourself to people that haven´t a clue.  "And exactly when again was your last professional work experience?" Will I regret doing another pass?  Absolutely.  Will I be glad I did another pass?  Absolutely.  Maybe it doesn´t make any sense to emphasize the imagined profundity of our choices.  Perhaps it doesn´t matter at all.  And I guess that is the main reason I am doing it...  I will get back to California soon enough.  But not today.  Today I will sail towards the South Pacific.

See you on the other side.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

It is starting to be that time...

I think I finally rinsed out the last bit of dirt from Marina Seca Guaymas.  I now feel like I am back in cruising mode.  Tan is strong enough to handle hours of the sun (which I never do), hair is longer, I do not wear shoes for half the trips to shore.  I take naps and go swimming.  That is about it.

I have not made a decision of what I am going to do from here.  I tried selling the boat but no offers.  I even tried looking for crew to take the edge off of single handling but nothing there.  Well, regardless of what decision I make, I am most likely going to leave Melaque next week.  And that means Mexico as well.  I have ideas of what I might do and there are some fantastic ones.  The great thing is that the boat moves so slowly, I could be out a week and still change my mind and course...

Look for another post but it should be my last from Mexico, unless something unexpected happens.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Turned the corner

In Melaque now.  Crap passage down around Corrientes.  I couldn´t figure out the counter current and spent hours trapped with close to two knots on the nose.  Crap fishing as well.  I hooked a turtle!  That was a first...

This is probably as far as I will go down the coast.  It is finally warm and even though the water isn´t so clear I can go swimming off the boat whenever I want...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

In San Blas

It was a nice ride down from Guaymas in mostly 20 knot conditions.  It still took five days as it fizzled out south of Mazatlan.  Few glitches with the boat but nothing major.

Lot of people consider the affordability of GPS to have ruined cruising.  Anyone can now go!  No more challenge, etc..  After this last  passage I know that when they find a way to completely remove seasickness, then, anyone can really go.  That awful feeling is just the worst.  I can imagine how many people who see a small boat as about the worst place to be.  The thing is you get over it but most never make it.  It took me two days and now I am fine.

I arrived to hear Norm Goldie tell another newly arrived boat on the VHF not to leave the vessel unattended.  This is new.  Sounds like a boat was boarded early in the season.  If it is really that bad, I might have to find another spot to hole up for a bit unless I still decided to go towards Australia.

It really is one of two choices now - sail to Australia and sell the boat for whatever I get or sail back to California via Hawaii.  The latter is the more sensible and is the conservative choice.  I would have a place to stay when I get back, I would still have all my tools, etc..  It would cost less and I could re enter with a bit more money. The journey would also be genuinely complete.  Selling the boat in Australia is a great excuse for seeing the South Pacific again.  When is the next time I will have a boat poised and ready to see the South Pacific.  I mostly did the milk run the first time around so now I would see a few less visited spots...  It is only a little longer sail than the Hawaii trip... It is actually an easier sail. It is the choice the wilder and the ¨go for it¨  part of me leans towards...  Anyways, who knows.  I will decide in the next few weeks.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Guess the price?

There are some advantages in doing a refit in Mexico.  One is the affordable and easy access to machine shops.  It feels like every neighborhood has one and they really feel like part of the neighborhood.  I imagine part of the reason is that no one throws things away when they break.  This past summer while in the San Francisco bay area, I paid a visit to the TechShop which is neat in concept but what if I have a really small and simple project?  Down here, it isn't a big deal to drop in with an old back stay chain plate, help them hunt around through their 1/4" thick stock of stainless for a piece a foot and a half long and several inches wide and have an identical one made on the spot.  The metal is similarly priced to what you would find online, but to have it cut, bent and the holes drilled is really low compared to other places (New Zealand, U.S.A.) I have had machine shop work done for the boat.  I even regret having purchased a few small parts for the Monitor windvane, including small washers, as the savings would have been considerable to have them made here. 

There is a norther coming this week and I might use it to test out the boat.  Some sailing sounds pretty good!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Heroic adventurer or immature opportunist?

...Music is still a fundamental part of life. Because of the long period of isolation, many of the indigenous songs, stories and dances have survived. Many of the songs date from the period before European contact, which occurred in the mid 19th century. The songs tell stories of voyages between the islands, while dance performances fill 20 or 30 hours a week.

I found this document online which is a compendium of some of the least visited islands in the South Pacific.  The photo and description above were taken from it.  The author writes, "I admit that I have some reservations about creating this compendium, as remote tropical islands that are as infrequently traveled as these are getting very difficult to find, as are the traditional cultures one finds here. I did not want to be responsible for causing the ruination of paradise."

I love how the word "paradise" is used here.  It is pretty much anywhere left that still remains outside the influence of the modern world...   We all know about these places.  They make those TV documentary specials about them.  It takes about an hour of listening to some science person before we can shut the TV off, recharged to yoke the burden of maturity needed to be civilized.  Don't worry, go back to work.  Be confident that the experts are out there taking care that paradise is being carefully documented and preserved.  No more ruination will take place.  We will put the last bit in a museum and make it free for the first Wednesday of every month.   God forbid if you actually want to visit the real paradise yourself.  Truth is most of it is gone anyways.  Most places have fallen in line and understood the power of uniforms and rubber stamps.  But if you insist, they will say to grow up and get over it.  And if you don't we will smother any last bit of remaining dream and then make an example out of you.   

Lets watch what they will do to Jarle Andhoy and the Wild Vikings.  In his own words he describes the Wild Vikings as "instead of being a part of the playstation-generation, in a 7 – 4 life with computers, electrical tinopeners and washingmachines, they seek adventures and exploration in the spirit of the ancient vikings. Simply equipped on a low budget ,The wild vikings turn the time back to the old days when men were men. Back to basics. Back to nature in harmony with its simple and real beauty to the worlds remote corners."  Last year he sailed down to Antarctica without obtaining permits or having insurance.  He defended his "unofficial" expedition saying that Antarctica is a "no man's land. "  That almost sounds like the word  "paradise."  The expedition ran into trouble and three of the Wild Vikings and his ship were lost.  Personally, I don't see how driving quad bikes through whiteout conditions in the South Pole is any kind of harmony with nature but anybody who single hands a 27 foot plastic boat to the high latitudes at the age of nineteen is an exceptional person.  You can get the latest updates on his current trip back to Antarctica here and the debate rages here.

Friday, February 3, 2012

From "The £200 Millionaire", A Story by Weston Martyr, 1932

'I've found one good way to live and be happy. There must be other ways, too, but I don't know 'em, so I mean to stick to my way till I come to the end of it. The secret seems to be, to do everything you can yourself: It's difficult to explain, but take an example. Take travel. Allow yourself to be carried about the world in Wagon-Lits and cabins-deluxe, and what do you get out of it? You get bored to death. Everything is done for you and you don't even have to think. All you have to do is to pay. You're carried about with the greatest care and wrapped up and fed and insulated from everything. You see about as much of life as a suckling in the arms of its nurse. No wonder you get bored! But get yourself about the world, on your own feet, or in your own boat, and you're bound, you're bound to fill your life with interest and charm and fun and beauty. You'll have your disagreeable and uncomfortable times, of course, but they merely serve to make the good times taste better. "Sleep after toyle, port after stormie seas." Old Spenser knew. He'd been through it. Sail all day in the wet and cold, then bring up in some quiet harbour and go below and toast your feet before the galley fire and you'll realise what bliss means. Travel in a steam-heated Pullman and then put up at the Ritz and see if you find any bliss there! You see what I mean? Stewart Edward White put it all much better than I can. He wrote, "I've often noted two things about trees: the stunted little twisted fellows have had a hard time, what with wind and snow and poor soil; and they grow farthest up on the big peaks."

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"It is still January"

Today was the last day that I could use that excuse.  The season is quickly approaching.  Progress has been made but only because I have not been slacking at all.  I am getting tired.  Why am I doing all of this work?  I saw an Alberg 35 advertised in California this past summer for six thousand dollars.  I have put over eight hundred dollars in materials towards repairing the bottom alone.  This doesn't include the hours, days and now weeks of time I have put into grinding, glassing, sanding, fairing, painting.  And that was just for the bottom!

What about the windlass rebuild, removing the rust and painting the three main anchors, the installation of the new AIS and having it communicate with the GPS, the installation of two opening portlights in the cabin, the fabrication and installation of two trim rings for the old forward V berth portlights, repairing the rudder which involved dremeling out rot, building back with epoxy and reglassing, replacing the flexible coupling and installing the new shaft seal which involved lifting the entire engine, borrowing a coupling puller, hammering the shaft back into the coupling, the subsequent redoing of the engine alignment, the replacement of the starter and preheat momentary switches, painting the boom, heat gun and scraping the old epoxy off the entire dinghy, painting the dinghy, finding and installing new rubrail material for the dinghy, sanding the entire deck for new non skid, fixing the sliding hatch, converting the old rope ratlines to wood ones, measuring and cutting new non skid material for the cockpit floor, varnishing the larger flat surfaces of the interior, spending two hours trying to repair a dead palm sander and a dead multi master because of being too cheap to immediately replace, going to town to find a new palm sander, cutting a two foot section of the short whisker pole to make a sleeve to make a proper size one out of the two with rivets, going to town to find rivets, making chocks for the whisker pole, replacing the stop, throttle and shift cables for the engine,  installing a new MP3 car stereo, finding someone in the yard with a truck to go buy wood, going to town to buy wood, making new dinghy seats out of the wood, making a new outdoor sleeping area in the cockpit out of the wood, cutting out a new battery cover out of the wood, going to town to buy cabo sil, going to town to buy polyester resin, going to town to find stainless fasteners, going to town to find packing for the rudder shaft, going to town to get a printer cartridge refilled with ink so I can do my budget eight and half by eleven CM93 charts, printing out those charts and using google earth when CM93 doesn't have it,  painting the topsides, masking off a new waterline to paint the topsides...  

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Sometimes work is just work

Taking a sober assessment of exactly what needs to be done on the boat and feeling the weight of it is difficult and stressful.  The stress comes from knowing that when you take this much work on, all kinds of unknown obstacles will crop up. Non sailors ask about storms while they should be asking about removing rusted and frozen bolts you can't reach with a drill...

Part of me thought that it might be fun to blog about some of the projects I have been doing.  "It could be useful to other cruisers".  "I could share my accomplishments with friends"  "It could help with potentially selling the boat".  Take for example the Simpson Lawrence Seatiger 555 windlass.  I have completely taken it apart, regreased it, replaced the springs and put it back together.  This took more than a couple of hours.  While I did make narrated videos when taking it apart, it was so I would know how to put it back together.  The reality of this project is that there wasn't anything tricky about it.  Of course there were set backs and obstacles but they were par for the course.  The whole before, during and after photo shoot idea feels vain and unnecessary.  There isn't anything I learned from this project that I felt should be communicated to someone doing the exact same project.  In fact, most of the work on the boat is like this.  The sea eats at everything and every piece of gear has a life span.  It is just a fact of cruising and owning a boat.  How interesting is that?