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"